last spring and summer were sky blue. fall and early winter were pearl which really read as silver because you get what you pay for, and i paid 99 cents at CVS. initially it was black, the halloween gateway, the neutral zone. emboldened, black bled into fuck you hot pink. and, it was around that time that the neighborhood started referring to me as that barista who paints his nails.
but, they’ve been clean since christmas. i let the last flakes of pearl-which-really-reads-as-silver chip off and each time i pick up the bottle to start again something gives me pause. i remember that this small act of self-expression is really a big act of rebellion, and i just haven’t been up to shouldering that weight.
i have been brazen, maybe too much so.
each phase has come with it’s particular violences. the enforced femininity of my high school years left me feeling sick to my stomach most of the time with little explanation as to why. for my senior prom i gleefully and haphazardly brushed globs of pearlescent polish on my toenails, slipped into a cute dress, tucked a rose behind my ear. most days i kept myself to strict regimen of feminine presentation; i was sure to wear a skirt at least once a week, i reserved my baggy hooded sweatshirts for particularly rough days, i put on mascara each day even if i didn’t want to. but, i bubbled with pleasure getting ready for prom; i sunk into the lushness of full-fledged femininity. it didn’t exactly seem wrong.
and, i remember vividly the day i flipped the script, the day i made a left at the american eagle (yeah, i know) instead of a right. it was a maroon and navy striped sweater, XS and i was certain that i was never going back. something about high school made sense or almost did. i cut my hair short. somebody called me butch and it adhered to me just like that enforced femininity. suddenly, i was not masculine enough. my shoes belonged in the women’s section, my high-pitched voice and my swishy gestures made people question my commitment to the gold-star, bro butch aesthetic that was so prized on my college campus. and, did i make that left turn just to get caught in another labyrinthine trap?
and, how those first seasons in boston hardened me. the man who seethed at me and called me a “carpet muncher” as i walked past. the person who looked in disgust at my crotch in spandex shorts, then back to my face, then back to my crotch until i yelled “deal with it!” and turned on my heel to walk away. the guy at alewife station who shouted “i’m going to kill you, you fucking dyke,” when i refused to speak to him. i pushed hard to be respected as something not-woman. i started lifting weights regularly. testosterone slowly shifted my shape and the more recognizable i finally became, the more redoubled efforts seemed to fit me neatly into a cultural norm. this, after all, is the story we’ve been sold.
our identities are nothing if not persistent, resilient. feeling comfortable in my body allowed me the wiggle room to finally wholeheartedly explore my gender identity. and it started with wearing nail polish which felt like a magic salve. i could have a beard and pink nails. i could wear my incongruence proudly. i could make material the flux that fills my mind. and, i think of my gender like a pendulum’s swing. i am so emphatically both, yet i am so extremely neither that my comfort zone lies somewhere in the central portion of the arc. a delicate balance, the gentle sway of androgyny as boy body meets femme expression.
and, how the giant fuck you that is every word poured from my lips, that is every refusal to conform, that is living in this body that is male and female and everything in between got choked from my throat on christmas day. standing naked in my window, hand clutching cunt and pleading with hatred to just let me be, just let me be. our society reserves a special kind of hatred/violence/surveillance for transgressive femininities, for boy presenting bodies that refuse to be masculine or male or whatever. all of my cocksure strutting around, my out-and-proud orientation towards the world came to a crashing halt. i remembered that i am not safe. i do not know if i am safe.
i think a lot about what it means to call myself femme, to claim that identity as someone who mostly walks the world perceived as a man. i think of how fucked up it is that i feel guilty for not pushing harder, for not living more authentically, whatever that means. i want to push harder, i want to transgress further, i want to transcend every act of violence that has ever kept me from my truth. but, i guess i’d rather be alive and unharmed than to be so brazen as to walk down the street in lipstick and combat boots and a sensible black dress.
because, some days it’s a small miracle that you put on those boots and make it out the door. some days it’s your own quiet little riot as you walk down the street in a world that sort of wants you dead or at least just to be less visible or at least just to be a little more normal or at least just to be a little more quiet. some days it’s an act of self care not to be so brazen, not to push boundaries because it’s exhausting to spend so much of your time feeling unsure if you’re going to just be okay.