Once upon a time, I was one of those little girls who was constantly mistaken for the opposite sex. I had short hair. I had a deep voice. I had lots of really terrifying pairs of cargo pants purchased in the little boys’ department, the kind that you could zip open at the knees and turn into a pair of shorts. I got along better with boys than with my fellow females. I didn’t have any interest in feminine clothing or accessories, and I really liked running around in the great outdoors.
I was nine years old. I was a less famous, less darling, awkwardly-bespectacled version of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt. I was a dedicated tomboy.
But I was also bullied on a regular basis. I experienced a lot of really deep unhappiness and loneliness. I used to look in the mirror and be frankly disgusted with what I saw, which is quite normal for a bullied child with weak self-esteem and a low opinion of herself. When you’re very young and impressionable and have someone breathing poison down your neck on a regular basis, you’re not going to feel too snazzy. And I didn’t. I really, really didn’t.
Of course, I placed most of the blame for my bad feelings on my bully. She was the one who was tormenting me, and I could clearly identify that. But in my little brain, I also really believed that my unhappiness had at least something to do with my clothing. I was comfortable in my baggy cargo pants and floppy camouflage-print sweatshirts, but I was also observant, and the girls who dressed like girls and had long hair did not appear to be getting bullied. They did not appear to hate their faces and their existences on planet Earth in quite as passionate a way as I did. They seemed cool and fashionable to me. I wanted what they had for myself.
Thus, as I grew up, I phased out the cargo pants and the over-sized T-shirts. I got my ears pierced. I purchased my first tube of lip gloss. I started carrying a handbag. I grew out my hair. I started wearing a padded bra, because I certainly didn’t have anything to put in a regular bra. I went to a prom in a strapless dress with lavender trim along the bottom and black strappy heels. I had my first boyfriend (!!!). I looked like seventeen kabillion other fourteen-year-olds who shopped exclusively at Delia’s.
But what do you know, I was a lot happier.
There were a lot of reasons why. My bully had moved away, for one thing. I had good, solid, reliable, loving friends. I’d begun really involving myself in my religion and writing and art. I had adopted a dog, a little Miniature Dachshund named Francine who gave me my first taste of the unconditional love that radiates out of the faces of canines. I was living in a real house with a real yard instead of the dirty condo with screaming next-door neighbours that my family had occupied previously. I was back on a diet that respected my many food allergies. I was thoroughly invested in schoolwork and learning. All in all, I was a hundred times healthier in both mind and body.
But, yet again, there was a part of my brain that really attributed my new-found happiness and security in myself to the fact that I now wore girl clothes. In my private journals, I started referring to the tomboy things I used to wear as “hiding clothes”. I decided it had all been a low-self-esteem-imposed cover for this feminine butterfly I’d ended up being when I grew up and came out of my shell or whatever. This bright lip-glossed Delia’s-covered sundress-wearing teenager was who I actually was, and wasn’t it grand that I had finally discovered that! Oh, boy. I was never cutting my hair again. I was never dressing like a boy again. I was UNBELIEVABLY sure of that.
When I turned fifteen, I started to have an interest in politics and public speaking. Naturally, I wanted to dress the part. I started mixing blazers and button-downs into my wardrobe and getting rid of my hoodies and sneakers. I was still fiercely intent on being feminine. My blazers and button-downs were brightly-coloured and tight-fitting and came from the junior’s department at Kohl’s. They were fairly wretched, but they were an important stepping stone to a year later, at sixteen, when I made friends with a girl who loved dressing up in suit jackets in her spare time.
And I’m not talking about blazers from Kohl’s.
I’m talking about men’s suit jackets. Men’s button-downs. Men’s dress shoes. Big, floppy, full-on man clothing. This girl and I used to go to thrift stores and buy those things and take armfuls of them back to my house and just dress up in them and take photographs. We were best friends. We saw each other all the time. We were both imaginative and unashamed of still wanting to play make-believe, and thrift-store dress-up was one of our favourite activities. Most of the time, I’d put my hair up to simulate shorter hair, because having long shoulder-length locks just didn’t look right with those clothes. And after a lot of hours spent doing that, I realized I really, really, really loved wearing that stuff. I loved that stuff more than my Kohl’s blazers and my school-girl-style skirts that I’d been wearing with them.
That year I attended an old-fashioned ball held for a friend’s Sweet Sixteen in a tailcoat and top hat.
And it hit me. I had gotten it all wrong. My old tomboy clothes were not hiding clothes, and my hyper-feminine clothes were not who I actually was. It was entirely mixed up.
The girl clothes had just been the product of what I thought I had to do to become secure. I was under the mistaken impression that self-esteem was growing up and changing how I dressed, that long hair and pink shirts had something to do with adolescent happiness. Coincidentally, I’d happened to become happier through other channels of existence. I’d attributed a lot of that happiness to my clothing change, in much the same way that I’d attributed a good part of my old sadness to my old clothing. Très idiot!
So guess what.
I’m almost twenty now.
I’m proud of having a flat chest and a face that can be androgynous.
This Christmas I got shirts and a sweater-vest from the boys’ department.
I’ve cut off my hair again.
I am the happiest that I have ever been in my entire life. I am truly happy. In my current state, I am ecstatic. I wake up smiling.
Androgyny and women in menswear are all over the place, having a major moment. Not only am I comfortable and secure and elegant and pleased with my style choices, but I’m also on point with the current trends. How convenient is THAT.
Now, I don’t restrict myself to only one type of clothing. There are still quite a few feminine things that I love. I do put on makeup every day, albeit very natural makeup. I love high heels. I often carry a handbag. I get manicures and pedicures. I wear jewelry. Dresses are still a part of my wardrobe and I do wear them on occasion. Sometimes I just feel like putting on some bright pink, obnoxiously sparkly lip gloss. But at the end of the day, the outfit that I will always love best is a white button-down, a nicely-fitting pair of jeans, a black suit jacket, and black Oxford shoes.
I am tomboy aeternus; hear me roar.