Out Like A Lamb: Day 3: Clothes and Shoes
On the third day (and at the end of it, to boot) I look around the space I’m in and realize how much I’ve come to take my clothes for granted. For the longest time, even though I was out to some people, I approached clothing with a great deal of trepidation. Although some of this fear has dissipated over time, the core of the problem will remain as long as gendered violence and exclusion have bite.
Clothing is, of course, terribly important, even mandatory in most social situations. Clothing marks your social class, your interests, and your sense of self. It’s a crucial way to communicate, especially where gender presentation is concerned. Body form, facial features, the way that you walk––these are also important, but clothing is probably the most immediately recognizable feature of gender presentation. However, presenting in a masculine or feminine way is not as simple as wearing clothing that’s been marketed to one gender or another. For instance, women often wear stereotypically “masculine” clothing like denim, sweatshirts, etc., to the point where the gendered aspects of these items is much more diffuse. This is largely because we assume that clothing made for men is gendered “neutral” or “void,” since masculinity is the “default” way of being and women are the confusing and different ones.
So when (cis) women adopt men’s clothing, at least in my corner of the world, it’s not considered a huge transgression by most. People who are somewhat masculine in appearance or are (mis)recognized as “men,” however, are heavily stigmatized, fetishized, or punished for wearing more traditionally feminine clothing. The transgression here is much more deeply felt, and this is the basic tissue of the problem for most transgender women. When people are already misrecognizing you as a man all the time, putting on feminine clothing can often make you an even greater magnet for funny looks, mean eyes, and, in some tragic cases, outright violence. Trans women who “pass” well, on the other hand, are often accused of deceiving people, particularly those who are inappropriately curious about what we have “down there.” So it takes a great deal of practice and courage to craft an outfit and a look that will be suitably “safe” but also express who you really are in an adequate way. And many people are never able to achieve this because of prejudices and other social pressures.
Much of my clothing, initially, was scavenged from giveaway boxes in our apartment building. People who moved out left a great deal of stuff they couldn’t take with them behind. Makeup, nail polish, blouses, belts, skirts, etc. The reason for this was that I was nervous about shopping in the women’s section, afraid that I would attract unwanted attention (AKA any). Eventually, however, I had put together a look that was satisfactory and I could be a little more at ease actually shopping for and buying feminine clothes without feeling too embarrassed.
Though I am still terrified of fitting rooms.
Trans people need a lot of support in this area, as it costs a tremendous amount of money to re-buy an entire wardrobe to suit their preferences. It’s a pressing issue that involves identity, personal safety, finances, and psychological security, and it behooves all of us to be sensitive and helpful when it comes up.
The next three days of posts will be:
March 14: The experience of walking outside. Mostly fear and, eventually, some satisfaction.
March 15: How I evaluate and experience films and other media, whether they feature trans people or not.
March 16: A little more serious and abstract here. This journal entry will be about what gender is and how it operates as a coercive pressure on people, especially trans and queer people.