I don't have to tell you, because you've been there and you know: it's
not easy being a crossdresser. Nobody likes us.
Portrayals of male to female crossdressers in movies, television and
literature, the primary exposure to the subject of crossdressing for most
of the population, overwhelmingly portray crossdressing
as either tragedy or farce. We are either the fringe element of society,
and must be obliterated ("Dress To Kill", "Silence of
the Lambs") , or we are utterly laughable, only no one is laughing
with us, they are all laughing at us ("I Was A Male War Bride",
"Some Like It Hot").
The only time male to female crossdressing is ever taken seriously in
its context is when the context is gay men and crossdressing takes the
form of drag. However, these stories typically focus more on the life
and times of gay men, with crossdressing (drag) being a secondary sub-plot
("Pricilla, Queen of the Desert", "To Wong Foo").
To help you get to where I am with this, try to image Hollywood making
a movie, and paying three top-name actors to be in it, about three heterosexual
crossdressers driving to the Southern Comfort event in Atlanta and breaking
down in some small, rural town along the way. Don't hold your breath.
When heterosexual men cross dress in movies, we have farce and slapstick.
The other day I was perusing the bargain rack at the local Barnes and
Noble and I found a small book on drag in the movies. The book was kinda
cute: if you held it one way and read, it talked about men dressing as
women in movies. If you flipped it over and turned it upside down, you
could read backwards it and it talked about women dressing as men in movies.
The two parts meet in the middle of the book.
In all cases, the women who dressed as men were serious characters with
real problems that were solved by assuming the identity (and status) of
a man. If the movie itself was a comedy, the women were by no means comical.
The male to females? Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle, The Marx Brothers, Lou
Costello, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon, Cary Grant. For these characters, wearing
womens clothing was done in the context of being compromised. There was
no choice, it wasn't the most desirable option, but it was the only way.
Literary fiction is not much better. In Tama Janowitz's "The
Male Crossdresser's Support Group" the main character, a marginalized
woman working for an Ad agency in New York City, finally breaks through
in her profession when she presents herself as a man. In "Dreamhouse"
by Alison Habens, a story about a young , '90s woman coming of age,
a crossdresser who lives in the apartment downstairs is attacked and almost
raped at a party, having been mistaken for a woman by a drunk partier.
Most people in this country will never meet and spend time getting to
know a crossdresser. They may know people who are crossdressers,
but they will never know this. All that they know about the subject will
come to them second hand and vicariously. You can't blame these people
for having the wrong conception.
So what about the gay community? Here too, I don't think there is any
implicit acceptance. Sexual orientation is not inherently connected to
gender. The image of the effeminate homosexual man is a stereotype. While
it is the case that more and more gay and lesbian organizations
are adopting policies that include "transgendered", I
still don't believe that on the level of personal politics, a gay man
or lesbian woman is particularly inclined to accept a crossdresser.
Many crossdressers think that their outings are limited to gay bars in
their communities. I've been in my share of bars in the past 25 years,
even working the door in one or two. People aren't the same in bars as
they are at work or at home. You are just as likely to encounter trouble
in a gay bar as you are in a straight bar.
Finally we come to our own little community, and boy is the house a mess!
Recently, the Transgender Forum posed the following question to its readers:
"What bothers you the most about the transgender community?"
Overwhelmingly, the response was the amount of in fighting between transvestites
and transsexuals. Hands down, it was the number one complaint. In my own
town here, I have seen this. There are two organizations here, one is
a Tri-Ess affiliate, the other a so-called "open" group. Attendance
in both groups is very low, sometimes no more than 4 or 5 attendees. Membership
has been stagnant, with as many members joining each year as failing to
renew. The Tri-Ess affiliate of course is limited in whom it can claim
it serves, but most members of the Tri-Ess group belong to both groups.
Attendance by partners is non-existent.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase "only a
crossdresser" used in the past two years, sometimes by crossdressers
themselves. Coming from a crossdresser, it sounds like an apology. From
transsexuals, a put down. How many times have I listened to someone who
has recently started taking hormones chirp "Just think, last year
I was a crossdresser!" I mean, could you imagine Colin Powell going
up to some unemployed black man living in an inner city neighborhood and
saying, all smiles and bubbly, "Just think, 40 years ago I was a
I've heard transsexuals say they don't like going out in public with
because they always get read more easily when they are with us. Apparently
it's harder to pass hanging around crossdressers. Well, at least transsexuals
and transvestites have something in common: we both want to pass. Think
about that as you draw into your opposite corners.
Just for the record, I'm no paragon of femininity (whatever that means),
but I do OK in public, and I have gone out to restaurants and stores with
some bug ugly transsexuals, and I took a lot of stares and snickers from
people that hurt like hell and made my face flush with anger. And I'd
do it again tomorrow.
The straight world doesn't like us, the gay community has no use for
us, and even our own community would like us to go away. Strange, considering
that as people, crossdressers are spouses, parents, employees, employers,
homeowners, and business owners. We care for our families, do our jobs,
get involved in our kids schools, take care of ourselves and burden no
one. We don't do anything that would make us unlikable.
Oh, I forgot. We crossdress
So here I am, a page and half into an article entitled "What it
takes to be a crossdresser" and I haven't even begun to answer the
As has often been the case with other issues in my life, my awareness
on this subject was brought into focus through my role as a father to
my nine-year-old daughter
In another few years, her life is going to be turned upside down, and
at the ripe old age of 12 or 13 she is going to have to make decisions
about having sex, taking drugs, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes,
how hard to work at her education. And most of the time she will be in
the company of people who are going through the same turmoil as her, facing
the same issues, challenges and threats. Can she turn to these peers for
help and advice?
No fucking way!
As an adolescent, she will want to belong, simply for the sake of belonging.
Often, she will have to decide whether she should behave like everyone
else around her, or behave well. How will she do that? What will prevent
this delicate young scion from being trampled into the ground by the myriad
of messages assaulting her on a daily basis?
A little voice inside her head. A voice that calls to her, beckoning
her to a place inside herself, where her self can live and grow in a safe,
quiet, nurturing space. Where she can live with her self. Mary Phiffer,
writing in Reviving Ophelia, chronicles the devastating effect
our male-dominated, sex- and looks-oriented culture has on the self-esteem
of adolescent girls.
A very wise friend of mine, who also happens to enjoy crossdressing,
enlightened me to something in our language. We often think of humans
as having five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Yet we use
phrases like "sense of humor" and "sense of direction."
If these really are senses, they certainly can't be studied in a scientific
manner like the five basic ones. So obviously medical science doesn't
What about sense of self.
Do you have a sense of self if you let other people tell you who you
are, what you are, what you should think, how you should feel? Can you
distinguish between original ideas and thoughts that come from the self
and reflect the workings of the self, or do other peoples words and ideas
somehow become your own?
A strong sense of self becomes essential to survival when we pursue a
path that those around us consider unpopular. Consider the sense of self
that Jackie Robinson must have had, given that even his own teammates
openly hoped for his failure. He belonged to a club called the Brooklyn
Dodgers, but it didn't mean he was accepted. How many of his peers, both
black and white, would have told him not to do it?
A strong sense of self is also essential when we join any group or organization
that forms around narrow definitions of what its members should be. The
pressure to conform under these conditions clashes directly with our notion
of who we are as individuals.
Typically, when we talk about alienation, it is in the existential sense,
of being alienated from other people, being alone. But the more devastating
kind of alienation is the alienation from self and the loss of self to
the collective body, the group.
Like the adolescent girl, crossdressers are under assault. The message
is loud and clear and consistent. Everywhere we look, we are told how
we are wrong. Even those closest to us, in the transgender community,
use their knowledge of crossdressing to oppress.
This is not to say that trassexualism is to blame for al the problems
crossdressers have. Far from it. Transsexualism is as much a creation
of a thousand years of, first Christian, then scientific patriarchy as
is the taboo of men wearing womens clothing. The existence of a clinical
diagnosis for transsexualism and the medical technology to treat it makes
crossdressers appear unwilling to seek help for their problem. In fact,
many crossdressers don't see themselves as having a problem.
And it takes away a reason for crossdressing. In the transsexual model,
wearing women's clothing allows the outward image to coincide with the
inner image. Crossdressers, on the other hand, make no claims to want
to be women. Therefore, the inner image remains masculine while the outer
image changes. What's the point?
But I will add this. When done properly, by a crossdresser who devotes
time and energy to learn how create a quality image, who learns the art
of makeup use, who looks carefully at fashion and what is appropriate
to wear for that individual, the outward appearance is frequently improved
quite a bit. The proper use of makeup and clothing improves anyone's appearance,
male or female.
I have met many attractive people who happen to be men wearing makeup
and women's clothing. Not hot babes, just good looking people. Do they
pass? Probably not, but they certainly look like they deserve respect.
There is nothing unwholesome about their look or behavior at all.
True, many crossdressers (and transsexuals) don't know enough about how
to use makeup, or what clothing looks best on them, or what is fashionable
(in fashion) or what outfits go together, and their image suffers. But
these are things that can be learned. By anyone. At all. We can all benefit
from more practice.
Unfortunately, the very things that it takes to be a crossdresser, a
strong sense of self and an independent nature, also make it hard to join
together. It's not in the nature of this type of person to cling to the
crowds. It is a community of captains, each in search of a crew, so to
Jackie Robinson would have lived with much less stress in his life if
he had stayed where he was in the Negro Leagues, out of society's sight,
out of society's mind. But it wasn't in his nature. He put himself out
there, chose a path for himself that was unpopular with almost everyone
and he took the blows that went with it.
Jackie Robinson was a great ball player. He had a strong sense of self.
He would have been great at anything he did.
Written by Yvonne, a married crossdresser with a supportive partner that
lives in the Albany, New York area. Visit her site at: http://www.yvonnesplace.net
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