“But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading”
~Madonna, What It Feels Like For A Girl
One of my female friends once told me that seeing me cross-dressed made her feel better about being a woman.
I was quite taken aback by this; baffled even. She grew up in a conservative, religious family in the USA and spent her formative years surrounded by a sexist culture. From what I gather, masculine things were coveted; feminine things were seen as inferior. So, seeing me coveting feminine things – even if it was just clothes and makeup – and not feeling that it was anything to be embarrassed about, was a bit of an eye-opener.
I never felt that cross-dressing was a matter of comedy. It can be great fun, in all sorts of ways, but I’ve never felt that the mere act of a man putting on a skirt should raise a chuckle. The man has to do a helluva lot more than that if he wants to be funny. But why should cross-dressing be funny?
Men and women are treated differently. This is especially apparent in the workplace, especially to trans employees who have experienced life as both male and female. And it’s no great surprise that women come off worse. I mentioned at the end of my last blog post that if you want to cross-dress and present yourself in a feminine way, then women’s issues should be of interest to you. I should probably qualify this: it depends on your motivation (something for another blog – I promise!), but if you’re coming out, going out in public, it’s something to consider.
Cross-dressing is often popularly viewed as either a mental problem (such as Norman Bates in Psycho) or comedy fodder. Sometimes, it’s because the perceived ‘weirdness’ of cross-dressing is seen as humourous in itself. Sometimes it’s because male comedians want to portray female stereotypes (or defy them), or for female comedians to play up male stereotypes (I’m sure someone, somewhere, found these funny?).
Presumably, it’s all to do with status-based comedy (something I’m very familiar with from my improv days), in which (high-status) men ‘degrade’ themselves by becoming (low-status) women. What man in his right mind would want to do a thing like that? See – weirdo, right?
I can’t say I’ve ever really subscribed to the idea that women are ‘low-status’; I grew up in Britain in the 1980s when the head of state and head of government -the two most powerful people in the land – were both women. All but one of my bosses at various workplaces have been women.
It’s a matter of personal taste, of course. I enjoy cross-dressing in films or other shows when it creates humorous (or dramatic) situations – for me, Some Like It Hot will always be entertaining – but not when I’m expected to shriek with delight simply because [famous actor] is wearing a skirt [insert multiple exclamation marks]. Pantomime dames never entertained me, even when I was a kid.
When I cross-dress, I don’t do it to be sexy, or for comic effect (I’ll crack jokes whilst cross-dressed for comic effect, though). I don’t see cross-dressing as degrading or humiliating (and if anyone does, that’s their problem, not mine). I’m aware that it’s very much an activity for a minority, but I don’t think it’s weird. I just do it because I think I might look good and I’ll feel good; that’s all.
I think my favourite cross-dressing character is Lord Flashheart in Blackadder. I first saw him when I was nine years old, staying up late to watch a piss-funny comedy show that my parents were wondering if they should be allowing me to see at such a young age. In Rik Mayall’s show-stealing portrayal, Flashheart is a sexy, red-blooded, bride-stealing buccaneer; the centre of attention and greeted by loud cheers wherever he goes. And he also feels more comfy in a dress. But that’s just something he adds at the end: