I Still Don’t Look Like Myself

It’s 2018. I open the wardrobe in the study and run my eyes over the clothes hanging in the corner, the only clothes I have.

“What are you going to wear babe?” comes my wife’s voice from another room. We’re going to a party. We don’t go to parties, we have small children. I don’t own party clothes. I look between the wardrobe and the desk chair where the rest of my clothes are piled. I bite my lip.

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It’s 2016. It’s packing day before our trip home for Christmas. Our last day is a friend’s wedding, so I’ve got to pack something other than the pile of faded t-shirts I’ll wear the rest of the trip. I’ve packed my worn jeans and, reluctantly, the one pair of shorts I can sometimes stomach wearing if the weather is hot enough. I hate shorts. I don’t want to see my legs, I don’t want to have to wear anything where I can see my feet. I don’t know why, and I don’t think about it, I just hate it.

“What should I wear to the wedding?” I ask my wife, busy stuffing a bag with kid’s clothes. It’s a stupid question and gets stupider the longer it hangs in the air between us. I feel like a child complaining to its mother.

“Whatever you want darling,” my wife says without looking up. It’s a stupid answer to a stupid question. There’s only one thing I can wear to a wedding. A suit. I only have one suit. It’s the suit I was married to her in. The suit I’ve worn to every wedding since, every job interview, every formal event. My uniform.

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It’s 2005. Our university degrees are done, and we’re moving on. We’re at the mall. She’s dragged me here, my not-yet-wife. Dragged is mild; I bitched and moaned like a child in the car. I’ve a job interview though, and nothing to wear. I have to get this job, because in a month we move interstate. She’s doing further study, switching disciplines, with no time to work and no handouts available. If I don’t get this job, we won’t be able to pay the rent.

“Here, this place,” she says, dragging me inside a menswear shop. The walls are all racks of suits, the displays tastefully arranged near identical black shoes. I look at the price sign on the discount rack, nothing over $200. I think my heart skips a beat.

“Why here, we can get something cheaper somewhere else,” I say. I always go for cheaper. I hate the clothes I wear, I hate getting more clothes, I hate spending money on clothes I’m going to hate buying and hate wearing. I hate thinking about clothes. You have to wear something though. You have to think about clothes some of the time. To me the thought of clothes is like a reverse Weeping Angel. I don’t look at it and it doesn’t move.

She finds a suit, off the rack, identical to the rest. It’s like 400 bucks.

We fight. She tries to explain why I need a decent suit for work, I hiss about money at her. The sales assistant folds shirts without looking at us. I storm out. She follows me out and we keep fighting, she can’t understand why I can’t just buy the bloody suit. I can’t understand why either, but I mask that with more arguments about money.

“I’m going to buy the suit,” she declares, and goes to turn around. I grab her arm and shriek at her under my breath to stop. She struggles, but I don’t let go. There’s anger in her eyes, and it takes me a moment to realise what I’m doing. I let her go.

We leave with the suit, without speaking.

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It’s 2018. It’s late, and I’m completely under the covers on the spare bed in the other room that I’ve slept in for the last year. It’ll be the baby’s room when he’s big enough. It’s very late, but my face is still lit by the screen of my phone as I scroll through another set of fashion tip videos on YouTube.

I have learned that I have an inverted triangle body shape, like the majority of trans women, but the comments are full of cis women talking about their difficulties with it, so for once the dysphoria is muted a little. It still hurts watching these videos, like it hurts every time I see a cis woman on the street, at work, at the grocery store. It hurts a lot, but it’s got to be done. I need clothes. I can’t wear my uniforms anymore.

I can’t be a woman without the right clothes. I’ve been on HRT a year by now, but I still haven’t been gendered correctly by a stranger. It’s a lot of things. I try not to think about bone structure, about shoulders and necks and foreheads. I try not to think about the creeping baldness that’s been eating a widow’s peak into my hairline since I was 20. I take all the pills, apply all the treatments. My wife says it’s working. All I see is a man with a receding hairline. Clothes aren’t going to fix that. No clothes won’t fix it either though, so I need clothes.

I have work in four hours. I load up a video about capsule wardrobes.

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It’s 2016. We’re sitting on the couch, half-watching television. I’m still wearing the faded t-shirt and jeans I put on that morning. I haven’t showered but she’s stopped mentioning it. She changed out of her work outfit as I put dinner on the table, and now she’s wearing loose cotton pyjama bottoms and a singlet top, no bra.

I’m not wearing a bra either. Not now. The bra I was wearing while alone is in our building’s garbage bin on the ground floor, rolled into a ball with the matching panties, stuffed into the bottom of a bag full of potato peelings, stuffed into the middle of the garbage bag. I can’t keep them; the madness has faded now. I’ll buy another set tomorrow, next week, next month, whenever I lose the battle with the urge I don’t understand and don’t think about.

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It’s 2005. I get the job. My not-yet-wife is very happy. I’m happy too, sort of. At least until she says we’ll need to go shopping again. I need a work wardrobe now.

but make it fashion divider - periwinkle squiggle

It’s 2017. The pieces have fallen into place. Every day is tears. My browser history is all transgender forums, subreddits, chat groups — that and suicide methods.

How can I be a woman? Trans people aren’t real, they’re just guys in dresses slurring their words at a bar at 5 a.m., hiking up their dress to prove they don’t have the right bits because they’re drunk and the five o’clock shadow covered in streaked foundation wasn’t enough of a giveaway. This is my only experience of trans people. You can’t put on a dress and be a woman.

Clothes mean nothing, they’re just another tool of patriarchal and capitalist oppression. Catwalks full of paper women, sales time, dress for you. Putting on a dress doesn’t make you a woman, it makes you a tool of patriarchy, either invalidating and mocking women, or else endorsing toxic fashion and beauty culture that only exists to oppress. I don’t want to be a tool of the patriarchy. I hate men. I have an idea why now at least.

Clothes mean nothing, but today I bought a dress, a cheap one, sealed in plastic and mass produced, sold in a chain coffee store. I didn’t buy underwear because I had bought those last week. I hadn’t thrown them away but hidden them amongst the nerd paraphernalia that was looking increasingly meaningless. I put them on and stuffed the bra with a stocking filled with rice, constructed after several attempts following instructions from a website with a terrible frilly pink design.

I put the dress on first. It was too big, at least two sizes. That made me feel good, but I tried not to think about why. Then I put on the wig I’d bought. It was from a costume shop, cheap of course. It was shoulder length, and curly, and lighter than my hair but still brown. It screamed artificial, but what about me didn’t right now? I looked at myself in the mirror. I didn’t look good, by any stretch. I did look like a woman though, in a certain angle.

A woman who realised she’d been holding her breath her entire life and could suddenly breathe.

but make it fashion divider - periwinkle squiggle

I’m afraid of clothes. Bundles of fabric and thread, they fill me with existential dread. Clothes aren’t optional though, so I have to live with that dread every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, the expression, the costume and pageantry of it all.

What I’m really afraid of is the body underneath. I’ve been on HRT over a year, but whatever changes I can admit to seeing, can’t seem to overcome 30 plus years of toxic self-image in a cocktail with feminine beauty expectations. Most days I stick to the same clothes I always did. Sure, they’re women’s cuts, but a t-shirt and jeans is a t-shirt and jeans no matter how you cut them. They don’t advertise my femininity as strongly as a dress would, they don’t tell people who I am as loudly as I know I need to tell them.

I fear my identity won’t be respected. I keep things subtle because at least then I can tell myself that reason I’m addressed as Sir is that people aren’t paying attention, that if I put the effort in there would be none who could deny me.

I’m still a prisoner, but now I know I’m doing it to myself. I woke from my trance in Plato’s Cave, but I can’t seem to budge from the mouth of the thing.

I’ve never worn a dress in public. I’m afraid to wear one and be seen for who I am, broad shoulders, no hips, all of it. A dress is a powerful image of femininity; looking good in one is often seen as a measure of success by trans women. For many of us to “pass” is the ultimate success, to be unable to be seen as anything other than a traditionally feminine cis woman. I know I am more complex than that. My femininity is strong, it contains multitudes. I would like to think it contains dresses though. Maybe even a ball gown?

Every day I take another step out of that cave. My home, my friends, my family, my job. Every day another step. I’m still afraid, but now that I’m wearing these bomb ass wedge heel boots, every time I push away that nagging voice about my body underneath and acknowledge my power, it matters less and less that I am.

but make it fashion divider - periwinkle squiggle

It’s 2018. There are skirts, and tops, and I don’t hate any of them. It’s a mess though, thrift store odds and ends, hand me downs from my wife, a few fast fashion basics. There’s no time and no money to shop how I need to shop. I have no style, despite watching hours of YouTube. How can I have a style when I still don’t look like myself? Clothes mean nothing, but they mean everything.

“So, what are you going to wear?” I’ve taken too long, and my wife has come in, leaning against the wardrobe door. I bite my lip and look frantically between the pieces.

“None of it goes together!” I moan.

“Well, if we don’t leave now we’re going to be late.” She leans in and kisses me softly on the cheek. “Don’t worry about it, you’ll look great.” bmif tombstone


edited by Yvonne.


Jacqueline is a girl, and that's pretty much all she's figured out by now. If Buzzfeed said she was a philosopher, it would say Socrates, because she knows there's so much she doesn't know, and also she can be kind of obnoxious. When she's not looking for answers in her birth chart or a dirty nappy, she writes. She doesn't get a lot of writing done. Jacqueline is lucky enough to live with her wife and two kids in a Land Down Under, where women glow and gender expectations are ridiculed. She hasn't met Hannah Gadsby yet, but even though she's over thirty she tells herself there's still time. You can find her on Instagram as @jacqueline.c.pea if you like.

Jacqueline has written 1 articles for us.

46 Comments

  1. <3

    FYI if you are anywhere near Sydney we would love to have you at one of our straddler meet ups. Dress code is always whatever makes you feel comfy… and for at least a few folks that equates to whatever is top of the clean laundry pile.

    Also, also. If you look for our fb page you should be able to hit us up for a more chill small group coffee or somesuch if that suits you better.

    • I would love that! Unfortunately I’m a member of South Autostradlia South, and don’t often get the opportunity to go to meet ups here, let alone in Sydney. I’m so glad to hear that you’ve got something like that there though! <3

  2. Wearing the dress out in public for the first time is daunting. I bought a bunch of them after making up my mind to come out as trans, and I love the way they make me feel and look, but couldn’t screw up the courage to wear one in public. I’m a bit more tomboy than femme style wise, and not even on hrt yet, so I like to wear things that send mixed messages much of the time.

    I started to wear a dress while walking my dog in the summer evenings, when it’s just dark enough to coverup what we don’t want people to notice. Generally speaking, the occasional passerby either doesn’t see me as trans or better still, doesn’t care. So it’s been a confidence builder; so much so that one very hot day I forgot I was wearing a crop top and short shorts when I went to pick up some groceries.

    That went fine, but somehow the dress, in public, during the day, waits for the body to morph.

    • The dress! For a single (sometimes) piece of cloth, it sure seems to have a complex set of rules and expectations around it. I’m barely brave enough to imagine myself in one, let alone wear one out in the evening or any other time of day, so bravo to you girl, I hope it builds your confidence into something your happy with 🙂

  3. I started doing glam drag way before I came out as trans, and now I can’t pick out an outfit that isn’t super trashy club wear. I’m used to having that look as armor, and when I try to wear casual women’s clothes I feel awkward and vulnerable. I have a work party this Friday, and like you, I don’t know what to wear! It’s daunting, and people at my job aren’t at all good at gendering me correctly to begin with.
    Anyways, I hope you looked great! Thanks for talking about how frickin awkward this is.

    • If I were more mathematically inclined I’m sure there’s a graph of wearing super trashy club wear versus time that looks something like a U shape. I know exactly what you mean about awkward though; there’s something about subtle femme clothing that is just so much harder to pull off than armored glam wear. I hope your work party goes well, I have mine next week, and I’m still freaking out about what to wear! <3

    • EggMe used to long for the days when we could all upload our minds into computers and be done with the meaty side of life. Now I can’t imagine not having that connection to my body, however tricky it may be. I sometimes wonder if it’s even possible for us not to have complex relationships with our bodies, even in a world without patriarchal beauty standards telling us what we should look like. Maybe that’s just a journey we all have to go on <3

  4. This was a beautiful piece! I love love your voice as a writer. Love to you and your family – I’ve seen how hard it is for my wife to build a new wardrobe and define your own style from scratch, especially when she’s stuck relying on a tomboy to help guide her through it.

    • Thank you! Usually my writing voice just echoes around the Scorpionic otherspace of various hard drives, so it was nice to have the opportunity to share (thanks Autostraddle <3). It is so hard to go through that process of defining yourself through clothing, separate from the usual cis timeline of the process. Tomboy or no though, I bet your lovely wife is indescribably relieved to have you there to help and love her while she figures it out! Thank you for being there for her! <3

  5. You put into words so perfectly the anxiety that comes from clothes and being trans. This was very powerful and extremely relatable. I remember having all those same fears and struggles and still have them when it comes to trying new styles. Can’t wait to read more of your writings!!!

    • Thank you! It’s something that I find is somewhat glossed over in a lot of trans spaces, where the focus is so often on our physical bodies. I remember taking a younger woman out clothes shopping months ago, and despite spending hours and hours trawling every clothes store we walked away with nothing, because that anxiety is just so powerful. I’m so glad that it’s sometimes just a memory for you, and that you can push on enough to still experiment! <3

  6. My partner sent me this to make sure I saw it because I am always battling with outfits and the knowledge that clothes aren’t gender but still thinking that maybe if I get it right, the outfit, everything else will suddenly string together! Thank you for this!

    • Ally had a beautiful piece yesterday that touched on this. It’s certainly possible that there is an item of clothing that can unlock things for each of us, but it’s got the potential to be the kind of endless quest that I’m leery of embarking upon. I hope that you’ll keep the new She-Ra theme song in mind when battling outfits <3 (And now I'm going to go and label my closet the Fright Zone, excuse me).

  7. <3 <3 <3

    One of my favorite things about these thematic issues is getting to read these amazing essays by Straddlers I recognize from the comments sections.

    Jacqueline, whenever I've seen your gorgeous photo in the comments, my brain alternates between picturing you in a fab 1920s flapper outfit or a queerly modern twist on a Velma/Daphne combo.

    "Clothes mean nothing, but they mean everything." Just like words. Expression. Here's to you finding your own expression, Jacqueline, and being heard.

    • Argh, compliments, my only weakness 😛 Although imagining myself in queer Daphne and queer Velma cosplay is now very close to muscling in on that now, thank you 😀

      (I could never get flapper style, but I think it’s mainly the hair. My wife loves it though, so you never know).

      The theme issues are such a wonderful opportunity for the net to be thrown wider, and another reason why Autostraddle is such a great community. I’m glad you enjoyed it, thank you so much! <3

  8. Many things here resonated with me, some more than others:

    “It hurts every time I see a cis woman on the street, at work, at the grocery store. It hurts a lot, but it’s got to be done.”

    “that if I put the effort in there would be none who could deny me.”

    Thank you for writing this Jacqueline, hope I get to read you again soon, sending love

    • Thanks Mika <3 I'm kind of sad that any of this resonates with anyone, but at the same time not acknowledging it doesn't change the world. Hopefully one day though it's not something that anyone can relate to, like disco, or catcalls.

  9. AFAB genderqueer here, I too have struggled with finding clothes that get my masculinity across because my face and body are always read as feminine. Thanks for writing and sharing your experience.

    • Every time I talk to my NB and otherwise TGD friends, I’m struck by how similar and different our struggles are. I once gave a pre-transition transmasc friend a horribly tattered jacket from my tomgirl days, and with a few accessories the difference was pretty stark, so there is definitely power in the right set of clothing. I hope you find lots more things that help you express yourself! <3

  10. This is gorgeous. I’m more-or-less post-transition at this point, and what you wrote still resonates strongly with me. I particularly related hard to this bit, “A woman who realised she’d been holding her breath her entire life and could suddenly breathe.” I’ve often described to cis friends that transition is exactly like that- the feeling of becoming aware you’ve been holding your breath without realizing it, and can finally breathe.

  11. I haven’t commented on anything on AS for about a hundred years, but a) this was really beautiful and b) finding someone else from SA is always a moment.

    Looking forward to reading more of your writing hopefully!

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