I’ve always felt like a square peg in a world pocked with a million round holes.
From the time I was very young to when I was about twenty-six, I tried my hardest to shape myself into the role that was expected of me. Growing up in a religious home, living in a fairytale culture in which the prize is the prince, I obediently fulfilled my girlish duties. Around the age I started to question my gender and sexuality I was sixteen and a mother. The whole damn country blamed girls like me for every social problem and I was determined to prove myself as a mom, and with that, as a woman. I settled into a life that crushed me but pleased everyone else. I proved my worth by making homemade pumpkin bread and keeping my bathrooms spotless. I didn’t get a clear look at my gender or sexuality until many years later, depressed and suicidal.
After a series of breakthroughs and breakdowns around my twenty-sixth birthday, my husband and I split up. I came out as a lesbian to all my family and friends and with that came these big questions about gender. I suddenly started to dress differently. I was angry and wanted to tell the world to fuck off. I wanted to burn every bra I owned. I shaved my head. When people started to mistake me for a boy, I didn’t know what to think. I liked it. Why did I like it? What did it mean?
Coming out was dramatic, beautiful, depressing, and sometimes very sexy but I was still a mother. I was a daughter too. An ex-wife. An employee. I had to get by. I still felt the need to fit certain roles when the situation called for it. I threw on earrings at parent-teacher conferences. I laced up my doc martins when I went dancing at gay clubs. I tried to find the most neutral outfit possible at family functions.
And what surprised me each time I assumed a different persona was that I had everyone fooled. They all accepted me into their club without realizing that I was a great big fake. I could go to the mall with my kids and be treated like every other woman who filed through the racks of clothes. On the other end, I could go into any club or hipster cafe and no one would guess that I was a mother of three.
The fact that a minor switch in my appearance would get me such a different reaction from the people I encountered made me feel even more like an outsider. If I was with my kids at the beach I was invisible to any dyke I’d walk past. Go to the bar with a plaid shirt and a newsboy hat and it was a different story. I was terrified of just being myself. I couldn’t even figure out who “my self” was. When all my energy was spent scrambling for acceptance, whether it was from my parents or my new queer friends, I missed out on finding the me underneath the façade.
And in dealing with my gender, I’ve found that the same sentiment applies to other aspects of me. I’m Scottish, German, and Filipino. I can be white or mixed, depending on who’s judging. I’ve owned a house with my ex-husband in a suburban mountain town, comfortably settled into the middle class but after splitting up my income dropped and I spent many hours at the social services office applying for medi-cal and food stamps. I’ve felt like a neither one, an either or, a both, a nothing so much of the time in so many ways.
Over the years, I have been able to shed the layers of crap that I’ve piled on, and I look in the mirror to see a more real, authentic me, but I still find myself wondering whether the clothes I wear each day are a reflection of who I am or more about a role I’m feeling a pressure to fill. My gender isn’t one way or the other, it feels more fluid than that, and the way I dress is just part of it, but it’s something I question.
I don’t think my situation is so unusual. No one completely fits into the metaphorical box that each of us might see. And I refuse to believe that people are as cold as they seem. The pressure to fit into something comes from a culture of fear, a culture that wants order, and isn’t secure enough in itself to just be without these damn rules. It doesn’t matter if you’re queer or straight, masculine or feminine, old or young, rich or poor, the pressure to fit in is overwhelming.
I recognize my privilege. I can blend into the crowd like a spy. I can experience these different perspectives firsthand, but with this too, comes the awareness of the sexism, homophobia, racism, and classism that rears its ugly head in everything. It’s amazing what people will say, assuming that I’m on their “team” and their team only.
All of this has brought me to a place where I am able to step back and see it for what it is. Whoever I am and whatever I do, there seems to be terrain mapped out for me already. But I know I don’t have to walk that trail. It’s up to me to clear out a path of my own and I am not afraid.
You can read more of Faith’s words here.
You can read more of Faith’s words here.