I grew up as most young humans with vaginas do: being dressed up in pretty dresses for special occasions, being given dolls to play with, every item ever gifted to me being pink or purple (which was ultimately fine because I love purple). Along with the general aforementioned material items I was being taught to like, little by little I was being socialized to love men and present myself in a way that is most “desirable” to them. For years and years, I grew up hearing “Men don’t like it when you-”, or “No man wants a woman who-”.
Now, as a 22 year old human who is neither a woman, nor straight, I laugh at these convictions. I was raised to be a strong, independent human, which my parents instilled in me while also placing a certain importance on “becoming a woman”. I grew up hearing that it was “unladylike” to sit that way, not shave my legs, or wear or be interested in certain things. It was always a mystery to me as to why a family who believed in not letting anything hold you back in being yourself and accomplishing what you want definitely fell prey to some of the generalizations of what people who are different sexes “should be”.
One answer I reached as an adult: it’s the way that people, especially women, in this society are socialized. I grew up in the early 2000s, and even in the 21st century I was being told by the world that my worth was dependent upon my possible desire to men. This specifically came through in the realm of appearance. I have always been in the mindset that “dumbing yourself down” so men would like you was just that – dumb. I never went along with that portion of the beliefs. My parents had taught me to be smart and to hold my own. However, I went through the vast majority of my life thinking this way: keeping my hair long, keeping my face made-up, dressing more femininely than I necessarily wanted to. Now, reflecting on this, why did I think that being who you were inside was more important than showing who you are on the outside?
When I was 15, I realized I was not straight. I came out as bisexual when I was 17, and I’ve eventually settled into the comfy hammock of the term “pansexual”. Gender genuinely has no bearing on my ability to find someone attractive or to fall in love with them. I had a boyfriend during my junior year of high school, someone who never made me feel uncomfortable with my body, appearance or sexuality. I knew I was attracted to all genders, but my mindset was still stuck with this tape on loop that I needed to be “presentable” and “desirable” to men, so they would want to date or hook up with me.
When I was in my sophomore year of college, I got into my first relationship with (someone who at the time presented as) a woman. I was in a queer, same-sex relationship for the first time in my life. I learned so many things about love, myself, relationships, mental health, etc. However, some of the biggest self-learning I did was post this almost 2 year long relationship. Newly single, 20, in New York City and at the time still not caring to question my gender, I was ready to get back into the dating scene after some recoup from an LTR.
Something about my mindset had definitely changed though. I had grown to love a side of myself that reared its head while in my relationship, in conjunction with my freedom at an art school to express myself however I pleased. I had outwardly embraced an aesthetic that felt the most like me, leaning into a limited color palette of black and darker jewel tones. I embraced my desire to change the hair everyone knew me for for the majority of my life and dyed it purple like I had been dyeing (pun intended) to do for years. A year later I shaved myself a side shave, because I always loved my long hair but wasn’t willing to commit at the time to a full shave just yet. I wore solely Doc Martens and boiled down my makeup routine to a simple cat eye and mascara, expressing myself with bolder eyeshadow or lipsticks when I had the time or the gaul. I inked my body with a couple tattoos and punctured it lovingly with a few more pieces of metal in my ears and nose. It was really the first time I looked at myself and saw MJ. I liked the way I looked before, and don’t hate that person by any means, but being this version of myself was and still is the most me I’ve ever felt.
I found myself feeling very comfortable embracing me instead of a gendered body. I didn’t feel the need to, and still don’t, put a label on my gender; I just feel like me. I loved dressing decently androgynously, changing like a clothing cameleon day to day. Some days I loved a black dress, patterned tights, and heels; others I preferred jeans, a flannel, and big hoops. It stopped mattering to me what was “feminine” and more what was “MJ”. I didn’t do, or wear, things because they were and or weren’t “what a girl should be”. I like to shave my body hair because I like the way it feels when I get in my clean sheets, not because it’s feminine. I wear winged eyeliner everyday because it makes me feel confident, not because I “should”. I learned (after shaving my head) that I love my long hair (with my side shave) because it makes me feel like me, not because “girls should have long hair”. I dressed however I wanted, because I felt like a badass, not because I wanted to please someone.
I reentered the dating scene with this newfound, subconscious (at the time) thought process of “So what if cis-men don’t find me attractive? I have like 7,000 other genders to pick from.” It’s been 2 years since then, and trust me, I’ve learned even more since then. I’ve had my fair millennial share of the dating scene, and I have something to report: Men don’t give a FUCK. I’m pansexual, with a stronger lean to women/gender-nonconforming folks, and I can say that half of my dates since have been cis-men. I have been the blonde, blue eyed, peppy gal. I have been the half-shaved-head brooding art school student. I have been the bald, overconfident “no long-termer.” I am currently the bobbed hair curvy GNC person I am today. I have not had as many male suitors as the stereotypical “pretty” as I have had at any other stage. You know what drew in most of the people I’ve been with? Not shaved legs, not long blonde hair, nothing of the sort.
Confidence. The second I learned to own and work what I had and who I was, things got much easier, for me, and for the dating life. On that same vein though, yeah, I had that self-discovery, but the point I’m trying to make- Men. Do. Not. Care. I have had hairy legs the whole time I was with a guy and he didn’t notice until I brought it up. I literally shaved my entire head while I was seeing a man and I walked into our next date and he said “Wow. Dramatic, looks great,” and proceeded to pursue me for the next year.
What I learned namely from my same-sex relationship was that someone can and should love you for who you are if they truly love you. I was exactly the strong-headed, artsy, sardonic person I am, who also happened to shave their legs. My partner didn’t. I loved them just the same. I wore makeup everyday, they wore it for special occasions. I could talk about art, being queer, loving music, depression, baby goats and everything inbetween and they never judged. I felt entirely comfortable to be who I was. Did that have to do with it being a woman I was in a relationship with? I will say yes, but let me explain.
I think not having the preconceived internalized societal expectations of what a relationship should be really freed our relationship to grow and blossom in a way I don’t know that it would’ve if we were so caught up in what we were “supposed” to be doing. There was no expectation of who was supposed to ask who on a date, who was supposed to pay, who was supposed to cook and clean, or be the “pants wearer.” With a relationship that felt more like two chopsticks instead of a fork and spoon, we supported each other in completing what sides of the relationship we individually felt like executing, instead of trying to perform our separate different functions. It never felt like a requirement to fill out some role, it felt like doing whatever we naturally would’ve as people if gender norms were not at play, which they weren’t.
Being a very strong-willed and impatient person, I’ve been the pursuer of dates or relationships the vast majority of the time. This used to be a huge internal struggle, specifically in high school, because I thought no one ever found me interesting or attractive enough to make the first move on me. What further frustrated me was that because no one was drooling over me like the movies said boys would, was that 1. I “couldn’t” make the first move with boys because it was “unladylike” 2. I believed I was undesirable as a person. Obviously if no boys are making the first move, I’m not special enough to love, right?
Wrong. Being able to drop the social norms of having to “let the man ask you out” and embracing my confident first-move making gene when pursing women or GNC cuties translated to my relationships with cis-men. After being in a long-term relationship with a woman, when I reentered the dating pool I entirely forgot that dating men was “supposed” to be approached differently. I realized this a couple months in, only to realize my bold tactics were not met with anger, but appreciation and attraction. On more than multiple occasions, regardless of gender or orientation, people have told me they admire my forwardness. When I’m out on a date with someone, the person who picks up the check is honestly whoever is closer to it or who is more insistent. Sometimes that’s me, other times it’s not, and most of the time we split it.
Being able to exist in a world where I view all potential dating situations as more or less equal is incredibly freeing. I don’t feel the need to adhere to ideals set thousands of years ago by a society that no longer needs them. I know not everyone will or wants to experience being in a same-sex relationship. However, I implore you to take a walk around your mind and think about what you do in terms of your dating style and appearance based on your preference vs what you believe is expected of you. You may just find that upon taking another look at your preconceived thoughts that they are just that- preconceived.