Dressing as a girl while remaining attached to being a boy is not the same as being convinced you are a girl. What role do girl’s clothes play in this complex flirt with femininity?
The ambiguity of being a boy dressed in girls’ clothes
Had Peter, the main character in Boy & Girl, been a girl, wearing a dress or a skirt and top, with those new-fangled tights that were all the rage at the beginning of the 60s, would not have been such a big deal, either for her or for those around her. Doing so might have made her feel pretty or attractive or happy, but no more than the girl she was. That he was born in a boy’s body made all the difference. For dressing up in girls’ clothes had an allure he couldn’t resist. Yet, despite the hold it had over him, he did not understand the driving force behind it. One thing was clear, it wasn’t that he wanted to be a girl. As he explained to his best friend Fi, he would never give up that part of him that singled him out as a boy rather than a girl. Yet in dressing like a girl, he relished the feeling of girlishness, the curves and colours that only girls could wear and the acute sense of his own legs, his chest, his shoulders, his whole body that he’d never been aware of before. Not to mention the fact that the cut of girls’ clothes, like the way blouses pulled in tight around his waist, flattered his body in ways that boys’ clothes never did.
Bewitched by girls’ clothes?
Peter could be forgiven for thinking that girls’ clothes were somehow bewitching in that they had a power over him that he could not resist. Just the thought of them sent his pulse racing. His whole body became alive as he dressed up in clothes filched from Sis. Concealed in her room, surrounded by drawers and drawers of her clothes, enveloped in her perfume, the world around him was daubed with vibrant colours. In comparison, his grey shorts and school uniform jacket abandoned on his bed were dull and lifeless, offering not the slightest promise of magic.
The age of androgyny
Peter was at that age when some boys could be mistaken for girls and some girls for boys, the ambiguous age of androgyny, suspended in a moment of grace before hormones drive them out of paradise. It was that angel-like, undecided state which many older boys, those who stood uncertain on the threshold of manhood, derided if not feared. The thugs of the rugby team were the worst, making a sport of baiting Peter and Fi for refusing to take sides between boys and girls. They were the rowdy flag-bearers of a society that violently opposed what Peter was trying to express, condemning those that did not fit binary norms and heterosexual behaviour, with a fanaticism and a bloodthirstiness akin to earlier witch hunts. Such a society, in 1960, felt it had every right to respond to difference and non-conformity with punishments like chemical castration.
The inevitable fall from Nevernever Land
Like his namesake, Peter Pan, Peter escaped an ugly, hostile world, by mentally flying off to a Nevernever Land in which no one aged. Could that be why he found his way to Kaitlin’s world so easily and took comfort in her company? She never judged him, but accepted him as he was. Meanwhile, back at home, alone, then encouraged by Fi, the right clothes, a little of Sis’s lipstick and a dash of powder to conceal his freckles, were enough to make him believe he was a girl. In a few years, however, it would take much more than makeup to hide the emerging angles of a masculine form. The thought revolted him. For even if he did not want to physically become a girl, he didn’t want to be a boy either, even less a man. If only he could stay eternally in between.
Not all crossdressers are gay
Well before Andrew stumbled across his path in In Search of Lost Girls – the sequel to Boy & Girl – it did cross Peter’s mind that he might enjoy dressing as a girl because deep down he was attracted to boys. But he wasn’t. He found them uninteresting, if not repulsive, especially that hoard from the school rugby team who gave him and Fi so much trouble. All his interest centred on the delicious Fi with her brightly coloured clothes and her vivacity and then, later, on Kaitlin who was like a part of himself. True. Andrew was a fellow soul. He too dressed up as a girl, but for completely different reasons. Yet despite this affinity, Peter felt no attraction for Andrew, much to the boy’s chagrin.
Being accepted as a girl amongst girls
Peter, who relished being a girl amongst girls, was delighted to find the Lost Girls and to be able to live and sing with them. They accepted him as he was and were happy to embrace him as a fellow girl. But, even had it been surgically possible in the early 1960s, he had no wish to become a girl for real. All he wanted was to put off the inevitable choice, delighting in a girlish ambiguity as long as possible.
See also From cosplay to crossdressing, a question of reality?
More about the Boy & Girl Saga
Boy & Girl – Twelve-year-old Peter secretly dresses as a girl. Imagine his delight when he finds himself in the head of a girl. Yet, despite his wild hopes, that girl is not him. She’s Kaitling, the daughter of a mage in a beleaguered world. Peter has his own problems when a vicious new girl at school threatens to reveal his girly ways. Becoming friends, Kaitlin and Peter join forces to do battle with those who oppose them.
In Search of Lost Girls – Dressed as a girl, Peter sets out in search of his soul-mate Kate who has been ripped from his arms and kidnapped. In his quest, he is hounded by fanatics bent on eliminating those who mess with gender. Meanwhile, Kate has been dumped in a nightmarish girls’ orphanage where she emerges as a decisive figure in the rescue of her fellow orphans. Will the two ever be together again?
We Girls – Retain his androgynous ambiguity or say goodbye to his girlish self, such is the existential choice that besets Peter. Circumstances, however, force both him and Kate to take up other challenges. By straddling the line between child and adult, between carefree creativity and weighty responsibility, between play and work, they find imaginative ways to confront far-reaching problems on which adults persistently turn a blind eye.
Colourful People – What happens when a boy who dresses as a girl, but has no wish to transition, is confronted with a boisterous crowd of transgender youth in a desperate search for a safe haven? The fierce will to be themselves despite the determined opposition of society is common to both the Lost Girls and the Colourful People. Not surprising then that they join forces and advance together. (Currently being written)