Elliot R. Casteel
Elliot is currently working on his second year at SCAD and has been writing for most of his life. His biggest inspiration is his mother, who is a published author and freelance writer, and has encouraged him in everything he does. With his writing, Elliot seeks to challenge societal norms in the beauty industry and social media, battling for a more accepting and open-minded future. He stands with the LGBTQ+ society and the body positivity movement, hoping for a day with less shaming, less assumptions, and more positive recognition within the media.
The Assumption’s in the Appearance
“What would you like, miss?” I stare. “I think she had a really good example of-” I blink. “You’re welcome, ma’am.” I look down. “There you go, sweetie.” I deflate. “Does anyone have anything to add onto her statement?” I want to go home. Being out in public takes more energy than it’s ever worth. My mom tells me to go out more, wants me to hang out with friends and have a good time because I’m only young once. But going outside the four walls of comfort that are my own bedroom takes more work than I feel like putting in every day.
Getting ready to be in eye-shot of strangers and peers and teachers is taxing, even if it only takes a minute. Coming upstairs to find a guest in our house without knowledge becomes another anxiety attack edging on the corners of my mind, tugging, pleading – hunch your shoulders, pull out the collar of your baggy shirt, pray you don’t look like you’re crippled and that they cannot see what lies beneath because you did not get a chance to put on your binder. Because breasts are unmanly and soft features with long hair are giveaways, not to who you are but to what your body claims you should be.
Back to the public eye, don baggy clothing and pray no one can see your feminine hips. Sit with your legs apart even when you want to cross them, chance wearing a tighter shirt because yesterday someone called you miss and maybe she just couldn’t tell your chest was flat. The next day, oh, you feel like wearing something cute? Crop tops and collars, skinny jeans and heels, these are such nice clothes with style and aesthetic. But if you dare wear them, don’t look in the mirror. Catch a glimpse and then I start to second guess myself. Why? Wear what you want, don’t listen to what people say. But I can’t, not when I see these nice clothes on my body, showing my hips, telling people I have a feminine body. My face isn’t long or thin enough to try and pass with these types of outfits.
But why, why? Why do I feel this way? Why do I look in the mirror and pause, fix my hair, pick apart my body, dissect every possible angle and then decide to change? Because I’m not manly enough, because I’m too feminine, because boys don’t wear girl clothes and boys don’t have light voices and boys don’t have long nails and boys don’t, boys don’t, boys don’t. But why can’t boys? Why can’t I wear a cute shoulder-less sweater and skinny jeans and still pass? Why can’t I wear my hair long, put on makeup, get my nails done and still be a guy? Because society says I can’t? Because social media blows up over men wearing dresses. Because men wearing makeup in public are considered ‘bold’ or ‘gay’. Because men are supposed to have facial hair, are supposed to smell like Old Spice and Axe cologne, are supposed to wear graphic tees and tuxedos.
I wore a plain black suit to my high school prom when I wanted to wear a dress. I’ll wear a suit to my own wedding and never get to know how it feels to see myself in that perfect wedding dress because if I do, my family will question me. Because “I thought you wanted to be a boy”, because “The groom should wear a tuxedo”, because “Does this mean you changed your mind?” We as a people are so used to seeing men one way and women another, we get confused when we see anything that contradicts our usual state of mind and so many of us then choose to ignore it. Because ignoring our confusion and assuming is easier than simply asking.
When I’m with my friends, I look at them with pleading eyes, begging them to speak up for me when someone uses the wrong pronouns because I’m too chicken shit to do it myself. And I try to reason that oh, we’re just out to eat, it doesn’t matter what gender the waiter thinks I am because I’ll never see him again after this. But the problem doesn’t come from if I’m ever going to see them again, it comes when pronoun after pronoun is thrown my way and reminds me just how much I don’t pass. Going out to eat with my family shouldn’t feel like a game of Guess Who.
But perhaps I’m asking too much. Instead of wishing for the day where everyone always asks for pronouns before assuming, I simply wish for a time where men (trans or non) can look however they want without people questioning their motives. I’m not praying for an ideal world where only peace and harmony exist and everything is perfect. I just want to lessen the impact of stereotypes. I want to go to the mall with my friends and feel comfortable because my short stature and feminine body does not tell people who I am before I do. I want to wear a dress on family occasions and not have them confront me on if my mind has changed. Because the answer will always be no: my mind has not changed, and it never will. My body should have no say on how people view me, I as a person should hold that power alone.