A few weeks ago I wrote about a debate I have with myself almost every day: what I want to wear, versus what I actually end up wearing. That conversation on street harassment and gender performance began on Facebook, but some of us — including Tyler Ford, Meredith Talusan and Aaryn Lang — decided to develop this discussion further on Medium. We want to talk openly about the internal dialogues we rehearse every time we leave the safety of our homes. So we’re launching a series called What I Wanted to Wear.
The story goes something like this:
Every morning when I wake up and look at my closet I ask myself, How much do I want to be street harassed today?
This means I usually gravitate away from the skirts and dresses and move begrudgingly toward the more conventionally “masculine” clothing. I consider for a moment how peculiar it feels that I have been made to find safety and security in masculinity — this thing that has been such a site of violence and anxiety in my past.
This weekend I did the same. I woke up. I looked in the closet and I saw this new dress I got on sale. But after I put it on I knew that I would have to pay for it, anyways.
At my performance downtown in the evening everyone told me that they loved this dress and remarked on how fabulous I looked. I did not mention the stares, the slurs, the panic, the terror. I smiled, said, “T H A N K Y O U.”
After the show I was walking home with one of my trans sisters and a man rolled down his window and screamed, “What the fuck are you faggots wearing!!”
There is something particularly unsettling about being harassed right outside of your home. Like that time on my way home, this man screamed, “You better take off that dress, or else!” and I walked faster and faster and didn’t look back while his girlfriend laughed at me. I will never forget her laugh. It left a stain on that dress, stubborn and permanent like wine.
I remember that for so many of us home is not that sacred place away from violence, it is actually that place constituted by violence. A type of violence that holds the paradox of being both perpetual and surprising. Keeps you on your toes.
That night I started thinking about how so many femmes I know are literally attacked for loving ourselves. How so many of us are harassed most on the days we think we look best. How dangerous and lethal self love can be.
I started thinking about how so many narratives in our culture are obsessed with “authenticity.” How we as trans people are celebrated because we have “embraced our truth.” And I think about what this does: how it standardizes visibility as authenticity, how it understands authenticity outside of violence, how it erases all of the calculations we must make to keep ourselves safe and whole.
Can we hold that on the days we are most authentic, that we are most ourselves, that we love ourselves the most — are the days that we are most terrified and afraid? Can we hold that not everyone can nor should afford to be “authentic,” because it means that they will be turned away from gender segregated bathrooms, shelters, parties, lovers. Can we challenge the hierarchy that’s drawn between those who are “out” and “authentic” and those who are not — as if these distinctions don’t have everything to do about race, class, security, home, terror, history. Can we be more critical of a culture that tells us that we are brave for being ourselves instead of dismantling the structures that made that so impossible to begin with?
I wonder whether we are ready to be more compassionate and appreciative for the ways that we have come to disguise ourselves. Can we find resistance in our duplicity and our disingenuousness? Can we remember the ways in which being inauthentic has kept us alive?
Today I woke up and looked at my closet and I remembered the street outside and that man and his girlfriend’s laughter so I put on a button down shirt and a beard and some pants and I have never felt more like a woman in my entire life.
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