Roseanne’s programme featured a ‘gender non conforming’ grandson who wears plaid skirts sometimes.
Which is great. And so is the honest question asked by Barr as to his preferred pronouns … that is, as he matures into social consciousness, is he experiencing gender dysphoria? Or, in the awkward but important parlance of feeling, Mark is asked if he identifies a girl inside?
No, he responds, I’m a boy who likes pink.
Fair enough answer, of course. There are loads of boys like Mark who should be free to wear whatever they want. ALL CHILDREN HAVE A RIGHT TO A SAFE EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENT, REGARDLESS OF SEX, GENDER, AND WHATEVER CLOTHES THEY ARE WEARING
The show accomplished the most important task: always ask the child how they’re feeling, and lovingly begin from there. But Roseanne isn’t leaving room for inquiry. there’s something uncomfortably pithy with how gender struggles are rendered as a matter of sartorial selections. Clothes make a male, no matter what the male is wearing, because male is a fixed address. By direct implication, then, transition is a needless outcome not even worth considering. Mark’s fashion … not unlike Kurt Cobain ca. 1993 …
— is reduced to incredibly simplistic ease by eliding the correlation of gender discontent and trans self-awareness. He likes pink. So wear a skirt then. It’s a trend! Everyone’s happy! There is no need for anything beyond just a little bit of encouragement to ‘be yourself’, as if that happens automatically in all instances.
All this sounds lovely of course; but it plays squarely into parental desires for easy answers. Moreover, a second point is more subtly evident if you’re familiar with Barr’s ideal of ‘gender abolition’ and the manner in which trans kids get deployed as plotlines. This quick closure — ‘boy in dress, full stop’ — as the ‘moral truth’ implies that being trans is actually a latent, mental breakdown, one easily avoided by more permissive parenting at the early stages. Won’t all trans girls in the world go away if we just had accepted that we’re males in a frock and that’s the end of our story arc? Wouldn’t we all be better off without messy meds or hasty hormones if we just let the youths don pink polo shirts?
The ‘subject’ — so easily added or subtracted to a character’s makeup — gets more or less settled in this most facile way possible, displacing whatever potential for narrative investigation a braver writer might have attempted. And rather than a healthy affirmation of creativity, the monotone dialogue only commits to the idea that letting children transition is a rash endeavour that a trip to the mall will fix unequivocally.
Notice the blue/pink bangles Mark is wearing? He could have been an interesting contrast to the equally tiresome tales of perfect teen transitions. Instead, he appears more to be a terf-appeasing substrata.
I wouldn’t read Mark’s GNC as a contrivance so harshly had I not witnessed so many duplicates of his simplistic situation.
The exact same treatment happened recently to Ben in The Mick (S1E11, “The New Girl”, 2017), which featured an equally short-lived conundrum: “WE THOUGHT IT WOULD BE GREAT IF WE HAD A CHARACTER WHO IS A LITTLE BOY WHO LIKES WEARING GIRLS’ CLOTHES AND HE DOESN’T REALLY KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.”
Yeah, ‘great’ the cis writers say …
We never find out what “that means”, because resolution is far more important than investigation. Boy wishes to wear ‘girl clothes’; school gets into a frazzle; female family members step in; boy annnounces it’s just about the skirt and anyways he’s grown out of it by now like all boys who play dressup and he’s probably ‘just gay’ anyway which is far preferable overall to having a trans girl in the family.
Like Mark, Ben also is deliberately portrayed as being flamboyant proto-drag … of the fun, youthful twink variety … a sensitive cub more likely to end up as a homo-hottie on Queer Eye than the far less attractive outcome in the pity parade of Lost in Transition.
Ergo … boys wearing dresses are prolly just disco queens in training. And, thus, a perfunctory solution to the tension avoids any difficult psychological issues and medical realities, by reducing trans-femininity to a pubescent flirtation with ‘the wrong clothes’. And an implicit tale of preventing ‘the trans’ early by adding more coloured tops to the wardrobe.
What if Mark, most inconviently, announces that she wears skirts because she has no other way to tell people who she is? What if Mark were bawling her eyes out in a shop, because the ugly boys’ jeans with a frog on them picked out by mom, went against everything her psyche was desperately trying to explain?
For whatever progress visibility has brought up, the asinine constitution of popular entertainment will always default to the reassuring status quo when it comes to the complexity of gender as imagined, symbolic, and unbearably real.
Those are lady glasses! He’s wearing a cape, Jerry!
Tellingly, a cis girl who insists on trousers won’t cause any commotion. This is a very precise shame/praise dialectic that defines transgressions in dresses.
Aside — in direct comparison to the first frame (from S10E2 “Dress to Impress”, 2018) — the premiere episode of the original Roseanne (from S1E1 “Life and Stuff”, 1988) also featured a hyper-femme teacher who confuses education with insight. It gives you a sense of how the show’s designers envision ‘real’ femininity and its beribboned membership to Actually Women.
I feel like I’m just a little too close to trying on a dress.