U is for UNIFORMS

Image by Sue Clark

Paper Girl with six changes.  Image by Sue Clark

MAN IN A UNIFORM,

THAT’S WHAT I AM…

crooned Prince from the speakers on stage.  It was 2002, and this rare recording was the music my first Drag King solo performance was set to.  I appeared on stage gyrating to the song, seducing the crowd with what smoldering energy I could dressed in a mechanic’s coveralls.  At just the right moment I moved to unbutton my jumper, revealing a full business suit underneath.  I then danced and flirted my way off with those clothes too, down to cowboy garb complete with chaps, then off with that and ended in packed boxer briefs, a beater covering my bound chest, and shit-kicker boots, my razorback mohawk standing straight up after I tossed the cowboy hat.  I danced off leaving the stage a complete, utter and slightly damp mess.

Uniforms hold within them power:  The power of suggestion, the promise of a new experience, of realistic or fantasy expectations, and for some people uniforms hold muscle memory and visceral cues to act, think, perform, or play a certain way.  My personal experience with uniforms mostly encompasses situations where I’ve donned them for others (onstage and off), or being caught in character after a show before changing and … …  (slow fuzzy fade to black).

I think there is a strange and wonderful thing that happens when you are allowed for a moment to wear someone else’s clothes and play a new part.  Identity becomes a more malleable and inspired construction of the moment, it is a place where you can play out a voice, a position, an idea you would never have the moxie to try “in real life”.

What are uniforms?  Uniforms are pieces of clothing meant to signify a job or membership of a group.  Uniforms themselves often come around to signifying character traits that might match the job/position as well – the stern army Sargent, the townie mechanic, the stiff doddering professor, the curious or sadistic scientist, the innocent schoolgirl, the kind nurse, the misunderstood rebel, the frightening and unstoppable cyborg…  And so we start to associate clothing with a character type or caricature.  Certainly these characters are not real three-dimensional people to be played realistically out (unless you’re really serious about your role playing), these character traits are not us portraying ourselves either, and yet one’s “feel” for the actions of their character when dressed in specific clothing can allow one to explore what someone else’s sexuality, relations, or life might feel like.  Stepping into someone else’s closet can be a very powerful place to explore and play.

While uniforms can signify a particular character or “type”, they can also be employed for other reasons.  Sometimes a person has a fantasy or fetish that is clothing specific where the dress itself (rather than the person or character in it) turns them on, someone may have a relationship with a particular uniform and categorically find a person wearing those clothes undeniable/sexy/frightening/etc, or someone may have had an experience with a uniformed person in their past and employing that kind of dress in play could be a way to either reconnect with those feelings or conquer the association.  Not unlike puppet play in youth therapy sessions, an adult exploring a scenario with a uniformed partner might help them work out a whole array of thoughts, feelings, experiences, or desires.

US_Navy_041018-N-0000X-001_The_Navy_introduced_a_set_of_concept_working_uniforms_for_Sailors_E-1_through_O-10,_Oct._18th,_in_response_to_the_fleet's_feedback_on_current_uniformsWhy Uniforms?  When a person dons a uniform for any kind of play they may find themselves also stepping into a mind frame not their own.  It isn’t just the caricature they have in mind of what someone wearing those clothes must be like, it’s the physical reality of the dress that can influence their instincts.  A stiff, well fitting suit will support your spine causing you to walk more upright, a short skirt might limit how you fold your legs when you sit, or cause you to keep you hands closer to your lap for as-needed adjustments, loose comfortable clothing encourages one’s body to move freely and be relaxed in an environment…  As you can see, the uniform itself starts to dictate your actions, kinesthetic impulses, and mind frame.

For play, uniforms are wonderful because they are so specific yet also so generally recognizable.  There is something for everyone!  Every pin, pleat, accessory, and detail is fodder for praise by the detail oriented lover, and for someone who isn’t nearly as standard issue about their commands, the appetite might be appeased with a correctly colored and shaped assemblage of clothes found at the nearby second hand shop which outlines the character desired clearly enough, and then there’s the “sexy ___” halloween array of fantasy uniforms always available for cheap somewhere nearby.  You don’t have to spend hundreds on authentic vintage such and such to make your point (though say that to a gear fetishist and get a prompt argument, I’m sure).

My cyborg uniform stretches the meaning, but gets the job done!

My cyborg uniform stretches the meaning, but gets the job done!

My costume closet:  is extensive.  I am a character actor by trade, and my characters have been created for drag, burlesque, performance art, street theater, comedy shows, and other varieties of events.  It’s funny, but when I was younger I dated a few people who would see me after a show, before I had changed out of my last character’s costume, and be really turned on.  For a long time this was a hard thing for me to be open to…  First there’s the boring and professional thought nagging in the back of my head that this is a prop/costume/work item that I’m wearing and have created for the character I play, and what if something happens to it…  Then I realize how hard it is for me to NOT be in character when I’m wearing that character’s clothes (and not all of my characters turn me on/or should probably turn my partners on)…  and third, there was a really big reservation or worry that perhaps my partner wasn’t attracted to me as much as they were the character I was portraying.  Maybe they were so turned on because they wanted someone who wasn’t me to be sexual with (which to my slightly damaged sexual identity felt awful at the time).  But the couple times I engaged in play while dressed back in the day, were insanely hot.  So I got over some of that (though being a workaholic, I try to have separate costumes for play these days).

When in uniform I find a freedom to act up that I don’t always feel in the bedroom.  It can flow through me when I’m not expected to be myself.  A door opens in my psyche that allows me to not worry so much about every thing I do – after all, it isn’t me doing these things…  And more than once I’ve discovered something in that moment of confident otherness that I kept in my own bag of tricks for later use.  If you listen closely uniforms can be incredibly knowledgeable in the language of seduction!

So, happy moonlighting as whatever you please, my friends.  Unlock some unseen POV through playacting, find a new voice, or feel the power of a character unlike your own.  It’s strange what-all is inside you if you just let it come out to play.  Happy finding!

To Breath and Being,
~ Karin

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~Thank you.

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