I kept my arms crossed on the way out of the hospital. I kept my arms crossed in the car. I kept my arms crossed on the way inside. If I had died right there, I would have kept my arms crossed all the way to the morgue.
As a boy, I hated going through the women’s section of Target. It was hard to do without imagining everything that was supposed to fill in the underwear on the halls, hangers, shelves, and hooks. I always made me feel dirty.
It still made me feel dirty, but for the while I belonged there. That made it almost better. And I was too distracted by the thought that, arms down, I was a walking sex object; to worry about sex thought. Puberty brain had shut the fuck up for the time being.
My mom went straight to the desk next to the changing room and told the attendent, “We’d like a bra fitting, please?”
The woman was a professional bra fitter. She looked at me and didn’t say anything that would make me feel like falling through the floor. She didn’t ask why a girl with breasts so big they made her shirt ride up was only now getting to this. She didn’t say, “Oh, first bra, huh?” or “Well you’re a woman now then.”
She said, “Let me find a tape measure and we’ll go to a changing room.”
I was pathetically grateful.
Here’s how you get a bra fitting. First you stare at yourself in the mirror. You notice that you have frekles now, and there are some on your boobs. You see that your nipples are larger than you feel comfortable with. Your puberty brain tries to cut through all the embarrassment, and tell you how hot you are. You don’t listen.
The measuring woman then stands behind you and puts a tape measure just under your boobs, over your boys shirt, and you wonder how that will help. She says, “hmmm. Twenty nine.” Then she looks like she’s remembering it, and you try to too; while you wonder if that’s big or small and you don’t know which one to hope for.
Then she puts the tape measure, over your shirt, across your nipples and you stand stock still in shock, and she says, “Aaaaand, thirty four. That’s a C cup.”
And you think, Oh my god. I’m hung.”
Bra fitting lesson complete.
She waited at the door, and we went out into the bra aisles.
One of the signs on the ceiling said, ‘Intimates’, and it couldn’t be more right. It didn’t matter how plain any of these were, they were all… well… very intimate looking. Like something that someone else would see you in only if you wanted them to. Well now you’re* going to see you in them, Ash. That’s a weird start.*
“You’ll need an under wire,” the underwear lady says. “Annnnnnd… I’m not trying to embarrass you, but you don’t needed padded.” She looked through a selection. “Every girl needs three bras. Black, white, and nude.”
She poked around. And asked my input on styles. I went with the first one she pointed to in every case. I didn’t like any of them. It made me very scared, but the ones I wanted had bits of lace on the edges. And—oh shit—one had a bow on it. But I thought it would look—oh fuck—good on me. I was definitely not strong enough to point out what I wanted there, in front of her and in front of my mother and in front of myself.
My mother just watched the two of us, as she handed them to me, and mother followed me to the dressing room. She led the way inside. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, Ash. And trust me, you’ll need some help.”
I shed my shirt face flaming, expression resolute. This seems simple enough…Nope. Putting my arms through the straps first, and struggling to snap it behind me, was wrong.
Mom looked at me in pity. “When you get better, you’ll be able to do that. In the mean time, put it on backwards and upside down, and inside out. No honey, like this.” She touched me to show me. This time I didn’t freeze, but the girl in the mirror was blushing so hard it extended down to the top of her breasts.
“You fasten it in front and turn it around. You put your arms through the straps like this. Then you flip the whole thing up.”
This seems inefficient and time consuming. I resolved to practice until I could do it the right way. Girl or not, I had my pride. Still. Mostly. Okay, not at all.
Then she stepped behind me, and fingered one of the shoulder straps, “Tell me when it’s comfortable.”
She tightened them, and I said, “Wrong way.”
She loosened them, and I stopped her, “There,” when she found a sweet spot. “It’s still a little tight.”
“Looks like you need the last buckles here.” She unsnapped my bra and resnapped it. It was better but still… confining. “This isn’t nearly as comfortable as I assumed.”
My mother gave a little sigh, and put her hands on her hips, in a gesture that looked wrong on her, “Welcome to womanhood. Okay, that’s one down, let’s do the next.”
We were working on bra three (black) “There,” I told mom, as she got the last strap done.
“Alright. Let me leave you. I’ll take the tags off of this one and ring it up outside.”
“Thank you,” I meant it.
“Do you want to… Why don’t you just stay here a little bit.” She put her hand on top of my head. “I’ll get your some things to try on.
I nodded, and she left.
I looked at the girl in the mirror, in a bra and boys pants, and tried to imagine she was me. I felt my hair. It had been long for awhile. My dad hated it, but he thought if he didn’t say anything I would stop rebelling and get it cut. More fool him. I’d wanted long hair since I saw how cool Klingons looked with it. Around four years old.
The girl had boobs. Like real boobs. Like an adult. I tried to arrange them in the bra to be more comfortable and almost succeeded. The bra mashed them together into something that would be cleavage. I’d never realized before that cleavage was something your clothes did to you, not something you just had. That gravity and flesh didn’t cause cleavage on their own.
I heard a clatter, and turned to see that my mother, my blessed, blessed, mother, had thrown three pairs of pants and five shirts, all on coat hangers, over the top of the dressing room door. “Try these on. I can’t get you shoes, I don’t know your size,” mom said from outside. “Aisling, I know you don’t want to, but try everything on please?”
Hearing my girl name, even if it sounded the same, just made me blush harder. The girl in the mirror was pretty when she blushed. That made me hate her a little bit.
The first shirt fit. A little too well. It looked like it worked, it was just… hugging. Every curve I had. When I looked the in the mirror, I saw I had been right. There was a terrifying dividing line between scrunched together boobs. You could just see it at the neckline, which came down lower than I was (now) comfortable with. Still… it is* comfortable. It’s a yes.*
The next shirt looked like it should fit, but didn’t. It was loose at the bust and everything hung down. What the hell? They were the same size.
The next shirt was looser than the first, but still hugged, and didn’t cleave. I’m okay with this.
The fourth shirt was tight in the bust, and fluttered around my tummy like a dress. None of this makes sense.
Shirt five was fit the best. Loosish and comfortable.
I threw the two over the side, “I can just wear three shirts all year, right?”
“No. I’ll get more. Try on the pants.”
Goddamn it. I needed new underwear. Not for any aesthetic reason, but because I was wearing hospital underwear. “Mom? Can…” Oh god. “…can you get me a package of panties?”
“Already did, dearheart,” They slid under the door. “They’ve been wrung up. Go ahead and split them open.”
Dear mom, if I had to have any parent it would be you, -Ash. They were uniform color. No flowers, no lace bits. Just pastel panties.
Pastel panties without a way to tell you were to face them. No fly.
“Tag goes on the left, dearheart,” Mom said from outside, and then “I’m going to get more shirts.”
I got out of the mesh hospital underwear, and then into the panties as fast as possible, avoiding everything happening in the mirror. They fit snug, and I expected them to crush my balls, and then realized where I was, and depressed myself all over again
The first pants were fine in the hem, and very very wrong in the crotch. When I got it to the waist the inseam was trying to crawl straight up my vagina. Mirror check. Hint of the camel toe I had so longed to see just a couple of days ago. Hard pass.
And so the charade went on. More clothes over the side, more trying on, more throwing back. More failures than successes.
Finally I had four pants, and six shirts, and mom said that was enough to get us between laundry days. “Take the tags off of one outfit,” she said, “Bernice says it’s okay. I’ve already wrung the rest up.”
I slipped on a pair of jeans. Stone washed, and a little too tight. They looked great on the girl in the mirror though. Made her ass look spectacular. That and a white shirt, and I was good to go get shoes.
I came out of the dressing room to see my mom with a shopping cart piled high. I tried to tuck my hands in my pockets like a cool guy. “Mom? I can’t fit my hands in my pockets.”
“You won’t be able to fit anything else in them either.”
“Pockets are for genders that get to feel comfortable and have a place to put things. There’s only one of those. Guess which one it is?”
“I’m guessing it’s the one I just got kicked out of.” A little gallows humor.
“Good guess. Shoes are worse, but we’re gonna give it our best shot.” She paused, “And Aisling? The white bra is there for your white shirts.
I looked down to see the black of the bra shining through the thin white shirt. This will never end. Let it all burn. “Well I’m not changing right now.”
Mom gave me another look, and then said, “There are times when making that mistake is appropriate, but you’ll find out when they are. Usually they’re laundry days but…”
“Please stop, mom.”
The mens shoe section was full of comfortable shoes. The womens shoe section was full of heels. And boots with heels. And sandals with heels. “Rule two mom, no heels.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to, dearheart. I eschew them whenever possible.”
She looked around. Mens shoes are ordered by group. There are sandals, then there are sneakers, then there are dress shoes. Women’s shoes are thrown at the shelves, and fuck you for even trying to find anything. You’re lucky we even stacked the sizes together, ladies.
So we wandered, and my mom tried to find sneakers, and… and I looked at shoes. Rule no.2 was going to be very hard, I realized. Everything had a heel. Even if it was a little heel, it was a heel. Rule no.2 was going to hold strong in the face of adversity. I picked up a pair of ladies Vans and caught my mom’s eye.
“Lets see what your new size is, because you’re not a men’s eleven anymore, I can tell you that.”
Yeah, I had big feet. What they say about big feet holds true, if the locker room is to be believed. I wasn’t popular, but I had reason to gloat. Yeah. Had.
I hadn’t put shoes back on in the dressing room, what would have been the point. So it was a simple thing to lay my foot on the always cold metal measuring thing.
“A four and a half,” mom said. “Well you know what they say about girls with small feet.”
“No? What do they say?” It was hard to keep the alarm out of my voice.
“They have trouble finding shoes that fit,” my mom pushed her glasses up her nose. “In your case we’re in luck. Try these on.”
I pulled the paper stuffing out of the toe, and slipped them on. Comfortable sitting. Comfortable standing too.
My gaze focused on a pair of slipper things, and unbidden something leaped into my mind. I’ll have to come back for those.
I fled the shoe aisle, and from there the store, and finally into my bedroom.
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