Her face was blank. “What’s ‘androgynous’?”
This was the millionth time I’d had to explain my identity. It still kinda bugged me. “It’s like I’m both a guy and a girl inside.”
“Huh? Are you bi?"
"No, I'm straight."
The lady I was talking to in the bar continued looking confused. So I pulled my go-to example.
"Have you ever seen the movie Manhattan?"
"Diane Keaton in that. That's how I am."
"Oooooooh, okay!" Bingo.
I hope Ms. Keaton doesn't mind that I use her interpretation of that role to explain my sexual identity. But honestly, it's hard to explain being androgynous to most people. It's not something you can easily "show," like how someone who's gay can kiss someone of their same gender in front of someone. And so far, it's not something you can provide someone proof of on a doctor's chart (like someone who's intersex). It's still very new in the public subconscious, hence my need to consistently explain it to people.
Androgyny basically translates to: I borrow from both the male and the female cultural identities of my culture. I'd wear a suit to a wedding if I felt like it, or a dress to a work meeting if I felt like it. It has nothing to do with my chromosomes-it's all in the heart and mind, baby.
How did I know I was androgynous? It was always there, under my skin. Whenever I was expected to be feminine for a long time (like if I was wearing a dress to multiple events, or had to be the following partner in ballroom dance class the entire time), I'd feel uneasy. I never felt completely at ease with the ultra-femme roles usually prescribed for women my age in society. Sure, I'd borrow from them-a lip gloss here, a tailored dress there-but I couldn't buy into it all. No way.
Did this mean I wasn't a real woman? Maybe. The idea of being a woman is one of the most culturally constructed ideas in modern society. Not too long ago, people thought you weren't a real woman if you didn't love men. Then it was if you didn't wear heels. Now it's if you decide not to have children. And on and on.
I want children. I wear heels. I even fall in love with men. But I didn't ever feel like I fit the definition of a woman given to me by society. I wore men's clothing when I wanted, girly clothing when I wanted. What the hell was I?
The answer came through a psychology class. In a class discussing gender roles, I found out about the Bem Sex Role Inventory. Invented in the 1970s, this test was invented to basically diagnose who was masculine and who was feminine in the eyes of American society. If you placed high in the 'masculine' or 'feminine' index, cool. Your gender identity was probably clear to you when you were walking out on the street. If you placed low in both categories, you were labeled 'undefined' (which could be empowering in itself, depending on how you see it). But if you were high in both categories-both very masculine and very feminine-you were labeled 'androgynous.'
Frick, that's me. The thought kept swirling through my head. I was androgynous inside. The best of being a man with the best of being a woman.
Turns out that fashion loves androgyny. We're an uber-chic breed, apparently. And it seems like Andy Jeans have been the secret sexual obsession of the world for years. Think Frida Kahlo. The undeniable Agyness Deyn. David Bowie. These were people I could point to and say, "Look, see! That's what I am!"
Maybe this is how it felt for gay men once Liberace and Elton John came on the scene. But love it or hate it, recognition of androgyny as a gender role is gaining speed. I found this Tumblr account today and was stunned by how beautifully expressing themselves as Andy Jeans. It's encouraging, to say the least. And I urge anyone who identifies as androgynous to try and find their own go-to role models. Find your models, your artists. Your suit-wearing actress whose character could verbally shame Woody Allen.
And drop me a line once you do. We could build an Andy Jean Master File. :)