A friend sent me a picture – a sketch, related to the conversation we were having.
I replied, saying it was super cute.
Then I stared at that phrase for the longest time. That’s super cute.
It’s not uncommon, either – I sometimes find myself focusing on something I have said, or something I have done. I do this when I notice something which is so very, very clearly not something I would have said or done a decade ago, before I accepted who I was or transitioned.
Of course, there are a lot of these things. From the everyday and simple, like putting on a bra, to changes in empathy or language, or even which kinds of media I seek out for relaxation and enjoyment.
I usually, however, end up focusing not just on the little things such as a single cutesy phrase, but on things past-me might have resented, or even mocked when I was at my most resentful of the world.
I hated the term ‘super’. I’d never have described anything except, maybe, a little kitten as ‘cute’. I was so bitter that a simple act of expressing delight at something nice would have made me eye-roll.
I focus on terms like these because it makes me realise not just how much I’ve changed as a person in the past half decade, and mostly for the better.
Of course, some things remain the same. I am, despite sometimes enjoying the Doctor Who metaphor of having ‘regenerated’, still actually the same person, of course. I may have new interests to compliment or replace ones I’ve had my whole life, and I may look different and often communicate slightly differently, but I am the same person.
You don’t need to transition to go through personal growth, of course. It’s just that transitioning generally comes with a set of new and very different experiences that might affect the course and intensity of that growth.
Something that always springs to mind is what I mentioned earlier – that I as so very bitter and angry before. I’d have, when describing myself before, used the term ‘jaded’. In retrospect, that’s not the case. I was confused, angry and bitter to be sure, and perhaps jaded about my response to certain kinds of media, but I had no idea just what ‘jaded’ was until I’d begun to experience year after year of sexism, homophobia and transphobia. In TV shows, movies, in person, in the news… at a certain point exhaustion and jadedness blur together when you feel like progress is so slow and sporadic that it almost doesn’t seem worth fighting against.
Especially when you begin to recognise that a lot of those changes I began this post talking about… are because of those things. Because of sexism. Because of Transphobia. Of homophobia. Some of it internalised, some of it external and inflicted upon you.
Last year, I found myself in a meeting with a room full of mostly cisgender men. I had a suggestion, which I thought was correct, but I knew might run into some resistance. I made it, but I realised after I did so that I hadn’t declared it as a suggestion… I had raised it as a question.
Why did I do that? When did I start doing that? It’s an incredibly common thing. Had I begun doing that because I saw other women doing it and subconsciously adopted that method of communication? Had I done it because I’d spent years freshly adjusting to men questioning my ideas or statements more than they ever had back when they saw me as One Of Them?
A lot of these small changes seemed to happen subconsciously, with me only realising I was doing them years later. I learned the hard way early on that being too warm, or too kind to a guy can result in him thinking that you’re hitting on him.
So despite my natural urge to smile and be polite, I adopted a more guarded tone, even a cold one, when talking to men I don’t really know. But not too cold, of course – then I might be accused of being a bitch.
All these changes, shifting to an environment and to people who now treat me entirely differently, happened slowly, and as I realise I’m doing them, I feel that growing sense of jadedness.
I didn’t just change how I spoke, I also realised I was having my own sense of value and confidence shook. Years of people (even other women sometimes) presuming that because I am not just a woman, but a very feminine-presenting one with dresses and makeup, I must not be a technical person. People question my statements about something involving a programming language I’ve used since 1998, and when that keeps happening, you even begin to question your own knowledge and abilities.
I double and even triple-check things I am confident about now, before I dare post a declarative statement of fact about them I would have just blurted out years ago.
I can’t tell if that’s good or not. The reason for doing it – a growing lack of confidence in my own capabilities and experience – is clearly bad. I’m just not sure if the actual results have even a slightly beneficial side-effect.
These things, when I notice them, are definitely fairly extreme. They affect how people relate to me, how I relate to them, and how I think about myself.
Yet it’s that’s super cute that sticks in my head more.
I think, because unlike the other things, this is clearly a positive shift. Not that I used that language specifically, but that it came from a genuine place. I saw something, felt a little moment of joy, and expressed it, figuratively and literally smiling.
This was not something I was able to do before. I might have gotten that little bit of joy at seeing something pretty, cute or otherwise aesthetically pleasing, but I’d never have expressed it so simply, clearly or emotionally. Because that was just not how men did it.
Shedding the more toxic aspects of behaviour I was mimicking in order to fit in, and recognising that I’ve done it, is a wonderful thing to realise.
So many people, regardless of gender, seem to be afraid to express joy at the tiniest little positive experiences. I’m sure for some men it’ll be for a similar reason to why I did it – to try and fit in when society tells you Men Behave This Way. Or perhaps for young women it’s as a rejection of the inverse – that a cutesy phrase is expected of them, and they want to be Cool instead.
I’m not saying I think everyone should use cutesy phrases, of course… just that I am glad I now feel comfortable doing so.
It’s super cute.