Friday, March 31, 2017

Crossdresser's Blues

I like women's clothes. I like wearing women's clothes. Not because of some weird sexual fixation, but because I think they're attractive, and I like seeing them on women, and I'm jealous that women get to wear such pretty clothes. I love dresses. I love them because they're elegant. They come in such varieties and such colors. And they're designed to emphasize/flatter the human form - particularly the curves of a woman's body. Whether it is for practical reasons or not, men's clothing is dull and boring in comparison. A person can look sharp dressed in pants and a shirt, but - and maybe it's a result of gender-based connotations, but still - they're just not as interesting to me as a beautiful, flowing dress.

Plus, few men's garments are designed to accentuate the parts of the body they don't cover (if there is any part they don't cover), such as the shoulders, the back, the belly, or the legs. And when they do, they either accentuate stereotypically masculine traits (usually muscles, or body hair) - which I don't find attractive - or else they demonstrate (unflatteringly) the cultural imbalance between the aesthetic value we place on men's versus women's bodies. (Yes, there are physically attractive men - even beautiful ones, occasionally - and a lot of men are pressured to be strong, and ridiculed for being weak - but we don't objectify and commercialize men's bodies to the extent we do women).

Although my non-stereotypical experiences have caused me in the past to struggle with the label 'transgender', I hesitate to call myself a cross-dresser because I feel that it belittles the fullness of my nonstandard gender identity. Dressing as the "opposite sex" isn't a performance for me. It's not a costume I put on only on Saturday nights. And whatever extent to which the appeal of women's fashion is sexual in nature (I leave that up to the anthropologists and psychoanalysts to figure out), this isn't something that's restricted to my so-called "bedroom activities" (as a matter of fact, I prefer to engage in sexual activities while nude - rarely are any clothes ever involved).

So there I was, dressed in what I would call my "conservative" clothes - which is my standard winter fare, during the bundled-up season when I'm feeling less inspired to look fabulous and turn heads - a pair of jeans and a tight-fitting t-shirt (under a thin hoodie) that would be downright masculine if it weren't covered by my rather more feminine jacket. In other words, I wasn't especially trying to pass as female (although I may be a little naive on that count), but I happened to have my hair down, and a random salesclerk gendered me as female. I knew this, because - as is usually the case - I was referred to as a "lady". I swear, to this day, it still catches me by surprise sometimes!

Now let me be honest. It tickles me pink when people think I'm a girl - because I want to be a girl - especially when I'm not trying. (And I really wish they wouldn't apologize if/when they realize their "mistake"). But at the same time, when this happens, I get a little bit anxious. Because the moment before, I was just minding my business, not even thinking about what gender I felt like or happened to be passing as at that particular moment (and this happens to me even when I'm out and about wearing a dress - how many women are constantly aware of the fact that they are female, downtrodden feminists notwithstanding?).

[As a side note, this is one of the reasons choosing a public restroom is so agonizing for me - why do I have to go through the mental gymnastics of figuring out what gender I am (hell if I know! - especially if it's neither male nor female) or look like (or even figuring out which of those two things is the more important), and then worry about what could happen if I make the wrong choice, just to be allowed to simply relieve myself? I might as well serve you a meal and then demand that you solve some age-old, unresolved philosophical quandary before you're allowed to eat it].

Anyway, in that instant, I become aware of my gender. Which, by itself, wouldn't be a problem. But now that I'm aware of the gendered perception others have of me, I become concerned with not disabusing anyone of that notion. Not that it would be so terrible, in most circumstances (provided I'm not, e.g., in the women's restroom at the time). But it's still uncomfortable. Firstly, that moment where somebody realizes they made a mistake (on something that's usually so straightforward as identifying a person's gender) is really awkward. I have a lot of empathy. And I'm also socially anxious. I don't want to make people feel bad. If they think I'm A, my instinct is to go out of my way to avoid proving them wrong, even if they're wrong. Maybe it's not fair, either to them or me, but my brain short-circuits in social situations, and I just want to have pleasant (and hopefully brief) interactions with people.

Secondly, if somebody thinks I'm a girl, that reinforces my own ideal vision of myself. The last thing I want to do is have an experience with a complete stranger where I'm grounded by the disappointing (and embarrassing) realization that I'm not quite who I want to be (and also the dysphoric experience of somebody else telling me I'm a gender I don't identify with, and not being in a credible position to argue with them) - especially if that realization occurs in a situation where the mistake is not simply a matter of misinterpretation, but where the dissonance between my biological/assigned sex and psychological gender identity is readily apparent (e.g., I'm wearing a dress, but I haven't sufficiently shielded my voice). Although I suppose it would be a positive advancement for the awareness campaign, I'm not looking to have the transgender talk with every minor NPC I come across in my daily life - especially living in a town that skews conservative (and prejudiced - the kind of town that proudly hangs Trump banners on the sides of their buildings - I shit you not).

Even more so, when I've just walked into a fashion boutique lined wall-to-wall with beautiful dresses - an array that causes my breath to catch, and my jaw to slacken. If I'm about to burden myself down with pretty prom rejects, with the expectation of trying them on, it helps my case if sales associates and passersby alike think that I'm female. Perhaps I don't give them enough credit - people can be surprisingly supportive sometimes. But then, not everybody is, all the time. I feel a little like an impostor, hiding under a guise - which I suppose doesn't help my case. But what for a woman is just the regular occurrence of reveling in fashion and finding something pretty to wear, for a man (targeting the same clothing) becomes an eccentricity - or, worse yet, an uabashed act of perversion.

Would that I could find a clothing store that caters to cross-dressers, staffed by individuals intimately familiar with the unique concerns that cross-dressers have. (And although I'm sure some of these exist, they're hardly as common as your typical women's clothing store). A place where I could feel comfortable browsing the racks, not overly concerned with the extent to which I may be passing. Would, also, that I could find more clothing designed for a man's body, but to look like the clothing that women wear. I can't tell you how many times - it's eerie how common this is - that I find a dress and the only reason it doesn't fit me is because it's too tight around the ribs, and I can't zip it up. Yet, at the same time, the bust hangs relatively deflated.

Or how many times I've found a dress that I've fallen in love with, and would be willing to shell out decent (maybe not good, but decent) money for, if only there were any conceivable possibility that I could actually wear it sometime, and not have it collect dust in the closet (might as well save a few bucks and let it collect dust on the rack at the store, no?). And the number one reason I'd not be able to, practically, wear a dress, is because it emphasizes my masculinity. Whether it's my broad shoulders, the flatness of my chest (and though some women have small busts, their cleavage still looks different than a man's pecs), or, especially, the bulge below my waist.

Unforgiving cleavage.

Doesn't hide my bulge.

Won't zip up.

Can't get my shoulders through the straps.

As I've said before, in a perfect world, I wouldn't care about any of these things, but I live in the real world, where the people I hang out with don't necessarily want to share the responsibility (and stress - I can't deny that it's stressful) of making a statement on gender nonconformity every time we make a trip to the grocery store, or where being too unconventional can actually get you banned from certain company, activities, or important events in the lives of others. It sucks to high hell, and I don't want to contribute to that status quo. But sometimes, you have to make compromises. And it breaks my heart to have to settle for clothes that "flatter" my figure (while hiding my "flaws"), instead of just picking the ones I love the most. But, I guess that's not so different from a woman's experience, after all.

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