(CN: discussion of body shape, and ~curves~)
Today I was at Uniqlo looking for winter pants. Tried on a dress that looked cool; one thing led to another and I was trying on a bunch of dresses. They fit really well and felt nice and looked nice and all of a sudden I had all these Feelings and had to leave and go sit down for a while.
I’m not very good at identifying and understanding how I feel about things, so here is my attempt at processing that. A disclaimer: As far as I know, as of now, I don’t want top surgery or hormone replacement therapy. This piece may read as advocating some sort of psychological change over medical transition. That is not what I am saying at all. This is me processing my feelings as a non-binary person who doesn’t want to medically transition. The science is good on people who do want to medically transition: it is the best and only relief for certain forms of gender dysphoria. Alright.
I still don’t quite know how I actually feel about the shape of my body. It varies from day to day. On some level I (falsely) believe that I can’t really be trans unless I hate my curves and all the trappings of femininity, and have a lot of dysphoria about all these things. (Thanks, truscum and Dominant Trans Narrative!) I feel like I’m supposed to hate it, but I usually don’t.
Mostly I feel okay with my naked body and relatively-flat but not flat chest, but can’t get it to look right with clothes. Some days nothing fits quite right and I can’t leave my room because I can’t get dressed, and I stare enviously at everybody else’s pecs (I have never been jealous of other people’s breasts though). Wearing clothes designed for cis-men with a binder is okay, but doesn’t fit over my hips, is extremely uncomfortable in the tropics, and makes my back hurt a lot. Clothes designed for cis-women on the other hand just doesn’t usually appeal to me unless it is a skirt.
I have a complicated relationship with skirts. Growing up AFAB and not particularly girly, I was subjected to the usual gender policing where friends made a sick game of forcing me into things they thought were feminine. Examples: people who go around at prom applying makeup onto everyone whom they think are girls, protests unheeded. People who find the idea of their less girly friends in dresses to be inexplicably hilarious, and gleefully look forward to occasions when they may be forced by convention to wear one. It’s insidious social conditioning. Nobody else ever seems to find it disturbing that a large group of people are deriving joy from making somebody do something that they are clearly uncomfortable with.
But I like skirts. They are pretty and cute and fun to wear. To the adversary though, this is something of an own goal. Wearing a skirt anywhere would earn me over-dramatic shock and amazement and congratulations from all quarters, and also seem to prove them right in some contest I hadn’t realised we had been having. These were my closest friends who are otherwise reasonable people; thinking about it now still makes me shake with indignation. Social order will always try to preserve itself; it isn’t always recognisable as physical violence.
Anyway, so I have several chips on my shoulder, and so many things to prove to other people and myself, “I can be feminine if I want to” and “Being AFAB doesn’t mean I have to be feminine” being two big conflicting ones. Femininity has always been something I perform both for others and for myself. I like wearing skirts but going out in a skirt is exhausting, for reasons I could never properly articulate. Thoughts of “reclaiming” and “queering” are still performative, and never really worked either. It has been easier to just give up on skirts entirely.
Dresses, on the other hand, I never even wore enough for it to be performative. I tried a few at various times and never could fill them properly, what with my relatively flat chest. I now know that the vast majority of people are not the magical proportions that mass produced clothing come in, but growing up I was so convinced that there was something wrong with me: specifically, that I wasn’t woman enough, and developed complexes about shopping and clothes.
Today I put on a dress and it made my boobs look good. It fit perfectly on my waist and hips, as if designed for my body shape. I had not internalised the fact that clothes are supposed to fit. The last time I tried a dress it did not fit and left me convinced of my failure as a woman. Today it fit, and I no longer cared about being a woman. In that moment, in the fitting room, trying, purely for fun, a dress I had no intention of buying, the dress wasn’t a performance of femininity. The dress had nothing to do with femininity. It was an ungendered piece of clothing that fit my body, and made no demands of it. My chest was an ungendered body part that for once, somehow, didn’t seem to stick out awkwardly. My curves were an ungendered body shape that is how MY body happens to be shaped. And it felt… nice.
What does my body mean? What do my curves mean?
I am non-binary. My body is non-binary. My curves are non-binary. My breasts are non-binary. My dresses are non-binary. I am not male or female. Ergo, none of these things are male or female.
I did end up buying a dress. I don’t know if I will wear it. You can’t really logic your way out of dysphoria in one day. There is so much emotional and cultural baggage that I can only try to work on. I don’t know if I will ever recreate that feeling of absolute synchrony. Already I am back to feeling vaguely uncomfortable in my skin.
But today was like listening to the first song in a genre you were so convinced you hated, and liking it. The world opens up. A belief about how the world is is shaken. It is a beautiful revelation. There are so many things to try!
Footnote: interestingly, I rarely have difficulty with thinking of nail polish as ungendered. I love painting my nails in odd colours. Yet my wardrobe is currently primarily dark blue and black t-shirts. I am working on it.