Saturday, March 22, 2008

low life in high jeans

Feminine frivolity and minimalism are not mutually exclusive. For a week-long trip to Philadelphia to visit my dear friend CM, I wanted to pack everything into one nylon over-the-shoulder weekend bag. Of course, by the time I was off to the train station, I the damn bag still felt like it contained a small overweight child, despite the fact that I had whittled everything down to a few tees and only two pairs of jeans. And which jeans? I knew I wanted the grey “lean bean” tsubi’s that make give my legs an extra inch or six. But the pinch-hitter jeans: I was torn. Picking a certain jean means picking a certain type of travelling body. So up to the last minute of the morning of my departure, I was trying to decide between two pairs of jeans: a regular-cut, cigarette-legged dark denim, or a high-waisted pair in black bull-denim.

I picked the latter, which I’m wearing right now as I type these words. They are Acne “Tube” jeans. I love them. They are uncomfortable. First of all, there is the fabric, which when I first bought them, was so stiff that wearing them felt like I was encasing my legs in butcher paper. Of course, with a couple washings (I don’t believe in “taking care of” or dry-cleaning, jeans—they ought to be worn and worn-down, molded to you, age with you, even if they cost $300) the fabric decided to give me a little give. But even the 2% elastin doesn’t give you much help, because I bought them in size 26/34. These jeans are true-to size—the waist of the jeans is actually 26 inches, which is the actual size of my waist (measured right below my navel—OK, I suck in a little bit under the regime of my tape measure). It is quite a labor to get into these jeans—I do have to hold in my breath to zip and button them. Then, with a rise of 10 inches (from crotch to waistband), my intestinal tract, and the area where my ovaries would be if I were female, are bound in zippered denim.

I lovingly wear these jeans, as painful as they are, because they make me a stranger to my own body. I am pretty skinny, but as you can see in this picture, these jeans give me a paunch-hang, that overspill of flesh that pour out over the waistline. They make me feel “fat,” especially when I’m feeling piggish for booze or bloat-inducing food. Yesterday for lunch, CM took me to a lovely space-agey Japanese restaurant called Pod, where I was planning to nibble on some nouvelle-japonaise caesar salad, but ended up hogging down on a kobe beef burger and half a basket of fries soaked in wasabi-soy sauce, while bound up in these high-waisted jeans. When we left the restaurant, I could feel my intestines rebelling against the tight waist and rise of my jeans, and I liked that. Feminine women—and even some masculine ones I know—no matter how thin they are, maintain a certain awareness of their bodily excesses, an awareness which often explodes into soul-killing paranoia. But a little feminine awareness of your body goes a long way in shaping an ethical self in a culture that privileges and rewards smug self-confidence and self-congratulation. It’s one thing to know who you are; it’s quite another to feel complete satisfaction in that knowledge, which to me amounts to arrogant fiction. When I feel “fat,” or, to quote the BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, “a zeppelin in a condom,” I feel like I’m meeting my body for the first time.

In this way, these jeans are kind of like a corset to me. Valerie Steele writes in Fashion and Eroticism: Ideals of Feminine Beauty From the Victorian Era to the Jazz Age, that “By emphasizing the essentially female characteristics of the body, the corset functioned as a sexualizing device. Yet corset wearing was also widely perceived as moral ; it was a necessity if a woman were to be decently dressed...the straitlaced woman was not loose.” This moral ambiguity that is at the heart of the corset’s symbology is transferred over to the life of the high-waisted jeans. Wearing them, I feel like I’m forced to grapple with this dichotomous discourse of sexuality and morality from which, as a biological male, I’ve been exempted. Steel goes on to suggest that “tight-lacers,” or extreme corset-wearers, “were not following fashion, but rather responding to their inner compulsions.” I’m a kind of modern (or lazy?) tight-lacer. My inner compulsion for a bound waist is tied to my inner compulsion as a femme, and the masochistic history of feminine beauty that every woman must deal with at some time in her life.

Like a lot of women, I bought high-waisted jeans inspired by fashion magazines—my first pair was a pair of Balenciaga jeans I saw in French Vogue in 2002 (I found them used—with amateurish-hemmed, thus “ruined” legs at Wasteland in San Francisco for $40 rather than their usual $1000 price tag). But wearing those—which were actually quite comfy and not so tight—led me to seek out more extreme examples, ending in these black corsety jeans. Wearing them made me think about the nature of jeans in general. Even though jeans are iconically androgynous, wearing these tight high-risers made me realize their essential femininity that belies their cowboy Levi’s origin. Think about the zipper-fly: it is a vagina dentata. Jeans are the one article of clothing that can give any body a toothed vagina. Why do you think that most boys wear their jeans loose? When you try to zip yourself into tight jeans with a long fly, you run the risk of zipping-nipping your flesh, or snagging your pubes if you happen to not wear underwear. Believe me, I have wounded my stomach with the fierce teeth of YKK. Zippered jeans can castrate, can feminize. And in their high-waisted incarnation, outwardly display that aggressively feminine potential.

So while I’m happy to be walking around in these tubular jeans, I do wonder about their viability among fags. It’s interesting that I’m in the “City of Brotherly Love”—“Philadelphia” is literally that: “from philos "love" and adelphos "brother.” Gay male courting is so often based on homosocial friendship: “buddies” or “brothers” become lovers. I am hardly either of those identities. CM and I are going to hit some gay clubs tonight. If my luck changes and I actually meet a cute boy and end up in his bed, what would happen when my t-shirt comes off and he sees that I have jeans that go up to my titties? Would he be turned off? Or would he lick and kiss the zipper and seam-marks that the jeans have made on my belly and hips?

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