Last week I had an amazing conversation with a lesbian friend of mine who presents a little more masculinely than me. (Hi, Socks!) We were talking about clothes and appearance and why we dress the way we do, and it got me thinking: how much does the way we present have to do with expectations – either meeting them or actively defying them?
All my life, whenever I have dressed up, with my hair done and make-up on, I have been told that I look nice that way (compared to, say, jeans, a t-shirt, and no make-up). Internally, I feel my best when I present myself to the world this way; I feel my strongest when I am at my most overtly feminine.
But the conversation I had with my friend got me wondering why exactly it is that I feel this way. Doubts began to slither into my mind about why I choose to be femme. What if I only feel strongest when I dress femininely because I am meeting the expectations of others? What if I feel the most powerful in heels because they give me a couple of inches, and taller people are more respected (and incidentally, earn more money) in our society? What if I feel better about myself when I have make-up on because people are more likely to think a traditionally attractive person is smart? Maybe I feel I am most powerful when I am most feminine because, in some ways, I am. By meeting the expectations of others, I can reap the benefits of fitting in and making others around me comfortable.
But then again, I know these reasons can’t be all there is to my choice to appear femme, because I still want to dress femininely even when it is not expected of me – even when it is discouraged. Say, at a lesbian bar. Even when showing up in a skirt and heels would make me stick out rather than blend in, I still choose to appear that way.
So I know that for me, femme isn’t just about appearing in a way that is traditionally expected of a woman. But the thing is though, I also enjoy defying expectations. I love the look of surprise that crosses the faces of new acquaintances when they learn that I am gay; sometimes it can be fun to walk around as a living challenge to homophobic stereotyping. I get a rush of adrenaline out of throwing people’s assumptions back in their face.
So then I have to wonder: is actively barreling through the walls of expectation any more liberated than acquiescing to them? I’m still allowing external forces to influence my behavior.
After some serious soul-searching, I reached the following conclusion. Obviously, no one lives in a vacuum, and I wouldn’t want to. Maybe it’s impossible to completely divorce myself from the expectations of the world around me, but that doesn’t mean I am living for anyone else. I emerged from my thoughts (mostly) convinced that my choices – fashion and otherwise – are my own, and not the result of any sort of societal brainwashing. I know that I like being feminine because it fits me, and that I choose to embrace femme as a form of gender performance and play.
Meeting and defying expectations, depending on circumstance – well that’s just all part of the game.
What are your thoughts? Do you think expectations affect your choices, whether consciously or unconsciously?