Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Many Hats

Any sufficiently unfamiliar technology...
My friend Erin made this hat. She made it with her hands and some sticks (or maybe a hook?), out of yarn that she also made with her hands. That pretty much makes it magic to me. Besides, I love blue, purple, and brown. Pink, not so much, but the pink on this hat comes in the form of a five-pointed star at the crown. That will redeem just about any color in my eyes.

When I saw it, I went through pretty much the same thought process I always do when considering items of clothing that appeal to me, but which are intended for women. It goes kind of like this: "Oh, cool! But that's a 'girly' thing. So what? So I can only use it for cross-dressing. Wait. Why?!"

Since I did not have a good answer (I never do), I accepted the hat. I finally wore it out on a walk last night, and the world did not end. I felt rather silly--not for wearing something "girly", but for worrying about the gender affiliation of a hat. It is just a (wicked awesome) hat; it is also a gender signifier, and no amount of eye-rolling will change that.

I have struggled for years to understand my complex and sometimes contradictory feelings about clothing and gender. Well, "struggle" is a strong word for it, but my nigh-complete ignorance of fashion does make this topic challenging to explore and discuss. I know what kinds of clothing I like, and some of those (e.g. skirts) are more commonly associated with women than with men in contemporary Western society.

Every once in a while--typically in winter--strangers will call me "Ma'am" or "Miss" even when I wear average, societally-approved masculine clothing. I do not bother correcting them anymore. When they hear my voice, they usually backpedal so hard that you would think they had mistaken me for an axe murderer rather than a woman.

"I'm sorry, Sir! I uh...didn't look too close." Long, awkward pause. "So, like the Orioles?"

Those fumbling apologies are sometimes hilarious and sometimes annoying, but I really cannot fault those people for getting confused. By Western standards, I appear fairly androgynous--short, fine-boned, and not particularly hairy. I do not expect every single person I meet to successfully divine my gender from seeing half of my face between scarf and hat.

Ironically, my androgynous appearance sometimes causes me to shy away from dressing androgynously, which, all else being equal, tends to be my preference. Most people still look askance on men wearing anything that looks even remotely feminine to their eyes. While I could not care less about the disapproval of strangers, I really would prefer to avoid the confusion, the flustered apologies, and the jeers that come with wearing androgynous or feminine clothes.

At least two acquaintances have asked me if I prefer feminine pronouns after seeing me "dressed up" for the club. The answer was "no", but it pleased me that they asked at all. I have made peace with the fact that most people will never ask; they will make assumptions based on the clothes that I wear. Some will stare, some will stumble over forms of address, and some will mock. But, in the end, I get to wear this fabulous hat...and they don't.