Wednesday, October 21, 2015

One Six Zero: Neckties

I saw an article today that lamented the loss of "tomboy" as a term. It seems the term has too many problems in the age of gender politics. It supposedly categorizes some things as specifically male and more valued because of that. And a young girl who wears boys' clothes today and wants to do the classic tomboy things--- climbing trees, playing contact sports ---is regarded these days as "gender non-conforming" or possibly (probably?) trans rather as a "tomboy". The author looked back on her own life, and on all the girls who were the tomboy heroines of books she grew up with and sighed over the loss. I suppose I agree with her.

I can't say that there have been all that many girls in my life who were tomboys. I grew up in an older part of the Deepest South, and I knew girls who were skilled horse-riders or who hunted on family lands. I knew girls in small towns who played sports with boys when they were in grade school or who helped their fathers do manual things. I'm not sure what counts there, though. Is being an equestrienne a tomboy thing, or something expected of young ladies of a certain landed class? There's a classic thing about gentry girls who ride and hunt, and I don't know that "hoyden" and "tomboy" have the same semiotic value.

In my own life, I've always liked the garçonne idea. I've always liked lovely girls who can wear a man-tailored suit or a necktie.  In the long-ago days when I was at clubs and concerts and art openings, girls did wear neckties--- do you remember the New Wave days of skinny leather ties? And there was always something wonderfully sexy about a lithe young companion in a suit.

That's dangerous to say, though. We claim these days to be gender-fluid, but we police certain things still. To be male, and the older one in a couple, and to like the garçonne look on a girl is to be regarded as announcing a barely-hidden taste for paederasty. To have a pixie-cut girl in a suit and tie on your arm is regarded as saying that you'd rather be with an actual boy. Nothing can be done for reasons of play, it seems. You can't be transgressive for its own sake, for the thrill of inducing a bit of shock--- or some kind of frisson, anyway ---in the audience. Everything has to be about what you really are. 

There are memories from the days when I was young(er) and out in the urban night with a lovely garçonne on my arm in a black suit. The girl I'm thinking was taller than I am and possessed of a brilliantly dry wit. I remember her tossing her hair and straightening her necktie and asking me whether she  should be a gay boy at Cambridge in 1925 or a very young lesbian in the East Village in 1960. I think I told her Paris, a very young lesbian in Paris in 1925. She touched my face with a gloved hand and asked what a young lesbian would be doing with me, and I shrugged and said, "It's Paris, darling. Even a lovely young girl who fancied girls would still have an older male lover. It's a Parisian rule." She laughed and shrugged and told me that made sense.Tu as raison, she said, and kissed me. 

I still like the garçonne idea. I like the idea of necktie shopping with girls. Regimental or university stripes for me, that much is obvious. My young companion above shared that taste with me; she wore ties from British boarding schools. I still wear regimentals or university stripes when I'm in my professional guise. Hard tonight to think about what ties lovely young girls would wear with me. I do wonder if there are skinny leather New Wave ties to be found in vintage shops here in my city.

These days we have to talk about "performing gender" and see it as a bad thing. I miss a time when I could have a tall and lithe young garçonne with me who'd perform gender in an older style, who'd emphasize the idea of masks and sex rather than politics. Here is a lovely girl, her pose would say, a lovely girl wearing a mask. The mask is there to be seen very much as a mask, as a thing to be noticed, to entice and intrigue. Not about "authenticity", but about making an audience notice. 

Well, the garçonne image still entices me. Dangerous to say that these days, I know. But it's there. And since I prefer tall girls, lithe and slender girls, it's easy for me to imagine my young companions in costume. I like the idea of costumes and masks, and of course I still want to go shopping for neckties and dress gloves with a young companion at my side. 

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