Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How to Tell You've Transitioned, Part I

How can you tell you've transitioned?

...because shopping for clothes becomes a tedious chore rather than a fun excursion.

OK. Not fair, I get that--I know plenty of women of all stripes and origins who enjoy clothes shopping, including me, on occasion. But compared to the times when I constructed myself as a crossdresser, shopping for clothes doesn't have the same kick.

On the face of it, this seems strange. I mean, I no longer have to use the exasperating and even sometime ridiculous accoutrements to round out my figure, give me the appearance of having breasts, add to my hips so that my skirts wouldn't fall down. I've got a body that actually fits the mold women's clothing is intended for...and that is a relief and a pleasure, often.

On the other hand, maybe my body's part of the issue--I've gained about 25 pounds in the last six months, and while that's not an earth-shattering, cry myself to sleep issue, I am a little unhappy about how I look in my clothes lately.

Which got hammered home yesterday when I went out to buy some clothes for the first time in months (business has been slow and I haven't had the cash to spend on clothes--though maybe I'd kill both my issues there if I stopped ordering out all the time.) But I'm travelling tomorrow and wanted to have some new clothes for the trip, especially some casual dresses, which would be light to pack. I didn't find any that I liked, although I did get some new jeans that will actually fit.

I hate shopping for jeans. There are times I just can't even work up the energy to go try them on, even though I think I look good in a lot of different styles of jeans. But I just hate doing it.

Maybe that's another sign I've transitioned.

My relationship with my clothing has always been...interesting. I'm not like a lot of trans women--I don't deny having had a long period of time identifying as a crossdresser; I think I was a crossdresser, albeit one with a greater interest in transitioning than I let on, even to myself. Back in those days, clothes held an allure, a mystique, an air of the forbidden about them. To crossdress was to engage all my hidden desires and frailities at once; the feeling of being at home while crossdressed was exhilerating and terrifying, and my clothes were fraught with a lot of meaning.

Which isn't to say that clothes aren't fraught with meaning for anyone--compare the different uniforms we wear every day, from bike messenger with one pants leg rolled to corporate honcho in a bespoke suit. Clothes are shorthand for our identities, they send out messages about us--sometimes ones that we don't want to send.

For example, when I was in India, I bought two saris. I bought them because I loved India and the culture and the people, because I wanted to bring home a souvenir, because I think saris are beautiful dresses. I even asked a friend of mine (not Indian) if I could wear one of them to her wedding, and she enthusiastically agreed.

All this was before my "second awakening," though. After I began to engage identity politics further, I saw that my wearing a sari just couldn't be an isolated action--that I couldn't avoid all the centuries of past interactions between Western and Indian people, and that ultimately I wouldn't be able to get past the fact that if I wore a sari, I'd be a cool multiculti chick--whereas an Indian woman who wore a sari in America would seem to be "fresh off the boat," unassimilated, perhaps ingnorant of American culture or even English. And that while some Indian people wouldn't have a problem with me wearing a sari, others would, and it wouldn't be easy to just discount their opinion simply because it was a beautiful dress and I liked it a lot.

I did end up wearing the sari, because my friend insisted, and she was the bride. I was fortunate; the only couple I met at the wedding who were from the region didn't mind at all. Still I changed out of the sari and into a dress after the ceremony. And I'm not upset that I felt I had to do it, and certainly not upset at any Indian people who might take offense at me wearing a sari. I'm upset at the four centuries of Westerners who plundered India, who exoticized it, who used and abused the people there. They're the ones who've "ruined" it for me--not their victims.

So yeah, clothes mean a lot more than just something to keep the wind out.

But you knew that already, didn't you? Any woman who has been verbally (or all too often, physically) assaulted because her neckline or hemline had crossed the invisible threshold between "prude" and "slut," who's been told she's "asking for it" because of what she's wearing, who's been told that her outfit was part of the reason she was attacked (as if women in pants and long sleeves are never raped) knows this. Hell, even I knew that back when I was a crossdresser, although sadly like many of the CDs I knew, I don't think I really fully engaged with all the implications of what that meant. (There are things that being full-time does to you.)

Wearing clothes has a context for me now that it didn't have back when I kept mostly to safe spaces--it has the context any woman has to deal with, from issues of personal safety to the whole construct of female beauty and its impossible-to-attain ideals. So yeah, some of the fun has leached out of it. And that's how I can tell I've transitioned.


  1. It's funny, I always took my lack of enthusiasm for clothes shopping as evidence that I would have been better off as a guy. But maybe it is more female to find it a hassle than we are brainwashed to believe.

  2. I think I understand a lot about what you are saying. I usually cry and have a mini break down everytime i'm forced to buy pants because my last pair of jeans has worn through the crotch. It is a horrible emotional experience. Even though I understand I shouldn't feel bad about being "fat" (read size 14) doesn't mean I don't. Too much socialisation in this culture. to many pictures in magazines.

    and this is the (common? who knows) cis-gendered perspective. I think that clothes are traumatic for any woman who does not fit the culturally dictated styles and sizes.

  3. I loathe shopping for jeans too, and I think I know why. First, the stores always play really loud music that I find excruciating. And second, if the jeans are a poor fit, it's a whole workout onto itself to get in and out of them. And because they are pants, you have to get out of the pants you came in on, which I always feel vulnerable and uncomfortable doing. HAAAAAATE.

    On the sari thing... I wore a sari to an exhibition opening of Indian hand-painted movie posters. I thought of it at the time as celebrating the sari beauty and the richness of Indian culture, but reading your post, I realize that the gesture did have an inherently oppressive component, no matter that I didn't intend it to be.

    I still treasure the experience, because I was living in an Indian neighbourhood, went down to the local sari shop and the lady who ran it was so into teaching me how to wrap it, and was kind of excited to have a gringa take an interest. We had a lot of fun finding one that worked with my face and my budget. All my Indian neighbours who ran into me that evening cheered me on, as did a lot of the party attendees. So I don't feel like a colonizing asshole 100%, but I am still bummed out to have done something that added fuel to a colonialist power dynamic.

    A few people at the party gave me angry looks, and I understand why, now. I think one of those people was Canadian film director Deepa Mehta. I don't know whether to laugh or cry about that one.

  4. Well, I went to Ann Taylor Loft yesterday and actually found three dresses I liked. I should have just gone there to start with--not as cheap as Old Navy, but by Maude the shopping experience is so much nicer, less loud music and dressing rooms that don't make you feel like shoplifting something just to spite them.

    @spatuala--yeah, it's complicated, innit? (well...not really, you just don't do appropriation.) I think the problem is just what you observed: people who know you might understand what you're doing, but people who don't will just see a gringa playing at colonialism. But like I said, I'm angry at the colonizers who left later generations to pay the bill for their theft, not their victims.

  5. Yeah... Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have done it and I am sorry I offended the people who were offended. The privilege that is there regardless of specific personal context is... there regardless of specific personal context. So the only way to give up the privilege is to not do appropriation, as you said.

    Well, it's a very good thing I didn't also permanently tattoo a mehndi design onto my forearm as I considered doing. *facepalm*

  6. Okay, hating you-who-encountered-Deepa-Mehta. ;)

  7. Samia, dude, if looks could kill, Deepa's would have fried me right then and there. If that lessens the envy somewhat :-D