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Write the Person First

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New creative non-fiction by Aurora Dimitre

Woman adjusting the tie around her neck

When I was a little girl, I wore almost exclusively dresses. I’m sure a big part of this was that it’s easier to help a child go to the bathroom if you don’t have to deal with pants, because I’m talking little, like, between the ages of two and seven, but I was also into it. I did wear my baseball caps backward(1), and I still do, but I wore dresses. Then I had my ‘tomboy stage.’ Boy’s clothes: t-shirts, jeans, the ‘Jim coat’, which was just a letterman-style jacket that my dad got in high school that had ‘JIM’ stitched on the front. In high school, I moved to skinny jeans(2), stuck with t-shirts.

Then college came around. I’ll skip freshman year, because that was more of the same of high school(3), but starting sophomore year, I started going back to dresses. Part of it was that I started going to thrift stores more, mostly for flannels(4), and there was just so much weird shit in there. My system was literally if it confused me in any way, I bought it. The best example of this was a… cardigan? I don’t know exactly what it was, but it was roughly a cardigan made out of snow fence. That’s what it reminded me of. I bought it because it was weird.

With the weird things at thrift stores, though, I would find a lot of dresses and skirts. And so I started buying them—I have been blessed with a body that’s pretty tall and a weight distribution that’s pretty forgiving; even at my heaviest of being around a hundred and seventy pounds, small and medium shirts fit fine—everything goes straight to the thighs. As well as this, I’ve never been bothered by wearing short dresses.

And so this was weird for me, right—I went from wearing literally zero make-up in high school(5), wearing skinny jeans and Homestuck shirts every day(6), to dresses and skirts and a full face. I never got into contouring, never even touched liquid foundation, but I would wear powder, blush, eyeshadow and eyeliner, lipstick, mascara—every day. If I left the dorm or the house, I would put on makeup. I still had a sort of grungey look to this—especially at the start, I would layer and layer and layer, and I always wore my Docs(7)–but it was a lot more feminine than I was used to.

And this isn’t necessarily a problem. At this point in my life I am back to jeans and band shirts(8), but plenty of people enjoy getting dressed up and putting on makeup and everything. I still buy dresses at thrift stores even though I never fucking wear them anymore(9). The thing is, I’ve never exactly been feminine.

Even when I was wearing dresses and makeup every day, I have a lot more in common personality-wise with my father than my mother. Oh, sure, my junk bleeds every month and I had a One Direction phase(10), but I remember a conversation I had with a fellow English major in one of our creative writing classes. We were talking about writing from the point of view of male characters. She was talking about how she had trouble with it. I’ve never had problems with this—in fact, the majority of my point of view characters are male—and I mentioned this. She paused, looked at me, and said, “Well, yeah, but you’re… pretty much a dude.”

This was kind of fun to the girl sitting there in a pink dress, but I did kind of agree. I’m not saying that I’m a major bro, you know, more masculine than feminine, mostly I think it means that I’m way out of touch with my emotions, but it did get me thinking, a little. At the core, people are people. I get along with guys and girls—at my job, which is currently as a counter attendant at a local pizza place, there is an overwhelming dude presence, as is usually the case with pizza places, for some reason. Especially when you look at the young people—there is one other young woman under the age of forty at this place. Lots of dudes. I didn’t walk in there, see all the dudes, and go a) Oh no, too many guys, there are too many men here, I can’t deal with this, or b) Gonna fuck them(11), or really even think about it at all. And I’m not saying that everyone thinks like this, so binary—I’m sure that’s not true. I tend to have the opposite assumption—that everyone thinks like I do. I think everyone tends to have this assumption that their way of thinking is the common one, because your way of thinking is the one that makes sense to you.

But I see these posts, right. And I know that the internet amplifies things that nobody really thinks. I know that all of these women drawing these sharp lines between themselves and dudes are… probably not like this in real life. Part of it is the tendency to overexaggerate online—especially on places like Twitter, where you kind of need to overexaggerate to keep it short. Another part of it, I’m sure, is a want to be part of the crowd. Being a part of the crowd is something that was instilled in me not to do from a young age(12), but it does kind of bother me that either these people are really incapable of seeing the opposite gender as human, or like, how many terrible people are they around all the time? Maybe it’s because I live in North Dakota, where nobody lives, so all the people around are like—oh God, a person, I can’t be awful or they’ll leave and I won’t see another person for weeks, but none of the guys I know are awful because they’re guys. Do I know some awful dudes? Yes. He would also be awful if he was a woman.

A couple weekends ago, I got stormed in at my boyfriend’s dorm room. I was there for two nights. On one of the nights, he was playing video games, and he was talking over the headset with some of his friends. And I know that there’s this big feeling, this big… almost fear of young guys, in this case all in their early twenties, talking over headset(13). And it was… I mean, it was fine. It was nice. They knew I was there, I talked a little bit, they were communicating about what was happening in the game. One of them got progressively drunker as the night went on, but no awful drunk man hatespeech came out. They were just—they were just people. They were people playing a video game together. And I know that there are traits seen as more masculine and more feminine. Being super into cars is more masculine. Sewing is more feminine. Video games are masculine. Journaling is feminine. Emotions are feminine and being more closed off is masculine, except the boyfriend is more in touch with his and I’m pretty helpless when it comes to the emotional sphere, and that’s because at the end of the day, people are people, and vaginas and penises don’t really, you know, dictate your personality.

At the core of it, masculinity and femininity is something that’s socially ingrained in us. You dress your little girl in a dress. And there’s nothing wrong with this, until she starts getting to the age when she can be like, “Yo, Mom, get me out of this dress, I don’t want to be in this dress.” But what it does do is make people think that there is this inherent difference in people, when at the core of it, people are people. And when it comes to writing characters and things like that—if you write the person first(14), you can write anything.

End Notes
(1) There is a home video we own, cryptically titled ‘MO VACATION’ in my dad’s scrawly awful handwriting, that has about a three year old Aurora in a backwards baseball cap.
(2) In all colors—high school, for me, was 2011-2015, so, yes, I had bright pink skinny jeans. Bright purple skinny jeans. Green. Aqua-blue. Red. Checkered black-and-gray.
(3) Except that the number of Nirvana shirts I owned just fucking skyrocketed.
(4) To complement the Nirvana shirts, I’ve talked about this in my grunge essay.
(5) No matter how much I wanted to be emo, I didn’t start wearing eyeliner until college.
(6) Fight me.
(7) I…still always wear my Docs. Different pair of Docs, though, the Docs I had in college died.
(8) Even men’s jeans a lot of the time—I don’t think I even know my women’s pant size.
(9) Skirts I do wear. You can wear those with band shirts.
(10) Brief, it was brief, I promise it was brief.
(11) Okay, one of them, I did fuck a delivery driver, and he’s my boyfriend now, so I continue to fuck one of them.
(12) Seven years old, “Another Brick in the Wall” music video, kids walking into the meat grinder, you get the gist.
(13) Though this was PlayStation, not X-Box, maybe that’s why.
(14) Keeping in mind how they’ve been brought up based on their gender and how that inherent person would be either affirmed or crushed by these social implications and rules.