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  1. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe October 10, 2006 at 3:38 pm |

    Presentable, adj.

    Hideously appareled after the manner of the time and place.

    In Boorioboola-Gha a man is presentable on occasions of ceremony if he have his abdomen painted a bright blue and wear a cow’s tail. In New York he may, if it please him, omit the paint, but after sunset he must wear two tails, made of the wool of a sheep and dyed black.

    —Ambrose Bierce, the Devil’s Dictionary

  2. Ellie
    Ellie October 10, 2006 at 4:43 pm |

    That first part really resonated with me. When I go anywhere with my brother and, for any reason, need him to hold my purse, he holds it at arm’s length between two fingers like it’s made out of smelly cheese. He’s 25, in case you were thinking he was 11 or so.

    He would rather risk getting my money, driver’s license, credit cards, etc. stolen than have someone think that he might be holding a purse. Pretty amazing.

  3. Nick Kiddle
    Nick Kiddle October 10, 2006 at 4:58 pm |

    OT: Speaking of SOM, how come is your piece not in? I was really disappointed when I didn’t find it.

  4. Erin M
    Erin M October 10, 2006 at 6:45 pm |

    Thanks for putting this up, piny. Ever since the barnburner started over the Twisty comment I’ve been mulling in my head how all this “presentation” and “trappings of femininity” stuff plays out for transwomen, but I didn’t really know how to begin a conversation (or even if that was the appropriate place for it, since it would have been interrupting the other conversations over there). Obviously femininity and a feeling of “femaleness” aren’t the same thing, or we wouldn’t have a distinction between transwomen and drag queens. Fortunately, a woman in transistion is no longer obligated to get all frills and pink ribbons before she is “allowed” to be trans by her doctors. On a personal level, it’s something I have a great deal of trouble navagating, since I’m only so-so about skirts and I’ll stop enjoying sport when I’m dead. But if we throw away all of the external concepts of masculinity and femininity and reduce it to a sort of essentialism (I’m female because I was born with ovaries and can bear a child, or something like that), then the whole possibility of being trans comes down to a successful CT scan or some other biological indicator.

    I fear making this too long. Essentially, I agree that the divisions serve a primary function of maintaining heirarchy, and perhaps it’s important to understand all the whys of transition before trading the born gender presentation for a stereotype (and god knows I had to pull myself out of that trap). At the same time, does blurring the lines make transition easier, or more difficult, and if more difficult, is that still worth it in the long run?

    Sorry if this is incomplete. Two days and I still can’t articulate my thinking. Maybe I just need practice.

  5. Jeff Fecke
    Jeff Fecke October 10, 2006 at 7:32 pm |

    Interesting. You know, back in college, a few men and I got to talking about why it was that nobody’s ever tried to introduce the kilt to America. Most of us were neutral/positive on the idea, and all of us thought it would be fine if someone wanted to wear one.

    Yet I can tell you with certainty that none of us was going to be the first one to try to make it hip.

    Why not? Well, a kilt is a bit too close to a skirt, isn’t it? And while you can maybe get away with wearing one in Scotland, you’re not going to chance it here.

    Let’s not even get into makeup.

    Interestingly, though, I wonder if there isn’t some breakdown of the hard-and-fast rules on male dress and behavoir as well? “Metrosexual” is losing some of its punch as an insult, and men are starting to actually embrace some–though only some–of the “feminine” ideas about shaving off unwanted body hair, just as women are starting to abandon them.

    I wonder–and I mean this as a question, not a conclusion–if possibly the slow-but-inexorable empowerment of women is having a slow-but-inexorable effect, not just on women’s dress, but men’s as well? Perhaps as women are allowed to relax their level of heightened alert, men are able to drop the machismo.

  6. Grog
    Grog October 10, 2006 at 8:22 pm |

    Sayeth Erin:
    then the whole possibility of being trans comes down to a successful CT scan or some other biological indicator.

    The unfortunate thing is that the wingnutosphere pretty much wants to create a ‘biology is destiny’ world with respect to gender and social roles.

    Anyone who has seriously explored (or studied) gender issues has likely come to the conclusion that there is “gender” (physiological) and “gender role” (social). {for brevity, I’ll leave out the sexual aspects of this} Gender identity seems to be related to an individual’s affinity and identification with a combination of the two. {Which is why some TSes choose not to pursue genital surgery}

    The realization that seems to be more and more clear in mental health circles is that the two axis are interlinked, but necessarily distinct. The irrational (mostly religious conservative) view is that gender is physical, and defines your destiny, without recognizing the diversity of expression among people.

    As you point out, not all women like skirts {one very dear friend of mine runs a printing company – seeing her in a dress is indeed rare!} the reality is that the same is true for transsexuals. I think early in transition, many MTF TSes take on an “emphatically feminine” presentation – in part it’s the same exploration that teenage girls do – but a little later in life, and in part it’s a way of “deflecting” the perceptions of others.

    I also suspect that in part many TSes, for all that they are clearly transgressive in their behaviour, are in fact “gender role traditional” – just not in the way that others expect before transition.

  7. Tapetum
    Tapetum October 10, 2006 at 8:45 pm |

    On kilts: My dad does Scottish dancing, and other such stuff at his local Caledonian club. He loves his kilt, and will wear it at the drop of a hat if he’s at, or anywhere near a Scottish event. He would no sooner wear it at any other time than he would attend Grand Rounds naked. When he went up to Nova Scotia, he wore his kilt practically any time he left the hotel – he even got photographed by some tourists as local color – but when he was in the hotel attending the conference he was there for it was suits all the way.

  8. Frumious B.
    Frumious B. October 10, 2006 at 8:58 pm |

    Why not? Well, a kilt is a bit too close to a skirt, isn’t it? And while you can maybe get away with wearing one in Scotland, you’re not going to chance it here.

    Ever hear of the utilikilt? I’ve seen a few men wearing them, but not usually just out to the grocery store or whatever. Usually they are at events where men in skirts (masculine men in masculine skirts) are welcome.

    ____

    those who are butch are able to contemplate their identities within the relative safety of those connotations.

    those who are male presenting and butch, I assume, b/c female butches are not exaactly “relatively safe.”

  9. Erin M
    Erin M October 10, 2006 at 9:43 pm |

    Says Grog:
    I also suspect that in part many TSes, for all that they are clearly transgressive in their behaviour, are in fact “gender role traditional” – just not in the way that others expect before transition.

    Precisely so, and I think that’s the dilemma I was sussing out here. I admit my feminism is nascent, but I’m learning.

    Anyway, I’m not really sure how to reconcile this issue yet. I know it’s been suggested to avoid unnecessary guilt, but it’s also a fairly common criticism, or was at one time, that transwomen are almost the anti-feminist, since many do adopt a traditional sort of feminine role. But I fear that a certain amount of necessity requires it at this point. If I could have simply declared myself a woman and had that be so, it would have been great, but as things stand no one would really believe it. It’s sort of the reverse of the checklist problem piny mentions in another thread. Marlene Dietrich could wear a tux because she had enough other “feminine” signifiers to not be crossing the line. If I go about in jeans and a t-shirt, all anyone thinks when they see me is “man”, regardless of the rest. Maybe that just makes it a survival mechanism after all, which was pretty much the point of this round of discussions, ne?

    It would be pretty great to get away from biological determinism, though. Thanks for your insights.

  10. RachelPhilPa
    RachelPhilPa October 11, 2006 at 6:04 am |

    I’ve noticed in these comments, that femme presentation is being defended as an issue of safety and / or providing more female signifiers.

    How about because it’s enjoyable? Some days I do present as rather androgynous – jeans and t-shirt, but there are days that I like to put on a skirt and heels. What is wrong with that, and why do we have to twist this around into all kinds of political meaning? And why are trans women, such as myself, who are femme judged more harshly than cisgendered women who are femme?

    I’m really getting tired of being told that I’m destroying feminism and reinforcing the oppression of women because I’m wearing a skirt. All we are doing here is trading one code of behavior / appearance – femme – for another equally rigid code of behavior / appearance – androgyny.

    Jill said in her post:

    it’s silly to try and sell feminine trappings to women in the name of “empowerment”.

    True. But that gets back to my point. Selling the trappings as empowerment is just another way of politicizing what I wear. I’m sick of it.

    Are the anti-femme feminists creating a hierarchy among women? Because so-called androgynous dress is essentially male – think about it, androgyny = loose t-shirt and loose jeans, which is what men wear, and what produces the straight from shoulders-to-knees male look. So we are creating a hierarchy within ourselves that privileges women with masculine presentation over women with femme presentation. That’s just the gender binary all over again.

    I think that a sign that we have truly liberated ourselves from the binary will be that how one dresses is no longer a political statement or controversy.

  11. Grog
    Grog October 11, 2006 at 7:56 am |

    Sayeth RachelPhilPa:

    And why are trans women, such as myself, who are femme judged more harshly than cisgendered women who are femme?

    I don’t think that’s the case entirely. However, up until recently, a TS in transition was obliged to present very strong gender cues, going as far in some cases as actually having to take on a new “more appropriate” job. I suspect, as Erin points out some feminists perceived that transwomen are almost the anti-feminist.

    Are transpeople “more harshly judged” in their chosen gender role? Only when they slip and someone detects their past. In truth, that’s when a TS is truly in danger, as there are those who will quite happily use such an occasion for a little bloodsport. This tends to reinforce the notion for MTFs that being very “femme” is important – for their own safety.

    Piny can speak better than I could to the FTM side of that topic, for I must confess my utter ignorance of that side of the transition experience.

  12. Rhiannon
    Rhiannon October 11, 2006 at 8:22 am |

    Why not? Well, a kilt is a bit too close to a skirt, isn’t it? And while you can maybe get away with wearing one in Scotland, you’re not going to chance it here.

    Apparently it’s only appropriate in America if you’re a bag-pipe band in a parade… that’s the only time I ever see a kilt.

  13. Penny
    Penny October 11, 2006 at 8:29 am |

    Kilts have become quite big up here (Ontario) esp among hipster males in traditionally ‘outsider’ male occupations (stage crew, biker…)this guy makes custom leather ones that couldn’t look more butch: http://www.rkilts.com/

  14. jaywalking: cartoons about a way of life

    Male Signifiers

    From piny:Remember, though, that the goal is not merely separation but separation in the name of a hierarchy. This is why one set of behavioral cues gets coded as artificial and unnatural while the other is described as genuine and…

  15. Maureen
    Maureen October 11, 2006 at 10:27 am |

    I’ve seen Utilikilts on the University of Chicago campus in summer (which tells you just how in touch I am with middle America’s beliefs on gender roles).

    I have a dream–that one day perfumes won’t be gendered and clothing will only be gendered inasmuch as those lace pants have narrow hips and more room in the front inseam, these lace pants have wider hips and a relatively flat front, and that other pair have even wider hips, and a fourth pair have not-that-narrow hips but more room in the front inseam. That it will finally be possible for me to buy a well-fitting wool suit without spending more than $200, and a French-cuffed shirt that fits me both in the shoulders and hips (I have a hard time with women’ fitted shirts). And that time spent on grooming will have zero correlation to gender or gender presentation.

  16. Jill
    Jill October 11, 2006 at 11:21 am | *

    The point about “more threatening” is another manifestation of this hierarchy: the underclass bears the burden of suspicion; they are the scapegoats for anxiety about the failure of all of us to perfectly perform our roles. This is part of the conflict with, “Yes, these are survival mechanisms,” one which goes beyond the willingness to admit that one is a collaborator. Rejecting femininity can mean agreeing not merely with feminists but with the dominant culture that femininity in all its details is a frivolous, artificial, superficial thing and that feminine women are frivolous, artificial, and shallow.

    I *heart* Piny.

    Will you write a book? Seriously? Because I think you are brilliant.

  17. sly civilian
    sly civilian October 11, 2006 at 12:39 pm |

    i think what got me the most was the starkness of the transition. while i had a pretty clear idea of constructed masculinity in my head previously, it just really caught me on that gut level that makes you go “hunh.” Hunhs, properly translated, become blog entries, and the cycle of life continues.

    back to the point, if an observer was to look at the average dude when he wakes up, especially if said dude does not sleep in male-coded clothing (or anything), and then compare to dude’s out-the-door state, they’re nothing alike. The contours, the focal points, the damn near everything of masculine presentation changes. Try the experiment with a consenting partner sometime. Especially if you like, or are a dude.

  18. Erin M
    Erin M October 11, 2006 at 1:51 pm |

    I’ve noticed in these comments, that femme presentation is being defended as an issue of safety and / or providing more female signifiers. How about because it’s enjoyable?

    Well, I admit there’s an element of enjoyment, too, and in light of piny’s comment I have to agree that we don’t have the same incentives or disincentives to deal with. The reason I focus on the passing element is due in large part to some of my own insecurity. What I see in the mirror means as much to me as how the people around me react on a lot of days. And while I’ve no real doubt that I am trans, I do worry about being taken seriously.

    I think that a sign that we have truly liberated ourselves from the binary will be that how one dresses is no longer a political statement or controversy.

    Like I started out saying, I would love to be able to just proclaim my identity and have that be that. I’m not entirely sure if I’m ready to toss the binary, but that’s also because I have trouble seeing what things would look like beyond binary. Another comfort zone to overcome.

  19. Sabrina Star
    Sabrina Star October 11, 2006 at 3:14 pm |

    I’ve started referring to this as “cisgender gaze.” I can’t even watch movies or documentaries about transsexuals anymore because they ALL have these transgender money shot scenes depicting transsexuality as a disguise, sending the message that “underneath it all” transwomen are “really” men and transmen are “really” women.

    “Wow, you had us all fooled, i would have never guessed! How shocking. How… titillating.” Because, really, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? How much of an exotic turn-on we are to cisgendered people.

  20. Grog
    Grog October 11, 2006 at 5:23 pm |

    The reason I focus on the passing element is due in large part to some of my own insecurity. What I see in the mirror means as much to me as how the people around me react on a lot of days.

    Passing seems to come as much from within as from external validation. {e.g. not getting “hairy eyeball” inspections from others}

    I also suspect that it creates a “tangible” that you can focus on and to some extent distract yourself from trying to guess how random people are perceiving you.

  21. shannon
    shannon October 11, 2006 at 6:23 pm |

    In Atlanta GA I went into an independant bookstore(Eagle Eye I believe) and I saw a man wearing what looked like a knee length pleated leather skirt. I have to admit that I think my ankle length canvas skirt is more masculine somehow. Maybe it’s the length and lack of pleats.

  22. Erin M
    Erin M October 11, 2006 at 6:56 pm |

    Shannon, sounds like a kilt to me. (See link in comment #9 above)

  23. shannon
    shannon October 11, 2006 at 7:15 pm |

    It probably was, but I thought skirt and thought it to this day

  24. somabergeron
    somabergeron October 11, 2006 at 9:40 pm |

    ahh the Utilikilt. My SO just got one and is crazy about it… He enjoys the subtle crossing the gendered and ‘normal’ clothing boundary (since he has job-prospective pressures that don’t allow him to get tattoo’d or have visible piercings) and the attention he gets as much as the unconstrictedness of the Utilikilt.

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