I saw a post on a crossdressing forum that left me a bit puzzled. The person posting was recounting a recent trip in the vanilla world. They had dressed in ‘women’s clothes’ but these clothes were all so androgynous (jeans, dress shirt etc) that the person said that anyone seeing them may have thought that they were ‘men’s clothes’. I cannot verify this statement as no pictures were published.
This raised some questions, for me, in relation to what is meant by ‘crossdressing’. If you are dressed in such a way that you are not obviously dressed in clothes of the ‘non-conforming gender’ then are you in fact crossdressing, or are you just slightly eccentrically dressed? What is the essence of being ‘crossdressed’ and does it matter?
On a related note, many crossdressers bemoan the fact that ‘women can wear masculine clothes in public with impunity, why can’t we? Why does society judge us for our clothing choices, but not women?’ To my mind this misses the point. Women who wear ‘masculine (or should that be less feminine) clothes are not crossdressing. They are not (at least not in most western societies, anymore) subverting any societal norms and the clothes that they are wearing are still essentially women’s clothes. Jeans and a t shirt may originally have been ‘boys clothes’, but in the vast majority of cases when a women wears jeans and a t shirt, she is wearing a women’s ‘cut’ of these clothes. They are tighter, ‘fancier’ and designed differently to a similar item made for men. These clothes were bought in the women’s section etc and often women wearing these clothes will wear typically feminine accessories (shoes, jewelry, hair etc).
This is a very different proposition for the male to female crossdresser. This person will want to wear quintessentially women’s clothes, bought in a women’s store and matched with women’s shoes, accessories and they will model themselves on women’s features (wigs, make up etc). Very few male to female crossdressers would feel satisfied wearing a kilt and associated ‘traditional Scottish’ apparel. We want to imitate, mimic and otherwise ‘become’ women as much as is possible. Wearing kilts does not achieve this. Indeed a male to female crossdresser may well want to wear a pair of jeans and will wear a pair of women’s jeans, when dressed, in preference to a pair of men’s jeans. Thus the wearing of jeans (arguably a masculine item of clothing) is secondary to the cut and place of purchase of the garment.
I strongly suspect that if a women were to wear a pair of work boots, a pair of men’s denim jeans with a man’s t shirt, cut her hair into a masculine style and generally ‘butch up’ she would probably attract as much attention as the male to female crossdresser does. Society would immediately identify the subverted gender role and get suspicious. The fact is the vast majority of women not wearing skirts and dresses are simply not doing this. They remain squarely in their assigned gender. Of course there are places where this is not true (parts of Africa and the Middle East), but I am confining myself to liberal western states for the sake of argument. I do not think this is unduly reductionist.
Now if we look at the person saying they crossdressed by wearing clothes that were bought in the women’s section, but that were also not obviously (to the casual observer) women’s clothes, was this person in fact crossdressed? I am not clear as to whether the individual was wearing make up, women’s shoes, a wig etc, but I also wonder if this matters. Crossdressing is a very broad church. Not everyone wants to ‘blend’ or ‘pass’. Not everyone dresses in public, some do it purely in private, whether for sexual kicks or not, others take great pleasure in transforming themselves as completely as possible into their concept of the feminine, others want to change their sex. In this context a transexual may consider a transvestite to be a cheap imitation of the ‘real thing’, whilst that same transvestite may look down at the fetishistic crossdresser as some sort of interloper. None of this is helpful.
The point is that we all have different motives for crossdressing and different desired outcomes. A friend summed it up very well when she said that much depends upon who is doing the observing. Some will drive themselves mad trying to figure out what is between the person’s legs, which is none of their business anyway instead of finding out if they are a nice person worth knowing and actually speaking to them as a human being before trying to assign a gender to them. And others will wonder, think ‘interesting’ and then move on to more productive thoughts. Critical to this thinking is that all that matters is what the individual wants to achieve.
It is not up to society (whether broadly, or more narrowly the trans community) to decide what is or is not crossdressing. As long as the individual is happy with the clothes they are wearing then who are we to pass judgement? If you feel crossdressed, if how you are dressed is fulfilling and makes you happy then so be it. It is not up to others in the community to assert hierarchies. Crossdressing is a highly individual activity with nearly as many motives, goals, causes and behaviours as there are people. We have more to gain by standing together in a mutually accepting manner than we have by splintering into different groups. We are so badly misunderstood by broader society that we do not need to add to this confusion by back stabbing, bitching and being divisive. We are all individuals seeking to express something of our innate being and we should support and celebrate each other, our similarities and our differences. I may be naive and an idealist but I would rather see a united trans community than a splintered and divided one.