I remember the first time I ever bought clothes from the men’s, or this case, the boy’s section. I was 9 or 10 years old, I think, in search of new jeans and a shirt. I was with my sister and father. I can’t remember whose idea it was to go look in the boy’s section but to this day those black jeans I got remain in the top 5 pairs of jeans I have ever owned. However, for years after first getting those jeans I was afraid to look anywhere other than the women’s section. I was afraid I was making my parents, or other customers, uncomfortable if I ventured any further outside of my assigned gender, despite my mind wandering many a time as I gazed at those t-shirts shaped like a box.
The first time I ever bought men’s boxers I confidently lied to the sales assistant that they were a gift, too embarrassed to admit that they were actually for me, fearing that the store would refuse to sell them to me, or even worse, be disgusted by me. I even let the sales person wrap them, only to go straight home and take them out of their packets. There was so much fear and shame in just venturing over to the men’s section to look at clothing, the fear of being ostracised and regarded as a freak. The thought of having the courage to actually buy something came fleetingly in hot flashes of panic.
I would learn to find something I was even moderately happy with in the women’s section, which often included buying clothing that was at least 2 sizes bigger than my actual size in order for it to be loose enough. I wanted my shirts long and wore my trousers low, and when I was small and skinny this was easy enough to find in any section, but then puberty hit, my hips widened and my soul despaired. The clothing that was on offer became more feminine and more awkwardly shaped, accentuating all that I wished to hide.
A lot of things happened to me at university, but becoming more self-confident was perhaps the most important of them. Little by little I didn’t care so much what people would think if I shopped in the men’s section. Most of the time I need my girlfriend there, the knowledge of her loving me the way I am warding off feelings of insecurity. And also it helps when she tells me I look nice. But mostly it’s to make sure I survive the experience without being attacked for being different. I am still afraid that someday they will give me a disapproving look, make a snide comment or call security to remove me from the store.
Sometimes I wonder why we even have men’s and women’s sections. Is it because of different body types? If that were true we would need a lot more than just two sections. That leads me to question why everything needs to be divided into male and female? Is it for comfort, for safety, some sense of false security brought by the binary? A box you are supposed to find yourself in, read the label and look in that one they said. But for some it becomes yet another one of those hopeless searches you embarked on as a child, looking for that Barbie accessory that was supposed to be in that box but wasn’t.
The women’s section in stores often made me feel like there was only one way to be a woman or girl, and this lead me to believe maybe I wasn’t supposed to be one at all. I could not find myself in those clothes. Finally I stopped searching the women’s section for something that they just didn’t seem to make for women. If I could buy all my clothing from the men’s section, I would. But often that brings its own problems; with some clothing I can get away with not being shaped like a man, with some I can’t. As sad as that made me, it also opened my eyes to not completely disregarding the women’s section, because once in a while it did surprise me, even if I still continue to purchase items 2 sizes too big.