I have a complicated relationship with my body. It is me, and in many ways feels alien and more like something I inhabit than a place I could call home. I look overtly female, but what’s on the inside doesn’t connect easily with that. I can’t bear the performative stuff – issues of energy and feeling fake and so I don’t do makeup or much with my hair, and most of the time I dress in the ways that make me feel comfortable. I can’t present in a more masculine way because of how I feel about trousers – wearing them without a big tunic or dress, I feel too exposed from waist to upper thigh. I mostly want to cover up there, and make unavailable. I can’t stand swimming gear designed for female bodies.
We have a steampunk event in Stroud this weekend. I bought a corset for it. I have worn them before but not in a long time. I’ve spent the last three Saturdays on my high street, promoting the steampunk event, and for two of them, I wore the corset. It was educational.
Before the first round, I was really anxious about how people would respond to me. I was afraid of being grotesque, of disgusting and horrifying people who saw me dressed that way. I was afraid of being laughable. I also had no idea how anyone I knew would respond to me and how I would feel if any attention had a sexualised feel to it.
No one expressed horror or disgust. I had one round of a stranger putting a hand on my hip in passing, and that wasn’t comfortable at all. No one who knew me was weird with me, there were some slightly flirtatious responses but those were gentle enough not to alarm me. I have a lot of anxiety around being read in a sexualised way and having that reading justify treating me in a sexualised way. I have fears about my clothing being taken as my consent or being read as meaning things about me that I do not mean. I want to be able to be playful and expressive with clothing, but this is often a difficult area for me.
I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself what it means to feel attractive and to feel good in my body. Inevitably some of that is relational and about how people respond to me. Sometimes I find it really affirming when it is the visible femaleness of my body that gets a good response. I have a lot of gender identity issues, and feeling allowed to present as feminine, and it being imaginable that I am not hideous is a big deal for me. But other times, that doesn’t work for me at all and I don’t want to be read as gendered.
So much of it comes down to feeling good enough and acceptable. That putting my hairy mammal body into spaces where there are other bodies is not an affront. That I am tolerable. I put that body into a not-tightly-laced corset so that the curve of my hips was visible, and my breasts emphasised. No one laughed at me. No one told me off. No one said anything to me about my gender identity or my sexual identity or what they had decided to infer from my corset. This is a very big deal for me.