Tonight I took Cyrus to get fitted for a suit; he’s the ring bearer in my cousin’s wedding in a few months. There were so many cool vests and shoes. Two tables of a rainbow assortment of ties. The man who helped us had on a bow tie and shoes I wanted on my own feet. We also happened to have the same haircut. Was I attracted to him or did I just want to dress like him? I struggle with this sometimes.
I’ve always felt comfortable and uncomfortable in the men’s section of stores. If you know me, you’ve noticed I tend to wear men’s shorts, sometimes jeans. Women’s shorts are always way too short or full of weird ass-pocket designs. Except when I had blue hair and combat boots, I’ve dressed functionally. I wear band t-shirts most of the time, though I’ve purchased a few women’s sweaters and t’s in recent years. Women’s shirts seem too thin or cleavagey. I sometimes have trouble fitting my broad shoulders, too. But there’s something unsettling about shopping in the boy section when you’re a queer woman like myself; I become incredibly self-conscious. I feel like everyone is looking at me and judging. Like everyone is making assumptions about who I am, what I like, how I have sex. This is one of the big reasons I hate shopping. I do most online. If someone from across the country is judging me as she packs my box of clothes, fine, at least she’s not eyeballing me over a rack of men’s sweaters.
Wearing men’s pants doesn’t mean I’m a man or that I want to be one. Who I am and what body I was born into are both fine with me. This also doesn’t mean that all lesbians dress the same, either. Please do not start assuming those things. It also doesn’t mean that I think every woman should dress like me. Sexuality and my gender are two separate things. There are straight women out there who also don’t feel comfortable in dresses. Wear what makes you feel like yourself. That is all we can do.
When I was in Kindergarten, Mom put me in sun dresses for school. Since it was 1985, those dresses came with yellow, flowery, ruffly bloomers. Sometime during the day I’d go to the bathroom and tuck my dress into my bloomers, you know, because they were more like shorts. I’d get off the bus and Mom would be waiting for me with some look of horror and amusement. I didn’t care. I felt so much better.
Of course, as I grew and was forced to dress up for events, I started wearing pants whenever I could, fighting with Mom about when it was okay and when it wasn’t. Proms were an awful time, too, trying to figure out what kind of dress was okay and cool for me to wear. I was never excited about picking out a prom dress. For high school graduation, I was told girls had to wear dresses and guys could wear pants. Total bullshit, obviously, so I just put on some boxers and a tank top under my gown and threw on some heels (to be discussed later). It was my final fuck you to the principal who glared at me any time we met in the halls.
When I teach, I sometimes wear ties or bow-ties. But always pants and a button-down shirt. That’s how I dress up.
But really, I honestly always try to picture myself in survival situations. If suddenly the zombie apocalypse happened and I was stuck in a fucking dress and heels, how could I possibly survive? If a tornado ripped through and I had to dig for my loved ones among the wreckage, what use would I be if I weren’t wearing pants? If I were on a plane in a skirt, and it crashed, what hope would I have of making it more than a week in that climate?
There have been time when I’ve felt sexy in a dress, though. For a friend’s wedding, I had to buy a black dress. I complained, but I enjoyed it. I felt good in it because I got to choose it. I even grew my hair because I wanted to. It’s fun to play with gender sometimes, isn’t it?
But usually I don’t like dresses. It’s more than that, though. It’s the way I feel when I’m in one. I feel like I’m in drag, mostly because of the attitude people have when they see me in one. People laugh. Or they feel just fine commenting on my body. It’s the same, but less, during the few times a year when I decide to wear make-up. “OHMYGOD are you wearing mascara!? Ooooh.” These reactions, I’ll have you know, mean I’ll wear it less and less. Because. In middle school my friends thought it was fun and funny to dress me up. Haha. Christina’s in a dress. She looks hilarious.
You might as well put a costume on your cat.
When I wear a dress, it’s not just funny Christina in a dress; it forces me to change who I am. I can’t sit like I usually do, with my legs spread. I have to walk differently, too, in order not to look like a dude in a dress. I’m more aware of how and how much I move my body, like my arms, when I’m speaking. I can’t wrap my arms around the back of chairs and give sideways smiles. I have to sit straight with my legs crossed. I have no idea how to do this. And all of this change directly affects how I act. I become quiet and people ask if I’m okay because I’m not acting normal. Of course when you wear a dress, there’s going to be some shoe that’s too narrow and has a heel. Maybe it’s only 2 inches, but that’s two times more than I’m used to. I can’t walk in those shoes. I’m not trying to make you laugh when I say that. My body doesn’t have that skill. In order to survive wearing all of this, I have to think of it as a cultural costume. Something my culture requires me to wear at certain times, like, weddings.
I guess it’s here that I mention I’m a bridesmaid in this wedding in a few months.
I’ve been a bridesmaid before. In three of my best friends’ weddings, most recently. I wore dresses for all of them. One wedding was even two women, one of which wore a pant suit. (For others, I’ve been asked to grow out my hair. Wear make-up. Not dye it some strange color.) I felt okay wearing the dresses when I did. Or. Like a polite southern girl, didn’t want to rock the boat by asking to wear something else. Maybe I didn’t want to be the lesbian wearing a suit at the wedding. I was already the awkward androgynous lesbian in a dress. I’ve been asked enough to “tone it down” for holidays. I’ve been given the side-eye for saying “lesbian” at family gatherings. Like we discussed at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival last weekend in New Orleans, some things are okay until you give them a name. And it’s impolite to bring up topics that make people uncomfortable. (Shame on me. I’ve been so quiet for years). I’ve been asked countless times if I’m “the man” in my relationship because my hair is shorter and my body language bigger.
And, for the record, telling me you can’t even tell I’m gay when I’m wearing a dress and make-up doesn’t make me feel better. At all.
I have a dress hanging in my closest for the wedding. I have shoes, too, that are nothing that I’d ever wear. The dress is cute, if you wear dresses, but after the wedding, it will remain in my closet in that plastic bag. After tonight, I really want to wear a suit. I’d feel like myself in a suit, or, some cute pants with suspenders. Possibly a vest. I’d feel sexy in that. Instead, I’ll be the one with a mostly shaved head and an Elvis-eque slicked back do. I will take off the shoes as soon as I can because my feet and ankles will be sore. I will writhe and tug at the garment like Idgie Threadgoode and run to my tree house to throw all the damn things to the ground as soon as I can.
Guys, imagine you’ve been asked to wear a dress to a friend’s wedding. Ladies, imagine you’re going to wear a suit and tie.
I know some guys are out there like, “well, I feel awful wearing all that to a wedding, too.” Sure. It sucks to have to dress up if it’s not something you enjoy. But you’re not being asked to wear an article of clothing you’ve never put on in your life, or just a few times for giggles. It’s still just a pair of pants. Some women might be thinking, “well, I hate dresses, too, but it’s not a big deal.” If it changes your entire personality for the day, it most certainly is. It is if you feel like you’re wearing a clown costume and everyone is looking at you.
All of this is not to say anything mean about the wedding or my cousin, the bride. I hold myself accountable for not saying that I’m not comfortable in a dress. Maybe when she asked, I felt okay about it, or just didn’t think too far in the future. But please, everyone, know how hard that is for me to say because of all the implications and the derogatory words I’ve heard from family over the years. Know that there are so many others out there who are afraid to speak-up. Who love you and want to do what they’ve been told to do. I might have even said to you, “I don’t want to be the lesbian in the suit.” But what I meant was, “I want to rock that fucking suit. But I don’t want anyone here to talk about me, make assumptions, or judge me.”
Tonight as I watched Cyrus put on that tiny suit jacket and get himself measured, I wondered if there’d ever be a time when I’d have the balls to say to that cute guy in the bow-tie, the guy who looked suspiciously like me, “I’d like to be fitted, too.”