The article below, by Andrea Johnson ’15, is based on a speech she gave during a Friday morning Community Gathering that focused on the College’s annual drag-themed party, Crystal Ball. Andrea is currently on study abroad in Bonn, Germany.
When I was younger, I was incredibly attached to my hair. It reminded me of the beautiful princesses I read about in books and saw in movies. And even at the age of five, I recognized that having long hair meant you were a girl.
Even though I loved my hair, every time my mom brushed through it, I complained loudly. One day during this torture--a.k.a. hair brushing--my mom threatened to chop off my hair if I kept complaining. Well, I complained and two days later was left with a bowl cut above my ears and a foot of hair lying on the floor of the hair dresser.
I cried the entire car ride home. That woman hadn’t just cut off hair, she had, in my young mind, made me a boy. From that day onward I swore to never have short “boy” hair again. That awful haircut wasn’t the only thing that was “boyish” about me. My face looked more like Superman with his large cleft chin rather than my pretty Barbie doll. My face was square and pudgy and masculine, not heart-shaped and dainty. Actually, nothing about me was dainty. I often towered over everyone, including my teachers and all the boys. My shoulders were broad, my feet were huge, my voice was deep, and everything about me just seemed manly.
Throughout junior high and high school, I compensated for my height by slouching so I could be like the other petite girls, and I apologized constantly for the parts of me that were not girly enough in my eyes. My biggest fear was someone calling me, or mistaking me for, a boy.
To say that my first year of college opened up my world would be an understatement. I was challenged academically, I called myself a feminist, I made new friends and eventually began uncovering a truer version of myself. But even with all of that openness, I still harbored these deep-seated fears about looking too much like a man. Whatever fear I felt about my bowl cut was amplified by ten when I heard about Crystal Ball my freshman year. I knew that I wanted to participate in order to help create a positive atmosphere for people who didn’t fit into normative gender categories, yet I knew that because I identify as a woman my drag persona would be a man. And that scared me a lot.
With encouragement from my friends and a lot deep breathing on my part I decided to participate. I decided to confront my fear by embodying that I can look androgynous. I bound my chest and slicked back my long hair. After pulling all of my hair back into a tight bun, my forehead was exposed. There were no wispy bangs or locks to hide my full square face. I took off my earrings, my necklace, my ring. I wore men’s dress slacks and a large men’s button down shirt with a couple layers underneath to hide my curves. I tucked in my shirt and put on my belt. I used mascara to make my eyebrows bushier and less shapely, the complete opposite of my usual goal. I slipped on plain black dress socks and looked myself over in the mirror.
Staring back at me was a man that looked like a cross between my brother and Leonardo DiCaprio. He had class that was understated, but a shy sort of confidence. Clean shaven, but not too clean cut. He was the cool-but-slightly-awkward guy
"I decided to confront my fear."in the room. The height that made me freakish as a girl, the wide shoulders that made me self-conscious, the large forehead that I hid behind hair, the deep voice that could move so easily into the deeper registers all fit this new persona. I looked so convincing as a man that even my best friend didn’t recognize me, and my other friends said I made an attractive man.
At the dance, I attempted to stay in character and was consciously aware of how I moved and walked and talked and danced. Trying to act like a man was more difficult than looking like one. Deciding what type of man to impersonate raised all sorts of questions and let me laugh at myself throughout my various attempts. My voice cracked from trying to speak lower than I was accustomed to. Standing still on the dance floor, I tried to figure out how men dance. I had fun exploring the “someone else” I had created that was a part of me too.
After Crystal Ball I realized I had succeeded in many ways. By trying on the gender I was so afraid of looking like before, I better accepted myself as the woman I am. I started to enjoy when people were so amazed at how I could transform between genders and took that occasional transformation as a compliment rather than an insult. Drag allowed me the opportunity to confront one of my most private and embarrassing fears. All of the gendered baggage from my childhood surrounding my image seemed to disappear just like my hair did the day of that awful bowl cut.
Photo 1 - Andrea Johnson '15 prior to dressing for Crystal Ball.
Photo 2 - Andrea in drag.
Photo 3 - Andrea and her boyfriend pose for a photo at Crystal Ball.