Using that minimalism mumbo jumbo to streamline your gender expression

When I graduated college, suddenly painfully aware of how clothing and debt could accumulate so quickly, I decided I was a minimalist. That lasted all of a few weeks, but for a month or so I was throwing out more than I was buying. But shockingly enough, downsizing was wasteful. Because I was throwing out a lot. But nevermind that, I was streamlining my life and this is what it took!

Then I started exploring gender, and I bought a sizeable amount of masculine clothing. I wore it probably more than most people wear fast fashion, but I’m aware I was part of the fast-fashion problem. Ugh! I hate myself a little. I mean I can’t have been the only person to have ever gone through a phase, but I hold myself to pretty high standards (even if I break them all the time), and that “but other people do it all the time!” excuse doesn’t feel good. ANYWAYS. I had a lot of stuff, is my point. (I am a self-indulgent waste of space, is my other secondary point. Kidding. Ish.)

So I decided I had to find more organized ways to think about my wardrobe, just as with the rest of my life. Because as much as I hate organization (I’m in fact a very disorganized person), organization is an absolute lifesaver. And when my identity is a mess, having a system for where to start rather than catering to my every morning whim, really really helped stabilize me mentally.

So this is a story about getting one’s gender-scattered wardrobe organized.

The first thing i did was look up ALL the ways in which people pare down their wardrobes. There are a lot. But they all come down to a common first step of putting things into three piles based on frequency of wear and/or how much you love the garment:

  • Pile 1: the best things of your wardrobe. Either you wear them a lot or you just love them.
  • Pile 2: the “meh” things. Things that are necessary but that you don’t totally love, or maybe you just never find time to wear them because they’re never quite right for an occasion.
  • Pile 3: are things you never wear or never enjoy wearing (anything that is too small, that causes dysphoria, etc.) Some of these items might be necessary evils (if you’re closeted, if you don’t have anything to replace said item, if you hate non-black clothing but have a dress code for work) but generally these items should be considered dead to you.

This is all well and good, but what about if you’re experiencing hints of gender fluidity? In that case, what causes you dysphoria or what makes you feel joyful may change with the day. Or your ideas about how much discomfort you’ll put up with in an item of clothing will irreversibly shift, and that high-waisted skirt you used to wear now digs uncomfortably into your ribcage. Sometimes I’ll find that suddenly something I thought I liked was not true to me, was a costume all along. Or some days I just feel less feminine than others.

It can be hard to tell what you love and what you don’t. So here’s a modified version of the 3 piles thing: divide it (roughly) by gender. (Note, this assumes clothing falls into binary genders, or that there is a binariness to your wardrobe.)

  • Make a pile of menswear and a pile of womenswear. If something might fit in both piles, put it in whichever pile you usually wear it.
  • I fold my shirts narrow so that this works out, but I divide my dresser drawer into 3 sections and “file” my t-shirts so that I have one column of men’s and one of women’s. Then whenever I do laundry I put the shirts in the blank 3rd column.
  • For hanging clothing, I use the “stack” algorithm (Last In First Out): in computer science, this is a way of cache-ing data: after you access a piece of memory it goes to the top of the pile, and because piles get searched from the top down it just so happens that the data get sorted in order of how often you access them, and that the ones accessed more frequently are faster to access again. This assumes that past behavior informs future behavior… which is how our wardrobes work: typically whatever you wore most recently is also the thing you will be most likely to wear again. Here I put masculine clothing on one side of the closet and feminine on the other; but whenever I’d wear something I’d put it in the rightmost position of my closet and slide everything down by 1. This way I was categorizing my clothing into 3 sections: masculine-only, feminine-only, and any/all-gender-expression-clothing that I wear often work together.
  • Workout clothes are a jumble. I’ll deal with those later.

So there it was, my pseudo sorted wardrobe. On more masculine days, i could easily find what I wanted; on more feminine days, I could easily find something that went with those skinny jeans. The best part of this was that if I pulled something out of my wardrobe and wasn’t happy with it, often switching to the other gender pile resolved the issue. It was a good way of boxing things into gendered piles without limiting myself to wearing only say, men’s t-shirts with men’s shorts.

If you want even MORE structure, you can do a modified-for-gender-fluidity Project 333. The original Project333 involves paring down your *active* wardrobe to 33 items for 3 months; after 3 months, another 33 items. Now if you want to organize by gender, or if your gender is fluid or switches or androgynous, then it might help to do a double-Project333: 33 items of menswear (enough for multiple menswear outfits) and 33 items of womenswear. (This includes clothing and accessories and outerwear.) Use the stack algorithm to see what rises to the top of the pile. And then maybe the next round around, you reduce those 66 items to maybe 50, and then 40, and then 33 combined menswear and womens’ clothing, until you achieve genderfluid nirvana-in-a-capsule-wardrobe a la Queer Household.

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Last but not least, Lost In a Spotless Mind’s “Defining Style” series covers how to incorporate multiple styles: if you apply this to masculine and feminine as styles (what elements of masculinity feel right? What elements of femininity?), it might help strategize on how to make sense of your wardrobe. So for me, here are my things:

Dislikes:

  • I don’t like high-necked masculine styles: I prefer open collars and v-necks.
  • I don’t like tight-waisted feminine styles: my waist is high and not very defined which makes non-stretchy waistlines stupidly uncomfortable, and lack room for cookies.
  • I don’t like overly dainty feminine footwear: my wide flat feet need more structure.
  • I don’t like overly saggy men’s pants; I have a butt and I’d like to show it off.

Likes:

  • I like clothing that accentuates my hips and butt; even the mens pants/shorts I have hug the hips and derriere area.
  • I like structure in the upper body area: either through layering or a tailored fit, which can happen in mens clothing or womens clothing, to balance out my slopey shoulders and ample yet not overly perky boobs (anything that makes them look saggy is a nono).
  • I like flattering colors, which I sometimes can find only in the men’s and sometimes only in the women’s. (no pale pink, yellow, blue, or overly delicate hues; but no overabundance of neutrals either)
  • I like flat shoes with structure: sneakers, androgynous/unisex boots, something with some weight to it.
  • But overall, I stick to jeans and t-shirts; knowing this, 90% of my wardrobe (regardless of its gendered characteristics) should be casual.

Given this, I can definitely incorporate both masculine and feminine elements into my wardrobe without going full-on menswear or super dainty. These exercises help maybe not understand myself and my internal gender, but where exactly my gripes are with current trends and how to dress that feels *me* and cohesive. And if certain “feminine” things don’t feel right, that doesn’t mean that *all* “feminine” things will feel wrong. That maybe I can embrace my femininity rather than push it away, that I can incorporate all parts of myself and not just what I think the world expects of me.

That’s it, I hope that helps!If you’ve ever suffered from chaotic wardrobe-related feelings, start breaking it down. It’s not really about the clothes but about getting in tune with how you feel in your body, which can be complicated and difficult and incredibly confusing. So get some structure in your wardrobe, embrace your gender or lack thereof, and be free you beautiful handsome butterflies!

From doll to tomboy and everywhere in between

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After reading Quizzical Sloth’s post “I was never a tomboy”, it got me really thinking about childhood. Some people take this fixed path of always having been hyperfemme and staying that way, or always being butch even as a child, or never having had much of a gender at all.

What of us that didn’t have that? This certainty that our gender would forever be fixed? Once gender becomes fluid, is anything possible?

When I was 3, I refused to wear anything that wasn’t exactly what a doll would wear: a frilly dress and white socks, and shiny black Mary Janes (they had to be shiny). It wasn’t a costume; I was a doll. I even had blonde wavy shiny ringlets to match (because all dolls back in the 80s/90s were white, of course…). Then I inherited a couple tutus from a family friend who had them as dance costumes when she was little; I would change into the itchy sequined tulle costumes every day as soon as I got home from school. Oh yeah, and I wanted to make people happy by being a “wishing barbie” when I grew up, and make peoples’ wishes come true.

I was so proud to be girly.

Then I discovered tomboy. Comfortable clothes, practical clothes for rolling around in the dirt, armor to wear to show the world how tough I thought I was.

I was so proud to be boyish.

Was one better than the other? Is there a better or worse way to be? What of us kids who never followed exactly one path?

To this day, I like boots and skirts and t-shirts. I like flannel and headbands. I like nail polish and baseball caps. In trying to choose one, fitting in to someone else’s idea of what a girl is, I lost who I was. I did have dysphoria when I wore short skirts and girly girly shoes. I did have dysphoria when I bound and hid my body.

Finding out what’s authentic, for some reason, has been harder for me than for other people. My girlfriend for example has always been herself, has worn basically the same stuff since she was 10. I don’t know why all this went down for me, but not always for others.

I’ve started really enjoying blogs like Lost in a Spotless Mind, a very honest (and beautifully made) style blog that talks about body positivity and authenticity and mental health and wellbeing. I wish there were more like it out there. Because sometimes all I need someone to tell me, after getting so many conflicting messages from society, is that it’s okay to be myself.

My femmy, tomboy, all-over-the-place, self.

This of course gets into another discussion on why we feel the clothes we wear define us in any way, but that’s a story for another time.

Pretty privilege is not a privilege, and my journy isn’t all that special

I posted last week about my anger at the invisibility of being seen a certain way. I went on rants to people about how frustrating that invisibility is. I loathe the binary gendered system, the world that judges our worth based on our ability to live up to some arbitrary standards.

And the problem is, if you live up to those standards, maybe you get treated differently… but you’re still treated as though people just want things from you. I have a friend who is scared to talk to men because she doesn’t want to see the look in their eyes when they assess her. She’s been through enough, why be constantly reminded that her worth is in her looks? It’s scary being on either side of the coin, neither side of which involve being treated like a whole person.

Fuck society and its shallow ideas of the worth of human life.

As for my personal relationship with female-bodied femininity (femininity of female-identified people), I’m pretty angry at it. More specifically: I’m resentful of it. I resent its implications. I resent how it’s the only way to be treated as a female human.

Because I’ve been there, done the femininity thing, lost weight and tanned and let my long hair flow, but it made me feel objectified rather than empowered. There are things I really like in femininity. I like painting my nails and I like skirts and I like scarves. At least, I did for a while. Now those things just make me angry, which maybe I have been confusing with dysphoria.

If you read up on it, there are a lot of women who say they’re “like a guy” or “masculine” or otherwise non-feminine because they like video games, or they don’t cook, or they’re direct, or they prefer non-pushup bras, or they like heels but not HEELS heels, or whatever. It’s like if we aren’t pushing for the epitome of femininity it negates our femininity.

So maybe that’s what I’m experiencing, thinking: well I’m not the epitome of femininity so I’m masculine or male or genderqueer… when in reality, I’m just a tomboy femme woman who struggles to be seen as a person.

And what I’m really angry about is that my lack of feminine expression right now is as much about feeling like I don’t deserve it because I internalize these messages about how femininity is reserved for the beautiful. How much I don’t deserve it because I might as well be invisible. Which is screwed up. But I do want to have a voice in this world. And as someone who likes the outdoors and does computational work and is in a family full of boys, it often feels like my voice is drowned out by the fact that I’m a gender minority always. And it makes me angry that I’m reduced to that… that if i’m not the prettiest I have no voice.

That if I don’t have a story about a guy creeping on me, I’m not part of feminism. That if I spent more time trying to figure out how to get attention from people I was interested in than avoiding unwanted attention, I couldn’t relate to other women. And then that when I did get attention from men, I hated it. I resented everybody because of these expectations I was trying to live up to. ugh.

The same friend who was at the climbing gym with me that night said she ranted about beauty standards to her mom once, and her mom said that she should conform to them in order to change the system from within.

My mom always bemoans that boys never chased her. She jokes about covering her face with veils so nobody has to see her.

How is that supposed to not affect me? How am I supposed to build a feminism that goes beyond that? How am I not supposed to reject a femininity that rejects women that look like me and my mom?

I don’t know how to get past this. I know there are things that make me feel like a person. But often I feel completely unworthy of the space I take up, gender expression aside.

I guess that’s a pretty common experience for people who identify as female, huh. Either we attract too much attention or too little attention or too much scrutiny or too much idolatry… any way it goes, it’s objectification. Plain and simple.

Raaaggggeeeeee…

Butch Lesbian vs. Female Faggot: Mapping the Territory

Super interesting thoughts on being somewhat masculine presenting but not masculine, into masculinity, and female.

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There’s an enviably large body of work and writing out there on butch lesbian identity, sexuality, gender, and history.  At its best, this writing makes it possible to see lesbianism as something far vaster than women loving women.  As Bond beautifully puts it, butch is a “cartography” that changes the meaning of the female body, makes it inhabitable and ownable as something reassuringly masculine, allows one to “travel back” to it.  Butch is also a socially crafted, recognizable, and legible form of female masculinity with a long history behind it.  However much it is stereotyped, misrepresented, and maligned, everybody, even the most homophobic cissexual straight person, knows at least something about what it means:  lesbian, for one, masculine, even transgressively so, and likely attracted to feminine women.  Navigating one’s gender variance is always an anxious, trying, and lonely endeavor, and butch is no exception to this, but at least butch…

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Boundaries

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You know what really gets me? How we can never know what’s going on in someone else’s brain. We just can’t be sure, ever, that our experience is remotely similar to theirs.

People are black box mysteries, and that’s amazing. How can you not be dying to know what makes a person tick?!

When other people seem the most opaque is when I feel the most lonely. Or rather, when I’m the most frustrated by that opacity is when I feel the most lonely. And that’s really what loneliness is: the unfulfilled desire to relate to others.

When someone experiences a loss of consciousness after a brain injury, how can we know they’re unconscious if maybe their communication systems are just down? When someone is going through a tough time, how can we tell if they need support or tough love? How can we make sense of death if there’s no communicating with it while alive?

It’s stuff like this that makes me, if not religious or even agnostic, deeply awed by the limitations of science.

I don’t know what to do for people sometimes.

As I left my therapist’s office (we started talking about how not to end up like my mother, the true american dream), I saw I had a text from a friend asking to go get ice cream, sent half an hour earlier. Then another one 5 minutes later: “Nevermind, I’m going to go now.” I responded that I’d been in an appointment up until then, and she said she was back in lab. “Man, I have such narrow windows of time during which to catch you,” I texted. “Yeah, I needed more immediate cheering up,” she responded.

This makes me so angry, I don’t know why. Because she reaches out with an unrealistically high expectation for what I’ll be able to do for her? Because she only reaches out when she immediately needs a friend? Because maybe we’re not that close and I just don’t know what I can do for her?

I actually brought this up with my therapist in connection to my mom: I don’t know if I can ever please her. She does take out some blame on her kids, with or without meaning to, and I don’t know what to do with that. Do I indulge her? Do I shout at her? I’ve slowly learned to let things go, but shouldering blame is a frustrating thing.

I’m starting to feel really weird about my friendships, like, I don’t know, they’re increasingly tenuous. I know I’ll move in the next couple years, and maybe I’m starting to pull up my roots. But sometimes, I just don’t know what people want from me, or what I want from other people.

Ready to politicize!

My trip to D.C. is imminent you guys! Imminent! As in, I gotta wake up in 3 hours. Then I’ll sleep 3 hours on the train. Then I’ll go to sleep early as f—. It’ll be terrific.

It turns out I won’t actually be meeting congressmen; only their staffers. And we’ll be talking to them about increasing public funding for basic science. I’m hoping it goes well! At the very least this is a great way to gain experience, network, and put something sci-policy on my resume, since I’ve done bubkis for my resume in the past 4 years besides be a grad student.

I tried on a bunch of different outfits; my favorite involved a shirt, tie, and blazer… but I don’t want to be so visible. So I’m just going with a shirt and blazer… but man I wish I could do the whole tie thing. It looks so much more fresh and profesh. Maybe not to my first trip. And maybe when my haircut is better, and I have better quality clothes. Those details super matter.

Aside from the crumminess of the knot, the quality of the tie, the length of the blazer sleeves (yeah shoulda done that before the trip), and the fact that those are useless not-great-fitting women’s pants with no belt loops, oh and the awkward camera angle (so like, all of it), here ya go: blazer_tie.png

Again, not what I’m wearing tomorrow. But sigh. Someday.