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Clothes and Gender: Life Sentence or Liberation?

Imagine taking a child, dressing them in clothes that are strongly the opposite gender and taking them out or forcing them to school like this?

How distressing would this be? Not to mention the detrimental psychological effect, especially if done long term.

Yet this is exactly what happened to me (and many other trans people) every day of my life, for years!

Clothes are an expression that trans people miss out on

The choices we make with our appearance (inc. hairstyle, tattoos etc) convey information to those around us about who we are and what we stand for.

So consider the implications for a trans person who’s spent most of their life living within the wrong identity, and whose entire wardrobe simply can’t reflect who they are.

After nearly 40 years living this nightmare, I know this all too well.

trans masculine style

Matt Ellison – Finding his sense of style as a trans man

Coping strategies

For each trans person you ask you’ll hear a different story, but for me, once I was old enough to choose my own clothes I went along the ambiguous route.

I simply couldn’t do feminine so lived as a tomboy, but I also felt too uncomfortable going any further along the masculine route than society deemed acceptable, so couldn’t wear most of the clothes I yearned to. I lived in jeans and sweaters, as this was the only way I could survive.

I would wear baggy tops to hide my breasts and would suffer for as long as I could in the heat of summer before removing my jumper to reveal an oversized t-shirt. Then I’d slouch forward, being far too uncomfortable at the thought of anyone seeing the rounded shape of my chest.

I very clearly remember the occasion, aged around 5, that I’d noted boy’s waists sat lower than girl’s, and looking at myself in the mirror, I positioned my trousers onto my hips. I felt this looked much better. They have sat there ever since!

Impact on career

As clothes become more formal and move away from jeans they typically become more gendered.

Because of my inability to wear anything formal/feminine I made career choices that enabled me to wear casual, gender neutral clothes such as jeans. This had huge implications on the direction my whole life took, and also affected my income and therefore my standard of living.

Fitting rooms

It’s great to try clothes on before you buy; it saves the hassle of returning any unwanted articles. But unfortunately these spaces are usually gendered, and gendered spaces often cause distress for a trans person.

This adds to the numerous problems around clothing, for myself not least because with a female shaped body, buying men’s clothes meant it was harder to find clothes that fitted, so I really wanted to try them on first.

Shopping as a trans man can be difficult

Matt Ellison – Discovering transmasculine style

School

At school in the 70’s/80’s I was forced to wear a skirt, and hated every moment. I was very jealous of the boys who, simply because they’d been born into a boy’s body, could wear trousers. It seemed dreadfully unfair.

I did used to wear boys shoes however, as there were no rules prohibiting this. I am very surprised I wasn’t bullied, as this was a time before any female fashions were styled on men’s designs, as many are today.

Police cadet

I was a Police Cadet at 16 and to my horror, although at this time Police Women were allowed to wear trousers on certain occasions, my uniform was issued with only a skirt and no option allowed for trousers. I left the cadets shortly before my 19th Birthday and that was the very last time I ever wore a skirt!

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Matt’s Police Cadet Hat – He hated wearing this too!

Formal occasions

Even the mere mention of a formal occasion would distress and panic me with instant thoughts of “But what will I wear?”. I dreaded things like weddings or funerals, or even parties.

I was called for Jury service and this posed particular problems. As you can’t ‘opt-out’ I was feeling particularly trapped simply due to the problem of what to wear, and this distressed me.

Finally Free

Imagine my relief upon finally becoming Matt and being able to wear just what I wanted. Before I used to walk past the men’s clothes sections in stores knowing they were out of bounds for me. I just had to switch off, suck it up, and accept it wasn’t allowed.

Then all of a sudden this changed. As a male, society now gave me ‘permission’ to wear these clothes.

At first it felt like a dream, or even a game, and that it was going to end. But slowly as my mindset changed, I began to realise that this was actually real, and was forever!

I now long for formal occasions so I can get suited and booted.

TopMan personal shopping team are great for ftm trans men

Matt Ellison – TopMan personal stylists work their magic

Getting fads out my system

There were many male clothes I’d wanted to wear when I was younger which weren’t always the best fashion choices, and of course fashions have changed a lot since then too. I still find that I want to wear these things and can’t see past that until I’ve got the fad out my system. So I’ve ended up buying clothes that in fact I never actually wear, or at least not for very long before I replace it with something more current.

Topman Personal Shopping

I’ve done a few Topman Personal Shopping Experiences, which have been amazing.

I’ve found myself in a trendy men’s clothes store, with my own fashion expert, whose job it is to make me look good. And they’re good at their job! Picking out styles you’d never have chosen but that suit you to a tee.

I’d highly recommend this experience to trans or cis people alike. Topman’s clothes (or Topshop for women) are trendy, look great, are very reasonably priced and with no minimum spend you’re not obliged to purchase anything. I guarantee you’ll want to though. You’ll feel like a celebrity being styled and made to look stunning.

As a trans-man who’s life long struggles with clothes had a very negative impact and who hadn’t found his style/look, this experience was truly liberating and literally LIFE CHANGING!

Please note: I have no sponsorship from, shares in, or affiliation with Topman!

(I was honored to witness other’s delight too at being liberated with their clothes after organising Topman Personal Shopping for the trans support group FTM London when I was co-chair.)

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