As discussed in a previous post, I like to wear ties. Recently, I’ve gotten more ambitious with my gender play, wearing my hair short and occasionally cross-dressing with binders. It has been fascinating to watch the reactions of people around me.
Generally speaking, people at my school take no notice. Women especially seem unbothered by the subtle change in my appearance every now and then. The few men, on the other hand, tend to appear nervous and confused.
I refer to a time recently when I was walking across campus wearing jeans, a binder, and a button down shirt. In the distance, I noticed a man approaching, which is particularly noticeable at my school because I go to a Women’s College. He noticed me, too.
His gait did not falter as he watched me walk. We both looked away, of course, careful not to be obvious with our notice of each other. As we got nearer, I watched him panic, becoming more confused about my gender as he saw me up close. His eyes fluttered, he hesitated, he kept walking. I could imagine him thinking, “Do I greet this person? Is that a man or a woman?”
Presumably, if I were more obviously female, he would cast his glance away and pass me by (if he even noticed me at all), as men usually do when I wear bras or earrings on this campus. Ironically, I get much more attention from men when I appear masculine or androgynous.
I read somewhere on the internet once that men have two different non-verbal acknowledgments: the quick upward nod, meaning “sup” or “hey” and the singular downward nod, meaning a respectful—“good job” or “right on.” For some reason, I internalized this strange analysis. Whether or not it’s accurate, I don’t know. In any case, this man eventually decided to give me a quick upward nod and a solemn, “Hi.” I returned his greeting with secret amusement.
He did not smile when he greeted me—he was not flirting. He was not recognizing me—we did not know each other. His hello was a greeting of solidarity, of acknowledging our mutual belonging in a social group. I suspect that men on this campus take that sort of thing seriously. His panic, his hesitation, were likely caused by the lack of clarity in my presentation. He wasn’t sure if I was a man, and therefore he didn’t know whether his solidarity was called for.
I’m not sure if he ever figured it out, actually. With a binder on and short hair, I appear alarmingly like a young man, but my soft face and small stature make that reading a little hazy. Nevertheless, he settled for a greeting at the last possible second.
Afterward, I pondered the implications of his split-second decision. Would ignoring me have been disrespectful after we so obviously noticed each other? Was he afraid of potentially disrespecting a fellow man and greeted me “just in case,” so to speak?
What if he had realized I was a woman dressed like a man? If I had been dressed the same but without the binder, so that my more obvious breasts could tip the scale and declare me a cross-dressing woman, would he have made a different decision? Perhaps nodded but not said “hi”? Would he still feel solidarity with me?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. Perhaps my reading is all wrong and he could tell I was cross-dressing and greeted me anyway. Social psychology says that people will inevitably band together and “other” those who are different, drawing nearer to those who are alike. Is this another sign of that phenomenon?
My point is: my eyes have been opened to a whole different world, one of solidarity, respect, and the benefit of the doubt. I won’t lie when I say it felt good to be included in that world, to be given that benefit of the doubt.
What if everyone could have it? Imagine how the world would be a kinder and more inclusive place, where all people felt encouraged to fulfill their unique potential.