Last night, after getting ready for a meeting, my spouse took one look at me and uttered that classic phrase, “That’s what you’re wearing?”
What makes this noteworthy is that I can count on one hand the number of times she’s said that or anything like it over the past decade. It’s just not in her typical vocabulary. In fact, if she thinks at all about what I wear, she seldom shows any sign of it.
And she was right. My jeans and sweatshirt were definitely not the best choice for this particular occasion. I changed. But the thought of changing, of even having to give my clothing/appearance a second thought, sort of made my stomach sink. It feels like wasted energy.
And that’s when I had a full-on flash of one big ramification of changing genders: Appearance will matter. And not just a little, or every once in a while. All the time, and a lot.
Do I want that? Can I handle it?In the recent past I’ve updated my feminine wardrobe, continuing the process of dumping anything that looks too “tranny” or even just not very good on me. I’ve started to define what I think “looks good on me” means in the context of gender transition and eventual womanhood. I’ve purchased only clothing that I’d be willing to wear (some of which I’ve now actually worn) in public.
I have not yet crossed the line into make-up or hair or skin care or tweezing or shaving. It’s been years since I last made up my face (though I was pretty good at it back in the day), and the wigs I have are pretty outdated and no longer age-appropriate.
Eventually, these elements will have to be addressed, along with jewelry and other accessories.
And while it all does sound like fun, it requires setting aside that long-established and genuine disdain I have for vanity. If the world is to judge me, which it certainly will, I prefer that it be on what I can do and have done, not how I look while doing it. Such pressures aren’t really welcome.
What’s more, though I do possess a certain vague familiarity with some of the pressures women face regarding appearance (which appear to be, at least in part, amplifications of the same ones men face — optionally, of course), I’m quite sure the scale and scope is beyond my current understanding. And the pressures on transwomen exceed even those of cis women.
I’ve already felt the need to have variety in what I wear and avoid repeating the same outfits over and over. I’ve started to understand the need to stay up to date and be rid of older fashions. I’m becoming more sensitive to color choices, and especially collar choices. I bring a tape measure when I shop for women’s clothing and always measure hem and sleeve lengths. I can imagine the need for a much larger closet. I already own four times as many pairs of women’s shoes as men’s shoes…
But I’ve also already felt my heart sink when I catch a glimpse of myself in an elevator mirror and realize how unlikely it is that I could ever be passable. (“What’s up with that bald, middle-aged man in the nice top and black slacks?”) I’m suddenly feeling the urge to judge myself based on appearance, which is very foreign. It makes me wonder if transition is even more Sisyphean than I’ve previously imagined.
And yet I’m quick to remember that transition is largely (primarily?) internal, and that I have always tried to avoid defining myself by how the world views me, be it for physical appearance or what I do. That disconnect may be harder to maintain as a transwoman, but it may be even more important. The world judges the appearance of women much more harshly than it does men, and transwomen face an even higher (weirder?) standard. Seeing beyond the physical will actually get harder than it already is. Establishing what I’m comfortable with for myself, and refusing to let such external pressures define my self-worth is a big part of a successful transition.
But the practicality still concerns me. Can I give that much of my energy to my appearance? It would be a very large shift from how I do things now as a man. People who know me would be shocked if I just started showing up in nicer men’s clothing — say, polo shirts and tan slacks (my standard church outfit). I’m pretty much a sweatshirt/t-shirt and jeans kind of guy.
As a woman, I cannot accept my own indifference to my appearance. It will have to be a higher priority. Hopefully, it’s not an unbearable burden. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s exactly what I need.
For now, it is yet another unknown.