I’ve been going by the nickname Kolby recently at school. I was having a moment where Phoebe wasn’t feeling quite right. It’s a bit feminine, perhaps? Or maybe it’s more about the uncomfortability of being known and perceived. Hearing someone call you your name to your face can be so awkward.
Anyhow, at school people often assume I use they/them pronouns, and looking the way I do I can tell why. It used to bug me to hell. I’d say, “I question my womanhood enough, I don’t need anyone else to do it for me.” Now it feels cruel to look like me, go by Kolby, and still expect people to use she/her pronouns. I guess I’m less attached to them now, too, so I don’t normally bother to correct people anymore. I just, simply, can’t be bothered! Pronouns schmonouns, ya know, gender isn’t real, etc., etc. I just don’t care how people think of me.
It’s cute, though, that people are trying so hard to call me Kolby. It’s a pretty easy thing to call someone by the name and pronouns they use, but I’m not used to asking groups of people to do something for me, so asking folks to call me something different and seeing them trying so hard and succeeding so quickly was heartwarming. Sometimes they’d begin to call me Phoebe and then correct themselves halfway through, which was always pretty funny to me. I don’t mind Phoebe so much right now. It’s a beautiful name. I think I was just too wrapped up in the history of it when it was making me so uncomfortable. Now I’ve realized if I get rid of Phoebe, I get rid of Phebs, and Phoebe Button too, and ain’t no way I’m willing to throw out the bathwater if the babies are going with it.
I feel uncomfortable with a lot of things about myself due to their feminine connotation, especially since I cut all my hair off. But aren’t we all vaguely uncomfortable with femininity? Even a glimpse of it? Not that I like Hillary Clinton — like, at all — but isn’t that the reason she didn’t win? Isn’t that why we shame women who wear “too much” makeup, or not enough? I’m more scared of hyper-feminine women than disgusted, but I sure am scared a little. And I’m pretty much exclusively attracted to feminine women. The women I’m attracted to have always toed a fine line of femininity, with some quirky fashion choices or the occasional plumber pants and a button-down; and a touch of makeup, or a statement liner, rather than a beat face everyday.
You know who I love? The drag queen on TikTok who does math, @onlinekyne. She wears a beat face and glittery dresses and simplifies complicated proofs for the layman. She says you can be feminine as fuck and be smart as a whip. I like the poet Shay Alexi Stewart for similar reasons, for her poem “Song of the Prettybird,” in which she writes about being pretty for men until she’s too precocious, and then she’s too feminine or too smart; how she’s a tool for them, and her brain and body shouldn’t mix.
The other thing about myself and femininity that makes me uncomfortable: my body. I am a bit above an ideal weight, so that tilts my perspective on my body greatly, but even if I were skinny as a whip I’d still have wide hips and a decent-sized bust. I can’t speak so much to the general straight commuity, other than the fact that I know hyper-straight/feminine women who would never consider trying to cover up their bodily features, and that I know a few straight women who wear binders to minimize their boobs.
But I can speak for the young queer community. In some ways, body standards are the same. Skinny, white. But often the ideal is also straight-bodied, minimal or hidden boobs and curves. And so many of us whose bodies aren’t like that try to hide that fact. Why do we hate our hips? Why do we hate our boobs? Why do we hate our womanhood, our feminity? Because we have been conditioned to view femininity as inferior? Because we were encouraged to play with boys’ toys, but never saw boys playing dolly? Or because we have seen who has power in our society, and it’s men who look nothing like us?