It's reached the point where more often than not, I wear dresses or skirts. There are a few reasons for this, but they're actually more practical than aesthetic.
It's about comfort. As my body has changed, pants have become less and less comfortable. This may seem like a slightly odd thing to say given how many women wear pants all the time, but I suppose it's worth mentioning here that my situation (and my body) isn't quite the same as a cis woman's.
While my body is becoming more curvy as I go on, I am still an awkward combination of quite skinny... and yet not man-shaped. My hips are more pronounced than ever before (crossing my legs when sitting is now, thanks to fat redistribution, actually incredibly comfortable compared to how it was before). But I am not yet medically, financially or psychologically ready for reassignment surgery. So pants tend to fit worse than before. They're either uncomfortably tight in a painful area, or incredibly baggy and look... rubbish.
So a skirt or a dress tends to feel best. It helps, too, that they're a bit form-fitting and make me feel better about myself.
It's hard to get too dysphoric in a dress. Well... harder.
And yet... despite wearing dresses or skirts much of the time now, I still rarely wear them out of the house.
Of course, it's a lucky privilege I can do this at all - I work from home; most people don't.
The reason why, despite being physically less comfortable, I tend to wear pants when going out (regardless of how femme or masc the rest of my outfit is) has nothing to do with comfort and everything to do with behaviour.
On the one hand, I don't get misgendered with any frequency in a dress. I'm lucky there. On the other hand... I get more attention. Many, many more eyes on me.
Dressing down is safer. Whether or not somebody genders me correctly or not, the number of times I get cat-called or abused on the street is far, far less if I wear pants. And yet by presenting more androgynously with pants, the chance of transphobic abuse or being misgendered is much, much higher.
So I'm left feeling conflicted. Sometimes I feel like presenting a bit more feminine, but stress over the result if I dress nice before going out. Other times, I want to tomboy it up with a leather jacket and combat boots, but worry about the reaction when somebody sees my breasts / body-shape or face up close.
They're both things I need to deal with. I can't change the world.
People will pay attention to me - more frequently when I dress up and draw attention to myself.
Which leaves me in the position many people find themselves in all the time - balancing my personal safety and comfort versus what I believe.
I believe I have the right to not be abused or hit on by leaving my house.
But I also believe that in practice, some ways of presenting and behaving will reduce the reality of how often that happens.
And all it takes is one shitty evening where someone hurls crap or sexual comments at me and my confidence can slip away for days.
I'll stare at my feet when walking around. I'll avoid standing too near any men I see on station platforms or in public places.
And I'll be left feeling disempowered and weak when it happens.
Most women I know dress very feminine every day, and aren't beaten down by this.
I know I don't get an abnormal amount of sexual comments, either. The danger of something nastier may be higher than with cis women, but the number of times I've walked along with a friend and heard gross comments like "show us your vaginas" and had them not even flinch or really think much about it hours later when we discuss it... it's worrying.
In a paper I read recently, the way it was described was this:
Most transgender people going through a gender role transition have to learn how to be in the new role without the benefit of a long period of socialization typical for non-transgender people. They experience an accelerated adolescence based on an image heretofore held only in fantasy without adolescent friendships and social feedback.
In short: I was never a teenaged girl. Nothing has ever normalised this for me, or taught me how to deal with it practically or psychologically.
The worst part is that the shame I feel at how tough this is proving for me is based on a shame that I've come to realise is a bad analogy: "If a teenagers can learn to cope with this, why can't I?"
I need to think a bit more realistically about what I'm going through - a second puberty, but in more ways than just physical. I am re-learning social interaction from a totally different perspective.
In the same way that young people begin in safe spaces of family and friends before becoming more comfortable in more public environments, I am doing the same thing.
I am, for now, preferring interactions with friends, housemates and people in more safe environments.
I should, I suppose, feel a bit more okay than I do about taking a while to feel anything resembling comfort in public spaces, when the way I get treated is so astoundingly different.
It takes years for young people to find confidence in social situations. I may have started on an arguably more "mature" platform, but even with that leg-up (and ignoring for a moment the challenge of my previous social training often working against me at this point) I've been presenting / looking female for a very short period of time - mere months. I need to give myself more time.
If nothing else, the realisation of what it feels like to experience what cis women my own age have experienced for the majority of their lives up to this point has been astoundingly eye-opening.
So much so that I stress over whether or not to wear a dress, and I'm furious that the world isn't a better, safer place for us.
Yesterday, after I realised the fear I'd built up in my mind of wearing dresses in public without being around a lot of friends... I wore a nice dress out for the day. To see my psychologist, to drink with friends at a bar... I wore a nice dress, loved how I looked and how it felt, and nothing bad happened. (Well, apart from the hangover. Damnit, Luce...)