It was the big night.
I’d been waiting for this night for MONTHS. The company I worked for organised a June 30 costume party every year and theme was always announced quite a while in advance because these guys were SERIOUS about their costume parties.
The previous year, I’d embraced the idea fully, attending the Superheroes-themed June 30 as Buffy. Because of course! It was the first time my colleagues at this company had seen me presenting as I felt.
This year the theme was 80s, so I was going as Madonna. I had my fishnet gloves, my layered tutu, my leggings and I had THE ATTITUDE.
Well…I thought I did anyway (I did not win best-dressed by any means).
I got myself ready at home, walked to the train station and taken the train into the city for the party. I knew I could kind of almost pass for female if people weren’t paying much attention, so for the most part, I just got the standard woops & crow-calls any woman gets when she’s out in fishnet gloves and a layered tutu (yes, it’s a pretty fucked world…you know unless you’re a white, cis, hetero male). For the most part, when I would present as the gender I felt, I would look down and hope my wig would cover my face sufficiently.
Of course on the train there were a few kids and kids ALWAYS pay attention. They were asking uncomfortable questions of their parents, so I just smiled.
Smiling at strangers is certainly something presenting as my non-birth gender has encouraged in me. I’ve found people who appear to be ready to antagonise or are giving a disparaging look don’t quite know what to do when the person they’re offended by smiles at them. And of course most people (you know – normal people) just smile back.
When I arrived at the train station in the city, I came out through the turnstiles to find a group of late teenagers chatting loudly along the wall I had to walk past to get to the party venue. My stomach immediately knotted. I knew late teens. I’d even been one (no, really). They tended not to care who they offended so long as whatever they were saying induced a laugh in the crowd they were hanging out with. I really didn’t want teasing or abuse of any sort, so I smiled (of course) and kept walking as fast as I could.
To my surprise the only thing one of the said was: “Are you a DUDE!?!”
And that was it. I smiled extra wide for him and was on my way.
I arrived at the venue and was a little hot from my walk to and from the station, so I lined up to check in my jacket in the cloak room. It wasn’t a very Madonna jacket anyway. While I was standing there, a lady I’d not met before started chatting to me and after I began responding she gasped and touched my arm.
“OH! I’m so sorry!” she said. “I thought you were a girl!”
To which I smiled and just said “Thank you”.
This lovely co-worker was not the first, nor the last to believe I was a cisgendered female and every time it happened, if gave me a sense of joy.
It was around this time that I realised I needed to learn to walk like a girl.
Now I know what you’re going to say: what the hell is that supposed to mean? Well hear me out. I’ve spent a lot of years casually observing people and adapting my own walk (among other things) to the way I wanted to be perceived and I can tell you: on average there are subtle, but important, differences.
When we swing our arms while we’re walking, it is extremely annoying (and destabilising) to bump them into things – expecially things which are connected to us. The shape of the average woman and the shape of the average man are different in quite specific ways. To avoid bumping our hands or arms into the bits which protrude from our bodies, we all hold our arms in a certain way. The average woman has larger hips, a narrower waist, smaller rib cage and narrower shoulders than the average man and so, on average, women hold their wrists and hands further out from their bodies and their elbows fall closer in than men’s do. Conversely, on average, men’s elbows fall slightly further out and they hold their hands and wrists closer in than women because of the specific parts of their bodies which are larger/smaller.
Due to the larger hips on the average woman and the larger shoulders on the average man, the movement we perceive with our eyes is also greater in those areas (because there is literally more stuff moving).
There is also a difference to the way in which we hold out knees while we walk. Males tend to splay their knees to allow more room between their thighs (because the alternative can be literally painful), while women tend to keep their knees (and thighs) closer together. Women also tend to walk with different rhythm of rise & fall of their body – this is mainly because there are some things on their chests which move as a result of this rise & fall. It’s difficult to explain, but there is an element of breasts having an impact on the rise & fall, but also the woman controlling her walk to reduce the movement of her breasts & any pain associated (yes, boys – pain). Men don’t really have this, so their walk can be more jarring.
Subtle though they may be – these are purely physical differences.
Yes, there is a broad spectrum of body types and walks and I very much know the overt stereotype of both women and men (often perpetuated by people trying to appear more masculine or more feminine themselves), but the physical differences are real and they do have an effect on the way people walk as well as the way people perceive the gender of the walker.
What I’ve had to do (over time) is try my best to not over-play any particular motion. As with most thing during a transition, I got it hilariously wrong in the early stages.
Over the years, I’ve tried to adopt a more feminine gait when I’ve been presenting female, but of course, when you’re not doing it all the time, it’s easy to revert back to the more masculine manner of walking. More recently, I’ve tried to simulate broader hips by wearing clothing which pokes out from my hips (A-frame skirts; longer skater dresses), while trying simultaneously to keep
my elbows in a little more. I’ve tried DESPERATELY not to exaggerate this motion and (I think, after 20 years) I’m starting to get more of a natural flow to it. Heels help because the way they force you to walk (shorter steps, butt out, straight back, heel first) is something people only ever subconsciously associate with women.
CC hates all of this. Why try to affect something which is not natural?
And I get that, I do, but…
…well…it’s because it feels better to be less noticed and in order to be less noticed, before I step outside, I have to put on my armour.
My walk is just one piece of my armour.