I’ve never questioned my gender. I identify strongly as female, which is what I was assigned at birth. I proudly sing along to Kesha’s “Woman” when it comes on, and I’ve never hesitated to check the “female” box when asked to identify myself.
I struggled so long with my sexuality that I never gave much thought to my gender until other people started questioning it. The repeated misgendering made me think more deeply about the way I present myself and how it relates to the way I see my gender and the way other people see my gender.
I don’t really look like what society expects women to look like, mostly because I have a buzz cut. I wear minimal makeup, always keep my nails short and unpainted, and tend to avoid wearing anything too “girly.” I prefer dress pants to dresses and I don’t even own a pair of heels.
Some days I prefer to dress more femininely, so I’ll put on a little extra makeup and something with a floral pattern. Other days, I don’t necessarily feel like appearing more masculine, but more androgynous. I’ll wear a button-down or a loose T-shirt and no makeup. I’ve shopped in the men’s section more than once in my life because I can find clothes better suited to my style than in the women’s section.
Despite all of this, I feel secure in my identity as a woman. But I’ve come to realize that the way other people view the way I present myself has more of an impact that I’d thought.
What does it mean to be gender nonconforming?
People who are gender nonconforming express themselves in a way that deviates from traditional gender norms. They don’t adhere to the way society has taught them they should look or act based on their assigned sex.
For example, girls have traditionally been expected to have long hair while boys are expected to have short hair. I defy that by shaving my head. This alone could make me gender nonconforming if I choose to identify that way.
The thing about gender nonconformity is that it often seems to be based on how other people perceive a person. I’ve never identified as gender nonconforming before, but others might perceive me as such.
I see the way older adults look at me sometimes — like they can’t quite figure me out. I see the unspoken questions in their eyes when I use public restrooms: Are you really a woman? Do you belong here?
The answer is yes. I am a woman. I belong here. I may not look like what society expects women to look like, but I don’t care. I’m going to tailor my appearance to the way I want to look, not to how anybody else thinks I should look.
Am I gender nonconforming or not?
This isn’t really an “either/or” question because gender isn’t the simple, black and white binary we’ve been taught — it’s a myriad of colors that can fluctuate throughout our lifetime.
Right now, I don’t identify as gender nonconforming simply because I feel like I conform enough. Now, I don’t believe there’s a certain amount nonconformity you have to adhere to be able to identify as gender nonconforming. I know I could if I wanted to, but it’s not something I feel strongly at this point in my life.
Maybe one day I will identify more strongly as a gender nonconforming person as I continue to learn more about myself and grow as a person.
Finding beauty in the way you express your gender
Whenever I feel insecure about the way I’ve chosen to express my gender, I think back to that little boy at the airport. He didn’t linger on why I had short hair if I was girl; he just accepted it, and he still saw the beauty in it.
The ability children have to accept people at face-value is a refreshing change in a world full of people who refuse to accept anything perceived as being outside the norm. I hope for a world in which we can all express ourselves without question or resistance.
Whether you conform to gendered standards or not, I hope your days are filled with people who see the beauty in the way you express yourself.