“You could tape the hair piece further forward from your hairline; you have quite a high forehead — that would make you look more feminine.” I sit in the chair staring at myself. I’m making a slightly dissatisfied face. The hairdresser is showing me a top piece I can clip into my hair that would cover the damaged region. It looked pretty good.
“I’m happy about where my hairline is.” I reply, but she’s moved on, “So what we can do is put some extensions in at the back just to fill in the look…” I’m only half listening. This isn’t a problem for me; I’m waiting for my chance to talk about the style. Her follow up comment got my attention, “Some extensions on the side would fill it out over your shoulders and make your shoulders look smaller as you are quite broad.”
I shift awkwardly, unsure how to respond. This wasn’t the conversation I came here to have. “I don’t care about that really,” is what I settled on. A lie, but this wasn’t going in the right direction and I needed to change course.
Of course I care about my shoulders. I’m a tall, broad framed woman and I feel absolutely massive when sat amongst other women. In my weaker moments, when my other issues slip out of control, my body issues come out and it’s the first thing I say. But it’s how I am. I don’t like it, but I accept it. Maybe it helps that it’s my mum’s frame I’ve inherited. Either way, it’s on the list of things I don’t like but don’t want to fix.
More importantly for the moment, I didn’t want to feminise myself — I felt I looked fine. The hairdressers, who were kind, clearly knowledgeable, and eager to help, had misread my intent and I had to refocus them. It caught me off guard, but this was my mistake for not making my intention clear.
I should point out that they did nothing wrong. They’re a known transgender friendly place and it’s likely they have a lot of clients that come in with the one note: make me look feminine. I was the exception rather than the rule.
I wasn’t always the exception. Finding myself being the exception was pretty bizarre, and it showed how far I’ve come in two years. Thinking back, I stopped worrying about ‘looking feminine’ pretty quickly. It’s helpful that my dysphoria didn’t prevent me from seeing my femininity as it does with others. I got lucky in that regard and it shows how much dysphoria rules our choices.
I still don’t know how to describe what feminine actually looks like. I can tell you what I look like and I know it’s feminine. Learning that it was feminine was not an automatic thing. It took strong examples and months of living in the look before I was satisfied that whatever else I might be, I am feminine. That I live in a cosmopolitan area helps. That I have a friendship group that shares my appreciation for the outlandish mattered.
"WHAT MAKES SOMEONE FEMININE IS AN INCONSTANT JUMBLE OF TRAITS; IT’S POSSIBLE FOR TWO PEOPLE THAT TICK ALL THE SAME BOXES TO BE JUDGED DIFFERENTLY."
Femininity is a cultural abstraction. What makes someone feminine is an inconstant jumble of traits; it’s possible for two people that tick all the same boxes to be judged differently. Perhaps this is why passing is so difficult to define: we have no working definition for what it is. Femininity and womanly are circular terms: they rely on each other for a definition. Both are at least partially constructed, which means the definitions change on the basis of… anything. We’re talking about an evolution more often than revolution, so the concepts have continuity. But they’re arbitrary nonetheless.
Perhaps femininity being an unsolvable riddle is what caused me to quickly abandon the quest to ‘be feminine’, at least explicitly. I still like girly stuff. I buy the pink stapler ‘cause girl. I’m attracted to fluffy, soft and sparkly clothes. I don’t believe those things are feminine in and of themselves, but I’m feminine so when I have them they are feminine. If the definition sounds circular, it’s because it is: these abstractions are without constant markers. A thing’s femininity is defined in the moment by me and everyone else simultaneously.
Looking into the mirror at the new hair, it ticked all the feminine boxes. I looked feminine in it, but I am feminine so almost anything they put on me would have looked feminine. I eventually stammered, “This is a great solution and it looks fine, but I really wanted the style to be a lot less safe,” I straightened as I spoke, “Sort of cyberpunk.”
“Oh? What do you mean?” Her businesslike tone wavered into something else. Curiosity.
“Something chunky with a crazy colour,” I produced my phone and showed them a drawing of a woman with crimson, razor-cut, bob-length hair that was flipped outwards such that it created a mane of feathered spikes. The face in the drawing was stylised; her hair nothing at all like the swoopy thing with a fringe I was staring at in the mirror. My reflection was as feminine as the woman in the drawing despite going together like chalk and cheese. “Well sort of like this.”
She stopped to look. She looked again. “Ohhh! We thought you wanted to look like a normal girl!” the excitement in her voice was enough for me to let the comment pass. Of course, I am a normal girl and I look like a normal girl but I knew what she meant: ordinary. Most girls, trans or cis, that come through there want to blend in. They want everyday. I’m not everyday.
Perhaps that is the mistake. Maybe we’re conflating ‘being feminine’ with ‘being inconspicuous’. In some cultures and minds, femininity is inconspicuous. Whatever my femininity is, it doesn’t blend in. I don’t know exactly when that happened. Maybe it was always that way and it just took me time to grow into it. Truth is, I never did blend in very well and I see no reason to start.