just the same but different

In case you didn’t quite slog through my last post, suffice it to say I’m struggling.  For me it has always (as long as I can remember) been a struggle being transgender.  The knowing of facts in my head that don’t register as facts to other people. The clear seeing of an image of myself in my mind that looks nothing like the disturbing image I see in the mirror.  A veritable mind-fuck, in simple terms.  Even though it is just one of the things I struggle with.  And I know I’ve said it before, but it gets exacerbated every year, like a horrible allergy, with the warm weather and its promise of scantier clothing and engagement in that once-loved activity – swimming.  I don’t know if I can adequately describe what it feels like to be transgender and why this is so painful and difficult.  I can tell you what it’s not like.

So many people (the if-I-had-a-dime-for-every-time-someone-said-this-to-me numbers) say to me, “I know how you feel!  I hate the thought of putting on a bathing suit too!”  I often get told that “lots of people, most people in fact, do not like their bodies”.  And while I’m genuinely sorry for all of those people, being transgender is not like that at all.  And while I appreciate the attempt to connect (with the intention of helping me feel better I assume), it is not like that at all.

Telling a transgender person that everyone has body issues and that no one likes their body is like telling a clinically depressed person that everyone feels blue now and again.  Like telling Joita (or any person with a disability) that you understand her so much better now because you sprained your ankle and had to be on crutches for 3 days.  These are simply not parallel things in anyone’s reality or universe.

So what is it like?  Ok, I’ll give it a whirl.

uglybrownshoesImagine you have been given a pair of brown leather wingtip shoes.  Not the cool kind, like Dr Marten’s.  The nerdy kind like your 8th grade science teacher used to wear, the kind that has never been or ever will be in style.  I don’t care that they will not go with a single outfit you own.  Nor do I care that brown is “not your color”.  You have to wear them.  Now, imagine that those shoes are exactly one size too small for you.  Put them on anyway.  No, wait.  Take off your socks first.  Now.  Now put the shoes on.  Ok, got it?  Now wear those shoes all day, going about your business, going to work, to market, running errands.  Sweaty and uncomfortable?  Yeah, I know.  Look weird with most of your clothes?  Unh huh.  Can’t wait to get home and take those babies off?  No.  I’m sorry.  You can’t.  You must wear these shoes all the time.  24/7.  Day and night.  You’ll notice, probably around day 2, that you are beginning to feel trapped, constricted, claustrophobic (not to mention irritable).  You try changing your pants in the hopes of alleviating some of your discomfort.  But it doesn’t help.  Different shirt?  Nope, still not right.  Try getting a haircut.  How’s that?  Hmm… not so much.  With each of those changes you make, there is a granule of difference, when your focus shifts infinitesimally away and you aren’t as aware of the tight, ill-fitting, uncomfortable shoes.  You may even go a few hours or even a day without your sole focus being on your damn shoes.  It will feel, for those blissful few moments, like a minor discomfort, an irritable chafing, more like background traffic noise than blaring horns and sirens in your ears.  Perhaps if you spray-paint them black they will blend in more?  Oh God, no.  Now you’ve just drawn attention to them.  Please, make them go away!  But you can’t.  And you are sure that everyone is as aware of your fucking shoes as you are.  You wonder not if, but what people are saying about you and your shoes.  Your friends tell you not to worry, that they wouldn’t even notice your shoes if you weren’t pointing them out, that you’re the only one who notices.  Perhaps.  But then, you’re at a cocktail party or a work gathering and you’re trying to make small talk, but your feet are blistered and sweaty and irritated and you just can’t focus on the chit chat.  Never mind if this occasion is a black-tie event and you are wearing brown shoes.  You go to the gym in your sweatpants and brown leather wingtips and everyone else is wearing comfortable sneakers.  You are painfully aware of how stupid and wrong you look.  No one actually says anything and neither do you.  But some part of you can’t believe it, some piece of you wants to scream, “What is wrong with you people?! Can’t you see how ridiculous and shameful and contemptible this affliction is?!”  You go to the grocery store and the people in line behind you at the check-out are looking you up and down with a judgmental scrutiny that is shaming even without words.  A child stops and stares at you in CVS and asks loudly, “Why are you wearing those old-fashioned shoes?!”  Or better yet screams, “Mommy! Look at these funny shoes!”  You try to talk about this with friends who have multiple pairs of comfortable and stylish shoes of their own and they shake their heads with frustration, they’ve already told you, in nice ways, to get over it.  They say things like, “Oh come on man!  They’re SHOES.  They’re not all of you.  They’re such a small part.  No one even notices them but you.” Or they tell you that the shoes are retro, unique, cool, your signature of sorts.   And you think to yourself, “Really? Well, maybe.  I guess.  This is a very first world problem here.”  And then you just sort of feel dumb and embarrassed for making such a big deal out of such a little thing.  Then you’re thinking about that all the time, how you are the one making a mountain out of a molehill.  You ponder this in bed with the covers drawn up to your chin and your sweaty feet stuffed like sausages into those ugly brown shoes that are peeking out of the end of the blankets at the end of the bed.  You stare at them pleadingly, hoping they will just go away, become less cumbersome, or even more palatable.  You focus on them, trying to force yourself to see them as normal, fine, good, comfortable.  You will your mind to embrace them, take ownership of them, know them and accept them as yours.  If you are lucky, this night you will dream of yourself free in flip-flops that fit, running, dancing, jumping, whirling, unencumbered, literally and figuratively light-footed.  Oh the joy.  But you wake in the morning and you still have the damn shoes on and you try not to notice them as you go about your morning and take your shower, where they are even more glaring and heinous.  But still, apparently, a first world problem.  {deep sigh}

Speaking of shoes, the other day I was shopping on Zappos for new sneakers.  I was, of course, searching the men’s sneakers (even though my selection is greatly reduced, if not completely lacking, because most men’s shoes do not come in my size).  Emily, passing by and looking over my shoulder, commented on how ugly and clunky the sneakers were I was looking at.  I asked what she suggested and she reached over me to take control of the mouse.  She clicked on women’s.  I filled with shame before the images could even coalesce.  I wrested control of the mouse, clicked close and left the room.  Leaving Emily wondering what the hell had just happened.

A few days later, I found Emily studiously pouring over a magazine.  I asked what she was doing and she proudly reported that she found a great style of clothing for me and a fantastic outfit in the catalog.  Before she could show me, my hackles were up.  My storm-cloud expression stopped her mid-sentence.  I growled, “If this is women’s clothing I don’t want to see it.”  She quietly, deliberately brought forward the magazine.  She had, obviously, doctored the picture.  She said couldn’t quite envision me without my signature glasses and yarmulke, so she drew them in.  Ah, yes, there I am.  That’s better.  I love that woman!


About halitentwo

i am. god is. we are. as soon as i write something about me i change, am different, evolving. i am trans. i am a parent. i am a partner. i am a human. i am attempting to live a well-lived life in the spaces in between, beyond definition, fluid, dynamic, omnifarious and always changing. hopefully growing.
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7 Responses to just the same but different

  1. Beth N says:

    Cue music…I love you just the way you are….but I get that you don’t all the time. If you don’t mind, I will keep on doing that, though, and hold some of whatever. I am so grateful you’re writing. Helps me, and my guess is, a bunch of others. (At least your 6 subscribers)

  2. halitentwo says:

    Right back at you! And yes, just the right medicine 🙂

  3. Jamie Ray says:

    I was waiting for some time to compose a reply to your last post, and then boom, this one came. The shoe analysis is brilliant (although I’d wear the brogues over the mary-janes any day).

    I periodically go through bouts of seeing no way out of this gender mess, and that I can’t go on like this. Even though everything else is pretty good, the gender dissonance can ruin my experience of it.

    I think the hardest thing about being in this position (transmasculine but still legally and socially female) is the knowledge that until society/culture changes in a major way – this issue of gender expression vs. how we are seen will not go away no matter what clothes and what shoes we wear. And even when people properly read us as masculine, sex/secondary sex characteristics trump gender big time.

    And yet every time I get right up close to saying “take T” I falter. This is my problem, and I just can’t wrap my head around being seen as a straight, white, male (a young boy no problem). And for the record, I wear a men’s 7 – and mostly wear Timberlands. I have Adidas and New Balance sneakers which come in a “full range” of sizes from youth to Bigfoot, and you can personalize/customize them if you don’t mind forking up the money. And I am ashamed to say I recognized the picture from LLBean, which means that I spend way too much time thinking about these issues.

    Take care.

    • halitentwo says:

      Thank you Jamie. I really liked the shoe analogy myself (and yes, I’d pick a solid wingtip over a mary-jane any day!). I am standing on that precipice with you (and Kris). I don’t want to become a straight white male either. But I do want to be more of the me I am in my heart. To T or not to T, that is the question. Thanks for the support.

  4. Kris says:

    I wear a size 4 shoe and somehow South African boys feet grow from a size 1 to 6. Damn if I can get men’s shoes, especially nice dress shoes. Sneakers, yes, but I can’t wear them to work. Not using a credit card (I had been a victim of hacking using internet banking), I can’t really buy online. So my life consists of a continuous hunt for shoes to help dispell the dysphoria. Sigh. Pass on those wingtips. Take care.

    • halitentwo says:

      I’m with you Kris. I am a men’s 6. With thick socks I could maybe stretch it to a 6.5. But most men’s shoes begin at 7 or 8. It just adds to the whole clothing circus anyway. Though I have found a few department stores that have size 14 (neck) dress shirts that are nice and reasonably priced 🙂

      • Kris says:

        Hmm, I wonder – should I wear seven layers of socks to make a men’s size 6 shoe fit? 😀 I guess not, my feet will start smoking from the heat! I discovered size 4 boys school shoes, but they are blegg! and so hard you can kill a buffalo with a hit between the eyes (not that I’ll ever harm a buffalo). The search continues… stay tuned for another riveting episode in the shoe hunting soap opera! (Sorry, my mind derailed there for a moment, blame it on the lack of T – I’m still chipping away at B’s silent block if ice on the topic). Take care, Hali.

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