I’m depressed. Or, at least in this time when I haven’t been writing, I was depressed. I seem to be emerging from it a bit. How can this be?! So very recently I was walking on a cloud, whistling a happy tune (and I hate whistling). Well here’s what happened:
I’ve mentioned in passing more than a few times that I’m good with the whole trans thing until it comes to what to wear on the beach or for dressy occasions. And that my friends, is way more often than I let myself acknowledge. That is where my living life in the spaces in between bravado completely breaks down. And that is where the big balloon of sadness gets punctured. Shame overwhelms me. All over clothing?! Aren’t you being a bit dramatic? No. And I now realize that I actually have quite a history of clothing.
I’ve already written about my sweat-soaked meltdown over the brownie uniform. As a kid I avoided any and all “girls” clothing. I wasn’t allowed to wear boys clothes necessarily. But I was allowed (though not encouraged) to wear rather androgynous clothing as a child. For my bat mitzvah I was trussed up in a most hideous peach colored chiffon gown that looked more ridiculous than any of those “awkward family photos” from the book of the same name. Honestly, I could have more authentically played Scarlett O’Hara than a 13 year old bat mitzvah. And while I hated it, I looked at it more as a costume of hilarity than actual clothing and so, somehow I avoided apoplectic shame.
By the time my brother’s bar mitzvah rolled around a few years later, I was heavily into Devo and punk rock. My mother humored me for once and allowed me to wear gold lame plastic pants and a white and gold button up the side (you seriously had to see this get-up to believe it) blouse. I was so stoned I don’t actually remember the ceremony or the party, never-mind what it felt like wearing plastic. And no one batted an eye when I chose to wear tuxedo tails to my senior prom.
It was the 80s. Boy George ruled, Madonna sang about teen pregnancy and Benatar hit us with her best shot. I still have my fingerless gloves. Man, those were the days. Anyway, in case you can’t tell, the 80s is really where my heart remains in so many ways on so many topics. I had big hair (and I’m talking BIG, people). Hold on, let me go find a picture. There, how’s that?
Anyway, my 80s obsession, from hair to clothing to music, notwithstanding, I felt like I had something good going on. Because I had the long (permed) rock star hair, I somehow felt that gave me permission to wear oxford shirts and ties every day to work. That was when I felt best. I shopped at J.C. Penney, found a salesperson who seemed open-minded (or was at least up for a challenge) and got a half-dozen pairs of colored jeans (aqua, purple, I’m telling you, the 80s were great!) and then got suited up in cool oxfords and wild thin ties. I was a fashion plate I tell you. Alright, maybe I wasn’t runway ready, but the bottom line is that I felt good. The long hair made it look (at least I felt it did) like I wasn’t, quote, trying to be a man, and the clothes just felt right on me.
When I got my current job I started wearing John Meyer double-breasted suits I got at Frugal Fannie’s and Doc Marten wingtip shoes. They were women’s suits but very boxy and I basically felt ok. But those suits became harder and harder to find as styles changed and more and more expensive. I ditched those for Indian salwars and African dashikis. And while this style of dress fits a certain spiritual-leader-type image, it still doesn’t feel exactly right to me. Nor is it completely authentic. I mean, in some respects it feels like another costume, another way to avoid the whole gender thing.
To cut to the chase, Joita’s bat mitzvah is a month away. I’m pretty sure I started panicking about what to wear right before I got depressed. To be completely honest, the whole bat mitzvah thing is painful enough for me for so many reasons, none of which is appropriate to get into here. And this clothing paralysis is like toxic icing on an already rancid cake.
I didn’t say anything to anyone about my struggle. I just kept mulling it over in my own head, letting it fester there, getting further and further away, going deeper and deeper into myself and sadness. I agonized. I wrestled. I considered. The torment followed me into my dreams. I had nightmares about all the things I couldn’t wear, wouldn’t wear, was afraid I’d have to wear. Every option shamed me. I felt foolish even entertaining non-traditional notions of what I might wear. You have no idea how crazy I made myself.
One morning I would wake up and say, “Fuck it! Fuck everyone! I’m wearing a suit and that’s that!” But by lunchtime that day I would be feeling foolish, drowning in shame. The next day I’d wake up happily embracing an alternative-type salwar with flowing simplicity. But again ridiculous humiliation would overwhelm me and I’d just end up feeling stupid. Deeper and deeper into shame I went. Hating the person I know I am.
I won’t bore you with the gory details of my misery. Suffice it to say it wasn’t pretty. I saw Nancy (an acquaintance of mine) at work on Friday afternoon. She said, “You look stressed. What’s up friend?” “Fashion malaise”, I answered vaguely, “I don’t know what to wear to my kid’s bat mitzvah.” Now, Nancy only knows me as she sees me. She has no idea about anything of my inner life or my transgender struggles. She, herself, is very traditional and mainstream and while she considers herself an open-minded person, I suspect that if confronted with transgender issues she would default to, “It makes no sense to me, I don’t get it.” without more consideration. Anyway, Nancy stepped back and studied me for a minute and then she clapped her hands and said, “ELLEN!” Smugly satisfied with herself, she went on to explain that she’d often envisioned me as potentially Ellen-esque in my appearance. She happily dressed me in her mind in a Brooks Brother’s blazer, crisp white shirt and black pants. “I could do a white shirt, blazer and black pants. Where do I sign up?” I thought to myself. For the first time in weeks I felt hopeful. Niether male nor female, something in between. I didn’t even let myself be daunted by the price tag when I googled “Brooks Brothers Blazer”.
The next day, buoyed by the seed of hope Nancy had planted, I told Emily my plan. Her face contorted in disgust. I vaguely heard the words, “hideous” and “out-dated” before I completely shut down. I felt totally misunderstood, judged and betrayed.
Now, I know that Emily has not been exactly ebullient about my whole transgender revelation. She has repeatedly said, “yes yes I know. I married you and if you needed to live life as a man, I would stay with you and we would make it work.” Barely supportive, never-mind encouraging. But since my plan hadn’t been and hasn’t been to actually transition gender, I didn’t let myself worry. Sure, it niggled at me. And on some level I knew she didn’t really understand. But she is who I chose to marry and spend the rest of my life with and, I honestly have so very much of what I want in life with her, I didn’t think her not getting the transgender stuff would be quite so big a deal. At least I hoped it wouldn’t. Right?
Well this response nearly literally blew me out of the water. I can’t even begin to describe the hurt I felt. In the days since Emily and I have talked, cried, argued, tried to understand. We have asked and offered forgiveness and walked a fine line of frustration in knowing what we each know and the inability to invite someone else into your head space. The genuine desire is there on both our parts and, painful as it is, I believe we’ll figure it out. Even as Emily was (supposed to be doing work this morning) and showing me very men’s-like suits from Anne Taylor and I was researching men’s suits at Uniqlo. We’re trying.
In the meantime, I was uplifted by my best friend Val. She’s a straight suburban housewife and yet, she somehow gets it. She sent me the following text this morning:
Check out dapperQ
A totally empowering, enlightening, fantastic website. Huge help for me emotionally. For the first time in two weeks I smiled and felt optimistic. While I was checking out the articles and photos, Sheila sent me an email offering to take me shopping. She’s another straight suburban housewife who gets it. And she knows how to shop.
I wish it weren’t so hard, but apparently it is. The only one who seems to really get it naturally is Nina. She came across this photo of me (that I found in my dad’s dresser after he died). She looked at it and smiled. Then she looked from it to me and said, “Mommie, is this a picture of you when you were just a little boy?”
“Yes honey, it is.”
And perhaps clothes don’t really matter.