Interview about Cross-Dressing

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So I guess the community college paper is doing some article about cross-dressing and interviewing people who they think may have some insight into it? The interviewer is Mimi Wang. Anyway – it’s been a while, enjoy!

1. Why do you crossdress?

I have practical reasons and theoretical ones…

Practically, I crossdress because I have never thought that my physical features were well suited by what is often characterized as masculine fashion (in this country, for my class background, in this period of history). Crossdressing is less important to me than general aesthetic taste. I wouldn’t look bad in a well-tailored suit with a male actor’s manner of applying make-up: that’s just dandy to me. But, when I’m shopping at a thrift store I’m lucky if I can find clothing in the “men’s” section that fit or are at all appealing to my tastes. So the variety of style and the fit-to-form aspects of the “women’s” section draw me towards clothing designed for females. With the addition of make-up for both artistic expression and shock value, I’m crossdressing by most people’s standards. In my head, I’m just approaching attire from an aesthetic perspective instead of a utilitarian one or one that conforms to mainstream gender norms.

Theoretically, I totally reject contemporary notions of masculine and feminine. The ways in which gendered ideas about attire have developed are completely incoherent to me. To begin with, there is more than just two biological sexes and there isn’t a lack of cultures which have recognized this as a significant aspect of social roles, religious iconography, and attire. There are also dramatic inconsistencies when it comes to the ways in which different classes conceptualize masculinity and femininity in the West. The aristocratic concept of the masculine which was contrasted from the proletarian concept of the masculine is one example; powder, wigs, blush, extravagant outfits, more organic motions vs. overalls, jeans, various shirts (especially t-shirts), short hair, facial hair, lack of grace in motion [edit: or whatever was typical of proletarian men at the time – there’s more contemporary examples of this]. I think there’s a lot of evidence for ‘style’ in this sense being used for political purposes. This is all alongside the history of Patriarchy as well.

The contemporary differences between masculine and feminine are becoming less distinct even if there is still gender binaries dictating attire. A lot of this is also political: feminism, changing symbols of class status, changes in the manufacture of clothing, a general shift towards machismo, the hypersexualization of consumer culture. Then there’s the shifts in what is represented in the media as ideal male and female bodies; again, an organization of the masculine and feminine which moves more towards ideal representation being of physical and sexual power …with the ideal female appearing more like concepts of masculinity rooted in brute strength and the ideal male compensating the move by even more-so appearing brutish. [edit: There’s also back-lash and a lot of other stuff going on, but I wasn’t really trying to provide a total account here]

So what does it even mean to crossdress when there is so much inconsistency in the underlying concepts of gender to begin with?

2. What got you interested in crossdressing and when did you start? How have others reacted to your crossdressing?

I’ve always crossdressed. My parents ran a glamor photography studio and playing dress-up wasn’t discouraged. My sister was very intrigued with crossdressing so she had no problem encouraging me to play with clothing that would be considered feminine. What got me interested in crossdressing (or, more conscious of it) was probably the androgyny-in-denial of punk fashion [edit: sometimes in denial] and the open challenging of the gender binary by industrial and goth cultures. The reactions of my parents have been mixed but it’s really concerned them most when they consider how I’ve been treated in public or in the privacy of someone else’s homes or institutions. I’ve been in numerous street fights, fired from jobs, had the typical arrangement of drive-by insults (vocal and physical), have been banned from people’s homes, parents of lovers have often gone to great lengths to create situations for their children which put them in a struggle between winning their parent’s approval and maintaining a relationship with me. On the other hand, I’ve also been tokenized, seen as a novelty, met a lot of great people who genuinely respect my choices, admired by old counter-cultural types, and offered many creative opportunities.

3. Have you ever faced judgment or criticism for what you do? Do you have a specific experience that you would like to share?

I don’t know if I’ve faced more judgment or criticism than someone who doesn’t crossdress, in a sense. If the crossdresser is the symbol for what should not be done I just fit into a different role in the way identity is reinforced based on gender. When males [edit: and females] who don’t crossdress also don’t meet the gender performance expectations of their peers, they’re judged and criticized too. It’s the same basic social force… I just become the overt example of what is always covertly present in social life. I can definitely say I have been punished more for crossdressing than I would have been if I didn’t. As for specific experiences, I don’t want to repeat myself so I’ll just refer back to what I ended the last question’s response with.

4. Personally, why do you think that some people have a problem with crossdressing?

Sexuality. Most people I’ve talked to about it don’t care at all if crossdressing is on a stage and it is clear that the signifiers are potentially misleading. The problem almost always seems to be when someone imagines that they might wind up embarrassing themselves through sexual advances or have a generally heterosexist prejudice regardless of attire.

5. Women are typically free to wear what they want and men’s clothing are seen as being more unisex than women’s clothing (women have pantsuits, boyfriend jeans, etc). What are your views on the double standards of crossdressing?

Some of the double-standards probably have a much simpler explanation when it comes to the way females wear clothing designed for males. One of those – to be very blunt – is breasts. The most feminine outfits which are often reserved for females are specifically signifying their sexuality or conforming to traditional (rather than contemporary) femininity. Some of it is based on one of the leading ideal female bodies: thinness. So those two things already address the top half of an outfit (discounting head-wear): baby doll shirts, blouses, corset, tight jackets, spaghetti straps, etc. As for the bottom half …dresses and skirts, there’s still some background in sexuality. A long dress or skirt is conservative or traditional and the shorter they get the more the outfit is meant to lead the eye towards the sexual regions. Well, that just puts us back to a critique of Patriarchy: the female as passive sex object and the male as sexual aggressor. I’ve heard this admitted plenty of times from people who have problems with crossdressing, though in disguised terms. Saying things like, “why would he dress like that if he doesn’t want to be treated like a bitch?” or whatever sexist shit people come up with.

I mean, the point of the contemporary masculine dress code is to appear “alpha” and sometimes, to avoid any suggestion that you’re drawing attention to your features so you can attribute your sexual conquests to some interpersonal strategy …that you’re so “good with women” that it doesn’t matter how gross you look. I think that it’s less a double-standard and just more of the same old rugged individualist man objectifying women no matter what they wear.

 

[Responding to my answers, I was asked if I cross-dress on a daily basis. My answer was that I did for a number of years but for the past couple I haven’t. I didn’t really give much insight into why; but it’s because I threw out a lot of the clothing I liked when I downsized to travel, I haven’t found much when I’ve had money for clothing, I’ve been feeling pretty lazy and blocked when it comes to what I wear, and me and my hair haven’t been getting along. Not sure how much it matters how I’ve generally looked as of late since I don’t really feel like I’m violating some deep principal about presentation or anything. *shrugs*]

Here is the published article

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