This is not my 420 dress. Though perhaps it should have been.
I’m not much of a 420 person, given that I have asthma and even baked (heh-heh) forms of the devil’s lettuce tend to make me want to throw up and die, not always in that order. However, I am still a big fan of Wicked Weed Brewing (even if they did sell out to Anheuser-Busch InBev). When I heard they were doing a tap takeover at my local pub and dancehall of choice on the Holiday of the Hookah, I figured it was as good an excuse as any to put on a cute frock, get tipsy, and enjoy the company of my stoned friends.
It’s really quite amazing, in retrospect, how bad nights often have an array of portents heralding just what fresh hell lies in store. My first clue out of the gate was when a mutual friend of my and my then-girlfriend/now-ex (TG/NE) approached her and said:
“If you ever get tired of him, I’d love to take him out into the woods and cure him of that shit.”
TG/NE wisely refrained from asking what “curing [me] of that shit” entailed (OR WHY IT NEEDED TO HAPPEN IN THE WOODS. WHAT) and calmly informed him he needed to back off and leave her be before she lost her cool. Less wisely, she informed me about everything that he’d said, which shook me rather deeply and left me feeling a bit paranoid. I tried to talk myself out of it. It was a weird episode; maybe he was stoned. Maybe…who knows. People are weird. Anyway. Wicked Weed! I got myself a pint of one of their IPAs and as it turned out, the brewery rep was standing near the register when I ordered it. We started chatting and ended up going out on the deck, accompanied by TG/NE and my favorite bartender of all time, to continue talking.
It was not too long after we stepped outside that he leaned forward and took hold of my necklace, a chunky turquoise number outside of my usual style. “Oh, I really like this!” he exclaimed. I must have made some slight, involuntary motion. My now-ex, damn her to an eternity of torment, started giggling.
(An aside: this is not cool. And I’m not talking just about situations involving crossdressing, or in which guys make girls uncomfortable, or girls make guys uncomfortable. If a friend of yours or someone you are dating is visibly uncomfortable with the attention they are receiving, speak up. You don’t have to make a scene. You can distract. Be sneaky. But for the love of all that is good in this world, don’t start giggling.)
At that point, I felt more than a little jarred. I got the brewery rep person to stop touching my necklace, and went back inside. At some point, TG/NE left to go home. (I can’t remember why; it was either because she was tired or she had to pick up her kid.) After a drink and a little time alone to get over the two back-to-back episodes of weirdness, I went out on the dance floor to enjoy myself. Not long after that, someone I know decently well who is the father of an acquaintance of mine starting trying to lift my damned dress up. On the dance floor. This became slightly more understandable when I discovered that he thought I was wearing thigh-highs. I say “understandable” and not “excusable” because while it made his motivations clear, even if I had been wearing thigh-highs, it’s not like I would have wanted to show the tops of them to the bar.
Equilibrium thus disrupted again, I headed towards the front of the bar if only to get away from the dance floor for a bit. What should happen but I wander past two linebacker-looking dudes whom I’d never met before. I’m not sure what they were doing in town, but one of them attempted to hug me and introduce me to his friend. I’m pretty sure at this point I had reverted to some mild form of shell-shocked lack of surprise. Oh, look, more weird stuff that I don’t like is happening again. Who saw that coming. I extricated myself from his clutches and luckily managed to find myself a seat at a table with my friends Tony and Jolie. The couple they were sitting with was, coincidentally, a couple that I had considered buying a house from, so we had a nice conversation for a good bit as I attempted to lower my resting heart rate.
Alas. As soon as I got up from the table to make my way back to the bar for another drink, what should happen but a third linebacker dude who had joined the other two cross-body blocked me and tried to hug me and introduce me to the other two yet again. In general, I am not a fan of the verb-phrase “nope out of there” but in this case it applies. I turned 180 degrees very abruptly and darted around him with a grace I wish I’d possessed when I was playing soccer in middle school.
When I got home, I told my then-girlfriend we needed to have a talk. I think from the tone of my voice she thought I was about to break up with her or something. Instead, I said,
“I don’t want this. When I dress up, I don’t want any of this attention. I never expected it. I don’t desire it.”
“Okay,” she said, looking about as shell-shocked as I’d felt earlier.
“I know that we’ve had the discussion that how I dress isn’t a sexual expression,” I went on. “But after tonight, I felt the need to hammer it home. NOTHING that happened tonight was how I wanted it to be.”
It got me thinking, even at the time, about how I would have felt that evening if I actually were a girl. Yeah, the stuff that happened to me was jarring. Unnerving. Unpleasant. But at no point was I under what I felt was any legitimate physical threat. I was in a bar where I knew most of the people and I generally feel that I can take care of myself. However, what if I’d been alone, and female, and in a bar where I didn’t know much of anyone? How would I have felt about all of the things that had happened? Would I have ever wanted to doll up and take a chance with a night on the town again, or just think eh, screw it, it’s not worth the risk?
And even above and beyond that, would I have felt the need to explain myself to my partner? Was my need to explain myself to my then-girlfriend an actual fear about how she saw my crossdressing? Or was it a desire to subvert a larger extension of the old “she-had-it-coming-just-look-how-she-was-dressed” chestnut?
In any case: grabbing people without their permission, whether you know them or don’t, isn’t cool. It feels super cliché to type that in 2019, and I doubt that anyone in my social circle reading this needs a refresher on appropriate social behavior, but apparently it bears repeating.
Be respectful. Be polite. And keep your damned hands to yourself.
This first “real” post is going to be kind of personal, and more focused on my own experience than on coming to a larger, sweeping conclusion. The title itself is a bit of a fib; it would probably be impossible for me to completely give up wanting to pass at any level. However, the desire has changed and shifted as I grew more comfortable within my second skin.
I recently read an article by someone whose viewpoints and public persona are…inflammatory, to say the least. The points they brought up were thought-provoking, though, and I’ve been pondering them since. However, rather than quote this person wholesale and thus risk having people mix up the message with the messenger, I thought I’d use their statements as a point of departure, and weave them into my own experiences over the past five years.
When I first started crossdressing, the ability to pass was essentially the ne plus ultra of my ambitions. One of the overwhelming things about the beginning of the process was the sheer volume of ideas, opinions, and advice being lobbed at me from all directions. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful in any way towards any of my female friends for all the support they’ve offered me since early 2014. However, it became confusing and almost nerve-wracking at times to reconcile my nascent desires with the sometimes-contradictory input given to me.
Why was/is passing so important to me (and, I presume, to other folks with a genderqueer external presentation)? At a deep level, part of it was a safety concern. I figured that the closer my appearance was to that of a biological woman, the less likely I was to be a victim of transphobic violence. Of course, it has now been driven home to me that violence against biological women is basically at public health crisis status. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
At another level, part of my desire to pass was vanity. It’d be foolish of me to deny otherwise. I wanted to look as good as I possibly could, and since I was trying to dress like a girl, “looking good” meant trying to look like a girl as well. The realization that that idea was based in a cultural stereotype about what femininity is occurred to me more slowly than I’d like to admit. It had an especial irony given that my whole desire to crossdress was rooted in a desire to overturn typical gender norms.
If I’m allowed to give myself some amount of credit, the third reason I want to pass is to pay respect to that archetypal, “classic” notion of femininity. I’ve often described my desire to crossdress as wanting to understand what being feminine is from within, as opposed to gazing in at it through a metaphorical storefront window. Part and parcel of that is a fear of looking like a mockery of femininity, a “clown in women’s clothes.” The idea of passing as biologically female thus became a way to transcend that fear; it was a seemingly-unattainable goal that nevertheless provided focus and aspiration.
Physiology, however, remains wholly inexorable. I can’t hide the fact that I have broad shoulders, or the fact that I have an Adam’s apple. I could make a greater effort to have a more feminine vocal tone, but oftentimes I’m either too lazy or too oblivious to try. (Amusingly enough, I’m often mistaken for a woman on the phone because talking on the phone makes me anxious and fidgety and I speak in a higher register as a result.)
Early on, these inescapable aspects of myself were sources of insecurity and self-doubt. Back then, I hadn’t established enough of an identity within the realm of dressing like a girl. As I began to nail down the things that I thought really expressed who I was, I realized something startling: I was okay not passing. Sure, I still wanted to in my heart of hearts, but it no longer ruined my day if I didn’t.
What changed? The article that I referred to at the beginning of the post was written by a transgender person who was asserting that they no longer desired to appear cisgender. In reading it, I realized that somewhere along the way, my sense of self had shifted. I was neither a clown in women’s clothes nor passing as biologically female. At the outset, I was worried precisely about being somewhere in-between. The compliments I began receiving from strangers in bars at first worried me: were they trying to reassure me? Were their words of kindness and admiration in and of themselves an indication of how obvious and tawdry my efforts were?
Eventually I decided: kindness is kindness. Generosity of spirit is rare in this world. Rejecting compliments you’re not sure how to take because they don’t quite hit all the notes you want them to hit is selfish and short-sighted. When your sense of self and your confidence in your own expression begins to grow, it becomes easier to accept compliments, even ones that might not have been ones you wanted at one point.
In some ways, it reminded me of writing a book. There would be times people had picked up on things that I’d never intended or thought about. I often had to restrain the urge to correct them and tell them what I’d actually intended. Eventually, I decided to let people take what meaning they’re going to take from things. Part of everything we know is wrong. That being-wrong doesn’t have to dilute the consumer’s enjoyment, or the creator’s pride.
So if I’m not trying to pass anymore, what am I trying to do? What new goal has replaced that apotheosis of feminine expression? To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out. People ask me why I crossdress, and I still can’t even answer that question. “For the same reason I write or play music” is my stock reply, but that’s starting to feel like a cop-out. If nothing else, I’m continuing to crossdress in hopes of figuring out more about why I do it. And at least now I don’t have to focus a lot of anxious energy on an unattainable end result.
Most people would tell me that getting meta and self-referential on a first post is a death sentence. Happily (I suppose), my primary goal isn’t winning a popularity contest. My aim in starting this blog was to get some of my thoughts down on paper and hopefully, giving people a different perspective on American culture, and on gender and identity.
I can’t promise a balanced view on anything. I am a cisgender, heterosexual, white American male. By any objective standpoint, I have one of the most privileged viewpoints this oblate spheroid of a world has to offer. With that admission front and center, I’d like to talk about a lot of stuff on here, including topics such as:
-Toxic masculinity (What it is, what it isn’t, how men and women both can embody it)
-Sexism (What it is, what it isn’t…you get the point)
-Misogyny (Not going to belabor the parentheticals here)
-Homophobia/transphobia (An outsider’s take, at least)
At this point, it’s necessary to insert a number of disclaimers.
-Point 1: I’m not an expert on anything, except maybe wine. Anything I offer up here is very much my own opinion, formed out of my own experience. I don’t have any degrees in sociology or psychology or anything of that sort, so this really is intended as the amateur’s perspective.
-Point 2: I’m not trans, gay, or bi. I don’t, on a regular basis, experience the hatred, bigotry, or discrimination that anyone who identifies as any of those things does. I’ve never lied about who I am, and I’ve never tried to maximize my experience above anyone else who’s had it worse. I am incredibly lucky to live where I do, and to not feel physically threatened by being who I am. One of the main reasons I feel compelled to include this disclaimer is the sense that if I don’t, people are going to call me out for not truly sharing the trans experience. Fair point. Fully acknowledged. I have immense respect for all trans persons in places where identifying as such means putting your life on the line every day. I can’t imagine what that’s like and I won’t pretend to. My hope is that by writing about my own limited perspective, I can shed some light on larger things that are a cause of much greater suffering to other people.
-Point 3: In general, I like discussion and I like community. I want to encourage comments, and I don’t want people to feel like this whole thing is an echo chamber. That being said, I also really want to encourage people to be courteous. The First Amendment may not apply on the internet, but I’d like people to feel like they have room to speak up as long as they don’t view being incorrect as being the enemy.
Now that I’ve gotten those disclaimers out of the way—I’d like to have fun here. I’d like to post pictures of outfits I’ve come up with, or things I’ve seen, or conversations I’ve had, and generally make this a party.