Walking down 5th Avenue this month I am met with bright, colorful rainbows beaming from each store front, from Michael Kors to H&M. Hanging signs in the window exclaim the brand’s support of Pride, capitalizing off of queer imagery while suffering from a lack of imagination in representing the fluidity and wide spectrum of queer culture. Fashion and clothing were one of my first entry points into exploring my masculinity as a femme, queer woman.
As a pansexual woman my sexual orientation and attraction is not restricted by gender. Coming into my queerness allowed me a sexual freedom that released me from restrictive heteronormative expectations. However, despite that, I realized that my gender presentation and performance conformed to a rigid femininity that was expected from a femme woman. In reflecting on this dynamic I came to notice a pattern. When I was dating or surrounded by cis heterosexual men, I often over-emphasized my femininity, making myself more palatable to the male gaze. Without consciously realizing it I was making room for their often toxic masculinity and the large ego that comes with it. The inner accommodating Taurus in me made myself smaller in an effort to not disrupt the constructed dynamics of gender that have been artificially imposed by our society but made to seem natural.
It was only when I became a part of the queer community that I began to learn from my peers that my presentation, especially in relation to my body, is mine alone to dictate. Gender is a construct. This is an often familiar phrase used to describe the fact that gender is imposed through a long history of the white colonial male gaze, and we are taught to perform our gender based on those preconceived respectability politics. As I started to increasingly surround myself in spaces with people of versatile gender expressions, identities, presentations, and orientations, who defied and deconstructed the ways they present and embody their gender, I found more room to explore different gender presentations.
I now find my own unique ways to assert my confidence and play with gender fluid clothing, outside of the harmful patriarchal form of masculinity that is presented as the norm. Masculinity is not a gender, although it has long been equated to men, we all have a right to explore what place, if any, it holds in our gender expressions. Masculinity does not look or act one way, rather it is part of a fluid spectrum of human orientation. My masculinity is soft, you can find it in the ways I assert my blunt opinion but leave room to listen, wear baggy cargo pants with a sequined bra, or even be the first one to ask you out on a date. My masculinity is complex and multifaceted.
With that said, I acknowledge the privilege I hold as a femme woman who has the ability to choose when and how to present her masculinity. I have never been mis-gendered at a restaurant or questioned which bathroom to use. I move forward with this privilege and do not presume to speak for masculine-presenting women.
With the month of pride coming to a close I invite you to shed the layers of enforced gender stereotypes and explore the different facets of your gender identity. Ask, what makes me feel most whole? And see where that takes you.