This is probably one of the hardest posts I’ve had to write because I’ve desperately struggled with finding the right words to explain how I feel about this subject. Curiously enough, words, I’ve decided, are exactly the problem.
(Word of warning, I’ve deliberately tried on this blog to not be too navel-gazing, but this post is exactly that, and feels a bit self-indulgent. You have been warned.)
Let me preface all of this by talking about the day I am currently having.
It’s a Saturday morning, and I’m sitting on my couch, wrapped up in a blanket, perching my Macbook (running Ubuntu, thank you very much) on my lap. I’ve had an omelette and a cup of tea, and I’ve been battling with a crossword. It’s quiet outside, save for the odd sound of a car rumbling up the street. I can hear a dog barking off in the distance somewhere. A plane passes overhead – it’s not a loud or unpleasant sound – it’s just up there in the sky doing its thing. The sounds of all of these are filtered through the window and into my ears, but it feels peaceful. My mind is quiet. If I close my eyes, I feel as if I can just… be. I have mornings like this fairly frequently, and each time I wish I could just extend that moment for hours – but at some juncture, the moment is lost by having some responsibility to fulfill. Those moments of peace where you feel like you can just simply and lightly exist, those moments are my favourite.
“Sure…”, you might be thinking, “but what does that have to do with anything?”
Don’t worry – I’ll get to that.
What is a crossdresser?
It seems like such a simple question. But buried inexorably between those few syllables lies a much subtler, more intimate query.
The answer, simply, is that a crossdresser is someone who, for whatever reason, wears clothes of the opposite gender.
But that’s not what you were looking for. Maybe you’ve discovered someone who wears clothes of the opposite gender, you found a word for it, and now you want to know what that word means. Maybe that person is you, or it might be your husband, or a friend, or a colleague, or maybe someone you saw walking down the street
What you’re really asking is “Who is this person?” Unsatisfied with the technical answer, you want to know more – you were hoping that one word definition would tell you everything you wanted to know about that person, possibly yourself.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that – because I have no idea. I can’t tell you who your husband is, or who your friend is, or who you are. I can barely verbalise who I am.
People have asked me “How do you identify?” and I’m never really sure what to say, because it’s not clear what they’re asking.
In terms of gender identity, I’ve gone through various words and phrases – I used to say I was 80% male 20% female. I thought I found a word that described that well – bigender – where I’m a bit of both. Or maybe that’s “third gender” – which seems to be basically a catchall for “not entirely male or female”. If I was Native American, I might be called “Two-Spirit”. I was at a class recently where, when talking to people about gender, they simplified it down to male, female, and anything else was “gender queer”, which I settled on as a self-descriptor, but only temporarily as it didn’t feel quite right. All of these terms sometimes fall under “transgender” depending on how you want to define that – other times they don’t, but *do* fall under trans* (trans-star), which is yet another catchall for more things. I’m from the UK, but I live in the US now – so at the very least, I’m trans-atlantic.
I used to think I was well-versed in this area, but I feel entirely lost, and I keep hearing more and more definitions and abbreviations every other week, all seemingly intertwined like word-spaghetti. None of this at all changes who I am, though. The definition of a thing, correct or otherwise, does not change the nature of the thing in question. A rose by any other name, if you’ll forgive the comparison.
It’s somewhat cliché to say “Oh, I hate labels”, but I kind of do. And yet, I understand how comforting they can be.
On one level, I understand how easy it is to see something you don’t understand, find a word for it along with some associated assumptions, then to stick that something in a box and walk away, never having to worry about it again. It’s so neat and tidy – so pleasingly simple.
On a more personal level, to see yourself as other, and then one day find a word which describes you, or to see someone else like you and finally feel like you’re not alone – that must feel amazing. I recently watched a documentary by Louis Theroux (who is a wonderful documentarian, and I highly recommend everything he’s ever done) which was titled “Transgender Kids” – a fascinating look at young children and teenagers who identify differently to their prescribed gender. There was one youngster in particular who, while watching a TV show about trans people, suddenly felt “My god, that’s me!” with respect to the person they were watching on television. I jealously wondered how exhilarating that must feel – to finally find where you belong. I have never felt that way (with the notable exception of Eddie Izzard).
With regards to labels, there are so many out there, so many that could possibly be applied, but none of them feel… right. There’s no one word I can point to and say “Yes! That’s me! I get it now! That’s who I am!”. Maybe I dislike labels because I feel like none apply.
I sometimes feel as though this swirling mass of defining words is like a swarm of locusts, or a murmuration of starlings, all vying for some spot on my body to attach themselves to as I swat them away, screaming “No, no! You’re incorrect! You don’t adequately describe the entirety of my personage!” like some bizarre existentialist Hitchcockian-nightmare.
And sometimes, like this morning which has quietly faded into afternoon, I feel like I can just close my eyes and not worry about it, because in these peaceful moments, I can be content in the knowledge that none of those words, these labels, these definitions – none of them really matter.
I don’t need to define myself, but instead I can just quietly be, whoever, or whatever, I am.