by Bella Wong
It’s been almost two years since I cut all my hair off; and to this day, I do not regret my decision. I felt as if literal weight had been lifted off my shoulders, or my head, so to speak. Yet, following this dramatic step, I’ve been confronted on many occasions regarding my gender expression, leading me to question gender performance on a personal level. For the record, I identify as female and use she/her pronouns, despite the fact my gender performance may say otherwise.
I have always thought of myself as a “tomboy,” even when I was growing up. Since I can remember, my appearance has been fairly consistent—made up of non-traditional, non-form-fitting clothes from the boys’ and men’s department. Who doesn’t love a huge, comfortable T-shirt or hoodie occasionally? Or all the time! Growing up, I never saw anything “wrong” with choosing to wear and own clothes that were not made for my biological gender. I was and have since been comfortable in my own skin and clothes.
After cutting off all my hair, however, something changed and I suddenly became involved in certain interactions with strangers. There have been multiple occasions that I have been misgendered. Usually the other party initiates conversation, and whether it be at restaurants or a gas station, I have been referred to as “sir” and other male-identifying terms of that sort. This is immediately followed by either embarrassment or confusion after hearing my voice, which lacks the bass of my gender counterparts. In two specific instances, I was asked if I had previously been in the army. After the first time, I was extremely perplexed because I looked like I had just spent an entire week indoors, only to realize afterwards that it was because of my atypical haircut. The second time was out of curiosity, but I thought it was comical considering this was not my first time being asked that. There have also been several occurrences at bars where I have been given strange looks and double takes after security checks my ID; shortly after they find the same person but with much longer hair on the card.
Although I’m not the kind of person who responds outwardly and overtly to socially constructed views—that disregard the gender spectrum in this case—I often leave the conversation confused and try to give that person the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, I’ve encountered individuals who misgender me that are quick to apologize, as well as individuals that use gender neutral terms when they acknowledge me. The latter interactions always left me feeling like there are individuals who do in fact overlook the gender binary construct and recognize and accept the vast array of unique individuals that exist in this world. I perform gender in a way that feels comfortable to me but the world feels that it is necessary to classify and categorize me, and they do so based on my biological gender and performance. I am so incredibly fortunate and grateful that I have family and friends understand my identity and who I am as a humyn being. These individuals give me hope and fortitude in a society that frowns upon people, like myself, who stray from the socially constructed norms of gender expression and performance. So, as a friendly reminder, when you are unsure of an individual’s gender identity, please don’t assume!—because it makes an ass out of you and me.