Cross Dressed.

As Dame Edna herself might say – a curious noise on cross-dressing has been emitted by a great seat of learning.

The gist of the message which was wrapped in terminological confusion… was that Oxford University, following a motion put forward by the university’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Society which was passed by the student union, has rewritten the laws governing its strict academic dress code, considered by some as unfair towards transgender students.
Under the new regulations, students taking exams or attending formal occasions will no longer have to wear ceremonial clothing that is specific to their gender. This means men will be able to sit tests in skirts and stockings and women will have the option of wearing suits and bow ties.
Under the old laws on academic clothing – known as subfusc – male students were required to wear a dark suit and socks, black shoes, a white bow tie and a plain white shirt and collar under their black gowns. Female students had to wear a dark skirt or trousers, a white blouse, black stockings and shoes and a black ribbon tied in a bow at the neck.
The law comes into force next week and it will be interesting to see who takes advantage of it and why.
Women of course have been ‘cross-dressing’ for centuries… and not just equestriennes… and for relatively few of them is it an expression of gender. Donning formal academic dress – which already includes trousers- can be an opportunity to dress up and mark the solemnity of the occasion. Will the new law result in an epidemic of Marlene Dietrich impersonators – female & male?
There are of course some men who already wear skirts and ‘dresses’ as a mark of nationality, or ethnicity rather than as a gender statement. Have kilts and Arab dress…or women in full Muslim dress…. been forbidden under the old subfusc rules? More information please, Oxford. Dress can of course result in mis- or Miss- representation; hijab has notoriously provided camouflage for men fleeing the law or trying to penetrate some other man’s harem…though in both cases the feet can give the game away.
It will be interesting to see how many men avail themselves of the new freedom to ‘cross –dress’ by wearing skirts and stockings….. and female trousers? And to see for how many of them this will be a sincere expression of LGBTQ affiliation or – for the notoriously irreverent undergraduates – a bit of a lark, or even a fashion statement There are many reasons to cross-dress as Grayson Perry and Dame Edna Everage demonstrate in their different ways.
Let us hope that this underwhelming legislative reform may lead to deeper reflection on the meaning of dress and result in some further clarifications to the trans- vocabulary