A letter to my gender

Dear …..,

I have been meaning to write for a while now. These words have been on my mind for months, evolving as time passed by. When I first thought of writing this letter, I think I had different things on my mind than I do now.

When I was a kid, my dad once brought a pair of boys’ sandals to me in the shop. I reacted repulsed. I couldn’t wear those shoes because those were for boys. My dad liked emphasising the tougher side of me and I thought he considered me a lot sportier than I did. Somewhere inside I wondered if he’d secretly wanted a son, to complete the picture after having two daughters.

In the past few years I have stood in front of the mirror many times, telling myself to put on something different because I looked like a stereotypical 80s butch lesbian. It bothered me because, well, I am not an 80s butch lesbian. At least, that’s what I thought bothered me. On other days, I turned to check my outfit from the side, and I told myself to put on a more padded bra because with my petite body and flat chest, I looked like a boy without it. I was not a boy. I was a grown woman. So I’d better dress like a damn woman.

For a brief period last year, I went overboard. I needed mature, floral dresses, so the world would take me seriously and see that I was now a grown-up with a job and responsibilities. Business casual, stuff that I could wear to work and the students could see me adulting in, that’s what I was going for. But months later, I found myself standing over those dresses as I went through my yearly sorting process, realising they did not bring me joy. They didn’t suit me at all. This wasn’t Laura.

When the pandemic hit, I enjoyed having days off from society. Days where I could stay inside, wear my glasses, put on sweats, not wear a bra even. I stopped wearing makeup on days I didn’t need to present myself to the world. Then I stopped wearing makeup altogether, realising that I was having allergic reactions. I stopped wearing a bra, as I had the body for it, and actually the bras I had, had always pinched and choked me and made me physically uncomfortable.

I remembered suddenly that, without a bra, I used to think myself a boy. Then I remembered the many days I had stared at my face in the mirror, shaming myself for my sensitive skin and not taking better care of it. I owed it to the world to make myself look presentable, I thought. That meant layers of makeup, hiding away any odd spots and imperfections. I had been covering my face every day since I was twelve. Now, when I looked at movies, it stood out to me that the women wore dashing outfits and beautiful makeup every moment they were on screen, whereas the men were much simpler dressed and wore no visible makeup at all. It struck me that men could just roll out of bed and start their day, and overall they would not be considered unpolished or gross. Yet here I was telling myself every day that if I didn’t alter my looks, people would think I was neglecting my appearance and health. I started envying men.

This discrepancy started becoming more and more notable to me. I didn’t know why I had been putting so much pressure on myself. No one around me was telling me that I needed to do all these things, that I needed to be a woman in a certain way. For so many years I had pressured myself, internalised all sorts of ideas on how to present myself. But for what? Being removed from society for a while gave me the space and freedom to challenge these thoughts. One day I texted my friends “I’m kind of waiting for the day I’ll be experiencing gender dysphoria or something” – not realising that all those times staring at myself in the mirror were already dysphoria of some sort.

Years ago, I realised my sexuality was fluid and since that moment I’ve identified as bisexual. I like the idea of fluidity in general, and honestly don’t believe anything is set in stone, but I’ve always found the word “fluid” a bit odd as it makes me feel like a Barbapapa. You know, a liquid-type shapeshifter. Anyway, one of the things I started taking away from my sexuality, is that I can easily find inspiration in who I want to be from the people that I am attracted to. A simple example: I was watching a film about girl skaters one day, where somebody was wearing knee socks. I’ve always loved those and I found them very attractive on this person, which is when I realised: if I wanted to feel attractive that way, I could easily present myself the same.

Whilst watching Grease, I told myself that I wanted to dress like both Sandy and Danny because I’m bisexual, and I am attracted to all sorts of genders. Okay – truthfully, I wanted to look a little more like Danny, because that is pretty much the classic Bisexual™ look. Either way, I was telling myself lots of things.

There is a term called gender envy, determined as “a feeling of envy for how someone else presents/expresses their gender identity” (Urban Dictionary). As I was figuring out how to be a woman “in my own terms”, I wasn’t getting on much. Until one day after watching an old episode of GBBO, I was lying in bed thinking about this shirt a guy on the show was wearing. It was a lovely forest green shirt of the kind of material you’ll only find in the men’s department, and I was envious. Suddenly, something clicked. I wasn’t just attracted to men, and I didn’t just want to copy their outfits. There was something more to it.

It’s not that I don’t feel like a woman. There are many days where I get out of bed, hop into a skirt, and skip around the world like some kind of manic pixie dream girl.

However, there are also the days where I’ve hated myself because the mirror was reflecting a masculine side of me that I had been trying my hardest to push away. I forced myself into so many things, and I am tired of it. I tried being completely comfortable in my skin as a woman on my own terms, but I wasn’t getting there. That’s how I realised I am genderfluid.

Dear gender; you were assigned to me at birth. I came out, somebody called it “female”, and that was that. What followed was years of all kinds of struggles. Because I was labelled a woman, I have been unheard, neglected, followed, assaulted, underestimated, put into a box. I am done with the box. I repeat – it’s not that I don’t feel like a woman – but I also feel like so much more than that. I want to be more than that. I don’t want to be afraid of masculine energy anymore and I don’t want to fight it. I just want to be a person. I’m just me. I am she/they.

Fuck it, I am Barbapapa!


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