The Empress’ New Clothes

This past Sunday evening, I officially began living full time as a woman finally. Yesterday, my roommate and I were getting ready to head out to get some groceries quick. She ended up rushing me out the door so I just threw on a standard unisex t-shirt and not putting any clips in my hair (it’s not yet long enough to be distinctly feminine on its own). What was initially one errand soon became about 5, and at every place we stopped, I was referred to as male despite having visible breasts.

They say the clothes make the man, but in this case, they make the woman. Sadly, this is far too common for many trans folk (especially trans women) in the early stages of our physical transition that when wearing something unisex, we’re seen not as the gender we are, but instead as the gender we were assigned at birth. Even with visible cues of secondary sexual characteristics. And sadly, we all go through it at different paces. I have a local friend who has been on hormones about 4 months less than me, but because she already had hair down past her shoulders, she is easily read as a woman. Another girl from the local trans youth group hasn’t even started hormones yet, but a simple change of clothes from t-shirt and jeans to a skirt and blouse or dress makes all the difference for her.

The ideal that most, if not all, of us look for is to reach a point where we can just throw on a t-shirt and sweats and run down to the corner store quick and be read as the gender we see ourselves as. And that day does eventually come, with the help of hormones, speech therapy for trans women or top surgery for the guys. But until then, we find ourselves forced to have to go the extra mile. And in some cases, we find ourselves struggling with a need to maintain some balance between the extreme stereotypes of our genders where we will be read there, and as ourselves where it’s much harder. For example, as a homoromantic asexual, I often just tell people I’m a lesbian to not confuse them. On the butch/femme spectrum, I’m somewhere in the middle, a soft femme if you will. So I must find a balance of being feminine enough to be read and treated as the woman I am while still remaining true to myself and not going to the far high femme extreme. It’s difficult, and sometimes leaves me being referred to as male even when I’m dressed in all women’s cut clothes, have makeup and hair clips in, and carry a purse.

People can’t see our primary sexual characteristics (i.e. genitals), and in the middle of physical transition, we blur the boundaries of the secondary characteristics (breasts, facial hair, etc.), so people rely heavily on the tertiary (our clothes) to figure us out. One day we reach the promised land, but in the middle, we have a struggle quite different from our former struggles but still just as important.

Do any of you have stories about a change of clothes making a huge difference in how you were treated, even if it’s just one item (as it was with me and my shirt)?

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