A friend of mine is doing a research project on femininity and asked for stories, the following is mine:
When I was 5 years old, someone stole my hat on the playground, and a girl named Ethel Lucas punched the boy for me because I said I didn't believe in violence. The jokes about her having a crush on me and my own masculinity in many ways would be the inception of how I would identify myself and understand others throughout my life. I have never had close male friends or mentors, I have found my life surrounded by femininity and have found myself at home with my own.
I was born male, and in a lot of ways I fit that stereotype (athletics, slack clothing, hairy, etc.), but more often than not even my wife would say I am feminine. One friend even once used me when trying to explain the complexities of gender, sexuality, and relationships by saying “He's a lesbian feminine male.” I don't know if I'd go that far, but in spending a life with females has certainly impacted my world view.
There are great things that come with femininity (and I'm not talking nail polish, skirts, hair chalk, or heels – though I love those things). I love how the women of my life are able to be both strong and beautiful. I love how the feminine allows for claiming self identity. I love how femininity cannot be simply defined as it seems masculinity can be. I could go on and on, but I feel this space is best spent talking about some of the women who inspire me. There are three kinds of women who have influenced me most:
My mentors, Dr. RP, Colleen, Linda, Dorothy, Kat, and others are people who helped pave a path that has allowed me to do the things I do, and be the person I am. They all epitomize femininity, both because of how they carry themselves and because they can speak to the experiences of being a woman in a way that anyone can understand. They are those who will put me in my privileged place, reminding me how my feminine side may get me strange looks, and occasionally bad service, but that I'm still able to do things in ways that they aren't free to do.
My friends, “Sis” Michelle, Tot, Ethel, Anne, and others are those who have allowed me other the years to be feminine without questions. They are the ones who never (as far as I know) felt like I was around them as anything but a friend. They didn't treat me as a threat but rather let me join in the fun of painting nails, prom dress shopping, sleepovers, and other girly things. Without them, I would probably still be trying to be “manly” and wondering why I hated having to do things the way guys were doing them.
The third group of women who influence me are “My Girls.” “My Girls” are what I call the girls I work with, either through volleyball, musicals, or at church. Many of them are still minors, so I wont put their names in this, but they change me on a daily basis, they refuse to be defined by others or by the actions of others. The stories they tell me of things that have happened to them already in their young lives alone are reasons we should all be feminists, but how they maintain an elegance through their strength and their willingness to be weak with one another is inspirational. I remember when two of my girls were going to get married and one of their fathers had to quit his job for this to happen. The pain on her face when she told me was clear as day, but her dad came up and told her that he was not going to let anyone else define him and that he had learned that from watching her grow up. That is the core of femininity, it is the ability to be put together, beautiful, inspirational, all while being weak enough to ask for help.
I have been fortunate to not be locked into gender roles, girls like Ethel Lucas beating a boy up, Heather Sullivan pinning me up against a wall, Mini-me stepping in and doing my job as well as I ever could even though she was just 15, Brooke and Alex challenging the status quo and not taking no for an answer, Irene and Nat struggling with sexuality and taking the risk to ask the team to support them, Dr. R-P making choices that others would question but she knew were right for her, Nancy and Natalie being honest and raw about their experiences and letting others in while also saying No More and becoming voices that changed me and the world around them, Kat ever having fun while also standing for the equality of all even when it comes to being able to have fun, Michelle struggling through loss and faith along with me as two only children who became siblings, Anne never letting me go as friend even after I hurt her, Tot withstanding rumors to be my friend, Linda never taking no for an answer, Emma reminding everyone she was “a kid” when we all looked at her as an adult, Dorthy being the example of what a minister should be, Case dumping her date for me and then making me say I was sorry, Syd and Kris being willing to work to become what I saw in them but eventually choosing where their own limits were, and many others have defined the world for me. Just by being around these women, I have found the strength to wear nail polish to church, to stand beside them, and more than that behind them in the struggles that they are passionate about.
The thing is that I never heard things in gendered tones growing up. I know they were said, and I'm sure there were people then and still are people who see me with my hair, painted nails, all female friends, ability to walk in heels, focus on issues of equality, and the ilk and make judgments about my gender roles or sexuality. Yet, it has always been just me being me, I'm the guy who had a girl (or 3 or 4 over time) fight his fights as a kid, who often hates his gender, who never really understood (due to asperger's syndrome and experience in part I'm sure) why any of it mattered. Of course, now due to all the women listed above and many many more I know it does matter, because for most being seen as feminine has contentions of weakness, of others expectations, of objectification, and of all types of inequality. Feminine may not be any of that to me, but until it isn't any of that to anyone, it's all the more important to claim it and work to change the world's view on it.