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Chanel, Marge Simpson & Me photo

 

When I saw the Chanel dress that would become my wedding dress, my first thought was Marge Simpson. Marge Simpson with her tower of curly blue hair, red pearls, and groan of a voice. Marge Simpson, that pillar of heteronormativity whose storyline is almost always the B or C-story of an episode. Marge Simpson, on the level—coolness wise—of Wilma Flintstone, another character I’d sooner die than be associated with on my wedding day. When I first saw the thumbnail image of that light pink dress with its black plastic trim—dreamed of by Karl Lagerfeld himself—marked down 70% from $2,900 on the RealReal, I tried to see 90s glamor. Linda Evanglista. Naomi Campbell. Rhinestone belly chains and chunky gold jewelry. But none of these references stood a chance. They paled in the memory of Marge.

I couldn't fully recall the Simpsons episode in which Marge buys a near-identical pink Chanel dress. I could only remember that there was one. That, however, was enough to make me not buy it. The dress met all my other criteria: it was classic, fashionable, and (relatively) reasonably priced. It was sexy without being slutty. Still, Marge Simpson was such an uncool association and—as a 35-year-old artist, writer, and former art-dealer living in LA—I was one who cared about such things.

Marge Simpson wasn’t only uncool; she was far too wholesome. Not so much for who she was as a character, but for the time period of which she reminded me. From ages 7 to 17, my family and I watched reruns of The Simpsons every weekday before, during, or after dinner. We weren’t a family that talked about feelings, but we were a family that laughed together six days a week (the new episodes aired on Sundays). A family that anticipated The Simpsons Halloween Special weeks before it aired. Hell, I even picked up the saxophone just to be like Lisa Simpson. A fact that embarrasses me, even now, because it feels too innocent. Too endearing. And I can’t handle your heart, dear reader, warming towards me with such tenderness. It’s too overwhelming. I prefer to be objectified combined with a bit of fear, or envy, or awe. I prefer the illusion of having some power over you.

It’s strange to shun wholesomeness on your wedding day. Most brides dress in white for precisely this reason. Virginal, traditional, wholesome: these were not qualities I sought out. For years, my wedding fantasy had been to meet someone slightly wild and definitely alpha. Overcome by magnetism, we’d marry in Vegas the next day and spend our wedding night in a penthouse having mind-numbing sex, carving each other’s names into the other persons’ back with knives. Matching tattoos wouldn’t be enough. That fantasy, among others, is why—for the past five years—I’ve been in a 12-step program for sex and love addiction.

Back in my LA home, I tried to forget about the pink “Marge Simpson” dress that had appeared before me like a ghost from my past. Surely, there were other dresses out there, even other Chanel dresses, I reasoned. A day passed, then another. Then, on the third day, I returned to the RealReal, my parents’ navy-blue Amex in hand, them insisting my dress was their gift, with the fury of one who realizes they might have let the love of their life sail away on an ocean liner, never to be seen again. The dress was still available. I bought it. “Quite the discount,” my mother said when I forwarded her the email receipt.

The dress arrived in a large cardboard box on my doorstep sooner than expected. The second I pulled it from its delicately permeated dust bag, so superior to the thin plastic bags most of my online-bought clothes came in, I knew I was in love. The pink wool with its perfectly matching silk lining was of a quality I’d never experienced before. A crown jewel among rhinestones. And the plastic black lining was so much sexier than in the online photographs. It glistened like freshly poured latex, still wet. The dress—with its slender silhouette, pink femme palette, and bondage-y black trim—was perfect. Dominatrix meets English Rose. This dress was me. And I was it. In the sensory experience of its fabrics and details, I forgot about Marge completely.

There was one drawback, however. The top was slightly too big. Excess fabric hung on my chest and beneath my armpits, making my torso look ungainly and square. I needed a tailor and fast, as my wedding was less than a month away. The first tailor I saw suggested moving the top button inward to make the dress more form-fitting, a quick fix disrespectful to the vintage couture. I’d never seen a tailor before—most of my clothes were cheap, mass-produced things that if they didn’t fit simply got donated—but, surely, there should be some pinning. Some measuring tape. Some standing on a pedestal in front of a mirror. I’d seen enough movies to know. My dress deserved more than this 5 second solution that I could have come up with myself, if pressed. I took the dress elsewhere.

On my way to the second tailor, I dreamed of the new body of artwork I would make inspired by this dress. I would use blacks and pastels, colors I’d avoided using before because they felt too tacky, too Victoria’s Secret, a 13-year-old suburbanite’s version of cool. But now this palette felt elegant, right, Chanel. In preparation, I’d listen to the biography of Karl Lagerfeld or Coco Chanel, and watch the original ‘95 runway show where my dress had debuted. This would be a breakthrough body of work in my practice, I imagined, marking a clear before and after Chanel entered my life. Before, when I was in an angry rush to be taken seriously. Screaming with loud neon colors and decapitated Medusa heads. And after, when I was soft and sentimental. Where—unafraid to take my time and quote fashion (or, heaven forbid, The Simpsons)—I drew Pegasus, that winged horse birthed from Medusa's bloodied head. Pegasus as a Chanel phoenix, rising from her angry technicolor ashes.

The second tailor I went to was technically in Beverly Hills, though on the outskirts. His shop, manned solely by himself (a short man in his 50s), was somewhat dingy. However, his insistence on using pins and a full-length mirror put me at ease. Made me feel like I was in good hands. Until he groped me. More times than I can count he slid his moist palms beneath my dress, touching my thighs and grazing the waistband of my Calvin Klein underwear to “straighten out” the dress’s lining. Before pinning the top, he undid the black plastic buttons going down the dress's middle and cupped my breasts for no discernible reason at all. And the whole time, I did nothing. At 35, I wasn’t a child. But there, alone in his shop, I might as well have been. His hands trampled me while I—trying to make my body as small as possible—watched my buoyancy shrivel up and die as I prayed for it to be over.

On the drive back, I cried. I cried because I’d agreed to his price and to pick up the dress in a week’s time. I cried because, in the face of this abuse, I’d resorted to politeness and carrying on with my to-do list. “Just get it done. I don’t have the time or energy to take it somewhere else,” I told myself, justifying my in-action. But, mostly, I cried because it had happened. I was not expecting to get molested, but it had happened. And now the dress of my dreams would be forever tainted. His grimy hands woven into the fabric of my wedding, my marriage, forever feeling me up, forever diminishing my dignity.

And I remembered why I hated wholesomeness. It was a liability, a weakness. I’d skipped into that tailor shop happy as a puppy, thinking about my wedding and the new body of work it’d inspire—and left feeling helpless, dirty, and so so angry at myself. Now I remembered why, for so long, I’d hardened myself to seek sex, violence, and, above all, power. Because if you’re the person to dehumanize yourself, you beat the person who will do it to you. If you give your innocence away, it can’t be taken.

“You can’t show up to your wedding like that. As a shell of yourself,” my Sex Love Addiction Anonymous sponsor told me the next day when I told her about the incident. I tried to convince her that it was fine. That I was busy. That I’d write a bad Yelp review. She wasn’t having it. How many times I have done this, I thought: believed that as long as I looked good on the outside, how I felt on the inside was immaterial. Wasn’t that the very thing that had landed me in SLAA? Hadn’t it led to a gulf inside me so vast that it’d broken my grip on reality, landing me halfway around the world with a stranger all too eager for sexual exploitation of the most heinous kind. This tailor’s transgression was not unique. It was one of the infinite casual acts of degradation and violence that happen in a marginalized-gender person’s life. My old, dissociative coping mechanisms were thus understandable. But that didn’t mean I had to use them. I could want better for myself.  

I got my dress back from the tailor the next day and took it to a recommended woman tailor who never once touched me under the dress. At my wedding, I wore it with pride. The pink fabric hung perfectly on my slender frame as I hugged loved ones before San Francisco City Hall’s palatial doors. “You know that Simpsons episode—” my brother asked me 15 minutes into his arrival. He didn’t need to finish. I knew, of course, I knew. “Yup,” I blushed and laughed—a hearty, wholesome laugh. The jig that this dress, even after everything that had happened with the pervy tailor, was anything other than a Marge Simpsons dress was up.

The rest of the wedding was dominated by Simpsons talk as my partner, I, and our families tried to recall the details of the near 20-year-old episode. By the end of the evening, unknowing became unbearable. My partner of 4 ½ years—now husband—and I committed to watching the episode that very night, after checking ourselves into our tower suite on the 16th floor of the Fairmont Hotel. And we did. Instead of carving into ourselves with knives—that classic addict misidentification of adrenaline for feeling, for “really” living—we swaddled ourselves in sweats and hopped into our King-sized bed where we curled ourselves around my partner’s laptop. Beyond us, city lights unfurled into black bay waters outside our room’s panoramic view. Beneath us, Coit Tower’s ivory walls alternated blue and yellow in solidarity with Ukraine, while, draped in fog to the far left, the Golden Gate floated above the blackness like a spirit.

Watching The Simpsons only added to the night’s surreality. Surrounded by pillows, my partner and I watched Marge buy a Chanel dress, discounted to $90 from $2900 at an outlet store, uncannily the same original price, and then stretch herself to the limit, remaking the outfit into alternate versions of itself, all to be accepted by Country Club people she doesn’t even like. At her breaking point, she spends her family’s savings on an undiscounted Chanel dress from an actual Chanel store, believing that it’s what is necessary to win an invitation to the exclusionary club. I winced through my laughter for how well I knew Marge’s pain. How well I knew her belief that a shell is all she needs to win the approval she so desperately seeks, the approval which she believes will heal all her pain and make her magically whole.

“I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have this me as a member,” she says before departing with her family to Krusty Burger, embracing her most wholesome authentic self, summarizing the lesson it took me 35-years to learn.

I tried to imagine, as my partner and I drifted off to sleep, what my 9-year-old brain must have thought when watching this episode. Had I known that I was watching my future? That, at some point, I would return to this episode as an adult to fill in the gaps I had only peripherally understood as a child. And this sense of time collapsing, of the inevitably of our lives, was more eerily profound, more eerily alive, I realized, than the most ungodly fantasy my addict brain could ever come up with. Wholesomeness wasn’t just handholding or PG-rated movies or board games played with your family. It wasn’t just Hallmark cards and naive sincerity. It was as haunting and beautiful as a sonnet. A rose floating out to sea on obsidian-colored waves.

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