“But I didn’t pack straight!”
NOTE: This is a transgender-related entry. If you are confused by any of the terms used here, check out Ronen’s Trans Glossary.
Previously on Ronen’s Trip to Las Vegas: Some dudes thought I was a dude, other dudes were confused, it was all good to me.
Like I said, the trip started out as a bust. There were three people I was supposed to have met up with out there: two friends coming from two different states, and my brother. One friend’s grandfather died the night before he was supposed to leave, another tried to rent a car to drive out but ran into complications, and my brother’s new job decided to start three days earlier than it was supposed to. Which left me alone in Vegas.
Vegas really isn’t the sort of place to be alone in – not necessarily for safety reasons, since those are relevant just about anywhere you can go, but because it’s a place people go to be with other people. As a tourist attraction it’s essentially social: the gambling, the shows, the dining and the dancing all are engineered to be shared. So what was I to do?
My brother wound up coming to the rescue. He knew people who lived in Vegas and got me in touch with them. But as it turned out, that led to another set of problems. His friends had it in mind to visit some of the more exclusive dance clubs on the strip. The kinds of places that have dress codes and enforce them strictly. I texted my brother’s friend’s girlfriend, confiding in her that I hadn’t packed “girly club clothes.” She sent back: “You should be able to get in anywhere with a nice top, jeans and heels.”
Cue me looking in despair at the clothes I had chosen to bring: a button-up shirt from the boys’ section at Target. A cheesy-fun polyester shirt with ruffles. Ties. T-shirts. Men’s skinny jeans. A sports bra and binder, but no proper bra. Sneakers – nice ones, but sneakers. The only makeup in sight was an old eyeliner pencil that had just happened to be in my shoulder bag.
I had packed with the intention of going to a bunch of queer events: a burlesque show here, an LGBT hangout there. I hadn’t packed straight.
I’ve always been aware of the fact that my clothes make a statement. In a lot of ways, I like to have fun with that fact. However, the flip side of that coin is being keenly aware of when the clothes I’ve got or the other ways in which I’m presenting are inappropriate for or somehow opposed to the setting I’m in, and I can get pretty self-conscious about it if it isn’t what I meant to do. Being weird and queer and wacky is fun, and doing it on purpose can be doubly so, but drop me in a situation like that – where I didn’t expect to be sticking out like a sore thumb – and I get nervous.
I can’t imagine that I’m alone in this sort of predicament. Those out there who’ve run into it before know how the thought process goes: “I’m going to be obvious. They are going to take one look at me and know that I do not belong there. They are going to say to me, ‘This is not your space, you do not fit the parameters. Why did you even come?'” When all I really just wanted was to be able to go out and dance and have a good time. I started to regret contacting my brother’s friends. I considered ditching them and going back to the queer club I’d discovered the night before.
It was one of the first times I’ve remembered that I’ve come up so hard against the unwritten rules of the straight world. Usually I can make myself as visible or as invisible as I need to – of course, usually I have more than ten articles of clothing and a single piece of cosmetics on hand.
In the end, I did decide to go meet my brother’s friends. Why go back to the same place I’d been the night before? What was I in Vegas for if not to experience new things? Also – and this, I think, is the more important point – I decided not to let my clothes matter any more than anybody else made them. I’d walk in there like I belonged, and if no one else questioned it, I wouldn’t either.
Unfortunately my confidence never had a chance to be tested, as the group didn’t make it into the club for reasons that had nothing to do with me. Unfortunately I also got a minor skin irritation from using old eye makeup (which I promptly threw out the next day). But I think making the decision to go out there anyway was an important one. We may not always be able to engineer comfortable situations for ourselves, but if we can manage it, we don’t have to be any more uncomfortable than anyone else forces us to be. Walk in like you belong, and what happens may surprise you.