According to my old friend the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “taboo” means:-
“ Set apart for or consecrated to a special use or purpose; restricted to the use of a god, a king, priests, or chiefs, while forbidden to general use; prohibited to a particular class (esp. to women), or to a particular person or persons; inviolable, sacred; forbidden, unlawful; also said of persons under a perpetual or temporary prohibition from certain actions, from food, or from contact with others.”
Whilst Wikipedia’s article on cross-dressing claims that:-
“Nearly every human society throughout history has distinguished between male and female gender by the style, colour or type of clothing they wear and has had a set of norms, views, guidelines, or even laws defining what kind of clothing is appropriate for each gender.”
The King James Bible is quite precise on the subject, for according to Dueteronomy Chapter 22, verse 5:-
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.”
The foregoing quotes demonstrate that dress codes - except for a few notable exceptions such as utility, expediency, fit-for-purpose etc. - are basically just another means of social control imposed by those in, or those who wish to remain in power over the hoi-polloi or the ignorant masses.
Whilst on the subject of control, one does not have to be a social anthropologist to appreciate that in the majority of societies that have ever existed, the control is almost exclusively exercised in general by men over women - and please do not waste my time referring to the reign of “Good Queen Bess”, or some such female paradigm, for she was no exception as she was simply allowed to rule by the men whom she otherwise had to rely on.
Clearly primitive religions were originally responsible for many of the prohibitions that were promulgated against cross-dressing, just as they are also responsible for many of the other forms of conduct and control that are laid down as acceptable in their respective host societies.
In this connection, please note that all versions of the Abrahamic religions which exist in any form today are properly definable as “primitive religions”. What’s more, many of today’s objectors to cross-dressing and cross-dressers use their so-called “holy scriptures” as the primary and only reason for their objections.
If cross-dressing is not objected to on religious grounds, what valid objection, if any, can there be if cross-dressers go about quietly in public whilst dressed en femme?
Perhaps that other men might be confused by the cross-dresser’s appearance and mistakenly make them the object of their sexual advances, subsequently becoming upset and aggressive when their unwelcome attentions are ignored or rebuffed?
But wait a minute, these days the average man doesn’t go around forcing his attentions on unsuspecting women, does he?
So what’s their real problem?
Could it have something to do with men’s sexual insecurities?
Perhaps if men found themselves having been attracted to or admiring what they subsequently discover is a cross-dresser en femme - even if that cross-dresser was doing nothing at all to encourage their interest - they fear that it might suggest to others that they are a teensy-weensy bit homosexual or gay?
So does it all boil down to the average man’s sexual insecurities, does it?
After all, most women do not feel concerned, threatened, or frightened by cross-dressing men even though, by definition, cross-dressers are heterosexual and may well be attracted to them.
Furthermore, since cross-dressers are by definition heterosexual, they do not go out dressed en femme trawling the streets or other public venues looking for sexual encounters with men, so other men have absolutely nothing to fear from cross-dressers - except that knowingly encountering one may force them to countenance their own insecurities and prejudices.
Whilst on the subject of male insecurities, all the “macho” male sub-groups of society I’ve ever encountered, which includes all branches of our armed services and their “special-forces” branches, all love to cross-dress en mass and are willing to do so at the drop of a pair of panties. Yet these guys would readily beat you senseless if you so much as hinted that their cross-dressing activities suggested that they were anything but real macho, heterosexual, unconflicted types.
Another interesting and related phenomenon, in my opinion at least, is the fact that our prisons are filled with similar “macho types” who readily have sex with fellow inmates, but who would just as readily kill you were you to suggest that it indicated the merest scintilla of homosexuality on their part.
Regarding the phenomenon of “jail-rape”, it always amuses me to hear those who should know better who proclaim that rape, whether male or female, has nothing to do with sex, but everything to do with power and control.
Right, as if strictly “tough-guy” hetero “jail-birds” have to indulge in homosexual sex rather than just beat someone up with their fists or feet to exercise their dominance and control.
Frankly, the excuses offered for jail-rape are as specious as those offered by T.E. Lawrence for the homosexual liaisons between young British Army officers in the Arabian desert during World War I. He said it because it was either that or having to resort to shagging a camel. I recollect that Lawrence claimed that the camels all had syphilis anyway (and where do you think they got that from, Thomas?), as if there was no such thing as masturbation or abstinence.
Not that I have anything against homosexuality, as long as it is between consenting adults.
But then rape never is.
Why is it that so many men consider that the most offensive and vilifying accusation that can be put to them is that they are homosexual?
And why do these people use their own psychological insecurities as an excuse, tacit or otherwise, to attempt to control the lives other people who pose no real threat to them whatsoever?
I suggest, therefore, that what we are really dealing with here in regard to societal attitudes towards cross-dressing is men’s basic sexual insecurity and fear that this insecurity will be exposed. In other words, men are frightened they will not measure up as “men” in some imagined way, consequently they are unwilling to accept cross-dressing in other men because they fear that acceptance will reveal flaws in themselves that they do not wish to address or countenance.
There is an alternative explanation, however, and one that has been voiced elsewhere on these pages, not least by Sarah Clayton (see here), for example, namely that the gender roles imposed by our society are basically anti-feminist. Thus, a man who is a male-to-female cross-dresser is regarded by his fellow men as someone who is undermining their own spurious male superiority over women and, therefore, must be censured heavily for doing so. A similar attitude prevails against male homosexuals, for the insecure males amongst us (and there are many, if not the majority), see homosexuality as a threat to their own masculinity per se, as it represents a weakening of their perceived male superiority to and domination over women.
All of which brings us back to the subject of taboos.
Generally speaking, there are considered to be two categories of taboo; those which arise from anthropological issues and those which arise from psychoanalytical ones. Freud, for example, though that there were only two universal taboos, patricide and incest, and that it was these that enabled early man to form societies which ultimately evolved into the modern ones we have today. (Those who want to know more about Freud’s thinking on the issue are referred to his work Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics, available online here.)
Incidentally, for anyone who considers that taboos should not be broken, Freud considered that patricide was prevalent in the earliest of societies when, ultimately, the alpha male is killed by his siblings and offspring, thus the roots of the Oedipal complex has its foundations in our earliest hominid beginnings. For some, that killing is also the true origin and nature of the so-called “original sin” that religious groups like to bleat on about, though they attribute it to something completely different and specious.
Frankly, however, I think that any distinction between the anthropological and psychoanalytical roots of taboos is simply a re-hash of the old “nature versus nurture” debate and just as arbitrary and artificial.
All taboos are really about power - individually getting it, enforcing it and retaining it, but failing which sharing the benefits it bestows on the select group that one is a member of whilst excluding others, who often comprise the majority, from its benefits.
Taboos, prohibitions, or objections to cross-dressing on religious, sexual, or any other grounds are simply spurious, unjustified and simply wrong.
The fact remains that nowadays there is no valid reason in a modern Western society for taboos or prohibitions against cross-dressing.