I spent the July 4th holiday celebrating my independence. I cleaned out my closet. I also cleaned out my dresser drawers. I dumped everything out onto the floor. I kept all the clothes that I like in my current size and one size up. I gave away the rest. I am temporarily liberated from clothing I don’t like and won’t wear. I have space to spare. I threw out two bags of old clothes; three bags of practically new clothing went to the Housing Works Thrift Shop. I’ve done this before.
I sorted through an immense pile of Levi’s ranging from size 32 through 38 inches. Each incremental size in multiple colors and washes. I tossed “work clothes” in sizes 12, 14, and 16 petite. I weeded out a dozen turtlenecks that I can’t wear because they give me hot flashes. I eliminated T-shirts in colors that don’t look good on me (lemon yellow, chartruese, baby blue).
New Yorkers are used to living in small apartments with insufficient closets. We don’t have basements and we don’t have attics. There are three approaches that we take; live like a monk, create unique storage spaces, or live like the Collyer Brothers. Neat freaks tend to go for the first two approaches. They build floor-to-ceiling bookcases in their hallways, buy fancy storage systems for their closets, and put rolling drawers under their beds. Clutterers go for option three. I stack my books sideways and two deep, stuff my sweaters onto overflowing closet shelves, cram my T-shirts into drawers, and avoid doing my laundry because I have no place to put it once it is folded. Clutterers are recidivists. We make the same mistakes year after year.
I periodically purged my closet of women’s clothing, but it kept creeping back in. There was a wedding, or a funeral, or a conference I needed to go to. I bought a blouse, wore it once, and put it back on a hanger in the closet.
I once made a list of combinations of pants, shirts, and sweaters to wear to work. In the morning I put on the next outfit, and worked my way down the list until it was time to go to the dry cleaners and do the laundry. I refused to look in a mirror. I felt false. I tucked a pair of jeans in my pack so I could change after work.
I want to believe that dressing butch is a conscious fashion choice. It would be nice to shift out of casual butch-mode when the occasion requires it and slip into something else. I can’t do it.
I still think there is something wrong with me for being unable to do “it”. I still have shame. I do not want clothing to have that kind of power over me. I do not want to accept that I am incompetent at getting dressed like an adult woman. I do not want to accept what the acuteness of my dysphoria means. I want to believe that I don’t like dressing up; I do not want to accept that I can not do it. That I can not outgrow myself.
It is hard for me to accept failure, to accept that I have my limits. I expect to be able to do whatever I set out to do. I am persistent and stubborn. I do my research. I like to figure out puzzles. I like to solve problems. I am giving up. I am throwing in the towel. It is going to the Housing Works Thrift Shop.
I often relate to your posts, although I rarely reply. Many of your posts are very well crafted; but this post has more of a spontaneous feel. I can feel your frustration.
Yes, glad to have space, but angry that I still can’t figure out a way to dress like an adult (of any gender expression).
My automatic reaction (being stubborn myself) is that you can still find a way to deal with wearing the clothes… but then I remembered puppet parades. I always volunteer with our annual puppet festival, which includes 2 parades. For 2 years I was the parade organizer. And each year, around May, I would start feeling nauseous… and it would continue and intensify until both parades were over (early August). I was mad at myself for being so stressed by it. It was no biggie. Yes, maybe a total of 10,000 would see it fail, if it did… but it was pretty impossible to fail. All of the festival performers were automatically there and in it, so I just had to arrange for some musical acts and other local mascots etc… I felt that it was a stupid unconscious stress and I should CONQUER IT!!!!! But after the second year I decided forget it. “What was I trying to prove?” I wondered. I just had to accept that preparing all year for 2 days of activity was just not my thing. My expertise is last minute work, not long drawn out planning. So now I just help on the day with whatever is needed (well ok, and I am Board Secretary, but I don’t plan anything). Much better. Anyways, so to some degree I can understand your frustration at “Why can’t I just do this and feel ok about it?!” I am still not really happy with my self-perceived failure as parade organizer… but I am sure glad I have stopped trying to fit into the person I think I SHOULD be rather than the person I am.
PS. I hope you don’t mind all my replies. I know I don’t know at all what it’s like to live your life etc, but just because we have different sexual orientation & gender identification stuff, it doesn’t mean we don’t have other stuff in common, and your posts make me think.
Getting a reply that is relevant is worth 100 wordpress likes. I’m glad that you read and comment, and anything that makes anyone think (as opposed to rant) can’t be half bad. The range of gender expression is just as wide for “cisgendered” women – but if it fits the binary system most women don’t examine what it means, where it comes from, or what they are trying to express (or as Judith Butler would say “perform”). Anyway, I am happy to claim you as a reader and frequent commenter. Comment on.
I’m not sure I fully understand what you feel your failure is. Do you feel that dressing butch in both casual and business dress is a failure to dress as an adult woman? Or that you can’t bring yourself to choose masculine business attaire and that’s your failure?
Truly trying to understand, not judging. Because I certainly had a similar wardrobe crisis after law school.
I was nearly paralyzed by the thought that I *had* to wear a skirt to meet the professional image requirements of prospective employers. But, in a moment of pure self-truthfulness I have yet to be able to reproduce, I committed to myself that I would never again dress as a fraud. Fraud, for me, meant wearing “women’s” clothes. For me, keeping true to my identity (which I hadn’t even tried to name yet) meant wearing men’s dress shirts, pants and shoes. I determined that if it was acceptable for anyone in the workplace (I.e. the men), then I’d have to receive a mighty compelling case why it wasn’t also acceptable for me.
But if your personal formula for comfort & peace in your identity requires you to wear traditionally female business/dress clothes, then is that really a failure? Because isn’t being butch about more than the clothes or outward appearance? Your butch identity is yours alone to define. If you ID as butch, then you’re butch, regardless of your clothing choice in any given circumstance.
All that to say this: being true to yourself takes courage and you should try to be kind to yourself in applying that “failure” label. If dressing (your version of) butch all the time is necessary to your peace of mind, consider whether dressing like the men in your workplace is an option from a safety/strategic perspective. If so, choosing dress slacks and a button-down over skirt/blouse or pantsuit might get you over the hump. But if that’s not an option for you, choosing the “women’s” clothes necessary to your purpose isn’t failure; it’s survival.
I wish you the best in figuring it out. I think you’re already on the right track simply by thinking about it so seriously.
My answer is about as long as your comment. My sense of failure is my inability to dress up in any gender expression. I don’t feel comfortable in women’s or men’s dress up. Either for business or for parties/events. Fortunately I can wear nice jeans to work, although I used to have to wear dress slacks, and it nearly killed me.
I live my life by avoiding all those situations as much as possible. That is really the failure – to be constrained or restricted because I am unable to feel comfortable donning women’s clothing and I don’t feel entitled to or able to carry off men’s dress up. I am stuck in a perpetual clothing adolescence.
Jeans, corduroys, no problem. Wool or linen dress pants and a jacket, problem. And if the shoes aren’t made by Keen or Timeberland, problem. I’ve considered a custom suit, but again, I don’t know if I could pull it off (I have some custom made shirts). One of my re-occuring questions is would I have the same issue if I either had top surgery or if I transitioned (not a good reason to do it but a legitimate question).
Sometimes there are things that I would like to go to that I don’t because I can’t deal with finding something to wear that would be appropriate, and I don’t want to show up in jeans (e.g. a retirement party, a wedding with a dress code, or a professional conference). Other things I just under-dress for, like dinner out, going to the opera, or going to a benefit.
My partner Donna has outfits for every possible occasion and used to want me to dress up, but she accepts my limits now. She dresses up when she wants to regardless of what I am wearing. So victory in accepting that I really can’t wear women’s clothing, but failure to find an alternative.
The above addendum explains your dilemma in even more clarity. I don’t think that it all that unusual of a problem; it is just a matter of degree. Your gender dysphoria seems minor compared to this thing.
Think ahead to the time when you will be a retired person on year-round holiday. Then, you won’t ever deal with this again!
I used to have this exact problem. I spent the majority of my twenties looking like an overweight teenager in jeans and graphic tees. I wanted so badly to dress better but I had no idea how. Like you, I was stuck. I wanted to dress ‘up’ but all I was able to find for my size and shape was very feminine and ‘floaty’- 2 clothing styles I don’t do well. I was terrified to start shopping in the men’s sections in case someone said something to me. I needed to be grown up but didn’t know how. Plus I was broke. Proper broke.
Now I’m happy. I wear mostly women’s bottoms and men’s tops. I figured how to upgrade certain items- started changing out graphic tees for plain or striped tees, ad collared polos. Finding chinos was literally a god send, as they’re cut like jeans but look smarter and more professional. You don’t need massive changes.
I have no idea if that has helped even remotely.
It is useful to know how other people handle it. I need to accept that I will never be comfortable in anything that looks like women’s clothing, and that makes it really hard to dress up, and I should not push myself to do it. I envy femmes who can throw together (very carefully) outfits of things in multiple colors and patterns, and accessorize. I envy skinny tall butches who can wear men’s clothing with aplomb. I envy trans men who have modified their bodies to a male silhouette. I may never get there, but at least I manage casual (break out the madras shirts and faded jeans because it is hot out).
Just found this blog…
This may not apply to you/where you live but I know someone who’s transitioning F-M and he got some help with choosing new clothes from a personal shopper in a department store. It meant he didn’t have to go round the departments himself, and the shopper could help with suggestions for someone of his body shape. He did have to explain to the shopper, but they’re professionals.Sorry if that’s inappropriate for you, I haven’t read the rest of the blog.
Thanks. I’ve thought about it but they would probably also have to have a Masters in Social Work to get me through it. I am also considering a jacket from either Tomboy Tailors or Saint Harridans, although they are pricey.
Fair enough, I don’t think I’d be comfortable with a personal shopper either. I hope you can find your way through to a place that’s comfortable for you.