What do the folks say?

So, here’s a question many of us have wrestled with: how do we tell our parents about our cross-dressing? Do we even dare? Is it worth the effort? Or is it enough to have a supportive group of friends?

Earlier this year a couple of my friends came out to their parents as trans (one m-to-f, one f-to-m). In one case, this was met with acceptance (and relief from their social circles); in the other, let’s just say the parents might need a bit more time – I gather their response was more doubting.

As my friend put it, it felt like their family was inadvertently hurting them through a misguided sense of trying to ‘protect them’, treating them as if they hadn’t already spent years thinking about their gender identity and the consequences of transitioning.

Another friend of mine transitioned a number of years earlier, and with the benefit of hindsight offered these pearls of advice (paraphrased):

  • By coming out to your parents, you might take a weight off your shoulders, but you end up putting it onto your parents’ shoulders
  • Your parents have lost a [son/daughter]; so even though you’ve thought about this for many years, you need to allow them time to come to terms with this – and grieve
  • Your parents have lost a possible future they would have expected for you
  • There might be a sense of guilt from your parents that they didn’t spot it/  understand/ help you sooner
  • While your friends might be understanding and supportive, how will your parents’ friends react to them? Your parents will also need to “come out” to friends and family.

Of course, this assumes fairly liberal, tolerant parents; not everyone is so lucky.

A friend once put me in touch with a guy who was starting to cross-dress, but didn’t have much of a supportive social community to rely on, and his parents were extremely socially conservative and religious (there’s a surprise), and utterly rejected and forbade it. My friend thought I might be able to help, (as a cross-dresser who’d already come out and was quite comfortable with my identity), but the problems this guy faced were huge, and had taken a toll on his wellbeing.

All I could do was reassure him that he wasn’t ‘wrong’; he wasn’t ‘deviant’; more than anything he simply had to become independent (especially financially independent) of his parents – that way they couldn’t threaten him, and anything they did wouldn’t harm him (of course, this ignores the emotional distress of his parents opposing him so directly). Last I heard, he’d moved to a new college and was finally able to come  out and start establishing a female identity.

As for my own parents?

Well, back in the 1980s when my mother happened to see Europe on TV singing The Final Countdown, her response was to ask “Are they men? But they’ve got long hair! And they’re wearing lipstick!” And later on my father, questioning my choice of Hawai’ian shirts, opined that in his day garish, brightly-coloured clothing like that was a sure sign of homosexuality.

The first time I told them about my cross-dressing, I was already an independent adult and had been living with my fiancée for a few years. Initially they took it as a joke, a one-off. When I made it clear that it wasn’t, they were clearly uncomfortable (but would never admit as much, being classic Brits). There were a few sarcastic comments made, and I decided that if they didn’t want to hear any more about it, I simply wouldn’t tell them. There was no reason to make it a problem.

This hasn’t given me any emotional distress. Sure, it’s frustrating not being able to share funny stories or adventures, or show them photos, but I’m constantly aware that it could be far worse (and it is, for those in other cultures, or for those who haven’t yet been able to establish themselves). I have some of the best friends I could ask for, and someone to share adventures with. I have no reason to complain!

Any advice, take-home lessons?

From my perspective – and do bear in mind how limited it might be – if you have to choose between coming out to an unreceptive or hostile family, or establishing your independence, choose independence first. Give yourself the social support and the safety of distance. Get to the point where “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

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Girl meets boy dressed as girl

I suppose this will be my obligatory Valentine’s Day post about cross-dressing and romance…(nah; not really).

I’ve already talked about how a number of guys have responded to Twist; what about women? I’m a heterosexual guy in a skirt who happens to be engaged. But as ‘Twist’, I’m both more outgoing and rather more coy; I suppose I’d have to say Twist is flertarosexual – nothing more than a flirt.*

I also asked a number of my female friends for their thoughts and opinions; I’ve been swamped with so many nuggets, gems and useful insights I can probably generate three or four posts out of it all. (My thanks to all of them!)

Twist was surprising to my conservative upbringing… with very old-fashioned, strong, gender-stereotypes… The only context in which I would see a man dressed as a women is when they were making fun of women…

I couldn’t quite wrap my head around you at first because, you weren’t gay, you weren’t a drag queen – you were an actual, straight, perfectly regular man who just wanted to dress like a woman, and did it in such a way that it was obvious you weren’t making fun of us… it made me feel amazing in a way I’d never felt before. My femininity was suddenly awesome, not something pathetic for frat boys to parade and degrade themselves with.

Pre-Twistoric relationships

I went to a rather old-fashioned boys-only school in the 80s (pop psychologists are invited to keep their opinions to themselves at this point), which wasn’t really the kind of environment where a boy could express his feminine side, or engage in even the most rudimentary kind of relationship with girls. So when I made friends with girls at university, it seemed a bit mind-blowing at the time.

Happily, I got to know enough girls who were comfortable with the idea of me borrowing their dresses for parties, that I could experiment a bit with cross-dressing. And that’s when I noticed something a bit odd: for some reason, it was easier to hang around women whilst cross-dressed – or was it just me?

I can’t quite put my finger on it but it may because with Twist there’s a bit of feminine competitiveness that comes out when I’m in her company, in that she ups the ante to be funny, wild, a bit rude or risqué.

As a post-adolescent boy who’d had limited female contact, this was bloody fantastic; if I put on a dress, I’d end up surrounded by girls wanting to doll me up with makeup, lend me bras to be stuffed full of toilet paper, and actually – you know – talk with me. All the guys at these parties would end up on the other side of the room, drinking beer and burning through cigarettes, casting glances at the cross-dresser who’d infiltrated the girls’ corner (cuttlefish do this too, you know).

I guess when boys dress like girls it makes them kind of more relatable.

One of them – my psychology lab partner – once said that “if [she] was into girls, [she’d] bang my goddamn brains out” (which was the weirdest and most gratifying compliment I ever received at university, seared into my brain for all time); sadly she wasn’t and didn’t, but one of her friends took me home with her at the end of the party. (Years later, a couple of female friends have joked “dammit, stop turning me gay!”, which I take as the lighthearted compliment it’s intended as.)

Perhaps some bisexual and lesbian women are legitimately attracted to you as Twist, but any straight women (because orientation is not a choice) might simply be saying this because Twist makes you more attractive as a man.

When my improv troupe went to see the then-latest James Bond film, the girls wanted to dress as 007 in tuxedos, and they wanted the guys to dress as Bond girls – because I was the director of the show at that point, they picked out a dress for me (a flirty red minidress, amply padded)… so, as far as cross-dressing went, I think I struck lucky!

You have a very alluring and fascinating character there! Boys and girls are all drawn to Twist…

As for the girlfriends I had back then, some were OK with me cross-dressing, some were weirded out and happy if I didn’t mention it ever again, and one  really liked it. I mean really. (That would have been one of those intense ‘the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long’ kind of relationships.) Yes, I’m glossing over a lot of details; I already told you Twist is coy. Generally speaking, the ones who met me cross-dressed found it easier to deal with than the ones who found out after we started dating.

So, there are women out there who are quite happy to have cross-dressing boyfriends; I’m pretty sure there’s always someone out there who’ll accept you the way you are and the way you want to be. And there are some who’ll positively encourage it…

(From ViaVia, 8 December 1994)

(From ViaVia, 8 December 1994)

I saw this advert from a newspaper clipping used in a Dutch textbook I read for a university course. It’s asking for women’s summer clothes – “Man must wear girls’ clothes for his girlfriend; therefore looking for a wide range of tight summer dresses, miniskirts, hotpants, blouses, swimsuits…” Forced feminisation is a fantasy for some guys; clearly this dude was living the dream!

Luke, if only you knew the power of the feminine side of The Force…

…[men who] don’t act like MEN (sports, beer, and misogyny)… are generally sensitive, good listeners, not afraid to display their emotions, etc (‘girlie’ qualities)… and ‘Manly’ men don’t like this.

Cross-dressing is great fun; more so when you can find someone to share it with. But I suspect many of the women who are attracted to it might be just as reluctant to ‘come out’ as the guys who cross-dress.

Once you’re comfortable with your own cross-dressing, you’re more likely to find someone else who’s comfortable with it too. Until you find that special someone, just do it for its own sake.

After all, not all women are into manly men:

*It’s hard finding a phrase that means “my sexuality s nobody else’s business”.
I could describe myself as ‘cryptosexual’ (‘hidden sexuality’), but the illiterates of teh interwebz have gotten there before me and defined it as ‘sexual attraction to mythological creatures’, not realising that that would describe a ‘cryptozoosexual’ (attraction to ‘hidden animals’).
I can’t use ‘idiosexual’ (‘private sexuality’); it’s been hijacked to refer to chronic masturbators (that should be ‘autosexual’).
It’s a matter of some irritation to me that the evolution of language is driven by people who won’t read a bloody dictionary. Yes, I know this makes me a bitter snob; deal with it.
🙂

Facing a torn-out page?

UPDATE (2 October 2014): it would appear that Facebook has belatedly realised that they need to rethink their approach to ‘fake names’ and how to deal with reports they receive about them. I’m leaving this article un-edited, because the points made about psychology and social media still stand. The first part will remain, like a fusty little time-capsule of old news (maybe).

This month’s entry will probably go out of date very quickly, but here goes anyway… one of the stories of September 2014 was the news that drag queens are getting kicked off Facebook, unless they change their accounts to their real names (and/or prove what their real name is). This is a problem, and not just for cross-dressing entertainers.

Mark Zuckerberg simply does not get it, and he’s rich enough not to give two shits about you, either. He does not understand that the world is not a safe and happy enough place for his utopian vision where nobody requires privacy any more:

“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.”
He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

It must be great being able to make such simplistic, black-and-white moral judgements without being called on your bullshit (I can see the appeal of founding a religion). He has no need to understand how harmful this attitude is. He’s never faced -or never felt like he’s faced- a situation where he might want to be a little circumspect. Tragically, many other people do.

Click to see larger version.

Instead of these evil, nasty, treacherous, lying, fake names which the saintly, integrity-loving Facebook absolutely loathes, there are other options:

“…we hope that they will decide to confirm their real name, change their name to their real name, or convert their profile to a Page.”

Well, that makes sense in the context of drag queens, doesn’t it? If they violated Facebook’s terms, shouldn’t they play by the rules if they want to stay?

Facebook pages can be created for a limited number of categories: businesses or places; companies, organisations or institutions; brands or products; artists, bands and public figures; entertainment shows; or causes and communities. In theory, if drag queens want to communicate, they can set up a commercial page to promote themselves (cha-ching! for Facebook, no doubt). Of course, if you are a private individual -a quiet cross-dresser, say- who just wants to use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, then none of these categories apply.

The thing is, although Facebook has this policy against fake names, they do not enforce it. For them to delete your profile, someone has to flag your name as fake. And apparently, that’s precisely what someone has done, for pretty much no reason at all, other than some complete prick deciding to troll drag queens.

So, it looks like the rest of us need not worry… for now. The trouble we feared isn’t going to erupt, and the damage is limited to a very specific group. But even so, as RuPaul says,

“…it’s bad policy when Facebook strips the rights of creative individuals who have blossomed into something even more fabulous than the name their mama gave them.”

Here I speak brainily about social media...

Here I speak brainily about social media…

In December 2013 I gave a talk to Edinburgh Skeptics about social media. In it, I related the study which described how

  • žAge, gender, occupation, education level, and even personality can be predicted from people’s website browsing logs
  • žPersonality can be predicted based on the contents of personal websites, music collections, Facebook or Twitter data (number of friends or the density of friendship networks or language used by their users)
  • žLocation within a friendship network at Facebook was shown to be predictive of sexual orientation.

To quote the study’s authors:

“…companies, governments, or even one’s Facebook friends could …infer attributes such as intelligence, sexual orientation, or political views that an individual may not have intended to share. Importantly, given the ever-increasing amount of digital traces people leave behind, it becomes difficult for individuals to control which of their attributes are being revealed.”

Facebook wants to collect all this information about you so it can help advertisers target adverts better. You have to be absolutely clear on this: you are not Facebook’s ‘user’, you are not its ‘customer’. You are the product Facebook sells to advertisers. Facebook can make or change the rules at whim and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Don’t like it? Too bad. Facebook has no obligation to keep you happy, beyond financial self-interest. (UPDATE 27th January 2015: you can find out precisely which of your data Facebook share here.)

If I had to close my alter-ego’s Facebook account, it would cause a great deal of hassle setting up a new account and recontacting my friends list, but that would be about the extent of the damage. For others, more dependent on Facebook for communication, community or support, it might be far, far worse. To suggest that people set up alternate social media outlets for themselves may not help matters. Social media is now so pervasive, I doubt there are any simple, or even good-enough answers.

As has been noted elsewhere, your identity encompasses far more than the name you were born with.

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Trapped in cyberspace: sweet TRONsvestite?

Going Out…

Following on from the previous post, once you’ve ‘come out’ as a crossdresser, are you going to stay hidden at home, or will you dare to venture out in public?

It can be a nerve-wracking thought, given that you’ve no idea how people will react (depending on location, you may have more or less reason to fear hostile or mocking responses). Before going out for the first time, make sure you’re as presentable as you think you can be. I wanted to blend in rather than stand out, so no fancy dress, no party wigs, no trying to look sexy – just normal street clothes.

I went for a walk around the block with my girlfriend at about 10pm (it was a safe neighbourhood), just to get accustomed to the idea of being all dressed up and out in public. It was dark and there were very few people about, but I could at least gauge their reactions and be confident that if things went wrong, they wouldn’t create a scene and I was just 5 minutes from safety (I wore flat knee-high boots in case I felt the need to run).

All these preparations and worries and… nothing happened. We walked about for ten minutes. I think we passed a couple of dozen people at most. There were maybe a couple of girls who did a double take, but nobody paid me any attention. I was a bit miffed. Relieved, but miffed. But it was a start. We went out again to watch New Year fireworks (bit awkward; strangers wishing me a happy new year, and me not wanting to reply because I hadn’t given thought to putting on a feminine voice.)

Next time out was a meal with friends. I decided that I was just going to be me, but in a skirt (and this is the approach I’ve taken ever since). I would meet one of them in the city centre and then we’d go to the restaurant together. The walk from home to the city centre, on a busy evening, felt like one of the the most terrifying things I’ve done.

I was hypervigilant, checking everyone’s reactions. Guys would look at my legs and chest, but not my face. Women were more likely to do a double-take (partly because my wig was styled, partly because I didn’t move in a feminine way, and partly because all the makeup in the world couldn’t hide the fear). I think one figured it out and gave me a sly smile. And that was it. Nobody pointed and screamed like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, anyway (and I guess that’s what I was worried about).

The meal itself was fine. Once my friends got over the surprise of seeing me in makeup and a skirt, chat was fairly normal. (“So, how long have you been like this?” ~”Like what?”) One highlight was seeing diners at another table staring at me, then conferring, and then nodding or shaking their heads as they tried to figure out if I was a girl or a boy. On my own, that would be a concern. Surrounded by friends, it wasn’t a problem (and they were able to give feedback on how I could do better the next time).

It gave me the confidence to do it again, but with a different wig, and trying out different looks. The more you go out cross-dressed, the less fearful you are, each time. It also gets to be slightly less exhilarating, and more mundane, too. Do it often enough, and it isn’t something ‘special’, it’s just another part of your wardrobe. (Although I have been saved a couple of times when my girlfriend asked, “Bloody hell, you’re not going out looking like that, are you?!”)

First time out...

First time out…

Coming out…

So, how do you choose who to tell about your cross-dressing?

Well, it depends how well you know them.

When I was a student, there were some people I just had to take a chance on – I figured some of the girls I knew would be more open to the idea (it was from them I borrowed dresses, and to their parties I went cross-dressed). Being involved with my university’s theatre group provided a certain amount of cover too. Even so, I cross-dressed under the excuse of ‘just doing it for a laugh’. It’s only recently that some of my male friends from university have learnt about it.

Fast forward a few years; I hadn’t cross-dressed for a long time and just felt like it would add a bit more colour and interest to life. The first person I had to tell was my girlfriend. We’d been living together for a few years, and she was very open-minded and accommodating when I showed her a couple of pictures of my post-adolescent self in a skirt, and asked her how she felt about the idea of me doing it again.

If it wasn’t for her laid-back response, Twist would not exist.

Looking for clothes, wigs and trying out makeup – none of that would have been possible if she was against it. If I couldn’t pursue this interest with her knowledge and acceptance, I don’t think I could pursue it at all.

Next up, friends. It’s one thing to cross-dress in private, but I didn’t want to keep it private. If you keep things bottled up, it creates tension. Far better to remove the tension and let people know who you are.

I told a few people in a local writing group I’m involved in, and came out properly – joining them for a meal out as ‘Twist’. I then came out to friends in Edinburgh Skeptics, and became part of their advertising campaign for their first Edinburgh Festival Fringe show. Not bad going – a poster girl already!

At a reunion show for the improv comedy troupe I used to be involved with, I turned up as Twist. The responses from people I’d last seen as an awkward teen/early-twentysomething were very favourable.

So, friends past and present knew I cross-dressed. I supposed I had to tell my parents, whilst knowing that they were… let’s just say ‘products of the time they grew up in’. I think they were happy to see it as a jokey thing, but not as anything serious. Even  now, I can tell that raising the subject makes them uncomfortable. As far as I’m concerned, they know about it; they’re not comfortable talking about it; therefore I won’t. (shrugs)

As I started to go out in public and be seen more frequently, I figured it might be an idea to inform my line manager, one or two colleagues and one member of senior management at work. Fortunately, I chose wisely, and they all took it in their stride. I had no idea if word would  spread on the gossip mill (and only a couple of others there have asked me about it), but if it has, it appears to have had precisely no impact at all. (A good deal of the people I work with are -thankfully!- quite broad-minded.)

A few years on, I’m far more relaxed about people finding out (or just telling ’em) about my alter-ego. I still maintain two separate Facebook profiles, though. I’ve also yet to tell absolutely all my friends about it.

These days, I’m seeing fewer and fewer reasons not to just come out to everyone. As the saying goes, “The people who matter won’t mind; the people who mind don’t matter.

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Equal and opposite reactions (part 2)

I don’t think I’m any different when I’m crossdressed, but I keep getting told by my friends that my alter ego and I have different personalities.

I put this down to two possibilities.

First, people treat me differently depending on how I’m dressed. Female friends say that they always end up having girly chat with me when I’m in a skirt, which they would never do when I’m wearing trousers and a shirt. Male friends might tell me I look good which never happens when I’m in my ‘default mode’. So ‘Twist’ gets the kind of favourable attention I normally don’t. Therefore, I react differently.

Second, I always get insanely nervous before I go out crossdressed. So I probably compensate by being more brash(?) and confident than I normally am. One of my friends insists I’m a lot cheekier (in a playful way) when I put on a dress.

The fact that my alter-ego has her own name probably reinforces all this. I didn’t intend to have a different name to begin with, but one of my friends in a writing group started calling me ‘Twisted Sister’ as a gag – this mutated to ‘Miss Twist’ and I kinda liked it; the name suited me well enough!

One of the cool things about crossdressing is that it’s like having an extra avatar in a computer game; a free ‘second life‘ to switch to when you want to try a different playing style. If people find Twist more interesting, I have no problem with that; under the wig and makeup, it’s still me who’s getting the compliments (or friendly advice!).

I am aware that I’m extremely fortunate to have a whole bunch of friends who respond so well to my crossdressing, and that I meet new people who are cool with it too. I’m also really glad (referring to part one) that the owner of a local clothes shop invited me to model some of her designs – it feels like vindication of what I do; I take it as a huge compliment!

The biggest vindication is the fact that my girlfriend is cool with it; it’s a great comfort to know that she’s happy to accept crossdressing as part of who I am. Without that security, I’m not sure I’d ever be able to do it.

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Epic Times

So, more than six months have gone by and I haven’t added anything new. In my defence, it’s because I’ve been having an epic year. Really.
I’ve been out cross-dressed more often this year (so far) than in all previous years put together. (Which is a lot.) How did this happen?

I put it down to my friends. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a girlfriend and two largely separate social circles who all support and encourage me. The fact that I live in quite a liberal city with frequent arts festivals means that most strangers I might pass in the street probably wouldn’t give two shits about the fact that I’m a guy in a skirt (the Ladyboys of Bangkok have been visiting annually since the 1990s; I guess everyone’s pretty used to the concept).

So what have I been up to? I’ve been doing talks and introducing shows. It’s good to have a reason to crossdress (the reason being, “I’m going out and I’ll have a captive audience”). I’ve been out and about in Newcastle en femme, I’ve been out socialising with friends (starting with a meal out in January at which I was obliged to wear a red Star Trek dress).

I’ve also been doing photoshoots with my girlfriend. One of my friends suggested I do a 2013 calendar. The thought festered, and I asked my girlfriend if she’d be willing to get up at sparrowfart to take pictures. She agreed. Consequently, I’ve been: dressed like a bunny girl on a daffodil-filled roundabout at 7am (slowing down the local traffic a bit); asked to leave the back of a cinema and a water treatment facility whilst wearing a catsuit and toy guns at 5.30am; and I’ve waded in the sea at a 4.30am sunrise in a polka-dot swimsuit.

It’s not over yet. I’ve been invited to model dresses at a fashion show/sale for a local shop in October. It started when another friend suggested I contact the owner a few months back. We met; we talked, she couldn’t figure out how to use me as a model. We friended on Facebook and she saw the photos I’ve been taking. I guess she decided she could take the risk.

It’s taken a long time to get to this stage – being confident enough to say yes to these things. But there’s something else at play too.

I’m not getting any younger.

I have a pet theory that crossdressers don’t just want to look girly; they want to look young.

So I’ll keep doing this for as long as I feel young(ish) and pretty. But the clock is ticking. As much as I might fervently believe in Germaine Greer’s dictum, “You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever”, I have no idea how much longer I’ll be going out as Twist.

Until my alter ego’s retirement (or, more likely, her mystery disappearance) – carpe diem!

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