Editor’s Note: I am excited to announce that Julia, my wonderful, supportive wife, will be contributing to The Beskirted Man by writing a new column: “Julia’s Perspective”. The idea behind it is to write about having a man who likes to wear skirts, heels and other gender non-conforming clothing. I hope you enjoy her perspective!
Things “Safely in the Past”
The first time my husband told me he had experimented with wearing skirts and heels, we were still in college. Both in our early twenties, we connected over what we were studying — history, cultures, and literature – and our shared love of political discussions. We butted heads many times, and it was exactly that friction that brought us close. Both of us enjoyed a good clash of values and the reflection that followed and made us both grow.
However, when he told me about his interest in skirts and heels one day, I suddenly felt very conservative. And this was even though I had grown up with liberal values and generally enjoyed (and still enjoy) stretching the boundaries our cultures impose on us. Yet, I noticed that apparently I liked my men “masculine” in a traditional sense. I found it strange that he would overstep this line between genders. I did not like it, it somehow made me feel uncomfortable, and not just a little bit. And I certainly did not understand why a heterosexual male would be interested in dressing like a female – I personally find heels very uncomfortable and restrictive, and they certainly do not symbolize liberation for me!
So I was kind of relieved when he told me that he had not particularly enjoyed wearing a skirt that one time. I chalked it up as some weird sexual experimentation that some people have to go through before they find their “real” sexual and gender identity (as if that were a stable thing, ha!). I certainly was not against sexual experimentation in general – however, I was glad that this specific kind seemed to be over for the guy I was just starting to like. I did everything to ignore this tidbit I knew about him, thinking that every person you meet just has their quirks and idiosyncrasies and that “nobody is perfect”. I am generally someone who accepts people’s quirks, and I did the same in this case – but only after telling myself it was a thing safely in the past.
Ghosts of Things Remembered: Not So Safely in the Past After All
So maybe you can imagine my surprise when, a good decade later, my now husband confessed to me that his interest in skirts and heels had come back from the dead. He had bought his first pairs of heels and skirts and had put them on at home when I was not there. He was enjoying it immensely, even though he admitted that he felt shame, too.
To be entirely honest with you, I was shocked. This was not a pleasant surprise for me. Sure, I appreciated his sincerity and his confidence that he could tell me everything, even the most intimate detail. So this did not lead to a fight or even a heated discussion, since one of the foundational principles of our relationship is working to accept the other for who s/he is. We agreed a long time ago that we would not try to change each other and that we would always be honest. But this was a tough one.
Question Marks and Fears
What did this mean, I asked him? Why did he do it? Was he finding out that he was, in reality, homosexual? Bisexual? Asexual? Did he want to be with other people? Did this break the foundation that we had both built our lives on – a happy heterosexual relationship? I had never really considered us “normal” anyway, in the sense that I thought we were more interested in complicated discussions and experiments than many other people I knew. However, after having been together for so long, were we really just friends anymore, had he lost his sexual interest in me – or had he never really felt attracted to me? Which I considered crucial for a healthy relationship. Why the hell would he do something like this that risked everything we had worked so hard to build together? I was scared, but I was also angry. The seemingly simple question of clothes immediately became not only a question of identity, but a question mark behind our shared life that signaled to me: flashing red light, relationship crisis, serious!
I remember a lot of discussions about these questions. I told him that I married a heterosexual man because I wanted a heterosexual man. I wanted sex to be a part of our relationship, and I might want kids one day. We now have one, by the way. And yes, initially, discussions were a lot about what I wanted. And also about what he wanted, and whether these wishes were still congruent enough for us to stay together.
He kept assuring me that he still loved me. I did not believe him. I cried, he comforted me. A side note: yes, that is frequently the dynamic of our relationship – being built close to water and liking a strong shoulder to lean on might be my most traditionally “feminine” trait – even though I think this also has to do with other things, such as my personal history. Anyway, I was sad, and scared of losing the person I cared about the most. Especially since at first he could not really explain to me why he was doing this either. He said he “just felt like it”. It was fun, and: it scratched an itch. What kind of an itch, I asked? He was not sure.
Just as I have been in the past, when we were two young, curious, and super-ambitious students wide open to all sorts of experiences, thoughts, and lifestyles, I am glad now that we had this crisis. Once again, I feel like I have grown, and that we have grown together because of it. This is still what I appreciate the most about our relationship. The fact that he keeps offering food for thought in his own unique ways is one big reason why I love my husband.
We quickly figured out that this was not about finally being forced to diagnose the hidden instability of our relationship, or at least not in the way we initially thought. In fact, talking openly about what my husband was thinking about and feeling brought us much closer together. I figured out that there was a part of my husband that he had felt he had to hide from me before, and this was what had created an invisible but definite wall between us. A wall that spited our pledge of mutual honesty and dedication. Many times in the past, I had tried to (more or less gently) break down that wall but felt powerless, like he was just not letting me in. This had been an issue with a long history between us, and I did not understand what it was about. I don’t think either one of us really understood.
After his “confession”, my husband kept saying how much he loved the fact that he could tell me everything because I did not judge him. How good it felt to finally share this secret, and to be fully accepted by me as he really was. Truthfully, at least at first, I sure as hell did judge though. I wished it would all go away, I wanted my “normal” man back. I wanted him in jeans and a checkered shirt, like before. I thought: Why does this have to happen to me, why do things always have to be so difficult? I just did not dare tell him this. So I thought I would just have to ride it out until it subsided naturally. I was relatively confident that it would.
But it didn’t. And slowly, I started thinking, and we started thinking together. Our first big step was that we figured out it had something to do with restrictive gender norms for my husband, and particularly with a type of masculinity that he loathed and constantly felt pushed towards. He called it “jock mentality”, heavily associated it with school and especially US-American boy and sports culture, and he wanted to do everything he could to set himself apart from this type of man. I remember that I suddenly felt it click in my head. Having engaged a lot with feminist writers who deconstructed and rethought gender and invented intersectionality and interdependence theory, this was definitely something I could understand. Toxic masculinity in all its shapes and consequences is a problem for men and women, boys and girls alike (and everyone in between those merely theoretical two poles of a spectrum), and I had made my own experiences with it already (which woman or man, which person has not?).
So that was the itch that got scratched for my be-heeled and be-skirted husband. He wanted to define his own kind of manhood. He did not want to be told by society who he was (not) allowed to be and/or look like, and how he should (not) behave because he was “a man”. He has respect for the law, of course, and for moral principles such as not hurting other people. This is about the behaviors that are socially sanctioned or punished even though they are technically nobody else’s business.
And his path led him by the precinct of women’s clothing, which he rudely appropriated in the most “inappropriate” way: a man “degrading” himself by making himself more woman-like (note that a woman putting on men’s clothing is not only acceptable thanks to the first wave of feminism but still somehow “adds” something to mere womanhood that has to do with the value our societies attribute to masculinity). This connected to so many of my topics. I understood what was wrong with this type of thinking, and why men like my husband are so desperately necessary for our society today.
Some Words of (Hopefully Helpful) Advice
If you asked me today: What is your advice for men who are secretly dabbling in skirts, heels, and other supposedly “feminine” fashion items, I would say: don’t hide, dare to confide in your partners, put yourselves out there and take your partners along for the ride. Give them a chance to react positively. Make people think like my husband did me, hoping they will thank you for it and knowing that they might not, or not immediately. I am well aware that a man doing this may make himself more vulnerable. However, support and respect for this is growing, and you will probably be surprised at how much positive feedback you will get. Also, a community of like-minded people can really help build confidence (hopefully my commentary on this blog can, too).
And if you asked me what I would tell other women who found themselves in my situation of a few years ago, I would say: it is high time to practice real openness, asking questions and being prepared for the fact that they might not be easy to answer. If we don’t, we will just continue living with our mental projections, not with our actual partners. And most importantly: embrace the one you love, and all the aspects that make them who they are. We can only be a strong team when we learn to really engage with and support each other, even if we don’t immediately understand.