post cover

Looking at women


Emily VanDerWerff

Sep 12 2018

5 min read


"Do you always get in a car like that?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said. "I guess?"

"I thought maybe you'd started trying to copy how women get into cars! It just seemed so feminine."

And I suppose it is. I generally sit down and then swing my legs into the car together, which is apparently how women swing their legs into a car, and also how I do it, and have always done it. (Necessary note to self: You are a girl, girl.) I don't know how or why or where I picked it up. I just move like that.

There are a lot of things like this, where I move in a more feminine fashion than most "men" probably would. When I first started dating my wife and met her family, there was some discussion of this fact, that the way I walked had a little sway to it. I have one leg that's turned ever so slightly outward, so I always blamed it on that, and people mostly believed me. Hell, I mostly believed me.

But since coming out, I've started to realize how much time I've spent in my life studying women. How they move. How they dress. How they interact. And the more I notice my own noticing, the hungrier I become to frolic among them, to flop down next to a pair of them having coffee and gabbing and say, "Yes! It is I! One of you! Hello!"

And I am relatively certain I have always, always done this, like I was a data collector who was gathering up a bunch of information for reasons unknown. And because I'm primarily attracted to women, too, there's a vague sense of lustfulness underpinning some of it, too, which complicates things. But mostly, I'm astonished by the part of my brain that has always been thinking, "Oh, that's a cute dress," or "I love her makeup." It feels a little like lying, too, because I'm still not brave enough to even practice makeup. But here I am, noticing the little rainbow swirls dancing off the eyes of the petite girl in Whole Foods.

Now, of course, the problem is that, for all intents and purposes, most people still read me as a dude, because I'm not making any efforts to present female just yet (though soon I think?). And there is a whole system of ways in which dudes look over women while trying to not be too obvious about it (which I'm sure is completely obvious), and there's a vaguely predatory nature to it, a kind of menace, that I know has to be broadcast by my glance, simply because of who I appear to be. Raised as a dude, I'm pretty good at making myself less obvious when I look at a woman for literally any reason. I know all of the ways to signal that I'm not a threat, that I just want to say hi, whatever. I'm a good primate.

But the deeper I dive into this, the more I realize how malnourished the part of me that needs to be surrounded by other women is. It's not that I don't have female friends -- I do, of course. It's that there is a necessary distance and detachment that results from the way our friendships are structured that now feels incredibly false to me. I want to walk up to random women in the grocery store and ask where they got their shoes, which would be kind of ridiculous even were I living full time as myself. But it's there. It's what I want. It's what I'm hungry for.

Coming out as trans to yourself a little later in life is a little like suddenly discovering an entire other self that was always there. Like do you remember those clear plastic sheets that would show all the systems of the human body, so you could lay down the skeleton, and then the circulatory system, or whatever? And eventually you'd have a full human that made sense? It's a little like that, I think, like you start laying down new plastic sheets over yourself, and you begin to fill in all of these things that never quite made sense, because there were all of these pieces that were supposed to complete the connections. And once you feel those pieces snap into place, it's easy to go a little crazy.

But the most intriguing thing is the way the pieces have always been there, no matter how hard you tried to subdue them (and believe me, I tried to subdue them). Another friend told me, recently, "It's really hard to think of you as [old self] any more. You just make more sense as Emily." I'm glad she sees it, too. It makes me think maybe the world will as well, and then it won't be so weird if I walk up to a random girl in Whole Foods to tell her how much I love her shoes.

(OK, it'll still be pretty weird.)


I am a transwoman in her 30s. I live in Los Angeles, and you might have heard of my other self. This is mostly a journal to myself, but you can read it if you want, because I feel like radical honesty is sometimes the best policy, and if I ever come out more widely, I can just, like, point my family to these mad ramblings. I'm obviously not named Emily Sandalwood, because lol, whose last name is Sandalwood? Anyway, you can respond to this, and I will look at your reply and nod sagely and probably never write back, or you can follow me on Twitter, where I am extremely funny.

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