Sporting a Beard while Wearing a Dress

Alok Vaid-Menon of DarkMatter

Alok Vaid-Menon of DarkMatter

At each of the four NYC pride week events I went to (Trans Day of Action, The Drag March, The Dyke March, and The Big March) I saw a smattering of what, for the lack of a better term, I will call “people with beards wearing make-up and dresses.” Some were gay men, presumably cisgender. Others were either gender non-conforming, non-binary, genderqueer, or trans. I couldn’t tell by looking.

Some wore garish or exaggerated costume, some were in classic drag, and some were dressed in an outfit that would not have attracted attention if it was worn by someone else. I mean someone who “was trying to look like a woman is expected to look”. This last category, of mixed gender expression, is the most visibly jarring. Picture a masculine haircut, a trim beard, a little black dress, and pumps – or what Alok is wearing, above.

This is not an attempt at the air-brushed androgynous look. This openly contradicts the “rules” of passing. By showing a heavy five o’clock shadow or a beard they are not hiding or obscuring that they spent a significant part of their teen/adult life with high testosterone levels.

I’m used to seeing trans women all over New York (and there were plenty of trans women at the Trans Day of Action); but outside of queer gatherings I’ve only run into a handful of people sporting beards and wearing make-up and/or dresses. Playing with gender is like playing with fire. I wonder how often they go out like that, and how they handle the harassment on the street, in the subway, or using a bathroom. How often they get burnt.

I generally only get harassed using women’s bathrooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms. Sometimes, someone on the street will say something to me, and I usually say something back as I walk away. Oddly, I feel more “seen” in those situations than when I am “Ma’am’d.” I rarely feel physically threatened. Mostly, I feel safe.

I’ve often wondered who my “opposite” gender equivalent is. Someone born male, but who identified with girls as a child. Someone who always preferred girl’s or women’s clothing to boy’s or men’s clothing. Someone who carries themselves girlishly. Someone whose gender expression is predominantly female, but whose secondary sex characteristics are male. I know they are out there, but I rarely see them.

No matter how many times I tell myself “You can’t tell someone’s identity simply by looking at them,” I want to do exactly that. I want the supernatural power to read people’s gender identity accurately, and to be read accurately in return. I want to see other people who identify as trans. I want them to see me.

I volunteered to do peacekeeping/marshaling at the Trans Day of Action (organized by the Audre Lorde Project). I’m much more comfortable at a demonstration when I have a job to do than when I just show up. Before the march, as the crowd was assembling, I was posted at one of the entrances to park. At 3:00 PM on a sunny Friday, Washington Square Park is pretty crowded – I was supposed to direct people to the gathering site, and intervene if anyone was verbally hassled. To pass the time, I watched people enter the park and tried to figure out who was going to our event. Were the two short guys with scraggy beards trans? What about the woman with the tank top and the blond wig? It was impossible. And the only person who got hassled (by a woman tourist from the mid-West) was someone with a beard wearing a dress.

Notes: Alok Vaid-Menon, who is a poet and half of the performance group DarkMatter, is one of the people I see often at political events sporting beard growth and a dress. Some of their writing is posted on their blog RETURNTHEGAYZE; I especially like “Why is Everyone So Afraid of Men in Dresses?”

The picture of a relatively clean-shaven Alok, which is from this Gay Pride weekend, comes with a story, which is posted with their picture on DarkMatter’s Instagram page.

Last week I said I wasn’t going to go to the main march, but I was asked to help carry this banner and I couldn’t resist:

Republican-Hate-Kills

12 thoughts on “Sporting a Beard while Wearing a Dress

  1. anexactinglife

    I agree that it’s still uncommon to see people with mixed gender expression “in public” and others find it confrontational. I tend not to take part in rallies and protests, but I will try your idea of having a job to do – that would work for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      At most demonstrations there is a need for peacekeepers, legal observers, and medical/wellness help. There is always a way to volunteer – and it is a good way to be connected into the community. It definitely makes it more interesting and takes away most of my social anxiety.

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  2. Lesboi

    We need a way to signal to each other that we’re trans. It would help us be less isolated in the world.

    I don’t really understand why a masculine looking person wearing a dress evokes hatred and violence in our society, but it does. A masculine woman does not threaten the patriarchy nearly as much and most often is just ignored except in bathrooms and lockers, as you mentioned. I think it has to do with the whole men are supposed to be “real men” and not sissies or faggots. Something about male femininity is really disturbing to a lot of people. Bravo to the brave souls like Alok for pushing those boundaries and stereotypes.

    Nice sign! I can see why you marched.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Maybe we could all wear purple beanies or something. Or a sign that would only be visible to us.

      The banner was made by Gilbert Baker who “created” the rainbow flag in San Francisco in the 1970’s. This one was 50 feet long and stretched all the way across 5th Avenue, which is pretty impressive. And it was very light to carry (and people cheered!).

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      1. Lesboi

        I don’t know about the purple beanies idea. I miss the lesbian head nod. Now the dykes at the hardware store think I’m a creep and scowl at me when I nod their way.

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  3. jjjjohanne

    I am a man who identifies as a male, yet I like to wear pretty things. I try to look my age and not dress overly girly/dainty (no flowers, bows, lace). But I will wear a skirt and heels. I have not had any bad experiences. I have been laughed at only a couple times that I know of. I’m sure there have been more. Life is good. I don’t do this all of the time, only on occasions. Currently I have a beard, but apparently people do not find it to be confrontational. I feared that it would present a socially aggressive attitude. But, it is apparently seen as an unrelated detail to my clothing style. I have a blog with a few pictures from my experiences. Nothing too interesting there. 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for reading my post and commenting. Your experience is really different from what I’ve heard, but I’m impressed that you feel comfortable going out in a skirt without trying to be read as female. Clothing is so gendered that I had to stop myself from writing “women’s clothing” – and just write “a skirt” – because (except in David Bowie’s head) there is really no such thing as a man’s skirt – or a unisex skirt. Look forward to following your writing.

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  4. Fairy JerBear

    I’m an agender person who used to wear a beard and don’t any longer. As I was jus coming out when I shaved my beard off I don’t know what the response would have been but I can guess. I shaved because I wanted people to at least pause for a second before misgendering me. I still am read by many as “a man in a dress” and it is SO tiring! That being said I still go out in a skirt and a message or colorful t-shirt with knee high socks. I rarely wear makeup because it’s difficult for me to apply due to arthritis and neuropathy which limits the usefulness of my hands, (I use an iPad and my pointing finger to type). Thankfully I live in a fairly accepting town, (Santa Fe, New Mexico), so it is fairly safe. Still, I hesitate to wear my prefered wardrobe when I am out alone. In an ideal world peopel would be accepting of people challenging gender norms no matter what their gender identity is. Until then, for people like me, the personal really is political!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think it is possible for a model, for someone very stylish, for a celebrity (think David Bowie) to pull it off without being harassed or scorned or laughed at – but I think it is difficult (and sometimes dangerous) for your average genderqueer/non-binary/agender/genderfluid person to go out in public and risk being read as “a man in a dress”. You have to have a sixth sense of how to de-escalate negative interactions.
      And I agree about the danger of going out alone – it is a shame.

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  5. Transmanwithcooties

    My partner is. AMAB but extraordinarily feminine in gender expression, bullied for mannerisms, clothing, and interests that would be considered the norm for an AFAB child. Yet he is comfortable being a very feminine man. I needed to medically transition due to intense bodily and social dysphoria. Also, prior to my transition I was seen as a mean and surly “nasty butch” who would not do femininity or coo at babies or flirt while he was seen as a “fun gay sweetheart!!!” And no one understood what he saw in me. Post transition, my introverted nature is not interpreted as me being a jerk, I’m just a “mellow guy” and the two of us apparently make a “cute gay boy couple” (we are both bisexual btw). This experience, to me, says it all.

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