Around the age of seven I remember taking every opportunity to sneak into my mother’s closet and wear her dresses. Growing up Pentecostal where it was highly frowned upon for women to wear pants I had my pick and choose of dresses and skirts. I’d place this long yellow t-shirt from summer camp on my head to pretend I had long hair—I’d later find out that this was a common practice amongst girls like myself—I’d then sashay around my mother’s bedroom in one of her many church dresses. At the time I knew very well this was “wrong” and that little boys are not supposed to wear dresses.
Wearing my mother’s dresses and skirts spoke to the longings of my heart. Although, my act of defiance was confined to the quarters of my mother’s bedroom, I never felt freer then when I was wearing my mother’s dresses swaying around her bedroom. These skirts and dresses represented freedom to me; they were a symbol of liberation.
I can’t help but get caught up in the irony that pants, the same article of clothing that for many years, for many women, were viewed as a symbol of liberation, for me came to represent oppression. Whether due to cultural standards and expectations or, like in the case of my mother, because of religious doctrine—“Deuteronomy 22:5”—being able to wear pants was a long battle for ciswomen around the world. For example, in 1919 Luisa Capetillo—a famous labor organizer, anarchist, and Puerto Rico’s first feminist writer—was arrested for wearing pants in public. Being the fire breathing Puerto Rican that she was, she did it again in Cuba, this time even daring to ride a bicycle in the malecón, an act that was considered extremely obscene and manly. She was again arrested, but had to be released when she managed to prove to the judge that there was no law in the constitution that prohibited such conduct, only moral and religious prejudices that could not be enforced legally.
For me, however, pants were a reminder that I had to suppress who I knew myself to be. I was raised in a faith that interpreted my desire to express my femininity as an “abomination”. How could I argue with that? It was the word of God right there written for me in black and white.
When I decided to finally take the plunge and go “full time” I didn’t intentionally swear off pants. At first, this action of rebellion was done subconsciously, without me even noticing that I had stopped wearing pants. A few months later after it was brought to my attention, I began to evaluate my views around my sartorial. I came to the conclusion that my aversion to wearing pants wasn’t so much a hatred for the garment itself but more so what it represented. Pants came to represent oppression to me, a policing and a prosecution of my femininity. The funny part of all this is that due to my long skirts and dresses I began to look like the very same women, in the very same church, that had me subdue my yearning to display femininity for so many years.
Keeping in line with this season of my life where I find myself renewing, reclaiming, reimagining, rediscovering and redefining my womanhood and what it means to me. I am revisiting and reconsidering my policy when it comes to pants. Sorry if I’m sounding a little redundant (insert punchline sound effect here). After all isn’t part of the beauty in being a girl is the prerogative to change your mind.
Footnote: Special thanks to Dr. Juliana Martinez for her contribution to this post.