I used to dress this way. I owned some skirts and I didn’t mind the jutting of wire beneath breasts–its intention to lift and raise and press firmly together.
Although I still draped myself in polyester pre-owned fabrics, I could also be found wearing curved-neck’d shirts and sometimes eye shadow (though I still haven’t learned how to properly rub it on). I owned some dresses and had shirts that could be called tops, purchased in stores that had no men’s section.
What does it mean to attach gender to a garment? This is not about wearing a tie (though I can often be found with one around my neck); this is not about wearing a vest or slacks or even converse or bandanas.
Yes, I often strap my breasts down as though they are wild animals and need to be caged. But it’s not about that either.
I guess I just want to be one of those hardcover books you find at stoop sales. No fancy jacket with summarized description of text. Not even a title or author sometimes. Sometimes there is a hint of its contents, but often the blurs become an androgynous unknown. You will need to skim and reread, question and annotate in order to really gather its intention and exquisitely intricate existence. There will be twists and turns, perhaps even a choose-your-own-adventure sort of thing.
My dad and I are leaning against a clothing rack as his partner shops for clothes in a small town in Connecticut. I love her enough to forego my hatred for shopping and stores that do not go beyond a size zero (even with hushed-in-the-back plus-size section). Surrounding me are thin fabrics, see-through blouses, and half-skirts. Studded bras. Cropped sweaters. Leggings and pants tighter than surgically stretched out skin. A woman named Jenica wearing name tag and headset, sings along to the piped in music. Jenica walks up to me and asks to read my body. I turn my arm toward her as she reads my tattoos. Then she takes in my attire, which does not quite match the feminized fabrics robotically hung all around me.
You like old things, Jenica says. I can tell.
Yes, I reply. I like when the elastic has been worn away by a stranger’s body with occasional life stains in inconspicuous spaces.
Jenica tells me about growing up in the Bronx. Missing only two things about New York: the ability to eat anything at all hours and the nightlife. I want to add to her list: Prospect Park, the benches along eastern parkway, the poets, the magical collisions of humans finding each other even amidst severe overpopulation, the music, the graffiti, the pigeons. Instead, I just smile.
I love that Jenica isn’t trying to sell me anything here. She doesn’t tell me how great that dress over there would look on me. Nor does she persuade me to try on that glittery pair of high heeled monsters closest to the door. Jenica and I have an unspoken agreement that I am just a visitor. There is no section that includes my body’s gender.
I think about clothes as I prepare to attend a friend’s wedding. Just wear a dress, I am told. I already have one, purchased for a different wedding from a different time that felt awkward then too. Although it still hangs in my closet, my body refuses its existence.
I’m going to wear a pair of fancy slacks, a button down shirt, tie, vest….
Suddenly I am interrupted by my sister. No. Please don’t wear a tie and vest. (As though anyone would even be looking at anyone besides that beautiful bride.)
I have been wearing ties for many, many years, but just within the past three or so I have been wearing vests quite regularly. Perhaps they feel like armor. Bullet-proof gender concealers. Slick and sexy flaps of open fabric. I feel most handsome in this.
I have never been a good dresser, and haven’t really cared enough to spend entire paychecks on denim or famously labeled shirts. I’d rather pay my rent or buy a book. But I am learning that since I want to be this smelly old book found on a Brooklyn stoop for 25 cents without title or cover art, I am often misread. So here is my synopsis:
Human arrives wearing red and scratches. Falls in love. There is a death somewhere. There is a collapse of language and after the fall, new words arrive. There is no rainbow or acronym or if there is, this Human cannot be found in just one letter or color. There are some fights. There is a contemplation of sanity. There are many meals and family and then Human relocates. Then Human chooses poetry over employment. Human lives in a yurt with another named Rebel. Human is a bit blurry and quite hairy and has so many knots that there are too many tangles to mention. There is an engagement. There are apologies. In this book, there are no clothes or defining hairstyles. Human prefers nudity. There may be a sequel.