By Marlena Dahlstrom
I have had some thoughts on the various reasons why we dress, which I'd originally posted in reply to the SO of a TS who is transitioning and who was -- understandably -- upset and puzzled that it took her husband until his 30s to realize he was a TS rather than a CD. I think it's more useful to think in terms of motivations rather than labels, although I think the type and strength of each person's motivations leads them to a different place along the transgender spectrum. It's unfortunate the terms have gotten muddied, not that I want labels to put people into little boxes, but rather as a way to understand our differences as well as our commonalities.
Much probably has to do with the still-unequal gender roles in society. If a woman acts manly, she is just trying to assert herself into a man's world. If a man acts feminine, he is surrendering his place in the world. Personal circumstances also probably make difference, depending on your family's and culture's attitude toward sex roles. It's not uncommon for "late" transitioners to have been hyper-masculine in earlier years in an effort to convince others -- but mostly themselves -- that they are really male. This is in contrast to "early" transitioners who are typically are overtly "girly" in childhood and transition as early as they can. For the "lates," CDing is transition period while they struggle with their true identity.
But not everyone becomes a TS. Myself, I reflexively cross my legs protectively at the thought of SRS. From what I've seen you're either born TS or you're not. But there are some CDs who probably do have mild gender dysphoria. As I mentioned there's "early" and "late" transitioners, which to me this suggests that the gender dysphoria of "lates", while no less real, isn't as quite as strong as the "earlys." Anne Vital, a psychologist who works with transgendered folks, speculates that first group has minimal prenatal androgenization leaving the default female gender identity intact, while the second group have some partial prenatal androgenization, which enables them to appear and act normally as males, even it doesn't feel "right." (See www.avitale.com/developmentalreview.htm).
Taking that a step further along the spectrum, it seems reasonable that there are those who feel partly- to wholly-female, but not strongly enough to do HRT or SRS. These are likely girls who constantly feel the need to dress and might dress most or all of the time if they could. Or to put it another way, these are the folks that Virginia Prince originally referred to as "transgendered" before that became an umbrella term encompassing all of us.
Maybe the difference between them and "conventional" TSs is how they feel about their male bodies -- they may not be fond of it, but they don't regard it as an unbearable birth defect or deformity. Again if there's a spectrum, then it also explains why some TSs do HRT and may have facial surgery and implants, but don't feel the need to do SRS (assuming they aren't skipping SRS due to other reasons, such as finances, family situations, etc.) From what I've heard from these individuals, they regard their male genitalia as an annoyance, but not something completely alien.
GWs who fall into this "lesser-end" group probably just resolve their mild gender dysphoria by being manish women or butch lesbians, since there's are pre-existing groups they can find a niche in. (Note: I'm _not_ saying all butch lesbians are gender dysphorics, I'm just saying that since there's a visible group that a mildly trans-woman can slot herself into and satisfy some/most of her gender discomfort, she may not consciously think of herself as having gender dysphoria. (digression) Interestingly I've heard of one FTM who was a bit disappointed after her transition because he went from being the most macha lesbian around to a short, slightly-built, "wimpy" (his words) guy. (digression) I suppose maybe there's a similar dynamic for some of those who are "femme" gays and effete straights.
Since those in the "mild to middle" group probably doesn't goes in much for counseling with TG-specialising pyschologists (at least compared to TSs seeking to transition), they fall under the radar and therefore aren't accounted for in their theories.
In my case, I've had issues with men's gender role, but I've never doubted my maleness, nor would want to change sex except in a fantasy situation of being able to switch back and forth. (I suppose I might consider myself a "twin spirit" since if various online personality tests are to be believed, I've got a fairly androgynous personality. If I was braver and society were a bit more accepting, I might do the Eddie Izzard "tough androgynous" look, being more on the male side than female side compared to "twin spirits" I know who choose to present as women. but don't do HRT, etc. OTOH, I have to say I _do_ like being in full guy mode, as well as being in femme mode. So call me flexible, or maybe I am just exercising a women's prerogative to change her mind.... g) So how to you account for folks like me?
My own speculation is that men cross-dress for a variety of reasons. (And it's generally men, since women can be "masculine" in everyday life without overtly stepping out of society's gender role.) The reasons include:
- Submissives -- They're most visibly prevalent in the BDSM scene. Their primary kick is submission and what could be more "humiliating" than being emasculated. However, forced femme is a pretty common fantasy among both CDs and TSs, and I think that it's way for T-girls to avoid guilt and shame (similar to women who have rape fantasies to cope with anxiety about their sexuality), and it may also be a wish-fulfillment rewriting their childhoods where they were forced homme.
- Fetishism -- Since most of us start dressing around adolescence, I think that's probably a common spark, even if the tinder was laid by other causes. (Some CDs do start in childhood and I can't really speak to what starts it for them, since that's not my own story.) Not surprising, since given my teenage hormones _anything_ having to to do with girls had sexual overtones. But there's studies showing this driver often fades over time.
However it does seem like a number of girls do have an "embracing their inner slut" aspect. This might have a couple causes. First, underneath the dress, we've still got testosterone-fueled sex drives. Second, since of lot of girls only get to come out occasionally, they're still teenage girls emotionally and strutting their stuff the way some of the GWs did at that age. Just like the over-done make-up corresponds with the Bozo years of teenage GGs. Especially since there's no parents to say "You're not going out dressed like that!", nor the peer groups who might label you the school slut, both of which cause most GGs to tone things down sooner or later. Third, women still generally control how far things go. So it's a fantasy projection of "if _I_ were a women I'd never say no."
- Sensuality/Feeling Good -- Let's face it, silk feels nicer than denim. If this is the main driver, it may be enough just to wear some panties under their guy clothing and they don't feel the need to appear as a woman. In a similar vein, getting a manicure or facial feels great, and fortunately it's now acceptable for men to do that sort of thing, whereas it was considered odd only a few years ago so you had to be a "women" to enjoy it.
- Looking good -- Women's clothes can be more fun -- shoes, shoes, shoes! -- especially if your guy clothes are drab by comparison. And while I'm not sure if I'm more attractive wearing make-up than in guy-mode, I'm certainly prettier, since make-up by definition helps improve your appearance. It'll be interesting to see if the metrosexual revolution satisfies this urge for some.
- Showing off -- Men in our culture don't have license to be exhibitionistic the way women do. For example, I used to work with a GW who just loved showing off her body in a tight summer dress and heels. A guy who did the equivalent would probably get hauled into HR for a talk about sexual harassment. It does seem like a lot of CDs go through a phase of acting like 14-year-girls who've just discovered womanhood -- too much make-up, too much on display, etc. But you'll also find some GWs who enjoy being exhibitionistic -- as you'll see at any fetish event or nightclub. 'Course if you're _expected_ to constantly be on display that's not necessarily fun. But I think CDs are generally acting out an idealized version of what being a woman would be like. Dress up doesn't include bloating, cramps, doing the second-shift of housework after a long day at the office, pay discrimination, etc.
- Expressing your "feminine" side -- It seems like there's a lot of girls who in guy mode are in either macho or logical professions/cultures. The Myers-Briggs personality theory has the idea that everyone has a "shadow self" that's the opposite of your dominant personality traits, i.e. if you're extroverted, you've got a introverted part of yourself, if you're natural temperament is intellectual, you've got a feeling-oriented "shadow self" as well. MB argues these "shadow" parts tend to surface more as we age, developing a more rounded personality. For guys who's en homme personality is macho or Spock-like, I think CDing may be a way of dealing with parts of themselves that they've compartmentalized off, but that are "leaking" out. For guys who with more androgynous personalities, it's a way of letting out the more sensitive parts of their personalities that they don't feel comfortable doing so en homme for fear of being labeled wussy.
- Being someone else -- A fair number of CDs dress as a form of stress relief according to various studies. And what could be a better way to get away from yourself than to be someone else, especially some who's even a different gender (and perhaps a different race in our fantasies). For me, I think that's a significant reason why I started since I didn't really fit in during high school. In this sense, putting on a dress ain't that different than putting on a Starfleet uniform or being a hard-core Ren Faire participant. (Again, has anyone else noticed that these kinds of "alternative" activities, tend to attract a lot of engineers and programmers? It's as if putting on the costume allows them enough distance to act out parts of their personalities that they wouldn't do otherwise.) What's different is we're explicitly stepping away from some of the pressures "to be a man." Instead of getting up the nerve to ask someone to dance, we can be the ones who can sit back and choose who we accept.
- Mastery --The desire to become skilled and competent at what one does. I don't think this is something that starts men cross-dressing, but it's a reinforcer that can develop over time, similar to any other hobby. Once I decided I wanted to be able to leave the house, I realized I need to improve my dressing, make-up and voice skills, and did so with a vengeance. I'm not obsessed with passing, since I know I'll be read part of the time, but when I do blend in there's a certain satisfaction in having pulled it off.
I suspect in most cases, there's probably more than one driver -- since there needs to be enough momentum to overcome the self-knowledge that we're about to do something society generally considers strange at best -- and also the main driver depends on circumstances. For example, if I'm out clubbing, it's probably more about looking good/showing off than expressing the softer part of my personality. And I'm sure there's probably other motivations that I've missed. If anyone's got suggestions about other motivations, I'd love to hear about them.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
By Marlena Dahlstrom
Posted by Michele Angelique at 3:45 AM
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