Girl, Don’t Be a Man: How I Ditched the Machismo and Found Liberation in #MyFemmeSelf

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“Just be a man” is a phrase I’ve heard my entire life. It’s something that most men — and gay men in particular — have to contend with as we make our way in a world dominated by machismo. But masculinity is just a paper tiger. All the power it holds over us is power we’ve given it. When it no longer has a hold on us we can embrace our #FemmeSelf and find liberation.

Growing up I was a chubby, effeminate kid. I could not escape the attractive alliteration of phrase “fat faggot.” I heard it constantly. I had a high voice, expressive hands and hips that swayed like a palm caressed by the breeze. I didn’t try to change myself mainly because I couldn’t imagine being any other way. It would be like trying to will my eye color from brown to blue.

The taunts were a constant hum in my life. At home I had a father who took every opportunity to remind me that I was turning into a sissy. He tried to get me to play sports or work on cars, anything that might steer me away from the inexorable femme path I was pursuing.

I learned very early on that masculinity is more fragile than a porcelain doll. Protecting masculinity requires vigilance, and I had to wear the right clothes, sit the right way and watch the right shows. At the age of 7 I was a devout fan of All My Children. One night while watching TV with the family a commercial came on advertising the over-the-top romantic wedding of the soap’s super-couple. I couldn’t contain my excitement and announced how much I was looking forward to the big day. My father reacted swiftly and insisted that I was never to watch that show again. “Boys don’t watch shows like that,” he said. I was devastated, not at my father’s callousness (which I was accustomed to), but because I was going to miss the soap opera event of the season.

Hearing the word “sissy” or “fag” was a regular occurrence throughout high school, and since I wasn’t going to change the way I acted, my best defense was my wit. Who needs fists when you can hurl a clever retort?

I was six feet tall when I entered high school, and I would be stopped by strangers who wanted to make sure my size was used to achieve my maximum masculine potential. In the supermarket an old man stopped to ask me if I played football and if not, why not, as if I’d betrayed my masculine obligation. Sassily I replied, “No, I am an honor student” as I quickly turned away from him and back to my Soap Opera Digest.

Shortly after officially coming out of the closet a friend referred to me as a “queen.” I gasped, gestured wildly, placed my hands on my hips and declared, “I am not a queen!” That self-delusion was fleeting, and I quickly came to accept that I was a big queen. In fact, my friends and I never used proper names; we simply referred to each other as “girl.” And of course in Spanish everything was feminized.

When you are femme you must be vigilant, particularly in public. When I was 21 my friends and I were walking to the bar Rich’s in San Diego. We were giggling, prancing and sashaying down the sidewalk. A man in a car shouted, “You look like a bunch of faggots!” Without thinking, I pivoted and yelled, “That’s because we are a bunch of faggots!

He leapt from his Toyota Corolla, leaving it in the middle of the street. He pulled out a golf club, raised it and hurried toward me, shouting. My friends ran into the club while I stood there gloriously defiant but with absolutely no idea how to handle the situation. The motorists who were blocked by his abandoned car began honking and shouting to him. This seemed to pull him out of the intense moment, and he looked at me, lowered his club and then got in his car and sped off. I was lucky, but many others are not as fortunate.

machismo india trans
A group of trans Indian women sit watching the Holi Festival celebrations

For people who are femme, gender-nonconforming or trans, there is a very real risk of harassment and violence. But so many of them accept those risks and sashay down the boulevard, from Birmingham to Nairobi to São Paulo. Every day they take on the behemoth that is masculinity, and their very presence chips away at its power. They are the ones leading the revolution.

And that is what makes Hornet’s #MyFemmeSelf campaign so important. It’s an opportunity to celebrate all forms of gender expression. It empowers our community to challenge gender norms and fully express who we are through stories, social media and all forms of content.

I will be part of the conversation as my whole self, my true self, #MyFemmeSelf. Won’t you join me?

Alex Garner is Hornet’s Senior Health Innovation Strategist.