Do Clothes Make a Woman?

Does what we wear outside effect the inside? I don’t think it’s shallow to say that yes, the clothes you choose do play a part in daily life. As a trans woman, wardrobe is an important part of my transition. I talk about how clothing makes me feel in a lot of my posts, and sometimes I’m afraid people will get the idea that transgenderism is just about crossdressing, so I felt this post was necessary. But there really is more to it than that. Transition for me is part body dysphoria, and part social dysphoria. That is, I’m both uncomfortable with my social role as a man, as well as with my physical male body. Clothing helps on both accounts.

The first time I wore a skirt in public I was shaking. But at the same time, I felt like the woman I strive to be. I felt so vulnerable, but I also felt invincible. People could snicker behind my back. And they did. People could avoid looking at me. And they did. But it didn’t matter, because I was floating. I felt wholly like a woman.

Clothing lets you express who you are without saying a word. It’s why schoolchildren hate uniforms, and why prisoners are forced to wear them. Clothes change attitudes. Including our own.

Before I started transitioning, dressing up in private was the closest I could get to contentment. I could shuck off my boring male clothes and finally feel free in the fabric of a skirt for an hour or so at night, when everyone else was sleeping. I would wear leggings and tights to work under my pants because just knowing they were there, feeling the tightness against my skin, made me feel more feminine, and that made my days a little more bearable.

Now clothing gives me an outlet to express my femininity in the way I want. I wear skinny jeans and long sleeve shirts now, mostly, if only because I can’t pull off a dress in public without fear quite yet. But dressing how I like to dress allows me to feel like myself more. If you look good, you’ll feel better. Simple as that.

As a trans person, I have the opportunity to reinvent my appearance. And part of that is the costly, but exciting, process of building a new wardrobe and discovering my style. Gone are the days of just grabbing whatever is in the drawer without looking. Bring on the matching scarves and mismatched socks. The dresses with chucks. The nail polish to match the skirt. And taking an hour to dress before going out.

The old saying is don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want. I think the same applies. So when I talk about trying on skirts early on, it’s not just about clothes. It’s about trying on an identity. When I talk about painting my nails, it’s not just about looking feminine. It’s about feeling feminine whenever I look at my otherwise masculine hands.

Clothing is a form of armor against negativity. You have to put on your battle gear, whether a sparkly dress and heels or combat boots and a pair of comfortable jeans, if you want to fight like a grrrl.


PS – Dear female clothing designers, please make useful pockets.



Update: It took awhile, but everyone at work has been using my name. Most of them try to avoid pronouns now, but my boss finally asked my preference last week, and has been trying to get used to she/her. Hopefully it will rub off on everyone else.

Have a great holiday, and I will see you again the week after Christmas.

My Best Friend Was A Tomboy

My best friend was a tomboy, and I was the “tampon bitch”. I earned that nickname by hanging out at an all girls lunch table in junior high school. I never felt totally welcome, and I always felt terrible when they sent me away to talk about “girl stuff.” But I was tolerated for the most part, because my best friend had pull.

We met in second grade when I was new to town, and something clicked. She was the best friend I could’ve hoped for almost until high school. Even when we weren’t friends she still listened when I needed her, and answered the phone when I called in the moments when I couldn’t handle life. When I my first girlfriend broke up with me, I called her. When I was stuck in a psych hospital for a week at the end of my junior year, I called her. All the way to college when I was still struggling with self injury and she was the only one I could think to text at midnight. She was the one I always looked up to.

A poem I wrote awhile back when I was trying to figure things out says it best, I think.

Macaroni and Cheese Days

Summer rested light on our shoulders as we basked in the freedom of being alone together.
Boy and girl didn’t matter in the innocence and understanding of young friendship.
We splashed in the pool, her a mermaid, I a rock, and I dreamed of wearing a one piece suit like hers.

I read the books she gave me about adventurous girls dressing as boys to go into battle.
She climbed trees like a boy, and never wore a dress.
We would tie each other friendship bracelets, and toss balls at each other.

I miss those days, where we would break when the sun was at its height.
And we would cook the only thing we could.
Macaroni and cheese would sit on our plates covered in so much black pepper that there was almost no yellow left, a side of green peas resting beside.
Always the same.
Before we went back out to play.

I miss those macaroni and cheese days.
Where gender didn’t matter.
When we were just kids.

I still eat macaroni and cheese when I’m feeling nostalgic. It makes me think of when we were kids. I still remember wanting to wear a one piece suit like hers, too, when I was 10 or 12 and we would go swimming in her pool. I didn’t really know why I wanted that then, though.

I don’t know if part of the reason we got along so well was our refusal to obey strict gender stereotypes, and my semi-conscious desire to be a girl, but I think about it sometimes.

Sometimes I wonder what she thinks about my transition, as well. Whether she saw it coming or not. I don’t know if she reads this blog or not, but I hope she does. And I hope it helps her understand me – us – why I an the way I am, and was the way I was, a little bit better.

Here’s to you. Whether you know it or not, you helped me learn how to fight like a grrrl.

– Natalie

Do Not Pass Go

Passing. The word itself has nasty implications. That we have to pass as women because we aren’t real women. It implies lies and deceit. It’s a controversial topic, for sure. Some say the only true way to present yourself is how you want to. Some see the need to assimilate into the gender role that is being transitioned into as seemlessly as possible. To pass. Both have a valid point.

To pass is to be seen as a cisgender person – a person who identifies with their birth sex. And with passing comes safety for some and happiness for others. I believe passing can provide both of these things. As a trans woman, I look forward to the day I can pass fully. I’m impatient for it. I’ve thought about it every day for over a year. And one of my biggest fears about transition is that I’ll never be able to pass. Terrified is the word, actually. And personally, I don’t know how I would handle that. Lately, it’s been on my mind a lot. I’m at the point where I want to live as a woman full time, but a lot of the time I just feel like I’m making a fool out of myself by insisting on people using a feminine name. Being called Natalie and he in the same sentence is totally invalidating, but I can’t insist on female pronouns because it would feel forced. And it happens daily. And I cry about it. And it makes me really depressed because a big part of transition is social, and I can’t be part of that yet. I don’t feel like a man, but I don’t look like a woman.

Being in between feels like purgatory. The magic number with HRT seems to be 5 months. I’m at 5 as of 2 days ago. From there, everything kicks up, according to trans lore. By 8 months most people pass whether they want to or not. But not everyone. And the waiting, the not knowing, is making me an emotional train wreck. The other HRT mantra is “your milage may vary.” I’m on a wait-and-see track, and I don’t know what stop is mine, or if I get a stop on the passing train at all. My biggest fear is that I never will. It’s exhausting, and it makes it really hard to keep fighting. Sometimes I wonder if I’m strong enough to do it.

A passing trans woman will be afforded oppurtunity to live as they always wanted without fear of the hate violence and trans discrimination that non-passing trans people are subject to. To be treated as a woman. To be seen what they were meant to be, and know they are.

Because unfortunately, the majority of society still sees trans people who don’t pass as the gender that’s prescribed by the bits between their legs. As a freak. And that’s not okay.

But being out as trans comes with one major perk. You can’t be uncovered if everybody already knows. It comes with more risk in certain areas of the country, but with also the freedom to be whatever and whoever you want to be without worrying. As much. Keep in mind that a defense that has been used (sucessfully) in court is the “trans panic” defense, where what’s between someone’s legs shocked someone else into murdering them. Although now illegal in one state and less common, not long ago this was a mindset in the legal system, and still is a mindset in the general public. Just recently a trans woman in the Philippines was murdered by a US Marine. Drowned in a toilet bowl when he found out. And across the internet the same comment can be found at the end of each article – she had it coming. She shouldn’t have been pretending to be a woman. Victim blaming.

That said, not passing is bound to attract more harassment and discrimination in the world we live in. And though by passing we are playing into the binary gender system, it is the only sure way to get the same unequal treatment that other women get. To be out as a transgender woman who doesn’t pass takes more courage than I can imagine. And those are the girls who are really fighting. To fight the binary by playing into it doesn’t seem right on some level, but until the world becomes a safer place for trans people, I’m afraid passing will always be an issue.

So support trans rights and respect trans people. For equality, and so trans people can express themselves however they want without worrying about passing or not passing, fight like a grrrl.


Update: So it turns out my mother outed me to the whole family at thanksgiving, and didn’t tell me. I had to find out from my aunt a few days later by her using my name in a card. This is a step I wasn’t ready to take, and though I understand why she did it, I’m not happy about it. I don’t know what she said, and being that I’m pretty sure her understanding is lacking as well, I can only imagine what they think. On the upside, wearing a dress to Christmas has become a distinct possibility, though. I’ve dreamed of that for a long time.