What’s in a name? Quite a lot in fact.

'Oh, Harold, , , How can I face our family and friends knowing you're a crossdresser'In the past I have seen posts by people on this interwebs thingy and other social media, making comments about crossdressers, transsexuals/transgenders, drag queens and others which are often mistaken, and all too often attempt to lump us all together.  You can’t do that, dears.  It is about as accurate as saying Socrates was mortal, cats are mortal, therefore Socrates was a cat.

I can’t condemn many who fail to make the distinction.  As my sisters here know full and well, all of us are not only shunned and condemned by society, the media all too often holds people like us to ridicule and make mistaken reports about us.

Therefore I shall attempt to give definitions of the different groups of people who do indeed crossdress.  Please excuse me if even I get some of this wrong; as I am fond of saying, even I don’t have all the answers and I’m still trying to work this damned thing out myself.

Crossdressers

Crossdressers are men or women who dress in clothes which are gender specific to the opposite sex.  They are mostly men, but there does exist a small minority of female to male crossdressers.  Contrary to popular belief, not all crossdressers are gay, nor are they transgender.  The prevelance of crossdressing encompasses all sexualities, and this is perhaps where the confusion comes in.  It has been recorded however that the vast majority, some 68%, of crossdressers are in fact cisgender, heterosexual men, most of whom are married and have families.  But others can be gay, bi, intersex, or even asexual.

Even I thought myself to be hetero at one time, but have finally admitted to myself that I am in fact pansexual – I love the person, not the gender.  It seems to me that bringing sexuality into the matter is where confusion often lies.  Certainly, crossdressing can have a sexual dynamic to it, and lead to really fun, kinky sex.  To think that the drive is primarily sexual, however, is vastly mistaken.  Crossdressers like myself merely have a drive within ourselves to explore the feminine side of our psyche, and that is no more sexual than any woman who dons her favourite pretty, feminine clothes.

Transgender / Transsexual

There have been attempts to claim that there are distinctions between transgender and transsexual people on grounds of gender v sexuality.  LIkewise some people, including those in the medical fraternity, sometimes attempt to define the difference by saying that transgender means “pre-op” (before gender reassignment surgery), whilst transsexual means “post-op”.  Yet given that I have also seen these definitions reveresed, this is clearly bollocks (or even lack thereof).  To save confusion therefore, I make no such distinction and generally refer to both groups by the all-encompassing term, “Trans”.

Trans people are those who have the psyche of one gender, born into the body of the opposite gender.  Given that, being trans is neither a choice nor a drive to ‘explore’ alternate gender and sexuality, but rather it is a need.  Basically trans people are born in the wrong bodies.  Given that, we see again that sexuality is not the main driving force of trans people, but rather the desire to right an abberation in nature, no different than someone born with a hare lip, say.  And again, trans people cover the whole gamut of sexual identities.  I know trans people who are hetero, and others who are lesbian.  There are also trans people who are intersex, pansexual, and even asexual.

Intersex

Intersex is a condition once mistakenly (and insultingly) referred to as hermaphroditism; whereby someone is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy which does not conform to the biological definitions of male or female.  This can mean examples such as a girl with an unusually large clitoris, or no vaginal opening, or a boy with a noticeably small penis (micropenis is the derogatory medical definition), or whose scrotum is divided to appear more like a labia.  In extreme cases an intersex person can have the genitals of both genders; such as a vaginal opening located behind the scrotum.

There have been many recorded cases of such children growing to become either men or women with the onset of puberty, whereby a child outwardly appearing to be male has developed breasts and more defined female genitalia, or those apparently female developing testes and a fully defined penis.  In other cases, however, people can have inward physiology of one gender opposite to that they identify with which is not identified until adulthood, if at all.  There have been people have lived entire lives as one gender or the other, only for post-mortem operations to prove them to be intersex.

Needless to say, an intersex person may identify with one gender or the other – or even both – and dress and act accordingly.  This does not mean, however, that intersex should ever be confused with transgender / transsexual, when they are clearly not one and the same thing.

Freedressing / Genderqueer

Freedressing is about challenging traditional binary gender roles in matters of dress and fashion.  This is quite different to crossdressing, trans and drag, all of which identify with one or other of the gender dichotomies.  Freedressing instead asserts that people should be free to wear what they want.  Probably one of the most famous advocates of freedressing is the flambouyant-dressing Eddie Izzard, who once stated they’re not women’s clothes, they’re my clothes, I bought them”.  And yet Eddie Izzard still gets mistakenly reported in the press as a drag queen.

And this is where I have a huge problem with many advocates of freedressing.  The Freedressing Campaign on Facebook officially states Promoting freedom of expression for genderqueer and gender nonconforming people, while countering transphobia and oppressive gender stereotypes.  Yet while they claim that, their entire mission seeks a wholly androgynous dress sense, and in fact is critical of trans and crossdressing people for adopting gender binaries.  Indeed, they insultingly go as far as to maintain that crossdressing and drag are one and the same thing. 

More bizarrely, they claim that freedressing could end eating disorders; “Hopefully one day we shall see the fashion industry shift as it did during the 80s, and males can be more confident in their personal appearance. This can in turn reinforce their body image and confer the willpower to combat the widespread epidemic of obesity and malnutrition in our culture.” Strangely enough, I didn’t notice eating disorders decline during the New Romantic era.  In fact, quite the opposite happened, with more women and men suffering anorexia and bullimia, in the search for the ‘perfect’ androgynous body.

And the male-oriented message of that quote, “males can be more confident”, has not escaped me.  Neither however is the entire message of the Freedressing campaign, which assumes that all crossdressers are male; “Unfortunately for males, challenging this sexist notion is classified as crossdressing.”

Freedressing is indeed a fine and admirable idea.  It seems to me, however, that if it is about challenging gender dichotomies, opposing transpobia, and giving people – male and female – the right to dress as they please, then trans and crossdressing people should be free to wear what we wish, and not be accused of reinforcing the gender binary, as the Freedressing Campaign accuses us of doing so.

Drag Queens and Drag Kings

This term mostly applies to men who dress in women’s clothing and make themselves up as women, usually in a slutty fashion, for the purposes of entertainment.  Most drag queens are gay men and act outrageously in their acts.  The singer and entertainer, Divine, was a prime example of this, as is Paul O’Grady, who used to play the trashy Liverpudlian woman, Lily Savage.  There are however drag queens who are hetero.  Danny la Rue was a good example of this, as is Barry Humphries, who plays the batty Australian woman, Dame Edna Everage.  Humphries is in fact married with seven children.

Although their is a much smaller prevelance, there are indeed very successful drag kings – women who dress as men for the purely for entertainment.  Historically drag kings were very popular in British music halls, the most famous being Ella Shields, who sang Burlington Bertie from Bow.  Shields, actually an American, was hetero and it was her husband, William Hargreaves, who wrote the song.  In more modern times the macho Murray Hill is played by entertainer Betsy Gallahger, while All the King’s Men are an 8-piece drag King ensemble from Boston.  Drag kings, are largely the opposite of drag queens, in that a great many are lesbian, although this is not always the case.

There is one thing for certain, however.  To ever refer to crossdressing, trans, or intersex people as drag queens or drag kings is in fact a derogatory term, and should be avoided.  We do not dress for the public’s entertainment.

Conclusion

In the immortal words of The Kinks, “Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls. It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world,”  There is often talk of places and people being ‘tolerant’ of genders and sexualities which differ from the cisgender heterosexual mainstream.  I would suggest that every person should not be merely ‘tolerated’, rather they should be afforded the respect which every human being on the face of the planet deserves. And that applies be they male, female, cisgender, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, crossdresser, intersex, genderqueer, pansexual, asexual, any mixtue of the above, or any other gender and/or sexuality.

My partner has just informed me that our relationship is described as “bigender”.  I’ve just told her “Hon, I’ve accepted I’m pansexual. No more labels, please.”

Many people dislike labels, yet it is part of the human condition to categorise and pigeonhole all things, and our fellow beings indeed come into that.  In a perfect world, there would be no need for labels.  Sadly, we live in a far from perfect world, and it may take centuries of education before they become superfluous.

Whether we like it or not therefore, we still have the labels and shall, and shall have to, continue to use them.  But why we do, let’s all make sure we get the terminology correct.  And while we are about it, let us all refer to each other by the most important and most appropriate label which clearly defines the behaviour, gender and sexuality of each and every one of us – human.

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3 thoughts on “What’s in a name? Quite a lot in fact.

  1. “Yet while they claim that, their entire mission seeks a wholly androgynous dress sense”

    That is not in the mission of freedressing at all. Freedressing is the freedom to express oneself without being bound to prevailing gender norms. If freedressing was about androgyny then skirts, dresses, and other gender-specific garments would be strictly opposed because they are not ambiguous — they are stereotypically feminine or masculine.

    “…and in fact is critical of trans and crossdressing people for adopting gender binaries.”

    A transgender person can most certainly freedress. Genderqueer people are transgender after all. Add to the fact, gender nonconforming people themselves are either male or female — which itself is a gender binary. The Campaign is not opposed to the gender binary, it is opposed to the misconception that all people must be either cisgender or transgender, and that cisgenderism itself is a monolith of gender normativity. It is opposed to gender policing. It is opposed to misgendering. It is opposed to the outcasting of nonbinary and genderqueer people from the transgender movement for not being “trans enough”.

    “Neither however is the entire message of the Freedressing campaign, which assumes that all crossdressers are male; “Unfortunately for males, challenging this sexist notion is classified as crossdressing.””

    Nowhere is it stated that all males are crossdressers. A boy or man who wears stereotypically feminine clothing is regarded as a crossdresser. Such bias rarely functions in the reverse because it is acceptable for women to embrace masculinity without nearly the same level of persecution (hence the interplay of sexism). That is all that this statement is elucidating. There is a reason why drag kings are less popular in the mainstream than drag queens — because only one is taboo.

    “Freedressing is indeed a fine and admirable idea. It seems to me, however, that if it is about challenging gender dichotomies,”

    Freedressing is not nearly as concerned with challenging gender dichotomies as it is about opposing the hegemony of cissexism (the systemic marginalization of people who are non-cisnormative).

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