The year is 2000 and it’s my favorite time of the year: Back-to-School season. In 2000, the category was cargo and camo and so I’d told my mama I had to get cargo pants. Other kids’ mamas would’ve taken them to the mall, but mine drove me to the Army surplus store that sat sadly between the Home Depot and Dollar Tree ‘round the corner. We found the camo easily, but the men’s cargo pants refused to rise above my kneecaps.
“You got them porkchop thighs,wp_postsGrandma said in our duplex’s living room a few days later. I looked down at my thighs — flat and wide. I imagined them fried crispy, drizzled with hot sauce, and paired with green beans and rice. I imagined my father seasoning them well, topping them with Stove Top boxed stuffing, and baking them while he watched the local evening news in the kitchen. Fried or baked, I hated pork chops — especially my own.
“Now, what are these shoes you need?” my mama asked, snapping me out of my pork-filled dreams. My thighs were still there — flat, wide, jelly-filled abominations rubbing together, wearing my denim and patience thin.
“Butters,wp_postsI said. “Timberland Butters!”
“It’s 90 degrees outside,wp_postsshe retorted, “and you want some winter boots?”
My mama had a rule for back-to-school shopping: I got one new reasonably-priced pair of shoes each August. I knew Butters were too expensive and too damn impractical for DC’s August heat. But, if I couldn’t get my cargo pants, I needed Butters on my feet. But my mama didn’t budge. A week later on the first day of school, I stood on the front porch for my first day of school portrait — black overalls, a red camouflage shirt from the Surplus Store’s clearance rack, and some Nike hightops. I grinned big. It wasn’t perfect but middle-school me made it work, and damn — I was fresh.
This snapshot sits on a shelf in the back of my mind. I keep it in an album called “euphoria.wp_postsIt includes this moment and more recent ones – me in my first bowtie at my college graduation, me on my wedding day, me in the mountains with my first jean jacket. In each, I am myself. On my days when gender dysphoria knocks me on my ass, I wail through tears about the unfairness of it all – this body, these thighs, these hips that tell lies and resist the pants that will help me shapeshift in plain sight. In these moments, I search for the album of “euphoriawp_postsand it gets me through until the next time my thighs remind me that I am too woman for the picturesque androgyny, when my curves betray my boy-ness or my thick thighs peep my gender and say “hell nah.”
II. Lil’ Elliot and his damn euphoria
Elliot Page is trending again and I hate it. It is not that I hate Elliot Page. I like Elliot. He seems chill, relatable, and cute. I can see why the girls drool every time he posts a new photo of his face or torso – chiseled, pale, and approachable in the best of privileged, white, queer ways. Today, it is a new cover story for a magazine. There he is in Esquire – The Euphoria of Elliot Page, the words glare at me.
Unlike Elliott, I have never been chiseled. I have always been the fat kid. Most days, I hate this about myself. Some days I love it. Let me be honest though – I love it only because always being fat means that no one can ever say “I let myself gowp_postsbehind my back. There are no whispers about how skinny I used to be in high school, how I really blew up after the baby. I never had the baby, blew up way before my prime. I am fat, more than acceptable to most. I am not Lizzo fat, not Megan thick, not Seth cuddly, not Dwayne Johnson stocky. My rolls and folds have always betrayed any delusions of proximal thinness.
As a kid, I graduated from girls to “pretty pluswp_postsbefore I got my period. I completely lept over juniors and misses to Dress Barn and Lane Bryant. Like most teenagers, I loved the mall but I never went on jean trips with the girls. Instead, I opted for XXL shirts from Hot Topic, CDs on sale, and sugar-caked pretzels. I went to the fat lady stores with my mom, my “fat lady mentorwp_postsand the only person I knew rich enough to pay the extra fabric / fat surcharge for clothes that would fit me.
“Must be nice, Elliot *fucking* Page,wp_postsI scoff, scroll through Elliot’s black and white portraits accompanying the profile before closing all 177 tabs on my phone, and get up.
I slide on one of the black sports bras I wear every single day. I haven’t switched to binders yet, because I’m worried my rolls and folds will, once again, make a liar of a sizing chart. After my bra, I look for a T-shirt that hides just enough of me. On the Esquire cover, Elliott wears perfectly masculine black jeans. I am not a jeans person. I really love chinos, dress pants – a pant leg that begs for a crease, tapered perfectly to the ankle or cuffed with room to spare for a dapper sock display or freshly moisturized ankles beaming in sunshine. But, I pull on jeans anyway and look in the mirror again, This will do.
When I look at myself in our bedroom mirror, I face forward, cock my left leg up, tilt my head, and snap the photo. My wife calls this my “Oh look I’m cutewp_postspose. When she noticed it, I was mortified. I keep doing it because it reminds me I am cute, even when I don’t feel it.
III. The Quest for The Perfect Chinos
I do not know when I decided on the quest. I think it was somewhere between “It’s almost wedding seasonwp_postsand “I’ll be teaching in the fall and need new pants.”
Before September, I vow to find the perfect pair of chinos. To be honest, this is not a new goal. I’m a fat transmasc person living in a skinny cisgender world – I am always looking for clothes that fit well and when I do find them, I stock up in every color and iteration possible. My skinny friends laugh at me but they do not know the heartbreak of discontinued pants like my thick thighs do.
In order to ensure that I actually commit to this task, I set up an accountability measure — I pitch an essay about my thighs, fatness, and a quest to find the perfect chinos. We set a deadline which means I have to start looking. I remember that pants cost money — five pairs of pants become four. I do my research, check my bank account balance one last time, and start to order. My wife raises her eyes at the prices, but I say it’s just research. I tell her I’ll return the ones that don’t fit. We both know this is a lie. I am notoriously bad at returning things that don’t fit.
I am not sure if I believe in the Christian god that helped raised me but I pray to whoever is listening that this project will be fruitful. By the end of the summer, I’ll be able to add a new snapshot to my own album — the euphoria of shea wesley martin.
IV. Returning to Fat Lady Land
The first pair of pants don’t even make it out of the store.
Almost two decades past prime adolescence, most of my pants shopping is still relegated to two fat lady stores — Lane Bryant and Torrid. These days, strip malls and open-air gallerias have mostly replaced malls. To find the first pair of pants, there’s no consulting a color-coded multi-level map, no weaving around stay-at-home moms and strollers, no parking at Macy’s, and spritzing myself with free samples en route to my destination. Instead, we drive just fifteen minutes up the freeway to a strip mall. Lane Bryant is next door to Torrid which is next to a cupcake shop— these corporations know exactly what’s up.
My wife and I park and she asks if I am ready to go in — not because I’m getting my writing supplies together (as all official writers do, right?) but because she knows that shopping, especially at these stores, has become a trigger for my dysphoria and grief. My mom is no longer around to hold my hand, give her opinions on the outfits, and swipe her card at the register. February marked eight years since took her last breath. This store reminds me of her love and commitment to making sure I’d be okay in this world as a fat girl. It reminds me of her lessons on how to be a respectable Black fat woman, of her love of me in dresses and skirts and long relaxed hair, of my commitment to unlearning the lessons she taught me about the beauty in my womanhood.
Several size 18 models smile at me through the store’s windows as we walk across the parking lot. If they have rolls and folds, they have been airbrushed away for display. They are absolutely beautiful women — long shiny hair, perfect teeth, and curves in all the right places. They are the type of fat women I used to want to be. These days, both words, “fatwp_postsand “womanwp_postsmake me cringe for very different reasons. I am not a woman — this truth is more clear to me than anything else in this world. As far as my fatness is concerned, I hate it — my thighs, my breasts in bras, my rolls — not because I hate fatness, but because my fatness genders me in inescapable ways. Shakira’s hips don’t lie, but I’ve got thick thighs that tell lies because despite these curves, breasts, and shopping at this women’s store — I do not fit.
“Hello, ladies! Welcome in,wp_postsa friendly Black woman says as she folds a pair of jeans on a table near the door. I hate this place. My wife begins to browse for new cute clothes but I know exactly what I need. I’m only here for the pants. I checked the inventory before I arrived so I quickly find them, grab a pair in two different sizes, and spend the next five minutes trailing my wife as she browses.
“Do you like this?wp_postsshe pulls out a shirt and holds it up.
“For you, right? Not me.wp_postsI reiterate.
“Yes yes for me!”
I lightly exhale and say I love it for her. She adds it to the growing pile on her arm. Ten minutes later, we’re in a dressing room. My wife with her pile and me with my pants.
Women’s fashion is full of “Boyfriendwp_postsclothing these days — boxier button-ups, oversized cardigans, and cargo jeans fill the racks in stores. For this, I am grateful to the fashion gods and Miranda Priestly. I am my own damn boyfriend, I think to myself snidely as I take inventory of the dressing room.
Say what you want about fat lady stores, but the dressing rooms are always well-lit, cozy, and clean. At this store, they even write my name on a little dry-erase sign before unlocking the door. They spell my name wrong and misgender me, but it is an easy mistake to make. I am in this women’s store, trying on women’s pants, hoping they will slide up my thick thighs and sit right on my curvy hips. I want to tell them what I tell others. That my name is spelled “shea,wp_poststhat my pronouns are they. That my name rhymes with my pronouns. That I am actually not a woman but I have to shop here because my thighs are too big for men’s chinos, that I hate this store and I just want to go home. I say none of this. Instead, I say thank you and close the dressing room door.
The dressing room has pink walls and helpful reminders for achieving the right bra fit. “Need more help? Scan here for a video,wp_postsa sign on the wall reads. How absolutely f*cking helpful. I adjust my bra that I hate and strip down to my underwear to try on the first pair of pants — a pair of navy pair of Boyfriend chinos.
Here’s what you need to know about trying on pants as a fat person:
- The belly area of the pants — right above/around your crotch will loosen throughout the day
- Your thighs will rub and so you’ve got to be mindful of the quality of the fabric between your legs.
I read enough GQ to know that the perfect chinos should be crisp but relaxed. I should be able to wear a shirt untucked or tucked. The legs should slightly taper for my oxfords, loafers, or sneakers.
These navy pants are not the move. There is nothing slim fit about these pants. They are a little bigger than I want at the bottom — too much space and not enough taper. They are too long. I am a short boy but also cursed with being too tall for the “shortwp_postspants category. I consider spending the $70 on the pants and having them tailored to be exactly what I want, but I’ve already spent longer in this store than I want.
“Have a good day, ladies,wp_poststhe overly-friendly Black woman says as we walk toward the door.
I grit and smile, “You too.”
V. Broken Promises of Online Sizing Charts
I’ve been following the company for a long time on social media. They make clothes for people like me – tomboys, androgynous enbys, hot and tender transmasc folks. I ordered the perfect denim shirt from them a few years ago – short rolled-sleeved, slim-fit, cut in all the perfect places. It looked fierce on the white, slick-haired, rail-thin androgynous model.
I checked the size chart and asked my wife to measure me twice. I shelled out $50 and waited excitedly for the package to arrive at our Boston apartment. It came a week later. I tore it open and brand stickers dribbled out. Oh dope, I thought. I am incredibly loyal to the people, places, and things I love. If this shirt was as good as it looked, I would rep this brand until I died. I carefully placed the stickers to the side and unwrapped the shirt. The shirt sleeves didn’t make it up my arms. Heartbroken, but not surprised, I considered cutting the sleeves and making it a badass sleeveless denim shirt. But my wife says that’s silly and tells me to just return the shirt. We both know I will forget. Months later, I find the shirt and throw it in a donation box.
Here I am, four years later, back on the same site. The company makes pants now too – slim fit, pleated pants. Who doesn’t love a good pleat? When I see, they have expanded their sizes, I am hopeful.
I do not measure this time. I have measured enough to know my numbers by heart so I just consult the sizing chart and check with my wife.
“Yes, well, a bit expensive, like $70, but I will return them if they don’t fit. It’s for the story.”
She looks at me, knowingly. Her partner is terrible at returns. I tell her fat folks need donated clothes too. I like to think that all my “too-smallwp_postsclothes go to some cute fat person in the world who is just one size smaller than me. I hope they are thriving and enjoying it all.
I order the slim-fit pleated pants and I wait.
When the pants finally arrive, they remain untouched in my living room for weeks. I don’t open the package and my wife asks if the story is still happening. “Yeah,wp_postsI say reluctantly. I am no longer enthusiastic about this happy ending. Summer is moving too fast, there’s another Covid spike, conservatives are trying to ban trans people from Earth, and I am exhausted from living in this body, in this world.
The week before we drive cross-country for a short-term gig, I make a to-do list and add “Finally try on pantswp_poststo it. Now it has to be done. The last pair of pants, a safe and cheap Old Navy pair, have arrived in the mail too. As much as I hate the “we have extended sizes onlinewp_postscop-out to inclusion, I am grateful to avoid another shopping trip.
When it’s time, I start with the pleated pants. I rip open the trendy packaging and branded stickers fall out again. I leave them on the ground. They haven’t earned my loyalty yet. I hold up the pants and inhale.
I remind myself fat transmasc folks deserve pleats too. We deserve pants that will arrive at our doorstep in trendy packaging with stickers to slap on our computer and water bottle. We deserve to act surprised when someone compliments us on the way our pants hug our legs just right.
“Oh, these pants?wp_postsI would say nonchalantly as if I didn’t pray to the gods for their arrival. The gods don’t always answer our prayers in the way we hope. Sometimes, their answers remind you of the beauty of your own expansiveness — ripped seams, broken zippers, and pants that reach my knees and yell out, “chiiiiilllle, please.”
Fool me twice, shame on me, Androgynous Fox.
I consider writing a strongly worded email and mailing the package back with a sad note. I imagine flushing the sticker down the toilet and cursing the company into oblivion. I do none of these things. I sigh and ask my wife to try to take a photo of the pants around my ankles without getting a portrait of me in my briefs. I step out of the pants and ball up them, stuffing them into a wooden crate in my office.
I have saved Old Navy for last – not because they are my favorite but because the stakes are low. I never expect much from Old Navy, but always know she’ll be there if I need something that kind of looks good with a discount that makes it worth it. I ordered two pairs of the same chinos just in case – different sizes, different colors.
I set my self-timer on my phone’s camera and slip on the pants on. I try the bigger pair first – an olive green color that I love. They are too big. I get annoyed and think I might empathize with Goldilocks – if she wasn’t a white colonizer of course.
The smaller pair is wider in the calves than I would like, but they are half the price of those Lane Bryant pants. “I could get them tailored if I want,wp_postsI think. I guess these will do. I pose a couple of different ways to see how my body looks in the frame. Forget Goldilocks; maybe I’m the bear – cute, thick, and brown.
“Oh those look cute,wp_postsmy wife says, forcing a supportive smile. I shrug in the mirror. “Not bad.”
Not bad is as good as it gets for now in this body, in this world. Black, fat, transmasc with thick thighs, rolls, and too much body for thin imaginations.
VI. Thick Thighs and Fat, Transmasc Dreams
A week before the fall semester starts, I am cleaning my office. I find the Old Navy pants and check the return policy. Too much time has passed, I won’t get all of my money back and the trek to Old Navy isn’t worth the pennies of the in-store credit. Instead, I message Stef. Since starting at Autostraddle, we have discovered an uncanny amount of commonalities. There is, of course, the obvious – we are both fat, transmasc they/thems. Stef teaches English in Florida, where I started my teaching career. We both have a deep love and appreciation for Target graphic-print shirts.
“Weird, invasive question,wp_postsI type apprehensively. “What size pants do you wear?”
“Ha. No worries.wp_postsStef writes back with their size. “But I buy most of my pants at Lane Bryant because they have my size.”
I am starting to think Stef is one of my platonic soul mates.
I ask them if they want the extra Old Navy chinos. I won’t even trouble them with the pleated pants. Those are for a donation bin six months down the road.
“Why not,wp_postsStef replies. I tell them about my quest for chinos. We talk about the plights of shopping as fat trans masc folks in this world. Together, we dream up an idyllic fat mall. I say it has to have moving sidewalks and trolleys. Stef agrees and campaigns for clothing for all sizes – no limits.
I smile and I remember that there were three bears in that story. I remember that at the end of the story, Goldilocks screams and runs out of the house. The bears go back to their own lives with their beds and porridge that fit each of them just right. They go back to living their lives in community. In their bear house, they are not too much. They are just right. In this conversation with Stef, I am not woman. In this moment, I am not too fat, I am not too anything. Our thighs are just right, our bodies are just right.
I mail the pants and add “fat mall dreaming with Stefwp_poststo that ever-expanding album I keep in my mind for tough days — like my thighs, the euphoria of shea wesley martin is thick.
A year later, it is summer again and I am preparing for garden parties and concerts. Chino shorts are in. My thighs rub each other freely while I dance, drink, and laugh amongst friends in a world full of so much violence, despair, and hatred for folks who look like me.
Like clockwork, my feeds are again full of Elliot Page. His face is plastered on all the magazine covers as he promotes his coming-of-trans memoir. Thirsty queers leave water drops under his photos, transphobes send hate mail. Colleagues bring Elliot up in passing, desperately trying to make conversation with me, their “first trans friend.wp_postsWe are not friends. I do not give them what they want. Instead, I look down at my porkchop thighs and my stomach grumbles.
“What’s for lunch?”