Beauty without expression is boring.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was asked the following question at this year’s LGBTQ+ Youth Summit while paneling at the “Unapologetically Me” panel, “How has your identity shifted over time, or continue to change, if it has?” My answer, “I was just a kid who liked to borrow my mom and sister’s clothes. As a young adult, I labeled myself a crossdresser. Now, I see myself as more dual-gender. The act of crossdressing is the mechanism in how I express and present my gender identity.”
Wikipedia defines “crossdressing as the act of wearing items of clothing and other accoutrements commonly associated with the opposite sex within a particular society. Cross-dressing has been used for purposes of disguise, comfort, and self-expression in modern times and throughout history.”
When I was five- or six-years-old, I found myself drawn to the shimmery and soft clothes that I saw my mom folding on the bed to be put away. There was a strange attraction to the underthings in her dresser drawer and the heels in her closet. There was even a high school formal dress that was simply amazing to look at and exciting to imagine myself wearing. That first episode was in the mid-70’s. I didn’t understand anything about why I was doing beyond the attraction to the clothes. It wasn’t until years later that I heard the term transvestite. It seemed to make sense for who I was, since I was wearing the clothes of the opposite sex. But, the term was already antiquated and filled with misunderstanding and stigma. While I finally associated myself with the term in the mid-90’s, I didn’t want to be associated with the term. A year or two later, I accepted the more mild-mannered label of crossdresser.
Crossdresser was a milder term and a touch less mired in stigma, but it still was considered a label for a non-serious part-timer or a fetishist. I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t know of another term that applied to me. I wasn’t a homosexual (although, I did struggle with misunderstanding my sexuality for a while). I wasn’t a transsexual (although the fantasy of waking up one day in the body of a pretty woman wouldn’t be heart-breaking). So, I considered myself a crossdresser and assumed all the labels and descriptions that went along with it. The problem was that I didn’t realize that the role of crossdresser was not “one size fits all”. Nothing in life is that simple, is it? But, yet, there I was, trying to understand how I fit into the classic mood, mentality, and assumptions of the crossdressing mold.
In Living with Crossdressing: Discovering your True Identity, I explore dozens of reasons why a person may need to crossdress—whether as a stress-reliever, escapism, an attempt to periodically embody something more feminine. I consider myself a “girl next door”, just someone who wants to blend in and be accepted by the general public in everyday life. I think I am finally succeeding on that front, at least in terms of my own confidence.
But, should the term of crossdressing be used to describe our gender identity? When asked if I am transgender, I usually reply with, “Depends on who you ask.” Many do not believe that crossdressers should be included under the greater trans community umbrella. Some of the reason is because crossdressing is still stigmatized by the general public and by some members of the LGBTQ+ community. Some feel that crossdressers, because they are part-time, are not serious about their gender expression. People say, “Crossdressing is a hobby”, “Crossdressing is a fetish”, “Crossdressing is a whim”, “Crossdressers are not serious about their presentation”… The list goes on.
Ironically, many transsexual folx start off their trans-journeys using crossdressing as their expression before moving toward a more permanent change in gender identity and expression. For them, crossdressing was a catalyst to discovering more about themselves and what their needs were to live their most authentic lives. For me—and for countless other men—crossdressing is not a waystation of gender expression. It is not a sexualized fetish that I enjoy, then quickly cast aside when I have finished taking care of my needs. Savannah is the feminine aspect of my dual-gender expression.
Let’s go back to my initial answer. “… Now, I see myself as more dual-gender. The act of crossdressing is the mechanism in how I express and present my gender identity.” Crossdressing is not all of who I am. The term does not encompass me as my identity. As we have discussed previously, the human animal is comprised of, at least, six components—Biology, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Gender Pronouns, Sexual Attractions, and Romantic Attractions. Therefore, while “crossdressing” is tied to how I present my gender expression, the term does not adequately describe my gender identity.
Maybe, we should spend less time telling people who we are as crossdressers and spend more time telling them who we are in our hearts as individuals. Savannah is part of me. She is the name I give to describe the feminine aspect of my gender identity. Savannah is fully formed in both name and identity, even if she is impermanent in her periods of overt presentation. Crossdressing is a mechanism. I use it to achieve the expression of my dual gender identity when it comes to my feminine facade. Many others use clothing and makeup in a way that presents to the world their androgyny, their overt femininity or masculinity, their expression of being someone or something beyond what society deems the normative. While I am proud to be a crossdresser, I still would rather people get to know me as the person I am, not the label that imperfectly describes me.