I have been wearing women’s clothes, or at least items of women’s clothing almost daily for most of my adult life, starting when I was a teenager. Technically, I guess this makes me a cross-dresser.
And yet…the whole narrative about cross-dressing has never worn well. Why? Because I don’t get aroused by wearing women’s clothing. It isn’t something that turns me on. Cross-dressing is a fetish, but I do not fetishize women’s clothing in a sexual sense. But clearly, because clothes are gendered, it has to have a sexual underpinning, only not the same. Women’s clothes have an existential meaning to me.
I started trying on girl’s clothes at a very young age. Although family members were female, somehow wearing their clothes would have felt like a breach of intimacy. Kind of vulgar, but also a betrayal of trust. I never breached that self-imposed line. Instead, I took my meagre pocket money, supplemented by odd jobs around the neighbourhood, and spent what I could on buying my own things. I think I was 12 the first time I bought an item of girl’s clothing at the local department store.
What did I begin with? Black ballet clothes: leotard, tights, slippers, and a dancer’s silk skirt, because ballet was so angelic, so graceful, so utterly female. I sprayed them with a very feminine perfume and kept them in a suitcase in my room. I loved the feeling of the sheets of my bed on my legs when I wore tights, and I loved how the clothes were clingy and tight, and how they made me feel. This was before puberty, when I was frequently gendered female and I still had long, beautiful hair.
As I grew up, I began to wonder how I could reconcile how I felt about myself and how attracted to girls I was. I just wanted to be recognised, to be seen, and to be loved for how I felt. Girl’s clothes were like advertising for me—wearing hints of feminine, hoping that I would attract a girl who liked that in me. I pushed the envelope all through school, trying to be attractive for the girls I had crushes on, and in truth, if she was pretty, I had a crush on her.
There was a lot of ritual in the way that boys and girls hung out together in high school, flirting, primping and preening on both sides, trying to be cool. I was hard to place, outside of the system. My feelings, my clothes, would have cast me out completely, someone to poke fun at, but being athletically gifted kept me at the centre.
My first girlfriend, the woman to whom I lost my virginity, gave me my first set of lingerie. I did not ask. We had never discussed it. Just one day, after we had been fooling around, she handed me a lovely flat box with a bow around it.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Open it,” she said. I did. Inside was a black lace garter belt and matching panties. “I hope you don’t mind, but someone gave these to me, and I’m not comfortable wearing them.”
“But its lingerie,” I said studying her face, trying to understand how she could see me so clearly.
“You will get much more use from them than I ever will,” she said, somehow knowing how I felt. They were from an ex-boyfriend of hers, a boy in her class (she was one year above me). It was not the last gift of lingerie she gave me. We never really talked about it; it just happened. She liked making out with me when I wore lingerie.
I was mistaken for a girl all the time before puberty hit. I always felt it was a compliment. I love the look of androgynous people of either sex. Being called a gender bender has always been a compliment.
But why this compulsion to dress? Why is this not cross-dressing?
I’ve always wanted to be female. Clothes are like a uniform. They carry gender in their shape and style. Putting on women’s clothes and noticing the difference in fit is to feel how different the shape of a female body is, and to feel their psychological impact. They are smaller, cover you much less, and are lighter, more delicate, softer. Wearing them changes how I look at myself, how I feel about my body.
In other words, it is gender-affirming. At least for me. On the other hand, cross-dressers are fetishists and are aroused by wearing women’s clothes. Putting on panties or doing makeup and getting dressed are sexually exciting for them. I’ve never had any of these feelings. And yet, when I wear women’s clothes I feel much more sensual and it makes me want to be with a woman.
What’s going on? Women’s clothes somehow make me more comfortable about my body. I need that affirmation to feel whole. To feel comfortable. To feel understood. The feeling I get when a woman looks at me and “sees” me because she recognises some item of clothing and knows it for what it is, and then looks at me not with surprise or disgust, but open curiosity, perhaps hunger or desire, is very fulfilling. As if she is saying, how you present gives me comfort, and that comfort makes me want to be with you.
I love what Instagram figure @alokvmenon is doing with de-gendering fashion from a political standpoint. He is an inspiring and challenging person, and you can read about him here: https://www.alokvmenon.com/blog/2019/11/25/degendering-fashion-is-an-anti-violence-imperative
It would be so nice to be able to just be out and about without judgement dressed in the clothes that make me feel my best. But I also fear what the de-gendering movement represents: I wear women’s clothes today precisely because they are gendered. If he succeeds in “de-gendering fashion” would I still be able to find balance in women’s clothes?
Will it ever be possible to de-gender fashion because of our divergent body shapes? Wearing a gendered item is to say, “yes, I am bending the boundaries.” I need that.
Would I still feel this way if clothes were not gendered? I don’t know, but I think I look good in a skirt, really good in a dress, and that won’t ever change. For other people to look at me and feel the same as me, perhaps change must come. I wear these clothes because they are right for my body–I look as good in them as I do in a business suit–just different.
Is the answer different for a cross-dresser? Why does a CD dress? Can someone who knows educate me please?
Were I turned on by cross-dressing I can’t help but feel I would be betraying myself.