On Gender and What We Look Like

After doing the interview with Thorny yesterday, I started thinking about how gender is portrayed in fashion and film. They, of course, are a few steps ahead of the rest of us. They set the tone and eventually, we follow.

But not all the time. Often, the general public resists embracing certain trends, especially when it comes to gender. They want their women to look female and their men to look male. Oddballs like me need not apply.

You’ve seen The Crying Game and Stargate, right? Jaye Davidson played Dil in the former and Ra in the latter, and his androgynous look worked well in both. I think he’s beautiful.Jaye DThat was many years ago, and Jaye quit Hollywood (surprisingly smart of him, if you ask me) and went to Paris, where I’m sure he had many adventures. Today, his hair his in a faux mohawk, and he looks completely different. I admit to being curious about the lives he tried on while living in the City of Light.

Male or female? Sometimes, it’s not easy to tell unless you look closely, and even then you might not be sure. FashionAnd here are a few more pics I found. androgenyIsn’t it time we got away from assigning gender roles to people based on what they look like? Why is it only Hollywood, artists, and fashion magazines that get to play with gender? Why can’t we do it too, based on how we feel that day or week or month or lifetime? Being born in one body should not sentence us to always and forever exhibiting the traits assigned to it. And if someone feels strongly they want a different body in order to feel more fully and completely who they are, who are we to deny that?

What about men wearing what some might call dresses or skirts? What’s wrong with that? Women wear pants all the time and no one says a word. (If they’re smart, they’ll browse the boys’ or mens’ departments for a better price on their jeans and shorts.)

dresses and skirts

Why is anyone who does not fit preconceived notions threatening to the majority comfortable in their skins? Does it go back to our need to slap a label on everything and call it done?

I don’t know, and I don’t care, but denying someone their rights because they don’t fit into some arbitrary role has to stop. Beating up or killing those who are different must cease.

It’s time for humanity to take another step forward on our journey to transcendence.



About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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20 Responses to On Gender and What We Look Like

  1. Helena Stone says:

    Labels drive me crazy. ALL labels drive me crazy. The pretty one, the smart one, the geek, the freak. People want to stick labels on each other because that way they can hold others accountable for stuff they haven’t actually signed up for. So the pretty one shouldn’t be smart, the geek shouldn’t be pretty and so forth. It’s the same with gender. Life is nice and simple if you can just shove half the population in the male box and the other half in the female one. I mean think about it. We all know women get paid less than men for the same job. How could an employer possibly continue that discrimination if he couldn’t easily distinguish one from the other? And that’s just one example.

    I’ll stop. This was going to be a very short and sweet, I agree with you reply and then my snarky side took over. Suffice to say I’ll be a happy person the moment the world decides to abolish all labels.

    • I doubt it will happen anytime soon, but one can hope. *sigh* You make an excellent point about pay equality. Since it seems we must legislate for something that should be a given, men wearing skirts to work and women donning mustaches would throw a wrench in the works. If I had to do it all over again, I might be tempted to wear a dress to work on the rare days I feel female, and the rest of the time, strap down the tits, put on facial hair, and stick a dick in my pants just to make a point.

  2. Kinda jealous that you have to strap DOWN the tits when I have a constant struggle to keep mine UP. Heh. 😀

    We’re taught labels from the moment we’re taught to speak. (“Mama” “Dada”) We’ll never have a life without labels. The problem isn’t the label. The problem is that we feel the need to take it one step further and deem whatever we’re labeling “good or bad”. We’ve become so black and white. Things are either right or wrong. Good or bad. Normal or not. Conservative or Liberal. Gay or Straight. Anti-gun or Pro-gun. Pro-life or Pro-choice. Religious or Not. “You’re either for us or against us.” UGH!!!

    We’ve eliminated the middle class, the moderate politicians, the mid-level jobs…pretty much anything that is any shade of gray because we can’t figure out which box to put it in. There is no longer any middle ground where we all can meet and discuss things like adults and educate each other and maybe form new opinions and still get along. Reminds me of the Hunger Games. The middle is just where the weapons are kept and where we can annihilate each other before running to whatever side we’re on.

    It’s natural to be afraid or suspicious about what we don’t understand. I’ve learned SO much from all of you. I’ve changed my mind on several issues because of reading your books or blogs you’ve written. I’m not perfect. I’m a work in progress. I probably always will be. I grew up in a very conservative household. I still have some conservative roots and values and I’m okay with that. But I can tell you, a few years ago I would’ve looked at those photos of Jaye Davidson and wrinkled my nose in a “wtf?” expression. Today, I look at them and think (from left to right): “What a beautiful boy / girl / boy in a dress”. Do I still see the labels? Yes. I still see a boy and a girl. I can’t help it. What matters, to me at least, is do I see a problem with any of them? Nope. Education and experience are the only things that will make people change their way of thinking.

    I don’t think I’ll ever see a day without labels and that’s fine with me. I do, hope to see a day where I never see a friend type the words, “Oddballs like me…”

    • We are all works in progress. I’m still learning too. And when I see someone, the first thing I do is put a label on them: boy. Girl. We all do it. We like things neat and tidy, and our brain is always pattern matching.

      But I know enough to realize my original reaction might be untrue. I give the person a chance to tell me how they’d liked to be addressed or seen. Most of the time, the original, automatic assessment is correct and that’s fine. But once in a while, it isn’t. I’m alert to the exceptions now.

      • I don’t want to get into too much detail online, but there is a person in my work-world that for the past fifteen years, has had everyone all atwitter, trying to decide if she’s really a man underneath all the heavy make-up, neck scarves, very tight clothes, deep voice – or has she been surgically altered? I love this person to death, but I admit to being one of the “speculators” over the years. When I read your post on Thorny’s page, I thought of her. Maybe that’s it! Maybe she is gender-fluid! Then it hit me. Do I REALLY care? Does it matter at all? No. She’s great at what she does. She’s an awesome person and she and I have always gotten along like two peas in a pod. She’s presenting herself the way she wants and that should be the end of it. It’s kind of a nice feeling to realize I don’t HAVE to figure it out! I kind of can’t wait until a co-worker questions it again and I get to say, “Does it matter?”

        • 🙂 Excellent.

          This reminds me of when SNL did a running series of vignettes on “Pat.” You could not tell what gender the person was, and being comedy, a lot of the speculation was heavy-handed, even mean. I liked Pat because s/he was a mystery. Also, the character was nice, friendly, helpful. I was glad they didn’t paint her/him as someone shitty. That would have pissed me off.

          No, it doesn’t matter. If they want to tell you, they will. If you ask, they may answer, but I wouldn’t unless I get signals they’re open to questions. If they present as female, I will use female pronouns unless told otherwise.

  3. Jaycee Edward says:

    I remember “Pat”. They could’ve made him/her more attractive though. That hair and that western shirt. LOL! Ironically, my friend’s name can go either way too, but if you stood us side-by-side, she is a million times more girly than me, so no need to even ask what she prefers. She’s beautiful. ;o)

    • I agree they could have made her/him more attractive, but comedy. I know why they uglified the character, but it always struck me as a little sad to do that. I still don’t know who played Pat. Do you?

  4. Jaycee Edward says:

    Julia Sweeney. I never liked her. Actually, I didn’t really like SNL much during that time period.

  5. valjo44 says:

    I was taking an art class at the local college, mostly women. There was one young girl, sweet, helpful and the person the instructor called on when she had computer issues. Quirky dresser, something I finally noticed even though a lot of artist types can be more daring in what they wear. One day she would be dressed very masculine, chinos with a button down dress shirt, other days she would come in wearing striped stockings in rainbow colors, plastic bangles on both wrists up to her elbows, striped t-shirt and a skirt. This girl always worked large, bright and colorful in class. One of our assignments was a collage based on an emotion. When we completed a project we would go around class and talk about what it meant, technique etc and the class would critique the work. She had done this huge white poster and in the middle were these tiny people all dressed in different clothing, definitely not her usual style of work, which puzzled the rest of us. When it was her turn to talk about her piece she said it was about fear. I remember thinking fear of what since she obviously dressed the way she wanted. She was very tearful, scared and it took her a long time to explain. She said this was the first time she had ever felt safe enough to reveal who she was and how she saw herself to so many people who were relative strangers. Apparently as a teenager she had been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. Several of her personalities were male and her clothing was reflective of which personality was stronger that day. (I’m now wondering if maybe it wasn’t MPD but that she was gender fluid.) Not much changed in class except people paid more attention to what she was wearing and the very subtle changes in her personality but then it was back to making art.
    We will always have labels and for some people the label is just right but I think we also have to start to understand that the way the person labels themselves is the label the rest of the world needs to accept. I want to know that label. I want to know how the person standing in front of me sees themselves so in the end they are free to be who they really are and not who I think they are. It’s a gift for both of us.

    • What a sad but wonderful story. Sad because she was so afraid, wonderful because she was able to reveal herself to you. I hope life got easier for her, instead of harder.

      I want to know how the person standing in front of me sees themselves so in the end they are free to be who they really are and not who I think they are. It’s a gift for both of us. Beautifully said. Brought a tear to my eye.

  6. Karen H. says:

    There was a time when it was considered totally unacceptable for women to wear pants and yes they were labelled ‘bitches’ and ‘dykes’ and all those lovely nasty names that people use when they somehow feel their values and perceptions of the world being threatened. I find it ironic that we have such an issue with men wearing dresses/skirts, I mean really the Scots have been doing it for centuries, after all a kilt is really nothing more than a specific type of skirt and in many other cultures men wear garments that when you look at them they really just equate to another form of dress or skirt. Has anyone noticed what the popes wearing these days?

    We need to stop with the labelling and defining people with preconceived notions. I was reading something earlier today that basically implied that if you were gay or transgendered you were a paedophile and that is so much garbage. I unfortunately know a number of women who were sexually abused at some point in their lives and every one of them who knew who their abuser was will tell you, he was what we would label heterosexual, so based on this should I believe that all heterosexual men are sexual abusers? I don’t think so, I honestly believe that paedophilia is a deviancy all unto itself and not something that should be attached to ones sexual orientation or gender identity, but that wasn’t really the point I was trying to make. My point was that labelling people and removing the uniqueness that makes each of us an individual is part of what leads to stereotyping and all the erroneous preconceived notions that are swimming around out there just waiting to be used by people to justify their fear of that which is different and really at the heart of it that is what people fear. We can giving all the labels and names we want but at the end of the day it’s fear of the unknown, fear of what we don’t understand or perceive to be different. But really we’re all different and we’re all unique we just need to be allowed to express ourselves in the way that fulfils us as individuals. If no one’s being hurt, why does it matter if a man wants to wear a dress and make-up one day and not the next? Women do it all the time.

    For years we fought for women’s rights, women’s liberation. To hell with it, let’s liberate everyone and make it a better, fairer world for the next generations to come and for the people who struggle every day just to find themselves and be accepted for who they truly are.

    (Sorry, to go all preachy on you, Theo. But this is a topic that means so much to me. I just get kind of wound up about it).

    • For years we fought for women’s rights, women’s liberation. To hell with it, let’s liberate everyone and make it a better, fairer world for the next generations to come and for the people who struggle every day just to find themselves and be accepted for who they truly are.

      Hear hear! 🙂 Totally agree. What a wonderful world it would be if everyone could express who they really were, in any way that matters to them, and be accepted without question.

  7. I gotta say that reading your post, Fen, and the conversation that came after it was a fascinating read. It reminded me quite a bit of the post that Timmy posted on labels on Cody’s blog a while back. It’s true that we live with labels, and yes, they can be damaging. Much of the time they are, more often than not they are. It’s also true that much of the time that the labels do their damage to our psyches, it’s the association that one label is a bad label.

    My two cents, and I promise it’s only two, is to remind that sometimes labels give a goal. For me, the label I embrace is “being a good writer.” Personally, I think that even though I don’t look like any of the androgynous models out there, I like the idea of being andro because I don’t feel like a girly girl all the time. I feel most comfortable in my jeans and tank top and I think I own one skirt. I am by no means “butch” but I’m not a “lipstick”… and there it is: more labels. They’re not bad to me, but categories. No one label of lesbian is better than the other, just as no one label of gay man is better than the other… more like cross streets to help you navigate the streets of this shrinking world.

    I think what happens to make labels a bane instead of a boon is that many use them like weapons. I mean, as a community, we’re fighting for our rights under one label– LGBT– because to much of the country, even in the blue states, there are people that think we are going to hurt their kids and infect their communities. Racism is still prevalent in our country, too; we see evidence of it all over the media along with our fight. And these are just two examples of the bad labels. Instead of using labels like that, perhaps we should make an effort to make them into goals. I want my labels to be stuff like Better, Optimist, Loved, Good Person.

    I think I put in four cents instead of two, but yeah… great convo, again! 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment. An excellent contribution to the discussion. 🙂 The labels never end. Democrat, Republican, Christian, Agostic, Atheist, Muslim, etc., liberal, conservative. All jobs are labels, and sometimes that can keep people from seeing your true worth. Humans feel compelled to label everything. There’s no way around it, but as you point out, we can foster good labels rather than bad.

  8. diannegray says:

    I think we associate fashion to gender so we know how to treat people (male/female). This in itself is appalling and i don’t want to be treated any differently from a person of the opposite sex (but unfortunately this happens all the time no matter where we live). I’m always living in the hope that attitudes can and will change.

    • Another good point. I haven’t noticed anyone treating me differently now as compared to when they thought I was a biological male. I take that as a hopeful sign. However, I know full well if I applied for a job in my female form, I’d be paid less for the job, and that sucks.

  9. Jim2 says:

    If by labeling we mean simply trying to define what something/someone is, then as long as the labels are true to the subject, I see no problem. The problem is when labels are false, usually due to false beliefs. Labeling a man who wears a skirt simply because he is doing so as someone who has something wrong with him, or as gay, or even as a transvestite, is wrong. Many men wear skirts simply because they are comfortable, and not to look like a woman or even because they feel feminine that day. Especially as over half the men in the world wear skirts or skirt-like garments, it is strange to think that a man who wears a skirt is doing so to be feminine.

    Finally, the article notes, “Beating up or killing those who are different must cease.” I agree but would go further. There are ways of ostracizing others without beating up or killing them. Social disapproval is also not benign. People should be free to dress as they want without others making them feel they are doing something wrong. A more tolerant society, tolerant of differences, is needed. The way that men are ridiculed for wanting to wear skirts or dresses show that Western countries have a way to go.

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