When I was seven my mother put me in a floral dress for a day of sightseeing while on a family holiday in the Saskatchewan Prairies. It was 40 odd degrees out, no breeze, no cloud in sight, just heatwaves radiating from the dry, flat land. My Uncle had rented an 11-seater van from a budget company called Wheat Country Van Rentals. The air conditioning didn’t work, the radio was patchy, and the windows opened outwards instead of down. Every seat was accounted for between our two families and our grandmother – who, despite the Saharan heat levels inside that vehicle, sat with her trench coat on and complained.
In retrospect my mother’s outfit choice for me was purely practical, an act of heat survival really. I however felt victimized.
How could she force me to wear this? She knew I had a strict ‘pants only’ policy. Coerced to conform to the female gender role I so adamantly rejected there was only one thing I could do. Protest.
After four stifling hours in the sauna on wheels we pulled up to a park for lunch. My ten family members scampered out of the van to freedom but I, anchored by my own morals, would not budge. I would stay in that miserable vehicle until they worried for my safety. I would show them how they had oppressed me, ruined my day and compromised my identity. I would make them pay for the floral nightmare I’d been straight jacketed into.
Unsurprisingly the protest wasn’t the success I’d imagined. After what I believed to be an eye-roll, my mother simply shrugged her shoulders, popped a window and left me there, in the hell of my own making.
I have thought about this day a lot over the years. How upset that dress made me. I think it’s my first real memory of feeling like I didn’t want to be a girl. Not from an anatomical standpoint, but rather a systemic one. As far as I understood, being a girl was synonymous with sacrifice. It meant being cut from the boy’s hockey team, not because I wasn’t good enough but because I was taking a spot away from someone’s son. It meant staying in to help my Mum wash dishes after dinner while my brothers got to help Dad outside. It meant being called ‘obstinate’ by my teacher for standing up to him in class while my male classmate was referred to as ‘confident’.
I wanted to dress, act and look like a boy so that perhaps I may be treated like one. I even tried peeing standing up once, which quickly backfired and showed me there were practical limitations to my rejections. Nonetheless, I stayed the course.
When I’ve told this story to friends I’ve been asked when it was that I stopped wanting to be a boy. But that is an antiquated question. I haven’t ‘stopped’ wanting to be a boy so much as I’ve learned that gender isn’t binary, it’s a spectrum. What I was rejecting as a child was not the floral dress, not my gender but the social constructs surrounding them. I had to unlearn these traditional roles and renegotiate my own gender identity, a journey I’ve been on ever since.
It’s crazy to think that at the age of seven I had such a deep impression of male privilege within society and that I so strongly associated that floral dress with female oppression. I think about what it will mean to put my own daughter in a dress one day and can only hope that she will look down and simply see clothing.
In collaboration with Farfetch.
Wearing: Galvan Dress