“Being transgender, like being gay, tall, short, white, black, male, or female, is another part of the human condition that makes each individual unique, and something over which we have no control. We are who we are in the deepest recesses of our minds, hearts and identities.”
~ Linda Thompson
I recently posted an excerpt from my upcoming book while I was proofreading it. The passage struck a nice chord with me and I figured it would make a decent and positive Facebook post. The post read as follows:
“Crossdressing is not just the concept of a man dressing up as a woman for an evening out on the town. Crossdressing involves the need to express an inherent feminine persona in some manner. Along the transgender spectrum there is a section for gender fluidity (or duality), and within that are crossdressers of all types”
The majority of the comments to the post were supportive and positive. Those, of course, are always the best kind. I was not looking for validation, though. I was just hoping to reach out with my words in a positive way. All was going well until the following comment:
“CD are not trans. Period.”
And, also the next one:
“I have a trans friend with a sissy kink. She is trans. If you are cis with a sissy kink, you’re cis. Whether you crossdress or not. Gender identity is how one identifies. If you crossdress but identify as cis, then you’re cis. If you identify as genderfluid, then okay, you’re genderfluid. Crossdressing does not put you under our banner. The ONLY way you get into our tribe is by IDENTIFYING as one of us!!! Otherwise, it’s just a costume…”
What followed after that comment were several pro- and con-centric comments debating why crossdressers are—or are not—part of the transgender community. Adamant arguments came in on each side, both asking the opposition to explain and support their side of the debate. Questions were asked… subjective responses were provided. While there was no definitive case presented in the comments (and, of course, I have my own bias on the topic), several compelling points were raised as to why crossdressing shouldn’t be considered part of the transgender community. Let me regurgitate what I read in the comments and see if I got right why I should stay in the shadows on the outskirts of the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to the letter T.
- Transgender people must be 100% transgender. This means that in order to be considered transgender, you must exhibit the desire to change your gender in some permanent fashion.
- Crossdressers consider themselves cis, therefore they are not transgender.
- Crossdressers stay at home to dress up, and don’t need to worry about what bathroom to use in public like a transgender person does.
- Crossdressers are simply putting on a costume to be feminine once in a while.
- Crossdressers are not serious about being transgender.
- Crossdressers enjoy wearing feminine clothes, but do not consider themselves female as their gender… therefore they are a fetish group.
- The DSM-V definition of transgender excludes crossdressers as transgender.
I will say, right at the onset, I do not believe that all trans-men and –women agree with the above comments to a Facebook post written by just an outspoken few, but the fact that there is dissension does require review. The above bullet points are what I gleaned from the comments under the post. It is an extensive, but ultimately, subjective list of criteria for being transgender. This list illustrates why there is a stereotypical division within the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to crossdressers and the letter T. For me, the comments written by these people set me off on an emotional adventure to intellectually discover what I could to support or refute about these women’s claims. Below, I will put forth my best objective and opinionated narrative based on what I can find for my defense.
According to Wikipedia, “Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Some transgender people identify as transsexual if they desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another. Transgender – often shortened as trans – is also an umbrella term: in addition to including people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex (trans men and trans women), it may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine (people who are genderqueer or non-binary, including bigender, pangender, genderfluid, or agender)…” Merriam-Webster describes the term of transgender as “: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth” and “especially: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity is opposite the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.”
Based on these definitions, can crossdressers be considered transgender? While crossdressers predominantly lead daily “cis” lives (as mentioned above), that does not take away the fact that we have a feminine persona that must be expressed in an outward fashion. I completely understand the impression that male crossdressers live inherently male-privileged lives, but that doesn’t make us cis-male. I do not identify as strictly male. If I did, I wouldn’t have a reason or need to express Savannah at all. I do not sit on the couch in lingerie and a dress (even if my girlfriend would prefer for me to be safe inside the four walls of our home). Instead, I prefer to go out and live a normal life as Savannah. Yes, Savannah’s physical existence is periodic and temporary. But, she doesn’t just exist as simply a physical manifestation. Her femininity is a part of me 100% of the time as part of my gender duality, even if I do not present in her feminine form 100% of the time. I could call it gender fluidity, gender incongruence, two-spirit, genderqueer, or one of a dozen more labels. I can’t, however, call it cis.
It was noted above that crossdressers are simply closeted “fetishists” who put on feminine costumes within the safety and confines of their own homes, never needing or wanting to express themselves beyond the preening and overt sexuality of the act. There is, absolutely, a faction of crossdressers who fit this profile. And, they may not consider themselves part of the trans-community. But, that fetish-dressing is not indicative of all crossdressers by any stretch of the imagination. I do not “pretend” to be feminine. I do not wear Savannah like a “costume”. She is a physical expression of my feminine nature. Just because we are content to present ourselves confidently as both male and female—and, yes, some of us may be more closeted than the other individuals that present themselves confidently in their needed gender 100% of the time—that doesn’t exclude us from being part of the transgender community.
In fact, I wouldn’t even exclude male fetish dressers from being a part of the fabric of the community. Yes, there is a stigma about crossdressers and what our motivations are. Yes, there are fetish dressers that, inadvertently, give the transgender community a bad name and help to destabilize the equal rights efforts that are being made—especially since the law makers like to use those antiquated taboos and stereotypes to paint broad strokes over the trans-community as a whole in an effort to block progress for equal rights. But, casting aspersions and using anecdotes to describe crossdressers, in general, is also inappropriate.
According to IFGE – The International Foundation for Gender Education, for the section 302.3 Transvestic Fetishism (APA DSM-5 Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders), Transvestic Disorder requires 1) “… over a period of at least six months, in a male, recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, or sexual behaviors involving cross‑dressing,… ” 2) “… the fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” As a crossdresser, I had my share of sexual urges when I dressed in feminine attire… it was called puberty. My misunderstanding of who I was inside was further fueled by the hormones that came with wanting to sow my wild oats in my 20s. Everything was sensualized and sexualized in those days, including feminine dressing. Now, as a mature adult—as I figured out more about my feminine identity and gender duality—I know that the presentation of Savannah is not about sex, but of creating a thriving and confident person.
I will have to say that I am at a loss when it comes to finding a definitive clinical description of “transgender” in the available online data for DSM-5 (also DSM-V, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – v5). While the internet quickly locates the description for “Gender Dysphoria” from DSM-5, performing a search for the keyword phrase “DSM-5 Transgender Description” was less successful for me. In the previous edition (DSM-IV-TR), “Gender Identity Disorder (GID)” was reclassified (some say declassified) as “Gender Dysphoria” in DSM-5. According to Kelley Winters’ article abstract for “Gender dissonance: Diagnostic reform of gender identity disorder for adults” in the Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 17 (3-4) 71-89, 2006, GID was replaced “… with a new diagnosis unambiguously defined by chronic distress rather than social nonconformity.” Those afflicted with GID (now, Gender Dysphoria) are clinically diagnosed as such based on the distress they experience as a result of identifying differently than the gender they were assigned as birth. While some crossdressers do experience some lower levels of gender dysphoria and feel a pull away from the gender assigned at birth, we are not compelled to permanently alter our physiology to affect a personal physiological gender balance.
From Wikipedia, on the topic of DSM-V Gender Dysphoria, “The American Psychiatric Association permits a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if the criteria in the DSM-5 are met. The DSM-5 states that at least two of the following criteria for gender dysphoria must be experienced for at least six months’ duration in adolescents or adults for diagnosis:
- A strong desire to be of a gender other than one’s assigned gender
- A strong desire to be treated as a gender other than one’s assigned gender
- A significant incongruence between one’s experienced or expressed gender and one’s sexual characteristics
- A strong desire for the sexual characteristics of a gender other than one’s assigned gender
- A strong desire to be rid of one’s sexual characteristics due to incongruence with one’s experienced or expressed gender
- A strong conviction that one has the typical reactions and feelings of a gender other than one’s assigned gender
In addition, the condition must be associated with clinically significant distress or impairment.”
Whew… that’s a lot of information to digest! Do I have a “strong desire” to any of the bullet points above? No. I would answer that I have low to medium desire for some of the criteria, and that they are not something that demands my attention twenty-four hours a day. Am I impaired by my feelings as it relates to the above. No. DSM-5 states that gender nonconformity is not the same thing as gender dysphoria, and that “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder.” So, where does that leave me as a crossdresser in terms of being transgender?
According to the American Psychological Association website, the term “transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. ….” Crossdressers are one of their categories or types of transgender people. Just because there is not a more modern term for crossdressers, that does not mean that our gender duality is not real.
Psychiatry.org defines Transgender as “… [referring] to the broad spectrum of individuals who transiently or persistently identify with a gender different from their gender at birth.” Transient means “passing especially quickly into and out of existence.” Based on that definition, and the clarification of the word “transiently”, it is safe assume that those who take on the label of “crossdresser” can certainly be included on a tiny sliver of the transgender spectrum.
As you can see from the graphic above, adapted from Josephine Tittsworth by Mel Reiff Hill, the transgender umbrella is not only for those suffering the most from gender dysphoria and requiring a significant and, maybe, permanent, change to their physiology. The term transgender is not owned wholly or exclusively by transsexuals and others suffering from gender dysphoria, but for all of those who feel an abstraction from their birth gender (or assigned birth gender).
I understand the complaints that some groups of people may be seen as stigmatic in the community and are used as fodder for those in the positions of decision-making to mire the progress for the T community as a whole. I cannot discount that issue. What I can say is that, as a crossdresser, the only way to raise awareness is to be visible. “Show, don’t tell.” Be involved in your community. Join LGBTQ+ organizations, even if they do not specifically serve the crossdressing community. Be involved in Pride events.
Live your best life. Show those around you that being a crossdresser is greater than antiquated stereotypical closeted activities or sexualized feminization. The only way to change minds is to let people know who you are, one person at a time. My feminine side is always with me. Savannah is not a whim that comes and goes from my mind depending on which direction the wind blows. Just because my feminine presentation is not a constant from an outward perception, she lives within me as an amalgam of my mind and spirit.