We have a swimming pool. I now have a very different shape. I have to face the fact that if I’m going to swim with my kids, I’m going to have to buy a bathing suit that is suitable for the new me because the old suit simply won’t do. I have a couple of nice men’s trunks like these guys are wearing (although I have never had a body like these guys, and definitely never will), but those will have to be donated to someone, just as my business suits will have to go.

For my new body, I was thinking that there are three aspects I’d like to deal with in considering a suit: shoulders, a bit of a belly, and a bit of, er…, extra material down below. To accommodate these issues, I think the following features would be good in a women’s suit: to deal with the shoulders, wider straps will be a lot more flattering than narrow ones, as will a V-neckline. For the belly, some kind of camouflage would be nice. And for the extras, a skirt is mandatory, at least for now. Something like this might suit me. [But will it suit my fellow bathers: Mary Jo and the boys?]

Last Tuesday was the last day of the spring semester, and it was also was my last class of all time presenting as a man. [We won’t get into how well I’m pulling that off because I’m apparently not doing very well — good thing I’m a transsexual is all I can say.]

As I dressed that morning, I felt a sense of ritual occasion. I chose my best Armani suit, deep and dark with subtle stripes, dark purple shirt, expensive tie, and nice Italian shoes. It’s a good look, professional without being stilted. In fact, someone else has my blessing to continue this look with a similar suit. I, however, am finished with it. This past month at school has been difficult as the weather has become warmer because I just cannot really take of my jacket any more (I’ve always been a “jacket-off” kind of professor). With the semester finally over and my relationship with students no longer based on the power of giving grades, I am fully out (in several ways).

But that wasn’t the last men’s suit I have worn. I wore what I think is my final suit as a man on Friday, when we attended the funeral for Mary Jo’s father. I chose a black Italian suit with faint gray pinstripes and a subtle tie with blues and blacks. Despite the fact that I’m feeling completely like Joyce, it did not even cross my mind to attempt to present as female or to dress down for this occasion, since it was a time for Mary Jo’s family to gain some closure.

I have worn many nice suits over the years, and I’ve always liked the look of a decent suit. I wore one for my wedding, for the funerals of my parents, for graduations and other ceremonies. I’ve worn them in my classes, bucking the trend for professors in the humanities who prefer the casual look. I’ve worn dark suits, gray suits, light suits, pinstripe and solid suits. My suits were cheaper when I was younger and have become increasingly expensive over the years.

When I have worn these suits, I always wear a tie, and I have tried to invest in nice-looking ties over the years. When I took my professor job, I bought perhaps 30 Jerry Garcia ties on Ebay and they became my steady repository of color and style to complement my Italian suits for the past 10 years.

If you buy a cheap suit that looks stiff and you look uncomfortable, then all you’ve succeeded in doing is being a “stiff suit.” If you wear a suit because it’s the only way you acquire power, then you’re the classic “suit” from middle management. Both of these are wrong reasons to wear suits. If, however, you have a nice fabric and you feel comfortable in the suit, then I find it becomes like a haiku for expressing you — you’ve only got so many fashion syllables to work with, and a suit gets so much done so sparingly that you can do it almost without thinking: suit, shirt, tie (almost in any combination you want).

As I contemplate retiring all these suits and acquiring new ones for women, I feel as if such mindlessness is gone. There is more to think about — not just the suit, but the blouse, the accessories, the shoes, the jewelry. Sure, the basic foundation of a good, comfortable suit probably remains the same, but there are many more accents. If a man’s suit is a haiku, then a woman’s suit is more like a sonnet, still constrained in some way (14 lines, in this case), but with a great deal more volume, subtlety, nuance, and range. It can be overdone or underdone in ways I have not had to face before.

Perhaps the issue of suits is really just a metaphor for all parts of my life — sure, I do need to buy new clothes, but a transsexual transition involves a great deal of bringing things and actions and beliefs that used to be automatic into a new consciousness or a new setting. Stance, vocabulary, attitude, relationships — virtually forgotten as conscious acts that we all learned as adolescents and refined over the years are now suddenly brought into question for revision, awkwardly and self-consciously in many cases. No, it’s not just a matter of thinking, “Wow, now I need to buy new clothes,” but rather, “Wow, I have to re-visit and re-learn how I ‘dress’ not only my body, but also my entire persona and every way that it interacts with others.”

Fortunately, a woman’s suit and a men’s suit are still just suits, both in the same category of professionalism and seriousness. And so are these other dressings of interaction: talk, eye contact, body language. They need adjustment, not radical change. It’s like learning to order food in England instead of America, perhaps requiring a slightly different vocabulary and employing different units of measurement and currency, but the goal of getting food and drink in one’s belly is still the same.

Transgender, transvestite, transsexual… what do they have in common? Gender variance? Sure, but I’m thinking of the Latin word “trans” and I would like to continue thinking about what it means to transit (i.e. cross locations from one place to another).

I have really come to find “trans” unfit to describe gender variance, and not that I have anything against “trans” — it works great in transgression and transform and transmit and a bunch of other handy words, but in matters of sex and gender and clothing, I just think it doesn’t work metaphorically.

As I write in my Trans101 page, it seems to me that the key things we are interested in are sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, and that all four of these variables are a spectrum, rather than a binary. It’s the gender binary that gives rise to “trans” words, and that’s what I have a problem with. If gender were a binary, to take one example, with “feminine” actions, beliefs, mannerisms, clothing, and so on on one side, and “masculine” ones on the other side, and there were absolutely no overlap and nowhere to stand in between the two poles, then “trans-gendering” would make sense. The term would mean that a feminine individual would cross the great divide to take on all of the attributes of the other gender. In that case, “trans-ing” is a good metaphor — it’s like trans-Atlantic voyage, starting on one side (Europe) and ending on the other side (America). You can’t call it Trans-Atlantic if you travel from Callais to Dublin, or New York to Nova Scotia, can you?

These variables (sex, gender, clothing) are not binaries in any sense of the word — they’re spectrums where the value of masculine gender can be anywhere from 0% to 100% on any given day — the same goes for sex and clothing. If that’s the case, then “trans-ing” is simply the wrong concept.

A person can

  • trans – sex
  • trans – vest
  • trans – gender

Conventionally thinking, we’d take this list to mean something like this, but it’s far, far more complex, as we shall see below:

  • trans – sex (i.e.men becoming women and women becoming men)
  • trans – vest (i.e.men wearing bras and women wearing jock straps)
  • trans – gender (i.e.men being feminine and women being masculine)

Sex (and trans-sexing)

We can start with sex, since it’s the category most easily argued about. There’s males and females, and nothing in between, right?. Well, I hate to break it to you, but no, that’s not the case, at all. Sex can be defined by genitals, by chromosomes, by biochemical hormone balance, by the presence or absence of internal organs. Any combination you can think of is biologically viable (penis + ovaries, XX chromosomes + lots of testosterone, and so on). I am not intersexed, or at least I don’t think I am, but many people are and may not even be aware of it. So sex may be defined as these previously-mentioned things, along with secondary sex characteristics, such as body appearance, body hair, breasts, and so on.

So when we trans-sex, just how many of those characteristics do we think we’re changing? What if you add breasts and lose body hair? Is that trans-sexing? I was trying to get at this concept in my “Minimalist Sex Change” post a month or so ago, but the idea is very relevant here. You can change some of these things and not others. What about removal of the beard and no more? Or all body hair and no more? Or growing/removing breasts and no more? Switching your biochemistry from a typical man’s to a typical woman’s, or vice-versa? Sex isn’t one thing, but it’s a lot of things. And even these variables have middle ground, and what do we do about that vast space between male and female, chromosomally, hormonally, emotionally, physically?

There is no clearly-identifiable sex binary outside of what we see in the beautiful people on TV and in advertisements, and thus, there is no trans-sexing. Why? Because there’s nowhere to start the trans-ing, and nowhere to end in the journey. You can’t cross from one place to another if neither place exists.

Gender (and trans-gendering)

I don’t really know anyone who is 100% masculine — or 100% feminine. Who would want to be around such people? If we list everything we can think of to describe masculine and feminine attributes, we’re going to see a lot of great qualities in both lists. I think men who are strong, compromising, nurturing, mechanical, gifted, funny, intelligent, etc. are a lot better than those who are just strong. Characteristics like strength, which isn’t gendered — I would hope that men, women, boys and girls all acquire strength in their lives.

You and I may argue about very small details, about whether they’re masculine or feminine, however, and I suspect we’ll get further in our discussion that way. Let’s start with makeup. It may be gendered or it may not be. Routine eye shadow may indeed be something that we see in western culture as gendered feminine. But not all makeup counts–how do you think Harrison Ford looks all beat up as Indiana Jones? I suspect they put dark makeup on him instead of actually beating him up. In fact, the more I think of it, makeup involves more about performance than about gender. If I want my eyes to be big and pretty, perhaps that desire is feminine-gendered, and I achieve that impression with eye makeup. But the makeup itself isn’t gendered.

Any more than silk or any other fabric is gendered. Or any color. Or a gesture. But even if these are gendered, they must exist on a spectrum from 0 to 100. And anyone trans-gendering wouldn’t really move from 0 to 100 in every single variable, but more likely shift a few variables this way or that. In other words, in gender, as in sex, I don’t think “trans-ing” is quite up to the task of describing just what kinds of shifts are possible, and that’s because gender, like sex, doesn’t exist in a binary, but in a spectrum.

There is no doubt that gender exists on a spectrum, and the levels of granularity are measured in the thousandths, not in halves or thirds. Our gender exists on that spectrum not as a dot, but as a powerful electron, zipping around in an energetic cloud, vectored up this way for a while, tilting down that way for a while, occasionally getting knocked out of orbit by an energy particle, maybe settling down in an oscillation around a relatively new spot on the spectrum.

Clothing (and trans-vesting)

You can in-vest, di-vest, and trans-vest. The first two make sense because in-vest means to clothe yourself and di-vest means to disrobe, or take off your clothes, “vest” coming from the word “dress” in Latin. Even though clothes typically fall under the category of “gender,” since “Trans-vesting” is such a big and taboo thing in our society, I figured I’d treat this one separately. Like sex and gender, above, trans-vesting implies a crossing from one set of vests to another set of vests. It is certainly true in certain periods that clothing is more differentiated in the sexes than in other times. It is also true that manufacturers of clothing make them, market them, and target them to men or women, but usually not to both.

Nevertheless, I don’t think there’s anything particularly gendered about clothing. You’ve got your pants, your shirts, your socks, your shoes. Yes, we have styles that we all say are masculine or feminine, but it’s us who makes them gendered through imbuing them with meaning.

Take brassieres. Clearly feminine clothing, right? Well, hold on. I don’t think bras are necessarily gendered. If we see them as functional garments, then we’d say they support breasts of women (and even men with gynecomastia), and that’s hardly a gendered function, but rather physiological. Bras can serve an artistic function — think of Madonna’s dancers or ask yourself why a garment would have lace on it if it’s strictly functional. Bras may mean torture and bondage to some people, growing up to other people, sexual arousal to yet other people — it’s the meaning we assign to bras that gives these garments their meaning, and not the bras themselves that carry any meaning.

Clothing, like sex and gender, falls over a broad spectrum. Men wear pink, men wear bras, men wear rings and earrings. Women wear blue overalls, cowboy hats, and work boots.

The problem with trans-anything is that the imagery depends on binaries to work because to “trans” requires a movement from one place to another, metaphorically. If gender or sex or clothing aren’t binaries, but spectrums, where exactly does the trans-er transit from and where does she transit to?

Since I don’t believe in these binaries any more, I don’t believe in trans-ing any more. If anything, we should come up with a term more like ‘vector” or “move,” employing the Latin migr (as in migrate) or mov (as in move) or a concept like “change,” using the Latin mut (as in mutate). So instead of getting all tongue-twisted around whether you’re trans-sexing, trans-vesting, or trans-gendering, you could say you’re sex-tweaking or gender-shifting or clothes-mutating. Anything but trans-ing.

The only catch is that it has be catch on, be catchy, be able to be caught by the general public, employers, friends, family, and journalists. After all, it’s one thing to describe yourself in all your complexity and richness and subtlety, but it’s quite another for someone else to get even a fraction of all that. As much as I dislike “sex change” for all its naivety and simplicity, it may be more accurate and easier to understand than trans-ing or any of my experimental words above.

See also “T”

I spent the entire Saturday in Austin as Joyce, which was very easy to do, and suggests a trajectory of becoming that seems nothing but easy. However embodied and comfortable I am, though, the presentation is still minimalism. So after a pozole lunch with my friend Honoria and her eclectic group of friends at El Sol Y La Luna restaurant on South Congress street, off we went to shop.

Honoria is an artist and a consultant and a whimsical shopper, so we started at a place called Big Bertha’s Bargain Basement, where Henry the proprietor has some truly amazing (and amazingly festive) dresses, jackets, hats, and accouterments. I tried on a variety of dresses of various vintage and found only one, a stretchy black dress that seemed quite plausible (with the right accessories, of course).

Henry modifies jackets with some of the most amazing artwork I’ve ever seen, and these jackets and the other dresses I tried on fall into that category of “fun to wear but hard to picture.” What I mean is that if one wanted to look fabulous, Big Bertha’s is one of the key places to go, but “fabulous” may not be the right look to aim for right now for two reasons: my stated aesthetic of minimalism and the lack of places/events in humble Bedford Falls where “fabulous” is called for.

There was a time when “fabulous” would have been the only thing that interested me, not having an emerging feminine lifeworld, but rather a series of little outings. We might call it “drag,” if we want, but I’m not sure that term (which is an acronym, by the way: Dressed As A Girl) was appropriate for my explorations into early, proto-Joyce, and I am certain that it’s not appropriate for me now.

These thoughts were on my mind as Honoria and I shopped, and I realized that I was finding it hard to imagine my immediate future in Bedford Falls, the mundane activities of taking the kids to school, teaching my students, doing yardwork, eating dinner, and a thousand other mundane tasks that comprise my lifeworld. In other words, shopping for “fabulous” seemed to me to be bringing two opposite poles into direct confrontation in my mind: the 99% routine world where minimalism is almost certainly appropriate, and the 1% special world where “fabulous” is acceptable and expected.

If I’m wrong on the categories or percentages, it doesn’t really matter — the conflict is what’s important. And this conflict immediately reminded me of another one I have had (moreso a year ago), about timelines, one being fast and exciting and the other being slow and prudent. It’s hard changing your identity radically, partly because the new identity will have this same sort of mix between the mundane and the highly differentiated — most of human existence overlaps in the same activities, and if they were the only things involved in radical identity change, there would be no problems. But the small percentage of activities or thoughts that are highly differentiated between and among identities — ahhh, there’s where the disruptive change is hard.

The desire to move quickly, to buy fabulous things, to become a differentiated persona is natural, and even desirable. After all, if transition is a journey, then this is the destination, or at least a recognizable landmark that identifies the destination.

But that speed, that glamor, and differentiation is exactly what makes impatient people so funny and alien to others. Feeding the horses in a pink kimono, wearing bright blue eyeshadow and juvenile accessories to teach a graduate course, sharing too much information in situations where discretion is the norm — these are signs of impatience.

The opposite is just as bad — severe prudence, even when “fabulous” and differentiated looks are called for, going too slow on a journey that does appear to have a destination, hazy as it might be off in the distance. If friends’ advice to the too-speedy transitioner is “Grow up,” then advice to the slowpoke might be “Live a little and enjoy your new life.”

Given these thoughts–of my twin desires to populate my world with special and fabulous things and to live a normal and mundane life–I suggested to Honoria that we stop shopping and sit down and talk, to take a breather even before we were winded. We talked, a we did in the old days, playfully, happily, intellectually, and I put my concerns about becoming embodied over the next few months aside and simply enjoyed our connection–simultaneously mundane and fabulous, as it should be with good friends.

I have remarked here that my transition has proceeded from the inside out, meaning hormones, therapy, and talk with Mary Jo and others. There’s not much to show to the world for all this work right now, except perhaps a happier countenance that reveals an inner peace. One of my friends was observing that this lack of wardrobe (or any external presentation) brings up an interesting question of whether my sense of style will change (or has changed).

If you think about it, it’s awfully interesting to have nothing in my closet, isn’t it? (I mean, considering how full it’s gotten through all my disclosures, I guess it makes sense there’s no room for clothes, but that’s all about to change.)

I think the first thing to ponder is whether a person’s sense of style about their profession and their general relationship to the world is something that changes in a transsexual transition or whether it stays stable (but just shifts gender expression). By “stable,” I mean that a preppy man’s style would transition into a preppy woman’s style; and a “change” style would see that preppy man’s style transition into a goth woman’s style (just to pick something really different). In reading newsgroups and support lists and blogs and memoirs, I really can’t get any general sense of a trend. Some transsexuals make changes to their sense of style and others don’t.

If the transitioner feels that his/her old, repressed person had a style that was similarly repressed or stunted, then I can see where they might feel like overthrowing that style, especially if they aren’t in a field with definable uniforms and dress norms. For my own part, being an academic, I think there is a moderate range of styles of expression, probably more free than other white collar jobs, but not nearly so free as actors, artists, and musicians realize.

What I know about myself is that I’ve never been showy, and can’t possibly imagine becoming that way even through a transsexual transition. I’ve always been drawn to conservative, but stylish, suits, and I suspect that I will still be drawn to conservative, classic looks for professional wear in women’s wear. My favorite suits have been Armani and without having a lot of experience in women’s suits, I would imagine you could do worse than Italian.

For casual, I also feel like I’m going to be pretty stable, going from jeans and shirts for men to jeans and shirts for women. The other day when I went out to dinner with Miles and Khloe I wore jeans and boots, a cream-colored stretchy t-shirt with medium-length sleeves, and a bronze-patterned jacket that Mary Jo bought from Coldwater Creek. I liked the look, and could see doing a lot of it for casual settings.

But where I’m a lot less sure (and even downright confused) is in leisure-wear and business-casual styles. I could do dresses, skirts, pants, or all manner of separates. I do think a few classic and simple dresses (including the basic black dress) would be nice to have for times when I don’t want to wear a suit or pants, but I don’t think they’re essential right now. At this point, that’s about all I know, which is awfully vague, I realize, but it’s all I’ve got.

Perhaps more interesting than simply choosing what I want to look like is the question of balancing my stunted senses and feelings with those more sophisticated and refined around me. I’m trying to be mindful of these differences between my own sense of style wants to be (even if it’s ill-formed at this point) versus what Mary Jo and my friends think it should be. I already know I’m going to bristle if I want to get dangling earrings (for example) and Mary Jo tells me it’s too young (or something like that), and then I’ll be in a state of confusion as to which of the following is in operation:

  1. Mary Jo is all knowing and has the final say over my choices,
  2. I am right by virtue of some inner voice who, even if she’s eventually going to mellow out, knows what she needs now, or
  3. We’re both wrong and are commenting on my feminine choices with so much other mixed-in baggage that neither one of us is to be trusted.

You see, clothing (as with other aspects of expression) isn’t really a blank slate upon which you can completely re-craft yourself during a transsexual transition unless you’re truly dropping out of all of society and reemerging somewhere else in your new identity (and even then, I’d be really curious as to how many ingrained norms of behavior and style are retained). Rather, the dynamics of crafting a new identity occur within the context of an existing set of family and friends who are mature, smart, and professional–and while this provides a great deal of support and continuity, it’s it also fairly daunting, and I think it tests one’s self-confidence (assuming one’s new self is formed enough to have confidence at this relatively fragile time).

I don’t think this little essay is an plea for my friends and family to let me wear whatever I damned well please, or to argue that you should support me uncritically in all my makeup, fashion, and behavior choices. But I do think I would ask you, dear reader and dear friend, to put yourself in my shoes (10 or 10.5 US women’s, by the way) if you find my choices unappealing or questionable.

I received a relationship email today from a salesman at Malloy’s, a high-end store in town where I’ve bought several nice Italian suits in the past:

George, We have received two medium and light gray suits from Zegna that I know would not only make great additions to your suit wardrobe but you would like the look of them. Please stop by this weekend and take a look at them.

It’s funny, but this feels vaguely sad to me as I realize I will never buy another man’s suit again. I have written elsewhere that I hold no grudge against my male self, and don’t fault myself for having turned out the way I have. I never hated buying menswear except for the feeling that I was shopping for an inauthentic self or that the salesmen made all sorts of categorical assumptions about me (and men, in general) that were not true. These little things aside, I have always enjoyed buying nice suits, ties, and shirts, and certainly enjoyed shopping for them much more than for jeans and work clothes.

My sadness comes, I think, from a sense of breakage — the particular thread of my narrative simply stops at this point, the thread (or theme) being shopping for men’s suits. The break is attributed to a transsexual transition, which becomes the agent of the breakage. When viewed this way, I think it’s easy to see how transition feels like serial abandonment of values, even as it’s also a story of the acquisition of new values. There are a hundred little rituals like buying men’s ties or being called sir or using the men’s room that grind to a halt, thus creating a sense of grief and loss — that is, if you choose to emplot the threads of the story as breakages.

However, what if they’re not breaks at all? As we do with Justin Tanis’s excellent observation that transsexualism may not be a curse, but rather a blessing or calling, what if we refuse to see transsexual transition as a collection of breakages and try to see them as a series of continuities? It’s more than a linguistic trick, but it does involve asking yourself, a la Derrida, “Are we positing a false binary here? Could go up one step in meaning to find a missing term that describes all the experiences of the closeted-male, the transsexual, and the post-transition female?”

In other words, rather than see my email from Malloy’s as a sign that signifies another loss, what if we read it as a sign of continuity of the value of desiring to look and feel professional, a value that simply has different modalities? If we do this, then my email invitation could simply be seen and felt as an invitation to allow Joyce to give form to her professional side, to continue her long-running trend of dressing up for class and for faculty meetings and for giving academic papers.

The false binary terminology is “male-female,” and the story takes on a feeling of loss or breakage when we think of shopping for clothes, but the new term, one which encompasses male and female, new professor and old professor alike, would be “professional,” which is quite capable of describing my transition in ways that do not suggest a sudden break in the narrative arc of my life.

So I’m feeling a lot better and a lot less sad.

But now I think of my often-felt sense of loss over these past 12 months and wonder how many of these signs I’ve seen and interpreted as breaks, when they just as easily could have been seen as reinforcing and continuing values and personality traits I already hold.

I’m not hugely interested in clothing right now, mostly because I don’t want Mary to be more concerned than she is, and also because I am really more interested in my body and mind at this point. I would, however, like to see what sort of simple things I can do to feel more feminine. This summer, I think what would be a great experiment would be some Chico’s tank tops, feminine, but not frilly, and various print shirts. I’m not terribly interested in doing a weekend en femme, especially with a beard and all, but maybe later.

It’s so strange to not be terribly interested in clothes. As I’ve written elsewhere, this is how I knew in the fall of 2006 that this crisis was serious and very different from previous crises.