View this post on Instagram
To the woman who stares at me, while I am having dinner out with my family,
There is a difference between curiously taking in someone different than you and shooting glaring looks at me across the restaurant because you don’t think I deserve a wedding cake.
To be fair, I never confronted you, so I don’t know what you actually believe when it comes to my rights about procuring baked goods, but, as an elementary school teacher who gains the attention of many a curious kindergartner, the feeling you give off as you take in my differences is palpable.
The questioning tot is quick to voice his confusion, “Mrs. Fox, are you a boy or a girl?” His eyes cast no judgment but are merely seeking to understand. Yours, however, ma’am, tell a different story.
I am sorry that when you were growing up, you were not fortunate enough to really know someone who falls outside of the gender norms society has established. But that is not a good enough reason to cast your hateful stare in my direction. I hope that this post will provide you with some education into what my life is like and why you should consider changing your perspective about me or dining elsewhere.
Generally speaking, when it comes to my outward appearance and interests, I lean masculine of center. Some may call me a lesbian, a butch, a dyke, or a stud. While I typically try to shed these labels as words that define me, they are necessary for this article to offer a perspective: mine. I am taking this opportunity to give heteronorms who might read this an insider perspective of the difficulties people like me face. My hope for this article is that people who read it gain insight into what life for an “outsider” feels like and, hopefully, find that we are not all that different.
I live in upstate New York, where we are (finally) done with winter, false spring, second winter, and have moved directly into humid, heatstroke-inducing summer weather. Which for me adds to the pause I take when I am getting ready in the morning, because shorts.
You see, during the winter and winter weather-related seasons, I rarely, if ever, shave my legs and am comfortable putting on long pants and going about my day. But when shorts become a necessity, I need to consider how hairy my legs are before dawning leg-wear—which probably isn’t very different from most women. But, the difference for me, and those like me, is we don’t care about the hair on our legs, but we care about the perception of others who look at our hairy legs as abominations. This is the first anxiety I face when I wake up this time of year: Are the hairs on my legs in the range of socially acceptable bareness, or have I crossed into the tropical rain forest level (which requires shaving to avoid nasty looks from onlookers)?
I wish I didn’t find shaving my legs so difficult, or that I could have been born with genes that grow those faint, blonde, barely detectable leg hairs. Unfortunately for me and for onlookers who would like to police my body, I find it incredibly difficult to shave my legs because my skin is weird, always creating ingrown hairs, and because I have tons of little, not visible moles and bumps on my legs that bleed tremendously when nicked. I don’t know why my legs are like that, and it certainly isn’t anything I asked for. (But maybe it happens because we were not born with razors in our hands, and leg hairs were actually an adaptation that has contributed to our survival and not meant to be shaved? *Insert shrugging emoji*.)
I’ve tried a litany of shaving alternatives, but always find that, in the end, they suck. I wind up with razor burn, bumps, cuts, and nicks that bleed forever. So many mornings, I walk around while completing the rest of my routine with wet tissue pieces stuck to my legs, hoping they stop bleeding before I need to be in public and people will assume I am a mummy attacked by a machete.
(Stay with me, gentlemen readers; this isn’t all about my leg hair, and I’ll save my armpit hair for another posting—promise.)
The only reason I go into this level of detail about my leg hygiene is because I need you to understand it really sucks and the only reason I do it is to avoid the judgmental looks of those around me who won’t get that I am fine with my hairy legs.
Most of the above anxiety occurs right in the comfort of my own bathroom and is nothing compared to the challenges I face in public restrooms. Thankfully, women often go to the restroom in groups or pairs, but I often feel the need to ask my wife, or another female I am with, to accompany me to the bathroom—even when they don’t need to go. I find that this buffer provides the strangers who are already in the restroom comfort that I am choosing the proper bathroom. When I venture into a public restroom on my own, I am often met with shocks and gasps by those washing their hands, assuming I am male and do not belong in the estrogen-filled environment.
Another somewhat awkward struggle I face is shopping for clothes. If you haven’t guessed already, I prefer to wear men’s clothing because I feel more comfortable in it. But it can be incredibly uncomfortable to shop for men’s clothing as a woman, especially in department stores that have very distinct men’s and women’s sections often clear across the store, or even on different floors from one another. To complete a shopping trip in a store like this, I need to grab armfuls of clothing and then embarrassingly journey across the store to the appropriately gendered fitting room, or take my chances in the men’s fitting room, which comes with its own obstacles.
These types of stores often have older men working in these sections, who seem confused about my being there. This goes double for when I have been in weddings and need to get fitted for a suit, or when shopping for my own wedding attire. There are a mix of complicated emotions tied up in this. For example, when shopping for my own wedding wear, I went to a generic, standard men’s suit store on my first go, to get a feel for what I would like. I ended up feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed, and misunderstood by the men who worked there. Imagine if this is how a more feminine woman felt while getting fitted for her wedding dress! If you find that thought unacceptable, then it should be considered that way for everyone, not just gender-typical women.
Just as uncomfortable is when I am asked to be in someone else’s wedding. Will my loved one ask me to wear a dress to fit into their wedding aesthetic, even though I would look ridiculous wearing one? I am all for pleasing a bride and wearing whatever they choose for their wedding (I did survive my own wedding), but would you ask a male who typically wears men’s clothing to dawn a dress in your wedding? In this scenario, I am faced with two sh*tty options: wear the dress and feel pee-in-my-pants-in-front-of-a-crowd embarrassed or decline to be part of someone-I-love’s wedding.
If your friend is forward-thinking and approves of you wearing more masculine attire, then comes the fitting. Most of the box stores or rental locations do not have an understanding of fitting the female form and are often awkward when approaching fitting a woman for a suit.
I am reasonably sure that most people feel at least some apprehension around getting fitted by a tailor, as it is out of the norm for most of us. I can’t be the only person who worries about whether they applied enough deodorant before a stranger enters their personal space.
However, where things get a little hairy (pun intended) for people like me is that the expert—in this case, the tailor—is blatantly uncomfortable with sizing me because I was born with different body parts. They then go on to make it evident that they are uncomfortable, by cracking jokes, exaggerating movements around my lady parts, ignoring my chest size altogether, and question my being there.
Speaking of feeling anxious because of someone else’s feelings, another hurdle I often face as a more masculine female is being called sir, he, him, or other male pronouns. I am fully aware that I have short hair, wear men’s clothing, and can at times be mistaken for a man. It happens; busy cashiers at the checkout look up quickly, as they try to shorten the lines, “Do you have your frequent shopper punch card, sir?”
I am okay with the accident. Upon first sight, I meet the visual indicators of a male. The part that gets difficult is when I have to choose between correcting the stranger, which makes them flustered and weird for the remainder of our interactions, or pulling off an Academy Award-winning performance by assuming a deeper voice, characterized by deliberate grunts, and attempting to cast a shadow on my upper lip, until I can safely lumber away with my groceries.
Maybe the mindset of attempting to reduce the discomfort of a stranger over addressing my own is a female thing—something that has been ingrained in the upbringing of baby girls. Or maybe it’s just my experience…but it brings me to another point or perhaps misunderstanding.
Appearing masculine does not automatically afford me the privilege that comes from being a man in a patriarchal society. I still face all the insecurities that gender-conforming women do, combined with some vulnerabilities that gender-conforming men face. That’s why it is so outrageous to me that some people think that I or anyone would choose this alternative.
And that, my friends, is why it is Motherf*cking Pride Month! That is why we have a parade, a flag, and why it’s so damn important that you tuck away your privilege, opinions, and dirty looks for a few days…or forever.
Because this small window into my life, as an established, comfortable, and assertive masculine-of-center lesbian pales in comparison to what some of my less comfortable brothers and sisters face each day.
To my LGBTQ+ community members, fly your freak flags and tell your stories, break out your rainbow G-strings and nipple tassels, jump on exotic floats, dance unapologetically, and throw queer paraphernalia to onlookers!
But please don’t get lost in the hype and forget that pride is an opportunity for those who fall outside society’s self-sustaining boundaries to feel like they belong, like they don’t need to explain themselves, cover up their alternative preferences, or shave their damn legs for the public.
Hopefully, a day will come when it will not be necessary for me to defend who I am or to explain it to others, to avoid nasty looks and judgments for purely existing—but until then, I write.
Your hairy-legged lesbian next door