Deffr’nce: A new concept in gender studies

Years ago, Hollyoaks featured a terrifically annoying character called Kris. He was even more annoying than the usual characters, not just because he couldn’t spell his own name (I’ve known it’s spellt “Chris” since I was, like, five and it’s not even what I’m called). The other reason he was annoying was that he swanned around being a complete bastard to all and sundry but whenever anyone called him out on this, he’d yell “You just hate me because I’m DEFFR’NT” (he was also Irish, btw, so I’m making fun of his accent. Sorry. But that IS how he said it).

So what was it that made our Kris so “deffr’nt”? Apart from name-spelling mishaps and general being-a-bastardness? Well, he wore a bit of eyeliner. And, occasionally, a dress. And, um, that’s it.

Now, Kris wasn’t gay or anything. Nominally bisexual, he liked the ladies and lots of the ladies like him, even though he was often a complete bitch while in their presence. The thing is, they didn’t mind Kris being a bitch, cos that just showed he was in touch with his feminine side. After all, all women are bitchy. And some men, too, but only those who are “deffr’nt”.

At one point, in honour of his gender-bending bitchery, Kris got to run his own agony show on HCC student radio. He’d tell despairing girls “he’s just not that into you” and other “tough love” bollocks like that. Basically, if a man wears eyeliner, babe, he knows you better than you know yourself.

Kris had a brother called Malachi (not sure how he spelled his name, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt). Malachi was a proper, manly heterosexual; he did building work, shagged around manfully and strongly disapproved of his brother’s dress-wearing ways. Alas, Malachi’s manful shagging came to an end when he caught HIV. Then Kris disapproved of him. Ha ha! Now who’s “deffr’nt”?

Thankfully (look, bear with me – you need to know the full story) Malachi found love in the arms of Mercedes McQueen (played by Jennifer Metcalfe, a Heat and Closer regular due to her amazing ability to alternate between being too fat and too thin on a weekly, nay, daily basis). Mercedes may or may not have contracted HIV herself – I can’t remember. And actually, this is the point at which I started to lose interest in Hollyoaks as a whole so I don’t know what happened next….

So what is the point of all this? Well, two things:

  1. Hollyoaks was clearly better in the proper olden days, way before all this, with Jambo and Ruth, and Lucy getting addicted to “tranqs” and then heroin, and it being all Rob Hawthorne’s fault, meaning Kurt would get all angry and masculine and say stuff like “I’m gonna get you Hawthorne! HAWTHORNE!!!” etc. etc.
  2. With Kris, on the other hand, the Hollyoaks scriptwriters were trying. They really were. But you can’t help wishing they hadn’t bothered.

It’s kind of nice they gave it a go. Hollyoaks is normally anodyne hyper-normality central, filled with beautiful people with no “deffr’nce” at all. Okay, once they had a fat girl (Chloe Bruce, aka the Moose) and a fat boy (whomever it was that James Corden played).* But that’s been it. The scriptwriters even took the piss out of the lack of diversity themselves for a brief phase, when murderer Toby started killing off pretty blonde girls, and suddenly half the cast were at risk. With Kris, the intention probably was to finally challenge gender stereotypes and homogeneity good and proper. Alas, I think they ended up doing precisely the opposite of what they set out to do.

A character such as Kris does not represent difference. He doesn’t even represent différance, in the Derridian sense of the word (whatever the fuck that might mean). On the contrary, “deffr’nce”  (if one might dare to consider it a concept in its own right) involves taking hold of the stereotypes and, far from ripping them to pieces, running with them, as fast and as far as you can. Kris might transgress gender boundaries by putting on a bit of slap, but he sure as hell makes up for it by representing the worst excesses of the misogynist imagination. Give a man a pot of Barry M Dazzle Dust, and he’s Eve, Pandora and Lilith rolled into one (not being an expert on misogynist history, I’m not sure whether, symbolically speaking, these are really all one and the same person. No matter. A man with makeup: he’s that).

I suspect characters like Kris are at least partly to blame for the transphobia of feminists such as Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer. Basically, they look at a man in a skirt and instantly assume he’s just trying to be “deffr’nt”, a crude parody of woman as gossiping bitch from hell. Yet some men just want to wear skirts. That’s the trouble, you see; Germaine Greer was alright until she got addicted to the T4 Sunday morning omnibus.

As a mother of boys, I can say with confidence that they both look great in dresses. And they don’t turn into nasty, mean, bitchy-witchy cowbags (or rather, they do a bit. But that’s because the only dress they own is a witch’s costume from Halloween. They’re just being “in character”. Give them a pair of fairy princess earrings, and they’re adorable as ever). If, when they get older, they want to wear makeup, skirts, lace, whatever, it’d be nice to think they could wear it without having to play a role. Without having to be flamboyant or spiteful or cruel. And if they were such things, I’d pull them up on it, but ideally without them flouncing out of the room, yelling “Mummy! Can’t you see I’m DEFFR’NT!”

Anyhow, I’ve just remembered one more Hollyoaks detail. I think, in actual fact, Kris’s original name was Francis. Which sounds to me like a girl’s name. Let’s face it, it was downhill from thereon in.

* In an inspired act of voraciously biting the hand that fed her, Mikyla Dodd, who played Chloe, called her autobiography “The fat girl from Hollyoaks”. Ha! Everyone thinks you’re the great writer, James, but that whips the arse off “May I have your attention, please?”.

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