The Trouble with ‘Women’s’ Clothing

If my memory is correct, there is a passage towards the end of Joanna Meyerowitz’s How Sex was Changed:  Transsexuality in America in which a trans woman states that “What all transsexuals have in common is our love of ‘Star Trek’.”

We do?  I concede that part of the enduring appeal of that television and movie series — and cultural phenomenom — is the wealth of ideas which are drawn upon in each episode.  Star Trek’s devotees are legion, and I can appreciate how the show appeals to their intellect and imagination.

Even so, as I confessed to my good friend (and devout Trekkie) Shannon Egan, any personal appeal to the series — in any of its various series’ — eludes me.  “Too bad for you,” she replied.  “You don’t know what you’re missing.  Have you sought out psychiatric treatment for your lack of interest?”

I answered that my insurance policy doesn’t cover such disabilities, and, besides, I am well aware of the source of my aversion to Star Trek: the mere sight of the costumes worn by the crew of the USS Enterprise makes my skin break out in a rash.

“But dontcha see,” my friend laughs, “the dorky polyester uniforms that the cast wears — in the first two series, especially — are part of its camp value.  They’re probably meant to be a joke.”

Maybe so, I reply, but at least Kirk and Spock get to wear pants.  What alienates me from following the show are the skimpy dresses and the knee high boots worn by the actresses on the crew of the show’s Original Series.

“Oh, c’mon now!  No one expects us to dress up like the female cast,” she laughs.

Really?  I’m not so sure, I reply to my friend.

Shannon is not only a friend, but a sister, “a member of the tribe”.  If the media is to be believed, she and I and all trans women always comport ourselves in outlandish and skimpy clothing, at once highly provocative yet ludicrously (if not dangerously) impractical.  In mini-skirts, heels, and high-maintenance hairstyles, the subtext to this media narrative is that such attire is a contemptible, if also pathetic, attempt to accentuate an femininity which, of necessity, shall forever elude those individuals who choose to live as women.  The more femme we appear, the more vulnerable we are to violence once that femininity comes into question.  Moreover, this meta-narrative implies, this is our just reward for perpetrating the crime of gender deception.

For most of my adult life, I have resided in Minneapolis.  Although the Twin Cities are no less vulnerable to the plague of the untreated global warming that is wreaking havoc on our planet’s atmosphere, Minnesota’s climate tends to be cooler than that experienced in locales to the south.  Tomorrow is the Autumnal equinox, and during the past two weeks I have slowly relinquished my summer ‘uniform’ of shorts and short-sleeved polo shirts for a ‘uniform’ of long sleeves that cover arms and shins which otherwise went bare during the previous four months.  Several weeks from now, it will be necessary for me to clad myself in thicker layers of clothing in order to contend with the sub-arctic chill.

My various seasonal uniforms do not include dresses, or skirts, let alone the attire frequently adorning the female panelists on the Jerry Springer Show.  I have no occasion to wear such articles, and in the blue-collar job where I work, they would make for impractical clothing.

Likewise, at 5’7″ I am tall enough to eschew the need to clad my feet in heels.  Indeed, I wouldn’t wear such shoes if I was paid to do so; the same applies to nylon stockings, the feel and sight of which repels me.  My gray hair looks much better shorter than longer, and thus my tonsorial ‘overhead’ is minimal.  If I am no one’s exemplar of feminine beauty and grace, I contend that there is a practical utility to my personal appearance.

Given my wardrobe choices (as well as my afore-mentioned benign indifference to Star Trek), perhaps my credentials as a trans woman are subject to debate if not revocation.  Even so, I bitterly resent the implication and expectation that, as a woman-by-choice, I am either inclined or obliged to doll myself as a patriarchal construct.  The right for women to wear practical clothing was a feminist issue in the 19th and 20th centuries, and as this effects our personal autonomy, it remains cause for concern.  The women in my life do not comport themselves as Hollywood divas or supermodels, let alone as drag queens.  We need not make an effort to dress up like women; rather, it suffices that we simply experience our lives as women.

I do not expect other women (trans, and otherwise) to look and dress as I do.  Even so, the personal is the political, and so is the clothing that we wear, either by choice or compulsion.  Clothing that restricts the movement of women or which serves as a symbol of our subservient status ultimately imposes on the exercise of our personal freedom as well the assertion of our human dignity.

To be a self-respecting woman is, by implication, to be a feminist.  As trans women, we have a moral and intellectual obligation to develop our feminist consciousness with which to make personal choices that will affirm our dignity.   We need to make choices in our lifestyle — and styles of living and dress— which reflect how we value ourselves as human beings.  Consequently, we need to be alert to patriarchally-defined concepts of femininity that, rather than enhancing female beauty, serve as symbols of our subserviant status in the human race.

In conclusion, it doesn’t take a lot of money to comport oneself with dignity.  Indeed, it is often less expensive than investing time and money into someone else’s oppressive idea of how women should dress and appear.


About robinstanwanelsan

I am a lesbian transwoman, and I seek to write about issues particular to other lesbian-identified transwomen.
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