After two and a half years of shaving my head, I am growing my hair again. And if that doesn’t sound like a big deal, imagine shaving those locks of yours off. It’s as big a deal for me as it would be for you. And as it always is with hair, this decision is very much about identity. And this rite of passage of growing my hair is about re-painting the canvas of me, my greatest artwork. Because I no longer feel comfortable with the person you guys have come to know visually and outwardly, the person you see in my Facebook photos.
My first self-portraits reflect me just after I began my journey with my gender identity at the end of 2011, after which I shaved my head. Those first self-portraits mirror a me who had a newfound sense of identity, of power. The rite of passage of shaving my head left me with a profound sense of my own power over my identity and the way I expressed my self visually. My shaved dome presented a blank canvas of a me where I was able to erase any notions of who I had been in terms of my gender and in terms of how I saw my self.
With my shaven head, my very visible tattoos, my height, my weight, and the fact that I work out, I am very often met with the feedback that I am intimidating, scary, someone whom people “wouldn’t fuck with”, and, “very, VERY butch! Yoh!” And this feedback used to serve me well. Because it protected me. It only allowed people who got past the exterior into my intimate, socially anxious space.
The exterior that I have been hiding behind has very much been an exterior with a LOT of problematic perceptions around masculinity and femininity. And as a human being – nevermind as a genderqueer person on a journey with my relation to gender – that is not authentic; that is not living my truth. And I can’t keep lying to myself while making art – especially autobiographical art – that speaks of gender fluidity when I myself am so rigid in relation to gender in so many respects. I can’t keep stereotyping masculinity and femininity when my art speaks of obliterating stereotypes.
I have to face my truth. And the truth is that I inhabit the masculine more than the feminine because the masculine is more comfortable. And while there is nothing wrong with this, the truth is that I approach the masculine and the feminine from a place of anger and fear, thus distorting the masculinity and the femininity that I inhabit and portray. From a place of anger and fear, the masculine is more comfortable for me because the feminine scares me. The truth is I have chosen to inhabit my masculine more than my feminine because my feminine has been hurt and abused.
I was sexually abused when I was 3 years old, and that violation continued in various guises up until I was 30. So my femininity was something I learned that I had to protect. But it was also something that I learned that I had to fear, as it left me vulnerable. Over, and over, and over again. So I did not just hide my femininity to protect it. I hid it to protect me. To protect me I hid my femininity and embraced my masculinity. But not just the beautiful aspects of masculinity. The truth is that when in public and surrounded by people I don’t know, I’ve embraced an ugly stereotype of masculinity that is confrontational, passive aggressive and carries that general ‘fuck-you’ attitude.
I’ve always known, but have come to accept and deal with recently, that I equate the masculine with strength, with protection, and that I equate femininity with weakness, with victimhood. Is that a result of my sexual abuse? Sure. Am I going to keep hiding behind that problematic perception? Am I going to keep ignoring the beautiful aspects of both femininity and masculinity? No. That would not be responsible of me as a feminist, a gender activist, an artist exploring gender, or as a female-bodied person. Just because my feminine was victimised does not mean femininity is victimhood. Just because I was a target simply because I have breasts does not mean that appearing more masculine and having people calling me Sir on a daily basis makes me safer, stronger, more powerful.
I can’t hide behind those stereotypes of masculinity and femininity anymore. Because that ‘hiding’ no longer serves me.
I have long since dealt with that part of me that has been hurt and sexually abused and a target for others’ emotional abuse and game-playing. Because I have increasingly become a much stronger person who will not allow myself to be treated that way. And in that strength I have rediscovered my deep joy in being in the world and my deep love for the people around me. I’ve had enough of being lost behind the protection of the stereotype. I am no longer scared of the world. I want to embrace it. I am no longer scared of people I don’t know. I want to get to know them and create meaningful friendships. I don’t want to appear as frightening, aggressive and I-don’t-have-enough-middle-fingers anymore. I want to relate more easily to myself and the world around me. And that requires that the canvas of myself gets a bit of an overhaul, or a makeover (to use a more feminine word), a few more splashes of pink.
The strength I have found in the last two years of recreating myself has allowed me to jump into the void despite my huge fear of intimacy, has allowed me to open myself up to love for the first time in my life. And in that embrace, I have been loved back for the first time. Completely. And it is that safe space that has allowed me to come to a place where femininity not only scares me less, but where it feels more authentic than the macho posturing of the masculinity I’ve embodied for so long.
I need to stop relegating masculinity and femininity to the realm of stereotypes – the macho masculine and the weak feminine – and I need to start embodying the beauty in both. I am feminine and I am powerful. I am masculine and I am vulnerable. And the way I present myself and interact with the world needs to begin reflecting that – the powerful and yet vulnerable person that I am, not the aggressive, confrontational self I visually and outwardly represent to those who don’t know me.
I have played with the concept of femininity in my self-portraits, but always uncomfortably so. I always felt like a drag queen. So I put my femininity back on its hanger along with my hair for a day when I would feel more comfortable playing with them. And that day has come.
So as of the 5th of March I have been growing my hair. And in that rite of passage I am reclaiming my feminine power and my masculine vulnerability. I am rediscovering myself again on this continuous journey and adding a few, just a few – I won’t go all Barbie on you now – splashes of pink to the canvas.
Repainting the canvas #MyGreatestArtwork (Last time I shaved my head), 5 March 2014