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"Freestyle" - Freedom or Fiasco?

(An Editorial)

If we really want to end Trouser Tyranny, we shouldn't confuse "Fashion Freedom" with transgenderism.


Competing Philosophies

If you have visited Tom's Cafe and other "men in skirts" message boards, you have probably noticed two competing philosophies being expressed by the men who participate.

One is the "Braveheart" approach, the one advocated in this website. Bravehearts wish to maintain an unambiguously masculine appearance, while wearing kilts and other unbifurcated garments that provide greater comfort and freedom to the male anatomy than trousers. They want to open up men's fashion to include such clothing. They recognize that most men in Western society are afraid to wear any skirt-like garment, because they fear it would be confused with femininity and cross-dressing. Therefore, Bravehearts emphasize the masculinity of men's kilts and skirts.

In the other corner is the "Freestyle" approach. This approach is based on the premise that men should be free to wear any and all clothing, without regard to gender - just as women in the United States and some other countries are now free to do. In actual practice, the Freestyle adherents are diverse and hard to categorize. They seem to be spread across a broad spectrum between the following two orientations:

A relatively masculine orientation, in which women's skirts or other things traditionally associated with female fashion are given a masculine presentation or otherwise incorporated into a masculine fashion statement; and
An extremely feminine orientation, in which women's clothing and other aspects of female fashion are adopted to present a feminine appearance, even to the point of full drag, including wigs, make-up, fake breasts, and all.

Although Bravehearts themselves might not care to engage in that kind of dressing, they have no quarrel with the principle that individual men should be free to wear whatever they want. This author would support proposals specifically aimed at promoting and protecting such freedom (as outlined at the end of this article). However, the Freestylers want more than that.

The conflict arises because Freestyle is being driven by an extremely radical philosophy that demands the total abolition of gender distinctions in clothing. According to the extremists, there should be no "men's" or "women's" clothing, and no "masculine" or "feminine" genders. There would then be no such thing as "cross-dressing" because all sexual designations of clothing would be abolished. The extremists are infuriated by the Braveheart philosophy, because of its continued recognition of gender distinctions and its emphasis on maintaining a masculine appearance.

As shall be discussed in this article, these radical goals of the Freestyle philosophy are:

unnecessary for the purposes of "fashion freedom";
impossible to achieve in the real world; and
counter-productive to the cause of combating Trouser Tyranny and promoting greater acceptance of unbifurcated garments for men.

They are the Utopian rantings of certain men whose underlying interest is not men's fashion, but primarily cross-dressing. While such men claim to reject the entire concept of gender, the only gender they really oppose is masculinity. They don't care a whit about opening men's fashion to skirt-like garments, because to them men's fashion is irrelevant. They would rather dress in the same clothes that women wear. There is nothing wrong with them doing so, but why can't they just be honest about it? If cross-dressing is nothing to be ashamed of, why must they hide it behind the broad, euphemistic term of "Freestyling"? Why must they give all male skirt-wearing the same label as dressing in drag? As a vehicle for promoting men's skirts in the real world, the Freestyle philosophy would be an utter fiasco!

Men, Skirts, and Cross-dressing

From time immemorial, men have been wearing unbifurcated (skirt-like) garments. They have done so based on comfort, practicality, and the fashions of the time and place. Also from time immemorial, some men have desired to wear women's clothing and to adopt a feminine appearance. This practice has been called transvestism or cross-dressing - wearing the clothes of the opposite sex.

The reasons for cross-dressing may vary depending on the individual. Usually men gain no practical advantage or increased status by dressing in women's clothing. On the contrary, they are often subjected to ridicule and harassment. However, one's sex doesn't necessarily determine one's gender orientation - which may fall anywhere on a scale from extremely "masculine" to extremely "feminine," with plenty of dual overlap as well. Consequently, some men may feel incompatible with, or limited by, the "masculine" image imposed on them by society. So they seek a "feminine" image that better expresses a part of their true selves. There is nothing morally wrong with the desire to cross-dress. It is just a fact of life.

This desire to identify with the clothing and appearance of the opposite sex is sometimes referred to as transgenderism.  It varies greatly depending on the individual. Usually it is expressed as some form of casual cross-dressing, generally done in private. In more extreme forms, men may publicly dress in women's clothing - with wigs, make-up, and fake breasts - attempting to "pass" as females. Some may use female hormones to soften their appearance and to develop real breasts. Those who go on to have sexual reassignment surgery are called transsexuals.

Because skirts and dresses have long been the hallmarks of female attire, these outer garments are commonly associated with male cross-dressing. The unfortunate result has been an erroneous public perception that men wearing any kind of skirt-like garment must be cross-dressers.

In actuality, wearing unbifurcated garments and transgenderism are two separate issues, totally distinct from one another. In ancient times, when all men wore skirts and robes, there were still men who cross-dressed in women's clothing. This is evidenced by the fact that Deuteronomy 22:5 bothered to include the prohibition that "neither shall a man put on a woman's garment." There are male cross-dressers in Scotland, despite the availability of men's kilts.

Nevertheless, many men have been afraid to experience the comfort of kilts and other male unbifurcated garments (MUGs), for fear that their sexuality will be called into question. This attitude is gradually changing, as people outside of Scotland come to recognize the inherent masculinity of kilts, Utilikilts, and other MUGs. Although the number of men wearing kilts and MUGs is still very small, their movement has the potential of attracting far greater numbers. These are men who enjoy the freedom and comfort of unbifurcated garments, while enhancing their masculine image rather than compromising it. These are the men we call "Bravehearts."

Flame Wars

Before the Internet, most cross-dressing men lived in total isolation from one another. Few had the temerity to admit their cross-dressing, because society has long considered it to be a sexual perversion. Exposure was often attended by disgrace, divorce, loss of employment, and financial ruin. Even those who kept it secret were plagued by feelings of shame and guilt.

The Internet suddenly opened up a new world for cross-dressing men. Without leaving their homes or revealing their true names, they could now communicate in privacy with hundreds - perhaps thousands - of other men with similar interests. They conversed in newsgroups and on message boards, they set up websites, and they shared photographs of themselves en femme. They created a cyber-world where transgenderism could be accepted as a virtue rather than a perversion, and where society's masculine stereotype could be treated with scorn. Invigorated and emboldened by mutual support, the transgender community soon became one of the strongest and most cohesive groups on the Internet. Regarding the subject of "men in skirts," the transgenderists had claimed the Internet for themselves.

But there gradually arrived men with a different kind of interest in skirt-like garments. They were the men in kilts.  Still other men were attracted to the freedom and comfort of skirts, but who wanted to maintain a masculine image - even if they were obliged to buy their skirts in the women's department. As years went by, the number of masculine kilt and skirt-wearing men on the Internet increased. Meanwhile, the Internet sources of men's kilts, kilt variations, and other male unbifurcated garments (MUGs) gradually expanded.

The masculine kilt and skirt-wearers (who later became known as "Bravehearts," after the movie), came with their own perspective. They were seeking the freedom to wear unbifurcated garments without having their manhood called into question. Therefore, they sought to emphasize the masculinity of kilts and skirts. However, when they began expressing these views in newsgroups and on Internet message boards, they ran smack into the well-entrenched transgenderists.

Because of their personal perspective, the transgenderists regard as the "enemy" anyone who thinks it important for men to appear "masculine." Therefore, because the Bravehearts believed in maintaining a masculine image, they were considered the "enemy." The transgenderists associated the Bravehearts with all the transphobic bigots who had oppressed and persecuted them in the past. They viewed the Bravehearts as intruders bent on poisoning their transgendered paradise with testosterone. Therefore, the transgenderists responded by attacking the Bravehearts in the most vitriolic terms possible. The mere use of the word "masculine" was often enough to ignite a flame war.

In contrast, the Bravehearts had come to view as the "enemy" anyone who equates wearing skirt-like garments with a lack of masculinity - people who assume that a man wears a kilt because he wants to be "feminine." Now the Bravehearts were confronted with a group of "men in skirts" who considered femininity to be the only legitimate reason for wearing a skirt-like garment. If such a view prevailed, it would confirm the prejudices of the Trouser Tyrants who questioned the Bravehearts' masculinity. So, to the Bravehearts, the transgenderists were the "enemy." When the Bravehearts tried to explain their concerns, the transgenderists continued their accusations of bigotry and persecution.

These same issues have continued to fuel flame wars among men in skirts over the past several years - from the alt.fashion newsgroup, to the Fashion Threads message board, to the various permutations of Tom's Cafe, and to Chris' Atrium (which split from Tom's after a particularly bitter brawl between factions).

"Freestyle" and the Slippery Slope

In 1997, various participants of the Tom's Cafe message board tried to form an organization in which men in kilts and skirts could work together for a common purpose. However, the discussions only reaffirmed how deep the divisions really were. The lines became drawn between the "Bravehearts" and a wide variety of individuals who objected to the Bravehearts' insistence on maintaining a masculine appearance.

This second group eventually became known as the "Freestylers." According to the original Freestyle philosophy, men should have the same clothing rights as women. Men should be free to wear women's clothing to the same extent that women now have the freedom (at least in the United States and some other countries) to wear to men's clothing. Women occasionally put on men's jeans or a man's shirt, and they wear masculine-looking trousers tailored for women. So what would be wrong with a man occasionally putting on a woman's skirt or blouse, or wearing feminine-looking skirts tailored for men? Although many Bravehearts (including the author) might not personally desire to do this, it sounded like an equitable proposition. If that were the goal of Freestyling, there would be no controversy whatsoever.

However, some of the most vocal individuals who claimed to be "Freestylers" refused to stick to the "equality" rationale. They insisted on total, unrestricted "Fashion Freedom" for men, and the right to wear anything and everything that women wore, plus everything else necessary to appear female. All efforts to reach a middle ground were futile.

Could we agree that men should wear masculine-looking skirts? No, replied these radical Freestylers, men should be free to wear any kind of skirt, no matter how feminine. Furthermore, they should be free to wear all other items of women's clothing as well - slips, panties, blouses, pantyhose, high-heeled shoes, etc. Okay. But could we agree that, even if a man's clothing is feminine, he should at least be identifiable as a man? No, men should be free to wear women's wigs and make-up if they feel like it. Could we at least draw the line at men wearing bras if they don't need them, or fake breasts? No, insisted the radical Freestylers, that would be imposing rules on what men can and cannot wear. There should be no rules whatsoever. That's what "Fashion Freedom" is all about, or so they claimed.

This meant, in practice, that there would be no line of demarcation between "Freestyle" and what would generally be considered "cross-dressing," "transvestism," and "drag." This extreme view continues to the present. Recently a "Men's Free Style Fashion" webpage appeared that attempted to describe Freestyle in practice, including the whole gamut of women's clothing and make-up. However, it faced criticism because it tried to distinguish Freestyle from cross-dressing by excluding the wearing of prosthetic devices, such as fake breasts, to mimic the female body shape.

Why would certain "Freestylers" insist upon such extremes of sexual disguise? Certainly this has nothing to do with men's fashion, because it disregards men's clothing altogether. And it actually has nothing to do with gaining the same cross-dressing rights as women. Although women may occasionally put on items of men's clothing, they usually wear clothes that are specifically tailored and intended for women. Even when they wear men's clothing, women generally seek to maintain a feminine appearance. Even women who aspire to a "butch" image do not attempt to disguise themselves as men. Women do not wear fake facial hair or stuffed jockstraps. So why is it so important to some Freestylers that men wear not only women's clothing but also wigs, make-up, and fake breasts?

To anyone not in a state of complete denial, the transgender motives of these so-called Freestylers should be abundantly clear. They want to cloak the full range of cross-dressing under the mantle of "Freestyle" - disguising it as a men's fashion movement, rather than acknowledging its transgender motivations and objectives. I do not oppose men's right to cross-dress (as my proposals at the end of this article will make abundantly clear), and I believe that the liberties of transgendered men should be protected. However, those issues should be addressed separately and on their own merits. Cross-dressing for transgender purposes has nothing to do with men's fashion. The transgenderists should not be allowed to hijack the "men in skirts" movement for their own purposes. This would be a serious setback in our struggle against Trouser Tyranny.

The transgender aspects of the Freestyle agenda go far beyond allowing men to dress in drag. Many Freestylers want to abolish gender distinctions in clothing altogether - and perhaps the concept of gender itself. Many Freestylers want to abolish the term "cross-dressing," because they contend that clothing should not be designated by sex. There should be no "men's clothing" or "women's clothing" - just "clothing." Furthermore, many Freestylers also object to any designation of gender labels of "masculine" and "feminine." They say that there should be no "masculine people" or "feminine people" - just "people." Every man should be himself, without regard to gender criteria. In other words, it's not enough that they be allowed to disregard gender in their own lives - they demand that everybody else conform to this view as well. They want to impose their own atypical gender orientation on society as the norm!

Concerns about "Freestyle"

The Freestyler sentiments of "fashion freedom" have an idealistic ring that sounds good on a webpage or message board. They seem like worthy concepts even to many Freestylers who are not themselves transgenderists. Within the virtual world of the Internet, anything seems possible, no matter how Utopian. But when logically applied to real people in the real world, the goals of the Freestyle extremists raise serious questions. These are some of mine:

Muddled Definitions. The power of rational thought depends on the availability of precise words with which to formulate and communicate ideas. In Orwell's cautionary tale, 1984, a totalitarian regime enslaved peoples' minds by destroying the meaning of their language. I am concerned that replacing generally accepted terms with the amorphous word "Freestyle" is an impediment to any rational, analytic, or pragmatic discussion of how to free men's fashion from Trouser Tyranny.

If some people had their way, the word "Freestyling" would replace the term "cross-dressing"; "Freestyle" and "Freestyler" would take the place of "transvestism" and "transvestite." But they would not merely become politically correct euphemisms, because "Freestyle" is such a broad term that it could apply to almost any man.

If "Freestyle" means no rules whatsoever, then it would logically extend to both ends of the gender spectrum. In other words, "Freestyle" would also include men dressing in totally masculine clothing, such as blue jeans or business suits. If "Freestyle" simply means wearing whatever you want, then almost any man can be considered a "Freestyler" - from John Ashcroft to Ru Paul. As a result, the word becomes meaningless as a description of clothing style.

A Tool of Transgenderism.  I am concerned that the term "Freestyle" has become a broad smoke-screen behind which certain men seek to advance a transgender agenda, without fully disclosing their personal motives and ultimate objectives. Their goal is not to open up men's fashion to kilts and other unbifurcated garments. Rather, it is to abolish the whole concept of "men's" fashion altogether. Instead, they would encourage men to buy the same clothes that women wear.

The Freestyle transgenderists are intolerant of masculine approaches to kilt and skirt-wearing. They consider Bravehearts (and this writer in particular) to be the arch-enemies of "fashion freedom," because we would preserve gender distinctions by promoting masculine skirt-like garments. To these Freestylers, the abolition of gender distinctions is the only issue worth talking about. But this is pure hypocrisy on their part. It is the transgenderists who want to keep skirts as symbols of femininity, so that they can continue to express their feminine side by wearing skirts. They do not want to free skirts from their feminine image, but would rather perpetuate that image.  Instead of admitting this fact, they hide behind lofty rhetoric and accuse the Bravehearts of bigotry.

Another tactic is to marginalize the masculine approach by claiming to be the sole representatives of  the entire "men in skirts" movement. The Internet message boards frequently contain statements like "we're all really Freestylers" or that "Freestyle is the only movement to speak of." The superficial message is that all men in kilts and skirts - Bravehearts included - are challenging the prevailing masculine stereotype, and so we're all fighting for the same thing - "fashion freedom." Sounds good on the surface, but underneath it is a dishonest "bait and switch" ploy to gain support for a hidden agenda. In actuality, the ultimate goals of Bravehearts and radical Freestylers are completely different. Bravehearts want to establish kilts and skirts as masculine garments. The Freestyler transgenderists want to abolish the concept of masculinity altogether and make men more feminine.

Freestyle Propaganda May Be Harmful. It's fine with me if individual men find pleasure and self-expression in wearing women's clothing and other feminine fashions. But I'm concerned that some of their propaganda may overly encourage impressionable young men to go further down the road of cross-dressing than is realistically good for them. The message boards may welcome this as "Freestyling," but the outside world can be a far different matter. When Freestylers urge men to discard their masculine kilts and Utilikilts in favor of more feminine clothing, they should realistically consider the adverse psychological, social, and physical consequences that might result.

Freestyle Is Not Based on "Equal Rights." Freestylers attempt to justify a full range of cross-dressing on the grounds that "women do it." They say that all they want is the same kind of clothing freedom that women have in the United States and certain other countries. However, this is little more than a rationalization. I would urge Freestylers to examine the extent to which women actually engage in such practices. As previously noted, almost all the trousers women wear are specifically tailored for women, and even when they borrow a man's jeans or shirt, they do it merely for style, comfort, or practicality, while continuing to maintain a feminine image. No matter how "butch" some women may appear, they never resort to wearing fake facial hair or stuffed jock-straps.

If the Freestyle philosophy were really based on equal cross-dressing rights, it would mirror women's actual cross-dressing habits by limiting its scope to the following:

Men wearing skirt-like garments designed specifically for men;
Men wearing items of women's clothing, for reasons of style, comfort, or practicality, while continuing to maintain a masculine image; and
Men adopting a feminine appearance, but not disguising their identity as men.

The fact that radical Freestylers reject such limitations demonstrates that "equality" has nothing to do with their true transgenderist objectives.

It Won't Play in Peoria. Or anywhere else, for that matter. If we want to sell the idea of men's kilts and skirts to the general public, the radical Freestyle philosophy will be a total fiasco. The transgender emphasis will simply confirm people's suspicions that men wearing unbifurcated garments are all cross-dressers at heart, and that even the kilt is simply a "gateway" garment on the road to full drag. Ordinary men will abandon any inclinations they might have had to experiment with unbifurcated garments.

The Freestyle Objectives Are Impossible To Achieve.  The Utopian goal of abolishing gender definitions is totally unrealistic. Although Freestylers say that gender shouldn't matter, it matters very much to the vast majority of the general population. It always has mattered and it always will. Anyone who thinks otherwise is living in Fantasy Land.

Think for a moment about all that would have to be done to implement this goal in the real world. It would be infinitely harder than degenderizing language or job descriptions. It would mean eradicating people's in-born gender identifications that have existed throughout all of human history. It would require a "Cultural Revolution" more draconian than occurred in Communist China under Chairman Mao!

While I agree that individuals with atypical gender orientations should be cut more slack, it is folly to pretend that a handful of Freestylers can abolish gender distinctions for everyone else. While I agree that individual men should be permitted to dress in drag if they desire, it is insanity to imagine that the entire population and clothing industry will radically transform themselves to humor such individuals' egos.

The Freestyle Objectives Are Counter-productive. Once ordinary citizens get wind of Freestylers' ultimate goal of abolishing gender distinctions for everybody, the backlash could be brutal. Any tolerance of "Fashion Freedom" will quickly evaporate. Even men in kilts will be viewed with heightened suspicion.

By directing our energies toward the impossible goal of abolishing gender definitions in society, we are distracting ourselves from other goals that are far more realistic, beneficial and attainable. These include the goal of opening up men's fashion and society to the acceptance of unbifurcated garments for men, as well advocating real freedom and relief for transgendered men who are victims of discrimination and oppression.

The Freestyle Objectives Are Unnecessary. The most ironic thing about the Freestyle goal of abolishing gender is that it is completely unnecessary for the promotion of "Fashion Freedom."  Why can't Freestylers look at the particular freedoms they want to achieve and protect, and then formulate proposals that specifically address those issues? Why must we embark on the impossible and self-defeating task of  changing the whole world's concept of gender, simply to humor a few cross-dressing men who don't like being defined as such?

From a realistic standpoint, it would be infinitely better to agree upon and work to accomplish specific proposals to secure every man's right to dress as he wishes, rather than preaching a Utopian philosophy that accomplishes nothing but to feed the egos of a few radical transgenderists.

Four Fashion Freedoms

Contrary to what some might think, I favor the concept of Fashion Freedom for men - at least as it was originally conceived. However, I am less enthusiastic about what the term has come to represent.

Originally the focus of "Fashion Freedom" was on individual liberty. It was understood to mean the right of an individual man to wear whatever clothing he wished, without regard to its gender designation. This is a principle that many of us could favor whole-heartedly. Supporting freedom of dress should be like supporting freedom of speech. We may disagree with what a man is saying or wearing, but we will defend to the death his right to say or wear it!

Unfortunately, the meaning of "Fashion Freedom" has been subtly twisted by the transgenderists into something altogether different. Now it is being used as a slogan for encouraging men to wear women's clothing, as well as for abolishing gender distinctions in clothing. Notice the significance of this change. It is one thing to support a man's right to wear women's clothing. It is quite another to promote the practice of cross-dressing. It is one thing to support a man's right to disregard gender distinctions in clothing. It is quite another to advocate the abolition of gender distinctions in clothing altogether. In its distorted form, "Fashion Freedom" is nothing but an unattainable pipe-dream, which the vast majority of the general public will find undesireable and offensive. Whatever effectiveness it might have had in promoting individual freedom is lost.

Therefore, I would restore "Fashion Freedom" to its original focus on individual liberty in clothing. If we are really concerned about advancing such freedom, we should define specific goals that are realistically achievable. In this way, we could confer real benefits on men who have gender issues, without undermining our effort to expand men's fashion to include unbifurcated garments. The following are four proposals that I would suggest:  

1. Men should be free to wear unbifurcated (skirt-like) garments and other clothing, without regard to gender associations, within the limits of decency.

2. Laws and dress codes forbidding males to wear unbifurcated garments or clothing associated with the opposite sex should be abolished.

3. Males should be free to adopt whatever gender appearance they feel most comfortable with.

4. Males wearing clothes associated with the opposite sex or adopting atypical gender appearances should be protected against discrimination and harassment.

I believe that the above four goals are morally and rationally justifiable, and that they are potentially achievable in many localities. If Freestylers will draft petitions in favor of these goals, I will gladly sign.

Redefining "Freestyle"

I hope that the more reasonable Freestylers will recognize that men's skirt fashion should be separate and distinct from transgenderism. While men with transgendered inclinations should be respected, this does not mean that they have the right to co-opt the entire "men in skirts" movement for their own purposes. The promotion of men's skirts will never succeed if they are perceived simply as a way for men to express femininity.

Nor will Freestylers advance the goal of "fashion freedom" by trashing masculinity. They should recognize that most men are perfectly happy with their masculinity - including a lot of the men who consider themselves "Freestylers."

My observation of discussions at Tom's Cafe during the past several years indicates that a significant number of men consider themselves to be "part Braveheart, part Freestyler." They want to present a masculine appearance, but they also want to experiment with skirts that are either intended for women or that look more "feminine" than strict Bravehearts would care for. Although they support the principles of "Fashion Freedom," they themselves have no interest in transgenderism or looking feminine. Why should their approach to skirt-wearing be given the same label as dressing in drag? Why should they be caught up in the extremists' crusade to abolish gender distinctions?

In order to conform to the actual practices of skirt-wearing men, as well as addressing the concerns I have expressed in this article, I propose that the different approaches to male skirt-wearing be redefined as follows:

Strict Braveheart - Wearing kilts, Utilikilts, and other male unbifurcated garments that present an unambiguously masculine appearance. This is the approach advocated on the "Bravehearts Against Trouser Tyranny" page.
Freestyle Braveheart - Maintaining a clearly masculine appearance, but incorporating skirts intended for women and/or skirts that might be considered somewhat "feminine" in style.
Freestyle Femme - Wearing an unlimited range of women's clothing, accessories, and make-up, without regard to a masculine image or in an effort to present a feminine appearance.

The above definitions simply describe various approaches to men's skirt fashion. They are not intended to categorize specific individuals, each of whom are free to experiment with any approach they desire, as well as anything in between. Nor do these definitions attempt to define an individual's underlying philosophy about fashion freedom or gender liberation. Each individual is free to have his own philosophy, regardless of which fashion approach he follows.

Nothing stated in this article is intended to denigrate or disrespect any man based on his gender orientation, or to condemn any approach to skirt wearing, including cross-dressing. I am simply proposing that each individual man be at liberty to adopt his own approach to wearing unbifurcated garments, without having someone else's transgender philosophy imposed upon him. True "Fashion Freedom" should not require the denial of a man's masculinity.

Return to "Bravehearts Against Trouser Tyranny" home page.

Copyright 2002 by WDP Bravehearts

e-mail: Brvhearts@aol.com

This site has been visited times since August 14, 2002.

This page last modified on August 14, 2002

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