A few weeks ago I was browsing around a well known Canadian clothing store looking for winter essentials like gloves and socks when I stumbled upon a fabulous winter hat. It was a warm, pink coral toque with a furry pom pom. My heart skipped a beat when I saw it. I went to the nearest mirror, put it on my head and giggled. It was adorable! More worrisome, I thought I looked good in it. So of course I had to put it back.
I was standing there looking at it wondering why I had returned it to the shelf. True, it cost more than I usually pay for these items, but was that the reason? No, of course not. I was putting it back because it was so deliciously feminine that I felt compelled to censor myself. Somewhere in the back of my mind I saw that finger wagging at me telling me I was being too much of a princess.
I started thinking about the ways in which trans women’s lives have always been regulated and what if any effect it’s had on the way we express ourselves. During the early 1990s when many of my friends were trying to transition, the gatekeepers were always defining the sort of woman we should be. If we weren’t that kind of woman, then we couldn’t possibly be a woman at all.
One of the things the gatekeepers were always on the lookout for were princess like qualities. Too much princess meant you had to be a transvestite, and that meant no hormones for you sister! Of course, we figured all this out and presented to them the woman they expected. So evolved this ridiculous back and forth game in which the gatekeepers’ primary motivation was preserving the gender binary and their specific version of womanhood and our primary motivation was to play along to get what we wanted. It was a genuinely stupid process that not only completely ignored trans women’s experiences but also, because it demanded we adhere to a certain model of woman, denied the existence of diversity in cisgender women.
But then cisgender women’s lives have always been regulated too. We are shocked by the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia where men decide every aspect of their lives, but we forget that only a hundred years ago it was considered bold for a woman to ride a subway in Canada without male accompaniment. In such a repressive environment, women will censor themselves rather than stand out and be pilloried.
It took a long time to free ourselves from the strictures imposed upon us by the gatekeepers, but in other ways, trans women’s lives, like those of cisgender women, are still regulated. I was reminded of this while reading Vivek Shraya’s I’m Afraid of Men. At one point she writes, “In the morning, as I get ready for work, I avoid choosing clothes or accessories that will highlight my femininity and draw unwanted attention.” Ah, women’s eternal dilemma. But was this me too? Was this why I had returned the hat back to its shelf?
It didn’t stay there long. I went back to the mirror to have another look, and a few minutes later I walked out of the store with my hat on my head and smile on my face. I’m not censoring myself anymore.
Later that week I was in my neighbourhood drugstore checking out the makeup when the woman beside me looked at me and said, “You know, that hat looks good on you.” I couldn’t believe it. I thanked her and told her I almost didn’t buy it.
“Oh,” she replied. “That would have been a shame.”
Chalk one up for being true to yourself.