(S)he’s got the look

My physical appearance has changed significally within the last couple of months and instead of taking it as a bad thing, I choose to see it as an opportunity. It has given me a lot of new potential looks and I have a blast doing it, I love to play with all the new attributes and how they put me in a new light. Life has the potential of being fun; dressing up, playing with colors or other aspects of your exterior can make difficult times less hard to endure. Furthermore, the change has also given me some important insights. I have learned that the mere fact of losing your hair gives you a new attitude; you appear far more tough because of this alone. Devoid of the softness of long hair you are interpreted as a fighter in a heartbeat, it doesn’t matter how your personality fits into this. Without me reinforcing any of these traits I’m still met with a different attitude, labeling me as a ‘badass’. I’m being told over and over, especially everytime I meet someone new or someone that hasn’t seen it before. Wearing a colorful wig will on the other hand entail an all together opposite reaction, since it hints a more feminine look. How I choose to present myself directly reflects how I’m met and since my range of expressions have widened, I can tailor the feedback I want, at least to some extent. 

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Playing with a lot of different gendered features. Photo: Lars Daniel Terkelsen

It has puzzled me a little bit how comfortable I am with my new looks; most certainly it isn’t the normal reaction. Quite the contrary. I think I always had the preference of opposing the mainstream and I think it more often than not have served me well. I’m still pretty sure though, that I wouldn’t have come across such self-esteem without confirmation from the outside. I’ve had a few comments subscribing to a opposite viewpoint, but this is not the prevalent attitude. Had it been like that it would no doubt have been a lot harder to keep my spirits high.

Because the way people see you reflects back immediately, it constitutes a self feeding loop. This aims at both self worth and on personality traits, you confirm who you are by being mirrored by others. Forcing you to remove breasts or hair involuntary, like I have, hijacks this process and it offers you a perspective of things you wouldn’t have had otherwise. I didn’t have the currage to cut of my hair, it is a rather drastic thing to do for someone perceived as female. Going flat chested is not something you are even allowed to do without going through years of examinations in a gender changing process. For many people losing these attributes is most likely a bit terrifying and a loss of identity. I see it as a gift, especially since I never felt quite in sync with how people saw me to begin with. This is probably also key to why I’m more happy than upset by all my exterior changes. I never before felt my inside match my outside to the extent that I do now. Or more accurately, the way people interpret me from how I look is closer to my own perspective than before. I have been handed the opportunity to observe the world from different angles before and after surgery and chemotherapy. For the first time in my life I have been read as male at some points and it’s an educative experience. The way I’m met is dauntingly different from before and I find very amusing; I haven’t changed a bit on the inside. 

In the end I think about how this must affect everyone, not the least when you’re young and impressionable. If the shift in how people approach me happens just from a simple haircut, why should this be any different in the case of kids? Dressing and styling them according to their assigned gender results in different approaches from the surrounding environment depending on them being read as a girl or boy. The first will be met with a gentle and soft approach, the latter more tough and active and this again will influence how they become later in life. Constantly being told that you are ‘sweet and beautiful’ or ‘cool and tough’ will have an impact on you. It’s thought-provoking to see the difference in how I’m met simply from losing my hair and breast. The same mechanism impacts children from an early age, shaping two genders that deviate significantly. When everyone tells you that you are in a certain way, in the end you most likely start believing it. Except for some that miss the target and feel closer to the constructed opposite. They have a hard time from the beginning, failing to feel on the inside like people comprehend their exterior, thus creating a dissonance between the two. Much like me. In my case it’s almost as though society’s rigid gender constructions have been loosened up by cancer; the irony is thick to me. If we could be less conservative when we approach people, conforming or nonconforming, without automatically putting people in boxes and categories based on how they look, we have come a long way.

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