After five months of slumming I laid out work clothes. I want to feel comfortable going back to the office. I tried on a few permutations of jeans, button down shirts, and sweaters in front of the full length mirror with the lights on. Five years ago this would have been a humiliating and depressing task. Now, I only wish I had sent my sweaters to the cleaners in April instead of throwing them in a heap to moulder.
Except for senior management, new employees, and ambitious scum, no one at Transit dresses to impress. There is a lot of cheap polyester. Dated and out of fashion. There is no incentive to buy new clothes if you can still fit in your old ones. There is no written dress code. The expectation for men is a shirt and tie; the expectation for women is nothing that I would wear. My perpetual dilemma.
In the worst years of my dysphorias (gender expression, weight, breasts, and body shape) the worst part of my day was getting dressed to go to work. No matter how drab an outfit I put on I felt like I was wearing a neon sign that said “overweight butch lesbian with no sense of style.” Bright colors were worse. I wanted to disappear but I felt huge and ugly. I knew I was wearing women’s clothing and it felt wrong. This went on day after day.
I searched for women’s clothing that looked liked men’s clothing. I looked for masculine colors in large petite sizes (a contradiction in terms but think short and fat). There was not much to choose from and I ordered what I could stomach. I loathed all of it. It is hard to look your best when you don’t like what you are wearing.
Once, I took out all my shirts, turtlenecks, sweaters, and slacks and laid them out on the bed and played mix and match. I couldn’t try them on and look at myself. I could only look at my outfits detached from my body. I made a list of the best combinations.
It bothered me that I could not reconcile myself to wear women’s clothing or find a professional looking solution that I didn’t despise. I considered myself butch, but I didn’t want to think about what it meant that I could not feel like myself in a pair of women’s pants. I did not want to admit that my dysphoria was so bad that the only way I could hold onto myself was by wearing a pair of jeans.
One day my boss called a staff meeting. He told us he was leaving to take another position in another city. We stifled our hallelujahs. He told us who the acting boss was. I didn’t hear anything else he said, all I was thinking about was that the acting guy was a wuss. He would be afraid to confront me if I wore jeans to work. I wore jeans. A few months later he was officially given the job, and although it annoyed him, he didn’t say anything and I didn’t change.
For my return to work, I narrowed my options down to two combinations, and went for the one I am most comfortable in. An orange and white stripe shirt (custom-made), a camel V-neck fair-isle sweater, dark blue jeans, and brown Keen loafers. I’m going to have more shirts custom-made after top surgery.
I may not win any dapper awards, but at least I won’t trigger an anxiety attack if I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror in the Ladies’ Room. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s reactions.
Note: The drawing at the top of the post comes from Edith Head’s 1967 classic How To Dress For Success (which is a better read and more fun than John T. Molloy’s horrific The Woman’s Dress For Success Book).