Trans mascs are obsessive about extremes of taste and anti-taste. I’ve never met so many people who love to insist that we’re tacky sons of bitches (/tacky nonbinary bitch-children) while also spending so much time and money on looking good. We buy nice pens and loud pants; we decorate our rooms with succulent forests and clashing animal prints; we wear suits on casual occasions. We go goth after our time. I’ve known mascs whose aesthetics ranged from normcore to New Romantic, but I also seem to know a lot of people whose style goal is not to stake out a specific territory, but to define and furiously defend an entire cheetah’s range of styles.
I was thinking about this today because I bought a tacky rock. I also bought a shirt, but it was a boring shirt — a blue polo — because as it happens, I made the rare transition in which FTM stands for “flamboyant to minimalist.” I used to present as a very fashiony woman. My first author photo showed me in a houndstooth coat of military cut, pink bangs, and large novelty earrings shaped like clouds streaming thin silver chains of rain. I owned Mighty Boosh-style cowboy boots. I braided yarn flowers into my hair, when it was long; when it was short, I compensated with dyed baroque pearls, rainbow bangs, and two to four rings at all times. It was exhausting, and self-consciously adorable. Once every few months, I would lose my shit and sell a huge load of clothes at Buffalo Exchange, because I’d realized that my entire approach was somehow wrong, and I needed a whole new aesthetic: gothier, cuter, more butch, less butch, more detailed, less detailed. I was always cracking cases, always hard at work on some kind of little fashion project, always about to figure it out.
No one has been more surprised than me to learn that, as a man, I figured it out. Today I die hardest for the sight of myself in a plain v-neck t-shirt. I wish I could offer a more complicated explanation for this, but it’s really just that I like my face and body more now, and I want to wear clothes that suit them. My over-the-top femme wardrobe was all distracting layers and dazzle paint. Flattery was a tertiary concern, and it turned out that while I still love clothes, I didn’t love them for the reasons that I thought I did. I still love women’s fashion, too. I am also extraordinarily happy to let women have it.
But to go back to the rock. The rock is one of those trendy quartzes — they call ‘em “aura quartzes” — that’s been electroplated with a rainbow surface that looks like an oil slick. Back when my favorite outfit was a tent dress with green stripes worn under a tent dress patterned with gigantic eyes, I also fancied myself a ✨serious mineral collector✨, and I would never have allowed aura quartz to pass my door. It wasn’t found in nature; it was a rock that was completely made up, and it was also bullshit. Now I own six of these little fucks. I no longer feel the need to deny that my eyes drink up iridescence like sand drinks water. This is where the love of artifice comes out in me. This is the other end of my range.
Anytime I ask why trans mascs are like this, at least half the answer is that we’ve been suppressing something vital for years, and now we need to come out wild and springing, like Max Fischer’s cheerleading routine in Rushmore. But I also think our desire for all the taste, all the time comes of being constantly accused of artifice. “You’re not acting according to nature” is something that folks say to trans people all the time. It’s also something they say to women: "Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come.” We’re told it’s natural to want to be men, but the barest artifice to actually try it. So there’s never really been a time when trans mascs weren’t accused of being not only fake, but inherently fake, despite the obvious contradiction in terms.
We can react to this in a few ways. We can strenuously defend our authenticity, which is possible, but requires constant labor. We can throw ourselves into an aesthetic of the artificial — “I’m Joe Orton, blah blah blah, cheap clothes suit me ‘cause I’m from the gutter.” Or we can reject the dichotomy of the fake and the real, of the tacky and the classic, and just be openly, excessively try-hard until we die.
This line of logic is a little bit cutesy, I know. It doesn’t all have to strike at the root. Some trans mascs are just flamboyant because they like pattern matching; some were attached to some aspects of femme identity, or still identify as femme, or they’ve always only worn v-necks and continue to do so today. We’re limited in our taste by what fits our gorgeously unusual bodies, odd-sized and misfit as they are. And I’m sure that some of us wear dazzle paint for the same basic reason I did before transition: because we don’t want people to see us, or know whether we’re coming or going, or because we don’t like our hips. Some of us are just so excited at the option of a tie that we’re going to be the only guy to wear one to work.
But I think there’s a reason we tend to be so intense, both in our search for Savile Row tailoring on a barista budget and in our search for The Most Coat. The heart of it is a disinterest in dichotomies of taste that we needed to adopt in order to come out at all. All that stuff is nonsense anyway. Everybody knows that understatement is just the ostentation of the rich, and most of us know that camp is a conduit for sincere emotion to travel through the thick skin and straight to the blood. Trans mascs just know it better than most.
I got into a Twitter thread a few months ago with a trans woman who told me that “in the months before I transitioned, I was deeply invested in making my life entirely space themed.” In turn, I confessed to her that my equivalent obsession was replacing all my paperbacks with hardcovers. This was a mild simplification of the truth, which is that my pre-transition time was marked by repeated attempts to somehow finalize and perfect my taste, right up until I stopped trying to make myself make sense and started listening to myself instead. Now I have six aura quartzes, five Uniqlo waffle shirts in somber colors, and I stab myself in the gut every Monday with a needle full of synthetic testosterone. C’est la vie.