In a recent column in Transgender Forum, Dragging Down, Julie Freeman discussed the "negative way in which some cross-dressers and many drag queens portray women." I don't believe cross-dressers and drag queens portray women in a negative way, and I'd like to tell you why.
I can understand why Julie feels cross-dressers "drag down" (cute pun) the image of women. As a T-shirt-and-jeans-wearing post op trans woman, I, too, marvel at the way many cross-dressers dress and behave. On the other hand, I myself was only recently a cross-dresser known for wearing the shortest of mini-skirts. Perhaps if I try to think back, I can shed some light on the issue.
According to Julie, many genetic women are bothered by "the inability of some cross-dressers to distinguish between what is truly womanly and what is merely a mockery of the feminine." "We," she says, speaking for many genetic women, "are … far from happy when cross-dressers believe these are OUR behaviors! … Are they just not savvy enough to understand the difference?"
Believe me, dear, we cross-dressers are acutely aware that most women rarely wear sexy clothes. We think about it all the time. We are baffled as to why they don't. Women, we muse enviously, can dress up as sexy as they want anytime and anywhere, but they never do. What a waste!
We cross-dressers are painfully cognizant of the way most women dress, because we are always trying to figure out somewhere we can enjoy going in all our finery. Only the newest newbie makes the mistake of going to the grocery store in a mini-skirt and heels, and she doesn't make that mistake twice. Do you think we go to trannie bars because we like hanging around with trannies? Hell no! We go because they are the only places we can get some semblance of acceptance dressed the way we like and acting how we like.
Why do we like to dress and act that way? Blame testosterone. Men can't help but sexualize their cross-dressing activities because of all that nasty boy-juice flowing through their bodies. Frankly, I miss the days when dressing up gave me an electric thrill. I miss the "happy endings" that always finished off my cross-dressing episodes. (Ew!) This sexual aspect of cross-dressing is one that women-born-vagina'd can never truly understand. The best comparison I can think of is like this: Suppose Brad Pitt called you up for a date. How would you react? Men experience that kind of reaction all the time from anything even slightly sexual, because of testosterone. They don't choose to be that way; it's just the way their bodies react.
Hormones and surgery have stripped the testosterone from my body, so I don't behave like a cross-dresser anymore. But I know testosterone is not the only factor, because plenty of long-time cross-dressers have gotten beyond the phase of sexualizing their cross-dressing. They still have testosterone in their veins, but, just as a given woman fails to be a turn-on after a while (sorry, married women), clothes and make-up eventually cease to thrill. But by that time, these gals have come to value and enjoy their place in the transgender community, so they continue to inhabit it—usually with a toned-down look. More importantly, most long-time cross-dressers really are expressing a feminine side of their personalities, just like transsexual women (though we go way overboard with it, I admit). This self-expression continues to be important to them even after the thrill of dressing has worn off.
But let's get back to those cross-dressers who dress and act in ways that demean women. Please tell me, who are the gender cops who dictate what is and isn't an acceptable way to be a woman? Who has the right to tell me I have a "responsibility to learn to dress in as feminine a manner as possible and understand that [my] clothing should fit the occasion"? If I was going to listen to someone else tell me how I should be a woman, I might just as well forget the whole thing and simply listen to the people who tell me I should be a man. There are no gender cops. I can be whatever kind of woman, man, or other that I choose to be. No one has a right to tell me I cannot. No one has a moral basis to criticize my choices.
If being something other than June Cleaver—or should I update the metaphor and say Laura Bush?—demeans women, we're in good company. Here are some other women who aren't Laura Bushes: Hilary Clinton, Whoopi Golberg, Janet Reno, Mae West, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Madonna (both of them), Sinead O'Conner, Helen Keller, Queen Latifah, Marilyn vos Savant (the smartest woman in the world), Eleanor Roosevelt, Rachael Welch, lesbians, supermodels, and actual prostitutes. Do we all demean woman
If a woman feels that cross-dressers and drag queens demean women, if my short skirts and flashy wigs make her feel uncomfortable and slightly peeved, perhaps she ought to look inside at her own self-esteem. Maybe she shouldn't be looking to drag queens and cross-dressers to validate her femininity.
Womanhood is not demeaned by cross-dressers and drag queens. Womanhood is strong enough to embrace diversity; in fact, she glories in it. Diversity makes womanhood stronger and more beautiful. Womanhood loves me and the way I choose to be a woman.
A person striving to express her authentic self is never demeaning. What truly demeans women, in my opinion, is exploiting femininity for commercial gain, like this (Alcohol, Black Women, and Cigarettes....), this (Virginia Slims advertisement), and this (A Diamond Is Forever home page).
What, specifically, are these behaviors that many women-born-vagina'd seem to find demeaning? Julie's article lists these:
Even neglecting the fact that I happened to have a conversation about brassieres with two ladies after church last Sunday, I believe these behaviors are quite common among women-born-vagaina'd. You just need to know where to look. Here's where: eavesdrop on the chatter in your 13-year-old daughter's bedroom when her friends are over.
Just 13-year-old girls, that's what we cross-dressers are. That's the reason why we wear tiny mini-skirts and tank tops, if we have the bodies to get away with it (and often even if we don't.) That's why we like to wear Cinderella ball gowns and wedding dresses, and flirt with boys. We're prepubescent! Even without testosterone, I suffer from prepubescence. The other day in graphics class I produced the drawing that accompanies this article. . "My god!" I exclaimed. "Did that come out of me? I'm a teenage girl, at age 50!" (There was a mitigating circumstance. It was Valentine's day.)
So what if I am a 13-year-old girl? My sex change, my whole transgender experience came out of struggling to discover and express my true self, as we all must do to live happy and fulfilling lives. If my true self happens to be a 13-year-old girl right now, well then, a 13-year-old-girl is exactly what I'll be. I suppose I'll grow out of it before long, but I'm going to enjoy it while I'm here. Aren't we always discouraging young people from trying to grow up too fast? I accept that as good advice for me, too.
"But," you may object, "my husband isn't growing out of it. He's still a 13-year-old girl after twenty years of cross-dressing!" Yes, arrested development is common among cross-dressers. Why? Because they cannot move on. How can they become twenty-one-year-old women? Can they marry twenty-one-year-old boys and start families? Not likely. Their only growth path, I'm afraid, is the one I'm on, transition. Otherwise, they remain stuck at 13 years old.
If the cross-dresser you love is a perpetual 13-year-old girl, so what? They still need to express their true selves. Do not try to strip them of their identity. Be happy for them; they've found the fountain of youth! They have what we all want, for they will be forever young.
Julie concludes her article with a sad little bit of blackmail. We cross-dressers must "depict women in as positive and respectful [a] manner as possible," she insists, or the public will continue to conflate us with drag queens, thereby incurring society's hostility (which is apparently justified when directed at drag queens). Honey, Wangari Maathai, Rosa Parks, Betty Friedan, and Jesus Christ didn't worry about incurring society's hostility. Neither do I.
—Lannie Rose, 3/2005