1993 – 1997
My bleached hair waved above my shoulder. My intention was not the Japanese surfer look I sported but a mixed-cultural androgynous model that my Timberland’s would hopefully heighten. The mall’s glossy ground rose to my moisturised legs, up my white denim skort (shorts that’s half skirt), then to my tight grey top. My blemished face shone making you forget I had eyes. Tucked in my bag, strapped across my body, was the money I saved up from my “do you want fries with that?” job to buy my first perfume.
ck one by Calvin Klein (1994) was the seminal perfume that I finally felt could express my trans ideals as a teen. When the print campaign first appeared: a row of bejeaned, singleted, multi-cultural models, including Jenny Shimizu, I saw myself in them. I wanted to buy into that identity as if it knew me intimately. “A fragrance for a man or a woman” was its catchphrase, but because of what I was going through I felt neither. An in-betweener. What I was buying into was the idea that a unisex perfume – not seen in the market for a long time before ck one – gave me a sense of permission, publicly, to be one and the same with the general population at this time in my life. Perfume marketing says “for men” and “for women,” but beyond the sexes smelling is inclusive. ck one’s current catchphrase is, “We are one. For all for ever.” Good marketing reflecting the age? I don’t know, but buying and wearing ck one cemented the vision I had for myself that, clearly, the powers at Calvin Klein were adept to capitalise on in this young consumer.
From memory I see photos of my family and me on holidays by a beach, a lake, in a hotel lobby, on a dance floor, in my mother’s home. I was 16, and it was the first year of psychiatric evaluation for my transition. In one of the photos by a lake, I am taller than everyone around me, my wavy, bleached hair is salty, my skin is smooth and tanned in the evening sun, and the boatneck shirt I wear compliments my shoulders. Despite my cheeks being bumpy and lumpy with acne my smile is big. I felt I was maturing into the person I would become.
The perfume I wore at this period in my life was Dune by Christian Dior (1991). I’m pretty sure I convinced my mother to buy it for me for the trip. When I first smelled it on a counter I recognised the warmth of the woman I was desiring for myself. A quiet confidence that the wind could embrace as its own. The images this perfume imparted in my ever-growing imagination were poetic, smooth, lulling, private, peaceful. The desire to be at peace with who I am.
A couple of years pass. My sister and I were walking, she looked at my long, frizzy hair (plain brown) and said I looked like a “druggo”. I shaved it all off, then played with shaving Saturnian rings, horseshoes, and random shapes on my head. I was exploring a new sense of self: reading Buddhism, practicing hatha yoga, meditation, and my introduction into mindfulness. By some gentle transition I sought out Dune’s young brother Dune pour homme by Christian Dior (1997), and Platinum Égoïste by Chanel (1993). The former smelled comforting, especially in the woolen, mustard v-neck jumper I wore to death at the time. And I brought the Chanel on my first trip to France.
I don’t know what happened but when I completed my second year of evaluation, on the eve of my hormones being prescribed, something changed. Convinced of my transition since I was 6-years-old, nothing surprised me more when on the way home from the psychiatrist – our the last meeting – I heard a conversation in my mind: the bus was full, the sun was shining, I sat on the seat facing everyone: what I heard was, “If God wants me to be who and what I want to be, then I can be who and what I want to be like this. As I am.”
Featured image contains a portrait by Juan Carlos Ortiz from ‘I Am Only Partly Here’.