Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Navigating Clothing Racks

Inspired mostly by many posts of the fantastic Dw3t-Hthr, but specifically by this one.

I’ll confess to having somewhat more than adequate navigational skills. I’m quite good at finding my way from point A to point B. I get lost, but I usually don’t stay lost for very long. (I’ve gotten lost twice in Memphis, once on the North side and once on the South side. Neither time for very long – well, if I turn south and keep going straight, eventually I’ll hit Sam Cooper or, oh hey, there’s Jackson Avenue, groovy, home we go! Midtown is a beautiful grid that navigates with great clarity.) And apparently, this is impressive enough that one friend went on a 15 minute ramble to another friend about what a good sense of direction I possess – mostly because after we had wandered through the Gostinii Dvor mall in search of mythical non-pay toilets, I knew in which direction Nevsky Prospect lay as soon as we walked out.

Here’s the funny thing. I can’t follow directions. At the beginning of the program our baby-sitter (program manager) kept trying to give me directions, and I just wanted him to point out the location on the map, and don’t worry, I’ll be there on time. I have to be able to visualize things. If I can look at a map, directions are useful – of course – but directions alone don’t help me much. I think in terms of geometry, not go until you see the two silos, and turn right.

According to a Discover article I once read, years and years in the past, this is the way male brains navigate. At the time, I thought it was pretty groovy that my brain did directions like a boy. Guess what, I still think it’s groovy. And – I can navigate without the Boy Scouts teaching me – hah!

I, of course, take this as personal proof that the male/female categories of gender are hardly as discrete, coherent, and eternal as the majority of people would like to think.

All in all, I’m not good at the whole “girl” thing. There’s a photo of me when I was two or three in a flouncy, pink ballet inspired dress. This is probably the last time I was doing good at being a girl. I’ve fought off the term “young lady” for as long as I can remember. It always felt confining and box-like. Role like, if you will.
– Sit up straight, you’re a young lady!
– But, I’m not a young lady!

I’ll ‘fess up to having gone through a couple of periods during my rapidly coming to close undergraduate career of trying to conform to being a “young lady.” I would try to up the standards of wardrobe a bit. Nice blouses. You know, one’s with pretty gathers, and made of lightweight fabric. Tighter fitting jeans. A pair of capri pants. No fashions that were offensive to my aesthetic eye. Every article of clothing I bought, I liked the look of on my friends, on my little sister, etc. Very pretty, very aesthetically pleasing clothing.

What happened? I felt ridiculously self-conscious in the flipping things. I would feel naked in the loose, flowing fabric. I would be acutely aware of every little crack in the facade. *ack! there’s a bit of my leg I forgot to shave! Wait! My posture doesn’t fit this outfit. They’re going to find me out!* So, inevitably, these pretty, feminine clothes would end up unworn in the back of my closet, whilst I run around in tie dyed T-shirts (or plaid shirts, of course), men’s jeans, and rope sandals.

In one such phase, I told my roommate that I wasn’t allowed to buy clothes from the men’s section and she was to enforce this. (She’s my normal shopping partner, or rather I’m her shopping partner and occasionally buy things for myself.) While following C. through various stores in the mall, I kept finding myself drawn to the men’s section. That’s such a pretty plaid! Look at those pearl buttons! Ah, those pants have so many pockets!

And, it isn’t that I absolutely detest dressing up. I normally don’t do so for classes, because I don’t see the point (I’ve only been to class in pajamas once, I promise), but yes, I recognize that there are situations which require looking neat, put together, and formal. I have one outfit that I tend to use when giving presentations or doing interviews. Black dress pants and a nicely detailed, striped, pearl-buttoned shirt (women’s even). Sometimes, I’ll even break out my high heels to go with it, because I want the extra inches. And, I feel perfectly comfortable in this outfit (provided I don’t need to walk far, but those cases I go for flats). It’s formal. It’s not masculine enough to make other people uncomfortable, and it’s not feminine enough to make me uncomfortable. Structure. Details. (Lace can be a good thing.) But not frills. All is well. I’m confident and ready to take on the world.

So here’s the ironic thing. When I’m “cross-dressing” that is wearing clothes which were manufactured with boys or men in mind or in the case of my business-formal wear inspired by traditionally male fashions, I feel perfectly nature and at home. It’s not a skirt versus pants things. A plain black skirt, mid calf or longer, doesn’t make me feel self-conscious. An awesome, funky skirt (such as the brown, black, orange, and red, huge print on polyester number I refuse to throw out) won’t make me self-conscious – it’s in a category all of its own. Put me in "feminine" clothes and I am going to be a nervous wreck, feeling like a house of cards about to fall down – doing drag and failing miserably at it.

And this has very little to do with wanting to look like a boy, or not look like a girl. It’s just that the things that I like on a garment for my own wear – patterns, straight lines, subtle but present detailing, and a certain level of practicality – show up more frequently in men’s clothing than in women’s. And since I can get away with wearing men’s clothes since I have no hips and am not well endowed in the bust area – why bother with making the distinction?

No comments: