Ding dong DOMA is dead. But is the stigma of being different also dead? For trans* and gender non-conforming people like myself, that stigma is still very much alive (especially in the employment process). The LGBT community is very aware of this; we see it in the way people stare at us. Nonetheless, it took a very personal experience for me to fully fathom how badly we need to dismantle stereotypes of what men and women should look like.
I came out as gay almost two years ago, when my hair was still in a more “femme” style — around chin-length with bangs down to my eyebrows. Like many other parents, my parents were shocked and upset at the news because “there’s absolutely no way she can be gay; look at her!” Over time they’ve come to deal with the fact that I’m not going to swoon over boys the way my mother did when she was young. And I guess it was going fine, because I still looked “girly.”
Then I got my “radical” new hairstyle in the beginning of this year, closely shaved on the sides and a faux hawk on the top and upper half of the back of my head. My parents’ immediate reaction was “Oh my god, that looks so bad on you! You look like a boy!” And after each and every haircut since then, they have been expressing these same, passive-aggressive reactions against my hairstyle. Recently, my father phrased it like he was trying to help me in my professional life — “Don’t you think that this hairstyle makes it harder for you to get a job?” he would say. I firmly responded, “No. I should not be judged by the way I wear my hair," and that I thought my mother’s hairstyle is aesthetically unpleasant as well but I don’t go around harassing her about it the way they do mine. To this my father responded, “Well, I guess I can’t argue when you have it backwards like that.”
Backwards like that. This struck a huge chord in me. Apparently being myself and having my hair the way I feel comfortable is actually being backwards. Sadly my parents are not alone in their way of thinking. If they were the only ones who did, the LGBT community would not be ostracized by the rest of society so severely.
So the question is this: why must we conform to conventions that are not set in stone? Who said that women need to have long hair and wear dresses, and that men must have short hair and bulging muscles? It wasn’t that long ago that men wore curly wigs and high-heeled shoes in the West and long braids in China. Nobody said that they looked “gay” or unprofessional. Why is it imperative that we confine ourselves to these conventions that have no rational basis?
Let’s go back to what my father said about my hair decreasing my chances of employment. (I actually am employed; I’m just trying to switch jobs.) How is my hairstyle in any way indicative of my abilities and competence as an employee? My mother also pointed out that my hairstyle is not very “professional.” What relation does my hairstyle have with my professionalism? I doubt she would have said this to my brother; it’s just that I’m not a man that they constantly harass me for it. In fact, my hairstyle is one that many men have (picture David Beckham), and nobody seems to be questioning their professionalism. Why is it that once this hairstyle is worn by someone who is not a man, their perceived level of professionalism is cut drastically? As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, we should be judged by the content of our character, not by depth-less superficial qualities such as hairstyle and choice of clothing.
This is a society founded on individuality, so the idea that women having David Beckham-hairstyle is being backwards is inconsistent with our society's core value. Just because I don’t like to dress the way you do does not mean that I am less competent than you. My mother also said, “Sam Champion (from Good Morning America) is gay too but you don’t see him dressing like a girl.” First of all, sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity are separate things. Secondly, that’s his choice. Just because Christine Quinn dresses “femme” “even though” she is a lesbian, doesn’t mean that every other lesbian should be doing the same. That is her choice; America is all about the right to choose. And it is my choice to wear my hair the way I do.
In my opinion, and this is really just my opinion as I have no confirmation of causation, this kind of mindset is the reason why members of the LGBTQ community continue to be bullied, harassed, and killed even as same-sex marriage is gaining acceptance at accelerating speed. It is also why so many trans* people have such a hard time finding jobs and end up becoming sex workers — because of this notion that people who don’t dress in a way that “matches” their assigned sex are “freaks.”
A couple weeks ago a stranger called me a faggot and a whore, most likely because my hairstyle makes me “obviously gay.” I have no doubt that some people would say, “Well, when you wear a hairstyle like that, you should expect to be called a faggot.” This is the same kind of toxic mindset that perpetuates our country’s rape culture. We as a society sometimes say that a woman was “begging to be raped” because she was wearing scantily-clad clothing, and we thus teach women to dress modestly, not to stay out too late at night, and to avoid dark corners and alleyways. But shouldn’t we be teaching men not to rape? That just because a woman is dressed seductively, doesn’t mean that she is asking for sex? Likewise, instead of teaching gender non-conforming people like myself to dress “appropriately” for our gender, we should teach others that it is wrong to judge, harass, and kill people based on their dress.
Everybody has the right to be who they are, especially in this country founded on a set of unalienable rights that champion individuality, and this right is the tenet of the LGBT rights movement. Same-sex marriage has already won, as a March issue of Time magazine wrote. Sure this is a wonderful thing and worth celebration. But many people see same-sex marriage as the end all, be all of the movement. No, it is only the first accomplishment in an agenda of many goals. We need to teach students not to bully other students for the way they dress or for any other reason. We need to stop judging job applicants because they refer to themselves as “she” instead of “he.” We need to teach parents to support us, not judge us, when we choose not to look like everybody else. We need to champion every individual’s right and decision to be unique, instead of saying that their expression is "backwards."