Translated by Martina Del Romano
Vuoi leggerlo in italiano?
I don’t know if it ever happened to you – and it probably did, especially if you’re a woman – that upon entering some closed public space full of people – a lift, a bus or a waiting room – you’d feel as if the eyes of everyone were stuck on you. In that moment, in my brain, a million alarms go off while I imagine every single thought that these people might be thinking. Questions, judgements.
Let me clarify: I’m not a particularly girly girl. Not at all, actually. Most of the time I do prefer to go shopping in the Men’s section, but I don’t limit myself to that one. I don’t wear make-up. I don’t wear skirts. I’m allergic to the color pink. I’ve got short hair. Nonetheless, beside a few times when I was actually asked – absolutely hilarious from my point of view, shocking from my friends’ – it’s quite clear that I’m a girl. So, you know, on the streets of a big European city I wouldn’t be anything special. In Italy, though, things are a bit different. And I won’t even start telling you how it is, then, in the small provincial towns where everybody knows everybody.
No, you know what, I will tell you. I will tell you because I’m really fucking tired. I’m really fucking tired that after so many years, I’m still nervous and afraid of other people’s judgement when I walk along the streets of my hometown on the Adriatic coast.
Years. Years was what took me to make people around me understand that I didn’t care about wearing skirts or make-up. It took me years, years of fights, screams, tears and slammed doors to make my mother stop buying me clothes I didn’t like. Since I was five years old she’s been on a sacred mission to stop me from wearing boys’ clothes, and still today, after sixteen years, I have to listen to things like “Why do you want to make yourself uglier than you are?!”. I remember, when I was a bit older, spending birthdays trying – literally – to run away from my “friends” that wanted to “jokingly” force me back into the preordered standards of femininity of this fucking society. This stupid society which dares to tell us that a woman can be considered as such only if she DOES wear make-up or skirts (otherwise she’s ugly, which, considering the way society works, it may be even worse).
I spent my adolescence trying to ignore the whispers, the rumors and the hushed giggles; trying to fight the hands that still wanted to force on me their idea of beauty; trying to ignore the voice inside me that told me that maybe I was wrong, that I could change, that there was nothing wrong in wanting to fit in. And then, finally, finally, I managed to get out of there and I saved myself.
It took me some time, but never like in this moment of my life I’ve felt so at ease in my skin, so comfortable with my own self, with the way I look and present myself to others.
Nonetheless, when I go back to my home town – and going back is inevitable – I find myself always a tiny bit scared. I hop on the bus and I try not to meet people’s eyes, even though I feel them on me. I hear some girls giggling in the corner over there and I pray, I pray they’re not laughing at me. I pass by some teenagers while walking down the street and my eyes sink almost automatically to the floor. I go to pick up my sister at my old high school and I feel the entire student body analyzing my every move and looking at my new (even more tomboyish) look with something like mockery in their eyes, to which I respond nervously checking my wristwatch and hoping my sister would hurry up.
Too self-centered, you say? Might be. Could very well be. But years bearing the endless mockery and the sarcastic jokes about the way you behave, dress, walk, sit down, and of course about your sexuality, well, years of that will get to everyone.
What did I learn from all this? That people, especially small town people, don’t give a shit who you sleep with, as long as you fit into the socially accepted standards of femininity (or masculinity). You MUST stay in the box that society assigned you and not run around challenging gender binarism, making normal people around you feel squirmy and uncomfortable with your very existence. As long as you respect their definitions of what’s male and what’s female and you don’t go around making a big mess of everything just because boys’ clothes are cooler (and so many girls admit to this, even though they don’t dare to buy them), you are totally fine.
Now, I know it’s all bullshit. For the moment I hop on my train and I’m far away from that place, everything is better again. But as long as I still feel that faint sense of shame, that smidgen of fear of being judged every time I buy stuff in the Men’s section of a shop, I know that I’m still trapped.
Will I ever be free?