THE ADMIRABLE TRANSVESTITE
What is admirable about being a transvestite? Is the urge to dress in women’s clothes something to be encouraged? Can wearing a dress somehow help to make a man a better person? These are the sort of questions that I, as a transvestite, have asked myself.
Here, I hope, you will find the answers.
First let us define our terms. Not every man who puts on a frock is a transvestite. Female impersonators, drag artists and panto dames do not necessarily dress away from the stage. By a transvestite I mean a man who dresses for his own private enjoyment. In the full sense of the word, an amateur.
Why do we do it? It is not too difficult to accept that someone we love likes to dress up, but it is much harder to understand why. It is particularly difficult to understand that he may have been doing it in secret ever since he was a boy and, if he had not been found out, would have carried on doing it. Why all the secrecy if he is not ashamed of what he does?
The transvestites who come to public attention are those who have messed up their lives in some other way. They have become involved in crime or had mental breakdowns, or simply behaved incredibly stupidly. These are the only ones who get written about so it is easy, but quite wrong, to assume that all transvestites are the same, or that the habitual wearing of women’s clothes will inevitably lead to the same fate. Even the transvestite who has not yet come to an understanding of himself and his passion, can harbour the same fears and with some justification.
The problem is that the man who feels guilty about dressing, and yet continues to dress, denies responsibility for his own actions. Because he cannot admit that he enjoys dressing he blames his upbringing, his hormones, his star sign, anything but himself. Small wonder that a man who becomes so confused about what he does by himself makes a mess of the rest of his life as well! If he then uses his dressing as an escape from that mess, and as an excuse for doing nothing about it, he is indeed a pitiable state. I know that state myself.
There have been times when I have been so obsessed by the thought of “becoming a woman” that I have done stupid things and hurt people needlessly, broken promises and failed to explore opportunities. I know from experience that obsession can make being a transvestite a nightmare. Transvestites are the most private of people. As well as those who are ridden by self-doubt and the fear of discovery, there are thousands of happy well-balanced men who dress as women either privately or in public about whom nobody knows, or those who do aren’t saying.
The admirable transvestite is the one who has conquered his fear and obsession. He dresses only to give pleasure to himself and others. Of course his behaviour is odd and irrational and he does not talk about it to people who do not want to know. The same holds true of every sport, every hobby, and most jobs. Very little of what any human being does is absolutely rational and indispensable. The world is full of odd people behaving in odd ways and transvestites are by no means the oddest of the lot – a civilised society is one which can tolerate the eccentricities of its members where they do not curtail the freedoms of others.
There are transvestites who only dress in private and there are those who live and work as women, and the former do not always envy the latter. Each situation has its own costs, not all of which are obvious. As with any hobby, it is up to each man to decide just how far he wants to go, and whether he is prepared to pay the price. This article is an examination of the various types of transvestite, the satisfaction they enjoy, and the price they and those for whom they are responsible have to pay for them. It has been written with the intention that:-
Those who know and are concerned about a transvestite may have some of their more irrational fears and anxieties relieved and be able to talk freely and knowledgably to him about what he does and how it affects them both.
Transvestites may be able to understand the motives behind what they do, and the consequences thereof.
As a result, they may be able to choose freely and responsibly where and how they dress.
If any transvestite decides, after reading this article, that dressing up is just not enjoyable enough to justify the time, money and emotional energy he has spent on it, then I will be well content. The best reason not to dress is to have better things to do. Dressing can be exciting, relaxing, interesting, consoling, uplifting, revealing or just good fun, but it is not everything. Although the admirable transvestite sees and enjoys a wider world than most, even that is not all there is. The world is wider, and stranger yet.
In the beginning God created all creatures male and female. Every child before it can talk knows the difference and and which it is itself. Indeed, studies show that toddlers barely able to walk know whether other toddlers are male and female. For what it is worth, boy babies spend more time looking at little boys and girl babies at little girls.
The toddlers tell each other apart by the difference in their movements, but adults cannot distinguish such subtle differences. So far as they are concerned, unless they have cause to change the nappy, a little pink baby is a girl and a little blue one is a boy and they will treat them accordingly.
The toddlers react to a natural difference between the sexes, the adults to a cultural one, and just how much of the total difference between men and women is natural and how much is cultural is a question that is the source of continual debate. It is a question of particular interest to transvestites who attempt to find the answer by opposing the natural characteristics of one sex with the cultural ones of the other.
Let us distinguish the two by calling the natural difference – that which distinguishes male from female – sex; and the cultural one – which distinguishes between men and women – gender. God made sex. Man (and woman) made gender. Gender divides human society into two worlds; the world of men and the world of women.
Men and women everywhere not only dress differently, they also use different tools, speak different languages; in almost every respect they are two totally different sorts of people (I am writing now of the world as a whole rather than just the modern industrial section).
Men and women also live in different worlds in the sense that they occupy different space. Some places are forbidden to women and some to men. Even in a one-roomed hut the men live on one side and the women on the other and neither ever crosses to the other side.
In some cultures a person may never see a person of the opposite sex to whom they are not related. Although that is no longer so prevalent, even in our own society it is still considered unlucky for a bridegroom to see his bride on the morning before the wedding.
The differences between men and women vary from culture to culture. In one society only men may make pottery, in another only women may. In one place only women milk cows and only men milk goats; ten miles away vice versa. Each village, each tribe is convinced that it knows best what is suitable for a woman to do and what for a man, but in no case are their ideas universally true. It was these variations in the gender pattern as much as anything that gave a community its identity.
Strangers might be traded with, but it was almost unthinkable to marry one, because they did not understand the real difference between men and women. When I was young I would often hear the old people in my part of rural Ulster complain that “you can’t tell the girls from the boys anymore”, a remark that seemed patently untrue to anyone of my generation. What they meant, but could not say, was that the difference between boys and girls stood for all the other differences that made them the people they were. When their idea of what that difference was was no longer held true, they felt themselves losing their own sense of identity. The world they knew was passing away.
If the gender difference is so important to a person’s sense of who they are, then why is it that a woman can live and work in a man’s world, wearing men’s clothes, and all the prejudice she encounters does not force her to deny that she is a woman, yet transvestites often feel compelled to deny any trace of their masculinity? Joan of Arc, after all, dressed as a man and fought as a man, yet there was never any doubt as to her original gender.
History is full of similar cases. There have been other cases of women who passed as men and whose true sex was only discovered on death. The most bizarre example is probably the legend of Pope Joan, the English girl who was supposedly elected Pope and gave birth on the way to be crowned. Why are these celebrated in ballad and legend while their male counterparts are over- looked?
History, as any feminist will tell you, is His-story; the story of man’s world. Women appear in it only incidentally, where their effect on the masculine world is undeniable, and the most undeniable of women are those like the two Joans who were successful in a man’s role. Male transvestites, along with most women, are invisible to History.
The two worlds are complementary, but they are not simply mirror-images of each other. Men and women may live in different worlds but they are born in the same one, the world of their mothers. Sooner of later a boy will leave his mother to enter the world of men, but he retains fond memories of what that world of his infancy was like. His view of womanhood is tinged with memories of his infancy. A girl, on the other hand, sees manhood as freedom; boys are the ones who do not do as they are told. When she first asserts her own independance, she does so by acting the tom-boy, a phase that usually ends when she becomes interested in boys.
A woman who acts like a man therefore is trying to make her own mark on the world. She may be feared, hated or resented for that, but not despised. Of course there were those, especially in times when independant women were less common, who simply enjoyed the shock that the sight of a woman in trousers gave to male egos, and never actually did anything but dress up. There may even have been a few so insecure about asserting themselves that they only dressed in private, but generally, once the gesture was made, it inspired them to prove that they were “as good as men”.
“Jane’s aunt became an aviator first because of getting to wear overalls and getting dirty. Had young girls been able to do this at home, as now, she is sure she would not have seen the midnight sun or the Nile.”
For male transvestites there are no such opportunities (for what can a man do in a dress that he cannot do better in trousers?) so, unless they enjoy shocking people or look good enough to pass, they dress in private.
Everyone, when faced with a new situation, reaches into the past for an appropriate response. When we first fall in love, for example, we use the sort of expressions we heard when we were hugged and kissed as babies, which is why Valentine messages come from floppy bunnies and the like.
Joan of Arc and her sisters responded to the challenges of men with what they learned in their tom boy days and built upon it. For a man there is no similar period, no time in which he felt approved of when acting like a girl. On the contrary, growing up for a boy meant not acting like a girl, not being a “cissie”.
A man who puts on a dress is not recalling some proud moment of youthful independance. He is seeking warmth, security, love, the things he had when, as an infant, he last lived in the world of women. I know this is not a complete explanation, indeed it is not exactly how I regard my own dressing, but it is un- deniable, and the reason why some men enjoy dressing, or rather being dressed, as babies or schoolgirls.
When being an adult male is depressing it is pleasant to pretend that you are a little girl and do not have to grow up to be a man. So it was that the Americans expected to be believed when they claimed that after the bombing of Tripoli, Colonel Gadaffi spent his time sitting in his tent dressed as a woman.
So you see that some men dress to escape hostile reality and return to the security they felt in infancy, and this goes well with that attitude of dependancy. It also protects their self-esteem as men, if they can pretend to themselves that the desire is not of their making. These men like to wear clothes that remind them of the women they loved when they were young, so it is not surprising that they end up looking like their mothers…
Quite a few men have started dressing late in life following the loss of a much-loved female relative. In these cases it is quite obvious that their dressing is an attempt to fill the gap in their lives that the loss caused. The fact that, perhaps for the first time in their lives, they are alone with clothes that bring back memories of previous happiness, may make the temptation to dress irresistible.
Of all the retreats from a hostile world that a man can make, dressing is one of the most satisfying. Any form of hobby or relaxation is pursued not only for its own sake but for the feeling it gives of “getting out of oneself”, leaving behind the worries of the mundane world. The transvestite can do that almost literally, for by “becoming a woman” he leaves behind for a while the burdens he had to bear as a man – as long as he is a “woman” they no longer matter.
The trouble is that this will only work in public with people who accept him in his self-created role. To be dressed in the
presence of someone who still sees you as the man you normally are removes all point from the exercise. This knowledge that the people who know you best as a man will find it hardest to accept you as a woman is a major factor in the secrecy that surrounds dressing.
Other men dress for more frankly sexual reasons. The women they portray is not a respectable mother figure but a fantasy mistress. The catalogues that cater for transvestites illustrate the difference. For one type there are the sort of Sunday-best clothes any woman might wear and words such as safe, secure, discreet, convincing, soft, feminine: for the other more exotic wear and descriptions like wild, wicked, sexy, sinful, daring and provocative.
This second class of transvestite may well have begun dressing in puberty, when female clothing becomes sexually attractive because the people who wear it are. It may seem strange to someone who is not a transvestite to say that a man can feel even more masculine when dressed as a woman, but it is true.
Just as a diamond looks best on a black cloth so the contrast with the femininity of the clothes enhances his own sense of maleness. Being a transvestite is like having a mistress who will comply with his every whim. He can act out his sexual fantasies with her and not have to worry about how a real girl would react. The clothes he buys for her are the same as he would buy for such a woman. A man who is unsure of himself with women may use his fantasy as a substitute for the real thing: a more confident person who finds a sympathetic wife of girlfriend may discover he enjoys making love to her while dressed or perhaps playing a game where he pretends that he is only dressed up because she orders it. Part of the excitement for both is the thought of doing something “naughty”, for if a little bit of guilt were not an aphrodisiac, why is lacy underwear advertised as “wicked”?
Whereas some years ago the greatest fear of transvestites and those who knew about them was that they might be gay, now it is that they might be transsexual. I hope I have shown the reasons transvestites have for dressing need not include a desire for surgery. Certainly the man whose female wardrobe consists of things like seven-inch stilettos and fishnet stockings is hardly likely to want a sex-change.
By contrast, many transsexuals (people who believe they really are female but were born male – or vice versa) do not dress at all unless they are actually living as women. Because they are sure of what they consider to be their true sex, dressing would only make them too painfully aware of how their bodies fail to live up to it.
Both types of transvestite, and other types I have not yet covered, dress in response to basic human needs, and the women they portray reflect those needs. Whether mother or mistress, lady or femme fatale, they are creations of their own male minds. The particular method that the transvestite uses to bring these images of women to life may be peculiar, but the images themselves are not – they are common to all men and can be traced through the years in art and literature. There is hardly a word that a man has written about his true love that a transvestite has not applied to his fantasy woman.
Men see women not only as mothers and mistresses but as many other things as well. The man who first starts dressing usually has a rather extreme image in mind. If it is a mistress figure, his first experiences may arouse him to orgasm. That level of intensity does not last. The woman he has made himself is different from the fantasy he had of how she would be, because she is flesh and blood. Every man who ever fell in love with a woman has had the same sort of experience.
The wise man is the one who knows that the dream must be tailored to the reality rather than vie-versa. In this the transvestite, if he is wise, has an advantage over other men. His woman is not just flesh and blood but his flesh, his blood. He knows her better than any sister. Whatever image he throws on her, he can change and alter until it fits exactly.
So it is that the more experience a transvestite has, the more real his “woman” is, and the more realistic his expectations of other women become…