I am apparel impaired. I am a detriment to my own appearance. The rules of attire escape me completely, not unlike algebra. I need a class in remedial fashion and fabric. Now.
I never followed up after the wedding that had me stymied about what to wear in my post Lost Manhood from a year ago. I ended up wearing men’s dress pants, dress shirt and a pale yellow bow tie (keeping with the couple’s wedding colors) and my Dr. Marten wingtips. I felt pretty good and thought I looked halfway decent (until I saw this photo). There were a few awkward moments, like when I was standing before the crowd prior to the bride and groom making their way down the aisle, when folks had nothing better to do than look at me and I definitely read several people’s lips as they leaned to the side to ask the person sitting next to them, “Is that a man or a woman?” I’m quite sure I blushed. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. The humiliation of that, all too frequent scene, is distinct. And extremely hard to explain to someone who has never had to experience it. Even though by the end of the evening I was just one of the guys, hanging with the men in the wedding party on the dance floor, completely welcomed, embraced and enveloped by them. Still, and always, the yuck lingers.
In general I live my life in clothing a minimum of 2 sizes bigger than I am. In the realm of the human form, I’m middling to small. I am small-boned, on the short side (5’4″) and have a relatively straight (as in no hips – which I am grateful for) body. My waist size is, on average, a 29. But all my pants and shorts are 31. I could probably wear a boy’s 18 or 20 shirt, but instead I opt for a roomy 15 in men’s. That may read to the uninitiated as stupid and illogical. But to me, it makes perfect sense and always has. If it were up to me I would live my life, day and night, in heavy cotton sweatpants and sweatshirts that make me look like nothing less than an amorphous blob. There are so many levels, so many elemental particulars that contribute to this conundrum for me (and I would guess for most trans individuals). I have spent 50 years in battle with my body (and I don’t think *battle* is too strong a word). 50 years navigating but not inhabiting a body I hate. 50 years disassociating from this, the wrong, body. 50 years of anger and shame and frustration. The plain, honest truth is that at this point I have no real (as in based in any reality) idea of what my body actually looks like. I rarely look in a mirror at my body. On the scarce occasions when I do, I see nothing but a wrong haze of red fury. An image so far from what I expect it borders on hilarity. But it is hardly funny.
In my mind’s eye I have the body of one of those metro-male models: Tall, lanky, strong shoulders and tiny tight bum. I imagine myself looking good in suspenders or vest for dressing up and jeans and a nice t-shirt or jersey for everyday wear. The vision in my head and the one in the mirror are shockingly disparate from the very beginning. Never mind the fact that this body is every minute of 50 years with sagging, stretching and what have you. I have no idea how to integrate what I think and what I see. So instead, I go with big, baggy, ugly but comfy. Not to mention cheap. For those occasions when I have to dress like a human being, I have run the gamut of attempted styles(sic). I’ve worn oxfords and funky ties, salwars, women’s pant suits, sherwanis, dashikis, chinos, and blazers. None of them flattering. Nothing in fashion at the time I chose to wear them (I seem always to be a step (or several years) behind the times). Nothing feels right or remotely comfortable. Even my current work costume of chinos and a button-down shirt feels ill-fitting and oppressive. My skin is crawling and I cannot wait to get home and replace it all with sweatpants and a hoodie, burying my body deeply in thick layers of soft warm cotton.
I suppose I could keep doing this indefinitely. Other than my own discomfort, I’m not overly offensive or hazardous. But there are times, as the title of this post suggests, where I have to rev things up a notch. Society demands more formal attire in specific situations in which I find myself more and more often, and I can’t knowingly continue to fall short repeatedly, every time. I officiate at too many funerals to not have a conventional, if not ceremonial, outfit. At least when I am officiating, the gravitas of my role allows me some leeway. Though I’m not sure I want to be forever known as the poorly dressed officiant.
Last week I went to the funeral of my aunt’s father. He was someone I’ve known peripherally most of my life. And while he wasn’t a close relative, I wanted to pay my respects and be present for my aunt and her extended family. My uncle and cousin’s (my aunt’s children as well, and grandchildren of the deceased) and their wives were also there. Each of the men wore a dark or navy suit. Each of the women wore a dark dress or skirt suit. All of them were huddled together for support. I had on my standard: Cheap, baggy, Target-bought Dockers chinos with an equally cheap, too-large, button-down shirt. I was woefully under-dressed and felt like I stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb (or poor relation). I understand from knowing my inner self (and decades of therapy) that more than just my clothing was causing my outsider sensitivities to prickle. Belonging has ever been my Achilles heel, my tender wound. I admit it, I am jealous (an ugly emotion). They are a tight-knit family, close in every way; sharing in love and joy, sorrow, entertainment, camaraderie and values. Watching them grieve together brought me painfully back to my searingly singular presence at my father’s funeral (my brother having opted to stay in Florida). The memories and feelings only added to my poorly dressed physical discomfort.
Surely focusing on clothing must be less painful (though not by much) than dealing with my more primal emotions. So… back to the topic at hand. What should I wear? Dear Lord, we have been over this unremittingly. I don’t want to look like a tiny pretend man, a little boy in his daddy’s suit. What is considered *dressy* for formal occasions for a man that is not a suit? This past weekend Emily and I attended a wedding of someone she works with. Actually, she was officiating and I got to go along for the hors d’oeuvres. The wedding was “black tie optional” (whatever that actually means). I wore the heavily-embroidered floral sherwani I wore when we got married. I toned it down with my black Dockers and my Dr Martens. It was definitely dressy enough. But it put me squarely on the *neither* side of the gender spectrum. I’ve gained some weight since we got married, so I felt sort of sausage-esque in addition to my dysphoric discomfort and *other* status. Read that: I still didn’t feel right.
At this point I don’t even know if it is possible for me to feel *right*. What would that even mean or entail? Emily says I should shop at J. Crew. So I looked online at their men’s clothing lines. Nice. I can imagine myself wearing some of those outfits. And vests do appeal to me. The PRICES?!?!? Who, in their right mind (never mind their right body), pays 100 dollars for a cotton button-down shirt!?! I feel exactly like my grandfather right now (anyone who knew him would understand). I’m not sure I care how good these pants make me look. Starting at 120 dollars a pair, I might opt for a lifetime supply of Dockers instead. Is there no happy medium?
I have run out of steam, words and drive. As a gerbil I have failed miserably, falling unceremoniously off the wheel. And I haven’t even touched on the job interview portion of this post. It may just be time to appeal to a higher power, a cynosure of the complexities of men’s fashion, expense and me. My bestie: Val. So ok Val, have at it! I put myself in your competent hands. Your mission, should you choose to accept it…. Dress me!