"All people are not heterosexual. Heterosexuality is not superior and is not the norm by which all other sexual orientation and gender identities are measured." --Burnaby, B.C. Schools Draft Policy #5.45

Monday, February 4, 2013

Skirt Dancing Craze

I came across this news article while randomly searching the New York Times archive.

The article, dated Febuary 19, 1895, purports to describe a female impersonation fad among young men or teen-agers at schools in New York City--first, at Columbia College, then at Adelphi Academy and "the Polytechnic", both private schools. 

According to the article, female impersonation was in "periodic vogue" at Columbia College, until the officials of the college put a stop to it "on the ground that the exhibitions were not manly". The students at Adelphi had organized an acting club and were going to put on a play called "The Proselytes", set in Salt Lake City, with the male actors playing "Mormon damsels". The article even lists the names of the actors and the names of the characters they would play. 

The characters' names are fantastic: Letta Goe, Ida Lovemelittle, Virginia Creeper, etc.

Two features of the article stand out. The first is that military training is thought of as as a solution (along with corporal punishment). The article compares the boys' behavior with those of boys attending public schools, who were going to do some sort of military training. A "well-known citizen", quoted at the end of the article, says he would not object to seeing his son in a soldier's uniform, but would object to his son dressed women's clothing.

I had a slightly similar experience. When I was a tween, I enjoyed reading books with female main characters. When my parents became concerned, I was allowed to read books about military history, but not fiction books with female heroines.  

The second feature that stands out is what the "well-known citizen" says. It's true that he says he'd take a "lath" to his son were he to catch him dressed as a woman and it's also true that he says he wants the wearing of gendered clothing to be strictly enforced. Nevertheless, I sense, in his comments, a less-than-absolute view both on the genderedness of a piece of fabric and on what it means when a male wears clothes traditionally associated with women. It's barely detectable. I could be misunderstanding what he says, or making too much of nineteenth century styles of expression, or giving too much weight to how he prefaces his point, but it's almost like a fleeting glimpse into an innocent pre-fallen world lacking both  gender role enforcement and gay theology's boxes and labels.  See for yourself:

I do not believe in this kind of a show. It may be pretty, it may be popular, it may be artistic, and it is certainly a clever delusion. Nevertheless, it does not put the students in a manly light. There is something distinctly effeminate in the spectacle of a boy in girl's clothing. 
If I caught my boy in short skirts, I'd warn him with a lath. He wouldn't need any rouge on his cheeks for a time, at least, nor would he be able to do any high kicking right away. Skirt dancing was stopped on the part of the students at Columbia College, and I think the City of Churches is a poor place for the craze to be transplanted to. 
Which looks more manly and appropriate on a young man, short skirts or a soldier's uniform? I would not object to seeing my son in a soldier's uniform, but as for short skirts, let their use be strictly confined to the other sex, and I believe most Brooklyn parents feel as I do on this subject. 
Wearing opposite sex clothing? Clothes not being absolutely associated with one or the other gender? The "well-known citizen" has strong feelings about these, but does concede that they're debatable topics. Amazing. 

Notes: The "City of Churches" is a nickname for Brooklyn, according to the Internet.  The dictionary says that "proselyte" means "convert".

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