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Headshot of me with long hair, pink lip stick, light makeup Kara Babcock

Levelling up

My school’s graduation ceremony was an opportunity for me to celebrate my students and also myself.

My grad dress was late, and I was doing my best not to freak out. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, I kept telling myself. My other three dresses from this order arrived (albeit after an earlier delay), and one of them would be suitably new and cute to wear to graduation. But it wouldn’t be the dress, the one I picked out specifically to wear to grad. An ankle-length Georgette gown with a halterneck front and straps in back in an ombre that went from navy to purple to grey to orange—“like a sunset” is how one person put it, and I think that’s so apt. If it didn’t arrive in time, I would cope—but I wanted it to arrive; I had ordered it for this occasion; I would be so disappointed if it didn’t happen.

Spoiler alert: it arrived, two days prior to grad, with a serendipity that has proved to be a common thread throughout this adventure.

The Background

Let me back up for a moment and clarify: I was not graduating from anything! Rather, I am a high school teacher. We teach adults, but we’re a high school with the school board, and when our students graduate, they receive Ontario Secondary School Diplomas. I’ve been in this position for eight of my ten years as a teacher, and watching each year’s graduates walk across the stage is always one of the highlights of my year.

During the height of the pandemic, of course, in-person graduation ceremonies didn’t happen. This was our first ceremony in three years. We invited the graduates from the previous years who hadn’t had the opportunity to cross the stage. There must have been over 100 graduates in attendance, with many more who couldn’t attend the ceremony, along with the graduates’ loved ones. Since our graduates are adults, many of them have families, including small children—some even had their kids walk with them across the stage, which is as cute a sight as you might imagine. One had a six- or seven-year-old who cheekily took the scroll from our manager on behalf of her mother and turned and gave the widest grin and most manic wave to the cameras. Some of our grads hoot, holler, hug. Some have a veritable host of people standing, phones in outstretched arms, to capture their moment. It is an effusive event, not one where we use tradition as an excuse to punish those who don’t conform to white supremacist ideas of dignity and decorum. This year’s ceremony, the return after a long drought, was particularly effulgent and buoyant with joy.

All of this, by itself, might be enough to merit a blog post—I do like to talk about education and my experiences as a teacher from time to time! However, this grad ceremony was special to me for an additional reason, so having celebrated our adult learners, I’m now going to make it all about me. Because this is my personal blog after all!

As many of you know, I came out as trans in February 2020. This means that last night’s graduation ceremony was my first time attending as Kara.

The Buildup

The pandemic, as I have often reflected on this blog, threw a wrench into the engineering of my social transition. Three years on, I continue to experience a lot of firsts for me: first time eating in a restaurant as Kara, first time attending a certain kind of event, first time shopping for something, etc. Each first layers atop the last, reifying my identity and validating me. Even as the fact of my transition sublimes into a state of normality I still mark my firsts, stamps of my new silhouette along my timeline, indelible and irrepressible evidence that I am, finally, the me I am meant to be.

This first grad as Kara was no different. If anything it feels a lot more special: this was my first excuse to get well and truly dolled up, as they say, as Kara. I have yet to have a chance to go to a wedding or other life event for someone. So I wanted to go all out. I wanted to attend in a fantastic dress that I had never worn anywhere else. I wanted my hair and makeup to be next-level. I wanted to experience a version of Kara that I hadn’t yet unlocked.

So I turned, naturally, to eShakti. They are an online retailer for women’s clothing based in India. They produce quality garments that can be custom-tailored to your measurements. As far as I can find out, which of course is not the last word on the subject, eShakti uses ethical labour. These two facts make their clothes more expensive, but they are also why I was attracted to them. I want to avoid fast fashion as much as possible (I must admit I ordered a few items from SHEIN before I learned better); and, as a very tall, slim woman who isn’t particularly buxom but has broad shoulders, the custom tailoring was very appealing. Up until this order, every experience I’ve had with eShakti has been positive. The dresses (I’ve only ever ordered dresses, and one skirt) are so comfortable, and most of them have pockets! They have almost always fit—the one time I had an issue, with a square neckline that gaped too much, they took it back and sent me a satisfactory remake at no additional charge.

In short, eShakti has been one of my secret weapons in figuring out my femme fashion game. They make me look good.

So in May I turned to eShakti’s website to order a grad dress. I hadn’t ordered since December 2021, and I was excited. I had ten tabs open before settling on three very cute dresses to add to my professional wardrobe for September. Then it was time to settle on a grad dress. With the help of my ride or die, we narrowed down the options until we had the One. I even took the extra step of measuring myself (up until now I had just given eShakti my height, and they had managed to nail my fit from there) in so many dimensions. I placed the order, and I waited.

And waited.

The estimated delivery date of May 27 came and went. The production status of my order told me that the other three dresses had been made but not yet shipped. My grad dress was still in the “fabric kit creation” stage. Uh-oh.

I reached out to eShakti to seek more information, a new timeline even. I emailed. I waited the five business days they requested. Then I called (which, as a millennial, is about the most serious thing I can do when seeking customer service—if a millennial is phoning your company, you are in trouble). No answer, just an automated recording telling me to leave a message, day after day. I turned to the internet, where I found a blog post called “What’s Going on With eShakti?” Oops.

The other three dresses shipped about a week after their estimated arrival date—and they are great. The quality of the clothes hasn’t diminished in any way; the fit was also perfect. I had three new dresses, including one that I designated as my backup grad dress. With no word from eShakti, I started to prepare myself for the disappointment of this dress not arriving on time.

Last Thursday, I received a shipping notification for the dress. Given the shipping speed on the first part of the order, that meant my dress would likely arrive in time for grad.

You Get One Miracle

Look, I don’t know that I necessarily believe in karma in any way beyond the culturally appropriative Taylor Swift notion of it, but hey—I don’t know what I did to cause the universe to reward me, but I’m glad I did it.

The dress was perfect. The fit, length, colour, style—it was exactly what I had envisioned on myself.

So yesterday afternoon, I got home from work (our last day was a half day with grad in the evening) and got to work. I knew I wanted to put my hair up to emphasize how good my shoulders looked with the halterneck front. Styling my hair has been one of my focuses this year. As my hair grows, I can do more with it, which I love. But it’s also very fine, so I don’t have a lot of volume to work with (but I recently discovered texture spray, oh my god, game changer).

I sought recommendations for YouTube tutorials, and someone on Hannah Witton’s Discord pointed me in the direction of Kayley Melissa. I chose the “Celestial Updo” from this video because it felt achievable. Pinning up my hair in a bun is something I learned how to do this year. This hairdo added a few more steps, including sectioning (which I need to get better at, so it was good practice) and braiding. I pumped myself up, went to my bathroom, pulled out my curling iron, hair elastics, and bobby pins, and went to work.

The back of my head, showing a braided bun at the nape of my neck. I'm wearing the halterneck dress as described earlier in this post.

Then came makeup. I felt more confident about this because I tend to do a fair amount of eye makeup for work each day (I love it). Start with a base of Supergoop Glowscreen. I’ve been learning to use colour corrector and concealer to help with shadow from facial hair—still not there yet, but I will. Then the eyes: bold pinks and sparkly shadow paired with a blue eyeliner and, again pushing my skills, some kajal blended under my eyes. Benefit gel in the eyebrows, of course. Finish it off with blush, mascara, Urban Decay All Nighter setting spray, and Sephora lip stain.

I'm wearing a halterneck ombre dress from navy to purple to grey to orange, standing outside in front of my house and a garden.

I felt so good, so confident, so proud of myself for what I am able to do.

Just enough time was left to get into my dress and call my neighbour over to zip me up (oh, the problems of living alone—this is the first dress I’ve had that I can’t somehow zip up myself, lol). In a second twist of serendipity, the strapless bra I had ordered from Pepper was waiting at my door literally as I went outside to let my neighbour—the tracking had it arriving the next day, which would have been no help to me whatsoever.

(As an aside, I do have referral links for eShakti and for Pepper should you want to try either company. Not sponsored! Keep in mind my above recent experience with eShakti. I am loving Pepper bras and Pepper’s trans-inclusive marketing.)

Everything is Coming Up Kara

My neighbour was kind enough to take the photos and video you’re seeing in this post. Again, I was not graduating but you would be forgiven for thinking I was given how much of an event I was making it into for me!

My ride picked me up and we arrived at the venue, and then it was time to go to work—because I was working. I was on programme duty, handing them out and then directing guests and graduates to their various places. I like this job because it forces me to interact with people, to be proactive in engaging them and talking to them, which is good practice for an introvert.

The piper led the procession of graduates into the ballroom, with us teachers following. I took my seat. The ceremony proceeded. Speeches from dignitaries (a school board trustee, our mayor, MPPs, MP). Our valedictorian’s speech (humblebrag: I coached her in it!). Then the awards. Each staff member chooses a student to give an award to, so I got to cross the stage to give out mine.

For a moment, everyone was looking at me.

Afterwards, I said hi to students from this year and previous years, and many took pictures with me.

I cannot describe how momentous this all feels.

As I have previously wrote about on here, the rising tide of anti-trans hatred in our society weighs heavily at times. Wednesday night’s hateful attack on a Gender Studies class at University of Waterloo only underscores how dangerous this is for those of us who are trans, gender nonconforming, or otherwise challenging the patriarchal, cissexist, white supremacist norms of our society.

All I can do to fight this is to continue to exist, for I think that is audacious in its own way. I exist in my classroom, where I teach students while also being trans, which apparently for some people is “promoting gender ideology”—but really, it’s just me being who I am. And my existence is a good one. I am happy in my personal life and in my professional one—by and large, my students and colleagues are lovely and affirming people who have never made my transness (or my progressiveness) an issue.

All I can do is continue to celebrate and spread my joy. Getting glammed up, being at grad, crossing that stage, taking photos solo and with others—all of this is a very deliberate act of asserting myself. I want to be visible; I want you to see me. I want you to see me first as a woman, yes, but increasingly I need people to see me as a trans woman—not because I am any less a woman for that reason but because I need people to see that I am not hiding, not going anywhere, not afraid.

No amount of hatred will diminish me or tarnish me or make me disappear. No volume of screams nor screeds will banish me from your dreams and nightmares. I exist. I am beautiful. I am cherished and supported. Get mad about it, haters.

Last night I participated in my community fully and completely and joyfully as my most authentic self. I will continue to do so. No amount of hatred is going to stop me. Even though it can be scary out there, I know that I am surrounded by love. In return, I will continue to show up. For my students. For my colleagues. For my friends and my family. I didn’t graduate last night, but I do feel like I levelled up. I will keep levelling up because the game of life has no level cap, and my high score is measured not in money or internet fame or fitting into a narrow definition of womanhood but rather in the security of knowing that yes, finally, thirty-three years in the making, I have arrived at a place of belonging.