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.

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

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 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.

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!

…[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.
🙂

Ch-ch-changes

The only way you can be who you're meant to be is by having the freedom to make a lot of mistakes along the way...

The only way you can be who you’re meant to be is by having the freedom to make a lot of mistakes along the way…

I used to be afraid to admit to myself that I wanted to cross-dress. Then it became easy. I think the changes that allowed it to happen were as much psychological as social.

The best thing anyone can do when they’re still young is to leave home; there’s no other way to find out who the hell you are. I’ve written before about my childhood cross-dressing impulses, concluding with my first week at university when I met a girl who encouraged me to go to a Rocky Horror stage show wearing some of her clothes.

It was also at university I had my mind blown by the early internet (a shout-out to all those who remember using Netscape with dial-up modems!) which was young and unregulated (perfect match: so was I!) and introduced me to a whole bunch of cross-dressing and trans issues.

Even so, there was a lot my mind just couldn’t grasp; and what I couldn’t grasp I just dismissed. For example, in a philosophy tutorial group, one of the participants was middle-aged and trans. I never figured out if they were male-to-female or female-to-male. I just thought “Are you a hermaphrodite or something? No idea! Don’t know; don’t care; why won’t you shut up about male/female stuff? Men have balls, women don’t – why are you making a big deal about it?” (I was kind of a dick back then.)

It was the 1990s. As much as trans issues impinged on most people’s minds, they would have involved drag acts, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game, the arrival of The Ladyboys of Bangkok, and a whole bunch of awkward episodes of The Jerry Springer Show in which young trans women decided the best way to come out to their boyfriends was on (inter-)national television (one of the happier outcomes can be seen here). The only female-to-male examples I can think of are Hilary Swank Boys Don’t Cry and the character of Jack in Pitch Black (which actually came out in 2000).

In any case, trans issues were a mostly seen as a punchline. In the midst of all this, comedian Eddie Izzard was a breath of fresh air. He made it clear that cross-dressing wasn’t seedy, or weird, or deviant. It was just about the clothes. For my part, at university I limited my cross-dressing to theatre, and the occasional party: ostensibly, just for fun.

Fast forward about ten years or so, in which there was a long break from cross-dressing after graduation, working abroad, and then trying to re-establish myself in the UK.  Finally, I felt comfortable enough coming out to my girlfriend (written about here) and ‘Twist’ rapidly came about.

What changed?

For one thing, I was older, more broadminded and more knowledgeable; my views of how the world worked had changed considerably since my teenage years (I won’t claim to be wiser, just not such a dick). I had gained self-confidence and the emotional security of a relationship and social group. In short, I gained the ability to not give a shit what other people thought of me. If there’s one thing you need in life, it’s that.

The times seemed about right too. In the past few years, more famous figures have come out as trans: Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien (who said he was ‘70% male‘); The Matrix co-creator Lana Wachowksi; the writer Chaz Bono (Sonny and Cher’s son); Lady Gaga’s alter ego Jo Calderone… leading up to Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance on the cover of Vogue magazine in July 2015.  Gender-swapping was given less mocking treatment in comedies like It’s A Boy/Girl Thing (2006), and trans actors are getting prominent roles in BBC TV shows like Boy Meets Girl and Eastenders. Trans issues are generating a lot of media coverage.

Do I wish I could go back in time and come out as a cross-dresser sooner? There are two problems with this line of thinking. For one thing, I’ve changed (so even if circumstances were favourable when I was younger, I’d still lack confidence I have now); for another thing so has culture (so, even if I had the confidence I have now back then, the social circumstances would still be against it)… I think all we can do is make the most of what we’ve got and hope for the best.

*

Postscript:
I was different in the 1990s; I just didn’t get it. But by being presented with things that went against everything I thought about the world, by having to argue my case and lose, I ended up changing my mind about a lot of things. For me, this is one of the important parts of leaving home or going to university. One’s ideas must be tested; one must always know how to argue for what is correct and pick apart what is wrong; one might find nuance and subtlety where least expected.
For this reason, I cannot support the ‘no-platforming’ of people whose ideas are misguided, outmoded, or just plain wrong. Those ideas will not be destroyed by censorship or silence; only confrontation and constant exposure to facts and evidence can see to that. (The thought occurs that if someone’s response to an argument is to try to silence their opponent, then they either don’t have a counter-argument, or they lack the wit to argue.)
For my part, I will provide whatever facts and evidence I can find. I will not silence those I disagree with because I want to allow them the possibility of changing their minds without ill-feeling. In other words, I try not to be a dick about it.

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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