When I was seven years old, my older cousin told me that I looked like a boy. She did it because she didn’t want me hanging out with her and her friends. I wanted to go with them to the mall, but no group of teenagers wants a kid trailing after them while they hang out. She’s nearly eight years older than me so I was nothing but an annoying little shadow to her. I know now that she didn’t really mean it but the younger me, the growing up in a judgemental society me, didn’t and it has resonated with me so much that eighteen years later I’m only now starting to deal with it.
Back then, I was only hurt about my big cousin not wanting me to be around her. I didn’t understand the real meanness behind her comment. Until middle school, when a girl who I didn’t even know told me that I had the body of a boy. This time, it wasn’t my face, but my body that apparently didn’t fit the normal female standard. I remember how hot my face got when I had fully comprehended what she’d said to me and I remember how my stomach twisted in unidentified embarrassment. It was only more fuel to my growing need to disappear, a need that I didn’t quite understand. My older cousin said I looked like a boy and now someone else was saying it too, so it had to be true. I pressured my mother and aunt to buy me clothes that were too big for me and I hid in them.
I didn’t learn the word Androgynous until I was in high school, however, it wasn’t a pleasant introduction to it. My boyfriend at the time was upset because I had cut my hair into a mohawk, he was discussing with his friends through texts about how manly it made me look to him. One of his friends replied back “lol she’s just androgynous dude.” but my ex, hated that idea and claimed that he didn’t date “unknowns”. Oddly enough, I don’t remember my reaction or if I reacted at all. Maybe it hurt me so bad that I’m still repressing it, or perhaps not being able to remember is proof enough in itself. However, I do remember googling Androgynous and hastily searching for someone who looked like me in the images that were brought up. I ended up disappointed as Google, then and now, only provided images of white women with pixie cuts and strongish cheekbones along with guys who faces were slightly feminine. I looked nothing like them and they don’t even slightly resemble me.
Either way, I took solace in looking like a boy. Or at least I tried to because I didn’t know what else to do. I cut my hair short and kept my clothes as large as I could get them. At least at first, but it was a constant battle with my boyfriend who was embarrassed to be seen out with me. He felt like everyone would think he was dating a guy and that he was gay. Soon, my baggy jeans and huge t-shirts started disappearing from my closet and were replaced with leggings and halter tops. I had the body, I should be showing it off. It wasn’t what I wanted, but everyone around me did. So I went with it. Fast forward through some years of trauma and the severe depression, my clothes no longer became a concern of mine. I had bigger problems than the fact people thought I looked like a guy. While they were busy judging my face, I was mulling over the fact that all my emotions seemed to have finally disappeared. I didn’t feel happy or sad or even content, I was just here.
Which makes for really interesting interactions when someone wants to date. Every guy that attempted to talk to me eventually gave up as I didn’t react to things the way they thought I should have. My need to distance myself from romance and relationships was practically unheard of. Black women are supposed to always want a significant other. Society has projected that image on us to the point it’s the norm and those of us who aren’t interested in that particular area, are usually mocked and made fun of. People around me couldn’t understand, I had been with my ex for six years and now suddenly I wasn’t interested in relationships anymore? Something had to be wrong with me. And trying to explain that me being with my ex and loving him but never really liking all the things that came with being in a relationship? There’s no simple way to explain something like that and when you’re trying to explain it to someone who already has an idea about you in their head, it’s like talking to a dust mite.
Then, to add on to my ever growing pile of heavy thoughts on my mind, I started identifying as asexual. If you’ve read my other articles you know that I discovered “Asexual” on Tumblr and ended up spending hours on Google learning and reading about it. Just like the images attached to my google search of Androgynous, most if not all of the stories about asexuality came from white people. I couldn’t relate to the stories of growing up with no crushes or the accounts of being made fun of not wanting to have sex (which isn’t what asexuality is anyways but that’s another day, another article). So for a year or so, I struggled internally. I had absolutely no desire at all to have sex with anyone. I didn’t want to kiss anyone and handshakes were about all the touching I’d allow. My trauma and it’s contribution to my asexuality is still a glaring red folder that I need to open and read, but it always added a layer of confusion to thoughts. Was I really asexual? Or just a trauma-ridden woman who needed time and space and an excuse to not date anymore? It’s easy to acknowledge when I see a face I find pleasing, but it’s hard to say these things around others because we’ve been conditioned to believe that any recognition of attraction is sexual. Even though I heavily identified with the term asexual, I wasn’t able to communicate with others about it because of reasons that just kept building up. I’ve had crushes before, I still have crushes now. I can see why some people love sex, for a while, it was kind of enjoyable at times. But on the internet, where most things are exaggerated, because of those things, I couldn’t be truly asexual. On one side I had to be like the accounts of white asexuals and absolutely not want anything to do with anyone ever to be considered asexual. Then on the other side, I’m a black woman and black women can only be sexual, to some of my fellow black people I was just on some weird white shit. I was stuck in a never-ending spiral of these labels existing but not thinking they applied to me because I couldn’t find anyone to relate to and was only being shown examples of absolutes.
I talk about being asexual a lot because the community is so small and the more visibility we can gain the better. But I don’t really feel as if I belong there, much like I feel like I don’t belong in the androgynous community either. On the internet, I watch as most if not all, asexuals fight for inclusion in the LGBT+ community. It’s been a long battle and at times a weird one but I don’t feel as if it’s my fight. Or even if I wanted to fight my words would be heard. Because I don’t fit into the already pre-established definition of an asexual. So when I try to speak up, my words are dismissed and pushed aside. The account of a black woman struggling with hypersexualization is boring compared to the want of being included in a group of people. After all, if I’m not fighting for asexuals to be included in the LGBT community am I really an asexual at all?
And because everything in life intersects, when I finally took the time to sit down and think about being both Androgynous and Asexual I was thinking for far longer than I originally wanted to. It’s hard to hear that my face and body isn’t the “set standard” for femininity. Not only from a family member but a complete stranger as well, not to mention the reactions my ex had to my style choices and even now how my short fade haircut makes men automatically assume that I’m a lesbian. With all of that surrounding me, finding any type of confidence in myself and the labels I choose for myself became nearly impossible. It’s something I’m still working through. I often wonder if a chain reaction was started somewhere or if being both androgynous and asexual are complicated separate for myself. I know, of course, that I could be one without the other but I think about the phrase “everything happens for a reason” comes into mind and makes me second guess myself.
It’s taken years to try and come into some sort of acceptance about being androgynous and asexual. Funnily enough, I think I accepted the latter long before I did the former. Because if I have to, I can keep being ace a secret. I can’t hide my androgyny. My face is mine, and although it’s not perfect it’s like this for a reason. I try to keep that mantra in my mind always, especially when I find myself being stared at in public. I could always change my face, plastic surgery has been brought up many times. Both from myself and from other people. However, I reject that idea that I need to cut and pull and reshape my face. I applaud those who do get plastic surgery, it takes a different kind of confidence to be able to do that. One that I’m not sure I’ll ever have. But I don’t want to change my face and I’ve finally reached the point where I don’t want others to accept my face. I don’t need validation from others about my face and body because it’s not theirs in the first place, it’s mine. Only my opinion about my self matters.
I look back now, at my cousin telling me that I looked like a boy and part of me wants to thank her. She prepared me for the harshness that society was going to bring. Intentionally or not, she set me up to be ready for every negative comment that is thrown my way. Honestly, no one will ever say anything as bad as some of the things that she and other family members have said to me. Being told that I look like a boy may have at first hurt me to my core, but I took that hurt and studied it until I understood it. Now I use that hurt to help others understand that the way they are is okay. Because I wish that, instead of telling seven years old me I was boyish, my cousin had been there to help me understand the internal dislike for things I couldn’t change.