Thursday, April 30, 2015

What's so awesome about wearing a skirt?

When I saw my doctor this week for a check up and told her about this project, after she told me all the reasons she loved wearing pants, she asked why a man would wear a skirt when they could wear pants. I'm enjoying asking that question myself, and I'm surprised every time I put it on how much I like it. Seriously. I'm really starting to love this thing. I cool off much faster, and it is hard not to note that men in other cultures who live in places with regularly warm to hot environments often have loose bottom garb that men in the USA would call a dress (its a tunic). The ease of wearing it is really incredible, and it just plain feels good on my skin. I love this thing!

Until I go out in public. What's really starting to percolate is how much clothing is about managing self-perception and the perception of others, which is silly because we can't control the perceptions of others. Clothing is about culture at least as much, if not more than it is about "rational"
decisions of what to wear. Practicality, environment, and context inform culture, even as our culture informs our perception of those things.

Today in the movie theater restroom, with the smell of popcorn mixing in a queer manner with the antiseptic smell of the bathroom and not quite cleaned up bodily fluids, I stood at a urinal again. The black, shiny tile in front of my face acted like a mirror and allowed me to see behind me and eased a bit of anxiety. At least I'd see the strike coming, I thought. One man came back from the blow drier and picked up something from beside the sink, turned and looked at me, gaze pointed down toward my skirt, and then he seemed to slightly nervously shift the package he'd retrieved and left the bathroom. Big exhale.

Exiting the restroom hurriedly, I almost bumped into him, and I scampered out of the lobby to stand in the hallway leading to the exit doors. The lobby just felt too exposed. While I waited for my partner, the man from the bathroom came up to me and commented how much he liked my skirt, and how good it was to see a man in a skirt. This lead to one of the most touching and really special conversations I've ever had. Just reliving it for this writing brings me to tears. There are a ton of amazing people in the world that I've never connected with.

I'm starting to wonder at what point I might start telling stories like that in my head when people notice the skirt instead of all the fearful things I hear now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

First impressions....Please post here!

This project is in part about what first happens when we see someone who isn't conforming to our expectations, especially around gender. There is something really interesting at work here, and I'm not sure what it is yet.

When I'm out in public with a skirt on, I have no way to know what people think without engaging them in conversation. Otherwise, something I perceive as a dirty look might simply be heartburn. I will say this. There have been an unusual number of people with heartburn around me lately. I'm making myself start conversations with complete strangers at the dog park, in Office Depot, etc, and handing them a business card that just says: and asking them what their first thought is when they see a man in a skirt. Ok. Well maybe the card says more than just It is hot pink, after all.

The responses to this question have been interesting. The knee-jerk response is almost always one of two, "I didn't notice," or "I thought it was a kilt." This is interesting because if the person stays with the conversation, the majority of the "I didn't notice" responses become something else. I'm starting to wonder if we simply don't see it in part because its just too far outside our expectations or whether folks are really uncomfortable admitting their own impressions under those circumstances.

I've asked folks to share their thoughts on this blog, but there has been some reluctance to engage, so I'm using this post to invite those responses. I'm doing my best to keep the comments in this unmoderated so folks can post in their own voice, and I only intend to moderate if things become hateful instead of reflective. There's a difference between "I wondered what kind of weirdo (insert your favorite term) this guy was," and "You're such a weirdo."

So that's the invitation. Please post your first impressions. Maybe some of my own assumptions are completely off on this thing. Maybe a man wearing a skirt is totally acceptable to everyone...

Look! Its a surprise tag!

Not really, just some instructions on posting. Please look for a box to check that tells the great Googly in the sky that you are not a robot and punch in the characters in the picture. Lots of folks mentioning posts aren't coming through, and the system is a bit tricksy on the posting thing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

This project is NOT courageous, people...

Before we dive in, I had moment #8 of skirt love this morning (if you missed the first 7, sorry you don't live in my head, although its probably better that way...also, remember when # was a number sign instead of a hashtag?). I woke up bleary eyed this morning and went to pull on my skirt to drive our son to school and I didn't have to find the correct hole to put my foot in. Skirts are cool that way. Jump in and go. Got it on backwards? Just spin it around. So awesome.

I'm struggling with this courage subject a bit. Several friends have commented about how brave or courageous this project is. This energy feels really good, and I accept it in the spirit it is being offered, one of encouragement and love. There is certainly an element of courage for me. I define the term courage as experiencing fear and not letting it dictate an outcome, and fear is wrought throughout this project for me. 

That being said, I must push back on the idea some, too. This project is borne of privilege. It is about exploring the trap of privilege. One of the insidious mechanisms of privilege is that even taking no action or an action that undermines the privilege is, indeed, an act of privilege. Choosing to not vote does not negate the privilege of voting. Neither does protesting the vote while not voting. It is things like voter suppression laws that negate the privilege of voting. 

Courage around the subject of gender in general, and non-conforming specifically is much more like the Mary Anne Radmacher quote above. How many LGBT or non-gender conforming teens will be on the streets tonight because they are not welcome at home due to their gender identity or orientation? How many kids today will hear the message that they throw like a girl? How many trans folks do everything they can with their body to have the face in the mirror align with the self they see in their heart, but can't afford reassignment? 

Imagine that for a moment. Every day you wake up from your dreams, and you are herculean, the manliest of men. Then you look in the mirror and see your sister's or your mother's face staring back at you instead of your own. Better yet, read writings from someone who is trans about what that is like. Here's a good one:

The personal ping here is that when folks tell me how much male energy I bring to a situation, I can't even hear it. In my head, I've never been man enough, so how could that be possible? Looking in the mirror is not the picture that others see of me because of this distorted self view. What kind of man cries when he leaves his children for a few days on a work trip? What kind of man can't focus on work because he's running grocery lists and errands for the kids in his head? What kind of man fails to protect his children from trauma? 

The gap between my experienced world and the reality I'm supposed to inhabit as a Great White Male could swallow the Atlantic Ocean. That's the trap of privilege. Because I'm privileged, I have all this assumed or projected power, but there are costs to that. I'm not supposed to have intimacy with my children. Or my male friends. I'm supposed to provide for my family through monetary income, not food, laundry, and care. And I'm certainly not supposed to wear a skirt. Tell me again where all that freedom is? 

To be clear, this trap is NOT the same as the reality every other gender identity in this country endures on a daily basis. The point is that the binary gender mechanisms that oppress women and the LGBTQi Qmmunity leave an invisible wall for the Great White Male, too. That wall supports his privilege. It also distances him from parts of himself. It tells him what he can and cannot do. And until he can see the parts he's cut off from and decide sexism matters to him, it will persist in dismembering him. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Product Review: Skirt #1

Thanks to the article linked here and to Jenna Talackova for her courage.
To set the scene for today's conversation, ask yourself if you were more or less likely to click through to this post based on the fact that there was a woman in a bikini in the thumbnail. The commodification of women's bodies in US culture is well-documented. If you want to argue this point, don't bother reading further. Go google it and come back in a week or so when you've read 1% of the material out there on the subject.

What I hadn't noticed is the strength of the collusion on the subject of not just women's bodies, but anything marketed to women that might have even a remote relationship to appearance.

In beginning this project, I had to lay out what the skirts would look like. I wanted a skirt that I felt was gender-neutral by all standards outside of the fact that it was a skirt. A second skirt I'm going to use during this project is from another culture and is a skirt that is typically worn by males in that culture. And the third essential skirt is the kilt. Partially because I have to have a skirt that I can wear to things like my kids' band concerts and not have it become about me, and partially because the kilt asks different questions of the skirt project. The goal is not to dress like a woman, or cross-dress, any more than a woman is cross-dressing when she wears pants. It is interesting to note that pants have become "gender-neutral," which really just means that women have to become men in order to be normal or neutral.

For the gender-neutral skirt I went to REI. I knew I wanted a skirt that was a knee-length black synthetic mix knit fabric that had enough weight that I didn't have to worry about it flying up, but was still light-weight enough to enjoy what I anticipated as one of the joys of wearing a skirt: ventilation and lightness. We should probably take a breath after that last sentence. The english teachers and grammar wonks in my head are collectively screaming at me.

Reeking of privilege...but it says its fair trade!
Shopping in the REI women's department is not normally a strange experience. As a homemaker, I buy stuff for the women in our house all the time. But despite the familiar feeling of REI that normally exudes the comforting aura of the potential for adventure, I hesitated this time before my foot left the winding yellow brick road and crossed the thin rubber threshold at the edge of the carpet under the racks that made up the women's section. I went right to the clearance rack because I knew that in spite of having a small REI dividend to spend, I didn't want to spend a bunch on the skirt. There were two skirts that fit the description. One was the right length, but size small. Massive understatement. It was a legwarmer. Seriously. I could have worn it around my thigh. Maybe that's the next project. The other skirt was size extra large. That'll be too big, for sure. I kept looking around the department. After not finding anything, I returned to the clearance rack, went item by item, and decided out of due diligence that I should at least hold the extra large skirt up to my waist. Shock.

/end rant

Seriously. Can someone please create a clothing line that names the sizes after something fun, instead of naming them after judgements? I want a clothing line with sizes named after flowers or herbs or colors or anything other than XL or a number. Yes there will have to be a translation the first time we buy, but based on the responses to the rant above from the folks who regularly shop women's departments, I'm guessing there might be something to this...

Back to the review. No pockets. WTF. Where am I supposed to keep my phone, wallet, and keys? Which brings us to another commodification collusion. I have to buy a purse to keep that stuff in. And then I have to fill the purse with other stuff. And on and on. Our daughter refuses to buy pants in the women's department for this exact reason. She likes pockets. This is actually the least coercive explanation for no pockets that someone has mentioned on this subject. The other one is that they make hips look too big. Appearance again. More commodification.

So after all the ranting and stupid, what do I like about the skirt? Yep to ventilation and lightness. When I'm not out in public, there's something really freeing about it. There's a flow to this skirt that really just doesn't happen with pants or shorts. Cool stuff.

So how does all this effect the Great White Male?The root of this project is something I noticed years ago: the commodification of women leaves men invisible. Men are not meant to be consumed by our eyes. The evidence for this is everywhere. There are exceptions, to be sure (the gay community really illustrates this), but unless a man is playing a power role, he is not meant to be viewed. Folks in the LGBTQi Qmmunity are often very familiar with this phenomenon because our reality blurs the entrenched binary gender system constantly.

Try this: Walk down the street and take note of how many people look you in the eyes. Note their gender (or rather, your perception of it). How is the eye contact different between viewer and the object being viewed? How is it different between male and female folks that you see? When do you smile during this mini-exchange? Is the smile compulsive for you, or part of an intentional communication? How does this experiment differ from your usual habit for engaging folks on the street?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

#1 on the list of scary places to wear a skirt as a dude: Truck Stop Restrooms

Pretty sure those shoes don't match. At least that's what my inner style editor says. But my sense of style has always been questionable, so we'll go with it. It was raining today, so flip-flops were not an option.

Pretty sure I could blog for a month just on the experiences of the last 24 hours. From buying the skirt, bumping into strangers and friends alike, to the truck stop.

Today was the last day of my latest round of continuing education as a coach, so in addition to the random folks in the hotel I checked out of and time with colleagues finishing the days work, I drove home. From Denver to Albuquerque. Look at it on a map some time. Between Colorado Springs and Santa Fe there is a no-man's land of small towns. And lots of truck stops. I knew I wanted to limit my stops to a single stop, and I made myself actually go into the restroom.

Before I describe the terror of using a men's restroom while wearing a skirt, I need to acknowledge several things. Folks tell me I'm a substantial human these days. But somewhere inside is still the little dude who was always gasping for breath on the bottom of the smear the queer pile or getting his face pounded in for one reason or another. I've never been man enough, white enough, or anything enough that was important. At least, that's the story the little boy tells. This is also nothing compared to the reality of so many folks today who are queer in one way or another. All we have to do is check the headlines to find another hate crime or domestic violence incident.

I pushed open the door to the truck stop and the familiar smell hit me: coffee dogs. That unique boutique of burned coffee and flavorless tubular meat product known as the truck stop hot dog. Maybe the key is to dip the dog in the coffee? My toes curled. As I looked around for the restrooms, trying my hardest to not make eye contact and once again wonder why I cared what a complete stranger was thinking behind the face they were making, I could feel the tension creep up my legs. Spotting the bathroom, part of me tried to bolt back to the car, rationalizing how much safer it would be to just pull off on the side of the dark freeway as trucks blew by me at 80mph in the rain. The tension climbed with every step so that by the time I stood in front of the urinal I was thoroughly convinced that I was going to die while peeing. About 15 miles south of the truck stop I began to stop shaking.

The fear probably isn't rational, but it was still very real. I have too many friends who are gender non-conforming with very real scars to take these things lightly. As I shared my experience with my partner, her comment was to welcome me to her reality. A reality she lives everyday, every time she goes into a restroom outside our home. It dawns on me that even in the 'Merica of 2015, gender non-conforming might simply refer to the degree to which one is not a Real Man. Women my be more gender conforming that folks who are transgender or gay, but they're still not aligned with the default gender by which conformity is measured: The Great White Male.