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Cross Dressing

Manolo-heeled women sip Sancerre at a home jewelry show while trying on necklaces—some three strands deep in pearls or colorful stones of citrine, amethyst and turquoise. Hanging from the end of many of the necklaces are bejeweled crosses. And, though they’re beautiful, I feel a little uncomfortable trying them on.

“Oh, Page, that looks great on you. You should get that one.”

“You think,” I say. “But, I’m not sure about wearing a cross this big. It just seems a little…”

“Oh, no. That’s the style these days. Crosses are so in,” a friend reminds me.

I don’t want to tell her, because she’s wearing one of the “in” necklaces, that I’ve always had a problem with overly large, ornate crosses. On a priest or the Pope, well, sure. But on me? Not so sure.

I guess some people can pull it off. Turns out I’m too conflicted to do so. For me, turning what is the ultimate symbol of sacrifice and redemption into a fashion statement seems disrespectful. That said, I realize those wearing cross necklaces for decorative rather than spiritual purposes aren’t looking at it that way. One friend, who calls herself “a practicing agnostic,” says she sees nothing wrong with wearing a cross. “The beauty of this country is that it’s based on freedom of speech. People can say or wear what they want.”

Another friend, who is Jewish, says she, too, might consider wearing one. “I think they’re really cool and beautiful.”

When I ask the jewelry designer why she uses crosses so much, she extols the virtues of their form and says they look good on everyone, “regardless of the shape of their face.” She adds that crosses “fall nicely” onto a woman’s neck or chest.

Hearing that, I immediately think of a woman I’d seen recently wearing an ample-sized diamond cross necklace that “fell nicely” on her ample-sized chest that—let’s just say—may or may not have been God-given.

So, like Odysseus being drawn to shore by the Sirens, I forge ahead and buy one--despite my reservations. They’re quite pretty after all, the colorful pearls anchored by a glistening chunky silver cross with blue stones. I also feel that self-inflicted pressure of having to buy something since my friend is hosting the show. The one I pick looks like something Georgia O’Keefe might have worn, not the Pope.

I write out a check, clasp on the necklace, and head to meet a friend at Morton’s in Georgetown for a steak and brimming glass of Cabernet. Definitely not sacrificial.

Walking into the restaurant, insecurity and doubt wash over me. Sure, I feel fashionable in my uniform of dark jeans, patent pumps, and a snug blue velvet blazer. I’m adorned with no other jewelry but the hip cross necklace. But I also feel guilty (and I’m a struggling Episcopalian, not a Catholic). The whole glitzing-up-the-cross factor gets to me. If I’m going to wear a cross, shouldn’t it be something smaller or more humble? I don’t know, maybe a simple wooden cross on a piece of brown leather. I had convinced myself that my O’Keefe cross was okay. But on me, it just doesn’t look or feel right. Something about wearing this Christian bling just feels too in-your-face, sort of a religious display of conspicuous consumption.

“Sorry I’m a little late,” I say, arriving at the corner booth to join my friend John. “I just went to this jewelry show. What do you think of the necklace?”

“Well, it certainly makes a statement,” John says, chuckling.

“Yeah, I know. That’s precisely my problem.” And with that, I slip my new purchase into my pocketbook and pick up the menu.

We chat about religion, relationships, and politics until our dinner arrives.

“Uh, Page, would you like to give the benediction?”

The next day, I sheepishly call the host of the jewelry show to see about exchanging my new purchase. She and the jewelry designer couldn’t be nicer when I explain cross dressing just isn’t for me.

When it comes to jewelry, I guess I’m a fan of separating church and state.