Although the word would later seemingly represent fetishism, learning that there were so many others like myself that there was a word for us was incredibly reassuring.
That word, of course, was crossdresser.
I never, EVER thought there was something “wrong” with me or with wanting to wear lingerie and dresses, but I knew that this was a side that should be a secret. It wasn’t easy to keep it hidden, however. When I was younger it wasn’t easy trying on my sister’s dresses without arousing suspicion. No matter how carefully I hung things back up I was always paranoid that someone would figure it out. Not only was there a chance I would be caught and someone would know, part of me wanted to tell someone. Why? Well, it was fun. It still is.
I knew most boys would rather play baseball, and I did enjoy being outside and running around when I was younger, but I also thought it was so much fun to wear dresses. My sisters would play dress up, I wanted to play dress up too. The girls in my class wore skirts to school, and I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to do the same.
But this part of me was a secret for a very, very long time. No badly how I wanted to come out (although I didn’t think of it as “coming out”), I never did. Although I was the only one who knew about this side of me (until I was 22, anyway), I always wondered if I was the only one.
The day I learned the word ‘crossdresser’ was the day I knew that I wasn’t alone. When I was around twelve years old a friend told me she saw an episode of a talk show about crossdressers. I asked her what a crossdresser was and she told me it was a man who wore women’s clothes. I can’t tell you how significant of a moment that was. I wasn’t alone. There was a word for people like me. It was… affirming, it was reassuring. It was a word I could use to describe who I was, and who I am.
It wasn’t much longer until I saw a segment on the news about men who dressed up and had beauty contests. It was all done for laughs, of course, but when I saw this, well, I wasn’t sure that was the case for all the contestants. The segment showed men wearing beautiful gowns and strutting across the stage. It wasn’t drag per se, but more campy than anything. Although the news anchor reported this as very tongue-in-cheek I couldn’t help but be insanely jealous.
This was another reminder that there were others like me, but it also meant that this was not a stage, or a phase I was going to grow out of. These men didn’t wake up in their thirties one day and decided to put on a dress for a joke, I imagined that they were once my age and were also trying on their sister’s dresses. While it’s possible some of the men were doing this for a laugh, I was certain there were a few who were living out a dream that they had since childhood. Again, I was reminded I wasn’t alone.
When I was a little older and into my teen years, I found an issue of Cosmopolitan my mom had. It wasn’t hidden or anything, just another magazine along with the tabloids in our living room. If I remember correctly, there was an advice column in the issue where a woman wrote in asking a question about her husband. She described how they were invited to a party for charity where husbands and wives dressed as each other. She went on to describe how this… awakened something in him and from then on he wore a lot of her clothes. She went on to say when he returned home from work he would put on one of her dresses and soon had his own. He adopted a femme name, too. Overall the letter was very positive, they both seemed to enjoy and be comfortable with this new aspect of their relationship.
Of course we all know that things probably weren’t as smooth or as easy as the letter stated, but it was another instance where I was reminded that I wasn’t alone, but that it was possible to be happy, and in a relationship. The advice columnist went on to reassure the letter writer that there was nothing wrong or weird about this couple. He was a crossdresser and she was a supportive wife. He wasn’t the first crossdresser, or the only one, and he certainly wasn’t the last. Again, I wasn’t alone.
And neither are you. I am guessing we all have moments like these growing up that told us we weren’t the only ones who wore, or wanted to wear, heels, skirts, makeup, and lingerie. But if somehow you grew up never experiencing anything like this, let me reassure you are not alone. I am like you.