The last time I wore a dress, it was for my brother’s college graduation. It was the summer in-between my freshman and sophomore years. I had put on weight and my one pair of dress pants did not fit. I had not worn a dress in five years; not since my father’s funeral. I borrowed an Indian hand-block wrap skirt from my ex-girlfriend.
I had just come out to my mother. She was upset and angry. I wore the skirt to placate her. I could answer “Why do you have to be a lesbian?” better than “Why do you have to dress like a man?” I did not want to ruin Jon’s graduation. The dysphoria was unbearable. I swore I would never make that mistake again.
Last month I attended Tariq’s middle school graduation (the son of my friend Alexis). Instead of caps and gowns, the boys were required to wear blue blazers and the girls were required to wear white dresses. The look was Gatsby-esque, except that this was a NYC public school in Harlem, not a party on the North Shore of Long Island. The girls (13 and 14 years old) wore sleeveless dresses that were short and showed cleavage. They had done their hair and nails. They preened for the cameras. The boys looked like they had never worn jackets and ties before. They squirmed in their seats waiting for the ceremony to be over.
I would have been one of the kids who found a way to avoid the ceremony. I have arranged much of my life around not wearing dresses.
I did not have a Bat Mitzvah because I would not wear a dress. I told my parents it was because I did not believe in a god (true) and that it would be hypocritical to go through with it (true). The real truths were that I did not want to be part of a ceremony that celebrated girls becoming women, I did not want to get dressed up, and I did not have enough friends to invite to a party.
I was not a bridesmaid at Jon’s wedding because I wouldn’t wear a bridesmaid’s dress. I told him I would participate if I could wear a tuxedo or an outfit of my choice. I went in slacks and a shirt and sat with my cousins. I went even though Donna was not invited; my mother did not want everyone to see that I had a lesbian lover. I did not want to ruin Jon’s wedding. I told them this was the last family function I would attend without Donna.
I studied Civil Engineering because I could picture myself on a construction site. I work for a public agency with a lax dress code. I am unable to wear corporate drag (of either gender). I tried it and the dysphoria was paralyzing. I swore I would never make that mistake again.
The title of this post is the same as a book by Daphne Scholinski “The Last Time I Wore a Dress.” It is a horrific story about a gender non-conforming teenager committed to a psychiatric hospital for reparative therapy. Dylan Scholinski now lives in Denver, Colorado, where he is an artist. This is a link to his website.
My mother threatened to have me arrested and/or committed because of my temper and my gender presentation. I believe what saved me was the stigma; it would have been a narcissistic injury for her to have a child in a psychiatric unit. It was easier for her to believe that I was difficult and deviant than to accept that I was butch (and transgender). She kept up this pretense until her death. I wore jeans to her funeral.