How do we get crossdressing to become socially acceptable?

Most of you who are reading this (but not all!) are crossdressing fetishists, either as crossdressers themselves, or simply as people who enjoy watching crossdressers. Fetishism is as natural as, well, rain falling from clouds — we all have it, even if we refuse to assume it. The most straight guy will always develop a fetishism for sexy feminine lingerie — that’s why women wear them to seduce guys, after all 🙂

Because of that, the overall image related to crossdressing (in public or private) is always associated to, well, sex. If it’s a fetish, it’s about sex. If you crossdress, you’re getting excited, or wish to get excited, or wish to get others excited — but it’s about sex, sex, sex.

I believe that this is one of the reasons why there is relatively low tolerance of crossdressing in public. The immediate image that comes to mind — even to someone who is relatively open-minded — is: “there goes a person that only thinks about sex”.

There are differences between lust, excitement, and a desire for sex, but most of them are too subtle for most people to separate. For instance, I always get excited while dressing up. Does it mean I’m thinking about sex? No, not all the time. I still get excited. I get an adrenaline rush. I get hot, start breathing more quickly, and my heart seems to be bursting. When I finish dressing up and sit down in front of the computer, I’m shaking all over and need a ciggy (or two!) and half a litre of water to calm myself down. This happens all the time, even after all those years. Am I thinking about sex? No, not really. The fetish of wearing femme clothes has naturally a lot to do with that, but it’s excitement for being a female for a little while that triggers the adrenaline rush. And, like all emotions, it passes and goes away after a bit, and I focus on a different, longer-lasting emotion:pleasure, which is not necessarily tied to the adrenaline rush. But, again, pleasure is not all about sex. Sex is pleasing (obviously!!), but it’s not the only thing giving me pleasure: reading a book, talking to friends, all of that is pleasing, and none are related to sex.

Nevertheless, from the perspective of an outsider (even a very tolerant and open-minded one), crossdressing is always related to fetishism, and thus, related to sex. CDs dress as women because they want to get sex. Or if they don’t, they want at least flirt (presumably with guys; it’s not my case, and neither the case of a large proportion of straight crossdressers), and even if it’s not physical sex, it’s about mental sex (which, in all truth, is where sex happens — the physical aspects are just additional stimulation).

Now, in our everyday lives, we still attempt to do a reasonable job of separating what happens in private — wild, rough sex!!! — and what we do in public. We wear clothes for protection mostly, but also for fashion (pleasure again!) and, of course, to disguise one of the most potent triggers of sex: nudity. This is just natural, we’re wired that way.

However, unlike animals — which cannot control their sexual impulses during mating season — we’ve learned to adjust and separate our private lives from our public ones. The public mask we present to others is what enables us to build functional societies. Although among animals we’re unique in the sense that we can be always horny if we want, we are also unique that we can counter our sexual urges and work as if sex wasn’t in our minds all the time (in fact, for most people, we’renot thinking about sex all the time!). When we’re not thinking about sex, we can actually engage in our jobs, our studies, or in mentally stimulating conversations with others — the pillars of our modern civilisation. Outside that public contact with others to make our society work, of course we can think about sex all the time, or, better still, engage in sex all the time. 🙂

But because of that separation — public work towards a community (even if it’s just doing your job behind the desk) vs. the urge to get sexually excited — we adopt different norms and conducts, and these include a dress code. Even in the most liberal countries of the world you can’t work as a bank manager in your sexy underwear. The reason for that is really just functional, and not merely a taboo or some sort of social conditioning: if all you can think at the workplace is sex, you won’t be doing a great job. And if we’re all be doing that, we wouldn’t have a working society — we’d act like the bonobos (dwarf chimpanzees) and just have sex 24h/day 😉

So here is where I see a big problem with crossdressers becoming socially acceptable. Because crossdressing is viewed as a fetish, most people will immediately associate someone who crossdresses as someone who wears femme clothes in order to get sexual stimulation — or, well, even being “hunting for a partner”. It really doesn’t matter if you’re actually wearing the most boring and casual style and acting in a way that would be absolutely and completely acceptable for a woman to act, e.g. not doing poses and sultry looks and inviting smiles to the coffee shop attendant when asking for an expresso.

But even acting like a woman would act in public is simply not enough. Two things might happen: either you pass, or you don’t. If you pass, there is no problem, from the social perspective: you’d be taken as just another woman wishing to enjoy an expresson in quiet and handled like any other customer. You don’t “register” as being unusual. These, of course, are the exceptions — the few lucky ones that could, in theory, have a completely banal living dressing as a woman and never getting a second glance from people they interact with (unless, of course, they move to the privatesphere… 😉 ).

The sad truth is that the number of crossdressers that can “pass” all the time is as small as the number of genetic females that have the body of a goddess and are Hollywood material. In the real world, those two groups are indeed very, very small. Let’s face it: most women are sadly not beautiful (I say “sadly” because many of the ones in that group actually suffer a lot). With enough money for nice clothes, good fashion taste, appropriate surgery, or at least a high-quality personal hygiene, I can very well consider that, say, 10% of all women can be considered at least “attractive” if not exactly “beautiful”.

Nevertheless, even if you’re a genetic female not lucky enough to be in that group of 10%, that doesn’t mean you’re socially excluded! Rather the contrary: you’re part of the majority of the better half of the human species, and, so long as you have a gentle conduct in public, you’ll naturally be able to earn your respect — and quietly order your expresso and have it served with a smile.

Crossdressers, however, are not so lucky. I don’t know if 10% can pass all the time — I would seriously suspect the number to be much, much lower than that. Nevertheless, the problem here is that those 90 or 99% can act in a way that is perfectly socially acceptable (for women, that is), but, since they will always be seen as “men in drag”, they will immediately and irrevocably be tagged as “people who are fetishists and want to have sex”. The style of dressing or your manners will have little influence in the perception of the people you interact with: they will be socially conditioned to equate fetishism with sexual desire, and react — negatively — to anyone who is flaunting that desire of getting sex in public.

This is a complex behaviour. Notice that nothing that the non-passing crossdresser does will avoid others to have that perception about them. As said, they can wear the most casual and boring styles, and act as the perfect lady in public. But if they don’t pass, they will just be seen as fetishists who are stepping out of the private arena and trespassing into the public one — and thus be shunned. It has nothing to do with morals, religion, or even laws. It has even little to do with tolerance or open-mindedness. No, it’s this stepping out of what is done in private and what is done in public that shakes the social foundations of our society, and we’re conditioned to react negatively against that. We can’t avoid it: we have been trained for eons by our parents and grandparents to separate the private from the public, and this reaction is “natural” to all of us.

I believe that this is the reason why homosexuality, even publicly assumed, is way more tolerated. Of course that a homosexual that wears garish clothing in public and is flirting with everybody around them will be shunned; but these are really the exception and hardly the rule. Your colleague next to your desk might be a homosexual, and everybody might know, but he will act and dress according to the social conventions for behaviour in the public space. These days, we’re even a bit looser in those conventions: dying your head blue and wearing some earrings are socially accepted for male homosexuals; cutting your hair very short and wearing a stereotypical male outfit is also socially accepted for female homosexuals. This mostly means that the dress itself is less relevant than the attitude, the manners, the behaviour in public. If the blue-haired male homosexual is not exactly flaunting his masculine parts in public and rubbing against colleagues, he will be quite tolerated, most of the time, except for die-hard, right-wing, religious fundamentalists (which are fortunately not that many; sadly, most of them are in positions of power…).

Crossdressers, just by wearing clothes of the opposite gender, cannot hide their fetishism. The only way they have to socially interact with the population at large is, well, to dress according to their own gender. There is quite a difference in quality here. Homosexuality is a function of the private sphere — it is related to sex — which can or not be expressed publicly and externally on your clothes, manners, or attitudes. But you’re not “less homosexual” if you wear a nice suit from Armani in grey or navy blue. Homosexuality is expressed in the private area, the public one is just for “show” but it’s not necessary part of “buying into the package”. Actually, most homosexuals won’t do anything publicly that tips them off — and, if you think about it, most heterosexuals also do the same.

Imagine all kinds of fetishism that you might do as a heterosexual couple in private! Bondage, role-playing, S/M, the list is endless… however, if you walk on the street, nobody will have a clue about what your fetish actually is. Your neighbour at the office desk might be the most sex-crazed person in the world, with a long list of fetishism, every night an orgy, and he’ll still be hired to the most serious-looking position of the world, like CFO of an old, established bank. The wonderful aspect of keeping your fetishism separately from your daily dressing style is that nobody will know.

Crossdressing is so different! Of course you can keep it to the privacy of your home (like I do), and 99.999% of the people will never notice anything. It took some years, for instance, for a (female) cousin of mine to notice that I actually shave the hair on my hands (in fact, I shave much more, but it’s only visible on my hands!). I love that when I go to my group meditation sessions, I’ve got my legs all shaved, silky-smooth, and my toenails painted, and possibly wearing some panties — but, again, nobody will know. Sometimes I even wear a bra, specially in winter, when nobody notices it under the thick clothing. And so far nobody noticed my eyebrow-plucking — it’s just to keep them straight, although, over the years, I’ve been steadily increasing the arch over the pupil, but so subtly and in such small steps that, again, nobody notices (I think that not even my S.O. noticed that until I told her — she just warned me off not to overdo it). Of course all this is fun, and definitely part of the crossdressing experience (some of us never do much more than that!), and it also means attracting some strange looks at the beach (uh… specially if you forgot to remove the nail polish!!!!), but not much more than that — after all, a lot of guys do full-body shaves, and they’re neither homosexuals nor metrosexuals, they just like to show themselves off hairless 😉

But that’s the limit you can go. Wearing a dress and walking in heels in public is beyond the “tolerance” limit. It’s something you can obviously pull off if:

  1. You have such a gorgeous figure that you can simply pass 100% of the time. This is insanely rare 🙂
  2. You live in a particular neighbourhood where there is an exceptionally high tolerance of T-girls (sadly, most of those are also red light districts…).
  3. You simply don’t care of making a fool of yourself in public, or what neighbours and friends will say. Some people are like that 🙂 They’re not doing anything illegal (in most countries anyway), so if others feel shocked about the way you present yourself in public, just let them be shocked… it’s their problem, not yours 🙂
  4. Keep it limited to very rare and special occasions and avoid areas where you’ll be in touch with people you know.

So, in a sense, unless you’re under case 1 (perfectly passing) or 3 (don’t care), or have a job living in a highly-tolerant neighbourhood, it means that you’ll have no choice but to keep it to hiding your crossdressing from friends, family… and your employer.

I really have thought a lot about that in the past few years. It seems that there is a road ahead for me, but at some point, it forks and I’ll have to pick a choice. I think I can slowly work up my courage to go out some more — doing it in the middle of the night, and gaining confidence, with bad lighting, even if I’m “seen”, there will be a lot of doubts on the person who sees me as to my real identity. They might find my face “familiar” but not be able to place it.

Going out in plain daylight will be much, much harder, since most of my neighbours know me quite well, and I greet them every day. I think I could manage to trick a few by wearing very dark sunglasses. Still, I’d be quite tall for an average woman in my country, and catch people’s attention immediately — and even though I get so many positive comments on my pictures and videos, let’s be honest: I’m not slim, I don’t have a nice female figure. There will always be a degree of “wrongness”: while there are a lot of “stocky” women in my country (and some of them might wear similar clothes to the ones I like; most sadly have a terrible fashion taste because they don’t think it’s worth “enhancing an image” when they believe there is not much to “enhance” anyway. I think otherwise!), none of the “stocky” types are as tall as I am, so I’d look very strange indeed: stocky andtall, and not graceful enough to be able to pull it off…

Now if I were stocky and small, or slim and tall, I might have a different opinion 🙂

So I’m quite sure that in plain daylight people will immediately notice how “strange” I look. They might not recognise me immediately, though. There will be some hints… like walking from the building I live to my car, which is old and quite known by the neighbours as well. So can I possibly “pass” in that situation? I have no clue how to deal with that. It’s not that my neighbourhood is very busy — in the sense that it is a residential area, not a business district! — but there are always people on the street, even if few at a time.

But let’s even imagine that I might be able to go that step. If I just do it once, the neighbours will probably think they might be just confused. There are similar cars to my own (none in the neighbourhood, though). I might just be a visitor or even a tourist — some apartments in our building are rented out for the holiday season, for example. But if I start doing it regularly, there is no way I cannot avoid being recognised. I think that as a rule of thumb, one time out of three when I walk out of the building during the day, I’ll meet at least one neighbour for sure.

And of course, then there is the next step — going out for shopping for food (or clothes!), for buying ciggies, for putting some gas in my car… even picking up random spots in the region I live in, there is a limit on the supermarkets in, say, a 20 km radius. I find this extremely hard to achieve.

And the final step, the one that is the most daring, is to get a job where they’d accept crossdressers. I’ve often written about how utterly impossible this actually is.

So, we’re back to the original question. To allow all these things to unfold, we would need to get crossdressing to become socially acceptable. How can this be accomplished? From what I read on CD support groups and CD activist groups, we’re still at what I’d call the “information stage”: meaning that information is being published, research is being done, and support is being given. Movies and TV series are sometimes presenting a correct picture of crossdressing, which is quite encouraging, but we would need far more. And some countries — or some states inside federal countries — have, in theory, anti-discrimination laws in place that forbid discrimination against crossdressers, even though in practice they’re hard to enforce.

The point here is… you can’t discriminate people based on their gender and sexual preferences. That’s fine. However, crossdressing is, at least externally, about a dressing code. There is no law that forbids, say, a bank (I like the bank example because they’re always so formally dressed) to impose an internal dress code to their employees. They might designate “business clothing” as their code, and provide examples of what is meant as “business clothing”. Business clothing (perhaps even more so than casual clothing!) is strictly gender-related. You can’t be a genetic male and adoptfemale business clothing and expect the bank to be happy about that!

And that’s were be get once more to the start. It doesn’t really matter if you go in public wearing a casual or elegant outfit that would be perfectly acceptable if you happened to have been born as a genetic female. Your manner might be perfect for a lady. You might be polite, nice, smile a lot, be friendly, and extremely competent in what you do. But that won’t be enough to work in a bank as a crossdresser.

No, sadly, if you wish to do that you have no other choice but to go through surgery and change your physical sex! Then you can insist to go to your job in female clothing, and, if you’re thrown out, you are protected, because that would be discrimination against transexuals. And those, thankfully, have their rights protected!

So perhaps you see that we crossdressers are at a dilemma. We can just look at our crossdressing and take it as a hobby or a fetishism, done in private, in CD-friendly places. You might “come out” or not to your family, friends, even employers — so long as you keep your crossdressing to your private sphere, that’s fine. It’s the same as assuming you’re into bondage or threesomes — so long as you don’t do that in public, you’re fine. But crossdressing can be “merely a hobby” or “merely a fetish”, or it can be something else: it can be a gender role that you’d like to assume full-time, and this role is mostly defined by external behaviour (clothes and mannerisms). Now this kind of crossdressing is not allowed, or at least, it isn’t in most places. Additionally, in most countries at least, you cannot claim “discrimination” until you go through full surgery and officially change yoursex (not merely your gender). This has been a source of confusion, although one might understand the difficulties of creating legislation that handle all cases. There is special legislation on all Western countries that protect women and forbid discrimination against them. Most Western countries (these days, almost without exception), transexuals are also protected from discrimination — more so if they’re MtF transexuals (as they will be protected both from being transexuals and women).

But there is no “protection” whatsoever if you wish to remain with your genetic sex and not go through surgery, but just present yourself in public as a different gender…

So, how can we make this work?

  • it depend on where you live. Some area of this world does not seem to care. But other like the religous right thing if you are not obeying their rule and their believes then your the scumb of the world. To me it makes no difference.

  • See, my belief is that there are so many different facets of crossdressing that people dont take into account. For instance, you have transgender, transexual, transvestite, and just plain guys who like to wear womens clothing and like the styles. I myself fall into that last category. I recently told my wife about what I like and she was disturbed and upset about it. She compared me to Soddom and Gamorah from the Bible and asked if I wanted to actually be a woman. I told her no! I just like womens fashion and wish to be able to wear the stuff myself without and quams or problems. I have no interest in BEING a woman. I am sitting here at work right now wearing my Rocket Dog ballet flats and would love to be able to wear them in front of customers….sadly, I cannot. I have to switch to my manly dress shoes when people come in. I live in the US. If i was allowed to, Id be wearing a skirt and nice blouse/tunic with a nice pair of heels, but I wouldnt be wearing a wig or makeup, and would not be shaving my facial hair. I like who I am. I just love fashion from both sides of the track. I think people have in their minds that if youre a crossdresser, you want to be a woman with the full getup and that is simply not the case. 1 in 20 guys crossdress on a regular basis and an even higher percentage have done it at least once just to see what its like. Were not as much of a minority as we think we are. Were just too afraid to come out and let everyone else know, fearing that everyone will think we want to be women. That is the transgender side of it that the majority of guys dont have an interest in. My goal is to make crossdressing in its most basic form…dressing in womens clothing…socially acceptable. Transgenders and everyone else have their own rights to be who they are, but its gotta start somewhere. I have been creating outfits for men using a mixture of mens and womens clothing to create a new style of crossdressing which I call "crossover". Its for those of us who have no intention of being a woman, but love fashion. Check it out! Id say, for those daring enough, make your own accounts and start creating your own crossover fashion outfits. women mix mens clothing into their outfits all the time with pants and tennis shoes and all that. Why cant we do the same?? If you want to check out some examples, take a look at what I mean… khelek.polyvore.com . If you all enjoy what you see, like, follow or comment on the outfits!

    • You're right — women crossdress all the time, and nobody talks about it as "crossdressing". While males wearing a skirt and some heels, even if the rest of their outfit is still "male", and wear short hair and a beard are… not accepted.

      Obviously there is a very wide spectrum of crossdressers, and you're certainly on that classification — as are all sorts of guys who might externally be in male attire, but wearing sexy female underwear beneath 🙂

      "Crossover" is certainly a first step. In my country (Portugal) there is a starlet who is at the forefront of the crossover style — and he's certainly absolutely accepted on social circles, TV, and so forth, even if he might not enjoy overwhelming acceptance (but he likes to be provocative in his styles). He actually started his life as a transvestite (he has the perfect face and body for that), but, as he left that way of life and married a rich heiress, he just turned what you call the "crossover" style very public, even though lately it's hard to classify his style: sometimes he's wearing clearly female clothing, sometimes it's a mix, sometimes it's so outrageous that it belongs to neither gender 🙂

      Speaking strictly for myself, there is more fun to crossdressing beyond clothes — it can also go further towards enjoying the pleasure of a whole feminine image and social role — but I fully understand that's just another spot in the vast spectrum. There is nothing "compulsory" about what you have to do after you start wearing women's clothes for the first time — just do what feels comfortable! 🙂

  • You’re right — women crossdress all the time, and nobody talks about it as “crossdressing”. While males wearing a skirt and some heels, even if the rest of their outfit is still “male”, and wear short hair and a beard are… not accepted.

    Obviously there is a very wide spectrum of crossdressers, and you’re certainly on that classification — as are all sorts of guys who might externally be in male attire, but wearing sexy female underwear beneath 🙂

    “Crossover” is certainly a first step. In my country (Portugal) there is a starlet who is at the forefront of the crossover style — and he’s certainly absolutely accepted on social circles, TV, and so forth, even if he might not enjoy overwhelming acceptance (but he likes to be provocative in his styles). He actually started his life as a transvestite (he has the perfect face and body for that), but, as he left that way of life and married a rich heiress, he just turned what you call the “crossover” style very public, even though lately it’s hard to classify his style: sometimes he’s wearing clearly female clothing, sometimes it’s a mix, sometimes it’s so outrageous that it belongs to neither gender 🙂

    Speaking strictly for myself, there is more fun to crossdressing beyond clothes — it can also go further towards enjoying the pleasure of a whole feminine image and social role — but I fully understand that’s just another spot in the vast spectrum. There is nothing “compulsory” about what you have to do after you start wearing women’s clothes for the first time — just do what feels comfortable! 🙂

  • Chloe

    It became acceptable for women to wear male clothing because when they do they are not "getting off on it". It's not a sexual fetish. A big thing is that when women wear male clothing they are usually not trying to convince everyone they are a man. They wear them because they find them more comfortable or like the styles. If you've been crossdressing publically for a long time the whole voyeurism thing as probably gotten old and you're no longer getting off on it. Another thing is most crossdressers have no sense of style. They look ridiculous so they're going to be treated that way too. You can't go "oh i like these, oh i like these… and THESE!" and throw them all together and think it will make a good outfit. That's how it works with male clothes but it's a lot more tricky with female clothes. I crossdress fulltime and everyone takes me seriously because I dress like a real woman. You know, sensibly for the situation and all that jazz. You don't wear a cocktail dress to the beach!

    • I believe I see your point, made at the very beginning — I keep forgetting that for many crossdressers, the whole point of crossdressing is, well, get laid. This has trickled down to the mainstream view about MtF crossdressing: gender-confused males, who are not quite happy with the label "homosexual" but who enjoy sex with other males when they're dressing as women… because this is so confusing for a mainstream, cisgendered person, they naturally label a MtF crossdresser as mostly a "sex freak" and do not accept such behaviour in public…

      When I wrote this article, three years ago, I didn't take that into account — some crossdressers are mainly fetishists, they wear women's clothing because they wish to look sexually attractive to males who have the fetish of having sex with males with women's clothing… confusing, isn't it? No wonder a cisgendered heterosexual is totally lost and rejects that behaviour.

      As to the last point, I have to completely agree with you — lack of style definitely raises a lot of eyebrows 🙂 I find myself also guilty as charged — not being a full-time crossdresser like you, and going out mostly late at night, I tend to accumulate much more "going out" outfits than casual, everyday ones. Most part-time crossdressers are not much different. Worse than that, if you're not used to deal with regular dressing, you might not have any clue about which styles fit you, which favour you, and which are simply outrageously out of fashion 🙂 (I get laughed at by my wife when I pick one of those three, and thanks to her, at least I manage to avoid the utter extremes of fashionlessness 🙂 ) So, yes, looking ridiculous is definitely part of the problem.

      • This also reminds me of a funny story which relates to this very same issue. It's not only MtF crossdressers who have a difficulty in dressing "like a real woman", as you say. Women who regularly wear uniforms for work also tend to have some trouble picking up fitting styles when not on duty. Almost two decades ago, I was drafted for military service, at a time where about a third of my country's standing army were women — most of them having served since they were 18 and pretty much used to wearing uniforms all day long. I had a male lieutenant and two female sergeants training our platoon, and, naturally, they would wear uniforms all day. Once, when I was on leave, and already allowed to go out of the barracks in my civilian outfit during the early night, I suddenly heard my name being yelled at in anger, as I moved out of the camp to cross the street where I had my car parked. I turned around, fearing that I had offended any officer (I was distracted), but all I saw was two gorgeous, long-haired females dressed as very sultry whores, with high-heeled boots, smiling at me. Totally lost and confused, my surprise must have registered, because one of them barked at me with the typical command voice of a female sergeant: "You really didn't recognise us, did you?" And I certainly didn't; only the voice, which was familiar from the daily drills, betrayed the two of them. Well, I certainly was shocked, twice over! First of all, after weeks of drills, I hardly remembered that the two sergeants were technically "female", because, well, that's the kind of thing they make us quickly "forget" while being yelled at. After a while, your mind definitely "knows" that under that uniform is a member of the opposite gender, but one most certainly won't dwell a lot on that point — sergeants are sergeants, male or female matters little in the army, except for separate barracks and bathrooms. So, yes, I had this notion that they would also dress as civilians at some point, but, of course, they were completely unrecogniseable — not with long hair (which they keep tight in a bun under the military cap and which I had no idea how it looked like), lots of alluring makeup, sexy outfits baring flesh and pointing out all those delicious curves. And the second shock, of course, was realising that they were both hotties — who would guess, under a military uniform? — but, well, definitely didn't dress "casually" when going out as civilians: so many years dressing in uniform made them definitely lose all sense of properness in fashion and style. As said, they *did* look like whores — gorgeous-looking whores at that! — and would hardly be admitted at a fancy restaurant or even a high-brow club, which would probably kick them out.

        They had some good laughing at my expense, but, after the shock, and when I understood that they wouldn't report me for failing to salute them properly, that small episode remained one of my very few positive moments during the terror of mandatory military service 🙂

        Since then, I met a few other women who wear all sorts of uniforms for work, and I have noticed that most of them — of course there are exceptions! — tend to be a bit confused when wearing "normal" clothing. They tend to pick clothes that don't flatter them, or are a few years out of fashion, or either underdress or overdress — or go for outrageous outfits which make them stand out in a crowd, but for the wrong reasons. I guess the same applies to them as well as to part-time MtF crossdressers: we simply aren't used to pick the "right" female outfit, because, well, most of the time we aren't wearing women's clothing at all.

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