I had all the best intentions to work on my book manuscript today, but then I checked my mail and my latest Stitch Fix package came. For those who may not know, Stitch Fix is a company that helps people shop by sending packages of five items to people who sign up. The main idea is that you pay a small “styling fee,” which then acts as a credit toward any of the items you choose to keep in each Fix. There is also a discount credited to the overall cost of the Fix if you decide to keep all five items stylists send you.
For a hairy, non-binary trans* femme like me, I was immediately drawn to Stitch Fix because I saw it as a way to save me from some of the stares and microaggressions I often face when shopping in person. In fact, I cannot think of the last time I went clothes shopping in person by myself due to some triggering and transphobic experiences I have had in the past. As someone who just accepted a new job, and who is beginning to do some speaking and is becoming more public for my work, I also thought signing up with Stitch Fix would help me build my wardrobe, which I had not paid much attention to while I was a doctoral student and candidate.
Before each Fix comes in the mail, you have a chance to say what you would want to see. I have used these Fixes largely to find pieces to fill gaps in my wardrobe as well as get some nice things for life events. For example, I have used Stitch Fix to find outfits for a dear friend’s Big Gay Wedding (my first wedding where I openly expressed my trans* femme identity), and have also found pieces that make me feel comfortable when attending and presenting at professional conferences.
For my most recent Fix, I decided to ask for a skirt for an upcoming trip I am making to a university speaking engagement. Now, for years I have said I am “not a skirt girl.” I have rationalized this statement by saying I am “too hippy,” or that “I don’t look good in skirts.” However, as I have worked to deconstruct my own internalized transphobia, and the years—literally decades—of gender binarist inculcation, I have realized that my aversion is more closely aligned with essentialized notions of who is (not) meant to show up in skirts. In reality, my legs are, if I do say so, quite nice (playing soccer throughout my youth certainly paid off). Wearing heels, which I love to do, accentuates my legs, and really, skirts should be no different. But for some reason (read: trans* oppression and my own internalizing of that oppression), I cannot seem to get over the block regarding skirts. I literally have a skirt that a friend gave me when I was living in Ohio that I love, but have maybe worn three times in public. Another skirt (the first one I bought alongside a very dear friend in Tucson), I have worn twice in public.
And here I am, an out and (supposedly) unabashed trans* educator, one who does work on affirming trans* lives and trans* resilience, one who loves, admires, and hold up my trans* community the best way I know how, and yet…
And yet I have this block regarding skirts. A block that I just cannot seem to allow myself to get over.
This past week, after some conversations with two friends about femininity and dating as a trans* femme, I went back and read a conversation between Reina Gossett and Grace Dunham called “Touch One Another.” In the conversation, Reina speaks about the place of mirrors in her life, and how these mirrors confront us with visions of ourselves as trans* people that are fraught with difficulty. Specifically, she wrote,
Mirrors have held so much power for me, and not in ways that have always helped me feel good about myself. There was a time in Boston maybe 20 years ago when I looked in a mirror and I started crying. I was so consistently navigating a racist and transphobic gaze that I couldn’t help but reflect that back at myself. I was overwhelmed by the me that existed through that lens.
Each time I read this post, especially this passage, I begin to tear up. Especially when I reach that last line: “After so long, and so much work, it’s still so fucking hard to be a public woman.”
It’s been so challenging. And I don’t mean that in the oh-poor-me-it’s-so-hard sort of way, but in the fuck-decolonizing-our-minds-and-genders-is-a-constant-struggle sort of way. I mean, I don’t think I am a slouch in the Smarts Department. I also have done quite well in terms of my life, my work, and have a small, committed band of people who see me as I want to be seen. But the number of times I have stopped from using the hashtag #GirlsLikeUs out of fear of people claiming I am not “girl enough,” and the amount of times I have looked in the mirror and seen myself not as I know myself, but as I have been crafted through the transphobic social imaginary (as a fake woman, as someone who is essentializing femininity, as a man in women’s clothing) are too numerous to count. I came into my trans*ness five years ago, and even though I have a strong sense of self, I cannot help but agree with Reina: it’s so fucking hard to be a public woman.
So my Stitch Fix came in the mail today and, given that I am not good with surprises, I immediately went to my bedroom to see what I was sent. The five items were: a woven infinity scarf, a pair of earrings, a necklace, a cuff bracelet, and…a skirt.
Before I even tried it on, I began making excuses for why I would need to send it back. It was a pencil skirt and I especially don’t “do” pencil skirts. My budget will be blown if I keep the skirt. Do I really need a skirt?
Then I tried it on…and it looks good. Like, really good. But more than that, it makes me look like how I want to look. It makes me feel sexy, confident, and like myself. I start envisioning going to the campus visit for which I bought it and pairing the skirt with a nice pair of heels, moving around campus arm-in-arm with my femme friend, and smiling.
And then I am hit by, as Reina described, a wave of embarrassment. I felt shame, and hatred, and hurt, and pain. Years of pain that began before I was even born that trans* women and trans* femme people have been sifting through. Pain that others have encountered that have made my standing in front of the mirror, wearing this skirt, possible in the first place. And then that pain doubles in intensity, as I fear that my fear somehow reflects a discomfort with other trans* people, and trans* femme people specifically. It’s as if my telling myself I “don’t do skirts” is a statement that other trans* femme people shouldn’t wear skirts either. And that hurts. And I begin to cry.
I take off the skirt and leave my room. I leave my house, which has become stuffy and hot. I walk outside with my dog, who had previously been sniffing the hem of the new skirt as if to signal her approval. I text my two friends with whom I have been talking about femininity and dating and tell them I don’t know what I need in terms of support but I just need to tell them what I am experiencing. I cry more.
I was meant to spend today writing my book manuscript. And then my Stitch Fix came in the mail. And I was reminded again about how fucking hard it is to be a public woman.
And so here I am, blogging instead of working on my book manuscript. I am trying hard to remember I asked for this skirt, and that it looks good. But despite my asking for it to be sent, and despite it looking good, Reina’s words still resonate: “This feeling is why I haven’t worn a dress in years…It’s still so fucking hard to be a public woman.”
As I type this, I am reminded of one of the reasons I asked for the skirt in my most recent Fix. I have been trying hard to decolonize my mind regarding gender-normativity. I do a pretty good job with that most days, but as I mentioned, I am struggling with skirts. I have been taking inventory of my life a bit more these days, and have been actively working to decolonize the way I think of love, friendship, partnership, and education. I thought asking for a skirt would be one small active way I could work to decolonize my mind further; it would be one way to continue decolonizing my gender.
So I am going to keep the skirt. And I am going to wear the skirt when I go to my campus visit in April. And I am going to walk arm-in-arm with my femme friend and smile and feel sexy. I am going to show up as the public woman I want to be, knowing that it is hard for all of us, but also knowing that the only mirror I need to pay attention to is the one in my mind that is telling me I am good enough. I am going to go into this campus looking good, and I am going to know that the shame and embarrassment I am continually working through is a form of state-sanctioned and state-encouraged transphobic violence rather than any indication of my being transphobic.
And when I look into mirrors, I am going to see all the #GirlsLikeUs who radiate beauty, strength, love, and resilience, not because of what we (don’t) wear, but because we ourselves are beautiful, strong, loving, and resilient.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.