“There’s sort of an overcorrection,” Miske, now 31, said. “We have to go through what I think of as the high school phase.”
As she walked into a clothing exchange event on a recent weekend in the District, she was ready to shed the pants, dresses and shirts that were no longer quite her style, but which might be the perfect fit for someone else.
The clothing exchange event, organized by the advocacy groups DC Area Transmasculine Society (DCATS) and Casa Ruby, invited members of the trans and non-binary communities to donate clothing and acquire other items, free of charge, in a comfortable setting.
The TransSwap, which took place at the Eaton Hotel downtown, also provided a window into what shopping would look like in a gender-free world, without men’s and women’s sections.
Tables were labeled as “casual shirts” and “dressy shirts.” Pants were organized by size and measurements. Accessories — scarves, ties, pantyhose, suspenders — were strewn across a table in the middle. Gender-neutral bathrooms were available for trying on clothes, and volunteers were on site offering free mending services.
“It’s just giving people the opportunity to explore how they want to express themselves in clothes in a way that’s not as binary,” said the event’s lead organizer, Jamison Crowell, the executive director of DCATS.
For Miske and other participants, the swap was also an affordable way to refresh a wardrobe before the new year.
“I don’t make a whole lot of money, and I don’t think a lot of us do,” said Miske, who works as a dog walker.
She perused the piles of folded T-shirts alongside her friend, Cat Hoisington, who recently came out as non-binary and was looking for clothes that would be a better fit for their gender identity.
Miske picked out a black velvet lace top and tried it on over the purple dress she was already wearing, with black leggings and Converse high-tops. The top looked like something she would have worn earlier in her transition, Miske said, but not anymore. “Not me,” she said, shaking her head.
As she looked through the sweaters and long-sleeve shirts, she noticed a volunteer wearing a red-checkered flannel shirt and complimented it.
“I was actually looking for flannels,” Miske said. “Where did you buy yours?”
The volunteer told her about a site called Dapper Boi, which offers gender-neutral and androgynous clothing in a range of sizes and fits.
Miske said shopping for flannels has been difficult for her. Most of the women’s flannel shirts are too tight on her shoulders or too short on her arms. But the last thing she wants to do is shop for flannels in the men’s clothing section of stores.
“I had to do that for 25 years. I don’t want to do it again,” Miske said. “That’s not the section that I’m comfortable in.”
But shopping in the women’s section brings its own discomforts, she said.
“I’m always worried that the next person I come across is going to be like, ‘Excuse me, sir,’ ” she said.
As Miske and Hoisington looked through the racks of jackets, a friend of Hoisington’s asked Miske where else she likes to shop.
“Do you like Ross?” Hoisington’s friend, Logan Harding, 24, asked.
“The fluorescent lights give me anxiety,” Miske said. “The lower racks make me feel exposed.”
Harding, who came out as a transgender man a couple of years ago, said he liked American Eagle best.
“Their stuff fits me, because I look like a teenage boy,” Harding said, laughing. He tried on a leather jacket, but the arms were a bit too long, so he put it back on the rack.
Miske flipped through the dresses, looking for an A-line style that might accentuate her hips while also not being too feminine or too tight.
“A lot of stuff I really can’t wear because things will show,” she said quietly.
Hoisington pointed out a black dress that looked perfect for Miske, with its skull-and-bones print. Miske slipped it on over her clothing.
“Ha! Nope. Thank you, shoulders,” Miske said. “That’s what happens.”
Instead, she picked out two tops: a soft, simple Pink Floyd T-shirt and a black-and-white sweater with a skull design. It was long enough to cover her thighs and loose enough to “break up the shape of my shoulders a bit.”
It felt just right.