I met Christelle a few years ago when we were working in the same company. She could not be missed. Very tall, red-pinkish haired, always perfectly dressed, she was an outstanding coworker in this company were people were very discrete, I mean, physically. Growing up in France has always shaped my mind to get quite comfortable with the French way of dressing: casual but not too much, a bit chic but not extravagant, wearing small items to improve a natural beauty or just a pair of well-cut jeans to enhance some long legs for example, everything that says “I took time to choose an outfit to put myself in my best light but I will hide as much as I can all of the effort it took me”.
If you know a little bit about France, you know that extravagance is not something you see easily. Have a simple walk in the street to observe what I’m talking about. Colors are neutral or dark and the well-known little black dress of the Parisian chic cannot be from the brightest yellow. The workplace is especially strong on this topic. Even if we don’t expect you to come in a tuxedo, we do not accept, in general, to see you wearing shorts, yoga pants, joggings, sandals or some no-shaped T-shirts.
I remember seeing Christelle for the first time as she was standing out from the crowd I belonged to. I was not used to cross women being that much feminine in this company. Some little hints would give me this sensation that she was not just like every other girl. We used to take the same corridors but we did never speak or say Hello, but I believe that everybody knew her, at least by what she looked like.
Little did I know at the time that I would meet Christelle again years after that. I had left the company where I saw her for the first time and I had worked at some other places where I did not see anyone looking like her. Every woman I was working with were all just like me. Our hair were all in natural colors, our working clothes were professionally casual and we were perfectly fitting into the mold.
To be honest, I was sometimes thinking about how much our outfit were defining us in the companies I worked for, asking myself if I would be considered different. Would my competences and my knowledge be seen as more or less accurate if I were dressing differently? What If I had refused to fit to the standard outfit we created by wearing an oversized T-shirt and some running trousers on a daily basis? Would I be seen as neglected in my look and in my deliverables with those pants? And at the complete opposite, what would people think about my competences if I had dressed in a bolder manner with crazy colors in this morose lifestyle just like Christelle? I don’t know, because I never had the will strong enough to try.
Nevertheless, not so long ago, an old colleague invited me to have a drink with some other people. “Girls’ night!” she said. When I arrived at her place, I didn’t know anyone but I recognized Christelle. She was the most prepared in this group. Her outfit was very well-made and she was embracing her femininity in every detail of her look: her dress, her shoes, her hair, her makeup, her rings, her watch…. Nothing was left to chance. The amount of effort she made was really impressive. We introduced each other when I said to myself “would I dare sometimes to dress like her?”. I always considered myself as quite feminine, as I like wearing heels once in a while or I would wear makeup in my daily routine, but never like this. Then, Christelle started to talk to me in a low-pitched voice, reminding me that she was still on her way to transition. We started to talk about jewelries and she acclaimed a certain brand she was totally in love with when a friend of her asked her to tell us her story. She was so proud of her.
A couple of years ago, Christelle was actually Christian, a married man with two kids, working in the technical maintenance field, when she had the urge to embrace the person she felt she was. She started to wear woman pieces of clothing, had a more feminine haircut and decided to become Chris. And little by little, her hair became longer, pinker, some jewelry showed up on her arms and neck, her flat shoes were changed into high heels and she started to buy some beautiful handbags. Something completely natural had transformed her, or should I say, something got revealed in the bright light. She had been born in a man’s body, she was still a woman.
I was astonished and completely voiceless as I was listening to her story. She decided to swim against the current of standardization. Deciding to transition when you’re a kid or a young person is one thing as your life is ahead of you. Going public when you have a well set family life, a job in a very mannish department, friends you had for years, is something else. I was amazed by her courage, as she knew she would have to face a lot a struggles, weird looks and many different reactions from her loved ones. Having the guts to stand up no matter what people will think is something not so many of us have. And just for that, she is a model.
She talked about the difficulties she had to face in her process of transitioning and she also gave us some examples of really good help she received. I was surprised to learn the support she had from the company she was working for when she changed her name. The top management had showed real support and made sure that she would be welcomed in the best way when she would come back as Christelle. She punctuated “I was not coming back as I actually never left!”. Indeed, she would remain the same, from Christian to Christelle because those two names are the same soul, the same person, the same mind. She would just have made some changes in her outside look.
I think she did an amazing job. Her courage to stop hiding in the dark will potentially help others to embrace who they really are despite people’s judgments and beyond sexual identity. Whoever who doesn’t feel completely themselves can walk on her steps because she is empowering. I’m convince that this is this kind of people who are changing the world and the mindsets as they are entering in our daily life. We can call for diversity on billboards, the shift will not be completed before those unconventional human beings take a full sit in our village, in our family, in our workplace. Christian was very gifted in the technical field prior her transition as much as Christelle. People who doubt this should start to question their logical abilities.
Christelle surprised me in her courage but little does she knows today that this is not what impacted me the most. When I saw her this night, thinking “would I dress like her?” the answer was clearly “No”. Why? Because Christelle embraces her femininity way more than I do. Because I would not dress as feminine as her in the same way I would not wear sport clothing at work. I realize that I wear clothes in the way that I was taught to: I should not dress too manly but I surely should not overdress as a women, especially in the workplace. Indeed, I would fear to be considered as less competent in my field or too superficial and even too seductive. I would be afraid to give the wrong impression, believing people would see me as someone who is using her look to find a place and not her brain. I felt I could be easily discredited with a look that stands out. I realize that we are completely led by appearance forgetting to be who we really are. The thing is, Christelle is twice my age but I’ve been a woman in broad daylight way longer than her. Still, she owns this part way better than me.
Actually, Christelle reminded me that feminism is still on the table by raising my awareness about my own image and the fact that I sometimes don’t fully embrace the person that I am. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
As long as women cannot be entirely who they are, whether it is in their private life or in the workplace, as long as they will be trying to fit to the acceptable level of femininity they are allowed in order to get a place in this society or in their jobs, we will have some work to do. As long as we will struggle in the morning to choose an outfit that would not jeopardize our intellectual and professional abilities, the goal has not been reached.
As a woman, working in high technology fields, I had many times the discussion with my women-colleagues about the way we looked and especially about the way other women looked. I could hear once in a while “Look at her, she wearing too short skirts, I don’t know who she is trying to impress, her boss?”. Why don’t we team up together to make sure that each of us, whether we are born a woman or not, are allowed to wear anything we want, whoever we are, without calling our job position into question? I wonder sometimes if we, women, are not the one who have to strongest judgement on other women. I also wonder if men have the same issue regarding the way they look? Do they ask themselves, when dressing for work, if the chosen outfit is not too manly?
In the end, I believe Christelle will allow some people to follow their needs just as she did. She is inspiring. But I also believe that people like her will help women to embrace their femininity in every piece of their everyday life in a tremendous way. I was not expecting that meeting her would have such an impact regarding my own image as a woman. Christelle opens the path for acceptance, acceptance of others but mostly ourselves, and meeting her was a bowl of fresh air.