Content warning: femmephobia, minor misgendering
For most of my life I’ve been battling with the ever-present, all-powerful gender boxes. From a strange obsession with having the longest leg hair at age seven, to a series of far too close-cropped haircuts at 14 to 16, and a predilection for pairing suit jackets with floral skirts at age 18, gender roles have never been my thing. In fact, I’m yet to find somebody who thinks they are their thing. The consensus all around is that gender stereotypes suck harder than supermassive black holes. (Okay, black holes don’t suck, but I’m a poet first and a scientist second, and poets don’t need to make sense.)
The thing is, gender roles haven’t been uniformly rigid for me and for a lot of other people I’ve known. You’d expect us to grow out of ludicrous ideas like “pink is for girls and blue is for boys”, but apparently not. Most of my childhood was fairly unrestricted as far as gender presentation, save from a few nasty comments from peers and old fogies. I was easily classified as a tomboy, and everyone calmly reassured themselves with “she’ll grow out of it” and “she’ll make such a nice young woman”. The promise of a nice, gender-conforming young lady would tide people over. I, of course, did not, and the world ended up with a young man instead. Quelle horreur!
You know that scene in Star Wars where Luke and the crew are in the trash compactor? They fall into all the gross mud and grunge on the floor and it’s disgusting, but then the walls start to close in and suddenly everyone is slipping over and the garbage is being pushed onto them as the walls close in. That’s kinda what gender roles feel like to me now. One box has the same shit on the ground as another box, but now the walls are closing in and I’m getting it splashed all over me.
Now that I’m identifying as male, I’m expected to fit right into those gender roles. I’m expected to dress in dark colours, be taciturn and gruff, bodybuild and learn mechanics. There’s no room for what is perceived as feminine behaviour – floral prints, nail polish, sewing, poetry. A friend once said to me “If you want to be a boy, you need to stop wearing so much floral print, because it’s for girls” and then proceeded to, almost in the same breath, compliment our cis male friend’s new floral tie.
Trans people are expected to be hypermasculine or hyperfeminine, whereas cisgender people are allowed a lot more shades of grey. It’s even more pervasive for trans women, who face the invalidation of their entire identity if they don’t display the exact amount of femininity for our transmisogynistic and femmephobic society – not too much or you’re “trying too hard”, and not too little or you’re “faking it”. Maybe gender roles get more strict because we’ve already made that gender transgression in identifying away from our assigned sex, that anything further makes people too uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, there is a definite double standard when it comes to trans people and gender roles.
Ultimately, it’s ridiculous, because trans guys look super cute in skirts, and purple is a really nice hair colour, and there’s nothing cooler than a trans girl who’s into power tools and cars. “I use she/her/hers pronouns” should not mean “I will never wear a button down in my life”, and “I’m a man” does not mean “I’m a lumberjack”. Just because someone is insistent about their gender doesn’t mean they have to conform to what you think that gender should mean. Who gave you the right to decide what’s masculine or feminine anyway?