Guest post from J.L. Mecum!
I am a law student, a Godfather, an only daughter, and a queer. Bieber-doppelganger-extraordinaire. I've been asked if I was trans, had a girlfriend, had a boyfriend, if I'm Native American, if I'm Jewish, if I'm lost (in a public bathroom), if I'm lost (in the little boys' section of Daffy's). Just like Lauren, the proprietor of this blog, I live at the intersection of Sir Street and Ma'am Avenue.
Recently, I had been asked to be in two upcoming weddings for two very dear friends. I was given the gilded title of "Jen of Honour" in one; a happy bridesmaid in the other. Jen of Honor was asked to wear her smartest suit and sharpest tie, and to simply be "comfortable." The bride-to-be, Alexandra, knew my eyes would light up as soon as she said "summer suit." Visions of cotton and linen danced in my head. Maybe even a madras tie?! Perchance to dream!
Amanda, on the other hand, had a plethora of bridesmaids and groomsmen lined up. "Sorry, dude, but Rick's already got seven guys walking with him. If you don't walk on my side and wear a dress, we'll be uneven." I could've balked or complained or begged off, but this isn't about me, it's about my good friend, her marriage, and quite frankly, her wedding album. So I said sure, I'll wear the shamrock and fuschia
dress. Whatever you want. It's your day.
But wait - hold the phone. I haven't worn a dress since the late '90s. What's an andro-butch-boi to do without her trusty knit tie, a sparkly tie bar, those patent leather wing-tips that look strikingly like Gene Kelly's tap shoes? WHERE WILL MY POWERS COME FROM? I took a breath and reminded myself that this day was not about me. Then I took two trains to Church Avenue in Brooklyn.
The dress had been ordered and now it was in. I had returned for the fitting. Being June and the swell of wedding, the place was packed. I sauntered in, alone, with my swoopy short Beatles bangs and my chinos rolled up to my calves, showing off a prominent boat shoe tan. A gaggle of preteens (where are your parents?!) was gathered in front of the dressing mirror, generally being obnoxious, pre-hormonal, and as terrifying to 29-year-old me as they had been in the fifth grade.
The saleswoman expressed her complete disappointment at my inability to produce my receipt; I countered with a glower at their non-computerized record keeping system. "She's going downstairs to find it. It'll just be a minute," she said.
Then I was completely alone.
The preteens stole glances that became less and less stealthy. I shifted my weight back and forth, sweating into my Brooklyn Industries shirt and wishing I were somewhat invisible, or at least translucent. A shadow, perhaps. Peter Pan's shadow would be a dead ringer. They whispered and stared and pointed a little. I dissolved from the inside out. I mean, where the hell was Wendy when I needed her?
After an eternity, the saleswoman reappeared with my dress. I could see the shamrock mocking me through the plastic covering. I slipped inside the changing room and stepped into the glowing green puddle of the dress, drawing it up around me. The long zipper closed and I was snuggly inside my costume.
My emergence from the dressing room must've been like a butterfly from a cocoon, judging by the look on the preteens' faces.' "That's a pretty dress," one said. "Do you want to stand up here?" offered another as they all made way for me in front of the mirror.
I stepped up on to the fitting pedestal. The first preteen made sure I knew just how lucky I was: "That is a pretty dress," she repeated. "Thank you. It's for my friend's wedding." The second piped up, "Are you a bridesmaid?" "Yes," I said, "I'll tell her you think she made a good choice."
The girls stared at me. No more sniggering; no more whispers; just open-mouthed admiration. I've never felt so pretty in all my life. And I owned it. It was possibly the only time I've ever been happy to feel like a princess instead of having one on my arm. But why? Because I'm still me, in a dress or a suit or a
cowboy hat or a banana costume. Those preteens knew it, too. They did not point and laugh at the awkward girl-boy in a dress; they wished they were me.
Now, I know not everyone feels good, or confident, or even comfortable in feminine clothing. I know I usually do not. But I've finally gotten to a place in my life, my identity and my sense of self that I am wearing the clothes, the clothes are no longer wearing me.
Photo by Mary Lou Quillen