Symbols and reality

Hadley Freeman wrote in the Guardian that gender neutrality in children’s clothes should be about the expansion of choice. And Anything that reaches out to transgender teenagers is to be applauded. Hooray. Yet she says Eddie Izzard should not say he likes having a manicure “Because I’m trans” because men should be free to like that too.

There were 108 upvotes for a comment calling the article “drivel”-  I think from a conservative perspective. Another comment said that clothes and interests should not define your sex. Women can be scientists. A reply said if teens create labels, and change them, they refuse to be pinned down on interests or clothes. They have to play with symbols as a way of finding themselves. It is a way of widening their possibilities.

There are the symbols, the interests, and the human interactions. Flowers and butterflies for girls symbolise their yielding softness. Toy cars and toolkits for boys show their practicality and strength. Strong, rational men become coal miners and scientists, but also listen to other men rather than to women because women should not bother their pretty heads about what they do not understand. (Irony alert!) The strength gives them the capacity for decisive leadership and mean that women should be attracted to them and satisfy their needs. Men get the work done, and women look after the men.

What really matters to me is the human interaction. I am gentle. I want reconciliation not conflict. I seek to understand not to condemn. However, for me as for all of us the symbols, strengths, and interactions are conflated. Someone like that must necessarily also be like that. My softness means floral dresses in bright colours, and a caring role.

The fact that we conflate them means I can communicate with symbols, to an extent. I dispense with masculine symbols, and ideally produce a first impression opening someone to value my pansy nature. Unfortunately it does not work by itself. I am not self-confident, and that is the stronger first impression. People judge me as not fitting the symbols- finding me masculine, or imagining I might be violent because they see me as a man- and are uncomfortable with my failure to fit symbols for either sex. I feel more uncomfortable.

It seems to me that when women take control they do so in less challenging, arrogant, flashy or domineering ways. It is that we have a common purpose being articulated by the woman, rather than we have a Leader. That is a style I would love. Men can, sometimes, take charge in an undemonstrative way. I would rather anyone used persuasion rather than force, winning my co-operation by showing the more excellent way.

Are penises and breasts symbols of masculinity and femininity? They have been for me, and for others. I was depressed. I had my operation, losing the prime symbol of my maleness, and my depression was cured. I was free to accept and explore myself as I had not been before. It saved my life. Yet I agree that while behaviour is gendered- domineering or winsome, rational or emotional- people of both sexes exhibit all genders. Most people exhibit all genders to an extent, though we favour different ones, as we show different personalities.

A toddler’s t-shirt, with a princess or a dinosaur on it, affects how adults respond to the child so moulds the child’s behaviour. A child may choose either t-shirt by seeing how the adults around her respond. That in turn produces responses from her.

Abashed. Delighted.

The demand that everybody display in public his innermost motivation, since it actually demands the impossible, transforms all actors into hypocrites; the moment the display of motivations begins, hypocrisy begins to poison all human relations.

-Hannah Arendt

She talked of politics, but that applies in knowing myself- I found years ago that I could discern good and bad, selfless and self-aggrandising, brave or cowardly, mean or generous, motivations for any act of my own. Seeing another, I feared he tortured himself by desiring to be Good rather than do as he wanted- for the moment you analyse possible motivations, you cannot know yourself to be good.

Where not constrained to act for a necessary end, should I just do what delights me?

I was delighted to find this Marion Donaldson dress in a charity shop. It flatters the figure, and stands out, with bold floral design in blue, red, green and intermediate colours. Then I went for a coffee with a friend. I noticed the other women could dress in a beautifully feminine manner- that floral sweater is pretty- yet all wore separates, mostly trousers, and I was abashed. Then a preview of a BBC4 documentary: the academic presenter wears a dress, and I feel delight: I am not alone. I noticed in France a few years ago more women wore dresses, perhaps because it is hotter.

Do I want to stand out, or fit in? Thinking of it, it might be good to improve my eye for these things, and get a wider range of clothes. I am fifty, and I am doing teenage still. I resent that it is so much effort, and want just to carry on as I am until a sudden intense feeling that that is not good enough.

Transition seems to be awfully to do with clothes mocked Lionel Shirer in Prospect magazine, but well, clothes are how we present ourselves to others.

I like dresses, and I wanted dresses for the Summer, and people do not generally wear dresses. I will wear them at Yearly Meeting: I don’t expect others to, but there some non-conformities seem OK.

I would like it clear and sorted, and it is not. I want to be, not all the time to have to become. As opportunities arise, or I have energy to seek them out, I may get a wider range of clothes to express myself or fit different situations while dealing with other issues. And that sudden self-conscious discomfort was useful information: it does not mean that I am useless and stupid, but that there are other possibilities…

I can’t make sense of this. I have conflicting desires and feelings, different levels of energy or discomfort,

but it is alright, really-

Degas, before the mirror

Wearing dresses

Trans women dress more femininely than cis women. I have often noticed in a group I am the only woman in a skirt; or been in a group of trans women, all in dresses, where cis women in similar circs would be in trousers. For years I never wore trousers at all- though a man I knew wore trousers three times in five years: he was a hotel manager in the Highlands, and always wore kilts.

I like skirts. I don’t have particularly good dress sense, though it is better than it was. The play Bakkhai represented my experience beautifully: the King appears in a ridiculous skirt suit, out of fashion, ill-fitting, with feminine flounces; and I thought, I have worn that suit, and seen others in it. Dress sense is something cis women learn from childhood, and we have to pick up later.

You pick it up in part from watching other women. I have a problem with that, too: I tended to walk along the street quickly, to get where I was going, rather than looking around at people and things. Friends think I have snubbed them when I have not noticed they are there. Partly this is not noticing others’ attention, which I feared might be hostile.

You work on it slowly, because you have other things to work on. I had a few looks I liked, and I stuck to them, because I had to think about work and friendships. One trans woman I met bought lots of clothes from charity shops and wore something different every day, to find what she liked and what looked good on her, and what other people liked on her.

I found the fashion a few years ago for leggings or black opaque tights, and short flippy skirts, too exposing. I was scared of it. It was the sexy end of feminine, and I don’t want to look sexy. Neck lines go up and down, but I wore high necklines and was roundly mocked for it by one woman in about 2007: no-one would wear a shirt like that, buttoned up to the neck! And with the leggings, a woman in her sixties had been told her long skirts were frumpy, she should show off her legs, and she told me I should show mine. So I do, now and then, I have a shorter skirt and a couple of shorter dresses. I still feel self-conscious. Not everyone is looking at me, and those who are might be appreciative not derisive.

It has never been that I want to appear feminine so I choose clothes which I think look particularly feminine, but that I am feminine, so choose clothes I like- bright warm colours, soft fabrics, floaty shapes. And I wear jeans a lot, because they are practical.

Madame Monet in Japanese Costume

Modesty II

Cause I’m gonna make you see
Nobody else here, no-one like me
I’m special, so special
I gotta have some of your attention
Give it to me

Oh, yeah- me, too! Of course. This creature is beautiful, creative, powerful, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and you’re going to notice. You will see my posture and deportment, because a person can dominate a room, turning heads, whatever they are wearing. I am a force of nature. I dress to express my personality, to make me feel Good, to attract attention, and why not use a push-up bra as part of that? My sexuality is part of the way I am, with everyone, not just with lovers.

At least that’s the theory, what, appallingly late, I am now working on. One has to do teenage eventually.

Onywye, I feel good in a nice dress, and I love that suede jacket. The long blonde hair feels so much better than the short dark style. I love it caressing my upper back, in the V of the neck-line.

So we dance together, women and women, men and men, men and women, left-handers and red-heads, sometimes enjoying the game, sometimes bruised by it. If you do not have the physical advantages of the most vivacious animals, you can play with other tools. The unco guid use disapproval, saying that displaying her body is lacking self-respect, coming over like a whore. Men oppress women with violence, and use her attractiveness against her- she was “asking for it”. In places women dress as men wanted, we are naked or in burqas.

The alternatives seem to be the beautiful free movement of expression or rules from controlling fear. Men object to women dressing “immodestly” when they feel embarrassed by their naughty thoughts. If they could accept attraction as natural and beautiful, they would not need to project their discomfort onto the other.

It is not respect for another to say that she is demeaning herself by the revealing clothes she wears. It is judgment. Respect requires allowing her to be as she is. Tiribulus’ comments here are vile. To me every woman is a lady, no matter what they are to themselves. And My family is the standard. If I would not want my wife or daughter to be seen in [anything “revealing”], I don’t intentionally see other women that way either. He sets himself as the standard, and claims that those women who do not meet his standard are demeaning themselves and have no self-respect. He is projecting.

This is why we are told “Judge not”. By the measure you use, it will be measured to you. You create a picture in your mind of another’s cultural background, understanding, intention, action, and it may be wholly unrelated to their reality. Walk a mile without shoes.

Different Diana


My blogging and facebook friend Michelle Krabill, who remains Evangelical but has a beady eye for Evangelical folly, quotes a survey of what women’s clothes Evangelical men found “immodest”. A choice example is that 65.4% said it was a “stumbling block” when a girl reaches into her shirt to adjust a bra strap. So, if my strap falls down, I must walk around unable to move my upper arm, until I can find a restroom and correct my dishabille in private- or risk tripping a man up with Naughty Thoughts, so that he falls off the true path of Christ and heads for Hell. But then, my breast will be lolling about inside my shirt, unsupported, perhaps even jiggling a bit. Oh! What is a girl to do?

Is it not amazing that I have such power over men’s souls? Or at least, that women younger, more attractive, and cissexual, have that power?

When skirts were all floor length, a glimpse of stocking really was something shocking- something unlooked for, which suddenly drives a man to thoughts of SEX. Some men have sex drives so strong, insistent and unrelenting that any sudden glimpse sends them wild. Which is why we wear slit skirts, of course: a glimpse is so much more fascinating than a clear view. While 29.1% of the survey said that slits in skirts are immodest, I am sure 100% would find slits horribly fascinating. God have mercy, that woman is showing her knee!

Halter necks like these dresses have are immodest, say nearly three quarters of the 1600 men surveyed. Indeed, a quarter would object to the models exposing their (rather sexy) collar-bones. We really cannot win: if we wear a niqab, some men will object to seeing our eyes, and in Afghanistan even these are obscured, behind a grille, within a loose, tent-like thing. The Taliban Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, modelled on the similar Saudi ministry, then objected to women wearing shoes with hard soles which made noises as the poor slaves walked.

When a commenter said that “most of the people responding [to the survey]  are Mennonite/Amish/Quaker” I got wound up. It is true that we tend to wear modest clothes, though I have no objection to showing off my collarbone, even my chest almost as far as my non-existent cleavage. But we do not enforce these standards on each other through fear, like these men. Rather, we value “plain dress”, which like “plain speech” is part of our testimony to Simplicity, from self-respect. Our plain dress is also practical, and lacking display.

Morality enforced by others will always be tyranny. The only way is to trust each other to behave like moral adults. Judge not.

For connoisseurs of Evangelical idiocy, here is an attack on and defence of the weird doctrine of Dispensationalism,