Diversity Guides

Brian McNaught's Gay & Transgender Issues in the Workplace Blog

Cross-dressers are also “T”s

Cross-dressers are like bisexuals. They are allegedly in the majority of their minority communities (transgender and non-heterosexual, respectively) but no one knows who they are.

When average people use the acronym LGBT, they have little, if any, knowledge of cross-dressing beyond Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and RuPaul. But one of these cross-dressers is a make-believe person, and the other is an entertainer. What about real people who cross-dress as part of their everyday lives? Who are they? Why don’t we know them? What do they need?

We point with pride, deservedly so, at the successes of transsexual women and men who serve in corporate executive positions, and in the Obama administration, but can we name one successful cross-dressing heterosexual or homosexual man in either of those places? And yet, cross-dressing heterosexual and homosexual men greatly outnumber transsexual men and women in both sites, and in the general population.

Many people generally assume that gay men make up the bulk of cross-dressers, which is probably true in the area of entertainment, but not in everyday life. Heterosexual women who cross-dress are usually referred to as "stylish." Many lesbians who cross-dress are often referred to as "butch." These gay women also face workplace discrimination, but their numbers are fewer, and they get much less amused attention than their heterosexual male colleagues in female attire.

There’s a very nice, married, heterosexual father I know who I’m tempted to call a professional cross-dresser. I say "tempted" because I’ve always hated my moniker of being a professional homosexual. But, she, like me, makes her living educating others through presentations and writings about her unique life experiences.

Vanessa Sheridan is a handsome woman, unlike some of the cross-dressing men who come to Provincetown, Massachusetts each year in the fall for the Fantasia Fair. I don’t know Vanessa’s male name. I don’t need to. What’s significant about her in my life is that she is one of the few cross-dressing people I know, and I know and love lots of transsexual people.

It frustrates Vanessa, and some other cross-dressers, that too few people consider the unique needs of cross-dressing men when they talk about the "T." All the attention of national gay groups to the "T," it sometimes seems, has gone to ensuring that the medical costs of transitioning transsexuals are covered by their employers. This is a most worthy goal, but how about also focusing, she asks, on the need for some straight men to be able to occasionally come to work expressing the feminine side of their persona?

If we talk about the rights of transgender people to serve in the Armed Forces, our minds go to "Klinger," the character in the television program M*A*S*H who cross-dressed so that he could be discharged. But what do real-life transgender soldiers want us to imagine when we think of them?

Who are our role models for cross-dressing? I don’t mean the likes of Dame Edna, Big Momma, or Mrs. Doubtfire. I mean people like Vanessa Sheridan who work openly in corporations or government.

Many people in the gay and corporate communities don’t know this, but transsexual persons, especially those not in leadership positions, are not always great advocates for cross-dressing persons, and vice versa, despite them huddling together under the Transgender umbrella. But, when a company adds "gender identity" to its non-discrimination policy, it’s promising its cross-dressing employees, as much as its transsexual employees, that it will create for them a work environment in which they feel safe, valued, and included. People often cross-dress because of their fluid gender identity, and are thus covered by the words "gender identity."

This means that cross-dressing employees, including all those who exhibit any transgender behavior, have not only the right to use the bathroom that matches their gender expression at the time, (seemingly the most pressing issue of the day) but also, and more importantly, to protection from hostile colleagues and clients.

In order for corporate policies to be fully understood, and for behaviors to change, we all would benefit from having more cross-dressing people put a face on the issue for us. Cross-dressing heterosexual men, and cross-dressing homosexual men and women, need to tell us who they are, and specifically what they need in the workplace to feel safe and valued. If they don’t put faces on the issue, their needs will regrettably be unmet.

6 Responses to “Cross-dressers are also “T”s”

  1. Brian, I don’t think you are aware of this but do you realize how dangerous this ‘guide’ is to the liberation of those with transsexual history? Women have been oppressed by men throughout recorded history. And this guide is just a continuation of that. Instead of choosing to defend the oppression of crossdressers, how about defending the oppression of women born transsexual? Why do women have to be the ones who pay for your ‘diversity’ advice? You need to educate ‘men’ and tell then that some men dress as women and will need to use the bathroom sometimes. Men need to be educated to realize this and that they should be accepting. Cross-dressing men are MEN, not women. Not even for a second.


  2. Lisa McDonald says:

    Brian as you probably know the word Transgender was never intentioned to be an umbrella term it is in fact a term made for crossdressers.Many Transsexuals myself included hate the word and the fact we are dragged under it whether we want to be or not and are by default labelled as associated with the gay community. Many of us are heterosexual what do you think being associated with the LGBT is doing for us? I would support you in reclaiming the word transgender as only applying to crossdressers. Then you can do with it and promote it as you wish.I think both sides have been hijacked by supposed well wishers with an agenda that serves neither crossdressers or transsexuals well.Think about it this could be your chance to reclaim a stolen identity and have a fair amount of transsexual support for doing it.

  3. Dawn Munro says:

    What on earth has happened to common sense? Arfe you really proposing that cross-dressing men, who, whether you like it or not, dress as women mostly as a method of arousal should be in a woman’s rest room. Before you get your knickers in a twist about this comment go and look at some the pictures that they post of themselves, and their discussions about underwear etc. None of my friends who are natal women behave like that. These men are living in a fantasy world and would not part with their pride and joy if their lives depended on it. I can readily accept the idea that there are transsexuals who are in the earliest stage of transition and who need our help and support. I can just as readily accept that there are many transsexuals who for a variety of reasons do not/cannot transition. But I’m sorry I cannot accept cross dressing men, who dress occasionally as women. For God’s sake is this some sort of collective insanity.

  4. Crossdressing Gal says:

    I’m staying a bit more anonymous than I usually am online because the tone of the above comments is somewhat scary to me. Crossdressing isn’t necessarily a sexual fetish. It isn’t something I do often, and it’s something I discovered as a performance art (being the only “drag king” in a drag troupe) but it’s a form of gender expression where I found a missing chunk of myself. Thankfully, it’s a small chunk and the rest of the time I feel quite comfortable in my girlish clothes and mannerisms. Within the drag troupe, one drag queen had an employer that allowed him/her (the pronoun he/she liked depended on the outift) to dress male OR female at work, which I thought was pretty cool. I never did ask the bathroom policy at that workplace. I think the best solution is unisex bathrooms, actually…and I see them more & more in LGBT-friendly places. Your suggestion of bathroom policy also seems to be the major thing your commenters are disapproving of. But if you’re crossdressing, and you need to go…both genders could make you feel unwelcome in the bathroom.

    My only complaint in your article is that you mentioned heterosexual male crossdressers but NOT heterosexual female crossdressers? They DO exist. At the time I began performing, I was dating men exclusively (although I later came out as bisexual, then later pansexual…so I suppose I’m not the best example?)

  5. Amy says:

    As expected the TSs are more militantly against non TS TGs than the straight world is. Always putting themselves on the top of the trans pyramid, they unfairly pigeon hole one into either man (one who doesn’t have plans to transition) or woman (one who has plans to transition or has transitioned). The real world doesn’t abide by their limited options. Many TSs by the way dress and act in a hyper feminine manner that is also not the norm for GG women. Many are clinically no different than the non transitioning TGs. These folks just go to show that there is no limit to the hypocracy one can exibit.

  6. Susan says:

    As a cross-dressing heterosexual man I’d love to be able to where what I feel is “correct” or “appropriate” when I go to work, more than 1/2 my wardrobe is of the “opposite gender”! Despite the office having a very friendly policy towards gender identity there’s no way I’d ever let my co-workers know about anything related to my preferred mode of dress. Despite the fact there’s policy in place, you still have to deal with disapproving looks and the knowledge that you’re being judged and found guilty of being different. It’s embarrassing to be honest and once that cat is out of the bag there’s no putting it back. It’s a very large closet that people hide in, the problem is that with a homosexual person, when they leave the closet society as a whole is far more accepting of their preferences than they are to the plight of a transvestite. Even the LGBT community, who likes to consider themselves very accepting, are extremely judgemental of cross-dressing persons.

    Homosexual people are still clearly one of the traditional genders, even those who are transgendered (post op and in process) have made steps to fit into the binary gender roles even if it’s not their genetic role. Ironically a cross-dressing female doesn’t look too odd, but you place a man in a dress or skirt and suddenly you’re instantly classified as a pervert.

    Until society is ready to just see a person as a person and not care about gender, preferences etc the cross-dressing community will always be an underground movement because we are judged by everyone and there’s really no point in arguing that. This article itself is clear evidence of this inequality. If the community at large addressed us the same way as the gender role we’re currently portraying (?) then you’d see a lot more of us willing to identify as such.

    Until then I will wear clothing that isn’t ME, shoes I hate and keep the makeup at home and will have to wait to be me until I’m off work and back to a judgement free environment.

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