Everyone’s jacket tells a story. Yes, these are often utilitary articles of clothing, something to protect you from the harsh realities of increasingly burdensome weather patterns, but they are so much more than that. They are the shells with which we contain ourselves, our statements, and testaments to who we are. The jackets we choose tell stories about ourselves, how we see ourselves and how we wish to be seen in the world.
I have my own journey with jackets, from decisions I made pre-transition to do my best to fit the part, to trying not to stand out after coming out before stretching and finding myself and my style as a woman. And I know I’m not alone.
In Coat Check, I’m going to be talking with trans women about their jackets. The jackets that are important to them, the jackets they yearn for and the jackets they’ve left behind.
I hope you’ll join me.
It all changed with a grey jacket.
My tattoo artist recently told me she thinks of transitioning as being a romantic reimagining of the self: The idea that you could deconstruct yourself and lay it all bare on the floor, pick up the pieces that feel like they still connect to your body, and leave the rest lying there in favor of finding new parts. She’s not wrong. The new pieces, however, took time to find my body.
I didn’t keep much around when I started to distance myself from my wardrobe. For a spell, there was a casual shift in presentation, as I started to push the boundaries around what was expected and what was permissible. Micro-transitions within a transition. Over time, I came to see the clothes hanging in my closet as unhappy memories, patches over a desire to find who I really was. Phases of identity in a spiral that began to feel so foreign to my body. As new items came in, the old went out. To friends, thrift stores. Anyone that would take garbage bags full of clothes, the last remaining vestiges of a life that had ended. I kept a few select pieces that still felt like home, a denim shirt and my black jean jacket.
Over time, I came to see the clothes hanging in my closet as unhappy memories, patches placed over a desire to find who I really was.
It started slowly, as all good relationships do. High-waisted jeans and sports bras. I bought blouses and tank tops and marveled at the way my new clothes adjusted to my body. But I held a fear deep in my body, fear of the perception of my peers, fear of feeling shame. Fear of femme. I waded into my new wardrobe like a public swimming pool. You know it’s going to be uncomfortable for the first few steps, but it’s only once you’re fully submerged that you wish you’d been bold enough to dive in.
I clung to that denim jacket like a life raft. I felt that if I kept one hand on the wheel of my old life I could reclaim it somehow, walk back all the decisions I had made that led to my transsexual ruin.
I was in a confusing space with my own gender. I came out in my small town that lived and breathed masculinity. Anything outside of that was suspect and I didn’t look what you would consider to be femme. I had given sanctuary to too much misogyny in my life and couldn’t imagine a life where I was a woman who was fundamentally different from the life I had walked away from.
I came out in my small town that lived and breathed masculinity.
I continued to lie to myself, this time under new circumstances. Where before I told myself what a man I was now I had reshuffled the deck and drew new cards with which to tell a mixed-up version of old truths. I leaned into being butch, an identity that felt like the bridge between who I used to be and where I was going. I would look through photos of femme women and lust for that life but couldn’t bring myself to cross over. It never ceases to amaze me just how powerful our mind is at preventing us from accessing the things that will make us feel whole.
A couple of years after I came out, I was in a thrift store with a friend and I found her: a grey wool winter jacket with a fur trim. It fit me perfectly, ending its elegance just below the knee. Simple, elegant, beautiful. I grabbed it and walked to the cashier; other customers stopped me in the aisles to compliment me on my find. I felt a surge of pride, not just in the joys of discount capitalism but in the visibility of being femme and finding the perfect shell for myself.
A couple of years after I came out, I was in a thrift store with a friend and I found her: a grey wool winter jacket with a fur trim.
It’s hard to find the perfect jacket in the off-season, it was mid-August when I brought that jacket home with me, and for months she hung simply on a hook by a mirror in the bedroom. Every time I checked my outfit in the mirror I caught a glance of this magnificent jacket and thought of the future. I would wear it around in our cold basement apartment and revel in the way it made me feel when I was wearing it, a new feeling of beauty and power came over me. Transitioning had been a process of trying to discover who I really was, under the layers of masks I had worn over the years to suppress my true face. Something so simple as a jacket stripped the layers back and revealed me to myself: this is where you feel at home.
The word “femme” took up residence in my head and I came to realize all this time I had been denying myself the dalliance I wanted most. To give in fully to the desires I expressed to myself in secret, to see myself for who I was and now for who I thought people would accept me as. For the first few years of my transition I thought I had known myself, but what I had known was a safety net. I played by a set of self-imposed rules that I thought would keep me safe, would provide shelter from the storm as the world around me adjusted to the changes in me. But they only worked to hold me back and keep me incomplete.
Every time I checked my outfit in the mirror I caught a glance of this magnificent jacket and thought of the future.
That jacket changed everything for me. I came out to myself as wanting to be femme, to embrace a different life within transitioning. It helped me understand that while I held so much love for butchness, it was a love and admiration for seeing it in others and it didn’t hold the same feelings for me.
In transition, sometimes we become too comfortable in the idea of being trans, without unpacking the things within ourselves that prevent forward momentum. I hadn’t unpacked all of my internalized transphobia and it wasn’t until I found this perfect jacket that I came to realize how much I was still holding onto, how much of myself I was suppressing because I hadn’t worked to understand who I was and who I wanted to be. The pieces of me were all there, waiting to be added and fit together and assembled into a whole person, but all this time I had avoided the understanding that it was up to me to make that work, to walk away from the parts left behind and find myself. It all changed with a grey jacket.♦