Have you ever had an urge to do some late-night, impulsive online shopping? You know you might regret it when you check your bank account in the morning, but you just got paid, and right now, you can’t think of a good enough reason not to visit just a few clothing sites. Online shopping seems like such a carefree activity, especially because it’s so easy to click “Add to Cart” from the comfort of your living room sofa. But lately, we’ve felt that shopping for clothing isn’t the most relaxing hobby. For many of us, it can actually be quite hard, and frustrating. After scrolling through site after site, only seeing feminine clothes on thin women and masculine clothes on macho handsome men, it’s exhausting as someone who’s genderqueer, who’s plus-sized, who’s not white and straight, to keep searching for clothing catered to you.
Gender neutral style is on the rise. Companies like Wildfang, TomboyX, NotEqual, and others offer a variety of genderless styles and fits. But many gender neutral brands are high-end and obscure, not that easy to find, and located in highly progressive and metropolitan areas. Though today, there’s more acceptance for people that don’t want to live their lives adhering to a polar gender binary, there’s still a significant lack of visibility and social resources for non-normative identifying people. So many LGBTQ youth still grow up feeling ashamed and lost in their identities; it’s hard to feel “normal” when you don’t see yourself in the world around you.
This scenario, and various versions of this scenario, happen all the time. A person expects another person to explain the details of their “non-normative” life to them. These situations are often uncomfortable and can make the addressed person feel different or unseen. It makes sense that these scenarios happen. People are naturally curious. And curiosity, a desire to understand, is not inherently wrong. It’s actually quite a positive human attribute. But the waters get murky when we start to believe that we have a right to the personal details of how others live their lives.
This does not mean that we should live in ignorance, not seeking to answer our questions about how people experience their lives. It’s very important to be informed and educated and to be conscious that other people experience life differently than us. But the way of going about this self-education is not to rely on members of a certain community to educate us on their experiences. It’s important to do independent research ourselves.
Recalling their childhood, the story of an Anonymous FEMbot:
“I used to wear Nike shorts and t-shirts. Pretty much exclusively. Throughout my childhood, I was at a loss for what to wear. I would sift through my drawers and my closet and come up empty-handed, fatigued and confused as to how other girls my age put together chic feminine ensembles. I thought maybe I was born with a bad-fashion gene; everyone else seemed to know what clothing they liked to wear. But alas, I was like a single dad buying clothes for his only daughter—I’d see a frilly shirt and ask another girl, “Does this work?”
It never really occurred to me that I didn’t have to like “girls’ clothes.” To me, “boys’ clothes” were off-limits. The closest I came to the idea of shopping in the men’s section was the thought “I can’t wait to have a son, so I can dress him the way I want.” Many times, feeling resentment towards most of the girly clothes I owned, I would lie half-naked and tortured on my bed, forcing my family to wait an extra ten minutes until I was ready to leave with them.
My childhood (like many others’) was a confusing time for me. I didn’t understand and was ashamed of the suppressed desire I had to walk around shirtless like my brother. I was frequently on edge, feeling out of place. When left to my own devices on shopping trips with my mom, I would walk through the men’s section of the department store, simultaneously uncomfortable and curious. I wasn’t thinking “I want to wear these clothes”--that was too scary a thought. I just felt drawn to the male clothing, wanting to feel it in my hands and stare at the mystery of it. Sometimes, when none of my family were home, and I was feeling bold, I’d sneak into my brother’s bedroom, heart slamming against my chest, and I’d look through his underwear drawer, bunching the thick cotton fabric in my hands. Those moments in my brother’s room absolutely exhilarated me; I was so cautious that I’d walk on my tippy toes, and any sound in the house filled my stomach with nausea.
If I could summarize my childhood, describe it in two words, those words would be guilty and curious. I always felt like I was doing something wrong, but a part of me didn’t want to stop doing that something.”
Kids shouldn’t have to grow up feeling “wrong.” A child’s awkwardness, their attempts at personal expression, should be celebrated. So many people in the LGBTQ community live the formative years of their lives feeling out of place and “different.” Having to choose between men and women’s clothing is an unnecessary and anxiety-inducing burden our society puts on both children and adults. Most of us probably don’t realize it, but we help enforce the gender binary everyday--from assigning colors to genders to addressing a group of people by “men and women,” and those are just the obvious examples. It’s difficult, because many times we are just responding to the standards society already has in place. But once we become aware, once we spot the destructiveness of these gendered societal standards, we no longer have an excuse not to push back against the system. If we are to create change, if we are to make room for any person of any gender identity or sexuality to feel comfortable in their own skin, we cannot just wait for more companies to sell “genderless” clothing, we cannot expect other people to do the work. We all need to be conscious of our language, we need to take note of how we speak to the children in our lives, we need to practice compassion for each other and especially for ourselves.