(Originally posted on January 9, 2014 at I Dig Your Girlfriend.)
Several weeks ago, I went to my first appointment with my therapist. I’ve done therapy before, but I had a new, pressing topic to discuss. Since coming out, I’ve been feeling guilty about my outward expression; how I dress, how I wear my hair, whether or not I choose to wear make up.
Growing up, I idolized my older brother. I wanted to be as good as he was at everything, wanted to eat my cereal as fast as he did, wanted to grow to be as tall as he was. After we both grew to our close-to adult sizes, I started wearing a lot of his hand-me-downs. I continue to favour baggier clothes than many women do, and continue to purchase men’s pants to this day. When I was fourteen, I stopped dance classes after almost ten years. I was tired of having my hair styled tightly into buns cemented in place with gel and hairspray, and I was tired of the thick stage make up. I withdrew from make up and had no terrible interest in putting great effort into my hair.
When I was about fifteen, a year after I stopped dancing, I started Taekwon-do and archery classes. I wore more men’s clothing, and I enjoyed being good at things that were predominantly ‘guy’ things, like martial arts and science. I actively avoided anything pink, as I didn’t want to be associated with anything that girly. It got more and more intense as I got older. I only wore men’s pants and refused to carry a purse, opting for a man wallet. I took a bow-hunting course and was one of only three or four women in a class of around twenty. I was proud just to be there as a woman, and when I turned out to have more natural talent at certain things, you couldn’t wipe the grin off my face for days. I learned to drive a stick shift. I took welding classes. I was running my life under the motto of anything you can do, I can do better.
My dad has influenced me in this regard, as well. He has always been adamant that I should never need a man for anything – not to pay my bills, not to fix my car. I have done a lot of my own car maintenance, with my dad and brother showing me how to do it for next time. I’ve replaced my own brakes, done all my own oil changes, and I’ve changed a flat tire in a rainstorm. I see my financial and personal independence as a huge part of who I am, and will frequently deny help from others, especially men, with the phrase, ‘I’m an independent woman!’
It reached a peak when I started working in a meat department at a grocery store and got to work as a meat cutter. There are not a lot of female meat cutters as a general rule, and I was good at it. I learned to sharpen my knives on the grinder and cut lamb chops on the band saw – scary since they’re tiny and your fingers have to get pretty close to the blade. It became a point of pride that I could do this job as well as my male coworkers. I became ‘one of the guys’ and got told all the dirty jokes and was the subject of a lot of ribbing. My current day job and most of the jobs I have had since then have been in male-dominated workplaces and have been work of a manual nature. Even in my personal life, archery and Taekwon-do eventually gave way to Krav Maga and I have been doing reality-based self-defense training ever since. There aren’t a lot of chicks at my gym – more than one might expect, but we are still significantly outnumbered by the guys. It feels good to be treated the same; we’re expected to do the same drills and get hit, just like the guys.
I have never had a relationship with a man who has approached me because he liked the way I looked. I am not hit on at bars, and the number of phone numbers I have been offered by men in clubs totals one. The relationships I have had with men have always developed after an extended friendship of some sort. More than one man has told me I come across as too independent; that the only thing I appear to need from men is sex. Part of me is proud – it’s true, I don’t need a man. Part of me is also hurt. Of course I need someone. I need a companion, I need an emotional support, I need someone to laugh with, I need someone to love. Just because I can carry my own damn groceries and fix my own stove doesn’t mean I don’t need you.
To tell the truth, I have always felt a bit threatened by men, and I suppose this colours my relationships with them. I feel like I always have to prove myself as equal to a man; like I always have to demonstrate my worthiness to be my boyfriend’s partner, instead of his subordinate. I have rarely felt comfortable enough with a man to let him do things for me I could easily do for myself. There are a few reasons for this, but the main reason has always been that I don’t need him to do them for me. I am independent, and if he wasn’t around, I’d have to do it myself anyways. I never want to be paralysed for lacking a man in my life.
In the past several months, I have felt a desire to do more feminine things, like wear dresses and put on make up and grow my hair out long. This is where the guilt comes in. I have spent so long fighting to be seen as equal and worthy in the eyes of my dad and my brother, my coworkers and bosses, and even my male partners, that it feels like a betrayal to suddenly start wearing make up on the regular or style my hair instead of wearing a hat. I am afraid of suddenly being seen as weak by people who already know my strength, simply because I am wearing a skirt.
I know many women of all sorts of orientations and presentations now, but I still find it difficult to find good role models who are both feminine and badass in the ways that I want to be. My first real weight off came when I moved in with a roommate in July. She’s in her sixties, and we mesh well. She’s an amazing woman and dare I say it, a badass. She also wears a lot of skirts and dresses. After meeting her, moving in and seeing her fashion choices combined with what I learned about her, I felt like she was giving me permission to wear my own skirts (which I love), enjoy it and not feel like some sort of sell-out. It was my first step, and my first acknowledgement of my guilt.
The biggest step I have made in this has been finally dating a woman. The most releasing thing my girlfriend has told me so far has been to remind me that she likes girls, so I am free to be as girly as I want to be, because she likes it. Permission granted, yet again. Strangely, I do not feel threatened by her, either. I have nothing to prove, since somehow the relationship feels more equal than any other I’ve been in. We are not bound by the gender roles of a hetero relationship, and things I like doing do not threaten her femininity like they might a man’s masculinity. The things she does which might feel like a show of dominance or power from a man, are not an issue coming from her. We compliment each other with our own talents and skills, and if we overlap it doesn’t turn into a pissing contest. Not only does she not feel threatened by the fact that I can carry my own damn groceries, but I also don’t feel threatened if she helps.