Fiction: “The Hand-Me-Down”

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According to a survey by the J. Walter Thomas Innovation Group about Generation Z’s attitudes toward gender and sexuality, only 44 per cent of respondents said they always bought clothes designed for their gender. While most fashion stores remain divided into men’s and women’s sections, the binary in fashion is blurring. Charlotte Carbone, founder of “gender-more” clothing brand pH7 and Ryerson fashion alumni, says clothes shopping can be difficult when gender in the mainstream fashion industry is rigid. “Your shopping experience will have a very negative ending if you can’t find anything that fits what you want both psychologically and physically.”

Fiction by Andrea Josic

Taria smiled when she saw herself in the mirror of her parents’ bedroom. The button-up elongated her torso, accenting her height perfectly. Clipping her hair back, she admired the sleek, formal style of her dad’s sophisticated piece.

The ivory-coloured silk button-up was handpicked by her wealthy aunt during a trip to Italy in the late ‘90s and was given to Taria’s dad as a birthday gift.

Her dad was always eager for her to wear his clothes. She wasn’t sure if this came from a place of genuine understanding, or if he was simply content with the idea that at least somebody was wearing the clothes in his overfilled closet.

Attempting to fasten the collar of the silk shirt, the button popped off onto the aging hardwood. It rolled toward the window and exhausted itself in the afternoon sunlight.

Letting out a frustrated groan, she sunk onto her parents’ bed. Finding an outfit for her one-year anniversary date with her girlfriend was proving to be near-impossible. 

Looking down at the now-imperfect dress shirt, Taria was reminded of a grade school memory:

A week before school let out, Taria’s mom had bought her a long denim skirt for her last day of sixth grade. By age 12, Taria had developed more body hair than the other kids in her grade. By the end of the school year, the hairs on her arms and legs had almost fully grown in. She liked them. They reminded her of the thick blades of grass she looked for during recess, the ones that were just wide enough to place between her thumbs and blow through, creating a funny-sounding whistle. 

Taria wasn’t ashamed. She saw it as just another part of herself—something she credited her burly, dark-haired father for.

That was, until Taria tried the skirt on in front of her mother. Stopping just below the knees, her meadow of hair was visible to the world.

“You know that big field with the rows of electrical towers, and how overgrown that grass is? That’s why your father and I mow the lawn once a week, honey,” her mom had said.

She could maybe wrap her head around the idea that unruly fields should be taken care of. But getting rid of her leg hair entirely felt like the field was being uprooted for only dirt to remain.

Her mom planned to wax Taria’s legs the evening before her last day of elementary.

That afternoon, Taria was panicking. She grabbed the skirt and figured that if it wasn’t an option, she wouldn’t have to wear it. After several unsuccessful attempts to rip the denim at its seam, she hastily grabbed a pair of scissors and cut through the back of the skirt. She would later tell her mom it ripped while skipping rope in the backyard.

The next day she wore capris. Even though her mom yelled at and grounded her, at least she was comfortable.

The memory passed as Taria held the part of the placket where the button had once been between her thumb and forefinger. She stood up and grabbed the sewing kit out of her parent’s bedside dresser. She picked the button up off the floor, which felt heavier than it should have. She started threading the needle.

Leila and Taria laughed as they stumbled down the steps onto the subway platform.

For their anniversary, Leila wore a green dress, sparkly heels and glam makeup. Taria wore a pantsuit, her dad’s button-up and subtle makeup that Leila helped with. The night before their date, they scoured the mall for a green tie for Taria to match Leila’s outfit.

Taria always found herself drawn to more “masculine” clothing—mainly menswear and chopped hair—Leila always presented herself in a traditionally “feminine” way—makeup, long hair, dresses, lots of pink. 

The two of them constantly talked about how their clothes related to their gender expression—for hours on end. Leila often felt she dressed too “straight” for whenever she was in a queer space. Taria felt like her ever-changing wardrobe—and the rare days she wanted to wear a dress or something seen as “feminine”—conflicted with how she expressed her gender. 

Holding hands in adjacent seats, Taria rested her head on Leila’s shoulder.

Leila got off the subway seven stops earlier than Taria—she lived on her own in the city. They kissed goodbye and Leila stood on the platform, waving at Taria until the subway took off and she was no longer in view.

Before getting off at her station, Taria undid her tie and slid it into the pocket of her pants. She hoped to minimize conversation with her mom, who had always been critical of the way she dressed and her relationship with Leila.

Tip-toeing into her home, Taria noticed all the lights were off and her parents were in their bedroom.

She felt a calm take over as she walked upstairs and into her room. She laid on her bed ready to call Leila, as she did every night, but she heard her parents’ door creak open and footsteps approach the door. There was a faint knock. Taria’s mom opened the door.

“How was your…date?” her mom asked.

Taria answered curtly, trying not to provoke more questions. “Good.”

“You couldn’t find anything better to wear to such an important date?”

An outfit that had given Taria so much confidence just an hour ago now felt like a burden. A fleeting thought tried telling her to never wear it again.

“At least you have your makeup done.”

The silence that followed wasn’t enough of a hint for Taria’s mom to leave the room.

“Next time, feel free to borrow whatever you need from my closet. You’re growing into such a nice woman that I’d love to see you wear something a bit more appropriate.”

That was Taria’s breaking point. With her sharp tongue, she knew how to say all of the things that irritated her mom the most. An aggressive argument broke out. It was her dad, awoken by the yelling, who had to come between them and dissipate the fight.

For part of her life, Taria tried to understand her mom’s attempts to connect with her through femininity and her definition of womanhood. But eventually, Taria had to be honest. She just didn’t feel the same way. Could she blame her mom for not understanding? Her mom was old-fashioned and didn’t have the lived experience to understand her queer daughter.

She thought about Leila’s parents. They had known about Taria from the beginning of their relationship and had been overjoyed to meet her. Shortly after they began dating, one of Leila’s siblings came out as non-binary and they were accepted with the utmost love and tenderness.

She felt defeated. It was exhausting to justify her existence to people who had already received countless explanations.

On the night of the argument, Taria didn’t sleep. Before dawn, she packed a duffel bag and got an Uber to Leila’s. 

Two weeks passed of staying at Leila’s apartment. One afternoon, her mom texted her asking that she come back home.

Reluctantly, and with a gentle push from Leila, Taria took the bag she quietly packed and commuted back home to the suburbs.

She stepped into her home, eerily quiet—her dad was probably asleep. Taria’s mom sat in the living room, absent-mindedly watching television. Her tired face took on a smile when she saw her daughter. They embraced. 

Taria felt the tension her mom carried over the two weeks.

“I’m happy you’re home.”

Taria sighed and said nothing. 

“Wait here,” said her mom before running up the stairs. 

She returned with a purple package wrapped in ribbon.

“This once belonged to your grandfather, who gave it to your uncle. I want you to have it.”

Underneath layers of tissue was a faded, tattered Levi’s jean jacket. Taria ran her hand along the metal buttons on its right side. Her mom had a long way to go, but the small token of apology meant a lot.

“I’ve always had a fondness for denim,” her mom said. 

Taria remembered the skirt, but this gift was different. It no longer felt like there were conditions attached or a standard to uphold. In this small purple package, she received a piece she would immediately feel comfortable wearing. A piece that felt like her.

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