Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Boy in a Skirt

When I was a kid, a boy came to school on Halloween dressed in a skirt and a teacher had a fit. He was a nice kid, really quiet and a bit marginalized and she humiliated him as she made it clear that she would not tolerate boys dressed as girls. What I learned from that was that even playing at gender transgression (male to female anyhow) was apparently very upsetting to some people and that made me think hard about my value as a girl. If he had debased himself by looking like me...well then what did that mean for me?

It was also, I think, a beginning for a kind of core belief that to humiliate anyone regarding their gendered behaviors is inhumane. I think because he was the kind of boy who I would have characterized as gentle and even feminine, one of the few boys who didn't frighten me or mock me, I felt anger at his treatment than I would have otherwise. For some reason when *he* dressed in a skirt, I didn't feel like he was making fun of me. There was sensitivity in it somehow and I think that's why he made the teacher so angry. If he had been a jock, I really doubt the teacher would have come down hard on him like that. She probably would have thought it funny. But he wasn't *that* kind of boy. I sensed that for some reason, he was the kind of boy who could not be allowed to cross-dress because the idea of it wasn't absurd enough to be funny to the other jocks and that made it *dangerous*.

I was really angry that day with that teacher. Really angry. And I find, oddly enough, that I'm still angry about it today. Or sad. Yes. I guess the right word is "sad"- for him, for me, and for the teacher too. Just an old childhood memory. Funny how they haunt us.


Anonymous said...

When I was at school a similar event took place and it, like with you, has stayed with me. Perhaps it started me on the road to hating all sexual stereotyping and therefore 'did me some good'. However,for the individual concerned it was the start of years of harassment by other students. Those doing the harassing have, probably forgotten the incident, but those, like me, who were sickened by it will recall it clearly.

Sandra said...

On behalf of 'boys in dresses,' everywhere, thank you for this insightful post, Hystery. Yesterday, after Meeting, I went to watch the Washington Redskins (an annual outing before the weather gets cold)and was dismayed to see three men wearing dresses and 'Miss Piggy' noses walking around the perimeter of the field having their photos taken with the chosen few who are allowed that close to the pitch.

My partner said I shouldn't get upset, but what if they had been lampooning Jewish people, or Chinese people; or black people, Muslims, or even 'regular' gay people? How is it that it is still somehow OK to publicly make fun of transgender people?


Hystery said...

I think you have a right to feel hurt and angry. For me, the anger might come from a sense that while some forms of prejudice are recognized for being inhumane or at least rude, transgender people aren't even on most folks' radar. They don't know they are being asses because they don't get that transgender people are real-honest-to-god people and part of their communities to boot. It wasn't that long ago that I dealt with people who claimed they didn't know any gay people. I assured them that they did and just didn't know it. Good grief! People can be clueless.

As I've become aware of how few people have a clue that gender and sex are way more complicated than our dualistic system allows, I've begun inserting comments and lessons in my courses so that my students begin to know that there aren't just two genders, two sexualities, two sexes. Humans are way more amazing and complex than that. I have to do the same thing with races, religions, and politics...but the limited understanding of gender diversity is more pervasive.

Sandra said...

In fairness, someone has pointed out to me that these guys do charity work:

It appears they don't mean any offense; but still, I don't think they'd go to a Redskins game looking like Al Jolson and wearing dresses and piggy snouts.

Bush Quaker said...

It's interesting how people's perceptions differ so dramatically. Maybe it's because in Scotland so many of us still wear the kilt on a regular basis, as is the case to lesser and differing degrees in other Celtic countries, or that cross-dressing is part of many of the traditional festivals and rituals in Celtic countries, but I doubt very much that it would have been commented on here, let alone acted against. I certainly can't imagine a teacher here giving someone a hard time about it, if it were part of Halloween fancy dress, apart from in the ultra-Protestant Western Isles, but then they would probably be more concerned with the pagan celebration of Halloween! I really must wonder if the teacher would have reacted the same way if he had worn a kilt.

Priscilla said...

I love this post, Hystery. In a former life I was writing a book on gender transgressions, so this is near to my heart. Yes, dangerous to cross-dress, because in the case of a boy it means dressing "down" the status ladder. No one gives a rip (anymore) if women dress "up" like men. Your insight that he was dangerous because NOT mocking girls is perceptive. I hope he is still courageous, still dressing the way he wants, and happy.

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