The Importance of Seeing Yourself Reflected in Society

The Importance of Seeing Yourself Reflected in Society

When I grew up in the 90’s and the early 20’s in a small town in Nova Scotia, I was, for the most part, exposed to a limited variety of people and perspectives. From the outside, most people looked the same, acted the same, and many had similar views.

I didn’t know how this would shape me until much later.

Everything around me seemed to suggest that I was supposed to grow up and have a certain type of life. As a girl, I would look and act a particular way; namely, my appearance would be feminine, I’d have long hair and wear make up, and I would have boyfriends. Through the language that was used, the way things were talked about, and the content I absorbed through TV shows and movies, I developed the unspoken understanding that this was how it was; this was considered “normal”.

I imagined myself growing up and following the script I witnessed being reproduced around me: I’d meet a nice guy and settle down in a sleepy neighbourhood where we would start a family. However, there were certain things about my experience that seemed to conflict with the dream that my community had birthed for me.

For starters, I didn’t look like what a girl was supposed to look like. I wore silky button up shirts with flames on them, overalls, work boots, and baseball caps. During a haircut when I was 8 years old, while my mom stepped out to run an errand, I asked the hairdresser for a buzzcut. When I transferred schools in elementary, my new teacher felt it was necessary to go to the office and pull my file to determine if I was a boy or a girl. 

I also didn’t behave like what a girl was supposed to behave like. While the girls in my class were developing childhood crushes on boys and playing with barbies, I was playing in dirt pits with the boys and imagining myself to be the sort of Prince Charming that the girls were clamouring about. 

Overall, I didn’t feel like a girl; at least not in the way that was widely displayed to me through various mediums. This set off a silent alarm that there was something wrong with me. 

What was “normal” was only normal because there was nothing else to compare it to.

I internalized that I felt different. Around me, people told me that my boyish appearance was “just a phase” and that I would grow out of it. The articles of clothing that once brought me comfort and allowed me to express myself began to cause feelings of embarrassment. In middle school and into high school, I grew my hair out, dressed more feminine, and started dating guys. I started to look and act the part of what I thought a girl was supposed to fulfill, but internally I knew it didn’t feel right. I just couldn’t put my finger on why that was. 

When I entered university, leaving my small town and moving into the city of Halifax, my framework started to expand as I was exposed to a larger variety of people and perspectives. 

I started taking classes in gender studies, initially (admittedly) because I heard that’s where I could meet queer girls, but I ended up taking away something much more valuable than a girlfriend; I learned that there was more to me, to attraction, to love, to gender, and to society than I originally thought. 

Gender identity and gender expression are different.

It’s important to note that gender identity and gender expression are two different categories. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal and individual experience of gender (i.e., their sense of being a woman, a man, neither, both, or anywhere along the gender spectrum) and can be the same or different than their sex assigned at birth. Gender expression refers to how a person externally presents or expresses their gender (i.e., their appearance, pronouns, body features, etc.). Both of these categories are also fundamentally different than a person’s sexual orientation, which refers to whom a person is sexually, emotionally, and romantically attracted to.

Although I touch on all of these categories throughout this post while detailing my past and they are certainly woven together in my experience, it's important to know their differences. 

I started to see how the gender binary, the classification of gender into two distinct and opposite forms of male and female, masculine and feminine, and the socialization of gender roles was suffocating me. From a young age, I didn’t identify with the stereotypical expectations and attitudes that the female role prescribed. However, because I didn’t see an alternative way of being, I had been trying to make myself fit into the role as it was, which caused feelings of confusion and distress.

For the first time ever, I was around people who not only questioned the status quo, but also expressed similar sentiments to me. I felt seen in a way that I didn’t know I was lacking until I had it. In feeling more supported, I relaxed into a way of expression that felt more natural for me. 

Outside of the epiphanies around my gender expression, I started to feel more comfortable in my attractions (both physical and emotional) to other girls as I was immersed in a city that had a vibrant and proud queer community. By this time, there also happened to be more queer content in the media, which allowed me to see myself being reflected in the characters and plot lines I watched.  

As a queer adult, I can see how I would have benefitted when I was younger in having exposure to a wide array of perspectives and experiences, and in particular, exposure to queer content and queer culture. 

Present day, it’s necessary for me to recognize that I have a lot of inherent privilege that allows me to show up the way that I do. My racial identity, socioeconomic status, the family I was born into, nationality, gender identity, sexuality, physical health and many other categories that intersect together in such a way and shape my personhood have influence in how I am perceived and accepted by others. Although I internally struggled to make sense of myself, externally, I did not face much hardship from the people I interacted with. This is not everyone’s experience. 

In sharing my experiences, I hope to add my voice to the ongoing dialogue in order to continue having these meaningful and important conversations. I believe that it’s incredibly valuable to foster spaces where this is possible. To whomever reads this, know that wherever you are and whoever you are, all of you is valid. 

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Comments

Linda Tucker

I am so proud of you!! I always was but this is such a great work with so much information!! I hope it reaches a large audience!! Everyone should read it!!

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