Part 2 is here.
This month’s Carnival of Aces theme is a fun one, and it gives me a chance to talk about a fun topic: my clothes. But, before we can talk about how my clothing choices might be a form of gender performance and, in turn, how that might be an expression of asexual identity, there are a few terms that need to be clarified.
The first is “gender identity”. I don’t have one. My relationship to gender is the same as my relationship to “romance”: I understand that it’s very important to some people, but I personally can’t imagine what it is, and I don’t think it makes sense for me to use this language for myself.
As a result, nothing I do can be regarded as an “expression” of my gender identity. It may be an expression of lots of other things, but not that.
The second is gender norms. This is the idea that people of one gender (or sex) should behave differently from people of another. For example, that only girls should dress in pink or wear skirts. These norms are, of course, socially constructed and arbitrary. The idea that pink is for girls is a 20th-century invention; men around the world and throughout history have worn skirts. There is no such thing as “gender appropriate” clothing, and the idea that there is needs to be squashed.
As a result, we need to be careful when we talk about someone expressing their gender identity through clothing. A person may choose to conform to the norms of their gender (or sex). They may also be drawn to a so-called “masculine” or “feminine” style of dress for reasons that have nothing to do with their personal gender identity. But we cannot assume a one-to-one relationship between gender identity and clothing choices.
I don’t have a gender identity to express, but, as a person with a female body, I am still subject to gender norms. Some of these I resist: I don’t wear makeup or nail polish (except, occasionally, at Hallowe’en), I never wear perfume, I have only a few items of jewellery (no earrings), and I don’t own a single pair of high-heels. Others I feel obliged to conform to: I would feel self-conscious if I didn’t wax my legs in the summer. And some I actually enjoy: I like being able to wear skirts if I want to. In my leisure time my outfits tend towards gender-neutral: trousers and sweaters in the winter; capris and T-shirts or button-down shirts in the summer. At work, I tend to wear skirts, out of a strange sense that they look more professional. I think this is partly because I never learned how to wear men’s dress clothes and partly because “dressing nicely” tends to involve presenting in a more gender-normative fashion. Since I don’t do the make-up etc. thing, and since I’m naturally androgynous-looking, I wear skirts and other “feminine” clothing to compensate.
The final thing is sexuality. There’s an assumption that sometimes gets made that the way someone dresses is an indication of their sexual desires. For example, that a woman who dresses in feminine, flattering, or revealing clothing must want to have sex with men. This is, of course, a fallacy – and a dangerous one. A woman should not be assumed to be sexually interested in men just because she dresses in a way that men find attractive. By the same token, a woman who looks “butch” isn’t necessarily uninterested in sex with men, nor a man who wears dresses uninterested in sex with women.
It’s true that dressing one way or another may make one more or less attractive to others, and some people may choose their clothing with this in mind. It’s possible that some straight and bi women deliberately dress in a way men will find attractive, and that gay and ace women feel less pressure to do so and are therefore more likely to dress differently. But, again, we can’t assume a one-to-one relationship.
I’m heterosexual. In high school, I experimented with make-up, nail polish, and other “feminine” fashion at least partly in an attempt to make myself attractive to guys. It didn’t work, and I eventually gave it up as not worth the effort. Now, I tend towards clothing that is comfortable and looks good on me. Because I’m tall (for a woman) and androgynous-looking, this involves a fair amount of masculine or unisex clothing. I like feminine clothing as well, but I don’t put a lot of effort into making myself attractive. I like looking good, but I like looking good in a general kind of way. I don’t need a specific segment of the population to find me attractive in a specifically sexual way.
Has being ace-spectrum played any part in my clothing choices? I’m not sure. I suppose if I had more of a sexual appetite I might have put more effort into making myself attractive to others. The end result might not have been much different, though. I honestly don’t know if being ace-spectrum helped to determine me in my celibacy or just made it easier to accept. Something similar might be said of my clothes.
So, yeah, I’m not sure if my asexuality or (lack of) gender have influenced the way I dress. Perhaps not worrying about presenting in a normatively “feminine” fashion has just freed me to wear different kinds of clothes. I don’t exactly dress how I want – i.e. like the hero of a fantasy adventure game (you know: tunic, leggings, nice boots, leather pouch of infinite capacity)! But I try to make the best of the options available to me and have fun with them. For what that looks like in practice, see Part 2.