The 'Culture' of Crossdressing

By: Donna Lynn Matthews, October 1999

The following is my responst to an article crossposted to The original poster's comments are in blue.

Subject: Re: Is cross dressing legal in Gib?
From: (Donna Matthews)
Date: 11 Oct 1999 00:00:00 GMT

In article <7to4og$8i0$>, "Ian Forrest" wrote:

Thanks for that interesting historical nugget, Little Sugar was a male dressing in female clothes, right?

I know the transvestite, usually male, dresses in female clothing for emotional and sexual gratifcation and that this is not neccesarily the case with crossdressers.

Technically, the two (transvestite and crossdresser) are the same thing. Crossdressing is usually undertaken specifically for emotional reasons, satisfying the need for the expression of that part of ourselves which society in general would rather we pretend did not exist. And while there can (and often is) a sexual component associated with crossdressing (as there can be with most any activity), it is the emotional satisfaction of self expression which is dominant.

As for the terminology, we tend to shy away from the term transvestite as it carried too much baggage from the psych community: i.e. Transvestic Fetishism - DSM-IV diagnostic code 302.3, which is categorized as a paraphilia. Also,crossdresser it a more accurate term as it describes the person in relation to the action without making any depreciatory implications about the individual.

Can anyone explain the similarity between a crossdresser and an androgyne, if any?
I'll assume that you are using the term 'androgyne' to mean one who is androgynous.

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

The colloquial usage of androgynous is somewhere between 2a and 3 above. Quite often, individuals who make an androgynous presentation will employ crossdressing as a means of achieving the desired effect.

It would be helpful if someone could also explain the culture of crossdressing and it's significance in modern societies.
Crossdressing is not a 'culture'. Individuals who crossdress cut across all cultural lines. We are males, females, black, white, oriental, christial, jewish, rich, poor, attractive, homely and all other points inbetween. The thing we all have in common is a lack of affinity towards the gender to which we were assigned at birth. Many of us identify strongly with that gender opposite to that which we were assigned. Others of us reject the binary system of gender which has been enbraced by most, declaring ourselves as something other than either a man or a woman. In all cases, it amounts an individual declaring, for themselves, their identity. Phyllis Burke in her book "Gender Shock" summs this up quite well:
"To cross-dress, whether across class or gender boundaries, means to challenge the identity that society has dictated, to declare that you are not quite what has been determined by powers outside of yourself."
Crossdressing is not about clothing. It is about the meaning associated with the clothing and using that association as a means to establish an identity and sense of self independant of that which has been assigned to us by society.

The significance of this is that we are people who have dared to challenge that which is at the core of how our society is organized. The man/woman dichotomy is assumed to be a natural one. The naturalness of this is bassed on the assumption that men are male and women are female. Sex (male/female) and gender (man/woman) have been linked and assumed to be the same thing. As a rule, most people use the two terms interchangably. The problem is that the two are not the same thing.

Basically, sex is biology. It's about plumbing and parts. I won't deny the male/female dichotomy, although even that is not as clear cut as one might like. One need only line up people and have a look to see that there is some basis for it.

Gender, however, is not about biology. Gender, in it's colloquial usage, refers to "the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex." The key here being typically associated. While a gender may be typically associated with a specific sex, it is not a hard and fast rule.

It is important to note that as it is about "the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex", gender is not something static or fixed. It changes from culture to culture and over time. In short, gender is culturally defined and ergo is *not* something natural or innate. That society has choosen to link it to sex is not to imply that gender 'naturally' follows from one's sex. And yet, that is exactially how children are raised. Males are raised as boys and females are raised as girls. At no time are the feelings of the child taken into consideration on this point. In fact, children exhibiting non-conforming gender traits are corrected immediately. The assignment of gender and it's subsequent enforcement are completely non-concentual. Another quote, this one by Pat Califia from her book "Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism" speaks to this:

"'s not supposed to be hard work to be accepted as a man or a woman; it's supposed to be a natural and effortless process. Few of us are even aware of the pervasive rewards and punishments that shape our gender identities - unless that process was not successful. I suspect much of the hatred and fear of transsexuals is based on the discomfort that others experience when forced to recall the pain of involuntary gender conditioning. It is easier to believe we never had a choice about something so fundamental than to process and accept the fact that the choice was taken away from us and ruthlessly suppressed."
The significance of crossdressers and other gender variant individuals in society is that we are no longer willing to have out identities assigned to us. We reject, sometimes on a wholesale basis, the notion that we should be the men and women we were told we are. Instead, we have opted to embrace and accept who are really are, whoever that may be. As a result, we are becomming more visible. That means that we can no longer be ignored or discounted as a bunch of weirdos. More and more, gender variant people are choosing to be visible, thus bringing us more into the mainstream of society. As we move from the background to the forefront, society will have to yield to the fact that gender, as it is defined today, is a wholely inadequate construct and in need of revision.

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