Friday, February 17, 2017

Updated Thoughts on Style

Last week I promised two posts would be upcoming: one about Islamophobia and one about my current story WIP. Those are in the works, but here's a brief detour about style. Because.

I think the last time I wrote on this topic was in fall quarter freshman year, when I said something along the lines of "my refusal to be stylish is an expression of self-centeredness and defiance of femininity" (Unstyled Arrogance, October 2014). Since then I've 1) realized I'm trans and 2) started working on my misogyny*.

*Since I'm not a woman I don't get to call it "internalized misogyny."

A large component of my angst around appearance was my hatred for feminine gender roles and expectations. Everything was lumped into the one bucket of style=fashion=feminine=frivolous=decorative. It wasn't until I started thinking about gender more that I had a change in mindset with respect to the clothes I put on myself. Namely: style and appearance communicate something about you to other people. But "don't dress for other people" doesn't mean "pursue a bland aesthetic to show that you're better than the other girls." Instead, it means go for functionality and comfort.

This change is driven more by getting older than anything else, i.e. chilling out. The clothes people wear can be a platform for communicating their values and personalities and so on and so forth, but one can also stick the middle finger up to the fashion industry and its way of preying on people's (primarily women's) insecurities and aspirations by just...going for functionality. I don't know. It isn't that deep. But I think that in high school and the first part of college I was too preoccupied by how my clothes communicated to other people when really what matters to me about clothing is what it does for me.

(I blame, in part, the lack of weather in California, for my prior mindset. Because I don't really have to dress for weather here, the functionality of clothes has always been somewhat abstract. The decorative aspect is much more prominent.)

What decisions have I made, in this evolved mindset? For one, 100% of the pants I wear on a regular basis are sourced from the Old Navy men's section. The numbers on the pants make sense, there are pockets large enough that you can put a pen in one and forget that it's there, they're more comfortable (particularly if you're moving around a lot), and the material is sturdier. I don't expect to have to buy more pants in college. Luckily I have no curves, so I've noticed no issues with fit; it feels like there's plenty of room so if your waist and hip measurements are significantly different, splitting the difference is probably a good place to start.

Last year, only a few months after I'd (finally) figured out that I'm trans, I remember feeling dysphoric over shirts buttoning the wrong way. Not to diminish the way I felt then, but really, that's not a big deal. Which way a shirt buttons does not affect its functionality as a shirt. (Although as with pants, men's shirts seem sturdier.) As I try to become more of a professional, I'll probably need to head back to the women's section for shirts that fit, but the elusive men's S and XS shirts are excellent. Also, for some reason, easier to find in Germany than in the US (?). Rolling up your sleeves and tucking your shirt into your pants can help make shirts that are too big wearable but they still won't really look sharp. Shirts that have a chest pocket are prime since you can put pens and other stuff there.

In going after functionality, I have acquired three sweaters in the past year--one directly prior to leaving for Germany, one in Berlin, one in Hamburg. They are all of slightly different weights, for versatility in colors that go with anything.

Socks: I like black socks because you can't tell if they're dirty and there's just something sharper about them. But having warm socks is also important (to my sister--thanks for the Christmas gifts).

I have thought some about aesthetics, because I need to admit that I do care what I look like and that I want to look put together. Most of my "style experimentation" in the past year has been layering different articles of clothing and thinking about which colors go well together.

My "uniform" is a button down and a sweater, i.e. dressing like a retired German history professor (i.e. my host dad). Advantages: you look academic and like you care at least a little. Disadvantages: if the sweater is on you can't use the chest pocket, and if you roll up the sleeves of the sweater then the sleeves of the shirt get in the way, and if you pre-roll the shirt's sleeves then there's an awkward bump right above your elbow.

A slightly more casual version is a t-shirt and a sweater. Advantages: the sleeve issue has been resolved, if your pajama t-shirt is a color that goes well with your sweater then you can be ready for the day in record time. Disadvantages: if you take the sweater off it may be too casual, if you don't think about what shirt it is and take the sweater off you may embarrass yourself (see: me realizing with horror that I'd worn my university department t-shirt off campus to a doctor's appointment).

Colors: black and dark green are prime stuff, both individually and together. These colors work particularly well with my coloration (black hair/brown eyes/warm-ish skin tone). Red and gray/black gives off a somewhat aggressive, boyish feeling, and therefore is my go-to when gender has me feeling angry.

I used to have a lot of navy blue in my wardrobe. Not sure what happened there but maybe I've been avoiding it because since coming to college I've become a lot more proud of being a California public school kid, which makes me scorn the East Coast nautical prep style. It's probably not that deep.

I have two scarves, one dark red wool and one tan-colored. In keeping with the "functionality" clause I will usually pick the one that's more appropriate for the weather but sometimes I will decide which one to wear based on the other colors I'm wearing.

In the future, I'll need to buy work boots for sure. I'm a big fan of long-sleeved black clothes but would I actually get use out of a black button-down? Unclear. It might be too formal for everyday wear. Maybe if it was dark green/dark blue? The nicest coat I own is one my sister bought when she was in early high school and one of the sleeve buttons fell off so it's being held in place by a safety pin. May need to replace that at some point. A pair of sweats with pockets would be comfortable but I've been doing fine without.

Whenever I write about clothing I always feel a little silly, because the realizations I've come to--prioritize functionality and give at least a little thought to what impression you give--are fairly basic. Clothing doesn't have to be deep, just don't look down on people who do consciously use it as a way of expressing themselves. Adornment isn't for everyone but it's also not for no one. Still, if femininity isn't working for you at any level, just abandon it. If you're trans, shopping in the section that isn't for your assigned gender can feel affirming, but it is possible that in a year it won't matter as much to you which side your shirt buttons are. Colors are fun and if everything you own is in the same palette (except red shirts because school colors) then you can't screw up that badly. And how badly, really, can you screw up in the context of clothes?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sonnets for Augustus

Earlier this week I was struck by inspiration and wrote two sonnets about Augustus Caesar. Or rather, the first one is about Augustus and the second is about Octavian. Here they are:


Ara Pacis Augustae - Roma, Italia

Now come, let us stop telling tragedies
I do not want to hear about defeat
About the burning Trojan towers; please
Sing to me of Alexandrian heat
No Odyssey, no rage of Poseidon
But Agrippa, glory at Actium
The Pantheon under new construction
Just rule, a census, houses that are plumbed
A new Apollo, but unlike a god
Not gifted by martial skill from above
Whose mark on the earth was a mortal plod
Sickly and small but still happy in love
A new man whose roots draw from country loam—
Augustus, he who in marble built Rome.


Statue of Livia Drusilla - Louvre, Paris, France

With whom else would I want to spend my life?
Stay by my side; no one gets me like you
This is eternal—please, you know it's true
We came of age in time of civil strife
My father—well, great-uncle—died by knife
But his way is not the one I'll pursue
I'll be careful, bring peace. You want it too
Oh, Livia—will you please be my wife?

        Gaius Caesar—why, you're still just a boy
        But I can tell that you will move the earth
        In your story I will gladly take part
        I know you'd rather create than destroy
        Brick to marble, we will build things of worth
        Take my hand. You already have my heart.


I intended to write a post last Friday about Islamophobia and the travel ban, but I didn't make the time. Thankfully, the travel ban has been shot down by the courts, but Islamophobia is still alive and well in the United States and I'd like to keep working on that post, gathering resources, reflecting, etc.

I also think that this blog has wandered quite far from its initial purpose, i.e. as a place to document my writing progress. As I try to work writing back into my schedule, I'll use this space more for that purpose again. So, for personal accountability, look out for a post about my current project sometime soon-ish.