The other day, I wore a black button down shirt. It was quite simple, with no extra embroidery or anything, just an ordinary black button down. Well, maybe there’s one exception. My buttons were on the left side. Yep, that’s right folks. I wore a men's black button down shirt. And, it was the most interesting experience I’ve had to date.
A couple weekends ago, I went into the men’s section of H&M, which was placed all the way upstairs. I took the journey up the escalator to a section of clothing that combined comfort with my simple style. It was nerve-wracking to search through a section of clothing that wasn’t made for me. It was scary to try and figure out the men’s pants size that would fit my thick thighs and wide hips. It was uncomfortable watching onlookers question why my Black female body was upstairs when I so clearly belonged one story down. Then, I came across a black button down shirt.
I thought, wow, a shirt that’s casual yet somewhat dressy and cheap. Wow, I can wear this with so many of my dress pants. Wow, this will go great with my saddle shoes. Wow, I’m gonna buy this before they kick me out–the store was about to close. Then I went to the counter where a young man was working. I placed my black button down on the counter along with a pair of green pants and blue shorts. As I placed my clothes on the counter, he gave me a look that I’ll never forget. It was a mixture of “why the fuck are you here” and “what the fuck are you doing.” Nevertheless, he rang me up, I paid for my three items of clothing, and left the store. A few weeks later, I’d see this look again.
On Tuesday, I was met with the most attention I’ve ever seen standing on the street while leaving my internship and waiting for the bus, here in Los Angeles. As I stood at the bus stop, I got so many stares that I thought one of my buttons was undone. At first, I was confused as to why so many people kept staring at me in disdain. Finally, a man stared at me long enough for me to realize what the problem was: my buttons were on the wrong side.
This man stared directly at my shirt. We locked eyes for a couple of seconds while he was checking out my buttons, and repulsion filled his eyes. I’m not sure if it was simply because I was a girl wearing a boy shirt, or because I was wearing extremely feminine dress pants. Maybe he couldn’t understand the idea of uniting the gender biased system of clothing that society implores? Or maybe he just hated that my buttons were on the left, when they ought to always reside on the right? I’m not sure where his aversion stemmed from, but it helped me understand why I was getting so much attention. Women and men alike looked at me like they never have before, each time reviewing the buttons that lay on the left. I felt objectified in every sense of the word, my clothing turning me into a foreign object. Nevertheless, I stood there in all my left-sided, button-wearing splendor and waited for the bus.
When the bus finally came, I stood up until it was time for me to reach my next stop and catch the second of three buses to my next destination. During my commute, I started to think about the experience and began to smile. A year ago, I would have never voluntarily gone into the men’s section of any store and bought an item of clothing, no matter how much I wanted to. I would never wear that same shirt to a place of work or anywhere my appearance would be judged. A year ago, I never would have come out to my parents. Here I was on a bus in LA, a completely different person from a year before, and all I could do was smile about my progression. A year ago, I didn’t even know the buttons on men’s shirts were on a different side, and here I was getting gazed at in disdain for one of the most freeing experiences of my life. There I was, in a different place, in a different time being my most authentic self in my LBD (left-sided button down). I’ll take all the stupid stares in the world to feel forever free in my LBD.