Despite living in Chamberlain Hall for three months last fall, I had never been on campus before this year. Sure, the caricature of the person that I desperately tried to be was there, flat-ironing her poor hair to death. But as I discovered when I was studying from home in the spring, I couldn’t fit myself into the mold of the stereotypical Bowdoin girl just because I wanted to.
Before you roll your eyes and think I am going to say I was “not like other girls,” let me explain.
Growing up, theater was my life. I spent falls and springs taking classes at my local acting studio while I dedicated winters to my school’s drama club productions. Unsurprisingly, my summers consisted of acting camp and shows. After performing in play after play, I grew accustomed to applying stage makeup, donning my costume and stepping into my character’s personality as I hit the stage.
It wasn’t until last April that I realized I had applied the same routine to the fall semester. Although it felt natural at the time to apply a whole bottle of concealer to my face and put on my most feminine clothes in preparation for a night out, I realized I was forcing myself to do so out of my own fear.
Like nearly everyone, I found moving away from home and starting college incredibly anxiety-inducing, and the last thing I wanted to do during this transition was wrestle with my sexuality. The thought of not fitting the social norms in an unfamiliar environment terrified me, and parading around as a straight-passing woman brought me the validation that I confused for comfort. Deeply in denial and determined to alter my destiny, I avoided queer spaces and tried to gush over guys with my friends.
The remote spring semester gave me time for self-reflection. Since I was living at home, I lacked a source for the male validation that I thrived off of in the fall. Although it was initially difficult to derive my worth outside of the male gaze, I began to recognize the difference between catering my appearance to the status quo and presenting myself in a way that made me feel unapologetically me. After coming to terms with my inability to plot myself in relation to men on an axis of attraction, I mourned my aspirations of a nuclear family and accepted reality.
My summer on campus gave me time for vegetable farming, hair cutting (twice!), lavender latte drinking, polo shirt wearing and, most importantly, adjusting. Not to campus life, but adjusting to a life that felt genuine and intuitive. It may sound like I was trying to shift from one stereotype to another, but I was finally allowing myself to embrace my identity, and I didn’t care if I was basic in my own right.
By the time the fall semester began, I no longer felt like I was playing a role. Did I feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb in some spaces because of my unshaved legs and baggy, masculine clothes? Maybe, but it didn’t matter because I was inhabiting those spaces, not my inauthentic alter ego. Did it feel strange that many of my peers found me unrecognizable? Maybe, but the satisfaction of appearing as my true self outweighed my fears that they thought I was “going through a phase.”
Whenever I’m feeling insecure about the way others perceive me, I find solace in the fact that I’m interacting with more than three-quarters of Bowdoin for the first time on campus. For as many of my peers that might be confused by my transformation, there are more than three times as many Bowdoin students who have only seen me as me, and that is incredibly validating. I won’t lie and say that I never experience internalized homophobia anymore, but it feels much more manageable now that I am no longer playing a role.