Towards a new taxonomy of crossdressers 2


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Warning: This text is still undergoing minor revisions. Stay tuned! — Sandra


 

As I write these lines, the community has been enrichened by Jack Molay’s publishing of a Creative Crossdreamer Vocabulary. Jack deserves my heartfelt congratulations for this seminal work in establishing a lot of terms and definitions used by the transgender community. There are naturally all sorts of publications of ‘transgender dictionaries’, but Jack’s twist of putting them in perspective from the point of view of crossdreaming is, in my opinion, one of the best and more successful examples in trying to put some order in the chaos of transgenderity and its manifold manifestations.

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, I was approached by my good friend Libertino (that’s his Internet handle, not his real name), who wished to present me with a proposal for a taxonomy of crossdressers. Some background about Libertino and our mutual friendship are needed to understand his approach. As you know, I identify with the ‘transgender’ tag, and even though I’m not quite sure about where exactly I fit, I certainly am a crossdresser (which describes someone dressing up in clothes belonging to the other main gender than the one assigned at birth). I’m also pretty much asexual these days and what is left of my libido drives my sexual desires exclusively towards women — I’m quite clearly and unambiguously a gynephile (someone who feels attracted to women). I’m monogamous, not because anyone ‘forced’ me to be that way, but because I truly believe that relationships with more than two partners become hopelessly confused and difficult to manage 🙂 Obviously, I recognize that this is my own limitation; I would say that I’m monogamous by choice, not by ‘coercion’, because I find monogamy easier to handle. Furthermore, I tend to believe that there are good reasons — biological ones, driven by evolution — to explain why we have two main gender roles; while it’s quite clear that some people do not fit the binary gender definition and totally reject it, I still maintain that, at the genetic, biological, and embryological levels, we are supposed to be a species with two specific gender roles. Nevertheless, I cannot reject the evidence that nothing in biology is black or white — due to several reasons, it’s quite clear that not everybody will ‘fit’ in those two stereotypical gender roles. Also, it’s quite clear to me that neither those gender roles are merely social conditioning (we have established research to show that is not the case) — even though social conditioning plays a role in defining gender, it’s not the main reason for gender — nor is gender aligned to sexual orientation. And, furthermore, it’s quite clear that there is a big difference between gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and genitalia. These are all correlated, of course, but correlation does not imply causation — meaning mostly that all these four aspects are independent variables, although it’s also correct to assume that, for a majority of people, they are aligned in stereotypical configurations.

Libertino, by contrast, is not a crossdresser. He is pansexual and polyamorous, and has a high libido (and a lot of energy to keep up with his libido!). He clearly identifies with the male gender and is quite happy with it. But he has come across a lot of transgendered people, and is especially fascinated and captivated by crossdressers. As a result, he has studied them a lot — very closely 🙂 — and is personally acquainted with around a hundred cases. His ideas and opinions about crossdressers, therefore, come from personal experience with the many different types — not from reading about them and reflecting about the subject. As a non-crossdresser, however, he is in a position to evaluate their behaviour in an unbiased way — ‘stepping out’, so to speak, and take notes.

We couldn’t have more different personalities (even ideologically, he’s at one extreme of the spectrum, while I’m on the other side 🙂 ) but perhaps exactly because of that we get along with each other quite well 🙂 And we spend a lot of time together discussing a lot of subjects, but crossdressing and gender variance are quite often at the top of our list of common interests.

Why the need for more taxonomies?

An Organized Collection of Irrational Nonsense by dehydrationstationFirst of all, it’s worth asking why we should have Yet Another Classification of crossdressers? In my own blog, I’m sure I have gone through a handful of different systems. Why a new one?

Libertino, very correctly, pointed out that most taxonomies around crossdressing focus on the sexual aspects (note that even the lack of sexuality in some kinds of crossdressing is a sexual aspect), because this is the way psychiatrists and psychologists have traditionally ‘classified’ transvestism — the older designation of crossdressing. Even though these days crossdressing, by itself, is excluded from the lists of mental disorders, being merely a ‘condition’ and nothing else, it still remains tightly bound to sexual classifications. Specialists dealing with crossdressers are ‘clinical sexologists’. Scientific publications publishing articles about crossdressing will inevitably categorize themselves under ‘sexology’. Old habits die hard!

By contrast, sociologists and anthropologists may leave the sexual aspect out of crossdressing, and study instead how a crossdresser progresses through life, or how they interact with other people. They will still use old classifications, always related to human sexology, even if the approach to the study and research leaves the sexual aspects out of the argument.

This has gone so far as to have people proclaiming that ‘any crossdresser who describes their activity as being devoid of sexual characteristics is lying‘, because a lot of crossdressers deliberately try to put some distance between them and those who crossdress merely for sexual reasons. The truth is that there is really a fine dividing line between both!

In any case, it is rather limiting to classify crossdressers merely based on sexual aspects, just because, well, sex is part of our lives. This would be like classifying, say, athletes in Olympics based on their sexual preferences or habits as opposed to what they actually do on the field, just because sex is part of an athlete’s life as well. To put it bluntly, the argument that sex is part of our lives does not mean that all forms of characterisation of a specific subject have to include sexual aspects in it: that would be ridiculous, at least on all studies of human traits and behaviour. Strangely enough, when it comes to crossdressing, one assumes that somehow sex has to come up with it — even if it is just to put some distance between the crossdresser and their sexual drives and motivations.

While certainly studies of human nature and behaviour have to deal with the sexual component at some stage, not all studies of human nature need to address that component. We can just keep in mind that sexuality is part of our nature; we don’t need to explicitly list it every time!

Therefore, my friend Libertino is proposing a taxonomy which does not focus on the crossdresser’s sexuality, but rather on their personality (or personalities, to be more precise). He feels that such a classification better encompasses the dozens and dozens of crossdressers that he has personally met. It also raises the bar for further studies: instead of limiting oneselves about sexuality — a relatively ‘low level’ issue that is nevertheless part of our nature — we tackle much more elevated (and way harder!) issues regarding identity and personality and how these influence our behaviour. On the flip side of the coin, such classifications may also be more useful for therapists to aid their patients, or for activists to understand exactly what rights are appropriate for crossdressers to claim.

Without further ado, here is Libertino’s taxonomy proposal:

Preliminary definitions

Libertino’s proposal addresses exclusively MtF crossdressers, since those are by far more numerous, and because he has only had experiences with that kind. Some of the concepts may or may not relate to FtM crossdressers as well.

We should start with a definition of what crossdressing is:

Crossdressing is a set of different forms of expressing a gender identity, namely by the external appearance (clothes/apparel, shoes, makeup, behaviour, and so on), but it is not a gender identity by itself. Such gender expressions are used for different reasons by very different people.

This is a relatively common definition for the 21st century, but it departs from a certain convention, held throughout the 1990s, where crossdressing ‘implied’ a certain kind of gender identity. Even today, I’m still part of groups where it is believed that crossdressing is ‘more’ than gender expression, but somehow embodies aspects of a certain ‘crossdresser identity’. Such groups generally ostracize non-conforming crossdressers based on what their definition of what a ‘true crossdresser’ is supposed to be. In a sense, ‘crossdressing’ becomes more than an activity to explain a certain identity towards a specific group, which ‘imposes’ its own norms and values upon their members — not only attire and apparel, but also etiquette, behaviour in general, specific behaviour towards sexuality, and so forth.

Libertino is more pragmatical and sticks to the original definition of the word: no matter what ‘the community’ says, crossdressing just implies gender expression and nothing else.

The second definition follows from the first:

A crossdresser is a person who — occasionally, temporarily, depending on the circumstances, or in an alternating way — wears clothing usually attributed to another gender, different from the main gender than the one assigned at birth (that is, MtF crossdressers will wear women’s clothing, queer crossdressers will use innovative clothing not associated with a specific gender and/or a blend of both genders, etc.).

This is all-encompassing and inclusive. Nothing is said about how many articles of clothing the crossdresser needs to wear before being considered a ‘true crossdresser’. And nothing is said about the remaining aspects of the presentation — it can be limited and restricted to wearing women’s clothes, but nothing ‘demands’ more than that (i.e. the person might still manifest typically male behaviour, while still be crossdressed). It also says nothing about body hygiene, removal of facial hair, and so forth. None of these issues matter for this definition. Crossdressing, as the name implies, is just about the clothes.

Type A: Women’s clothing fetishist

Now let’s review the five main types, one by one, and look at their motivations and personality. The largest group, by far, are those who have developed a fetish towards women’s clothing. Here we are strictly dealing with object fetishism, that is, the act of wearing women’s clothing induces some excitement or pleasure. Many fetishists will only focus their fetish towards certain items, i.e. stockings and high heels only. Many will derive some pleasure from touching those items; others require watching themselves wearing them; there are some who will wear women’s underwear on a daily basis for pleasure; and finally, of course, many will engage in sexual acts wearing some items of women’s clothing.

As we will see further on, Libertino does not consider each classification to be static and exclusive. Rather, it’s part of a dynamic — as the crossdressers explores their feelings further and further, they might move between types. Wearing some items of women’s clothes might just be the starting phase for many MtF transgendered individuals exploring and discovering their gender identity.

Type B: Role-playing

In this group, the actual pleasure comes from role-playing a ‘femme’ role. These individuals identify themselves as cisgendered males, but feel great pleasure from enacting a role of the opposite gender (Jack Molay in his own dictionary classifies this as crossenacting). It is not much different from an actor on stage deriving pleasure from performing their job well.

Type C: Split personality

We now move on to the more interesting types. Type C presents two distinct personalities (sometimes more — Libertino has found some exceptional cases with three or more personalities), usually split across a ‘male’ and a ‘female’ personality. Those personalities share the same (physical) person but might be absolutely separate, with totally different traits: e.g. the male personality might be aggressive and dominant, the female personality submissive and passive. Both personalities alternate between themselves, and there is an inner urge or desire to manifest either of them, with different gender expressions. Also note that things like sexual orientation or attraction might be distinct between personalities. We Portuguese are familiar with this concept, since our biggest poet of the 20th century, Fernando Pessoa, expressed different personalities in a similar manner when writing, a concept known as heteronyms.

Psychologically speaking, it’s hard to exactly determine if such persons are really affected with the very controversial multiple personality disorder; the existence of such a disease is not universally accepted by all experts in the field. Nevertheless, from Libertino’s point of view, the ‘split personality’ of Type C might be a deeper form of role-playing (where, in each case, the person assumes that all roles are role-playing to a degree, not necessarily just the ‘femme’ persona) but not necessarily a pathology (in the sense that it does not create distress or discomfort to the person itself).

Many authors (including Jack Molay!) tend to explain this kind of person as a result of a long conflict between conforming to the heteronormative cisgendered society, developing a ‘conforming persona’ which exaggerates male attributes and traits (in the case of MtF crossdressers, which is what we’re analysing here), while pushing all other non-male traits to the ‘non-conforming persona’ (i.e. the female one). It is interesting to speculate which is the actual persona of Type C crossdressers. They will usually claim that both are equally valid; both have desires and urges to manifest; and that it’s only through manifesting both that the person feels ‘complete’ (which echoes a bit what Pessoa wrote about his relations with his heteronyms).

I have formerly described how in reality we all adopt ‘masks’ depending on the occasion, environment, place and time of the day, and so forth — the ‘loving husband’ and ‘kind parent’ at home can be the ‘ruthless employer’ at work and ‘rawdy sports fan’ among friends — and there is no contradiction here: all such ‘masks’ are part of the same person. I believe that Type C crossdressers go much further in exploring such ‘masks’, expanding the traits and consolidating the personality in each persona, to the point that such a person really has ‘two different personalities’.

Type D: Predominant female personality (or exclusively female personality)

In this case, the crossdresser strongly (or fully) identifies with the female gender and has a personality that is aligned with typical female traits, no matter what their presentation in public might be. This type can furthermore be divided in the following subtypes:

Subtype D1: Desiring transition to the female gender

This would be the classical case of a MtF transexual, as reported extensively by the literature: the person wants to have her body aligned with her mind and personality, and wants to live her life as a person of her target gender. Crossdressing is just seen as a ‘stepping stone’ towards that goal, not a goal by itself.

Subtype D2: Transition to the female gender is desired, but impossible due to circumstances

I have previously called this type as ‘failed transexuals’ and I’m actually afraid that this is quite a large percentage of the transgender community — however, it rarely registers at surveys and statistics because such people will not even attempt to contact doctors to deal with their issue.

This subtype is similar to D1 in their affirmation of being part of the female gender, with which they fully identify, and they have a strong desire to transition. However, ‘real life’ circumstances prevent them from doing so: either they feel that their age is not adequate for transition (they feel they’re already too old for starting their lives from scratch as females), or they are prevented to do so for social or family reasons.

The people in this subtype can be comfortable with and accept the situation, or can suffer due to the impossibility of transitioning. For some of these people, crossdressing might be the only choice to deal with the frustration, anxiety, anguish, and eventually depression that comes from being unable to transition. As a consequence, such people are extremely unhappy. Note that there is a fundamental difference in the degree of unhappiness, compared to so-called ‘classical transexuals’ (which would fall into subtype D1, if they also crossdress before transition). ‘Classical transexuals’ go through periods of extreme frustration, anxiety, depression, and so forth, but at least they know they have the option to transition (or, at some point in their lives, the option of transition becomes available to them). While transition is, by itself, not exactly the easiest thing to bear (rather the contrary!), and it also means getting subject to transphobia and all sorts of bullying and discrimination afterwards, the truth is that ‘classical transexuals’ at least have an option. They may focus all their hopes on transition, knowing that it eventually will provide them with the relief they require to overcome all their issues. Even if this might not exactly be the case, it’s the hope that drives them on.

Subtype D2 has no hope of transition: the door to transition is closed to them. They have exactly the same desires, urges, but also may have more or less anxiety and anguish, as ‘classical transexuals’ do. The only difference is that they are hopeless. Their circumstances in life will not change to allow them to transition, and, the longer they wait for such circumstances to become available, the older they get, to the point that it becomes, well, pointless. Most often they also don’t even bother with therapy or simply to consult with a doctor about their condition: what’s the point, since they are not going to transition anyway? This may lead to a horrible life, struggling with depression, while still keeping up a smiling face, and occasionally crossdressing just to quell the constant urges.

Subtype D3: No wish for total transition but merely maintaining a crossdressing activity

There is here a difference between D3 and B. The type B crossdresser exhibits a clearly male personality, but enjoys their ‘femme side’ as a role-playing activity. Subtype D3, by contrast, has a clearly female personality, and identifies as female, but does not wish to transition, for whatever reason. Unlike subtype D2, because transition is not desired, there might be no stress in dealing with the crossdressing urges, and no actual dissonance with the female personality. I have seen a few of those cases myself: they go out with friends presenting themselves as the female they identify with, and there is no doubt about their female personality (it’s not role-playing, they’re really manifesting their real personality), but, on their daily routine, at work and with family, they stick to the male role. In fact, they might even refer to their ‘male role’ as ‘role-playing’ — something they know they have to keep up in order to function in society, but which is not what corresponds to their inner self-image and personality. Some of these cases are very shy, sensitive, even submissive males. Others, by contrast, overcompensate exaggerating their ‘maleness’ in order to disguise their real personalities. Between both extremes are a lot of coping strategies.

Subtype D4: No wish for total transition, but engaging in body modifications

Richard Ekins, in his book Male Femaling: A Grounded Theory Approach to Cross-Dressing and Sex-Changing calls these crossdressers body femalers, and Ekins also includes a gradation between them: from merely fantasizing about body modifications (some of which might not even be technically possible, e.g. chromosomal changes) to actual surgery and hormonal therapy. Under subtype D4, my friend Libertino includes a lot of possible examples: from targeted physical exercise (to reduce typical ‘male’ muscular patterns but ’round up’ the bottoms and thighs, for instance) to taking hormones (usually off-the-shelf phytohormones, or taking the pill). There are many other possibilities listed by Ekins: it may start with shaving body hair, for example (and later on going to definitive hair removal systems); treating one’s body with lotions and creams to get smoother skin; manicuring (and wearing transparent/light pink nail polish every day); growing the hair (and possibly doing a feminine haircut, which gets hidden when pulling the hair into a ponytail); piercing the ears; and eventually even adding breast implants (or using vacuum pumps plus phytohormones to develop them) which might be hidden under loose clothing but look great when properly enhanced with a push-up bra. All this gets obviously combined with either crossdressing fully as female, or by wearing ambiguously gendered clothing on a daily basis.

Crossdressers of this type tend to have either female personalities or at least androgynous personalities. In many cases they wish to enhance and perfect their ‘female side’ while crossdressing, but still maintain the main appearance as males on a daily basis (in order to be able to function socially at their jobs as males). Others, by contrast, are gender fluid, gender queer, or even agendered, and develop an unique presentation of themselves which is more consistent with their self-image.

Type E: Predominantly non-binary personality

Not only those individuals in this group do not identify with the gender assigned at birth, but they often reject the whole notion of identifying with a specific gender. Rather, they assume their own, individual personality which is not influenced or conditioned/coerced by mainstream gender stereotypes, or deliberately include some elements from both main genders. A typical example is dressing up exquisitely as women but keep a beard and unshaved arms/legs. This may include body transformation as well.

Many of the members of this type identify themselves with the queer movement (specifically, with the gender queer subgroup) and they are becoming increasingly more visible in public (i. e. members of this group are progressively ‘coming out of the closet’ and assuming their non-binary identities publicly), especially among the younger generations.

Caveats

It is important to understand that those definitions are just different types, and that there is no hierarchy of any kind between them. They are not ‘stages’ that are supposed to succeed each other in a ‘desired’ (normal) sequence on someone’s life. Therefore, it is incorrect to claim that one type is ‘better’, ‘more complete’, ‘a more accurate description of crossdressing’, or any such comparison, which runs contrary to the spirit of this taxonomy. Rather, each classification stands on its own, and is merely representative of one possible type of gender identity/gender presentation, perfectly legitimate on its own. Of course, some people move from one type to a different one (for many reasons) — that’s perfectly normal, as people continue to explore their gender identity. Others might simply remain at a specific type/subtype and never leave it again (which is also consistent with Ekins’ findings in his book).

All classifications of human beings are, by definition, incomplete — at one extreme, we would need to classify each human being individually, without any way to compare them directly. But we can certainly figure out certain common traits and place them in the same group. To give a different example, from science: every strand of DNA is different — each of us has a unique sequence of genes, therefore we are all individual organisms — but we certainly can classify different types and classes of human beings based on common culture, place of origin, education, and obviously personality traits. Such classifications are necessarily incomplete and they will always leave some people either out of them or labeled in two different types simultaneously, but that doesn’t mean we should abolish them all just because they are not ‘perfect’. They are still useful for several things.

Just consider the work a doctor does when diagnosing someone with a disease. Even though a blood test might identify a particular disease perfectly, each human being is different (and so is each bacterium or each virus) and reacts ever-so-slightly differently to that disease. Nevertheless, medical science can usually diagnose and treat most people, in spite of the differences! This is because, no matter how different we are, we still share enough common things to be able to deal with any issue that affects us.

Therefore, the above classifications proposed by my friend might not fit every crossdresser or MtF transgendered person perfectly. There are still enough common traits in each type and subtype that helps us to identify each case.

And why is this important? Libertino argues that currently each branch of science studies merely one aspect of crossdressing. In general, as I explained at the very beginning, psychology and psychiatry will approach the subject based on sexuality. This might not surprise us that much, if we take into account that the father of psychoanalysis, Freud, used sexuality as the base to explain pretty much everything. He was, of course, incorrect and incomplete — and psychology has advanced way beyond mere sexuality. But a hundred years or so of sexuality-inspired psychology is hard to shake off. When in doubt, while analysing a new aspect of the human psyche, it’s not surprising to ‘fall back to old habits’. It’s obvious that today experts in psychology and psychiatry will not approach crossdressing only from the sexuality aspect, but it’s a start for many of them.

On the other hand, sociology and anthropology prefer to discuss relationships, interdependence between crossdressers and their environment, and what they call a ‘life path’ or ‘career’, which shows how the lives of crossdressers progress, from one stage to the next, and what happens at each stage, and a lot of them tend to explain gender expression and sexual orientation only as a social construct. Such explanations might be very helpful to help crossdressers figuring out at what stage or level they are, and what their goals ultimately might be — therefore giving them some support in terms of helping them to deal with their urges and fears. But their goal is not really providing ‘help’ or ‘support’, but rather explore their development and understand, at the societal level, how it might be changed to accommodate crossdressers and other transgendered people.

Libertino’s classifications are not static, but rather dynamic. Many transgender individuals will very likely start to identify with Type A. For a MtF transgender person, there is always some excitement when donning women’s clothes at the very beginning — even if the reason for wearing them might be very different for each! ‘Pure’ fetishists, for example, will never ‘leave’ this type, and focus their sexual urges merely on the feel and touch of women’s clothes; but a ‘true’ MtF transexual (whatever that actually means!) might merely look at women’s clothes as a means to express their gender identity and nothing else. They will very likely identify with several different types in turn, considering that some of those types are not really satisfying — in the sense that they wish much more, and do not identify with some of the types. And, of course, even though there are many types, many transgender individuals will not pass through all of them. Some will identify immediately with Type D1 or E but never with any of the other types (I certainly know several real examples of such people). Others will only reluctantly accept — especially to themselves — that they really don’t belong to a certain type, and would rather prefer to be included in a different one, but, due to a lot of social pressures and other external factors, might be ‘stuck’ with some type, assuming that such a type might be socially more acceptable.

Therefore, although there are people who clearly identify with one of the types during their whole life, many might just identify with Type A (for example) because they had no conditions for completely assuming their real personality.

Women come in many shapes and types — so do crossdressers!

Purpose of this classification

Libertino’s classifications are focused on crossdresser’s personalities — a way to escape the classical approach of linking everything with sexuality. Obviously, sexuality is not absent from each type; rather, sexuality is a different axis from the personality, or, putting it differently, sexuality is expressed according to one’s personality — and each type has quite different ways of expressing their sexuality. Both aspects of one’s mind — personality and sexuality — are, therefore, independent variables. This is something very different from the usual classifications, and which created a mess in terms of taxonomy in the mid-1990s — and Blanchard’s own pseudo-theories certainly made things even worse!

Unfortunately, the link between crossdressing and sexuality is very strongly embedded in society-at-large, and we cannot merely blame Freud for that, but also the dominant Western culture, which so often attributes anything that is deviant from the heteronormative cisgender mainstream as a ‘sexual deviation’ — thanks to centuries of religion-based suppression of human sexuality. However, we can see a simple example to understand how the two aspects are disconnected. A type A fetishist might feel the thrill from wearing women’s clothes in very different ways. In one scenario, the act of wearing lingerie is merely an aid to enhance sexual relationships in a strict heterosexual couple, for example. In other scenarios, lingerie is used as an aid to masturbation only. But in many other scenarios, there is still a ‘thrill’ without any sexual excitement. It might just be an adrenaline rush — the sense of doing something pleasant. It might be the trigger of the fear/flight mechanism — the knowledge that this is something ‘wrong’ (from the perspective of the society) and therefore appealing, not because it’s ‘sexual’ in nature, but because it’s forbidden.

Looking at the personalities of crossdressers, however, we see a much richer image — a more vivid impression about how crossdressers think and feel. These emotions and traits go way beyond the mere aspects of sexuality, and reveal much more interesting issues: the whole concept of crossdressing as a means to elicit certain satisfaction (which includes, but is not limited to, sexual satisfaction) through exhibiting certain roles or traits, some of them tightly linked with one’s own identity; other cases clearly separate from identity itself, but merely as a form of expression (which, by manifesting itself, also causes a certain amount of satisfaction and pleasure — again, not limited to merely sexual satisfaction); and finally, Libertino’s theory, by placing the focus on the personality and not on sexuality, nor on biological aspects, also provides a mechanism to explain gender fluidity, non-binary genderity, agenderity, and so forth, as merely different kinds of personalities which emerge or co-exist, outside established societal norms, but are nevertheless as valid and at exactly the same degree of importance of any other.

Libertino also makes a link between personality, gender expression, physical body, and overall presentation. In this regard, he comes closer to certain sociologists (namely Ekins), which prefer to see the whole aspect of crossdressing (‘male femaling’, in Ekins’ terminology) along different axes: how it influences the mind, how it influences the presentation, and how it influences the body. Not all people will show the same ‘influence’ on all three axes: some might be well-developed, others under-developed. Some might evolve along one of the axes, others might move along all three. Just by switching the focus from ‘sexuality’ to three different and independent variables allows us to capture so much more!

And finally, a taxonomy system based on personalities — as opposed to sexuality or ‘mental disturbances’ — is easier to explain as well as to understand. While the original purpose of classifying crossdressers had their mental health in mind — psychologists and psychiatrists need to have a way to identify types in order to offer help and support — we have many more needs these days. Crossdressers are starting to literally come out of the closet, not merely as individuals, but as a group, and, to a degree, enjoy some ‘mainstream’ limelight. It’s become politically incorrect to depict crossdressers and transgender people simply for humorous purposes on stage or on TV: instead, newer generations of TV series and movies start to show them as regular human beings, with their own set of problems but also virtues. Younger generations are proud of their individuality and, in a sense, don’t see much of problem in a male dressing up as a girl or in gangsta style; both are perfectly acceptable ways of expressing themselves publicly to show their non-conformity to the ‘mainstream’ (imposed by narrow-minded adults, of course!).

Teachers and law enforcement officers also need training to identify and know how to deal with transgender people, and that means leaving behind the whole ‘sexuality’ prejudice and focus on personalities, identity, and expression. But the list slowly grows. In those countries that are not subject to morality imposed by religious leaders (so often with a little help from the State), the whole population needs to be made aware of transgenderity and crossdressing and know how to deal with those persons with politeness and correctness — not treating them as ‘mentally disturbed’ or ‘sex freaks’, but as people with some special needs. In order to present a more correct view of the trans community — one that doesn’t ‘limit’ the community to simple stereotypes — while respecting its plurality and vast difference in individuals, we need new taxonomies that depart from old models, which might still suit the purpose of psychologists and psychiatrists in terms of treatment of related diseases (anxiety, depression, trauma…) as well as help and support (encouraging one’s self-expression according to one’s identity and dealing with transphobia on a daily basis), but might say little to the average person in the street.

It’s hard to demand ‘respect’ and ‘acceptance’ from the mainstream, in public places, if the only classifications we have for transgender people are derived from mental disturbances and sexual deviations. Sadly, however, for the past hundred years or so, that’s all we had. We can make an effort to explain how such criteria in the past are absolutely outdated and never applied to our community in the first place; but it’s far harder to fight prejudice if you need to use the same terms and classifications that were used a hundred years ago, with slight variations here and there (e.g. you don’t call a crossdresser a ‘transvestite’; you don’t call an intersex individual ‘hermaphrodite’; nevertheless, in essence, the name might have changed, but the difference in the description hasn’t changed enough to be perceptible to the average person… and this is a serious handicap for us).

I’m well aware that simply changing names and classifications is not a big step by itself. But sometimes it helps a bit along the way. I always remember the words of my wife: ‘a decade ago, you told me that you were a crossdresser. But now you claim to be transgender. What changed?’ Nothing changed. I was (and will continue to be) transgender. I express my transgenderity by crossdressing. There is no conflict here. Crossdressing is just the act of wearing clothes of the gender opposite to the one assigned to me at birth, nothing more. There is nothing implied in my personality, simply based on the gender expression that I favour. Transgender expresses my identification with a gender role but also with a gender expression. It adds a little bit more, but it still doesn’t capture everything. We need to add on top of role and expression something more: the issues of identity and personality. But there is more to it, which includes (or not) things like body modifications.

In any case, the main purpose of presenting Libertino’s proposed taxonomy here is not to start another ‘classification war’. It’s just a starting point to let people think and freely discuss these ideas and concepts. Libertino’s taxonomy is not written on stone: it might change and evolve, as newer and better explanations come up. Also, his taxonomy is based on his own experience of meeting and talking with dozens and dozens of crossdressers — but most of these are limited geographically to a single country. Maybe his taxonomy is not inclusive of other crossdressers, living in different countries and in different cultures? While we usually assume that transgenderity is universal and independent of age and location, it’s clear that some aspects of crossdressing are not — gender roles and gender presentation varies wildly between cultures and epochs. So maybe some issues related to crossdressers’ personalities might change as well?

The XIV Dalai Lama, when he started to actively study and research Western individuals, both by talking directly to them as well as meeting with psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists and anthropologists, was actually very surprised about finding real cases of human beings who hated themselves so much that they wanted to die. Self-hate is a concept that is unknown in classical Buddhism; as a consequence, most of the Buddhist writings — especially those originated, or influenced, by Indian writers — never mentioned such a concept, at least not explicitly, and there were no known methods to deal with that particular affliction. By contrast, Western psychologists are well aware of that affliction and have therefore developed methods to deal with it. His Holiness realized that there were cultural differences which produced new states of mental affliction with which he was unfamiliar — and his own teachers, and his teachers’ teachers, not having been in direct contact with Western culture, did fail to recognize such afflictions and did not write about specific methods to deal with them. Of course Buddhism is not tied to a single culture, but assumes that sentient beings in their essence are exactly the same — we all wish for happiness and stop our insatisfaction or actual suffering — and the techniques to deal with that are universal: therefore, a very slight adaptation of some of the techniques to be able to deal with self-hate was not really very hard to do. But it meant that great teachers like the Dalai Lama had to teach their own students to recognize self-hate and tell them how to apply (existing) techniques to deal with that affliction.

When talking about crossdressing, especially across some cultures, we need to have the same open-minded approach — and by ‘we’ I do not only include our own communities, but our scientific and academic communities as well. We cannot continue to say, on one hand, that we wish for a ‘fairer’ society, one that is more inclusive for transgender individuals, but on the other hand, continue to try to ‘fit’ transgender individuals in old classifications that put them in the same box as ‘mental disorders’ or ‘sexual deviations’. Even though contemporary academic researchers in the field are very careful to note the difference, they still start from those two points, and say ‘transgender individuals are not part of that model’. So we get labeled as being ‘outside the box’, so to speak. Gender dysphoria is mentioned in the DSM-V — a publication made by mental doctors for mental doctors — as ‘not a mental disease’. This is a bit like classifying fans of soccer, dressing up in the colours of their clubs, and expressing rowdy behaviour (even in public), as ‘not a habit’ or ‘not deviant behaviour’. Instead, we really don’t say anything like that — we just label them as a ‘cultural phenomenon’ or ‘individual expression’ or even ‘harmless bonding activity’ or whatever comes to mind; anything but fitting soccer fans in derogatory and insulting classifications, even if it’s by saying that they do not fit such classifications.

We should at some point make very clear that the word ‘crossdressing’ merely describes an activity, just like ‘dressing up as a soccer fan’ describes another activity. We can label ‘dressing up as a soccer fan’ as a ‘cultural manifestation’ and be happy about it; but in that case we have to do the same for ‘crossdressing’, or, rather, explain that the reasons for crossdressing come almost exclusively from the crossdressers’ personality, and enumerate those traits that lead certain types of personalities to engage in crossdressing. I think that we can take a lesson from Japan (and many other countries which follow Japan in this, of course): they might condemn crossdressing socially and morally to a certain degree, but cosplay is acceptable. Crossdressing, or more precisely, crossplaying, is as socially acceptable as dressing up to watch a soccer game: for a Japanese, the reasons behind cosplaying are not really important, and most certainly they are not tied to ‘mental deviations’ or ‘sexual aberrations’ of any sort. Obviously, some of those reasons may be sexual in nature, but that’s just part of the story (and probably not even the most important part!). By pushing those misconceptions about the reasons for crossdressing out of the picture, Japanese can enjoy cosplaying, or even crossplaying, freely, without prejudice, and without discrimination. As cosplay becomes more and more popular in the West as well, I think that we have a great opportunity to try to change the way the mainstream looks at the actual activity of crossdressing — in neutral terms, and therefore acceptable — while of course leaving the identification of a crossdresser’s personality (and their own personal reasons for crossdressing) to a different level, one that is not required to induce social acceptance of crossdressing in our Western societies.

But that requires a little bit of work on the taxonomy as well!

Disclaimers

One of our reviewing sessions. Just because we meant this to be a serious text, it doesn't mean that we cannot have a drink together! And Libertino loves to capture natural expressions on camera :-)

One of our reviewing sessions. Just because we meant this to be a serious text, it didn’t mean that we couldn’t have a drink together! And Libertino loves to capture natural expressions on camera 🙂

The above classification is my own interpretation and explanation of Libertino’s taxonomy system. Any errors in the text are definitely my own, and I apologise to Libertino in advance if I have misrepresented his views, with the promise to correct the text wherever necessary. We have already gone through a few revisions together, but I admit that I might still have one or two things wrong.

Neither Libertino nor I are experts in psychology, sociology, anthropology, or in the neurological sciences. Although we are both familiar with the scientific method and the academic processes of elaborating/formulating hypothesis to fit the data, neither of us has really presented any work in this field of gender studies. And while Libertino has established his taxonomy based on personal, anecdotal evidence from a sample that he know very well (to which I might have added a few of my own acquaintances as well, who will fit Libertino’s taxonomy quite well), his taxonomy — or this article — are not really at the level required for a ‘scientific paper’. Libertino has discussed some of his theories with psychiatrists and psychologists and, in general, got some positive validation — in the sense that some assumptions he put in his taxonomy are not widely contradicted by work done of specialists in this field — but that is not the same thing as presenting at a peer-reviewed conference, or publishing on an academic journal.

Rather, the purpose of spreading Libertino’s ideas is pretty much inspired by Jack Molay’s own work in defining ‘crossdreaming’. Like us, Molay has found that there was a certain lack of theoretical background in explaining certain aspects of transgenderity, and, once Blanchard/Lawrence/Bailey’s theories were discarded, Molay felt that something else ought to fill the void, but this time with a model that fits much better to reality. To the best of my knowledge (which includes searching through published articles), the scientific community has not yet picked up on Molay’s proposals — but I also feel that at least he is pointing towards the right direction for further discussion and eventual research.

In our case, we have found that current taxonomies for crossdressers have three major faults. One is to assume that crossdressing is somehow ‘sexual’ in nature. We’re really stuck with that idea for a century or more, and we haven’t yet freed ourselves from that. We need something new. And the second fault is a certain assumption that having different types of crossdressers somehow imply a certain hierarchy among them. This might be useful in sociology, to explain ‘career paths’ and predict how a crossdresser might evolve in their discovery of their identity and assume different presentations according to that. But, in general, implying that some types are ‘better’ or ‘more advanced’ than others hurts the community far more than it helps. A short overview of the many online communities will immediately show how crossdressers and transgender people are constantly fighting each other about who is a ‘real crossdresser’ or a ‘real transgender person’. This leads not only to verbal fights, but to actual ostracism inside the community, instead of promoting tolerance towards others who think/feel differently from us, but are absolutely entitled to do so. And finally, most taxonomies tend to assume that there are two genders only, and even if they reluctantly concede that there are many people outside the binary gender spectrum, they still begin from the assumption that there are only two genders, and treat any exceptions separately. Libertino’s taxonomy prefers to acknowledge the existence of two main genders (which is statistically true) while not assuming anything about the number of possible genders — as well as assuming that many people might truly be agendered. A discussion about how many genders there are is also not productive in this context. Similarly, we avoid the pitfalls created by Blanchard et al. who assumed that there are just a limited set of sexual orientations, and somehow tried very hard to fit all transgender people in that limited set — one of the most debunked hypothesis in his theory. Libertino’s taxonomy makes absolutely no assumption about sexual orientation. This, again, is to avoid the mistake of labeling a ‘perfect crossdresser’ as someone who presents themselves in a certain stereotyped way which includes a certain sexual orientation, and excluding all others who do not fit in that classification.

Libertino’s taxonomy, therefore, has the main purpose of being thought-provoking and to illustrate a different view on crossdressing, setting it free from existing models and taxonomies which are still stuck to century-old prejudices, even if they concede a certain amount of tolerance (i.e. crossdressing is often equated first with a paraphilia — transvestic fetishism — and then proponents of such taxonomies then go on showing that there are cases where crossdressing is not a paraphilia, because there is nothing ‘sexual’ about it, i.e. they recognise that some people crossdress without a strictly erotic/sexual purpose).