One of the things that always fascinated me from my teen days is the subject ofidentity, and since it’s something that pretty much all crossdressers have to face at some time in their lives, I love to think and write about it.
This past weekend, sadly, I had no time to dress. I had to do a rather long trip across the mountains. Unlike some of you (winks at erin) who drive for fun, for me the driving experience is something very exhausting — a thing I have to do, instead of being something I enjoy. The weather was not helping, either: rain poured on top of the road like travelling through a river (seriously), while at the same time, fog and low clouds kept the visibility to a a few handspans in front of the car. Add to that strong winds up in the mountains (fortunately, I didn’t get any snow) and an inch of water on the road, and you can imagine it wasn’t fun at all driving like that.
I didn’t expect anything less than a fight with the elements, and I was already tired before starting the voyage (an hour before sunrise… and the sun technically never shone for most of the long voyage). So you really need to love to drive to enjoy those extreme weather conditions!
To make the whole experience a little more bearable, I decided, all of a sudden, to drive semi-crossdressed. After all, I’d been stuck in the car for about five hours with little visibility; I was driving my father’s car (my own car is being repaired; the heater broke down), so few people would recognise me. So I opted for an “unisex” blue top, brought a bra with my (old) silicone breasts, put on a corset, one old wig, and just a pearl necklace; the rest of the outfit was definitely not female enough to pass. And no makeup of course. It was a way to keep my mind off the boredom of travelling alone.
About midway, I had to do a “bio break”. The only advantage of the winter is that I could wear an overcoat on top of all that and just remove the wig and the necklace 🙂
It was certainly fun… for a few hours. It kept me awake and naturally I had plenty of time to think about the following topics…
Recently I came across a lot of research papers on transgenderism, transexuality, crossdressing, and gender identity. As many of you know, I usually describe myself as an autogynephilic crossdresser. What this means is that, although my physical sex is male (more correctly: my phenotype, as determined by DNA, is male), my gender identity fluctuates between male and female, and my sexual behaviour is heterosexual (some call it gynophile, e.g. attracted to genetic females), I get my kicks from watching my feminine image. And just that. In a sense, I’m a narcissistic voyeur — watching myself acting and looking female is what excites me. The whole sexual aspect of having a partner while dressed is simply not part of my mindset.
Then I read that this classification — autogynephilia — is seriously contested, and apparently the trans community hates it. Following the arguments requires a Ph.D. in psychology so I won’t pretend I understood it. The main point is that Blanchard, who proposed this term, assumed that it was a paraphilia, and, as such, a “disease” worth treating. The trans community, of course, refuses the label “disease” because it’s so pejorative and unfair for all of us transgendered persons.
Now I can understand why the label is so offensive to many. However, the opponents of that term seem to minimise its importance somehow. They accurately attack the “disease” label, and also present a good case explaining that the fetish of a male picturing himself as a female is just one of many possible fetishes, but I think that they oversee the point this leads to.
You see, my gender identity is not fixed; it fluctuates. This is common to many crossdressers; they can be both genders, sometimes at the same time. Some, however, never experience the gender identity fully — and it’s by no means the smaller group. This group will have their gender identity strongly rooted in the male aspect, but will nevertheless enjoy dressing as a woman, which will excite them — transvestism as a fetish. Some will use it as a pretext for homosexual relationships, a different form of fetish which also implies a different sexual behaviour. Since it’s temporary, it doesn’t automatically turn the person into a “closet homosexual” — everybody has homosexual fantasies once in a while (even if they fully deny it, even to themselves), but it requires a constant homosexual desire to label that person a homosexual. Occasional desire and/or fantasies aren’t even enough to label someone as bisexual. At least, that’s what the psychology researchers claim.
My personal issue is that something in me does not change. Since my first orgasm, when I was 11 or 12 (I forget), I always imagined myself as having a female body. Sometimes I might imagine my own male body having sex with an idealised, female version of my self, but the association I had was that the physical body I was touching and caressing was a female one. I very rarely have spontaneous, unconscious “wet dreams”, which would somehow solve my dilemma (from the perspective of a therapist at least), and they’re very muddled at best, but I’m quite sure that the female in the “wet dream” is always an idealised picture of myself, having sex with my male counterpart. This is pure narcissism — I always fantasise about my male self having sex with my female self. I can count from my fingers the few exceptions to the rule, and all of them are heterosexual experiences where the target of my desire is always female.
Most of my so-called “wet dreams” are not really “dreams” in the usual sense of the word, i.e. being fast asleep and letting my unconscious having fun with what it finds deep in my mind. They’re “day-dreaming”; fantasies I picture up in my mind just to get an orgasm before falling asleep again. The majority involves always the same kind of experience: imagining that my body is female, and that my male self is having sex with it. The point here is that the object of desire is always my idealised female body; my “male self” is just an actor in the background, necessary because of the action 🙂 Very rarely I picture myself as having a female body and having sex with some of my male friends (specially the ones that are more intolerant and closed-minded 😉 ) or male strangers; I often imagine some females as lovers instead. The level of “feminisation” also varies; sometimes I just picture myself as crossdressed, more often as having gone through surgery (it’s the same body, but just with the genitalia re-arranged), sometimes as just having boobs but still a penis (and having my wife as partner), but quite often just imagining I had been born with a female body, and sometimes being inside a completely different female body. Even though I might imagine having sex with a male friend, what my mind pictures is a heterosexual relation: a woman and a guy having sex together. I don’t feel attracted at all to same-sex intercourse using male bodies, not even in my dreams. One of my imagined partners has definitely to have a vagina!
And, very occasionally, I might have perfectly normal (for a heterosexual male, that is) dreams of having sex with a female, which I do not identify with “myself” at all — just like any perfectly healthy and normal heterosexual male, in fact. These cases are very rare, though.
If I were a shrink analysing myself, I’d actually find a good answer for these kinds of “day-dreaming” fantasies. When I was a teen, I sort of convinced myself that I would never have sex with a female that I really considered very attractive — I was just not the right kind of guy to get an attractive female as partner (in fact, I did just have sex with two attractive females in my entire life; and I had a very attractive girlfriend for a while, but we never had sex together — even though once we had to sleep in the same bed. Yes, I admit I’m a very strange kind of person 🙂 But I was too deeply in love with her to be afraid of losing the whole relationship if I just gave way to my urges, spoiling everything that way; she never showed me any concrete signs she was interested in having sex with me, anyway. And I was young and innocent and baffled by what women thought, anyway). So I persuaded myself that I had to be content with whatever came my way; I remember that when I started college I went straight to the ugliest girl in the class and tried to have a relationship with her: my point was that I was pretty sure nobody else would have the slightest interest in her, so I might have a chance to have her as a girlfriend (it didn’t work). Even my current significant other is not exactly a stunning beauty.
So once I realised that I was out of the league of “guys with beautiful girlfriends”, what did I do? During my teenage years, I just day-dreamed about beautiful women, like any other teen I guess. I wrote about them. I did a few drawings (I’m not good at that). I pictured how the ideal woman should look like in my mind. Only much, much later I understood that this “ideal feminine image” was nothing more than my own feminised image. And, of course, my fantasy was having sex with that ideal image.
Crossdressing only came much, much later than that. And it was when I started to read about the subject that the description (without the “political” implications) of autogynephilia made sense to me. In fact, it describes pretty accurately what I always felt, and very likely, always will: what excites me is my own feminine image. The degree of excitement increases as I progress towards a more convincing image; I fully admit that I get turned on by my more recent images and videos, while the earlier ones leave me completely indifferent, or even cause minor repulsion (really!). It’s not surprising: I have a slight homophobia. I’m too attracted to feminine images to find anything remotely interesting about a male one. This, apparently, is also consistent with Blanchard’s description of autogynephilia.
Autogynephilic crossdressers are also reportedly more keen on passing and on having an adequate female image and behaviour. Fetishist crossdressers are more “tolerant” and less “demanding”: any kind of clothing or accessory that evokes a female image is usually enough. For crossdressers like me, we live in a state of eternal insatisfaction: we can imagine very accurately how our female image of ourselves should look like, and work very hard to accomplish it — often harder than regular females, or even some transsexuals — even though it might become progressively harder to do it (without recurring to surgery and hormonal therapy, at which point it stops being merely crossdressing).
So, yes, it’s obsessive behaviour. It’s also very narcissistic — after all, we are attracted to our own image, even though just to the female side of it. But is it a mental disease? This is where politics mix in with scientific descriptions. Blanchard allegedly believed that it is a mental condition. He allegedly worked mostly with male transsexuals applying for sexual reassignment surgery, as well as any kinds of patients that asked him for an opinion, and he discovered that not all were interested in having male partners either before or after surgery, but were still attracted to female partners only. Technically, before surgery, they were heterosexual males desiring female partners; and after surgery, they would become physically females desiring lesbian partners. This posed a dilemma, from the clinical perspective: is it legitimate to allow perfectly heterosexual males to change their physical genitalia to become lesbians? What does that tell about their minds? Can a surgeon be absolutely sure that they are doing the right thing? Wouldn’t therapy be more advisable — after all, the person would have a sexual behaviour according to their biological sex (more accurately, thephenotype, as dictated by DNA) before surgery, so would a SRS really be helpful in those cases? Transsexuals that had a very strong wish to have a female body but still remain very strongly attracted to female partners were classified by him as autogynephilic transsexuals (or homosexual transsexuals, to distinguish them from the ones engaging in sexual relationships more usual to their target gender) and there were subtle hints that they should be screened out from SRS and recommended other forms of dealing with their problems (e.g. therapy).
The community responded to that (in heated debate) that Blanchard was somehow using an obsolete reasoning model. These days, we separate between biological sex (phenotype), gender (what we picture ourselves in our minds to be), and sexual behaviour. While on the majority of the population all three are aligned, there is a considerable number of people that have varying degrees of each aspect. DNA does not fully determine phenotype; anomalies occur, and one of those (occuring about once for every 20,000 births) is the androgen insensitivity syndrome: this person is genetically (e.g. from the perspective of the DNA it carries) a male, but it does not respond at all to androgen, and thus, since all animals are by default female, develops a fully (or partially — full cases are far more frequent) feminised body, a female phenotype. They will be completely indistinguishable from genetic females, except perhaps for being more voluptuous (since they don’t respond at all to androgens, they will get better feminine figures than the average female) and slightly taller than the average female; they have fully-functional vaginas which might however be shorter than average, but… they will lead to nowhere, since there will be no uterus and no ovaries. I’m pretty sure that before X-rays they would simply be labelled as “infertile women”, and only very recently, perhaps after the 1980s, would their condition be traced to genetics. In fact, before DNA tests became common, these women might get some therapy to deal with a lack of reproductive organs, but would lead common lives, get married, adopt kids, and so forth. These days, doctors will come to them and say: “I’m sorry, miss, but I have two bad news for you. The first is that you’re unfortunately infertile, and the condition cannot be reversed. The second is that you’re actually a man.” No wonder a lot of support groups have popped up to help the poor women to deal with that — most will only get diagnosed by puberty when their menstruation fails to appear; these days, a few get SRS.
Individuals who have physical (phenotypical) anomalies are usually considered intersex. They are a group completely apart from the LGB group (which is about sexual behaviour) and the trans group (which is usually about gender identity; although see below about the confusion this generates), and they are also handled and treated quite differently. Anyone diagnosed with an intersex condition — which usually just requires a physical clinical exam — is automatically eligible to apply for surgery and hormonal therapy. This is quite differently handled than gender disphoria (problems with gender identity), and the transgender community usually is not overly happy about the distinction. The important thing to realise is that intersexed individuals have physical conditions related to physical anomalies in their bodies, while transgendered individuals might have perfectly normal physical bodies (as determined by their phenotype) but have a gender identity not aligned to the phenotype.
Gender, of course, is far more fluid. Recent research has shown that a specific area in the brain might be the key to self-identification towards each of the genders, and this is triggered by a set of competing genes, one that gets activated in the presence of a male phenotype, and the other set in case of a female phenotype. Some articles claim that people with a gender disphoria exhibit neural pathways common to the gender they identify with. But this area of research is still young: gender is definitely also influenced by environment, education, and, of course, what the person thinks about themselves — it doesn’t have a single cause. If the origin of gender dysphoria is physical (even present at the DNA level), and that becomes universally accepted, it might change the whole way transgenderism is defined. As you can imagine, this is (again) a political issue. If gender identity is also encoded in the DNA, it might be a physical condition, not a psychological one, and in that case, the transgender group might in the future be seen as a special case of intersexuality where the phenotype is not affected externally (i.e. your physical body type is aligned with the sex and there are no visible anomalies), but the brain is affected by DNA anomalies/mutations or embryological anomalies. The point here is that if the brain is changed, and the DNA tests validate that change, it becomes neurological (physical) rather than psychological (mental), and it might become treated in a different way. You can imagine how the transgender activists are very happy to hear about that, and are pursuing that as part of their agenda. More on that later.
Finally, we have sexual behaviour. Again, when the three are aligned, someone with a male phenotype will have a male gender identity and get attracted to female sexual partners. Sexual behaviour is definitely a mental thing, but it has long been considered something that is a part of the way a particular brain works. You cannot “cure” homosexual or bisexual behaviour with therapy; it simply doesn’t work. It has been widely demonstrated and accepted that this cannot be considered a “mental illness”, in the sense that there is no therapy that will ever work to change the sexual behaviour — even though some Puritan groups still promote shock treatments to do “homosexual desensitivation”, with dubious results, and serious ethical considerations (plainly put, it’s brainwashing). Research shows that this will lead to nowhere, and of course all LGB communities strongly oppose that — with good results. In most Western countries, LGB is accepted, and discriminating against sexual behaviour is forbidden by most constitutions.
The trans group, because it contains so many different types, is far harder to “label” properly. Crossdressing, for instance, has long been established as being not a “mental illness” — even though it’s not always a sexual behaviour. In any case, you cannot “cure” crossdressing, either. While crossdressing is not strictly forbidden, it is certainly discriminated, and the LGB groups are wary of defending it actively. Why? Because for many crossdressers (in some countries, for the majority), it is not exactly linked to sexual behaviour, but more to gender identity. Remember that gender identity is about behaviour too: presenting yourself as a member of a specific gender, adopting their mannerisms and way to talk, and their kind of clothing. In some cases, it also implies adopting the sexual preferences appropriate to the gender identity (e.g. male-to-female crossdressers might desire male sexual partners), but this is hardly an universal rule. For some, it’s just fetishism — getting aroused by the look and feel of feminine clothes. For others, it’s about identity — a form of transgenderism. But in that case, the question that is always asked is how “serious” the gender identity disphoria is.
It’s obvious that a pre-op transsexual is constantly worried (and depressed) about having the “wrong” body for their gender identity. In these cases, their gender identity is very strongly rooted (a MtF transsexual will always think of himself as female, constantly, during all their waking and sleeping hours; pretty much like someone who has their gender identity fully aligned with their phenotype), and the discomfort of living in a body with a misaligned phenotype is unbearable. It goes beyond sexual behaviour; it involves all behaviour. Those cases are clear.
Transgendered people (but that don’t consider themselves transsexual) might also have a very strongly rooted gender identity that is misaligned with their phenotype. Here, however, things are way less clear. Most might accept their body’s phenotype and just wish to adopt a behaviour (and dressing) of the gender identity they have: we might call them “full-time crossdressers” without the “urge” to go through surgery or even hormonal therapy. They might adopt any kind of sexual behaviour (just like any other person). Technically, they’re better known as “pre-op transsexuals” in the sense that they identify themselves fully with the opposite gender and live full-time as one, but they don’t want to go through extensive body modification. In some countries they are allowed to change their IDs to reflect the new gender role, without the need to go through surgery or hormonal therapy. Some even remain married and raise their children normally, even though presenting themselves now as the opposite gender (they retain their original sexual orientation). Since the sexual behaviour is secondary (the social behaviour is what is more important to them), their grouping under the LGBT group is a bit confusing. The trouble here is that adopting a gender’s behaviour and dress code, but not their (predominant) sexual orientation, is hard to understand even for the political groups; although they are certainly discriminated, perhaps even more so because they have not gone through surgery…
But there remains the whole spectrum of crossdressing — where behaviour and dress code of the opposite gender is sporadic, even if often regular (e.g. during weekends, or during the evening). It’s impossible to list all combinations. At one end are the fetishists: they just dress to increase the sexual pleasure with a partner (which can be either sex; although many fetishists prefer to have partners of the same sex — but opposite gender — when they’re crossdressed; a lot, however, find crossdressing stimulating both to themselves and to their spouses of the opposite sex). At the other extreme are casual crossdressers to whom the sexual aspect is minor and less important: it’s just the dressing and the behaviour of the opposite gender that stimulates their eroticism. The sexual partner chosen is unimportant. In fact, in many countries, this is the predominant type of crossdresser: male phenotypes with an undefined gender identity (most would consider themselves to have reached a “balance” between both male and female genders) and with a strong heterosexual drive (they have no desire to engage in homosexual intercourse, even if only occasionally and while crossdressed). These cases are quite interesting because there is no real way to determine what their gender identity actually is. Most don’t have the urge to become full-time women (either with or without surgery) and find the whole concept absurd. Others might toy with the idea, but the urge is not strong enough to do anything about it. A few are potential pre-op transsexuals, but don’t “hate” their current bodies enough to believe it’s worth the change. Others might assume they’re transgendered just in the sense that they would lead a better life as the opposite gender — they might have a strong, but not overwhelming, gender identity of the opposite gender — but due to environmental and social issues never consider to do any change. A male crossdresser of this kind will probably imagine that they would have a much more fulfilling life if they transitioned to becoming a full-time woman, but since it might mean abandoning the family, their friends, their job, and their financial stability, they endure the pains of “acting like a man” for the benefit of their immediate circle of family, friends, and colleagues. They have this idea that they’re just “acting male”; many admit they’re not even very good at it. But since we all use different masks every day — a mask for our spouse or significant other, another mask for our kids, a mask for our friends, another for our colleagues at work — “acting male” is just another mask, another role. It’s not what they feel they are, but they endure it. And of course in some cases this feeling of “acting a role” is constant and always present, but on many cases it just comes and goes.
I’m certainly somewhere in that group. As said, this group used to be known as “autogynepilic crossdressers” (with the notion that they’re not permanent crossdressers, just occasional ones, even if doing it regularly), but we might need a new word for them if this definition is politically incorrect. I don’t have a “permanent” female gender identity always present in my mind; most of the time I don’t even think twice about it, although I cannot, in all honesty, say that I “think and act male” all the time, either. I just act like “myself” (whatever that is) and I’m not exactly aware on how “male” or “female” my behaviour is. But this is not always the case. Sometimes I forget to smoke like a male, for example. Sometimes, when sitting down at my mother-in-law’s place, I have to remind myself that I should sit like a guy. Sometimes, when walking down the street, I have to remember that I should walk with my legs wider apart and not in a line, and that a slouch or a more powerful kind of brisk walk is more acceptable. Sometimes, when pushing my hair out of my eyes, I have to remember that I should do it in a brisk movement, and not with a soft, fluid, slow motion. Sometimes I have to pay attention to my hands when gesticulating (which is common in my country anyway; we gesticulate a lot). Sometimes, when standing still, I have to remember not to keep my weight just on one leg, and that crossing the legs when standing up is not socially acceptable as a guy. What is definitely harder to do is to moderate my own comments when I’m in mixed company, and have to keep my mouth shut about what is supposed to be “feminine knowledge” — this happens really a lot of times, e.g. giving comments about certain styles, knowing about some famous fashion designers, understanding how an eyelash curler is applied, commenting about badly applied makeup, that sort of thing… sometimes I forget to hold my tongue fast enough, and then I might make an utterly inappropriate comment as a guy, and quickly disguise it as a bad joke, a stupid pun, and laugh about myself.
Since my own spiritual practice is about constantly paying attention to what I’m doing, I have noticed this more and more frequently (but perhaps I was always like that, I just never noticed it). And sometimes I really am not fast enough in “checking” myself, although I get better over time.
The key issue here is “sometimes”. This doesn’t happen all the time, just once in a while. Most of the time nobody notices (not even myself). When crossdressing, however, I don’t need to “check” myself — I just can “act” according to my (temporary) female gender identity, but of course not everything comes naturally and spontaneously. A lot of it is habit and experience, and with more time being crossdressed, the easier it becomes. But then there is a lingering “aftertaste”; I cannot shake off the experience of fully allowing my female identity to “take over”, so to speak, so easily — a bit carries on and pops up once in a while. Was I always like that? I don’t know. As said, I just started noticing it more recently because I pay closer attention; coincidentally, I’m able (and allowed) to crossdress much more regularly than ever before. In a sense, I’m not much more different than the ordinary girls of the 1980s, who would dress casually in men’s clothes all week long (it was the accepted fashion of that time) and discard their femininity, but once in a while would dress up for special occasions and look like princesses — and all their behaviour would change accordingly. Most would never wear heels or wear a dress, except for going to a wedding or similar cerimony, so some of the grace required to show off their female bodies inside very feminine attire would require much more training (nowadays, it’s fashionable again to dress in a feminine way all the time). Many would look very sloppy in a dress and hardly able to walk on heels just because they simply didn’t get enough training; however, nobody would even dream about questioning their gender identity. They just assumed a different behaviour when casually dressing like guys during the whole week, adopting their mannerisms and ways of speaking (I still make occasional comments to some women of my age about the way they smoke, because in the 1980s they learned to smoke like guys, not like women).
I would thus postulate that there is also gender behaviour which has little to do about sexual behaviour, and while it’s linked to gender identity, it’s a different thing. All those women that dressed like guys (or, rather, in pretty much unisex clothing, which is still popular today) and never learned to walk on heels did not have any gender fluctuations at all; they just imitated male behaviour and dress code — perhaps with a few twists here and there to express a little femininity. I do it pretty much the same way, I guess, with the difference that I’m no longer so certain about my own gender identity as before. There are certainly a lot of traits that can be attributed to females (as opposed to males), and many are well-documented: the ability to focus on details, for example. The skill in having several simultaneous conversations and not lose track about them. The ability to discuss a point of view both emotionally and rationally at the same time. Empathy. Trying to get consensus as opposed to forcing an opinion over all others. Building relationships. And so forth… (See this list as typical examples of female vs. male traits and how they are explained in terms of evolution)
I certainly recognise far more of those traits in myself and identify with them far more than with other typical male traits, although I have some of those as well. So what does that say about myself? It’s definitely not just identity, but also not just behaviour. There is a certain mix of both which will be externally perceived as being “male” or “female”. A professional male actor might be surprisingly good at appearing externally “female” even though internally he has no doubts about his own gender identity; he is just an expert in role-playing and does it for a living, so he can certainly present a pretty convincing image. So I’d say that what we usually call behaviour is mostly conditioned by education/training and environment, and it has less to do about “identity”. Behaviour, ultimately, is what others perceive us to be. Let me give you an example: by being an attentive listener and offering soothing remarks, you’ll express empathy, and this might be seen as a female trait. In reality, you might just be “forcing” yourself to “look” like an attentive listener. But if you act and behave like an attentive, empathic listener, how do others “know” that you’re not one? We cannot read each other’s minds, so in reality this guy “acting” as someone with a lot of empathy is indistinguishable from a woman who is, indeed, an attentive listener. Externally there is no difference. But there is a catch: a guy that “pretends” all the time to be an attentive listener willbecome one, just because he’s getting more and more experience on how to “act” like an attentive listener. Over time, it becomes second nature — it’s the result of training. At some point, he might unconsciously show a lot of empathy, naturally and spontaneously, just because he has trained so well to do it all the time without hesitating. At that point, is he really “pretending” or has he incorporated this training in his personality?
When I catch myself on the mirror (or on my videos) to do a gesture in a way which is undoubtedly feminine, but do it unconsciously, without a second thought, and it was clearly spontaneous, I’m always very surprised. This happens often with the videos, of course — while I’ve got the camera rolling, I’m not paying attention to all details. On a later viewing of the video I might catch myself having done things that I had no clue I was doing at the time, and I’m always baffled. I often think that I couldn’t have done that even if I wished deliberately to do it; because it happened spontaneously, it was way more “natural” and passable as a female gesture than a carefully constructed “act” trying to emulate a female gesture. Of course this required training, just like an actor needs to train their roles in a play, but once I’ve assimilated that training, those things happen spontaneously and without thinking. They don’t happen all the time — I’m not that good yet! — but certainly once in a while. And, as said before, sometimes I catch myself doing the same, even in male mode. But in truth, at the moment I did that gesture, I was very likely not actively “feeling” intensely feminine (like most of the time, in male mode, I’m not “feeling” specially male), or suddenly in touch with my feminine nature. I cannot even say that I was “acting”. I was just being myself, but… with a difference: the whole environment (i.e. dressing) triggered this gesture. This is something I actually say to beginning crossdressers: wear long fingernails, put a long hair wig on, and walk in heels, and there are simply some gestures that you cannot avoid to do, and look immediately very female, because male gestures simply won’t work in those occasions.
So does dressing trigger my “female gender identity”, or is it that my “female gender identity” triggers the urge to dress? I’m sure that psychologists and philosophers will endlessly debate those things. I think it’s pretty much a mix of everything. At least in my case, I had to start with the urge to dress, even though I had for a long time this erotic attraction to the image of a feminine version of myself. Once dressed up, my brain definitely switches gears to accommodate to the new image that is fed into my senses; subconsciously, my external appearance now matches a female look, and somehow my brain starts working in a different way to deal with this look. This, in return, makes me move, act, behave differently, which in turn gets picked up by my senses, and just reinforces the whole thing — it’s a positive-feedback system. I cannot really say, “wow, now I feel feminine, I’m in touch with my inner female self”. Instead, it’s like riding a bicycle — the body is looking differently and moving in a different way, so the brain matches all the rest to fit to the changes. But like riding bicycles, it’s harder when you start; once you’ve learned it, however, you’ll always be able to ride bicycles, but you might need some time to adapt if you haven’t used one in a long time. That’s the result of training. At least that’s how it feels to me.
The first moments when I undress are always a bit awkward, because all of a sudden my brain needs to readjust back to a male look. Nobody sees me in those moments, but I’m certainly confused for a bit — not much more than a few minutes. After all, I’m supposed to be used to act and behave like a guy for most of my life, so it’s a routine, an act, that I’m supposed to manage well. But still I get this strange jolt when undressing and putting on my pyjamas — for a few moments, I have to remember that I have no boobs, no long hair, no nails, and can stop behaving as if I still had them. So there is something that switches gears in my brain again — back to male mode, until training catches up again, and I’ll be my usual self once more, even if I don’t need to think any more about it.
This is what I mean by gender identity fluidity. I don’t really have a 100% male or 100% female identity and switch between both. I’m only conscious about the identity during the shorttransition moment. During most of the time while I’m dressing — and I take an incredible amount of time! — I’m actually still in “male mode of thinking” most of the time, but already enjoying the tingling sensation that this about to change. It’s only when the last of my nails is glued on and I put my wig that the thinking mode is switched (only then I can experience my feminine image fully). For a few moments, I’ll be acutely aware of my female gender identity “taking over”, so to speak; I’ll be very excited, still trembling with the excitement (and some irrational anxiety), and most likely having a minor orgasm — it’s all part of the adrenaline rush. But after a few moments, the rush will pass, and I won’t be actively conscious of this so-called “feminine gender identity”. I’m just Sandra, doing what Sandra does. The only moment when I have to actively “think male” is when speaking to my s.o.: I have to make a conscious effort to “talk like a male” (because she gets spooked if I don’t), but my gestures will be still feminine. Similarly, when undressing, there is usually the reverse effect — some sadness because it all has to end (the reverse of the adrenaline rush; some might call it the physical equivalent of a touch of depression), and a conscious effort to switch back to my male identity. This moment passes much more quickly, and then I completely forget that I’m supposed to be back in “male gender mode” — it just happens naturally, and then I’m back to my old self, without however needing to concentrate a lot in acting and behaving like a male. When I pay close attention I’m always surprised on how strange I behave as a male; but I don’t pay attention long enough. It’s just more bicycle riding.
The hardest thing I do when dressed is picking up phone calls. The person on the receiving end has obviously absolutely no clue I’m a crossdresser, and so I have to make sure that they get no hints of any of my female traits. But this is very, very hard to do while being crossdressed! I usually try to move to our room while on the phone, in complete darkness, because at least I won’t get so many disturbing visual hints about my own image, which makes it a bit more easier to fully focus on the conversation, while acting my male role with a lot of effort. Since it’s a role I play every day, I’m not that bad at pretending not to be Sandra on the phone; but the difference is that it requires effort to play my male role! Similarly, many of you might have noticed that I almost never am on chats or messengers when I’m not dressed; it’s harder for me to “be Sandra” without any visual/physical clues.
But not altogether impossible (or I wouldn’t be able to talk normally to my s.o. or to friends and family on the phone while crossdressed). Since all of this happens inside the mind, I have started a long-term experiment over 6 years ago: under an assumed female name, and never ever revealing a picture of myself (or any personal information), I’ve published a lot of articles and essays and interacted via the Internet with thousands of people. Initially, this wasn’t very easy to do (in the very beginning, I did crossdress much less often than today). My point to prove was: can people really figure out from my writing style if I’m male or female?
If you ask that question to experts, they will undoubtedly say “yes” — males and females write differently, specially when casually chatting. Even without visual (physical) clues, it’s usually simple enough to figure out someone’s gender — anyone who ever was on a chatroom will know this. There are certain constructs that males will never use, and vice-versa.
At the very beginning, I tended to fall into stereotypes — talking too much about frivolous things, for example. But later on, I realised I couldn’t act someone so completely different from myself. In real life, I’m an educated pseudo-intellectual who talks about Big Things™, and that’s what I do best online. I couldn’t consistently play a role radically different than my own — not without people figuring me out. So I adopted the role of a female educated pseudo-intellectual. There are just minor changes to do here and there on the writing style (I write a bit more aggressively and sarcastically as a male). I can be far more emotional and irrational than I allow my male self to show in casual conversation; I can also put more focus on empathy and attentive listening, and observing details. As expected, since people were imagining they were interacting with a female — even a snobbish-sounding one — and the few clues I dropped here and there were quite typical for females, once I got the balance right, I was pretty much accepted as a female everywhere. Ironically, I was just “found out” by fellow crossdressers — because we’re so good at pretending to be females, we’re also even better to pick up clues about who is a real female or not. Five years later, I did even more than that; I participated in computer-based teleconferences, speaking on the microphone, to give interviews and presentations. Since my male voice is really very deep, and very male-sounding, I used a simple software-based voice morpher to subtly change the pitch and make it less male-sounding. Voice morphing software gets better and better all the time, but I still had some doubts about the results. Well, I was surprised it actually worked out so nicely! Voice conversation is quite different from text-based chatting, and women obviously talk very differently from the way they write — but nevertheless I managed to “pass”. Why? Well, again, it’s a question of environment. For five years people had a mental image of myself as being female, even though a pseudo-intellectual who just talks about Big Things™. When they listened to my voice for the first time, some might have expected a super-sexy girly voice, but most would know that a 40-year-old self-styled intellectual doesn’t really sound like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton.
Why didn’t anybody even remotely suspect, specially after some voice sessions? My command of a female identity is not perfect; sometimes I slip into some typically male expressions. However, these days, you will notice that female professionals emulate men so thoroughly (in order to get accepted as a colleague and diminish the risk to be discriminated) that the differences in style and address are not huge. I dare you to read two academic papers, one written by a male, the other by a female, and guess who wrote each (if you don’t look at the names). Academic papers are gender neutral; intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals, even in more casual chatting, are actually very close to being as gender neutral as possible. Yes, there are differences, but they’re few — and I just needed to provide a few hints here and there. I actually have read a few of my older articles and transcripts from text chats and wondered how nobody even framed the suspicion that they were not written by a genetic female! (There are too many flaws — but nobody noticed them!) In reality, I believe that a lot of people actually suspect me, but they don’t say it in public, for fear of making an embarrassing mistake. I just might be a genetic female that sometimes uses typically male expressions — these days, almost every female does that anyway, and an exception is not the rule. It’s a very interesting experiment; I encourage you to try it out. I’m curious to see if I can hold on for a full decade. A few of my friends actually know who is behind the pseudonym and are really surprised how I managed to carry on for so long; a lot of similar cases were exposed after 2-3 years, and often much sooner.
Now, although most of you make the most flattering comments on my pictures and videos, I’m very conscious that I really don’t pass at all if I present myself physically. On a webcam chat, specially with someone that doesn’t know me very well, and even taking into consideration the bad lighting which makes identification harder, about half the people will spot me immediately as not being a genetic female (most will not believe me when I tell them I didn’t do any surgery and I’m not taking hormones; but they will still realise I’ve not been born female). The others will probably get confused due to poor lighting and bad connections which give them a less-than-perfect image; even my videos and photos are often not high-quality enough, allowing me to disguise my male-ness for a while. But in plain daylight and in physical presence nobody would be fooled.
There is, however, an interesting effect which I have noticed. In some webcam groups which I participate as Sandra, there are a lot of very tolerant and open-minded people, who have spotted me since day one, and are perfectly fine with crossdressers. We establish good relationships; I’m friendly enough, I’m not after sex, and I can chat about pretty much everything — and so do the other participants. So we focus on having interesting conversations on all possible subjects after passing the “you’re a guy” phase. Naturally enough, my writing style on chatrooms is the one I employ as a female. They go along with it because they are not really interested in having sex with me but because we have things in common that we like to talk about; being a crossdresser is not germane to those conversations.
Now the interesting bit is when a newcomer suddenly drops in the middle of the conversation. Remember, everybody there is chatting about all kinds of things, and my online friends, respecting and tolerating my crossdressing and presentation as female, will address me as they would address any other girl. The newcomer is confused. They can watch my webcam too, and at first sight they might have been fooled, but then they realise I’m not a genetic woman. On the other hand, everybody in the group treats me as if I were a woman. So beyond my looks, these newcomers are exposed to an environment, one that interacts with my female personality and answers accordingly. The newcomer is now even more confused. Maybe their first reaction was correct? No, this person cannot be a real woman. On the other hand, everybody else in the room apparently treats her like one. Maybe I’m just a very ugly woman (although a friendly, nice one!) which has strong male features and disguises them with makeup (which would be perfectly acceptable behaviour for an ugly woman!). So at some point, they’ll ask directly if I’m a woman or not — usually with a lot of laughing from the rest of the group participants (and remember, he can see their faces on webcam too, and see that they’re amused). I always answer truthfully to those questions (but remain silent if they don’t ask!). Most newcomers will then be baffled and ask: “Then why is everybody pretending you’re a woman?” You see, when the environment influences behaviour, the notion that you’re the only person in the world actually figuring out that Sandra is not female is absurd — one will not trust their senses instead. In my spiritual tradition, this is called conventional reality. By convention, everybody behaves like Sandra is, in reality, female. Even though she isn’t, everybody behaves as if she is. If someone thinks otherwise, they revise their notion of reality, and assume that they are just having wrong perceptions, filtered through their biased opinions, and, in this politically-correct era, it’s best to go along with what all others are thinking (they cannot all be wrong, right?).
This is a very good example about gender behaviour. If you behave like a woman, and others are fine with that behaviour, an external observer will “accept” you as a woman — even if they perfectly know you’re not one. A different way of putting this is that if you behave like a lady when crossdressed, people are conditioned to react politely to a lady, even if you’re not genetically one. I have heard this mentioned before, put in different words: “I don’t care if you’re a woman or not, so long as you dress elegantly and are polite, I’ll treat you like one”.
There is also a bit of prejudice at play here, and this is why I tell some of my closest crossdressing friends to aim at being polite and behave like a lady, not just look like one. Some crossdressers, specially the fetishist type, who are just looking for sex (even if it’s just cybersex), act and behave like males in their “predatory” approach to conversation. This is a typically very male way of behaving; it matters little if you look gorgeously female or not, if you adopt typically male strategies in your postures and conversation, you will never be accepted as a person (much less as a woman!). One reason why men are turned off by women with predatory traits is that this kind of behaviour is so fundamentally male that seeing if being exhibited by a (genetic) female is too unfamiliar and strange; if exhibited by a crossdresser, it becomes totally unacceptable and is immediately rejected.
Another way to put it is to think about what qualities men appreciate in women. Besides the quickness of how they bare their breasts on the webcam, most men actually appreciate a certain degree of elegance and politeness. A lot of my online (male) friends have absolutely no interest in crossdressing or in crossdressers; most have not the slightest homosexual tendencies, and definitely have no fetish of dating or having sex with a crossdresser; many have never encountered crossdressers before, and most have rejected the few that participate on chatrooms because most have a very aggressively male behaviour which is very disturbing. By contrast, I present an image of someone — male or female, that’s irrelevant — who is just adequate, correct and polite. I might do some sultry looks on the videos, but I’m the kind of person that, if I were a genetic woman, I’d be taken out for dinner, and not shock anyone, because I’d be dressed adequately. Well, you know what I mean: I don’t look as if I have come straight out of a radical underground club. And it’s not just about the dressing, it’s about the whole attitude, behaviour, and style of interaction with others. Many perfectly heterosexual guys have often admitted that they’d be fine in taking me out for watching a movie, with no strings attached, just because they don’t feel shocked with my personality. They’re fully aware that I’m as male as they are, and that everybody around us in the theatre would immediately spot it; but they would look beyond the dress and just enjoy the mind behind the clothes — they know that I’d behave exactly like a woman would behave in any situation.
I’m very fortunate to have met online quite an extraordinary number of crossdressers who are precisely like that; most of them (unlike me) go out together in groups and spend some time together. Looking at their pictures, I’m quite confident that if they would sit at a dinner table in a fancy restaurant, they would not call any attention — and not because they “pass” (most of them would never pass), but just because they dress for the occasion very adequately and behave themselves exactly as it would be appropriate for a woman to do in the same circumstances. The fact that they are not genetic women — in fact, that they don’t even look remotely like genetic women — is pretty much irrelevant; they could get accepted and tolerated because, well, they act and behave like genetic women.
What does that say about their identity? After reading so much about the issue recently, and being more and more confused as I keep downloading more articles to read, I start to believe that what we call “gender identity” is expressed mostly in behaviour, because you cannot read people’s minds, but can see if they act and behave according to a certain “template”. I never asked those fellow online crossdressers if they believe they have gender disphoria, or if the autogynephilic label applies to them. I think most would agree with the theory of having a fluid identity, and that it gets expressed by how they behave, not how they look like, or what they think in their innermost selves. Putting it into simpler words: while they perform social functions emulating adequate female behaviour with precision, and do it all the time, consistently, everytime they’re dressed, they will be regarded as having a “female gender identity” at least temporarily. If they can pull it off 24h/day, I’d say they’ve got a permanent female gender identity, and are, for all purposes, transgendered (or pre-op transsexuals, if you prefer that label), even if in reality they have never thought much about that. Perhaps the big issue here is one of anxiety and depression: at least on the academic studies, psychologists are only aware of gender disphoria when the patient actually pops at their door saying: “Doctor, I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body!” It’s only when the thought of having the wrong phenotype for what you perceive to be your real gender identity arises, and it starts to become intolerable to bear, leading first to anxiety and then to depression, that we can really label the issue as true gender disphoria. Crossdressers, by contrast, might be “women trapped in men’s bodies”, but if that issue doesn’t really give them much discomfort, they don’t really think about their gender identity or what it implies. They are just themselves. Crossdressing and adopting an adequate behaviour for the female gender is just one expression of their selves (not unlike going to a football match and wearing appropriate gear, and adopting the ritualistic behaviour of a football fan); most definitely a very pleasurable one, but it doesn’t become an obsession, and so they might never be clinically studied — and I suspect that the majority of the non-fetishist crossdressers fall into this category.
My own case is pretty close to that, although I exhibit a few traces of very mild anxiety — or, at least, in the words of my s.o., I tend to over-rationalise things (I believe she’s right). I don’t utterly hate being physically a male, although I’d prefer to have a female phenotype. I also don’t utterly hate having (mostly) a male gender, although it’s a role that I find too limited, too boring, too unsatisfactory — I just have to adopt it because I have no other option. I do fantasise about myself as a woman, all the time (or pretty much all the time), and this is actually what turns me on. While crossdressing, I feel a mix of excitement (adrenaline rush), ecstasy (mild orgasms which happen spontaneously, I don’t need to do much about that), and a relaxation effect (I enjoy it so much that it always soothes me over a period of time). I don’t think constantly about the next time I’ll crossdress, neither do I get frustrated or depressed when I have to remove my makeup and undress. Nevertheless, I think a lot about what I’m going to wear next time, and I get upset (over time, less and less) if I have to skip some crossdressing session because of conflicting schedules. And while I undress there is always a bit of sadness, but I realise that nothing lasts forever — not even waiting for the next time; there will always be a next time! I do get turned on by looking at my female image; in fact, on a scale of 1 to 10 of things that turn me on, I’d give it a 7 or 8. It’s not as if I find myself very attractive — I think I’m ugly as sin! — but it’s the feminine image that turns me on, not the “attractiveness”. (If you’re asking what would be a 10 in that scale, I’d say watching Uma Thurman having sex with Angeline Jolie 😉 )
But on the other hand, I adore women, and cannot conceive even the slightest fantasy of having sex with anything else but a woman. While crossdressed I don’t exactly avoid men — I love to tease them! — but I have no interest in having sex with them. Some of my crossdresser friends (a few of which are very attractive) always wonder why I’m not turned on by them, or why I won’t consider having sex with them, since they look so female anyway. The answer is what I’ve said before — I feel attracted to the whole female experience, and that includes behaviour, too! A crossdresser — or even a genetic woman! — who clearly exhibits fundamental male traits simply is a turn-off to me; everything male is a turn-off really. Males (or “male minded” crossdressers) are fine for teasing; but to go beyond that, I require a bit more feminine behaviour.
So, are you now confused too? 🙂