So, I turned thirty-one and had a beautiful celebratory three-week Gemini-birthday-extravaganza. Delicious Sicilian dinner (in a lemon-print dress), beach weekend with new friends in P-town, new tattoos, a pre-birthday work celebration that included glitter, balloons, cake, champagne, etc. I felt loved, appreciated, brave, free, and of course, all the other less-than-savory feelings that come with getting older.
I studied my body, wondering if it's getting softer, if my face has noticeable lines that don't disappear with my expressions, if my aging is becoming visible. Aging will be visible, no matter what, so that's something I'm obviously just going to have to accept and let go of and laugh off with grace. (Easier said that done). I rode the anxiety-rollercoaster, with the plummets and loop-de-loops of what the fuck my career is, do I want to have kids, is the world going to be an actual dystopia in my lifetime, etc.
I am feeling a lot of things this year that are new to me. For starters, I feel like I worked through most of my young adult life to be honest about who I am, shake off shame for what comes naturally to me, but also of course always be self-aware and work to be the best version of me. This has meant embracing my femme-princess-high-maintenance ways. I manage to do this with enough self-awareness that people find it charming, and seem to appreciate my lack of subtlety, my harsh-at-times honesty. I just achieved this openness and pride the last few years. I know I am a princess, relish in it even, but I also strive to be doting, loving, nurturing, empathetic, thoughtful, etc - so that I'm not just taking but embracing and giving as well. For complicated reasons I'm still sorting out, I feel like a switch went off during this birthday and I actually feel embarrassed for being this way. Like I'm too old, it's not cute, and it's just fucking selfish.
But how could this be? I worked so hard to figure out who I am in my heart of hearts, experienced a moment of brazen glory only to feel this plummet again? I see people all around me entering the wholly-selfless-seeming stage of New Parenthood, and am feeling shame that I am still focusing time and energy on myself - my desires, my needs, my fears, my passions, my issues. But all we have is ourselves and the people we love - and I work every day to love myself and show the people (and animals) who matter that I love them, too.
At work, I feel like the sexism inherent in the environment I'm in ends up valuing traditionally-attractive women, but in really superficial ways that are intensely demeaning. I realize I have social capital when I wear cute dresses, heels, makeup, etc. However that capital is that I am objectified, valued as an object in the male gaze, and not for any of the complexity actually within me. To make it all the more frustrating, wearing those things brings me the truest sense of joy and is when I feel like my most authentic self. Glitter, meticulously curated outfits expressing a specific concept, heels that clack loudly as I walk - these things are ME. I honestly don't even have any other way to describe it. They are me, just me, as I am, truly.
This birthday, the onslaught of aging-woman thoughts came crashing in - will people enjoy working with me to this extent as I get older? Will my loud outfits and glittery makeup seem desperate, pathetic even, as I age? Will be my light-hearded child-like enthusiasm be read as unintelligent and sad as I advance?
In reality, these are things I struggle with daily, even at this stage of relative youth. I am fully aware that my gender presentation, my whimsical manner, my enthusiasm, the positivity I try to radiate, is all seen as childish, naive, superficial, and potentially unprofessional.
None of this is new, I know. I am far from the first and sadly not the last feminist person to feel the rage of this world, bordered by impossible patriarchal demands and standards. Even so, it doesn't make the pain and frustration any less.
Femininity and "feminine" gender expressions are not frivolous, are not excessive, are not unnatural, are not superficial, not selfish. But we are taught to see femininity and anything resembling a feminine gender expression this way. The femme-inism I feel most passionate about combats this constant derision, this chipping away at our sense of selves, our self-worth.
I feel embarrassment just thinking about how my wrinkles will envelope the jet-black cat-eye-makeup that's decorated my lids for the past 15 years. I feel silly playing water-pistol-race games at the boardwalk, easily beating the other players, who are all under the age of ten. I recoil from expressing the wonder or appreciation I feel for simple things - cherry blossom trees, a sparkling lake, brightly colored hot air balloons, fireworks. But all of this, this appreciation of the beauty I see, is my own self-care plan. The reality is this world is ugly, horrible, and dying. If I don't find joy in these things, what's the point of going on at all?
We should not have to make excuses for our exuberance, our enthusiasm, though it may seem like a selfish focus on ourselves. We should not have to dull our light, because the majority of society willingly participates in all the obligatory shit that darkens their brightness.
Even though I felt shame for my femininity and femme gender expression throughout my youth, the difference is that now I feel scared. What could once be written off as capricious youth will be seen negatively in a deeper more hurtful way as I age. I know I shouldn't care so much of what others think, but we live this immensely public lives (social media, haaaaay) and the reality is we interact with people all day every day.
I have mostly pulled out of these insecurities, but know they will ebb and flow and create new waves that may overpower me as I just keep aging. But even writing this - baring this on the stupid internet - is vulnerable. I yearn for the day humanity begins recognizing vulnerability as the bravest most courageous state - it is raw honesty, it is an invitation to see our truths, and also requires our own armor in handling what the world will throw our way.