Last night I was honored to attend a talk by Alicia Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter. While this was not a formal occasion, I wanted to wear something slightly less casual than my usual T-shirt and jeans or cargo pants. But since I transitioned from female to male two years ago, dressing myself has become both simpler and more stressful.
My fashion sense (or lack thereof) and dysphoria (discomfort with my body’s sexed attributes) are both most easily illustrated by bisecting me at the waist. I readily switched to wearing men’s pants and shoes; the only challenge there has been finding sizes small enough to fit me. But it was harder to give up the plunging necklines, form-fitting tops, and strappy tanks that made up a good portion of my wardrobe. I wore these for comfort, not to show off my curves. But I’ve never had an issue with my breasts, and don’t feel I should have to wear a binder or submit to unwanted surgery to please society’s expectations of what a male should look like.
I say “male” rather than “man” because while transsexual, I’m also agender. Agender to me does not imply any particular clothing choice. My gender is just as nonexistent in the photo on the left as in the one on the right. But in a loose button-down shirt with crew-neck T-shirt underneath, my breasts disappear, and I have a better chance of being read as male. Since I can never realistically expect to be read as agender, sadly, that’s the best I can hope for.
I considered wearing the shirt on the left anyway and just dealing with people thinking I was a woman, but then I thought about the potential consequences. Going to the talk meant a half an hour on public transportation, during which I’d be subject to the “male gaze” that all people who appear to be female encounter. This might give strangers time to notice my unshaven armpits, long sideburns, beard stubble, and razor nicks from my still-clumsy shaving technique. At that point, my reading might shift from “female” to “freak.” I also wasn’t sure there would be gender-neutral restrooms available, and might have to endure gender-policing if I entered a men’s room wearing that thin, clingy, deep-necked shirt. (I made a decision to stop using women’s restrooms for good the day I started testosterone therapy.)
So as much as I dislike buttoned shirts, I put one on, for safety’s sake. (The color is not one I’d normally wear, but it was on sale. I hoped maybe it would read as “gay male,” which is not far off from my orientation, and perfectly normal here in San Francisco.) The journey went without incident, the talk was excellent, and I didn’t need to use the restroom. Given the college audience, I would have been fine in a T-shirt and jeans after all. In a small act of defiance, I wore my purple Trans March hoodie on the way home.
This story might seem unimportant compared with what other trans people, especially trans women, have to put up with. But it’s a daily source of stress for me. I miss the time when I didn’t have to think about where I’m going, how long I’ll be out, and what the restroom situation will be before deciding what clothes to wear. I hope that time might come again someday.
*I use they/them/their pronouns*