I was acutely afraid of masculinity as a teenager. I had just turned 18, and was sitting in my therapist’s office when I brought up how much I struggled with wanting to cut my hair – and the way my freshly-shaved head made me feel. She didn’t understand and I felt stranded. I realise now we weren’t a good fit.
I look queer. People have a great habit of reminding me. It’s not that I want to forget I look queer, but I couldn’t even if I tried. I am reminded in the sustained eye contact of strangers as they pass me; in fleeting glances on sweaty dance floors; by knowing nods in my direction. I am reminded when I catch women’s eyes on my chest in public bathrooms, assessing whether I’m in the right place, and when slurs are thrown at me from moving cars.
There is no right way to look queer or do queerness correctly, so it’s difficult to describe why I am so visibly queer without getting into a brain-pickle. A history of oppression and secrecy reveal that we queers can be a sneaky bunch though. When words weren’t safe to use other language was used: a green carnation or a lavender sprig in the lapel; a handkerchief folded a certain way; an earring worn on the left instead of the right; an angled nod of the head; a daring sparkle in the eyes.
I dress for the job interview in my cleanest, most-muted, button-up shirt, faded jeans and brown boots with the stitching unravelled from daily wear. I change my septum ring to one that can be worn flipped and concealed inside my nose – the same jewellery I wear when visiting my grandparents. I joke to my friends that this is my “clean, respectable, young-homosexual look.” I wonder if I would be better off wearing something more femme, or if that would open me up to a new layer of ridicule while sitting in the office of the camping gear store, ready to plead my case.
I couldn’t think of anything more exhilarating than unbuttoning the men’s shirt they were wearing … bottom button already undone to make way for their hips.
I wake up, hungover from my housemates 21st birthday party. I can feel the wine I drank from the bottle making my limbs heavy.
Reconciling my new-found complete body confidence with periodic and intense chest dysphoria that leaves me feeling alien and physically unwell has so far proven a difficult task. Yesterday, 13 of us drove to Kambah Pool to swim, laugh, drink and enjoy the sun (which has resurfaced after the coldest winter I’ve ever experienced). I took my shirt and pants off to change into bathers, watching my new friends diving and splashing in a game of casual cricket. Shimmying my bather top over my compressing sports bra, I threw eyes over the boys laughing and plucking the tennis ball out of the air over and over, splashing and disappearing under the murky, cool water.
I slept in this morning. I plan what today’s outfit will be while brushing my teeth in the shower. As a genderqueer person, a lot of the language I once used to describe myself – my identity – feels clumsy now. I Google the word “butch” to see if it’s still mine … if I’m still allowed to be that.
1. Having an appearance or other qualities of a type traditionally seen as masculine. Synonyms: (aggressively) masculine, manly, all man, virile …
2. A lesbian whose appearance and behaviour are seen as traditionally masculine.
I’m still not sure.