Skirting around the complex issue of gender identity

In her weekly column Colette Sheridan looks at an Irish school's recent decision to introduce a gender-neutral school uniform policy, which will allow boys to wear skirts
Skirting around the complex issue of gender identity

DARING TO BE DIFFERENT: A model wears a skirt designed by Jean Paul Gaultier at a ‘Men In Skirts’ catwalk show in London in 2002

HAVING been brought up before politically correct times, fed on nursery rhymes such as the 19th century one that deems that “little boys are made of frogs and snails and puppy-dog tails”, while little girls are made of “sugar and spice and all things nice”, it’s no wonder I find it hard to be cool about the fluidity of gender.

In my day, the binary model prevailed. The only deviation from it was boys who were ‘cissies’.

In other words, lads that were a bit effeminate, may be ‘gay’ — a word that didn’t have much traction in suburban Cork in the ’60s and ’70s. Yes, a boy could be a ‘fairy’ but we’d have collapsed in laughter (and shock) if we saw two males holding hands.

Thankfully, we live in more enlightened times but I still have to adjust my thinking to take on board the latest decree handed down from the extremely ‘woke’ sector, which would eliminate the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ if its language police had its way.

It’s all very confusing. So forgive me when I admit to initially scoffing when I heard that a primary school in Wicklow is introducing a gender- neutral school uniform policy. This will allow boys to wear skirts to school. How weird.

But that reaction just means I’m a bit unreconstructed. It’s time to embrace diversity, I guess.

From September, any pupils at St Brigid’s National School in Greystones that have gender identity issues can dress according to their instincts rather than convention.

According to the school principal, Máire Costello, children now question their sexual identity at an earlier age than before.

But why is that? Is it because it’s one of the last taboos, finally creeping out of the closet?

It strikes me that primary school children are very young to be thinking they’re transgender. They’re only kids trying, perhaps too early, to navigate the world.

Shouldn’t they be enjoying life and not navel gazing about their sexual identities? Should they not wait until they’re 18 before making any life-changing decisions that would see them undergoing hormone treatment and operations to realign their sexuality?

It’s a serious issue. Not one that children are equipped to deal with.

However, boys wearing skirts ought not to be a big deal if it makes them feel more authentic. Girls have been wearing trousers for ages, after all.

Unfortunately, skirt-wearing boys will probably be mocked and bullied. But they would do well to point out to their oppressors that males have worn skirts since ancient times. From Indians in robes to the likes of Henry VIII in a doublet and diverted skirt with Roman tunic, men don’t always wear the trousers.

In the 1960s, there was a reaction against the accepted North American and European conventions of male and female dress. But while this unisex fashion movement meant women would wear male dress, men rarely went so far as to don frocks. They took to wearing velvet trousers, frilly shirts and long hair. It was a girly look, but not that daring, really.

In 1985, the French fashion designer, Jean-Paul Gaultier created his first skirt for men. It was a way of bringing a bit of novelty to male attire.

Remember David Beckham in a sarong? It made the headlines but didn’t actually translate into Joe Soap shopping for skirts.

In 2008 in France, an association was formed to help encourage men to wear skirts. In June, 2013, Swedish train drivers won the right to wear skirts in the summer when their cabins reach temperatures of 35 degrees.

There are also advocates of skirts as menswear in America. There’s even an internet forum, ‘skirt cafe’, dedicated to promoting skirts and kilts as a fashion choice for men.

The forum recognises “that gender is a complex subject and some of us may feel more ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ at times. It adds: “However, this is NOT a transvestite or cross-dresser forum. We are committed to a fundamentally masculine gender identity — masculine name and pronouns. We call it ‘gender honesty’. Beyond that, what it means to be a man is individual and open to discussion.”

While the forum is about men, women are welcome at Skirt Cafe, “especially those who like the look of men’s legs sticking out below a skirt or kilt!”

The forum adds: “We also welcome women who may be uncomfortable with skirts for men, but are seeking to come to terms with the idea —maybe because of a loved one who simply insists on wearing the latest A-line or pleated fashions. Trans-sexual women are welcome, as women.”

I’ve heard of women wearing ‘boy-friend shirts’ but the thought of a guy asking for the loan of a ‘girlfriend skirt’ or dress would take some getting used to.

Do real men wear skirts? That is the question.

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