Sunday 15 March 2015

Faking It - Part One

One of my favourite podcasts is the one from Freakonomics Radio. Presented by Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner, and frequently featuring the other co-author Steve Levitt, it is a whimsical, funny and fascinating look at the "hidden side of everything". If you haven't read the book, or its sequel, you should stop reading this and go out and do so immediately.

The fundamental premise of the books is that economics isn't just about money: it's about incentives of every kind. Any kind of gain or loss, any kind of reward or punishment. And that humans respond to incentives in predictable ways. The book provides many astonishing examples of statistical evidence of its claims, but the podcast builds on some of the details. Here is a partial transcript from the episode Faking It.
Dubner: You keep kosher. How kosher do you keep?
Kara: Extremely kosher. We allow no non-kosher foods into our kitchen, our refrigerator; we have three different sets of plates, plus another one for Passover—the whole nine yards.
Dubner: What’s your relationship with bacon?
Kara: (laughs) It’s secret and illicit–It was probably the first thing that I started cheating with.
Dubner: You cheat with bacon?
Kara: Again, not in my own kitchen, but I’ll go out and order bacon and pancakes. But at home it would be simply pancakes.
Dubner: Now, does you husband know about this?
Kara: He knows, he knows, he’s very forgiving.
Dubner: He knows because you tell him, or because you come home with the scent of your lover on your lips?
Kara: (laughs) A little of both, I have to admit.
Dubner: So you’re not really faking it with him, correct?
Kara: Correct, but we don’t tell my mother-in-law.
If you're thinking this post will be talking about how it feels to be a man who sometimes pretends to be a woman, then you will be disappointed. This post is about how my "ordinary" daily life involves faking it. This post touches on a previous post of mine which deals with privacy and secrecy, which was also inspired by a discussion on a podcast. Dubner really got me thinking.
Dubner: If the human psyche were a big map, nestled somewhere between the Sea of Cheating and the Valley of Lying, you’d come to the Kingdom of Faking It. I know what you’re thinking: No– I don’t fake it.
But actually I was thinking: yes, I do, every day. The examples which he provides are very similar, uncomfortably similar, to how I go about my life. In the example above, a Jewish woman admits to enjoying bacon, despite maintaining the façade of rigid observance of Jewish dietary laws. In another example in the podcast, a happily childless couple living in the Deep South pretend to attend church and pretend to be trying for a family because it is easier to get by in a society which expects those things. (They have gone so far as to choose a particular church which they pretend to attend, so that if the conversation gets a little more detailed, they are not immediately revealed).

Dubner even goes so far as to describe in detail Barack Obama's attempts to convince his voters that he is a regular churchgoer, and how he came a cropper when the preacher he claimed to admire turned out to have said some very questionable things.

I went to a private high school. My parents saved hard to get the money to send me there. I rubbed shoulders with kids who were from very wealthy families, and very quickly learned that my own modest background just didn't stand up. As a result, I started to pretend that I had travelled widely; that my father owned a luxury sports car; that we were wealthier than we really were. I hated myself for this pretence. I hated the fact that I had to be careful not to get caught out in a lie or a contradiction ("Wait a minute, I thought you said it was a green Aston Martin?"). I hated that it made me feel so inferior that I had to pretend to be something else, just to fit in.

Why doesn't Kara come clean? It seems to take a lot of effort to keep kosher as rigidly as she does, and yet she admits she breaks it with relish. Why not simply say: hey, I like bacon! Deal with it! Surely it's harder to maintain the pretence than just to abandon it? But I get it. By standing up, distancing herself from the observances of her community, Kara would be sending out a powerful message of dissonance with its core values. It is a lot easier to pretend, in front of people, and scoff her bacon quietly, behind the scenes. (There is a good chance her mother-in-law is doing the same!) And those societal forces extend right up as far as the President.

I am sure that most people who are doing this are not doing it for malicious reasons, but because the little white lies slightly oil the wheels of society. It's easier to fake it, to blend in. And to some extent, all of us, from the greatest to the least, is doing it too, to some extent.
Dubner: I’m a big fat faker, just like... Brian, the guy with a fake church, and Kara — that’s the woman who can’t tell her kosher-keeping family how much she loves bacon. Scientists have a framework for talking about this problem: signalling theory. It’s my way of telling the world that I’m a good friend; I’m not a sociopath; I’m a good candidate for that job you’re offering, or that last slot you have at an Ivy League school, or the sex you’re willing to have with someone. I’m faking it because I want you to like me, and I know I’m not worth liking (my italics).
I included this quote because it sums it up perfectly for me. It explains why, at school, I felt I had to concoct fake skiing holidays and fake sports cars, because I felt that my own personal qualities were insufficient.

And it also explains why, right now, I am faking it as an ordinary man with an ordinary life. I hide my crossdressing identity, even though that costs a lot of effort, because it's easier to just pretend it doesn't exist in public, then do it quietly, behind the scenes, where nobody can see. And, just as in high school, I hate the way that makes me feel. I am also fearful that if people find out, there will be unpleasant consequences. But I am also fed up; fed up of the effort it is costing me to make the pretence, and fed up of the sensation that people like the person they think I am rather than the person I actually am.

Portrait of Vivienne by Hannah
But lately, something has changed. I have come out to two of my friends. The first is a woman, whom I respect and admire greatly for her wisdom and compassion. She would also describe herself as a feminist, which gave me pause, and I sounded her out first by trying to engage her in conversation about the whole bathroom thing.

We were sitting in a café, and she knew I had something to tell her. I more or less blurted it out, and then started to talk about it very rapidly, but she silenced me by holding up her hand. "It's fine," she said. "It's cool". And there it was. I had more acceptance from her in the ten minutes of that conversation than in the ten previous years from my wife.

She asked a lot of searching and penetrating questions: had I considered hormones? Or surgery? I was disarmed by her directness. And all the way home, I was anxious: how would it affect our friendship? But there was also a great sense of relief, of being unburdened.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a male colleague. Again he is a man I admire, for his emotional awareness, his insightfulness, and his ability to relate to his masculinity without compromising any of these things. And again, I told him. He was visibly surprised, but has also been completely accepting. This second time around, it was easier to have the conversation. I wasn't sure I would get much sympathy from a man, but he tells me he completely understands it. Again he was curious, but about different things. Did I have a fem name? How did I choose it? Did I go out dressed to clubs to meet others?

I told both of my friends about this blog, and they have both visited. It seems not to have affected my working relationship with either of them, and they don't seem to have lost any of the respect for me which I think they both had to start with. Both of them, independently, have said they would like to meet Vivienne, and I will be sure to let you know if this happens.

Whether I tell anyone else, or whom I tell, I am still not sure. I already feel much better about myself. Both my friends have been able to see the positive side, the funny side of crossdressing, which are aspects of it which I haven't really been able to enjoy much. What I was looking for, most of all, and got from both of those wonderful people, was simple acceptance. Now I no longer feel like I am faking it, at least with those people, and I feel that the closet door has sprung open a little wider.

And to quote the punchline of a very old joke, it's better than bacon.

My thanks to Hannah for the lovely portrait of Vivienne. You can check out Hannah's blog here.

You can find the followup to this article here: Faking It- Part Two.


  1. It is so nice to see a new blog Vivienne, I was beginning to think you'd gone off the grid for good. I'm glad you are back! Your topic hit close to home but I guess that's not surprising since most of us are faking it now, or we have done so in the past. For trans people, faking it is a necessity at some point. Today, even though I have come to grips with my trans nature and I express myself socially, I still keep it from most of my family and all of my co-workers. So while I'm out I am also faking it a lot of the time. I often wonder if I should just come clean to everyone and forgo the effort necessary to keep on faking it, but I'm neither ready for that, nor do I see the need.



    1. Hi Sally.

      Thanks for your kind comments. I've been working through some personal issues, but I have a lot of material for blog posts, so I am definitely not quitting!


  2. I suspect quite a few in our Yahoo group would take exception to the term "faking it", Vivienne. That implies that crossdrssing is not real and I don't think you believe that. It's more about our dual-gendered nature, problem being that for some of us, me included, our fem and male sides are not in balance. I should say, "I told you so" as we often are much more accepted by our friends than our wives. Both of my two best friends here in Merida, one female and one male. are OK with me and in fact I've been out partying as Tasi with my male friend. Actually my wife told her sister, but she didn't believe it. I don't think she looked at Sister House though

    1. Hi Tasi,

      (Thanks for the shout-out on TG Women).

      I am certain that some people will object to the term "faking it". My own view of that is that those people are faking it to _themselves_. I think all human interaction requires a degree of subtle dishonesty. Did you think the meat was overcooked? No! It was fine! Does my bum look big in this? No! You look great!

      In the podcast, they suggest that we _teach_ our children to fake it. We tell them "Say sorry (for hitting your sister." (Mumbled "sorry"). "Now say it _like_you_mean_it!"

      We don't say "Now mean it!" We say "Say it like you mean it!"

      Coming out to my friends was tremendously liberating, but I was naturally terrified of consequences, which so far haven't arisen.


  3. Excellent post. It is nice to see you back. I liked the equation of the concepts of Freakonomics to the duality of being a CD. I balance my being a guy with CD tendencies but often find myself being both at the same time.
    I have found some level of acceptance with my wife but she does not want others to find out about it so I try to respect her wishes.
    Good points.
    Looking forward to more of your musings.

    1. Many thanks Pat. I have found economics to have some powerful insights about how humans (including me) behave.

      For example, in Iran, the penalties for open homosexuality are extreme, but sex-change is legal. There is therefore a powerful disincentive to try to live as a gay man, and an unpalatable way out. So I am sure that some gay men have SRS as a means of being able to live with a man. They don't transition because of gender dysphoria but homosexuality.

      I would love to talk to some of those people and find out what they actually think (rather than what the Western media thinks). It's quite possible we (including me) have a simplistic, Western view about it all.

      Anyway, I am very pleased you enjoyed the post, and I hope to have more soon!


  4. Vivienne,
    I'd like to mirror the welcome back from everyone else. I'm so happy for you to have someone else to share "Vivienne" with. I do hope your friends get to meet Vivienne because you might get to experience something I did when I came out to my best friend. He pulled me in and hugged me. He told me he supported me and that if this made me happy then it was fine with him. Did it change anything between us? nope! We still play golf, we still watch football on TV, he asked me to speak at his wedding, etc. I find other people sometimes much more supportive to me than I am to me.

    Regarding Faking it - I think we all do to some degree. I agree with Tasi that Cross-Dressing isn't fake, but I also understand that sometimes I feel like I'm faking the whole thing. I know I'm not, but the arguments in my head still go on.

    Welcome Back Vivienne - please know that you were missed.

    1. Thanks so much Janice. I am both excited and terrified by the thought of meeting my friends as Vivienne. Will they be amused? Impressed? Horrified? I find myself thinking: the theoretical prospect of being friends with a crossdresser sounds like it could be cool. The cold reality might be a whole different kettle of fish!

      "Much more supportive to me than I am to me" is a very powerful comment that really resonates with me. I am aware that, at least on some level, I am looking for _permission_ to be a crossdresser. I frequently withhold it from myself for all sorts of reasons, and my wife withholds it from me for all sorts of different ones.

      Perhaps by reaching out to my friends, I am looking for, not just acceptance, but _approval_. Still, it's been a big step forward.


  5. Hi Vivienne
    Another welcome back from someone who has really missed your thoughtful and incisive insights into the strange world we inhabit.
    I am so pleased you have found 2 friends to share your secret with, even if they have not yet met Vivienne.
    As an amateur economist (those that can do... those that can't teach) I fully understand the rationale behind us 'faking it' in order to retain the public persona we wish to portray. While I am not familiar with Freakonomics I have come across Tim Hartford, 'the undercover economist', who also applies economic theories to everyday experiences.
    Your post has motivated me to try to apply cost-benefit analysis to the decisions we make about how and whether to pursue our propensity to cross-dress. At present the ideas are all in my head and not yet written down to share but, if I have time in the next few days, I will email you my ramblings.
    I am so glad you have no plans to quit blogging.
    Best wishes

    1. Hi Sam,

      Thanks for your lovely and encouraging comments. I adore Tim Harford, and I am a subscriber to "More or Less", his weekly mathematical and statistical podcast. In addition, I own two of his books.

      I have actually been moderately busy on answering questions, but it isn't as rewarding as this blog. I hope to provide more in the coming months!


  6. Vivienne,

    It has been too long. When I read your blog I understood "faking it" as masking a part of your self (like the love of bacon) out of fear of consequences as much as anything. Notice that all of the "faking it" examples were people pretending to be, in whole or in part, someone that was at odds with their true feelings or circumstances.

    I have recently written on the whole CD/TG/TS/Dual or Bi-Gendered quagmire and the emotional/semantic contortions we go through to find a label that might be more socially acceptable or have fewer negative implications. I think this can be a form of "faking it" but faking it to ourselves. We know a label doesn't really fit who we are but we use it because calling ourselves something else opens up a Pandora's Box of issues and emotions. We can keep our "trans" self in a proper silo if we use the right terms and don't have to decide if we are actually something or someone with a quite different label all together.

    I know self proclaimed CDs who from the outside look to me to be at least Dual/Bi-Gendered. But they use the term CD because perhaps it makes it easier not to think about who they might really be or because if they are outed the stigma of being a CD is, in their mind, less than being labeled TS or even Bi-Gendered. And because nobody in the trans community can agree on the definition of anyone who isn't TS, it makes the whole process kind of a self fulfilling prophecy. I am a CD because I say I am and it fits my definition of a CD even if someone else might say--no Molly, you are most assuredly not a CD.

    I have had a number of coming out events over the past 5 years as my marriage deteriorated. Family, friends, clients, potential girl friends--I am pretty open that I am trans and while I use the term Dual/Bi-Gendered, I am willing to admit that my gender presentation is in flux and that I am in transition. But to whom, to where or what I cannot say right now.

    But I had been faking it with the women I date. I am so afraid of being rejected by them that I ceded control of when I'd present as Molly and so they ever saw was Phil. All have been "accepting" of the concept of Molly. But they are accepting an abstraction. So while they know Phil is trans her name is Molly, they really don't have a physical reference point for what that means. Since I have been growing out my hair for over a year I simply say that the biggest difference between Phil and Molly is makeup and clothes.

    So I have decided to stop faking it and put my wardrobe (meager as it is) where my sense of self is. I am going to simply say that you don't get a veto over how I look anymore and after all these months we need to be on the same page. Now obviously I wouldn't show up at one of her big family events appropriately dressed as a woman unless she had told everyone in advance because that would possibly hurtful or embarrassing. But if we are just going out on our own or with others who know about Molly then I'll show up as I decide. This was a very big deal for me and it took almost a year to get to this place. But here I am and now we'll see how not pretending Molly doesn't have a physical presence works.

    So I guess my point is that faking it was perhaps useful at some point in the past but as I became increasingly accepting of Molly and increasing frustrated with the limitations I have imposed on her, this was the right thing to do for me and ultimately for anyone I want to spend time with romantically or as a friend. And so far the world didn't stop spinning, nobody has told me never to cast a shadow on their door again and in fact have carried on with our relationship. And most importantly, I feel a whole lot better about myself because I am being real and genuine. So at least on this front, no more faking it.


    1. Hi Molly,

      Many thanks for this long and heartfelt post. I have been waiting until I had the time to fully digest it and write a decent response.

      I basically agree with everything you say. In respect of terminology, I also use the term "crossdresser" because it is purely descriptive. It doesn't say anything whatever about my motivations or my underlying psyche. I am (quite clearly) a man, but one who enjoys his feminine side (whenever he can, which is never enough).

      But I do think there can be an element of faking it to one's self too. I think this may be what happens to those unfortunate people who detransition, after seemingly making every effort to try to live as the other sex.

      It sounds as if you and I are dealing with the same emotion: being fed-up of attempting to conform to societal expectations of what we ought to be like, rather than just standing up and saying: this is me; take it or leave it.

      I must say I really applaud your courage in taking things this far. I am sure it hasn't been easy or painless. It sounds as if you have managed to reach more of a sweet spot lately, and I wish you every success and happiness.

      It's hard, though. It seems we both recognise that these moves cannot be made unilaterally. They are not simply about us, but also about others, whose discomfort is sincere, genuine and painful to us. I would really rather not cause pain to my family and friends, so every day I have the conversation: "how much will expressing more femininity cost me?" And often the answer is "too much".

      So every day I am vacillating, and every day, I am faking it.


  7. I was all set to jump in with a hearty "Welcome home!" but I see other more alert friends have beat me to it. But I still mean it, even if I'm the last to say so :-)

    Tasi, I don't think the "faking it" means that we feel our crossdressing isn't real; it just means we're pretending to be what others expect us (or what we *think* others expect us) to be. I'm pretending to be an all-American, masculine man who would never dream of doing something so awful as wearing a dress (I'm projecting what I expect the reactions of others would be to such behavior, of course; if I truly thought it was awful or even just awkward I would find a way to end it).

    It's easy in retrospect to say "I told you so" about someone who turns out to be accepting, but hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Knowing that a few people turned out to be more understanding than I would have expected doesn't change my concern that the vast majority of my friends and relatives would look with loathing upon what I do.

    Of course, my social circles are filled largely with conservative, traditional, religious rural folk whose lives don't differ much from their predecessors a century ago except they use cell phones and all-terrain vehicles for their cattle roundups. Some of them speak with open hostility about any perceived deviance from their idea of normalcy -- and to them, gay / trans / part-time crossdresser are all the same; and (from their point of view) no different from pedophiles and people who marry goats. The nicer ones at least preach the "love the sinner, hate the sin" line, although I wonder how seriously they would take that if confronted with those sins that OTHER people do but we of course don't.

    Sorry, I'm getting sidetracked a bit on a personal rant. My point is that those of us who fear coming out have good reason for that fear. In the ideal world either we could trust our friends not to be hostile or we could say "fiddle-dee-dee, if they can't accept this part of me then they're not really worthy of being my friends", but if I took that attitude I'd have all the moral high ground in the world and zero friends.

    So... I fake it.


    1. Hi Ralph,

      Thanks for swinging by to post, and Simon and Garfunkel are playing right now as I type this response.

      Telling my first colleague definitely gave me confidence about telling the second one. On the other hand, while there was a backlash from Mrs Marcus about telling the first, it was nothing compared to her distress at telling the second one. So, while it seems to be easier for me to tell, it's clearly harder for her to handle.

      It would be easy for me to tell you that, if you came out, of course you would still have friends! But they might not be the same ones as now. And I think the same is true of the bacon woman. And for you, and her, and me, that price is too high, so we pretend.


  8. Congratulations on coming out to select individuals. I'm happy to see that you're taking some steps toward self-care with your gender identity.

    I think you'll be surprised at how supportive people can be. I've come out to several dozen people before I encountered any negative affect on any relationship I have - and even so this is *by far* offset by the countless relationships that were affected in a positive manner. And it's not just my generation, i'm open with adults about my identity as well.

    I definitely encourage you to come out to more people. It gets much easier each time. Of course being open poses small risks - but the benefits are endless. You'll feel more liked for who you truly are, you'll be able to talk about your situation with your wife, and possibly enjoy some occasional social time as Vivienne just to name a few. Of course I'm not you and don't perfectly know your situation - but I have a hunch that you may be overestimating the risk. Do I recall that your wife wants you to keep this a secret? If your wife has an issue with you coming out to friends, well that's pretty selfish of her in my opinion. She doesn't want to actively participate, that's one thing, but her wanting YOU to keep this a secret (for whatever insecurities she may have) is being incredibly unsympathetic to your suffering. Sorry to be blunt about this last point (I am not saying anything bad about her as a person) but I think its something you need to realize. Does she know your level of pain?

    1. Grok posting.

      Other posters have mentioned a dual-gendereed or BiGendered duality. I suspect that applies to many cross dressers. But Western civilization demands a rigid Gender Binary.

    2. Hi Danny,

      Thanks for dropping by to post a comment. I intend to come out to more people, but not everyone, and not all at once. You are right; it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience so far.

      My wife is very threatened by crossdressing, and feels very humiliated by what others might think. She has trouble making compromises. Sure, she knows my level of pain, but she also has pain, and I can't simply ignore it. In other respects, she is fantastic.

      We are making progress, albeit millimetric.

    3. Hi Grok. Nice to see you back again.

      Since sex comes from within but gender comes from outside (imposed by society), I can't be sure what I want my gender to be. I am reasonably sure my sex is male. At the moment, society views my gender as male too, albeit an atypical male.

      I can understand why people want to relax our gender binary. But replace it with what? A third category? Fifty new categories (as in Facebook)? Or to abandon the categorisation altogether and accept gender as a continuum, or even a quality with more than one dimension to it.

      I think the problem is that there are many groups with different ideas about how to take things forward. Nobody can quite agree. It's not like we could hold a vote or put it to a public ballot. As a result, the whole thing is very confusing!

    4. "My wife is very threatened by crossdressing, and feels very humiliated by what others might think."

      Sadly I think this is too common. Even for relationships where the significant other fully supports their partners trans identity, they often experience some level of embarrassment and shame with their partner being open about it. This is likely the reason why many early transitioning male-loving MTFs have trouble keeping relationships. There is just too much shame on heterosexual men that like transgender women. It's probably somewhat less for women liking transgender individuals (male, female, or non-binary) because society seems to be okay with their sexuality being more fluid - but nonetheless there is still some stigma with it.

      So while her pain is in some respects understandable, I'm just speaking from my own experience that being forced to hide who I am, to the level of not even speaking about it, would be unbearable and quite possibly make me suicidal. Maybe that's partially just because i've adjusted socially. I'm not saying ignore her pain, I'm just advising not to ignore your own needs. That could have destructive consequences in ways you don't even realize.

    5. Hi Danny. Thanks for your response, and sorry for my delay.

      I have spent a lot of time analysing my situation, and I believe strongly that actions have consequences. In playing out the various scenarios in my head, I think that the least-worst consequences (taking me, my wife and the kids into account) is to stay in the marriage and try to work it through somehow.

      I suspect that many people who are older and wiser will recognise this phase, and they may feel that my persistence is futile. I may even come to regret my decision! However, for the moment, I think this is the right thing, and I hope my future self is not too judgmental of my present self!