The first incident is this one. A grey-haired man wearing female heels, underwear, and basically nothing else, fronted up at an airport to board a plane for an internal flight across the US. Passengers complained about the man, but the airline (US Air) allowed him to board the aircraft because they "don't have a dress code policy".
The man, identified only as "Howard", says he is a business consultant, and "does it for fun". As can be seen here, he willingly poses for photos taken by other passengers. This incident is not isolated; it seems Howard, from Phoenix, likes to fly around the US wearing ridiculous female attire, and there are quite a few pictures and videos of him out there.
Howard asserts: "It has never been my intent to put people in a situation where they feel uncomfortable. I try to respect other people's opinions. As long as my dress is not indecent from a legal perspective, and so long as the airline does not object, I have the right to wear what I wear. And others have the right to wear what they want to wear. This is just something I do for fun. I don't mean any harm."
Seriously, though, what is he thinking? As a crossdresser myself, going out dressed in public is desirable and pleasurable. But only (and here is the important bit) if people behave decently. Howard may be having fun, and acting within the law or his rights-- perhaps only just-- but his behaviour is awful. This sort of thing is exactly why I don't want to be associated with crossdressing. He is setting out to deliberately provoke outrage, and by doing so, he is giving the rest of us a bad name. If I saw him dressed like that in an airport, I would protest, loudly.
Okay, the next incident is a few years old now. Rob Moodie, a New Zealander, joins the police force as a young man, rises to the rank of inspector, retires, takes a law degree, and subsequently a PhD. He sounds like a man of irrepressible competence. Then he starts turning up to court wearing girly frocks, then officially changes his name to Miss Alice.
His motivation for this ridiculous behaviour was reported to be "a gender-bending protest against the male-dominated corruption of New Zealand's judicial system".
The NZ Police does mention him on its website, but is uncomfortably tight-lipped about his biography.
Even if New Zealand's judicial system is male dominated (aren't they all?) and even if he isn't the only lawyer in the world who likes to wear women's clothing, how could he possibly do anything other than undermine his own arguments, and attract scorn and contempt? I mean, would you take him seriously? Would you hire him to defend you against criminal charges, or to plead your case in the High Court? (Although just maybe, the judge would throw out the case on the grounds of insanity-- of the counsel, not the defendant!).
What Rob and Howard are doing is not harmless fun. It tarnishes the rest of us by reputation. Members of the public, looking at them, might conclude that all crossdressers are flagrant, disturbing and unrestrained. And I have to say, that would be a hard point to refute. Men like these may be few in number, but they have an influence out of proportion to their number, by their memorability and deliberate visibility.
The third incident is the most recent, and is very different in tone. Bradley Manning, the US Army soldier who leaked the largest cache of secret documents ever released to the public, to WikiLeaks, was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison for his trouble.
I know next to nothing about Bradley Manning, although he has been at the centre of a very, very large media storm.
As a young military officer, he must have surely known that if he violated his duties of secrecy, he would be severely punished. Was he amoral, treacherous, and malicious? Was he acting defiantly, out of an unshakeable moral sense that what he was doing was right? Or was he a disturbed and volatile young man who should never have been allowed anywhere near national secrets? (And I bet there has been a lot of uncomfortable discussion behind tightly-closed doors: "Okay, whose idea was it to give Manning the passwords?")
I can't answer that question. All I can say is that it was brought up in the trial, in his defence, that Manning is a young man of uncertain sexual orientation, who has deliberately dressed as a woman. In fact, a photo was shown in support of this point. It's not a very good photo, but it makes the point.
Whatever you may make of Bradley actions, or his punishment, the association between Manning's actions and his crossdressing carries extremely uncomfortable implications. For me at least, it seemed to be saying: of course this young man is unstable! He likes to dress as a woman! He must be crazy! Any man who dresses like that can't be OK.
From my perspective, it doesn't matter to me whether Manning is a transvestite or not (but see below!). What matters is the way this has been portrayed in the court, associating crossdressing with mental instability, moral weakness, and dangerous national disloyalty. In this case, it's not Manning himself who is not helping, but his defence. (Though I must admit I would clutch at any straws, even this one, if I thought it would keep me out of prison).
In any event, I suspect that Manning's next few years in prison at Fort Leavenworth will be uncomfortable. And I mean, seriously.
Sometimes events can change pretty rapidly. In the last couple of days, Manning has released this statement:
As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility).Just a couple of comments spring to mind. The use of the phrase "I am Chelsea Manning", not "My name is Chelsea Manning" is a powerful statement of identity. The statement "I am female" is less clear-cut, partly because it's hard to argue that it's true. Finally, Manning's remark about "except in official mail" seems to be an overt recognition that she can insist who she is, all she likes, but the Army will not recognise that insistence.
The Army's statement is as follows:
All inmates are considered soldiers and are treated as such with access to mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and behavioral science non-commissioned officers with experience in addressing the needs of military personnel in pre- and post-trial confinement. The army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder.So that's that, then. Paris Lees, herself a transwoman who has spent time in prison, comments that Manning hid her gender-identity disorder because she feared she would be treated more harshly by the military justice system. I admit, I can see this angle (but why then bring it up at the trial?). On the other hand, I am somewhat more cynical. I can see that a young man, facing 35 years of military detention, might try to do anything-- anything-- which would mitigate the unpleasantness of that experience to some degree. To announce a desire to change sex, right now, would seem to be a desperate plea to be treated a little more gently, by what is clearly going to be a very harsh and punitive prison environment.
My concern is that this strategy backfires, and that Manning ends up being treated even more harshly. I don't blame Manning for what she is trying to do, but I believe that she is nowhere near in the right place to be taking decisions of this magnitude.
Addendum 11th October 2013
For the detailed accounts and pictures of someone who regularly flies crossdressed, and does so responsibly and with circumspection, I suggest Kimberly Huddle's blog here.
Addendum 18th July 2014
Addendum 9th May 2016
My thanks to Megan Martin for drawing my attention to the case of Tyler Grant, who identifies as genderqueer (and prefers gender-neutral pronouns), who was thrown out of their local fast food outlet in Texas by a police officer when they tried to get a burger wearing this leopardskin number, with stockings and heels. The whole thing was recorded on video, so we know it happened.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that it was transphobia driven,” Grant says. “I explained (to the manager) that… (my outfit) was no more revealing than yoga pants and a tank top.”
Grant's friend adds another layer: “Now I don’t know if there are dressing regulations at <burger outlet> or not, but the officer didn’t seem to intend on enforcing any (regulations) while under the assumption that Tyler was female. The fact that he suddenly had a problem with it after finding out that Tyler was a ‘dude’ is what I find to be discriminatory. It appeared that he was okay with a girl wearing such clothing, but for (Tyler) to wear such clothes was suddenly crossing the line.”
I have to say, Tyler looks a knockout in that outfit. I wish I looked half that good. But seriously, wearing that to go out for a burger? Megan points out that any woman might easily face difficulties going out in the evening wearing that outfit, and Grant's innocent denial seems hopelessly naïve at best. For this, Tyler Grant gets admitted to the Seriously Not Helping Hall of Fame. Ta-daaah!
Further applicants welcome!