To most of the world, I appear feminine. Most days, you’ll find me in a skirt or dress with a flowy sweater. My wardrobe decidedly leans towards feminine styling despite a color pallet consisting mainly of blacks and greys with the occasional burst of other colors (My goth “phase” never really ended). My hair is alternatively cut with one side shaved, yet my hair still falls in a way most people would read as femme. Yet, despite my femme appearance, I don’t identify as a woman.
I am a nonbinary, gendervague person who feels neither wholly masculine nor wholly feminine, but rather a mix of both or neither depending on the day. She pronouns make me squirm. I cringe when referred to as a woman or other feminine titles. Some days I’m ok with the body I was born into. Other days I wish for different anatomy. Yet, despite my fluctuating sense of gender, my presentation is consistently femme.
There are days I want to present differently. Days I wish I could pass as a man. Days I wish I could look like both or neither. Yet, I can’t. Despite my desire to present differently, I’m stuck presenting femme, though not for the usual reasons. Instead, I dress the way I do because of disability.
I am autistic, ADHD, schizoaffective, and have endometriosis. All of this plays into the way I present. Endometriosis ravages my insides, adhering my organs to one another, causing unending pain. My abdomen, particularly my pelvic region, is in constant pain and is usually tender. This makes wearing pants very difficult as the pressure from the waist band is too much hence the abundance of skirts and dresses. The skirts I wear are soft and flowing with a low pressure waist bad that doesn’t cause pain. Dresses take the midsection fully out of the equation.
Up until a couple years ago, I rarely wore dresses. My usual wardrobe consisted of jeans, tee shirts, and hoodies. I didn’t (and still don’t) wear makeup. It wasn’t until the endo pain got worse that I had to start presenting more femme.
Aside from the ways that endometriosis affects my wardrobe, my neurodivergence also dictates what I wear. I have a lot of tactile sensitivities that get set off by clothing. My clothes have to be as soft as possible, otherwise I’ll end up with panic attacks or a meltdown. Unfortunately, the softest clothes are almost exclusively designed for women. Even men’s sleep wear is less soft than women’s. This leaves me searching the women’s section only for clothes as it’s where I’ll find clothes my skin can handle. I also love to stim with flowy clothing, particularly long sleeves, something that is easier to find in women’s clothing.
Between my neurodivergence and my physical disability, I am left presenting in a rather femme way, even when that doesn’t match up with how I feel. If my disabilities were out of the picture, my wardrobe would be more varied and much less femme. I would have a mix of men’s and women’s clothes that I would combine in interesting and unexpected combinations. I would play with perceptions of gender and try never to conform with a fully masculine or feminine presentation. However, I live in a disabled body with a neurodivergent mind that dictate my wardrobe and in turn my gender presentation.
I’ve been hesitant to be open about my gender identity in real life because of all this. I worry that people won’t believe me or will think I’m just a trend jumper because I don’t “look” nonbinary. I know that there’s really no specific way for a nonbinary person to look and I know that a nonbinary person can be present femme or masculine, yet I have a hard time applying that to myself. I often feel like a faker because I can’t alter my appearance to match the way I feel.
When we talk about the barriers people of different gender identities face, we consider family and social pressures, financial barriers, a cissexist society, and more. Yet we rarely consider the intersection gender identity and disability and the ways these can interact. Disability can often dictate the ways we are able to present. This may be for physical reasons, like the way that my endometriosis prevents me from wearing pants. It may be because the person in question is not granted autonomy due to disability (for instance, people who have caregivers that help them dress and care for themselves) may not have the choice of how to present. Regardless, however disability interacts with gender, it is important to remember that it does. Our disabilities are just as much a part of us as our gender and both can interact in unique ways, for better or worse.