This website was last updated on Monday 6th May 2013
The Gender Centre is a Proud Member of The World Professional Association for Transgender Health
Keep up to the minute with Gender Centre news on Twitter and Facebook!
The Gender Centre is proudly supported by the following organisations:
Only A Cross-Dresser
(The Gender Centre advise that this article may not be current and as such certain content, including
but not limited to persons, contact details and dates may not apply. Where legal authority or medical related matters are
cited, responsibility lies with the reader to obtain the most current relevant legal authority and/or medical
Once cross-dressers ... really come out, and begin to enunciate the politics of the direct, head-on challenge
their very existence poses to gender regimes, I think we will have a truly revolutionary force on our hands, a potent force!
I wish I could count the times I've heard the phrase "... only a cross-dresser." And not
just from transsexuals, but also from cross-dressing-identified people themselves. The reasoning seems to be that changing your very body,
making a commitment to one sex or another, is somehow more sincere, more consequential, more (dare I say) radical than ... well, just
dressing up. I freely admit to subscribing to this belief myself for a number of years. Until one morning ... I awoke, and with horror
found myself trapped, absolutely trapped, in a bias cut, pleated silk, backless Halston evening gown not of my own design.
No, wait a minute. That's not right. Where was I? Oh, yeah, I think it's arguably the case that cross-dressing is the more radical
identity, although I ought to state up front that I don't believe in either the identity of "transsexual" or
"cross-dresser". This is not to say that I don't acknowledge and defend anyone's right to identify as either, for I do. But I
regard both as political accomplishments, invented to contain various kinds of disreputable gender-queers and transgressors, rather than
names which recognise any naturally-occurring identity.
In short, for me, just categories are inevitably not about truth, but about power: who has it and who doesn't; who gets to decide what's
"normal" and what's "perversion"; whose ox gets gored and whose frock gets stored.
Now it's one thing to change one's body, as I have, to travel from one sex to another within the socially anointed binary. But in doing
so, especially with the doctor's blessing ("You know, inside, your daughter Riki is really a woman, Ms Wilchins"), I fear I
struck a Faustian bargain, I legitimated myself, but I accomplished this feat through an axial proposition that looks something like this -
"I am really a woman inside / I am willing to change my body to be female / I am willing to commit my whole life to this / I don't do
this because it is erotic but because it's my identity / therefore I should be a socially legitimate and respectable subject".
Unfortunately in the zero-sum game of gender politics, this logic succeeds to the extent that it delegitimises its converse. "You
are not a woman "inside" / you are not willing to change your body, just your clothes / you are not even willing to commit your
life to it / you are aroused by it (you pervert, you!) / you are such a social dipstick" Granted this equation raises me up, but at a
price paid by those who cannot make similar claims. They, of course, go down. And those are ... you guessed it: your friendly,
So it seems to me that cross-dressing is some kind of ultimate act of gender politics. It does not have a single thing going for it: not
the doctors, not the binary, not a full-time commitment, not even a pledge that they're not doing it because it turns them on. Because of
this, cross-dressing identified men confront conventional requirements for heterosexual male masculinity head-on. They stand on its head
all that we're supposed to know about big, hairy guys being, well, guy-like. This brings on endless trouble with their jobs, wives,
children, courts, military and so on. Frankly, despite all the times I heard someone say "I only do this to relax," it never
sounded like a very relaxing thing to me at all. Every one of them put their life on the line when they walk out the door, perhaps down the
wrong street, past the wrong patrol car, or into the wrong bar on the wrong night.
I sometimes amuse myself with the differing social legitimation of transsexuality and cross-dressing at work when people ask me,
"So when did you have your surgery?" I respond, "Surgery, shmurgery. Hey, I just love wearing ladies' clothes." Gawd,
you should see their faces fall ... at about three feet per second. All that compassionate understanding evaporates. Suddenly, instead of
visions of a "woman trapped in man's body" they're seeing a weirdo pervert in lacy panties.
Now that I mention it, I remember years ago getting busted by the cops for using the women's changing room in a clothing store. They
were distinctly unfriendly, looking me up and down like I was something they'd discovered after six months in the back of the freezer. That
is, until I showed them my doctor's "carry letter" explaining that I was just a patient with a genuine diagnosis of "gender
identity disorder". Then, of course, they both became amused, condescending, and at last middling friendly. They let me off with a lot
of snickered warnings.
Now, granted I'm trying to focus on the politics of things here, because you can't focus on what the cross-dressing community is
actually saying about itself publicly. Because the unfortunate fact is, most of the rhetoric coming out of the cross-dressing community is
banal to the point of tears. It's often along the lines of, "I dress but my wife won't accept me", "I dress, and my wife
does accept me", "I dress, and I'm okay", "I dress, does that mean I'm queer?", I dress, does that make my wife a
lesbian?", and my personal favourite, "I dress and it gives me an erection but I'm still a regular guy relaxing, here, have a Bud
six-pack, let's watch the Packers and kick some butts after the game". I mean, really!
A lot of this is because cross-dressing is the more socially-despised identity. And the more despised and oppressed a group, the more
assimilationist and conservative their rhetoric and politics. For when groups are radically disempowered they have no choice but to take an
assimilationist conservative stance.
In other words, the experience of being a cross-dresser is still sufficiently dislocating, both socially and psychologically, that much
of the community is still completely engaged in merely coping, rather than analysing, organising and confronting the systematic oppression
which maintains and even mandates such dislocations.
But as they find their voice, the stridency, the demands, the political awareness and the organisation to contest that oppression will
emerge. It's going to happen, just give it time. Once cross-dressers ever really come out, and begin to enunciate the politics of the
direct, head-on challenge their very existence poses to gender regimes, I think we will have a truly revolutionary force on our hands, a
potent force. The only question is, how long will they think of themselves, and allow so many of us to think of them, as "... only
Polare is published in Australia by The Gender Centre
Inc. which is funded by the Department of Community Services under the
S.A.A.P. Program and supported by the
N.S.W. Health Department through the
AIDS and Infectious Diseases Branch. Polare provides a
forum for discussion and debate on gender issues. Advertisers are advised that all advertising is their responsibility under
the Trade Practices Act. Unsolicited contributions are welcome, though no guarantee is made by the Editor that they will be
published, nor any discussion entered into. The editor reserves the right to edit such contributions without notification.
Any submission which appears in Polare may be published on our internet site. Opinions expressed in this publication do not
necessarily reflect those of the Editor, The Gender Centre Inc.I, the
Department of Community Services or the N.S.W. Department of Health.