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.