I like to pretend my traumas are a physical accessory that I can polish and embroider or something — like an interesting patch on my jeans. I’m good at disassociating that way; I can disassociate myself into outer space. I can pretend I’m a robot, a Replicant, a cyborg from Utopia. When I do this it means I can posture some kind of control over the situation by distancing myself from it. The thing about trauma is it’s like the biggest, most absorbent sponge; it will absorb everything into it, it will swallow you up. It’s like the memory foam mattress from hell. You have to get out before it has you memorized.
I do this the best way I know how — through the dictionary of Fashion. If I treat my trauma like an accessory, it doesn’t define me and I can manipulate it like I manipulate clothes. Nothing will ever swallow me whole. There are several pieces that make this happen for me. Maybe you can relate.
The Leather Jacket
When you put on your favorite leather jacket, it’s something of a ritual — shrugging on the very rigid form, shimmying your shoulders up, pulling the jacket down, suiting up, getting wrapped in that smell, running your hands over the material for comfort. When I’m anxious, I put on a leather jacket and zip it all the way up and belt it tightly to me, like an industrial, very goth bodice. It cradles your body when it fits just right and it goes with everything, so even if you lost steam getting out of bed and settled for last night’s pajamas, your leather jacket on top lends you and air of Devil-may-care. There is literally no outfit that would fuck up the perfect leather jacket. I say this even as a proponent of Uggs (they’re just a different of take on Americana, really). I am a true and undying fan of the leather jacket. When you find one that fits, you marry it. You commit to it longer than you may ever commit to a person. A person might break your heart, but that jacket? You can always oil up that leather jacket and watch Rebel Without a Cause. You’ll be just fine.
The best sweater I own looks like wall insulation and is shapeless — no darts, no nothing. It might even be some kind of wall insulation; it doesn’t have a tag. That makes me love it more. I’ve always had it but I thought it was revolting until a year and a half ago, when I decided to stretch it and experiment with it and use gigantic safety pins and binder clips as buttons. (Junya Watanabe on a budget, if you please.) I mostly like it because of the possibilities it offers. It has existed in my life forever but it was only until I grew and changed into the person who would wear it that it became meaningful. The fact it has been waiting for me is very comforting. It is the old friend who gives me hugs for as long as I need, without it ever getting awkward.
I don’t wear jewelry for decoration; I am very selective about what I wear. All my trinkets are spells from my friends: A necklace from my friend’s Bar Mitzvah with the initial we share in common, a serpent ring my best friend gave to me on the rainiest day of the year, rings from my grandmothers, silver knots from my honorary sisters. When I am anxious I twist the snake around my fingers, I tighten the tail until it strangles. I take off and put on the knot rings like I’m unraveling my own anxiety. I will sometimes do this dozens of times while listening to Stevie Nicks. It’s witch work, and it always works.
I learned very basic Japanese in order to buy my own pair of Vivienne Westwood Anglomania x Melissa Winged Sandals. The metaphor in them is obvious and perfect: I like to wear them to escape my problems. I don’t wear them so much anymore; the last time was in Taipei on one of my last days living there. It was raining, and dark, and muggy, and I was soaked running through the streets back to my apartment. I hadn’t spoken English in a while. I was in the closet again. I felt numb and utterly like a different person to the point where I knew I was falling back into depression. I didn’t want to do anything at all except rent a hotel room and sit in the bathtub until I shriveled up and disappeared into a raisin of a human being. The only thing that got me home was me worrying about my fucking shoes.
They’re fragile, you see, and rare, and I didn’t want to ruin them. So I ran back home with red wings on my feet. I caught myself in a store window on the way back. Picture this: A green-haired queer white-passing half-breed in a neighborhood of Asian grandmothers, soaking wet in a knee-length white dress and red winged shoes, running in the dark. I looked woefully out of place. It was so fucking bizarre and visionary to me — I felt like Bjork! — that I couldn’t help but laugh. I laughed all the way home. It reminded me that fashion can save you sometimes. For me, it always does.
(Photos from High Snobiety, Style.com, Tumblr, Nastygal, Max&Chloe)