Change of perspective

Today’s dance panic was interesting. Well, not terribly interesting at the time, because at the time it was mainly panicky and worry that i was going to put a foot wrong socially, as opposed to terpsichorally (look it up!).

On the other hand, it also occasioned quite an insight for me. Which was first, how much consciousness of my old body had been influencing stuff – mostly, but not just, on the clothes front. And second how, post-op, i have a whole new rash of insecutiries and neuroses.

Dressing to be not male

Before, it was straightforward. I didn’t like my body all that much: and even though i was increasingly female outwardly, i was paranoid about – well, let’s not mince words – i was paranoid about my cock. Something in there about authenticity: the sense that if it was in any way obvious, it would lead some people to see me as not genuine.

A whole load of stuff about trans being associated, at some level, with sexual deviance: now there’s scope for a whole other post.

Mostly though, on the clothes front, i coped either by going for the tunic and leggings look – or long flouncy skirts. I gained a swimming cozzy, with built-in short skirt. I joked about having a post-op box: skirts that were just that bit elasticated in the critical zone…but it wasn’t just joke.

Nor was the suggestion that the op was a lot to do with creating an appropriate silhouette. Oh: that sounds trivial. But wrap in all of the above, about authenticity, genuineness, cis obsession with what the average tranny has under her skirt…no: its not “just” a joke.

Dressing to be female

So back to today. Over the last few weeks i have been experimenting clothes wise. Fewer tunics. Some of the post-op skirts have now seen the light of day. But not all. I’m making a load more discoveries about my body, and clothes…and pressure to conform.

Body-wise, i felt it too. A freedom to move and gyrate in ways i had never felt before. Yay! Its just: well, there are female dance moves and male ones (as well as gender-neutral) and for the first time i found myself able fully to appreciate the first.

Second, though, i realise that i have swapped one set of pressures for another. No longer worried about suddenly looking male…i am increasingly “worrying” about “getting it right” in female terms.

Oh. Let me qualify: i don’t believe that there is a “right” way to dress. But there are fashions and trends and it is always worth knowing what is in fashion so as to be able to decide whether one’s wear is going to place one in the background – or outrage public decency.

Early days, transition-wise, i got an easy ride from other women: after all, i was just learning. The fact that i wouldn’t now be seen dead in half the clothes i wore at the outset doesn’t matter. It was OK then.

That’s changed. I am aware of the playground dress instinct – that mystical ability that mum’s seem to have, like flocks of birds whirling on an instant, with no signal given – to just “know” what is OK for the day.

At its most granular, its the point, in spring, when trousers and jeans give way to skirts. When boots, when heels, when flip flops. The point at which one exposes one’s toenails. And so on.

I exaggerate. A bit. But its there. Not exactly a pressure to conform (though by implication that is what it creates) so much as tacit shared knowledge – and nuance.

I’m learning. I’m learning what is “expected”: and no, i’m not always conforming. Though from off-stage i get a barrage of conflicting advice. My daughter, who warns in dire tones that i should not experiment with irony in clothes until i’ve got everything nailed down.

Insight. Perhaps.

Also advising is andrea, with views on what it is proper for a woman “of a certain age” to wear…and latterly, equally dire warnings about the dangers of camel toe…

I’m learning. I won’t always get it right. But the learning is fun, and the insights are good.



11 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jess said,

    This is an excellent piece of writing on dressing and something I often re-read:

    PS. I would estimate that most women – trans or cis – can relate to what you’re saying about ‘getting it right’. My humble advice would be: get together some classic pieces that flatter you and make you feel comfortable. Be discriminating: if it doesn’t fit, don’t buy it. Have fun with accessories. And don’t worry too much – it’s meant to be enjoyable! (Now I am thinking about some of the appalling things I used to wear) x

    • 2

      janefae said,

      That is, indeed, an excellent piece. It brought to mind my own French experiences (at one time i seriously contemplated a move to Paris to work as a translator!).

      Returning by night train, i hit London Victoria at around 7 in the morning. I made my way to the tube station.

      After a week or so in Paris, where i’d just grown used to almost everyone looking “chic” as a basic starting point, i was shocked at just how sloppy the average Brit looked.

      Otherwise, i think it summarises as: do simple things well; and don’t let your standards slip. That’s not a bad start and, even if i can’t claim to do stuff well, yet, i am definitely not prepared to let standards slip at the personal level. So that’s a good start point.

      ALl the best,


  2. 3

    kathz said,

    Women don’t always know. I’ve been getting it wrong and being anxious about it all my life – and most women worry a lot about wearing the right clothes and being judged for making the wrong choice. And if your daughter is anything like mine, you’ll reach the moment when she says to you in warning tone, “You’re not going out dressed like that.”

    So long as you’re having fun with clothes, it’s fine, but female anxieties and insecurities are widespread and painful. I’ve discovered that, by looking confident, I can sometimes get away with disastrous mistakes – and sometimes (in social settings) lack of confidence does the trick. The first is probably more socially masculine and the second more socially feminine (in terms of learned responses) but the important thing is getting away with whatever I’ve flung on or agonised over. After all, it’s other people who see what I look like while I get to watch them.

    And, for the record, when someone is interesting I’m not very good at noticing their clothes or appearance – and nice people who do care about clothes seem happy to make allowances for my lack of dress sense. I bet you’re better at clothes than I am.

  3. 4

    janefae said,

    hehe. And your last sentence definitely fits the socially feminine? 🙂

    I think my take on this, as on so much else of what i’ve gone thru over the last couple of years, is that i am both curious observer and slightly timid participant.. In that sense, there is probably a degree of sensibility to what i do that is probably absent from a teenage girl (to whom, in many ways, these influences just happen) – but that doesn’t make me a cool and calculating detached outsider.

    Rather, i can monitor my own awareness shifting and changing and sometimes push back, sometimes just go along for the ride.

    This is a very good example. Different trans women, different motivations. My own, though, is very much tilted towards acceptance by other women: so i am very alert to social and fashion “norms”, which is simultaneously fun…and a bit of a trap.

    Its like the “bum-fondling incident” from a year or so back: i’m well aware that NOT being treated in a disrespectful fashion is something that generations of feminists have campaigned for: but even with that knowledge, there is something affirming about being treated badly.

    I know i have/should have the right to wear pretty much what i want, when i want: i am very aware of the pressures, internal and external, to conform.


  4. 5

    Carka said,


    I find it really jarring when you describe a putative transwoman as a “tranny”. Too much Daily Fail around for my comfort.

    • 6

      janefae said,

      its a word and a word i use for a particular effect in particular circumstances – though possibly the wrong effect is communicated at times because in prose you don’t hear it the way i hear it.

      As far as i am aware, i use “tranny” in two ways. First, i use it, as here, as a means to mark the way in which “we” are viewed by cis obsessives. It IS a mark of disrespect, though usually the context is meant to indicate that it is disrespect shown towards us by the usual suspects.

      There is an obsession in some parts of the cis world with what trans persons have in their knickers: that obsession is a mix of curiosity and disrespect.

      The same person that obsesses in this way is unlikely to be much bothered by respectful ways of describing…so its a sort of reverse put-down.

      And sure: that may not be 100% obvious. But that’s the thought process.

      I’d just as likely write something like “racists aren’t too bothered by the feelings of the ordinary paki” – NOT as an insult on my part towards that culture, but as a means of underlining the lack of respect shown by racists.

      The other way i use that particular t-word tends to be amongst friends, usually affectionately and usually preceded by an epithet like “bolshie”.

      So. Point taken that its an unhappy word…but i think there are times when even unfortunate words have their uses.

      And i’d certainly argue that the way it has been used, historically, by tabloids is not in any way motivated by being supportive to us.


    • 7

      eclectic chicken said,

      **wince backatcha**

      I find it really jarring when people try and police language soley by the words used and not the context and intent.

      And why the Daily Mail…. is it actually any worse than any other tabloid…actually? Or are you using “Daily Fail’ as short hand for ‘tabloid newspaper’… a bit like tranny is shorthand for transgendered…. except Daily Fail has your opinion stamped on it within the words themselves whereas tranny really does need context to be able to discern someones intent as for many people its not a negative word..

  5. 9

    Shirley Anne said,

    Welcome to the wonderful world of being a woman! With all the choices that women have as far as dress goes, it is hard for any woman to always get it right but half the fun is trying out the different options. I doesn’t stop at the clothing either, there is the make-up, the interaction with others both male and female and the attitude to one’s self too!

    Shirley Anne xxx

  6. 10

    Shirley Anne said,

    It doesn’t stop………..for heavens sake Shirley Anne…get it right….LOL ( a couple of bottles of red wine doesn’t help does it?)

    Shirley Anne xxx

  7. 11

    Jane Ward said,

    Really loved your article, you very much sum up all the challenges and (continuing) stages of dressing and trying to get it right. I used to agonise most about getting it right for work, getting up hours before I needed to then ending up with a heap of clothes on my bedroom floor and ‘nothing to wear’. These days I just end up dressing quickly because I’ve found a style that suits me and clothes to suit my moods and the seasons. If I make a mistake I know I’ve just got to ooze confidence and brazen it out. I found Lucia van der Post’s book (Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me: Lessons in Grace and Elegance ) really useful, but I it tempted me to spend too much (or gave me an excuse?). However you look at it, dressing to suit the occasion should be fun. I hope you have lots.

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