Gender is a complex and wonderful thing. Currently we are living in the golden age of gender. Folks now have a greater awareness and social acceptability for more types of gender expressions than has ever happened in the United States. The flexibility is there to explore and become who we are and it is my greatest hope that this trend continues into perpetuity. I am a benefactor of this recent trend. I guess it would also be fair to say that I have also helped establish a social climate in which freedom of gender expression is welcomed and encouraged. So has anyone else who has acted in an accepting and loving way towards queer folk (so thank you).*
There was a time when this wasn’t always the case. Twenty five years ago Matthew Shepard, a young gay college student, was lured into a deadly trap in Laramie, Wyoming. He was tortured and beaten, then left for dead tied to a fence. When he was found his face was solid red, covered in his own blood save for where his tears ran down his cheeks. He would later die from his injuries. Now I don’t know what Matthew’s gender was specifically, but his murder was a signal to queer folks everywhere about how safe we were.
This is the world I emerged into as an adult fresh out of high school. There were people in my home town who actively cheered on the murder of this young person. I remember having to actually push back against their sentiment. To these bigots, he was just “another faggot who got what he deserved.”
During this time, I had firmly accepted that I liked dressing in women’s clothes. It will come as no great mystery then why I chose to keep this part of me to myself. My partner at that time was seemingly hostile to me dressing this way as well. I had once shared this aspect of me with her to have it thrown back at me in a dismissive way a month or so later. It would be another 15 years before I told anyone else what I did behind closed doors.
In the meantime, I began compiling a secret collection of women’s clothes. I went so far as to have a post office box so that any items I ordered would not come to my home address and raise the suspicion of my partner. At the time, I didn’t put a label on the activity of dressing femme. I didn’t think much about what it meant for my gender. I was married and in a monogamous hetero relationship so my sexuality and gender just kind of seemed like moot points. I was pretty sure I was at least bisexual, but I wasn’t at liberty to explore anyhow.
However, moot points don’t stop the tide from rolling onto the beach. So I went on with my clandestine activity of dressing up anytime I had the house to myself. I would almost frantically change through my clothing collection trying on one outfit after another while flitting around the house. It was fun, sexy, and reassuring. That was enough for the moment.
And yet still, it wasn’t truly enough. I wanted to share this with my partner, which I felt I couldn’t, and more to the point I really wanted to dress this way in public. I chalked this up as a partial result of wanting to be able to share this with someone, anyone, and also because I was denying myself a form of expression. I was also young and full of hormones. I wanted to be out and about, looking as sexy as the women my age who were strutting their stuff around college campuses and malls (yeah, I’m that old). Why couldn’t guys dress femme without recrimination? It was a societal aspect that I would often lament.
There was another interesting phenomena that happened around this time. Trans people were beginning to become vocal and as a result visible. They were staking out their identities and this was rankling a lot of bigot’s noses.
In a shitty rural town a few miles outside of my shitty rural town there was a person who had come out as trans and had transitioned to living as a woman. As you can imagine, virtually no one was willing to accept this person for who they were. I remember a male coworker who was a cousin to this woman would refuse to use her name or feminine pronouns when discussing her. By deadnaming her he was making a point, chiefly, that he was an asshole. It didn’t matter that she was family, all that mattered to him was to display intolerance and homophobia with vehemence. Anyone who has ever spoken to someone like this coworker of mine will readily recognize that for these people insecurity is the hallmark of their masculinity. It is a weakness parading as a strength.
I had never met or seen this young woman, something which remains true to this day, but I had an attraction to her nonetheless. Admittedly at the time, the very idea of her as a transwoman was fetishized a bit in my mind. However, there was something much greater at work. I felt a kinship with her. Somehow we were the same but I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly. I had some hunches though.
First, I figured that she was more liberal than most of the folks with whom I was surrounded. Keep in mind that the world had yet to be introduced to Caitlyn Jenner so I didn’t know that people could be queer and still support a political ideology that would legislate them out of existence.
The other part of my attraction was that I knew there was a tie between her being trans and me dressing femme. It took me a while to sort through it, but I realized that there was a shared experience between us. She was able to ditch certain gender norms (admittedly in favor of others) and live how she wanted and I was trying to do the same. She had conquered the gender expectations against which I was still struggling.
Meanwhile time prodded along, as it always does, and I left the relationship I had previously mentioned. Soon after, I moved across the country and into a much more progressive area. It was here I immediately realized that I had an opportunity to live openly as a queer person. I embraced it head on and soon after I had my sexuality tacked down as pansexual. I also started mentioning to people that I crossdressed.
The term crossdresser for me was a peculiar fit. This term had previously seemed like a fetish label for folks and not an identity term. As such, I was reluctant to adopt it. As I went on dressing in women’s clothes I realized that this activity went deeper than just a fetish. The term crossdresser felt good, as it was the most accurate one I had to describe myself, but it still fell a little short of full representation. I knew I was missing something but I didn’t know what.
I started doing the mental work concerning whether dressing femme meant that I was really trans. At that time in my life, all I knew about being trans was that those folks wanted to live as the opposite gender into which they were born.
It is true that there is a part of me that would love being a woman. I revel in the idea of slipping into women’s clothes and filling them out in a way that is more conducive to their design. I would love to have small A or B cup breasts. The idea of having sex as a woman is appealing as well. Not to mention that when I wore a skirt or dress outside as a woman, no one would give it a second thought. I would be turning heads for all the right reasons. As an aside, I fully realize that being a woman comes with its own set of hassles, mainly in the form of men who have toxic behaviors.
The idea of transitioning to a woman is tantalizing, but it would also mean giving up a body I have come to love. I still wanted to enjoy my body and to occasionally revel in my flat chested appearance. I love how my penis creates a bulge beneath women’s clothes and I could never give up that sexy bump. I knew pretty quickly that transitioning wasn’t something that I was interested in mainly because the effects were permanent. If I could pop body parts on and off like a glorious gender bending potato-head doll then that would be amazing. This would be the life experience which would bring me the greatest level of happiness. Short of that impossibility, staying male bodied and adorning myself in femme attire is next in line for my quotient of greatest happiness.
I kept the label of crossdresser for 8 years. I continued dressing in private and I was able to find some partners I could dress for here and there. Still, my urge to dress femme in public had never left. In fact, I felt it all the more. I was denying something intrinsic to who I am.
This led me to start exploring gender terms and concepts. Originally, before I began reading about identity terms I thought bigender might describe me best. What ended up resonating with me most though was the term genderfluid. Simply, this was because my gender identity and expression do not seem fixed. At times I feel less or more masculine, less or more feminine, sometimes like a man, and oftentimes like a woman.
Later on I read an article and realized that being genderfluid places me in the transgender camp. I had two feelings simultaneously. The first was, “am I trans enough to adopt the label?” I quickly realized this was nonsense. The bigger feeling washed over me in a wave of warmth and acceptance. I felt as if I was home. Every emotion and experience of my life came rushing in to fill the space behind the door I had just opened. It all made so much sense now. My feeling of connection to every trans person I had ever met or read about hinged on more similarity than I had realized. We direct kin in our big beautiful queer family.
This self realization, coupled with my desire to dress femme, pushed me to take it out into the streets. I started mixing women’s clothes with men’s and strutting around town. I just bought my first pair of women’s boots to wear in public and little by little I am actualizing what I had merely dreamt about for two decades.
I feel like in many ways that I have finally arrived. That I am where I am meant to be and have finally figured out the nuances of what makes my sexuality and gender work. However, life is good at surprising us and while I don;t know where it will take me, if I stay true to my path I know it will be to a place of happiness.
The other day I was driving to meet a friend and I had a pair of women’s jeans and a women’s cardigan on and I remember seeing my body as I drove down the street and I looked feminine. I felt my heart swell.
Some may find labels limiting and I completely understand what they mean. For me though, I have used them to derive an identity that was previously out of reach. I am pansexual, I am genderfluid, I am transgendered, and I feel awesome.
* I don’t want to assert that the world is a completely better place. The recent mass shootings, protests against drag queens, and the abysmally low rate at which those who are cisgendered even consider dating a transgendered person are all evidence that we have many prejudices and hatreds that need to be relinquished into the dustbin of history.
Article soundtrack: Ten Foot Pole- can we stop trying to win, White Lung- hysteric, No Trigger- the honshu underground, Mobina Galore- whiskey water, The Used- people are vomit, Bunkface- toxicated, Mixtapes- c.c.s., Adventures- i can’t say