June 21, 2024


Clothes that smile

Transgender Woman Madison Werner on Finding Personal Style

Transgender Woman Madison Werner on Finding Personal Style

“At least you can wear halters. I have man shoulders,” the infamous Regina George whines in “Mean Girls” as she stares at her reflection in the mirror. Meanwhile, Cady Heron looks on, observing every girl-coded corner of Regina’s lavish pink bedroom in awe. Complaints like “I hate my calves” and “my hairline is so weird” precede the Plastics’ glare toward Cady, as they await her contribution to their collective routine of self-loathing. The Plastics subscribe to the fallacy that femininity equals endlessly striving for perfection, but Cady is oblivious of this narrative. “She’s like a martian,” they say.

Trans people often walk a narrow line between wearing what feels authentic and what keeps them safe from scrutiny.

The Plastics epitomize cisgender, heteronormative femininity, and Cady is their contender. I’ve witnessed this dynamic countless times as a trans woman, and I find Cady to be a fitting representation of how trans women widen the cis confines of femininity. Turns out, Regina had a point: I, too, feel like halter tops bring attention to my shoulders, which are broader than the characteristic bone structure of AFAB (assigned female at birth) people. Tight pants, miniskirts, and short shorts were also a nightmare that drew attention to a mysterious bulge between my legs.

I always thought of gender transition as an algebra equation: starting hormones, avoiding masculinity, and undergoing GCS (gender-confirmation surgery) all equalled some grand idea of womanhood. And, in order to balance the equation, I needed to multiply the feminine pieces in my closet and subtract the masculine ones — a calculation that puzzled me.

In 2015, I opened my closet and stared at the first feminine piece I ever bought: a pair of women’s skintight faux-leather pants, which I wore until the seams ripped. I told my family that, since I was relatively small for a boy my age, I’d drown in men’s clothing. They knew this to be true; I wore kids’ jeans through all four years of high school, which backed up my excuse. The leather pants were an easy introduction to seeing their son wear women’s clothing. Over time, I added basic heels and flowy tees, racking up a grand total of six feminine clothing items in my wardrobe.

When I wear those leather pants now (yes, I still have them), I wear a top that’s long enough to cover my crotch, so as to avoid intrusive glares from strangers. I often feel a need to hide my trans body in spaces where it may be unwelcome. And, let’s face it: trans bodies are unwelcome in most spaces. I never had to think about this when wearing the pants as a boy. Trans people often walk a narrow line between wearing what feels authentic and what keeps them safe from scrutiny.

Lived experience, and my own gender dysphoria, convinced me that halter tops don’t get along with my shoulders. Many cis women avoid them too, which is kind of comforting: I’m not the only one. But that feeling of relief is disrupted when I remember that trans bodies aren’t treated the same as cis ones. If a trans woman is “clocked,” meaning her being trans is noticed in public, the cis folks around her scan for features that prove she was “born a boy.”

I turned New York City sidewalks into my runway while strutting to my NYU classes. I always took an hour choosing the perfect outfit but usually landed on the same nude pumps, white skinny jeans, crop top, and lightweight coat in 20-degree winter weather. Nothing was more important to me than proving to everyone I could be “unclockable,” even if it meant risking hypothermia and burying my heels in snow.

Masculinity in women does not determine their level of beauty, but we’ve been taught that it does.

A year into my gender transition, fashion influencers like Carli Bybel led me to a solution for my heel-in-snow issue: she teamed cute sneakers with two-piece sets from Naked Wardrobe. I was a little late to realize I could still feel womanly without patent pumps. The two-piece sets, though, presented a different problem. Mocha-colored leggings don’t leave much room for imagination when you have a bulge between your legs. I had to start tucking.

One YouTube video recommended duct tape, which I didn’t realize was quite dangerous. I picked some up at a hardware store down the street from my college dorm and got to work. I endured the pain of duct tape pulling off my skin just so I could wear leggings without judgment. Trust me, it wasn’t worth it.

I had just spent two years conforming my body to a standard that didn’t even give me gender euphoria. I did everything the Plastics recommended: I hid my “man shoulders” from halter tops, bought hair extensions to mask any “weird” parts of my hair, and tucked in leggings so I could show off my slender calves. As if those features of my body, which are all tied to cis-masculine standards, were somehow not beautiful.

Masculinity in women does not determine their level of beauty, but we’ve been taught that it does. It took me seven years and a lot of endurance and independence to reject that fallacy.

Now, I put myself first. I no longer tuck unless I genuinely want to, and I do it safely using Tuckituppp: a trans-owned business that makes comfort a priority for trans bodies. I’m proud that my sneakers now outnumber the heels in my wardrobe. I’ve created my own expression of womanhood, which I should have been seeking all along.

To the trans people reading this, I urge you to be patient with yourselves. You get to mark the chapters of your style narrative, and the journey is worth it — no matter how long it takes.

Image Source: Courtesy of Madison Werner