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Dressing queer in the corporate world
March 24, 2014 1:34 PM   Subscribe

"As fate would have it, my first week on the call-center floor fell on a weekend, which is a casual dress period. I made friends as soon as I hit the floor because c’mon, who doesn’t love me?! The very next day I came in and did all the dapper bois proud. Black slacks, white dress shirt with a pink/black/white silk tie. Hair freshly twisted up with my shades on. And yes I turned many heads. I walked in and saw all the women in the office look over to watch me walk down the aisle. I got to my group and nobody said a word. And then finally one of the women supervisors said “Ooh I like your tie.” And so my journey as the first boi in began."
posted by MartinWisse (103 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
That article was a bit of a mess to read through. Any place of employment with a gendered dress code is participating in illegal discrimination. End of story.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:42 PM on March 24 [11 favorites]


Thanks, MartinWisse. I liked this:

"So on that day when I walked into the workplace ‘all business’ I exuded a kind of confidence that was unusual for those observing me. I was told that I walked in everyday like I owned the place and that people were thrown by me because not only did I dress like the guys but I OUT-dressed the guys. And all I was doing was being me."

That's style.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:44 PM on March 24 [14 favorites]


I hate clothes. First of all, they come in way too many different styles and colors. And then people start assigning meaning to them, so people draw conclusions about other people based on what they see them wearing, and people have to make decisions about what to wear based on the inferences that other people will draw... it's awful and unnecessary. If the dress code at Gender Trouble Inc. were a unisex gray poncho, the author wouldn't be having these problems.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:46 PM on March 24 [22 favorites]


For many people the only time they ‘see’ a butch women, especially a black butch women, she is usually working-class, wearing jeans with a white t-shirt and a backwards-facing cap.

huh?
posted by Bwithh at 1:48 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


Good for her.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:52 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


Any place of employment with a gendered dress code is participating in illegal discrimination.

Really? Because that's basically every where I've worked - including plenty of large national corporations. Do you have any cites for this? (Not saying it's not true, just that my experience is so counter to it that I'd like to have something solid if I start dressing ME at work.)
posted by stoneweaver at 1:53 PM on March 24 [9 favorites]


Good for her. I'm glad she did that and that it's working relatively well.

To use the author's terminology, though, I do not think a "feminine of center" man would get the same reaction wearing even a Hilary pant suit, let alone a skirt and pumps.

(Personally I am glad I get to play the male version of the dress up games. I get pockets.)
posted by PMdixon at 1:53 PM on March 24 [9 favorites]


Could we not turn this into a referendum on the reality of this woman's experience or a diatribe about how awful clothes are? For preference, I would rather not talk about how the company's dress code is illegal - butch women (or people like me who basically get read as butch women) have to negotiate "women's" dress all the time, regardless of whether it's an "illegal" matter.


For many people the only time they ‘see’ a butch women, especially a black butch women, she is usually working-class, wearing jeans with a white t-shirt and a backwards-facing cap.

"Huh" to you, "yeah, precisely" to me.

My invisibility/hypervisibility isn't hers, because I'm white. But I am socially invisible a lot of the time, or dramatically misread, or assumed to have a problem with authority just because I wear mannish clothes and have short hair. (And I don't even wear a tie - I wouldn't mind, but I'd get fired.)
posted by Frowner at 1:54 PM on March 24 [45 favorites]


I'm sure it's not what you meant, but for a lot of us these aren't "dress up games." Calling it a game is so belittling.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:54 PM on March 24 [8 favorites]


Because that's basically every where I've worked - including plenty of large national corporations. Do you have any cites for this? (Not saying it's not true, just that my experience is so counter to it that I'd like to have something solid if I start dressing ME at work.)

The author already cites Price-Waterhouse in the article.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:55 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Also, this woman is some brave. I don't know what I'd do if I were hired into an organization with bifurcated dress code like that, but I doubt I'd be as hard core as she is.
posted by Frowner at 1:58 PM on March 24 [15 favorites]


The very next sentence "Although Hopkins won her case, the idea that there should remain separate standards for dress for men and women was unchallenged." is what made me think that it wasn't settled. But I do agree with Frowner that there's way more interesting things to talk about than whether this is illegal or not - because yeah. People still get fired over it.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:58 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


It's possible I just didn't understand the OP. Like I said before, the writing was hard to follow.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:00 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


The image that came in my mind when I read the paragraph I cited by the way was of course this.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:01 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


Just for information's sake: ways that I, a white person who is frequently read as a butch woman, am invisible/hypervisible:

People sometimes just plain old look away. I am sometimes in situations where people are embarrassed by me or for me.

Men. Jesus god. If it's not the straight ones who get all aggro and hostile because I am "trying to be a man" (and I'm talking about suit-wearing, well-off guys more often than not), it's the straight ones who want me to participate in bro-dom. Or very occasionally the gay ones who think that non-feminine women are gross and indecent and that we should all be mini-divas in heels and make-up.

And then there are the women who get uncomfortable in the elevator, until I want to say "look, would you expect every man you meet to harass you in the elevator? Why then are you expecting this of me?" And "believe me, I am far more afraid of you than you are of me".

And the funny thing is, I actually think about my appearance much, much less than I used to. On any given day, I wear some variant on chinos and a button-front, with maybe a cardigan or a scarf, and bam, my clothing choices are made for the day. A lot of the time I forget how weird I look to a significant percentage of the population, and then I'm jerked back to reality by how they treat me.

And then there's this: for a while, I had a really nice fade, and I used always to wear my hat in the corner store, because I was afraid that the corner store dude, who seems quite conventional, would start treating me badly if he saw my hair. Try that on for size.

This woman in the article is pretty awesome. I ought to remember more that if you're different you ought to work your difference, not get flinchy, if only because getting flinchy doesn't help.
posted by Frowner at 2:08 PM on March 24 [43 favorites]


Could we not turn this into a referendum on the reality of this woman's experience or a diatribe about how awful clothes are?

Of course there's no excuse for denying the reality of the writer's experience, but I'm curious about why the second topic should be verboten.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:08 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


Because it's boring and over done?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:09 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


I'm sure it's not what you meant, but for a lot of us these aren't "dress up games." Calling it a game is so belittling.

If that's a term that bothers folks I won't use it.

That said: With the understanding that I mean "game" in the theoretical sense of a thing one or more people do that has assigned roles and role-specific rules, and not as in "fun and games," [why] is that more bothersome than the "performance" metaphor, which I think is only somewhat more broadly used in reference to "doing gender"?
posted by PMdixon at 2:10 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


> I'm curious about why the second topic should be verboten

Because this is a thread for talking about dressing queer in the corporate world? If we talk about clothes in general we talk about people in general and we end up talking about straight men.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:11 PM on March 24 [30 favorites]


but I'm curious about why the second topic should be verboten

Because it moves the discussion from how a particular group of queer people become visible through clothing choices to a general "if only we didn't have gendered clothes" conversation. In my experience, people who yearn for completely unmarked clothing are often people who are coming to this from a position of social comfort - not always a position of privilege, but never a situation where you need or want to signal something through clothes, and never a situation where you're in a community with a complicated history about fashion and access to clothes.

Also, I think "if only we all wore mao suits" is really dull. "If only we all ate seven-grain bread and water, think of the time we'd save on food preparation" and "if only we all went to bed at nine and rose with the sun, think how hygienic our sleep schedules would be" seem like the equivalent.

I respect that there are lesbian feminists who like the plain boiler suit approach, and I respect that there are women who genuinely have no interest in appearance, but trying to universalize this instead of just choosing the boiler suit for yourself writes out all kinds of queer and POC histories.
posted by Frowner at 2:14 PM on March 24 [30 favorites]


Also, I absolutely meant it when I said good for her. My clothing preferences mostly start and end at "not wearing any," so I mostly don't chafe at corp dress reqs any more than the basic requirement to wear pants.

That said, even so, even with me being certainly in the bottom decile if not percentile of "caring about clothes," even with me being a white male who's fucking smart, well-spoken, pretty capable, good support network, tech-sector-so-ostensibly-progressive-in-at-least-the-won't-make-gauche-comments-in-public-sense-coworkers, all that shit...

Even so there's still times when I pull out a shirt and I put it back for being "too gay." So I can't even imagine how chickenshit I am relative to being able to do what she did.
posted by PMdixon at 2:17 PM on March 24


And then people start assigning meaning to them

That's why I stick w/ black, navy blue, and grey for the work outfits. At most, the only meaning you can squeeze out is "boring." Which is great.
posted by jpe at 2:18 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


But I don’t want to suggest that challenging gender discrimination is all about the individual. We are always struggling with the weight of bigger social forces and sometimes it makes little difference how confident or ‘likeable’ we may be as individuals.

I want to high-five the author so hard for this.

As a butch dyke, figuring out the dress code (the unwritten, informal code, that is) of any new office-type job is nerve-wracking. Yeah, fine, everyone gets nerves like that for a new job, but if you are not queer/non-gender-conforming, it's different. Okay? It's different.

I used to "see" and see black butch dykes when I lived in DC - used to see them everywhere, even when they were in disguise. We would give each other the Nod. You can't imagine the relief of getting that Nod and knowing you're not invisible except to those you need to be invisible to.
posted by rtha at 2:18 PM on March 24 [48 favorites]


That's why I stick w/ black, navy blue, and grey for the work outfits. At most, the only meaning you can squeeze out is "boring." Which is great.

IIRC, the last time I got rode about work clothes by my folks, the proximal cause was the purchase of a charcoal gray suit with a fairly neutral female-modernish-suit cut (I don't know exactly what, I'm not very much of a dapper dude generally). I'd purchased it with a pink shirt, but noted that it'd go nicely with a white or a blue one also. This prompted a need to tell me at length that I needed to be careful about what I wore, particularly since I wear my hair short (include by reference that I should not do this anyway), lest I come off as too 'harsh' and 'intimidating'.

There's more that can be read out of grey than "boring". Evidently.
posted by sparktinker at 2:34 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


This was really great and I appreciate you posting it. I'm a woman who definitely identifies as female but, um, it's not that simple, I guess? It's kind of hard to define (true of many people) but I think the best way to phrase it is that although I wear make-up and lots of dresses and skirts and even heels to work, it doesn't feel entirely right some days. It's fine sometimes but I wish I had more choices; if I were given the spectrum of "business attire" to wear I'd probably go with like pants, vest, nice tie two days a week.

You have to choose your own balance between internal comfort (dressing the way that feels right to you) and external comfort (dressing in a way that will help or at least not harm you) and that really effing sucks. I go with "professional relatively feminine dress" and it's fine for me but it's really exciting to see someone brave enough to pick internal comfort over fitting it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:35 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


It kind of bugs me that the answer to "how to be yourself at work" is "be the most stylish motherfucker in the place". I mean, that's obviously awesome if you are a flamboyant dresser who takes a lot of care about your appearance.

But, you know, the straight bros? They just get to roll in dressed however, and they never have to worry about whether they're going to be accepted at a new workplace.

I totally worked at a "Gender Trouble Inc" workplace, a retail store. My solution to problems with gender nonconformity* and the dress code was to quit.

*Annoyingly enough I'M ACTUALLY PRETTY FEMME! I just wasn't femme enough for this insane place and their insane dress code. Which WTF seriously, when a vanilla bi lady has to quit because she can't perform femaleness well enough to avoid getting written up, the writing should really be on the wall.
posted by Sara C. at 2:41 PM on March 24 [17 favorites]


But, you know, the straight bros? They just get to roll in dressed however, and they never have to worry about whether they're going to be accepted at a new workplace

I'm a guaranteed loser in the oppression Olympics, but I have to point out that it's not so simple. (In fact, I'd say that a significant part of the reason a lot of men dress so poorly is from many years of needing to not "look gay," an error that had serious consequences when I was in school.)

Where I work has only the most minimal of dress codes, and absolutely nothing gendered in the formal policy language. Even corporate places could just require "formal" without requiring the gender conformity. All that does is make people's lives shittier.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:58 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


So our company (where most of us wear jeans) sent out these instructions for a photo shoot of Women in Engineering:
Wardrobe for Women: Business suits, long sleeves, sweaters, and simple blouses all photograph well. Business casual is okay. Please think about coordinating colors with our official [CORPORATE COLOR]. Avoid short sleeves, plunging or wide scooped necklines, prints, patterns, t-shirts, excessive or large costume jewelry and earrings. We strongly encourage you to wear make-up and, at minimum, a good foundation powder is highly recommended. We do not have a make-up artist/stylist, so we leave it up to you to arrive with fresh hair, clean and pressed wardrobe, and a smile!
If they're trying to encourage female engineers, I think that they're going about it more than a little wrong.
posted by octothorpe at 3:00 PM on March 24 [36 favorites]


it's not so simple.

Of course it is.

If you're a hetero cisgender man (and of expected physical proportions), you go to a store that sells clothing for men, and you look for the stuff that is on the proper formality level for your office. You grab your size, maybe try it on, and then hit the cash register.

Maybe, if you work in a very formal office that requires suits at all times, there could be some tailoring on the docket.

At home, you match a thing from column A, a thing from column B, and a thing from column C. Brush your teeth, shave, hit the office. Done.

I'm not trying to play "Oppression Olympics" by any means, but seriously, strait cisgender men really do have it easier, sartorially, in most workplaces.

When I was presenting a little more butch in my 20s, clothes shopping was fucking IMPOSSIBLE. I would regularly go into the women's sections of stores and find like maybe two garments that worked at all. Let alone anything that actually made me feel good and aligned with my internal vision of myself. I mostly shopped in the tween boys' department until I was like 28 and realized I couldn't really get away with it anymore. It makes me a little sad that my solution was just to start dressing like a chick mostly.

(Though, full disclosure, I work in an environment where I can wear whatever I want, and typically wear my own equivalent of what the dudes are wearing. In other words, I dress like a total schlub and nobody cares and it's way up there in terms of workplace perks.)
posted by Sara C. at 3:06 PM on March 24 [7 favorites]


But, you know, the straight bros? They just get to roll in dressed however,

The range of "acceptable" men's clothing--even casual clothing, let alone "professional" clothing--is amazingly narrow compared to the range of acceptable women's clothing. Watch men and women exiting pretty much any office building and that difference becomes starkly clear.

Now, that does mean that as long as a man is willing to stay within that incredibly narrow range of the "normal" his choices are largely ignored--for most other men the judgment is simply "normal/not normal" and as long as you pass that easily passed bar you're out of the judgment zone--whereas for women, of course, all choices are non-neutral, even if you're clearly within the 'acceptable office attire' range. On the other hand, for a man who has the slightest interest in stepping outside the "normal" range it is amazing how constantly and relentlessly you will be made aware that you are DOING IT WRONG.
posted by yoink at 3:07 PM on March 24 [25 favorites]


Maybe, if you work in a very formal office that requires suits at all times, there could be some tailoring on the docket.

At home, you match a thing from column A, a thing from column B, and a thing from column C. Brush your teeth, shave, hit the office. Done.

I'm not trying to play "Oppression Olympics" by any means, but seriously, strait cisgender men really do have it easier, sartorially, in most workplaces.

When I was presenting a little more butch in my 20s, clothes shopping was fucking IMPOSSIBLE.


It's a bit odd to compare the difficulties presented to men who want to be entirely gender conforming with those presented to women who do not want to be gender conforming.

The real comparison is men who want to dress in non gender-conforming ways with women who want to do the same. A man in a dress gets far more overt negative attention than a woman in a suit. A man in a dress is an obvious comedy punch line; a woman in a suit is Marlene Dietrich.
posted by yoink at 3:11 PM on March 24 [11 favorites]


It's a bit odd to compare the difficulties presented to men who want to be entirely gender conforming with those presented to women who do not want to be gender conforming.

Why's that? Isn't that basically TFA?

It's a lot easier to dress for work when you are heterosexual, gender conforming, and your body is shaped the way we expect people of your gender to be shaped.

Step out of that, even by a teensy hair, and it's maddening.

I don't entirely get why the subject has now shifted to how unfair it is that straight dudes don't get to wear prom dresses to the office.
posted by Sara C. at 3:15 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


I don't entirely get why the subject has now shifted to how unfair it is that straight dudes don't get to wear prom dresses to the office.

Yes, how could a discussion of gender-nonconforming clothing lead to the issue of men who want to wear female-coded clothing. It's a total mystery.
posted by yoink at 3:22 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


[Folks maybe talk about the article and to each other and don't just use this thread to Make a Stand about a thing you Have Feels on? Please?]
posted by jessamyn at 3:22 PM on March 24 [9 favorites]


If there are essays out there about gender nonconforming men having trouble with heavily gendered work dress codes, I would love to read that stuff. Recommendations?
posted by Sara C. at 3:31 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


I was bummed there weren't more photos, but then I clicked this related article for stylish clothing pics.
posted by vespabelle at 3:39 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


Yeah, there's a whole glorious dapper internet out there.
posted by Sara C. at 3:42 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


Yoink wrote: The range of "acceptable" men's clothing--even casual clothing, let alone "professional" clothing--is amazingly narrow compared to the range of acceptable women's clothing.

I read a comment here (a year or so ago?) about how men think this, but actually women's clothing is a minefield of faux pas, social errors, and indiscretions. I mean, the subject of the FPP is a woman's fear that she'll be taken to task for wearing the wrong things.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:45 PM on March 24 [20 favorites]


The author of this article is brave, articulate, thoughtful and one hell of a snazzy dresser. I feel like a better person for having read this.
posted by chatongriffes at 3:54 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


Yeah, men can pretty much get some nicely fitted shirts and pants and a suit and look reasonably OK for any formal and semi-formal event by mixing and matching.

Women need mostly separate apparel choices for every business and social event and we must navigate those based on age, rank, breast size, race, fatness and a million other axes as well and woe to us if we fail to follow the unspoken rules.

I'm lucky to live in a city where you can wear jeans to the opera, so I don't have to navigate this as much, but I could still see doing the butch thing at work giving somebody trouble here. I'm glad the author figured it out. She comes off as pretty badass for it.
posted by NoraReed at 3:55 PM on March 24 [9 favorites]


Yeah, the advantage that gender-conforming men have over, well, everyone else is that there are clothes available for sale right now that are guaranteed to be appropriate for their office, no matter how formal or informal an office it is. Y'all have a Correct Option. You may not like it, it may be boring, you may feel strangled, but it will be the Right Choice. Gender-conforming (and body-conforming) women usually have a series of choices, ranging from Almost Right to Not Right At All, with any given item falling at some indeterminate point on the scale -- like, is this top Almost Right at eye level, but if someone is a foot taller than me, does it suddenly become Not Right At All? Are these pants Not Right At All for me because they're a bit tight through the butt but Almost Right for the manager who unbeknownst to me wishes I'd stop dressing so frumpy? The body-non-conforming but still gender-conforming women -- the short, tall, fat, or just non-standardly shaped -- have options ranging from Maybe Right If I'm Careful to Dear God No. And the gender-non-conforming are just hosed.
posted by KathrynT at 3:57 PM on March 24 [44 favorites]


When my organization does things that require showing up in "business attire", I do not define that for my staff. They're all grownups. One woman who works for me often shows up in what's usually thought of as professional men's attire: business suit and a necktie. She looks very professional, and she is very professional.

I never ask her about her clothes or why she wears that stuff. It's none of my business, and I don't really care if it has something to do with her orientation, which I've also never asked her about. We mainly just talk about work, because that's what we're there for.

So I loved reading this article, because it gave me a glimpse of the mindset of another woman who wears what's traditionally thought of as men's clothes.
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:58 PM on March 24 [14 favorites]


Sometimes I think that the second reason I chose my profession is so I could wear a uniform each day and not worry about a work wardrobe. However, at my previous place of employment, there was an interest in taking the fewer than 10 females and changing our class A uniforms to a tab tie and a skirt with heels; something I vehemently opposed.

I struggle with "business casual" and "casual" clothing in general. I'm that woman that either wants to wear khaki shorts and a t shirt (cutoff sleeves if I can get away with it) and a ball cap, or I want to freakin' DRESS UP; heels and a dress and painted toenails and all that. I find myself in a lot of nice slacks and fitted wool sweaters. My body shape, which is broad-shouldered and kind of muscly at 128 pounds and around 5'4", sucks for clothes. Nothing hangs correctly and I have to spend a lot of money at the tailor's. Luckily, my Other also likes to wear khaki shorts and cutoff t shirts, and also likes to dress up (and enjoys when I dress up), so I certainly don't have to worry about his expectations.

Honestly, I'm a little envious of the freedom some folks have when it comes to clothing, and I suppose I've never really felt out of place with women in so-called men's clothing or men in so-called women's clothing and everything inside and outside of that. So long as the clothing is clean and isn't in poor taste (as in, please don't wear sex-club wear to the grocery store; there's a time and place, people), I've never understood why EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD HAS TO HAVE GENDER ASSIGNED TO IT. And why people make assumptions based on items such as clothes. If I had a nickel for every time that a person was ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that I was a butch lesbian because of my khakis and t shirt, I could have a nice shopping trip to Costco. Maybe I just value what I perceive as being comfortable? Maybe I'm just a grown-up tomboy? And what's wrong with that?

Anyway, I think it's awesome that the author seems to say "I'm going to do me, and that's all there is to it." I think folks like that are important role models for everyone.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 4:14 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


I dunno, I think it's true that men have it easy at the "minimal expectations" line but stepping outside that is fraught in all sorts of ways. Wysinger, however, by dressing in a non-conforming manner, has to address all the problems that men might have to address, plus she has to win those fraught negotiations every time. Because failure for her is more serious, since she's stuck being an exemplar instead of, you know, herself.

It reminds me a little of the Heian courtier in 10th C Japan -- male or female, they had to dress perfectly in layers of clothes with extremely tight rules about how colors and patterns and fabrics combined, all of which would change with the season. Failing at doing this meant serious loss in social prestige. And, of course, you had to mix your scents just right, and you had to say the right things, and you had to write poetry that was clever but rooted in very strict verse conventions, plus you had to use just the right paper and calligraphy. The strain must have been immense.

So, yeah, it's all a performance, but some performances are more serious than others.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:20 PM on March 24 [12 favorites]


Good for her in staying true to herself in the face of daily microagressions. I really enjoyed how she wrote about her experiences.
posted by saucysault at 4:21 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


I liked her story a lot. I'm now happy with the level of gender conformity in my life, but I went through a period in my college years when I would have been happy to dress masculine of center. If I'd known half of what I know now about clothes, I would have thrifted a lot and had a lot of tailoring done, and who knows what my clothes would be like now? Kudos to her for making a stand, and the best of a crap situation.
posted by immlass at 4:28 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


I appreciated this article. I'm a cis, hetero, white woman who enjoys presenting as a woman, so it doesn't affect me directly, save that I have been searching in vain for just the right menswear style vest for a while now.

But recently my company switched their dress code from business casual to casual. In the process, they asked for input from the employees (mostly about whether or not to do so - believe it or not there were a few employees who didn't want the dress code to change, even though they would be free to continue to wear dressier clothes.) I read the employee handbook for the first time in years and realized our dress code was written exactly as the author describes: Men can wear [these acceptable things] and women can wear [these acceptable things]. I made the suggestion that we not delineate dress code by gender, expecting some pushback or at least confusion. I have to say was really pleased when the final dress code was distributed and the men/women distinctions were gone.
posted by misskaz at 4:32 PM on March 24 [14 favorites]


Is "masculine of center" a phrase that everyone knew but me? I think I understand its meaning from the way she uses it, but can someone parse it for me? I'm not used to the word "masculine" being used that way, and I'm not sure what "center" means in this context.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:42 PM on March 24


"Now, that does mean that as long as a man is willing to stay within that incredibly narrow range of the "normal" his choices are largely ignored--for most other men the judgment is simply "normal/not normal" and as long as you pass that easily passed bar you're out of the judgment zone--whereas for women, of course, all choices are non-neutral, even if you're clearly within the 'acceptable office attire' range. On the other hand, for a man who has the slightest interest in stepping outside the "normal" range it is amazing how constantly and relentlessly you will be made aware that you are DOING IT WRONG."

My girlfriend's parents bought me a pink dress shirt for Christmas, which looks pretty good on me so I was wearing it to other holiday stuff, and I was kind of surprised at the amount of shit I was taking for putting it on, including the number of eye-rolley shit about how California had changed me. Like, it wasn't even just the dudebros, but also plenty of my liberal friends who shouldn't have given a fuck, but even toeing that line of gender non-conformity made a lot of people get their snarks up. It was weird.

One of the reasons why I really like working with a lot of gay dudes is that I do get real compliments when I pull off something well, and I don't have to do that weird double-check about oh no am I wearing a scarf that's gonna make people assholes? It's nice, it's something that's so normed that even the straight guys regularly give each other compliments.

It is something that has really made me think about gender presentation a lot more, weirdly. Instead of that vaguely paranoid NO HOMO shit of earlier jobs, the freedom to be a bit more fun with how I dress has really taken the focus off of conforming and onto how fucking ridiculous the rules are. I like being at a place where if one of my coworkers decides he's going to wear high heels, the shit he's gonna take is, "Dude, we're marching today. Do you have another pair of shoes so that you're not limping at the end of the day?"
posted by klangklangston at 4:46 PM on March 24 [13 favorites]


There's a definition here (scroll down; I know nothing about this conference). They attribute it to the Brown Boi Project, whose website is only half built and doesn't define it. I honestly don't know how widespread a term it is. I have like two or three degrees of separation from the Brown Boi Project, so the fact that I know people who use it doesn't say a whole lot.
posted by hoyland at 4:47 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


Is "masculine of center" a phrase that everyone knew but me?

I've been seeing it around for maybe a year? Specifically, my understanding is that it means "If you take the wide, wide expression of gender and femininity that is possible while possessing a female body and being OK with that, and define an arbitrary center point within that spectrum, I am on the masculine-presenting side of that center point." It says more about one's presentation than one's identity, afaik; some MoC women may identify as trans or genderqueer, but by no means all of them.
posted by KathrynT at 4:50 PM on March 24 [10 favorites]


I am a white heterosexual female who has a long history of being viewed as "very feminine" by other people. My parents were a bit older when I was born -- my father was old enough to be my grandfather -- and I did not own a pair of pants until I was seven. Before that, I only had skirts and dresses (with matching shorts, because I climbed everything and my mother did not want my panties on display). As an adult woman, I had an old fashioned marriage, a throw back to the 1950's, and did the full time mom and homemaker thing for about two decades.

Then I got divorced and got a corporate job. One of the most shocking things to me was that most of the clothes on the covers of magazines and on sale in the women's department were things I could not wear to work. We were supposed to not have cleavage on display. It was shocking to me how hard it was to find clothes that covered my cleavage and also fit other needs of mine. Much of what is created for women is expressly designed to display them as sex objects.

I think women who want real careers, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, have a long way to go in figuring out things like how to dress professionally. I think about this often but have never managed to figure out what I really want to say about it. I have done a little writing on the topic, but I really think this goes way deeper than "gay women have trouble dressing at work." I think all women have trouble dressing at work because the male dress code is The Norm and women are up against a choice to either "dress professionally" -- i.e. like a man, in some sense -- and "dress like a woman without being too sexy." And we currently don't really have a good model for that.

I really, really enjoyed this article. I don't think this is a "gay" issue at all. Not to belittle the additional stress that sexual orientation brings to the equation, but I honestly don't.
posted by Michele in California at 4:51 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


When I worked in a call-centre, a lot of people just showed up in pajamas and Corporate was OK with that, because of the crushing misery. They just sort of rounded up the pajama people when Corporate came for a visit, and had them do training over in conference annex C.

There were a lot of queer folk at that place, come to think of it - lax rules of dress expression might have had something to do with it.
posted by angerbot at 4:52 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


I'm not used to the word "masculine" being used that way, and I'm not sure what "center" means in this context.

Imagine the phrase "left of center".

Now replace the left/right axis of politics with the masculine/feminine axis of gender presentation.
posted by Sara C. at 4:52 PM on March 24 [5 favorites]


oh no am I wearing a scarf that's gonna make people assholes?

Scarf of Elders' Dismay
+10 against patriarchy
posted by serif at 5:03 PM on March 24 [32 favorites]


for a man who has the slightest interest in stepping outside the "normal" range it is amazing how constantly and relentlessly you will be made aware that you are DOING IT WRONG.

Or failing being made aware of it, rest assured people are talkin shit. My company's CEO once or twice came in dressed casually in some clothes some of the people in the office thought were "too young" for him and were talking about it behind his back for weeks. could not believe how much everyone gossiped about it. But then I'm in my mid-30s and wear Doc Martens, jeans, and t-shirts with rock band names on them when I'm not at work.
posted by Hoopo at 5:30 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


I'm a cis queer man. I'm required to wear collared shirts at work. Probably people don't even realize that my choice to wear patterned shirts rather than single-color or striped shirts is my quiet form of gender-non-conformity. Probably what I wear isn't frilly enough to read as "blouse."

I recommend reading law professor Kenji Yoshino's book Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. It references more discrimination cases like Hopkins, including ones that involve things like women being required to wear makeup at work, and prohibitions on braided hairstyles by an airline (clearly a covert way of discriminating against people with hairstyles more often worn by Black women.) Covering is a step away from being closeted - being required to "cover up" and not be too "blatant." He also goes into ways that women are expected to cover in both directions, by being neither too feminine nor too masculine.
posted by larrybob at 5:34 PM on March 24 [26 favorites]


Ivan Coyote and Rae spoon address similar issues on the tour(YT) for their new book Gender Failure (appearing next month in Toronto - squee!)
posted by saucysault at 5:36 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


This totally resonates with me. As a gay male who has struggled to cover up his effeminate sensibilities for over 40 years and is just now starting to explore dressing in a way that is entirely more comfortable for him (including starting to wear my hair long, wearing shirts that have more traditionally feminine patterns, materials, cuts and colors, colorful shoes, etc.) I feel like I'm on display at all times when I'm in the office. There are a tremendous number of "guys' guys" in my company, and though nobody has outright tried to make me uncomfortable, I have had the occasional comment about my "personal style" that makes me wonder how much it's worth it to dress like myself, rather than adding some butch layer on top of it just because it's more acceptable.
posted by xingcat at 5:54 PM on March 24 [10 favorites]


The author is brave. I haven't had to work in a place with such a dress code as the one in Wysinger's but the article resonates with me. For me, I appreciate going to work dressed masculine and not getting treated differently. As some upthread have mentioned, it can be very hard to find things that fit in a store / off the rack if you are butch MoC and/or trans*. You don't always get to choose your workplace. People will read meaning into it and as Wysinger points out it can be influenced by stereotypes about race class and gender. Ideally at work, people care about the substance of a person - their integrity, how they do their job. But that's "ideal". I don't think discussions about clothing are superficial. Clothing matters because it is a way we express ourselves and represent ourselves to others. I wouldn't be surprised if Wysinger has made it easier for others at GT inc by the act of being true to self.
posted by radiocontrolled at 5:55 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


Scarf of Elders' Dismay
+10 against patriarchy


if someone can knit this phrase into a nice, soft warm scarf i will totally buy it from you off of Etsy or trade you some handmade jewelry for it
posted by NoraReed at 6:04 PM on March 24 [15 favorites]


Hear hear for more queer signalling at work, for people who are ready to take that on. Faygele ben Miriam's work is never done.

When I first entered the corporate world as a young dyke in the mid-80s, I was the *only* female person in pants, in what was literally a white-shoes-in-the-summer publishing house. I have a boatload of class/skin color privilege, but even with those, thank goodness for gay male friends in the fashion business. I wore a lot of very broad-shouldered men's Italian suits and pointy Italian and English men's shoes. But I had to get custom-made tailored band-collar shirts that showed neither a left nor right buttoning to read as boy or girl, and could not accomodate a tie of any kind. The lapel brooches and big earrings...The horror of frosted bi-level hair and manicures.... ewwwwwwww.

Then I moved to the west coast where I could let my freaky gender flag fly in IT. What a relief; I could just wear mens' wear - I bathed regularly and looked sharper than my coworkers (sometimes even Afro-American Sunday church wear - how I miss those peacock suits). I know it affected my advancement, but whatever, I was paid plenty and never wanted to be management anyway.

However, even 20 years later it's not always so easy. About 10 years ago I was hired as the executive director of a GLBT synagogue, a place where one would think atypical preference, gender, and presentation would be highly accepted. The board members knew my friend Faygele - we all lived in the same city, and we were all some kind of GLBT identified.

My interview/leading-services clothes were a conservative black suit and dress oxfords, blue dress shirt, and I think a purple dotted silk tie. I have very short hair. Whenever I acted in my official capacity, I wore masculine business attire. A few months after I was hired, we were having the monthly board of directors meeting and I was asked flat out (on the record, in the minutes!) whether I was male or female, and hence, was I a gay man or a lesbian? It turned out several members of the board were having vehement arguments about my gender, because the organization had a past history of problems with gender parity in governance. I had to ask them whether my gender was part of my job description, and what legal purpose was served by my answer? When it became clear I would make both allies and enemies no matter my reply, I showed them my driver's license (gender A) and my US passport (gender B). It had never occurred to them I might be trans, and they literally did not know the words transgender or genderqueer. The synagogue eventually collapsed as a public entity (and I lost my job) because the BoD was not willing to adapt to new, young, gender/queer members.

I could go on to more stories about menswear while a classical musician. But again, I'm not a soloist and as long as it's black, tailored, and clean, I can get away with my drag.

Intersection of race, age, class and work sector are complicated. I really appreciated the FPP and I hope more POC gender-creative people are successes and share their stories with us.
posted by Dreidl at 6:12 PM on March 24 [23 favorites]


If the dress code at Gender Trouble Inc. were a unisex gray poncho, the author wouldn't be having these problems.

You know, if the dress code were a unisex gray poncho, I bet there'd be one faction of people who wore a slightly darker gray, and one who wore a lighter gray. And the higher-ups would get their gray ponchos handspun from organically raised llamas, and the secretaries would buy theirs from a discount shop and rip off the label so no one knew, and if the hemline of your poncho was a millimeter higher than prescribed, everyone would call you a slut behind your back and make passes at your front, and women with double D boobs would be told that they needed to try to find a less revealing cut of poncho, and fat people would be told that their ponchos didn't look professional enough even if they bought them from the exact same store as the thin people did.

In summary, people suck.
posted by lollusc at 6:53 PM on March 24 [54 favorites]


This stuff is weird for me, a lifelong gender nonconforming girl now woman. I had a hard time even reading the article although it has smart things to say. I find gender presentation so fucking boring when I think about the stuff people are going through in this world: the first thing I inevitably think when I hear a masculine gendered woman talking about personal identity is like, "People are starving, who cares what your gender is?" but I know this is some kind of self hatred talking too.

Still, when you compare our situation with gender nonconforming men, and genderqueer "male"-bodied people, and trans women, I think the reality is we have it much easier and it feels like more masculine people taking up all the space with their stuff, which feels very familiar from cis-gendered men who take up all the space about everything, and I just don't want any part of that - I want to run from that, and put all my energy into dealing with the shit in the world that seems really terrible, which for me, as a woman who has not worn a dress or makeup or any signifier of femme identity in 20 years and very little of it ever, is just not my personal situation, however uncomfortable my personal situation may at times be.

I don't know, I know there are different dimensions for this author who is African American than me who is white, and also trans men and masculine gendered trans people have a different experience than I do, but..

Like, I do want a world where I can be myself and not have people hate me because like, I wear pants and am in love with a woman, but also I sometimes find personal identity talk really frustrating even though I would defend it because like, shit is really, really bad in the world, and sometimes this feels like the least of it.

But that's probably my internalized homophobia talking too.

It's weird to talk about this in a largely straight, majority male, majority cis gendered environment, but I feel pretty alienated from the queer, trans and genderqueer communities out there too.

In conclusion, I have no conclusion.

posted by latkes at 7:16 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


This stuff is weird for me, a lifelong gender nonconforming girl now woman. I had a hard time even reading the article although it has smart things to say. I find gender presentation so fucking boring when I think about the stuff people are going through in this world: the first thing I inevitably think when I hear a masculine gendered woman talking about personal identity is like, "People are starving, who cares what your gender is?" but I know this is some kind of self hatred talking too.

You know, that wasn't a very kind thing to post. It really wasn't. Usually shit like this doesn't bother me when I get it from straight, mainstream people, but I have to say that it feels pretty bad from someone who has some lived experience.
posted by Frowner at 7:44 PM on March 24 [11 favorites]


I apologize.
posted by latkes at 8:00 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


I mean, I'm not actually "a masculine gendered woman"; what I am mostly is a fat person who has trouble being touched, that's a far more accurate and important statement about my embodiment than anything specific to gender. I'm usually read as a masculine-gendered woman, even though I don't actually identify that way.

Being able to dress as I do and to parse stuff about my gender presentation as I've been able to - that's made a huge difference in what was basically a fairly miserable life. Whether I "take up too much space" is an entirely separate issue (and a turn of phrase I find particularly hilarious as someone who does "take up too much space" with my actual physical body). I find it really hard to hear someone who is older than me, someone who lives on the west coast in a very different political climate and social milieu, make a flat statement that it's "boring" for me to discuss this. Maybe it's "boring" to you; maybe your social spaces are such that this is all old hat.

Like, seriously, I don't actually totally get distracted by hating and being disgusted by my body now.

I am a secretary. That's a job which requires a kind of abject femininity, which is a story in and of itself. I need the insurance. My family responsibilities are such that I'm the big earner, for certain values of big, and my career path is pretty much locked into "secretary" for at least the next three or four years - that's if I can switch over to "accountant" in my early forties. I can't handle this job when I have to deal with the labor angle and wear feminine drag. The emotional work of being a secretary is already one kind of acting; gender acting on top of it really got to be too much.

I think what I'm trying to say is that gender performance is always mixed in with other stuff. I know that the very most cutting edge of queer radicalism is all about how the masculine is over-valued and how anyone who isn't femme doesn't have any gender problems that can't be solved by buying a new pair of pants...and maybe that's true for people with a lot of economic and social privilege, like maybe if I were some kind of high-powered lawyer or creative-class person.

I'm not trying to say that the masculine isn't overvalued, but I also think that talking about race and class as they intersect with queer butch/MOC/etc identities is okay.

Also, I only have one life. If I walk down the street feeling shitty about myself, well, that's my life going by. I wish I believed that somehow if I just abjected myself enough ("oh, never mind about my experience of gender, I am always-already overvalued, I always-already take up too much space, I should pre-emptively disapprove of myself!") then I would have some kind of...some kind of security in my activist community. But I know that's not true at all - if I get sick, if I hate myself, if I'm alone or broke, I'm on my own. Growing up socialized female, I certainly did learn that I should always put myself last - oh, my little whims about my gender and sexuality were just silly and trivial, after all there was so much suffering in the world, real suffering, not the silly little complaints that I had. That, actually, was why I "came out" at eighteen and then went right back in - I figured that making a big fuss over my preferences was just wasting everyone's time, surely I could just date anyone who asked me. And then of course once I'd dated a few boys, I "wasn't queer" and shouldn't try to lay any claim to that identity, because real queers were out there suffering.

My point being that if I am not for myself, no one else is going to be either.

And my other point being that I am more capable of doing work when I don't hate everything about my outward life. It's not as though bottling up all thought or discussion of my gender identity somehow turns me into super-activist.
posted by Frowner at 8:21 PM on March 24 [24 favorites]


I hear you. That all makes sense.

I recognize that intersectionality exists and that living in a fat body (or a brown body, or a disabled body) impacts how you are read by the world and that you have a different experience than me that is worth paying attention to and not discounting.
posted by latkes at 8:43 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


I, personally, have a very complicated relationship with my masculinity, and I personally, find it problematic to focus on my own masculinity in light of living in world with enormous suffering that is more enormous for the great majority of people around me than it is for me personally. I, personally, feel bored by thinking about gender presentation but I recognize and hear it is problematic for me to verbalize that to you and others in the world. On the other hand, I get to have an experience too. Perhaps I'm doing a poor job of expressing it.

One thing that chafes in your comment: your seeming assumption that I'm trying to be on the cutting edge of hip queer politics, rather than taking me at face value and assuming that as a woman, and as someone who tries to show real solidarity with femme appearing and identified people in my life (people like my life partner, my mother, my daughter...), I actually take very seriously the reality that masculinity is privileged above that which has been culturally defined as femininity. Masculinity is privileged and valued over femininity and I see it all the fucking time in the real world and in my own very gendered profession (I'm a nurse). (Also kind of weird that you think I have it easy because I'm older than you [!] although point taken about me living in the Bay Area bubble for sure.)

But also, my personal main project and interest in life has to do with figuring out what is fucked up in the world and doing my tiny best to make some tiny difference, and from that perspective I honestly am more focused on the biggest suffering. Shit, it's a losing game to compare suffering - believe me, I know - but it's dishonest to compare the experiences of say, masculine women and trans men with feminine men and trans women. So when I look at my own personal experience, I do not find it as urgent as the experiences of others around me who are getting fucked worse.

That's what I'm responding to in my own very personal experience and part of why I have a negative response to identity-based writing focused around female masculinity and transmasculinity (to the extent that those two things overlap).

I have found that expressing this particular personal perspective tends to elicit responses similar to yours, or less patient eye-rolling, but also, I am a real person with real feelings and queer masculinity is not one hegemonic experience (as you articulated quite nicely), so it feels weird to see this kind of thread go by and know that this is, in one way, speaking for me, when the reality is, it totally doesn't speak for me, so for outsiders reading this, and for insiders reading this, there is a part of me that wants to say, "This is NOT me." There are infinite kinds of people in the world and maybe the biggest point of queer liberation (besides like, hey, don't kill us just because we're gay) is that we have infinite experiences, just like everyone else.

So there's a value in my saying how I feel when I read this, although my intent would be to express my feelings in a way that doesn't like, shit on everyone else's.
posted by latkes at 9:23 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


There are different types of ease/difficulty in this. If you are a person who is not into fashion at all, it is probably easier to be identified as male and dress as male, because the "defaults" are easier to find, simpler, and less concerned with particulars of body type. I desperately, desperately want something like that, some simple uniform, and it is not available to me, and that's one kind of annoyance. For people who care and want to make the effort, being perceived as female in male dress is probably marginally easier than being perceived as male in female dress, but the number of workplaces where the distinction is worth drawing is pretty small. And I'd rather have my problem than theirs.
posted by Sequence at 9:27 PM on March 24


20 years ago, I was a co-op student for the federal government (of Canada) in Ottawa. I'm a straight woman. One day, I came into work with a nice pair of slacks, a pressed blouse and a necktie. I had just moved there from Vancouver, where all the staff in Earls restaurant wore ties and it had become a bit of a fashion. I had a couple of ties, in fact, and I thought it was cool. I wanted to be a journalist and "Murphy Brown" wore ties all the time on TV. So it seemed perfectly acceptable to me.

The assistant director of my department gave me quite a talking to. As he wasn't in charge, I just kept dressing the same way. I was a co-op, so I suspect they made allowances for me. Reading the article above now, I realize I probably got off lucky.

About five years later, when I was working for a company in Vancouver, I bought a coordinated outfit, which involved a green sweater, dickie shirt, tie, and matching green cords. I though I looked hip but professional. I went out for a networking lunch with a former co-worker 10 years my senior. She sternly informed me that I was not dressed appropriately and that, when you go out for networking, you want people to be able to see you in the position to which you aspire. As I worked in a casual dress industry, I was baffled.

Only now do I realize these people were calling attention to orientation and gender.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:41 PM on March 24 [8 favorites]


So, I work at a Fortune 10 corporation, which has outlets all over the country and lots of different types of employees and offices, including call centers.

I wondered how this would've played out at our call centers, and I still wonder if we might not be Gender Trouble, Inc.

On the other hand, it did make me go look at the HR Policy document collection and find the Transgender Policy. Amongst other policies and practices, it has this item on "Appearance Standards":
Three Initial Corporation (TIC) has the right to regulate employee appearance and behavior in the workplace for reasonable business purposes. A transgender employee is permitted to appear or dress in accordance with his or her gender identity, but the transgender employee is required to comply with the same standards of dress and appearance as may apply to other employees with the same gender identity in the same workplace and similar position.

For those employees in transition, the decision as to when and how to begin the real-life experience remains the employee’s choice.

TIC is committed to maintaining a positive work environment and to conducting business in a professional manner in accordance with our Code of Business Conduct, EEO policies and applicable law. Customer preference does not justify denying an employee the right to dress consistently with his or her gender identity.
--names changed for obvious reasons...

Still could be us (because there's more to good practice than good policy), but I'm glad we at least have a good policy.
posted by Mad_Carew at 11:13 PM on March 24


I don't think it's "good policy" to include in your dress code the fact that, if a person wants to deviate from their gender-determined dress code rules, they must come out as transgender.

I kind of liked the author of the article's decision to pick the side she wanted to be on and do it without needing to explain herself in any way.
posted by Sara C. at 11:23 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


@Sara C.: It may indeed need work, and I only quoted a particular piece of it. I'm also not in a position to say if it works well in practice, since I haven't seen it in practice.

How would you like to improve it? Not that they listen to me, but given that there will be a corporate dress code what would you like to see that would be a good policy for trans* and non-trans* folks who want to dress in non-gender-conforming ways?
posted by Mad_Carew at 11:46 PM on March 24


As someone who identifies as genderqueer and presents masculine of center, I'd suggest having the exact same "requirements" for clothes, but remove the gendered bits. "If wearing dresses, they need to be x, y, z. If wearing pants/shirt/tie/jacket/whateverelse, they need to be a, b, c." The descriptions can stay the same, just remove the discussion of WHO is wearing them.
posted by HermitDog at 11:50 PM on March 24 [4 favorites]


How would you like to improve it?

Hey everyone, you're all adults, we trust you to wear clothing appropriate to the task at hand.
posted by Sara C. at 12:04 AM on March 25 [7 favorites]


Hey everyone, you're all adults, we trust you to wear clothing appropriate to the task at hand.

Which, in my experience, seems to be more of the norm in Dutch workplaces, though as everywhere else the lower status and more "representative" the job is, the more restricted the clothing options become.

Anecdotally I haven't encountered any explicitly gendered dress codes (or dress codes more specific than "business casual" or whatever) and in the roles in which I work, even at the most staid of banks, what's acceptable for men ranges from jeans and t-shirt to suit and tie, with nobody batting an eyelid at either. Women tend to dress similar, with skirts being much less common than trousers or pant suits.

And of course for many women their default office wear is the infamous three quarters length white legging.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:49 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


My first thought when I read these articles was how rude it would be to make comments about someone's clothes at work.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:45 AM on March 25


I, personally, have a very complicated relationship with my masculinity, and I personally, find it problematic to focus on my own masculinity in light of living in world with enormous suffering that is more enormous for the great majority of people around me than it is for me personally. I, personally, feel bored by thinking about gender presentation but I recognize and hear it is problematic for me to verbalize that to you and others in the world. On the other hand, I get to have an experience too. Perhaps I'm doing a poor job of expressing it.

One thing that chafes in your comment: your seeming assumption that I'm trying to be on the cutting edge of hip queer politics, rather than taking me at face value and assuming that as a woman, and as someone who tries to show real solidarity with femme appearing and identified people in my life (people like my life partner, my mother, my daughter...), I actually take very seriously the reality that masculinity is privileged above that which has been culturally defined as femininity. Masculinity is privileged and valued over femininity and I see it all the fucking time in the real world and in my own very gendered profession (I'm a nurse). (Also kind of weird that you think I have it easy because I'm older than you [!] although point taken about me living in the Bay Area bubble for sure.)


Working backwards:

My meaning wasn't "oh, you have it easier because you're older" - it was more "you have more experience and probably more certainty because you're older". In my particular activist circles I'm older, and I know from experience that while sometimes this means I'm pushed aside and dismissed, just as often what I say is given extra weight. Sometimes that's wrong - people assume I have experience that I don't have. Sometimes it's legit, because I've seen a lot of stuff come and go. I know that sometimes when I treat younger folks as if they should already be at a point where I am - or as if their experience should match mine and so should their needs - I have more power to hurt them than an age-peer does. Obviously, we don't know each other, you don't know my age and I am only guessing yours. It was just one of the things that felt painful about your comment.

On orthodoxy: I don't think anyone is "trying" to be on the "cutting edge" of anything. (With possibly some exceptions, but I would only know if I knew someone really well.) I do believe that there's a social pressure created by whatever the queer theory of the moment is, and I know this because I feel it all the time. I've seen this over and over in my life as an activist - the way that a framework which is very useful in a small set of circumstances gets universalized as the only moral framework, the way that people start to feel bad or ashamed if they're saying "my experience isn't reflected in this". I feel bad and ashamed in the face of a lot of queer theory. I also think, with Adorno, that theory can race ahead of lived experience instead of being stabilized by it. I've certainly noticed a lot of "oh, you masculine spectrum people take up too much space, stop talking about [thing]" and that being used to shut up people who themselves actually don't take up too much space, are not overvalued, etc - not as part of some kind of intentional scheme of shutting up, but just because that's a common dynamic in radical spaces, to constantly look for the next iteration of theory and then feel pressured to apply it everywhere.

I also find it interesting that it's mostly people who have lived as women/identify as women who bring out the "other people are suffering more, stop talking about your experiences, look at me, I don't waste everyone's time talking about my problems". That's what women are always taught to do. That's what I was taught to do. (A big piece of the therapy I was fortunate to get these past few years has been about "it's okay to identify with yourself".) I feel pretty confident that I have always sought out activist spaces where there's a huge pressure to say "other people are suffering, therefore talking about my experiences is really selfish" precisely because I was really strongly socialized to view my needs and wishes as trivial and selfish. I'm a better activist because I've started to be able to move through that - I was not a better activist when I was spending a huge amount of time telling myself that my experiences should not be spoken about because I was taking space away from real deserving people. (I notice too that we don't go in to the men-and-clothing or men-and-sexuality posts and say "hey, actually women's concerns and queer concerns are more important, stop creating posts like this" - perhaps people think that, but we don't bring it out.)

The first time I was in a space where there were a bunch of gender non-conforming people, many masculine spectrum, it was huge for me. I felt such recognition that it has forever altered my belief in the importance of representation.

Absolutely, if resources are finite - if we're talking about a zine or a panel or a grant or a teaching position or access to physical space - people who are marginalized should be given priority. I think that despite my particular experiences, I would not want to be put on some panel about queer issues, precisely because I'm white and masculine spectrum and somewhere between gender non-conforming and trans. If there's a question about representation under finite circumstances, absolutely people like me (and people who are richer, thinner, etc) should step back. Absolutely, if there's a meeting, people who are centered should focus on stepping back and not taking up all the talking time, should focus on supporting marginalized voices.

I found it very difficult to hear that in this space, where the only finite resource is attention, masculine spectrum people are being "boring" when we talk about our experiences of gender presentation, with the added suggestion that we are taking space away from more deserving people, getting in the way of meaningful social change, etc. I could see if this were a website that was structured differently - like some posts being Super Front Page posts - that it would be a problem to consistently foreground posts about masculine spectrum people. But this is just one post among other posts and would have received almost no comments if not for masculine spectrum people talking to each other about their experiences.

I think there's a lot to talk about with how masculine gender presentation intersects with other marginalizations - like, there are times when it helps me as a secretary because people see me as "not like the other secretaries", smarter, etc. But there are many times when it hurts me, because conservative people see me as a discipline case (even though I'm actually a doormat) and because there are a number of specific parts of my job where I am expected to manifest beauty and gracious hostess qualities. On the one hand, the "not like other secretaries" parts of my job are the higher status parts; on the other hand, the gracious hostess parts are welded to the other parts.
posted by Frowner at 5:31 AM on March 25 [8 favorites]


The "gray poncho" people remind me of the thing from Bulworth: "All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep fuckin' everybody 'til they're all the same color." Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha no.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:36 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


In some ways, it's irrelevant whether the dress code is gendered--people will be gone after for not being sufficiently gender-conforming regardless. As a matter of principle, yes, you don't want it to be gendered, but, from the author's perspective, it's probably largely moot. If they want to sack her for being queer, they'll do it, whether they use a gendered dress code as an excuse or something else. Or just make her miserable until she quits.
posted by hoyland at 5:45 AM on March 25


Lots of good points Frowner. I especially think

I also find it interesting that it's mostly people who have lived as women/identify as women who bring out the "other people are suffering more, stop talking about your experiences, look at me, I don't waste everyone's time talking about my problems". That's what women are always taught to do.

is insightful and I'm sure plays a role in my own response to all this.
posted by latkes at 6:32 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Gender-conforming (and body-conforming) women usually have a series of choices, ranging from Almost Right to Not Right At All, with any given item falling at some indeterminate point on the scale -- like, is this top Almost Right at eye level, but if someone is a foot taller than me, does it suddenly become Not Right At All? Are these pants Not Right At All for me because they're a bit tight through the butt but Almost Right for the manager who unbeknownst to me wishes I'd stop dressing so frumpy? The body-non-conforming but still gender-conforming women -- the short, tall, fat, or just non-standardly shaped -- have options ranging from Maybe Right If I'm Careful to Dear God No.

OK, so, this is a bit of a long-winded background to show where I’m coming from, so feel free to skip to the Main Comment if you don’t care.

This is coming from a person who generally loves clothes (although the way my health has been for the past year, I’d take a dollar an hour less from anyone who’d pay me to do the same work in a flannel nightgown that didn’t touch my body). I make and wear theater costumes in my spare time. Take out all the romantic claptrap, and the movie Pretty in Pink is basically a documentary of my high school years. Tim Gunn is the only serious rival to Captain Picard for my Ideal Father Figure. My ideal Saturday is cruising the thrift stores and rummage sales, where I'm drawn like a magpie to the brightest garments in the room.

And I’m not an easy fit, either. I got serious about the costuming because, as a performer in low-rent-theater, if I didn’t make my own costumes I knew I’d end up in some atrocious feedsack or squeezed into some ill-fitting thing that fell apart on the first night. I’m tall with big shoulders, long arms, long, legs, no waist to speak of, and big feet. When I saw a lovely dress a costumer friend of mine made for a burly man playing Lady Bracknell in drag, I said, “I especially love Ross’s costume, because I suspect I’ll be wearing it myself someday.”

Main Comment:

My Anecdata: I’m lucky enough to work in a crunchy-granola university where pretty much anything goes for women, but when I worked in Businesswear Central, as a gender-normative-dressing woman I honestly didn’t have any trouble throwing together a work uniform of a blouse, skirt, and a pair of flats for everyday use. I did have the occasional small tailoring job to do, of raising or lowering a hem, or letting a waist in or out, but that’s mostly because I was a cheapskate and bought my skirts on clearance or secondhand and didn’t allow myself the full range of sizes to choose from. See above about my figure problems.

Whenever there was any doubt or question, I erred on the side of conservative. If a blouse clung at all, I got one the next size up. Did I look particularly glamorous or fashionable? I doubt it. I wore the same basic silhouette every day and rotated between two pairs of shoes. If I had left off the makeup and added crosses to my small silver jewelry, I probably could have passed for the ministers’ wives who taught at my primary school. But I was comfortable, and never got any negative reactions.

I don’t know, maybe my background in costume didn’t allow me to see the whole experience in the way most people do.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:48 AM on March 25


When I came out as a lesbian in the late 80's, the lesbians in my community were all doing androgyny. As a teenager, I took to the more masculine of center and showed up in my first job interview in a men's suit. It took me a long, long time (way too long) to figure out that I could wear whatever the fuck I wanted and I didn't have to look like a "good lesbian" for the sake of the lesbian community.

In the intervening 25 years or so, I have slid around on the orientation scale and on the masculine/feminine spectrum. I am particularly lucky as I have always worked in queer spaces, so however I choose to present, from one day to the next (other than non-"natural" colored hair, which is totally not allowed) is fine. I cannot imagine working in the corporate world and really appreciate the perspective from the author.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:15 AM on March 25


Reading about everyone's personal experiences with gendered clothing has really hit home with me that I am so lucky to work in a workplace that does not have a dress code. I am in public service and I have worn saris, cosplay-lite, low-cleavage tops, 9" high-heeled platform boots, shaved head/multicoloured hair, masculine style, etc with nothing but positive comments from co-workers, the public, and management. Other co-workers have worn feminine clothing (while presenting as male) and several staff are openly queer. I am not trying to rub the faces of people that are constantly struggling with workplace prejudices, but sharing that there are places that DO accept people for their skills and talents, and they are successful workplaces that fulfill their mission. I think the greatest strength of my workplace is the diversity of the people who work there because we reflect the community we serve (a large, diverse suburb).

I hope that as the talented and diverse staff leave these dinosaur workplaces it will provide incentive to re-examine their priorities and evaluate their staff on their smarts, not their neckties.
posted by saucysault at 7:41 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


I, personally, have a very complicated relationship with my masculinity, and I personally, find it problematic to focus on my own masculinity in light of living in world with enormous suffering that is more enormous for the great majority of people around me than it is for me personally. I, personally, feel bored by thinking about gender presentation but I recognize and hear it is problematic for me to verbalize that to you and others in the world. On the other hand, I get to have an experience too. Perhaps I'm doing a poor job of expressing it.

This isn't my argument, but I felt pretty hurt by the preceding comments, so I'd like to suggest that perhaps this is boring for you because it isn't an issue that is important in your own life. Yes, femininity is privileged over masculinity, and transfeminine people have a harder time of it than transmasculine people. I don't see anyone here refuting that, and I don't want to dismiss it, because it's a genuine problem. But the article is a personal account of a MoC woman, so that's what we're talking about.

Intersectionality does play a big role in this, but the struggles of transmasculine people can exist on their own without any other complicating factors. I'm a not-particularly-overweight white middle class professional with a husband who's read as a butch woman, though I don't really id as either. My work environment allows for me to wear a near-uniform of button-front, sweater, chinos and oxfords every day without getting much flak (at least from coworkers) about it. I know my life is a lot easier than it would be if I were a person of color, or poor, or disabled, or any number of other possibilities. Telling me that my gender identity is a triviality in comparison does nothing to change the fact that it takes up a tremendous amount of mental space for me, and causes me a great deal of anxiety, every single day. It's hurtful.
posted by libraritarian at 7:41 AM on March 25


Latkes - actually I was thinking about this and it might be nice to have a post on the blue with some good links about some of the whole "gender presentation/masculinity/misogyny/privilege" business. There's so much there - how to talk about one's own experience without blithely trampling on others or falling over into the whole "I am privileged, nothing I feel can change that and any conversation about my experience de facto oppresses others"* business, for instance. Or the ways that race, class and embodiment change your concerns about gender performance**. Or parsing out how masculine spectrum people can act responsibly and support marginalized identities. Or trying to sort out being masculine spectrum from internalized misogyny or internalized stereotyping.

I always wonder, too, what is this "masculinity" that I'm drawn to anyway? I don't want the social role - even when I think about maybe transitioning someday if I ever can, I am not attracted by the idea of being a man among men. I don't consciously want to be treated "as a man" in terms of being Taken Seriously and Assumed To Be Able To Fix Things and so on. So what is this masculinity then?

Anyway. I will be ridiculously busy at work this week and I think that kind of post would take a lot of work to create and frame, but I would be into doing it later on.


*While perhaps that sounds exaggerated, it's been really hard for me personally (and I assume I'm not the only snowflake in the blizzard) to be able to talk about my experiences because I came into activism feeling that my experiences were always-already bad and shameful.

**Like, there's a lot of queer masculinities that I could access easily or playfully because I'm white. If I dressed like the OP, for instance, while I'd face some of the same issues she does, I would also get read as a lot more "playful" and "cute" and a lot less "hypersexual" or "aggressive" - even though I would also sometimes be read as hypersexual or aggressive. And a lot of the masculine stuff that looks good on me is marked by colonialism and my use of it is different from that of a person of color - I'm very much on the 19th century romantic/scholarly end of the spectrum, but that's so much about privilege, the men who dressed like that were rich white men whose money came directly or indirectly from exploitation.
posted by Frowner at 7:47 AM on March 25 [6 favorites]


Me:How would you like to improve it?

Sara C.:Hey everyone, you're all adults, we trust you to wear clothing appropriate to the task at hand.

That certainly could work well at under 50 person corporations, and also at a lot of other sizes depending on the job needs.

Where I work we have 300,000 employees just in the US. I have several concerns.

I don't want 3,000-30,000 different policies based on "we trust you, so it's really up to your manager". That will lead to unequal treatment, different expectations, and do the thing HR and Legal hate most: expose the company to lawsuits based on things managers shouldn't have said but did. I don't see a way to have the policy you describe without also having the nondiscrimination policy I quoted from.

Some of our jobs have explicit dress codes: a store uniform, a construction worker's hardhat and steel-toed boots, a sales exec's formal business wear. We probably have too many rules, but some of them are intentional and useful.

A number of our employees are in labor unions. Unions (rightly in my mind) are wary of "we trust you to do the right thing, but we'll fire you if you don't, but we're not going to specify exactly where the line is" rules. They are looking to eliminate "excuse" firings, and I'm sorta with them. In some cases, it's a lot better to have a bright-line rule to avoid impropriety or even the appearance of impropriety.

So, those may not convince you, but I think it's not always the right answer to say "Dress appropriately, you'll figure it out."
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:17 AM on March 25 [9 favorites]


people will be gone after for not being sufficiently gender-conforming regardless

But doesn't the author's account question that assumption? She decides to conform to the male dress code despite being female, fully commits to it in a way that makes it clear that it's an aesthetic choice, and her coworkers largely support her.

I don't think that this person's solution can be everyone's solution. As mentioned above, I don't think it would be quite so simple if a feminine-of-center man decided to just go with the women's dress code and rocked a seriously femme look. And as I said initially, what about the people who aren't really that into clothes and just want to put their head down and get by?

But I don't think it's right to be fully pessimistic about gender-conforming and business attire. Because there are solutions. And I can speak from experience when I say that not having a dress code at all, or having a few standards but not basing them around gender, absolutely is more sane and does help workplaces be more accepting in general.
posted by Sara C. at 9:03 AM on March 25


"we trust you, so it's really up to your manager"

Yeah, no, that's not what I said at ALL.

I think it should be up to people. Not managers.

At my job, there is no dress code aside from "no open toed shoes on the soundstages" and maybe "wear a hat if you're working outdoors in the summer". There is nobody to tell me I'm dressed inappropriately. Aside from those two safety concerns, it is not up to my manager what I wear to work. Nobody can fire me for what I wear, again aside from safety concerns. This is also true for union members in my workplace -- there's no dress code for them, either, aside from safety standards.

And everybody manages to come to work and do their job. Nobody gives a shit what anyone is wearing. It's perfect.
posted by Sara C. at 9:07 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Mad_Carew, to me, that is so bizarre that you have so many rules about clothing. I understand in a construction zone needing hard hats, steel toed boots and maybe a harness. But why specify anything else? My org is over 200 people btw, so I do think a lack of dress code CAN scale. Let's face it, most people are going to be pretty conforming anyway and if Bob wants to wear a tutu when programming then what impact on others does it really have? It kind of reminds me of a recent arbitrated decision about dress codes in an Ottawa hospital. The employer imposed a dress code that excessive piercings and large tattoos must be covered. The employer felt that tattoos and piercings may cause anxiety in patients, especially older ones, and did not project a professional image. It was ruled that employees had the right to express themselves (not touched on in this case but Ontario Human Rights Code specifically mentions the right to gender expression in a chosen gender) and there was no evidence that patient health outcomes were affected by the appearance of the employees helping them. On the opposite end, Quebec recently brought forth a Bill explicitly controlling people's appearance and clothing when providing/receiving public service.
posted by saucysault at 9:11 AM on March 25


But doesn't the author's account question that assumption? She decides to conform to the male dress code despite being female, fully commits to it in a way that makes it clear that it's an aesthetic choice, and her coworkers largely support her.

I think you've misunderstood me (and I can see that I wasn't super clear). I mean that whether or not the dress code is gendered affords you no reassurance in terms of whether your employer will sack you for being queer, not that you're inevitably going to be sacked (though people are quite regularly).
posted by hoyland at 10:17 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Oh, that's definitely true. This is why SONDA laws need to be added to the Civil Rights Act or otherwise enshrined federally. Because in any state where you can just be straight up fired for being gay, people are going to be fired for being gay. I don't think equality can be mandated by corporate dress code policies.
posted by Sara C. at 10:29 AM on March 25


Where I work we have 300,000 employees just in the US. I have several concerns.


I don't know, I worked for a 300,000+ employee computer company and we had no dress code. I came to work in cargo shorts, t-shirts and Tevas and no one cared. Sales folk might have had a dress code during customer calls but no one else did.
posted by octothorpe at 10:30 AM on March 25


Sara C.: I shouldn't have used quotes. It seems like an obvious outcome of your single rule: "Hey everyone, you're all adults, we trust you to wear clothing appropriate to the task at hand."

1: There is clothing that is inappropriate to the task at hand.
2: In the absence of any guidance, each manager will have to arbitrate issues that arise using their own judgement.
3: This may lead to results other than what the corporation might wish, both in terms of dress and in terms of inappropriate managerial statements/actions.

Saucysault: the only rules I know about are the "non-discrimination" one I quoted, the retail store employees who wear a retail store standard, and the safety one for the outdoor construction types. I don't know if sales people have rules, written or unwritten, about wearing suits and not tutus or kilts and hawai'ian shirts, but I never see anyone in sales who isn't in the sales uniform.

Programmers are not customer facing, and I haven't heard any rules other than "don't violate OSHA regs with the clothes you wear" and "don't wear shorts", which I have no idea where it comes from.

To be honest, I think that at my level, the dress enforcement is more peer pressure than policy. Programmers who dress too well are often asked by their peers questions like "so, where are you interviewing?" Other departments like marketing and finance are referred to as "the suits" and are considered "them".
posted by Mad_Carew at 10:31 AM on March 25


The problem with "just trust people to dress appropriately" is, what if you can't trust people to dress appropriately? I had a job once where one male employee thought it was totally appropriate to come to work commando in short, thin nylon jogging shorts. That's not appropriate even if you aren't customer-facing.
posted by KathrynT at 10:32 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


each manager will have to arbitrate issues that arise using their own judgement.

No, seriously. I work for a company without a dress code. This just straight up does NOT happen. I would have to come to work in a bikini for my manager to say anything. And... I'm an adult. I wouldn't actually do that. I've never seen anyone come to work dressed inappropriately, in eight years in this career including duties that required me to supervise interns and entry-level staff.

the dress enforcement is more peer pressure than policy.

This is a major reason I just don't think dress codes have any place in the workplace. We're adults. We already have all kinds of cultural norms and social pressure telling us what's appropriate to wear. Most dress codes only exist to create a formal process for othering undesirable people without having to come out and say "we don't hire black people" or "women don't get promoted to management".
posted by Sara C. at 10:54 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


I've worked one non-retail place with a dress code, and it was a fucking nightmare. It did exist purely for the purpose of giving excuse firings — everyone was nominally required to wear business formal every day, but most folks rolled with khakis and oxfords. No rubber-soled shoes without a note from your doctor. It was part and parcel of the most controlling, anti-employee atmosphere I've ever experienced. Weirdly enough, that was my porn job, where everything was done on the whim of autocratic tyrants who delighted in fighting employees in court — someone was fired every single month I was there (sometimes more than one), and every unemployment claim was contested. (It's weird when I see liberals champion Larry Flynt without realizing what an absolute shit he is to work for.)

But I have to say that I've also worked retail jobs where a large motivator for employees was to see exactly what they could get away with and push the line every day.
posted by klangklangston at 11:17 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


This is a major reason I just don't think dress codes have any place in the workplace. We're adults. We already have all kinds of cultural norms and social pressure telling us what's appropriate to wear.

Which is a whole different set of problems if the cultural norms in your workplace are generated by people whose dress codes you don't agree with (or just plain assholes). Dressing as a tech writer in software was always an exercise in negotiating the expectations of the programmers (who didn't relate to you if you weren't dressed like them) and management (who didn't like it if you were too casual) plus all the gendered crap of being a woman in the workplace in the first place. Dress codes suck, but the informal codes of many workplaces suck too. And "we all know how to dress, right?" excludes those who don't have the informal knowledge to match the unspoken dress code of the workplace, or who, for whatever reason, can't fit into it.

If the problem were that easy to solve, someone would have definitively solved it already.
posted by immlass at 11:48 AM on March 25


This is a major reason I just don't think dress codes have any place in the workplace. We're adults. We already have all kinds of cultural norms and social pressure telling us what's appropriate to wear.

Well, right. So, what if you're not interested in the cultural norms and social pressure that tell you that you must dress in gender conforming ways? Formalized dress codes tell you which parts of those norms are REQUIREMENTS and which parts are not. And they can for sure definitely give you some shielding if you are absolutely compliant with them, but not performative. I want a formalized dress code precisely because I don't fit the cultural norm, and without one I have to toe the murky waters without guide for what will get me fired. With one? I may not like the rules, but at least I know the rules. It's a shield against social pressure - one that I can use to feel more at home in my skin. I don't want a free-for-all, I want something to point to that says Yes, I can wear wingtips.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:41 PM on March 25 [5 favorites]


Frowner: I am a secretary. That's a job which requires a kind of abject femininity, which is a story in and of itself.

I remember seeing a want ad for a secretary that requested applicants to have a "bubbly personality." Someone else reading the ad with me commented "what they really mean is 'cheerful masochist.'"
posted by larrybob at 4:43 PM on March 25 [9 favorites]


I'm a not very butch female that loves to wear ties then and there. I'm often told that this constitutes "overdressed".
posted by ZeroAmbition at 4:51 AM on March 26


This discussion touches on some of my discomfort around transmasculine and butch identity discussions on the internet.

I appreciate the pushback I got in this thread, and again apologize for contributing to the negative experiences my fellow masculine people experience. Also, I know the original post features a woman of color and I am glad to see that voice getting amplified. And... I still think that on a broader, subcultural level, we have some thinking to do about how we talk about masculine trans and gender nonconforming identity.
posted by latkes at 10:26 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


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