The Comfort Zone

| Nov 22, 2021
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Vanessa Williams

When I was in college, the glamorous Vanessa Williams recorded a terrific album called The Comfort Zone. With five hit singles (including the title track) that charted during 1991 and 1992, this recording cemented her artistic reputation, earned five Grammy nominations for the former Miss America, and eventually reached multi platinum status. Her acting career received a significant and lasting boost as a result. Clearly, her comfort zone has served her very well in life.

Should you ask a TGForum reader about her comfort zone, she might say that this was wearing clothes in which she feels most at ease. Whether it’s a pretty top and jeans or leggings for casual wear, a nice dress for an evening out, or something dreamy for nighttime, we would agree that such styles are definitely to our preference and comfort level. Any physical inconvenience would be considered a small price to pay, with little to no serious complaint.

In between some occasional and respectful teasing, quite a few women I know have inquired good-naturedly if I really do find female clothing styles to be comfortable. (I have not been asked whether or not I myself feel more comfortable in general, because that answer — based on my demeanor and personal interactions with others — is unmistakably “yes”.) They seem to like what they see from me, and perhaps I have been able to provide them with a comfort level where they could confidently ask me that.

With girlfriends at a designer bingo! (October 2021)

The question is certainly valid. From a functional perspective, one must admit that standards of daily comfort are not generous toward women. Who can credibly argue that it is more convenient than not to wear a bra, walk in high heeled shoes, carry a handbag everywhere filled with numerous personal accessories, and be constantly attentive to one’s hair and makeup, to compile just a short list? Such items and processes very definitely fail the test of ease and efficiency, to say the least.

Animal Magnetism! (Halloween 2021)

Of course, such a view would be incomplete. Although it may not be physically as comfortable, it certainly is emotionally so. The first time I ever let my work colleagues freely see me that way was at a Halloween celebration in 2018. They were able to deduce that I was completely at ease, and recognized that whatever else may have been going on with me, it was definitely not amateur hour. I became the object of much favorable comment, and this experience ultimately helped pave the way for a successful and fulfilling work transition a couple of years later.

Once certain procedures are reinforced long enough, they are internalized. We humans have a well-demonstrated tendency to adapt ourselves to all kinds of conditions and ground rules — sometimes, even lousy ones (exhibit A: 2020). Over time, female styles do become second nature. I can remember noticing when my feet were finally broken into heels, as well as when it began to feel strange when I wasn’t wearing a bra. It now takes longer to start my day, but I do not mind at all. I have completely adapted to the routine, and I enjoy it.

With enough trial and error, I learned how to choose styles that were flattering and fit well. For example, shorts were not a part of my summer wardrobe for a long time, going back well before my transition. But after I began wearing skirts and dresses, I was made aware that my legs are my best asset, much envied by women. (I suppose I can thank years of walking, swimming, cycling and football for that.) So I have successfully incorporated shorts to my summer wardrobe. They may add some youth to my appearance, as I seem to be often hailed as “Miss” when I wear them!

Life is much more relaxed now. I was not uncomfortable previously, but one thing is very noticeable in my pre-transition photos: I hardly ever smiled. Now in pictures, I am always smiling. I also seem to be more engaging in public. This has sometimes led to the ultimate compliment of being politely asked out on genuine dates — and at times, I have stepped outside of my comfort zone and accepted these requests. (A lady should always respond to such respectful initiative with care and consideration.) Although obviously platonic in nature, they were all respectful and pleasant occasions, where I felt totally at ease and quite flattered to have been the focus of attention for a little while. That was an unexpected but pleasant discovery.

Previously, semi formal occasions called for a suit and a tie. Although comfortable enough physically, they were only ever styles and events that I simply endured. Now, such occasions mean a dress and heels, which — while functionally far less convenient — are completely enjoyable. I really do think I look my best when wearing them, and I look forward to such events where this is the prevailing dress code.

Classic car show, rural Maryland (September 2021)

During a recent annual summer getaway to the Chesapeake Bay area, I stayed in my regular hotel, dined at local venues, attended a classic car show in the parking lot of a local Harley Davidson dealership, and interacted in many ways with the general public — and felt comfortable throughout. I even took time to enjoy the beach scene on Assateague Island. (I wasn’t prepared to take in the strong post-hurricane surf that day, but when I return in 2022 it will be with a new swimsuit!)

After leaving the beach, I stopped off at a small produce farm market, where I bought some food gifts, along with some very tasty locally made ice cream that I enjoyed at the adjoining picnic table. The next day, I returned to purchase some lobster tails to take home for an upcoming dinner. The same girl happened to be working then as well, and after picking out the seafood, she recognized me and asked, “You were here yesterday afternoon, right?”

I smiled and said yes, mentioned how much I enjoyed the ice cream, and that I had wanted to come back for fresh seafood before departing for home. She asked me where I was from, actually recognized the name of my home town, and complimented my casual outfit. The other girl behind the counter also joined in the conversation, and after completing my purchase they both wished me a safe trip home. Those young ladies from the rural South were hopefully left with an impression of someone who is comfortable in her own skin, as the old saying goes.

It amazes me to compare such experiences to my initial tentative public outings, all those years ago. Had I been shown a window into the future, I’m not sure I would have believed it possible. (I might even have found the prospect somewhat intimidating.) Finding one’s comfort zone can make all the difference in life. At the same time, make a point to challenge yourself to step outside of your zone occasionally. Only then do we truly learn what we are made of!

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Category: Out & About, Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

I am a project management professional in the greater Philadelphia area. I enjoy travel, domestic arts, reading and gardening. I am an active member of several ladies groups. I am a fan of 1970s & 80s hard rock, do not own a cell phone, and still have my high school football varsity letterman's jacket in my closet.

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