In 1969 when I left home and moved to London, I didn’t really need to cross dress much because the hippy movement was in full swing. Flower power had brought with is a transformative change in clothing with tie dyed T-shirts, kaftans, loon pants, afghan coats, and all manner of other clothes and accessories that were entirely unisex. So I grew my hair long and embraced this welcome change until the mid seventies when career and family life demanded a more professional image.
At the same time the feminist movement had impacted the way children were brought up and the role of fathers in that process. So when my children were born in the mid seventies they were brought up in a largely gender neutral environment. Both my sons were never discouraged from playing with dolls or other “girls” toys and were allowed to be themselves.
At the same time we saw the passing of the Equal pay Act and the Sex discrimination Act, along with other social and equality policies that were taking us on the raod to a fairer and more equal society. Then came the Thatcher years which brought about sharp change and the re-emergence of a strong gender binary. In the 11 years of her leadership she only ever appointed one woman to the cabinet and that was for just one year. Equalities legislation if anything went backwards especially with the passing of Section 28 of the Local Government Act which prevented local authorities and schools from promoting LGBT issues as normal.
That strong masculine influence did have an effect on the way women presented themselves. Being a “tom boy” has never been as socially unacceptable as being a “sissy”. But it seems that in the constant fight against sexism and discrimination women have presented an increasingly masculine image until today women can pretty much wear anything without risk of negative comment, while men expressing femininity are still highly likely to be perceived as being gay and be discriminated against or bullied as a result.
Last year I delivered a keynote presentation at the Leeds College of Art and was delighted to see that a group of fashion students were engaged in a project to encourage boys to wear skirts. They struggled to get models to wear the design – especially as they had to wear the skirt around the college and feedback on their experiences. Over the years a number of leading fashion designers have attempted to get men wearing dresses and skirts without success, and lets face it there has been a very real risk of being attacked in the street for being perceived to be gay or trans.
But maybe, things are really changing – I have noticed over the past year a distinct shift towards another era of gender blending. I have noticed that even straight male teenagers are becoming more adventurous with their appearance with clothes becoming more gender neutral. Then in January I saw this picture promoting GenderFlux clothing appear on my Facebook page. I don’t know about you but I think that the boy wearing a skirt looks awesome and completely natural.
Then a week later came the announcement from Selfridges that they are launching a new spring aGender campaign – with three floors “offering customers a gender neutral shopping experience complete with non-gender specific collections of clothing and accessories”
Finally last week I saw this image on my facebook page. The model is not wearing women’s underwear, he is wearing a new range of men’s lingerie from Homme Mystere who are responding to the “recent media attention from around the world, more guys are discovering the comfort of lightweight lingerie style underwear!”
So when I started working on the content for a new Transgender Awareness Workshop for staff and students at Leeds College of Art which I delivered last Monday, I decided to do a bit of research and see just what this “media attention” was, and wow!! what surprise I was in for.
Sure I was aware that there were some changes going on in the world of fashion – but nothing like this. These are some recent images of male and female fashion that are completely gender neutral – all the clothes look right whether the model of male or female. The images here are just a sample and I have created a complete Gender Blending Gallery of fashion images and although the Selfridges campaign is just that – a spring campaign – it will be interesting to see what happens next – Will their bold move reach other high street retailers, and will we see new summer collections that continue to blend gender.
The potential impact of this trend is that it will no longer be possible to pick out “gay men or lesbian women ” by the stereotypical way people think they dress – and that will be good news for all the gay men and lesbian women. Perhaps it may take some of the pressure off a lot of trans men and women who will now be able to express themselves without felling that they have to undergo surgical intervention. Statistics suggest that 80% of trans people are male to female, but and I believe that the proportions are much more equal and that these statistics actually reflect the greater freedom women have to express themselves without needing to undergo gender reassignment
And for everyone else this gender blending means that gender equality practice needs to be revisited. If someone comes to work dressed in such a gender neutral way – the potential for discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace is significantly increased until people start to accept that, in the long run, this is a change for the better. Please check out my Transgender Awareness Training Workshop page for more details on how I can help.
Please feel free to comment below if you have any thoughts or views on this topic – I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue.