I’ve been wearing more skirts lately. Even corsets. The first time I decided to, I was terrified. I got to work early and nearly refused to leave my seat for fear of exposing my transgressions against gender.
(The corset was easier, though one person did note on my “curvature” ;D)
The mornings I dressed in skirts, dresses, corsets, and other artifacts of femininity, I spent a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror. The misogyny I had internalized pressured me to look like a woman, to pass, but I’m not a woman and that’s not my aim. I like skirts and dresses and corsets, gender be damned. “I do what I want,” I snap, smiling at myself in the mirror. I say it to reassure myself, even as I am terrified.
I grew up hearing remarks like, “She’s clearly a man.” and, “[He/She/It]’s not fooling me.” which taught me about gender cues — and the price you’ll pay if you disobey them. We use these cues to decide which pronouns to use, and how to interact with others: are they a competitor, mate, or human garbage?
(When I was 12, I was at a pool with a friend. A person laid down by the hot tub near us, and my friend whispered, “I think that chick has a dick.” I looked over and, indeed, this person seemed to have a penis as well as breasts, judging by the impressions in their one-piece bikini. The disdain my friend seemed to hold for this person told me that I should agree, but I was inspired by this person’s existence. They had beaten the binary.)
Passing matters for survival. Most of the time, not passing means ridicule and street harassment. Too often, it means vigilantes murder you cold. When I don feminine signifiers, I threaten the patriarchy, and I endanger myself.
While homophobia is on its way out, transphobia is alive and well. Sketches around SNL’s Pat boil down to the punchline, “Aren’t androgynes gross?” Every sketch revolves around other actors trying to determine Pat’s “true sex”, a struggle trans folks put up with every day. The very notion of “true sex” quashes efforts to define ourselves beyond our biology. We are whatever we damn well want to be.
(After I started dating a non-binary person, my parents remarked, “We’re still trying to determine Kelsey’s real gender.” When I tried to explain to them how demeaning that statement is, my father said, “This is so complicated. Why can’t you just be one or the other? Why ask everyone to learn all these new rules?” There is only one rule: you define yourself.)
Normatively, passing means reinforcing the gender binary. Like choosing which bathroom to use, it means admitting the power social norms still hold over you. When I don feminine signifiers, and go to extra lengths to pass as a woman, I reinforce the binary. I show men it isn’t OK to wear skirts. I show non-binary folks they should still be afraid to present as androgynes. I show the oppressor that they still control me.
But they shouldn’t. Be who you want; let nothing stop you.