Monday, July 1, 2013

Behind the Seams: Why I Wear Dresses II

(It's been quite a while here on the blog since I've last written an essay about men in dresses. This is partially because I feel like I've covered the topic pretty well in the past, and also because I've come to view and treat my blog more as a fashion blog over the past year. I received an email from a reader in my inbox this morning, and it made me think once again about the broader topic of gendering objects and actions, so I've decided to share my response in an essay format here on the blog. I'll be using a question and answer format for this post, as I want to be sure to provide context for what I'm saying that may not have been fully possibly without the knowledge of what the original email contained. The question itself is paraphrased, and is entirely my own construction, but it is in the same spirit of what has been asked in emails that I receive.)

Q: I've seen other men wearing skirts on the internet, but you seem to take a different approach. Rather than working within accepted male fashion styles and bringing a skirt into the mix, you often wear completely feminine outfits. Since your style is already so close to a feminine appearance, why not go all the way (wig, makeup, ect) and present entirely as female?

A: Your observations about the differences in style and philosophy between myself and some other skirted male bloggers is true. I've actually talked about this in an early article on my blog, Boys in Dresses: A Primer. In the article, I talk about how I see a spectrum or range of opinions and styles among men who wear skirts (or other women's clothing). You can check out the article for all the details, but the basics of the theory are that on one end of the spectrum you have the "bravehearts", men who wear only kilts or other masculine skirted garments. The next step there, in my mind, would be folks like Mike at Fashion Freestyler, who often follow a "one item rule", wearing men's clothes save for one feminine garment, or otherwise do make an effort to maintain a masculine edge to their wardrobe. Down at the far other end of the spectrum, you've got full on androgynous fashion, the folks that either like to mix up gender presentation or outright defy it. While I don't present as androgynous or traditionally feminine, I do fall pretty far along on that end of the spectrum.

I've written a second essay on the blog, Behind the Seams: Why I Wear Dresses I, where I do talk about the reasons for the sartorial choices I make. You can read that for some answers as to why I dress the way I do (spoiler alert: because I wanna), but I'll elaborate a bit further on that here. A significant focus of my outlook and my blog has always been questioning the traditional gender roles that have become canon in our society, and often times breaking them. In truth, I don't really even think about my wardrobe, mannerism, or preferences in terms of masculine / feminine anymore, as questioning those labels and why we have them has led me to believe that we could do well with a lot less of them. Taking, for example, the question of why do I shave my legs, which seems contrasting against my identifying as a man, my answer is that I shave my legs because I like the feeling and aesthetics of it, and I don't really understand why such an act should even be reserved solely for women.

I don't view masculinity and femininity as binary, as most people have been raised to believe. At the barest level, when I talk about gender for myself it is only as an indicator of what reproductive organs I possess, and not a preprogrammed set of likes, dislikes, and mannerisms. The types of things that I'm mainly referencing when I talk about gender in our society at large (boys wear pants, girls wear dresses) are taught, and are nothing more than social perceptions. There's no magical gendering that happens to fabric when it's cut and sewn, yet a piece of fabric cut to a "men's" pants pattern is "masculine", while that same fabric constructed as a dress now becomes "feminine." These are purely social constructs, as the fabric itself has no gender, so any male or female labels we associate with them are solely a fiction that's been created for them. I don't feel the need to play solely in the male or female sandbox, because the truth is that it's all just sand.

Muddy (har har) analogy aside, the answer as to why I don't just "go all the way" when I've already chosen to wear a dress, tights, and heels, is because I don't want to and don't feel that I have to. Ironically, despite the fact I'm a makeup artist by trade, I don't like to wear makeup. I don't wear a wig because I don't really like having hair (my baldness is, at present, completely by choice). I'm pretty content with being a dude, I just disagree with the social preconceptions that come along with my birth gender. In making the sartorial choices that I make, my hope is that it challenges some of those preconceived gender stereotypes that have been preordained and foisted upon us. The question of "Why is that man wearing a dress?" will hopefully lead to "What makes a dress for women only anyhow?"

(That all being said, over the years my focus with the blog has transitioned to focus a bit less overtly on the social / political aspects of men in dresses, and more to just being a general fashion blog. As long as we hold on to those preconceived gender stereotypes there will always be that current of open rebellion against said roles behind my blog, but really I view myself as just another fashionista with a blog. At the barest level, my hope is that by putting myself out there and making the sartorial choices that I do, I can hopefully inspire people of any gender to love themselves, and to have the courage to be true to who they are.)

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  1. (That all being said, over the years my focus with the blog has transitioned to focus a bit less overtly on the social / political aspects of men in dresses, and more to just being a general fashion blog. As long as we hold on to those preconceived gender stereotypes there will always be that current of open rebellion against said roles behind my blog, but really I view myself as just another fashionista with a blog. At the barest level, my hope is that by putting myself out there and making the sartorial choices that I do, I can hopefully inspire people of any gender to love themselves, and to have the courage to be true to who they are.)

    I love this answer. Being who you truly are is difficult for most people and I think it is because most people don't know who they are. I once read something that said we spend the first 20 years of our live hiding parts of ourselves away and the rest of our lives trying to undercover them. I think that this is so true. I also think that most people don't truly look at who they are because they are afraid of what they will see.


    1. Exactly, Jenn. I once read an article talking about the top five regrets expressed before death, and the most common one was not having the courage to be yourself. That hit me really hard, and I've really taken that to heart in my own life. No regrets, right? Keep rockin'!

  2. Hi Michael,

    I hope you don't mind me claiming the credit for the question above! It makes more sense to continue the discussion here (instead of via email) so that more people can chime in with their 2p worth. This is such an essay I've had to split it up to submit it. Apologies.

    One of my foibles is a dislike of things pretending to be what they are not. How do I reconcile that with my "traditional" crossdressing activities (trying to look as feminine as possible with wig and breasts and cosmetics and so on)? I don't consider that I am pretending to be a woman. I consider myself to be a man dressing as a woman. You may consider that's merely a semantic fudge-- and you could be right! But, although I use "Vivienne" as a convenient internet name, when dressed I am quite happy to be called by my normal name and male pronouns. I don't see me in a dress as being any different from me in a pair of jeans. I think of it as "Me, but on a good day".

    Moving on a little, I tend to think that (however some people may stomp and grumble and disagree) there are powerful Darwinian reasons for sexual dimorphism: males (of any species) need to look like males, and vice versa (there are a very few species which circumvent this). I think that means that we are hard-wired to consider males and females as different in role and appearance. I don't think it's as simple as saying that societal conventions of clothing and gender-behaviour are mere arbitrary constructs.

    As for the old chestnut "fabric doesn't have gender", which I have heard in various forms and in various places, I tend to think that's a bit facile. Skin doesn't have gender. DNA doesn't have gender. But humans have gender (and plenty of it!), and clothing and behaviour are merely outward manifestations of that gender.

    (I am one of those people who draws a distinction between sex and gender. Sex is biological: chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs, phenotype. Gender is societal: behaviour, clothing, role and expectations. And you could always add in a third term, which is sexuality which is your preference of who you want to go to bed with.)

  3. (Part 2!)

    As a scientist, it's clear to me that, in general, sex and gender and sexuality are usually congruent. That is the statistical and biological norm. Most men act like men, dress like men, and want to sleep with women. Most women act like women, dress like women and want to sleep with men. But, as we all know, there are exceptions. About 1% or thereabouts of men want to sleep with other men. And about the same number of women want to sleep with other women. We all know that sexuality isn't black and white, and we know that sex isn't black and white, and gender isn't black and white. (There is a lot more on my blog about numbers and categories and diagrams and so on if you are interested).

    In fact, I consider gender and sex and sexuality to be independent of one another, at least in those of us who don't fit into the "normal" clear categories. This is something that most people just don't get. They think if you are a man dressing as a woman you must be trying to attract the attention of men for sex; they are conflating gender with sexuality. Not so.

    At a population of six billion and counting, the number of humans who may fit into that magic 1% is sixty million, or about the population of the UK. I do not, in all honesty, think that gives us a right to claim to be normal in any sense, but I do sincerely believe it gives us every right to claim to be valid.

    So (and I apologise that this is turning into an essay) what matters to me is that various individuals (of whatever stripe) should treat one another with respect and courtesy. (Another of my foibles is how uncharitable various groups can be to each other, even within these subgroups). I am 100% in favour of absolute equality for everyone. Can women be firefighters and lumberjacks? Why not? Can a man marry another man? No problem. Can a person live their life as neither quite male nor quite female? If they choose. And can a man wear a skirt for any reasons he deems reasonable? Why the hell not?

    I hope that makes my basic views clear. I suspect I will have opened a large can of worms with this, and I look forward to discussion about it!

    Best wishes,


    1. Vivienne,

      Sorry for my lack of response, I've had a busy couple of days.

      I'm reading a very interesting book right now called "Delusions of Gender" which I feel is pretty relevant here, so perhaps check that out? I'm going to try to respond as best as I can here, but keep in mind that this is primarily a fashion blog and has such I'm not all that deeply interested or invested in serious debate about gender.

      On things pretending to be what they aren't, my immediate thought is "who has the right to decide such things?" I try very hard not to judge people in that regard, because I believe that people have a right to express themselves how they see fit. With regards to crossdressing, I guess I feel it is largely semantics at play, because ultimately I feel the only bit that matters is individual happiness. If taking on a womanly appearance is what makes you happy, then I absolutely support you, and for me it doesn't need to be much more complicated than that.

      I don't agree with the notion of humans being hard-wired for gender differences in role and appearance, because those roles and appearance guidelines are entirely fabricated. The idea that fabric does not have a gender is not superficial, it is a fact, and it's relevant because although you are right that we do project gender onto the world around us, my point is that these stereotypes are mere opinions that are often treated as fact. Speaking sartorially, a great example of this is how the gender associations with the colors pink and blue have completely reversed over time, or how dresses used to be considered acceptable and practical attire for boy and girl children up to about age 6, whereas nowadays many would question both the sanity and morality of little boys wearing dresses or the color pink. The point I take away from all this is that if these rules are so arbitrary and malleable, then why do we cling to them so tightly? They are completely meaningless and we should not waste our time trying to fit narrowly within them.

      I think that these gender stereotypes have a self-enforcing quality that we can't ignore, by which I mean to say that I believe there is no "normal". I think trying to quantify behavior as normal or abnormal with regards to gender/sex/sexuality is really just an attempt at re-enforcement of the status quo. Telling boys that wearing dresses is abnormal gender behavior (even while then saying "but that's okay!) still has a negative effect because those same boys will quickly learn that in order to be successful in life they will need to be "normal", which can lead to self-editing of qualities that are decidedly "outside the box" (thus skewing statistical analysis towards the already enforced idea of what is normal for the majority). Instead of worrying about how and why I'm different, and how to reconcile that with both my own identity and society, I think it's much more productive to instead realize that we are all "different", that there is no real average or normal, and that that is actually a great thing. That's why I try to focus on promoting self-love and acceptance here on the blog, as opposed to getting too caught up in attempts at quantifying and labeling.

  4. I know this does not fit with the rest of the comments and I sincerely hope this does not offend you but I have noticed that you fill these tops very well and am wondering if you just have a little man boob going on and the tops work with it or if you use a bra or bra and breast forms or something of the like. I am just curious and if you are uncomfortable answering I understand. I am very jelous of your figure by the way :-) thanks

    1. Hey Daniel,

      I don't wear breast forms, so WYSIWIG (What You See Is What I Got) applies, haha. As a fat dood, I'm definitely packing some man boob, and honestly it's taken me a long time to be okay with that. It is what it is, though, you know, and I believe it's important to love the body you have even if there are things you would like to change about it.

      Thank you for the compliment! Keep rockin'!

    2. Thank you very much for the reply and keep up the good work man. I wish you the best of luck. Stay awesome

  5. I'm just curious, is this a style you choose every day or once in a while? Btw I want your dresses... :P

  6. I got chills reading this. This is exactly how I feel about gender and fashion and you completely nailed it.