BuiltWithNOF
Sociological

TO BE COMPLETED

Despite the suggestions made in the DSM-IV-TR by the American Psychiatric Association,  cross-dressing per se does not so much represent individual pathology as social pathology, since our current society is remarkably accepting of cross-dressing by women, neither making any enquiry as to women’s motives for doing so, nor commenting unfavourably about them when they do it. In short, society attributes little or no significance to women’s cross-dressing per se, but readily pathologizes male cross-dressing. Thus, male cross-dressing is defined primarily by what society makes of it - aided and abetted in large part by the psychiatric profession. Accordingly, male cross-dressing essentially represents sociological issues, not psychological ones, and it falls within the ambit of what in The Archaeology of Knowledge Michel Foucault called “discursive formations”, by which he meant the mechanisms for the organisation of knowledge and power and how this process is used for the exercise of social control.

One approach towards attempting to move outside the binary, fixed boundaries of “male” and “female” is the self-identification by cross-dressers as being “transgendered”, in an attempt to make the phenomenon more acceptable to others. Simply defined, “transgendered” refers to any activity by an individual whose gender identity and/or gender expression does not reflect societal gender norms associated with their assigned sex at birth, and is seen by many as less pejorative or condemnatory than the descriptors “cross-dresser” or “transvestite”. However, though many cross-dressers prefer to refer to themselves as ”transgendered”, I would caution anyone about readily assuming identities, regardless of whether these are self-identified or externally imposed, for it should be recognised that the creation and maintenance of identity is a form of societal subjugation and a way of exercising power over people and preventing them from moving outside fixed boundaries - which is why some, like Foucault, actually favour the dissolution of identity qua identity.

It is also worth noting Foucault’s opinions on sexuality, since these have direct relevance to the practices of the psychiatric profession qua profession, and also to how cross-dressers see themselves.  Whilst Foucault’s work is lengthy and often difficult, the Stanford Encyclopedia (sic) of Philosophy succinctly summarises Volume I of his The History of Sexuality:-

     “On Foucault's account, modern control of sexuality parallels modern control of criminality by making sex (like crime) an object of allegedly scientific disciplines, which simultaneously offer knowledge and domination of their objects. However, it becomes apparent that there is a further dimension in the power associated with the sciences of sexuality. Not only is there control exercised via others' knowledge of individuals; there is also control via individuals' knowledge of themselves. Individuals internalize the norms laid down by the sciences of sexuality and monitor themselves in an effort to conform to these norms. Thus, they are controlled not only as objects of disciplines but also as self-scrutinizing and self-forming subjects.”

Naturally, proponents of these power structures still like to maintain that cross-dressing is deviant per se, even though the psychological, physiological and social arguments promulgated by them in defence of their position are logically untenable and based on little empirical evidence, if any, which  brings us to what has been called the “sociology of deviance”.

As deviance can be seen as an attribute, as something inherent in a certain kind of behaviour or person - the delinquent, the homosexual, the mentally ill etc., - sociologically speaking, however, deviance is best viewed not as a type of person, but rather as a formal property of social situations and social systems.  Thus, there is no fixed agreement on the substance of deviance - even murder or incest are accepted at times - but there are two inter-related properties which help characterise the phenomenon:-

    1. The first refers to deviance as a pattern of norm violation, and a range of norms are then specified so that, for example, religious norms give rise to heretics, legal norms to criminals, health norms to the sick, cultural norms to the eccentric etc.

    2. The second highlights deviance as a stigma construct, which was a concept introduced by Erving Goffman  in Stigma (1960).  For Goffman, stigma is a formal concept which captures a relationship of devaluation rather than a fixed attribute, and he classifies stigmas into three types - bodily, moral, and tribal  and analyses the ways in which they and societal reactions to them affect human interactions.

Within both of the foregoing approaches, deviance is clearly a shifting, ambiguous, and volatile concept, therefore precisely who or what is deviant depends upon a firm understanding of the norms and the labelling processes in particular social and historical contexts. However, this brings us no closer to discovering what exactly is meant by “deviance” per se; as Émile Durkheim pointed out in The Rules of Sociological Method (1895), deviance is bound up with the very conditions for a society, and far from being abnormal or pathological, every society actually needs deviance. Indeed, Durkheim cites Socrates, arguing that one of the functions of deviance is to bring about change; in other words,  today’s deviants can be precursors of tomorrow’s societal changes.

Certainly it is true that the lot of the cross-dresser has changed dramatically during my lifetime - and to the better, even if we are still denied  protection under the law by the UK Government - but there is still far to go and much to do. I, for one, love being feminine, but do not wish to be female, so I do not see why I should have to present myself to a health-care professional and pretend that I am a transsexual in order to be given the protection of the law.

Interestingly enough, pejorative attitudes towards ”deviants” are not the exclusive purview of “straight” society, since we often have to suffer from “the slings and arrows” of other “deviant” groups. A good exmaple of this phenomenon is given by Amber Ault in The Dilemma of Identity: Bi Women’s Negotiations, Pps. 311-330 in Steven Seidman (ed). Queer Theory/Sociology (1994):-

     Lesbians stereotype bisexuals as sexually promiscuous, personally deceived, immature, in denial, perverted, and unable to form stable familial bonds – all constructions that echo the terms stigmatising lesbians themselves as deviant relative to heterosexual society.

Therefore, Ault maintains that bisexual women must negotiate their identities in opposition to both the heterosexual and lesbian categorisations. In the process of negotiating their identities, some bisexual women feel that they must identity with either/or categories which ultimately supports binary arrangements and which work to the detriment of all “deviant” groups.

Similarly, many transsexuals have a similarly unfortunate attitude towards cross-dressers, and it is almost as if they feel that by excoriating cross-dressers they will somehow legitimise and un-stigmatise themselves, even though it is they who now have the protection of the law in the UK, not cross-dressers. Perhaps it is coincidental, but I have found that transsexuals who are unsympathetic towards cross-dressers are the most violently opposed to Blanchard’s views that all non-homosexual transsexuals and male transvestites belong to the same taxonomic class, since he diagnoses us all  as “autogynephiliacs”. Nevertheless, such hostility is unsurprising, since there are a number of published studies which demonstrate that in order to obtain hormone treatments and/or surgery, transsexuals have a vested interest in appearing to conform to antiquated clinical stereotypes about transsexuals, more specifically that they are not mere cross-dressers  but that they are,  in fact, true transsexuals who only want to lead normal heterosexual lives. One such study is the honours thesis by Harper Tobin entitled Sexuality in Transsexual and Transgender Individuals (available online here), but a trawl through the professional literature will produce too many to list here.

Since essentially we are dealing here with the subject of identity and deviance, it is apposite to mention Vivienne Cass and her paper, Homosexual Identity Formation: A Theoretical Model, published in the Journal of Homosexuality ((1979) 4(3): 221-237), as this was one of the first to address this issue. According to Cass’s paradigm, the stages are as follows:-

    “Identity Confusion: Might I be homosexual?

    Identity Comparison: I possibly am homosexual

    Identity Tolerance: I probably am homosexual

    Identity Acceptance: I am homosexual.

    Identity Pride: I’m glad I’m homosexual.

    Identity Synthesis: Being homosexual is one part of my identity.”

It is interesting to make the obvious comparisons between Cass’s model for homosexual identity formation and the developmental steps taken by many cross-dressers in formulating their own identities as cross-dressers - see also and compare Buckner’s The Five Steps [to transvestism].

Another interesting facet of Cass’s paradigm is that it has been used to confirm what many of us have always suspected to be the true motivation for homophobic attacks, namely that the homophobic attackers are themselves on the lower levels of Cass’s scale and suffering from identity confusion and comparison, as well as low self-esteem, low levels of emotional stability and sex guilt. Those who wish to know more on this are referred to Rowen and Malcolm’s 2002 paper, Correlates of Internalized Homophobia and Homosexual Identity Formation in a Sample of Gay Men, Journal of Homosexuality  43(2): 77-92 (abstract available here).

As a cross-dresser, I am continually aware that my preferred mode of dress conflicts with the binary gender roles which society has decided in its wisdom to impose on its participants, i.e., that a man must behave like a “man” and a woman like a “woman”, yet I never cease to be amazed by the fact that when questioned, soi-disant spokespersons for said society are unable to articulate, definitively and unambiguously, precisely what they consider constitutes the  intrinsic essence  of  “man” in a way which distinguishes it  from that of “woman” ( Note: will the drongoes out there spare me the crude references to “cock and balls”, for I have those too and they are still fully functional - despite being encased in a pair of lovely panties).

 The fact remains that whilst I prefer to outwardly feminise myself and wear female apparel whenever possible, I have absolutely no doubt that (a) I am a man, and (b) that I am heterosexual - despite the fact that I cannot stand the game of football, and have been known to cry whilst watching a movie.

 In short, I have multiple identities - and none - which is the greatest threat I pose to society, which is probably the real and underlying reason for societal hostility towards transgendered people. Someone like me with such a fluid identity is perceived as posing a risk to their host society. Before you know it, I’ll soon be reading Bakunin and proclaiming, like Proudhon, that all property is theft - except that would make me an anarchist, which is simply another label and fixed identity. The fact is that society loves fixed identities because it makes it easier to exercise control over us as individuals.