Monday, 15 October 2012

Crossdressing Lyrics

In 1972, Lou Reed sang this:
Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, "Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side"
He said, "Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side"
Wild: Lou Reed
Well, if only it was that easy for he to become she! But I suppose there is a bit of poetic licence involved. The song, of course, is Walk on the Wild Side, which has gone on to become a classic. Wikipedia suggests the song was written about characters from Reed's own life.

My theme today is crossdressing lyrics. I'm not talking about crossdressing anthems, the songs we sing (or wish we were singing) every time it's karaoke night. Examples here are legion; my personal recommendations are obviously Man! I Feel like a woman! by Shania Twain, or even better, All woman by Lisa Stansfield (which contains the unforgettable statement: I may not be a lady, but I'm all woman). Of course, you know at least a dozen more in this vein. Sing it with Aretha: You make me feel like a natural woman!

No, I am talking about song lyrics which expressly feature crossdressing or something very similar. My interest in this theme was prompted by my hearing today of the song Barbarian by Voice of the Beehive. OK, you've never heard of them, but towards the end of the last century, they were amazing:
He's making all these promises you know he cannot keep
He made me pick him up now he won't pay for gasoline
He's drinking all my beers, he's wearing all my clothes
And if he winks at me again, I think I'll take him home
Actually, the behaviour of the titular protagonist of the song is less than stellar:
He's started all my worries and he's finished all my wine
He's giving me a headache but I still think he's divine
He says he has a question, he starts tugging at my clothes
Would I be good enough to take him to his girlfriend's home?
Who lives in a house like theese?
There are only a couple more I can think of, right off the top of my head. In Space's wonderful song Neighbourhood, a series of bizarre and somewhat distasteful characters (who nonetheless seem to form a tightly-knit community) is described:
In number 69 there lives a transvestite
He’s a man by day but he’s a woman at night
There’s a man in number 4 who swears he’s Saddam Hussein
Says he’s on a chore to start the third world war

And finally, there is an entire song: Dude (Looks like a lady) by Aerosmith. I was going to post a lengthy and meaningful commentary on the lyrics, but unfortunately, in transcription they are close to meaningless. However, the title is plain enough. Wikipedia suggests the song was inspired when Steven Tyler went drinking in New York with Vince Neil of Motley Crue, and they ended up in a bar full of male waiters in drag. On the other hand, a later reference suggests it may have been about Vince Neil himself. At least, not without a lot more than plucking his eyebrows and shaving his legs, as Lou Reed might have put it. (By the way, the barmaid isn't me!)

I'm afraid I also don't count mainstream songs which sound almost too good to be true. Here is Lenka, in her beautiful song (one of my favourites) The Show:
Slow it down, make it stop
or else my heart is going to pop,
'Cause it's too much, yeah it's a lot
to be something I'm not,
I'm a fool out of love
'cause I just can't get enough.
Crossdressing lyrics really make me prick up my ears, so these are the ones I have most obviously noted. I hope you will drop by and add your own. Lyrics from the Rocky Horror Show are automatically excluded as being too easy!

All together now: doop, dedoop, dedoop; doop dedoop doop, dedoop, dedoop...


Addendum 22nd October 2012

How could I forget this one? Fish has always been one of my favourite lyricists, even though his voice is not what it used to be these days. How many lyricists do you know who practically invented a girls' first name? I have several of his albums. One of his lesser known album tracks is called Lady Let it Lie, from the album Yin. Though I have listened closely, the song isn't about crossdressing in any way, but it does feature the following intriguing lyric:
All the boys want to be all the girls,
In this turnaround world,
I don't wanna be me no more.
My thanks also to Ralph for drawing my attention to Lola in his comment below. To my eternal shame, I didn't know this song was about a transvestite. Initially I even thought Ralph was talking about the song which begins Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl..., but no! The lyrics from The Kinks go like this:
Well I'm not dumb but I can't understand
Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man
Oh my Lola, lo-lo-lo-lo Lola, lo-lo-lo-lo Lola.
And I also found a very strange coincidence. Fish recorded a cover version of the song Apeman on his 1993 album Songs from the Mirror. Apeman was originally from the The Kinks' album Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1, which was the album from which Lola originally came. Catchy title, though.

Cherry cola, anyone?


Addendum 3rd January 2013

How could I have forgotten this one? Monty Python's The Lumberjack Song.
I climb up trees, I wear high heels,
Suspenders and a bra.
I wish I'd been a girlie,
Just like my dear Papa!

Addendum 9th June 2014

My thanks to Melissa Lynn for drawing my attention to this interesting discussion of the stories behind some of the songs I mention in this article, some more fanciful than others.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Women who Crossdress

Here is an interesting topic: women who crossdress into the male role. When I first started this post, I thought I would only have a few things to write; the trouble now is what to leave out!

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
A series of similar individuals is described in Chapter 3 of Vested Interests, Prof. Marjorie Garber's scholarly study of "cross-dressing and cultural anxiety". This is a weighty and impressive book, beautifully researched, and undoubtedly the subject of a future blog post (I am indebted to Garber's book for drawing my attention to other figures, such as Lord Cornbury, whom I discuss in another blog post). Garber mentions other colourful characters, including the Reverend Joseph Lobdell, and Dr. Eugene C. Perkins, who lived as men and were discovered only upon death to have been anatomically female. Swiss author Annemarie Schwartzenbach (d. 1942) often dressed and acted as a man and was reportedly bisexual.

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
In the popular media, Annie Lennox has seemingly pursued a deliberately androgynous appearance throughout her career. And the movie Yentl (1983) features Barba Streisand as a Jewish girl who is prevented from studying scripture until she adopts the name and role of a boy. According to Wikipedia, there is quite a large drag king culture, where performers born female perform as men; and why not? This probably goes back even earlier than Vesta Tilley, a popular male impersonator from the early 20th century.

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
So far, then, each of these individuals has seemed to adopt not just the clothing of men, but the role of men. Each of them seems to have changed role not for personal satisfaction, let alone sexual gratification, but for social reasons, although it's impossible not to wonder if they also derived some personal gratification from what they were doing. In Shakesperean times, women were not allowed on stage, so all the roles were played by men (it's interesting to consider Ophelia, Portia, and even Juliet as being played by men in the first instance!) I can't help thinking that the men who took these roles were doing it for more reasons than just the salary.

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.
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.
And Seamus writes:
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
From it I also learned about the obscure St. Wilgefortis, also described on Wikipedia, a saint whose iconography depicts her as a crucified, bearded woman, often with one shoe missing. There are several explanations for this unusual figure. Firstly and perhaps most reasonably, she may simply have been an intersex person (see my later post for the relationship between sex and gender to save myself repeating stuff). However, a good competing theory is that some statues of Jesus on the cross were created wearing a robe instead of a loincloth, and the story of a bearded woman saint was cooked up as a means of explaining this away. Actual details of her life are so sketchy that legends have grown to fill the gaps, including the fact that she prayed to God to be delivered from an impending unhappy marriage-- and promptly grew a beard!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Beaumont Society

Somewhat following on from the previous post, I thought I would talk a little about the Beaumont Society.

As a student, I spent a few months studying in London. I was still in search of my identity. I could have thrown caution to the winds and explored what must have been an extremely vibrant and tantalising crossdressing scene, even at that time. But I preferred to take things quietly, so instead I spent a lot of time browsing the bookshops of the Charing Cross Road until I came upon A Man's Tale, by John Pepper, written in 1982. (I also spent a lot of time in museums, and at the opera. Though it was intellectually fascinating to see the Rosetta Stone and so on, I sometimes slightly chastise myself for not being a bit more adventurous. But that was me then, and this is me now).

Pepper is a British writer who, at the time of writing, was a broadcaster. His book is an autobiography describing his feelings growing up a boy with strong feminine inclinations. It begins:
I'm an ordinary man and woman. Initially, in 1942, I was born a boy, and that's that. You were chopped in half, botched, from the start. Had they lopped one of your limbs off, there'd have been an outcry. Instead they took away half your psyche, half your brain. Of such perplexing surgery is our civilisation made. Imagine building a car with an engine of four cylinders, then expecting it to run on two. Lunatic. Then, most of us are.
I don't especially enjoy his writing style, which is too pretentious for me. Likewise, Pepper's life is not especially interesting: his early sexual exploits, his failed marriage, and his attempt to unify himself by seeking Tibetan wisdom (pouring scorn on the other "misfits" who were doing the same). On the other hand, at one point, he joins the Beaumont Society.

The Beaumont Society, founded in 1966, is the oldest transgendered society in the UK, and perhaps the world (for those of you in the US, Tri-Ess, the Society of the Second Self, didn't get going until 1976). I suppose the Sixties in London was a heady time of great social upheaval: the contraceptive pill had emancipated women from their fertility, and I assume the founders of the Beaumont Society thought the time had come to emancipate transgendered people too. Burn those Y-fronts!

The society takes its name from the Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont, one of history's most famous transgendered individuals, and undoubtedly a topic for a future blog post from me. Their logo was formerly a yin-yang symbol, before being changed to a butterfly. The symbolism of either choice seems pretty clear to me. The Society is run as a charity, and caters for "the transgender, transvestite, transsexual and cross-dressing community".

Like its counterpart Tri-Ess, the Beaumont Society is long established, widely-known, and overtly chaste ("...the Beaumont Society... is not available for sexual liaisons"). As a confirmed Brit, I decided that the Beaumont Society would be ideal for me: it would be part of the establishment, no doubt full of judges and bishops and landed gentry (and academics!). It was the first point of contact between mainstream media and the transgendered community, so whenever a transgender item appeared on the TV or in the news, a Beaumont spokesperson would be interviewed.

Since it was chaste, there was no need to worry about invitations to indiscreet liaisons. Somewhat quaintly, the Society offered a service whereby a member could submit mail for another member discreetly to a central office, to be forwarded on to that member without either knowing the other's address or real name. Clearly, privacy was considered a very big deal to the Society.

I decided, if there were to be any crossdressers out there like me, the Beaumont Society would be the place they would gravitate. So I joyfully signed up. My contact with the Society was mainly through the magazine. The post of my Regional Organiser, a person who was supposed to be available for both social and practical crossdressing support, was vacant during the time I lived in the UK. This is no-one's fault: Regional Organisers do it in their own time, for no money, and I don't blame anyone for not stepping up to offer themselves to that role. But it meant that there weren't any local social events (where I might have summoned the courage to attend a meeting), and when I did try to reach out to things, I was disappointed. I have absolutely no desire to go to some nightclub and have my ossicles pounded into mush by techno music all night. But to dress up nicely, go to an art gallery, or a museum, or to the theatre, and have tea and scones afterwards: phew!

Can't compete: Vargas
Likewise I had hoped that the magazine might provide the sort of things I put in this blog: scholarly, interesting articles, discussing crossdressing in an open and detached way. But no! Much of the magazine (and I still have a large collection of them) was devoted to news reports from round the world, personal accounts from crossdressers (going on cruises, going skiing, going to the theatre, dressed), and fiction, fiction, fiction. And it seemed that every single issue had an article by Dr Vernon Coleman. The early magazines all had a print of a Vargas or Vargas-like woman (how can anyone compete with that??); later they were replaced with an authentic crossdressed covergirl (and the title changed to Beaumont Quarterly), though their choice of images was sometimes disappointing.

The news reports were basically quite interesting in themselves. The personalised accounts provoked great envy: I would love to go on a cruise and turn up to dinner every evening in a different gown. And crossdressing fiction is, in general, straightforward erotic wish-fulfilment stuff, full of loving and exquisite detail of fabrics and cosmetics and accessories. Coleman, one would have thought, would provide some intellectual perspective. But you would be wrong. Here is part of an article I just grabbed at random:
Coleman: I had a letter from a woman whose husband is a transvestite. He has high blood pressure (which could kill him) and the evidence clearly shows that when he occasionally wears a frock his blood pressure is better controlled and he needs fewer drugs. Nevertheless, the wife won't let the husband wear a frock (or any other feminine clothing). She says it is disgusting. No it's not. But her attitude is.
Happy: Coleman
This kind of thing was typical of Coleman's writing. A good doctor would not dismiss the wife's viewpoint as meaningless in this way. The pain she feels is real. Perhaps there is some compromise that can be reached, but Coleman's response won't bring it any closer. Coleman, a medical doctor, is himself a crossdresser, although his Wikipedia entry is mysteriously quiet about that aspect of him. His articles in Beaumont were entitled "Diary of a Happy Crossdresser". I became so irritated with him that I considered some articles of my own: "Diary of an Unhappy Crossdresser", but I never did.

Instead I submitted a few articles of my own, with a scholarly slant. Some of them were published (and if you happen to have old copies of the Beaumont Magazines, I'm in there under this name). When I asked the editor what she thought of my submissions, she replied "Yes, they're interesting, but what we really want is more fiction". So I entered their creative writing competition, and won.

Beaumont members receive a Members' Directory annually, in which members can put their area of the country, as well as their (gasp!) email addresses. I had hoped someone would read my articles, make the connection, and get in touch to have the type of conversations I am now having on this blog. But nobody ever did.

Thirty years ago, John Pepper wrote this about the Beaumont Society:
Even my grasping the Beaumont Society lay now in the pile of life's litter back down the motorway. When it came to it, I'd not found any real travellers there, only an empty clatter of pearls and gossip over the coffee cups; too many men who saw femininity as a matron sequestered in a polite respectability and dominated by a male hegemony they had no desire, not surprisingly, to usurp. I'd had a spot of bother myself whipping up enough flutters of the eyelashes over excitements like It's a darling lacy suspender belt, dainty but a toughie and dresses that made every wiggle a wow! I didn't just want to paint my face. I wanted to paint my mind.
What does any of that even mean? Admittedly the sort of uber-feminine language Pepper quoted is more or less absent from the magazine these days, but other than that, my impression is that little has changed in the Beaumont Society. I kept up my membership for several years out of sheer loyalty: it wasn't expensive, and I felt that, by supporting the Society I was helping to further the cause a bit.

But ultimately I've allowed my membership to elapse. I did my best for Beaumont: made myself available to them, wrote for them, supported them. Tried to be the sort of member they would want, of the sort of crossdressing society I wanted to belong to. As long as I lived in the UK, it was easy to write a cheque once a year. But once I left the UK, the impetus to belong seemed even more tenuous. And actually, my energies are much better spent here.

I wish the Society nothing but the absolute very best for the future. In research for this article, I took a quick look on their website. I am pleased to report that the website looks polished, attractive, and, dare I say it, a little bit gorgeous now (Tri-Ess, you have a long way to go!). The logo has been changed again and looks delicious. It may be that the Society is trying to reinvent itself to be a lot less stuffy and a lot more fabulous, and I think that's great. If I ever return to the UK, I will sign myself up immediately.

Addendum: July 2013

My thanks to Joanna Darrell, Vice President of the Beaumont Society, for answering my series of challenging questions. You can read her the interview here.

Professional views of crossdressing

From my very earliest memories, I am aware that I wanted to act differently from "ordinary" boys. I struggled with the masculine stereotypes I was expected to live up to; I still do! For some of my other reflections about crossdressing as a child, read my post here.
But when I got older, I came across a book on my parents' shelves. I still have it. It's called A Dictionary of Mental Health, by Richard B. Fisher, PhD. By then I had heard the term transvestite, and wanted to know more. I wasn't sure if I was one, or not, so I looked it up.
TRANSVESTISM: See Deviation, sexual
Well, that's not a great start, is it? So I flicked backward. This book is a modest-sized paperback volume, published in 1980, so we are looking at attitudes which are at least 30 years old. What's interesting to me is that the entry is a mixture of the enlightened and the mediaeval. It begins reasonably enough:
DEVIATION, SEXUAL: To define deviation, it is necessary to have a standard of normality. [...] Yet how shifting are these sands. [...] Textbooks of psychiatry still deal with the subject under the heading 'perversion', presumably because patients as well as doctors associate deviant sexual behaviour with neurosis or psychopathy. [...] On the other hand, it is now customary for textbooks to point out that such an association is unjustified. [...] To describe any sexual practices as perverse is a mischievous holdover from the intensely moralistic psychology enshrined by Freud and his followers.
So far so good. Fisher seems to highlight the point that different sexual behaviours are not necessarily pathological, while making this very connection in his own book!

He goes on to list "the most common forms of sexual deviation" as follows: (1) bestiality, (2) exhibitionism, (3) fetishism, (4) frigidity and impotence, (5) homosexuality, (6) masturbation, (7) paedophilia, (8) sado-masochism, and finally (9) transexuality and transvestism. Well, that's a bit of a mixed bag. I consider bestiality and paedophilia to be extremely disturbing, whereas masturbation and homosexuality I consider normal. Of course, this is only my point of view, and any other person might insist that their particular predilection is entirely wholesome and reasonable. And "frigidity and impotence" implies that a woman who doesn't want sex all the time, or a man who can't get a stiffy whenever he wants, are both sexually deviant.

I don't know why Fisher leaves us till last. But this is his entry:
Transsexualism and transvestism are interrelated deviations ranging from simple transvestism, in which the subject obtains gratification by wearing clothes of the opposite sex (called cross-dressing), but without genital excitement or homosexuality, to the profoundly-felt need to be physically changed, if possible surgically, to the opposite sex. Between these two states lie variations in which transvestism is in some measure symptomatic of homosexuality or fetishism and is a means of obtaining sexual gratification. It is wrong, however, to assume that transvestism is always associated with either homosexuality or with transsexuality.
If you look past the outdated, pejorative wording ("deviations"), I think Fisher is correct. I see all transgendered people as on a continuum, and I think that efforts to split us up into finer and finer groups is unnecessary and unhelpful. In fairness, I think that continuum may not be one-dimensional.
Both transvestism and homosexuality are more often seen in men than in women. Transsexual men, although they prefer to dress as women, may also marry and have children. Only a minority engage in homosexual acts. The much smaller number of transsexual and transvestite women are commonly the dominant partners in homosexual relationships.
For a detailed discussion of the prevalence of homosexuality in the UK population (and how it is sensitively determined), read my blog post here. I am not sure I wholly agree with the rest of Fisher's paragraph. I tend to think that transsexual males often attempt to live as men, before finding that they cannot. I think that gender-reassignment was far less common (and less well studied) 30 years ago than it is today, so perhaps Fisher can be forgiven. Some scholars have refuted the existence of transvestite women at all (that is, women who obtain gratification, let alone sexual gratification, from the wearing of men's clothing), although I think academia would agree with Fisher that such people are very much rarer than male-to-female transgendered people.
The causes of the deviation are obscure. In some people, transsexuality is a congenital disorder, and transvestism has often been associated with Klinefelter's syndrome. There is no evidence that these conditions are inherited. It is said that tranvestism may occur when the opposite-sexed parent is overwhelmingly dominant, but the evidence is impressionistic.
I agree with him here that nobody knows what causes transgenderism. By "congenital" I believe he means that transsexuals are born transsexuals, and I agree with that too. Klinefelter's syndrome is the syndrome where an individual possesses an extra sex chromosome. Neither male (XY) nor female (XX) but in a way, both (XXY). Such individuals are usually born looking like normal boys, but at puberty may develop breasts and other feminine physical traits. It is possible that people with Klinefelter's syndrome formerly did show signs of feminised behaviour, though now testosterone treatment is universally offered to such people, which causes them to develop and behave in a "normal" masculine way.
Simple transvestism often escapes the attention of psychiatrists. Even the marriage partner may be unaware of the deviation. Symptomatic transvestism or transsexuality, however, can raise medical problems. Adolescents will frequently respond to treatment because they feel isolation and shame. Aversive therapy (see Psychotherapy) has been effective, but the older the patient, the less likely he will be to agree to treatment. It may be better to accept the patient as female in dress and role, but in such cases, the psychiatrist is sooner or later faced with a demand for surgical sex change. Some transsexualists (sic) have attempted self-castration. There is no easy answer to such a demand. The surgery is neither difficult nor dangerous, but little is known about the degree of psychological success which the patient can expect. At present, most psychiatrists discourage requests for sex-change operations.
As an adolescent myself, I could strongly identify with feelings of isolation and shame. I believe (and have stated elsewhere; see my comments here) that I think crossdressing is "incurable" in the traditional sense, and certainly no amount of punishment therapy will do anything other than force the subject to pretend he is cured long enough to escape the treatment.

Fisher seems to share the view of Charlie Jane Anders that acceptance of crossdressing inevitably leads to a desire to change sex. A similar thing seems to have happened to Betty Crow, Helen Boyd's husband. That may or may not be true for everyone; but I think the truth is a little more complicated than that.

In the days before the Internet, finding out about cross-dressing was extremely difficult. Even at University, my very large and weighty psychology textbook, otherwise excellent, makes no mention whatever of transgender behaviour (I just checked again). So all I had to go on were the occasional snippets of information, such as Fisher's book, my parents' overt disapproval of anything sexual, and tantalising and unforgettable works of fiction such as Cuckoo in the Nest. No wonder I was confused and unhappy.

Nowadays, things are very different. Not only is there much more information, but, in the main, much more acceptance. It makes it much easier for people like Gregory Gorgeous, a young, beautiful man who really enjoys (and flaunts) his gender ambiguity. I envy him, in many ways, though I am not like him now, and I wasn't like him even when I was the same age.

But back to Fisher's book. It's a snapshot of its time: attempting to be neutral, attempting to be sympathetic, but still grounded in outdated attitudes of morality and prejudice. It's very gratifying to be able to see how things have moved on in those three decades? I wonder how things will look in another 30 years, when I am the most glamorous tranny in the retirement home?

Addendum: January 2013

This post has been unexpectedly popular. I assume this is because people come to it expecting some enlightenment, when it doesn't really provide any. My current views on the scientific background to crossdressing can be found here and here.

Words, words, words

I haven't posted for ages, for which I apologise. I've been overwhelmingly busy at work and home for the past two months.

This blog post was suggested in response to something Michelle wrote in her blog, The Michelle in Me, entitled Why am I here? In it, she asks the question: "Why do I have this identity on the Internet?" And it got me thinking. In turn, Michelle's post was prompted by this blog post, Public or Private? by Tina Cortina. This blog post is an elaboration of the answer I posted to Michelle, with some thoughts from Tina's post too.

First, I’m all about words. Some guys go fishing, some play golf. For me, words are one of the things which relaxes me the most. So a blog is a natural thing. Words are innate to me.

I maintain three blogs: one is my professional work one, which covers my research and links to my academic publications (I have written and published quite a lot). It gets a handful of hits most days. The next is my family one, where I post updates about us and the kids and what we are up to. Again it gets a handful of hits a couple of times a week, when someone wonders about the latest news.

Second, at the time I started this blog, I was really struggling with the impact crossdressing was having on my life. I had almost no opportunity to pursue crossdressing as an activity; worse than that, there remains nobody in my life I can actually talk to about it. My wife just doesn't want to even have a discussion about it. As a result, I had no moral compass; no way to compare my feelings and behaviour against any sort of frame of reference. So, no way to even exchange words about it. I needed an outlet, a means of reflecting.

Third, a tremendous amount of what is out there on the Net about crossdressing just doesn't sit right with me (Hairy men in panties? Aargh!). I discussed this in greater detail on another of my posts, Just Like Me? But in my own blog, I can talk about the issues which interest me, and I can put across my own points of view, which don't quite accord with those you might have read else where.

Fourthly, this blog was about developing and maturing my feminine identity. I have posted a couple of pictures of myself here. As I explained elsewhere, I am not an especially successful crossdresser, and many pictures of me dressed are somewhat repellent. Once in a while, I get a nice one, and I've used a couple here. I can look nice 24/7 and present my best "face" to anyone who logs on. In addition, as I said elsewhere, when I first started to crossdress, I fantasised that my feminine self was somehow different from my male self: tempestuous, flirtatious, daring, where I am none of those things in real life. On the other hand, I realise now that actually, Vivienne is not a different side of me, she is me. And therefore, even when dressed, I am scholarly and bookish and academic. So I can be that person here on my blog. Me, but on a good day.

I had great trepidation starting off this blog. My first concern was that nobody would read it. In fact, to my great surprise, within six months the hit counter had overtaken my academic blog, and there has been a varied and interesting selection of comments and discussion posted in response to my articles. I try to find something interesting to write about, so that people will be amused or entertained or a bit intrigued. I think there is no point writing unless people read what you write. On the other hand, some of my favourite posts have garnered very few hits, where others which I consider quite weak have had hundreds of hits. So it shows that me and my “audience” are not wholly in sync!

Inviting: A blank page and a fountain pen
But let me say now, thanks to all of you who have dropped in to read this blog. A special thank-you to those who have linked to it from their own blogs, or "followed" it: you know who you are and you have my gratitude! I do find it tremendously validating when people read my blog, and I count my hits every day (looking for approval from my hit counter?).

The second reason I had great trepidation in starting off this blog is that it made me feel guilty because I was sure my wife would not approve. Though I tried to think of the least harmful way in which I could explore my femininity in a safe and academic way while not being emotionally or physically unfaithful in any way, it still felt wrong, because it was behind her back.

Recently, I told my wife about my blog and she was quite supportive. She wanted the link and I gave it to her, though I honestly can’t tell if she’s read much, or indeed anything. She’s certainly never mentioned it or spoken of anything she’s read. I feel a tremendous sense of relief that I am now blogging with her approval. On the other hand, now I am slightly less comfortable posting, just in case she is disturbed by what she reads. Some of these thoughts are echoed by Tina, in her blog post.

My wife aside, I am almost certain that nobody I know has read any of this blog. But if they did, they would instantly recognise me, for my style of writing, if not for my appearance. (If you do know me, please talk to me about all this!) On the other hand, it's clear that quite a lot of people who stumble on this blog are looking for something else entirely: the search terms which Blogger lists leave me in no doubt that intellectual discussion is far from the minds of some of those who find themselves here!

So overall, this blog has been a great success. It's enabled me to explore my feelings, discuss them with others, and express a point of view. I feel a little bit at home here, where I can be myself, express myself, and unite myself.
Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.