On reclaiming and revisiting my masculinity

As a kid, I must have asked my mom something like five times if I was supposed to be a boy. To me that seemed rational: maybe I was drawn towards action figures and boys’ clothes and sports and video games because it was a surprise that I was a girl. It was a mistake.

But it wasn’t a mistake.

I identify strongly as a woman; I just have never identified with the images of women that have been presented to me. Reclaiming my masculinity has been a messy process, as I’ve written about before. I’m not a perfect feminist, and there are things with which I constantly grapple. One of those things is the delicate balance of being marginalized and privileged in the same space, depending on the lens I employ at the time.

As a masculine of center woman, I often do not find inclusion in many spaces, and there is a certain pain that comes with constant erasure. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it feels a little like a gut punch that never ends.

I stopped wearing dresses when I was six. I chopped off my hair, and refused to wear anything except And 1 gear, because I was obsessed with street ball and the And 1 Mixtape Tour. I wore khakis and sweaters to church and was constantly misread as a boy.

It became clear to me around fifth grade that in order to fit in with my girlish friends, I needed to wear tighter jeans, shave my legs, and wear shorter shorts. There was also high school, when I wore a skirt nearly every day for four years. Being conflicted about my gender expression was an everyday occurrence for the better part of my first two decades on earth. There are so many assumptions and expectations that come with being read as a woman, and yet I find that box is not quite built to fit me.

That is the history I carry with me in every space I occupy.  When talking with friends and colleagues about women, I find that most people do not think of women as including masculine expression unless I push them to do so. In that way, I am not seen. I am mispronouned by colleagues, friends, family, and activists in the movements I hold dear. I can go weeks without being referred to in the way that I identify. That is deeply painful for me, and there are times when hearing my correct pronouns brings tears to my eyes.

But that is what I mean about lens. Queer and feminist critiques of  traditional gender performance help explain the ways my gender expression is not affirmed. But they also require that I recognize the privilege I have as a masculine expressing person.

Sexism as a system upholds masculine superiority, while demonizing the feminine. That holds true across gender identity. Femme women, femme men, trans-feminine folks, and trans women all face disgust from varying sectors of our society. That disgust sometimes manifests as a sideways glance; to often it rears its head physical and/or sexual violence.

That does not mean that butch/masculine-of-center women are not at risk. Too often, we are punished for being “bad” (read: insufficiently feminine) women. There is also always a danger of being read–or misread–as visibly queer. And when LGBTQ aren’t feared, we are too often rendered invisible.

The tension I struggle with is holding both sides of that coin at the same time when I am in a space of all femme women.

I like to talk, and I always have something to say. Is it ok for me to take up that space because there is often no other masculine of center, queer woman of color in the room? Does my masculinity bolster my willingness to take up space, at the expense of other voices that may not be heard elsewhere? This is a tension that I find is often not acknowledged or explored within queer or feminist communities.

I’m not quite sure where to go other than acknowledging that this is something I’m thinking about and struggling with. I bet I’m not alone.

Header Image Credit: qwoc.org


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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