Gender Fluidity: Not A Trend But A Cycle


There’s an old joke that goes like this;

Parents are having guests for dinner, including the local vicar, but their son won’t go to sleep. Their ecclesiastical guest offers to help and goes up to see the boy. When he comes down, all noise has ceased.

‘That’s marvellous,’ say the parents. ‘Whatever did you do to keep him quiet?’

‘It was simple,’ says the vicar cheerfully. ‘I taught him to masturbate.’

It’s quite hard to anger your parents nowadays. Dope? My downstairs neighbour is encouraging his son to become a (legalised) pot dealer as a career choice. Sex? Another friend has children who share their astoundingly off-colour tales of conquests with their parents. Lifestyle choices? The folks are getting on board with altogether too many of their kids’ habits. Being a death metal fan might get you banged up under suspicion of murder in one of America’s oblong states but it doesn’t really coup la moutarde in Europe. Another friend staged an outrageous tell-all standup show and invited his parents to the front row. After, his mother said, ‘I think he was hoping it would shock us.’

So how on earth can you still freak out your folks?


This might do it, especially if your dad’s a trucker. That’s the rap band Cazwell pictured above in the RompHims. My only quibble is that you can see the pockets. I’m reminded of the movie ‘Marci X’, in which Jewish Princess Lisa Kudrow ends up as the agent for a rapper. After seeing him in furs and gold chains, she tells him that she likes him because he dresses like her grandmother.

All of which is a way of raising this morning’s topic; gender fluidity. Here I’m not talking about the very real and thankfully finally accepted issue of trans teens, but style.

Friends of ours from Texas who have two children surprised me by explaining that gender fluidity is now the hot fashion among teens in their school. It’s hip, cool and liberal, and takes a certain amount of bravery to come on board with the idea.

But take a look around and you’ll find it’s everywhere, from arguments about prom night clothing to female emancipation and the right to be gender-unspecified. In mainstream entertainment (always a barometer of acceptance) there’s everything from ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ to the upcoming UK sizzling West End ticket ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’. Of course, we writers can’t have much fun with this hot-button topic yet because at the moment it’s all a tad earnest. We must be seen to be empowering, not having fun.

Well, everything old is new again. I remember this vividly the first time around. David Bowie, Marc Bolan and various pansexual hipsters created the craze, Max Factor cashed in by bringing out a makeup box for men and fashions for males quickly adopted the style with ranges of puffy-sleeved orange lace shirts.


The softer male image broke out again a few years later with the New Romantics, long before Adam Ant was arrested for chucking a carburettor through the window of a Kentish Town pub. Omnisexual stylings often come after a period of entrenched machismo and conservative values, and so it proves to be the case once again; nothing could give macho a bad name more than the gruesome Trump/Putin nexus.

The AIDS crisis saw off the last bout of gender fluidity. The situation is no less or more complicated than it has ever been, and we only have to look back through history to the fops of 17th century London and the dandyism of the late Victorian era, with Oscar Wilde’s aestheticism mercilessly lampooned in Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘Patience’.


The fop was a stock figure in English literature and drama, as well as in satirical prints. He was a man of fashion who overdressed, aspired to wit and put on airs, which included aiming at a higher social station. He was effeminate, although this did not affect his pursuit of an heiress. He was fashionably French, wearing French clothes and using Gallic vocabulary. Fop characters include Sir Novelty Fashion in Colley Cibber’s ‘Love’s Last Shift’ (1696) and the Restoration comedies, where Sir Fopling Flutter appeared in ‘The Man of Mode’ (1676) and Lord Foppington in Vanbrugh’s ‘The Relapse’.  That’s Christopher Plummer below, under the periwig, in the British Restoration romp ‘Lock Up Your Daughters’.

21987 - Look Up Your DaughtersAt an early point it was realised that a certain level of effeminacy attracted members of the opposite sex by raising males to a higher social class. I can’t help but see this latest go-around as a continuing part of the cycle, this time a reaction against the prevailing political climate, which had been reflected in the neo-Edwardianism of hyper-masculine beards and narrow-fit wardrobe. That look has lasted for rather a long time, mostly worn not by 18th century pirates but present day IT managers.

Although it’s not necessarily attached to sexuality, gender fluidity is definitely a thing; researching this article caused me to be website-flagged for Rimmel’s new makeup for males.

After the arguments about bathroom doors (Europe has managed without labels for centuries) and gender-specific nouns it’s hard to see that the blurring of gender can cause outrage anymore, not when supposedly normal, quiet neighbours can turn out to be terrorists. There are bigger things in the world now to become disturbed about.


8 comments on “Gender Fluidity: Not A Trend But A Cycle”

  1. Ken Mann says:

    Also a sign of how fashions can help people by distorting statistics. People with gluten intolerance have benefited from the large numbers of people who think they are gluten intolerant by creating a market for gluten-free food which might not have existed otherwise. Media scares about all sorts of sets of people send the message “they’re everywhere!” and try to outrage, but the unoutraged public just think “well that makes them part of the standard scenery then doesn’t it?”

  2. Martin says:

    America’s oblong states! Love it, remember being threatened by two gun toting rednecks in Leadville (yes, really, Leadville) Colorado, before it became a ski resort, simply because me and my Scots mate were playing pool in an exaggeratedly useless manner which was deemed to be unAmerican. One of the bars there also had a noose hanging up allegedly from the last public hanging (complete with B/W photo – looked more like a lynching.)

  3. Martin says:

    PS would not try gender fluidity in Colorado, unless it’s changed massively since 1989.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Before I looked more carefully I thought the bewigged gentleman was from the Regency episode of Black Adder. (Friends named their son Rowan and were annoyed when I asked if there was an Atkinson connection.)

  5. Jo W says:

    Agree with you about the visible pockets,Chris. Some things shouldn’t be seen,like the contents of those ladies handbags which are made from clear plastic. 😉

  6. davem says:

    Being transgendered, I’ve always taken every opportunity to be ‘gender-fluid’. Dressing androgynously and more has, as you point out, been possible for some time.

    Once David Bowie came out, the 70’s were particularly fun with glam-rock, punk, new romantics, goth etc etc.

    I must admit that I increasingly see former female fashions extending into the male world. Long may it continue.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Eventually everyone will wear similar clothes, cut (or not) their hair the same way and wear (or not) the same makeup. Everything fine until the mating process begins. Not sure how that would work out, but it would sure make for a reduction in harassment.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    I’m getting slower with each passing day. I didn’t get the RompHims thing until just now. Oh, and I agree about the pockets.

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