"When will my reflection show who I am inside?" --Mulan. Yeah.
*Edited to add: Since I submitted this post to the gender-themed Carnival of Aces round, I just wanted to clarify what my "thesis" was supposed to be: That those of us who don't quite fit the gender binary may have a harder time being read as adults in our culture, feeling like adults, or both. I don't think I made that as clear as I could have, what with all my complaining about looking young. Hee hee.*
Recently, I was at a community meeting where I was one of very few people younger than my parents' age. An older man approached me and asked me which school I went to. I said I didn't go to school. He asked, "Why, you didn't like it?" And I said no, I'd graduated. I get this all the time--"Are you in school?" It has been confirmed that I do have some kind of "academic look" about me. But I also get "What grade are you in?", implying that I'm in high school or younger, when I'm actually 27*. If you complain about looking young, you'll probably be told how lucky you are. But I didn't feel very lucky when, after making an important work presentation, I was met with "Isn't she cute?" (I am, as Dave Barry would say, not making this up.)
Approaching 30, I want to be taken seriously. But I worry that I'll go from oddly twee directly into "old". Will I ever get to be seen as just an adult, not a kid or a senior citizen? Do I have to start dressing like the editor of French Vogue? I have to constantly hear that marriage, children, and house-buying are indicators of adulthood, which has made me defensive about being viewed as a child or teen. Now with America's economic problems, the media is always saying how younger people are "putting off adulthood" because we can't afford houses and families. People, adulthood is not something you afford. It's not a Louis Vuitton bag. It's something you earned because you survived this far, and that can't be taken from you, even if you're sitting broke in a roadside ditch. I am an adult, but it's like no one knows it unless they look at my birth certificate. There are myriad ways to be an adult, just like there are myriad gender identities.
A couple of days ago, I was skimming through The Drag King Book. I came across the story of a FTM drag king who started taking testosterone. He said that the hormones were the only way that he could be viewed as an adult man. Otherwise, he would perpetually be a boy. I could kind of relate. Because on the one hand, I resent it when people infantalize me based on looks, gender, sexuality, or lack of traditional life achievements. But on the other hand, I feel like I'm forever a girl, waiting to grow into some mysterious gender that I can intuitively understand. There's this idea that we grow into our genders, that from children, we become men or women. But I feel like, if anything, I'm growing out of the gender that I used to take for granted.
Browsing a clothing store on another recent day, I decided that rather than look "sexy and feminine", as the show What Not to Wear would favor, I wanted to look "weird and androgynous". Okay, maybe not weird. I actually want to look cool and stylish. But androgyny seems to have the same connotations with youth as asexuality. Before puberty, everyone is "asexual" and androgynous to an extent. Most people didn't remain as such after puberty, but a few of us did. To be seen as an adult, do we have to "pick a side"? Maybe, but as I work on this post, I'm beginning not to care anymore. It's aggravating when people's comments play into my own insecurities, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with me. I mean, this is what 27 looks like, whether that surprises people or not.
[Image: Photo of Ily, wearing a large pink bow and talking to a stuffed pineapple sitting on her shoulder.]
*A tangent on "looking like a student" (but still, gender related):
I told my mom that I'd look up the definition of "mansplaining" for her. On this post, I came across a comment by MissPrism that went like this:
"...you know, once or twice I have indeed heard a man say "I look young, so people assume I'm a student," but the VAST majority of the time it's a woman. Something's up with that: surely a similar proportion of men should look young for their age as women do? Thinking a young-looking woman must be a student isn't an excuse for mansplaining, it's part of it. Mansplainers assume a woman is as junior, and therefore clueless (the conflation of these two is of course hugely problematic in itself), as he can possibly construe her to be, while men are given the benefit of the doubt and assumed to be experienced and knowledgeable until proven otherwise."
While I don't think men are always necessarily given the benefit of the doubt (in other comments it's mentioned that men may mansplain to other men they perceive as "less manly"), it never occurred to me that people read as female might be told "you look like a student" more often than people read as male. It could also be possible that more women really do look young, due to social pressures to maintain a more youthful appearance. It's definitely an intriguing question. Maybe I'll ask my pineapple about it.