It really gets on my tits that gender non-conformity has made me into a walking (or rather, sashaying) freak show. It’s depressing that we live in a world where the arbitrary boundaries of masculinity and femininity are still staunchly policed, and where someone can think it acceptable to photograph me as an object of derision for being ‘dressed like a girl’.

While riding the train with my partner I noticed a young tradesman staring at me. I was unsurprised, as it’s something that tradesmen often do – though unfortunately they never accompany their ogling with wolf whistles and catcalls. When the train stopped some seats became available and we appropriated them, at which point the boy leaped into the doorway directly opposite our new position. I assumed he did so because the next stop was his, but it came and went and he remained where he was. I watched him as he slowly – and he must have thought subtly – raised his phone in my direction and shot my picture. He then laughed quietly and fiddled with his phone. After a pause, he made a call:

“Did you get it?.. Doesn’t your mum have the same top?.. No way, I wouldn’t be game enough to. Not ‘til hell froze over… You should see the shoes, they’re gold!”

And I doubt he meant ‘gold’ as in completely stunning. His response to my outfit was absurd, largely because the top in question was merely a blue-and-white striped t-shirt from Jay Jays (the boy’s section), and the shoes were simple, flat, and blue (also from the boy’s section). But due to my perceived femininity he saw me as less of a man, as something to be laughed at, photographed, and shared around for everyone’s amusement. This reaction is not an unfamiliar one.

I carry a handbag, wear boots with considerable heels, as well as ‘women’s’ tops jackets and jewellery, and I am looked down upon for doing so. My own brother once told my mother, in earnest, that because putting up his shelf was a ‘two man job’ he couldn’t ask me to help. Yet with all his masculine pretentions, including laughing at men in foreign attire if they ‘look like they’re wearing a dress’, he lacked the confidence to retrieve his drink from between my thighs while I was driving, and worried that if we dined out together we’d look gay. How tiring it must be to constantly worry about your masculinity being compromised by doing something harmless and fun.

It’s not just men who police this boundary. Recently I overheard a discussion between a mother and daughter about how uncomfortable men are (because we’re all the same) with holding their lady’s purse or handbag. The mother told the story of a male friend who had to hold his girlfriend’s pink purse, the sight of which she and her husband found hilarious. Their laughter, and her husband’s declaration that it was a ‘good look’, enabled the pair to wound their friend’s machismo and regulate his behaviour, stigmatizing and shaming him for his brush with femininity while perpetuating stereotypical masculine boundaries.

So this is what we’re protecting – a limiting, constraining force that paralyses men everywhere, making brothers unable to interact with brothers, and men unable even to hold a femininely gendered object. The masculine stereotype demands that men fit into a neat category, regulating self-expression and making life difficult for men who aren’t and don’t wish to be hyper-masculine, for gay men, for women, and for the everyday men who feel the need to conform to this harmful image, and spend their whole lives insecure and constantly trying to prove their manliness through sex, violence, homophobia, or misogyny.

And why is it offensive for a man to wear traditionally feminine garments, while women can wear pants and shirts and boots and suits? Why is it okay to look like a boy, but to look like a girl is degrading? Because being a girl is degrading? That’s not a positive message for either sex.

Ultimately, men in dresses are as insignificant as women in pants, and while I don’t think that dresses look terribly good on me, I may start wearing them in defiance of bigots everywhere. As for the tradesman, I suppose that I should just look at him as my first run-in with the paparazzi. Hopefully it isn’t the last.

Image via wikimedia

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Caleb Darwent

The author Caleb Darwent

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