Buying Beautiful Gowns For My Brand New Body

Illustration for article titled Buying Beautiful Gowns For My Brand New Body
Screenshot: Courtesy of Christopher John Rogers, Target

In about three weeks, I will undergo full-body plastic surgery at a surprisingly trans-friendly clinic over in Beverly Hills, where people get new bodies all the time. For eight years, I harbored a secret wish that one day, maybe, I would have the money to do it, although I scoffed at the idea when asked, too nervous to show how eagerly I want to be anyone other than myself.


Now it’s all happening, despite every indication over the last decade that it wouldn’t. Needing a fresh wardrobe to accompany my new body, I decided to start with Christopher John Rogers’ affordable new Target collaboration, which just came crashing through the fashion world like a deep-space meteor and sold out nearly immediately. It featured pared-down staples of the Rogers runway: Bold neons, ruffled hemlines, ballooning shoulders, and an effortless mix of retro fabric choices—like satin-look polyester—with contemporary design aesthetics. Think ’80s prom dressmaker in attendance at the Molly Goddard School of Big, Garish Gowns.

I’ve long envied Rogers’s fabulous dresses, although they are both exceptionally rare and well out of my price point. Occasionally, knock-offs will filter down through eBay and Depop and the Melrose Trading Post. I snatch them up when the rent’s not due, but it’s always due, so my collection is threadbare at best. But actual Christopher John Rogers, with the tags and everything, has eluded me—until this Target collaboration came along.

The collection reads like an homage to his last collection prior to the pandemic, stuffed with chartreuse and crinoline and wide, hulking shoulders. I admired its simplistic approach to glamour: more is more is more. Rogers excels in designing clothes to show off in, most especially dresses that loudly announce their presence in any given space. I generally follow the timeless fashion adage that clothing shouldn’t wear a person, the person should wear the clothes. But with Rogers, I’m willing to make an exception. Even though my body will be drastically changing, just once, I want clothing to be the spectacle. Two dresses from the collection seemed to fit the brief: the first is a puff sleeve dress with hard crinoline underneath to prop up the a-line skirt. It comes with a sash, either for a belt or, as I will wear it, a fancy pussy-bow. More down to earth is another puff-sleeve dress with a poplin fit, made from a crinkly, printed floral cotton. While less glamorous than the bright orange mini-dress, it offers a sensible yet stylish alternative to the summer dress. My only critique, really, is that both cover up my tattoos, the markings I’ve left on myself like little waypoints on my journey to the next thing.

I want to wear lots of summer dresses this year, contrary to the last, or even the one before that. Why not? My surgeon has informed me that come July, I will have large breasts, a thicker ass, and hopefully, a more severe jawline. I’ve tried not to shop too much in the lead-up to my brief plastic surgery sabbatical because I literally don’t know what the final result will be. Instead, I’ve fixated on who I will be when they unwrap those bandages, not what I might look like.

Much has been said about bodies, and what happens when they’ve lived through a pandemic. So much of this writing online has fixated on a fictitious collective weight accumulated and filtered back through generally well-to-do media workers, among the only workers still “home” while the rest of the world has continued apace. This burgeoning fascination on how bodies might have changed in the last 14 months renders them as objects stuck in a permanently passive tense. This or that “happened to” the body, never being an active participant in those changes. These rather outdated modes of discussing the body are, as always, filtered through the lens of modern “wellness,” pioneered again by generally thin, affluent white women. The solution to these new wellness idealogues anxieties about aging and weight gain appears to be a magic eraser, capable of scrubbing off the dirt and grime accumulated in this moment of mass societal trauma, revitalizing the body to how it “should be” in its ideal state.


Transness, at its core, seeks to abandon this simplistic mindset. Sure, more popularized narratives about trans women specifically fixate on our supposed quest for perfect forms. But the word trans was originally conceived by our elders and theorists to mean a state of “moving through”; less so a fixed point, instead a journey between places, concepts, presentations of gender. In this approach, I see clothing as an extension of my body. As I can swap out dresses—or be swallowed up by them, in the case of Christopher John Rogers—so too can body parts be moved around, faces rearranged, scars inflicted and undone. The only fixed point on this body is my aforementioned tattoos. I leave them like guideposts, for myself and the person I choose to be.

As society crests the next seemingly insurmountable mountain in this pandemic, I’ve never been less concerned with the shape my body has taken since the outset of this hellish year. In the quiet moments leading up to my surgery, I’m reminded of a therapist who recommended I be institutionalized at 18, when I first sought gender-affirming care. They had asked why, if at all, I wanted to permanently alter the chemistry and physical composition of this body. Didn’t I understand that those changes were potentially permanent—“There are no takebacks,” I think they said. As I saw it then, and still see it now, transsexuality, like this body, is not a destination, but a vehicle. I have chosen to ride in it as long as it will have me, to wherever we’re all headed next.


lizzy fitzwilliam

Beautiful essay - wishing you happiness and joy.

This really resonated for me:

The solution to these new wellness idealogues anxieties about aging and weight gain appears to be a magic eraser, capable of scrubbing off the dirt and grime accumulated in this moment of mass societal trauma, revitalizing the body to how it “should be” in its ideal state.