Modified 4/5/2015 -- news of TV thing
NEWS! :: So, funny story, I've been approached about doing a TV-thing that would follow a guy through the early stages of transition and show what kind of transformation can happen. It's in the pre-planning stages so most things are still up in the air, but I've talked to the producer and it seems pretty legit, not just sensationalism as trans coverage often is.
Personally, I think this has the potential to deliver a message that badly needs to get out into the mainstream: that yes, people can in fact change sex, and that when they're done they look just like anyone else. Right now we seem to fall in one of two camps -- folks early in their transition, who are often conspicuously trans and not convincing as their target sex, and late-transition folks who've been on hormones for a while and are now passing so well that no one realizes they're trans unless they choose to disclose. The latter camp, passing so successfully as to become invisible, ironically contributes to the widespread misconception that no trans people can ever pass.
This has consequences beyond the obvious. The idea that being trans means you're never going to pass, no matter what you do, that you're never really going to be the opposite sex, is devastating to young folks who are just figuring themselves out, since they hear that message and conclude that there is no light at the end of the tunnel -- the trans suicide rate attests to that. (Though kids, take it from me: stick it out, because you will be okay.) The invisibility of trans folk who are not only convincing but attractive means that fictional portrayals of trans people will continue to treat us like an exotic punchline. And, of course, as long as that stereotype persists, even open-minded, well-intentioned parents will be trying to talk their trans kids out of it -- for their own good, they think -- rather than giving them the support they need.
So that got talkier than I'd intended, but the upshot is this: people need to see that someone can go from ~obviously~ female to ~obviously~ male, and this show has the potential to do that. I know we're all kind of dubious about media coverage of trans issues, but I'm onboard with this one. The reason I'm posting about it here is because the producer is currently shopping around for more folks who have experience coaching others in how2trans, as it were, so I'm putting out the call. If this sounds like something you'd be interested in doing, I invite you to email the producer, Alex Horn.
And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
There are a number of websites with tips for teaching FTMs how to pass, and I encourage you to read all that you can find. This page is intended to supplement rather than supplant them, because I don't cover the basics and they don't go far enough. Their general advice for what FTMs should wear? A burlap sack, the better to hide your ladybits.
Well, yes. If you wear a sack, you won't get clocked -- but you won't get laid either.
What, you mean that's not sexy?
Which is where this guide comes in. This is not about passing, specifically; this is about looking good. It wasn't enough for me just to be a dude -- I wanted to be a hot dude. And I suspect you do too.
My name is Gabriel. I'm a female-to-male transsexual (to be clinical about it), currently 29 years old. I've been dressing like a dude since I was about 20, and on testosterone since I was 22.
I'm a vain little beastie; looking good is important to me, more than it is to most cisguys, which I attribute directly to transsexual body image insecurity. What can I say? I'm compensating for a small penis.
I have a deep and abiding interest in men's fashion. I subscribe to men's fashion magazines, surf fashion blogs, and have read Alan Flusser from cover to cover. I have strong opinions about tassels on wing-tips, pleated vs. flat-front trousers, and how many buttons I want on my suit jackets. Yes, I am that kind of fag.
My tastes in fashion can be idiosyncratic and a lot of my advice here is specifically what I like; I was also living in Tokyo for my formative years as a man, where they have very different ideas about menswear. (To wit: pink is considered a perfectly masculine color, and straight guys pluck their eyebrows.) Obviously you don't have to do everything that I do -- this is not the Complete Illustrated Guide to Dressing Like Gabriel. There's more than one way to be trans, and this world is more than big enough for all types. I'm sharing the tips and tricks that worked for me, in the hopes that you can use them to put together a style that both expresses your own personality and helps you get read as male.
It's also worth noting that a lot of the things I advise here are interim measures -- when I say, for example, that t-shirts or plaid or buzzcuts are to be avoided, it's because an FTM body in the early stages of transition is unlikely to look convincing male in them, not because you can never wear them ever again. After you're further along in your transition, namely after you've spent some time on testosterone (which not everyone chooses to pursue, but I'm operating under the assumption that most of my readers will want that eventually) you'll have a lot more freedom to wear what you want and not have to worry about compromising your ability to pass. Me, I'm delighted to be rocking the long hair that I couldn't pull off five years ago.
A few preliminary remarks...
Life is not fair. If you're trans then you've probably noticed that already, but even among ourselves it's still not fair. Some female-bodied folk are simply better suited to passing than others -- they're taller, with slimmer hips, smaller tits, a sharper face, a deeper voice, and they can pass even without hormones or surgery.
We hates you.
Other FTMs are not so lucky -- they're petite, curvy, busty, with tiny hands and a voice like Minnie Mouse, and there is simply nothing in their power that will let them pass without the magical mystery drug that is testosterone. And this is not your fault. It doesn't mean that your masculinity is less legitimate than theirs, or that you're doing it wrong; all it means is that you didn't roll sevens on the genetic crapshoot. In terms of secondary sex characteristics (i.e., voice and body hair and ability to build muscles), female bodies are remarkably similar to pre-pubescent male bodies -- which means that trying to pass for a man without hormones is akin to trying to pass for 20 when you're 13. Some lucky few can pull it off, but most can't, and it has nothing to do with how you feel, only with what people can see.
You probably have some combination of the above features. I'm lucky to be tall, and even before starting testosterone I could reliably pass as male -- until I opened my mouth. My voice wasn't deep enough, there was nothing I could do about it, and it gave me away every time. (Then five weeks on T, BAM, my voice dropped, and no one ever thought I was a girl again. It was awesome.)
Bad news: Without testosterone, you may not pass no matter what you do.
Good news: With testosterone, you probably will pass -- no matter what you do. *
This guide is for FTMs both pre- and post-hormones, because it's about fitting a female body into a male mold, and though testosterone helps with that immensely, it doesn't fix you overnight.
There is an immense range of variation in female bodies, and obviously I can't cover all contingencies. While I hope that everyone can get something from this guide, when I make generalizations about what a female body "is," I'm talking about an average woman at a healthy weight: not much in the way of muscle mass, and curvy enough to be unmistakably female.
Something like this.
And not everyone looks like that -- different people are going to be facing different challenges, and there is a lot that I don't address in this guide because I simply don't know how to. My perennial problem was being too skinny to fill out men's clothes correctly, so my workarounds may not be very applicable to guys with too much weight rather than too little. There are certain hurdles that I never had to cross, and thus can't offer any advice on; I'd be talking out of my ass if I tried to tell you what to do with DDs. So if you've developed strategies for dealing with things that I've neglected, then I highly encourage you to put together a site of your own and I'll be happy to link you. That's information that needs to be out there, but the trans experience is far too broad and varied to be encompassed by a single person's page.
I used to hear people say things like "You pass best when you wear what's comfortable for you" or "Wear what you like and the rest will take care of itself," and I always thought it was a bunch of feel-good bullshit.
Well -- yes and no.
There are some things that pre-hormone/pre-op FTMs simply can't pass while wearing. You can't, for instance, wear clothes that don't do anything to disguise the incongruities of your body, be that breasts or hips or skinny arms, not if you still want to be read as male. I feel qualified to give advice on What Not To Wear because my tastes have spent years being shaped by what an FTM body can pull off and what it can't, and so it's not a coincidence that what I like is very flattering to FTMs.
But the longer I'm at this, the more I realize that it's also true that you will never be able to pass and you will never be able to look good if you're wearing clothes that you don't like and that don't feel natural to you. It doesn't matter how "masculine" they are, if you don't like them, then you're going to be radiating discomfort and people will pick up on that. Your presentation will feel inauthentic, it'll ping people's radar as girl-trying-to-be-a-boy, and will neither help you pass nor help convince people of the legitimacy of your gender identity.
tl;dr -- You must wear clothes you like. Don't feel like you have to wear something because I recommended it, or because Hudson recommended it. Wear it because you looked at it and went, Hells yes, that's the kind of dude I want to be. You may not be able to pull it off pre-hormones or pre-op, but bookmark it for later.
This isn't really designed for butch lesbians; in fact, a recurring theme that you'll find here is How Not To Look Like a Butch Lesbian. That's a pitfall for many FTMs, because a lot of them are coming from the butch subculture, and try to carry over a lot of the aesthetic -- it's masculine, right? Thing is, if you have a female body and you're dressing like an archetypal lesbian... well, three guesses as to what you're going to look like, and the first two don't count.
And while there's nothing wrong with being a lesbian or looking like one, butch lesbianism is a mode of being female. This is about being male. Lesbians are women who are cool with being women; that is not me and, if you're looking for tips on passing, presumably not you either.
Lastly -- in a perfect world, none of this would matter. People would be able to recognize and appreciate the masculinity that we feel regardless of how uncooperative our bodies are, we'd be loved for who we are inside rather than out, people would be attracted to us the way we're attracted to them, and this guide would be completely unnecessary.
This just in: we don't live in a perfect world.
People who are attracted to men are not likely to be attracted to someone who doesn't look or sound or feel masculine. There's no point getting mad at them for it, it's how they're wired. Granted, some people dig androgyny, and some people are bisexual, bless their hearts, but you're probably going to be marketing yourself mainly to straight women or gay dudes (pick your poison) and your luck will improve considerably if you can pass and look good as a man.
Not gonna lie, being trans is a speed-bump when it comes to dating -- but I also swear that it is not a death sentence. Sure, some people will give you the thanks-but-no-thanks when they find out, no matter how hot and brilliant and otherwise marvellous you are, and all you can do is pull yourself together and go once more unto the breach. But you'll also discover that a lot of people who like men are more concerned with the sort of external masculinity -- whether you look and sound and feel male -- than they are with male junk. If they dig you with your clothes on, there's a good chance they'll dig you with your clothes off.
In short, being trans is out of your control, but there is so much else that is under your control, and this guide is about learning to make the most of what you've got. So, let's go to it.
Table of Contents
A Masculine Shape || Food & Fitness || Shirts || Trousers || Face & Hair || Suits || Conclusion
JOB 1: THE SILHOUETTE
Your absolute top priority, when it comes to both passing and looking good as a man, is having masculine proportions. (Syn: shape, figure, silhouette, frame, build)
THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING ELSE YOU CAN DO FOR YOURSELF.
It is more important than binding. People don't check for tits to figure out whether someone is male or female, they just ~know~, and one of the ways they ~know~ is by body shape. Here's the process:
When you're meeting a stranger for the first time, their brain registers your overall presentation (which consists of body shape, clothes, voice) and subconsciously designates you as male or female. If you do nothing to disrupt that initial impression, it will never occur to them to doubt it. They won't be checking for suspicious bulges in your chest, or lack of bulge at your crotch, or inspecting your small hands -- why would they? They already know what you are. That's what passing is.
However, if your presentation is ambiguous -- close, but not quite far enough to tip the scales to "definitively male" -- then something different happens. Their hindbrain, which usually makes the male/female call without having to think about it, sets off the air raid sirens and starts screaming "I DON'T KNOW!! D:", at which point their front brain realizes OH SHIT, I can't tell whether this person is a man or a woman, and then they start consciously looking for the gender signifiers that will provide concrete evidence one way or the other. They will scrutinize your face for whether they see a woman's features in it, they'll steal a glance at your chest for evidence of breasts being strapped down, they'll look at the size of your hands and the lack of hair on your arms -- and what they find will probably get you ma'am'd.
They're not doing it to be rude. In fact, that's why they become hyper-vigilant about looking for those gender signifiers -- because they don't want to get it "wrong." They can tell you're dressing like a man, but they can also tell that you're a woman underneath, and probably think that you would be offended to be "mistaken" for a man. There are, after all, more butch lesbians than trans folk in this world.
So use this to your advantage. If you come off as unambiguously male from the outset, you'll be forgiven a multitude of small sins, and the most effective cue for getting yourself read as male is to have the right overall shape. (And, unfortunately, the right voice, which only a small percent of FTMs can pull off pre-T.)
That shape is called mesomorphic, and almost everything I have to say is geared toward achieving it, by art and artifice, deceit and trickery and optical illusions if necessary. To give you a solid idea of what I mean by mesomorph, I took one for the team and looked through many pictures of mostly-naked male models to bring you only the highest quality examples of mesomorphic manliness:
Fig. 1: Niiiiice.
Fig. 2: Hot dam.
Or, if you'd prefer a leaner look for yourself, there are many hot dudes with the same shape but built on a smaller scale:
They all illustrate the essence of a mesomorphic shape: broad shoulders, narrow hips. You may notice that that's the exact opposite of the female shape, and thus achieving a male silhouette is going to consist of de-emphasizing your hips and bulking up your shoulders.
Repeat, because that's what all this is about: reduce hips, enhance shoulders.
Be careful not to confuse hips with waist -- both male and female bodies can be narrow at the waist, but women then get wider again at the hips (which results in curves) while men aren't appreciably wider in the hips than in the waist. If you want to put numbers to it, .7 is considered the healthy waist/hip ratio for women, and .9 for men. To find your own, take a tape measure and divide the number of inches around your waist by the number of inches around your hips.
Now if looking at those guys is starting to make you feel depressed, don't be. Just like every other guy on the planet, cis or trans, you can get a body like that if you make the right effort. Furthermore, a quick glance around will show that even most cisguys don't look like the ones pictured above. In fact they probably look more like this guy:
Remember him, because he'll be back.
But while he's not going to turn heads, no one in a million years is going to mistake him for a girl. This is because he may not have the mesomorphic triangle going for him, but his shoulders form an almost perfect rectangle with his hips. It's that boxiness that characterizes the male figure, and that's what we're going for. Consider That Guy your intermediate step; you won't be able to look like a male model right out of the gates, but if you can make your shoulders >= your hips, your success in passing will go up enormously.
This is the game plan.
One thing you can do right off the bat is change your posture. Women's shoulders slope more than men's do (because men have muscle to help square them off) but if you get in the habit of keeping your shoulders up instead of slouching, it will change not only your silhouette but also the attitude you present toward the world. Practice in front of a mirror to get a stance that looks and feels natural (as opposed to looking like a constipated robot) and try to get in the habit of using it.
Something I used to do when I was learning to carry myself like a man was to fix an image of a particular guy in my head and try to emulate his stance and walk when I was out and about. My usual pick was Dean from Supernatural because everything about his body language projects confidence and masculinity, which are most excellent traits to borrow. (Also, because he's a television character and so I had more mental footage of him walking than, say, a character from a two-hour movie.)
Ultimately it turns out that I'm not that kind of man -- not a heterosexual midwestern good ol' boy -- and I've settled into a style that suits me better, but I maintain that it's a valuable exercise, particularly for people who are still building up their confidence. Don't oversell it, but borrow some of Dean's swagger and fake it 'til you make it. You may find that even if you don't pass (due to whatever combination of physical features), people will believe in your gender identity more, because they can see the masculinity that you're feeling.
THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR, BUT...
The most reliable way to look like a hot dude is to be a hot dude. You'll look better in clothes and -- more importantly -- you won't be ashamed to be seen out of them. The more you can get your body toward a masculine shape on its own, the less you'll have to rely on clever tricks with clothing to disguise it.
Step one is to slim down. I mean really slim down. I'm talking less than 20% body fat, 15% if you can manage it.
Now before you start, hear me out. I think a lot of people see slim down but hear YOU ARE A FATASS, which is entirely not the point I'm trying to get at. It is not my job to bully you into becoming the body type that I personally find attractive or what Hollywood says men should look like (those two are not the same), it's about helping you achieve a shape that can fit into men's clothes, of any size.
Repeat for emphasis: this is not about size, it is about shape.
I have an anecdote that illustrates the difference.
The other day I decided to learn how to sew, so my (lesbian) BFF and I went to a fabric store and started flipping through their pattern catalogs looking for a cool steampunk-ish costume I could make for myself. All of the men's outfits were pretty meh, but I was quite taken with this one:
What the heck, I thought, I'll do it anyway. Because I'm comfortable in my masculinity, and I like to feel pretty sometimes. The BFF and I can go to Dickens Fair in drag. Can't be that hard to tweak the pattern to fit me, it's not like I'm Fabio or something.
Those of you who have ever sewn before, feel free to start snickering.
I started with the flouncy overskirt; the pattern allows you to choose from size 8 to size 14, determined by measuring yourself and then checking their sizing chart. I was getting numbers all over the place, so I picked size 10, which was somewhere in the middle, and went for it. I was quite a ways into the project before I could try it on and see if it fit, at which point -- spoiler alert -- I realized that it didn't even come close.
Sure, it fit my hips just fine -- but it would have split a seam at the waist if I'd tried to force it closed. Which was when I reread the sizing chart and realized that while my hips corresponded with size 7, my waist corresponded with size 18.
At this point you're probably thinking OMG, HIS WAIST IS OVER TWICE AS BIG AS HIS HIPS??? and envisioning a bulging, gargantuan stomach spilling over a pair of normal legs. For the record, my stomach looks like this:
What you are looking at is a 32" waist and 33" hips. However, when it comes to women's clothes, they're built with the expectation that someone with my hips has a 24" waist -- and that someone with my waist has 42" hips.
And when you try to put on men's clothes, you will be facing the exact same problem in reverse.
In terms of size, the normal body fat range for women is 21%-33% (18%-24% for men), and anyone telling a cisgendered woman to aim for less than 20% body fat deserves a dick in their goddamned eye, but...
But we are not cisgendered people. When it comes to transsexuals, your weight distribution betrays your sex hormones. I wish I could tell you something else, but it's true.
Fact is, men and women have different body shapes (duh) and some of it's bones -- which you can't do anything about -- and some of it's muscles -- which you can, more on that later -- but most of it is adipose tissue, aka body fat. Where your body stores fat is controlled by your sex hormones; people with testosterone stash it in their gut, while people with estrogen carry it in their thighs and butt. Even if you're perfectly well-proportioned as a female, you will never hate your body more than the first time you try on men's trousers. (Again, more on that later.) Your hips ensure that you'll be wearing a size considerably larger than a man of the same BMI, it's not flattering and it doesn't look right.
It's not that you have too much fat, it's that you have it in the wrong places.
And until you start on testosterone, that's where it's going to stay. All of your body fat is on your hips, it is giving you curves, it is making you look feminine. So as long as you have estrogen kicking around in your system, your choices are either a feminine fat distribution or no fat at all. Let me tell you, in the uphill battle of trying to pass, your hips will give you far more grief than your chest will. As you lose weight...
- The more naturally androgynous your shape will be.
- Any gains you make in muscle will have more of an impact on your silhouette.
- Your muscles will be more clearly defined, which is a hallmark of masculinity.
- Your face will slim down, losing some of that roundness that makes FTMs prone to looking like adolescent boys.
- Your tits will shrink.
- You will reduce the amount of estrogen in your system. True facts!
Basically you can't lose.
15% body fat is perfectly healthy, by the way, assuming you're losing that weight via reasonable methods and not by starving yourself. Only professional bodybuilders, who want extreme definition for their muscles (we're talking the veins popping, sinews bulging sort of extreme), will go as low as 10%, and even then only briefly before a competition. Any lower than that is when it starts to get dangerous, but that's hard to get to without obsessive calorie-counting or wildly irresponsible calorie-cutting.
Nor do you have to maintain a super-low body fat percentage forever. Once you start on hormones, your fat deposits will begin migrating to a more male distribution and you can out on weight without compromising your masculine figure. Testosterone isn't quite a magic bullet -- it makes it possible to achieve a male shape, but it doesn't do all the work for you. On T, any new fat you put on will be stored in the male pattern, but doesn't necessarily move the stored female fat you've already got.
While there are far more comprehensive sources than me on the subject of weight loss, my FTM fitness primer is a good jumping-off place, particularly if you're thinking, LOSE WEIGHT?? IF ONLY I KNEW HOW.
VERY IMPORTANT: IF YOU ARE VERY YOUNG...
If you are still a teenager, then by all means, eat healthy and exercise, but DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT try to take your body fat percentage below that 21% minimum. (Rule of thumb: if your body fat percentage is low enough that you've stopped menstruating, it's too low and you're at high risk for osteoporosis.) I know you're eager to pass for male, but at that age, your body is still growing, your bones are still forming, and if you go on a diet regimen that drastically cuts your calorie consumption, you run the risk of making yourself malnourished and permanently stunting your growth.
That would be bad enough even if you weren't trans, but since one of the problems that trans men frequently run up against is being shorter than cisgendered men, stunting your vertical growth is absolutely last thing you want to do. So be athletic, take your vitamins, and eat that winning trifecta of lean meats/whole grains/vegetables, but don't, don't try to get super-skinny. It will badly, irrevocably damage your long-term prospects. I know it sucks, but you have to be patient and keep your eyes on the horizon, because if you try for the short-term benefits of being androgynously skinny now, it will fuck you over in the long run.
Step two is to bulk up.
I can already hear a lot you starting to protest, saying, "But I don't want to look like a bodybuilder!"
Pro-tip: don't say that in front of an actual bodybuilder, because they'll punch you in the teeth.
Those big musclebound guys train like hell to get the body they have -- believe me, you're not going to get there by accident. You are not going to look like a bodybuilder unless you really want to and you really, REALLY work for it. Muscle acquisition is slow, far slower than fat loss, and hence more subtle. You're more likely to do pushups for a year and only realize that you've gained bulk when you go to put on an old shirt and find that it's too tight in the shoulders now. (Moreover, if you're not on T yet your body is going to be slower to put on muscle mass anyway.)
And shoulders are your priority. Fuck biceps, fuck pecs, shoulders (namely, deltoids) are the lynchpin of the male shape, the most salient difference between male and female bodies, and you need more breadth there than you think you do. Doubly so if you've got wide hips, because the wider your hips are, the more muscle you need in your shoulders to offset them.
There's a reason they look like this.
Mind you, I understand the reluctance to bulk up. For chrissakes, my ideal of masculine beauty is this:
You look at him and go, Wow, that is a very femme dude, and obviously all I need to do to look like him is
sell my soul to the devilnot have an ounce of fat on my body. Certainly I don't need to bulk up, right?
Wrong. Compared to other men, he may look as though he has no muscle, but try putting him next to a woman with an equivalent amount of body fat:
Suddenly the difference between male and female bodies is striking -- even between fat-free male and female bodies -- and that difference is in the ratio of shoulders to hips. She (for argument's sake, even though "she" is modelling a binder and is thus probably an FTM) could easily pass as a prepubescent boy from the waist up, but not when you see those hips -- they're too wide compared to her shoulders, and the overall message is "female!"
(Tangential: my doctor DOES NOT RECOMMEND binders from T-kingdom. They're on his list of brands that FTMs have done themselves damage with.)
And even the relatively little amount of muscle that beautiful dude has will take longer to achieve than you think it will, particularly if you're not on testosterone yet. My fitness primer gives you what you need to get started, so go to it.
Psychological aside: I still have trouble with the idea of becoming BIGGER, and part of it might be that I like slim guys, like the look of them, so it stands to reason that that's the look I'd like for myself, but sometimes I wonder if it might be a holdover from growing up female. Girls are taught that sexy is small -- you don't want to be taller than your man, or heavier, or more muscular, and women who are get penalized the way short men do. So from the start I was more interested in losing weight (specifically, losing the fat around my hips) than I was in gaining muscle in my shoulders. Turns out I shouldn't have worried -- these days I have more upper body strength than ever before and I'm very aware of how much my shoulders have changed, how much more masculine they've become as I've gained muscle, so it's odd whenever I realize that I'm still far more slim than most [American] men. Like the above picture, I think we underestimate how much extra bulk even skinny guys have over women.
Moral of the story: don't be afraid to put on muscle. You need more of it than you think.
One last thing, before we move on to clothes.
I know that some of you are probably going, "Blah blah, exercise, whatever. Hurry up and get to the part that teaches me how to dress to hide it." Maybe you don't like working out and never have. (Although I've found that becoming a hot guy is far better motivation than becoming a hot girl ever was. Go figure, right.) Maybe you think there's no progress to be made without testosterone, and you've decided that exercise isn't worth the effort until you start on hormones. Maybe you hate your body so much you've given up on it entirely and don't even want to think about it.
Please, please give it a chance.
Because what we have is gender dysphoria, meaning that our physical reality doesn't match our mental image of ourselves, and this is the cure for it. It's not getting a surgeon to fix your junk that makes the difference, it's being able to look in the mirror and see a hot guy looking back at you. Well-chosen clothes are all fine and good, but they won't change what you see when you get out of the shower. Clothes won't help when you finally manage to trip some beautiful young thing into bed and suddenly they're trying to take off the clothes that hide you so well. (I learned this to my sorrow.)
I'm only just starting to come fully into line with what I want to be, and I can't tell you what a gift it is. I'll catch sight of myself in the mirror sometimes and just stop and stare, not vain but awestruck, like I'm holding a present that I'm still half-expecting someone to take away from me, still trying to wrap my head around the idea that that's me there. That those are my shoulders looking so strong and sexy in that muscle shirt, that those are my thighs fitting into those 30" jeans. It feels like nothing short of a miracle, every time.
It is glorious, and I want you to feel that way too. I want everyone to.
Moreover, I have a dream. I have a dream that every single one of us gets absolutely bloody gorgeous, that FTM becomes synonymous with smoking hot and everyone's clamoring for a piece of the action, that "I'm dating an FTM" attains the cultural cachet of "I'm dating an Armani model." So let's work on that.
THE CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN
A number of other passing sites recommend wearing loose-fitting clothes to disguise curves.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but larger clothes will make you look smaller (not to mention all-around frumpier), because they draw attention to the fact that you don't fit them. Children wear clothes that are too big for them, because they don't buy their own clothes, or don't give a flip about how they look, and wouldn't know how to choose clothes the right size if they did. Adults wear clothes that fit.
If your clothes are too big, you'll look like a kid wearing hand-me-downs, which means you'll pass for a twelve-year-old boy right up until you try to do something grown-up -- like, say, going anywhere without your mommy.
As you've probably discovered by now, button-up shirts are the FTM's friend and t-shirts are our mortal enemy. It's a matter of weaves vs knits -- weaves are the fabrics that don't stretch (hence the need for buttons), they're usually stiffer and they hold their own shape better; knits (the shirts you can pull on over your head) are softer and conform more closely to the shape beneath them. For people with something to hide, weaves are by far the better choice because they won't cling to your tits. For the rest of this article, read "shirt" to mean "collared, button-up shirt."
Dark colors are good because they minimize the shadows cast by strapped-down breasts. Black, particularly a matte black, is even better because it swallows the shadows altogether.
Exhibit A: my closet
Be wary when venturing into patterned shirts. For one, flashy patterns draw the eye, and your chest is not where you want people looking. For two, regular patterns make it easier to tell the topography beneath because our eyes can track the distortions.
There is something hiding in this pattern. Two somethings.
Irregular, unpredictable patterns might work better -- camo print, if you're so inclined, may be something to experiment with because by its very nature it disrupts outlines.
Exhibit B: And then there's this shirt. Oh my god, I love it so much, deeply and unironically.
Plaid will make you look like a lesbian. There are many FTMs who want to argue with me on that. They will tell you nuh-uh, plaid isn't just for lesbians, it's a great thing to wear when you're trying to pass! but they are sadly mistaken. The people who wear plaid are lesbians and lumberjacks, so here's a rule of thumb: unless you have hair sprouting from your face, you cannot wear plaid and look like a man. The end.
Stripes are excellent, because they help contribute to the impression of straight lines, which is the male shape. Vertical stripes are slimming; diagonal stripes, if you can find them, are superb because they suggest that mesomorphic V. Avoid horizontal stripes because they frame the tits you're trying to hide. I adore black button-up shirts with stripes, to the point where my friends have intervened to keep me from buying more because JESUS CHRIST, DON'T YOU ALREADY HAVE SIX SHIRTS JUST LIKE THAT.
Thank you, Ellen.
[Someday I'd like to get a picture of horizontal/vertical/diagonal stripes as modeled on a pre-op FTM, but then I moved to California and I don't know anyone here matching that description, so.]
I'm not going to go into much detail about binding, because other sites have already covered that ground and can offer far more information about binding safety and the comparative effectiveness of different types. (I never had the money to experiment much.) Out of a number of home-made solutions, Japanese nabeshirts, and Underworks' FTM line, I can say that Underworks 997 model worked like a charm for me, but I was never more than a B-cup to start with. Your mileage may vary, and if you're particularly chesty you'll get better tips from FTMs who've worked firsthand with trying to strap down DDs.
How Your Shirts Should Fit
The female body is narrowest at the waist; the male body is nearly the same width at both waist and hips. Accordingly, women's fitted shirts cut in at the waist and then flare out again to cover the hips; men's make a straight line from underarm to hips.
In order to achieve that, your shirt needs to fit you properly in three places: arms, chest, and hips. This can be a tricky business, because men's shirts aren't made for women's bodies, and it's hard to find a shirt that's three for three. This may also require you to overhaul your notions of what "fitting properly" means -- FTMs have a tendency to wear clothes several sizes too big, either because they're trying to hide their shape or because they simply can't find men's clothes small enough for them. (Seriously, Target, you think size 32"-36" is a small? Seriously?)
Visual comparison, as modelled on an actualfax FTM, aka, myself:
This shirt is too big, and I look like That Guy.
This shirt is fucking awesome.
And don't let the lighting fool you -- these pictures were taken all of ten minutes apart.
The first shirt isn't so bad on its own; children are not going to point and laugh as I walk down the street. I don't look like I'm wearing something that belongs to my dad. But when you put it side by side with a shirt that does fit, the difference is plain. For the longest time that second shirt was one of my favorites, even though I couldn't tell you why. In retrospect, the answer is obvious: it fits.
I -- and, I suspect, many other FTMs/skinny men -- have been tricked into buying a number of shirts that are too big for us. Think about it -- you go to a store and start trying on shirts. The one labelled "small" is rather loose, but that's the smallest size they've got (or the smallest one that's long enough in the arms), and that's how ALL SHIRTS fit you, so heck -- that must be how it's supposed to look, right?
Pay particular attention to how the sleeves fit -- that is my VERY IMPORTANT SECRET TIP for wearing shirts excellently. Sleeve width (as opposed to length) is something almost everyone overlooks when trying on a shirt or eyeing someone else's outfit, even though it makes a huge difference in the overall appearance. Again, it may sound counter-intuitive to suggest that you should be wearing tighter clothes, but your sleeves need to hug pretty closely to your arms. The eye is not fooled by big baggy sleeves into thinking that the arms underneath are equally big; they just look even smaller and wimpier by comparison.
If you're slim, don't be afraid to rock it.
Now that you've found a shirt small enough for you in the arms, it's probably also going to be small enough in the torso -- it may even be too small in the torso. As FTMs, we have more bulk in the chest than a cisguy of equivalently small arms/shoulders, and thus shirts that fit in the arms are prone to pulling noticeably tight across the chest. In which case, put it back. When the shirt is so tight that the buttons are gaping over your breasts and cinching back in under them, it's not going to work. Period. There is no clever workaround for that, short of maybe a better binder. It may be the coolest shirt in the world, but even if you buy it, it's not going to get much use, because it won't help you pass.
This is annoying enough when you're a woman wearing women's clothes, but it is DOOM to us.
This guy doesn't even have tits he's trying to hide. Presumably.
Assuming you now have a shirt that fits both your shoulders and your chest, the last hurdle is your hips. You'll often find that shirts fitting you in the shoulders and torso will be too narrow in the hips, and either you won't be able to button the last button, or it will pull noticeably tight. However, this isn't quite so insurmountable as the chest, so if you REALLY LOVE the shirt, you can...A) Leave the bottom button undone. Plenty of cisguys do that, though on FTMs it will contribute to visually widening your hips.
B) Wear it tucked in. Good way to show off a nice belt or a nice ass.
C) Buy it and keep it as motivation to slim down, then celebrate the day when you can wear it. FTMs are probably the only demographic that can safely buy small and bank on losing inches in the hips -- for anyone else, if it doesn't fit when they buy it, it likely never will.
I wish I could just tell you "Buy shirts from [wherever]" and be done with it, but as an FTM, your clothing requirements are so particular and so unique to you, not shared by any other demographic, that no one makes FTM-friendly clothes on purpose. Finding the right combination of features to flatter your body is luck, so all you can do is to get over any aversion you have to looking at your body and hit the changing rooms, again and again, and be very discriminating about what you're willing to spend money on.
The good: t-shirts do a good job hiding curves.
The bad: t-shirts do a fucking terrible job hiding tits.
The ugly: they're, well... t-shirts.
Basically, you'll only look sexy in t-shirts if you look sexy out of t-shirts. There is very little they can do to help you hide your shape, and are often extremely unflattering, even on people who have hot bodies and should be rocking the hell out of them. There are two types; what I'll call "normal" t-shirts, which is what they hand out at blood drives, and the so-called "athletic fit."
Normal t-shirts: That Guy again.
Athletic t-shirts: more plz.
Normal t-shirts are the absolute worst for hiding a chest, because they protrude at your breasts and then drop straight down, without a collar or buttons or anything to distract. They gape at the sleeves, making your arms look like chicken wings.
Athletic t-shirts, on the other hand...
1) They're a very light, very stretchy cotton, and if you get them in the right size, they cling to the hips but not the waist. Hence, even though they're tight they don't emphasize curves, because they give you that straight line from shoulders to hips.
2) Check the sleeves -- t-shirt sleeves that hug your biceps rather than gaping open make a HUGE difference in the look of a shirt. Remember what I said about loose clothes making you look smaller?
3) The fitted sleeves give the shirt a more athletic look, which in turn makes the bulges in your chest less incongruous, because they look like pecs instead of tits. Even when your breasts are providing more "pecs" than the skinniness of your arms would warrant, the overall effect is more masculinizing than a regular t-shirt.
This guy knows how to wear a shirt. And pants.
You don't have to fork over $60 for a t-shirt from Armani Exchange either. Merona crew-neck t-shirts from Target, the ones you buy in a three-pack in the underwear section, are hands-down the best ones I've found. The only problem is that if you're a slim guy you might not be able to find them small enough. Where I live, in Texas, they've stopped carrying the 28"-30" size and "small" is now 32"-34", which doesn't do the trick.
Thar be tits under that t-shirt.
Tailoring your own t-shirts
It is actually remarkably easy to tailor your t-shirts to fit you better. Basically, you will figure out how wide across the t-shirt needs to be to fit snugly (not super-tight) at your hips, and then, using the zig-zag stitch on a sewing machine, add seams along the sides so that it forms a perfect rectangle from hips to underarms. You can also adjust the sleeves to hug your biceps better, though I've found that's less important than tailoring the midsection.
Waistcoats -- aka the vests that are worn with three-piece suits -- are aces. They are a thicker fabric than shirts, generally speaking, which means they provide much more structure and can flatten out your chest like nobody's business. They're cut for men's bodies, so as long as you don't cinch it too tight, it will taper from underarms to hips without emphasizing your curves. They provide chest-disguising action without adding another layer to your arms and neck, which makes them one of the best wardrobe options for hot summers -- particularly if you're post-hormones but pre-surgery, and you absolutely cannot let it be known that you have tits, but you also don't want to pass out from heatstroke.
And, perhaps most importantly, they're damned sexy.
Not just for formal occasions -- doing up only a few buttons and leaving
everything loose and untucked gives you that club-casual look.
(Apologies for photo quality -- my roommate does not know how2camera, but you get the idea.)
A tie provides plausible deniability for bulk on your chest.
Wearing suspenders instead of a belt reduces the bulk at your waist. For the love of all that's holy though, don't you dare
wear suspenders and a belt at the same time. I will give you the cut direct and pretend I don't know you if we meet in public.
You do need to get a waistcoat that fits you well though, because a too-large waistcoat is just ugly and sad. I haven't had success finding waistcoats at thrift stores in the states, because they're not as common for men here and certainly not in sizes that are likely to fit us, but H&M tends to carry excellently shaped waistcoats, in all the sizes you need, at surprisingly reasonable prices. (I think the one in the pics above was $40.)
Shirt length, if you're wearing them untucked -- not too long, because increasing the torso/legs ratio makes you look shorter. Your shirts should not be so long that they cover your whole ass. Particularly since FTMs are kind of famous for having amazing asses, and if you got it, flaunt it.
Tucking your shirts in -- while not a look that I favor personally, it actually does an excellent job disguising curves. I don't like it because it makes your midsection look thicker and less svelte, but thickening your waist brings it closer to the width of your hips, creating that masculine box shape.
(It's quite possible that I don't like the look because it reminds me of country-western singers -- but hey, some people are into that kind of thing.)
No curves here.
Rolling your up your sleeves -- I'm not sure whether I developed this one out of aesthetics or necessity (I lived in Texas -- dry and hot -- then Tokyo -- wet and hot, plus Japanese men's shirts tend to be too short for me in the sleeves), but pushing or rolling up long sleeves produces a mesomorphic optical illusion: it enhances the impression of shoulders by reducing the visual width at your waist. Furthermore, it also seems that having fabric rumpled up around your biceps works to distract from similar rumples in the torso, where you're hiding your chest.
Shoulderpads are a no-go, because they don't look like actual shoulders and only women wear them, never men, but I adore epaulettes. They're a cool detail that not only adds interest to men's shirts (which, let's be honest, are often pretty boring), but also adds subtle bulk to your shoulders.
Again, this was one of my favorite shirts though I didn't know why. In retrospect: it gives me shoulders and makes me look like a box.
Short sleeves vs. long sleeves -- you might have noticed by now that almost all of my examples have been long-sleeved shirts, and that's because they do a significantly better job of masculinizing female bodies. The breakdown:
- It's already hard to find shirts the right size, and when short-sleeved shirts are too big, they do that unattractive sleeve-gaping thing that emphasizes how skinny your arms are.
- They add less visual width to your shoulders, contributing to the wide-hipped feminine look.
- They show off more of your arms, emphasizing that your arms are both skinny and soft. Women have a layer of subcutaneous fat that men don't, so even if your arms are big enough, you probably won't have the same muscle definition that a man would have, unless you've been dieting intensely (weightlifting without the right diet will get you muscles under your fat) and/or been on T for some time.
Better, in my opinion, to wear long-sleeves and roll them up.
Oh Target, you think this is a small. Fuck you very much.
Currently rumpled, but a good fit because it's from Japan where
the men are pocket-sized. And observe: epaulettes.
Undershirts -- I've seen this recommended on other FTM passing sites, button-up shirt + white undershirt, but unless you need them to soak up sweat (if you have to wear business suits in summer, for example), I'm not a fan.
1) Cotton clings. Whereas a nylon binder will allow any shirt over it to slide across it easily, a cotton undershirt will cling to your overshirt and make it adhere to your terrain much more closely than you want it to. This goes TRIPLE if you're using a cotton sports bra to bind instead of a nylon binder -- overshirt sticks to undershirt sticks to sports bra, and your tits are obvious.
2) While undershirts add a little bulk to your shoulders, they also add a little bulk to your waist, so your net gain is zero, or less.
3) A lot of men wear the collared shirt + undershirt combo, yes, but it's also an iconic lesbian look. Guess which one you're going to resemble more.
4) Most damningly, I can't stand the look. It's my archetypal example of unforgivably dull men's clothing. It's ugly on men, ugly on lesbians, ugly on FTMs, and I wish I were the fashion police so I could ticket people who wear it.
If you need to wear undershirts for sweat-soaking, I recommend getting some of those synthetic-fiber kinds. Not only will they wick away sweat better -- which, if you're wearing a binder, you'll appreciate -- but they won't cling to your overshirt.
Pants are less fun than shirts, because they're likely to bring you face to face with the parts of your anatomy that you hate the most. Shopping for pants tends to be an exercise in despair, so the temptation is to wear big loose sloppy pants, ones that you can get lost in, and hope for the best.
Resist the urge.
Ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away, so let's grab the bull by the horns and get with the damage control.
In male bodies, waist size roughly equals hips roughly equals thighs -- in women, it's more like waist < hips > thighs. In order to keep curvy women from looking fat, women's jeans conform to the body more closely than men's, getting skinnier as they go down toward the knee. Men's jeans, because men don't get appreciably wider at the hips, don't need to stick so close to the legs; they can make a straight line from the hips to the floor and that will produce a masculine shape, or so the theory goes.
Thus, our goal is to minimize the size discrepancies between waist/hips/thighs. Choosing the proper shirt will go a long way toward equalizing waist/hips -- pants are in charge of hips and thighs.
How Men's Pants Are Sized
Answer: completely arbitrarily.
(Although, I will grant, not so arbitrarily as women's sizes, which give you something like "6". Six of what??)
Short of pajamas and swimwear, almost all men's trousers are sized width x length, so you'll see something like 32x34 or 32W 34L. (I don't know what tags in other parts of the world look like, though you overseas folks are welcome to write in and tell me. In Japan they also use inches to measure jeans -- inexplicably so, since they don't use inches for anything else.)
If you're coming from women's clothes, you probably don't know your measurements in inches, so you'll have to try on a few to get a feel for what your size is. Notice I said "get a feel for" -- because (Strange But True!) one brand's 32" may be suspiciously different from another brand's.
Two Ways You Can Wear Your Jeans
Option 1: "Relaxed fit" aka "saggy ass" jeans.
It took me forever to find a picture that correctly illustrates this phenomenon, and you know why, because MODELS DON'T WEAR THEIR JEANS LIKE THAT. Unfortunately I see those pants on FTMs all the time; this shit needs to stop. You look like a child, you look like a scrub, you look like a lesbian who would call me "bro."
Option 2: Jeans that fit
This means getting pants that fit you in the butt, the crotch, but most especially the thighs. You don't want your pants to be constricting, but remember everything I said about loose clothes making you look smaller? Doesn't apply to pants. I know it seems counter-intuitive, because we're trying to fit a female body into a male frame and you'd think that close-fitting pants would give more away, but wearing baggy pants is not the answer -- all that extra room looks like weight on your body and makes your butt and thighs (which are already problem zones) look even bigger. You want pants that add as little bulk as possible in the hips and thighs.
The best rule of thumb for getting pants to fit is this: when you try them on, reach behind you and see how much loose fabric you can grasp from around the back of your thighs. If you come up with a handful, that's too much. I've found that being able to pinch the proverbial inch is a good size, because it's still comfortable and gives you plenty of room to move, without excess cloth putting on the visual pounds.
There is no one style that's guaranteed to fit like this, you're just going to have to try on a bunch. Sometimes "straight leg" will do the trick (although sometimes "straight leg" looks more like "saggy ass"), sometimes it'll be called a "slim fit" -- not to be confused with "skinny jeans," which are an abomination in the sight of Me.
If you have wads of cash to throw at the problem, True Religion jeans will slim your thighs and make your ass look amazeballs. Since I do not, I know this only from trying them on in the store.
Your other goal with pants is to make yourself look as tall as possible. Regardless of actual height, the eye gets its impression of height from the length of your inseam.
When your pants are loose and sagging in the crotch, your inseam is shorter and that contributes strongly to the appearance of being short and stocky.
The white line along his leg is the inseam.
That is also, incidentally, one beautifully-fitting pair of jeans.
Key point: maximizing your inseam = maximizing how tall you look
Maximizing your inseam consists of raising the crotch (which we've covered) and lowering the cuffs. With your pants suddenly at the right height, you may find that they're too short now -- either let the hems out or buy new ones. Even though you can skate by with pants that are "long enough," you may have better results with a pair that's just bit too long. If your cuffs are touching your heels rather than the back of your shoes, you've given yourself an effective inch and a half of height
I have a few pairs of jeans that are 34" long, even though 32"L fits me just fine, because then I can belt them up as high as I like without having to worry about making them too short. That trick does a fantastic job of maximizing your inseam.
Also, invest in a belt -- even pants that fit will get stretched out as you wear them and you'll end up needing a belt to keep them at the right height.
Some people might worry about the crotch fitting too well, because it could give away the fact that they're missing some equipment there. In general, this is the last thing you have to worry about, because men's pants are cut in such a way as to make space there. Wear pants that fit you in the waist, and the crotch height should take care of itself. If you're really worried, you can stash something in there -- which brings us to our next segment...
PACKING: What's in YOUR pants?
To be honest, I never really bothered with packing. Sure, like any baby FTM, I experimented with stuffing a sock down my boxer-briefs occasionally, but I never tried the products designed specifically for creating a bulge -- I was strapped for cash through most of my transition (still am, come to think of it) and I didn't see the point in spending a hundred bucks on a penis that I couldn't fuck or pee with. And in general I found that (A) it hardly looked any different, and no one looked there anyway, and (B) I couldn't keep my mind off sex when I was walking around with something sitting on my junk.
The only time my lack of packing has ever been an issue is in bars, when drunken gay guys have made a grab for my dick and been mystified when they didn't find anything -- but that's more lolzy than anything else.
On the other hand, some FTMs have reported that it does make a difference; it makes them feel more masculine, or it helps them remember to walk like a guy, or they think it shows in the way their pants fit. Your mileage may vary. If you want to pack, more power to you. This site is a good resource on packing.
What Not To Wear
We already covered this, but in case you fell asleep for that part, I'm covering it again. Loose pants make your lower body look wider, which is entirely opposite of the silhouette you're trying to create. They may be men's clothes, but they emphasize your female attributes and thus make you look like a lesbian. Enough said.
This cut, aka Pants Like Your Mom Wears:
The ones with the waistband cinching at or near the waist, then ballooning around the ass (often pleated) before making a straight taper to the ankle, which is the narrowest point in the leg. Frequently seen in 90's jeans and men's slacks, I don't know if there's a specific word for this style, so I'm just going to call it "fugly." They are not flattering on anyone, least of all you and me.
Oh for fuck's sake. Just, no.
So I've come to realize that I ought to say a few things here about skinny jeans -- and plaid shirts can be included in this discussion as well, come on, gather round -- namely, that if you like them, and you can pass while wearing them, then go for it and more power to you. This is where I point out that I am probably from the generation about ten years ahead of you; we didn't do skinny jeans, so I don't like the silhouette they make and probably never will. Likewise plaid; I grew up in a world without hipsters, and accordingly I did not know a single cis dude who wore plaid in public. If you think you can get away with it now and want to try, then do it -- why do you care what some fag on the internet says?
On the flip side, I stand by my previous assertions -- that if you're borderline on passing, neither skinny jeans nor plaid will help you do it. Skinny jeans emphasize the difference in width between your ankles and your hips, which in biological females is far more pronounced than in biological males. Basically, you're only going to look male in skinny jeans if you're androgynously skinny already. (In which case you can wear whatever the heck you want, and you don't need to rely on my guide for help.)
MISC TIPS FOR PANTS
Cargo pants -- I quite like. I suspect it has to do with the way that the pockets add bulk at your knees, balancing the width of your hips and creating a very masculine rectangle. Just make sure they fit you in the crotch; I've noticed that cargo pants, more than other types of trousers, have a tendency to hang really low there. (See the lesson on inseams, above.)
Belt basics: There's a lot of fuss about mixing brown with black in an outfit, but the only real rule you need to follow is that your belt should match your shoes. Feel free to wear a black belt with brown trousers, so long as the shoes are also black.
You know the drill by now...
What we've got: rounded jaw, full cheeks
What we want: angles everywhere
Losing weight will slim down your face a bit and make the angles more defined, as will time on testosterone, but short of plastic surgery, there's not a whole lot you can do to change the shape of your face. You may have to resign yourself to boyish good looks rather than chiselled, ruggedly masculine good looks.
Which is not to say it can't happen -- exhibit A, FTM Balian Buschbaum. Holy cats, I would climb him like a tree.
That said, there's a lot you can do to maximize (and masculinize) what you've got. Let's start with what not to do:
DO NOT GET A BUZZ CUT.
Now you may be thinking, What, why not? Why wouldn't that be the BEST haircut to get, since we're going for masculine, and what could be more quintessentially masculine than shaving it off altogether, or shaving it so short that you don't have to mess with it?
Well, points for buying into male stereotypes, but the reality is that short hair of any stripe isn't very flattering. Much like t-shirts, the only people who look sexy with buzz cuts are the ones who look sexy no matter what they do. Moreover, it doesn't do anything to offset the feminine roundness that we're trying to lose -- it's more likely to make your face look like a potato.
This just in: you are not David Beckham.
You probably look more like this. (Thanks, Justin Bieber!)
This is why you can't just clip a picture of your favorite movie star and take it with you when you go in for a haircut -- no matter how sexy it looks on Brad Pitt, that's no guarantee it's going to be sexy on you. There are a lot of things that cisguys (and particularly, movie stars) can pull off that you can't.
When I was an itty bitty trans noob I kept trying for this one, forgetting that
I was not Cillian Murphy. (And also that I couldn't grow sideburns.)
The other danger of short hair, pre-hormones, is a visible hairline. Post-pubescent males, long before they actually start going bald, have a hairline that is naturally further back and more squared off than women's. It's easy enough to hide by brushing your hair forward, but a cut that adheres very closely to a round hairline will mirror (and thus emphasize) any roundness in your jaw.
Whatever the case, odds are good that you'll do better with slightly longer hair. You can brush it forward to obscure your hairline; it will frame your face and add some bulk up top to offset the width of your chin. In this arena, we can take our cues from Asian guys, because they've been rocking round faces since forever and they've got it down to a science. The key is creating a counterpoint: offsetting a round face with angular everything else. This means...
+ Straight hair
+ Spiky hair
+ Wider hair (makes your chin look narrower)
+ Rectangular glasses
Meanwhile, just say no to:
- Fluffy hair
- Curly hair
- Close-cropped hair - Oval glasses
Left to its own devices, my hair is fluffy; I look far more masculine after taking the time to straighten and style and put product in it, and don't think that irony is lost on me. Nor do I want anyone to think that I'm harshing on curly hair, but if you look at the footage, you'll see that it invariably gets paired with cheekbones so sharp you could cut yourself on them -- not something commonly associated with FTMS.
A short aside on curly hair...
A handful of people have emailed me and pointed out that my advice about hair really only works for white people and Asian people, which -- mea culpa -- hadn't even occurred to me when I was first writing it. When I tried to rectify that, I found myself drawing a blank, because curly hair is something I have no experience with and no idea how to manage. My instinct says to leave some length on top, because very close-shaved hair emphasizes the lack of angles in your face, and if you wear glasses, get the squarest glasses you can find, but that's just conjecture.
So if you're a curly-haired trans dude who's found a haircut that really works for you, or tips for how to style curly hair, or pictures of curly hair cuts that suit trans faces, then by all means, send them my way. I'm happy to include that information, but it's research I have to outsource.
Update: there is apparently a book out for teaching men how to handle their curly hair. I haven't read it myself, but it seems to be well-received by curly-haired dudes.
In any case, if you do have wavy-to-straight hair, the styles I've had the most success with share the following features:
- A side part
- Bangs across the forehead
- Slightly long
At its simplest, this.
It works for a number of reasons, not least because it is a haircut that only men wear. When straight women wear their hair short (aka the pixie cut) it's also shaved very short on the back of the neck, but this haircut is shaggy in the back. When lesbians do short hair, they tend to do a more distinct part and then brush the hair up.
Moreover, it's very flexible:
Keira Knightley vs. Rachel Maddow... it's like a battle of archetypes.
You can do more bangs...
...or less bangs.
More in the back...
...or less in the back.
Or with a bit of curl
And it's long enough to play with.
It flatters a round face. It's masculine without being too short. (I like long hair, what can I say.) It's a man's haircut, not a child's. If you wear it shaggy, it can hide your lack of sideburns. It works for a for a wide range of lengths, so you can get it short when you first get it cut and it'll stay good for the next two months. It doesn't take a genius to style, just the right goop.
Moreover, it doesn't look like you're compensating for anything.
That is what FTMs always do the first time they take the plunge and go in for a men's haircut -- they overcompensate. In their zeal to put as much distance as possible between themselves and all things feminine, they go way overboard and get the shortest, most shapeless haircut possible. The result is not only unflattering... it's not convincing either. You don't look like a man, you just look like a woman with a bad haircut. I know because I've been there, many times.
So explore your options. Don't feel like you have to get it super short out of some narrow notion that That's How Manly Hair Must Be; look around at some of the longer and shaggier ways that guys wear their hair. If you see a style you like, try to picture it on a girl, to see if it's something that lesbians or straight girls also wear (and thus should probably be avoided).
This is the picture that I've consistently had the best luck with at hair salons. I bring it in and
say, "Give me this," and even if it doesn't come out the same (hair stylists -- not always as good
as they think they are), the result is usually something I can live with.
Punk rock hair. Be cautious when venturing into more outlandish styles -- men's haircuts always tend to be more conservative than women's, and when it comes to short, edgy hair, that's more often seen on lesbians than on men. Do it if you like, but be told that it's not going to help you pass.
Handle with care.
Making fauxburns with the wispy hair of the side of your face -- don't do it. That doesn't fool anyone, and in fact it looks more feminine because that's one of the defining features of a pixie haircut.
Instead, make sure the hair in front of your ears is trimmed close and cut straight across rather than allowed to taper down. Do not tuck your hair behind your ears, even if you've got a longer men's cut.
You should be able to do your sideburns like that even before hormones.
And yes, the sideburns are the salient part of that picture.
Salon vs. barbershop? My money is on salon, any day of the week. Spring for a salon, or learn to do it yourself (as I did), because you're not going to like the cut you get from a barbershop. Yes, they will give you a men's haircut -- but remember what I said before, about cisguys being able to pull off all kinds of things that we can't? A barbershop haircut is one of them.
Much like the subtle science that goes into making a female body fit men's clothes, making a female face fit a man's haircut is a trick best left to the pros. The guys at the barbershop are not trained for that, they're trained to shave the sides, square the top, and get you back out on the street in ten minutes. Suck it up and let the ladies (or the gay boys) at the salon feather your hair with a straight razor for half an hour.
On the topic of getting professional haircuts: much has been made on other trans-passing sites about whether your stylist reads you as male or female, because if they think you're a girl then they may give you a girly haircut blah blah blah. In my experience though, the efficacy of a haircut has less to do with the stylist and far more with how good you were at picking the right style, both for passing and for your particular face. When I walked out with a bad haircut, nine times out of ten it was because they'd given me exactly what I asked for -- only the haircut that looked good on the Armani model was all but unrecognizable on me.
This is the worst haircut for new FTMs, bar none. Every time I accidentally get my hair this short,
I hate the fuck out of myself for the month that it takes to grow out again.
Shaving -- do it even before you start testosterone. Not only to get some practice with it, but to get rid of that layer of soft, downy hair that grows on women's faces. Also known as peach fuzz, it is common to women and pre-pubescent children of both sexes, but one place you will never find it is on a man's face. Men have bristly stubble, or they have nothing whatsoever because they just shaved. Those are the only options.
So shave off your peach fuzz -- it makes more of a difference than you'd expect.
And before we leave the subject of faces -- just because you're a man now doesn't mean you shouldn't moisturize. Buy a man-scented facial lotion and use it religiously. Because if you're anything like me, you've probably lost the best of your young-n-hot years to being the wrong sex, or in that unhappy state of limbo where you're pre-T, or pre-surgery, and desperately unhappy with your chest, your hips, your ass, your junk, etc. Someday you'll get all your parts in order, but wouldn't you like to still be looking good when that happens? So why wouldn't you do everything in your power to take care of yourself?
TL;DR version: moisturize.
Ladies go nuts for a well-dressed man. Dudes go nuts for a well-dressed man.
What's the moral of this story? It behooves you to learn how to wear a suit and wear it well.
If you haven't seen this movie, you should; it is like porn for people who like sexy suits.
The male formal suit is the pinnacle of centuries of fashion evolution. Every new generation introduces some new variations, and those that look good stick around. It is instantly recognizable as a symbol of authority and masculinity, and it flatters every male body. The suit's staying power is not a coincidence -- it has stuck around this long because there is not a single male figure that cannot be improved, to some degree, by a well-cut suit.
And for FTMs, they're even better. They're boxy -- they hide curves, they square shoulders, they flatten chests. They're an automatic +10 to manliness, tapping into the long social history that a suit carries. And more to the point, they look damned good.
That said, a lot of men don't wear the suits that are right for them. Finding the proper suit can be mapped on two axes: questions of style and questions of fit. Fit is about numbers; it is not a matter of opinion and it is not up for debate. How much shirt cuff to show, what your jacket-to-trousers ratio should be -- those are the same for men of all sizes. You learn the rules for how a suit should fit and you stick with them unless you want to look like a noob who doesn't know how to buy clothes in their size.
Style, on the other hand, is intimately tied to what will flatter you, making it a far more interesting subject for discussion.
Questions of Style
Two pieces or three?
Two piece means jacket & pants. Three piece means jacket & pants & waistcoat. If you're going to be leaving your jacket on, a two-piece will do just fine. If the jacket is likely to come off, I highly encourage you to consider a waistcoat, as it does a splendid job hiding a chest. (Discussed elsewhere) This will probably make you better dressed than your colleagues -- fuck them. American men need to step up to the plate, retire their favorite football jerseys and wash the Cheez-it stains off their sweatpants.
The biggest style choice in choosing a jacket is how many buttons it has. Useful sartorial term here is gorge, which refers to the V that the overlapping lapels form when the jacket is buttoned. Three-button suits result in a much higher gorge, which is good for very tall men, 6'+, because it makes them look proportional. On shorter men, the high gorge of a three-button suit gives the suit a stiff, formal appearance (very buttoned-up, if you will), while the lower gorge of a two-button suit makes it look more hip and casual. (FYI: when rock stars wear suit jackets, they do not wear three-button ones.)
Two ways to wear three-button suits -- note the very high gorge in the picture on the left,
and how that is lowered (right) by leaving the top button undone.
Matt Bomer wearing a lovely two-button suit in a potential casting pic for Fifty Shades of Grey
because apparently the casting director missed the fact that he's hilariously bad at pretending to be straight.
NEVER, EVER FASTEN THE BOTTOM BUTTON ON A SUIT JACKET. YOU ARE NOT IN HIGH SCHOOL. (Unless you are, in which case, dress like you're not.) The same holds true of waistcoats; the bottom button is supposed to be left undone, which is convenient because that's usually what FTMs need anyway. There is an obvious exception for one-button suits -- you are allowed to fasten that lone button.
Venturing out of the 2-3 button range is not recommended for beginners. I have only once seen a four-button suit, because the guy was a pro basketball player and like eleven feet tall. One-button suits exist, but they aren't exactly "business" suits by that point -- think rock stars again. Moreover, I would discourage FTMs in particular from one-button suits because they tend to look very femme.
This guy looks very manly in a shiny one-button suit. You might not be so lucky.
I favor two-button jackets myself -- it's a good style for younger men, and it makes you look like a guy who dresses well because that's what he likes, not a Jehovah's Witness whose mom bought his suit off the rack at Cole's.
Also known as the collar on the jacket, there are three basic styles of lapels: notch, peak, and shawl.
Shawl lapels: I'm not a fan. On other people they're okay, I guess, and they only look a little like a bathrobe,
but their rounded edges are terrible for offsetting the roundness of an FTM face.
Peak lapels - the angularity would probably be good for FTM faces, but they're harder to come by
and you have to be rather fashion-forward to pull them off, since they're most often found on tuxedos.
Notch lapels - is good to me. There's a reason why this is the default.
Wider vs narrower lapels
Suits are all about being in proportion with the body wearing them, which mean that if you're a wider guy, you'll want wider lapels, and if you're a thinner guy you'll want narrower ones. Fuck a lot of fashion, or whatever the magazines say is ~trendy~ right now, and wear the lapel size that suits your body. I'll repeat this again later, but it bears mentioning here that the same also goes for ties: wider body = wider lapels & wider ties. Thinner body = thinner lapels & thinner ties. (Not to be confused with skinny ties, which are up there with skinny jeans.)
No one can stop you from pushing the envelope on what's best for your body type, but keep in mind:
- Skinny guys with wide lapels will look like they stepped out of the seventies.
- Big guys with skinny lapels will look inflated.
- Mixing wide lapels with skinny ties (or vice versa) will make you look like a used car salesman who got dressed in the dark.
A bit exaggerated (I think this was a promo pic from his role as Kingpin in the Daredevil movie),
but no one can deny that Michael Clarke Duncan wears that gorgeous suit like a motherfucking boss.
At the other end of the spectrum, skinny lapels make Benedict Cumberbatch look proportional.
(Funny story: observe how his shoulders are the same number of pixels across as the picture of Michael Clarke Duncan,
while his head is decidedly not. And yet they both look great! Such is the power of suits.)
The vent is the slit in the back of the jacket that makes it easier to move in. American suits tend to have a single vent. European suits tend to have two, forming a sort of flap. Some suits have no vent at all -- in my opinion, they look unfinished, like there was no one on quality-control to catch it before the hit the shelves. It is a thing that is done (my boss has such a jacket, because he is the worst gay man ever), but I'm not a fan.
Single, double, or none.
Vents are mostly a matter of personal preference. I like double vents myself (they look better on shorter jackets and they bring flattering attention to a pert ass) but bigger guys are likely better off with a single vent, as that minimizes unwanted junk in the trunk.
Your best suit color is determined partly by your skin tone, but mostly by your hair, because what the jacket does is work with your hair to make a frame around your face. Do it right, and your face will be the focal point and draw people's eyes immediately to it. Do it wrong and you'll be like a headless suit. The trick is to find a suit jacket in a color that complements your hair so that the two bracket your face. If you have dark hair, then you will look excellent in a dark or black jacket. If you have lighter hair, then some shade of grey or grey-brown is likely to do better for you.
For an excellent example of this in action, look at pictures of Obama vs. pictures of Romney: Romney is almost never in a black suit, because he doesn't have the complexion for it -- Obama is almost never in anything else.
All personal politics aside, both of them have handlers who know how to put them in their best colors.
But let's face it, most of us are not made of money, and if the jacket you buy is any color other than black, you will not be able to buy pants to match it later. You will have to buy all the matching pants at the same time you buy the jacket, and then keep your fingers crossed that you don't rip/stain/outgrow them.
Or, in the case of FTMs, undergrow them. We are prone to dramatic size fluctuations with the progress of testosterone, gaining bulk in some places and losing it in other, accreting muscle and shuffling fat deposits around. Jackets you buy pre-T will eventually become too tight in the shoulders, but $5 says that your pants will be unwearable much sooner. You want to be able to replace those pants with ones that fit you, without having to buy a whole new suit.
But let's pretend that we are made of money, and talk about the suits we would buy in a perfect world.
Alan Flusser and I part ways on the subject of color more than on any other topic. He's not a great fan of black suits; I am. He thinks they're too severe for most occasions and not the most flattering color for white guys. I'll give him the latter, but my ideas on menswear are informed from living in Japan, where a black suit is the "safe" option. Black suits are de rigeur in most of Asia because they invariably look good on Asian men -- Asians have the black hair to balance a black suit and so it's become practically standard-issue over there, even though I doubt most people know why.
Because they look amazeballs in it, what else do you need to know?
Flusser likes navy, which I absolutely cannot endorse, particularly not for FTMs. I'll own that I have a strong bias toward monochromes, but blue blazers scream "prep school uniform" to me, and considering how many of us have the face to say we're in high school and be believed... yeah.
So you can look like jailbait.
Or some douchebag in a yacht club.
However, I say this about navy jackets and then just the other day I bought one -- a blue pinstriped H&M blazer, because it was $5 at Goodwill and fit me like it was bespoke and holy shit now it's my favorite, so whatever. Ultimately, the best jacket for you is going to be the one that fits the best, even if the colors and styling are less than optimal.
Grey suits, much like black suits, it would seem, have different cultural connotations depending on where you're coming from. I've gotten the impression that the American image of grey suits is dull businessmen from the 1950s. Meanwhile, I learned suits in Japan, where the boring old guys don't venture away from basic black and grey suits are the province of hip young men with tan leather shoes and trendy facial hair. (It's a type.)
This be from Inception, but pretend he's Japanese, and suddenly you're
looking at what made my morning commutes 30% more interesting.
Also, this picture was among my formative menswear influences and remains one of the most beautifully put-together suits I have ever seen:
Exquisite use of pattern and texture; click to embiggen.
Someday, that suit will be mine. In the mean time, I bite my thumb at Alan Flusser and wear black suits, blond(ish) hair and all.
Are great fun.
My top piece of advice is to get shoes that are larger than what you actually need, and then stack a couple of those insole pads to make the shoes fit you. The effect of shoes that make your feet look a tad longer is extraordinarily masculinizing.
Conclusion: So what comes next?
I started this site about four years ago, when my only intention was to provide some tips on passing and trans fashion that weren't covered elsewhere. At the time, I was still in the middle of my own transition -- a few months away from getting top surgery, embarking on my first real relationship as a man (then recovering from that relationship), and learning what it meant to be trans in America instead of trans in Japan. My shit was so far from together that the idea of anyone turning to me for life advice would have been laughable. It was why the guide didn't end so much as just stop for the longest time, because what wisdom did I have to offer beyond "wear weaves not knits"?
But over the years I've gotten an outpouring of email from readers. Some people had specific comments about clothes and hair, but most people just wanted to talk about transitioning on the whole -- the whole godforsaken mess of it. It was through corresponding with them, hearing about their feelings and experiences, and trying to frame my own into something coherent, that I came to realize I did have things I wanted people to know. That maybe my trials and errors could be helpful to the people who were in the middle of the maelstrom I was now passing out of.
And one of the questions I get asked most often is simply variations of: "What do I do now?" Not in terms of how to get hormones or surgery, anyone with google can figure that out, but on a more metaphysical level. So I'm trans; what happens now? And the reason I couldn't address that is because, well... it depends on you.
At heart, transitioning doesn't really change you. It changes how the rest of society sees you, how other people interact with you and how they treat you, and that makes a world of difference, but who you are isn't any different from who you were before. In fact that's kind of the point -- the very reason you feel compelled to transition is because you've been male inside all along, and you just need to get the surface up to speed. You'll still be interested in the same things that you always were, pursuing the same dreams, enjoying the same hobbies. You're not obliged to stop doing cross-stitch or reading fanfic just because you're ~a man~ now.
Basically, you'll be doing all the same things you've always done, only now you'll be doing them in boxers (or briefs, or boxer-briefs) instead of panties.
I know (because they email me sometimes) that a lot of the people who find their way to my site aren't trans, per se -- cis women doing research for cross-dressing costumes, people who like androgyny and just want a boost in the masculine direction, cis guys who find the fashion tips useful -- but what I have to say next is speaking directly to the trans folk in the audience, the people who know that at some point they want to pursue hormones & surgery, and it is the most important thing I can tell you:
You have to become okay with being trans.
Not okay with passing for cis, not okay with skating by as long as no one finds out ever, not okay with keeping your clothes on during sex. I mean become truly, genuinely okay with who and what you are, and that has to happen for you to get your happily-ever-after. Until you do, you are cutting yourself off from intimacy and consigning yourself to a life of fear.
It's hard. It's a process, and it's not one that's going to happen overnight. It's certainly not going to happen when you're in the middle of transitioning hell, while the future is terrifyingly uncertain and you have no idea whether you can even go through with this, let alone what your life is going to look like on the other side. It's not going to happen while you still hate the body that you see in the mirror and it seems like you're going to be stuck in this miserable limbo forever.
But with time, it can happen. Please, please believe me when I say: You'll be alright.
Things will suck unbelievably less once you're passing, once you have privacy for your struggle instead of having to weather the stigma of being visibly gender-nonconforming everywhere you go, once you don't have that constant misgendering wearing you down. When people look at you and see you, when they speak and are talking to you. That's when you get to spread your wings and be, for the first time in your life, the person you've always wanted to be.
When your body starts changing, when you see the first outlines of the muscles you always wanted, when you can finally grow sideburns or that hipster 'stache, the dysphoria will ease. When someone's flirting with you because they're interested in the man that you are, you'll start to win back some of the self-confidence that got shattered in transition.
And it plateaus eventually. There will come a time when you've made all the changes you're likely to make, be that hormones or surgeries, when testosterone will have run its course and worked all the magic it's going to work, and you'll be masculine as you're going to get. Being trans will no longer be such an oppressive, all-consuming force on your life, it'll be an injection you take once a week and some awkward conversations sometimes. But wherever you stop, at some point you have to accept that this is the body and the life you have to work with. You have to become happy with that.
I think some, perhaps many, trans folk never do -- and accordingly, the attempted suicide rate for transsexuals hovers around a staggering 40%. I don't presume to speak for what was going on in everyone else's heads, but judging from my own darker moments, I can hazard a guess: the crushing awareness of everything that you'll never have.
It's a lot. I don't need to give you my litany, because I'm sure you've already gone over your own, dozens of times. You know what you missed out on growing up, you know what physical limitations you're stuck with, you know what experiences you'll never be able to have.
And if you follow that path too far, you'll end up at the same place every time: what's the point, might as well just die and start over. It's so tempting to give in to despair, or to get angry at the unfairness of it all, because -- make no mistake -- it is fucking unfair, but that way lies bitterness and ruin. You don't have to go there. I'm not going to lie and tell you that everything's going to be sunshine and kittens, that being trans doesn't cause problems and complications -- but I'm also not lying when I say that it can be alright.
Yes, being trans is a cross to bear. It'll be a stone in your shoe for the rest of your life -- but it doesn't have to be more than that. Look at the world around you, and you'll see people who live under worse burdens and still find a way to be happy. Dwelling on the things you'll never have is ultimately as pointless as any given cis guy tormenting himself because he's never going to have the beauty-fame-talent-money-charisma of Johnny Depp. (Which is to say: true, but not particularly useful.)
So when you catch your thoughts going down that dark road, haul them back. Remember that being a trans guy is better than being a girl was. Remember that there are plenty of hotties who are happy to date trans guys (and who may well be more accepting of your anatomy than you are). Remember that there are places where being trans is not a big deal. Remember that it's only as big a hurdle as you let it be.
You never get to stop being trans. It's part of your history and it's shaped the person you are, even if you get every surgery under the sun, but that is okay. Being trans is okay. You can still do what you want to do, be who you want to be, fall in love with someone who's head over heels for you, and live happily ever after. I'm trans, and I'm okay with that. You can be too -- I promise.
Talk to me.
And if I don't respond, talk to me again, because I try to
answer all the mail I get, but some slips through the cracks.