by: ellie june navidson
“If you put on a wig you’d look like a tall, skinny girl,” he said.
“If you put on a wig you’d look like a tall, skinny girl.” This phrase has been playing on a loop in my consciousness for four days. i was at work, talking with a coworker about drag. He was excited to be planning his first routine, and i was thrilled for him. One of my bosses chimed in, saying, “Don’t take this the wrong way,” and i should have walked away right then, “but i think elle should do drag.” Then he looked at me and added, “If you put on a wig you’d look like a tall, skinny girl.”
At this point, i looked him in the eye and said “i’m walking away now, this is bullshit.”
This was outrageously offensive for hopefully obvious reasons. His use of “if” placed my capacity to be a “tall, skinny girl” into a hypothetical category. i’m 6”1, and weigh about 130 pounds. Although tall and skinny are both relative, i’d say i probably fit into both categories. And because my workplace is not conducive to a non-binary option, i’m a girl there. But, apparently not to him.
His adherence to normative beauty standards as essential to gender denied me access to a girl identity. My immediate reaction is to reject that. i want to reject the idea that i should have to meet any sort of litmus test to gain entry into any gender category. i want to cut my hair even shorter and embrace a binary identity. i want to rip down the walls of the category, leaving the bones of my fingers exposed and raw from the labor.
i wanted to scream “THIS IS NOT YOUR BODY TO DEFINE.”
A week ago i was thrilled about the process of embracing an in-between body as beautiful, mine. This moment made me want to recast my body as a girl body, beautiful, different, mine. It made me want to use my body, which is so often a battlefield as an implement of battle; it made me want to metamorphose my body into a pure challenge to normativity.
But this moment also hurt. It ripped the flesh off of my chest and squeezed my heart until i couldn’t bear the pressure. Gasping and crying i also wanted to hide. i wanted my body to be a normative, cis girl body. In a flash i wanted to be 5”4’ and keep my weight. i wanted long hair and narrow shoulders.
i wanted all these things that i’ve worked hard to let go of. Two and a half decades of society telling me how bodies should be is a lot of weight, but its weight i’d mostly learned to carry. i’d shifted it and learned to embrace, even genuinely love my trans* body. But all of that weight turned and snapped and fell down on top of me in an instant. It buried me back in a dark place that it took a long long time to dig myself out of.
Simultaneously, this moment made me want to retreat from the category of girl altogether. It made me feel a sense of liberation. If i don’t fit into a gender box, so be it. i wanted to throw away this category into which i’d been denied access so many times. i wanted to walk away from it, leaving it to wither and die while i flourished in self determined grandeur.
i tried to remember what it felt like to leave the doctor’s office last week. i’d wanted to claim myin-between body and went to strategize with my doctor. They embraced and celebrated this desire to claim genderqueer ground—i’m very privileged to have this doctor—but they told me that they didn’t know how to make that happen for sure.
So, we decided to cut my estradiol in half and keep my anti-androgen, hoping for the best. i’d jumped at this opportunity to attempt something uncertain. Maintaining an andro body, claiming my corporeal reality as queer, was worth the uncertainty. The uncertainty even seemed alluring. Gender challenges have always, despite their hardships, helped me to grow and learn about myself.
i had embarked on a new leg of my gender adventure. When i stepped out of the office onto the street i was elated. The phrase “My body is my own” repeated over and over in my head. A year ago i took steps to begin altering my body with hormones and it was an incredibly empowering and important decision.
Last week i took steps to recognize that i liked the changes and was happy where i was. Somehow that decision, in that moment, felt more important. i was claiming a non-normative space, which helped me to know that it was truly mine, i was not just doing what i thought i had to in order to be a woman. i was claiming ground for myself and knew myself to be unique and beautiful.
But my body is not my own, not entirely anyway. Internalization is a real thing in my life. i looked in the mirror last week, after the incident with my boss and wanted full bottom surgery for the first time in a long time. It was beyond a want. It was a need, and a need with an enormous sense of urgency.
i don’t think that that moment, as hard as it was, was significant enough to make me want bottom surgery. But it did have incredible trenching power. It dug up a pit of body poison that i’d tried—mostly successfully—to bury.
This digging has left things too muddy to see clearly. i don’t know what i really want for my body. i don’t know what i really feel as my identity. Theoretically, i think that i don’t “really” want or feel anything. But in moments it feels like those are true. Theoretically, i think that i’m a product of my society.
i am not without agency. i can push myself to be new things, to resist oppression and normativity, but i am also pressured by society. i am also shaped. i am not gendered in a vacuum. i am a body with agency in a world of pressures. In this way, my body is not your body, but it’s not really mine either.
ellie june navidson is a queer, gender non-conforming creature. She has a degree in Gender and Women’s Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her activist experience is as varied as her identity, but currently, she is involved in queer/trans safe-space organizing and does written explorations of gender and normativity. Her personal blog can be found at invisiblyqueer.blogspot.com.