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.