Thoughts on the Boy in Girl’s Clothes on the Rosanne Reboot

| Feb 19, 2018
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Ames McNamara as Mark.

This paraphrases Sara Gilbert, the executive producer of the forthcoming series of Roseanne, in which a new character is being introduced in the form of a young boy who wears girls’ clothes. What’s significant is that a girl wearing boy’s clothes wouldn’t even warrant a comment, far less an excuse invoking her possible LGBTQ status. Why did Ms Gilbert believe it was necessary to qualify her statement in this way?

Since “transgender” and “transitioning” were both specifically mentioned, I’ll assume that the former refers to gender-specific trans behaviors such as crossdressing, while the latter refers to transsexualism in particular. (I’m being generous to Ms Gilbert here, and assuming that she actually knows the difference between sex and gender.) So let’s deal with each of these three descriptors separately.

“Mark dresses like a girl but is not transgender [i.e. a crossdresser]”

Let’s put down some definitions. Technically speaking, “crossdressing” means “wearing the clothes of the opposite sex”  . . . however, traditional crossdressing – which I imagine is what Ms Gilbert is referring to – involves a lot more than this. Traditional crossdressing is more female impersonation or female masquerade than simply putting on a frock. Crossdressers wear wigs, make-up, false breasts, and frequently take steps to obscure their natural male bulge. They adopt fictitious female names and identities – sometimes obtaining bank accounts, drivers’ licences, and even passports in that name – and insist that female pronouns are used by everyone they encounter. They want to be seen and treated as though they were real women, including the questionable “right” to use women’s toilets; in fact, “passing” as a woman remains the crossdressers’ Holy Grail. That’s far more than simply “wearing the clothes of the opposite sex”, and it isn’t consistent with Mark’s character.

So if Mark were a crossdresser, we wouldn’t be looking at someone who’s clearly a boy, and we wouldn’t be referring to him using a boy’s name – that’s not the way crossdressing works. Granted that his presentation is unusual for a boy, but it’s not sufficient for a crossdresser. (My presentation is similar to Mark’s, and I’ve been told – often abusively – that I’m not a crossdresser either.) There’s a better designation which fits this behavior, and I’ll discuss it later. So Ms Gilbert’s qualification that Mark dresses like a girl but isn’t transgender [i.e. a crossdresser] is self-evident and redundant.

“Mark dresses like a girl but is not transitioning [i.e. a transsexual]”

There’s really not much that can be said about this statement except that it’s a complete non-sequitur. However, it’s worth raising the question why the number of boys (and girls) being referred to gender psychologists for possible transsexual tendencies is on the increase. Are we seeing the start of an epidemic of children being put on puberty blockers because they’ve been spotted wearing the “wrong” clothes, or playing with the “wrong” toys?

I expect to get slammed for saying so, but I think this phenomenon is a fad. I accept that there are recorded cases where children reject traditional pursuits and pastimes because they genuinely feel that they should have been born as the other sex  . . . but the number is extremely small. The public’s reaction to seems to hinge on the assumption that children have the same rights as adults  . . . so if a child insists that they want to be a member of the opposite sex, we’re obliged to take them seriously. I’m glad the days when “children should be seen and not heard” are over  . . . but with the rights our children have been granted must come responsibilities – responsibility for oneself and for those with whom one interacts. Sadly, we’re seeing the repercussions every day of children having rights without responsibilities – false accusations against teachers, out-of-control tantrums, violence, abusive demands from parents for material goods  . . . and all with no fear of retribution because their parents are unable (or soon will be across the whole of the UK) to administer a disciplinary smack across the backside. We’re breeding a generation of uncontrollable monsters  . . . we’re watching it happen, and we’re doing nothing about it.

But I digress. In summary, I believe that a child “wanting to be the opposite sex” is more curiosity than neurology, and wanting to wear unconventional clothes is simply a part of this exploration. Let’s face it – we’ve allowed our daughters to wear dungarees and kick a ball around the garden for decades, we’ve encouraged them to break the glass ceiling and to venture into areas which were once the sole preserve of men, and we’ve brought them up to believe that they can be anything they want to be. But now our sons want to wear dresses, our kids are all suddenly latent transsexuals? I don’t think so.

“Mark dresses like a girl but is not gay”

On what basis would one assume that a man (or a boy) wearing a skirt is gay? In practice, a man who’s attracted to men would not be looking for a person in a skirt, since that pretty-much exclusively rules men out. Ah yes – I’d forgotten gay drag  . . . gay men do wear dresses on occasion.

To be honest, I’ve never understood why this is a “thing”. Why do gay pubs have DJs or entertainers in drag? More to the point, why is it thought that a group of mainly heterosexual men would like to be entertained by a gay comedian in drag at events organised by transgender support groups? It doesn’t seem to me to be a logical deduction. Not only that – and maybe I’m unusual – but I judge a comedian by the sophistication of their material  . . . not by how fast they can deliver a clichéd stream of gay smut and innuendo which was passé thirty years ago. But since crossdressers have totally failed in the half-century since Stonewall to educate the public about what they are – and more importantly about what they’re not – one can hardly blame the public for their lack of knowledge on the subject, and particularly for the widely-held belief that all crossdressers are indeed gay. “Dress like a woman to attract a man”  . . . at a cursory reckoning, it makes sense, and few people are willing or able to think beyond it. Yes, I know there are some crossdressers who claim to be “gay when dressed”, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that: no-one can “become” gay just by putting on a frock  . . . any more than a crossdresser can “become” a woman just by donning a wig, make-up, and false tits. You might be gay and be a crossdresser, but you’re not gay when or because you’re a crossdresser. There’s no evidence to support a correlation  . . . especially since we know that homosexuality is a biological condition while crossdressing is entirely a social issue. If western society got rid of its nonsensical arbitrary rules about what men can and can’t wear, crossdressing wouldn’t exist.

So Ms Gilbert’s qualification that Mark dresses like a girl but isn’t gay is another non-sequitur. But even if the public does make a connection between homosexuality and a man wearing a skirt  . . . so what? Who cares if Mark’s gay? It wouldn’t be the first time a gay character has appeared on TV.


So what’s going on here? Well, the truth is that Mark is gender-nonconforming. That’s to say, the sex he portrays is inconsistent with the gender he portrays – he’s clearly a boy, but he’s wearing girl’s clothes. We humans are very visual creatures; if we perceive a mismatch between a person’s sex and their gender, it conflicts with our everyday experiences, and we can’t make sense of it. Note how this differs from traditional crossdressing – in the latter, we perceive a person who both looks like a woman, and is wearing clothes appropriate to a woman  . . . so at a cursory glance, we see nothing unusual. Because of this, gender-nonconforming is far more politically charged than crossdressing. It’s also the reason why it’ll be gender-nonconformance which eventually breaks down the gender barriers; crossdressing is a dead-end in this respect because its modus operandi both requires and reinforces such barriers. Not only that, but while gender-nonconformance is a phenomenon applicable to both men and women, crossdressing is an oddity – a uniquely male pastime with no equivalent in the female world.

Male gender-nonconformance could be the next social phenomenon – it’s waiting in the wings for enough men to have the balls to wear a skirt or a dress in public. Indeed, we saw several instances over the recent hot summer of boys and men wearing skirts – the Bristol schoolboys, the French male bus-drivers, and the UK call-centre worker Joey Barge – as a rebellion against their respective no-shorts dress codes. By and large, the public were supportive – indeed, it was reported that the schoolboys were lent the skirts by their female classmates. Dress codes were subsequently relaxed in most instances where this kind of thing occurred  . . . not by much, but it’s a start. The edifice is starting to crumble. The only thing that’s stopping it collapsing altogether is fear – in the case of head-teachers, it’s fear of a backlash from parents and religious groups; for employers, it’s fear of accusations from customers of “political correctness gone mad”; and in the case of men generally, it’s fear of ridicule, fear of being seen as gay (see the paragraph above for a demolition of this idea), and – perhaps worst of all – fear of falling down the social hierarchy to the level of a woman. That’s a lot of fear!

Skirts have a multitude of advantages over trousers – they’re less restrictive around the groin, they’re cooler so improve fertility (tell that to the next testosterone-fuelled alpha-male who thinks you’re an easy target for abuse), and getting them to fit properly is far easier when both legs go through a single large hole. But you won’t see skirts in the men’s aisles until women have – and are seen to have – full equality with men  . . . all the time that women are regarded as inferior to men in any way, a man who wears their clothes will also be regarded as inferior, and manufacturers won’t make clothes which aren’t going to sell.

But there are signs that the writing’s on the wall for sex inequality. There have been a stream of books lately which challenge the traditional male role-model – English actor and comedian Robert Webb’s How Not To Be A Boy (ISBN 978 1 78689 008 5) is typical of the genre. The number of men admitting to having mental health issues is growing rapidly – much of it caused by years of having to suppress emotions. The so-called “gender pay gap” is a constant thorn in the side of businesses, especially publicly-funded ones such as the BBC. And of course, there’s the alarming number of reports of sexual harassment in Hollywood, the arts, politics, sport  . . . indeed, anywhere that men have traditionally had power and influence. An increasing number of men and women from all walks of life are adding their voices to the idea that the male-dominated nature of western culture which has prevailed for so long is in urgent need of change. Indeed, now that the industrial revolution has given way to the information revolution, and physical strength and stamina are no longer a prerequisite for most jobs, there’s no reason why men and women shouldn’t be completely equal. The only thing preventing it happening is the male ego, and its illusory need for control  . . . the same outdated attributes which have made it necessary to justify a nine-year-old boy’s desire to wear a skirt in a television program.


Other things which Ms Gilbert has said in the various reports on this topic suggest that her personal views on gendered behavior aren’t as black-and-white view as this particular comment might imply. However, it seems that this was a golden opportunity to put male gender-nonconformance in the public domain without comment, and to respond knowledgeably to the reaction. But instead, she found it necessary to look to the LBGTQ world to find excuses – and they are excuses, not reasons – why Mark might want to wear a skirt. You can rest assured that she certainly wouldn’t have done this if the character had been a female tomboy.

Why do some people not understand that if a man wants to wear a skirt, it can simply be an issue of freedom of choice, and not a psychological problem?

Roseanne premiers March 27 in the U.S. on ABC.

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Category: Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

Graham is an Englishman who proudly wears women's clothing with no attempt to pass as a female. His hobbies include winemaking, music and leading on telephone scammers making them think they can get his personal information, then telling them to sod off.

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