“Excuse me, this is the women’s restroom.”
Gut wrenching. Yet another person I must explain it to: I just have short hair and dress like a 12-year-old boy on his way to PE.
Fighting my fear of conflict, coupled with humiliation, I respond: “I know, I’m a woman.”
The awkwardness sets in, as I finish washing my hands, the whole time wishing I could melt into the sink.
Intrusive thoughts run amok, and I find myself questioning why I feel so uncomfortable. I haven’t done anything wrong; I am just existing. This person, with their preconceived notions of gender, should feel awkward. Yet here I am, going over my clothing choices and hairstyle for the day, wondering if I should have done anything differently –– if I should have tried to appear more feminine.
Embarrassing bathroom experiences are one of several subtle on-campus aggressions I have only begun to experience since I cut my hair. Despite Georgetown being lauded as inclusive and open minded, I have encountered a shocking number of students who have an antiquated image of womanhood. Being a woman seems to be exclusively associated with certain characteristics: “feminine” clothes, hair, even personality and emotions. Deviations from these perceptions are pejoratively defined as androgenous or masculine. When they are the subject of attention, these differences make me feel weird, isolated, aberrant.
Regrettably, I too am guilty of confining myself to these norms because I find myself inclined to cater to certain stereotypes. I have been conditioned by society to feel as if I am only desirable if I subscribe to a certain look of femininity, and upon reflection, I believe that self-love can only be found by unlearning and dismantling these notions.
Hand in hand with my issues surrounding gender are the ardent qualms I have about overly labeling my sexuality. Labeling my sexuality is a terrifying process in which I feel the need to find a specific word to describe myself. Never “lesbian,” because I don’t like the restrictive connotation that has. For years it has been “gay.” That is probably what I would say if someone asked me today. However, I resent the implication that I have to choose a label at all.
Nevertheless, my queerness feels akin to a shield. I wear it to protect myself, to explain why I don’t dress in a traditionally feminine way. I’m gay, I don’t have to wear a dress. I can wear slacks and a button-up or jeans and a sweater. In reality, I never have, and never will need an explanation for my expression of self, it is simply what personally makes me feel most comfortable. Expression of self in the form of clothing or other articles should always be about what makes someone feel seen and secure, and not about catering to the eye of society, as many are inclined.
The core of my vexation with topics such as gender and sexuality is that I think I should never have to define how I feel or who I love. I just like people and their souls. Gender, clothes and hairstyles are trivial in comparison to one’s capacity for compassion and empathy and their innermost self. For this reason, I will always advocate for people to be able to wear what they want, and be who they are, without having to feel like they are subscribing to a certain gender or sexuality through those choices.
I have come to the realization that I despise labels. Society loves labels because concepts are more understandable if they have a name. Many people are obsessed with the idea of putting oneself or others into little boxes that have sharply defined edges and constraints. What people do not realize is that those boxes are suffocating them.
To put such strict labels on gender and sexuality does a disservice to one’s capacity for self-expression and self-love. To be a woman does not have to be about the clothes that I wear, the way that my hair is cut, whom I love or the emotions that I publicly display. It has everything to do with the perseverance I have, my love for everyone around me and my regard for their well-being. It is about my sensitivity, courage and desire to live with integrity. The things I love about myself make me love being a woman.
Eliza Kelly is a sophomore in the College.