I hated the color pink. When you’re a primary level student in an all-girls school, though, it’s everywhere. Perhaps I hated it because it was everywhere (as a proto-hipster that lost her temper at the drop of a pin, that would have made sense). Every backpack, lunchbox, pencil case I saw was inescapably pink; even some of my own things weren’t exempt. It’s the go-to tita move for gifting the minute you find out you have a niece, and every product designer seemed to have tunnel vision in that respect too.
That way, I had to learn how to tolerate it, but I still wished it wasn’t the status quo. I didn’t like pink the same way I didn’t like dresses, lace, or my stupid bangs. All of these things were, in retrospect, symptomatic of being a baby gay, but at the time, I hated being thought of as a “little girl.”
In Alison Bechdel’s comic “Coming Out Story,” she starts off the tale of her sexual revelations with this: “Since earliest childhood, I knew I was different from other girls…” In the next panel, she follows up, “For a long time, I thought it was just because I was smarter.” I think that just about sums up the tomboy exceptionalism I was going through. For me, it wasn’t simply a matter of preference, but of capital-T Taste. I knew better than to listen to the boyband du jour, or enjoy High School Musical. I was smarter than other girls because I liked things that I considered cooler and more substantial, like comics, Grand Theft Auto, or Fall Out Boy.
In retrospect, it’s clear I fell into the trap of being dismissive of things that young women liked, as a young woman. It felt good to say I wasn’t like other girls. At the time, I felt like a revolutionary, and everyone who tried to primp me up was simply bringing me down by forcing me into the box of traditional femininity. But both of my sisters were fine with wanting to be pretty, why wasn’t I? Everyone made it feel like there was something wrong with me.
It felt good to say I wasn’t like other girls. At the time, I felt like a revolutionary, and everyone who tried to primp me up was simply bringing me down by forcing me into the box of traditional femininity.
So I learned to be girlier with time. Moving to a co-ed school taught me about a little thing called the male gaze, and how badly I wanted to flourish under it. I learned that the more I minded my appearance, the more boys liked me, and the more boys liked me, the higher my self esteem was. Subtract ten pounds, add a string strap dress. Sure, it did help to look like other girls, but I was different because I was cooler, I thought. I made a point to make this clear in every conversation I had with a male friend. You’re a Liverpool fan? Hey, did you know I play video games too? None ever came close enough to know me beyond that. I didn’t want a boyfriend, I wanted approval, and would agonize in search for it for years to come.
I didn’t want a boyfriend, I wanted approval, and would agonize in search for it for years to come.
When I reached high school, I moved back to the all-girls school I originally came from. That was the time when having guy friends was a whole thing, and I still sorta struggled there. Luckily, I had my lunch group to help get me through it. The funny thing is that a whole lot of them were unlike me. We were this big mish-mash of characters trying to get by. Pop-punk kids, academic superstars, and designated class clowns, all sitting in a circle at the classroom platform. I learned how to appreciate how our different kinds of femininity coexisted with each other. That’s when I learned to stop being so judgmental. We came in all shapes and sizes and no one really was the better for being a certain way. I stopped caring what the boys thought of me, because at the end of the day, I had my girls who always had my back.
I slowly eased back into the butch identity I present as today. In some ways, I’m not too far off from my eight-year-old self, only this time, I can admit that Twilight was a total slapperoni. While by definition, butchness is a performance of queer masculinity, it need not be so far removed from the feminine. Yes, misogyny does exist in the community, and it’s up to us to be accountable for it, and never belittle nor fetishize another woman’s femininity. I’ve seen it from a whole bunch of perspectives, and what I can say is, no one’s ever just a girl.