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Skant-ily clad - John C. Kirk

Oct. 2nd, 2016

10:20 pm - Skant-ily clad

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I went to Nine Worlds in August, and one of the panels involved wild speculation about the future of Star Trek (particularly the new TV series). One joking suggestion was that we might see the return of the skant, i.e. the mini-dress from early episodes of TNG.

Women in skants Man in skant

Apparently the idea was to demonstrate equality in the 24th century, by showing that men would wear dresses too. However, it was reserved for a few background characters rather than the core cast, and it didn't really catch on. Anyway, there's a quite bit of cosplay at Nine Worlds, so I've been thinking about wearing a skant next year. I'd have to make it myself (or commission someone else to do it), since you can't exactly buy these things off the peg; I've done some digging online and made notes on that, but I'll save the logistics for another post.

For now, I've been thinking about what it means to be a man wearing a dress. This follows up on my previous post (discussing the allegedly "cis-heteronormative" code sample), although again I don't claim to be an expert on this topic and I apologise in advance if I say anything hideously offensive.

If I've just got out of the shower, I'll often walk around with a towel round my waist. I think that's quite common, and I've seen other men do the same; that also works on the beach, if you need to swap your swimsuit for normal underwear while preserving your modesty. So, suppose that the towel was permanently sewn together like that (rather than tucked in): would it still look the same? My Robie Robe is similar, except that it resembles a dress more than a skirt, and I'm happy to wear that in public. I've also worn a kilt at a LARP event (the traditional "over the shoulder" design rather than the modern tailored version); I'd feel a bit self-conscious if I wore that elsewhere, but no more so than in any other LARP kit (e.g. chainmail).

Robie Robe in Lapland Kilt at LARP

So, I'm happy with the concept of having a single tube of fabric that goes around both legs, rather than a separate tube for each leg. I'm also happy to walk around with bare legs (e.g. when I wear shorts). Logically, then, I shouldn't have any problem wearing a skirt or a dress, but there's part of me that balks at the concept, purely based on the name: I've internalised the idea that those items of clothing are just for women. In a way, it's fascinating to discover that kind of wall inside my own mind; it's a bit like having a tooth out, then probing the empty socket where it used to be.

I'm sceptical about some of the portmanteaus that have sprung up, e.g. "guyliner" (when men use eyeliner). I sometimes carry a bag, but I don't think of it as a "man bag": it's just a bag. Similarly, I don't think of "men's trousers" and "women's trousers"; there may be different sizes/styles/fabrics, but it's still basically the same garment. So, by that logic, it should be ok for me to wear a skirt or a dress without needing to rebrand it. I'm not saying that anyone else should be forced (or even encouraged) to wear a dress; if you prefer the "separate tube per leg" clothing style, that's absolutely fine. However, if you want to wear one and feel that it's not appropriate because of your sex/gender, that's a problem.

The Guardian published an article about this: The great divide. This comment particularly caught my eye: "Yet such talk sounds like the reasoning of naturists, who present sound arguments for nudity that convince no one, no matter how often they are repeated." As regular readers will know, I have a relaxed view towards nudity (although I don't identify as a naturist because I tend to avoid labels), so for me that's actually an argument in favour of wearing a skirt.

I mainly wear the Robie Robe for practicality: I can wear it up to the water's edge, then get undressed in about a second. That's particularly useful for winter swimming races, where I don't want to stand around in the cold for too long. (The photo above is from my trip to Lapland in March 2014.) The LARP kilt was essentially a uniform, to show where I belonged on the battlefield. The TNG skant would be purely aesthetic, as a costume that's recognisable but slightly obscure. Speaking of aesthetics, I went to a wedding last weekend which included a ceilidh. Some of the dancers wore skirts, which floated upwards and outwards as they spun around; I felt a bit envious, because I couldn't get the same effect with a pair of trousers. I think that's one reason why I like capes, since they look pretty cool flapping in the wind. (And no, that's not a fart joke!) My main concern about any kind of skirt/dress would be restricted movement. I've been ok with my kilt and robe, but they're both quite loose. Looking at Toni Basil's "Mickey" video, she did high kicks and the splits in her skirt although that meant that everyone saw her pants.

Nine Worlds was set up to support diversity. (You could describe it as "the convention that Tumblr built".) So, I'm fully confident that I could wear a skant there without anyone criticising my choice. However, I'd be more hesitant to wear a dress or skirt in another setting, e.g. going to the supermarket or an office job.

Eddie Izzard has spoken out on this topic, although his views seem to have shifted over time, and they don't quite fit in with the terminology I've heard elsewhere. In 2011, he did an interview in Australia, and this dialogue starts at about 2m24s:
Interviewer: "Famously, you've dressed up in women's dresses, and -"
Izzard (interrupting): "No, I wear dresses. They're not women's dresses, they're my dresses, I buy them. It's like when women wear trousers, they're not cross-dressing, they're not wearing men's trousers, they're just wearing trousers."
A bit later, he says: "I'd already told my friends I was a transvestite", which seems to contradict what he said before. Then in 2016, he did a BBC program ("Marathon Man"). About 55s into that video, he says "I am a transgendered guy, who came out 31 years ago." As I understand it, transgender means that you don't match the gender you were assigned at birth, and therefore a transgendered man would have been designated as female at birth, but I don't believe that's the case for him.

As I mentioned before, I've been reading "Assigned Male" for a while, which had a strip on this topic:
Assigned Male #219

This is where I get confused. I agree with the first part: even if I wear a dress, I'm still a man. (I'm not coming out as transgender or a cross-dresser.) However, if gender isn't tied to sex (i.e. physical attributes) or clothing/behaviour then what does it actually mean? I was hoping that subsequent strips would address this in more detail, but sadly the sarcastic dismissal was the end of the matter. I want to be supportive, but I really do struggle with this concept. Surely it would be better to scrap the concept of gender altogether?

I came across another site a while ago: The New Backlash. I think that some people would describe the author as a TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist), so you may prefer not to follow that link, but I think she makes some valid points, particularly the page about imagining a world without gender. The same author (I think) also argued that if men identify as cisgender then this comes across (to some people) as endorsing toxic masculinity.

Thinking back to Nine Worlds again, they offer badges where people can specify their preferred pronoun. I've met some people who prefer to use "they" rather than "he" or "she". While individual motivations may differ, I assume that some of them are opting out of a false binary (the fallacy of the excluded middle), i.e. they're saying "None of the above". I can understand that more easily than someone who identifies as transgender.

There's another question I've sometimes pondered on. I know a lot of women who typically wear jeans and T-shirt rather than a dress. So, why do some transgender women dress in a more stereotypically feminine way? I can't claim to speak for anyone else, and the answer may vary from person to person. However, this reminds me of toast. I went to boarding school (Christ's Hospital) from 11-18. My boarding house had a toaster, but only LE (year nine) and above were allowed to use it. After the first six weeks, we all went home for the half-term holiday, and we were talking about what we'd do. One person said: "I'll eat an entire loaf of toast! I'll tell my parents that's all I want for dinner - just loads and loads of toast." Nowadays, I have my own toaster at home, so I can eat toast whenever I like; I might use it every day for a week, or not touch it for a month, depending on my mood. However, if that's how we reacted after a relatively short time, I can only imagine what it's like for someone who would like to wear a dress and has been told: "No, that's not for you. Girls can wear them whenever they like, but you must never do it." Under those circumstances, if they are finally "allowed" to do it, I can see why they might say "Ha! I shall now wear dresses every day forever!" The novelty might wear off later, as it did for me and toast, or it might not.

Back in 2014, I wrote about The right to refuse service? (E.g. the situation where a bakery refuses to supply a wedding cake to a gay couple.) Quoting from one the comments: "As Bismark said - laws are like sausages, it's best not to see how they're made. Realpolitik ensures your legal sausage is made from things you might otherwise find indigestible!" I wonder whether there's a similar issue here. I.e. maybe accepting people as transgender is a necessary step along the road to abolishing gender altogether?

In conclusion, I have to acknowledge that there are different expectations for men and women (at least in the UK). I disagree with those expectations, and I don't think anyone should feel bound by them, but until we can eliminate them I can see why some people might find that they fit better in a different box.

Comments:

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From:nou
Date:October 3rd, 2016 08:37 pm (UTC)
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So, why do some transgender women dress in a more stereotypically feminine way?

One reason for this is that they can be refused medical treatment (e.g. hormones, gender confirmation surgery) if their doctors think they aren't acting sufficiently feminine.
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 4th, 2016 12:58 am (UTC)
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Looking on the NHS website (gender dysphoria), they say something similar: "If you want to have genital reconstructive surgery, you'll usually first need to live in your preferred gender identity full time for at least a year. This is known as "social gender role transition" (previously known as "real life experience" or "RLE") and it will help in confirming whether permanent surgery is the right option."

However, this is where I'm still confused. Are sex and gender independent or are they linked? If they're independent, why would someone need a physical change to confirm their gender? Or if they're linked, why is there so much emphasis on treating them as separate concepts?
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From:nou
Date:October 4th, 2016 10:18 am (UTC)
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I think at least part of your confusion stems from thinking there is (or should be) one unified way of looking at the issue, whereas actually different trans people feel differently about it. Some don't feel the need for surgery; others do. Some think sex and gender are separate things; some don't. Some want to abolish gender entirely; others quite like it.
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From:shuripentu
Date:October 5th, 2016 10:21 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I think you're attempting to apply far too simplistic a heuristic to an extremely complicated set of topics.

A few thoughts, quickly formed:

- People seem to differ in how strongly they identify as a particular gender. (Like how some people have a definite favourite colour, while others aren't really fussed. Except generally much more innate, pervasive, and potentially deadly.)

- One factor (but not the only factor) that I suspect affects how strongly a person identifies as a particular gender is how much their environment supports/has supported that identity. If you're a woman and you've spent your entire life having your girl-/womanhood affirmed by your society, in one way or another, then you might not think about your gender much at all. You might not notice how your society has affirmed your gender all along. I never noticed my Canadianness, or thought of myself as particularly Canadian, until I moved away from Canada. While I was there, it was never something I needed to pay attention to or think about, because it was all around me all the time already.

- Biological sex is frequently assumed, even by people/institutions that should know better, to be strictly binary. (It's not.)

- Biological sex, gender identity, and gender presentation are frequently assumed to be inextricably bound. (They're not.)

- Just because things aren't inextricably bound doesn't mean there aren't links between them. (And just because there are links between things doesn't mean they're inextricably bound.)

- When society tends to treat certain things as inextricably bound when they're actually not, an obvious (and arguably the least bad) first response is to emphasise their separateness. (When the topic is more complicated than that, which it often is, a more nuanced and lengthy discussion should follow where possible. And indeed, such nuanced and lengthy discussions do exist on the subject of gender; they're just not going to be the first response.)

- Everybody is different.
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From:bazzalisk
Date:October 5th, 2016 10:37 am (UTC)
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Humans like to put things into categories. Things like "Race", "Sex", "Gender", "Sexuality", and even "Species" aren't actual discrete properties, rather they're labels for particular common "clumpings" of a whole mess of somewhat correlated and interrelated continuous quantities. Most people fall somewhere within a standard deviation or so of a particular clumping point on all of those factors and so can easily be assigned a label based on the point they're closest to, but other people have traits that fall outside of that range, and some have a mix of traits that would normally not go together.

In the end it's rather arbitrary where we draw these lines.
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