Today, we are going to try something different. Instead of reading my perspective and musings about various topics of crossdressing life, I will be enjoying a conversation with Julie Rubenstein, a certified image consultant and co-owner of Fox and Hanger. We will be delving into our personal battles and experiences of the roots of internal Shame that can plague us, as well as the external shaming by those around us who, purposefully or ignorantly, affect us with their words and actions.
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
~ Oscar Wilde
SAVANNAH HAUK is the author of “Living with Crossdressing: Defining a New Normal” and “Living with Crossdressing: Discovering your True Identity“. While both focus on the male-to-female (MtF) crossdresser, “Defining a New Normal” delves into crossdressing and relationships, and “Discovering Your True Identity” looks at the individual crossdressing journey.
Savannah is a male-to-female dual-gender crossdresser who is visible in the Upstate of South Carolina, active in local groups and advocating as a public speaker at LGBTQ+ conferences and workshops across the United States. At the moment, Savannah is working on more books, blogs, and projects focused on letting every crossdresser–young and mature–find their own confidence, expression, identity and voice.
IG @savannahhauk | FB @savannahhauk | FB @livingwithcrossdressing
JULIE RUBENSTEIN is a dedicated ally to the transgender community and the certified image consultant and co-owner of Fox and Hanger. F&H is a unique service for transgender women and male-to-female crossdressers that creates customized virtual fashion and style “lookbooks”. Julie intuitively connects with each client to find the appropriate clothes, makeup, hair, and shapewear all in alignment with their budget, body type, authentic style, and unique personality. She also provides en femme coaching and wardrobe support. She has made it her life’s work to help MTF individuals feel safe and confident when it comes to their female persona, expression, and identity.
IG @mtfstyle | FB @foxandhanger | web @FoxandHanger.com
A New Normal
What is shame? Why do we feel shame? Why do we feel shame as crossdressers? Is the beauty that launched a thousand ships into war something we, as men, are unable to want, to strive for, or to experience for ourselves?
Shame hurts, but it is necessary for the expansion and cultivating of self-esteem and personal growth. And, it’s something that I believe everyone experiences. But I’ve learned that it is a large part of the crossdressing experience. Something that mtf (male-to-female) individuals need to deal with head-on in order to nurture that part of their expression that is female. And I’m just talking about the internal shame … the kind that starts in childhood. The kind that you have tried to keep quiet for many years.
The kind that is personal and based on other’s projections. I don’t know what the crossdressing experience feels like. But, I know how it feels to feel like there is something wrong with you. That there is something about yourself that you want to go away … to cut off and wish didn’t exist. And, no matter what you do you are faced with this truth about yourself. You are convinced that if anyone finds out about this part of you they would not love you anymore. I know what it feels like to be different. To compare yourself to others .. to feel like you were born unworthy of love. I know what that feels like.
I never had shame for my crossdressing. I never wished for my feminine side to be excised from the whole of who I am. What is shame…? According to Google, it “… involves an internalized feeling of being exposed and humiliated. Shame is different from guilt. Shame is a feeling of badness about the self.” What I have in abundance—instead of shame—is deep-seated fear. I fairly embraced my feminine side as something that was a part of me. I never thought of it as bad, in and of itself. My problem was on a far more grand scale, knowing that I was in possession of something that was different, altered, meant to be hidden away for my own protection.
Self-preservation is critical to the human condition. I grew up in a household where I heard my parents call the neighbor boy “gay” because he liked to wear heels during “school” on his parents’ front porch. They passed negative judgement about something that I knew I liked to do, too. Therefore, I knew well enough to hide my more feminine side from their attention and admonishment.
I also liked to look at the models wearing bras and panties in the then-popular, Sears master catalog. My sister pointed that activity out to my parents as if it was a bad thing. She had shamed me at that moment and made it clear to me that, in order to protect myself, I needed to be more covert. So, growing up, I became skilled in the art of hiding. I grew up understanding that the femininity inside me shouldn’t be expressed in front of others.
Is that shame? Or; is it self-preservation? Is it protecting that part of myself I understood was less accepted by the masses… and, in which I did not have a role model or example to champion on my behalf? It’s difficult to be one’s own champion when you feel and think you are the only one of your kind. I liked girls… I wasn’t gay like my dad said the neighbor boy was. But, I knew I was different in this other specific feminine way.
You bring up a good point. Is that shame? Well, did your sister make you feel aSHAMEd. Yes. But it was more of a wafting smell that gave you an important cue teaching you this wasn’t something the world needed to know about. You used her reaction as information to keep you safe. So, no I don’t think that your crossdressing was drenched in shame like so many. I believe it was a teachable moment that allowed you to find the appropriate space and time to celebrate and experience this part of Savannah. To lovingly express it in a way that didn’t bother anyone. This, to me, is self-care.
Yet, when I was with my ex-girlfriend and I happened to dress around the house, I would be very sensitive to her reaction/lack of positive reaction to me. She would roll her eyes, telling me that she was concerned about the neighbors seeing me through the windows. I took it as her being unsupportive (tolerant as a term to describe it in the most positive spin).
So, based on the conversation you and I are sharing… We are dealing with two different types of shame. In the first way, we are dealing with people who are shaming us in our belief system. The second is a shame we have indoctrinated ourselves into. While I did not have a lot of internal shame-based on my moderate religious upbringing, conservative parenting, and a fairly lax and casual Midwest life, I did fall prey to fearing the shame from others because of their own beliefs and indoctrinations. So, we have “shamed” vs “ashamed”.
Can you tell me more about that first time? When did you realized this part of yourself?
It’s a vague recollection, really. As a life-long crossdresser, I cant really give you an accurate narrative of the “first time”. What I can tell you is I recall, as a six-year-old, watching my mom fold clean clothes on her bed… and being drawn to those clothes that were not meant for me. That led to me sneaking into that same bedroom and looking through her dresser drawers to touch her intimates and look through her closet to look at her heels.
Do you want to know anything about me? I felt like I didn’t communicate my own experiences as a child experiencing shame.
Well… now is your opportunity. You mentioned being a redhead and dyslexic on the Free to be She Crossdress Radio Network show. Tell me more about how you felt ashamed or were shamed as a child. How does it affect you in your everyday life?
As a child realizing that I didn’t process information and couldn’t communicate in a way that everyone else did was unbearable. I just wanted to disappear and blend into the cracks. And felt like a walking heart attack every time I went to school. I was different–really, really different–in elementary and middle school, always ever wanting to be the same as everyone else. And compare my feelings to how some crossdresser feel in the sense of wanting this part of yourself to go away. That no matter what you do and no matter how hard you work, it just won’t go and always finds its way back to you.
Every time you wish to assimilate, there’s a constant reminder of how your brain doesn’t work in the way every else’s does. I felt so alone. This learning difference, my dyslexia, and ADHD, has followed me into my adulthood. When it comes to some aspects of managing and running my business… when it comes to figuring certain things out… when it comes to anything related to math… I just can’t figure it out. My brain just can’t function like everyone else’s. Or, at least the way the smart people do.
I felt so much shame, a feeling that follows me into today. What I have to remind myself is that had it not been for my unique brain, Fox and Hanger would not exist. This out-of-the-box service‘s ability to connect and empathize with transgender and cross-dressing individuals would not able to be accessed has not been for my deep shame with my learning disability… I think my wound is able to line up with so many different ones.
It’s almost like a magical key into their experience. Maybe, not in the same way, but I am able to access those emotions through their stories. And, in doing so, I am able to empathize and connect in a way that feels comfortable and safe. So much of my life has been spent trying to make peace with this mind I have. As a writer and as a communicator, the supposed trappings of my mind has always been something I’ve had to make peace with in order to tap into my creativity
But sometimes it feels like I’m walking on quicksand… Sometimes I have to remind myself not to be so rough and angry with the way I process and think. Rather, be gentle–very, very gentle–and patient with myself. So many times I wish my mind was different… that I was different. Wishing I didn’t have this thing about myself that made it impossible for me to know what they know… If only I didn’t have a learning disability my business would be thriving right now…
“Stop, Julie,” I need to tell myself. “Stop feeling so much shame. You’re learning disability is your genius. And, your gift to the world.”
Never compare yourself to a “smart person” as if you are NOT a smart person in your own right. Smart is a frame of mind and achievement, not an IQ. I understand brain chemistries are different and that we all have to cater to our strengths wand abilities to side-step any perceived “disability”. We must recognize what we have and use the tools we have available to us. At the end of the day, it’s all about maximizing your strengths and understanding how to use your weaknesses as additional strengths
And, remember… you don’t need to know everything, you just need to know the person who does know. It is amazing that how the world sees Savannah, the author, and Julie, the entrepreneur, is so different than how we see ourselves. At this point, I’m just trying to live up to the hype!!
I think I struggle most because my mother is a narcissist. Wowza, did she do a number on me! Every day was, and still is, a battle for my self-worth. Every day I successfully remind myself to be gentle and love myself is a really good day. You see , when you don’t get enough love as a child, that follows you . From the moment I heard that I was having a girl, I knew I would need to stop parenting myself the way I was parented if I wanted to have the kind of loving mother/daughter relationship I was robbed of as a child. You know, the kind of loving familial bond everyone deserves. But, I wouldn’t change anything about my childhood or her as my mother. Without her, I would not have the ability to empathize with others or have an intuitive sense of their emotional needs.
She never knew what to do with me… she never could possibly understand me. I had been so shy and then, in high school, I hit the stage and I felt invincible. My ability to perform on a high school stage left her dumbfounded, wondering how I could be able to do something like that… truly dumbfounded. One day, I certainly would love to return to the stage. Now, I see that same sparkle for the stage in my daughter’s eyes. Once this pandemic is lifted, I would truly love to give her that experience of an acting class or any chance to express herself.
Feeling Of invincible
The idea that I could hide behind a roll made me feel invincible. I went away to boarding school in high school called Landmark. It was in the north shore Arean of Massachusetts, forty-five minutes from home. I grew up in a rich town where I was one of the only Jewish families. Thank fucking God I got away. I met people from all walks of life at Landmark… all with dyslexia. I couldn’t relate to people where I grew up, but suddenly I felt seen, heard, and smart for the first time.
It was there where I developed a larger-than-life persona. I realized I was funny… really funny… and used that magnetism of humor as a sort of Lucille Ball crutch. I was always “on”. I was always being funny and always had something to say. It was kind of a recipe for disaster as I would keep teachers and friends at an arm’s length. I was at my funniest when painful things happened, my humor being a perfect shield and coping mechanism for dealing with my pain and my learning disability head-on.
Specific Learning Challenge
And, I acted all that angst and pain out. “All the world’s a stage… and all the men and women merely players.” At Landmark, everyone had a tutor that would work with you once a day on your specific learning challenge. I had one for math and one for reading. Similar to middle school, I would fucking make those bitches cry, my sarcasm and pain thrust upon them like swords in an open sea, knowing that I felt I was protecting myself. The teachers and tutors were so kind. They were hired to love me through this and to get me to understand this was my way of processing things.
Over the years I learned to tone it down. My freshman year in college was a goddamn nightmare. Using humor, like a drag queen, my alter ego became a protective shield. And now three years of therapy, I can say I’ve let down some of that guard. And I have a loyal girlfriend that has known me for 20+ years. They know all the layers to me… the good the bad and the ugly
I don’t try to be someone I’m not. Still think humor is the most amazing connector and communicator, energetic elixir belly laughs and self-deprecating monologues that keep my human side alive … if you can’t joke about yourself… right?
I keep on wondering what my mom’s reaction would be if she knew anything about me and my work. I wonder if she would approve or, even, understand. What I do is so ingrained into every fiber of my being that I don’t think her judgment could harm it. I just think it would be like one of those moments of seeing me on stage… something she just couldn’t fathom.
I can’t fathom the struggles you faced throughout your childhood, especially with a narcissist mother. And, you will not understand what prompts a man to entertain a feminine expression and identity 9in addition to his masculine one). We both, though, can put ourselves in each other’s heels to sympathize and empathize with the visceral feelings we have experienced. While we have our own lives and our own experiences, we still are bound to each other with the understanding that we all experience the human condition.