Running from Femininity

what is femininity?I’ve written over 150 posts on this blog. I’ve never written about my own femininity.

Femininity. It’s a word I run from even if I can’t explain what it is. I’ve spent over 50 years resisting compulsory femininity. I know that everyone, from John Wayne to Dolly Parton, is a mix of masculine and feminine. No matter what your gender identity is, there is some femininity in it. I have a hard time admitting to mine.

In nice weather, Donna likes to walk with me to our local playground. She likes to point out how cute the girls are, and she wishes she could find outfits that are as bright and lively as what they are wearing. She’d gladly trade places with them. I tell her I understand how she feels, even though that isn’t what I feel. I remember what it feels like to be in a playground, at recess, wearing a dress. I’d gladly trade places with the boys.

My mother and my grandmother dressed modestly and neatly; they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. They looked in the mirror before leaving the house to make sure their hair was in place and their make up was fresh. They looked down on women who dressed provocatively or flamboyantly and on women who tried too hard to be stylish. They looked down on women who “let themselves go”. Their notion of femininity was narrow and constrained.

They tried to make me fit into it. There were unfeminine arguments over “You’re not going to leave the house looking like that!” and unfeminine slaps when I argued back. Even when I put girl’s clothing back on, it didn’t have the effect that my mother and grandmother wanted it to. Femininity is not just about clothes, hair style, eye glasses, and shoes. It is also about behavior.

The traits I ascribed to my mother (and her mother) were: judgmental, controlling, manipulative, spiteful, and narcissistic. I’m sure my mother had some good traits, but I didn’t see them. The traits I ascribed to the girls at my elementary school were: conforming, vain, mean, and cliquish. Nothing to aspire to.

I try to be gentle, empathic, sensitive, sincere, tolerant, and a good listener. I did not learn these traits from my mother or grandmother. Even though they are traditionally thought of as feminine, I learned them from my dad. I’ll admit I get my stubbornness from my mother. I’m also independent, competitive, and disciplined. I’m not sure where that comes from.

I don’t believe that masculinity and femininity are opposites. Or mutually exclusive. They overlap. There are good traits and bad traits in both camps. So why am I uncomfortable accepting my own femininity? Because I’m still arguing with my mother. Even though she is dead. I’m afraid that any sign of femininity will invalidate all of my masculinity. As if crying will magically change my blue jeans into a plaid skirt, and my mother will see me in it and feel vindicated.

No matter how masculinely I dress or present myself, those “feminine” traits will still be there. My mother didn’t see them, and she didn’t appreciate them. That is her loss, and no longer my loss.

Notes: This video by UppercaseCHASE1 is a charming, rambling, shaggy cat chat about why it is OK to be a trans man and feminine.

I didn’t intend to link to yet another Julia Serano article, but at the point that I started to plagiarize this one, I figured it was better to edit my post and link to hers. I particularly like her point that feminine traits are human traits, and that femininity is not a performance for the benefit of men.

21 thoughts on “Running from Femininity

  1. Lesboi

    I am often reminded at home by my dear Candace that in many ways I am more feminine that she is. She’s referring to the fact that I am artistic and sensitive, get my feelings hurt easily, have a hard time hiding my emotions and am in general a big softie when it comes to disciplining our four-legged children. All true. She is much better with money and business than I am in many ways as well. Like you, I have spent the majority of my life running from femininity. It’s only recently that I’ve acknowledged my true feminine side and accepted that I actually like the fact that I have this softer side. Most people never see it because they only see the tough exterior on the surface but once they get to know me it’s pretty evident that deep down I’m a much softer person than they ever expected.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I found it interesting on my job, how many men turned their paycheck over to their wives (whether they worked at home or at another job) because she managed their finances, paid the bills, and handled the budget. I think they had no idea where the money went once they earned it. I never thought of the budget as masculine.
      I just kept trying to label those “soft” traits as masculine, because if I’m doing them, then they are masculine – and if Donna is doing them, then they are feminine!

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  2. Mara Migraineur

    Because of the crease, I originally thought it read, “What is Enmity?” I was mildly surprised that ‘Teen Magazine would be tackling such a question, I admit.

    Also, *sigh*, still arguing with my mother even though she’s dead, too.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      My mother and I argued every time we saw each other, and when she was dying we argued through my brother (not an easy time for him). Overall, I felt freed up by her death, but she still talks to me about certain subjects (money, living with someone older than me, and being openly queer/trans/butch).

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  3. PlainT

    I love that magazine spread! I’d point out that some of these traits aren’t about being feminine, they’re just being an adult: treating people with respect, practicing good hygiene, staying healthy, being genuine, being adaptable. Then of course there’s the actresses talking about hair and eyes and skin which is just shallow (ugh Carol Lynley!). I do love Mia Farrow’s answer though; what can I say I like outdoorsy folks… anyways.

    Interesting take though, on not seeing masculine and feminine as opposites. Your mom’s (and her mom’s) take must have felt very restrictive to you. I really like the direction you’re going in, of expanding ideas about what masculine and feminine actually mean. I hope you continue to work toward closure.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I didn’t print all four pages of the spread, so here is the link to the other two pages of Teen Magazine: http://thephantomasthmatic.tumblr.com/post/55393133846/hayley-mills-doesnt-care-about-your-question

      Some people see masculine and feminine as separate and complementary (yin/yang) but I see the overlap – and a lot of middle ground. I need to think more about the combination of masculine gender expression and a mix of masculine and feminine character traits. Also, I seem to be heading away from closure and more to openness – which is another thing entirely.

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      1. PlainT

        I used to see my closed-offness as a product of growing up with two brothers, but it’s probably less of a masculine trait and more just an unhealthy mode of communication. You’re right, there is a lot of overlap; when people act from within, whether it comes off as masculine or feminine is more about others’ perceptions than about masculinity or femininity. If someone who appears feminine is controlled and calm under pressure, we say that they are acting with “poise”; if a masculine person acts the same way, we say they are “stoic”. Even when we can agree that someone is projecting a gendered trait we might not agree on what makes that trait.

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  4. Fredrication

    At the GIC I had to make a personality test. One of the things they concluded about me was that I’m more masculine than other AFAB. I think they read way to much into the test and I’m curious about what they deem as masculine versus feminine. I remember one of the questions were “if you were an artist, would you like to paint flowers?” Another one “If you were a journalist, would you like to write about soccer?”. If that’s their thoughts of masculine/feminine traits I think they’re barking up the wrong tree.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Maybe you’d prefer to paint soccer players and write about gardening? Or paint abstract paintings and write about abstract art?
      It is hard to imagine adults sitting around a table, developing a questionnaire, and figuring out what “real men” and “real women” should answer. I’m sure a lot of cisgendered people would fail it. Like Manet, Monet, Matisse, De Heem, Jan Brueghel, and Van Gogh.

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  5. Widdershins

    I thought Haley’s answer was hilarious too! 😀

    … I’ve jokingly called myself ‘butch with femme rising’ on occasions. I an butch to the core, but that butchness also includes knitting, cooking, sewing, etc, which are stereotypically female skills.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is a totally ridiculous spread, but I liked Haley’s answer too.
      I’m the cook and dish washer. Those activities are usually “feminine” when in the home, but “masculine” when paid – e.g. chef, tailor, or weaver. In my mind (and most likely only in my mind) they are masculine when I do them!

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  6. Ty Wells

    My mom’s and grandma used to get on about my unlady like ways, which included bad posture, and loud, rawkus laughter. Can you believe I allowed them to put me in that Iron Maiden, called a freakin girdle. They were determined to mold me into a lady. Well, it never worked. They eventually gave up and stopped trying. My posture is better, but I still laugh hella loud.

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  7. Amelia

    I find I have the same difficulty when it comes to accepting my own femininity. I went through a very feminine stage when I first cut my hair short, but it never quite felt like me. I’m lucky though. My mother is the kind of person who loves discussion on gender identity and played with those lines a lot herself. She really paved the way for me to do the same. Even with that, I’m still figuring out that balance in myself and trying to be a little more accepting of myself on days when I feel more feminine.

    Thanks for this piece! It’s a topic I always find interesting.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I think it is hard to be accepting and not shut down aspects of ourselves that don’t “match” our identity.
      I would probably be happier if I allowed myself a little more play and was less concerned about what it meant.

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