I wear the same shirt every Easter: It’s a lavender button-down by Saturdays NYC. It’s sold as a men’s shirt by a fashion label that doesn’t stray too far from the masculine, but whenever I wear it around my parents, they either ask me if I’m wearing pajamas (which is their code for “you’re not wearing that outside, are you?”) or communicate everything I need to know with their silent frowns and side-eyes. Unless it’s a holiday.
See, celebrating holidays and special events, like Easter, Valentine’s Day, or even Mother’s Day, allows men like me to embrace femininity. And it’s about more than just purple shirts. It’s about men being able to engage in activities more traditionally deemed as women’s — showing up to Mother’s Day brunch with a meticulously selected bouquet of gerbera daisies and calla lilies. In my household, Easter is one of the few days I can wear pastels without judgment, taking advantage of a rare moment of peaceful acceptance in a family that is so adherent to gender norms. When I wear the lavender shirt in celebration of the risen Christ, the usual side eye is replaced with a “you look great.”
I suspect it’s because my parents already associate certain religious holidays with “feminine” colors. Easter colors actually have religious origins, as Better Homes & Gardens notes, symbolizing love, joy, and the resurrection and blood of Christ. Look at religious paintings of Easter: Just like the apostles in their bright blue, lavender, and pink tunics in The Last Supper, when you’re celebrating the Savior, you better not wear black. I also realized the religious connection to femininity goes beyond colors. After all, priests essentially wear gowns during mass (though they’re officially referred to as “ceremonial vesture”). While the evidence is overwhelming to me, I thought I’d talk to somebody else with experience on the matter.
“Everybody has masculine and feminine traits, and so it's more simple for women to express both sides of this,” Mona Eshaiker, a California-based therapist who specializes in working with LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC folks, tells me. “Whereas, for men, feminine traits are repressed and pushed down and are deemed as not acceptable — they’re suffocated.” Once you give someone permission to express something that's always been inside them, Eshaiker tells me, you may get extremes. On Easter, that may mean using the holiday’s religious roots an excuse to go all out with bold and colorful baskets, eggs, and of course, clothing. We can also see this play out on other holidays, like Valentine’s Day. When else does society give men full permission to walk around in diapers and baby wings while pretending to shoot arrows with hearts on them? I’m not exaggerating; that's a costume people can (and do) buy. On February 14, it’s hilarious — and acceptable. But can you imagine the reactions on any other day?
Even in 2021, when we’ve made notable strides when it comes to addressing harmful gender norms, people still ascribe certain colors to certain genders and sexual orientations. This is unfortunate, Eshaiker asserts, because it creates barriers to people who can enjoy them. For me — someone who makes constant mental notes about the behavior of others — the holiday loophole has long been my reprieve when it comes to what I wear around my parents.
When I was in high school, my parents often disapproved of my clothing choices — something I attribute to their pretty conservative Haitian Roman Catholic heritage. I remember one day in particular, when my parents criticized how tight my clothes were. I had worn tight clothes in their presence before, but the shorts I was wearing that day were tight, short, and patterned with little anchors — too many gender no-nos at once, I suspect (I looked, to be clear, adorable.) But the feedback also confused me. After all, I distinctly remember a pair of bright blue booty shorts with a 2” inseam that my father used to wear while mowing the lawn. What was the logic there?
Eshaiker points out that, in my father’s eyes, cultural divergences may have differentiated what I was wearing and what he was wearing. “Perhaps because of the climate [in] Haiti [where he’s from], blue booty shorts don’t take away from someone’s masculinity,” she says. I had never thought about it this way, but I now realize my dad may have thought of my own short shorts, “He’s not doing physical activity, and it’s not hot, so why is he wearing those clothes?”
Ultimately, this was all about perception. Short shorts for function are, in theory, different than short shorts for style and expression. For my father, the shorts were a necessity for the hot weather and not an opportunity to show off his body or send a message. Still, cultural differences aside, the judgement really sucks, and gender definitely plays a role. My clothing choices — like my lavender shirt that’s oft derided outside of Easter — simply don’t fit my parents’ logic about what their son (a man) should wear.
Eastee has me thinking about pink and purple shirts and how gender, truly, is a construct. As Psychology Today notes, this idea stems from the notion that, while “sex is biological .. .gender is psychological, social, or cultural,” or put more simply, “a product of society.” If society determines what is masculine or feminine, society can also alter those definitions as they please. While the reality is much more complex, that specific idea fits with what’s happening in my little house in Maryland on the holidays. And because my personal fashion taste intentionally blurs the lines between sex and gender, it makes people who adhere to those norms — like my parents — uncomfortable.
While I’ve always stood by my fashion choices, despite my parents’ rejection of them, I recently become more aware of how much their microaggressions affected my self perception. When I lived on my own in New York City, I could wear pretty much whatever I wanted without getting side-eyed on the street. Getting dressed was far less exhausting than it is when preparing to have lunch with my parents or go about my day in the conservative area of Washington D.C. where I grew up and live now — and I miss that. But ultimately, as Eshaiker notes, I can’t control how other people feel or react to my truth. “Sharing your full authentic self [with] your family has nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with you,” she says. While Eshaiker is referring to coming out — which I recently did for the second time — the notion applies to sharing any and all aspects of an identity that might not fit with society's expected norms.
Ever since I could choose my clothing, I have opted for clothes that express my personality. They are unique and intentional in their energy. Even though I identify as a cis male, one day, I might wear a dress. After all, Lil’ Nas X just donned over-the-knee, patent leather stilettos, slid down a stripper pole from heaven into hell, and twerked on Satan, y’all. He has renewed my confidence, and I honestly now feel like I can wear anything.
But while I know and accept that, for me, gender is a construct, I need to learn to either deal with the fact that it’s harder for my parents or choose to directly challenge their judgements. So, for this Easter, I purchased my favorite milk chocolate treats, a few egg painting kits, and colorful little cards. I will give these gifts to my siblings and parents before we attend church in our pastel–colored finery, just like I do every year. But this time, I might not put my pastels back in the closet so quickly.