With everything going on in the world that is frightening and disheartening, it was a lovely distraction offered in the form of a literal form-fitting fusion of tuxedo and billowing gown that did the trick. Accustomed to making a statement, actor Billy Porter who is part of an ensemble cast of the FX show called Pose strolled the Red Carpet at the Oscars in a stunning (in many aspects) outfit created by designer to the stars, Christian Siriano.
His desire was to create a buzz and that it did.
“My goal is to be a walking piece of political art every time I show up. To challenge expectations. What is masculinity? What does that mean? Women show up every day in pants, but the minute a man wears a dress, the seas part.”
Thumbs up and thumbs down were part of the voting in the court of public opinion as Porter was a standout in a sea of tulle and silk, not always so pretty in pink, fluff and froth, decked out in black velvet. Those who loved it and hated it were vocal, some calling it ‘fierce’ by way of praise and others felt it was ’emasculating,’ and that real men wouldn’t be caught dead in something meant to be worn by women.
I found myself rolling my eyes taking great joy in sharing comments with naysayers on social media, asking them to recall that in Scotland and Ireland, men wear kilts, in ancient Greece and Rome, men donned togas, in biblical times, and currently in some Middle Eastern cultures men were/are enwrapped in robes. To add fuel to the fashion fire, I chimed in that in the Colonial era, men wore colorful pantaloons and powdered wigs. These were considered the height of masculinity.
What makes it so threatening for people of any gender expression or identity to wear clothing initially designed for another? Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, the dress code in our school district only permitted boys to wear pants. Girls were expected to wear skirts or dresses even in the coldest weather. That was until the mother of one of my classmates decided to break the rules and sent her daughter to school with pants to keep her legs warm. It caused a hub-bub and then, if memory serves, we were allowed to wear them on the way to school under skirts. I don’t remember when pants became acceptable for anyone; likely by the time I was in junior high school and certainly by high school.
Among my overlapping circles of friends are folks who identify as cis-gender, gender queer, non-binary, trans, gay, straight and bi. They dress in all different ways; some in alignment with mainstream expectations; gender conforming, some flamboyantly outrageously colorful in hair and garments. When they go out into the world, they may be looked at askance, but insist on being true to themselves. Some do it to ruffle feathers and raise eyebrows, others because they are their own canvas and works of art, some because they can, others because it is a fun and playful way to be. I color my hair purple, wear bright garments and flowy Goddessy things, even at my job as a therapist and no one questions my fashion sense or gender. I could just as easily dress in a suit and tie and chances are, no one would bat an eyelash except to say that it is unusual for me. Likely they wouldn’t question why I would want to look like a man.
Who decides what makes someone masculine or feminine? Are you willing to speak your own truth and let your personal fashion flag fly?
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