Thursday, April 14, 2011

Boy Girls

The subject of gender-bending has been in the news lately as certain "experts" have stirred up a controversy regarding the publication of a J.Crew ad showing a designer painting her young son's toenails pink. “This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity,” psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow wrote in a Health column. Before we all commit mass self-immolation over the death of the West, maybe we should take even a cursory look at this culture that media fear-mongers love to generalize about. Gender identity, especially for the young, has never actually been a cut-and-dry issue in America. It used to be fairly common, for example, for parents to dress their young boys in petticoats or dresses, a practice which lasted well into the Victorian era. While they didn't mind forcing their own "liberal transgendered agenda" upon their boys, many Americans of the 19th century would have been appalled at the notion of a girl wearing pants, something that's a non-issue today. Our notions of gender norms have certainly changed over the years, but it hasn't exactly been a steady plummet into sexual confusion. We're as twisted now as we've ever been, just in different ways.

Consider, for example, the following excerpt, from Thomas Lowry's The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell of a letter a Massachusetts soldier wrote to his wife while stationed in Virginia during the Civil War. This man's regiment held a ball in which some of the drummer boys wore dresses and danced as ladies:

"Some of the real women went, but the boy girls were so much better looking that they left…. We had some little Drummer Boys dressed up and I'll bet you could not tell them from girls if you did not know them…. Some of them looked almost good enough to lay with and I guess some of them did get laid with.... I know I slept with mine.”

Is this saying what it seems like it's saying? But this was wartime...and I thought men were men and they killed other men and grew beards and ate turkey legs and rode horses and had big swords and frilly scarves and and and...


  1. I just wanted to let you know that I've read through your back posts and I'm definitely going to be a regular reader. I enjoy your writing style and, as a fellow Civil War and roots music enthusiast, I think your subject is brilliant. Keep it up! PS: FYI Linked in via Wrath of the Grapevine.