Yes, she's strange and different...but not THAT different.

21 February 2006

Male Presentation

[UPDATE: 01 Mar 2006] Jay has a lot more to say on this subject here. Read here for the intro and then check out his important follow-up. Don't miss it!

(Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away … OK, from 1998 to 2003 in Atlanta, I used to do a seminar at the Southern Comfort Conference entitled “Male Presentation”. The seminar was for transmen, FtMs, boyz, whatever your label, to learn more about how to present (and pass) as men. It was pretty well received (or seemed to be to me) and was always well attended every year until the management of Southern Comfort decided that it wasn’t worth doing any more. How and why I ended up doing the seminar is an involved story not important enough to go into. Suffice it to say that it was my way of trying to eliminate some of the barriers between “us” and “them”. What follows is an edited version of that seminar derived from my notes and presented here as if it were a transcript. The things that I have taken out are basically the discussion of the handouts, pauses for questions and the session on tying a necktie. This was not a lecture but a seminar and everyone in attendance was invited to participate.)

So, why am I up here? Well, you know why dogs lick their genitals? I know the accepted answer is because they can. Well, in this instance, I can be up here because I’m a person who dresses well regardless of my gender presentation. I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying NOT to look like a man, so that gives me a pretty good insight into how to do it. But another - and probably more pertinent - answer to that second question is “Because nobody else will”. That may just be the real reason why I’m here: nobody else was available … or stupid enough. OK, what can I tell you? More importantly, how can I help you? Let me give you a brief rundown on what I want to accomplish here.

I know the title of this thing is “Male Presentation” and I also know that some of you might just think that means wearing jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers and belching and scratching, but I can’t help but think that y’all are here because you want to move beyond that. Or maybe not.

In terms of what you wear, which is, let’s face it, how most folks perceive you, I wanted to cover sizes, some basic rules, some specific looks, some hints/tips/whatever specifically for the transgendered man and then address an issue that I’m sure you’re all interested in knowing, that secret handshake that lets you into the Man Club: how to tie a necktie. I was going to show you how to tie a bow tie, too, but I’ve decided to pass on that for a couple of reasons. First, if you can tie your shoes, you can probably tie a bow tie – same basic knot. And second, the only time you usually wear a bow tie is with a tuxedo, and some of the best looking tuxedo ties I’ve seen are already tied to go with wing collar tux shirts. And third, if you're really interested, I’ll give you a write-up on how to do it. So, that’s why I’m not going to show you how to tie a bow tie. I WILL however, show all of you who are interested how to tie a necktie. We even have a bunch for you to practice with. I also wanted to go over a few things that have to do specifically with a masculine presentation. And no, that doesn’t necessarily equate to “butch”.

Let’s start with sizes. And for those of you from somewhere other than the US, you're out of luck here because I'm only familiar with US sizes. Sorry. Now, men have it much easier than women, since men’s sizes, with the exception of shoes and socks, are based on actual measurements.
  • So, let’s get the odd ones out of the way first. Men’s shoe sizes are about 1 to 2 sizes smaller than women’s for the same size foot; if you wear a size 7 women’s shoe, you’ll probably wear a 5 or 6 men’s shoe. Socks are pretty much one size fits most and based on shoe size. Better stores (like Nordstrom) will sell dress socks in different sizes. Medium will fit you if your shoe size is between a men's 6-9. Large is 10-13. That’s about it.

  • Other sizes are very logical, based on measurements, as I said. Shirts are sized by collar and sleeve, so (in America) a 15-32 shirt means that you have a 15 inch neck and it’s 32 inches from the center of your back to your wrist. Dress shirts can sometimes be found in 3 different chest or torso styles, too: athletic, normal and full. The differences are triangle, square, and pyramid from the shoulders to the waist. As a note here, in most cases where you are dealing with long sleeves, it’s better to be a little too long than a little too short. You will also find shirts sized Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large, generally based on a range of chest measurements shown on the label.

  • Pants are sized by waist and inseam, which is the line from crotch to ankle down the inside of your leg. Most of the better slacks come with the legs unhemmed so they can be custom-fitted.

  • Jackets are sized by chest measurement, with a short, regular and tall length. Men under 5'8" are considered short, 5'8" to 6'2" are regular and over 6'2" are tall or long. No matter what your size, more than likely your jacket will still need some altering. This service is generally free in better men's departments.

  • Suits are sized two ways: by jacket size, which we just covered, and cut, which is basically the difference between the jacket size and the trousers size. A standard cut suit has a 6" drop – that is, the waist measurement of the trousers is 6" smaller than the jacket measurement. That means that a size 44 suit will have a 38-inch waist trouser. An athletic cut suit has an 8" drop and a portly or stout suit (for short, big guys) has a 4" drop. Suit trousers always come long and unhemmed so that the tailor can fit them to you.

  • Underwear is sized by waist measurement. You will also see Small, Medium and Large, but again, they’re based on actual measurements, just a range of them and they’re usually listed on the label, so they’re easy to figure out. By the way, that’s Small, Medium and Large WAIST measurement – not what you’re packing below.

(Here I handed out a chart that shows where and how to measure for the above.)

So first, really measure everything. If you want to do it yourself, get a cloth tailor’s tape measure and get someone to measure you using it. Write the measurements down but use pencil. They will change and you should re-check them periodically especially if you’re just starting hormones and transition. If nothing else, go to a really good, upscale men’s clothing store and get fitted for a shirt, coat and pair of slacks. You don’t have to buy anything, but get them to whip out that measuring tape. If you’re shorter than average (for a man) - and you know if you are - you can try the boy’s section of a big department store or one of the specialty size shops: Big and Tall. Expect to pay more at the specialty shops, although, and sometimes the boy’s clothes are cheaper than the men’s. You can also expect to pay more if you’re larger around than normal (or stout, as it euphemistically called). Wearing clothes that don’t fit properly only serves to emphasize the things that you don’t want emphasized like larger hips or shorter legs. It’s very important to make sure you’re wearing the right size!

Next, a few basic wardrobe rules that will get you off on the right foot with that manly yet well-dressed look. Again, I realize that there is a tendency to “slob out” in an attempt to evoke that manly spirit, but that really doesn’t cut it in polite society. And most of this is common sense, too.

  • No short sleeve dress shirts (they’re really dorky). Polo shirts, casual shirts or T-shirts have their place, but not short sleeve dress shirts. Long sleeve shirts protect you from sunburn outside in the summer (when you’d normally be wearing short sleeves), but you usually spend more time inside in the air conditioning in a dress shirt anyway, and you can roll long sleeves up if you’re too hot, so long or short sleeves for comfort’s sake is really kind of meaningless.

  • As important as it is to some of you, nevertheless, no facial hair unless you can REALLY grow it. Otherwise, you look like an immature boy trying very hard to act all grown up and you do not want to come across as anything other than a fully mature man, especially if you’re shorter than the average man … as most of you are.

  • Cowboy boots for height and an air of macho … or redneck, take your choice. In addition, with boots you don’t have to worry about socks. You should wear them with boots but you don’t have to worry about the color or even if they match. Socks should not be white when wearing anything other than jeans or maybe casual slacks, like Dockers. If you wear sandals, you don’t need to get a pedicure, but at least wash your feet and cut or clean your toenails. No socks - especially black ones - with sandals! Please!

  • Muted colors or neutrals. No prints or plaids, especially together; avoid what my partner lovingly refers to - however politically incorrect - as the “Pakistani look”. You want pants and shirts that go together. If you’re short or wide or both avoid bright colors and horizontal stripes. If you have to wear stripes, they should run up and down, although most men’s clothes do that anyway, in an effort to appear taller.

  • Have at least one suit, complete with tie, shirt and shoes.

  • Shine your shoes and clean your cloth or white sneakers. They don’t have to be spit-shined (unless you’re in the military or a cop) and not pristine white, but keep them presentable.

  • Unwrinkled. Either buy perma-press or iron them.

  • Clean hands and fingernails and a decent haircut. Hair length is immaterial, but the crew cut is certainly not normally seen on women … unless you’re Sinead O’Connor or hang out in certain lesbian bars.

The whole masculine image that you want to project with your clothes is not necessarily that of Mr. GQ Macho, any more than I need to project that “hooker look” to appear feminine. It’s actually much more realistic, believable, whatever, if your image is that of a well-groomed and together guy. Not effete, just not Rambo, either.
(Handout distributed with the following “looks”.)

On that note, a few basic looks to consider. These are the ones you need to consider when buying clothes. These 5 basic looks that cover almost all circumstances and there might actually be some overlap.
  1. First, On the job, the tone of which will pretty much be dictated by what everyone else wears, and may be covered by one of the other categories.

  2. Second, there’s Out and about in public which can be subdivided any number of ways: for running errands (guys don’t go shopping, they have chores and run errands), sporting events, outfits for a casual evening, for a semi-formal (coat with tie) outing, for a formal (tux or dark suit) evening, etc.

  3. Next, there’s At home - both by yourself and with others - which is usually just referred to as casual. At least try to keep it presentable as a favor to whomever you live with or to those who might stop by. You don’t want to shock the Jehovah’s Witnesses, do you?

  4. Then, Slob for really grungy jobs like mowing the yard, fixing the car or the plumbing, painting, etc. After they have expired, clothes from any other category can be recycled into this one. These are NOT clothes you buy new.

  5. And finally there are whatever Recreational outfits you need (and that can cover a MULTITUDE of sins!)

I realize that it’s a real temptation to just buy 2 pairs of underwear, 2 pairs of white socks, 2 t-shirts, 2 sweatshirts, 2 pairs of jeans and 2 pairs of sneakers and then rotate them, washing as needed, and be done with it. But you need to really consider all the different places that you have to go - and wear clothes while you’re there - and plan a wardrobe accordingly.

What we’ve covered up to now really could apply to anyone wearing men’s clothing. Now let’s discuss some specifics for YOU guys, the transmen, the FtMs of the world. Primarily, you are trying to disguise or compensate for the differences between men’s and women’s bodies: thinner neck, narrower shoulders, smaller waist, larger hips, shorter height, smaller hands and feet.

  • In case you don’t know it, men’s and women’s shirts button on opposite sides: men’s button with the left side on top, women’s with the right. However, pants for both men and women that have a fly, or zipper in front, always have the left side on top. If you haven’t done it, get used to buttoning a man’s shirt. Also, practice putting on a belt, which is again usually opposite for men and women. Men start on the left side and finish on the right, while women start on the right and finish on the left.

  • If you live in a cosmopolitan area where there are a lot of butch lesbians then it's going to be much more difficult for you to pass. Find ways to help distinguish yourself from them. That usually means being a little more uptown, a little more together, more stylish. It may also mean facial hair but again - only if you can grow some that’s decent looking.

  • Clothing is, in part, finding a personal style. But remember, most men tend to have pretty boring wardrobes when compared to women. Especially when starting your transition, conservative looks can help you pass more effectively because they don’t call attention to you.

  • Don't spend a lot on your wardrobe at the beginning of transition; you might want to check out thrift or second hand stores. Your body will change once on T. and you may find your sizes changing pretty drastically for the first year or two, or you might have top surgery. Stick with basics. If you're unsure of what is flattering on you, bring a GOOD friend with GOOD taste who will HONESTLY tell you how you look or ask the sales staff.

  • Try on different brands of pants to find ones that don't bind and call attention to wider hips and thighs. Relaxed fit pants/jeans like Levi's 550's and Gap Easy Fit are good choices. Pair them with casual button down shirts. You can hide hips by wearing a slightly oversized button-down shirt, open, with the shirttails hanging out over a t-shirt underneath.

  • Generally the waist on men's pants will be lower on your body than women's pants. Wearing pants with the waistband below your belly button will tend to help hide wider hips and butts. It will tend to lengthen your torso.

  • Buy pants that fit. If they are too tight, they will only accentuate more feminine hips and buttocks. Too baggy and they will make your hips and thighs look that much bigger.

  • Plain front trousers work best on thinner guys with straighter hips. Pleated trousers can help hide a stomach, hips and other sins of the flesh. Pleats come a number of different ways: reverse, box, forward. Try on different types and find what looks best on you. Be sure that the pants are large enough that the pleats lie flat. Pleats that gap open only call attention to your midriff.

  • Cuffing is a more formal look but may not be best if you are very short, as cuffs tend to shorten the look of the leg. Cuffs do help dress trousers hang and drape better, though.

  • On dress trousers there should be a noticeable break (i.e. bagging of the fabric over the foot) in the leg at the top of the foot - you can experiment to see what you like best. Dark trousers will make your legs look longer and thinner, especially when combined with a light colored shirt and colorful tie.

  • If asked if you dress left or right, you are being asked which side of the center seam you hang your “package” – something women don’t have to consider. Pick either left or right; it’s your choice.

  • In the summer, you can avoid the androgyny of T-shirts and cut-offs by pairing short-sleeved button-down shirts with khaki shorts. This is one of the few times that a short-sleeved dress shirt might be OK. Also, a Hawaiian print shirt (not TOO loud a print) is a good look nowadays. The variant print helps to break up the outline of your chest, too.

  • Vests are good too - especially to hide breasts. If you are more slightly built though they can tend to narrow the shoulders.

  • Shirt collars vary widely and the style you choose can greatly affect your look: Round, wide faces benefit from straight or long point collars. Avoid spreads and round collars.Long, oval faces can use a medium-spread collar.Long neck: Tab collars or pin collars look great because they break up the line of the neck.Short neck: Pick a collar that rides lower and shows more of the neck.Thin or slight build: Avoid collars that are too big for your neck. Bigger collars may make your shoulders look narrower.

  • When first transitioning, pick shirts that are cut full and might be a bit large to help disguise chest size. This also makes your torso look bigger and draws attention away from your hips and legs. Here again, a Hawaiian print shirt distracts from your hips and also breaks up the look of your torso and chest.

  • Suits can be a great equalizer - men of different sizes and shapes can all look great in a suit. They broaden shoulders, minimize hips and cover up chests.

  • Single-breasted suits are ones with a single row of buttons on the jacket; double-breasted suits have two rows. Single-breasted 2-button jackets are great if you have wider hips that you want to hide and will make you appear taller. 3-button styles work best on taller, thinner guys. Double-breasted works on a variety of guys but will pull across the chest if you have large breasts and won't look good on you if you have wide hips.

  • Belts should be brown or black (no white belts, please) and always worn with pants. You will find that men’s pants usually have more belt loops than women’s pants. That’s because when a man wears a belt, it’s functional – it really is holding up his pants – but when a woman wears a belt, it’s for appearance because her proportionally wider hips basically hold up her pants. Suspenders are more formal than a belt. They are one of the best things to wear with dress trousers - they help your trousers hang properly. But, they may not be a viable option if you are large breasted. Suspenders should descend in a straight line from the shoulders. If they don’t, they only emphasize the curve of the breasts.

  • Pocket squares, or handkerchiefs, are always a nice touch with a good suit. Cuff links are another place that your personality and creativity can shine through and there are lots to choose from. Most men do not wear jewelry other than maybe a watch and perhaps a pinky ring and/or a wedding ring.

  • Ties, which we will get to in just a moment, are the one place that men get to be creative in their clothing, so have fun! Unless you have a real conservative job in which case stick to the standards like rep stripes or pin dots. No one is actually sure how the wearing of neckties got to be so widespread, or even why they really exist, but they do, so it’s a necessary evil in some situations and even some jobs.

OK, that’s it for clothes. Next, the other aspects of masculine presentation. I have to start here by saying that what I’m going to talk about next is not necessarily what I believe. In fact, I don’t believe that there should be any differentiations to define masculine and feminine. However, I’m not society in general, and I don’t get to impose my belief system on the preconceptions that other people have. Neither do you. So, please keep in mind that I’m not – repeat NOT – trying to enforce or reinforce any of these “rules”. I’m just reporting on what is expected of masculine persons by today’s society; these are the things that you have to do in order to convince that society that you are masculine. Please don’t shoot the messenger.

If you’re going to be taken as a man, you have to learn to dress like a man, of course, but you also need to learn to act like one. As much as it really is true that clothes make the man, it’s even more true that attitude makes the man. If you were raised as a girl and probably a woman, regardless of your innate gender identity, you picked up certain societal attitudes about your role in society and the behaviors that were appropriate to that role. Essentially, you have to unlearn what amounts to a role as a second-class citizen and learn the role of HMFIC. I’m not going to tell you how to stuff a sock in your skivvies or how to pee standing up. Instead, I’m going to try to give you enough motivation to start acting like a man. Specifics will depend on your own circumstances in terms of how successful you are at adopting a true masculine mindset. Yes, that is sexist, but that’s not why I’m telling you these things. You can be masculine and not be sexist. You can be totally masculine and still be a feminist. You will hopefully use these behaviors as guidelines that can help you in presenting yourself as a man and not as absolutes. Ideally, you will be your own man and do whatever is right for you.

  • Look people in the eye, even strangers you pass on the street. That’s essentially a confrontational, territorial thing so don’t push it and try to stare some other guy down. Just look at one person for a moment and then look on. Don’t be afraid to look up; don’t stare at the ground.

  • Men are territorial. That is a primary difference between men and women that needs to become second nature if you are to be seen as masculine.

  • To that end, you need to take up more space, to claim territory. Stand straight with your head up and hands on hips or in pockets with elbows out. Cross your legs with ankle on knee. Sit with hands behind your head. Stand with legs apart. Have a longer stride (but don’t look like you’re practicing your Silly Walk). Make your body occupy more of the room you are in. Again, take the territory that no one else is currently occupying.

  • Don’t touch your face or neck with your hands, especially with just your fingers. It IS okay to touch other parts of your body, though.

  • Keep your fingers together and straight or make a fist when gesturing.

  • Don’t be too emotional in public, unless it’s to get angry. It’s hackneyed and clichéd but most guys still don’t cry in public.

  • Speak clearly and confidently, not loudly but confidently, and generally don’t touch others when talking. Another cliché, but men rarely touch other men; it’s akin to invading their territory. It’s a salesman’s and politician’s trick, too, to get you to pay attention to them by touching you and exerting power over you by invading your territory.

  • It’s OK to fart and belch and scratch among other guys, but only ones you know. In the general public, you only call attention to yourself and label yourself as uncouth.

  • Most importantly, assume that you really are just as important as anyone else and maybe even more important than most. If you ACT like a man and you LOOK like a man, people will assume that you ARE a man.

  • On 2/21/2006 7:15 PM, Blogger DeniseUMLaw said…

    "I’m a person who dresses well regardless of my gender presentation."

    This is an assertion not provable by anyone I know. I don't think I've ever seen you dressed as a man.... Oh wait! Yes, I have. Remember that one picture of the 4 of us from Pittsburgh? I still have that, btw. :) OK, I guess I can testify that you do dress well in both genders.

  • On 2/22/2006 1:39 AM, Anonymous Spicy Cauldron said…

    You don't think women are territorial? You should meet some female poets, for starters. And what's it all about when the real-life versions of the Desperate Housewives spend hours making sure the front of their homes look better than those of their neighbours, or do everything they can to get the front garden looking spectacular? Isn't that territorial? And isn't jealousy often a territorial issue, irrespective of gender allegiances? It's not so much growling at strangers, true, but it is marking boundaries and playing oneupmanship, or making a form of self-perceived ownership known to the world, which from my experience is a game everyone plays from time to time.

    No, I think men are more obvious in many areas but women, while subtle, can be about the same things. One difference is women don't instinctively indulge or like certain aspects of human behaviour, while some men - not all - revel in their worst traits.

    My own view of masculine/feminine is that it is another example of the contrived dualities which rule our lives. The divisions are often arbitrary, awkward, failing to match the complexity of the individual. It's as if we all like to know 'where we stand' even if the position we see ourselves in is mostly illusory. At times, we run mostly on gas. Vapour. Nothing which is truly real in any acceptable notion of the term.

    All that said, I found this a fun and insightful post which gives a lot of cause to think and ponder. I did wonder, when you say men's shoe sizes are smaller, you meant in numerical terms only, right? Because women squeeze into the most outrageously unhealthy albeit beautiful shoes. If a woman's foot tendons could arm-wrestle a man, she'd win every time. And men, generally, have bigger feet. I think EU sizes are different to US ones. I'm a size 8 shoe and am 6'2" tall, so have small feet for my height and build. There's an old chestnut which says 'men with big feet...' so, at times, I get jokes of a detrimental nature. No matter. I know my partner doesn't make those jokes, so I'm happy. And so is he. :-)


  • On 2/22/2006 10:21 AM, Blogger Jami said…

    Denise - I KNOW you've seen me in boy drag. I used to do it a lot!

    Spicy - Oh, I know damned good and well that women are territorial! But like a lot of things, men are more physical and "in-your-face" about it, that's all. You got it right when you said that women are more subtle and men more obvious. And yes, I agree with you 100% about gender markers being societally derived and applied wholesale when individuals are as different as they come ... in all respects. One of the things I had to wrestle with before I started presenting this seminar was my own very real opposition to labels while this seminar can easily be seen as perpetuating stereotypes. In the end, I opted to try to help those who wanted to fit within a societal standard to do so. What this post doesn't (and really can't) show is the discussions that took place on this very topic in the course of my presentation. I don't think that by the end anyone left the seminar thinking that I was trying to shoehorn everyone into a rigidly defined little box labled "Men".

  • On 2/23/2006 7:27 AM, Anonymous Spicy Cauldron said…

    Sounds like you took a pragmatic approach, which is often the best way. It's not easy, is it? Bypassing labels and preconceptions, I mean? Like trying to reach for the sky it's just something I personally feel I have to try to do to feel reasonably okay about myself and not think I'm just going with the sheep on the issues. x

  • On 2/23/2006 9:57 AM, Blogger Jami said…

    Pragmatic it was. I fight every day (or so it seems) against labels for people: putting labels on people, dealing with people according to their label, etc. Somewhere else out in the blogosphere, I referenced my inner mantra with regard to this: "Any time you slap a label on the outside, you hide some of what's on the inside." And it's on the inside where people live.

  • On 3/01/2006 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You don't think women are territorial? You should meet some female poets, for starters. And what's it all about when the real-life versions of the Desperate Housewives spend hours making sure the front of their homes look better than those of their neighbours, or do everything they can to get the front garden looking spectacular? Isn't that territorial? And isn't jealousy often a territorial issue, irrespective of gender allegiances? It's not so much growling at strangers, true, but it is marking boundaries and playing oneupmanship, or making a form of self-perceived ownership known to the world, which from my experience is a game everyone plays from time to time.

    (Disclaimer: I'm speaking in generalities here, too, and that I'm averring trends, not supporting them.)

    Since this is a post about gendered body language, why would you read Jami's comment about "territoriality" without that context? Women can be territorial, but they tend not to take up space with their bodies or voices. They sort of aren't permitted to; the men around them will interrupt them, jostle them, and otherwise crowd and pinch them when they try. It might be better to say that men display a sense of entitlement to the space their bodies occupy. They spread out, they colonize, they impose. Traditional feminine body language, on the other hand, is apologetic.

    Remember, too, that a lot of these dichotomies fly out the window when you're talking about people in same-gender interpersonal contexts, since the big powerful/powerless dichotomy is gendered. A woman who will tend to be more self-effacing in the company of men might not feel so compelled in relation to other women. A man who feels entitled to push women around might not feel entitled to treat other men the same way.


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  • On 4/10/2006 10:59 AM, Blogger Clothing Specialist said…

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  • On 5/21/2006 1:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ha ha ha!!!

    just wanted to say that the stereotypes of how ftms mtfs or any body for that matter SUCK and make everyone feel that much more conformist.

    i transitioned to free myself of alot of this baloney, and am a happy, healthy and hot pansy of a man who will touch his face, bat his eyes and NEVER wear track pants the rest of his days!!


  • On 9/04/2006 9:46 AM, Blogger Lawrence said…

    I never thought to keep my fingers together when gesturing (which as a deli worker ineracting with customers,I do a lot). I always knew my hand movements were feminine in a manner I couldnt quite pass as faggy, and such a simlpe solution never occured to me. Thanks.


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