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Scent of a Transsexual Woman (1998)

Scent of a Transsexual Woman (1998)

©1998, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1998). Scent of a transsexual woman. Transgender Forum.






Scent of a Transsexual Woman

By Dallas Denny


Halston for Women is my scent. I’ve worn it since the seventies, when I was in my twenties. For more than ten years now it’s been my trademark cologne, a part of my daily routine. I don’t wear a great deal, just a spritz or two to the pulse points every morning and sometimes a splash before I go out in the evening, but the fragrance lingers on my clothes, on my sheets, a territorial marking of sorts. It’s one of my many small daily delights, a subtle reassurance of my sexuality, a small part of my identity as a human being and as a woman.

It wasn’t always like that. Halston, like other perfumes, was forbidden to me. Although I found it no less attractive twenty-five years ago than I do today, its lingering qualities were a danger, something that could give away the horrible secret of my inner femininity hours or even days after I broke social convention by applying it to my skin. It was a time, after all, when men’s scents were pungent and woodsy. Old Spice, Hai Karate, and the great smell of Brut were the most popular mens’ colognes. There were no ambisexual CK1s or Jovans. Men and women were expected to smell unlike each other, and did.

My XY chromosomal configuration and the social mores of the time dictated that I could not use female scent. As much as I loved it, the staying power of Halston could get me into big trouble, especially if my peers or parents got a whiff— and so I rarely used it, and when I did I took great pains to scrub it off before I came into contact with others. As much as I would have liked to wear it every day, Halston was relegated to the status of guilty pleasure, something I could apply perhaps once a month, in secret.

It is of course ridiculous to imbue a mix of chemicals with such psychological potency, to declare it off-limits for half the population. Chemicals after all, don’t have a gender. But it didn’t seem ridiculous back then, in those days when gender norms were more harshly drawn and almost no one was questioning them. Those rules seemed resonable and normal in the day, and that made me abnormal for daring to cross the olfactory gender line. Halston was a siren, calling me, and most of the time I dared not come. Being forbidden made it only that much more attractive, more powerful, more seductive.

I could barely stand it when a woman wore Halston. My knees would buckle and my stomach would tie itself in knots and my brain would shriek “That should be me!” The fragrance would render its wearer infinitely desirable, turning her into a divine being and making it that much more clear that I was a male human being and thus unworthy of this scent meant for a goddess.

It was at its worst in elevators. “Halston,” I once said to a woman on the opposite wall, making her nearly as uncomfortable as I until the doors finally opened and we could both escape, me to get clear of her redolence and she to be clear of me, this strange and rather disreputable man who dared put a name to something so personal as her cologne, her scent.

Since I changed gender roles ten years ago I’ve worn Halston exclusively. It doesn’t seem to have quite the same cachet since its namesake died, but that may be due to changes in my olfactory sense caused by aging— or it may simply be that Halston has lost some of its desirability because it is no longer a forbidden essence. Still, it remains powerful. Now I’m the one who feels vulnerable when men remark on my scent, now I’m the one who has the power to cloud mens’ minds.

Now that I’m a woman, feminine fragrances are no longer prohibited; it is perfectly acceptable and even expected that I wear them. My body and mind and scent finally match, and all is well with the world.

My association with Halston is of course not the only thing in my life that has changed. I use it here as an example to show how pervasive gender is in our society, how it shapes not only our personal identities and our human relationships, but our interactions with material objects, which we imbue with gendered qualities. Nowadays, thanks to a change of sex, I walk through a landscape quite different than the one in which I was raised, one with permissions once given now withdrawn and permissions once withdrawn now given. My life has been altered in a thousand thousand ways that would never occur to most people. The change is for the best, but I still must ask why the world is such that Halston was denied me in the first place.