As some may have picked up from the name of my blog (or from, you know, meeting me in person) I wear a kilt every day. I have a total of seven, although one of them is a nice kilt that I save for special occasions (nice dinners, conferences, etc.)Anyway, the point is that I wear a kilt on any given day, except when I’m compelled by some obligation to be in pants instead.
Now, I wear my kilts for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s a visible representation of a part of my cultural heritage. For another, it helps me stand out. Everyone remembers “kilt guy.” Last, but certainly not least, I find kilts to be more comfortable than pants.
An added benefit (or curse, you can decide which) of my wearing a kilt is that it has given me some insight into the experiences of women and trans* individuals. I wouldn’t say that I have a full understanding of such experiences, by any stretch of the imagination, but just as the Eleusinian Mysteries gave Mycenean Greeks a greater insight into the meaning of the legend of Demeter and Persephone, so too does my microcosm lend me a partial understanding. On that note, I am rather displeased with what I am increasingly finding to be the state of things.
Catcalls, wolf whistles, and general crossing of sexual boundaries
When women remark that they are quite displeased with the street harassment, a common rebuttal from some men is “Yeah, well, I’d love it if people said stuff like that to me!” While I cannot be certain about these claims, I’m fairly certain they’re bullshit. Why do I think this? Well, it’s because I’m a man who has been receiving sexual comments and catcalls for a few years now, and I myself have certainly not enjoyed it.
I’ll admit that I was somewhat amused the first few times a woman came up to me and asked me what I was wearing under my kilt. That said, it quickly got old. I don’t dread the question, but I don’t particularly enjoy having to explain to complete strangers that I am, in fact, wearing underwear. While the question is definitely less unwelcome when coming from an attractive young woman, it is a bit of an overstep even then. The most extreme case of this that I ever got was when I was walking down the street and someone on the other side of the road called across to me to ask whether I was wearing anything under the kilt.
The whole “people don’t wear underwear under their kilts!” thing is a fairly prevalent stereotype, but I’m not entirely sure where it came from. Wherever it came from, though, complete strangers seem to think that it’s something that they should ask about. Occasionally, people will tell me that I’m wearing a kilt “wrong” because I’ve got underwear on underneath it. Apparently the Supreme Overlord of Kiltiness sent out a memo that you must go commando in order to wear a kilt, and I was the only one who didn’t get it. Still, I am dressed in a rather stand-out way, and people are curious about the cultural stereotypes they’ve heard. While not especially pleasant or appropriate, questions about my underwear are fairly understandable.
What isn’t, though, is when someone catcalls me. Several times, I’ve had people shout at me from passing cars (the most notable being a fellow in Wisconsin who called out “Hey, girl, wanna get fucked?!” I’m not sure if he was trying to insult me by calling me a girl, or if he honestly believed me to be a girl… With a beard.) It’s usually not all that dramatic. More often it’s “nice dress!” “nice legs!” or a whistle. I get similar comments from people on foot. Now, I may be mistaken, but the tone never strikes me as that of a friendly compliment. Rather, they tend to sound aggressive and/or mocking. If this is the sort of thing that women are referring to when they talk about catcalls and street harassment, then no, they’re not just “overreacting to a harmless compliment.”
Perhaps the most frustrating sort of interaction I have while wearing my kilts is not the catcalling, nor the personal questions, nor the rather widespread belief that having the most basic cultural knowledge will impress me into prioritizing folks for monetary favors. No, the thing that bothers me most is when people point at me, jeer, and shout “he wearin’ a dress!”
I’m not bothered by the suggestion that I am wearing women’s clothing. Frankly, the reason that I only ever present as masculine is that I like having a beard, and I don’t think I have the a good figure for a feminine presentation. If I thought that I could pull it off, I would have few qualms about sometimes presenting as a woman, and those that I would have would not be from an aversion to gender-nonconformity.
One thing that does offend me a little is that the people who say this often can’t tell the difference between a dress and a skirt. It isn’t a very complex distinction. I’m also rather irked at the cultural illiteracy of these people. Clearly, even the panhandlers who stop me to ask for money know what a kilt is, and it’s a fairly iconic garment. Even if it doesn’t make sense why someone is wearing a kilt on their day to day errands, people know that Mel Gibson wore a (garment not unlike a) kilt in “Braveheart.”
The thing that really, really offends me about people shouting that I am wearing a dress, pointing, and laughing, though, is that they seem to think that gender-nonconformity is something to be mocked. As I said earlier, I present pretty much only as masculine, but what if I didn’t? Trying to mock and shame a person for what you think their gender presentation is, even if you’re too incompetent to actually figure it out, is incredibly rude. I’m not offended that some people think I dress like a woman. I’m offended that there are rude, tactless, foul people who think I shouldn’t.
In conclusion, here are some of the things I have learned from wearing a kilt. Some of them I knew already, and I simply had confirmed, and others are new insights. I have learned that harassment is, in fact, a real thing, and not just a misinterpretation of “friendly compliments.” I have learned that people think that they are entitle to personal information about me. I have learned that some people are utterly ignorant, rude, and tactless. I have learned that transphobia definitely exists and is definitely problematic (if painfully imprecise). These are some of the things that I’ve learned while wearing a kilt, and these are some of the things that anger me.