As children, we are taught the gender binary of male and female and what activities, clothing, and hobbies are prescribed to each. As a queer person who is growing up in this very heteronormative world, it tends to be a rough time explaining to other people that you do not fall in the binary. Exploring your gender in a heteronormative world can be a challenging time. How do you pursue changing your gender expression? How does one tell their families, friends, and colleagues about their gender? How do you tackle the discrimination that comes with exploring something outside the gender binary? The following answers will be told from a queer person of colour perspective and do not represent how everyone will tackle these problems.
I am genderqueer and was assigned male at birth, so the following methods for changing your gender expression will have these biases. When growing up, body hair was highly encouraged and growing out my beard was a sense of becoming an adult. I started to realize in my late teens that I did not like my body hair like others did, and I wanted to remove it. As an individual with a lot of testosterone in their body, hair grows back at a high-speed rate. It would stay in this limbo stage of growth where using a razor is painful because it can cause razor burns and ingrown hair. So the best strategy for me has been using wax, especially sugar waxing, to remove hair as it can be done even when the hair isn’t long enough to shave.
Clothing was another aspect of gender expression that I wanted to change. Being assigned male at birth and going through testosterone-based puberty, my body had many masculine qualities. I had broad shoulders, fat deposits in the stomach rather than the hips, and appendages. This made finding clothing that would fit me and fit my style rather tricky. So far, my solutions have been to see if a store has a Plus-size section because clothing in that section has dimensions that fit me well. Another recommendation is to shop online as most shops have more size options available for a person who has a larger shoe size than what is sold at shops; it’s hard to find something that fits. An online retailer I found named Long Tall Sally was able to solve this issue as they have sizes for female shoes up to size 15 US. Ordering shoes from LTS takes time to arrive in Canada, but they are very much worth the wait. It took a while to research and find places that would cater to what I wanted, and the journey is not over for me to find businesses that better cater to what I need.
The closest people to us tend to cause us anxiety and fear on whether they will be supportive and accepting or shun us. In my personal journey, I have had the experience of both sides of the coin. My family is not supporting my journey of pursuing my genderqueer expression. The strategy to tackle this has been investing in oversized clothing to wear over my preferred outfit. Once I am out of the house, I change by removing the oversized clothing; thus, I can go and live by being my authentic self! When it comes to being myself, I tend to only do that in places that I know are queer-friendly and where my family tends to not go often, such as the MRU campus, coffee shops, and downtown. Coming out to my friends and colleagues, I was anxious because I did not know how they would react.
After coming out, I realized my fear was just in my head. In contrast, I knew exactly how my family would. My friends and colleagues have accepted my gender expression. They have helped me find the necessary resources or just be there to support me emotionally. Pronouns can be an issue with my friends and colleagues. Still, they are working on it and apologize every time they misgender me. I have also started to look for groups, clubs, or places that are queer-friendly and where I can find people that will be accepting of me. Some of the places I have found so far are the Pride Centre at MRU, the various coffee shops in Kensington, and online forums on Reddit.
Discrimination comes with being someone who does not fit into the “norm” of society. Being a queer person of colour, I have heard stuff like “you are whitewashed” or “you are a disgrace.” These insults come from people who have difficulty dealing with someone who doesn’t fit into their worldview. This has helped me realize that I’m not the issue, but it is those who are uncomfortable with me existing just as I am. This form of discrimination is forward, but I have dealt with “casual” discrimination. Whenever I wear something deemed feminine, I get weird looks from people that initially caused me to panic and increased my anxiety. Over time I have learned to practice in mind that I look good and I am here to slay, so people giving me weird looks are simply just jealous of me! This has helped me a lot in owning who I am.
If you would like a safe space to experiment with your gender expression, the Pride Centre and SAMRU are hosting an event this Thursday, March 24, 2022. We will have a gender clothing swap where you can try on various forms of clothing, accessories, and footwear. For people who need specific stuff such as binders and bras, we also have those. All of them are free to try on and take home with you. The gender clothing swap is available all year long. You are welcome to donate clothing that does not fit your current gender expression. There will also be performances in the West Social from 8:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Drag queens and kings, students, and burlesque dancers will be performing to bend the reality of gender. So if you want a place where you freely and comfortably figure out your gender expression and watch a fantastic show, join us this Thursday!
-PJ, A current MRU Student