Gender Dysphoria and Formal Events

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They say style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.

What if you don’t know who you are?

I have a work conference coming up in a few weeks which includes a cocktail event. I am freaking out about what to wear. I have one outfit that I have worn to the last two events – a green women’s suit – and I’m not sure if I am comfortable enough to even wear it now that I am understanding myself and my dysphoria a little better. I used to attribute my discomfort with dresses and feminine clothing to typical teenage angst and being obese, but now that I am nearly twenty-seven and have lost more than 20kg, it’s becoming clearer each day that those things weren’t the main issue.

My high school formal stood out to me as a breaking point. I was seventeen and somewhere around 85-90kg (this is only an estimate as I didn’t weigh myself until I was twenty-two). My friends were so excited for their formal dresses and it felt like it was all they could talk about for the months leading up to the event. We went to a boutique after school one day and my friends eagerly tried on every dress that they liked. I, being the mess of low self-esteem and as-yet-undiscovered gender dysphoria that I was, sat on a chair for two hours and refused to try anything on. My mother did eventually convince me to try things on as the date loomed closer and closer, but each time I looked in the mirror I felt I looked like the crochet dolls that my grandma used to cover her toilet rolls.

These things still creep me out.

I ended up buying $50 dress that I hated two days before my formal. I will just be honest; it was ugly. It was purple and dark green and covered in beads, and the combination of the colours and texture of the fabric made me look like a rainbow fish in an oil spill. I hated it and spent the entire night feeling incredibly uncomfortable and out of place among the other girls. But I wore it because that was what was expected of me and I wanted to spend time with my friends before we all went our own ways.

Wearing something other than a dress never occurred to me because I’d never been presented with the option. It was ten years ago after all and gender nonconformity was not as normalised as it is today (though we definitely still have a long way to go). And it’s not just the fact that I don’t want to wear a dress. It’s that I yearn to wear more masculine clothing. I see my female friends in their dresses and playsuits and jumpsuits and I know that’s just not me. But I get filled with envy and sadness when I see my male friends wearing suits without a second thought.

So where does that leave me now?

I’m really not known for being a feminine presence at work. Pretty much everyone that knows me well would describe me as more on the masculine side, but that doesn’t mean that I am confident enough to rock a full masculine look at a work event. I’m just stuck. In a perfect world I would love to upgrade my distinctly feminine green blazer and flared pants combo for something more like this:

Should I just go for it? Is there anything that is really stopping me? What is the worst that could happen? I can’t really imagine anything bad happening because I know that my friends at work would support me and have my back no matter what. The worst case scenario is I do what I always do and spend the night in something that gives me dysphoria. I know which one I would prefer.

So tomorrow I am going shopping to find something to wear. I hope I can muster up some courage to go into men’s stores and try on things that I will actually like, instead of sticking to what makes me miserable.