Tuesday, June 10, 2008


This heat wave we've been having has gotten me to remembering one of the very few dresses that I ever truly enjoyed wearing. It was a very simple knit cotton shift, sleeveless, ribbed, of a dark forest green color, and it came to somewhere above my knees. When I was in middle school, I used it as a kind of housecoat in the summertime, wearing it about the house in the heat. It was perfectly, deliciously cool and comfortable, allowing plenty of air flow and freedom of movement. I don't think I ever wore it out of the house, although those were the days when I was experimenting with my femininity, so it's possible that I did...I'm having a vague memory of wearing it on a trip we took to Washington, DC, anticipating the humid oppression of a summer day in our Nation's marshy capitol.

I think there was one other dress that I actually liked wearing- it was also very simple, and a sleeveless shift, but it was long to my ankles, and was made of heavy dark purple velvet. I loved the texture, and the Roman decadence of the color, and I loved feeling like a grown up when I was wearing it.

That was, I think, what my "experimenting" with trying to be feminine was all about. I was in 7th/8th/9th grade, and I wanted more than anything to grow up, to gain full access to the full and fabulous adult world that I'd been reading about and witnessing for years. I hadn't yet had reason to question my gender identity, and so was still operating under the assumption that, because of the body I had, I was a girl and needed to grow up to be a woman. And while I had plenty of masculine/butch/gay women in my life to prove to me that 'woman' didn't have to mean dresses, I don't think it's possible to entirely escape the party line of "women wear dresses!"

And so I didn't have quite the reaction of revulsion and feelings of betrayal that many trans folks report when they go through their first, dysmorphic puberty. I don't know if I wasn't paying close enough attention or what, but I rather welcome each pubertal hallmark (first lipstick! first period!) as being one more step on the path to adulthood. I came from a liberated enough femininst household that no one ever tried to convince me to 'grow out of' my boyishness, and so I was free to experiment without pressure with being 'a girl.'

Of course, as we all know, it didn't go over so well, and the more time I spent being a young woman, even (later) as masculine a young woman as I could be, the more I realized it wasn't going to work out, etc etc, until I took the appropriate steps and am now the strapping example of young manhood you see before you today. (see below: me, at Madison Square Garden last week (such a manly setting!), looking very blonde and very excited to be at my first ever WNBA game)

And in fact, now that I am such a fine, flat-chested fellow, I like wearing dresses more than I ever did before! Witness last Christmas, trying on a vintage find at my mom's place and doing my best to channel Jackie O.

There's something about being flat-chested and narrow-hipped and bearded in a dress that I just enjoy the heck out of. Part of it is, of course, disrupting the gendered expectations of folks around me, and playing with gender in a subversive and, well, playful manner. But part of it is the sheer tactile enjoyment- dresses are often beautiful, gorgeous, sensuous garments, and it can be a delight to have silk and fringe swishing around my calves.

A few weeks ago, Rochelle and I went to Trans Prom, a yearly party hosted by the LGBT Center in the city. It's a chance to get gussied up, so I got out a tux, and she a dress...and at the last minute, we decide on a whim to swap outfits.

I found out soon enough that wearing heels on a lark for a night of dancing was going to exact a toll of its own, but we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Rochelle has a complex gender (or variety of genders, I suppose you could say) and often expresses herself in very masculine fashion, so wearing a tux was a very natural choice for her. On the other hand, wearing that dress (though it was purple velvet- a throwback to my old favorite!) was definitely a costume choice for me. We got a wide variety of (often hilarious) reactions; later, we talked about how interesting it was to see the looks on the faces of some of the other transmasculine folks with whom we'd met up- a look of horror, almost, as though they couldn't comprehend why a transmasculine person would ever voluntarily put on a dress. I couldn't say, of course, what exactly what they were thinking, but I'd speculate that for many of them wearing a dress, and all of the many connotations of enforced femaleness that such an act carries with it, is still too raw, too much a sore spot, to be something to do for fun.

So the point of this rambling is that I didn't much like wearing dresses when I was younger, but now don't mind it so much, since I can do it on my own terms. More to the point, when I'm at work sweating through my collared shirt, I look at the women walking around in their breezy summer dresses and remember fondly the days that I had a breezy summer dress in which to escape the heat.Maybe I'd go for a skirt, these days, since I'm apt to go barechested in the heat now- when appropriate! inside or at a park, or some such, none of this public half-nudity for me.

But male skirts pretty much tend to run the gamut from kilt (note: that kilt link is potentially nsfw, depending on how your work feels about buttcheeks) to utilikilt, and neither Scottish wool nor heavy duty canvas seem like they'd be appropriate summer weather. I know sometimes contra dancing dudes wear skirts, to enjoy the twirling, etc, but those skirts, while floaty, tend to be long- not what I need in 97 degree heat! Perhaps I need to learn some sewing machine skills, and make myself a nice, lightweight, summer dress and/or skirt for wearing around the house, because nothing beats the heat like clothing that lets in the breezes.


Suzsqueak said...

Maybe it's because I live in Southern California and I have a fair amount of friends who are Burning Man attendees, I don't even blink when I see a man in a skirt. In fact I can tell you that you should think about a sarong for those really hot days. Men all over the south pacific wear them for that very reason, apparently (I haven't been to the south pacific so I have to take people's words on that one.)

I hope you don't mind me commenting, I came over from Mimi Smartypants.

Eli said...

Hey Suz, not at all!

And your idea about a sarong is spot on. I actually do have one that I rescued from the bottom of my girlfriend's closet, but I haven't yet found the perfect day to try it out. Maybe I'll give it a test run at the beach one of these days...

Ali H said...

Wow, I was about to suggest a sarong too. Perfect house-lounging attire, and dead-simple to make if you want one in anything other than Bright Batik Beachwear colours (purchase swathe of desired fabric, edge, wear).

You look very, very sweet in your prom dress, by the way.

LT said...

Hi Eli,

I just found your blog today and really loved this post. As a complexly-gendered person dating another complexly-gendered person (though ze's a bit more masculine), this was incredibly refreshing. I've had difficulty fully grasping sometimes why I can wear girl clothes on occasion, as long as it is on my own terms and basically always at some queer function. My s.o., on the other hand, will not put on a skirt. As you said, for some, it's just too raw. At 30, ze's still only owns one tie and considered attending a recent wedding in a suit, but still hasn't bought one.

So it's good to see different people's approaches to clothes that are marked with such gendered expectations. It's good to be reminded how much of a person's history can go into a single day's outfit choice. Thanks for sharing :)