Modern society has a hard time understanding the concept that anything outside the gender binary can exist. And so when a person, especially someone who that same society has labeled as being male, wears “women’s” clothing, it can cause a stir in the minds of some people with more conservative notions. Crossdressing is the act of wearing the clothing that has been supposedly made for people of the “opposite” gender, and it is something I have been interested in for quite a long time. Not necessarily partaking in it myself, but more so learning about why other people do it, especially men who do not identify as transgender. It is my understanding that men who crossdress do so because it makes them feel more feminine and they like that feeling. But it makes me wonder about how it would be if there was no such thing as “masculine” or “feminine” clothing. Or maybe even masculinity or femininity in general. What if there were no preconceptions about who could wear what kinds of clothes? What if department stores didn’t have a “men’s” section or a “women’s” section? What if instead there were simply sections with shirts, sections with pants and shorts, sections with dresses, sections with underwear of all kinds, all mixed and intermingled throughout the store? Would people still crossdress? For example, do non-transgendered crossdressing men actually wear dresses because they like to feel feminine, or because a dress is just that much more comfortable than a pair of pants? If there was no such thing as feeling feminine, it would have to just be a choice of fashion, wouldn’t it? In other words: would crossdressers still crossdress? I hope that made as much sense to you as it does to me.
Unfortunately, however, we live in a world where department stores are usually split down the middle, with “men’s” clothes on one side and “women’s” clothes on the other, sometimes even on separate floors. Some stores even exclude either group completely. Society insists on keeping something as trivial as clothing in two separate categories, and some countries will even shun those who disrupt the system they’ve set. Cuba is one of these countries. As experienced by Adela Vazquez, who was assigned male at birth but identifies as female, and documented in Jaime Cortez’s 2004 graphic novel Sexile, Cubans who would show any sign of crossing the gender barrier were commonly harassed, beaten, or even exiled completely. Vazquez felt she had no choice but to flee to the United States so she could live her life the way wanted to live it. But the United States wasn’t always as accepting. At least not in late 1960’s San Francisco. Susan Stryker’s 2005 documentary, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, depicts part of San Francisco to be very hostile toward transwomen and drag queens. The police were known to enter a facility frequented by drag queens and arrest them for impersonating women. One such instance occurred at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin district, and the queens retaliated and started a riot. All of this because of the kinds of clothing a person chooses to wear? It’s all the same cotton, silk, wool, or leather anybody else is wearing! And I don’t blame them for wanting to wear “women’s” clothes; dresses look like they’d be extremely comfortable.