JJ Vincent loves a song about a cross-dressing man, but knows that in real life, this is not usually sung about.
My current favorite country song is by Miranda Lambert. As far as I can tell, it’s the first one that features a cross-dressing congressman.
That’s right. A cross-dressing congressman. Thomas becomes Thomasina. His Friday night dresses are in the closet with his other skeletons.
A+ for taking a whole new direction in the music. A+ for sending him/her on a date. A+ for stating, “It takes all kinds of kinds.”
And F- for reminding us that these dresses are still a badge of shame.
This may only be an Alabama thing, but we have events all over the place called “Ugly Woman Walks”. The men of any given area, typically smallish towns, dress up in women’s clothing, often with styled wigs and full make-up, and have a pageant. I’d wager that most of these men would never, ever be caught at any other time in ladies garb, but as long as it’s a joke, done for fundraising and laughs, they get a pass.
Men-dressed-as-women, ranging from nuns to nearly-naked, are a Halloween staple. Ditto costume parties, themed parties, anywhere where it is not serious. Clear message: men in women’s clothing are to be laughed at.
Clear message: Don’t step too far outside your gender-correct clothing, unless you are ready to be ridiculed. There are some safe spaces for this—in an understanding home, among like-minded friends, in parts of open-minded cities, in places where artistic folks gather—any place where gender limits are not rigidly enforced. But on Main Street Anywhere, a man in a skirt (possibly even a kilt), or a ladies-cut-t-shirt, or glittery shoes or flowered accessories, is putting himself at risk for anything from Facebook humiliation to outright violence.
We’ve made some steps in the right direction. I’ve seen more than a few men go out for the newspaper or take the dog out, while wearing a woman’s robe. Men are wearing more colorful and patterned clothing and casual socks and shoes. A man in a Utilikilt is not such an odd site anymore. But a man dressed in a long, flowing skirt, like one of my college buddies lived in? That’s pretty out-of-bounds. When I walk around in a borrowed woman’s sweater or big lacy shawl (if I’m cold, I don’t really care what I wear to get warm), I get openly stared at.
When I was a teenager, a friend of mine who had been discarded by his parents came to live with us. He confided in me that he’d always wanted to try on women’s clothing—panties, bra, skirt, blouse, earrings, the whole nine yards. We swiped a few things from my mom’s closet, which led to me and my best friend (a girl) taking him shopping for his own clothes. I am eternally grateful for my extremely open-minded mother, who found out about this when she came home early one day and he was dressed up. She didn’t bat an eye (which I’ve still never figured out), and helped distract my dad when I spirited Joe out for “Joanna” nights. We always had a good time, despite some dicey bathroom moments. But he did get plenty of dirty, marginally aggressive looks, and this was in LA in the early 90s.
I don’t think we’ve progressed much beyond that. People might give a “weirdo” pass to an effeminate man in a few pieces. But people are still having problems with your Generic Straight Appearing Guy wearing women’s anything. (I’m not going to address transwomen here, because this is about men-in-women’s-clothing, not women-in-women’s clothing. That’s a whole different conversation).
Most men spend their whole lives trying NOT to look like women, and yet some want to wear items that are women-identified. They shop and groom carefully to maintain a masculine appearance, or at least a masculine-leaning androgynous look, but keep a stash of panties and stockings and look longingly at the women’s departments in stores. These are usually hidden from their significant others, for fear of what will happen if they find out that their “manly man” is a 40B and prefers cotton bikinis and nylon thongs to boxer briefs. If they are living a dual life within themselves, how hard is that to share, knowing that it’s not likely to be understood when there’s no logic to it…it just IS.
It’s also a topic that men don’t talk to each other about. How many men are willing to tell another man about the cool new skirt they found on clearance, or the deals they scored at the Victoria’s Secret sale, or the pump-and-purse set they got for half off at the Nicer Department Store. Cross-dressers tend to live in the shadows, not knowing how or if they should share this with anyone, including their spouses. Plenty of divorces have come courtesy of a cross-dressing husband. Cross-dressing has been used as a weapon in child custody battles. It’s used to shame and marginalize and divide.
Cross-dressers are, by and large, not gay. This website, Crossdreamers, has some interesting numbers, as does this FanForums. They are also not perverts, deranged, wishing to be women, or incapable of functioning in daily life.
I cheered when J.K. Rowling had a wizard in Harry Potter #4 who was dressed in a woman’s nightgown because he “…liked a nice healthy breeze ’round his privates.”
But the reality is a man in women’s clothing is perceived as that man wanting to be a woman, which is moving down the social ladder, breaking away from peer social norms, and messing with people’s neatly ordered minds. So the guys who would more than just envy this woman’s sarong or this woman’s blouse or that woman’s scarf keep silent, or shop alone and out of town, or hide their purchases where hopefully they will never be found.
Because while we speak with admiration of personality traits traditionally associated with women, seek to emulate many of them, and are proud of how far women have come towards social and economic equity, a man being perceived as a woman is still a major cultural taboo.