Skirts, Suits, and She/Her

Content Notice: This post discusses transphobia, enbyphobia, misgendering, transitioning and HRT, and transmedicalist/truscum ideology. It also contains a captioned image.

Last Friday, Dec. 1, I went to a church memorial service for World AIDS Day, participated in a candlelight vigil for the same event, and then went to two different parties, one of which was (supposedly) formal dress. (The other one was an end-of-semester wrap party for the newspaper I work for, meaning it was decidedly not formal dress and instead filled with slightly drunk student journalists sipping boxed wine and talking about Star Wars fan theories and Bionicle consciousness. Yes, really.)

For the first two events, I wore black dress pants, a grey button-down, a purple striped tie, and a black suit jacket. For the second two events, I wore the exact same thing plus the black flowery skirt I’m wearing in this post. The difference was that the first two events were off-campus. The second two were on-campus, where many people know that I’m a non-binary trans person and the vast majority of the student body is leftist and polite enough to not ask questions about gender.

Such is not the case at an all-ages church ceremony where I put a lot more effort into trying to pass. Being (mis)gendered as a woman there would have put me in an awkward bind: say nothing and swallow my pride and anger or speak up and draw attention to myself in what’s supposed to be a solemn service.

I would have vastly preferred to wear the skirt over my pants to the church service and candlelight vigil as well. My fashion sense, when I get my way, is “whatever,” including skirts and dresses. But I often opt for the masculine side of androgyny over much more heavily feminized skirts and dresses because it’s the only way for me to pass.

It pisses me off, quite frankly, that after over a year on testosterone and jumping through all the hoops to change my name and gender marker legally, I still get misgendered as often as I do. I am not, at this point, even aiming for most people to use they/them (let alone xe/xem) towards me. If I can get 95% of the Actual Adults™ in my life to use he/him towards me, I’ll be happy. But I can’t. It’s a struggle that I am so sick of fighting.

My organic chemistry professor (before I finally dropped the class because I was not doing well in it) kept assuming that I go to Scripps, which is the women’s college at Claremont. I don’t. I didn’t even apply to Scripps because I’m not a woman. (I realize there are trans men at Scripps. This isn’t supposed to be about the validity of trans masc people at Scripps; it’s about the fact that I’m assumed to be a Scripps student because I don’t pass well enough for male.)

My Spanish professor keeps using she/her1 pronouns for me. I can’t get the courage to correct him, especially as we move into the last week of the semester. I considered on the first essay exam, when I had to write a self-introduction, including the sentence Yo soy un hombre2 and then didn’t because I figured I would correct him later in the semester. Now we’re this far in, I’m taking Spanish II with him next semester, and I have no idea what to say.

The Pitzer Student Portal has an applet where students can choose their preferred pronouns so faculty can see that on class rosters (see screenshot below). It’s not perfect – there is no “other” or “input own” option and the list is less expansive than I would like – but it’s workable. The problem is actually getting faculty to use the pronouns a student inputs, which often works out to be a case of “the tech is good but the users aren’t.”

pronoun portal
The “Gender Pronoun” applet. The text on it reads: “Help Faculty learn your Pronoun. A pronoun, [sic] is simply what an individual would like others to use when talking to or about that individual. Submitting your pronounCodeCode[^3] [sic] will help Faculty in learning your pronounCodeCode and support the proper use when talking to or about you. Select from the dropdown [sic] list below and then click the ‘Submit’ button. Once submitted, your pronounCodeCode will show near your name in Portal Faculty login areas such as class list [sic].” There is then a drop-down menu to select a pronoun. Donnie’s current selected pronoun is “They, Them, Their/Theirs, Themself.” The entire list of pronouns given is not show but is as follows: E/Em, Ey/Em, He/Him, Hu/Hum, “Just My Name Please,” “None,” Per/Per, She/Her, Ze/Hir, and Ze/Zir.
I’ve had mixed success with professors and pronouns: some try very hard and fail, some try very hard and get it right, some seemingly don’t try at all, and then there’s the one professor who’s also trans3, so, that’s nice. (Said professor is currently on sabbatical all year at another school doing research, which makes me sad because that significantly lowers my pool of people on campus to complain to about trans things.)

All of this is some sort of circular story around the point: I am fed up with having to defend myself and my gender all the damned time. I feel … I dunno, slighted, like after all the time, energy, and money I spent transitioning to a reasonable point, I should pass better. I shouldn’t have to choose my outfits carefully so that I don’t get misgendered to a ridiculous degree. I mean, for goodness sake, my name is literally Donnie Tobias (as it shows up on the roster, the system is not good with dual middle names). Donnie Tobias is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a traditionally feminine name.

I know “man in a dress” gets thrown around a lot in a very transmisogynistic context but, outside of that context, I sometimes just do want to exist as a man in a dress. I mean, I don’t, not really, because I’m not a man, I’m not binary, even though I’m vaguely masculine-of-center. I just want to be seen as not-female. I want to be seen as either a man or a masc non-binary person, even though I identify more with the latter. There are cis men I know of on this campus who wear skirts and dresses and somehow don’t get misgendered for it. Funny, that. (/sarcasm)

When it comes to gender and presentation, I know there’s going to be some anti-enby asshat out there who will argue that because I like to wear skirts, I can’t be a trans man, why am I transitioning if I wear skirts, etc., etc.. (Because binarist, transmedicalist types love to assume that non-binary people don’t exist/are all cis, apparently).

I’m transitioning because the body I had post-puberty round one didn’t match my identity. The body I have now still doesn’t match my identity. I had/have immense bodily dysphoria over what my body looks like and how it continues to be perceived. I’m transitioning because I want to get to a point where I am accepted as male(-ish) without having to out myself as trans and put myself at risk.

None of that has to do with skirts or any other article of clothing. I liked wearing skirts when I was younger and now that I am gendered more frequently as male or non-binary (especially in trans-friendly spaces), I feel comfortable wearing them again. Goddamn. Let trans and non-binary people wear the clothes they want to.

I don’t hold a grudge against every person who has ever misgendered me. (It would be a fruitless effort: I would be even more full of spite and anger than I am now.) I realize that sometimes people make mistakes and the solution is to gently correct them; people aren’t generally raring at the bit to misgender and upset trans people. It’s usually ignorance. It’s usually a well-intentioned mistake.

I just find it very hard to deal with the constant grating of being reminded that I have to closet myself in certain ways in order to pass. I can’t wear the clothes I want to. I can’t be too androgynous. I have to be more masculine than feminine because otherwise I will almost certainly be gendered as female. I hate bearing the burden of having to remind all my professors (and peers) about my pronouns and teach them about these things, especially when the pronoun applet is right there on the portal.

It’s upsetting to me that I’m forced into these situations through no fault of my own or anyone else’s. There are good points – one of my professors this semester must have checked the portal because she’s using they/them pronouns for me with no prompting – but said good points can be few and far between. And I quibble with the idea that it’s really “good” or anything more than expected that a professor can’t use the pronouns printed on the class roster next to a student’s name. That should be the bare minimum4 at least.

Maybe it’s just the end of the semester wearing on me. Maybe I’m blowing this waaaaay out of proportion. But I don’t think I am. I think my complaints are valid and I’m not casting undue blame on anyone. Professors who can’t use the roster deserve a little shaming. Nature, God, my shit-fuck-damn body that can’t advance through puberty 2.0 fast enough deserve to get blamed for my annoyance that, after a year and change on T, I have one chin hair and a baby face5.

In any case, I would like to be able to wear skirts to whatever events I feel like6 and not get flack or misgendered for it. If cis men can wear skirts and not get labelled women, so should I. I’m not asking for much, just for people to accept me regardless of my awful, gender-clashy tastes in fashion.

[^3] I honestly have no idea what’s up with “pronounCodeCode.” Sorry. Blame Pitzer IT, not me.

  1. In English, no less. I’ve never heard him use any pronouns in Spanish in reference to me and he doesn’t call on me to read any parts of gendered exercises. In case anyone’s wondering, I use el or elle pronouns in Spanish. 
  2. Or perhaps Yo no soy una mujer would be more correct but who’s counting? 
  3. Out of concern for said professor’s privacy, I’m not saying who, but a) I don’t really think said professor would care and b) it’s common knowledge around campus that said prof is trans. 
  4. I can tell I’m Very Tired while writing this because I typed “bear minimum” the first time. As in, the minimum amount of bears needed for something. What kind of bears? That’s for you to decide. 
  5. It used to be two chin hairs and a baby face but one of the chin hairs was so weirdly long that I pulled it out for being too distracting. 
  6. Except chemistry labs, where we’re technically allowed to wear ankle-length skirts but I’m not going to push that. Especially since – and this is a True Fact – I have never seen a single other person of any gender wear a skirt in chemistry lab.