Walden haunts my education like a friendly ghost. My teachers take the slightest pretense to assign it. In Senior Project 2, we are reading it as inspiration for our own “lived experiments,” which we are to invent, design, conduct.
Every “lived experiment” I think of sounds hard. I settle for a while on sleeping outside, around town, wherever I can find a place to string my hammock. But as I began the preliminaries, I realize this would be hard, and I might get in trouble with the police.
So I think, “What if I wear a skirt? That can’t be hard—lots of people do it every day. Like wearing shorts, but airier.” The main thing I don’t like about the idea is its obviousness. It seems like something lots of people must have done. And yet, I have only one recollection of a guy on campus wearing a skirt, and he called it a kilt, and indeed, it was plaid, and made of wool. So while it may be an obvious idea, and not very hard to execute, it seems that it’s not commonly done. This suggests that the felt prohibition against guys wearing skirts is very strong.
Why? It’s just a wrap.
Many gender customs have, at least arguably, some foundation either in biology or in deep rooted social conventions, but the skirt seems truly arbitrary. A superficial arbitrariness. What is the social utility of “guys don’t wear wraps?” That we have a word (transvestite) for a man wearing woman’s clothing seems odd. A woman wearing men’s clothing is not a transvestite, but a woman. A woman wearing a suit is a woman wearing a pantsuit.
I have heard that at Liberal Arts colleges it isn’t horribly uncommon for guys for wear skirts. But Cal Poly Pomona is not such a college. It’s known for engineering. It’s one of the few colleges with a majority male student body.
I submit my project proposal. Wear a skirt to school for four weeks. The proposal is approved.
I go to Goodwill, to buy skirts, and I do not understand. Where are the pockets? I think it is just because I am at a Goodwill, and resign myself to going to Ross, and looking at a real selection, and paying real money.
I go to Ross, and first I find the dresses, and discover I’ve never really looked at a dress before, and struggle to believe anyone would wear such a thing. A single piece, covering the bottom, and the front of the top. I do not know why it’s so disturbing.
I find the skirts. They don’t have pockets. I ask a girl, about my age, or a little younger, if there are skirts with pockets.
She pauses, frowns or smiles, it’s hard to tell. “Not really,” she says.
I take two skirts to the changing room, surprised at how nervous I am, nervously smiling, and I fumblingly tell the woman manning the station that I’d like to try them on. She’s Asian, and the set of her mouth tells me she’s an immigrant. The muscles develop differently, depending on the language one most commonly speaks. So I worry that she comes from a culture with rigid gender boundaries, and will say something she shouldn’t.
She speaks. Some sort of Chinese accent, I think, but not heavy. She says, “That’s the men’s changing room, and that’s the women’s,” pointing to each, giving me the option.
I nod, and head directly into the men’s room, a little ashamed at myself.
The skirts fit around my waist, and make it to my knees. But I cannot walk in them. They are as narrow around my knees as around my waist. It is worse even than not having pockets.
I’d thought skirts offered a full range of movement, but now I wonder if I’m wrong.
I go home without buying anything, and tell my mother and middle sister. They tell me that there are pocketed skirts, but they’re hard to find. Bulging pockets create creases and distort the flow of fabric, and for that reason women’s skirts don’t normally have pockets. They carry it all in their purses anyway. There is some debate on the comparative utility of purses and large pockets.
I understand finally why it’s a big deal that my sister’s wedding dress has pockets.
They tell me that the skirts I tried on were pencil skirts, and there are other skirts that offer full range of movement. My mother says to come to her room with her, and I can try on her skirts. She is four foot ten, and I am five foot nine, so I had not considered that her skirts might fit me, but she says they will, and will be free besides.
They fit. It’s amazing. They come down to just above my ankles, like Capris. She explains that she wears skirts up high, almost to her chest. I wear the skirts halfway down my hips, just as I’d wear shorts or pants. Her skirts have pockets. Small pockets, true, I could not fit a mass market paperback in them, my usual measure of whether a pocket is sufficient, and there are also only two, nowhere to put my wallets, but it is much better than no pockets. Mom says she hunts hard for skirts with pockets.
I tweet how I don’t understand how people can wear skirts, when skirts don’t have pockets. My tweet is favorited by an account called “skirtcraft.” It is the twitter account of a start up company, making androgynous skirts. They have lots of large pockets, and come in two colors, khaki and black. They are like cargo shorts, except they are skirts. I want one, but they are $75 dollars each, and will not ship for a while. Production has only just begun.
I wash my mother’s skirts. I tell myself this is because they may have been hanging in her closet a while, and may have gotten dusty. Just as I wash my blazer on those rare occasions when I wear it. But I maintain that pretense for only a moment. It is not entirely untrue, but the main reason I’m washing them is to symbolically purify them, a baptism to make them new, no longer feminine, but as androgynous as jeans, not my mother’s at all.
I have heard, though I do not credit it, that in olden days, when dragons yet stalked the earth, women did not wear jeans.
At home, I have put on my mother’s turquoise skirt, to get used to it. An old friend has come over, and we’re playing Halo. That’s a video game. He’s white, conservative, conservative Christian, and once told me, “I don’t know if a woman can be President, but if one can it’s probably Hillary, because she’s so experienced.” A lot to unpack right there.
Even before I explain my reasons, his reaction is minimal. After I explain that it is for a school project, he compliments me on being man enough to wear a skirt. He doesn’t know if he could do it. He’d be too self-conscious.
He makes a few jokes, based on my now being feminine. I tell him not to. I can’t start roleplaying as a girl. The point is to transform skirts into gender neutral objects by wearing them as such. So he mostly stops joking, and apologizes when a couple more jokes slip out, as part of the banter as we kill virtual aliens, and virtual versions of ourselves
Monday has come, the first day for wearing the skirt to school. In the morning, I do the assigned reading for my classes. I have an EWS class. Ethnic and Women’s Studies. No, it’s not the class for which I’m doing the project, but it’s part of why I chose this project. To make my research for one class the classwork in another. I tell the Professors I’m trying to “establish synergy between my classes, to synthesize disparate concepts and deepen my learning experience,” and it’s even true.
It is my first ever EWS class, and me about to graduate with a BA in Liberal Studies. I am only taking it because they canceled an LS class, and said I could substitute it with an upper division course in Music, Dance, Theater, or EWS. Well.
The reading for today. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.” By Mathew S. Kimmel.
At the dawn of the world, I went to Junior High. There was always a mosh pit at the start of PE, clustered around the gym door as we waited for it to be opened.
I would hump the outside wall of the gym, screaming, “Pamela!” Pamela Anderson I meant, she of the big tits and Baywatch fame. I was not attracted to Pamela Anderson. I associated her with beans, and I did not like beans, because of the ditty, “Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot.”
But she was an acknowledged sex symbol, and by this, I asserted my heterosexuality. In these halcyon days, we still used “gay” as a pejorative. Do adolescents still do that? My peer group doesn’t. I eventually played my small part in bringing that shift about.
As I beat myself against the concrete wall screaming “Pamela” my friend Ben would tell me to stop. It was embarrassing, he said. In retrospect, he had a point.
As I read Kimmel’s piece, on, among other things, homophobia being intrinsic to masculinity, I remember that, and nod. There at least is something that makes a bit of sense. The childish need to assert myself as heterosexual. But the rest of his piece seems so foreign. I have no idea what’s he going on about.
Constantly in competition with other men. Constantly trying to prove my masculinity, fearful that I will be outed as a sissy. No. What culture is that?
It is no coincidence that I am wearing, for the first skirted day, tennis shoes and a shirt with a silkscreened skull on it.
I put on the skirt, I get in the car, I drive, I’m nervous, fearful for my masculinity. But also excited. I’m an exhibitionist at heart. I feel like you do in line for the roller coaster. But mostly I am too stressed to be nervous, because I have procrastinated leaving home, busy writing the early parts of this. I hit not all the red lights, but most of them, worrying I’ll be late.
Parking on the shoulder of Pomona Blvd, half a mile from Campus, because parking there is free. It isn’t hard to get out of the car. I’m already committed. Remove my scooter from the trunk. A Razor brand, powered by nothing but my feet.
The first intersection, press the walk signal, wait, scoot across. The second intersection, press the walk signal, a girl on the other side of the street. She sees me. I think she smiles. I’m not sure. I don’t look. Across, then the third intersection, onto Campus. Crowded.
People look at me. Most smile. I’m a sight, skirt flapping in the wind. Some very definitely do not smile. I’m not sure though. Normally I look at everything, bold and unself-conscious, making eye contact, smiling at random people. Now I stare into space, or at the ground in front of me, fighting to keep a nervous grin off my face.
It’s not so bad. No one says anything. I get to class, two minutes to spare. It’s the class where we’re doing the project, so they know. Mostly women in the class. Most of my classes are like that. The result of my major. I twirl, talk about pencil skirts and the lack of pockets. Always trying to be funny. Alexis doesn’t think it’s funny. I get her later, I forget with what.
We talk about Serena Williams and paying attention. Hardly any Thoreau. I ask the professor whether, if I blog about wearing a skirt, and some of that material is in my final report, will that count as self-plagiarism? She tells me to ask a reference librarian.
The class ends. My next class, Gender, Ethnicity, and Film. I feel so incredibly pretentious walking into an EWS class wearing a skirt. Holier than art thou. Less gendered than art thou. Ugh. I thank the Professor for the links she sent me. I’d emailed her, asking for recommendations of books and articles that might have to do with my “wearing a skirt” project. My version of research.
I talk VERY LOUDLY to her about the project, so everyone will hear, and know I’m not pretentious, just doing a project. Studious. Or a skillful slacker. They hear. I am the center of attention, yay me. Unfortunately, half the class is yet to arrive.
Class starts. We watch some commercials. One man’s masculinity is derided because he does not order Miller Lite and is wearing skinny jeans. Another man’s masculinity is derided because he does not order Miller Lite, and because he has a book bag, though he calls it at a Carry-All, and everyone else calls it a purse.
I am wearing a skirt.
Other commercials. A lively discussion of the commercials. A lively discussion of Rafael Ramirez’s “The Construction of Masculinity.” Next is Kimmel’s “Masculinity as Homophobia.” It starts out slow. No one has anything to say. Eventually, some girls start to talk. Then some boys. I jump in. I never struggle at talking. It goes okay, but never well. I suspect I’m not the only boy who struggles to relate to it.
The class meets once a week from 6 to 9:50. So we have a five minute break in the middle. In the hall, I get my first comment, from a black male I have another class with. His last name is Hamilton, I don’t know his first. He says, “Looking good, like the outfit.”
I twirl, a self-deprecating physical joke in which I am the effeminate butt, and say, high pitched, “I feel so free and airy.” He laughs, and we go our separate ways.
Back to class. We watch the first two thirds of “Fight Club.” The men reclaim their masculinity from a culture made by women. They do this by fighting each other and scorning physical possessions.
Class ends, I leave. On my scooter.
I wonder how I look from the back. A scooter, a skirt, a backpack and a head of yellow hair. Shaggy hair, for a guy. Short hair, for a woman. Probably, that’s what I am from the back, from a distance, or in bad light. A slightly tall woman with short hair.
An odd thought.
Scootering back to my car, “far” off campus. I cross at the walk signal, and the right turner does not give me so much space as right turners normally do. The next street, and it happens again. The car, cutting it close. That’s odd. Is it, somehow, the skirt? It didn’t happen when I came to school in the bright, just leaving in the dark. Is it that right turners do not give apparent women so much space? Is it that normally, I stare straight at the driver, making eye contact if I can, but now, in my skirt I’m staring straight ahead? More likely, it’s coincidence, noise, I think. I’ll know better come later days.
On the drive home I hike the skirt, and scratch my balls. Readjust them. So much more accessible than when I’m wearing shorts. Perhaps I’ve discovered it, the deeper reason why men don’t wear skirts. This is the end of the first day.
Second day here. I didn’t expect the second day would deserve its own post, but there were (minor) events.