How clothing revealed my gender

I started estrogen yesterday! Besides feeling a little fuzzy, no changes yet but I’m really enjoying the symbology of my rebirth being on the first day of Spring.

As I’m beginning a kind of transition that people seem to be taking more seriously, I am thinking about some of the ways that “I knew” I was transfeminine. And one of the biggest ones as an adult was clothing.

I have never been that comfortable in masculine clothing. I mean I’m perfectly fine wearing jeans and a t-shirt for doing dirty work or walking the dogs. But the more formal I had to dress, the more uncomfortable and out of place I felt. It felt like I was putting on clothing that didn’t belong to me and didn’t fit my body.

For years I experimented with options to see what felt comfortable. As a kid I didn’t really think about it too much because when I was allowed to choose, I wore the jeans and t-shirt uniform. Or something practical like cargo pants when I went hiking so I could store my camera lenses. I never felt like anything looked good on me so I went for utility instead. And it was hard to disentangle my discomfort with more formal clothing from the discomfort around the situations I had to wear them in such as fundamentalist churches and cult conferences. Although I did know that wearing ties made me feel like I was being strangled, and not just in the physical sense.

Once I started having office jobs where I had to wear collared shirts, I bounced around between styles for awhile trying to find something that worked. I eventually found I felt best wearing purple so I settled on a lot of that for awhile during my “preppy” phase. But it still didn’t feel natural. I also got really bored with how few options there were for masculine clothing without accessories so I found myself collecting more and more different outfits and shades of drab pants in order to mix things up as much as socially acceptable. Everyone already thought I was gay so I was afraid of getting too adventurous about bright colors at that point.

As I got farther away from fundamentalism and more involved in LGBTQ rights as what I called a “gender nonconforming ally” at that point, I lost some of that fear of being perceived as gay. I was in a straight monogamous marriage with a woman at that point so I guess I felt that people would stop questioning me. Though as I adopted more inclusive language like calling my spouse with her gender neutral name “partner,” it didn’t do much to allay the rumors at work.

I did eventually start wearing more and more bold colors. I got brightly colored pants and fun patterned shirts that ended up being read as pretty gay. And that was the closest I came to feeling comfortable in masculine clothing. I also enjoyed the increased compliments on my appearance I got as people started reading me as more gay. Part of that was definitely the quality of the outfits I was putting together but some of it was probably due to working in women dominated fields and dressing in ways that made it more socially acceptable to comment on clothing.

Then, as I got more involved in polyamorous community and started dating other queer people, I began to realize that there was more to my identity than I was allowing myself to consider. And as I began to see myself as genderqueer, I experimented with more androgynous outfits at work. The problem is that for someone whose body is read as male to look androgynous, it is hard to dress formal. So much of what we perceive as androgyny is white, thin, AFAB (assigned female at birth) people dressing dapper or masculine of center. So on days I wanted to dress androgynous I had to dress down. And whether it was because of that or because of the change in gender expression, I realized I was getting less compliments at work and it felt like people were less likely to talk to me in general the less I fit the binary.

So I stopped pushing the boundaries as much at work. But once I escaped my marriage with a person who was ostensibly fine with queer people around her but not with any expressions of queerness or transness in her spouse, I started dressing more femme at home. It took me a long time to find things that fit me and looked good on my body (and that I could afford) but I slowly began building a wardrobe of clothing that felt much more gender affirming. And the more I wore dresses and cowl neck sweaters and tight pants, the more comfortable I felt.

In the moments when I was dressing femme it felt like I had shed the exoskeleton that was too tight and constricting my body. It felt freeing not just in an emotional sense but in a very tangible physical release as well. And that’s when I knew I was making the right choice and that I could never go back.

Because of a terrible new boss, I had to switch jobs right around the time that it was getting pretty hard to keep dressing masculine. And based on the advice of some other trans women, I interviewed in clothing that was as masculine as I could stand at that point. Which pretty much meant my gayest outfits. It took 6 months but I finally found a job and on my last day at the old job I wore a dress to say goodbye.

On the first day of my new job I outed myself to my new team as nonbinary and was amazed at how quickly they started using my pronouns. But I kept dressing as masculine as I could tolerate while I settled in. After 7 weeks I finally got the courage to talk to my supervisor about clothing and started dressing in the more androgynous outfits again while I worked on building up a wardrobe of professional femme clothing. There was some initial shock as they realized just how trans I was but it quickly faded into normal for them and now I only get compliments at work.

So the moral of the story is, if you never feel comfortable in the options you are “allowed” to wear, there might be something under that you need to explore. I am in love with femme clothing and I am so glad I have a place where I am affirmed in that expression at home and at work.

3 thoughts on “How clothing revealed my gender

  1. Great, enlightening post. I have the same feeling of dysphoria when I dress for work. Most of the time, I work from home, but when I go to work, I have to dress in drab. The shirts feel so restricting and the pants feel terrible around my waist and legs. I want non-collared options like silky shirts along with loose pants with cloth belts. When I’m at home, I never wear collared shirts. Usually, I have to wear a dress after wearing men’s business drab just to decompress. You are right. Dysphoria with work clothing could be a sign of something deeper.

    Liked by 1 person

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