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August 31, 2011
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September 4, 2011

Why I Love Cross-Dressers

Photo by: Mariette Pathy Allen

Readers of this Blog may remember a while back that I did a post called Why I Love Fat People.  In simple 1-10 list form, it catalogued many of the reasons why I love Fat Folks.  In this post, I am going to discuss why I love Cross-Dressers, primarily because I am incredibly sick of the Cross-Dresser bashing I have seen all over the Internet in recent months.

1.  I love Cross-Dressers because I love the diversity of gender expression in the human population.  People assigned male at birth who express themselves in a feminine manner on a part-time basis constitute one vital component of that gender diversity.  it is just as valid as transsexualism, as drag kings and queens, as genderqueers, and as transgenderists.  Those who casts aspersions on Cross-Dressers are devaluing a vital component of human diversity and gender expression.  As someone who delights in diversity, I feel love and support for my Cross-Dressing sisters.

2.  Cross-Dressers have been, are, and always will be a vital and numerous constituency under the Transgender Umbrella Community.  Cross-Dressers are part of OUR transgender community.  And if you don’t like that, YOU are the one with the problem.  I understand that there are complaints about the nomenclature of “Transgender” because some people feel erased or invisibilized by it.  There is a place for claiming the specificity of your own identity.  But Transgender was coined primarily as a way to UNITE our diverse community and to foment political change and political strategizing.  And guess what?  For the most part, it has been remarkably successful.  Despite a few vociferous Internet blowhards who exist in a perpetual echo chamber, sex and gender diverse people have joined together to fight for ourselves and each other.  If Transsexual Separatists want nothing to do with the “Transgender Borg” and want off the “Transgender Reservation” (but ironically enough can’t seem to stay away from us to let us know their militant views), so be it.  The Transgender Movement, Cross-Dressers included, will go on all the better without your bitterness, divisiveness and me-me-me theatrics.

3.  Cross-Dressers help to liberate men from the shackles of patriarchal masculinity.  Feminism has gone a long way to liberate women and men in this society.  But it is incomplete because men are still so heavily policed from cradle to grave based on their placement in the category “male.”  People assigned male have every right to explore all of the permutations of gender expression, including all those things deemed “feminine.”  Cross-Dressers are in the front-lines of the gender liberationist army to remind those assigned male that they can express themselves however they wish.  How brave and how wonderful!  Remember just recently how much brouhaha was created about the advert where a woman exclaimed joy in painting her son’s toenails neon pink (pundit John Stuart dubbed it “Toe-mageddon”)?  This is just one small example of how unbelievably freaked out this society still gets about male femininity.  This needs to change, and the visibility of all trans feminine people, Cross-Dressers, Drag Queens, and Transgender and Transsexual Women help to show society that we refuse to be put solely in the boxes labeled “male” and “masculine.”  In being who we are, without shame, guilt or apology, we helped to liberate others, and build a society where people feel pride in being who they are.  We all owe Cross-Dressers a huge debt of gratitude for helping to do just that!

4.  Because the fetish community is also part of our community—deal with it!  Now let me be clear: not all Cross-Dressers consider their activity a fetish (in fact most probably don’t) and some receive sexual gratification from cross-dressing and some don’t.  But here’s the thing:  I stand in complete support of Cross-Dressers who do so solely or primarily for sexual gratification.  What on earth is wrong with that?  I have been so tired of reading the thinly disguised hatred of late in the Transosphere for those “fetish transvestites.”  Umm excuse me—but for a consenting adult individual to get off on different clothes—who exactly does that hurt?  As a deeply oppressed and marginalized community, aren’t we supposed to lead the way in terms of supporting and standing up for others who are also scorned and demonized?  Even some Cross-Dressers may look askance at their fetishistic sisters who dress en femme primarily for sexual purposes.  But why?  Is it to put their spike heel down on somebody who may be perceived as even further down the social hierarchy than themselves?  I think we all experience the temptation of doing this, and we must resist it with all our strength.  Either we are one community, united and strong, or we are not.  In a puritanical society like ours, it is still awfully easy to get very judgmental about other’s sexual tastes, behaviors and predilections.  We must resist these judgmental behaviors and support solidarity and community.

5.  Because the wives, partners, girlfriends and significant others (SO) of the cross-dressing community are some of the staunchest allies of the larger transgender community.  At convention after convention, I have been bowled over by the commitment of SOs to support their trans spouses and the larger trans community.  I have also been personally inspired by the incredible love shown by these women for their partners, and their acceptance of an activity that so much of dominant society continues to find repulsive or immoral.  Due to the organizing efforts of the trans community going back many decades now, there has always been a place carved out for partners and families, as we always knew we could not separate families but needed to unify in order to stand stronger together.  SOs have been some of the primary movers and shakers in the community, from Helen Boyd to Peggy Rudd to the late Dotty Laing.  Given the ubiquitous bigotry from so many cisgender people against trans folks, this support has been life-sustaining.  In addition, trans-feminine people of all stripes benefit so much from the love, kindness and support or our cisgender sisters.  I love CDs because so many of their partners are absolutely fabulous!  They make our community exponentially stronger.

6.  I love Cross-Dressers because it is vitally ESSENTIAL that we as a community stand united in our fight against bigotry, hatred, violence and discrimination.  Do you really think that a potential hate-monger, before committing an assault against one of us, scratches his head and says: “Wait, before I beat the heck out of you, I need to determine if you are a drag queen, a genderqueer, a cross-dresser, a pre-op transsexual, a post-op transsexual, or a woman of trans history” ?  I can assure you that they don’t.  They put every last one of us in the same wretched freak bin, in the same lot labeled “expendable trash.”  Many have said it before, but since some in the community don’t seem to be listening, I am going to say it again: we can ill afford to split hairs in our community and judge others simply because they have a different identity than us under the trans umbrella.  Given the reality of the violence, hate and oppression directed against ALL gender-variant people, we must stand shoulder-to-shoulder and be the first people to show up for all of our brothers and sisters in the gender community.  By fragmenting ourselves and becoming engaged in internecine warfare, we are doing the job of the oppressor for them!  Heck, they can move on to harming other groups, because we pretty much have got it covered ourselves by our constant brow beating of one another.  We can bring each other down or we can lift each other up.  I choose to lift each other up and I hope you do, too.

7.  Because, when it is all said and done, identity categories are not as hard and fast as many make them out to be.  There is a well-known joke in the gender community that says: “What’s the difference between a cross-dresser and a transsexual?  About six months.”  The lines between the sub-categories under the trans umbrella are not iron-clad, they are permeable.  And, this is, I believe, a good thing!  Just as “queer” allows people some wiggling room to explore the diverse permutations of sex, gender and sexuality, transgender is a sufficiently imprecise identity category to allow lots of different types of gender-variant people to explore who they are.  Go to a trans community gathering some time and try to correctly “ID” the cross-dressers from the transgender folks from the genderqueers from the transsexuals.  I guarantee you will not be able to exhaustively do so!  This is NOT to say or imply that people’s individual identities are not incredibly important, or to deny that there are significant differences between the sub-categories under the trans umbrella.  It is simply to say that within the trans community, we have many similarities and we need to stress those commonalities in our collective work for liberation.

8.  Because Cross-Dressers have helped to build the infrastructure of the transgender community that we currently enjoy.  From creating organizations, to running support groups, to speaking in campus classrooms, answering hotlines, to leading political lobbying efforts, to donating money, to writing publications and Blogs and building websites, Cross-Dressers, along with every other group under the trans umbrella, have been in the front lines building our community, educating the public, offering support to newbies, and fighting for legal, social and policy change.  I am indebted especially to all those sisters who came before me, be they cross-dressers, transgenderists or transsexuals, who paved the way for the next generation of trans activists.  It is still challenging, but you can be sure it is just a little bit easier because of their courageous efforts.  The same goes for their spouses and children, who are truly some of the most unsung heroes of the trans community and movement.

9.  Because cross-dressers help to show us the complexity of gender.  They shine a light on the fact that gender is not static; it is constantly in motion.  Many people, including some in the trans community, believes strongly in the gender binary.  They believe that you are one or the other.  If you were wrongly assigned, you move completely to the other category and correct a birth defect.  But for some folks it is much more complex: they have a sense of themselves as two genders or three genders, or many more.  Their gender expression may change from year to year, from month to month, from week to week, or from day to day.  Like genderqueer people and some transgender people, Cross-Dressers help to remind all people of the vibrant possibilities for gender expressions and behaviors.  And yes, I am one of those militant transgender activists who believes that non-discrimination policies on the basis of gender identity/expression SHOULD cover people who come in dressed as Robert on Monday, as Roberta on Tuesday, and as an androgyne on Wednesday.  Why not?  How does it interfere with the ability to do their work?  Either we are going to cover people’s civil rights, or we aren’t.  And it is high time that we got over our second grade notions of gender and stepped up to graduate school to see that acknowledging, accepting and celebrating the diversity and complexity of gender experiences will help society to thrive.

10.  Finally, I love cross-dressers because they remind cisgender people that dressing in clothing associated with a gender different from the one assigned to you is fun, healthy, fabulous and empowering.  While I pour a lot of energy into the transgender movement and securing our civil rights, I never want to lose sight of a much bigger battle: the entrenchment of conservative gender roles and the cultural policing of people based on their arbitrary placement in a category due to their genital status.  What we have in our underwear does not determine anything about us, and yet society tries to turn it into a huge predictor of behavior, interests, hobbies, choice in profession, who we will love, clothing choices, and so much more.  The time is now to liberate all people from the tyranny of enforced gender norms—and cross-dressers, along with their other trans comrades—are leading the way in that struggle.

I want to stress here that I do not identify as a Cross-Dresser or as Bi-Gender and therefore do not wish to give the impression that I speak FOR these groups.  I write here as a trans-identified woman who is an ally to Cross-Dressers and who considers them my sisters in the Trans Community.  I have written this in the spirit of positive affirmation, but if I got anything wrong, I apologize and would love your feedback in the Comments section.  I hope to see more Cross-Dressers and Allies fight back in the coming months as the attacks against certain sub-categories in the trans community continue.  I’d like to close with a quote from the amazing Transgender Warrior Leslie Feinberg: “A timid denial that ‘We’re not all like that’ only serves to weaken the entire fight-back movement. We can never throw enough people overboard to win approval from our enemies.” Amen, Leslie!  May we grow in unity and strength as we continue the long battle of fighting for our lives.

cross-posted from Transmeditations’s Blog

  • my over due apology to CD’s

     Their seems to be a real disgust in the rants against CD’s. Do they know what happens when a transsexual female is unable to transition or as a young person unable to live in their target gender? You fetishize femininity. Not just the clothes, but almost all aspects of it become erotisized when one is unable to transition. Those of us who are able to transition can pass through this phase quickly, but it is the ugly secret of many transsexuals. A secret we keep from everyone including ourselves. And as such it becomes the thing we hate both in ourselves and in others. Many female transsexuals that I have talked to including myself have spoken of going through several phases of discovery en route to full transition. Cross dressing, thinking we were gay, lesbian, straight, gender queer,two spirit, … you name it! But some of us seem to be so ashamed to admit that we were ever anything but absolutely sure we were female the whole time. And completely free of any sexually deviant (what ever that means!) thoughts or desires. We certainly never fantasized about …. well, anything! Except being healthy hetero normal women who just wanted to meet a nice guy and settle down. How boring !! and how antiquated too. It all sounds like the old days of what transsexuals had to do in the 60’s and such to qualify for SRS.   So who are these women I wonder? these so called “real transsexuals” who are so up in arms to leave the umbrella of shame? I never seem to meet them in person in any circles I travel. It seems they only speak such hateful speech on line. If that is the case, it would seem their separation is complete. So what’s all the fuss. I assume they have not only fully transitioned very successfully, but they are also beautiful, happily married, and completely stealth. Or are they ?  If they are, did they ever come out to anyone in their transitions? have they ever faced rejection? Were they ever homeless and hungry ? Does anybody know their pasts? do their husbands/boyfriends/lovers know what their identities used to be? How do they explain why they cant get pregnant?
    What do they say when a simple back round check reveals their old name, gender marker, and possibly a photo or two ? None of us can outrun our pasts. You can decide to trade one closet for another, but what kind of life is that? For me the hero’s of the trans(fill in the blank) movement are people like Amanda Simpson, Julia Serano, Lynn Conway, Calpernia Addams, and Andrea James, to name a few. Women who live out and proud and UN ASHAMED of who they are and who their community is made up of. These other ladies who insist on name calling, and ridicule are cowards. They represent no one except their own fragile egos and possibly their even more fragile gender identities. Pointing their fingers and their anger at all these other gender identities as if they are ruining “it” for them. They forget that “it” is not just for them. “IT” is the right to walk this earth and be free to self identify with dignity. And “it” belongs to everybody. Not just the beautiful, or the wealthy (lets face it, fully transitioning takes cash and lots of it!) or those of us lucky and opportunistic enough to both define and Hijack “normal”.
    And like Ms.Serano, I never hear any of these ladies ever offer an alternative to the unity they work so hard to tear down. And I think I know why… they don’t need one. Think about it,… they are done. They have transitioned and probably pass as cis-sexuals and don’t really have a fight infront of them. And dis owning the rest of the TG/TS etc community ensures their membership in the stealth club. As long as they are still connected to some 46 year old TS just starting electrolysis they will always be in danger of being outed themselves. For them, it’s not an umbrella, it’s a jail! So they would abandon those of you not lucky enough to be born under 5 foot 7, or with narrow shoulders, or cash!
    As for me, my surgeries entailed a lot of things. But one thing Dr. Suporn did not do was remove my spine! So I can’t turn my back so easily on my sisters. And if the LGB’s wanna unite and combine resources, Great!! I for one could use the help, as it would appear some of our own have gone missing.

    • Anonymous

      That was a great and not frequently mentioned point about sexual excitement and gender presentation, even in one’s fantasies…

      If the metric for autogynephilia is, ‘do you picture yourself having a female-presenting-body (as you understand it) when you masturbate?’ Then we trans women are inherently in a catch 22. Very few people are sexually excited at the thought of having a body that horrifies them, cis or trans. (I imagine very few cis women masturbate thinking of themselves as men either.)

      • CisLady

        Although some do! I sometimes like to pretend I’m a man when I’m masturbating, but it’s not a very frequent thing. I only bring this up to say that so called “cis” people can have some complex feelings about this as well!

        • Anonymous

          Good point… I know lots of cis women who are a quantum leap in phalloplasty technology away from booking surgery too… and they’d still very happily present, identify, and live as women.

          People are very diverse… I’m just making the point that modally (most frequently)  fantasy ideation tends to follow identity and orientation and thus the fact that a trans woman might fantasize about herself with a body more in accord with her identity doesn’t mean that transition is sexually motivated… I had an easier time getting a date after transition too, but you don’t see beta-males lining up to get estrogen. (Much to the chagrin of some lesbians… ^_^)

  • Qualme

    Seems to me that the real issue is that many people ignore the whole “repression” thing.  Quite a lot of CD fetishist are actually transsexuals who are just repressing their female gender identity.  Most never come to terms with it and remain CD for the rest of their lives, but some do come to the realization and “magically” turn into transsexuals.  Transsexuals who hate on CDs are simply Bigots.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, there’s a big ol’ spectrum of non-transitioning trans women that those who want to draw the line at the end of a scalpel want to erase… I take heart though. I live full time, the woman I’m with calls me her boyfriend and she wouldn’t want to date me if she didn’t think that was accurate, oh, and they hate me too.

  • Miqqi

    The CD who is a real sexual fetishist does not want rights or bathroom privileges or anything outside his [sic] bedroom. So that’s not really an issue. Most of us spend serious time in and exploring our femme persona. That happens, not infrequently out of the home or some strictly safe place and, guess what? Sometimes you gotta go. Appearing as a woman or at least as much like a woman as any number of other gender diverse people, we do our business and mind our business.

    I appreciate this column, and more than any other part, the nod to the fact that among the first activists, the first organizers, were cross-dressers. Thank you.

    Miqqi Alicia Gilbert
    Director, Fantasia Fair

    • Fionnuala

      But… according to this article, the real sexual fetishist is part of the community.  So any discussion of rights, bathroom privileges must include the sexual fetishist.

      • Anonymous

        Well, if you like we could segregate bathrooms by kinkset, but that might get expensive.

  • “What’s the difference between a cross-dresser and a transsexual?  One year.”
    That’s actually an insider transsexual joke which CDs mis-take, which I never got until I read Helen Boyd’s (marvellous) “My Husband Betty” … 

  • Anonymous

    When cross dressers continue to identify with their birth gender but are demanding access to segregated public accommodations because of their membership in the so-called transgender “umbrella”, that’s where I have to draw the line.  The transsexual community has been legislatively delayed in many jurisdictions because of demands by the “GLBT” community to include “gender expression” in public health issues such as restroom access. 

    Gender identity (a medically related issue) and gender expression (a social issue) need to be separately considered in civil rights and public health issues. 

    I know many crossdressers who respect the transsexual medical condition and are not demanding things they really have no realistic need for but as long as transsexuals are being thrown under this transgender umbrella against their will, there will always be a fight. 

    I warn that the fight will get stronger as we try to get our medical rights in more hostile states.  As long as we get shot down by the GLBT mainstream (HRC, GLAAD, NCTE, etc.) who insist in putting those with a medical condition in the same category as those who cross dress for fetish, as part of a drag show or just to show their independence from pants… in other words “expressing gender”, there will be a fight. 

    There is a place for legal protections for gender expression (housing, non-segregated public accommodations, etc.), but with a lack of commitment to the transition process and a lack of third party verification of gender identity, public health is not one of them.

  • Fionnuala

    Is cross-dressing for sexual gratification truly an expression of one’s gender identity?   “Transgender” I think of as referring to those who express their inner concept of who they are in ways contrary to societal norms for one’s sex.  I don’t agree that fetishistic behaviors fall under that definition.

    A sexual fetish is the arousal one receives from an object.  The object in this case is women’s clothing, or sometimes men’s clothing.  There’s no problem with that in and of itself.  To each his or her own.  But please don’t try to tell me that a man who gets off while, say, wearing his wife’s panties and stockings is a transgender person.

    • Anonymous

      I would note there’s a significant correlation between lessening gender dissonance and improved sexual function, for the same reason any distress tends to diminish sexual function.

  • Anonymous

    Very awesome. Even if these people don’t sufficiently ‘practice bodily modesty’ for some of the bigots out there. The more avenues of expression and the less repression of expression that exists, the easier it gets for people who aren’t 100% cis to find ourselves.

    • pariah

      It is nice to be reminded that we’re not hated by everyone.