I expressed my masculinity in non-traditional ways when I was younger. For example, from an early age, I wore a lot of dresses. Contrary to the usual narrative, this struck absolutely no one as out of the ordinary. Not just the more liberal minded accepted me, but so did the more conservative. Why? Because to an untrained eye, I was a cute little girl wearing a red velvet dress, who loved lip gloss and eye shadow. That wasn’t the truth of who I was, though. I was simply a little queer boy, trapped in the wrong body, experimenting in drag for the first time.
I distinctly remember back to when I was eight, wearing my friend’s dress and standing next to her in a mirror. As we stared at our reflections, I remember thinking how she was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. I somehow twisted that into thinking that in order to be loved, I had to be a pretty girl. I couldn’t be the gangly thing staring back at me with awkwardly broad shoulders. I wore dresses more frequently after that.
By the time I was fifteen, my once innocent love of dresses had completely died. My love had been corrupted into this all-consuming need to be a perfect representation of a cisgender woman. I couldn’t ever feel at home in my head as this imperfect not-girl, but I didn’t have the knowledge to bring myself any inner peace about it. So I instead tried to warp myself into the perfect woman. I still loved looking at dresses, but when they were on my body, I instantly hated them. I would lash out as myself for not being that pinnacle of feminine perfection. Self-harm and starving myself became as natural to me as breathing. But still, I wore them. I had to. I had to prove to myself, day after day, that I was a woman.
The last time I wore a dress, I was seventeen. It was Halloween 2015, a few days before I came out to myself as transgender. It was a dress handed down to me by my sister, and I loved it on her. I was so excited to put it on. When I did, though, I hated it. I started crying, smudging my carefully applied eyeliner. Why did I look so wrong? Why did I feel so wrong?
When I came out, I made myself a promise: I never have to wear a dress again, unless I want to.
Two years later, I still love dresses. I love picking them out and fantasizing about people in them. I just don’t wear them, because they still feel wrong on me. I can’t fully embody the person I am in a dress. One day, maybe I’ll wear a dress again. Maybe I never will. I really don’t the dress is the important thing. I think it is more of a catalyst. A catalyst to tell me that even if I love dresses, it doesn’t mean I’m a woman, and the fact that I’m not a woman doesn’t mean I have to hate dresses. I don’t have to hate them anymore, because I don’t give them the power to.