My Red, Gendered Jacket

Alexis Danzig

I am wearing the red jacket I bought this Thanksgiving at a popular national clothing retailer when I decided that this was the winter I'd finally stop being cold. It happens to be a men's jacket, a small men's jacket to be sure, but it's a men's jacket all the same. I have bought men's clothes for years, finding them to be straightforward and sturdily made.

My mom, who was ostensibly straight, wore men's clothing for much of her life: men's jeans, in the days before women's jeans were manufactured, turtleneck shirts, desert boots. She was a curvy, big-bosomed woman who disliked pastels and frills and who spent a lot of time sitting on the floor playing with kids and making picket signs when I was in elementary school.

I took up much of my mother's approach to clothing as a teen, after going through a high femme period when I was about six years old. Differently from my mother, I've identified variously as lesbian, dyke, and queer during my life. But about the jacket: I like the color, I like the fact it keeps my warm in the cold weather—just like I wanted—and I like all the pockets. I'm a mom now, and lots of pockets are useful. I also hate carrying a bag if I can avoid it, and not all women's clothing is built with pockets; some of the pockets in some women's clothing are barely worth the name "pocket," being shallow little cul-de-sacs that one couldn't safely harbor a key or a tampon.

So this particular morning I'm wearing my red jacket, as I have done everyday since the weather turned cold. And on this particular morning my son admires the ball-link chain which is attached to the front zipper. I look down at it; it's shiny and inviting, just the sort of thing a kid would spot. I ask my four and a half year old if he'd like it, to which he answers, no thank you, he doesn't like ladies' things.

This is amusing, perplexing and disturbing, all at once. Because my son understands me as a woman, my clothing (regardless of the gender of the population for whom the jacket I am wearing was originally intended, for whom it was cut and fashioned and to whom it was marketed) must necessarily be "ladies'" clothing. Even though I eschew "ladies" clothing, specifically and pointedly. Not only that, but my son is willing to forego the gift of something he is clearly interested in because he perceives it as something that "ladies" wear.

This prompts some soul-searching: I have never, consciously that is, used the word "ladies" in my son's presence. I make a point of using the word "women" because I find "laydee" icky: pejorative, as confining as whale-bone corsets, and oozing with issues of caste.

At present, I am resigned to being a "lady" who wears "ladies'" clothes, in my son's eyes. We will talk about why he thinks my coat is a "ladies'" coat eventually. I am hopeful this is only a stage. But I am seriously considering saving up for a pair of big, black 12" engineer boots. Like all the ladies wear.