A Man and His Clothes

20 Oct

“The clothes don’t make the man.”

This phrase is oft quoted to inspire others to look beyond a person’s outward appearance.  But does the same notion apply to a man sporting a purse and heels?

A routine phone call last week to my little sister, a current freshman at Clark-Atlanta –a school nestled cozily between Morehouse and Spelman,  ended  with a rather odd mandate: “You need to look up this Vibe article,” she stated.  “It’s been shaking things up around here.”

The article, entitled Mean Girls at Morehouse, is about a group of cross-dressing current and former students of all-male prestigious black school, their daily struggles and realities.

It raises some important questions that span far beyond the self-proclaimed Plastics and the new cross-dressing ban at Morehouse: It highlights the cracks in the rather jaded definition of manhood and the inevitable divide between those clinging to its antiquated rules and those challenging and redefining manhood and masculinity for the entire gender.


Calling the gentleman of Morehouse “girls” in the article’s title seems to be the President’s biggest fault with the article.

“The title of the article speaks volumes about a perspective that is very narrow and one that is, in all likelihood, offensive to our students whether gay or straight.

As president of this institution, as a Morehouse graduate and as a father, I am insulted by what is to be published. Addressing our young men as “girls” is deeply disturbing to me, no matter what the remainder of the article may say. Morehouse has for 140 years developed men—men who are equipped to live and contribute to an increasingly diverse, global and complex world.”

Whether he’ s donning a suit or a dress, of course, a man is still a man.  It’s one of those things like ethnicity, age, etc, factors.  Unless, of course, he’s transitioning.  Or transgendered. Or androgynous, as most of the men from the piece claim to be.

From birth, we are taught how men and women are expected to behave.  The toys we give our children, the clothing in which we dress them, and the rewards and praise they receive for certain actions and punishment they receive for others, teach them the standards, expectations and rules of each area.

Gender, like race, is a social construct.  Gender dictates one’s interests, one’s walk, and talk.  It sets appropriate standards and norms for men and women alike.  The cross-dressers are rebelling against mandates of gender.  They have pushed back against the notion of men’s work, men’s role, and men’s position and fought to create a spectrum in which  manhood falls, as opposed to the stark black-and-white image of what a man is to be.

In some groups, these dictated differences between the sexes is exaggerated.

Given that Morehouse is a historically black college, the notion of manhood is paired with the concept of blackness.  The combination typically forms a caricature of the Black male that is hyper-masculine, a myth that more closely resembles Superman than any man in reality.

Add in the role of religion in defining the rightful ways of a man and you have the recipe for homophobia.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the 2002 incident where a man of Morehouse nearly pummeled a peer  to death over a possible pass in the shower.

Thus the rise of the down-low brother: Black men who are gay or bisexual but deny their sexuality for fear of condemnation and estrangement.

Instead of accepting themselves, these men hide behind the mask of heterosexuality and fulfill their preferences in ways that are quite risky in order to avoid the circles and places and people that anyone familiar may go or know.

And we’re ok with that.

Here’s an ad campaign by Better World Advertising that directly sought to challenge the notion of homosexuality in black neighborhoods.  They removed the stereotypic notion of gay men as flamboyant and overly dramatic depicted them as masculine, men that like basketball and ordinary guy stuff who just happen to be gay.

Cross-dressing men leave nothing to question.  They leave no doubt.  They tell the world “Here I am and I’m not ashamed.”

And many people are uncomfortable with that reality.

Thus, the cross-dressing ban.  In all fairness, Morehouse banned other things: sagging pants is listed among the forbidden.  The school seems to be seeking to enforce a uniform for their students.

Still, Men of Morehouse seem to be united by their quest for excellence and change.  Not by their appearance.

Do the clothes make the man?

Of course not.

A man is a man is man, whether rocking heels or loafers, skirts or trousers, a weave or a cropped-cut.

Personally I’d take a man in heels over a man cowering behind a mask of masculinity any day.

Until next time. . .


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