When I was a kid, I hated clothes shopping. It was so painful emotionally, my fatness, being the wrong size. Shame around that. I wasn’t all that fat, really. But when there was no Mervyn’s yet in Santa Maria, we took the trek to San Luis for back to school clothes, my family and the neighbor family, the other little girl being regular size, and then me.
I had to wear a dress to school every day, and I remember looking through the dresses available, trying things on, shame about my size. Shoes also. Money. Something festive about it, but mostly hell.
Then the traumas I had and the politics I developed changed me, from living in my particular body with its needs and demographics. I was super-christian as a kid, very religious, experiencing God all the time. Then I realized I needed the right to choose, my desires were a bit queer, and I didn’t have much option of going a regular route.
I tried Taoism and then some paganism, which stuck, and then you know I went to a sect of Hinduism, and back to paganism now, but with some Hinduism mixed in, especially the goddesses.
Nowadays, if people look at me and Ming–they could think Ming’s a man, I’m a woman, and everything’s normal here, but that illusion might take some effort to maintain. We don’t need to scratch very deep to see disabled anarchists living in community who might not be doing a standard thing.
For decades I wore jeans every day, couldn’t carry a purse, and a dress was funny, for me to wear, a Halloween joke. Then somehow I heard of Torrid and saw I could get dresses that would fit me and this was not an impossible thing. I got a dress and it wasn’t quite right. Then I tried again. The necklines were too low. Then I tried again and found clothes I like. [This is where my blogpost diverges from my plan.]
Before, I thought lots of gendery stuff like makeup and dressing up was a royal waste of time, and I saw it in a simplistic way, oppression that I could choose to sidestep by not shaving or buying makeup products. I was a bit obsessed with soap for a while, the way I might have a lot of stationery now. I never learned how to put on makeup, and I never learned how to shave with a real razor either. I had an old electric razor with a cord.
I could never win that game, so I didn’t want to play. I was too fat to be considered beautiful, and fuck all that. Looking back, I see I was not really fat at certain times, but I thought I was, and I was mostly treated that way, I guess because I was projecting it? Hard to tell, from here. I felt like a second or third class citizen all the time, but sometimes I couldn’t tell quite why.
I didn’t want to have kids, once I realized I didn’t have to, and all that got mixed up in my mind, somewhat. Feminist with a certain gender performance, and thinking my mom’s time spent putting on makeup was a waste.
Then some shadow understanding simultaneously that there was something sacred about it–physical and psychological preparation for facing the world, performance in order to be taken seriously, something about beauty and power too. Something she had been doing for a long time. Part of her life, valid.
Somehow that sliver of time, we talked about different things. She was slightly vulnerable. I was allowed to see something most people didn’t, little child standing in the doorway of her bathroom. Then later, she sat at the table putting on whatever, the materials spread out before her on the blue tablecloth.
When she started chemo, her hair turned white, and she was embarrassed her eyebrows were white so invisible. She would draw on eyebrows with dark brown eyeliner, and worry she didn’t get them symmetrical. “Oh crap. This one is higher than the other one…” she said.
I always said they looked fine. “If anyone’s looking that hard at your eyebrows, maybe they should do something else,” I said.
I remember the smell of the makeup, her looking in the mirror, then looking at me, evaluating how the thing she just said affected me. What was I thinking. Then back to the mirror and mascara. She only wore lipstick on special occasions.
She painted her nails, and I like my nails short, but sometimes she painted mine too. She liked pink and red, but I liked purple and green and those years of black. I remember the slight pain when she would scrape a little nailpolish away where it got on my skin, at the edge of my nail, and I’d say, “Hey! Hey!” I wished she wouldn’t do that. But of course, now I’m crying to wish for one more time.
All of this is a partial explanation of why I asked Ming to take my picture yesterday, as I wore a special strawberry tanktop at a college in Henderson.