To begin with, an axiom and a statement:
Axiom: There are no areas of human endeavour (apart from those related to procreation), no facets of human intellect or human personality that are inherently male or female. Society may attempt to designate them as such, but all such designations are false.
Statement: Women's clothes are the prime signifiers of femme.
The axiom I hold to be definitely true. The statement comes with several provisos, not least that its truth is somewhat complicated by the axiom. Because if most aspects of human behaviour are not inherently gendered, why should inanimate objects attached to humans be gendered? Why should the majority of human clothing be designated either as male or female? What in fact are women's clothes?
Recently, I've become quite intrigued by the idea of de-gendering or re-gendering clothing. That is since reading another thread on the mHB forum and the online archives of Graham Holmes, former leading light in the Total Clothing Rights group. (Okay, I have some problems with the apparent assumptions of TCR, in particular as regards women's own clothing rights, but that's a topic for another time.)
When I read Graham's articles I immediately thought "this guy is femme". And I thought the same about Jon-Jon Goulian, the author of a new book: The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt. And I may well be right. Or not. That would be for them to say. But in any case, that's not the question right now. The question is...
What are we (Jon-Jon, Graham and I) all doing? We're wearing women's clothes as men. Why? — and here, rather than reaching for complex, loaded explanations such as "transvestite" or "cross-dresser" (Jon-Jon says specifically he is not a cross-dresser; Graham says he is, but challenges what that means) or even "femme" (my favoured descriptor), let's apply Occam's Razor and take the one that makes the fewest assumptions — Because we want to wear prettier clothes.
Do men have pretty clothes? Not really, no. (Alright, the 1980's New Romantics had ruffles and stuff, but that was a particular look, not a general one.) So we have to wear women's clothes. But ultimately these clothes are just things: certain fabrics in certain colours and certain designs, which society has designated as women's clothes.
So let's not do that. Let's de-gender and re-gender. Pretty clothes de-gendered are now just pretty clothes. Pretty clothes re-gendered are now just men's clothes (literally: clothes worn by men). Using this logic (which, I have to say, is not originally mine) we are not cross-dressers, whatever anyone else might think. We are just men wearing clothes that society has arbitrarily designated as female. And as a corollary (rewriting my initial statement): rather than women's clothes being the prime signifiers of femme, it is simply that femme clothes are primarily designated as female.
Okay, I'll confess: I'm not totally convinced by that logic. But I want it to be correct. The sheer subversive audacity of it fills me with glee :)