AI: Owning Your Appearance
Fellow Queereka contributor Yessenia recently shared this article about Jada Pinkett Smith’s response to the criticism she’s faced for “allowing” her daughter Willow to shave her head. It’s well worth a read, the stand-out quote being “Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be”. The article also includes a quote from Will Smith that points out the link between a girl being told what to do with her body and appearance by her father and by other men later in life.
This sort of parenting seems to be quite rare, which is probably why the idea of someone’s appearance not being controlled by everyone around them is still fairly revolutionary (and why the Smiths had to defend themselves in the first place). Once you start to notice this it’s hard to ignore; who hasn’t had someone try to put them off doing something with their appearance because it wasn’t the done thing? Or, alternatively, who hasn’t had someone try to control their appearance despite it being none of that other person’s business? Being LGBTQ* brings a whole new set of pressures to this as well – the burden of stereotypes, the gender binary, the pressure to pass and so on. That anyone manages to resist these messages is impressive, but the more people who do the easier it’ll become. Alternatively, we can all wait to be adopted into the Smith family…
What comments have you received recently that have turned aspects of your appearance or presentation into public property? How did you handle the situation? How do you make sure you’re looking after your own interests rather than just doing what other people think you should?
The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, at 3pm ET.
I’ve been talking with some friends here recently about how I will dress when I transition. The conversations with my queer friends have been about expressing myself while passing, but the conversations with my non-queer friends have been about passing and constraining myself to societies’ standards of what it means to be a woman.
I’ll be frank, I have no interest in meeting some arbitrary, patriarchal standard of what it means to be a woman. I am not going to through with the pain of the social consequences of transitioning for that. I’m only interested in bringing my gender representation in alignment with my gender identify.
I quite often present in a genderqueer manner; I’m biologically male but very femme, and I like to express myself through clothing choices. While I encounter little overt hostility – I live and generally perambulate in central London, and circumscribe myself in the same ways most potentially vulnerable people might tend to – I do find, particularly in pubs, that I can be regarded as an involuntary public spokesperson for ‘men in dresses’. Strangers will quite happily question me – “Why are you wearing a skirt?”; “Do you love wearing a dress?”; the charming “What exactly are you?”.
This sort of thing actually tends to annoy my friends more than me. I’ll usually stay patient and channel my inner pop star, amiably dealing with the silly questions from her sweet but gormless public. But then, I am actually somewhat exhibitionistic and I do like attention; I’m a performer at heart. And I’m now comfortable with myself. A few years ago, when I finally thought “sod it” and started going out in public as my ‘true self’ I was bloody terrified of that sort of thing, and I suspect that fear is a near-universal experience of those with ‘non-approved’ gender identities.
Nothing recent, but when I was a child my father forced me to wear my hair long enough to pull it back into a ponytail for softball (I didn’t even want to play, but that’s another story), through high school. That moment when I was 19 and I realized that I had car keys and knew a place that would cut it for free was empowering. That was at the same time that I decided that I didn’t have to major in English just because everyone told me I should and that I started exclusively wearing men’s clothing. Four years later I’ve started hormones and transitioning.
The realization that I do have, finally, the right to decide how I want to look, is freeing. That I have control over my appearance and my decisions. It’s scary and exciting. I don’t have to be miserable in my own skin.