Crossdressing as a counter-culture?

A comment on this blog made me think a bit on the nature of crossdressing, which is not easily explained. As some readers might have noticed, I’m not the best person to explain it at all!

Most people tend not to distinguish between “gender” and “sex”, which is perfectly understandable; we tend to learn, from early on, that “boys are boys” (because they have a penis) and “girls are girls” (because they don’t). We expect boys to behave like boys, and girls like girls. Since we do a leap from physical, genetical sex (penis or vagina) to gender (male/female behaviour), it’s easy to mix both and think that they are the same. But they’re not.

One might consider that the notion of “gender” is a “role” we “play”, while “sex” is a definitely something physically defined at a genetic level. This is not entirely correct, in the sense that gender is just learned behaviour. Hormones in the bloodstream definitely condition behaviour — it’s generally accepted that high levels of testosterone in the bloodstream will conduct to more aggressive behaviour, for example. Since genetic males have much higher levels of testosterone than genetic females, there is a strong correlation between “being a genetic male” and “aggressivity”, and this is undisputed by science — it doesn’t mean, though, that testosterone is the only factor in “aggressivity”.

It is also an established fact that genetic females have quite different sensory inputs. One one hand, they are able to feel smells much better and have a much higher sensivity to touch; their skins seem to be differently sensitive to touch, and they feel it quite intensely, compared to males. I will not go into the completely different way they feel orgasms; it remains to be said that, on the other hand, genetic females are less sensitive to acute and intense pain, when compared to genetic males.

So, yes, we’re “wired” differently, and we have different hormones in our bloodstreams. This is the physical basis on what separates the two sexes, and what conditions our gender as well.

The next step is the “role” we play in society. A boy to be trained as a bullfighter in an arena will be quite differently educated than a girl who is expected to be a good and caring mother. These are extreme cases from our recent past (the 20th century questioned these extremes so hard as to abolish it), but it pervades our society. Thus, a mother will teach some things to her daughter which she won’t teach her son — no matter how much both are loved! Although it’s perfectly natural these days to teach a girl how to play soccer or football, it is not acceptable to teach the boys how to put some makeup! Most mothers would be shocked to even consider such a thing.

But is that concept so alien? Actually, no. Before the 15th century in Europe, it was rather unacceptable for genetic females to use very garish colours in their dresses — pastels were acceptable, but not much more — since the very elaborate, colourful costumes were reserved for the men. During the 16th-18th centuries, however, women’s clothing approached male’s clothing in terms of sumptuousness and colourfulness. In the 1750s, both men and women wore wigs under their long hair, corsets under their clothes, and stockings on their legs, all those in colourful shades; both used makeup; both had exaggerated movements to display their moods. Although the cut of their dresses was different, the notion of “dressing up” was shared by women and men alike. In the 19th century, however, men abandoned their colourful costumes and started wearing black frocks, white shirts, and a tie. In a sense, variations on this theme reached our days, where men are expected to dress conservatively, while women are allowed a complete freedom of choice. The only thing that they weren’t allowed to, until WWII, is to “dress like a men” — something which today is perfectly acceptable, as said.

The use of clothes and accessories is, thus, mostly dictated by local social norms and fashion; it changes over time, and definitely from place to place — one has only to travel across the continents to see the wide variety of display of what is acceptable to be worn by either sex.

So, the “outer display” of your physical sex is what we tend to call “gender”. If you will, “gender” is the role you pick in this society we live in, and every society has at least two genders — male and female. It is also expected that genetic males will pick a male gender as their role, and genetic females will pick a female gender, although, in the latter case, a genetic female picking a male gender is more and more acceptable and hardly not noticed — especially on the busy and stressy workplace.

The reverse, of course, is not true, and will very likely never be. This means that males picking a female gender are (currently) a counter-culture — they are a reverse of the women’s lib movements, who demanded the right of women to behave like men. Although crossdressers don’t, as a norm, go out in the streets to fight for the right of men to dress like women and “display feminine trends” like their genetic sisters, one could almost imagine that “movement” as a counter-culture. The difference, of course, is while over half of the world’s population are genetic females, and thus a fight for the rights of half the population is truly viewed as being something worthwhile to fight for — crossdressers are such a tiny minority that it’s almost impossible to account for them 🙂 We still love the way we expect females to act, dress, and behave 🙂 There is something pleasing — and naturally, exciting as well! — in the “female way”. In a sense, one can only envy the 21st-century genetic females because they are allowed to adopt both roles. If they want, they can come to work in a loose T-shirt, worn jeans, tennis shoes, a short haircut, walking like a guy, and nobody will look twice at them; and at night, they can wear one of those lovely dresses, and everyone will find that perfectly natural.

To recap: physical sex is not the same as gender (expressed through behaviour), but in most people in the world, they coincide. Gender can be thought of role-playing — a mask that you put on for life, and if you’re a boy, you’ll pretend to act like one, for the rest of your life. Gender is influenced by a different wiring of the nervous system and by hormones; but it is mostly influenced by social norms and expectation of behaviour, which changes across time and space. The currently political correct expression of transgendered is a fancy catch-all name that pretends to subsume all possible explanations of individuals being born with a certain physical sex but displaying behaviour more consistent with a different gender.

It’s not easy for me to say what exactly it is. The ancient Classic philosophers tended to view our souls split between anima (the male part) and anime (the female part) — not unlike the more common, Eastern view of Yin/Yang — and that a balance between both should be met. For most people in the world, this balance comes very easily.

Not for me, though. If I answer one of those psychological tests to show you male/female sides, I rate so high on the female scores (86% was the highest so far) that it often scares me. I’m pretty sure I don’t answer them by thinking about what they mean and trying to influence the results — I just do them quickly with what “feels” right.

In my daily life, I don’t have any “female” tendencies that I notice. Sure, I’m a “gentle leader” and not an aggressive, dominant boss at work. I don’t shout at colleagues when they’re wrong. I don’t drive with the windows open and swear to other drivers. But several billion genetic males don’t do that, either!

I’m also not a creative person or one with an overwhelming sensibility, either. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty much an ordinary person… so I don’t understand those high ratings as “female”.

What I can say about myself is that there is an inner struggle between what I can very palpably feel to be my male and female parts of my soul. Most people, as said, aren’t even aware that there are “struggles”. The two parts are, in a way, perfectly united. It doesn’t work like that for me. Often I have to make an effort to remember that I’m supposed to behave like a male. This is specially true when under stress, but mostly when I’m finishing to remove my makeup before going to sleep and putting the clothes away after a “dressing session”. There is this immense sense of loss in my soul; that I will have to go to bed, sleep it over, and wake up, only to get dressed again as a regular male. This makes me naturally very sad. Not “sad” in the modern sense of “getting depressed” — I’m fortunately “immune” to depression — but it’s tough. I need to take deep breaths before forgetting that I’m not allowed to touch my dresses, wig, shoes, and makeup, and have to go to work in my regular, male clothes. Yes, it’s saddening.

I sometimes wonder (or dream about it) what people at the office or at my friends’ would say if I appeared in my female clothes. The only thought I have is that this might very likely never be acceptable in my lifetime. It took centuries until we embraced the notion that men and women could dress “alike” (in the 18th century), and another century to change both styles of clothes completely… only to accept women wearing men’s clothes by the end of the 20th century. The reverse, I’m afraid, might never become true — although I can imagine that men’s clothing might change in the next few decades, it will be still quite distinct from female apparel.

I’m a “surface crossdresser” — in the sense that “feeling the female gender”, for me, is just skin-deep, namely, just the clothes and accessories. Crossdressing could be a counter-culture and a fashion statement, if you just take the “outer” shell (or mask) — the image one presents oneself to society. But images are still important. “Deeper crossdressers” want so much more than just animage — they want other kinds of experiences as well. But I’ll reserve that for a future article 🙂