A few weeks ago I posted a question on why do I crossdress. This was an inconclusive article as the question is very difficult to answer. But it has got me thinking more and more about the act of crossdressing, which is interwoven with gender identity, self-esteem, self-image, sexuality, aesthetics and other issues.I hope to explore some more of my thinking in this article.
I think it is necessary that despite assertions to the contrary by some members of the trans* community we must acknowledge that there is a sexual dimension to crossdressing in its broadest sense. Let me explain. At the very least, the received societal norm in sexual relations is that the female is the ‘passive’ party and that females are pursued by males. Females thus dress provocatively* to attract the attention of the male who then approach the female, presumably in an effort to establish some sort of sexual relationship and/or seduce her. Crossdressers obviously subvert this process and it is this subversion that creates much confusion.
The male crossdresser who is attracted to women causes confusion. Why would the male crossdresser dress as a woman if the whole point of the way women dress is to attract males? Is the male crossdresser trying to be sexually attractive to other males? Is this whole ‘no really, I am 100 percent straight’ story just a facade? Meanwhile if you are male that is attracted to other males why are you dressing as a woman? Surely males that want to have sex with other males would be attracted to male looking people? Either way it seems that the crossdresser is either insane or a liar.
The situation is exacerbated, by our love of ‘sexy’ clothing. We seem to have a special love for high heels, hosiery short skirts, figure hugging dresses, eye-catching make up (think false lashes, pouty lips etc), finger and toe nails to die for and in many cases large (fake) breasts and of course jewelry. We definitely like to dress to impress and for those of us wanting to ‘pass’, ‘blend’ or otherwise function in polite society we actively need to tone this aspect of our personalities down. All of this seems to be the very things that would be worn to attract the attention of a potential (male) mate. This behaviour would therefore ostensibly support the case for us being confused and confusing people. I cannot speak for the female to male community in this regard but it seems, from my rather superficial observations that the male attributes (broad shoulders, facial and body hair, upper body strength etc) are similarly valued.
Cast your attention, if you will, dear reader, to the image you may have of a 14 to 16 year old girl, going out for a night out with her friends. She is quite possibly wearing a short skirt, a figure hugging outfit that exposes a fair bit of skin (and who can blame her, she certainly has the figure to do so and it will sadly not last forever). She has probably laid the make-up on a bit thick. She may have spent hours styling her hair (whether or not it works or not, is up to your better judgment) and what, has she stuffed her bra to give her ‘girls’ a bit more ‘presence’? I am quite sure she has.
It would seem that the adolescent girl’s presentation is not that dissimilar to the crossdresser. In fact I think many crossdressers are in at least some respects adolescents at heart in that they have not had the time in the world en femme to fully experience womanhood and as such they behave a lot like the teenage girl. Also in the case of male crossdressers who are attracted to women, they may objectify women as part of being attracted to them. In this process they create archetypes of female attractiveness. They then seek to express these archetypes when they dress. Thus large breasts, short skirts and figure hugging clothes become the staples of the crossdresser’s self expression. This is true of many crossdressers and applies to crossdressers who are attracted to women as well as crossdressers who are attracted to men. For me this is a crucial element of proving that we as human beings primarily dress for ourselves and not to attract sexual partners.
Some crossdressers may stay with this look, others may progress to other perhaps more nuanced looks. I make no judgments about this, it is merely an observation. The point I seek to make is that the crossdresser dresses in a way that they subjectively see as being attractive because that is what they find attractive about themselves. It is linked to self-image and is not an expression of their desire to be found sexually attractive by another. It is, I believe, a case of the subject objectifying someone else and then in turn objectifying the subject. In any event this proves that they are dressing in a way that they find attractive, not to attract other people.
I then ask the question, are crossdressers all that different to other people? I think not. In the main we share very similar emotions, thoughts, needs, desires etc. I therefore would argue that most people dress the way they do, not to attract potential mates, but as an expression of themselves. People dress in a way that reflects their self-image and is tied up with self-esteem, creativity, self-worth, a sense of their place in society etc. The male business executive wears a suit and tie to work because it reflects how he feels about himself as much as it is a show of his power, status etc. This is true of women as well. I see women dressing in so many different ways that reflect how they feel about themselves at the time. I believe that crossdressers are exactly the same. We dress the way we do because that is who we are and how we see ourselves at that time. It may also explain why crossdressers experience differing levels of desire to dress at different times. Sometimes we feel sexy, sometimes we feel unattractive, sometimes we want to express a feminine conception of attractiveness, sometimes a more masculine one etc.
Of course the broader society does not always understand this. Society still functions in the paradigm that women want to be sexually attractive to men and that men must pursue women. I fully acknowledge that this is not an universal truth however it is I believe a societal construct that remains in force. It also explains why crossdressing is such a big societal taboo. The last thing a red-blooded heterosexual male wants is to be thought to be homosexual (the horror). If he finds himself attracted to someone who later turns out to be genetically male (regardless of how that person was presenting at the time), then he runs the risk of being thought (either by himself or society) to be homosexual**. Transgender people are thus perceived to be a threat as they subvert the supposed natural order.
I would argue that this is an exceedingly good idea. The supposed natural order is in dire need of subversion. The fact is that women do not necessarily want to attract male sexual partners through their clothing and the idea that they do is anachronistic. There are women in committed long-term monogamous relationships, asexual women, homosexual women, women who just want to be left alone, women who prefer to do the pursuing, women who are celibate etc and they should be allowed to dress in exactly the way they want when they want without being thought of as meat, prey or whatever. If they want to wear a short skirt with a tight top accentuating their cleavage they have every right to do so. Conversely a women who wears more ‘conservative’ clothing should do so without being immediately labeled frigid, lesbian or any other supposedly derogatory term. The same is true of crossdressers. We should be free to dress the way we want to dress simply because that is the person we want to express.
Additionally I think the more we get out into the world, the more we can actually subvert these patriarchal ideas about clothing. The more we are seen, the more people will realise that people can dress attractively without being sexual objects. This may go someway to exploding notions of victim blaming in the cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment as well. If I can do something to make the world a better place I am happy to do so. Crossdressing may well be an inherently subversive act and if it is I am happy to do my part. In the meantime I am also happy to wear my stilettos, mini skirts etc and feel beautiful whilst doing so. It is a win-win really!
*By using the provocatively I mean attractive in a way to provoke a response, not necessarily trashy or slutty.
** I do not share these sentiments I simply use them to explain an observed pattern of behaviour.
Please note I write this from the perspective of a male to female crossdresser because that is what I am. I have little insight into the world of the female to male trans* person. I do not do this to exclude other points of view but because I do not want to pretend to have insight into something that I know little about.