by: ellie june navidson
i was walking on the sidewalk in the oppressive Chicago heat. A friend and i were on our way to an art show, meaning our feet were padding through an “artsy”neighborhood. As usual, my femme self was window shopping. i caught myself glancing at outfits and wishing that i could wear them, i noticed something about myself. i found myself wishing for fabulous outfits not out of a lack of appropriate funding, which is absolutely a factor, but from a place of fantasy that was all too familiar.
When i was still living as a boy and dreaming of living in another gender, one of my more frequent diversions was walking alone through shopping districts and imagining myself a mannequin. i would stand tall and angular with an archetypal body shape draped in the most femme fabulous that store windows could offer.
i would dreamily stare and sigh, salivating. i was a child gazing at a puppy they know their parents won’t let them have. But the acute sting of feeling incapable of living a life that i wanted to live would become so much that i had no choice but to light a cigarette and walk away. i walked away from hundreds of store windows, thousands of dresses, before engaging my gender actively.
Upon realizing that my current window gazing was, at least in that moment, manifesting in a similar way of fantasy, i turned to my friend and told them, “You know, at this point, i’m confident enough to walk in there, try on that dress, and fucking buy it. But i’m dreaming of it as if that were impossible. i wouldn’t even wear that, my desire is pure fantasy.” i realized i was picturing myself in a new life that would be accompanied by a stunning outfit.
Was this just a moment of jet lag, a lingering tendency toward liberating fantasy? Are there parts of my psyche that still don’t believe that i’ve made it? Have i simply been shaped by capitalist media culture into imaging myself to be advertisements?
i think that the answer to all of these questions is at least a small yes. There are often moments in my life that I will smile to myself, remembering what life used to be like, and welling with excitement and pride that I’ve come to a place of comfort. i, like many folks, have been affected and shaped by an industry insidiously engineered to push fashion. One of the ways that this industry functions is to inspire folks to superimpose themselves into images in an attempt to make them want to buy said images.
But, in many ways, i think there was something else at work. Part of me thinks that longing to be is such a deeply engrained mode at this point that it will continue to lurch into my present. Obviously, part of what i mean by “longing to be” is “longing to be a woman,” but for me it is also “longing to be different.” The former is the more tangible, discernable, locus of my desire to transition. This is ironic, because i rarely, if ever at this point, identify as a woman. But i did pass from a place of default masculinity into one of extant femininity.
This was an important part of my ongoing process, but it certainly wasn’t — and isn’t — the only part. i often want to be different. By this i mean both different from society and different than i am now. Social normativity often feels to me like a fistful of arsenic does to a stomach, i want to retch it up, viscerally knowing that if i don’t do it quickly enough, i will suffer an outlandish death and contaminate others. So i frequently strive to undermine the normativity i’ve internalized and labor to demarcate that difference.
But existing outside society is often not enough for me. Change itself seems valuable, or at least the possibility of change. Throughout my life, changes in either identification or presentation have taught me much about myself and about the world. i’ve learned to understand multiple perspectives and angles, and i’ve learned to be agile and adaptable. i’ve embraced this perspective so much that I will sometimes alter my appearance somewhat merely to challenge myself or to uncover a hidden lesson in the world.
When i imagine myself a mannequin, this is what i’m longing for. i’m longing for a new embodiment so that i can gain a new perspective and play in a new life. This is almost always complicated by the fact that i do, currently anyway, identify in and feel comfortable in certain ways. But this drive that’s been present throughout my life and my transition(s) is certainly nearby when i window shop.
Note: This piece was originally published on the author’s blog and was republished here with permission. You can find the original here.
ellie june navidson is a queer, gender non-conforming creature. She has a degree in Gender and Women’s Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her activist experience is as varied as her identity, but currently, she is involved in queer/trans safe-space organizing and does written explorations of gender and normativity. Her personal blog can be found at invisiblyqueer.blogspot.com.