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.


2 thoughts on “Crossdressing

  1. I liked your way of dissecting the idea of cross-dressing, Jake. I have wondered about this much myself. It is intriguing to imagine removing the agenda of clothing, that is, which piece of clothing is intended for which gender. As much as I like the idea of removing this clothing agenda, what I’d like to add to the conversation is that in order to achieve this a much larger change in society would have to change. People are constantly looking new trends and fashions –to find what is appealing to the eye. Of course there are so many issues with how advertisements and the media portray women and what message they send, but that is a whole other issue.
    This whole conversation can also diverge into cultural affects on dressing. For example I don’t believe that by wearing a kilt, a MTF transgender would feel the same resolution as wearing a skirt. Because even though it has the same basic design as a skirt, the kilt is still a very masculine piece of attire. All clothing is so deeply rooted in culture too.
    What I also think about often is that in fact it is so much easier for women to wear “men’s” clothing. In Najmabadi’s piece she pointed out that part of why it is so much harder to transition to being a woman, is because men are the more desired gender in the Iranian culture. I think back to the long and still continuing struggle that women have gone through to have equal opportunity as men. One big achievement was that women decided they would wear pants instead of their skirts and dresses. Perhaps this set the line very early on that allows women to dress what could be considered very “manly”, whereas it is still uncommon and considered cross-dressing if men wear dresses. After all I am not labeled a cross-dresser by wearing pants. I suppose I have to thank the feminists of our history.
    Perhaps all that is needed is a new fad that embraces all of the cross-dressing possibilities and in turn makes them hip. That would make the identification of transgender people very difficult and hopefully reduce the violence and harassment of transgender individuals.

  2. 1st comment: Response to Cross dressing by Jake

    Jake I think your have brought up many interesting topics on modern day society when it comes to clothing and what is “mens” clothing and what is “womens” clothing. I’ve always noticed that while shopping in your average department stores “mens” clothing is separate from “womens” clothing, but never questioned the underlining gender binary that has been placed on society to conform and why.
    As I was reading your blog, I do believe that the world would be a better place if we did away with assigning gender to a certain type of clothing. I do believe that if we didn’t have social norms that are placed on us at birth we would be better off. The fact that society has placed such a huge barrier on something as simple as clothing is unbelievable but more so that the majority of society still abides by this norm. But I do also want to add that the gender spectrum has definitely started to stretch and society has definitely evolved in clothing as well when it comes to trends. For example more heterosexual men are starting to wear leggings that were predominately made for women, more men are starting to use more cosmetic products and going to nail salons but have now been labeled as metrosexual instead of homosexual in the past.
    I must admit that I’ve been completely blind to the transgender community altogether. I was always blind to the struggles or hardships that they face compared to the heterosexuals. After reading the article Evil Deceivers and Make Believers by Talia Mae Bettcher and reading the Gwen Araujo story, I immediately began to see how gender binaries can cause someone there life. The men felt that Gwen didn’t display herself as the sex see was born and mislead them. When in reality Gwen was being who she felt she was and unfortunately it cost her life. As a modern today society we need to eliminate gender binaries and the sex you were assigned at birth to define someone.

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