I am revisiting it now in preparation for a combined visual/written story-gathering project focusing on folks who identify more on the male end of the gender spectrum and their positive experiences with dresses.
more and more so since the last time I actually chose to wear one.
I have told the fear story;
the confused, abandoned, watched and objectified story, with words to describe those experiences finally making sense to the insides of my own ears through the performative act of drawing;
of scratching – ripping – cutting
And I have told the anger story;
told mostly in the shape of the fear that let anger stand in for ‘alone’ and did not let ‘scared’ even happen at all;
told in such a way that the scratching – ripping – cutting became a response to the memory of too-tight lines of smocking across my chest;
became a recognition of my fear of the grandmother who stitched them there;
became a covert outlet for my anger at every adult who witnessed and condoned her control through their silence.
Those images were the beginning of actually feeling all of the emotions that this silence taught me to turn in;
They were the memory of forgetting how to breathe.
I didn’t realize until recently that the gradual re-collection and reconstruction of these images of dresses was also the beginning of grieving;
the actual feeling-through of the sad-mad-sad-mad cycle of mourning for all that is lost when too many liberties are taken and too many assumptions are made.
Grieving for the loss of safety;
for the loss of opportunity to discover, own and celebrate my own identity as a young person.
Grieving for the simple fact that I never got to wear those dresses that were put on to my body for photos at ages 3, 4, 5, etc. and be seen at the same time.
IF I HAD BEEN BORN A BOY
lee hicks, 2010
if i had been born a boy,
i would be a flaming queen;
wear tight dresses,
and be all that is more
than two genders.
but i can imagine my freedom
as a gender queer in reverse
about as easily as i can conceive of
a world where it is safe
to be other.
To be watched and to be seen are two very different things.
I have been “out” as trans and as preferring male pronouns for approximately 3 years now, but throughout all of that time and during each of the 30 years prior, I was still ‘me’ living inside of my head regardless of what my body looked like.
I was a feminine, female-bodied, mostly-male-brained person
when I really loved that white dress with the red stitching at age 2;
when I enjoyed both the sparkles and the skirts on my figure skating costumes at age 7;
when I really liked my high school graduation dress at age 18
even if I really hated the way that other people thought they saw ‘me’ in it.
I was also this person when I didn’t know that my body was worth saying “no” for at age 9;
when I explicitly received the message at age 16 that our society continues to imply through both words and actions to everyone it reads as ‘female’…
The not-so-subtle inference that,
“because you are a girl, it is your job to make sure that you do not give him that opportunity...”
I was still this person when, as an out, proud and politically active queer person in my 20s, wearing dresses began to feel like I was helping to perpetuate a reading of myself by others that I didn’t agree with. That reading said that dresses meant “feminine” and feminine meant “female” and so I stopped wearing anything resembling a dress at this time because;
a) it did not occur to me that other peoples’ definitions need not define me,
b) I had not yet discovered that there were other things I could do to bring mySELF into the world beyond trying to change the way that I was literally “seen”;
like re-structuring and re-combining words to fill in the parts of my very real
gender queer experience that my language was missing;
like writing and sharing and renouncing punctuation in favour of poetry,
like drawing and painting and etching and sculpting,
like speaking these truths again, and again
whether or not it felt like anyone was listening.
It was not until I started to land more completely in my body at age 31 and to recognize my adult self with my brain on testosterone for the first time that some sense identity that felt real to me – feminine AND male - also felt plausible.
This shift has not been without its own significant complications.
For male-identifying individuals to choose authenticity as a core value with which to negotiate the world when their authentic self really digs sparkles and pink things and hugging their people in public is an act of courage that is both worthwhile and exhausting.
Not to mention potentially hurt-full.
Not to mention potentially dangerous.
We live in a society where a significant national newspaper will still happily print the words of columnists like Christie Blatchford and refuse to recognize it as hate-speech.
“… I am wearying of the male as delicate creature. I am wearying of men who are so frequently in touch with their feminine side they, not to mention me, have lost sight of the masculine one. I’m just plain sick of hugs, giving and getting, from just about anyone, but particularly man-to-man hugs. Gay, as I’ve mentioned, is entirely fine. Fey is a pain in the arse. I know men have feelings too. I just don’t need to know much more than that….” (1)
This being said, I have already spent significant energy in this wee short life attempting to negotiate feminine-and-male without ruffling feathers of the Christie Blatchford variety and I am now very, very done with that particular use of my time.
I like dresses.
I adore every single milligram of testosterone I am privileged to inject into my body on a biweekly basis and,
I can’t wait to have enough visible facial hair that I can wear a dress again in the manner to which I have yet to become accustomed...
furry and fey.
At this point I would really just like to try telling "that" story;
of that dress,
of dresses in general,
(1) “Toronto, City of Sissies” by Christie Blatchford, National Post, December 11, 2012