Well that's quite a title, but I assure you it makes sense. You see, over the process of transitioning, I went through a lot of style changers. Some prompted by my changing body, some by my growing comfort with it, and others with shifts in my sense of self. I thought it'd be interesting, given I have years worth of selfies and photos, to go through my various 'looks' chronologically, and analyse why I dressed the way I did, what I was feeling, and how this was a change from what came before.
So, let's begin with pre-transition. The dark times. Before I realised I was trans. Where while I did enjoy aspects of my life, and had some wonderful people in it, I wasn't fully able to appreciate my life, and was never really able to enjoy my body.
I hated my body. Everything felt uncomfortable when I had to be social. I had fallen into a trap of coping by emulating the men around me - and many of the masculine behaviours I saw were quite toxic. I couldn't escape the feeling that I was going to be 'caught out' somehow. That people would know I wasn't, well... male. So I over-performed masculinity when I was uncomfortable, and I wore military-style cargo pants, leather jackets and baggy t-shirts to hide my body shape.
I grew a beard when I was 21, figuring it made me look more masculine and that this would make me feel more comfortable in gendered situations. It didn't, but I kept it anyway. I usually kept the sides shaved, making a van dyke, but I sometimes grew it out to a full beard. I kept wondering if style changes would help me feel more comfortable. They didn't, of course.
The only concession to what I now realise was dysphoria was long hair. I loved the feeling of having long hair so much that didn't cut it much, and even until the end it stayed well below shoulder length.
Then... I figured it out. I've written enough about that realisation (I hope) so I'm going to focus on how I began to present.
First there was pre-hormone therapy, but after I had realised who I was.
The first thing I did was shave my beard - and let me tell you, seeing your face for the first time in 12 years is quite strange. Otherwise, I didn't change my appearance much. I experimented a bit buying cheap dresses from k-mart, but unshockingly, with a very dumpy, unfit masculine body, the results just made me sad. It didn't help that I was buying cheap dresses - which were mostly shift or bodycon dresses,... which did little to flatter my figure.
So I kept my look much the same, and I'd be lying if I said that depressing realisation of how "bad" I looked in dresses and femme fashion didn't hit me, and I suspect it affected me for some time.
I told friends and family something I now consider quite naive - that I wouldn't change. Physically, I knew I would (or, hoped I would) but I told myself, perhaps as a defence mechanism, that this wouldn't change much for me. I wasn't a particularly feminine person, I concluded. It was just about dealing with dysphoria, which was primarily (I told myself) all about discomfort with my body.
Then... I began hormone therapy, and luckily (if uncomfortably) for me it hit me like a ton of bricks.
My face changed fast. I didn't notice it at first, because I was staring at it all the time, but in retrospect I can see how my subcutaneous fat shifted. How different my face looked with my beard lasered the hell off. How my hair, which had been thinning to the point of a slight bald patch, had thickened and grown out more. How even my lips became more plump.
Then there was the weight loss. I'm not quite sure why, as I had been told to expect weight gain (which eventually proved true) but I lost weight. A lot of weight. Perhaps it was a shift in lifestyle. Perhaps a big part was the loss of muscle mass in my upper body. (Muscles weight a lot, and looking back even as a nerdy masculine-bodied person, I did have a fair bit of muscles in my chest and arms.)
The one place I didn't lose fat, though, was my chest. I had been told not to expect much breast development. By blogs. By posts on forums. But within six weeks, I turned out to be an exception - I went from barely an A cup to a full B cup. I wasn't out at this point, either - so I wore a tight crop top under baggy shirts and hoped nobody would notice my painfully uncomfortable new breasts.
I remember around this time decided that because I was such a nerdy person, and my interests verged on 'masculine', at least in terms of social coding, that I must be a tomboy. So I kept my cargo pants and leather jackets, even keeping my hair tied back much of the time. I wore overshirts sometimes. There were a few exceptions - I often kept my hair out, sometimes painted my nails, and once I was out publicly (from two months in) I traded my baggy "oh god don't see my body" t-shirts with tight baby-doll tees that accentuated my body shape.
Ignoring the beard, I had always looked quite androgynous. I was blessed with no adam's apple, with a "weak" jaw, a mid-range voice, and with a fairly ambiguous face to try and gender. So with a tight top, a bra and no visible stubble, I began to seomtimes get gendered correctly, even still wearing pants and no makeup. In a group of other girls, I'd get gendered right. When out with guys, people assumed I was an androgynous young man.
Around this time, I began to experiment once more with dresses. The results, in retrospect, weren't bad.
I began to realise (boy, I was fast on the up-take) that many dresses are flared in such a way to accentuate a 'feminine' figure. But even in simple formless dresses, I look far better than I remember feeling. Despite being increasingly happy with how I looked in dresses, most of the time I stuck to pants and t-shirts. Part of it was, probably, just still trying to convince myself I wasn't that "feminine" a person.
When I finally did began to wear dresses with any regularity, what made it happen was realising that I felt more comfortable merging my earlier style with feminine attire. Black dresses that flared. Leather jackets.
I was beginning to find myself, I suppose, and accept that I was, perhaps, much more comfortable presenting feminine than I had previously assumed.
I had been wearing dresses maybe half the time for a while, and experimenting with makeup - with the help of a few friends who are far better at it than I suspect I will ever be - when I went through a breakup. I mention this because it became important...
For as long as I could remember, I'd been attracted to curvy women with red hair. I never quite knew why, but often they were the women I crushed on, dated or even just admired.
But with the breakup and my continuously-filling-out body, I began to wonder - what if I was doing the thing I'd heard spoken about so often in queer circles? What if I had confused an aesthetic goal for myself with an attraction to that aesthetic?
I dyed my hair red.
By this point, I began wearing dresses all the time. My body changing helped my comfort with this, but so did the growing sense that I was actually a person I was comfortable being.
It affected how I flirted with partners. It gave me comfort in social situations.
But something else had begun to happen leading up to this: my necklines had crept down as I got bustier.
When I first began wearing dresses, I had a fear I wasn't quite able to accept or vocalise at the time - that I would get misgendered. That someone would see me as a "guy in a dress". This fear, I think, is part of what kept me in pants for so long.
If someone misgendered me and I was in pants or a t-shirt, I could cope better. I could tell myself, "eh, I'm androgynous-looking". Wearing a dress and putting on makeup was scary. It was putting myself out there. It was opening myself up more obviously to transphobic abuse.
If I wore a dress with a low neckline, it made this less scary - it's hard for people to misgender you if they're checking out your rack. So that became my uniform - dresses that flared and had low-cut tops.
It was difficult at first because I was torn between lessening the fear of misgendering and transphobia, to the fact that I tended to get sexualised, cat-called and stared at more by men when I wore something revealing.
But I did it, to the extent that I almost entirely stopped wearing high-neckline dresses. At one point I don't think I'd worn one for six months or so. With my breasts continuing to grow and be more obvious, I realised this had just become something people associated with me. I was the busty semi-goth redhead, or as a friend put it, "the death femme redhead with the big tits".
I also wore makeup more, and realised something: in almost every photo I took, selfie or not, I was smiling. Unless I was actively trying not to, anyway.
I was comfortable in my body. I smiled talking to my local barista. To the shop store people. To the random person I'd just met.
I think this is the way it's ben for maybe a year and a half now. It's me, and I no longer feel a desperate need to change my look. I found it.
There are interesting side-effects to the slow process of finding myself as my body was changing, however.
I've worn low-cut tops for so long now that when I wear a high neckline, I feel deeply uncomfortable. I look down and feel like I am somehow blobby. Fat. It's different seeing cleavage - that's normal now. But seeing just fabric pushing out so I can't see my feet... I suddenly get self-conscioust that I might be too heavy.
I am sure that some outfits that involve pants would look amazing me... but it's highly unlikely I'll be finding out what they are any time soon. Just going near pants feels wrong now. I associate it with bad times of my life, or times when I was still finding myself. Pants are things other people wear. If it's not for a specific costume - a Ghosbuters or Star Trek jumpsuit, it's dresses and skirts all the way for me.
It's almost a fear at this point. I worry I would genuinely feel dysphoric if for some reason I had to wear pants again.
I don't think this is a good thing. It's something I should get over, I suppose. Like that weird fear that I look too fat if I don't show off my cleavage. But it seems like a lot of work.
So I am here now, the death femme redhead with the big tits.
Oh well. At least it feels like me - nothing ever really has before.