Figuring out clothing in a gendered world is so complicated. There are so many things that I found before I began transitioning that are comfortable and look good on me but that I hesitate to wear because of how they are gendered or perceived. I wish I could just wear whatever felt good to me without having to worry about overcompensating on my gender expression in hopes of being read more accurately in the world.
Every choice I make about how I dress impacts how people see me. If I was a cis woman, I could take advantage of the full range of clothing and most people wouldn’t question my gender. But being a non-passing trans person, I feel like I need to dress a certain way to signal to both cis people and other trans people that I’m not a man. My options are opening back up a bit more now that I actually have more feminine curves but I still have to think about it daily. Is what I’m wearing going to be perceived sufficiently feminine to legitimize my identity?
Growing up I had zero sense of fashion. There were a lot of reason for that. For one, I was homeschooled so I didn’t have a lot of examples of what other kids were wearing. For another, there was a lot of pressure to fit the mold of conservative Christianity and I was constantly being told to put on collared shirts or cheap slacks which wouldn’t look good on anyone. And to this day I can’t stand to wear navy blue bottoms with white shirts because that was the cult uniform. But mostly, I was just awkward in my body because guess what, I was trans!
Whenever possible I would dress down in sweats or jeans and a tshirt. Mostly that was because so much of the time I had to dress up for church or to be presentable at some event and when I did so I was deeply uncomfortable. Because the more “dressed up” you get, the more gendered clothing becomes. Suits and ties are a strong indicator of gender (or sexuality depending on your body). And because that was the wrong gender, I felt very awkward in my skin whenever I wore them. I was constantly complaining that I felt strangled by ties and I hated wearing suits. I rationalized those by telling myself it was because I had a wider neck and got hot easily. But really, I was chaffing at the expectations that came along with them.
Once I became an adult I cycled through many different styles trying to find a way to be comfortable and still professional. Most of the time I ended up looking rather preppy but rarely was I what you would call fashionable. I started to get there towards the end when I was dressing more like a flamboyant gay man. But I honestly have no good sense of straight male fashion. I wanted to wear what the beautiful women around me were wearing.
Rarely do I wear high femme outfits like fancy dresses and heels to work. Because that’s not the kind of person I would normally be. And when I do wear something to an event like that it is often because I view gender as a costume or I’m overcompensating for how the rest of my body is perceived. For so much of my life I thought I was a feminine boy when really I was just a tomboyish girl. I just wish I could dress that way without being seen as a man.