Dear Papa Bear,
How do I correctly explain to my parents about different genders and sexualities? And how guys don’t look bad in femme clothing? Why I'm asking this is because ever since I came out as both a furry and gender-neutral, I've been the joke of the whole family. I tried to explain other things as such and.... Well, I think you can guess what happened. Not good. Any advice?
Echo (age 18, Ohio)
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Very good question! Clothing is a cultural construct. What is acceptable in one culture, is frowned upon in another. You’re from the American Midwest, a very conservative area of the country that tends to shun men who aren’t walking around looking like lumberjacks or football players. If you lived in, say, New York or San Francisco, you might be able to express yourself a bit more freely.
Other cultures throughout history have had no problem with a man wearing what would be considered, in your area and time, rather girly. For example, wearing a sarong in Sri Lanka looks fine. Wearing a kilt in Scotland? Perfectly acceptable (and, actually, I see a lot of American men wearing them and they are popular among a lot of furries). In the nineteenth century, Albanian men were considered very swanky in a skirt.
Modern-day European society is a lot more relaxed when it comes to men’s dress as well. They kinda invented the entire metrosexual look, I believe, of men being allowed to be more feminine in their attire.
You might say to your family, “Why’s it okay for a woman to dress in jeans and a flannel shirt, but it’s not okay for me to dress more pretty? Not too long ago, it was considered scandalous for a woman to wear pants—absolutely shocking. Yet, now it’s okay. Why can’t the reverse be true?”
For centuries, women were basically imprisoned by socially enforced dress codes. They were made to wear, for example, extremely tight corsets that would cause them to faint and were actually quite damaging to their internal organs over time. In the same way, men are imprisoned by boring clothes, too. How did they get so boring? If you ever watch a meeting of Congress or a corporate board, they all have the uniform: blue or grey or black suit, dress shirt and shoes, tie. It’s designed to make people conform. Now, you take a company like Google or these other companies and look how they dress and are allowed to wear their hair. Some companies have become savvy to the fact that allowing people to be themselves inspires creativity and productivity. Tell your family, hey, I’m a creative and liberated person who is not a slave to a boring Midwest culture. I’m just expressing my freedom as an American! (grins)
It’s not just dress that restricts men in our society. Although we’ve loosened up a bit in our culture, many men (heterosexual men, I may add) still feel very restricted in how they can express themselves because they are repeatedly told it isn’t macho enough. This Huffington Post article nicely sums up what men would like to do if they felt free to (the saddest one is that many feel they are looked down upon if they play with and show close affection to their children).
In summation, your family is unwittingly being a slave to culture. They are not only restricting you, but they are restricting themselves.
When people are uncomfortable with something that is not the norm, making fun of it is a typical reaction. So, another thing you can say: “I realize you are making fun of me because I make you uncomfortable and you want me to be just like you, but I’m not going to let it bother me because I’d rather be me than something I’m not and live a lie. I am who I am. Oh, and just because someone dresses like a masculine, conservative man, doesn’t mean they are one.” (I always like this link).
Clothing can be a form of expression, but also of deception. It is very shallow, indeed, to judge someone by their appearance alone. Tell your family they might try to not judge that ol’ book by its cover (cliché though that is). You would actually be less of a man if you allowed others to influence how you look.
Hope that helps. Proud of you for being you!
P.S. Note to furries: wearing your tail or ears in public because you like to? Pawsome.
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