The day I came out to the world was filled with love, support, and encouragement. It was a day where I felt validated, beautiful, and capable of anything. I went to bed with a smile on my face, feeling good about my choices in who I’ve picked as friends over the years.
And then I woke up the next day filled with more anxiety than I had before I came out. I suddenly felt this overwhelming pressure to conform to society’s sexist and stereotypical ideas of what a woman is “supposed” to be.
I had a game of Dungeons and Dragons scheduled for a little later in the week, and went into full-on panic mode, fearful that my friends would roll their eyes or give me a hard time for not putting on a full face of make-up or “looking more feminine.” I’d already been asked by someone, “if you aren’t going to change your appearance, what’s the point of identifying as a woman at all?”
So I bought some makeup (that I actually really like and I’m excited to try out). Not much, mind you, I’m still trying to spend as little as possible while we’re all on quarantine, but enough to put on a full face and feel good about the way I looked.
But I’ve never presented that way publicly before. And I haven’t had a lot of practice putting makeup on. And I’m color-blind, so there’s always this underlying fear that whatever I do, even if it looks good to me, is going to look like hot garbage to the 95% of the population that has one more color cone in their eyes than I do. Add to that the fact that I only own a single dress that I bought at a thrift shop in 2015 (but it somehow fits me better now than it did then). Add to that the fact that it seems completely absurd to get dressed up to play a game over the internet via Skype that I never bothered to get dressed up for even when we were still playing in person.
It took me awhile to realize that I was experiencing some extreme dysphoria. I thought I’d felt dysphoria before, before I came out. I thought the feeling of “I don’t think I’m a man. I feel more like a woman” was the dysphoria, but I was wrong. The dysphoria kicked in after the fact. It started happening not because I wanted to present differently, but because I felt other people might now expect me to.
Growing up “male,” and following the “rules” of being male, meant I never had any girl friends to help me learn the “skills” of being a woman. My mother never sat me down to have a conversation about boys. My sisters and I never played dress-up. Coming to this new internal realization later in life means I’ve suddenly thrust myself into a world that I have no skills for. And it’s terrifying.
The other frustrating part is that the reason I came out isn’t because I want to present differently, it’s because I want to present accurately. At this point, I have a long journey ahead of me before I know what that even means. I don’t know what my “style” is.
I never really thought of clothes as anything other than an unfortunate societal necessity. As a male, shopping for clothes was always the most miserable, painful experience. I’ve come to the understanding that I actually enjoy shopping for clothes, I just didn’t like the options that were available to me as a male (and my opinions were rarely heard anyway, so what did it matter?).
Fairly recently, but before I came out to anyone, my girlfriend asked me my opinion on something that she was wearing, and I gave it. She seemed rather surprised by my answer. I thought I had offended her, so I started apologizing, and she said, “no… I’ve just never met a guy with such strong opinions on women’s clothing.”
I thought about it for a minute and remembered: this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that. A flood of memories came to me at once. Every girl I’ve ever dated has, at some point or another, said roughly the same thing to me. It’s just that before now, I always thought that meant there was something wrong with me. I always thought it meant I was failing as a boyfriend, and that I should keep my opinions to myself.
Well, Dungeons & Dragons was cancelled due to illness, and my first time Skypeing anyone happened yesterday during a recording of my podcast Broads You Should Know (about amazing and noteworthy women who live by their own rules). I felt confident that neither of my co-hosts would judge me for showing up how I usually do, but I still felt some amount of pressure to “make it seem real,” so I threw on some mascara and a long black robe.
I felt a little silly afterwards, because there wasn’t a single issue. I just haven’t yet learned how to cope with the fact that I’m not always going to live up to people’s expectations. I have to learn how to be okay with that, and just confidently go through life as myself. And before I can do that, I need to spend some time figuring out how exactly I want to present, and how I can go about acquiring the skills & clothing that I feel are an accurate representation of who I really am inside.
PS! D&D is scheduled again this week, but thanks to the BYSK recording session I’m definitely less afraid than I was before. Now the main concern is whether or now we’ll roll well. We’re trying to pull off a heist this week and we lost our Rogue recently so we’re gonna have to improvise… Wish us lucky rolls, because a couple weeks ago I rolled a nat1 (with advantage!!) and ended up getting my soul devoured by a Devourer so my character’s a little bit trepidatious lately.