‘Transgender’ is not only about ‘gender identity’?


jenner-espysSlate magazine was one among many which noted Caitlyn Jenner’s ‘different’ stance as an LGBT activist. Jenner’s attitude has come as a surprise (probably a positive one) among those who interviewed her, but hard-core LGBT activists have been profoundly shocked.

Jenner has no qualms in affirming that she is a Republican and a Christian, and that she endorses traditional values — like family. She also hesitated about same-sex marriage (although I believe that she, as so many others, have been confusing ‘matrimony’ — a religious sacrament — with ‘marriage’ — a civil contract). That was enough to get the LGBT activists fired up, once again, since they stand exactly for the opposite that Jenner defends. And they also fear that Jenner’s TV presence might slowly erode their activist image and supercede it. Jenner appears as a ‘normal’, perfectly balanced individual, absolutely conforming to all social norms and values. She just happens to be transgender. But she doesn’t reject society. And she defends LGBT activism, in the sense that she wants our society to embrace LGBT persons — but not by transforming society, but rather by having LGBT persons ‘mingle’ within society’s norms and values.

I happen to share her vision, and the simple truth is that I’m surrounded by LGBT people who happen to wish the same thing as Jenner. But I can fully understand that this is precisely the opposite of what most LGBT activists have been defending for so many decades, and that the reason we happen to live in a better, more accepting, more tolerant worlds was due to those decades of activism — and not because Jenner just launched her show. It’s natural that those hard-core, old-school activists feel cheated, frustrated, and see Jenner as a ‘traitor’ to the cause. It’s a position that is absolutely understandable — after all, they got results using their strategy and approach, while Jenner’s own vision still hasn’t made an impact.

Or has it?

One of the biggest issues about the ‘transgender’ word is that it is so vague as to be all-encompassing, but at the same time, it can point towards the wrong direction. We should not forget that transexuals, until very recently in our history, were still seen as a ‘special case’ of homosexuality. It’s probably only in the 1960s, thanks to people like Dr. Harry Benjamin, that we started to learn to separate the whole issue of ‘gender’ from ‘sexual relationships’. Benjamin and his followers were pioneers in understanding the difference between ‘transvestism’ (which we would now call an issue regarding ‘gender expression’) and ‘transexuality’ (which we would now identify with issues related with ‘gender identity’), and how both are completely different from the sexual aspect of relationships.

The Genderbread Person is for me one of the easiest ways to explain the four (or five) aspects of ‘gender’, from biological sex, through sexual/romantic attraction, to gender identity and gender expression. There is still a lot of confusion, even within the LGBT community, about those four aspects. ‘T’ people are still seen by some as a ‘special’ case of people who, to have fulfilling sexual experiences, require a change in their bodies. The ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’ is still seen as ‘a woman who wants to have sex as a woman, but has a man’s body’.

IMG_0781There is a good reason for it. People with gender dysphoria are actually very rare. The largest group inside the transgender community are what psychologists used to call ‘transvestic fetishists’ — MtF crossdressers who just dress up to get male partners. Now this clearly fits inside the LGBT category (since those people are non-conforming regarding their sexual orientation), but it sends the wrong signal — that those who wish to attire themselves as the opposite sex only do it for sexual reasons. If you wish, you could label those people as bisexual with a clothing fetish. As bisexuals, of course they fall under the umbrella of ‘LGBT’, and, as such, their rights are fought with the same energy as the rights of any other LGBT person. The trouble is that they are not truly ‘transgendered’…

Or are they?

The trouble is that back in the 1960s we had simpler explanations for ‘gender’. Today, we employ the word ‘gender’ in two different contexts: one is identity. The other is expression, or, if you prefer, role (I don’t like the word ‘role’ very much, since outside the context of sociology it can be misunderstood as ‘acting’). So when we talk about ‘transgendered people’ we usually are speaking of those who have a different gender identity (or refuse any gender identity) than the one that is assigned to them at birth.

This definition is so commonplace that we often forget about the other usage of ‘gender’. Early work assumed — incorrectly, as we all now know — that gender identity and expression would go hand-in-hand: if you’d identify with one gender role, you’d express yourself as someone from that gender. That made sense. But in practice, it made as little sense as ‘tying’ gender identity with sexual organs, chromosomes, or any other biological requirement for being ‘male’ or ‘female’.

In other words: just because someone identifies with the ‘female gender’, that doesn’t mean they have to act and dress like a female.

This should actually been obvious in the 1960s and 1970s, when many women simply refused to conform to their ‘gender role’ and started to adopt elements from the male gender role, including their dress code. Just today my wife was fondly remembering those glorious 1970s, when unisex clothing became commonplace — and we’re not talking just about T-shirts and jeans. There were quite a lot more options. This was just external appearance, of course, but it was also during the 1960s and 1970s that feminist activists managed to pass the message across that women had precisely the same rights as men to do what they wished to do to acquire happiness — and that included most certainly the ability to engage in sexual relationships just as men did, but it also meant that women were allowed to fill roles in society that would commonly be held by men.

Today, in countries like mine, careers which were typically ‘male’ have been completely swamped by females. Doctors, accountants, lawyers, journalists… almost all of them are female, and the trend is growing. I’m not wishing to state the obvious and somehow make a point of it. I just wish to remind you how different our society in 2015 is, compared to 1965 — in half a century, there is no question that several aspects of the ‘female gender role’ have changed, and they have changed a lot. Others, obviously, have remained the same.

Now the problem is that the reverse is absolutely not true.

While some previously female-only jobs are currently also being done by males (think of male nurses, male flight attendants, cooks, hairdressers and so forth), these are rather the exception than the rule — and it doesn’t mean that males in such roles wear female attire! Rather the contrary, they continue to wear male attire and behave as males. It’s just that they’re currently holding a job that formerly only females did. But they are clearly identifying as males, presenting themselves as males, and acting the male gender role, just like any other male.

Therefore, when any male (in the biological sense of the word) dresses up in female attire, there is an immediate assumption that this is for sexual purposes or, at the very least, and thanks to Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, and other transexual individuals, one assumes that they have a female identity as well, and wish to physically change their sex… in order to ‘fit’ in the role of a heteronormative woman.

Because this is quite clearly not the case for so many MtF crossdressers, the confusion is huge. And it’s not just the cisgender, heteronormative crowd that is confused. The LGBT community is confused as well, and even among the so-called ‘transgender community’, there remains a lot of confusion, too!

Consider the not-so-recent debate surrounding drag queens: are they supposed to be part of the LGBT community or not? Typical transgender activists will be extremely uncomfortable about having drag queens supporting ‘the cause’, since they see them as completely different kind of people, and, worse than that, they even seem to assume that drag queens are somehow ‘dirtying’ their good reputation as transgendered individuals fighting for civil rights.

The trouble is that drag queens are clearly transgendered — but regarding their gender expression, not their gender identity. Many drag queens, while clearly identifying with the male gender identity (and having absolutely no doubt about it), no matter what their sexual preferences actually might be, feel (quite correctly, in my opinion) that they are definitely part of the ‘transgender community’ — because they don’t fit (and don’t want to fit) into the heteronormative cisgender mainstream.

And here we also see the problem with those complex classifications. When we say ‘cisgender’ we are talking only about gender identity — this is quite clear on so many definitions around the web. People who have their gender identity aligned with their biological sex but do not identify with the gender expression that comes with a certain identity are somehow ‘excluded’ from the discussions. In a sense, they seem to be ‘less transgendered’ just because of that.

Even in my little group of friends, which is quite tolerant and open-minded about all sorts of classifications (after all, we have people ranging from genetic females and cisgendered heteronormative males, transgendered individuals, ‘merely crossdressers’ — full or partial — and fetishist crossdressers, drag queens, and female impersonators, all thrown into the same bag), the issue about gender identity vs. gender expression is confusing to most. Crossdressers, by tradition, have male identities, but they express themselves as female — most often during limited amounts of time. It is ‘expected’ that crossdressers do not have ‘female identities’ at all, although it’s ‘allowed’ that they ‘feel the inner female inside’ when they crossdress: in that case, it’s also ‘expected’ that they develop sexual (or even romantic) preferences towards genetic, cisgender males.

The ‘ideal’ crossdresser, therefore, is a special case of a gender-fluid individual — both towards identity but mostly towards expression as well (and, as we will see, sexual preference, in this case, is curiously associated with expression too!).

Of course there is no such thing as an ‘ideal crossdresser’ or a ‘true crossdresser’, but there is a conceptual ‘meme’ regarding such a person. The ideal crossdresser, therefore, lives his life mostly as a male, and is preferably romantically engaged with a genetic female in a stable relationship, often with children. During his non-crossdressing time — which is most of the time — he engages in typical male activities, and, like any other male, he’s probably going to brag about the latest car he drove (or bought) and the awesome console game he played on his huge plasma screen at home.

But he will constantly feel the urge to crossdress. When doing so, it’s quite possible that he embraces a distinct personality or identity — a female one. He becomes she — at least, while the illusion of femininity lasts. There might be no ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’, but there is certainly a female aspect of his personality that ‘comes out’ when expressing as a female.

Most crossdressers come to terms with their ‘double identity’ (I shall not call it ‘double personality’ since it’s clear that both aspects — male and female — are just different variants of the same personality, but expressed differently according to different gender roles) and find a balance between both. It’s rather unlikely that the female aspects ‘cross over’ to the main male personality, but sometimes that happens as well — thus the old adage that male crossdressers make excellent husbands, as they are not averse to doing typical women’s chores at home, and they never tire to browse through endless corridors of female attire when going shopping with their wives or significant others.

Female expression, however, often goes to extremes — in the good sense of the word — and it’s quite common for the ‘ideal crossdresser’ not to be happy with half measures. Partial crossdressing is something only done to prevent the urges from becoming overwhelming; full crossdressing, as perfect as possible, fitting in in the contemporary fashion of the day, and the need to ‘pass’ — not only in looks, but in behaviour and attitude — are key driving forces for the ideal crossdresser. That means going out in public with other crossdressing friends, perhaps at first only in LGBT-friendly places, but soon moving to the public sphere, even in broad daylight. The ideal crossdresser is never happy to stay in a ghetto — he might do so only for safety reasons, but ultimately he will expand his crossdressing activities outside the ghetto. And at this stage it’s also common for the ideal crossdresser to start thinking about engaging a male partner romantically or sexually, since he will most often identify with heteronormative, cisgender females, and, presenting himself as one, he will be drawn to male partners as well. Interestingly enough, most ideal crossdressers will never think of themselves as gay or bisexual — at most, they will admit to be bi-curious, but never while they present themselves as male, only when they are presenting — and identifying — as female.

The ideal crossdresser, therefore, spends probably 90% of his time as a regular, heteronormative, cisgender male, and 10% striving hard to ‘pass’ as a regular, heteronormative, cisgender female. Many are happy with such a balance; many others wish to expand their crossdressing time much more.

Of course no such thing as the ‘ideal crossdresser’ exists. But here my point is to show a stereotype of someone who is clearly ‘transgendered’, even though not in the usual sense of the word. Mostly due to prejudice, it is assumed that someone who is ‘transgendered’ is permanently identifying with a gender different from the one assigned at birth. But this would be quite unfair to gender-fluid individuals, who do not have such a ‘permanent’ identification, or those who reject gender in al its forms — and clearly such individuals are part of the all-encompassing ‘transgender family’ as well. Nevertheless, the LGBT activists are more comfortable with those who reject traditional gender roles. The key issue here for the activists is this rejection of the heteronormative, cisgender society as a whole, which imposes strict rules regarding sexual preferences, gender identity and presentation — anyone who challenges such rules is ‘part of the gang’.

The ideal crossdresser, however, does not ‘challenge’ anything. He’s quite fine with a heteronormative, cisgender society. While presenting as a male, he’s fine in ‘fitting in’ with the society he’s been born into. When presenting as a female, she looks up to typical female role models and stereotypically follows the female gender role as dictated by society. The ideal crossdresser, therefore, does not challenge anything — except, of course, the right to freely adopt the opposite gender when they have the time and opportunity of doing so. This, however, is not a real problem in current Western society, where freedom of expression grants any citizen the right to present themselves as they wish.

Because ideal crossdressers do not ‘demand’ more rights than they currently have, they are of little use to LGBT activists — and remain incomprehensible for them. Activists might be happy with crossdressers demanding more rights, like, say, the right for MtF crossdressers to dress as females at the workplace. But this is most often inconsistent with the way ideal crossdressers relate to society. They are happy with the current social norms and dictates; they are even happy with gender role stereotypes. They don’t question gender — neither gender identity, nor gender expression. They simply wish to be accepted as people who are willing to spend some time as a person of the opposite gender whenever they wish.

Drag queens go a step further and are often happy with the concept of questioning gender expression, and, through exaggeration of the female gender expression, are able to question how ridiculous it is for people to associate gender expression to gender identity. I think that this is what bothers LGBT activists more. Drag queens, in a sense, question social rules and stereotypes even more than some activists: they question the whole notion of gender expression and identity, often by making fun of it, even though sometimes it’s not done deliberately.

The issue that some LGBT activists have with Caitlyn Jenner is that she somehow seems to embody the spirit of the ‘ideal crossdresser’ — who does not question gender identity or expression — but went a step further. It’s clear that Jenner has always been female inside, but was forced to spend most of her life acting the role of a gender that she never identified with. But now that she has finally embraced her ‘true’ gender, she is not willing to ‘destroy society’ by abolishing gender roles or their expression. As a woman, Jenner expresses herself as the lovely woman she now looks like. She’s not defying concepts of gender at all — in fact, she was much criticized for saying simple things like ‘now I’m able to keep my nails painted for a whole fortnight’. LGBT activists were keen to point out that such behaviour does not ‘make’ anyone female, e.g. ‘femaleness’ is not defined by the ability to keep nail polish on the nails for several days. LGBT activists were expecting much more from Jenner than such displays of futility.

In my not-so-humble opinion, I just think that they are missing Jenner’s point — or, more likely, they’re not missing it, but just unhappy about Jenner’s idea of activism. Let me try to explain two distinct issues here.

In my country, there are just a few hundreds of transexuals (which is normal for the percentage of the population). Two of them have briefly hit the headlines, but were quickly ignored by the media. One was a rich daughter of a popular soccer player — she was a classical transexual (in the sense that she always wanted to be a girl since birth, and was able to delay puberty and do her transition before male hormones caused irreversible damage to her body), and, thanks to her dad’s fortune, not unlike Jenner, she was able to do a relatively smooth transition, and acquired a magnificent female body. So gorgeous, in fact, that she is currently pursuing a career as a fashion model. And once it was clear that this would be her life, the media quickly forgot about her. She is now doing exactly what she always dreamed: to be a woman, acting a classical, heteronormative role as female, and even engaging in a stereotypical dream of many women, which is to become a fashion model. And she wants to be left in peace. Even though she published her autobiography, which captured the attention of the media for a while, it was not a huge bestseller, and it wasn’t even much publicised by the LGBT activists as a proof-of-concept for what transexuality means.

The other example is not very different, and is from a lower-class popular singer. Besides being another classical transexual, this individual always wanted to be a singer — but a female singer, singing popular commercial songs, and becoming a star. Her transition went well and she is absolutely passable without any fear of revealing her past. And, true to her own dreams, she became a popular singer — not hitting the top on the charts, but certainly moderately successful. In all her public communication, on her CDs, on her Facebook page, she never alludes to her past. She has absolutely no interest in any sort of LGBT activism (even though she also published her autobiography, again with little impact in terms of sales). Her songs are about ‘normal’ romantic relationships between boys and girls. In her presentation as a female singer, she has no intention of acting her female role outside of the heteronormative society. And, as such, LGBT activists quickly lost interest in her, and so did the media. It’s interesting to see that music critics and popular magazines and websites list her hits, often criticizing her career or choice of music, but rarely, if ever, alluding to her past. She most definitely is not a ‘transexual singer’ but merely another female singer.

IMG_0792While I’m sure there are many similar examples in different countries, these two examples are strangely very much aligned to the legal and clinical understanding of what ‘transexual’ means in my own country. Legally, as I’ve explained elsewhere, there are no ‘transexual men’ or ‘transexual women’ in my country. There are only two legally recognized genders, male and female. ‘Transexual’ is a legal/clinical term for someone who is in transition between two genders; once the transition is deemed complete (and note that this does not ‘imply’ anything else beyond ‘living full-time in the assigned gender role’, independently of hormone replacement therapy or surgeries, both of which are optional) by the doctors (we still have doctors as gatekeepers), that person is legally designated by their chosen gender. And, in fact, almost all transexuals — except for LGBT activists — wish exactly that. They want to forget their past as quickly as possible and simply live their lives as their chosen gender. Without questioning anything about the society and its strict rules regarding gender identity, role, and expression.

So in a certain sense, such individuals — and I’m counting ‘ideal crossdressers’ and drag queens and female impersonators in this classification — are slightly outside the scope of LGBT activism. This is of course not strictly true. Not many years ago — in my country, four and a half decades ago — anyone not strictly conforming to their assigned gender role would be arrested for violating ‘public morals’. I’m not even aware if there were any legitimate transexuals in my country before 1974 — the law simply didn’t allow gender transition. And while obviously there were many crossdressers (for all reasons), and drag queens and female impersonators were quite popular in the entertainment industry, they kept themselves away from the public eye. LGBT activism of course played an important role in guaranteeing the rights of transgendered individuals to express themselves as they like, and, if they so wished, to legally get assistance to change their legal gender in all documentation and get access to hormones and surgery.

However, where they have not been so successful was to ‘break down’ the heteronormative society. As I’m so fond of repeating over and over again, gay bars in Lisbon are not full of the ‘flamboyant gay’ culture (although certainly such bars do exist). Rather the contrary — the majority is full of male or female individuals, perfectly identified with their gender, expressing themselves in exactly the same way as any other male of female in our society. They just have different sexual and romantic preferences. But they leave those preferences to the privacy of their homes. Put in other words: homosexuality and bisexuality does not imply any kind of ‘special expression’ — as so many activists tended to imply, decades ago — but such individuals do not mix up gender identity and gender expression with sexual/romantic preferences. Some do, of course, but that’s their choice.

The same obviously applies to those who are gender non-conforming — and that includes both gender expression and identity. You can conform, or not, to either of those. It’s just unfortunate that because we have the definition of ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ — both using the word ‘gender’ in different contexts — the word ‘transgender’ applies to both. But having a different gender identity does not imply a different gender expression, and, similarly, the reverse is also true.

The so-called ‘ideal crossdresser’ does want to express himself as female without having any doubts about their male gender identity — and he most certainly does not wish to have any kind of surgery. Similarly, some individuals are clearly transexual — in the sense that they exhibit all the symptoms of gender dysphoria — but once they have transitioned, that doesn’t mean that they will forcibly and predictably express themselves as the gender they identify with; although most will do so, many will not. I have seen MtF transexuals who dress like males — perhaps picking some unisex clothing and wearing their hair a bit longer (which is not a prerogative of the female gender, of course), but not much more. They’re fine with whatever their expression is, because they are clearly identifying themselves as females, and do not need to ‘express’ themselves in any way.

As my wife so fondly likes to quote, feminist activism has given her the right not to be especially feminine, and to act pretty much as she wants, outside of female stereotypes. Just because she doesn’t paint her fingernails, never wears a dress, and has no children (unfortunately, her reproductive organs are not functional), she is not ‘less female’ because of that. She has absolutely no doubts regarding her gender identity, but she is more than willing to express herself as a male would (in many occasions), without ‘losing touch’ with her female identity. She’s quite adamant in separating her gender identity from her gender expression. But sometimes, of course, she’s quite willing to ‘dress up’ as a female as well — if she’s in the mood.

I think that’s an important lesson for the LGBT community, which should be expanded to encompass the whole society. Feminist activists have managed to clearly separate gender expression from gender identity and from sexual/romantic preferences quite clearly — for females. Women, these days, are free to adopt any gender expression they wish, and their choice of sexual or romantic partners is up to them. They are not ‘lesser females’ just because they don’t express themselves as heteronormative cisgendered stereotypical females; but the reverse is also true: those who are quite happy about stereotypes are fully allowed to adopt a stereotypical female gender expression as well, and third-wave feminism is fine with that as well (so long as it’s not adopted as an imposition from the ‘male patriarchy’ but rather embraced freely as their choice, without being constrained to do so).

There is no equivalent ‘male activism’ (at least not anything serious…) which is fighting for the right of males to separate gender expression from identity in males as well. The best we have is LGBT activism. But LGBT activists have to understand that not all of those male transgender individuals want to become ‘activists’ themselves, much less be part of a ‘stereotypical’ transgender group which rejects society, its norms, or its gender role stereotypes. The three types of transgendered individuals — those for whom gender is an identity issue, those for whom it’s merely an expression issue, and those who believe it’s both — are not ‘less transgendered’ just because they do not conform to the image that LGBT activists have of transgendered people. True, it might confuse the message a little, because it might not be so radical — that’s also why second-wave feminism, which was much more radical, was able to catch so much attention; while third-wave feminism is more encompassing and more tolerant about the right of a woman to choose whatever female gender expression is fine for each individual. LGBT activism ought to learn the lesson here.

In my own circle of friends, I tend to do my best to explain the differences between the four (or five) aspects of the Genderbread Person. It’s hard to explain it to so-called ‘ideal crossdressers’: they’re really stuck to the idea that crossdressers ought to have a male identity, but, when presenting as female, they should engage only in stereotypical female activities, and that includes getting a male sexual partner — as if lesbians were ‘lesser women’ in some way. My point is to show that each crossdresser ‘dresses up’ for completely different reasons. Many in our group are clearly gender dysphoric — others, like myself, are not so clearly dysphoric, but certainly part of a spectrum which includes some dysphoria — and feel offended if they are taken as ‘merely a guy wearing a dress for fun’. To make matters more complicated, many of those who have a slight gender dysphoria might still be gynophiliac, i.e. attracted to women romantically and  and/or sexually.

So we have this strange situation where a group of crossdressers present themselves as the ‘ideal crossdresser’, but each one belongs to a different category. Some are merely fetishists. Some are not, but certainly dress up ‘for the adrenaline rush’. Others dress as women as a form of stress relief (ironically, recently some friends questioned this concept – they never met anyone who dressed to relieve stress). Others wish to get in touch with their ‘inner female’ and express themselves as females – without ever losing touch with their male side. Others are gender dysphoric in several possible degrees, from very mild to extreme, and crossdressing is a stepping stone for a full transition. And across all those types, sexual preferences vary wildly.

One typical misconception is that these ‘types’ are actually ‘phases’ or ‘stepping stones’ along a path, culminating in the so-called ‘ideal crossdresser’. I shall address this issue on a future article, but for now, suffice to say that nothing could be further from the truth. While it’s true that there are some stages in some types of transgendered individuals, there is no ‘absolute rule’ that fits all of them. Some crossdressers will never go beyond the stage of partial crossdressing. Some (crossdreamers) will not even dress at all. Others will experiment with several types of expressing their gender identity, and settle on a specific style — a certain plateau — beyond which there will be no further progression. Some will take decades until they recognize they have never been ‘crossdressers’ at all but merely transexuals afraid of taking ‘the big step’. Others will realize the same in merely months or even weeks. There is such a variety of possible choices that is actually amazing how a group of, say, 20 crossdressers can get along — if picked randomly among the vast variety of possible non-fetichist crossdressers, it’s highly likely that each case will be individual and have almost nothing in common with all the others.

Sandra chatting seriouslyThere is a particular problem with all those varieties, and this inevitably leads to the issue of romantic and sexual attraction. Even among the non-fetichists, it has been consistently reported that crossdressers tend to exhibit a higher libido than the average (no matter how that is actually measured; in most cases, it’s self-reported anyway, and surveys using self-reported answers are always to be mistrusted or at least to take them with a pinch of salt…). By contrast, the more severe cases of gender dysphoria in adults tend to have very low libidos. Both extremes might call themselves ‘crossdressers’ and enjoy similar activities together. However, the first group will always have as one of the goals the establishment of romantic or sexual partnerships; while the second group might be asexual or the closest thing to asexual. This naturally leads to some clashes among both groups, especially if the second group closely identifies gender identity with expression, while the first group tends to float between genders — but considers the sexual activity as part of their gender expression (in some cases, the most important part of it). People in this group therefore believe (sometimes very strongly) that sexual preferences are as fluid as the other aspects of gender: a typical expression is ‘once you get a taste of [a different sexual preference], you’ll never want [your usual sexual preference] again’.

There is a certain misinterpretation on how these aspects of gender actually work. Although it’s true that there are individuals clearly fluid in all those aspects — from having a fluid gender identity, to a fluid gender expression, but also exhibiting fluid sexual preferences (bi- or pansexuality) — there is no scientific evidence to show that this happens with all individuals. In fact, the four aspects are assumed to be defined at birth (probably through a combination of genetics and embryology). In most individuals, they assume each aspect freely if and only if such aspects are socially acceptable; if not, the aspects are merely repressed. Sometimes that repression is unconscious, and is only made visible through a certain (environmental) trigger. Thus, nobody ‘becomes’ homosexual (unlike what some Christian fundamentalists unfortunately continue to claim…); they just repress their homosexuality for a long time until certain conditions are met. In the crossdressing world, it’s not unlikely that many crossdressers realize they’re crossdressers by seeing images of crossdressers on the Internet — very often, the word ‘crossdresser’ is not even known. Such individuals were always crossdressers, they always had the urge to dress in clothes of the opposite gender, but due to social constraints they felt it was wrong, and thus repressed such urges as best as they could. But at some point in their lives they find out that their condition is not unique, and they learn that there are many, many others who have exactly the same urges — and that they freely express themselves as members of the opposite gender without any problems. Thus, the act of finding an image of a crossdresser becomes the trigger to ‘coming out’ — to themselves — but does not ‘create’ or ‘induce’ someone to become a crossdresser. Even fetishes like sissyfication — forced feminization — are not something that becomes ‘an acquired habit’. The fetishist, in this case, was always a fetishist — he just never had the opportunity to engage in sissyfication before. And similarly, sexual preferences do not change when a crossdresser dons clothes of the opposite gender. They either were always bisexual since birth, and crossdressing just became the trigger that allowed them to explore same-sex activities, or they might just have been repressed homosexuals all their lives. In most cases, however, crossdressers do not label themselves as homosexual/bisexual, no matter what their choice of partners might be. Instead, they take the interesting approach that their gender expression dictates the choice of partner; as males, they feel attracted to females, but when expressing as female, they find it ‘natural’ to get attracted to males instead. In truth, this is a special scenario of bisexuality, which is conditioned by gender expression (while typical bisexuals will clearly separate gender expression from sexual preference).

Although some literature shows that hormone replacement therapy sometimes triggers different sexual preferences, this is usually not the case. We have, after all, decades of scientific evidence regarding hormone therapy with women undergoing menopause, and sometimes with men treating their prostate condition, and we know that hormones cannot trigger a change of sexual preferences. It is therefore unlikely that transexuals would respond differently. In fact, what is more likely is that such transexuals were, in fact, bisexual — and that the hormone therapy was the required trigger to allow them to explore their sexuality in a different way.

It’s not easy to see cause and effect in such issues, and the best that the transgendered individual can see are the correlations: I used never to dress as a woman. Now that I do, suddenly I find myself attracted to males. Therefore, crossdressing allows me to explore sexuality with a male partner, without the ‘need’ of being gay. I’ve come across variations of these words many times, in different forms; just like transexuals use the ‘pretext’ of hormone therapy to start exploring their newly ‘found’ bi-curious status, some crossdressers also believe that expressing themselves as the opposite gender includes a change of sexual preference — it comes with the package, so to speak. This is simply confusing cause and effect: such individuals were never heteronormative in the first place; it’s the act of crossdressing that triggered the realization that they were never ‘100% heterosexual’ in the first place, therefore breaking down their denial and repression, and freely allowing them to explore their true sexuality — not the other way round.

Jenner, by the way, is very careful in avoiding the issue about her current sexual preferences. It’s more than likely that she’s still physically and romantically attracted to females, as she was during her whole life, but she might also be bi-curious. In any case, she sweeps the whole issue under the carpet and deems it to be unimportant. I totally agree with her attitude. For her, however, the issue about keeping roles and stereotypes for the bi-gendered society is important. Jenner does not want to abolish gender or its roles, and this grates on the nerves of ‘traditional’ LGBT activists. She just wants people to express themselves as they like, and be able, legally and clinically, to do so. It’s a different view of what are the real issues for transgendered people — not to become outcasts and demand their right to be different in this heteronormative society, but rather to ‘fit in’, as best as they can, as a typical member of the gender they identify with.