Welcome to AH&HL’s first annual guest-post series for Trans Awareness Week! The “Trans People and their Laptops” series aims to share a diverse set of trans stories, histories, and celebrations. This post is by nonbinary lesbian writer, Rae Dodd (she/xi/they). Read all identity posts.
I have three significant memories of wearing a dress.
All of them ranged in misery and duration but the three that really stick in my mind were probably (at least subconsciously) tied to significant moments – else why would I remember them?
The first one that stood out was having to be dolled and dressed up in my little white dress at the tender age of 8 for my First Holy Communion – because being a non-binary lesbian wasn’t complicated enough, I got childhood Catholicism to contend with as well. I think the dress was expensive – we had to get it from a dress shop and I don’t remember any of the communion ceremony. I remember sitting at the party; we had post-communion thinking of ways to “accidentally” spill something on the awful thing so I could go and change into my big brother’s hand-me-down dungarees. Tomboy from day one, despite my mum’s best attempts to pique my interest with dolls and prams and anything seen as “girly.”
The second was realising that, because I went to a Catholic high school, I was required to wear either a dress or skirt (as mandated in the uniform) for my entire high school career. There was no longer any safety in the ‘Tomboy’ label because every single girl my age was now becoming interested in wearing make-up and rolling their skirts up as high as they could get away with to get the attention of the boys.
A lot of my high school experience around gender was ignored – I was fine being a tomboy – I was lucky enough that I’d made enough friends who couldn’t give a damn that I was boyish that I grazed by with minimal bullying. In high school, I was far too busy coming to terms with the fact that I was in love with:
a) Jamie – A girl in the year above me who was rumoured to be bi. She wore a lot of eyeliner and had dyed red hair (against the rules and so she was the coolest person I knew). She got my bus and I found out years later that she was bi.
b) My religion teacher, Miss Curry – This one was a lot more complicated to unpack, but she wore a lot of pencil skirts and outrageously deep v necked blouses, so I’m not sure it’s that complicated.
Being gay hadn’t really been on the cards and the Catholicism didn’t really help, so that took up a good chunk of my time. I came out to 3 select friends when I was 18, and then the entire college knew within about a week, but at that point I’d been in school with the same people for seven years. A lot of my friends were guys and no one batted an eyelid. It also gave me an easy excuse to not look any further into any gender weirdness I was feeling. I was the only lesbian I knew – surely every lesbian was like me.
The last time I ever wore a dress was Saturday 18th May 2013 at my Leaver’s Ball for school. I had long hair and tiny glasses that didn’t suit my face. I’d had my hair styled for me and had spent about 3 hours getting my nails and make-up done in a salon. I wore a huge purple princess dress covered in little gems that didn’t fit my chubby 18-year-old body, so they’d rigged the back into some corset-style ribbons so it didn’t fall down and expose me to a hall of just legal classmates who were feeling fruity on their second allocated glass of wine.
I had told my friends I was going to wear a tux – a last rebellion against the school, but when I had told my mother this plan, she’d confessed she’d never had anything like the ball I was going to – she hadn’t had any sort of prom when she was growing up. I could tell she wanted to do the whole thing with me, dress shopping, shoes, bag etc. I indulged her knowing she’d never get to do this for something like my wedding. I’d made up my mind as I let her help me pick the poofiest Disney looking dress in the whole shop that this was it. One big finale to me in dresses and it was! We finished the ball at around 11 and fled to the afterparty at a brave student’s house, and I changed out of the awful dress into some jeans and Primark’s finest flannel and haven’t gone back. I left the afterparty at around 5 am with the dress under my arm and then it sat in my wardrobe for 6 years until I donated it to a charity shop. I wore a suit for my graduation. I wore a suit for my brother’s wedding.
I had figured it out! I was ready to go to university, a confident cis lesbian. That went well.
University introduced me to other queer folks – many who are still my best friends to this day – and opened my eyes that I, in fact, was not like every other lesbian. Turns out, we aren’t just a cookie-cutter mould.
I cut off nearly all of my hair, I went to the barbers, I bought men’s clothes and I discovered there was a word for me! Butch! There has been a lot of dilution of the terms Butch/Femme over the years but for me; they are lesbian specific terms that have come to mean a lot to me around my presentation, my gender and my attraction to women. All was going well as a cis butch lesbian until I found out there were other options.
My friend Steph came out as non-binary, which was brand new to me. I remember spending hours at his house drinking wine, watching (terrible) dinosaur movies and talking about his queerness – about gender and sexuality and everything in between.
I got my first binder in 2016 and it felt amazing when I wore it, but as I began to explore this side of me, I began doubting myself. What if I was faking? Was this a space that I, as a lesbian, wasn’t allowed to explore?
I talked a lot with my trans friends about dysphoria and how it took shape, and I didn’t have that struggle, so maybe I was wrong to do this. I was invading this space for the most vulnerable in our community and I felt awful about it. I was just butch. That was it.
I continued to feel this disconnect with being a woman and I knew I didn’t want to be a man – but I liked masculine things, I wore male clothing. This was around the time that TERFS really began pushing the idea that butch lesbians were “being forced” to transition and then regretting it, and while that was, is and will always be bullshit, it was hard to feel comfortable in this space where it really felt like I was either a traitor to butch lesbians or faking being trans.
There’s so much overlap and confusion because being nonbinary means different things to different people and so does being butch. I love the security of a label and with it all becoming muddled up I felt like I was drowning somewhere in the middle not one or the other.
I began reading more about lesbians and their issues with gender, specifically around a disconnect with womanhood due to the ties in with heteronormativity, but that’s another topic for another day. The most of what I learned was from speaking to other non-binary lesbians – there are a lot of us out there – I think at this point my gender is simply butch. Which I don’t know if that makes sense for anyone but me, but it’s what I’ve always been and likely what I will always be. Being butch doesn’t take away me being trans and being trans doesn’t compete with being butch. They’re not warring; they’re holding hands.
Not a man.
Not a woman.
Rae is a nonbinary lesbian writer who’s halfway into her Master’s Degree at MMU. She writes fantasy and romance and is currently working on her first (real) novel. When she isn’t writing she spends too much time playing video games and DnD with her friends. She’s began really trying to make a bookstagram and wants to be a publisher in the future! You can support Rae by sending a few pounds to their PayPal and following them on Twitter and Instagram.