Part of what feels hard right now is that I can’t figure out how to back up.

Yesterday, I had an important talk to give for work. It was at a small conference, where lots of people have known me for years. My old advisor, my current advisor, many colleagues, lots of people who I want to know who I am, to respect my work, to remember me favorably.

I haven’t seen any of them in the last several months.

I really didn’t know what to wear.

If I didn’t have to operate out in the world where people know me, if the only people I had to answer to or interact closely with were my immediate family, I would wear only boy clothes all the time, and I would wear a binder all the time.

In reality, I’m doing almost this anyway. The only place I’m not binding is at the office, but I’m close to binding there too and I doubt anyone will really notice, anymore than they noticed the wardrobe change (I don’t think that in reality the switch from very boring girl clothes to slightly less boring and more stylish boy clothes was as profound to everyone else as it was to me, and no one has said anything, but then, I work with scientists who can be startlingly unobservant).

But faced with standing up in front of all my old advisors and colleagues, and wanting to be able to place all my concentration on giving my presentation, not wondering whether everyone else noticed a change, I went to my conference dressed in my old girl clothes, no binder.

It’s hard to say how it felt. The day was fine. I enjoyed catching up with people. My talk went well. I think people will remember me favorably. But I also felt somehow both uncomfortable and relieved that I didn’t have to wonder what anyone was thinking about me in terms of gender. But I felt distracted, like I’d cut myself off. I wanted to go home.

What I wanted to do as soon as I got home was strip out of my old clothes and quick put on the binder and regular clothes and take a deep breath. But I somehow felt embarrassed by how single-minded this focus was on the ride home. So instead, after I got home I did some chores. Poked around the house. And then mosied into our room to change.

I felt quiet. I couldn’t pin down my thoughts. I felt physically run down, tired. I had a stomach ache. I finally told Gail I felt bad, that it was wierd wearing those clothes, that I wasn’t sure how to do this, how to make the right decisions, even about small things like what to wear for a presentation. After I said this, my stomach hurt worse, bad enough I wondered if I might throw up, if maybe there was food poisoning in the conference food (there wasn’t, I was fine).

The stomach ache went away. I don’t know what I’ll wear the next time. I do know that  I’m more likely to bind at work now, though this morning, when I was getting dressed, I still chickened out.

It scares me to see now that maybe I can’t back up. I can’t wear the exact same clothes I wore 2 months ago and feel OK. I don’t get to dip my toe in and then go back to where I was before completely unscathed.