‘So Jakobsen treats Saussure’s dichotomous formulations dialectically, right?’ says Balderstone. ‘He insists on the close relationship between form and meaning within a state of dynamic synchrony.’
‘What are “dichotomous formulations”?’ asks Miles. Ren briefly raises his sleepy head from the desk and shakes his head at Miles.
‘Langue and parole for instance,’ says Balderstone. ‘Or, ah…’ He looks through his notes. ‘Synchrony and diachrony,’ he says eventually.
‘What are…? Oh never mind,’ says Miles.
Ren stirs. ‘I’m going to ask the question that everybody’s thinking,’ he says. ‘Dr Balderstone, why are you wearing a dress?’
‘I’m glad you asked me that. Very glad. It needs to be discussed.’
‘I’m not glad he asked that,’ says Lenora. The Panopticons have become noticeably less keen on Balderstone since the Flying Lorenzos started scoring points off him. ‘He shouldn’t have done so. Being a transvestite is your business. What you wear to class is not a topic for discussion. Ren is trying to subjugate you by placing you in the category of the Other.’
‘I’m not a…’ begins Balderstone.
‘Transvestite?’ says Ren to Lenora. ‘Isn’t that an offensive word by now in your circles? And I didn’t say he was a tranny. I’m just curious as to whether he’s making an educational point.’
‘Well,’ says Balderstone.
‘If, on the other hand,’ says Ren, ‘Dr Balderstone’s attire is based on his own private aesthetic, sexual, or political preferences, then I’m sure we can all take the opportunity to applaud him, and maybe give him a medal for bravery.’
‘The dress is making a point,’ says Balderstone.
‘You shouldn’t call it a dress,’ says Millicent. ‘“Dress” is a gendered term that reinforces stereotypes.’
‘What should I call it then?’
‘You should have thought of a name.’
‘So what do you call it when you wear a dress then?’ asks Ren.
‘You call it a dress, don’t you? Why must you oppress women?’
‘The reason I’m wearing the dress is to make us question our gendered assumptions,’ says Balderstone. ‘Some men like to wear dresses.’
‘Didn’t we all know that by the age of fourteen?’ says Ren. ‘Especially when you lived door to the guy I lived next door too.’
‘The point is that men who like to wear dresses shouldn’t feel the need to hide their preferences away. Why shouldn’t they wear dresses openly?’
‘My next door neighbour never hid it away,’ said Ren.
‘That’s enough, Ren.’
‘He used to ask my mother for style advice. Of course, this was before I had taken your course, Creighton, so I didn’t know that he was being sexist in not asking my father.’
‘I’m wearing this dress to show solidarity with men who like to wear dresses, and with anyone who refuses to conform to gender stereotypes.’
‘And some people like to dress up as chickens,’ says Ren. ‘Yet they face prejudice just because they can’t lay eggs every day. There is this great ocean of suffering.’
‘I’m going to suggest that you think about doing something similar when you lecture,’ says Balderstone, carrying on. ‘You should think about undermining any negative gender stereotypes the students have.’
‘Are you going to wear that dress outside this classroom?’ asks Miles. ‘Like wear it to the shops?’
‘I wasn’t planning to, no.’
‘But surely the attitudes outside campus are worse than on campus? Isn’t there a crying need to educate the general public more than our own already enlightened students?’
‘I think it’s best to start with our students, and let attitudes filter through to the rest of society.’
‘That could be too late,’ says Ren. ‘A genuinely transgressive hero would be out there in the world wearing his dress, at Tesco, saving real lives. Not here in the comfort zone, preaching to the converted.’
‘I don’t think the point would be appreciated in Tesco,’ says Balderstone. ‘The people there would just think I’m an ordinary transvestite.’
‘Hang on,’ says Ren. ‘If they’d think you’re just an ordinary transvestite and not pay you any attention, then is there really such a problem to start with?’
‘Well, not everyone is prejudiced. But there are prejudiced people out there. Maybe not on one visit to Tesco. Maybe the more marginalised types on the fringes of society.’
‘Yes,’ says Miles. ‘Prison’s the place to find them. You need to go give a talk wearing your dress in a prison.’
‘I don’t need two smart-alecks in my class,’ says Balderstone.
‘Get out, Miles,’ says Ren. ‘Come back when you’ve learned to be more supportive. Like Dr Balderstone’s D-cups. They’re helping, you’re not.’
‘He needs three,’ says Douglas.
Everyone turns to look at Douglas in puzzlement. ‘I mean, if he doesn’t need two smart-alecks in his class, then maybe he needs three.’
‘Timing,’ says Ren. ‘As in, work on.’
‘You think it’s funny,’ says Balderstone. ‘That’s a very juvenile attitude to take. These are the sort of attitudes we need to be eradicating in our students.’
‘We also need to be educating the older generation that the word “transvestite” is not acceptable usage,’ says Millicent, looking at Balderstone.
‘Yeah, it’s now “chicks with dicks”,’ says Ren. ‘Kindly refer to yourself as that from now on, Dr Balderstone.’
‘There are very troubling attitudes from many of the males in here,’ says Lenora.
‘“Males” is a gendered term of oppression,’ says Ren. ‘We prefer to be called Humans Or Possible Humans Most Of Whom But Certainly Not Necessarily All Are In Possession Of Semen Squirting Equipment Which May Not Always Work That Well And Anyway Is An Accidental Rather Than a Defining Feature.’
‘Can’t you shut him up?’ says Millicent to Balderstone.
‘A troubling attitude,’ says Ren.
‘What term do you prefer, Dr Helminth?’ asks Balderstone.
‘“Cross-dresser” is better, though that also has derogatory connotations.’
‘What’s derogatory about “transvestite”?’ says Douglas.
‘If you call Dr Balderstone a transvestite,’ says Ren, ‘it contains the faint suggestion that he is gaining a perverse sexual satisfaction from wearing his dress. And if he is doing that then it’s none of our damn business. Nor should we pass judgement on him if we discovered that he was. It can get awful lonesome in the Staff and Academic Development department. Wearing ladies knickers may no longer do the job.’
‘That’s enough from you,’ says Lenora. ‘Really, that’s quite enough. I’m putting you under warning.’
‘Has Dr Balderstone been sacked from this course? Have you told him yet?’
‘It doesn’t need to be my class for me to put you under warning.’
‘Then I’m putting you under warning too. A get-a-grip warning.’
‘I’ll not tolerate this sort of bickering in my class,’ says Balderstone. ‘I haven’t finished discussing my attire yet.’
‘I know. You’re going to give us another political lecture on the ethnic necklace you’re wearing. Am I right, Dr Balderstone?’ says Ren.
‘I’m glad you’re not entirely lacking in astuteness,’ says Balderstone. ‘This is the symbol of Yamaluta, worn by the Heshka-skian tribe.’
‘Everyone knows that,’ says Ren. ‘It expresses their love of late-era Lyotard and their ineffable sadness over the decline of structural Marxism in northern Germany.’
Malcom Ascaris is roused from his slumbers enough to say, ‘Shut the hell up, you mouthy gobshite.’
‘As the Yamaluta would say, “Well played, sir”,’ says Ren.
‘Enough,’ says Balderstone in a raised voice. ‘The Yamaluta is the symbol of…’
‘Come and see the violence inherent in the system,’ whispers Douglas to Ren.
Balderstone glares at Douglas.
‘Timing, dear boy, once again, timing,’ whispers Ren theatrically back to Douglas.