The Pressure to Conform/Compulsory Femininity

For some reason lately I’ve been getting a bunch of (gentle) pressure/encouragement to present more femininely than I generally. It’s not something I’m used to dealing with, to be honest (my mother has gone on occasional “oh, you should wear make-up/do things with your hair/etc” riff, but she’s never particularly pushed it) and it’s been weird, and I have thoughts about it so!

A lot of it has been coming from work, where I am still not out about being non-binary – everyone there calls me ‘she’ and ‘her’. And it’s not as if they are explicitly judging me on my more masc/androgynous presenting days, it’s just that I’ve been getting a weird amount of positive reinforcement on whenever I tip into femme at all (in this case, this mostly means “whenever I wear a skirt or dress”).

And like, obviously I like to be complimented on the clothes I choose to wear. And if the comments were just “Oh, I like your dress!” then I wouldn’t be writing about it at all. But that’s not what they are. The comments I’ve been getting are more like “Oh, you’re wearing a skirt today! You look so nice! You should do that more often!”

And like???? I really just wish they wouldn’t.

It doesn’t come across as a compliment, because it’s clearly not about the particular skirt or dress I happen to be wearing, so much as it is about them, for some reason, wanting me to wear skirts and dresses in general (and I guess any skirts or dresses will do). It is, in fact, mildly insulting instead, since it suggests that I don’t really normally look nice, and makes it pretty clear that they don’t like my style generally.

It is clear that for whatever reason (it would make them more comfortable somehow? Or maybe they are worried about my ability to catch a man (LOL!)? I don’t even know) some of my co-workers are invested in my gender presentation.

And I wonder whether that will go away or just get worse when I do come out as non-binary – I know my mom has repeatedly asked about the change in my presentation over the last 3-4 years or whatever, and that she seems more invested in me presenting as feminine since I came out to her than she was before (though she has told me she noticed the change before I came out, she never pressured me about it until afterwards). If these folks are already taking my presentation somewhat personally, they may very well take my “decision” not to identify as a woman personally (er, see my non-woman-hood as me abandoning their team, I guess?) as well.

I also may just be way over-thinking this all, to be honest :P

We’ll have to wait and see.


  1. I hadn’t thought about people doing that until you mentioned it, but there is positive reinforcement for people to present more as their assigned gender ideal. I’m lucky enough that I have to wear a unisex uniform for my job, but when I’m in plain clothes people make the distinction to complement me on my appearance. I always thought it was because it looks like I put more effort into it, but I’m beginning to think it’s a gender issues thing. They’re not trying to be mean, it’s just that we’re taught to do that from an early age because it’s “polite” to pay complements, but it’s also painfully reinforcing the gender binary status quo.

  2. These kinds of selective compliments were actually a part of me figuring out that I was nonbinary! They make me sooo uncomfortable. These days I don’t really wear skirts/dresses at all, not because I hate them, but because it’s not worth the piles of dysphoria. When I do (very seldom) put on a skirt, I try to make sure I’ll be alone, or at least not interacting with anyone likely to comment on it. I sometimes wonder how I’ll feel about it after some more time on testosterone. (Probably equally unsafe, but for different reasons…)

  3. Backhanded compliments that are really criticisms and advice are awful in most contexts. When it’s more than just a criticism of your usual fashion sense but also a criticism of who you really are – of your gender – I can only imagine just how frustrating and painful all at once it must be. This is basically one (kind if convoluted) form of misgendering, isn’t it?

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