Affirming Flashbacks: Dresses

Sometimes it helps to be affirmed by other people. Especially other people who knew you before you started transitioning and coming out.

When they say something that translates to: “oh yeah, now that you mention it, this thing you used to do makes a lot of sense now”, I feel this wave of affirmation wash over me.

Maybe it’s euphoria. Maybe it’s just a sense of consolation that I’m not crazy. Simply knowing that other people can “see” the real me, too, helps me ease more and more into the confidence that this IS me.

Affirming Flashbacks is an ongoing series about those moments.

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My friend M is not trans. But she has her own disphoric relationship with clothes. She comes from a very conservative family. So when she’s living at home there are certain clothes she can wear, and certain clothes she can’t.

I remember we met up once on the east coast, and she told me how excited she’d been to pack for the trip. She was so happy to finally unpack the “can’t wear” box, that sits in her room, and give some of her favorite items a chance to air out.

She recently moved to her own apartment in a new city, and she just loves being able to wear all the clothes she wants. She was describing how much more free she feels now. Whereas before,  there was a mismatch between her outfits and her insides.

The way she described this feeling reminded me of the definition of disphoria. Or at least how I understand disphoria. As I understand it, disphoria is that uneasy feeling you get when how you feel on the inside does not match how people see you on the outside.

I feel this a lot when I get complimented for being “beautiful.” I know that I’m not bad looking, so theoretically this should feel good to hear. It’s not a lie. But whenever I would hear it, it would make me squirm. I never understood why. But recently I’ve begun to understand this squirm-y-ness as a symptom of disphoria.

It’s as though  when people would call me “beautiful,” I knew what they meant was  I was a beautiful girl. They saw me as a girl. But since I’m not a girl, I did not want to be perceived as a girl. Therefore I did not want to be seen as beautiful. There was a mis-match between what I felt on the inside, and how people perceived me to be.

This is all background for the part of the story where I explained to my friend M why I was experimenting with a more gender neutral style of clothing. After I related the story about putting on a tie for the first time, she told me she understood because of her own relationship with clothes, as described above. And then she said, “Yeah. Whenever you would wear a dress, I would definitely notice that S is wearing a dress today.”

Something about that sentence sent a wave of affirmation up my spine. I’ve never liked wearing dresses and I was relieved to know other people could see it too. There was something about me wearing dresses that stuck out. Now that I identify as gender queer, I realize the thing that stuck out was some sort of underlying mis-match between gender norms and my gender identity.

I can finally stop wearing those dresses without feeling guilty. From now on I can feel free to wear all the ties I want!