Clothes represent a gender power dynamic, according to Steve Skitmore. Photo: Flikr.

Clothes represent a gender power dynamic, according to Steve Skitmore. Photo: Flikr.

Dress to Transgress

First published by Woroni, the ANU Student Newspaper, on 14 October 2015. By STEVE SKITMORE.

I have been wearing lipstick and dresses since I could walk. That's not a confession. That's just the way it is.

I grew up with a dress-up chest, a miraculous saggy wooden plywood box that contained a wonder of wigs and scarves, dresses and suits, ready and waiting for whenever a creative wind arose.

I thank my parents for never defining what my siblings and I could and couldn't wear as dress-ups.

One week, my brother and I would be princesses, out in our back garden fighting dragons.

The next, my sister would be leading us on an adventure as Aladdin, complete with painted beards.

When we started bringing our friends home for dinner, we realised pretty quickly that this kind of play was out of the ordinary for many of them.

Once, my brother and his friend were running around the house with fairy costumes on.

The boy's father came to pick him up, only to see his son with a tutu, fairy wings and a face full of glitter. Inexplicably, he was not allowed to come back to our house again.

I recently spoke to my parents about their choice to promote this in our house and to my surprise ‒ given their conservatism in some other aspects of life ‒ they openly said they had tried to raise us as children in a way that was not dominated by gender.

To anyone familiar with gender theory, you'll know there is generally a distinction made between sex (the body that you're born into) and gender (the social trappings that go along with that body).

Think about the very first thing asked of a newborn child: "Is it a boy or girl?"