Chi Chapter - What is Cross-Dressing?

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The Chi Chapter Perspective

Crossdressers -- people who dress in clothing normally reserved for the opposite sex -- are among the most misunderstood minority groups in the world. As with other minorities, ignorance fosters prejudice, and prejudice produces intolerance and hostility toward crossdressers.

In such a climate, many of us live in fear of discovery by our closest loved ones, by our employers, and by a scornful public. We keep our crossdressing a secret. While "in the closet", many of us think we're the only ones in the world with our rather "different" desires. In our isolation, we may even come to believe the popular stereotypes and ...... "I must be gay", "Maybe I’m headed toward a sex change operation"... "I'm really sick to want to wear women's clothing, especially in public"...

It's not surprising that many crossdressers feel or think this way. But we believe -- and know from experience -- that the fundamental problem for crossdressers is more social than personal.

At Chi Chapter, we believe our guilt, our confusion, and our fear are the products of a misinformed and non-accepting public. We know that crossdressers can -- and often do -- live happy, well-adjusted lives, in touch with both the masculine and feminine sides of their personalities.

We reject the label "transvestite" -- one that's commonly associated with the terms "drag queen" and "female impersonator". These are generally viewed by society as negative terms, and are largely irrelevant to the experiences and motivations of the typical crossdresser.

We also reject the notion that crossdressers can -- or even should -- be "cured" of the desire to wear women's clothing. We know that the best "treatment" for crossdressers is self-acceptance, a more knowledgeable and supportive circle of family and friends, and a more understanding public.

It's this vision to which we dedicate ourselves as an organization. It's this vision that we hope to help all our members achieve.

Over the past few years, crossdressing has gained increasingly enlightened coverage on national and local talk shows, and in the print media With access to solid information, the general public is gradually becoming better informed and more tolerant of crossdressing.

These developments are due in no small measure to the work of educational and social organizations like Chi Chapter. Though we've still got a long way to go before we're able to express ourselves freely and safely, we at Chi Chapter are more encouraged than ever about the possibilities.

Understanding The Second Self

The "second self". The "woman within". Most crossdressers know what we mean by this. But even crossdressers tend to underestimate how common -- even universal -- this second self is.

There is buried within every man a composite "woman" -- the sum of all those feminine potentials, behaviors and yearnings that are part of a man's birthright, but which society says we should disown. Crossdressers have made contact -- in their own special way -- with the "woman within", and found her to be fulfilling

For many of us, this contact comes early in life -- sometimes as early as 3 or 4 years of age. It could result from finding mother's lingerie in the clothes hamper, wondering what it would feel like when worn, and then trying the garment on. For others, the precipitating event might have been being dressed as a girl in a school play or on Halloween. Still others recall an awareness of feminine feelings that long preceded actual crossdressing.

Conservative estimates suggest that several million adult American males have had this sort of contact with the "woman within", while millions more have probably had similar contacts with women's clothes, they don't find the experience particularly noteworthy.

For the crossdresser, though, these kinds of precipitating experiences are usually quite compelling. Regardless of when or how they occur, the impact is usually the same. It feels nice, both emotionally and sensually, and perhaps even spiritually.

But what to do with this pleasant but potentially troublesome feeling? At first, many of us try to find a way to get rid of it. We throw our femme clothes away. We grow beards. We get "saved". We try to compensate by dressing our wives in extravagantly feminine styles. But nothing ever seems to work. The desire for feminine expression keeps coming back.

For many of us, contact with the "woman within" unlocks a whole treasure trove of sensitive, feminine traits. Some of us have been able to fully integrate these traits into our whole personality and lifestyle. Indeed, while the majority of us flip back and forth between the traditional masculine and feminine models, we've found the unlocking of our feminine traits to be a profoundly humanizing experience.

However we wind up dealing with our "woman within", we find that the need to cross dress turns out to be a part of ourselves, just as musicians need to play music, writers need to write, or ballplayers need to play ball. We come to see the prospect of a life without our crossdressing as being as tragic and unnecessary as the musician being denied the chance to play his music. Ability for cross-gendered expression can, like musical talent, be a real gift.

At Chi Chapter, we see crossdressing as simply one more mode of self-expression -- one which is personally and socially healthy and rewarding.

CROSSDRESSING: What It Is and What It Isn't

Crossdressing is common to several distinctive behavior patterns. Crossdressers, drag queens, transsexuals, fetishists, female impersonators and others approach it with different motivations, and derive different satisfactions from it. While individual crossdressers may not always fit exactly into any one of these personality types, we can gain greater self-understanding and self-acceptance by considering how our motivations and satisfactions compare with each of these personality types.

Drag queens and female impersonators are the most visible types of crossdressers. Drag queens are usually gay or bisexual males who don women's clothing, either to mock femininity or society's stereotype of gays, to attract a sex partner or to entertain.

Female impersonators are men who develop their crossdressing and femme-manner into a performing art, usually for the purpose of making a living. They often perform impressions of classic performers such as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Mae West.

An offshoot of gay crossdressing is drag prostitution. like their female counterparts, they typically prefer to deal with heterosexual males.

Most of our society forms its impressions of crossdressing via female impersonators in night clubs, movie theaters or on television, or through professional comedians -- Flip Wilson and Milton Berle come to mind -- who occasionally crossdress for laughs. To a lesser extent, the general public also has casual contact with drag queens or prostitutes on city streets. Thus, most people expect crossdressers to be outrageous, gay or hustling for sex!

Transsexuals are people who feel trapped in the body of the opposite sex. Male-to-female transsexuals believe deeply that they are actually females, and seek sex-reassignment surgery to correct what they consider to be nature's mistake. They typically go through a preoperative period in which they live full-time as women. Though the transsexual doesn't consider it so, most people see this pre~operative behavior as crossdressing.

Fetishists are crossdressers who have an erotic attachment to some article of women's clothing. For them, holding or feeling or smelling or wearing such items is a powerful erotic stimulant. In some cases, these men are impotent without their fetish.

The line between fetishism and crossdressing is sometimes unclear. Some crossdressers start with one or two articles of women's clothing and find their interest growing. On the other hand, the fetishist seems to be "arrested" in his development, and appears never to get beyond the erotic attachment to certain garments.

So, how does "our type" of crossdressing differ from these other types?

In contrast with the fetishist, we cultivate a complete feminine image, with undergarments, makeup, wig, padding for hips and breasts, and even a femme name. And while it's a sexually-arousing experience for some crossdressers early on, crossdressing does not take the place of sex with their wives or partners.

Unlike transsexuals, we know we are men and we like it. While we might occasionally fantasize what it would be like to be female, we have no desire to change our sex, although a small number of crossdressers (known as "transgenderists") do opt to live full- time en femme.

Though gay and bisexual crossdressers do exist, the vast majority of crossdressers are heterosexual. Indeed, many people are surprised to find that we're not interested in finding sex like the drag queen, or making a living like the drag prostitute or female impersonator. Many gay people are surprised to learn that heterosexual crossdressers exist at all!

For most of us, being free to act and move in a more feminine way, being treated as women, being free to adorn ourselves and feel the caressing touch of the many soft fabrics available to women -- these feelings are satisfying in and of themselves.

The Crossdresser And His Family

What do the biological women in our lives think about their "sisters"? Understandably, many women are as stereo typically programmed as the rest of society, and are hostile and rejecting of their crossdressing mates. For many of us, fear of such reaction by our loved ones is the greatest barrier to greater self~expression and acceptance.

Much depends on the crossdresser's own degree of insight, the duration and solidity of his relationship, and the way in which the wife or partner learns about her mate's crossdressing. Communication -- the essence of any relationship-- is particularly vital in the case of the crossdresser. Once a wife or partner realizes that her mate isn't gay, transsexual or mentally ill, the two of them can seek a solution that suits their own unique circumstances.

The wise wife or partner realizes that her mate is the same person she has always known. She recognizes the risk that her man has taken in revealing his innermost feelings, and appreciates the trust this represents. Many of the traits that attracted her in the first place-- sensitivity, kindness, appreciation of beauty, etc.-- can now be seen as belonging to that "woman within".

What about the crossdresser's children? In our experience, timing --when they're told -- is more important than what they're told. Adolescence, a time of struggle to establish social and sexual identity, is not the right time (especially if the children are boys). If not done earlier in childhood, we've found it's generally best to wait until adulthood.

On the other hand, kids who are told in early childhood, and who grow up with a daddy who occasionally becomes an "auntie", don't appear at any greater risk of being crossdressers themselves, or of being gay. Indeed, the kids seem to benefit from exposure to a father who is usually more sensitive, creative, and involved in their lives.

Emerging From the Shell of Secrecy

Many crossdressers are their own worst enemies. By keeping their feminine side a secret, or trying to deny its existence, they deny the experience of knowing a crossdresser to those people most likely to accept and understand them. They allow society to avoid having to deal with them as the multi-dimensional people they are. As a result, much of the public image of crossdressing comes from the more visible and extreme types, which are then mistakenly taken to be the norm.

Thus, our emergence into society is not only essential for our own peace-of-mind. It's a precondition for the creation of a more understanding and accepting society. Indeed, we've found that as others get to know us as people, most of them shed the stereotypes and turn out to be much more accepting than we ever dreamed possible.

Emergence begins with self- recognition. Admitting that "I do like to crossdress", and that "crossdressing is a part of me", is the beginning of self-recognition. For many of us the decision to join Chi Chapter was our first firm statement of self-recognition.

But recognition is only the first step towards self-acceptance. Self acceptance means feeling that it's OK to want to crossdress, and OK to do it. It involves a realization that feminine feelings and personality traits can be an asset.

For many, overcoming feelings of guilt and shame is part of this process. This is a road that few of us are able to travel alone, and that many of us may never have traveled without Chi Chapter help. Indeed, this is the very reason Chi Chapter was created.

For the emerging crossdresser, there are few -- if any-- more powerful experiences than meeting or corresponding with other crossdressers who are at peace with themselves. It's reassuring to find out that other crossdressers are living happy, well-adjusted lives with friends and families who accept and understand them. It's a broadening experience to actually meet a crossdresser's understanding wife or partner. It's satisfying to learn first-hand that crossdressers are really as likable and respectable as anyone else. And it's great to feel the companionship, the encouragement and the compassion of people who are kindred spirits.

For a growing number of us, the culmination of our emergence occurs in public. It might come when we're accepted as women on the street or in a restaurant. Or it might come when we act as the point-of-contact for a Chi Chapter. Or perhaps when we do an interview in the local media, to let others in our community know they're not alone. With the support and experience gained through Chi Chapter activities, some of our members have found a confidence in public that seemed inconceivable to them a few short years ago.

Going public, though, is not for everyone. Indeed many of our members rightfully fear the loss of family, job, and reputation that public exposure 'night bring. Emergence, then, is a most personal thing. There is no right or wrong path -- only alternatives. Each crossdresser's choice must be tailored to his individual circumstances and needs. Chi Chapter provides the safe and supportive climate that can help each crossdresser chart his own personal course.

The Crossdressing Culture

While educational and social organizations like Chi Chapter are a big part of the larger crossdressing culture, they're not the only part.

This culture includes a wide variety of conventions and weekend social gatherings for the crossdresser, his family, friends and loved ones. They range from weekend retreats sponsored by local crossdressing groups, to extended weekend conferences to week long events. Such events occur in virtually every region in this country. The culture also includes a growing number of businesses that either cater explicitly to, or welcome the business of, the crossdressing community. These include hairstylists and cosmeticians, boutiques, clothing stores, local restaurants, etc.

In addition, a growing number of professionals, researchers and educational groups are doing their part in dealing with crossdressing. Indeed, many psychologists and psychiatrists now concur with our understanding of crossdressing -- that it's not a mental illness requiring treatment, but rather a healthy form of self-expression. Many such professionals counsel individual crossdressers, run couples support groups, and operate gender clinics in several of our large cities.

Lastly, the crossdressing culture includes a mix of magazines and newspapers that range from dignified to sleazy. Among the most dignified is the Chi Chapter Tribune, which is published monthly by Chi Chapter for our members and the general public.