My mom is quite the seamstress. I don’t think there is anything made of fabric that she can’t sew. I’ve seen her sew, from scratch, sets of drapes, a tuxedo for my uncle, coats, dresses, and pretty much all of the clothing that she and I and my siblings wore when I was a child.
She doesn’t sew much any more, but when I was younger, she always seemed to be working away at her old, black, metal Singer sewing machine — the thing must have been manufactured during the Industrial Revolution. (Well, okay, maybe it wasn’t that old.)
She would let me play with the empty bobbins and the spools of thread while she sewed, humming to herself, somehow holding a row of straight pins firmly between her lips without poking herself. I loved it when she would let me press on the black foot pedal to make the machine stitch the layers of fabric together.
This time of year always reminds me of Mom’s sewing prowess. It’s kind of a seasonally-induced trip back in time for me, to the 1960s, when Mom would make her Lenten trek to the fabric store with us in tow. She would flip through the different pattern catalogs, make her choices and start searching for the right fabrics. I would pass the time by playing with bins of loose buttons or running my hands over the upright packages of zippers that were arranged according to colors in the metal racks. It was an annual spring ritual. And I hated it.
Kids are supposed to look forward to Easter, to the egg hunt, to the chocolate, to the fuzzy white rabbits and little golden chicks. Not me. Despite all that great stuff, I knew Easter also meant that I would have to wear the dreaded Easter dress.
And it wasn’t just wearing the outfit that was so traumatic — it was being a witness to its creation and experiencing the impending doom that mounted through each successive step; the choice of the pattern and then the fabric, the cutting and pinning, the staccato of the sewing machine. Even now, decades later, I can still feel it in the pit of my stomach.
What is a little trans kid supposed to do? I knew that Mom sewed well because my aunts and Mom’s lady friends would go on about how wonderful her creations were, how talented she was, what a great eye she had for style and colors and fabrics. I was torn between not wanting to wear those Easter nightmares and not wanting to disappoint Mom by rejecting the fruits of her hard work.
I had strong feelings of dread and I disliked those Easter dresses so much, and at the same time, I was wracked with guilt for having such negative thoughts and emotions about something my mom had obviously made with love and care. How could I possibly speak my truth and take the chance of hurting her feelings when she seemed so happy about making this special dress for *me* at this special time of year? I mean, isn’t this one of the greatest difficulties that little trans kids must face — the fear of disappointing the people that mean the most to us?
So I watched my sister closely – Mom always made our outfits to match – and I tried to act like she did, assuming (incorrectly) that she hated the Easter dresses as much as I. All the while, I was secretly wishing I could have the handsome little shirt and trousers or suit that my brother got to wear to church each year on Easter Sunday.
Then one year, the annual spring nightmares ended, when, for no reason that I can recall, Mom stopped making the Easter dresses. Just like that.
I cannot even describe the overwhelming sense of relief that I felt when that happened, or should I say, when it stopped happening. It was like the gates to the Paschal prison were flung open and I was set free.
Why is it then, that every Easter, I remember the dread and the guilt? What have I been hung up about when it comes to Easter? Some might say, “Hey man, get over it. That was a long time ago and you aren’t a kid any more, and your Mom even knows you’re not the ‘girl’ she thought you were.” Yes, true, but I have felt like there has been some unfinished business to tend to. So this year, I decided that I would do something I had never done before for Easter.
On Sunday, I put on a pair of black dress pants, a pink button-up dress shirt (pastel for spring), shiny black dress shoes and an Easter-white tie (with a half-windsor knot). I checked it all in the mirror and came to the conclusion that I was giving my brother a pretty good run for the money. And then I went to church.
I felt great. Comfortable. I was at Easter services in a way that I had always dreamed of when I was a child. And yet, it wasn’t quite ‘enough.’ Enough for what? What was I trying to accomplish? I wasn’t really sure, but I knew that it went deeper than the clothes on my back. It was on my mind, so I decided to blog about it.
I called my mom to get permission to write about her and the Easter dresses. She was fine with the request. “Sure,” she said, “go ahead. Why not?” “Well, you know, I didn’t exactly enjoy wearing those dresses. I used to dread it when you would start making them. I hated it actually. So if you read my blog, I don’t want you to think… I wouldn’t want you to… Well, I don’t want to upset you by what I write because I know you used to really get into making those Easter dresses.” And she said,
“It’s okay. You don’t have to like everything.”
And that was it. Suddenly and without warning, I was absolved. The seven-year-old in me that had been hanging onto those feelings of guilt all those years had finally received permission to please only himself, and it had come from one of the people in the world that mattered most —
This all reminded me of something Denise Leclair once told me. She said that she believes we trans folks sort of get “stuck” during puberty, when our bodies go one direction and our minds want to go the other. Some part of us stands at the fork in the road and can’t move on until we are able to come to terms with who we are.
Well maybe there was one part of me that has been standing at the sewing machine feeling guilty since the age of nine, experiencing those pangs every year at Easter.
And I doubt I am the only one — not about Easter per se, but about something unshakable, something that has been simmering for years. Even if it seems trivial — and hey, I would say that in the grand scheme of things, Easter dresses are pretty damn trivial — that doesn’t mean that finally unloading it wouldn’t make a difference.
So if you have something like that nagging at you and you can go to the person involved and put it all right out in the open with them, perhaps you will be able to let it go. Perhaps that person will tell you, “Oh, it’s okay. You don’t have to like everything.” And then you’ll be able to put it to rest.