Friday, November 20, 2009

Penny: "Slutty" Halloween costumes and how I now see the appeal

I only had time for a quick response when Greg wrote his entry about "slutty halloween costumes and dreams", which is too bad, because it was something I was thinking about for a good chunk of October and since, and it's an interesting reminder of how this curse seems to constantly find new ways of reminding us how things are different for other people.

Even before becoming a woman, I never really liked the word "slut". Maybe others have different impressions of the word, but it always seemed like a particularly vicious one to me. It's an ugly-sounding word, in the same family as "fuck" and "cunt", showing what sort of disdain one holds the people referred to in. It implies something worse than mere promiscuity, like the person in question has little or nothing to offer but sexual gratification, and knows it. You generally won't see that sort of nuance in dictionary definitions of the word, and maybe it doesn't exist anywhere but in my mind. But it's there; I've certainly had opportunity to back off using it in print because it seemed meaner and more presumptive than I wanted.

But I'd use it in casual conversation, especially around October 31st, when friends and I would express either appreciation or disdain for the young women who dressed up that way. And for my first few years as Liz and Nell, I didn't have any desire to dress that way - You change from a man into a woman, and a lot of the time, you're going to hate your new form. You resent every different organ and curve, and no way in hell do you want to emphasize them; that's loser stuff, if it's a fight to be yourself. I'd actively resist sexing myself up for Halloween when Lyn tried to get me to, and found that whole cheerleader thing mortifying. This year, though...

Lyn thinks that the trip to Montreal flipped some sort of switch in my brain, and maybe it did in terms of having to acknowledge that I am, physically, a woman, albeit one who lived her life as a man until a bit more than three years ago. I'm not a man in a woman's body, and I'm not sure there's such a thing. We are our bodies, and when your learned responses contradict your physical ones, they're maybe not wrong, but they're fighting an uphill battle. And perhaps more to the point, I have a woman's place in the world. The doesn't mean that nature intends me to make babies and cook for a man and be nurturing, but that when people interact with me, they're interacting with a woman.

And I think, for a lot of us in this situation, we resist that. Even Lyn, I think, did so in her fashion. She didn't just try to be a woman, but a fantasy woman, how men think someone with her face and hair and rack should behave. She's not sure about this hypothesis, but I tell her it's nothing to be ashamed of. I think a lot of women who had never been men do it. I did something pretty similar; I often acted like someone pretending to be a woman, trying to fake it. Ever since deciding to "be Penny" rather than "pretend to be Nell", I've tried to stop, and just react on my own. Sometimes it pegs me as a weird girl, but much more often, it doesn't. Given the same situations, a lot of us will react the same way, whether we spent the first two-plus decades of our life as someone else or not.

For instance, more attention is paid to women's appearance than it is for men. It's indisputable. Back in my Arthur days, if I were to come into a newsroom with stubble because I hadn't had time to shave, I wouldn't get much reaction, certainly nothing compared to the askance looks I get now if I show up without the usual make-up. If you look at the Boston Today sports pages, the photo that runs with a male columnist's work doesn't include his legs. And so on. Women are expected to look nice.

And, maybe it's because I'm young and tall and fit, but the standard I'm held to doesn't really bother me in a vacuum, or many of the women I know. We envy the extra time men have and resent being treated like ornaments, but it feels good to look nice. I like smiling at what I see in the mirror, and when I have drinks with a female friend, we can compliment each completely outside of sexual interest or our chances of landing/keeping a man. What drives me nuts is the line. The one that says, on this side, you look nice, professional, and/or sharp, but on this side, you look too sexual; you're trying to show someone else up, or you're using your looks to get ahead.

Now, I run a lot, I do a bunch of sit-ups, and I eat right even when I'd really like to have that gigantic bag of peanut butter cups, and it leaves me with a pretty damn good body. My legs, in particular, rock. I'm proud of them, so why shouldn't I show them off? But most of the time, I can't, not without having people think less of me. It drives me nuts, and I can't imagine I'm the only woman who feels that way.

And that's why skimpy Halloween costumes are awesome. Halloween costumes may once have been about scaring ghosts and demons away, but it's evolved into something else. People who think a good Halloween costume is one where you can't be recognized don't get it, in my opinion: It's about fantasy, yes, but part of that fantasy is being recognizable, acknowledging that this sexuality is part of who you are and not having people think the less of you.

So that's why I did it up a bit this year. Lyn and Matt had already decided what they were doing - Lyn got inspired by Rachel Nichols's cameo in the new Star Trek movie and bought herself a Starfleet uniform and a tub of green makeup, while her boyfriend just went with the black Kirk outfit. In past years, she confesses, she might have purchased a lot more makeup and a lot less fabric and gone for Poison Ivy, but I think part of the image she wanted to present this year was being smart and capable. Still, she was excited about me asking for help choosing a superhero.

I went with Black Canary. The costume involves high-heeled boots, fishnets, a blonde wig, and a black top with a cartoonish zipper to show off my cleavage; which was enhanced by stuffing my underwire with a couple chicken breasts. I looked kind of ridiculous - would a real superhero wear a leather jacket but leave her ass hanging out of what basically amounts to a one-piece swimsuit? - but I've got to admit, it was nice to have the results of my workout regimen out there, and have folks say, damn, that's nice!

And they did; at the parties I went to, I may not have been the center of attention (as much as I was showing it off, there were certainly some folks who wanted it more), but I attracted some attention, especially from the guys in spandex. I didn't get drunk enough to do anything stupid, but I did wind up telling a lot of people that I had a boyfriend, and he was just out of town.

Lyn took me aside after she heard that, after I'd turned one of Matt's firefighter friends who needed no padding to fill out his Superman costume, reminding me that it's been two moths without Ray calling, email, or anything, but I shrugged it off. That "I love you" bomb was something we both needed time to process. I know it may sound weird, considering I haven't exactly been a complete nun since my first visit to the Inn, but being ready to really give myself to a certain man doesn't mean I'm ready to just casually do it with any man.

Of course, I'm not just waiting for him to feel the same way. Here's hoping that the pictures from the parties that I sent him prove tempting!



Greg said...

I think its different in your situation. Right now your in YOUR body, even though you werent born there its yours to dress how you want.

Im just borrowing this one, and its compounded by the fact that its not some random stranger but a good friend of mine in whose body i feel awkward running around in a skimpy outfit

Penny said...

Oh, I've been there, and I'm not saying it shouldn't be uncomfortable. But, if this is something Priya chose herself, it's actually pretty harmless. The rules are different on Halloween, in that you get to be sexy without penalty, or at least without such a severe one.

Penny said...

And, as I said, I don't like what "slutty" implies, just because a girl doesn't mind showing off what she's got. After all, you say you've been exercising and eating better for a while; don't you have some pride in what you've accomplished?