I grew up in a world where men’s shoes lived at this end of the fashion continuum and women’s shoes existed over there. Men’s shoes tended to be clunky and practical and unimaginative. Women’s shoes were nimble and clever and even whimsical. I know I’m oversimplifying the true state of affairs, but rarely have I run across a pair of men’s shoes that promised the sort of fun and adventure that an inventive women’s style radiated.
For me, anyway.
And that’s the catch, isn’t it. We all desire something different. I can rave about the exquisite proportion of a particular platform or wax rhapsodic about uniquely angled heel. You, on the other hand, might find more joy in the detail of a toe seam or the rococo combination of laces, zipper, and buckles all on the same shoe. I’m endeavoring to tell a tale of discovery that is idiosyncratic and personal. Yet, we share a common spirit in our search for discovery. Yes, our desires are all different, but we all desire.
As I was growing up I occasionally caught wind of some courageous soul who had grown up male (or female) only to decide that he (or she) would rather be a she (or he). What was I to make of that as a boy? Here was someone who felt beckoned to by what was going on across the chromosome divide. As a teenager I felt pulled in both directions. Fortunately, I was coming of age in the gender-fluid 1970s. Rather than picking sides, I found myself enjoying inhabiting a space somewhere between the two with long hair and colorful bell bottoms and billowing shirts and, of course, shoes that were as extraordinary as I could manage in my conservative, conventional community.
Gender has tended to be an either/or proposition. You were either one or the other if you wanted to make your way through the world with as little commotion as possible. Think of the media circus that surrounded the gender journey of Christine Jorgensen back in the 1950s. “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty”, shouts the newspaper headline. “Operations transform Bronx youth.” Most of us don’t want to live our lives in the center of that much hype and hoopla. It’s not surprising that my transsexual friends and acquaintances dedicated themselves to removing as much evidence as possible of the gender they were born with. Instead of standing out and inviting scrutiny, the emphasis was on learning to blend in. One male-to-female friend was already married when he made the transition. His wife was French so they cagily chose to rechristen him, now her, Marie. To North American ears it sounded like just another woman’s name. For the wife it was an important connection with their shared past: she was simply calling her spouse by the word she had grown up with for husband, mari. I haven’t seen the two of them in years, but at the time I made their acquaintance, Marie’s transition was a few years behind her and they had settled comfortably into a new life in a college town as a lesbian couple. I wish I could report that every journey from male-to-female or female-to-male goes as smoothly. In my own ongoing discovery of self, I could tell the life of the transsexual was not mine. Those paths positioned their travelers as either/or. And I knew I was enjoying things both the men’s department and the women’s. When it came down to shoes, a pair of high heeled pumps was fun to try on and sashay around the store in. Strappy sandals brought their own special kick. Thigh high stilettos definitely lived up to the famous line from the movie Kinky Boots, “The sex is in the heel.” But these were not shoes I could see living day to day in.
“Ha!”, I hear some reader remark. “There aren’t many women who picture themselves living that way day to day either!”
True enough. My story, though, wasn’t one of being trapped in the wrong gender. Instead, I craved the ability to appropriate whatever I wanted from whatever department I wanted. I didn’t want to end up relegated to being either a boy or a girl. I wanted to play in that middle ground between them that can be both aptly and contradictorily dubbed “no man’s land.” The aptness is readily apparent. But I think “contradictorily” applies considering the courage it takes to stake out a place for oneself in that inhospitable terrain. And not surprisingly, I found just the shoes to take me there. I experimented with low-heeled oxfords and unremarkable flats as I started to find my footing, but it didn’t take long to realize they weren’t carrying me where I wanted to go. Then one day I discovered a pair of ankle boots that showed me the way forward.
They say you can find anything you want on the internet. I wish that were actually true. I would love to show you a picture of that fabulous first pair of women’s heels that I saw I could live my life in. They were a dressy pair of black ankle boots from Via Spiga that had all the androgynous sizzle I could hope for. Pardon me while I get all misty-eyed for a moment. The toe was snipped with a panel of snakeskin-embossed leather from the toe to the top of the instep. The sides were fashioned of smooth leather which overlapped the faux snake portions with a bit of piping. There was a small tab above the heel where a boot pull might normally be. And then there were the heels. Picture a narrower, more sculptured cowboy boot heel. Not spindly and uncertain like a spike, but sturdy and sure footed. I loved these shoes and wore them with dress pants and stirrups and leggings until I wore them out. Eventually after the second re-soling and the third or fourth heel repair, I had to admit that they had had their day. And by then, I had a closet chock full of another three dozen styles that served my sense of who I was just as admirably.
Has anyone ever successfully analyzed the anatomy of desire? We like what we like because we like it. I’d seen men’s shoes, and I knew they were not for me. I’d seen women’s shoes, and I knew there was something there I needed to explore. I can try to explain why I am the way I am all I want, but the fact remains that the heart wants what it wants. I knew what shoes I wanted my feet to be in while I walked this earth. And as the person I am came more clearly into focus, I realized I needed to have someone different by my side as I went along my way. But that difficult story deserves a chapter of its own.
And may I just say that that difficult next chapter is what has been holding up my being able to post a fresh installment. It took a while for me to figure out how to say what I wanted to say. And then when I did get it done, it didn't feel done. So I stepped back and stewed about it. And then came at the project with a fresh start. Which resulted in the brand new chapter you have today. And which also happily paves the way for chapter that's already finished. So look for more soon. My apologies for the delay.
[On our feet as I fret about my blog: lots of goodies I'm not sure you've seen yet. Sadly there would have been more...if the bloody things had actually fit! Check the captions for specifics.]
Helga wood-soled boots from Deandri and Marlo booties from Kork-Ease in burgundy
Nat lace-up clog booties from Dansko (yes, Dansko!) and Carina wood-soled lace-up booties from Neosens
Murray wood-soled boot from Madison Harding
Marlo booties from Kork-Ease down below and up top, a very cool mauve suede cowgirl boot from Jeffrey Campbell that neither of us can remember the name of. Oh, wait. Ms. M just found the style name: Haliwell.]