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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
edited by Yvonne.