I knew I couldn’t be the only one.
Growing up, I used every opportunity I could to try on a dress, a skirt or heels. As I got older, more opportunities presented itself, especially when I had a part-time job and a driver’s license. The freedom and the thrill and the fear of being able to go to any department of any store any time I wanted was a new world to me.
Even now when I look at dresses at a store or shop for makeup in male mode, I always wonder how I look to people around me. I don’t care, but I still wonder. Do others think I am shopping for my wife or myself? Again, I don’t care what they think and truly I will never know, but still I wonder.
What I do know for sure is that I am not the first or the last male presenting person that is shopping for a new skirt or choosing a new lipstick color.
But when I was younger, despite being sure I wasn’t the only one like me, I couldn’t imagine anyone else in my life wearing what I dreamed of wearing. I couldn’t form the words to describe who I as, or why I liked to wear what I liked to wear. It was too complex and too simple at the same time. People generally don’t have to explain why they like pizza or going on a bike ride because… well, why would they need to? My thinking was (and to a certain extent still is) why do I need to explain why I wanted to wear a cute pair of panties instead of boring, ugly, and uncomfortable boxer shorts?
Of course that thinking was, and is, very naive. It’s frustrating to be something, to want something, and to be so misunderstood once people know all of us. It takes FOREVER to come out. Unless the person we come out to shuts down the conversation very quickly, this revelation can begin a conversation that can span hours, weeks, or even years. We are multi-faceted and straightforward at the same. Why do I like to wear eyeliner or lingerie or heels? I just do.
But that explanation is typically not enough. Is there some confusion or denial about our gender or sexual identity? Did we have a bad relationship with our parents? Are we perverts?
Do you see what I mean when I say that coming out is exhausting?
I was never confused about who I was. But growing up I wanted to know WHAT I was. I didn’t feel like a boy. I didn’t want to be a girl. The world changed in fifth grade when a friend said the word CROSSDRESSER. I asked what that meant and she simply said it was a boy that liked to wear girls clothes.
To find out there was a word for what I was, for who I was, was earth shattering. It was proof that I wasn’t the only one. Not only was I not alone, but there were so many of us that there was a word for us. I was a crossdresser.
Learning this word was so shocking that I almost unintentionally came out at that moment. For the next few years I felt less alone, I felt… normalized, in a way knowing that what I was had a name. If I wanted to come out, I would come out as a crossdresser. There was a word for who I was, and hopefully people would know what it meant.
But it wasn’t long until I learned that having a word for those like me didn’t necessarily mean that things would be easier. In fact, the word seemed to work against me.
When I started college, access to the internet was still a relatively new thing. On my first day of college, I went to the library and searched the word ‘crossdresser’. I was interested in knowing about others like me, to talk with them, to be assured I really wasn’t the only one. Perhaps there was some insight as to what all of… this meant.
The search provided countless websites and images and the vast majority of them were sexual in nature. They leaned heavy on the idea that crossdressing was a fetish which was surprising to me, to say the least. This was not a kink. At all. I was dispirited to see that the word crossdresser was represented so overwhelmingly in this manner.
So, the word that I had sought for so long, and the word I labeled myself as for so long, no longer felt right. Over time I learned that although this side of me is absolutely a fetish for some, it isn’t for all of us. There were others like me, there are others like me, and there will always be others like me. But at this time I felt just as alone as I did before. Yes, there were others like me who loved wearing lingerie, but the reason for it was completely different why I loved it. My search for a more appropriate word began again.
Fast forward a couple years and I see the word ‘transgender’ for the first time. The word literally translates into ‘across/beyond gender’ and I thought this was perfect for me. Having felt that I wasn’t either a boy or a girl, but being beyond the concept of gender seemed right. Like crossdresser, however, the word at the time was generally defined as someone who has transitioned into a different gender than the one they were assigned to at birth. As someone who had no desire to permanently live and present as one gender for the rest of my life, transitioning was not something I felt I needed, or wanted to do.
So, another word was out.
Why was this so important to me? I so wanted a word that described who I was that everyone understood. When my brother came out as gay, everyone knew what that meant. If I came out as a crossdresser or as transgender, especially then, I would not be understood. I knew I was complex, and I had hoped for a word that explained who I was simply and effectively.
These days if the topic came up, I would identify as transgender… but that still requires a lot of qualifying. Yes, I am trans, but here’s what that means and what that doesn’t mean to me. I like having a word such as this that everyone has heard and most people have a little familiarity of, but since this word can mean something different to every non-binary person out there, it almost always still requires a lengthy talk.
For people who are more familiar with gender identity beyond the binary, I could also use the terms ‘gender fluid’ or ‘gender non-conforming’ as well.
Still. These terms also require some explanation. Not only what these terms generally mean, but also what they mean to me. It’s important to me that I am understood by those who are important to me.
There are many terms in our community. In some ways this is wonderful. To have so many variations of gender identity and gender concepts and gender presentation is a sign of progress and a slow progression to acceptance and understanding. In other ways this is also frustrating as there is rarely a term that conveys precisely who we are. For some the word crossdresser fits as perfectly as a stiletto. For some drag is absolutely what they do. For myself there are many words I can and could use, but nothing that really encompasses who I am completely. I find myself asking if having so many terms is helpful or if it works against us.
What do think?