Standing in the academic quad on a sun-soaked afternoon last Tuesday, a good friend asked me if I was wearing a skirt to make a point or if I was “just being Bill.”The answer wasn?t so simple. I am a 6-foot-1-inch, curlyhaired, Master?s of English graduate student and a white male. The only minority group I belong to is the Democratic party. I might be a little more eccentric than most people, but I don?t go out of my way to appear out of the “norm.” It just happens sometimes. Hours earlier I sat in my Jeep in the Bull Center parking garage debating if I really wanted to go all day wearing an ankle-length skirt I bought at a Gay Street boutique a day earlier.
I didn?t wear the skirt out of my house that morning because I didn?t want to explain myself to my roommate, or endure looks or possibly worse at the Wawa where I buy my breakfast and coffee.
Sitting in the parking lot I was nervous. Fearful might be a better word, but I wasn?t entirely sure of what exactly I was afraid of. I knew I had friends that would think my flowery, made-in-India skirt wasn?t a big deal. But I also entertained ideas of getting a beating behind a dumpster.
I also knew that I could just as easily wear pants the next day and fit right back into accepted gender attire. I don?t have a skin color or genitals that can?t be changed and mark me as inferior to a majority of people.
A few people whom I didn?t know complimented me on my skirt-and asked why I was wearing it. My most common response was “because it is such a nice day.” After an accepting, yet unsatisfied look from the questioner, I took people off the hook. They all seemed to be allies.
The answer to why I was wearing a skirt is because people question it. The fact that my skirt didn?t seem normal enough on a 6-foot-1-inch, curly-haired guy and prompted a question means that society has established rules for gender, and most people operate within those rules. As soon as someone breaks the rules they are either crazy or must be “making a point.”
Unfortunately, I was making a point about gender performance, and I wasn?t the only one last Tuesday. Another friend wore a much shorter skirt and handed out flyers asking people to think about the different ways of conceiving and performing gender. The skirts were his idea.
Last semester, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alliance sponsored a “Dress in Drag Day” for similar reasons. That was the first time I ever wore a skirt in public. The second time wasn?t any easier.
I can?t imagine wearing something that marked me as “other” every single day. It might get easier with time, but the stigma will still be there unless the majority of society takes the time to think that a tall graduate student wearing a dress on a sunny day isn?t a big deal after all. It is just who I am and what I am wearing. But you can still compliment me.
Bill Donohue is a student at West Chester University.