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.

14 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.

  7. Susan says:

    The bathroom issue is annoying because I can see both sides of the argument and I agree and disagree with NC based on situational information. Let me explain:

    First off, those who support the NC law look at it this way. I’ll use my biological gender for example: When you’re dead and gone the way of bones etc and someone digs you up… they’ll have no clue you identified as female. The bones are male, we lack the birthing canal and the skeletal structure is different, even the number of ribs is different. If they ran your DNA, you’d identify as male. With the single exception of a cosmetic appearance and mindset, you’re male. This holds true for MTF and FTM transgender people.

    I use Transgender as a catch-all. The word means “Across Gender” and should include those who have transitioned from one to another gender as well as those who are fluid gendered (as I consider myself) as well as those who identify as something other than the standard binary format.

    So do I think that transgendered people should be able to use whatever bathroom they wish? Honestly, I can’t answer that question! I, like most other MTF cross-dressers, am a heterosexual and thus I personally feel that my using the women’s restroom is not appropriate. I’m married and a mature adult so I know the women’s restroom isn’t how a hormonal teenage boy thinks it is, but at the same time it should be a safe zone for women. I hate the idea of some creepy guy alone with my daughters or wife in a room I don’t have access to due to the fact I wore pants that day.

    At the same time, when I am dressed as I am pretty much anytime I am not at work, I find using the men’s bathroom really embarrassing and I know that the other guys are thinking Cross-dresser = Sissy, Sissy = Gay, Cross-dresser = Gay due to the rather stupid stereotypes found in cartoons and pop-culture. However I respect women and therefore stay out of their bathroom.

    I’ve friends who have transitioned from male to female and even female to male. Folks like these should be able to use the bathroom of their chosen gender. They have literally sacrificed a lot to get their outside to match their inside and for something as silly as where they can take a crap being an issue, well… to use my son’s words “They’re super stupid”.

    For this reason I LOVE the family room and bathrooms that allow you to be on your own. This way I can walk in, do what I need to do and leave without making anyone uncomfortable. Can we expect every building everywhere to make a separate bathroom for each gender? Can we expect men and women to just accept us? Nope, people are people. We’re brought up with certain expectations of “Normal” and one doesn’t just reset this cultural teachings with a simple declaration.

    So, how do we fix this? In my martial arts classes we had “cup checks”, are we going to station someone to grab a person’s crotch to make sure they’re biologically or surgically the gender that matches the sign on the door? Are we going to just assume people are honest? Watch the news, people are tricking others into allowing them to suck their toes and others are taking up-skirt photos as well as sneaking into women’s bathrooms to hide video cameras; I doubt one could count the number of such websites out there. It would be naive at the very least to think that no one would ever put on a skirt to try and gain easy access to an area where privacy is assumed.

    So I can’t answer this question. I know what I think and I will act accordingly which means sucking up the embarrassment to use the bathroom when a universal bathroom isn’t available. I also feel that if you’ve had gender reassignment surgery that your gender has been reassigned and thus you should use the matching restroom. I think that’s so obvious that I find the need for a law to be ridiculous… but then there’s people so backwards that we have to make a law. It’s like the seat-belt law or other laws that are common sense, they’re silly but required due to the sheer amount of morons out there.

    To be honest, I’d be happy if people just treated you like a person regardless of gender. I admit I enjoy it when I am called a lady or simply “Ma’am”, it feels great! I don’t enjoy being judged for my preferences and gender identity, it makes me uncomfortable. Knowing that feeling of anxiety and discomfort helps me identify with women who don’t want a man in the restroom and thus I stay out. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, I am just talking about myself, I respect your rights and the rights of others.

    I guess that’s the real question. The question isn’t regarding discrimination or gender acceptance; the question is “Who’s rights are more important? The transgender person who really needs to pee, or the rights of everyone else. Do we make the law according to the population or do we try to make a law for every possible scenario?

    Maybe I’m jaded but I really dislike people in general, they’re judgmental and fear the unknown. It’s this quality that allows me to understand that the issue is WAY over my head. Like I said before, this is all just me and my opinion and no matter how loud one yells nor how much anger you show, it won’t change the fact that I have my opinions… right or wrong.

    In conclusion, I feel that if you’re genetically one gender and you still have the standard issue equipment, regardless of clothing, you should suck up the embarrassment as I do and use the gender that matches your naughty bits. This holds true for those who have transitioned, you now have a different kit and thus you should be able to use the matching restroom. I think this is obvious. It’s people like me that muddy the water and more so those who are transitioning and are caught between worlds. A woman shouldn’t have to see genitals or fear others trying to sneak a peek at theirs. Then again, if they’d just make the stalls better (My son’s high-school for instance has no doors on the stalls) and made them so people can’t peek or go over and under the walls then who cares what gender you are? You’d take care of your functions in private and the rest of the restroom is just a bloody mirror and sink, the same as anywhere else.

    Thanks for your time!

  8. Brian McNaught says:

    You’re a thoughtful person. Wisdom is being able to hold two, seemingly conflicting views at the same time. I feel that the only people upset about female-presenting transgender people using the women’s restroom are insecure, cis-gender, straight men whose fear of difference prompts them to create a controversy where it doesn’t exist. They hate males who give up male privilege and,”lower themselves” to act like “girls.” Cross-dressing men should not be forced to use the men’s room, and put their safety at stake. Women generally don’t care if female-presenting, cross-dressing men use the women’s room because there are no incidents of men wearing dresses to rape women in a restroom. Thank you for taking the time to share your views. I celebrate with you your gender fluidity.

  9. Brian McNaught says:

    I understand and sympathize. It takes extraordinary courage to be yourself at work if you’re transgender. The culture will catch up with this issue. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has just sent out a press advisory asking journalists to start adding the Q for Queer to the acronym LGBT. (Personally, I hate the acronym and fund it unuseful to our movement.) But, by adding the word “queer” in response to its wide use among younger people, it signals a shift in the paradigm. When younger people take over the workplace, they will have friends who describe themselves as queer, gender-fluid, or non-binary. You’re on the front line in this battle. Thank you for your personal sacrifices.

  10. Brian McNaught says:

    You’re right about some transsexuals, Amy. Some, especially the male to female transsexuals, feel that gender-fluid, queer, non-binary, or cross-dressing men are holding them back from cultural approval and legal protection. I’ve heard the expression, “Queen for a day.” That’s cruel. It takes great courage to cross-dress without the intention of transitioning. But, I have many transsexual friends who are true allies of all transgender people.

  11. Brian McNaught says:

    You’re right, of course. My focus tends to be on cross-dressing males, because it’s more common, more familiar, and because they have to deal more often with judgmental, cis-gender, heterosexual, insecure men who threaten violence. I’m very grateful to you for speaking up. I’ll do better in future postings. I also agree that gender-neutral bathrooms will go a long way in solving this potty problem. I thank you for your personal sacrifices in this cultural war. It will get better because of people like you.

  12. Brian McNaught says:

    Dawn, I understand your feelings. And, I embrace as real the movement, primarily among the younger generation, to a gender-fluid culture where one doesn’t need to change anything to express or prove the fact that they don’t feel comfortable with any labels. You’re hearing the same in the area of sexual orientation. People are identifying themselves as queer or sexually-fluid. What’s the solution? Gender-neutral restrooms with cubicles that guarantee privacy.

  13. Brian McNaught says:

    Lisa, I get it. I do. I’m a cis-gender, gay man who are among those wanting to be the best ally possible. My transsexual friends, many of them national movement leaders, insist on the umbrella term transgender, and I understand why. I feel that gender-fluidity and sexual-fluidity are fighting this battle together for many good reasons, one of which is that pushback from the public is based upon a belief that nature or god intended two sexes, and that those sexes were not to step outside what nature/god intended for them, which was to procreate, and to fulfill gender roles.

  14. Brian McNaught says:

    Dana, I wish you liked the guide better. Every word of it was vetted by a large group of transgender people, the majority of whom were male to female transsexuals. I don’t disagree with you that cis-gender, heterosexual males are the ones who need the most education. But, changing the culture is a long, slow, process. Getting buy-in from the largest number of people requires helping them see how the topic touches their own lives. That means emphasizing gender-fluidity in identity and expression. There are some gay people who object to the term “bisexual” because, they feel, it muddies the water. But the water is muddied. Many people are bisexual, or sexually-fluid.

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