I'm working on an autobiographical thingy. The backbone of this summer work is the proto-blog online diary I did in 1994, Diary: retrospections which is running on Wednesdays and Sundays for now. Sometimes there is background information needed to elucidate understanding. This is one of those.
|The previous Gender Workshops are here.|
From Outside the Gender Prison: The Substance of Style
[first appeared in Triangle Rising Newsmagazine, Little Rock, AR, August, 1997]
I was sitting in my office trying to come up with a (maybe somewhat more lighthearted than usual) topic for this month's column (it's more difficult that you might believe) when my supervisor (the chair of the mathematics department at the University of Central Arkansas) dropped by for a visit. She informed me of several things that she had been visiting with all my colleagues about, but then the subject turned to one about the way I dress. SHE didn't have any problem with it, you understand (she said so at least four times), but she wanted me to know that some others did.
It seems that there may be some people around here (but not her...no definitely not her), who have a problem with the fact that I almost never wear skirts or dresses (tsk tsk) and that sometimes I even wear shorts (gasp) while teaching and that I never wear a bra (faint).
Okay, so now I have a topic.
First let's have a little perspective. Shortly after I began my transition in 1992, I was attacked in the local press because I dared to wear skirts while teaching ("a man who wears skirts" was, I believe, the phrase that was used). I was a symbol of the moral decay of modern society. At the time, I didn't catch one whiff of anyone around here who was defending me from the public attacks on my character. And there was damn little private support.
Okay...fast forward. Now I'm dressing in a style that is either not feminine enough or perhaps not demure enough for the tastes of some. That is, I don't wear skirts or dresses. My personal opinion is that I don't need to be in anything approaching formal attire to perform my duties as a teacher (I never did when I was living as a male and nobody ever said a thing). I tend to wear slacks with matching tops, sometimes a pantsuit, and yes, sometimes shorts in hot weather (I do like to be comfortable).
And I do not wear a bra, except on very rare occasions. As far as I can tell, the reason for wearing a bra, from the point of view of someone who might consider wearing one, is either for protection or to keep one's breasts from sagging. Well, I don't have to worry about sagging breasts because I didn't have them until I was 44 (besides, perky breasts on a 49-year old are a little out of place). And I don't have to worry about monthly tenderness.
I guess that brings us to a third reason for wearing a bra (and perhaps for not wearing shorts): for the benefit of other people. Could it be that if people see a little jiggle in my breasts or a little too much leg, it offends their sensitivities? I guess this was what she was trying to say.
So, here I am, trying to think this out. Should I worry about the feelings of people who showed no kindness towards me when I transitioned? Do I wear clothes for my benefit or for the benefit of others?
I know the answers to these questions. While I do care somewhat about how other people feel about me, I dress for myself. At this stage of my life no matter how I dress, I am bound to offend someone. Some would prefer that I dressed as a male. Some apparently would prefer that I dressed stereotypically female. That's way too much binary thinking for me. I like to think I wear what the somewhat casually-dressed transsexual woman chooses to wear. Besides, it's difficult to be demure when one is 6'4".
So I say, "Shame on them!" if the way I dress somehow causes people to think about sex. And if the way I dress causes someone to think seriously about gender, then, "Hooray for me!"
© 1997 Robyn Elaine Serven