I grew up in a minority culture.
It was a Christian Baptist sub-sect twice over different than the liberal Catholics that dominate New England.
In my culture things like dress, appearance, and behaviors were kind of um- it all was regulated. This, of course, mostly effected those assigned female at birth. Unless you were an outgoing male assigned at birth- but I will not speak for my little brother here.
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so [are] abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Deuteronomy 22:5 – The Holy Bible, KJV
I never actually really understood what that verse meant given the history of human fashion. Have you seen what people of all sorts have worn through out the long ages?
I was stuck under this rule that dictated an absolute need to have visual signs of gender difference. That meant I was forced to wear skirts and dresses or split skirt things. All. The. Time. I had to have long hair as well. Anything else was taboo.
Whether I felt that this look was an accurate expression of my inner self did not matter. Whether I was of the Hebrew people living thousands of years ago or not didn’t matter.
The basic idea was to be covered; a meek, humble, modest female thing that honors god- and low-key makes men horny. Gotta bang out a litter of children for the glory of a god after all so best look your best. But not like a whore. You know.
Growing up always wearing a skirt or a semblance of a skirt, effected how I moved through the world. I did not have the same body confidence to do things- simple kid things: climb on things, turn cartwheels.
Clothing was handicap that held me back. It made me an easy target. It kept me feeling vulnerable- To the cold New England winters; to cruel youths; to sexual predators; to pedophiles. Those sorts of things.
Because modest dress always prevents lasciviousness. Because modest dress always stops a power tripping asshole from acting out.😒
Taking up dance was never an option. The costumes that young ladies wear for dance were not appropriate for Christians with a ‘testimony’ to preserve. So I could just forget all about that.
Taking up a martial art was never an option. I would have to wear strange clothing and learn about ‘heathen’ cultures and my sense of Christianity would become ‘warped.’
I remember being in grade school and freaking out because I was actually allowed to cross-dress. In a class play, I was given the part of a revolutionary soldier under George Washington. I got to wear ‘man’s clothes’ in front of everyone. Anything to show patriotism, right? I think I was more nervous of being in public as a ‘male’ than what ever I had to do on stage. I was sinning against the Hebrew God, after all. But it was OK, I guess because- America. Curious hypocrisy there, eh?
When I got older, I experimented more with how I could interpret ‘my look,’ but it was always limited by lack of funds. At the same time I was never out to impress anyone in my little town. I often wore oversized t-shirt (usually depicting Star Wars characters) over long floral patterned skirts. And clunky, goth boots that made me 6ft tall. (I miss those boots.) Because that’s how modest females dress, right?
I was trapped under a heavy veil of feminine modesty- and poverty. I could not move much under the weight of it all.
I knew I could not play sports. My folks had no intention of paying for uniforms or equipment or taking me to practice or letting me run around and make a fool of myself on a field of competition. That was for other people.
I was not allowed to wear normal exercise clothing. I certainly wasn’t given any by my folks. I had nothing to wear for sporting activities at school. P.E. was a constant trauma. A split skirt was the same as a skirt if you fell awkwardly; or had to climb a rope. This was a problem being in the public school system where they could fail you if you did not have a change of clothing.
I was left on my own to improvise. My solution was borrowing shorts from a friend for gym class. They happened to be ill fitting, cut-off jeans.
FOR GYM CLASS!
We couldn’t get jobs at the time and didn’t have any allowance money. That was what she could spare. (Poverty is fun!)
So uh… Where was the modesty then when I had to show off the entire length of my legs front of teenagers for gym class?
I hated my body hair. I hated shaving it. I hated bright razor burns and cuts. I hated discovering patches of hair that I missed. And I was so extremely uncomfortable. I would be constantly paranoid that everyone would just be making fun of me in their little groups. (And they were!) That I can recall, few else in my class were blessed with anything but blond body hair.
I know there were things that could have been done differently, but I was never instilled with the confidence or the language to speak up with family or anyone really for that matter. There was never a chance to grow my confidence. (Then- or ever.) My ‘fear’ of authority and doing the wrong thing is very strong. Even now.
My feeling was one of being alone and having to solve problems by myself
with little to no resources. Help only meant enduring mockery or pity. The things wrong with ‘my little world’ where dealt with primarily in isolation, in panic stricken silence.
That led me to try not to bother with anyone. My perceptions indicated that everyone had their own, bigger problems to wrestle anyway. So I diminished myself, my needs. I thought it was the most Christian thing I could do.
Oh so many things could have been that much easier if I were just allowed to wear pants. Long. Modest. Covering. Pants. But this simplicity was reserved for men alone at the time.
Being a dependent without means, and forced to follow some (not all) codes prescribed to a tribalistic desert people didn’t help me establish a clear line between genders. It made me a freakish outsider more compassionate toward other freaks. It helped make me queer-er.
When I was eighteen or so I started wearing trousers. I was gifted one pair of comfortable dark green cargo type pants that I would wear under my skirts. And I came upon a pair of army pants (from a thrift store, I think) that I would wear when away from home. I kept these clothes tucked away in the back of my closet.
I had to go through this gradual, quiet coming out process to my parents. If I could not explain to the face of ‘absolute authority’ that I hated following some rule written in some ‘holy’ scripture- that the Christ Jesus said he did away with, but, you know, whatever, right?- that it was stupid- that they were wrong, then I would demonstrate it.
I was successful.
The damages were done, but I was successful.
Now I am free to be- the gender neutral dystopian trash daddy I was meant to be?