Women have been crossdressing as men for centuries. I suppose one of the most famous and best-known is Joan of Arc, who dressed as a knight in full armour while pursuing a successful career as a military genius for the French against the English, before being captured and burned at the stake at the age of just 19. Her career didn't end there, and she has managed to do quite well as a saint and martyr, and heroine of the French.
Fast-forward a few centuries, James Barry managed a very successful career as a surgeon and a soldier in the British Army in the early 19th Century. He was revealed to be a woman only at autopsy. In the following century, a certain "Colonel" Victor Barker managed to have a successful life as a man, despite having been born a woman, including a marriage where his wife never suspected. Some aspects of his life were fabricated by him, including his military rank and career. Barker died in 1960.
|Manly: Annemarie Schwarzenbach|
Most recently, there is the case of jazz musician Billy Tipton. Garber's book describes him in detail, but there is quite a lot also on Wikipedia. Tipton was married to a woman, and adopted three sons. Ostensibly, Tipton adopted a male role to pursue a successful jazz career, but this fails to explain why he felt he had to carry this role into his personal life. Like Barker before him, Tipton told his wife he had been wounded in the abdomen, which explained why he had to wear bandages (to bind his breasts), and why he could not achieve penetration. Tipton died as late as 1989, making him perhaps the most recent and notable among people born anatomically female who have lived as a man, and as a result, his story was widely reported in the media.
I can't go any further without mentioning that most women can crossdress freely. If a woman wears jeans, trainers and a shirt, nobody minds. But if I want to wear (say) a denim skirt and a pair of tights? That's not going to look good at the school parents' evening. I think that may be one reason why female crossdressers appear to be fewer: if there is any sort of excitement to be had by wearing male clothing, it can be achieved very easily and without any societal condemnation.
|All The King's Men, a drag king troupe from Boston|
I think what unites these stories (performers aside) is a sense that each of the individuals was attempting to escape from the fetters imposed by society's expectations of them as women: that they couldn't succeed as women. In the (Western) world we now live in, full of notable female heads of state, celebrities and scientists, you might think that there would be nothing that a talented, accomplished woman couldn't now achieve, but you would still be wrong. A woman I have tremendous admiration for is J.K. Rowling. Why do we know her as J.K. Rowling and not Joanne Rowling? Because her publisher reckoned that mostly boys would read her books, and might be put off if they thought the author was a woman. So they recommended the initials. Rowling has no legal middle name, so she chose Kathleen, the name of her grandmother, for her middle initial. (I can't help recalling George Eliot, who deliberately adopted a male pen name, because she felt she would not be taken seriously as a writer if she used her real name).
|Androgynous: Sigourney Weaver|
But what about the clothes? What about the sensual appeal of freshly-laundered cotton Y-fronts, a pair of polished leather brogues, a crisp white Italian shirt and a silk tie in a double Windsor knot (tied just a little tight? Ooo!). If this makes you smile at the deliberate absurdity, I hope this gives an inkling of how we crossdressers are perceived by "ordinary" people.
Some scholars (such as Ray Blanchard) have denied the existence of female-to-male crossdressers at all. And I am fairly sure scholars agree that there are fewer of them than there are male-to-female. But they are out there, and I dare say they number in their many thousands too. It's interesting to tease out their motivations: for me at least, crossdressing is only partly about the clothes, and a lot to do with roles, expectations, and emotional expression.
Here is EmTheo, writing on the website Daily Strengths:
Is there a term for us? Is there anyone out there like me? I've been cross dressing for about five years, but have never talked about it with anyone except my h [husband] (and a little bit with my therapist). It seems like my h loves it ("it" being me going out as boy, packing, cross dressing, anal sex on him, etc) as much or more than me. The store where I buy my pack and other items is very lesbian oriented. I feel like a small minority of women who shop there. Basically, I feel like a small minority of women in general... I would love to connect with another woman who is in a committed relationship with a man who does this. Maybe it is more common than I think...?Aha! I want to say. It didn't take much clicking for me to happen on this website, where Briana asks "what makes a woman who crossdresses as a male feel sexy wearing?" The responses are absolutely fascinating. Areyan writes:
i have not progressed to full crossdressing yet (due to circumstances, not desire lol) but i have been wearing items of menswear every day. i am not sure i feel sexy so much as relieved when i put these clothes on. when i think of myself in every sense as the male i feel i am inside i can feel euphoric about it, calm, relaxed and i even feel - beautiful? maybe that's the wrong word, but it's a loving and positive feeling just feeling like myself. i'm not sure the dressing thing would be sexual for me though. good question.And Seamus writes:
lol, ok... after purchasing my first binder and wearing that with my menswear... yes, do i feel sexy? masculine? handsome? i'm going to have to say yes, having a flat chest does help with that feeling.
Okay, firsties, like the other guys defined, sexy in this context means feeling comfortable and attractive in my own skin. Lemme see. . . I remember really enjoying the feeling of underwear when I first started wearing it (still do). Also, I love the way cargo pants hang off my frame. I almost never wear any other kind of pants. Brown leather gloves (in winter, lol). Men's sneakers, particularly anything brown. I don't really like formal wear, but it certainly helps me to pass better. And I have to say, there's nothing that feels quite like a a great cotton or flannel shirt.This is all a bit like looking in some distorted mirror! The descriptions of how crossdressing makes these people feel is very close to how I would describe it for myself ("relieved", "relaxed", "beautiful?", "comfortable and attractive in my own skin"). On the other hand, the descriptions of clothing given in these and other replies are very interesting. Brown leather gloves? I've never worn a pair! And even if I owned a pair, I would not attribute anything particularly masculine to them: my gloves would say nothing about my sense of myself as a man. It's really fascinating to read. I can't help thinking: these people are just like me!
There may be fewer women who crossdress for pleasure, but the ones who do seem to do it for exactly the same reasons I do. I've never met such a person (to my knowledge!), but I think it would be a very interesting conversation!
So if you are a woman who crossdresses, please post your insights here!
Addendum 30th October 2012
I came across this interesting blog post about Joan of Arc on the Jesus in Love Blog maintained by lesbian cleric Kittredge Cherry.
|Hirsute: St Wilgefortis|