We all know about how back in the olden days men used to wear tights and heels and the colors of the binary genders switched in the 1900s from pink for boys to blue and vice versa. Gender stereotypes have been steadfast one way for generations: men and women conform to masculine and feminine looks.
Men wear basketball shorts and tennis shoes, women wear crop tops, skirts, heels and makeup, and nonbinary folks fall somewhere in between. Some may break this by dressing the opposite as they usually present. Is crossdressing part of the LGBTQ+ community though?
The LGBTQ Wiki says crossdressing is the act of dressing in a way that’s usually expected of another gender. This usually aligns with males dressing more feminine, or females dressing masculine, and is sometimes coined along with the term “gender nonconforming behavior.”
“Crossdressing is a behavior which runs significantly counter to those norms and therefore can be seen as a type of transgender behavior,” the Wiki reads. “It does not, however, necessarily indicate a transgender identity; a person who crossdresses does not always identify as having a gender different from what they’re assigned at birth.”
I remember (somewhat vividly) back in my high school government class when we had to participate in mock trials. Students were divided into two groups for two cases, and among them assigned to be prosecution, defense or witnesses for either.
I was given the role of the mother of a murder victim. As we were expected to treat the classroom as a courtroom the week of these “trials,” students were expected to dress formally. Being the newly-out me that I was, most comfortable in men’s clothing at the time, I dressed in a nice button-up and tie with slacks and dress shoes.
Though I didn’t hear it myself, one of my friends at the time told me some of our classmates were calling me a crossdresser as my role was that of a female. I don’t really remember how I reacted but looking back, I don’t really care what they called me — I was comfortable in what I had on.
Crossdressing has been used for purposes of disguise, comfort, comedy and self-expression in modern times and throughout history, according to Wikipedia. However, it has sparked points of discussion on whether or not it’s actually part of the LGBTQ community.
Some are split, saying that if a crossdresser is cisgender and heterosexual, then they do not belong in the spectrum. On the other hand, the term “transgender” is an umbrella term in and of itself (though controversial too, we won’t get into it here), and also includes one’s actions of crossdressing, for it transgresses the standard gender identity and/or expression. Some also say crossdressing is only part of the community if it inherently involves something sexual or if it’s done on a regular basis.
The Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) says crossdressers (and the lesser-known, more offensive term transvestites) are a marginalized group in the LGBTQ community.
“While people who crossdress do not necessarily identify as Transgender or wish to transition, they express their gender identity in a way that contradicts societal norms,” TENI said in a statement. “Therefore, they rely on the inclusiveness and solidarity of the LGBT community as a source of support and recognition.”
Around the Stonewall era, crossdressing in three pieces or more was considered illegal, and those who partook were oftentimes arrested.
One Rusty Brown in the History.com article resorted to crossdressing — wearing pants and a shirt — to find work after WWII concluded, and was arrested several times for violating the “three-article rule” or the “three-piece law.” However, this law actually didn’t exist. Officers during this time used out-of-date and unrelated masquerade laws to arrest her and others for it.
“William N. Eskridge, Jr. recounts in his book Gaylaw, ‘by the beginning of the 20 century, gender inappropriateness was increasingly considered a sickness and public offense,’” the article says.
Kate Redburn (they/them) notes finding accounts of the three-piece law only in interviews and memoirs, but never in historic documentation.
In 2019, though, “NYPD police commissioner James P. O’Neill offered an apology on behalf of the city’s police force for their actions at Stonewall some 50 years earlier,” the article said.
Crossdressing can go both ways, when both men and women dress the opposite way than socially expected. A common way people know of this practice is through drag.
The LGBTQ Wiki says a drag queen is typically when a male dresses exaggeratedly feminine. Conversely, a drag king is when a female exaggerates masculine traits. A faux king or queen is when a male or female uses the techniques of drag but for their given gender, such as when a female dresses as a drag queen.
“Some people who cross-dress may endeavour to project a complete impression of belonging to another gender, down to mannerisms, speech patterns and emulation of sexual characteristics,” the Wiki reads. “This is referred to as passing.”
Social acceptance is across the board and frankly, needs to be addressed. It’s odd that it’s more acceptable for women to be seen publicly dressed in masculine clothing than it is for men to be seen in public appearing in more feminine clothing. And with this, those who do break the norm are oftentimes seen as queer when they may not be. Motivations for one to crossdress are, again, across the board.
Leave them be and let people dress how they’re comfortable.
Editor’s Note: please use the terms crossdresser and transvestite with caution and avoid using it in reference to others unless they say otherwise. Transvestite is more commonly used in Europe and the UK, while crossdresser is widely known in the U.S.