The first line of the article is this one:
Bloom: Heterosexual cross-dressers bother almost everyone.When I first read that line, I found myself agreeing with it. In fact, some of them even bother me, and I am one! If you missed Bloom's article, it's well worth a read in its entirety. I think it's also worth having a read of my post; it certainly generated a lot of discussion.
I've been thinking about why it is that crossdressing bothers us so much. As Bloom says, drag queens don't bother us. Nor do female impersonators (she cites several American examples; instead I point you to Danny la Rue, and Hinge and Bracket as popular British examples). She even points to those women in history who have had to adopt the male persona in order to succeed. And transsexuals don't bother us.
|I don't speak his language|
I cross-dress whenever I can, which is not as often as I would like. The rest of the time I live my life as if I were an ordinary man.
But my whole life I have been different from other boys and men. I am sensitive. I cry easily. I loathe many of the trappings of “traditional” masculinity (field sports, big rugged vehicles, hunting and fishing, weapons, coarse behaviour, macho posturing, or the objectification of women). I especially loathe it when other people (men or women) ascribe those things to me, or assume I must have some affinity with them, just because I was born a boy.
You might say that I should just learn to be a sensitive man and to find ways to explore and express my sensitive, caring, nurturing side in the world of men (and stick two fingers up to the knuckle-dragging bottom-feeders who would persecute me for it). But I don't: instead I choose to express those aspects of myself by attempting to experience the world of women. It's not just the clothes and the lipstick: those are merely the external manifestations of something which goes right down to my core identity as a human being. I feel much more comfortable in the company of women. I espouse feminist principles very openly. I suspect (but cannot, of course, be sure) that I have been imprinted (at a young age) to associate femininity with the aspects of my personality I cannot easily express as a man. In other words, it’s too late to change.
“Crossdressing makes you comfortable,” I am sometimes told. No. Slippers make me comfortable. Crossdressing (using that as a convenient shortcut for the whole package of stepping out of the male role and embracing the female one) is a necessity for my psychological wellbeing.
So it's a simplification (and a hurtful one) to say I just “like to dress up” or “it's all just a bit of fun”, or I am just “getting in touch with my feminine side”. It goes much deeper than that. I have powerful and irrepressible yearnings to dress, and when I do, it feels right on a level which is difficult to fully articulate. It isn't an act. It isn't a pretence. It doesn't feel like a sham.
|Kept apart: male and female|
I can see why some people need that feeling all the time. In other words, I think what separates me from them is not some huge gulf (“a cross dresser is only pretending to be a woman, while a trans woman is a woman”), but actually a considerable degree of overlap.
I have found that suggesting this makes some trans women uncomfortable: men who cross-dress in our society (and don't I know it!) are treated as figures of scorn or ridicule (or worse, sexual perversity), and I can completely see why trans women would want to distance themselves from that. But from my perspective, it is the truth.
As a male-to-female crossdresser, I do feel that some fully-transitioned people look down on me. They seem to be saying "We are nothing alike, since you are 'only' a crossdresser. Our motivations are not the same. Our behaviour is not the same. The reasons why we do what we do are not the same".
The difficulty I have is that none of these things is demonstrably true (and I admit I am a lumper, not a splitter). When I ask those people to explain their viewpoint (or occasionally challenge them) I get three basic responses:
- Because I don't automatically accept their word, I must be transphobic, just like all those others.
- I haven't done enough reading, and if only I would read this book or that blog it would all become clear; or
- I can't possibly understand because I am "only" a crossdresser.
|The story we tell ourselves|
But here is what I think: society has a story we tell ourselves. That story is that there are two genders, male and female. The most "acceptable" people are those who start off on one side and stay there. But most people are (I think) comfortable with people who start off on one side and go all the way across to the other, because that just about fits the story.
I think it’s easier for cisgendered people to accept a person who “was” once a man but “is” now a woman, and it’s harder for them to accept that, actually, there are a lot of us somewhere in the middle zone (perhaps the rainbow zone?) between those two boxes (including some people who might identify or “qualify” as cis-gendered). (Likewise, it's acceptable to be a drag queen, who is male in his normal life. Putting on a dress is only an act, right?)
But society is very uncomfortable with people in that middle zone, because they don't fit the story: it might be people who choose to be neither one nor the other gender, intersex people, or people (like me) who trespass across the middle zone from time to time. (I think that explains why there is tremendous pressure on intersex people to align themselves to one or other gender).
|Which one do you think I am?|
Of course, the story is wrong, at all levels from the cell, to the person, to society as a whole. But that is still the story we tell; even some trans people tell it. I think a lot of trans people overtly, or subconsciously, reinforce that gender binary. I think it helps them to feel more comfortable about themselves, and I think it helps cisgendered people to feel more comfortable about them.
I don’t identify as an ordinary man. I don’t identify as a woman either. I am not quite sure what I identify with! I sometimes describe myself on Quora as a "part-time woman". And I want to say to those people who think they are so different: we have more that unites us than divides us, and we should concentrate on our commonalities, not our differences.
As for the stereotypes of men and women, they are created by society. But I am a member of society. I cannot simply step aside from its conventions, nor ignore its rules (whether they please me or not). Even though there are many, many people who don't fit the stereotypes, the stereotypes persist. It does seem, though, that society is changing: it is becoming more acceptable to not fit the binary.
Come and join me in the middle zone. There are plenty of comfortable seats, and the wine has just been opened!
Addendum 28th August 2016
My thanks to Patricia for sending me a link to this article by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper. It's articulate, forthright and powerful, and adds another perspective to the idea of the "spectrum of gender" You can read the full thing here.