The question,”Do Crossdressers Really Exist” would seem to be superfluous, but my friend Rhonda, who is Outreach Director for the Tri-Ess chapter Sigma Epilson in Atlanta, presents an interesting view with which I agree whole heartedly
Gender Identity Versus Gender Expression
“A couple years ago, when presenting to a class of medical students at Emory University, I was surprised that the professor, one of the WPATH spokespersons who had a lot to do with defining what most understand to be the transgender umbrella, confided to me that he had not met a “crossdresser” before me or known one existed. He thought all who crossdressed were en route to transition. That term is not recognized as a category under the Transgender umbrella or defined in WPATH literature. I have since found many who echo that belief. I realize that the American Psychiatric Association, Wikipedia, and others define “transgender” as one who “identifies or presents” as a gender other than their assigned birth sex, but I think most counselors do not understand this difference.
Last Thursday I was in a discussion group with college kids who are gender/sexually variant. I described myself as a crossdresser. My girlfriend referred to me as “transgender” and was quickly brought up short by another lady in the group. She later explained to me that she has met about 200 transgender people but never before met a crossdresser. She herself said she had begun her transition at age 14, completed it at 17, and is now 19. I asked when she first realized she was female. She said age 14. I found it unusual that this was her first time feeling this way, and by the rapid progression toward transition had to wonder whether those around her may have mistaken her need to crossdress for a need to transition and pushed her down the only path they thought appropriate.
I met several others, including professors, who expressed lack of knowledge about crossdressing. A professor who teaches on the subject of the gender non-conforming community seemed to consider me “gender-queer” as did others.
There is a lot of confusion about the difference between gender identity and gender expression. I suspect much of this could be leading to a push towards creating more transgender people than actually exist (using this term in the manner most in the public take it, which is to exclude from that umbrella those who merely crossdress and do not self-identify as a gender inconsistent with their birth-assigned sex.)
Society has seemingly re-defined the term “transgender”, popularized by Virginia Prince, founder of Tri-Ess, a cross-dressing support group, to exclude the very people that term originally encompassed. Since crossdressers speaking out in public or visiting counselors are rare, I fear crossdressers are becoming a “lost” group, to the detriment of many who do not even realize that it is possible (and probable) that one who crossdresses does not usually self-identify as a sex inconsistent with their birth sex and may not benefit from transition. I fear this is doing a major disservice. For instance:
– Many counselors naturally presume that if they encounter one who presents as female, they ARE female, or at least on a path leading that way, which impacts their counsel to wives who have no interest in being married to a lesbian and, by extension, fractures rather than mends relationships. (This was my personal experience which led to loss of my marriage.)
– Counselors and others unaware of the difference can lead a crossdresser toward transition, creating a host of unnecessary problems.
– Legislators, school officials, etc. unaware of the differences, establish policies which may make sense for a transgender individual, but not for a crossdresser. e.g., Bathroom policies based on biological sex would require crossdressers to use the restroom of greatest concern to the broader public; university students who are either transitioning or just crossdressers are increasingly allowed and encouraged to co-habitate with one who dresses as they do.
It seems to me that while broader awareness is usually a positive thing, sometimes a LITTLE knowledge can do more harm than good. Ignorance is not always bliss.
Or might it be that I am delusional and have missed the great apocalypse that wiped crossdressers off the earth?”
The Harm by Ill-informed Counselors is Real.
Rhonda is right and I have a real bone to pick with these counselors that think every crossdresser is into sexual gratification or on the road to transition.And yes, they are out there. Here is one example”
Not only is this counselor ill-informed, but she deleted comments by Rhonda and me that corrected her mistakes compounding her lack of professionalism with intentional obstructionism.
On another occasion dating back several years, I challenged a gender therapist from the Los Angeles area who had written a similar piece in the LA Times. Her response was that she asked her group of transitioning clients what they thought and they verified (so she claimed) that crossdressers only dressed for sexual gratification. When I questioned her further, I was basically blown-off.
When I first taught some classes at West Virginia University some 8 years ago, crossdressing was viewed as a paraphilia by the faculty. This soon changed as students were introduced to real life trans experiences and could ask questions and the professors became knowledgeable and more open to the idea that our lives did not conform to their earlier models. . Psychology and sociology professors typically have been trained to believe that social influences are stronger than genetic causes so resist arguments that suggest nature may be stronger than nurture. Dr. Money had a lot of credibility in their learning days, before his theories were debunked. Only within the past 5 years or so are genetic studies starting to convince many that there are strong genetic causes behind behavior often thought to be socially determined.
Rhonda went on to say, “It must be frustrating to be an educator these days. Facts often contradict theories, and students, keeping open minds, tend to sort out the differences more quickly then their professors, who have been taught different sets of facts.” This is the problem when you have cis-experts defining our realities. Just love it when some expert tells you, your reality is wrong.
Many psychologists and sociologists were trained in universities relying upon theories of Dr. Money and others which have been largely debunked. In the debate of nature over nurture, nurture seems to have been emphasized more than nature. I believe this is changing as studies in genetics, and other research is plumbing these issues to new depths. But change filters slowly to the level of counselors.
Another problem is that the soft sciences (psychology sociology, etc.) are much more difficult to acquire hard quantifiable data that is often manipulated towards that researchers viewpoint, as opposed to the hard sciences (physics, biology, etc.)where 1+1=2 except in very definable circumstances. From a biological standpoint, we are not flawed, simply a variation upon a theme. Maybe its cis-gendered people that actually are flawed. But that’s what happens when the majority defines the narrative.
The Way Forward
Crossdressers are very hard to understand and it is often difficult for us to explain why we like to do what we like to do. For me, I like to feel pretty. Cross-dressing is not a fetish or a sexual thing with me and that is true for my large group of friends and most of the crossdressing groups across the country. I am as happy as a guy as I am as a girl and would not do anything to compromise my maleness, my fatherhood, my marriage, my career (now retired), or my activities. Learning to bring balance between your masculine and feminine sides can be challenging but achievable.
Understanding cross-dressing and our acceptance in society will come about as more and more people encounter us in their native environments. 44% of the general populace now say they know someone who is transgender. It was just 14% less than 5 tears ago. Seek out opportunities to educate the media, academie, the political establishment, and the general populace by whatever means you are comfortable with
Rhonda and I have also approached and are in discussion with ALGBTIC on how we might work with their professional organization of gender therapists to come to a greater understanding of the trans spectrum. We are guided by a small group of trans and trans-knowledgeable therapists who understand that gender identity and gender presentation are different, but similar.
Grayson Perry is a world reknown British artist (potter), knighted by the Queen, and a crossdresser. He narrates this story on Why Men Wear Dresses…a fitting closing on who we are.