Category Archives: Feminism & Social Issues
When most people hear the phrase “tomboy” or “tomgirl” they think of images like these:
But that can pose kind of a problem for people who look like this:
The phrase “tomboy” is complicated for many reasons. “Tomboy” can mean a behavior, like the stereotypical “tomboy” who enjoys playing sports and hangs out with guys. “Tomboy” can also describe a style of clothing, which is more masculine (but typically feminine enough to be socially acceptable, for example “boyfriend” jeans). And finally, you have a definition of “tomboy” as a personality…someone who would be considered a guy if they weren’t (by others’ definition) a girl. Personally, I detest all of these versions of “tomboy”, but the last is probably the most problematic, so I’ll divulge into that first. Get ready for some gender ranting, folks.
Back in the day before people really talked about transgender issues or the existence of non-binary people, gender non-conforming people were just lumped into the “gay” category. Granted, some of these people were gay, which seemed to confirm the stereotypes that gay men are feminine and lesbians are butch, but some weren’t. The femme lesbians and masculine, gay men were pushed under the rug because they didn’t fit the stereotypes or standards of queerness that society set up, and because they often could “pass” as straight since they maintain their appropriate gender roles. But they weren’t the only ones throwing the general public for a loop…there were feminine men and masculine women who were heterosexual. These other people, who were also unexplained by stereotypes, were dealt with in a different way.
Society made no room for feminine, heterosexual men. Often they were taught as children to be ashamed of this part of themselves, bullied into hiding their feminine interests, and/or ostracized. Being feminine is still viewed as a negative trait for men, and still associated with homosexuality. So many feminine men hide their true feelings in order to avoid ridicule, because society praises masculinity.
Which brings to light the masculine women. Women began to gradually expand their gender roles as they began joining the workforce, professional sports leagues, and other traditionally male-dominated spaces. With time it became okay for women to express masculinity, because they were in spaces that typically rewarded masculine traits (for example, as women climbed the corporate ladders they dressed more “professional” in blazers and pantsuits, as well as became more assertive and independent in their attitudes). So, in order to put a name to these new changes and differentiate from the traditional feminine woman, “tomboy” was born. Like the feminine men, as children most “tomboys” were encouraged to assimilate to society and often bullied. But this was more relaxed, because many girls just “grew out of it”. Hmm, I wonder why that is…maybe because “tomboys” didn’t attract men? Men, in the efforts to once again avoid ridicule (not to mention maintain their privilege), avoided pursuing masculine women because the affection for a masculine person would probably “look gay”. So during puberty, when earning the affection of the opposite gender is important, heterosexual “tomboys” would abandon their masculine inclinations in order to look attractive. Or, if you’re looking at today’s “tomboys” they try to find ways to glam it up…adding jewelry, keeping a feminine haircut, wearing makeup… Which brings me to the stylistic aspect of “tomboy”.
The fashion industry has broken ground for non-binary people and opposed gender roles, true, but in the name of commercial pursuit the industry tends to go back to restrictive gender roles. Clothes geared toward “tomboys” tend to still emphasize the feminine shape of a “tomboy”‘s body, they use sparkles or pinks and purples to make it more traditionally “girly”, and they ultimately try to break down the masculine aspect of the clothing to still look attractive to men. That’s where I get peeved…it’s still all about looking hot for men, and looking “girly” enough to protect the precious egos of many men.
As for the behavior part of “tomboy”, it seems that society is doing a bit better lately. For a long time, traditionally masculine interests like sports, hunting, and technology were seen as strange interests for women, but because more women have pursued these interests it has broken out of the boundaries of “tomboy”…now, a woman can be sporty or outdoorsy without getting some sort of bullshit label. Those interests are gradually expanding in their definitions to include women. It’s no where near egalitarian, but it’s a start. I still cringe when I see the pink hunting gear, the short skirts female players are required to wear in tennis, etc. but hopefully these efforts to maintain the subordinate female gender role will fade with time.
A lot of positive change will only occur when both gender roles are dismantled. It’s not enough to erase the term “tomboy”; we must work to expand manhood as more than masculine… Femininity will never be seen as equal to masculinity until men feel comfortable enough to express it, or acknowledge that it is not an indication of weakness.
With all of that being said, I can finally get to my reason for bringing up this predicament of “tomboy”: the existence of “tomboy” often delegitimizes the expression of non-binary people who happen to have female parts. This is why it’s not always seen as such a dramatic transition when someone who was female comes out as female-to-male transgender or non-binary/genderqueer…because maybe they were just a “tomboy” before, and don’t necessarily look that much different now. Because the difference is not always a big contrast, a lot of cisgender people don’t always realize the significance of this change. And that’s how they can so easily misgender someone again and again…
“Tomboy” is what a lot of people see when they look at me. And I understand why they would think that, since I am attracted to men. It’s like when they assume I’m a butch lesbian; I understand why people would make that assumption because it’s true that I’m attracted to women. But I’m not either of those things, which leaves me wondering how I am supposed to express myself. How does a pansexual, genderqueer person look? What do they wear? How can you correctly identify them? I never thought I’d miss having someone correctly assume my gender identity, but I do…it can be so frustrating to constantly be seen as something other than your true self.
So that’s my “tomboy” rant. One thing I’d like to add to the discussion is that I’m not trying to imply that women with a “tomboy” style are wrong for doing so in any way—If that is what a person wants to wear, and it makes them feel good about themselves, then I have no room to tell them otherwise. I’m simply trying to express my frustration that society doesn’t always distinguish women with “tomboy” styles from non-binary people. And okay, I don’t always think the “tomboy” style is as feminist as it wants to portray itself, but that’s just my perception. If you think “tomboy” clothes are an expression of feminism, then you do you and wear them! My beef is with society and the meaning of “tomboy”, for all the complications it poses. However, it’s one situation that not going to resolve itself over night…
Hello World! I’m Genderqueer*!
I know this isn’t a very epic way of coming out, on my anonymous blog that only a handful of people I actually know in real life read, but I’m still nervous about coming out. So, baby steps.
Just like when I found out I was bisexual (which later I changed to pansexual, once I realized what that was), I’ve gone through some anger and denial about this facet of my identity. Once again, I got scared of being different, of being made fun of, of further distancing myself from my family, and of accepting the fact that I’m not the adult I figured I’d turn into as a kid. Dammit, I thought to myself, I thought I was done with all this coming out crap.
But nope, here I am, just as queer as ever. And like being pansexual, being genderqueer is often pretty invisible to other people and misunderstood. To most people, I’m sure I look “butch” or “tom girl” or just really gay. I dress in a mix of men’s and women’s clothes, my shoes are almost always sneakers, and I wear a hat about once a week to hide my hair. So I might look different, but people still pretty much treat me the same.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” “Here you go, sweetie.” “She said…” “How can I help you, miss?” “That’s hers…” What I never thought twice about, having my gender assumed by everyone around me, now feels wrong. But what is “right”? I’m not a guy, but I’m not a girl. Maybe I’m a mix, maybe I’m fluid, maybe I’m neither…I’m not sure yet. So what am I supposed to tell people to call me?
Something I didn’t understand about being gender queer before identifying as it was why it requires its own label, why people can’t just think of gender outside gender roles, and continue living their life as a woman/man, but do their own thing. Now I get it–It’s more than gender roles, more than whether or not you wear dresses or pay for dinner. Being genderqueer in my experience means realizing you no longer fit in your gender, or in the “opposite” gender…feeling so distanced from women and men, like you just want people to stop putting you in a box. For me, I realized I was genderqueer by the overwhelming feeling that I just wanted to be treated as simply a person, simply myself, and not a woman.
So, how has life changed since realizing this about myself? In a way, my identity effects nothing and everything. I’m still the same ol’ me, but now I want people to treat me that way; I want people to hold their opinion of me outside of gender. It’s a lot to ask, though. Our lives are organized around gender and our expectations for each gender, including sexual attraction. When I dress feminine, men look at me and talk to me more. When I dress masculine, men ignore me for the most part. What makes this so frustrating is that when I’m feeling masculine I want to fit in with men—I want to be one of the bros, to joke around and feel like I belong—but they can’t seem to get around my breasts and female stature. As for women, I feel like my attraction to them is invisible when I dress feminine, but that seems to be the only way to make them feel comfortable talking to be in the first place. So basically, it feels like their interpretation of my actions is either seen as friendly or flirty based on how I’m presenting, and I can’t actually choose between the two myself.
The spaces I occupy also feel very different. Going on dates I see confused looks because my partner is male, and I’m dressed masculine instead of feminine. Sometimes I feel like because of this, people confuse him as gay (which he doesn’t identify with) or misread us as friends. I feel like everyone is looking at me thinking, What are you doing to him? Aren’t you supposed to be the girl? Other spaces, like public restrooms, also make me feel out-of-place. I use the women’s restroom out of preference for cleanliness (I know I shouldn’t stereotype men as messy in the bathroom, but I’m pretty sure my brother has scarred me for life, haha) and for fear of harassment. But when I go in there, I feel like I don’t belong…as silly as that may sound for a bathroom. Women fix their hair in the mirror, and see me washing my hands at the sink. I catch glimpses of confusion on their faces, and discomfort. What are you doing here? I guess that’s a girl…. Meanwhile, I’m drying my hands, thinking, Guy in the girl’s room. That’s what this is like.
I look back on my past and wonder why I was so comfortable being feminine all the time then, but not now. What changed? First of all, back in high school I had no idea that there were genders besides man and woman. So that solves that issue—but what about college, after I was educated about gender fluidity? Why didn’t it click that I was genderqueer the moment it was explained to me?
I’ve thought about this a lot, and my conclusion is this: When you are growing up, and figuring out who you are, it feels good to go along with the things people praise you for. Once I grew out of my awkward puberty stage, my insecurities were soothed when I realized that guys liked me—they liked my smooth legs, my bigger boobs, the way jeans hugged my ass and my long, wavy hair. And it wasn’t just guys who liked the feminine attributes I had, it was everyone. Girls at school complimented my outfits, my grandma’s friends would talk about how pretty I was, my mom would tell me she envied my legs, my dad mentioned how he liked my hair, my boyfriends eyed my low-cut tops, friends would help me with my makeup…it was constantly reaffirming when I was always feminine. It felt great to walk into a room and know that other people thought I looked good. So that’s what I did; I people-pleased with my appearance like I did with so many other things because it boosted my self-esteem. So what changed? How much I cared about what other people thought.
After coming out with my sexual orientation, I realized what life was like without everyone’s approval all the time…and you know what? It wasn’t so devastating. People gave me dirty looks and felt uncomfortable, but I felt so much better. I was free to express my homosexual attraction, and it was a giant weight off my shoulders. And yeah, while it definitely took some getting used to the stares and the disapproval, I became happier. Without coming out about my sexuality, I probably would have never had the courage to look at the truth of my gender identity.
So where does that leave me now? Honestly, I’m not always so sure. I don’t know how I’m going to navigate some parts of my future like parenthood (do I let my kids call me mom?) or my career (do I tell my employers or clients about my gender identity?), but I’ve got plenty of time to learn. Mostly what I’m working on now is becoming assertive about myself—not being afraid to tell people with pronouns I prefer, or that I’d like to be called by my nickname than actual name. It’s a work in progress. Another issue I’m tackling is deciding who to tell about my identity in general. After coming out to my family about my sexuality, I don’t think it’s a great idea to come out to them about my gender identity, but I’d like my friends and classmates to know. My goal next semester is to start off each class by emailing the professor my pronoun preference and my name preference. It’ll be harder to work on that with people who already know me, but again: baby steps.
Coming out is a strange process that takes time, and what is even stranger is changing the way you see yourself. But like last time, I’m beginning to feel better, more free. There’s a certain strength that comes with owning up to who you are, and this will make me stronger yet.
*What does genderqueer mean? Here is the definition from Wikipedia, because I’m too lazy to write my own: “Genderqueer (GQ), also termed non-binary or gender-expansive, is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine—identities which are thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity. Genderqueer people may identify as one or more of the following:
- having an overlap of, or indefinite lines between, gender identity;
- having two or more genders (being bigender, trigender, or pangender);
- having no gender (being agender, nongendered, genderless, genderfree or neutrois);
- moving between genders or having a fluctuating gender identity (genderfluid); or
- being third gender or other-gendered, a category which includes those who do not place a name to their gender.“
One of the big discussions of this generation’s 20-somethings is the discussion of gender identity. Everywhere on the media you see both triumphs and setbacks for people whose gender identities do not match the gender they were assigned at birth…from bathroom politics, to transgender characters on TV…and from this generation of twenty-somethings and younger we see more love and support than any other generation. The world is starting to swim with the possibilities surrounding these gender issues; where there was once just “boy” and “girl” there are terms like transgender, genderqueer, bigender, gender fluid, agender, etc. And even though not everyone knows what these terms mean or how to use them, people are beginning to understand that what is between your legs doesn’t dictate who you truly are.
I’ve had my own journey in learning about these identities, and issues in the LGBTQ community in general. It’s been almost a year since I’ve come out publicly as bisexual, and even longer since I’ve come out to friends and family. In this time span I’ve gone through so many personal changes…but perhaps the biggest is the realization that I can be more than just one thing.
Let me explain: by being bisexual, (really pansexual, but I use the term bisexual because just about everyone knows what that means) I no longer fit into the old “straight, white girl” box that I used to. Suddenly I became a part of this world of LGBTQ people, people who didn’t fit into the “straight” box and people who struggled with being a bit less traditional than what conservative America strives for. I was gay! Except that I wasn’t…stigma against bisexuals and pansexuals in the LGBTQ community pushed back against me, and I became outside both groups of people. And then there was my presentation…before I came out, I dressed exclusively feminine. I wasn’t exactly girly in my T-shirts and jeans, but I would have never fathomed venturing into the guys department of stores. But then when I came out, I realized that part of expressing my bisexuality came from how I dressed, how I did my hair, and which people I hung out with. So I experimented. I cut off all my hair and styled it like a mohawk, I traded some of my push-up bras for sports bras, and I started seeing clothing as pieces of cloth instead of boy/girl boundaries. Granted, most of these changes were unconsciously made…I had never realized before how much of my appearance was to attract men until I started wanting to attract women. “Guys like long hair,” “Guys like big boobs,” “Guys like girls who show off their legs in dresses and skirts,” “Guys like everything to be shaved,” Once I started ignoring these social messages I realized what I liked. And I liked short hair, not shaving my armpits, warm legs in the winter and boobs that people stare at less. For the first time since I was 14, I felt like my job wasn’t to be sexually appealing to men. So I became more than one thing, more than “butch”, more than “fem”, more than “straight”, and more than “bi”…I became myself.
Which brings me to now. In a culture that is rapidly asking questions about gender identity (what it is, what it means), I find my decisions under a microscope. I’ve started asking myself questions about why I prefer the things I do…why somedays I hate the idea of putting on a dress and makeup, wish people would call me “bro” or “dude” instead of “her” or “girl”, and want to hold open doors for pretty girls and pay for dinner….and then other days I don’t mind “ma’am” and love the feel of the breeze against my dress and shaved legs… Being allowed to cross gender boundaries in the LGBTQ community has opened up a world of experiences for me that I love. But what does it mean? I’m not a guy—that I know—but am I just a girl?
I just like being referred to as a person. All people love to lump together men and women like their gender determines if they play dating games or will forget your anniversary, and I am guilty of this too. But some days it really bugs me that guys see me as something to fuck rather than a peer to hang out with. And it bugs me that girls talk to me about my boyfriend like he owns me or I own him, instead of us working together. Maybe these little annoyances don’t mean anything as a collective whole, or maybe they do. All I know is that if I am genderqueer, or not simply a girl, than that is a whole other set of hoops life will make me jump through…and I’m not sure if it’s worth the energy.
After going through depression, time and time again, I’ve learned over the years not to let people get under my skin that easily. But sometimes I fail, and I sit here feeling like a voice drowned out by thousands of others. It makes me so incredibly angry, and also so scared to speak up.
Here’s my beef: So I go to a university, and most university’s have access to this app called Yik Yak. People share random thoughts, jokes, observations, and questions anonymously. Someone asked a question an hour or so ago, “What happens if I don’t pay my $200 parking tickets?” Most of the responses said stuff like, “They charge it to your student account.” or “You’ll go to court.” But someone tried to be funny. Here’s their exact quote, “The chancellor personally comes to your dorm and rapes you mercilessly until you agree to pay.” This quote got 12 “up votes”, or “likes”. I wrote back, telling this person that rape wasn’t a joke, and that they had gone too far. I said it just like that, “Rape isn’t a joke. Too far.”; I didn’t call them names or even tell them to shut up. Someone said to me, “Seemed like a joke there, it sure made me laugh,” and the another said, “Don’t get so butthurt…Pun intended.” I just couldn’t believe it, how people defended the idea of rape being funny… Were these the same people who just watch it happen, not trying to stop it when they see it? Were they the ones that actually raped? I’ll never know those answers, but what I do know is that they are students like me, who share this campus and walk around the grounds. They are educated, they are young, but they still don’t understand the meaning behind those words.
When you joke about rape, you are saying it is funny for someone to physically assault another person. You are saying that it is humorous for someone to steal someone else’s body, for them to take advantage, to selfishly manipulate another person for their own pleasure. You endorse every scream, every bruise, every inch of torn skin. You are saying that the women, men, and children who have been raped are not validated when they are upset. You are saying it like it is okay, like it means NOTHING. And every person who has been affected by rape feels even more responsible and shut out because of what they have gone through.
I just wish there was a way for people to listen and not get so defensive about when they mess up like this. Because like it or not, they did mess up. And I wish there was a way for them to understand without being personally affected by rape. I just can’t even describe how sad for the world this makes me. You don’t have to murder someone to know it’s wrong. You don’t have to watch a murder or have someone you love murdered to know it’s wrong. Why is it suddenly so different for rape? Why can’t people see that taking this behavior lightly only punishes those afflicted by it (instead of its enforcers)? When will people step out of their own bubble to think about how their words affect other people?
Will this only happen when men are also taught to lace their keys in between their fingers as they walk to their car at night? Or to when they have to constantly make sure they are with a buddy or two when they go out at night? When they have to watch for the signs of being followed, when they realize no matter how much or how little alcohol you drink, how much or little clothes you wear, or how much or little you can try to resist, you will always be afraid. You will always be at risk. And not all men are obvious to this; I’m not trying to single men out as the only people who made these kinds of jokes. But it is a fact that most rape is at the hands of men, and most domestic violence and stalking are instances where the man is exhibiting this behavior. Nonetheless, we all need to be conscious of who we can hurt by our words, and what they really say.
And it’s important to remember that some people just can’t be reached. As much as my beliefs are important to me, their beliefs are important to them, and let’s face it, everyone wants to believe what they think is right. Even so, I hope that one day we will reach a point as a society where we will consider other people and what they have been through before we make a joke out of their pain.
(Author’s Note: I’d just like to say that while I might sound all high and mighty, maybe even on the verge of condescending, I hope you know that this isn’t about being mad at someone for not agreeing with me, or about thinking that everyone should believe what I do. All I’m asking for is that you consider these arguments I’m making, and keep an open mind when you hear people out in the future.)
If college has changed one thing about me, it’s my confidence level. I went to high school in a small, semi-hick town with a graduating class of 182. There wasn’t much to do, and the guys weren’t much to look at. But now I’m in college, and there are people EVERYWHERE. And there are all different kinds, from different places. Back at home I felt like a big fish in a small pond and here I’m the tiniest fish in the sea.
And it’s not just the number of people. In college there is so much interaction, so much hyped up hormones in one area that things get a little crazy: parties, social media…expectations change once you get here. There is so much ambition, mischief, information and sex surrounding you–it’s hard to know what you should get swept up in and what you should stay out of. My first semester I was swept up, but now I’m just standing in one place watching everything happen around me. I feel so much more like myself this way, but at the same time, this atmosphere around me puts a weight on my shoulders.
I don’t measure up. I don’t wear makeup very often, I throw my hair back into a ponytail all the time, I haven’t worked out in a while–my body is softer and curvier. I’m not one of those beautiful girls that guys look at anymore; I’m just one of those people would melt into the walls. And I’ll never wear crop tops because my abs are buried under cushion, I’ll never have beautiful straight blond hair, I’ll never be that girl who can just go up and talk to anyone. I’ve accepted that. But it’s hard to see those girls and know that I will never get that kind of attention from the world.
Now, beauty isn’t everything. I’m proud of my sense of humor, my openness to new ideas, my kindness, and my introspection. But guys don’t see those things unless you are also attractive, and let me tell you something: looking attractive is exhausting. Picking out a cute outfit with perfect accessories takes time and thought. Putting on makeup is meticulous and you can’t touch your face without smudging something. And curling your hair takes more time and patience than I have, not to mention it’s bad for your hair. So I don’t bother with those things unless I want to look cute for my boyfriend, and since my boyfriend isn’t at school I always look plain. And I feel fine looking plain, because I’m not trying to impress anyone, but….
I’m a woman. And women are supposed to perfect. Smooth, tan skin. Big eyes with long eyelashes. Precise eyebrows. No acne. Full, red lips. Small nose. Defined cheekbones. No double chin, no extra hairs. And that’s just our face. Everywhere I look I see men ogling parts. Breasts, butts, abs, thighs, you name it. Women are supposed to smell good, only have hair on top of their head, be thin but curvy in the right places, be toned but not masculine… Every moment of our lives, women have a new expectation shoved down our throats.
And I hate it. I hate not feeling good enough to be worthy of praise and admiration. Do I really care what these guys at school think? No. But like society has taught me, I feel better when guys like me.
That’s such a crappy realization. My self-worth should NOT be based on how many men I catch drooling at my breasts. I am so much more than that, and the only opinion that should matter is my own. But the pressure is hard.
Girls dress up to go to parties, spending hours on looking good. Then they go and drink too much, just so they might have the possibility of hooking up with some horse-faced guy who won’t ever give them a second thought after he finishes. And finally they stumble home, throwing up, all to feel better about themselves.
Not all girls do this, but the majority do. How sad is that?