If crossdressing isn’t shameful- why am I in the closet?
I have cross-dressed, or more accurately, wanted to crossdress, for 60+ years. At age 5 I was put on notice by my angry [frightened] father into treating my desire as a terrible secret. But I felt innocent inside. I was certain I was innocent. I retreated into the closet.
I knew I needed something to be different for me to grow up and blossom. That is not a defect or perversion or shameful retreat from the legitmate demands of malehood. It is rather an affirmation of personhood, and the desire to make a full contribution to the greater good.
That can only happen if all of us are able to express ourselves genuinely, drawing on all that we are. I couldn’t understand why my identification with girls was a problem. I could see that they, too, were often uncomfortable with the demands placed on them. Gender rules were a mystery — with a lot of effort placed on clarifying for my sister and I how we were supposed to behave, what it was legitimate to aspire for, what we needed to wear to confirm we were on track with conforming, and so on.
Clothing is a primary symbolic tool for personal expression and for cultural regimentation. Even as very young children we understand that clothing is very important to relationships. If we object and try to speak, to reason with authority figures, we are told to listen instead, and to comply.
It makes a lot of sense that crossdressing is the first tool used by anyone who wants to break out of gender jail. Crossdressing is our space for exploration, our practice run, our wordless announcement to ourselves, and the implied rest of the world, about what we want.
I could crossdress in my closet. It was a blessing to have moments to myself where I could transform, for a few seconds even- into a free being.
Yes, it was imperfect. Yes, I wanted SO MUCH for there to be other people there. Yes, I had to keep an anchor down- to not get too far away from the role in which I was safe and could access the benefits of the society around me that was very concerned with controlling gender expression.
Crossdressing was a way to symbolically reach the end state —simply stated ‘being [like] a girl’. However, the constricted circumstances of a closet made it very difficult to understand in a well-rounded way what that really meant. And the overall result was that crossdressing was a way to feel forward movement, to be solving my problem, but in fact never getting anywhere.
Looking back on 60 years in the closet with respect to my ordinary life, it seems I really did not get anywhere, but I had found a way to survive, to take the edge off the existential threat, and have tolerable pain that could be offset by professional success in the world, and success as a father raising a child.
But 60 years on, I still had the same problem- I wanted to be in relationship with my society as a truer version of myself, and to enjoy the fulfillment of contributing to it. I retired and had no financial risks to coming out. Our daughter was grown and no longer at risk for the cruelty of schoolmates. After 30 years of marriage I thought I had a sure thing in terms of safety in revealing my needs. I could see the end of my life in finite years- so making progress was a now or never proposition. My volunteer work relationships could be let go if people had a problem with me.
For many of us the preferred starting place is to come out of the closet into the society of family, and then friends, and then work. Our daughter was cool but intellectually understanding. I certainly thought that my wife would embrace the revelation of innermost secrets. Not so. We can’t even talk about it. I love her, and not threatening her psychological safety is as important to me as it would be for a child or parent. Unfortunately, It requires staying in the closet with respect to a lot of other relationships.
So today, I am half in the closet. I keep trying to inch out of it, and when I have the occasion, I get out and enjoy the real world as a mirl. I crossdress and go shopping, to museums, to community college classes,and to my mother’s retirement home. I am so relieved to be able to enjoy the world outside the closet. I can report that it is as I suspected, delightful!
A complication for crossdressers is the deep relationship of clothing to courtship and implied sexuality. Most crossdressers define themselves as heterosexual, but this makes no sense to anyone else. There is a lot of discussion among crossdressers about the urge to try to pass as a female in society, and many of us feel the long shadow of the binary mythology which both creates crossdressers and discourages them.
Leaving the closet, I found with certainty and great relief that I can feel perfectly feminine while still having a male body. I suspect self-generated hormone regulation is triggered by genderfluidity, as I feel very dramatic shifts in the way I sense my body, how I move, and how I emotionally respond to males and females.
Coming out even halfway has resulted in understanding myself in more vivid detail. Clothing is receding as my primary point of focus for seeking an amplified emotional life and enjoying the pleasures of all sorts of interactions with people and things. What used to seem firmly on the other side of the gender fence now feels available 24/7. I can even see that as I am claiming and living in my new emotional space I am approaching the day when I will rarely feel like wearing a dress, as so many women have.
It could not have happened without leaving the closet. Today the symbolic value of a dress is not the only input. I now feel the richness of life in the interplay of me and my clothing with more complex circumstances- the cultural setting, the interactions with shop clerks and passersby, as well as the sun, wind, and rain. I feel the warp and weft of social expectations as defined by clothing, and the way in which, after a few seconds of contemplating me, people admit to themselves- ‘why not?’.
I feel blessed, and grateful I have this much progressive experience.
I thank all those who have come out of the closet- and claimed some measure of freedom. You have paved the way for me. Thank you for being brave, and for being out and about.
You are helping to replace widely held prejudices about us, through activism and through everyday, normal, real world interactions. Every one who has come out is helping open more windows and doors, so that the need for closets is slowly evaporating.
This is not to diminish the risks of coming out. As more people see the light, and safety, and emerge from their closets- additional waves of repression are triggered. Progress is being made, but simple social ideas, like women’s equality, or inclusiveness for people with disabilities, take a very long time to become universally understood and practiced.
The personal closet is essential to survival, and is going to be very valuable for a while!