“Regardless of our biological sex, or the gender identity and romantic / sexual orientation we identify with, all of us HAVE THE AUTONOMOUS CHOICE to present ourselves in whatever ways we want to..regardless if it’s perceived as socially-constructed feminine, masculine, or non-binary. We should not be mocked and judged for doing so, or be pressured to appear, dress or present ourselves otherwise.”
Unexpected “gender and sexuality” social experiment
I had my hair shaved this year (*in conjunction with Hair for Hope) as I wanted to put myself in the shoes of others who receive daily stares from society for looking different e.g. transwomen, individuals with body tattoos, in wheelchair, facing walking difficulties, with special needs, cancer, bald spots, facial disfigurements, skin conditions etc.
The initial public stares I received were mainly because I looked like I had cancer / hair issues. But as my hair grew out, it unexpectedly evolved into both public stares and incidents where my gender identity was queried on. When I wore a long skirt (*with my very-short hair then), people were unable to figure out if I was a girl or boy.
They are further mindf***ed about my gender identity, even till today (*I still have short hair), when I’m dressed in jeans, unisex top, and jacket (*which covers up my already flat-enough chest even more).
As blatantly privileged as I’m about to sound, I initially assumed I would be totally alright with the public stares and judgments, since I went in with the purpose to be judged and stared at, and also knew that all these would be temporary. However, it did eventually affect me to a certain extent.
If even someone like me who knows I’m merely facing this predicament temporarily is already affected, it must be very much worse for the many individuals who have to go through this on a daily basis for their entire lives.
Quote credit: Offbeat Perspectives
Can’t you dress more feminine like how a girl is supposed to be like?
My current dressing is exactly the same as when I had long hair. Unisex shirt, pants, and sneakers on some days, and what is socially-constructed perceived as feminine clothing on other days. I do receive feedback from those around me that I should start to put on makeup, wear more skirts, or be more ladylike in behaviour.
It makes feel that as a woman, society expects me to conform to a certain image and behaviour, and if I do not do so, it makes me less of a woman as I fall short of society’s “feminine” standards. But I have always questioned such a mindset because…
Regardless of our biological sex, or the gender identity and romantic / sexual orientation we identify with, all of us HAVE THE AUTONOMOUS CHOICE to present ourselves in whatever ways we want to (*other than situations where it’s mandatory for us to conform to gender norms dressing), regardless if it’s perceived as socially-constructed feminine, masculine, or non-binary. We should not be mocked and judged for doing so, or be pressured to appear, dress or present ourselves otherwise.
As I’m writing this, it reminds me of the societal double-standard towards males being perceived as “weird” for wearing skirts / dresses, whereas females can freely wear both skirts/dresses or pants, and not have an eyelid bat at her. And likewise, for a female not wearing makeup, or for a male wearing makeup – both will face judgement for their appearance respectively.
As superficial as I sound, I also wore long skirts to job interviews, as I personally felt that with my already androgynous-looking hair, it would be a “safer’ gender-appropriate look to land a job.
Short hair and non-feminine dressing = lesbian
When I walk with my girl friends one-on-one on the streets (*when I’m in jeans and an unisex top), we will receive the ‘lesbian couple’ stare, even when there’s no physical contact between us. There is due to the general stereotype that when a girl in short hair, unisex top, and pants is alone with another girl in long hair, they are most likely a lesbian couple. It is true at times, but not always. And homosexual couples can come in different combinations just like straight couples e.g. 2 masculine-dressing partners, 2 feminine-dressing partners, or 1 masculine and 1 feminine dressing partner etc.
I used to enjoy observing the dressing trends of girls on the streets, which I’m unable to do now when I’m in pants and unisex shirt as girls would misunderstand that I’m checking them out.
I felt like telling these girls in my head..
“Just because you think you look pretty hot..only on the outside (*cough cough), it does not necessarily mean that every person who just so happen to be situated infront of you is trying to hit on you babe.” (*eye roll)
A girl friend also revealed that she did not feel good receiving those kind of public stares as a result of being beside me.
All these incidents allowed me to experience what it’s like for 1) LGBTQ couples who regularly get judgmental stares when in public 2) Individuals whose dressing and appearance do not conform to mainstream gender norms, and constantly have their gender identity or romantic / sexual orientation constantly be either judged, inaccurately labelled, or end up being unwittingly put in situations where they are misunderstood.
Social norms are important, but should evolve with time as well
The whole experience increased my understanding towards the relevance of the respective gender norms and roles, as gender categorizations do help society differentiate easily between the female and male gender be it in appearance or other aspects. E.g. I do get my gender wrongly called, or receive curious looks by young children who are confused by my androgynous outlook – they cannot tell if I’m a girl or boy.
But at the same time in this age and era, with the increased presence of diversity in gender identities, expressions, romantic and sexual orientations; I hope society can likewise, be more open-minded and civilized in a sense where adults do not see the need to stare, quickly judge, or label a person 1) if they appear androgynous or non-binary in appearance / relationship 2) or dress and act in a manner which differs from mainstream gender expectations and norms.
Informed adult family members, teachers, and peers can start the ball rolling by removing these unhealthy gender expectations and sexuality stereotypes, and educate the future generation to not stare, judge, mock, or be quick to label a person whose appearance differs from gender norms, or those in LGBTQ relationships.
Only after we have passed this essential step, can we only then start to talk about evolving how we can can better educate young children on the fluidity of gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation 🙂
“If you think that the way that children perceive gender is important, then making an early intervention to equalise between the genders is a good idea. It’s definitely too late by the time they get older,”
…Ideas of how each gender should behave are also becoming less rigid with each new generation. Hodges says children and young people are far more accepting of the fluidity of gender and sexuality than older generations.
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Katy Perry photo credit: ANDPOP