One of the greatest things about childhood (or mine at least) is the innocence and lack of judgement that comes with it. Of course bullying at that age exists, but for the most part, your peers haven’t yet reached an age yet where they feel the need to make assumptions about you and try and put you in some kind of a box. More often than not they take you at face value. If only adults were like this…
As a child, I was a massive tomboy and although my female classmates may have wondered why I would rather be playing football with the lads than performing handstands with them, they still accepted me for who I was; a girl who simply preferred the company of boys.
But as I entered my teens I noticed people’s perceptions of me began to change. No longer was I just a girl who enjoyed being one of the lads. Instead, my masculine based behaviour meant people started making assumptions about my sexuality and for many, there was only one explanation – I must have been a lesbian.
One person in particular who latched onto this idea was one of my P.E. teachers. A lesbian herself she obviously thought her gaydar was stronger than most.
I remember one day as we sat having a heart to heart about my parents she turned to me and said, “I don’t think now’s a good time to tell them”. “Tell them what?” I said, “Well, you know, that you’re gay”.
Her words left me bemused, to say the least. Just ten seconds prior we had been discussing my poor mental health and how I didn’t want to open up to my parents about it because I didn’t think they would understand. I, therefore, felt her ‘words of advice’ were somewhat oddly timed. But more importantly, I sat there in shock as she had gone beyond assuming which sex I was more attracted to and confidently stated it to me as if it were fact. “I’m not gay!” I replied, yet despite this admission and her knowledge of a fling I had recently had with a boy on my basketball team, she didn’t seem convinced.
This was the first time someone had actually told me to my face that they thought (or in her case – “knew”) that I was gay and it certainly wasn’t the last.
As I got older I found myself in various situations where I could just tell people were making that assumption of me; like nights out clubbing and being the only one in the ladies toilets in a plaid shirt and skinny jeans whilst the other women were in heels and a dress. You could argue that it was all in my head, but meeting people for the first time and having them say, “You’re joking right?” or “Aren’t you?” when it was confirmed to them that I was straight were undeniable examples. However my personal favourite was when I confronted a close friend about it – “It’s not that I think you’re lying Phil, it’s that I think you’re gay but you just don’t realise it yet”.
However, what bothered me as much as people making that assumption about my sexual orientation, was why that assumption bothered me so much. I saw there to be no shame in being gay and had always prided myself on being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, so why was I getting offended?
But finally, last summer, after years of pondering on it, I came to a life-changing realisation that put all this into perspective. After many discussions with my counsellor about my years of tomboy-like behaviour, we managed to uncover that my masculinity wasn’t an analogy for me being gay. It was a clear-cut sign that I wasn’t a girl.
Now I believe the reason I felt sad or frustrated when people made that assumption of me wasn’t because I was secretly a homophobe, but because each time someone questioned my sexuality they weren’t questioning my gender, yet it was clearly my gender that needed questioning the most. We all picked up on the fact there was something different about me, yet we all failed to recognise what it was.
So, to the teacher who thought I was gay, this is to let you and everyone else know that masculinity in a “woman” isn’t always a matter of homosexuality. Sometimes it’s a matter of gender and sometimes it is merely a preference in clothes and a haircut. It’s time we ditched this outdated and harmful stereotype and realise that a lot of masculine presenting women are in fact into men. We must also recognise that some are not women at all. Some are men trapped in female bodies and some fall somewhere else on the gender spectrum, just like I do.