Thursday 16 May 2013

Why Men Wear Frocks - Final Part

In the final part of this series of blog posts, I finish off discussing Grayson Perry's thought-provoking documentary, Why Men Wear Frocks.

I was wondering when he was going to start talking about bridal dresses, and here he goes. The segment is short, but the insights are quite profound:
Perry: The wedding dress is the last bastion in our society of the fantasy, frilly, feminine, properly symbolic frock. But I had a feeling it was dying out even here. For entirely understandable reasons, many women don't really believe in it any more. What strikes me is that, it's almost like this idea of the feminine, the princess, the bride, is so foreign to the woman's normal every day experience, that it's become theatricalised. For me, for a tranny, dresses are symbols of vulnerability and innocence and submissiveness and things that men don't have access to. There's something about putting on a dress that instantly gives me permission to act out those feelings.
Cecilia Sand
There is a transvestite obsession with bridal dresses. In fact, there are whole social events devoted to crossdressers and the trappings of weddings, such as this one in the UK. Sites like YouTube and Flickr are absolutely stuffed with images of them. My own view is that some transvestites seek out archetypes of femininity (the schoolgirl, the maid, the bride) and attempt to pursue that. If a woman can be pampered and beautified from top to toe on her wedding day, and wear the most expensive dress of her life, to look the most beautiful that she can be, I can understand why a transvestite would want the same. From what I see on the Web, some of them spend a lot of time and money to get the right look, and some of them, it has to be said, look amazing (such as Cecilia Sand here).

On the other hand, I feel vaguely uncomfortable about it all. Though I understand the desire to wear a bridal dress, I just can't help thinking it's a bit too strange for me. And it's interesting to hear Perry talk about his idea that even among women, the idea of the wedding dress is dying out.

For the next part of his documentary, Grayson seeks to explore the idea of crossdressing among the young. I have to say, I tend to associate crossdressing with older men (What is my definition of older? Older than me!) and this fits with the autogynephilia model quite well. What also fits is the idea that autogynephilia is universal; in other words, young men have it too. My niggling suspicion is that they might just get on and do it, but call it something else, in order to spare themselves the discomfort of associating with the established crossdressing scene.
Perry: It's not just traditional femininity that's in decline. I wondered how much the rigid gender distinctions, which transvestites are responding to, really meant to young people today. I spent a night out on the goth scene.
Perry: What do you think about the kind of boys who would wear makeup?
Goth girl 1: We love them very much.
Goth girl 2: We like the boys who wear makeup.
Perry: What do you like about them?
Goth girl 3: They look very pretty.
Goth girl 1: They are pushing boundaries, plus they are much more attractive.
Perry: What I'm interested in, is: are trannies dissolving into youth culture? I mean, would you call yourself a tranny?
Goth boy: I don't think so, no. I'm just a pretty boy.
In this segment, Perry (himself bedecked in ribbons and bows) is talking to a group of young people, more or less identically kitted out in long hair and heavy makeup. And there they are: young men wearing lipstick and eyeshadow and nail varnish, with plucked eyebrows and long hair and ribbons. I am certain they would be horrified to be called transvestites, but from a certain perspective, that's exactly what they are. I think cosplay is another means by which adolescent boys can simultaneously dress up as girls and pretend they are not transvestites.
Gregory Gorgeous; no, he really is a boy

In my email correspondence, I have touched on the topic of whether crossdressing is gradually becoming acceptable, even cool, among young people. I think a reasonable summary of the consensus is that crossdressing is now cool, as long as it's not my dad who's doing it. I think it's easy to talk about "young people" as if they are a homogeneous group; but of course, they are as widely different in their views as everybody else! Still, it seems clear that people like Gregory Gorgeous are raising both the profile and the acceptability of crossdressing for young men.
Perry: It would be great if everyone could act as masculine or as feminine as they felt like, without worrying about the gender divide. And if that ever happened, then perhaps there wouldn't be much point in being a transvestite. In the meantime, there are some lessons I've learned from being a tranny. You don't have to bind to the rigid distinctions between maleness and femaleness we've inherited from the Victorians to see that we could all benefit from sampling a bit more of the whole emotional range.
Perry: I think what I've learned from being a transvestite, over the years, is that it is all about finding myself as a man. It's like there's a part of me, my original male self, that was uncomfortable, so it kind of jumped ship somehow. The way that it manifested was transvestism, a kind of package of feelings and behaviours that had been somehow banished from my kingdom of masculinity, and so they lived in this island off the coast, if you like, called transvestism.
Perry talks of himself here (and throughout the documentary) as being a man, albeit one who (like me) lacks an outlet for his feminine feelings. This ties up quite neatly with similar ideas I've brought up elsewhere on this blog, that crossdressing is driven by masculinity, not femininity.
Perry: I think I've had a fair experience of what is on offer to the transvestite, and it's always kind of like: am I emotionally satisfied with the experience? And I always think it's a crude way of dealing with something that I think could be dealt with more graciously or almost gracefully in my everyday life, and so when I'm out dressed, it's good enough, but often I come home thinking... (pauses) at my core level I'm a little bit unsatisfied with the experience.  
This is another point I wanted to bring out. I like to think of myself as a wholly rational being, whilst also being fully aware that I am not one; indeed probably nobody is. The rational part of my brain asks me, as I am dressing: what possible benefit from this activity could there be? It doesn't solve any problems. It doesn't change anything. Meanwhile the emotional part of my brain says: because it feels absolutely wonderful, it relaxes me, it alleviates my stresses. And afterwards, instead of just looking back and enjoying it, I usually feel a little bit guilty. Couldn't that time have been better spent somehow? I am forced to agree with Perry that, deep down, crossdressing is a slightly unsatisfying activity. What a powerful insight.
Perry: I think what transvestites are trying to do, sometimes in a clumsy, slightly humorous way, and sometimes not with the greatest self-awareness, but often very elegantly and interestingly, are trying to be whole people that show their whole selves. And I think that's a great thing, I think that's an aim for all of us. Maybe transvestites are the most graphic example of the pressures that men are under, and the role that men are expected to fulfil. I think they are showing us something of what men could be. I'm not saying that men should wear dresses, it's just that symbolically they are saying: there's something up with being a man.
Throughout this documentary, Perry has shown great sympathy and tolerance for all the people he has met (with the possible exception of Charlotte). In turn, he has been treated with respect; for example by Dr Oriole Cullen, herself a very beautiful woman. People don't seem to notice that Perry is interviewing them in a dress (in the case of Cullen, a very lavish and elaborate one).

In my very first post about him, I quoted Perry as saying: "Other transvestites think I'm the wrong sort of weirdo because they don't like my dresses". I just wanted to explore that a little more. In this documentary, he has seemingly liked, and been liked by, everyone. Nobody seems to have been bothered by his dresses at any point. In fact, since it was screened he has become even more popular and widely-known.

The themes of this documentary ring out: crossdressing can be sexy; it's a compulsion; it's a symbolic act, it's about escaping the expectations of masculinity, and it's all about the emotion. I absolutely agree with all of that. In this documentary Perry comes across as tolerant, compassionate, sensitive and deeply insightful.

I still struggle with his little girl image, though. If you Google Perry, you can see pictures of him in every situation, but the commonest types of pictures seem to be him dressed like a little girl (even when he met the Queen). If we accept the words of his own mouth; that for Perry, wearing this sort of attire is symbolic, and about emotion, then one can see that he is doing it to express those things to be found in little girls: purity, innocence, cuteness, vulnerability; perhaps even playfulness or mischief. On the other hand, I feel very strongly that those things belong to little girls; they don't belong to grown men. And I guess that grown men need to accept there are some things they just can't have.

I draw a parallel here with Michael Jackson. I accept that, because of his painful upbringing, Jackson spent much of his adult life trying to recapture his lost childhood, partly by reliving it vicariously through small children. Even so, him spending the night with children is not OK, whichever way you cut it. Likewise, I understand Perry's wishes to escape the confines of traditional masculinity (in this, I am right with him!) but to dress up as a little girl is, for me, the wrong way to go about it.

At some point, I will get round to reading Perry's autobiography, and then perhaps I will understand him a little better, and will be able to talk about him a little more. For now, however, I have tried your patience long enough, and I promise to write about something different next time!


  1. This part:
    "For me, for a tranny, dresses are symbols of vulnerability and innocence and submissiveness and things that men don't have access to."

    ... really stood out to me. It's why I favor extremely old-fashioned dresses with the full, ankle-length skirts, modest bodice, and long sleeves. Give me Laura Ingalls' simple homespun calico over "sexy" any day.

    That's also why I can understand, to some extent, the appeal of lolita wear to trannies. I have been tempted a few times myself, because the mountains of soft ruffles appeal to my victorian tastes in clothing. But like you, I feel like if I give in to that curiosity I will have crossed a boundary.

    As it is, there are two dresses I don't wear around my wife even though she is fully aware of my dressing (working from home, I wear dresses and nightgowns 24/7 except when I leave the house). I have a big poofy prom gown I couldn't resist because it was like 8 bucks on ebay, and a similarly cheap victorian satin and lace dress that could be used as a wedding dress -- high collar, long sleeves, ankle length skirt, all white. Over 25 years she has come to accept what I wear without any complaints or comments, but as much as I enjoy wearing those two dresses, I'd feel a little silly wearing them in front of her. All the more so since I make no attempt at all to feminize myself -- no makeup, no wig, no breast forms, not even shaving my beard.

    And for THAT reason, I try very hard not to pass judgement on my brother trannies -- even when it's clearly a fetish issue that drives them, I'm all too aware that it's an extremely thin line separating my preferences from theirs.

    1. Hi Ralph,

      I love this phrase "my brother trannies"! It made me laugh out loud. It makes us sound like some secret society, although I suppose in a sense, that's what we are.

      I hope I have made clear on this blog (e.g. my About Me page) that anyone of any stripe is welcome to post their thoughts and comments about their desires, motivations and feelings, without risk of criticism or attack. On the other hand, it's only honest of me to state my own views and feelings.

      I understand (and somewhat share) the desire to dress as a bride, a schoolgirl, a maid, a sissy, or a lolita. It's just that, for me, my other emotions outweigh those desires, so I don't actually do it. So I agree about the "thin line".


  2. Vivienne,

    Thanks for this insightful series. I so identify with the idea that something is missing or unable to be expressed that seems to be a part of why the appeal to dress across gender lines has so much power and yet is not quite fulfilling. Even my therapist has stated to me that he believes that there is a part of me that was not able to be integrated when I was younger and was being expressed through my crossdressing.

    I'm not sure I have quite been able to connect with the idea of vulnerability and emotions but I guess it has to do with being able to feel not so strong and needy at times without being seen as less than a person (read man). Women seem to be free to be frivolous and vain at times without it taking away their credibility as people. Really, men do too when they get caught up in sporting events and such but it is in clothing and visual expression where men are really restricted, I think. For example, I often think how nice it would be if I could put a color on my fingernails to reflect my mood or lift it yet I would be looked upon very unfavorably were I to do that and move about in my everyday circles, even if the rest of me presented as traditionally masculine.

    Also, interesting thoughts about younger crossdressers and whether they are still practicing it in the way older ones do. You might want to check out this person's blog: For a crossdresser in his early 20's, he seems to have quite a bit of insight about himself. Take Care.


    1. Hi John,

      Many thanks for posting. Interesting how your comment from your therapist echoes Grayson Perry's remark about not being integrated, and "forming an island off the coast".

      I absolutely feel unable to express vulnerability, tenderness and other emotions as a man. In this, I am completely with Perry. I feel very strongly that dressing as a woman allows me to express that side of myself. It may be quite different for you, or for plenty of others.

      I will check out the blog you recommended and let you know my thoughts.

      Best wishes,


  3. This has been a very interesting series, Vivienne. Now that summer vacation is here – finally – I'll have some time to think about it more and maybe blog on it with a link back to you.

    Maybe I'll post on this during LGBT month. Do trans people of your type see themselves as being a part of that category? Perhaps it depends?

    1. Hi Georgia,

      I am delighted that you dropped by to read this series of posts, and I would be very interested to read any comments you or your readers might have.

      Having looked very carefully at the whole LGBT thing, I tend to think that we (the "T") have little in common with the rest (the "LGB") except that we don't fit into "normal" society. I tend to think that the phenomenon of LGBT is an attempt by society to categorise a whole bunch of people who don't quite fit, and lump them together, as if they were all the same.

      That said, I am sure I have a lot in common with (some) gay people: uncertainty, shame, isolation, feelings of societal rejection, and a desire to just be accepted for who I am.

      I do joke about crossdressers being at the infra-red end of the rainbow. Normally we are invisible without special detection equipment!


    2. Hi. I'm working on this now. I have a couple of questions.

      1) what is the best post you have on this for me to read: autogynephilia.

      2) re "the emotional part of my brain says: because it feels absolutely wonderful, it relaxes me, it alleviates my stresses. And afterwards, instead of just looking back and enjoying it, I usually feel a little bit guilty. Couldn't that time have been better spent somehow? I am forced to agree with Perry that, deep down, crossdressing is a slightly unsatisfying activity."

      Do you think this is because your awareness of costume makes it not real enough? Plus, the stigma?

    3. Hi Georgia,

      (1) For myself, my best post would be Cloudy with a chance of insights ( . The very best thing to read would be the FAQ page on Cloudy's blog, On the Science of Changing Sex ( although the science is a lot heavier.

      (2) This is an interesting question. I think that there is certainly an element of shame and stigma about crossdressing (hence the guilt). It also upsets my wife and causes stress in our marriage.

      My feelings about crossdressing wax and wane. Sometimes I feel quite manly, and sometimes quite womanly, yet I am "expected" to be the same person all the time. Opportunities for crossdressing are quite few, and they don't always coincide with the times when I feel most womanly. Then when an opportunity does arise, I think: well, better not waste this chance; who knows when the next one will be? So sometimes it feels a bit forced.

      All I want to do is to be able to be myself every day.

      I hope this helps. I am happy to answer any questions by email if that helps.


    4. Okay I'm still working on this. There's so much to talk about that it looks like I'll be doing a series, too. And I'll refer back to your blog in each post. Not sure about the timing of publication.

      You said that cross-dressing "feels absolutely wonderful, it relaxes me, it alleviates my stresses"

      You also said that there is both a sexual component and a component dealing with the masculine mask you're expected to wear.

      Does the anxiety alleviation have more to do with the sexual component or the masculine mask or is it about the same or do you know?

    5. Hi Georgia,

      Take your time! I am very flattered by your interest in my blog.

      It's quite clear to me that the anxiety alleviation is to do with the masculine mask I am expected to wear.

      Sometimes, I feel very masculine. At those times, I am happy to be the alpha male, without any problems. On the other hand, sometimes I am expected to be the alpha when I feel like I would rather not. In those circumstances, I find crossdressing a refuge in which I can escape from the "pressures" of masculinity.

      If I were completely free, I would not crossdress all the time. There are plenty of times when I feel perfectly comfortable acting out the role of a man. But there are plenty of times when I feel that being a man is a deliberate act, a performance, and I would rather not be compelled to be that.

      What would the ratio be, if I were completely free? I cannot honestly answer that question. I suspect it might not be all that feminine. I suspect that my femininity is so prevalent because it has so few outlets.


    6. I finished writing the series but I don't plan to start posting it until October because I'd like my students to read it, and October is good timing for that. Some of my students who would be most interested are LGBT – and interested in the gender issues angle – and they might recommend this series to some of their friends.

      I don't have a whole lot that's new to say – a little perhaps. I'm mostly using the blog of a cross-dresser (you) to help educate people on the issue and refer them to your blog for more information.

    7. No worries Georgia. I look forward to it. Please tell your students I welcome any questions or discussion they want to send along.


  4. Dear Vivienne and Thorin25,

    In a sense, what I am about to write is about men wearing frocks. More specifically, this comment is about your recent exchange on the American television medical drama “House” in which Dr. Gregory House has a doll that serves as his romantic interest. The intent of the original post was to draw a parallel between Dr. House’s doll and some other men’s fondness for women’s clothing (wearing frocks?).

    Having lived with a crossdresser for many years and read quite a bit on the subject, I think that parallel is deeply flawed. There is a wealth of interesting material on crossdressing in other cultures, many of which do not have the antagonism to it that is found in some versions of Christianity in the United States. The idea that wearing other-sex clothing is a substitute for having a real-life partner would be seen as preposterous among the baklâs of the Philippines or their counterparts in Thailand, India, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Great Britain (UK), Canada, Germany, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Australia, etc. For reasons that are obscure, the US has had a long history of viewing other-gender expression as some kind of mental disorder. Even the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association accepted that view as recently as the 1990s; but they have since rejected such beliefs in the light of more evidence and better analyses.

    The recent episode of “House” was about a mental disorder, albeit one that probably could be overcome. Suggesting that it parallels being a baklâ takes us back to ideas that have been discarded in the US and are not taken seriously in most other nations. It is not clear that being a baklâ could be “overcome” in the same way that a romantic attachment to a doll could be. The man who finally gives up his doll and finds a real girlfriend is suggested, implicitly at least, to be an appropriate role model for the crossdresser who finally gives up his crossdressing and finds a real … wait, but many already have wives! Clearly, his crossdressing was not a substitute for not having a relationship with a real person. The intended analogy underlying your discussion seems to break down.

    I think we need to accept crossdressing desires as a durable part of the human race, found in all times and places. If we focus on unusual cases, such as those where some crossdresser does something weird or antisocial, then we are committing a logical error, even though we may convince a few people who are primed to be convinced.

    That would be doing essentially the same thing that some critics of the Christian ministry do. They present stories of ministers who go to prostitutes, abuse children, or engage in other dubious or depraved behavior as a way of disparaging the Christian ministry. In one case that was in the news in recent years in the US, the pastor of a mega-church with a congregation of more than 10,000 people was arrested for allegedly buying illegal drugs and having sexual encounters with a male prostitute. But it would be unfair to tell our kids, “Hey, look at what those Christian pastors do!” It is equally unfair, in my opinion, to cite highly bizarre cases in characterizing crossdressers who, in most instances, are leading rather respectable lives.

    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Laurie,

      Thanks for posting. I haven't seen the House episode which Thorin talks about, but I understand the doll is kept by a patient, not by House himself. Incidentally, I am highly critical of much of the way House is shown to practise medicine: he may be an expert diagnostician, but he is (IMHO) a very poor doctor, for the reason that he lacks even the faintest hint of compassion for his patients (or indeed anyone).

      I don't think Thorin was trying to draw parallels between the doll owner and bakla (which I had to Google). I think he was trying to say that crossdressers have a paraphilia and so does the doll owner. FWIW, I tend to agree with that viewpoint; I think both crossdressers and those who love lifelike dolls have an "erotic target location error", to use the scientific phrase. And I do include myself in that.

      I tend to agree with you that all humans do not neatly fit the gender boxes marked "man" and "woman", though I don't think biological sex is the same as gender, and I don't think that sexuality is the same thing either (though a lot of people conflate these terms because they don't understand them well enough). Please read my post here for a rundown of my viewpoints:

      For my personal experience with a boy who seemed to be being raised as a girl, see my blog post here:

      I think what drives people to want to blur the gender boundaries is basically the same across the human species. What differs is the various societies and their respective tolerances for cross-gender behaviour, and therefore the manifestations of those drives varies across cultures: baklas, hijras, fa'afafine, transvestites, whatever.

      I tend to think that they also get lumped in with gay and lesbian people too, partly by society and partly by choice, and this creates great confusion to those (including me) trying to clarify the differences between gender and sexuality.

      Thorin has chosen a particularly difficult path, by not only denying crossdressing in himself, but in trying to stamp it out in others too. I do not think he will be successful, but I believe he is sincere and well-intentioned, and I wish him well. His viewpoint is that crossdressing is inherently sinful, a point upon which we disagree. I don't blame him for clutching at straws to support his position.


  5. Vivienne and Laurie,

    If you think Thorin's website takes a hard stance against crossdressing, you ought to take a look at this woman's blog:

    Eagerly awaiting another insightful post from you Vivienne.


    1. Thanks for posting John. Will check out that blog you suggest. Meanwhile I am happy to oblige with two more posts!


  6. Grok here. I agreed with Vivienne, the "LGBT" designations lumps together groups that are disparate-other than all being outside what is accepted by mainstream society. The "T" group doesn't have much in common with the other three letters, which are based on sexual orientation rather than gender. {Actually, even the "B" group has problems with "LG", due to "erasure" (denial of existence)] Check out this web Scroll down. It is commented that these different groups may misunderstand each other; everyone views their own feelings as normal, and tries to project them onto dissimilar groups.

  7. I cannot understand your very last sentence about Perry, "...but to dress up as a little girl is, for me, the wrong way to go about it". How is that really different from a very conservative person who might object to any form of variation from the traditional notions of masculinity and femininity? The conservative may say "...but to dress up as the opposite gender is the wrong way to go about it".

    It has become clear that all creatures operate on a gender continuum from the traditional notions of masculine to the traditional notions of feminine, that we all have a mix of masculine and feminine behavior traits. Why do we still cling to the view that only a certain mix of behavior traits is right and other mixes are wrong? Shouldn't our sole criterion for determining right and wrong behavior trait be: is that behavior hurting anyone else? Perry's dressing up as a sort of Little Bo Peep character is not hurting anyone else.

    1. You're right that there are no absolutes here, only relatives. That means there are plenty of people who may object to my dressing as a woman in age-appropriate clothing and drinking tea in a café, as if this were some moral perversion designed to bring about the collapse of society as we know it.

      Perry's dressing up as a little girl is perhaps not directly hurting anyone. On the other hand, I think that crossdressing has a powerful erotic undercurrent (Perry admits this and explores it in the documentary). To juxtapose that undercurrent with anything to do with children is very distasteful to me. This is only my view, of course.

      How would you feel about seeing an adult woman, dressed as, say Little Bo Peep, while doing the weekly shopping in a supermarket? Wouldn't that be a little bit weird too? I'm pretty sure it would make me uncomfortable.


  8. As the wife of a transvestite who's about done with this nonsense, can you men just grow some balls and get your emotional issues sorted out please?! Seriously, you pretty much run the world yet you can't mesh your masculine and feminine traits together? Women have managed it, so what's your excuse?? Wearing dresses is lame. It's lame for all of us. So please, sort out your issues and start living as ONE person so the rest of us can quit wearing these stupid dang dresses you all covet so much. Sheesh!

    1. I really appreciate your comment, and I can sense your deep irritation with crossdressers. For me, it's not just about the clothes, and is much more about the emotional roles which men and women are expected to play. While men are partly responsible for this dichotomy, I think women are too, so I don't feel I need an "excuse".

      Why is wearing dresses "lame for all of us"?


    2. Hi Vivienne.

      Yep, you'd be right- I'm irritated. I think that's how I found my way to your site as you're the first crossdresser who I think actually acknowledges that most of what's written out there is BS. I agree completely with the Erotic Target theory. Heck, I'm living with all this on a daily basis with my husband, and looking at it from the outside, I can readily say most who crossdress do NOT see themselves clearly. I fear they don't see themselves at all. They see an unattainable fantasy that has pretty much clouded every area of their life from childhood until now, to the point where most are in unvarying degrees of elation or miserable. They desire what they see in the mirror, yet their reflection is a lie. Really, the whole thing's a mess.

      But then , men are weird.

      As for dresses, well forgive me for seeming sexist but I'd suggest the dang things were a male invention. Easy access springs to mind?? But anyway, they're really not comfortable or practical and as an ex model who's worn many a dress, I know pants are the preferred comfort option. Maybe women crave comfort more than men? This wouldn't surprise me. As I've already said..

      Men. Are. Weird.

    3. Hi again. Thanks for continuing this conversation. I want to say that I completely accept your point of view. I know that what I do makes other people bewildered, uncomfortable and angry sometimes. The purpose of this blog is to create dialogue between all parties.

      I agree with you that many crossdressers lie to themselves (and others); that some aspects of their lives are a fantasy, and that they see a distorted version of themselves.

      Would you mind signing your posts with some sort of name, just to differentiate you from other anonymous posters? (If you prefer, we can continue this conversation by email. You can find my email address on my About Me page).

      I am not sure dresses are a male invention. I suspect most early humans (certainly in warm countries) wore robes of one kind or another; it being comparatively easy to weave cloth into sheets which you drape round yourself, rather than the complex tailoring required to make trousers and jackets. Plenty of cultures still have robe-like or skirt-like garments for both men and women.

      As for women craving comfort, plenty of men do too! But I think for crossdressers, the psychological rewards of what we do outweigh the slight physical discomforts (and impracticalities) from garments and shoes.


  9. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really
    appreciate your efforts andd I am waiting for your next post
    thanks once again.