When I open my crates, I am astounded by the number of looks I carried off in low these twenty some-odd years of trans expression.
I started with the play stuff, the short skirts — I remember hemming my first jean cut Gitano pleather mini from Zayre’s with bondo — the glittery. It went with my “guy-in-a-dress” expression, using my given name and showing a bit of chest hair, looking for androgyny.
I moved on, of course, but the challenge of not being able to try things on, and not having girlfriends from whom to get feedback mean things moved slowly. Having a male body also means that clothes just don’t fit easily, and it takes time to get these things right.
As I walk though the stores now, though, I look at clothes and think of how I tried that, years ago. I have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t, much like other women my age.
What is different than other women my age, though, is that there isn’t just one look that falls out of my boxes. Since I need to wear wigs — I started balding around age 17 — the change of hairstyle & colour can change everything. Most women can’t pull their old hairstyles out of a box, except actresses, women of color, and women who have faced cancer.
When I open the boxes, what lies inside isn’t just one easy set of clothes, but a wardrobe. To me, that means I have a vocabulary of clothing with which to build statements, expressing not just some finite me, but expressing the facets I have explored and discovered over the years.
Madeline L’Engle says that one of the best things about getting older is that you remain all the ages that you have ever been, and Kate Bornstein says that one of the best things about crossing gender lines is that you remain all the genders you have ever been. When someone wants me to appear to wave the tranny flag, I wonder if they want me to look like a crossdresser, a drag queen, a transsexual, a woman or something else.
A few years ago on Halloween I stopped at the MAC counter, where they know trannies, and some know me. It was the assistant manager who greeted me, and when I came back later, in face, I read her out. “You didn’t know if I was a drag or a transvesite this morning, so you didn’t know how to treat me.” She laughed, by now having figured out that I am something else altogether.
For me, clothes are primarily vestments, an expression of my inner knowledge. As I know myself to be liminal, I also know myself to shimmer, to flash though facets and show different qualities of light. (Did you know that in Martinique it is considered bad to sit in a doorway, because you will pick up the problems and woes of all those who pass through that transom?)
All this means that I need to think about how I present myself, what look I create, in a way that most people don’t have to do. It also means that I don’t have a sure map of how people see me, because my appearance changes, not based on how others react, but instead based on my own creation.
All those boxes, all those pieces, all those symbols, all those choices, all those looks.
And the audience, well, it still escapes me.