I've been working in IT for about 8.5 years since I graduated college. I really enjoy the work, I enjoy the nerdery of it, I enjoy the challenge, and I enjoy upgrading my skills to advance my career.
The part that I'm not so keen on is the sexism. I'm not thrilled that the most likely reason I never got a chance to get into network cabling because the owner wasn't comfortable with setting me up in a hotel room with his other male workers during out-of-town, overnight installations. I courted the owner and that job, and he was very impressed with my eagerness and skills, but it never went anywhere.
I'm not thrilled with answering the phone and saying, "IT department," and men assuming I'm the secretary and not the person who is going to be resolving their issue. Or with those same men making a joke about how their wives might balk at them getting help from a woman. I could really do without that ever having happened.
One of the things I can safely say I'm the least fond of is showing up to my work Christmas party with my wife (then-fiance), all femmed up and looking hot, and having every single head turn to watch us. Fine, looking as hot as I do in a tight dress and stiletto heels I'm probably going to get some attention. But to have eyes on me and my wife the whole night? That's sincerely uncomfortable. And having a drunken coworker hug me and try to pull me onto his lap so he could kiss me? Those memories just make me want go back and set the place on fire.
To avoid those kinds of micro aggressions (and straight-up sexually aggressive bullshit), I've made the conscious choice to dress mostly masc. I've kept my hair relatively short, I've dressed in slacks and often shapeless dress shirts with sports bras, and I haven't worn makeup to work. To my mind, I've been doing this to try to fade into the background and be treated like "One of the guys" (especially since I can count on one hand how many women I've worked with directly) and only get attention for my work and not my appearance.
Now, closing in on a decade in this profession, I've found myself working with a crew that I trust and feel comfortable with. I've made the conscious choice to give myself the freedom to mix it up and dress femme some days. To grow out my hair into a femme hairstyle. To actually wear makeup to the office, outside of the annual Christmas party. To wear more form-fitting, yet still office-appropriate outfits. It actually feels really good.
And I realize how fortunate I am to be able to turn this off and on and be able to navigate my work environment in this way. I'm a white, cis woman with an average frame and don't have large breasts, and, while I think I'm a solid average-5, I do benefit from having conventionally attractive features. I blend, is what I'm trying to say. There are so many folks who have a lot more points of oppression who are unable to navigate others' prejudices the way I have.
Yet, it's kind of proving to be a mindfuck at the same time. The attractiveness standards for being dapper and handsome are far different from the ones for being considered beautiful. I can throw a vest on over a dress shirt and make sure my hair isn't awful, and BAM! I'm dapper. I can make a queer person weak at the knees at a hundred yards. But femme takes work. Traditional femme, in any case. To my mind, for myself and without applying these stupid and arbitrary standards to anyone else, femme requires eyebrow maintenance, shaving, makeup, bras that may or may not dig into my ribs and shoulders, and hair that behaves and is neatly coiffed. Wanting to be read as femme has come with wanting to be considered beautiful and not just "cute". To be frank, it's probably some male-gaze bullshit I'm navigating, yet it's still there and it's loud.
It's complicated. My feelings about it kind of all over the map right now. I'm thankful I'm in a place where I can figure this stuff out, but at the same time wondering if it's worth it and maybe I should just go back to focusing on being a dapper queer. Except that's not all I am. I love being dapper and debonair. But sticking to that is only half of what I am.
One thing has helped. It has helped to look to the other folks in my life who are non-binary or gender-queer, or who generally just run the gamut between the extremes of masc and femme and everywhere in between. I see them and I think, "Wow. They are so cute/ glam/ stunning/ beautiful/ powerful when wearing makeup, and are also unbelievably precious when they don't. I adore their goddamn faces either way, and they very likely feel the same way about me." It's a conscious effort for me to try to see myself through other folks' eyes because I recognize most of us are usually much more accepting and compassionate to others than we are to ourselves.