Update: This article was written before Eddie Izzard’s request to be referred to using she/her pronouns.
I’ve never been a very ‘girly’ girl. I was certainly encouraged to be one while growing up. Besides the obvious societal standards towards gender, I was also the only daughter after three sons, and my mother was very happy to finally have a girl. So she dressed me in pink and frills and delicate little black patent shoes. My bedroom was painted pink, with pink floral wallpaper on one wall, pink carpet, a pink bedspread, and pink-and-white plaid curtains.
But it was never really me. Even though I was only single-digits in age, I still vividly remember the day that my father came home from work and asked me if I could paint my bedroom any colour I wanted, what colour would I choose. I very enthusiastically said, “Blue!” I can still see the, “Well damn,” look he and my mother exchanged before he revealed the can he’d been hiding behind his back and told me he’d assumed I’d want pink, so he’d already bought the paint.
And so pink the walls remained, until I was in my teens and got the blue bedroom I wanted.
My teens also (briefly) introduced another stereotypically girly thing into my life: makeup. My mother never wore makeup other than lipstick on special occasions, so it’s not like it was a big part of my home life. But during high school I got permission to start wearing it. I got some eyeshadow and blush from somewhere and started getting up early to ‘put on my face.’
Yeah, that didn’t last a week. I quickly realized I’d rather sleep longer than take the time to apply a bunch of goo that made my face feel weird all day. It’s just as well. My application technique was one step this side of using an actual trowel – I’m still grateful to my friend Wendy who gently suggested that perhaps I should cut down on the blush – and I didn’t have anyone to teach me how to do it properly.
During my earlier adulthood, I swung widely between hard-core frump – sweatshirts and oversize men’s t-shirts, for the most part – and flowy dresses and spaghetti strap heels in which I was dreadfully uncomfortable when I needed to dress up. The frump was because I hate shopping for clothes and sweats were easy, and the dressy clothes, of which I owned vanishing few, were in my wardrobe solely to meet the demands of my limited social life.
It wasn’t until I entered the home improvement retail industry, where I got called ‘sir’ by a distressing number of customers, that I decided that maybe clothes with some shape might be for me after all. My aversion to being called ‘sir’ outweighed my aversion to shopping, so off to the mall I went.
This was when I discovered a wonderful invention called the ‘girly tee.’ It was perfect – fitted enough that the existence of boobs and waistline could be visually confirmed, loose enough that I didn’t feel constricted, breathable material that didn’t itch or pick, and most of all, easy as fuck to shop for. I could walk into a store, head straight for the t-shirt table, grab 20, and avoid the mall for at least a year. And it even has the word ‘girly’ in the name, so it had to make me more feminine overall, right?
Well, the number of ‘sirs’ I got decreased, anyway.
It was only natural, I suppose, that my version of dress clothes would change over time, as well. Gone are the dresses and spaghetti strap heels. In are black band t-shirts with a black blazer and black jeans. I even wear a bit of makeup. Channelling my mother, I’m a lipstick-only-on-special-occasions kinda gal. Not channelling my mother, said lipstick is black. Oh, and the delicate little black patent shoes? They’ve been replaced by various styles of goth boots, usually with significant amounts of metal.
That photo’s from a trip I took to Dublin to see Eddie Izzard perform. Not surprisingly, on the night of the show, gender was on my mind. Getting dressed at the hotel, giving myself a quick once-over in the full length mirror, the thought, “Wow, this is a mannish look,” crossed my mind. Not that I hadn’t been aware of that before. I was just a bit more aware of it than usual that night, as I was heading to a show where the performer would start out by talking about his new bosoms.
I once heard Eddie Izzard say that he doesn’t wear women’s clothes, he wears his clothes. I get that. And it was at his show that the truly ludicrous nature of the concept of what garb is masculine vs. feminine was driven home to me in a way it never had been before. During the interval I stood in the washroom, doing the most stereotypically feminine thing I have ever done in my life: touching up my lipstick. And yet, as girly as that was, the image reflected back at me from the mirror was worthy of the strongest ‘sir’ I’ve ever gotten.
Ah, fuck it. Who cares what I’m ‘supposed’ to wear? I’m just gonna be me.