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"...he has been fairly clear that he is simply a boy who sometimes likes to dress and play in conventionally feminine ways."
August 8, 2012 6:16 AM   Subscribe

What’s So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress? [NYTimes.com]
posted by Fizz (96 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nothing at all!
posted by Renoroc at 6:23 AM on August 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's got to be tough on the kids, but I am allowed to hope that eventually a dude wearing a skirt is going to be no more of a big deal than a dude having long hair -- something that we laugh about the idea of it once being forbidden.
posted by Forktine at 6:26 AM on August 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


The Pope wears a dress.

And it's weird that these boys are called (by some) "pink boys," right? Pink used to be the color for boys, as it was considered to be strong and masculine.

We're a weird species.
posted by rtha at 6:28 AM on August 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


Because Jesus.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:29 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hope that kid grows up to out Bowie Bowie. Bowie needs more dinosaurs and lava.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:30 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nothing at all!

Especially if he knows how to accessorize.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:32 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, clearly, women are bad, so a boy who wants to dress like a woman is demeaning not only himself, but all men.

Obviously(?), that's sarcasm, but I suspect it's much of the reason for the horror about men who act feminine. That's only a big deal if women are inferior.
posted by Malor at 6:33 AM on August 8, 2012 [43 favorites]


I don't have a problem with boys in dresses, but what's up with 3year olds dictating what they wear? Until I had my first job/own money, I was pretty much left to what my parents bought for me (or gifts). You think I choose to wear those brown socks with green and yellow stripes to kindergarten? :P
posted by stifford at 6:33 AM on August 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


What’s So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress?

With those shoes?!?

Malor: "Well, clearly, women are bad, so a boy who wants to dress like a woman is demeaning not only himself, but all men.

Obviously(?), that's sarcasm, but I suspect it's much of the reason for the horror about men who act feminine. That's only a big deal if women are inferior.
"

It goes a long way towards explaining why woman co-opting traditionally male behavior is seen as admirable, while the reverse is not.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:35 AM on August 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


A boy who insists on wearing a skirt seems to be asserting the importance of gender norms, not eroding them.

No stouter defender of private property than a burglar.
posted by Segundus at 6:36 AM on August 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


Around June 2008, I heard a lengthy radio piece (presumably an NPR/PRI podcast) about such children: there were interviews with parents on various sides of the issue and therapists including Zucker. Anybody know what piece I'm talking about? This article makes me want to listen to it again.
posted by knile at 6:36 AM on August 8, 2012


I don't have a problem with boys in dresses, but what's up with 3year olds dictating what they wear?

Yeah this was culture shock to me when I worked in childcare. You're telling me we are going to be late because she hasn't yet decided what she's wearing? When I was four or five those sorts of choices were simply not in my domain. I didn't become at all concerned with self-presentation until about third or fourth grade, when fitting in suddenly became a little more important, and I am rather glad to have had those few years blissfully free of that stress.
posted by hermitosis at 6:45 AM on August 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


See also: The Who - I'm a Boy [inverse scenario]
posted by MuffinMan at 6:46 AM on August 8, 2012


It goes a long way towards explaining why woman co-opting traditionally male behavior is seen as admirable, while the reverse is not.

I disagree that this is universally seen as admirable. Tom boys take plenty abuse for being seen as uncouth or un-lady-like. "Why don't you wear a dress sometime? I bet you'd look really pretty!" (you don't look pretty) "Why don't you take dance lessons instead of playing baseball? It would be more lady-like!" (you are not lady-like and therefore abnormal)
posted by j03 at 6:49 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't have a problem with boys in dresses, but what's up with 3year olds dictating what they wear?

Crush the children! See them driven before you!
posted by Nomyte at 6:51 AM on August 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


Susan and Rob wondered if Alex would eventually become transgender.

NYTimes reporting fail. One does not become transgender.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:52 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


NYTimes reporting fail. One does not become transgender.

It's still a fail but I think it's more of a language fail. I know I often struggle with finding the terms for an ever changing landscape when it comes to sexuality/gender, etc. But, I'm also not a reporter investigating a story that's specifically about gender/sexuality/identity.
posted by Fizz at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


He has figured out the secret- a dress is basically a shirt you can wear with no pants.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:55 AM on August 8, 2012 [27 favorites]


When I was little, we had a boy living a couple of doors down from us who loved playing dress-up; it was our favourite game too, and between him, my sister and me, we would have great fun. He'd show up at our doorstep in dress, heels, fur stole, purse and necklace, asking if we could come out to play. It was awesome, and it doesn't somehow break you for later life.
posted by LN at 7:01 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


A boy who insists on wearing a skirt seems to be asserting the importance of gender norms, not eroding them.

Only if skirts are intrinsically feminine. This is not as obvious as you seem to believe.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:04 AM on August 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't have a problem with boys in dresses, but what's up with 3year olds dictating what they wear?

Yeah, I was surprised at the passive role the parents played here as well. One of the main responsibilities of parents is teach children about risks they can't see, and I'd be concerned that this kid is going to get teased and hounded overs this relentlessly.

Maybe that doesn't matter in preschool, but by grade three or so it will.

I am allowed to hope that eventually a dude wearing a skirt is going to be no more of a big deal than a dude having long hair

Yeah, me too, but I'd rather not put a preschooler in the crumple zone of that social revolution.
posted by mhoye at 7:10 AM on August 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't have a problem with boys in dresses, but what's up with 3year olds dictating what they wear?

Crush the children! See them driven before you!


Awww...no lamentations? :(
posted by stifford at 7:10 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't have a problem with boys in dresses, but what's up with 3year olds dictating what they wear?

Pick your battles? If the clothing doesn't give them heatstroke or frostbite, why not let children have control over things that they can have control over?

When my sister was in kindergarten, she wore costumes every day. For school photo day, she wore some fairy princess kind of dress, with about 50 sparkly barrettes in her hair, because she liked to wear it, and why not? It didn't hurt anyone, and it's pretty much what she wore every day. As the kids were going through the line, one of the volunteers said something like "What a terrible mother! Who lets their child out of the house looking like that?" The other volunteer: "My sister."

My sister to this day cares a great deal about what she wears, though she is much more conventional a dresser now.
posted by jeather at 7:20 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Us women have been very careful to not mention just how very nice it is to not wear pants. When it's hot and humid and I'm wandering around in the backyard in a cool billowy dress sans underpants, I just smile a little harder knowing none of you guys would ever be caught dead in the most practical summer clothing ever. Making you men wear pants is our revenge for all little indignities that are visited upon us on a daily basis - more expensive haircuts, more expensive dry cleaning, more expensive flip-flops.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 7:21 AM on August 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


Not too long ago it was totally normal for boys to wear dresses. Or "gowns" anyway, but to a modern eye they totally read as dresses. Anyone remember the pictures of young FDR that made the rounds a while back?

During the same time period, women were just starting to explore the idea of wearing pants and it was considered shocking, taboo, and viscerally abhorrent to the mainstream culture, or at least to the mainstream male culture which of course had much more control then than it does now.

And now within a space of a century the situation is completely reversed. My how we do cling to our arbitrary little rules, don't we? Even in the face of ten thousand years' and ten thousand different cultures' counterexample, and as they shift and change under our feet like quicksand, we scramble around screaming about how our stupid little strictures are Just The Way It Is, telling each other that they're Only Natural, and their validity should be obvious to anyone with eyes and a brain

I hope someday we get over ourselves and let people just wear whatever the hell they want. Society would not collapse, I promise. Everything would be just fine if we just stopped giving a shit about what people wear.
posted by Scientist at 7:23 AM on August 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


When it's hot and humid and I'm wandering around in the backyard in a cool billowy dress sans underpants, I just smile a little harder knowing none of you guys would ever be caught dead in the most practical summer clothing ever. Making you men wear pants is our revenge for all little indignities that are visited upon us on a daily basis - more expensive haircuts, more expensive dry cleaning, more expensive flip-flops.

They get their revenge by cranking the AC to ungodly levels. It's 66 degrees in my office and I have a space heater and a sweater on.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:26 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Us women have been very careful to not mention just how very nice it is to not wear pants.

Yeah, there was a weird comment by Tom & Lorenzo about "sure the dress is light but who would want fabric on their legs?" and the answer is many women. It keeps the direct sun off your legs and sometimes gives you a sort of breeze.

(Also, there's a reason that desert-dwellers wear what is essentially a maxi-dress and not a miniskirt.)
posted by jeather at 7:26 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like to see men wearing yukatas and batik. I hope that people wearing what they want will become more acceptable too.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 7:29 AM on August 8, 2012


Pick your battles? If the clothing doesn't give them heatstroke or frostbite, why not let children have control over things that they can have control over?

I'm not trying to crush personal expression, I was looking at the issue more from the point of finances. Does this kind of fall under that "First World Problems" meme? "My 3 year old wants a wardrobe appropriate for both genders". If you got the funds, and your kid got the fashion taste, then play on, playas.
posted by stifford at 7:30 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's only a big deal if women are inferior.

...except that it works both ways. Plenty of parents worry their tomboy girls won't grow up and be feminine and that will leave them picked on, without a boyfriend and whatnot.

I think that a more encompassing statement would be that parents (and nosy neighbours) fixate on the external sex features of the child and worry way too much about whether or not the kid is identifying with gender normative things. Have penis, like trucks; have vagina, like dolls.

I worry about any kid who goes to school with some feature outside of the norm, but not because I think there's any right or wrong way to go about things, but because our society has allowed bullying to be so pervasive and a boy wearing a dress is going to go through a lot to live that way. You know what though? I think hiding who you are is pretty damn painful too. Life's just hard for a lot of people.

So really, I've tried to stop fixating on the things that the kids themselves are doing (because I don't think there's anything at all damaging about a three year old wearing a dress) and instead on the reactions of people to them. Because life is hard for a lot of people and we don't need others making it harder than it has to be.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 7:32 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


A boy who insists on wearing a skirt seems to be asserting the importance of gender norms, not eroding them.

See, this risks slipping over into "but trans women are just reinscribing teh patriarchy" reasoning - where when someone asserts that they want to do a particular thing, it is read as meaning "this thing is based on some kind of Deep Truth About Gender, not just on my preference". But when I, assigned female at birth, wear my men's loafers and button-front shirt I am not read as asserting Deep Truths About Masculinity - that's only assumed if people assigned male dress in feminine clothing.

I actually know a lot of non-gender-normative tiny kids. I mean, they are not ideologically non-gender-normative, but in our circles you're as likely to see a man in a sparkly shirt or a woman in a buzzcut or a person of no obvious gender in whatever clothes please them as you are anyone else, so the kids get pretty strong messages that you can wear what you like, even though those messages are in competition with messages from the culture as a whole. There are actually a couple of kids who I see infrequently whose gender I don't know - they're little and their names are of the "Aubrey/Sasha/Alex" kind that could go either way, and it's pretty gauche to ask a parent "sometimes I see little Aubrey in a velvet dress and sometimes I see them in a baseball jersey, what's up with that?" Despite what one might think based on various gender panics, this has not caused the fall of the Republic, nor are the kids being targeted at school as far as I can tell.

I think it's great that kids today get more autonomy in parts of life where it doesn't really matter. I had very, very little autonomy as a child and as an adult I've struggled consistently with knowing what I actually want, making my own decisions and sticking to them. I wish I had had practice in small, harmless areas like clothing and some food choices. It's easy for people brought up like me (who are mostly older - my home was very strict and old-fashioned) to see these kids as spoiled and self-willed, but the hippie kids that I know are generally nice-mannered and pleasant company. ("Getting to make some choices when it's reasonable/appropriate" is not the same as "getting everything your way no matter what")
posted by Frowner at 7:34 AM on August 8, 2012 [15 favorites]


Over the last year or so I've been frequenting an online community of kilt enthusiasts; the kilt-making forum was very helpful as I went through the process of making my own, but it's been interesting reading some of the other forums, which function as a kind of online support group where guys commiserate about the grief they often get for wearing a kilt in the USA.

It's pretty discouraging to read about the ugly, petty behavior of grown men and women towards a man wearing a skirt. Even a skirt that's part of a well-established (and often celebrated) western tradition! Even at weddings or other formal events! Good on the parents, but these kids still have a tough slog ahead of them.
posted by usonian at 7:35 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the tomboys will be fine, the problems here aren't remotely comparable at this point in time.

A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:35 AM on August 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


(Also, most of the kids I know mostly wear hand-me-downs or thrift store stuff or presents - it's actually cheaper to be able to use a wider variety of hand-me-downs rather than a gender-restricted sort. You don't need "two wardrobes" (or a double-sized wardrobe) to incorporate boys' and girls' clothes any more than I keep "two wardrobes" because some of my clothes are men's.)
posted by Frowner at 7:37 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would wear the hell out of a ... well, man-dress, for want of a better term ... something like a lighter tailored version of the kind of coat that Christian Bale wore in Equilibrium, only longer; something you could really *sweep* into a room with.

I don't have the beard for a wizard robe. Yet.

(is there a better term than man-dress? me no brain fashion)
posted by nonspecialist at 7:37 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


NYTimes reporting fail. One does not become transgender.

The NYT is reporting what "Susan and Rob wondered"--not issuing a ruling on the origins of transgender identity.
posted by yoink at 7:38 AM on August 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


(Also, most of the kids I know mostly wear hand-me-downs or thrift store stuff or presents - it's actually cheaper to be able to use a wider variety of hand-me-downs rather than a gender-restricted sort. You don't need "two wardrobes" (or a double-sized wardrobe) to incorporate boys' and girls' clothes any more than I keep "two wardrobes" because some of my clothes are men's.)

When my 3 year old complains that he doesn't like the hand-me-down dresses I've acquired for him, can I at least say..."They were good enough for your sister, they are good enough for you. Don't like it? Get a job." ? : )
posted by stifford at 7:41 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


As the dad of a 4-year-old boy who likes to wear dresses to preschool sometimes, I mostly think that the NY Times is giving us a run for our money in the overthinking-a-plate-of-beans department. This is only complicated because of the baggage WE bring to it. To my son, it's simple - they're all clothes, why are you grownups making such a big deal about this? (Admittedly, we're lucky to live in one of the most liberal towns of one of the most liberal states in the country, which helps guard against neighborhood overreactions you can't really control.)

I'm sure there are issues of identity and gender at play for some kids, but for us and some of our friends, it was a very different choice: either you use this to teach your kid that there are arbitrary, illogical things we do to separate men and women, or you shrug your shoulders, let your kid be the better person, and say you're right, there is no reason this should be a big deal and I'm not going to be uptight about it just because I'm worried we might have uptight neighbors.
(And the second or third time I heard him correct a grownup, cheerfully, with, "I'm not a girl! I'm a boy! In a dress!" I knew he was going to deal with it fine.)
posted by range at 7:45 AM on August 8, 2012 [19 favorites]


I'm not trying to crush personal expression, I was looking at the issue more from the point of finances. Does this kind of fall under that "First World Problems" meme? "My 3 year old wants a wardrobe appropriate for both genders". If you got the funds, and your kid got the fashion taste, then play on, playas.
posted by stifford at 10:30 AM on August 8 [+] [!]


Kids clothing is cheap, especially if you go to a secondhand shop or Target. I bought my daughter four or five sundresses for the summer for less than $15. I probably don't spend more than $50 on kids clothing for both my kids in 6 months. If Kid Zizzle decided he wanted to wear a dress, I'd buy him a dress or two at our next kids shopping round. It's not having a wardrobe for both genders, it's having a wardrobe that includes both genders --- it doesn't have to be two separate wardrobes that would cost twice as much. It can be one wardrobe with a mix of clothing that costs the same you would normally pay.

I don't see how this is an issue of finances unless the parents make it into one.
posted by zizzle at 7:47 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


He has figured out the secret- a dress is basically a shirt you can wear with no pants.

Visiting Fiji a while back, I would occasionally wear a sulu. It was a revelation in terms of, ah, ventilation.

It did take a bit of getting used to in terms of not flashing the entire world when changing sitting positions.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:47 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Yeah, I was surprised at the passive role the parents played here as well. One of the main responsibilities of parents is teach children about risks they can't see, and I'd be concerned that this kid is going to get teased and hounded overs this relentlessly. Maybe that doesn't matter in preschool, but by grade three or so it will."

Well, then you fight that battle in grade 3. My toddler has a purse he likes to carry full of his trucks. I gave a old clutch of mine because we would take trucks places in MY purse, and I got tired of him dumping my purse over to find his trucks. He's still at the age where trotting around with a purse is adorable and people mostly comment on how cute it is. I figure by the time he gets to the age where people get snide about it, he'll either have dropped it, or at that point we'll decide how to handle it (get a more boyish purse-like thing? Go all medieval on anyone who is snide about his purse? It'll depend on whether toy-transport is the key point, or a purse-qua-purse is the key point.).

Pre-schoolers do a lot of socially unacceptable things (from things that are truly socially unacceptable, like pants-pooping, to things that society is silly about, like boys in skirts) and 90% of it sorts itself out in the fullness of time and before people start being jerks about it. If you get to the "people being jerks" stage, you decide how to handle it then. If you react to EVERY socially-unacceptable thing your kid does, you'll be doing nothing but reacting and reprimanding at some stages. It would be exhausting and upsetting for you and frustrating for the kid. It can be hard to wait out a particular behavior, not knowing if it's a passing phase or a long-term thing, but if it's not harmful, it's almost always better to let it run its natural course. Some things require reprimands, some things require teaching or training, but an awful lot of things require just relaxing about it.

Clothes are one of those things they encourage you to give little children a (bounded) choice about, so they can have a feeling of control and start learning how to make decisions. Mostly I just tell my 3-year-old, "Go pick out a shirt." If he dithers (which he mostly doesn't), it's "Shark or bugs?" Sometimes he wears pajamas to the grocery store, but who cares? He's three. Similarly when we buy him clothes I will stop to consider something he exclaims about (though I'll tell him "not your size" or "too expensive" or whatever if it is), and when I pick out shorts I'll offer him two and say, "Do you want blue or red?" and we buy that one. Not for EVERYTHING, but if he's with me, and we just need two T-shirts, nothing specific, I'll let him pick from a bounded universe.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:47 AM on August 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


Only if skirts are intrinsically feminine.

Not at all. On the contrary I assert that in itself the wearing of the skirt is ambivalent. It could signal his opposition to all norms of dress and be his contribution to their overthrow. Or he could be endorsing the gender conventions and using the skirt as a personally valid expression of his inner femininity. I don't think it could be both at the same time, but either view implies that the convention is important.

Of course I could be wrong and it could just be that he likes to get the wind round his knackers (a healthy practice in suitable climates, I grant you), in which case we can regret his social obtuseness or applaud his sturdy eccentricity according to interpretation and taste.
posted by Segundus at 7:51 AM on August 8, 2012


"Silly adults gave a shit what a three year old wears. Psych consults ordered for affected adults."

Actually a lot of the article is about parents trying hard to manage their own reactions to their children's non-gender-conforming choices, and about how convictions about it not mattering run into social issues, and the struggle the parents have them. How do they protect their children from mockery? How do they handle their own changing attitudes, that it's cute when their kids are 3 but offputting when their kids are 8? How do they confront their own deep attitudes and biases?

Many of the parents DO seek psychiatric help -- for themselves.

It's shitty to make that kind of drive-by post while admitting you didn't RTFA.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:56 AM on August 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


My childhood was a more or less continuous fashion faux pas, largely because was of an age and in a family where my hand-me-downs came from girls, and mostly full-figured girls, so my t-shirts always sagged sadly across the chest. When I'd outgrow my waffle-patterned doubleknit flared trousers, my mother would sew doily lace on the bottom to get another season out of them, and when I complained, she changed to something more masculine—cuffs of orange wide wale corduroy, which set off my homemade kit shoes from the Tandy Leather Company. It was the seventies, my mother assumed it was anything goes, but me in a sagging girls' t-shirt over dark blue doubleknit trousers with bright orange cuffs over mismatched socks in homemade moccasins usually didn't go.

When I started to exert control over what I wore, I was very specific.

It had to look like something from Space:1999, and more precisely, it had to look like something Catherine Schell, in the character of Maya, would wear. Fortunately, Sears Surplus, and later the fancy new JcPenney at our new "mall," sold a variety of futuristic velour tops with asymmetrical decor strips and ribbed v-neck trim, and with a little instruction from Ma on the use of her glorious Singer Rocketeer, I would take pairs of contrasting futuristic velour tops with asymmetrical decor strips and ribbed v-neck trim, remove and swap their left sleeves, and stitch everything back together.

I was not, however, allowed to leave the house with homemade Catherine Schell outer space alien sideburns. Well, not after the first time, alas.

The thing was, when I look back, there's a thread of what seems like a transgender instinct in me, despite the fact that, aside from my particular brand of spazzy weirdness, I was relatively gender normative for the notions at the time. There wasn't a tree you could keep me out of, I was a demon on a Schwinn Bantam and I liked trucks and machines and gadgets and inventions and carving things and breaking things and taking other things apart, as the old silly standards of the time applied. I didn't do team sports, because I recognized at even that young age that team sports exist to raise armies, and I just didn't care to go to war.

What was atypical, though, was that I identified with characters in art, music, and literature completely without regard to their gender. In retrospect, I now have a grasp of why my father found it both curious and amusing that I would watch Sweet Charity every single time they played it on UHF channel 45 and that I completely identified with Miss Charity Hope Valentine, who seemed to capture so many of the things about the world that made sense to me. I adored Geraldine, who I believed to be an actual woman, despite my father's attempts to convince me that there was a reason why you never saw Flip Wilson and Geraldine on the screen at the same time. I was Lucy, and Bea Arthur, and Eve Arden, and I wanted to be both Jack and Mary Livingstone.

It just seemed to me like you'd model yourself on the kind of characters that spoke to you, and women, much of the time, spoke to me.

My parents were human beings, in contrast to the ape people of the era, and just sort of observed my evolving pandemonium carnival with a sort of wry series of smirks and whispered conversations, but they never really tried to quell my sense that you could want to be Rosalind Russell as much as you wanted to be Lucan, the wolf boy, Kevin Brophy. When we're kids, we want to be something big—someone important. Should it matter how they're equipped?

On a deeper level, I had more in common with the girls I knew, and with the older women in my life who were kind and thoughtful enough to speak with a hyperactive chatterbox as if he were a contemporary.

"Joe-B, what on earth have you done?" my mother asked.

What I had done, in short, was to use an entire can of my grandmother's Aqua-Net to style my hair into a sweeping symphony of an up-do in the bathroom of our bayside family suite at the Harrington Arms Motel, and it was something I'd created with a comb and a vague recollection of one of Audrey Hepburn's most scenic coifs. My grandmother found this almost fatally amusing, despite the inconvenience of winding up out of hairspray on a windy vacation, and my mother tried a couple times to wash it out, but Aqua-Net in that era was almost perfectly impervious to water, so the memories of that particular trip involve a little boy bobbing on the Atlantic waves in a sort of early metafictional rendition of Breakfast at Tiffany's.

If such things had read as truly female, instead of "well, Joe-B's just a different child," they would have been quashed without question. When I started trying on my sister's retired Brownie uniform, that was beyond the pale, despite my insistence that Girl Scouts were nicer than Boy Scouts, and around the same time, when my sister dressed me in a plain cotton dress with a strawberry print and introduced me as "Josephine," that was the limit.

"I guess I thought for a while that it was that damn strawberry dress," my father said, in our early and tense conversations where we navigated the new territory in which I revealed my natural sexual orientation and he struggled with his Southern Baptist youth. "But I figured it was more because I got you involved with opera."

"Seriously? I think it's pretty much just that I like dick."

My dad laughed.

"Well, dick's good, I suppose. Who doesn't like dick? Well, lesbians, I guess."

Mostly, though, I skirted the lines of gender and aroused confusion more than anything else. When I set out on my quest to have lush curly hair like all the hot boys in the neighborhood with lush curly hair, and plundered my mother's old set of two-piece basket curlers and dug out her imitation ostrich leather hair dryer case so I could sit with a roaring plastic bag over my head, desperately trying to get my hair to take a curl, it was just another eye-rolling moment of "you're doing what now?" I'd switch off the turbines, peel off the crinkly hair dryer bag, and rush to the mirror to see if it worked, but as I undid each curler, my lank, stringy hair would just sort of unroll in a limp mess.

It's hard to be glamorous, and it gets worse when puberty ruins your chances of every pulling off anything but strictly humorous drag by mutating you from a stringy little monkey into a burly, knuckle-dragging ape. Fortunately, I had a formative experience as a bewildered youthful traveler in San Francisco in 1978, when a bearded nun on roller skates crashed into me on the sidewalk and a giant cookie leaned in, asked "hey kid, are you all right?" and helped me up. This is where I learned that, in the future, and San Francisco in 1978 seemed an awful lot like the future, you'd be able to pretty much be what you want to be.

There's a long way to go, but it's already so different from when I was a kid. One of these days, there won't really be such a thing as boy clothes and girl clothes, except maybe for bras and jockstraps, and damn if I won't enjoy being able to roam the city without stupid chafing hot idiot pants when it's a hundred degrees out.

The idiots are still tut-tutting on the sidelines, but their reckoning is coming soon.
posted by sonascope at 7:58 AM on August 8, 2012 [58 favorites]


Not too long ago it was totally normal for boys to wear dresses.

<Yellow Kid>Say! Dats dead on fer straight!</Yellow Kid>

I may look askance at utili-kilts, but hully gee! for dresses and sarongs.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:59 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


@eyebrows. Guilty. Hence the disclaimers. I have a young boy who wore dresses and pixie wings for a while. I didn't give it much thought. No one was harmed. I do feel for people who are troubled by that situation. I just don't think age three is a solid indicator of anything. I'll stand down now.
posted by drowsy at 8:07 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Peter Turchin has gotten a lot of attention lately for cliodynamics, but I first heard of him last month when he started writing a two part series on his blog about the history of men wearing pants.
posted by knile at 8:11 AM on August 8, 2012


sonascope, there are times when a man cannot favorite a comment enough. I am sad that now is one of those times.

For the record, were I not a biker, I would wear my two Macabi skirts way, way more often.
posted by cthuljew at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Us women have been very careful to not mention just how very nice it is to not wear pants.

As a kilt-wearer I know this very well. I'm insaaanely jealous of actual dresses. Way, way more awesome than other clothes. The pervasive nature of gender norms is really quite unbelievable if you just keep an eye out for it.
posted by odinsdream at 8:17 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


San Francisco in 1978, when a bearded nun on roller skates crashed into me on the sidewalk and a giant cookie leaned in, asked "hey kid, are you all right?"

This is why I will never live anywhere else.
posted by rtha at 8:17 AM on August 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think most folks commenting on this post are getting too caught up in the clothing aspect. The article touches on many more subtleties than clothing...behavior, gestures, emotions, etc. Dumbing this article down to "boy wears a dress" is no better than reading nothing but the headline. The parents interviewed all talked about issues beyond clothing.
posted by Kokopuff at 8:18 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


This story about Oliver and his Pink Bike changed forever the way I think about gender conformity.
posted by royalsong at 8:20 AM on August 8, 2012


(And the second or third time I heard him correct a grownup, cheerfully, with, "I'm not a girl! I'm a boy! In a dress!"

Perhaps it would eliminate some of the confusion if he accessorized with just the right superhero cape or space helmet.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:23 AM on August 8, 2012


This kid is the motherfucking bomb

in my humb
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 8:36 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've just had a thought: when I took child development classes as part of an abortive attempt at teacher-training, we were told pretty clearly that around age 3 kids "naturally" developed a lot of anxiety about which gender they were and "naturally" divided things into 'boy' things and 'girl' things, plus worked hard to avoid things of the opposite gender. This was taken (at the time, about 1998) to signal that gender was so deeply ingrained, by whatever mechanism, that it was for all intents and purposes "natural". Since I myself had a vivid memory of doing that very thing when I was around 3 and yet had grown up into a butch queer, I assumed that this was correct if depressing.

But now that I think about it, this does not square at all with my experience of the kids in my social circle, most of whom have very, very little anxiety about gender-appropriate clothing and behavior and relatively little interest in gender-dividing stuff. Even the 11-ish girl who requested a "girl" haircut recently framed it very much as "there are a range of gendered haircut issues and my choice right now is to have a girlie hairstyle thanks".

When my 3 year old complains that he doesn't like the hand-me-down dresses I've acquired for him, can I at least say..."They were good enough for your sister, they are good enough for you. Don't like it? Get a job." ? : )

See, this is just a huge misreading - it's as though people can't imagine unseating Mandatory Masculinity without replacing it with Mandatory Feminization. It's like those anti-feminist SF novels from the seventies that were all "In The Feminist Future Lesbian Matriarchs Will Keep All The Men Imprisoned As Office Drone Slaves While They Themselves Swan Around In Strangely Unattractive Black Leather Jumpsuits Injecting Testosterone" - there's no space for "if we stop privileging one gender over the other, then maybe everyone can make genuinely free choices".
posted by Frowner at 8:46 AM on August 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


"(And the second or third time I heard him correct a grownup, cheerfully, with, "I'm not a girl! I'm a boy! In a dress!"

"Perhaps it would eliminate some of the confusion if he accessorized with just the right superhero cape or space helmet
"

When I was little I wore lots of Very Brady pants. I also had a pixie cut. The pixie cut was very fashionable...if you were Mia Farrow. My mom used to put one of those little plastic barrettes in my hair, not because I had any hair that needed to be held back, or in place, but because it was probably easier than having me carry a sign that said GIRL.

I really wish I'd just thought of saying, "I'm not a boy! I'm a girl! With short hair!"
posted by Room 641-A at 8:48 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I don't have a problem with boys in dresses, but what's up with 3year olds dictating what they wear? Until I had my first job/own money, I was pretty much left to what my parents bought for me (or gifts). You think I choose to wear those brown socks with green and yellow stripes to kindergarten? :P

> Yeah this was culture shock to me when I worked in childcare. You're telling me we are going to be late because she hasn't yet decided what she's wearing? When I was four or five those sorts of choices were simply not in my domain. I didn't become at all concerned with self-presentation until about third or fourth grade, when fitting in suddenly became a little more important, and I am rather glad to have had those few years blissfully free of that stress.

In my experience, some clothing is just bought for the kid without question, but it's typical to let a small child participate in choosing what to wear in at least a very limited way when they express a preference, which was at around age 5. "We're getting new pants, do you want them in blue or green?" "Would you rather wear the red-checked dress or the stripey dress to church today?" Special occasions might permit either a little more control or might be more dictated -- I got to pick "whatever I wanted" for my first-day-of-school outfit and Easter dress, etc., but they had to be within the realm of what my mother considered appropriate. For school picture day and Christmas and other occasions, my outfit was not up to me until later.

Maybe girls start earlier than boys with this? (It occurs to me that I do know grown men who still let their mothers keep them stocked with basic socks and underwear.)
posted by desuetude at 9:07 AM on August 8, 2012


Nothing like wearing a lungi / longyi in the tropical heat. Nuff said.
posted by the cydonian at 9:10 AM on August 8, 2012


I was just about the mention the longyi.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:19 AM on August 8, 2012


"to mention"!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:19 AM on August 8, 2012


One of these days, there won't really be such a thing as boy clothes and girl clothes

Hmmm, maybe. Is there a single culture in the world--past or present--where that is true, though? Do we have any real reason to suspect it will be true in the future? I think the most we can hope for is a world where there is little overt or hostile pressure put on people to conform to gender norms in terms of clothing and other manifestations of gender identity (and, indeed, we have come an incredibly long way down that road--transvestism has been a serious legal breach for much of our history). But I can't really foresee a future where clothing is entirely free of gender markers.

See, this risks slipping over into "but trans women are just reinscribing teh patriarchy" reasoning - where when someone asserts that they want to do a particular thing, it is read as meaning "this thing is based on some kind of Deep Truth About Gender, not just on my preference".

There's one young boy I know (the son of friends) who has always--since as long as he was able to express any kind of preference--explicitly and earnestly wished that he were a girl. He has always preferred, where possible, to wear girls clothing, he always wanted to be a princess at Halloween, he has never had the slightest interest in playing with other boys and always wanted to play with the girls as "one of the girls" (a situation that is fraught with hideous heartache, of course, because the girls at his school would extend and withdraw the favor of being allowed to participate on those terms with often brutal capriciousness; it's never a good thing as a child to give other children complete power over your happiness). Now that this kid is in middle school he has learned to, shall we say, "pass" as cisgender for a quiet life.

I don't see how it's possible to read his deep investment in appearing "girl-like" as something that is not "based on some kind of Deep Truth About Gender." At least, based in some kind of Deep Truth about his perception of his own gender. The very last thing he is saying when he dresses up as a Princess is "oh, I don't care at all about the cultural associations between this outfit and gender-normativity: I'm just wearing whatever I happen to be in the mood to wear." He's wearing "girly" clothes because they make him feel "girly" and because that is the way he wants to feel. If he weren't deeply invested in prevailing gender norms he could just wear a "unisex" outfit (jeans and a t-shirt, say) and happily identify himself "privately" as being "female." But that, clearly, is not sufficient. He needs markers that strongly and explicitly code as "female." Somehow I don't think that a future where there were no explicit markers of gender in apparel of any kind would count as a utopian one for him.
posted by yoink at 9:30 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


You should consider for some that maybe the dress expresses "pretty" instead of "girly".
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2012


It's got to be tough on the kids, but I am allowed to hope that eventually a dude wearing a skirt is going to be no more of a big deal than a dude having long hair -- something that we laugh about the idea of it once being forbidden.

Dude, those highlander guys in kilts with long hair were HOT. Even Mel Gibson was able to get his sexy on wearing a skirt.
posted by Leezie at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2012


You should consider for some that maybe the dress expresses "pretty" instead of "girly".

Yeah, for "some." But not for the specific, actual child I'm talking about. There are lots of "pretty" masculine clothes (if you go for historical dress, for example). That's not what he wants to wear. He doesn't want to wear a kilt, for example--not because he dislikes tartan, but precisely because it doesn't signal "girl."

This kid is extremely bright and very articulate, by the way. He is the one who says (or, to be precise, used to say--as I say he's keeping all this much more bottled up now) that he desperately wishes he could have been born a girl--not that he thinks it's mean that boys don't get to wear pretty clothes.
posted by yoink at 9:57 AM on August 8, 2012


I grew up with William Wants a Doll yet I don't see too many grown men in dresses and/or high heels these days.

I think it's slightly better than it was 40 years ago, but I'm afraid it's going to be a long time before cross-dressing is acceptable or we start seeing unisex skirts and dresses. When was the last time you saw a non-drag queen, non-costumed male in high heels? Never.

A boy who insists on wearing a skirt seems to be asserting the importance of gender norms, not eroding them.

Only if skirts are intrinsically feminine. This is not as obvious as you seem to believe.


Oh, c'mon. I am a man who wears skirts and dresses and to 99.99% these items are intrinsically feminine. Kilts are not the same thing.

Not too long ago it was totally normal for boys to wear dresses.

And pink. And long hosiery. And high heels. That's why it's all so nonsensical and frustrating to those of us who are fluid with these things.

Mel Gibson was able to get his sexy on wearing a skirt.

Also, c'mon. It's not that hard to believe that some women or men might have a sexual preference for men in skirts. (At least that's what I say when I'm deluding myself, lol.)

He has figured out the secret- a dress is basically a shirt you can wear with no pants.

Amen, sister or brother.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:09 AM on August 8, 2012


This kid is the motherfucking bomb

CO FUCKING SIGNED, I am reminded of a long-ago literary favorite of mine.
posted by clavicle at 10:23 AM on August 8, 2012


I've just had a thought: when I took child development classes as part of an abortive attempt at teacher-training, we were told pretty clearly that around age 3 kids "naturally" developed a lot of anxiety about which gender they were and "naturally" divided things into 'boy' things and 'girl' things, plus worked hard to avoid things of the opposite gender. This was taken (at the time, about 1998) to signal that gender was so deeply ingrained, by whatever mechanism, that it was for all intents and purposes "natural". Since I myself had a vivid memory of doing that very thing when I was around 3 and yet had grown up into a butch queer, I assumed that this was correct if depressing.


In my experience with 3 and 4 year olds, I've seen this behavior less as ingrained gender identities and more as part of the fact that little kids are obsessed with categories. They have so little nuance about complex phenomena, and they're trying to piece a huge universe together with these hard-and-fast categories like Boy Vs. Girl. Once a 3 year old realizes she's a girl, then hot damn, she's a GIRL, and she will not be seen playing with boy toys because that's what Boys do. It doesn't matter that she uses her doll to boss around her stuffed cat using an authoritative tone of voice, or that she generally utilizes the elastic of her pink sparkly pixie wings to violently catapult toys across the room, because in her mind, it's all in context of Being a Girl.

Just as, I think, or I hope, that most parents would be cool with their boy wearing a dress, it's also important to let kids experiment with their gender identities without making too many on the nose comments about how a girl playing with a doll = Being a Girl, or a boy playing with trucks = Being a Boy.

The Girl vs. Boy just seems like the first step in their efforts to understand gender/sex as we do. I have told multiple little boys that no, they will not (likely*) grow up to be a woman who can have a baby in her tummy. The things that we take as obvious about gender and sex are just beginning to color their worlds.

I know, I mean, maybe he'll grow up and become a woman and maybe at that point science will have advanced enough to allow a trans woman to conceive life, but another thing I've learned about 3 and 4 year olds who ask 1093482309823048 questions a day is that sometimes a simple answer is easier than technically politically correct one.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:34 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now the American Psychiatric Association is reviewing the diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder in Children” for the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Critics, though, condemn the association’s choice of Dr. Kenneth Zucker to lead the inquiry.

Oh my Christ, this is the most buried lede EVER. All those paragraphs about the parents' fear and anxiety, and when it's time to revise the relevant DSM section, they pick the guy who wants to treat the kids like their behavior is the problem. APA, this is a complete dick move.
posted by clavicle at 10:38 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't see how it's possible to read his deep investment in appearing "girl-like" as something that is not "based on some kind of Deep Truth About Gender." At least, based in some kind of Deep Truth about his perception of his own gender. The very last thing he is saying when he dresses up as a Princess is "oh, I don't care at all about the cultural associations between this outfit and gender-normativity: I'm just wearing whatever I happen to be in the mood to wear." He's wearing "girly" clothes because they make him feel "girly" and because that is the way he wants to feel. If he weren't deeply invested in prevailing gender norms he could just wear a "unisex" outfit (jeans and a t-shirt, say) and happily identify himself "privately" as being "female." But that, clearly, is not sufficient. He needs markers that strongly and explicitly code as "female." Somehow I don't think that a future where there were no explicit markers of gender in apparel of any kind would count as a utopian one for him.

See, this whole thread has a tremendous confusion between feminine dress and female gender identity. You can dress in girlie clothes without identifying as a girl; you can identify as a girl without dressing in girlie clothes; you can identify as a girl AND dress in girlie clothes. There are, for example, butch trans women and femme trans men.

Because we live in a culture where pink/tiaras/dresses are very strongly culturally marked as signifiers of being-a-girl-and-not-a-boy, someone who feels strongly that they are a girl may want to wear those things to signal girlness. Someone else might want to wear them because they are pretty. A third person might want to wear them for both reasons. Another person might have something unrelated going on - a hatred for pants based on sensory issues, perhaps. My point was precisely that the reasons that any one person chooses to wear feminine clothes are not always obvious and that there is no Dawn-of-Time, Back-on-the Veldt level correlation between wearing sparkly tiaras and being female.

Vis-a-vis clothing, gender and imagined futures:

As China Mieville says somewhere about utopia/life-after-the-revolution, the whole point of it being utopia is that you can't imagine it - it represents a shift so dramatic as to be indescribable to us-in-the-now. (This belief, of course, is why the ending of Iron Council isn't very successful - but it's still a good point.) Could my immiserated Prussian ancestors of 1830 imagine my life today? Their imagined futures would be utterly different because they themselves were doing the imagining. Perhaps we can't "imagine" a future free of clothing that signals/enforces binary gender, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. Clothing isn't physics.
posted by Frowner at 10:47 AM on August 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


You can dress in girlie clothes without identifying as a girl

Of course you can. Most young boys do at some point when they're playing dress up. But the specific kid I'm talking about sees the dressing up in "girlie cloths" as being ALL ABOUT "identifying as a girl" (or expressing a desire to identify as a girl). And he seems, in that way, to be similar to the kids in this article. To suggest that all they're doing is expressing a gender-neutral preference for a certain style of clothing seems to me to be just being deliberately obtuse. The kids for whom this issue becomes a problem (something that parents worry about and that gets them beat up at school and so forth) are, for the most part, not simply "fashion forward" or interested in not having "chafing" on some area of their body or whatever--they're kids for whom signalling an outward identity that conforms with an inward identity is really, really psychologically important. And that means that they are deeply, deeply invested in their being strong gender-associations with particular codes of dress.
posted by yoink at 10:59 AM on August 8, 2012


Sure, some kids are "deeply, deeply invested in their being strong gender-associations with particular codes of dress." And some kids aren't. The specific kid you're talking about is in the first category; not every kid who cross-dresses for some period of time is. Acknowledging that doesn't have to mean denigrating the very real feelings and perceptions of the kids in the first category.
posted by rtha at 11:07 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


When my 3 year old complains that he doesn't like the hand-me-down dresses I've acquired for him, can I at least say..."They were good enough for your sister, they are good enough for you. Don't like it? Get a job." ? : )

See, this is just a huge misreading - it's as though people can't imagine unseating Mandatory Masculinity without replacing it with Mandatory Feminization. It's like those anti-feminist SF novels from the seventies that were all "In The Feminist Future Lesbian Matriarchs Will Keep All The Men Imprisoned As Office Drone Slaves While They Themselves Swan Around In Strangely Unattractive Black Leather Jumpsuits Injecting Testosterone" - there's no space for "if we stop privileging one gender over the other, then maybe everyone can make genuinely free choices".


I think you are misreading my comment (which was a follow-up to several people pointing out that finances wouldn't that big a deal in acquiring clothes for either gender). I wasn't saying (to my imaginary 3 year old) "You have shunned pants, now you will dress only in dresses". I was just saying that at some point (with leeway for color or design preferences) is going to have to deal with the clothes I get them. Not enforcing gender stereotypes is one thing, but I'm not trying to raise a fashionista less than a year after the kid was pooping in diapers.
posted by stifford at 11:09 AM on August 8, 2012


I've got 3 sarongs that I wear around the house. It's very very relaxing. I don't have the "balls" to wear them outside the house though.

I also had a deal with my old bandmate that if he died his hair purple, I'd get a hippie skirt and wear it on stage, but I broke my end of it, even though he died his hair. Oh well!
posted by symbioid at 11:37 AM on August 8, 2012


I have a friend who is 8 and is a transgendered boy. He used to like to wear all sorts of clothes, from dark shirts with roaring monsters and shorts with trucks on them to bright pink dresses accessorized with a feather boa just like dear old dad's. Sadly, when he started public school at 6 (which lasted all of 2 days), he picked up the rigid rule that if you are a boy, you must dress "like a boy", and immediately got rid of everything he'd had and enjoyed that had pink or purple or feathers or lace or ruffles. It's so sad to me that this kid, who is vibrant and creative and colorful, felt compelled to quash his breadth of expression in order to secure external validation of his gender identity, beyond the circle of his supportive family and friends.
posted by notashroom at 11:54 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


not every kid who cross-dresses for some period of time is.

Has anyone suggested otherwise?
posted by yoink at 12:00 PM on August 8, 2012


You seemed to take the comment that boys can dress in girlie clothes without identifying as a girl as some sort of challenge or denial of the kid you know, who very much invests girlyness in the girlie clothes he wears, and I don't think that's what the comment was driving at - I read Frowner's comment as saying that it isn't true for all kids, and you seemed to be reading it as "not true for all kids, and therefore not true for the one you know."
posted by rtha at 12:19 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, I dunno; I figure if society said "anything goes" with clothes, kids would just latch onto other things that help them feel like a defined, categorized member of society. Not necessarily that they belong within definitions and categorizations that other people approve of, mind you; we're just figuring out our place in the society we occupy, and if that isn't expressed clearly through clothes, then it's just going to be expressed in some other way. Children teasing other children for their choice of characterization -- when it conflicts with their own -- is just a side-effect of that, much as some adults can be hostile towards non-drinkers when they drink, because it makes them feel like they are being judged. Some children carry that forward into adulthood, and then they get anxious when their own kids do the same thing.

For what it's worth, I just make my kids pick out their own clothes the night before (dodging the delays inherent with young-kid-clothes-choosing), and when my son expressed a desire to wear dresses to school, I simply said "well, those are your sister's, so you have to ask her for permission, because we haven't bought you any dresses yet." He didn't want to ask for permission, because he knew she'd say no, and he let it go. Meanwhile, my tomboy daughter turned into a princess-identifier overnight, and as much as I appreciated her ability to climb trees, I also appreciate her surprisingly adroit fashion sense, and she's finally (at 6) merged both into girlie-girl outfits that are tree-climbing-compatible. They'll find their place in the world, and if you don't chill out and allow them to do so, you'll end up accidentally (or purposefully) forcing them into a place that they're not comfortable with. What parent wants that, unless they consider their own children to be an extension of themselves?

Oh, and my son used to love getting his nails painted, until some other boys teased him about it. He admitted he didn't do it any more because he didn't want to be teased; I told him it was up to him to decide whether he cared more about doing what makes him happy, or doing what was necessary to get approval from those particular friends. He chose the latter, and I was momentarily disappointed, but then I remembered that being disappointed because your child follows trends is as bad as being disappointed because your child bucks them, and so I let it go.

Meanwhile, I cannot deny that I often wore my older sisters' discarded shirts in high school, because they fit better and I felt they were a lot more attractive. Nobody ever cared. The 80s was a lovely time to not care about gender roles much.
posted by davejay at 12:29 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even transgender people preserve the traditional binary gender division: born in one and belonging in the other.

"Even some transgender people" perhaps. Doesn't really make as good a blanket statement, I suppose.


yoink: I don't see how it's possible to read his deep investment in appearing "girl-like" as something that is not "based on some kind of Deep Truth About Gender."

Well, so the kid is wearing things that are socially coded as girly, in order to feel and express being girly. If this is a deeper statement on anything, it's not on the intrinsic Truth About Gender, so much as Society's Take On Gender. If you feel like a girl despite others considering you to be a boy, and want to express that, you use language they can understand. Dresses are considered girly? Great, wearing a dress will communicate that I want to be seen as a girl. It's no more the Deep Truth About Gender than a boy metalhead growing their hair represents Deep Truth About Hairstyles.
posted by Dysk at 12:48 PM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


If this is a deeper statement on anything, it's not on the intrinsic Truth About Gender, so much as Society's Take On Gender.

How much deeper can any statement on gender be than "society's take on gender"? Gender is largely a social construct. My point is that while there is a tendency to think that transvestism is necessarily a radical critique or weakening of the prevailing constructs (as evidenced by many of the comments in this thread) in fact for many of those most invested (excuse the pun) in the issue the opposite is in fact true. The persistence of the prevailing social norms is in fact essential to what makes the transvestism meaningful for them. That seems about as "deep" as any "truth" you're going to get out of clothes.
posted by yoink at 1:13 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I went to Thailand years ago, my girlfriend at the time bought me a pair of fisherman pants that were insanely comfortable. But apparently — despite what I've read more broadly — those were "women's" fisherman pants, and so I got the point and laugh from Thais on the street.

I'm not sure what differentiates the men's from the women's fisherman pants, but I'd dearly love to find some men's ones here.
posted by klangklangston at 1:17 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


"'Even some transgender people' perhaps. Doesn't really make as good a blanket statement, I suppose."

Yeah, that kind of annoyed me. The article seemed to have a vested interest in extending turf wars between various gender non-conforming groups; seems like the only mentions of transgender people were negative.
posted by jiawen at 1:34 PM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've got 3 sarongs that I wear around the house. It's very very relaxing. I don't have the "balls" to wear them outside the house though.

I haven't been in a long time, but I believe that's what Burning Man is for these days.

also...

"The very few men I met were only brave enough to put on a skirt for special occasions; they were bitter. They were frightened to dress in the ways that they wanted, to explore the vast varieties of fashion available to women, but not to men. They were held back by the fear of the reactions of others. They were still figuring out their sexuality, and putting on a dress told others that they were only on the market to date other men.

Women are only interested in men that wear the pants, after all.

So they would only explore themselves on special occasions. Rocky Horror was a safe environment to dabble on the trans side of things without being labeled and rejected by the community around them. It is dangerous for men to don dresses. Wearing a skirt outside of those protected, accepting communities was to actively risk their lives for the sake of a piece of fabric.

I gave up on finding men comfortable with their sexuality and brave enough to explore clothing options while remaining untouched by terror. Violence has made them hide from me. I don’t know how to find them. They are too afraid of being rejected, or worse: being murdered by a mob of men too broken to work through the chaotic anger that fuels idiotic behavior."


Siobhan Shier, "Men in Dresses"
posted by mrgrimm at 2:41 PM on August 8, 2012


Siobhan Shier aside, how many women - including the supportive and the mothers in this thread - would date a heterosexual man who wears clothing traditionally associated with women?

Odd slightly tipsy conversion with a bunch of grad students and our supervisors/principle-investigators while away at a conference; the question was posed to the females in the conversation, "Would you ever date a man who (later modified to had ever, even once,) had sexual relations with another man?"

I was surprised that it was unanimously "no," with the exception of one or two wafflers/wouldn't answer. I suspect that the response to the same question but replaced with "wears women's clothing" would be very similar.
posted by porpoise at 6:51 PM on August 8, 2012


I'm almost positive that I've never dated a man that hadn't.
posted by 6ducksaweek at 7:24 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed this article. It might not be perfect, but hopefully it will still raise awareness in the general populace of gender atypicality.

For what it's worth, most transgendered persons I've met have been pretty big on the whole gender binary thing, though. For example, it's pretty common for FTM to really hate butch lesbians (possibly because they are so often mistaken for one?). Most trans people seem really uncomfortable with my agender identity, and if I ever try to talk about my own dysphoria, I just get "oh well that's just because you're gay." Yeah, just like how you the FTM are really "just a tomboy." The hypocrisy is amazing.
posted by Estraven at 7:35 PM on August 8, 2012


I'm a woman who dated a man at one point who wore skirts (sometimes my skirts, though rarely since we weren't really of a size to share clothing) and sometimes had long hair. We got the occasional weird comment on the bus about lesbian PDA. Which bugged me a lot more for the stupid homophobia of caring about girls kissing at all than for the mistake of thinking my boyfriend was a woman.

It was no big deal in my life, I'd have no problem if my current male partner suddenly wanted to start wearing women's clothing. We've been together so long it would be a pretty startling new development, but not shocking or a problem for me.

Most of the men I have loved dearly in my life, as friends or as lovers, have in some way, at some time, played with gender. Maybe that says more about me than them, I don't know.
posted by Stacey at 9:02 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, most transgendered persons I've met have been pretty big on the whole gender binary thing, though.

I always kind of think of this explanation of evolution using letters gradually changing in color. You can't tell where exactly you go from red to blue, but you do know red and blue exist. It's like that for a lot of folks with gender I think, if you are on the wrong side of that arbitrary point between the two you want to make it very clear where you stand.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:21 PM on August 8, 2012


and around the same time, when my sister dressed me in a plain cotton dress with a strawberry print and introduced me as "Josephine," that was the limit.

sonascope, when I read that, my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

When I was around twelve years old, I dressed up my younger brother in a plain cotton dress with a green apple print and introduced him as "Josephine" to all of my friends.

I guess history does repeat itself.
posted by adso at 10:22 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Siobhan Shier aside, how many women - including the supportive and the mothers in this thread - would date a heterosexual man who wears clothing traditionally associated with women? Odd slightly tipsy conversion with a bunch of grad students and our supervisors/principle-investigators while away at a conference; the question was posed to the females in the conversation, "Would you ever date a man who (later modified to had ever, even once,) had sexual relations with another man?" I was surprised that it was unanimously "no," with the exception of one or two wafflers/wouldn't answer. I suspect that the response to the same question but replaced with "wears women's clothing" would be very similar.

Erm, lots?

Okay, first of all, I don't think that comparing squeamishness about sexual orientation translates to squeamishness about "feminine" articles of clothing at all. There's a whole lot more going on regarding the mythical danger of men who have had male sex partners w/r/t emotional availability and honesty, distrust/disbelief in bisexuality, AIDS-era public health fears, homophobia...

As for acceptance of men who dress outside of gender norms, well...hippyish guys in sarongs, goth frippery and fishnet, spillover into everyday-wear for the costume-inclined (cosplay, RenFaire, rock and roll, etc)...what subcultures am I missing? And then of course there's the acceptability of Utilikilts*, etc.

*Sure, kilts are totally different, because we give them some identifiable markers to code it as "it's okay! Masculine!." It's a pleated skirt that we've accepted as masculine. I don't know any ardent kilt-wearers (and I know a LOT) who dispute this or don't deal with ooooh! skiiiirt! commentary.
posted by desuetude at 10:41 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink: How much deeper can any statement on gender be than "society's take on gender"? Gender is largely a social construct. My point is that while there is a tendency to think that transvestism is necessarily a radical critique or weakening of the prevailing constructs (as evidenced by many of the comments in this thread) in fact for many of those most invested (excuse the pun) in the issue the opposite is in fact true. The persistence of the prevailing social norms is in fact essential to what makes the transvestism meaningful for them. That seems about as "deep" as any "truth" you're going to get out of clothes.

So if you accept all that, in what way are transvestites making a statement on the Deep Truth About Gender and not just taking advantage of a particular constellation of societal beliefs? Sure, you can argue that they're reifying these beliefs, but how are they saying that they're in some way more Deeply True? The fact that their preference is tied up in societal attitudes rather than intrinsic to the clothes doesn't change the fact that we're still just talking about their preferences...
posted by Dysk at 10:51 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


It should be noted that transvestite is a word with a lot of negative baggage, you should be more clear what you are talking about there.

At the most clinical it just means crossdressing, but there are so many different motivations to do that you can't really talk about it under one word like that.

It can be about being transgender, or just enjoying breaking taboos, or a sexual fetish, or something done for humor, or comfort, or as a disguise, a costume, or just for fun, or curiosity, or a political statement, or an artistic statement, or a lot of other reasons.

The act itself has no one meaning.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:05 PM on August 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have to admit that I would absolutely love love love to be able to wear skirts and dresses - they're horribly comfortable when it's hot out - but, as an FTM, I dare not, because to be honest I'd rather reduce the number of reasons for people to question my gender identity or to fail to recognize it because of how I appear. Someday, if I manage to grow a beard, I can wear a skirt or a dress because the facial hair signal will be louder than the clothing signal, but until then I play along with the societally-enforced code of Binary Behavior because after a lifetime of being called the wrong pronouns I'm willing to cave under and do whatever makes it easier for other people to figure out the right pronouns and not bother me about it
posted by titus n. owl at 3:20 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


For example, it's pretty common for FTM to really hate butch lesbians (possibly because they are so often mistaken for one?).

This isn't true for any of the FTMs I know. Our old housemate Ari used to laugh at how easily I would get called "sir," while he often didn't, but he didn't hate me.

/butch dyke with a different definition of "pretty common"
posted by rtha at 6:06 AM on August 9, 2012


For example, it's pretty common for FTM to really hate butch lesbians (possibly because they are so often mistaken for one?).

I've seen a lot of hostility between butch lesbians and FTMs, too, though I've never ascribed that as the cause. I think, in the community where I experienced this (as a bystander, a queer femme who dates butches and transmen), there were a few common themes that came up: 1) butches not understanding why being a masculine female isn't enough to satisfy the need of FTMs to inhabit masculinity, 2) FTMs not understanding why especially masculine butches (and particularly male-identified butches) don't identify as transgender, 3) butches feeling threatened/abandoned by the fact that an increasing number of masculine, female-bodied persons are identifying as transgender or genderqueer, 4) second-wave feminists feeling like FTMs are abandoning womanhood and often queer community, trying to access privilege, and reifying patriarchy, and 5) both competing for mates, as there is often a significant overlap between women who are attracted to masculine women and women who are attracted to FTMs and it seems more common for both groups to be attracted to feminine or andro cisgendered women (though there are, of course, lots of exceptions to that).
posted by notashroom at 7:15 AM on August 9, 2012


Segundus: A boy who insists on wearing a skirt seems to be asserting the importance of gender norms, not eroding them.

No stouter defender of private property than a burglar.
A Mefite who insists on assigning motives to others seems to be reinforcing stereotypes, not ignoring them.

The skirt-wearing individual? Dunno, I'd have to ask him or her. People are funny like that: all different, with individual motivations.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:42 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It can be about being transgender, or just enjoying breaking taboos, or a sexual fetish, or something done for humor, or comfort, or as a disguise, a costume, or just for fun, or curiosity, or a political statement, or an artistic statement, or a lot of other reasons.

The act itself has no one meaning.


Well said. For me, it's #1, #2, #3, #5, #7, and #9. When I was younger, definitely #10.

But you're missing the biggest reason: the clothes! I simply find women's clothes much, much more aesthetically appealing than men's clothes.

I mean, c'mon you guys. THIS vs. this. THIS vs. this.

No fucking contest.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:55 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


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