I'm sitting here reading an essay in a zeroxed insert from an old anthology LP ("This Inheritance Must be Refused"), and just like a history student, I'm wondering if it is indicative of its time and place. It's only from 1994; but the booklet reads as archaic and outdated to me. It's so radical, and so archly radical- so aware of its own radicalism. Are punk rockers still this way? Did I just grow up and get new friends? Or were there a lot more kids like this back then? The essay is about boys in dresses. I haven't seen a boy in a dress since... well, about 1994, actually. Let's analyze, eh?
"Slip into the androgyny. It isn't hard and it doesn't hurt and is much more exciting than your petty, mundane existence. This is about boys wearing dresses."
We used to call this sort of double dare you writing style "Berkeleyer-than-thou". It's trying to provoke, while also trying to be tongue-in-cheek. Does anyone even use the word 'androgyny' anymore?
"Unfortunately grrrls are screwed over again since androgynous wear is much commonly accepted... unless ya wear a smooth boy suit and all that jazz. But, who the fuck wants to dress like a boy, right?"
Note the 'boys-r-dumb' undertone. I remember that.
"Anyway, this is about boys and the their fabric, 'cause we need help. Punk is accepted, or at least tolerated, so why not push the bastards one step further. Fashion CAN be a catalyst for change and if I see distrust in your eyes, then think about this- we can make it a catalyst. You, me, we push every fucking awakened twitch past the point of that fateful decision."
He's got a point here- punk is not only accepted, it's downright conservative. If you want to freak out society, wearing the punk-rocker costume isn't going to do it. It's strange to think that a boy in a dress would still do it- not in New York! But, definitely where I live. My neighbors would have a heart-attack if I wore a skirt. And, if one of our students did it, the other ones would shit their pants.
Is society always more conservative than it used to be?
I usually imagine gradually increasing liberalism. So, if people are freaked out by interracial couples today, they won't be in ten years. And then, if they're freaked out by gay couples or single mothers, wait another ten years and they won't even bat an eyelash. I look at the world around me, and it sometimes seems to have progressed this way. It seems like people are increasingly more and more open-minded. When I was 10, nobody was gay- nobody had AIDS. Now I'm 32, and even HIV isn't a killer.
But, sometimes, society seems to be going the other way- becoming more and more reactionary. The old Conservative storyline is that we all tried to be free from social norms when we were younger. But we found that freedom can go too far, and it led to social nightmares. All around us, we see the wreckage caused by our narcissistic demands for social freedoms.
This same story has been told for over 200 years. This was the story that was told during the Bourbon Restoration- the Revolution had shown Europe the folly of Enlightenment liberalism. Then, the Revolution of 1848 showed us the folly of liberalism and socialism. And then the Paris Commune showed us all the folly of socialism and liberalism. And so on, and so forth. For Americans, it was the liberalism of the 1960s- which apparently led directly to AIDS, widespread divorce, poverty, and the horrors of Communist Russia. We've had over two centuries of the progressive liberalisation of Western society- from aristocratic states where the Church and Crown are divinely ordained to democracy, sexual freedom, secularism, free-speech- you know, all of those wacko ideas that destroyed the world. And Conservatives always tell the same story- "Well, that sort of progress was all good and well. But, now we know better! So, let's stop all this nonsense!"
But, whatever happened to boys in dresses? Whatever happened to trying to freak out the neighbors? How did our society become so reactionary? Did everyone grow up? Did we all learn better from our 'youthful indiscretions' and become born-again douchebags?
And the worst part about it is that this counter-support for social norms- wearing a dress because you live in a society where boys don't wear dresses- is just perfunctory anyway. If you're wearing a dress to freak out the neighbors, then you aren't liberated- just opposing the fact that you're not liberated. It's bizarre to me to think that, because of the time and place that I was born, I'll never know if I actually like wearing dresses. What a random taboo!
How will we ever be free if every act of liberation we undertake is just a childish slap in the face of the reactionary authoritarian fucks who really run the joint? How will we ever know who, or what, we are, if everything is in contrast to the Proper and Upright Way of Living? To them? How do we ever get past them? Because it's really just a lie, isn't it? We never really learn from the errors of our ways? We never really learn that "freedom can go too far". We just get tired of being beaten down by the stupid and lazy people around us who will never try to be free anyway. We just give up on trying new things, or the possibility of living in a better world. We put back on the proper clothes and get back in line.
So, maybe that's what happened to boys in dresses? They're still out there, but the one inside of me is dead.