There was a boy who I used to hang around with who’d always say to me, “You’re such a guy!” This was usually when I held open a door for him, when I discussed my dislike of makeup, and in other circumstances of that nature. It was seemingly his favorite joke, but it grew quite annoying — being patronized and pigeon-holed on the basis of one’s appearance and personality is never pleasant.
I am not usually treated as such an obvious source of entertainment, but it’s still a rare week that I’m not mistaken for a guy. My short hair, androgynous style of dress and the fact that I often hang around with guys lead people to lump me in with the real males at a quick glance. It’s usually subtle — “All right, gentlemen, what are you doing?” “Do you guys want to go join the girls over there?” — though once a guy apologized to me for greeting me with “Hey, dude!” before realizing my female status.
I’m never trying to look like a guy — if I were, I’d be doing a much better job. I know the stereotypes people are judging me by, and I know how I’d work them more effectively if I wanted to. But while there is little value in attempting to be something one is not, it would certainly be nice to be treated with equality: if I have to pretend to be someone else in order that guys might treat my opinion with the same value as they would one of their own, the prospect suddenly becomes much more tempting — and yet I am rarely successful at insinuating myself among all-male groups. Despite some confusion on the part of the less observant, the fact remains that I am still female, and I think it must be difficult for those who usually operate on the basis of stereotypes to know what box to place me in. Many guys refuse to talk to me about “guy stuff,” but many girls assume that I would not understand their romantic dilemmas or pop-culture interests and choose not to confide in me either.
I am not very offended by such confusion, because in a way I am rather proud of my ability to transgress traditional expectations and make people think about how outward appearance informs the way we treat each other. But sometimes my own decisions are called into question, and I find that far more upsetting. I see myself as the epitome of what the modern woman can be: I feel sufficiently empowered to make my own choices about my clothing, my cultural tastes, my hobbies, and my friends. And if some of these happen to coincide with those that a typical male would choose, so be it. One of the most positive things about the 21st century is that it is more possible than ever before to transcend stereotypes. Yet not everyone would agree with my analysis. One woman with whom I have discussed the subject believes me to have “deep-seated gender identity issues.” A girl once told me that my “rejection of my feminine side” seemed like sexism and made it seem as if I hate myself — not to mention that this perceived sexism hurt her feelings. When I added a couple feminist quotes to my instant-messaging profile, a boy told me he was shocked: “I do not believe that you are a feminist.” I’m inclined to let people reserve their own opinions of me, and the last thing I want to do is hurt anyone’s feelings, but it still seems that some of the people I talk to are, for whatever reason, missing the point.
All of these concerns aside, I am usually comfortable with who I am. I have made friends who are both male and female, and while I tend to feel less awkward in a group of guys, that hardly means that there aren’t amazingly nice girls out there. I have no need to be sexist towards anyone and I’m also very glad that I don’t feel the need to rely on traditional feminine sex appeal to attract attention.
However, because I was once much more outwardly feminine and have become more androgynous over the years, I am sometimes concerned that my personality is being corrupted by a need to belong somewhere. Yes, I am less depressed and more self-assured now that I have found a niche, but I often wonder: do I enjoy watching (and playing, in my own inept way) soccer because many guys do, or because I do? Did I take up the guitar because I enjoy playing the instrument, or because it is a favorite pastime of a few male friends? Do I gain the usual juvenile entertainment from dirty jokes only because I got used to laughing when everyone else was?
I have occasionally been asked point-blank whether I’m male or female, and when I say “female” people believe me. But I fear a day when I won’t be believed, because then I really will have lost my androgynous, line-straddling identity to a society of binary gender roles. People ask me sometimes if I wished I were a guy. Though I’ve occasionally thought about what that would be like, I always say I’m perfectly happy as a girl. In the core of my mind I know that I am female, just as surely as I know that I feel comfortable in my lifestyle choices. I know that “my life as a guy” is nothing but a construct, and I know it was only a bout of cynicism that caused me to dress up as a girl for Halloween.