Thursday, 10 November 2011

How many of us are there?

This is a question which puzzles me from time to time. How many of us are out there?

More specifically (and academically), if you take a large population, say a million people, how many of them are men who crossdress?

It's not an easy question to answer. For a start, given a million people selected at random, there is no guarantee that half of them will be genetic males. For most countries, there is a slight preponderance of one sex over the other. For example, in the United States in 2009, males constituted only 48.4% of the population as a whole.

To further illuminate the problem, we can consider the figures for homosexuality. I believe homosexuality is becoming much more accepted as a lifestyle (certainly in Western countries), and it has been a considerable focus of academic and governmental study. There was an excellent discussion of this by the BBC Radio 4 programme More or Less back in October 2010. You can listen to the podcast for free here.

The UK's Office for National Statistics reported the results of its Sexual Identity and Evaluation Report in 2010. It reported that, based on extensive statistical investigation, that 0.9% of the UK population (equivalent to 466,000 people) are gay or lesbian, and a further 0.5% (equivalent to 229,000 people) identified as bisexual. To complete the picture, about 0.5% of respondents chose other as a response (equivalent to 246,000 people) and about 3% of respondents refused to answer (equivalent to 1.6 million people).

The "other" group could encompass people who are "asexual or have no sexual identity at all", or "disagree with the simplistic male/female gender binary". I suppose those who are intersex or transgendered might possibly fit in this group, though no further comment is made in the report.

More or Less received opinions from some listeners that the prevalences were too low. Some groups thought the figure should be as high as 5 or even 10% of adults. The programme went back to the ONS, and its report makes interesting reading. I have to say that I thought that the ONS's method was extremely enlightened, sensitive and reasonable. I congratulate it on the quality of the report, and I think the numbers are very reliable.

The report makes the point that sexual identity is a very complex and subtle thing. It asked a series of elegant questions about it in three categories:

Sexual attraction: These questions attempt to elicit what sort(s) of people the respondent is sexually attracted to. The attraction can take the form of dreams or fantasies as well as explicit behaviour.

Sexual behaviour: These questions attempt to determine if the respondent has sexual partners of the same sex or opposite sex, or both. Sexual behaviour (the report states) does not necessarily form a basis for sexual identity.

Sexual identity: These questions attempt to describe how individuals think of themselves. This does not necessarily reflect sexual attraction or sexual behaviour, and can change over time.

Sexual orientation can be the result of any of the above.

The report goes on that "no single question would capture the full complexity of sexual orientation". While legislation discusses sexual orientation, the ONS believes that sexual identity is "the most relevant dimension... to investigate, given its relation to experiences of disadvantage and discrimination".

Where does that leave crossdressers? Are we in among the bisexuals? Or do we fall into the "other" group, or even the refusals? There just is no way to tell.

If I were to answer the ONS questions honestly, my answers would look a bit like this:

Attraction: genetic females and very passable crossdressers only.

Behaviour: exclusively heterosexual (which, to be clear, means only genetic females).

Identity: heterosexual male. Would I put "other"? Just possibly. However, I was never surveyed. For my responses to fit with the report, I would need to be surveyed in exactly the same way as all the other respondents. I am confident that I would not refuse to answer any of the questions.

Something like the ONS questionnaire would need to be drawn up to estimate the prevalence of crossdressing in a population. Adding crossdressing or transgender behaviour to this complex mix above would create a whole new layer of confusion.

If we take the situation that an individual born genetically male habitually wears female clothing, there are lots of potential reasons: the individual may make their living as a drag performer; they may feel they were born in the "wrong body"; they may dress for fetishistic or sexual reasons, or there may be any number of other reasons.

I suppose the questions could go something like this. I am really making this up, but feel free to comment on better questions. From my perspective, I am most interested in men who want to wear women's clothing. It seems that women who choose to wear men's clothing have very different motivations, but I am very willing to discuss this point further.

Clothing inclination: This question would seek to determine the inclination or desire to wear clothing normally worn by women. (For me the answer would be something like "almost constantly").

Clothing behaviour: This question would attempt to describe the actual behaviour. (For me the answer would be "infrequently").

Gender identity: This question would attempt to determine the gender identity of the responder. (For me the answer would be "male". I don't feel like a woman or especially want to be one).

I think these questions avoid (as the ONS did) any suggestion of motivation or reason to cross-dress. I don't know why I do it. I don't think anyone really knows, and I suspect the reasons (if they could be found) would be different for all of us anyway.

What's interesting to me is that I absolutely consider myself a cross-dresser, even though my actual behaviour doesn't really reflect that description all that well. In another post I might explore this issue a bit further.

So all we need now is a million people (or, I suppose, about half that number if we want to ask only males) to answer the questionnaire.

In the meantime, there is no definitive answer to this question. The most academic estimate I can get comes from the excellent book Crossdressing, Sex and Gender by Bullough and Bullough, which puts it at about 1%. This figure probably fits quite well with the ONS figures, in that it could easily include all of the "other" respondents plus a few of the "bisexual" respondents too.

What that means is that, although in population terms we are quite few, there are thousands upon thousands, quite likely millions, of crossdressers out there. Raise your glass!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

What sex is your brain?

So what sex is your brain?

I've been struggling to figure this one out for my whole life. It's quite clear that I seem to have strong aspects of both male and female in my personality.



The traditional view of gender behaviour is a bit like this. At one end of the scale, there is woman: emotive, nurturative, capable of multitasking. At the other end of the scale, there is man: structured, assertive, dominant. You can be somewhere in the middle, but you can't be both. Masculinity and femininity are exclusive. To become more masculine, one automatically becomes less feminine.

This model is simplistic, and wrong. It's not sophisticated enough. A more useful model is this one, where masculinity and femininity are independent traits. An individual can therefore be either mostly masculine or mostly feminine; strong in both at once, or even not particularly strong in either. This diagram plots masculinity and femininity as two independent bars on a chart, but it would work equally well to plot them as two dimensions on a graph.

Before I go further, let me be clear that this model says nothing about the gender of the person you would most like to go to bed with. In other words, this model describes gender behaviour but not sexuality.

I think this model is much more helpful for me. Among other things, I know I can do some of that masculine stuff really well: think logically, take a leadership role, be structured and organised. I also know I can do some feminine things really well: I am emotive and nurturative and compassionate. If you want to test yourself, the BBC has a free online self-test, in which you can compare your scores against 1000 responders who identified as male, and 1000 responders who identified as female. You can take the test here, though it takes a while to do the full thing. If you want to discuss your results, please post them below.

My results for this test were very interesting (at least to me). The results show that when it comes to masculinity, I am substantially above average across all categories. One way to interpret that result is to say my brain is more masculine than the average man's brain. When it comes to femininity, I am also above average in all categories (less so than for masculinity). One way to interpret that result is to say that my brain is also more feminine than the average woman's. Therefore I seem to score very highly for both masculinity and femininity. This seems to fit with the way I understand myself, inasmuch as I have been studying my own behaviour for almost four decades.

But once again, it's not as simple as that. For one thing, this test is not properly validated, although it's a clever and interesting diversion and the results are thought-provoking. In addition, I am sure people fluctuate in their performance and mood: I know that some days I feel very girly and other days I feel very manly. That might or might not influence my performance on the parts of the test.

Secondly, it makes no correction for IQ. I know my IQ, and it suggests I am likely to be intrinsically good at doing these sorts of tests. In other words, I am likely to have artificially higher results in both parts because of IQ, not gender alone. My final annoyance with the BBC test is that, although it displays the results for masculinity and femininity separately (which is great), on the last page it tries to boil that down to the linear scale above! It tells me my brain is 25% male.

Most recently, I've had my personality extensively and professionally assessed. Although the test gave results which I think fit very closely with my own views above, and seem to be very predictive of my reactions in some circumstances, the results made no mention of masculinity or femininity at all. I found that most refreshing. It fits with an even more fluid model of human behaviour, which I have tried to illustrate here.

In this model, there is no such thing as masculinity and femininity. There is only behaviour. The graph shows that genetic males have a tendency to do some sorts of things, and genetic females have a tendency to do other sorts of things, but there is a huge overlap in the middle, where just about everybody is. My hypothetical (male) figure here has quite a lot of overlap with the female behaviour range, but could for the same or very similar level of masculinity have a very different level of femininity.

What are these graphs counting, or showing? Nothing, except some hypothetical quality of behaviour. In themselves, the terms masculine and feminine are pretty meaningless: there is no absolute scale against which to judge either of them. The only way they can be defined is recursively: masculinity is what men are like. What are men like? They are masculine.

I think all of these models are attempting to make sense of an extremely complicated phenomenon. The subtleties of human behaviour and motivation are far too elusive to be nailed down in simple graphs, no matter how complex the test. Having done all these tests, I have come to a much more complete understanding (and acceptance) of myself as a whole person. I know that Vivienne isn't some alter ego of me: she is me. She cannot be suppressed, or got rid of, and she brings me a suite of skills and attitudes which have proven to be very helpful in my life.

But it's one thing to accept myself: what society thinks is a whole different ballgame.

Addendum: 28th April 2012.

Thanks to John, who posted below, I have found an insightful and interesting blog post by Jack Molay, which can be found here. It explores these same themes from a slightly different angle and in much greater depth.

Monday, 7 November 2011

School Days

As a child, I read voraciously. Naturally, I read girls' stories and comics as well as boys' ones. I was astonished to come across a story serial called Cuckoo in the Nest, in the girls' comic Tammy. In this serial, a boy is forced by his wide-boy uncle Fred to enrol at the prestigious Nesterfield Girls' School (known as "the Nest"). If he succeeds in passing as a girl, he will inherit a large bequest from his great aunt Hermione, who expects to visit her "niece" in the school at the end of term.

As a boy, I recognised that there was something very powerful about this story. The protagonist, Leslie, is naturally unwilling to begin with. He is embarrassed and angry, and struggles with his complete unfamiliarity with being a girl: how to dress, how to talk, how to behave. Naturally the school is a traditional English public school complete with all sorts of rules, and a very strict headmistress. However, after a while he begins to prosper, after a fashion.

Worth a read: Boy2Girl
I can find very little on the Internet about this obscure story from a comic book which went out of business years ago. However, there is an interesting critique here at Booksmonthly. On the face of it, the story is a comedy. (Though crossdressing and drag are often used as a vehicle for comedy, I just don't find crossdressing funny in itself). On a more intellectual level (which I totally missed as a child), there is a positive message about feminism: Leslie manages to shake up the school and its old-fashioned ways, and introduce some more modern ideas to the girls.

It's been thirty years since I read this story, yet I still remember it very clearly. Obviously what set it apart for me was its central theme of crossdressing; not merely crossdressing but forced crossdressing, with the spicy thrill of the consequences of discovery. As a child I was simultaneously appalled and enthralled by what might happen if Leslie were ever outed. (Unfortunately I don't ever remember reading a denouement to the story, so I never found out if he made it to the end of term safely!). I frequently thought about what I would do in his circumstances.

More recently, Terence Blacker wrote a novel called Boy2Girl. As you can tell by its textish title, this book is much more modern than Cuckoo in the Nest. However, some of its underlying principles are similar. Sam, a prepubescent 13 year old American boy (who conveniently has long blond hair) is enrolled as a girl at a London school by way of a dare. The book touches on many aspects of the emotional turbulence of adolescence, and allows both boys and girls a glimpse of what the "other side" is feeling. The underlying theme of the book appears to be that Sam gets on better as a girl: he is able to express his emotions more freely (including crying), and becomes popular at school (having never been so as a boy). The book also treats cross-gender behaviour with sympathy rather than ridicule.



Schoolgirls: archetypal
I find myself wondering what it is about schoolgirls which is attractive to crossdressers. I suspect that it's because so many of us become aware of our crossdressing feelings in school, and find those feelings mixed up amid crushes and enfatuations and powerful sexual awakenings. "We covet what we see every day". Like the maid, the bride, the nurse, and other female archetypes, the schoolgirl (with her irresistable mixture of innocence and powerful sexuality) is something some crossdressers aspire to.

Naturally girls themselves play on that same theme: an unforgettable example is Britney Spears's ...Baby One More Time video. This girl here is also having fun with the stereotype: you're not going to tell me that's her real school uniform!

The other fiction I read as a child (and adored) was the Famous Five series, by Enid Blyton. The Famous Five were Julian, Anne, Dick, Timmy the dog, and George. Except, of course, George was a girl whose real name was Georgina, and she liked to dress as a boy and wear her hair short, and she adopted boyish mannerisms and characteristics. It seemed perfectly acceptable, even laudable, for George to behave in this manner, and adults were often very indulging. (There is a school of thought that Blyton based the character of George on herself; certainly it seems pretty likely that she wasn't the warm cheery children's storyteller that we all expect her to be). I seem to remember identifying most with Anne, who was the most feminine of the group, although I also identified with Julian, who was always a sensible leader. But gender roles aside, I thought it was wonderful how free the children seemed from adult interference when they had their adventures.
Forced: Cuckoo in the Nest

How would it have been if Julian had insisted on dressing as a girl, and calling himself Julia? Why should that be any different? And yet it clearly is. I am certain that Blyton would never have dreamed of such a character back then, and even today it would be hard to pull off (both the authors of Cuckoo in the Nest and Boy2Girl seem to take pains to highlight the irrepressible boyish tendencies of both their lead characters. Enjoy it? Gosh no! They are forced to crossdress by circumstances, but they don't want to do it, let alone take any pleasure in it. How could you think otherwise?)

While tomboy carries certain positive connotations, its opposite, sissy, has none (I am not referring to sissy in its fetishistic sense here). And this is something I realised very early in life. It's fine, even praiseworthy, for girls to adopt certain aspects of male behaviour, but it still isn't fine for boys to adopt any aspects of female behaviour.

From a very early age I was schooled both implicitly and explicitly that boys were expected to behave in certain ways. That pattern of behaviour was considered so meritorious that even girls who chose to emulate it were praised. It was not considered acceptable for boys to behave in any remotely girly way. As a boy I recognised that I was very unlike other boys in lots of ways (and indeed as a man I am quite far removed from the "typical" man). Finding I had to suppress my feminine side caused me tremendous unhappiness, and those occasions when it unavoidably escaped caused me great stress and guilt, a guilt which still persists (and may be part of the reason for this blog).

So it is not really a surprise that Cuckoo in the Nest stays in my memory. There was a boy who was not only able to express his femininity, he was required to. A lucky boy indeed.

Further Reading

Georgia at BroadBlogs has a couple of relevant posts here and here and even here, which touch on these themes. In essence, her point of view (and I agree) is that gender ranking makes male attributes more desirable than female ones.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Pronomial Confusion and Gender Identity

When considering men who dress as women, there is considerable uncertainty where pronouns are applied. When dressed, many crossdressers like to be referred to using feminine pronouns (she, her); some insist upon it. Sadly, English struggles with gender-neutral pronouns, adopting instead cumbersome workarounds like the singular they construction ("The passenger should make sure they have the exact change"), which makes the academic in me cringe a little (though it has been used since at least the time of Shakespeare). The alternative, "The passenger should make sure that he or she has the exact change", is grammatically correct but colloquially awkward.

Bewildering: pronouns
Even more surprising to me is that certain groups have attempted to invent new, gender neutral pronouns for English. Words like hir, meaning "his or hers", or zie, meaning "he or she" have been proposed. I have some sympathy for this viewpoint: words matter, and language shapes minds. On the other hand, I loathe mangling the language in this manner, so for me, invented pronouns are out.

Where does that leave me? Actually, I am not that bothered about what pronouns apply to me. One of the things I dislike is something pretending to be something it isn't. It's pretty hard to reconcile that with crossdressing: surely a crossdresser is a man pretending (sometimes) to be a woman? I thought for a long time that I was, and now I realise that actually I'm not pretending to be a woman. I'm not trying to be anything other than a man in women's clothes (though I try to make the very best of it). Who I am doesn't change, regardless of what clothes I wear.

Even the name doesn't really matter. "Vivienne" makes a handy pseudonym, but I don't mind what name I am called by. For quite a long time I attempted to confect an alternate identity for Vivienne. What sort of woman would she be? Daring, flamboyant, unconventional. After a while I came to realise that, when dressed, I don't need to pretend to be somebody else, and that actually I feel just like myself. To pretend to be that other person was denying that I quite like who I am normally, and also feeling a bit uncomfortable.

So Vivienne and all her feminine pronouns are entirely optional.

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Addendum: 8th October 2014

Via the OUP Blog, I came across this website, Gender Neutral Pronouns, which gives a comprehensive discussion and comparison of several different systems. Although it has been three years since I wrote this article, I still find any system of gender neutral pronouns to be unbearably clumsy and uncomfortable. Nonetheless, you might find some here that you haven't tried.

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Addendum: 5th January 2017

The pronouns thing continues to not go away. I have been talking about it again on Quora. My viewpoint hasn't changed since I wrote the above article, although I would add a couple of other points.

First, language exists to serve us, not the other way around. Therefore if the language does not suit our needs, it should be adapted. But this is English we are talking about! The language of Shakespeare, and Milton, and Dickens. The language in which some of the most majestic pieces of work ever written, have been written! Therefore, if you are going to change it, please do it elegantly. Be respectful to it. If you can't manage that, you have no business meddling with it!