May 13, 2013

The Purse

I carry a purse now. It wasn’t something I intended to do; it just sort of happened.

It all started with a friend’s forgotten purse. In the week I was moving out of the family home, some friends had been over to the house to help me move and one of them left her purse behind. Rather than have her drive back for it, I told her I’d drop it off (I was headed that way anyways). So I carried it to the car, dropped it on the seat, and took it over.

As I drove, I indulged in this odd little fantasy. I glanced over at the purse sitting on the seat, and I pretended that it was mine. And it made me smile.

I happened to relay this little moment to my ex the next day. She is a teacher by trade, but last year she also started selling Thirty-One bags and purses (think like a purse version of Tupperware or candle parties). And in response to my little story, she offered me a purse she had on hand. “It’s not very girly,” she said as she handed it to me. “You could probably carry it around as a man purse.”

It was a gift offered sincerely, and so I accepted it. And she was right: it wasn’t very girly. The whole bag was made of neutral gray canvas, not much larger than a hardback book, with khaki brown lining and a wide canvas strap. [I’ve included a pic here.] There was no way I was actually going to carry it, though; not anytime remotely soon. I was still tall, and fat, and bearded, and male. I stashed it among my “girl things” in my new apartment and figured that I would forget all about it.


Except that I didn’t forget about it. The thought of having a purse on hand lingered, and I got an urge to actually carry the thing. There was no way I could get away with it, yet the urge was there.

It happened that the following Saturday I needed to drive out to IKEA. I’d been there the weekend previous to buy some cheap furniture for the apartment, but I wanted to take some small items back. The local IKEA is in Canton, MI, which is far enough from both my home and my workplace that the chances I’d run into someone I knew there were remote. It was also going to be a Saturday, when the store was at its busiest — a perfect way to get “lost in the crowd.” And Canton is, on the whole, a rather liberal and open-minded place. It was, in other words, the perfect place for a man to experiment with carrying a purse.

I told myself I was stupid. I told myself I’d be pointed at, laughed at, commented upon. But damnit, the urge just would not go away. And in the end, the urge won.

In preparation, I chose an outfit that wasn’t my normal scrubby jeans and sweatshirt. I wore a pair of women’s bootcut jeans, because bootcut jeans are great for a woman in transition; they’re usually cut tight around the hips and thighs, meaning they’re just loose instead of ridiculously loose on a man, and the flare at the bottom is slightly feminine without calling attention to itself. I wore a tucked-in t-shirt on top, over which I wore an untucked, unbuttoned short-sleeved men’s shirt; this was a look I’d been experimenting with as the weather got warmer and I could no longer count on bulky sweatshirts to hide the lines of the bra I’d become accustomed to wearing. I mussed my hair with some hair gel to make it look … I don’t know what I was aiming for, exactly. I put on a bracelet I’d become accustomed to wearing on the weekends. I put the purse over my shoulder like a messenger bag.

I looked in the mirror and decided that I looked a bit like a gay man. Gay camouflage! The perfect disguise for a budding transwoman experimenting with her first purse.

I paced in front of the door a dozen times before getting to courage to open it. No one was in the hall. I reached into my pocket for my keys — but oh yeah, they were in the purse. I reached into my purse for my keys and then made for the stairwell. No one was in the stairwell. I crossed the parking lot to my car. No one was in the parking lot.

There were a lot of people in the parking lot at IKEA. It never ceases to amaze me how many people the IKEA draws on a regular basis. That’s why you’re here, I reminded myself. You want to get lost in the crowd. 

I thought that they were all staring at me as I got out of the car and slung the purse back over my head (such an awkward and obvious action, especially when you’re not used to it). I thought they were all whispering behind my back as I carried my returns into the store. I thought that the little old man who greeted me when I walked in (“Hi there, welcome to IKEA, the return area is that way”) must surely have stifled a laugh at my expense.

By the time I made it through the return process and ascended to the showroom floor, I was more relaxed. No one had said anything about the purse yet, and if people were staring and pointing, they were being very subtle about it. So I began to stop worrying about other people and just enjoyed the feel of the strap across my shoulder, the bag resting against my hip. It felt good. It felt natural.

I shopped for sofas I had no intention of buying. I bought dinner at the eatery (meatballs and lingonberry jam, of course). I lingered among the dining room sets. I got lost in the crowd, the purse at my side, and I just enjoyed the fact that I was there. What could have been a quick trip to exchange a few lampshades became a quiet evening of being just a little bit more me.

No one said anything about the purse in IKEA. When I stopped at a grocery store on the way home and decided to carry the purse inside, no one said anything there, either. By the time I got back home, the purse had become my purse.

So now I carry a purse on the weekends.  It rides in my car every Friday, and when I get out of work my keys, my wallet, and my iPhone go into it. I’ve carried it into a Walmart, a movie theater, a Starbucks, a comic book shop; I’ve carried it both when I’m alone and when I’m out with my kids. No one has said a single word to me about it. People must have noticed — they must have! — but either they’re too polite to say anything or they just don’t care.

I think I am “getting away with it” because, apparently, “man purses” are becoming a thing. According to the Chicago Tribune, it’s because more men are carrying around more gadgets than they have pockets for — phones, tablet computers, eReaders, laptops. My purse is sized almost perfectly to carry an iPad (my ex used a purse of the same design to carry hers in), and it has a wide canvas strap. According to the article, “Wider is more masculine.”

Could it be … my purse isn’t girly enough?!

Feh. For now, if it escapes notice because of man purses, so be it. I like it, and I will continue to carry it because it makes me happy to do so. And someday, who knows? I may upgrade to something more overtly feminine. Of course, as time goes on I’ll be upgrading myself to something more overtly feminine, so maybe no one will notice the purse.

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  • I think the femininity of accessories is influenced by the other accessories and clothing you have. So if you have a somewhat plain purse, but obviously girly clothes, the purse looks more feminine as well. That’s just my opinion, though. 🙂

    • The purse isn’t very girly, but it’s still influencing what I choose to wear on the weekends. Subtle shifts in wardrobe … for now …

  • I’ve been through the same agony and ecstasy with each girl item I add ~ girl socks, then tights. Charm bracelet, girly ring. Women’s shirts (in men’s styles). People who notice say nothing, which is the same thing.

    I carry a tote now. One guy called it a ‘”man bag” or “murse”.’ It’s basically a large purse. It also sports a Jewish Star of many colours pinned to the strap.

    The baby steps are important ~ more important for someone on your path than mine, I’m sure.

    Be comfortable with who you are.

    You’re doing GREAT.

    ps ~ Yes, it’s girly. 🙂

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