Today I had to go to court for something I’m not going to talk about. The reason I bring up the court is the fact that going meant I wanted to dress in an appropriate manner. Sure many people there were in jeans and tees and not really caring about appearance, but I’ve never been that kind of person. So I dressed up.
Now I’m not public yet. I’m not yet ready to walk outside as my true self. I hope that might be different before this year is over, but for now, I’m not that brave. I also had an ex-partner and still very close and dear friend with me. She’s the first person to know about me, and to this day tries to be very supportive. Some times we butt heads over things, but we can usually find a place of understanding. Today there was a small thing I said which ended up as a more complex conversation than I had thought would be, and it was on the matter of clothes.
While killing some time, we wandered the dead husk of what was once a mall. Strolling through the remains of a clothing store and its close out deals, she commented that I looked nicely dressed. And for what I was trying to appear as I did. The thing is it isn’t who I am really. And that idea is what started the discussion.
I’ve always found men’s clothes to be extremely boring. From a complete lack of a decent palate of colors, to having exactly 4 kinds of tops to wear realistically. In my attempts to express myself I “dressing up” was one of the few ways I might connect with the idea of being a man. Many button down shirts, slacks, ties and vests have been the clothes I would wear to “look good”. Those clothes did their job, they brought me attention, and that attention made me feel good. But those clothes never truly made me feel like I was expressing myself. I was trying to “fake it until you make it.” But some things will never be true, no matter how hard you fake it.
I said this to my friend and she said that I was happy in those clothes. But they didn’t really make me happy. Or at least, not in a real or healthy way. Buying clothes made me happy, finding things that I wanted made me happy. But it’s not real happiness, like accepting myself for who I really am, it’s not lasting happiness. I tried but failed to express this idea fully to my friend. She said she was worried about me losing the maleness that made me happy.
I wasn’t sure exactly how to respond to that. The thing is any sense of “maleness” I have or had isn’t making me happy. It’s a huge factor in making me unhappy in fact. But that does’t mean my life hasn’t had happy things. She’s one of the best things that ever happened to me, which is why we’re still such close friends. All of my experience aren’t forgotten once I began my transition. They are still here inside me, have shaped me and made me into the woman I am today. The things that made me happy still do, the things that made me unhappy still do.
I think there were a couple things going through my friend’s mind about me when she expressed this concern. First I think she wants me to be happy and accept myself. And that’s something I both am and am not. I’m working to change the parts that I’m not, and embracing the parts that I am. But I also think she’s worried that it might in some way invalidate our shared experience. If I wasn’t happy living as a man, was I really not happy in our time together? But the truth is I loved her very deeply, and will always cherish our time together. But I would have had to make this change even if we had stayed together. It’s nothing on her part that caused me to feel this way. Jennifer Finney Boylan describes it very well in her book “She’s Not There” about even with the love of your life, you’re still denying the truth of yourself.
This idea is why coming out to family is so hard. They see it as a reflection upon them. Parents and partners see it as a failing on the relationship, because that is a shared experience. But they have to come to realize that it’s not an honest relationship while one person is pretending to be someone they’re not. This doesn’t make them a failure.
I’ve heard a lot of trans women who get annoyed by the level at which some trans women, especially ones more recent into transition, get about clothes. Sometimes we can go a bit overboard, but the thing is, it’s the easiest way to begin the self expression we’ve been denying ourselves for so long. Sure some may need to work better at dressing for their body, but hell, many cis people have that exact same problem. I’ve accepted my true self, now I can’t wait to express my true self publicly.