Monday, September 1, 2008

the story of o

I hate birthdays. I hate my own birthdays. Not because it notches up the measuring tape of aging, but because I hate any days (usually called “holidays”) that necessitate pomp, celebration, anticipation. As a kid, I never had birthday parties, and as an adult, I’m happy to have friends forget to remember August 28. (Although I love gifts—who doesn’t?)

Having said that, however, I don’t hate my birthdate. August 28 is the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. changed America forever with his “I have a dream” speech in Washington D.C. Given my devotion to black feminism, it makes me feel that I was born under some protective, insightful star to share anniversaries with that event. This year, on the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, and the thirtysomething anniversary of my mother’s first caesarian, I received one of the best birthday presents ever: the official nomination of Barack Obama for the Democratic party’s presidential candidate, and his beautiful speech on that occasion. Watching this slim strong beautiful black man take the podium and convincingly show us his worth as this nation’s leader, watching him being cheered and adored by a stadium full of people of all races—and most of them white—I mean, white people actually cheering on a black man to lead them—I felt exactly like the older black women delegates who were wiping away joyful tears: so moved with pride.

And so along with the lovely black mohair Acne cardigan my sister bought for me, Barack’s speech will prepare me for cold November—and specifically, November 4—as the summer days finally fade into fall. As I get ready to travel back to Providence for the fall semester, I carry with me the filling memory of the Democratic National Convention, and a not entirely unrelated fashion choice—wearing shorts—to create an Indian summer in New England fall.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my love of run pantyhose. Since then, the temperature in the San Francisco Bay Area had become unusually hot—even for August. So one day, I decided to wear my denim cut-offs without any hose at all. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is to this girl who has not worn shorts since 1999. I vowed then that I would never bare my legs again, I who did nothing but bare legs throughout my tweens. During my college days, I wore tight tight short shorts, and had smooth legs to go with it. Either through Korean genetics or some hormonal imbalance, I don’t have very much body hair. The scant leg hair I have is mostly below my knees, and I think I can count how many I have on each leg given a free lazy afternoon. As a tweenager, I shaved the suckers off then to give a gleaming presentation. I bared my legs as a displaycase for the butt that was packed into high denim cut-offs.

This was all a part of my self-packaging as a classic 70s clone-y faggot. Once I calmed down and matured properly into my grown-up femininity, I became decidedly embarrassed about such obvious tactics, and forever plead allegiance to jeans...with legs still attached to them. But this summer, when I put on the amputated jeans with my legs bared to the Bay, it felt different. It didn't feel sexual, it felt a bit freeing. The first time I put them on to go out in public, I spun right back home because the gleam of the afternoon sun made obvious the layers of dead white skin on my legs: ASHY LEGS!! I came back home, lathered my legs with Tom Ford Black Orchid body cream and set off again, feeling creamy smooth and patchouli-smelly.

I also made a conscious decision not to shave my legs this time, even though the scraggly hairs are a bit ugly. It is what I am. Wearing shorts is no longer a symbol of sexuality, but a symbol of the transparency of my interiority. It is a symbol of my comfort with the creature I had become, the creatures I had been. This may sound insane, but wearing shorts now in my thirties, at this juncture of my gendered self, makes me feel like I’m imitating Michelle Obama. Now, of course Michelle Obama doesn’t wear shorts in her political role. But significantly, unlike many other political females (and one in particular) Michelle eschews pantsuits. And suits in general. I have been a huge fan of Michelle for the past year, but seeing her this week at the DNC, I was struck again by how dazzling she is. Michelle is elegantly formal in the strictest sense of the word: having form. Dressed in a turquoise deep-v-neck wool dress, she was like a perfectly grammared sentence. Legible. Clear. Smooth. Comfortable. Articulated.

As she gave her magnificent speech the first day of the DNC, she in body was like the sentences she was projecting out. I was struck not only by how differently she dressed from, say, Nancy Pelosi (satin picture-collared jacket) or Hillary Clinton (sunkist-yellow pantsuit...yikes!) but how differently she dressed from her former self. At the DNC of 2004, where Barack gave the speech that put him in the American political consciousness, Michelle wore a shiny white suit with nervous shoulders and pointy lapels. Suits feel like armor because with their seam and padding skeleton, they can theoretically stand on their own. They demand you button yourself upright into its line. Michelle traded the suits for these dresses, and not just any dresses, but pull-over dresses: dresses that go on like comfy oversized t-shirts. Michelle’s shift dresses would collapse like old t-shirts without the upright spine of her being to embody them. This is a different kind of power-dressing than the 80s throwback of Hillary or the dominatrix-style of Condoleezza Rice. Michelle’s over-the-head dress says of its wearer: I am the one who gives my clothing life, I am airy and mobile in these clothes. Power not as domination, but as communication.

Wearing shorts now, in my thirties, I feel like I’m wearing a Michelle Obama pull-over dress.

The shorts must be of a perfectly awkward length: skimming the thigh but never remind of panties. The shirt worn with it must not be tight, but baggy, confuse the onlooker: is that person wearing a t-shirt or a dress? To replicate the red-and black Thakoon dress Michelle wore on August 28, I’ll pair black denim cut-offs with my Nirvana “Heart-Shaped Box” t-shirt—black with red all-over-silk screened hearts.

There are some who criticized Michelle’s dresses for being too informal, too revealing. These critics are wrong. Untied, uncovered skin is not inappropriate or sexual, but forthright, strong, and unbound.

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