by Janean Douglas
What must it be like to live one's life in fear? The fear that someone will discover something you have done or see a birthmark you know you can't hide forever can be paralyzing.
I've heard that there are ethnic groups who live like this; examples that come to mind are Christians persecuted in other countries for the way they believe and blacks who are still in danger in some areas of the United States because of the color of their skin. Yet I never thought I would come up against such prejudice face to face.
I have a friend who is a cross dresser. For the purposes of this paper, she will be called “Sharon”. She is afraid; afraid of you and afraid of me. To tell you the truth, I could not figure out why, which is why I chose the subject of this paper. The catalyst was an article printed in The Gulf News. It described how one city called Dubai in the United Arab Emirates has actually made it illegal to appear in public dressed as the opposite sex. As interviewed in the article, Lt. Gen. Tamim was quoted as saying “"Dubai Police have made up their mind to tackle this problem strictly. Any man who dresses up and behaves like a woman in public or vice versa will be legally questioned and legal action will be taken against him.” He went on to explain that the appearance of male transvestites was eroding “social values” and announced that it was his opinion that the appearance of transvestites in the city coincided with increasing crime rates. He declared that anyone who did not care about their honor did not care about anything and that the problem was that transvestitism “went against the law of nature”.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the consensus from many websites I visited and the articles I read. I began to understand why Sharon would feel afraid if the world at large views her lifestyle as “against the laws of nature”. It seems her fear is shared by a majority of the cross dressing population; one study conducted online shows that 67% of the 6000 cross dressers surveyed said that they were afraid people would find out. (Garden, CD survey).
When discussing the transgendered population, there are a few terms that should be defined for ease of reference. A cross-dresser (CD) is a man who dresses like a woman for several reasons but is not gay and has no desire to actually become a woman. It is usually a man because, unfortunately, women can dress in men's clothes and appear as a man in public without any fear of reprisal; indeed, it is done every day and has become generally accepted. The term “transvestite”(TV) is essentially the same as being CD with one major difference and that is a medical diagnosis defining a transvestite as one who dresses as the opposite sex as a fetish or for sexual gratification. Being transsexual (TS) refers to one who is in the process of undergoing the gender-change procedures including surgeries, hormones, and lifestyle adjustments. To be “transgendered” (TG) is an “umbrella” term that covers all three of these (CD, TV, and TS). Other terms that are in use include “drag queen”, a male who dresses as a female for profit as in a club or bar; a homosexual, one who is sexually attracted to members of the same sex; and a bisexual, one who is attracted to both males and females.
So just what kind of man does this anyway? Statistics from the survey of transvestites on “The Crossdressers Secret Garden” website reveal that 70% of those surveyed began dressing in female clothes before age 12 and a full 60% dress completely as a woman including wig and makeup when they do get the chance. When asked why they do it, the reasons vary. 21% said they enjoyed the feeling of womens' clothing. 7% said that it helped them relax and deal with stress while 13% said they wanted to be like a woman. 10% cited sexual reasons and 3 % said they didn't know why they did it. However, surprisingly, 46% said that most or ALL of these reasons applied. 65% of the cross dressers surveyed were over 41 years of age. These men aren't walking around with their head in the clouds, though; 80% realize that people know they are a man in womens' clothing. They are not fooling anyone. Or it could be that they just have such a low self opinion that they don't believe in their ability to convince. While on the subject of self-esteem, the majority of transgendered individuals suffer from severe anxiety and depression. Because they begin experimenting with cross gender activities at such a young age, many as early as 5, they quickly realize that what they do is “different” or “not normal”. Yet they have a burning, undeniable urge to do it. So in the logical progression, that must make them “different and not normal”. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2005, suicides accounted for 1.3% of all deaths in the U.S. Suicide rates among the transgendered are difficult to track because of the secrecy of these individuals but conservative estimates place it at 31%; a FULL 30 times more than the rest of the population. Additionally, over 50% of transsexuals will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday and even more of them inflict self-harm daily by cutting or other self-mutilations. (Laura, Playground) While perusing the web for information, I happened upon a site that lists transgenders who have either died by their own hand or been murdered because of who and what they were. (Smith, Remembering) As I read the names and details of some, my heart broke and I grieved for them and for their families. Sharon hugged me while I cried and asked if I understood NOW why she was afraid.
Most significant others are not happy with their transgendered partner's lifestyle choices, as well; 54% of crossdressers say that their significant others either don't know about it or don't like it. Another 23% accept what their husbands do but want nothing to do with it. Only 24% accept and encourage their partners in this pursuit that is essentially a part of who they are.
And what do their significant others think? The same website also had a poll for the women. 57% had been in the relationship longer than 10 years but 76% of them did not discover the truth till after the first year of the relationship. 71% of the cross dressers actually TOLD their partners versus finding out by accident. 61% of the significant others are either indifferent or upset by their partners' lifestyle. The most interesting statistic in this survey was that 77% of the spouses said their cross dressing partners became irritable if they could not dress up for a long period of time.
Although ridicule, ostracism and abandonment are perpetrated against the TG community by almost everyone who discovers their secret identity, by far the largest section of the population that holds significant and outspoken prejudice against crossdressers, Transvestites, and transsexuals are those who subscribe to conservative religious views. Gays, Lesbians and bisexuals who allow themselves to be recognized share the scorn of this significant cross-section of the population. Sharon, herself, has a partner who's parents have summarily denied to meet Sharon, even in her male persona because “the Bible says that what she does is wrong.” The scripture they cite to back their argument was Deuteronomy 22:5, “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.“ (Bible Gateway, KJV) During our interview Sharon voiced her frustration at the hypocrisy of women wearing jeans and a t-shirt and using this passage to condemn her when the verse clearly outlines a violation by both sexes. Additionally, if one were to continue to read that chapter and vow to abide by it, one must also put a battlement on the roof of any new construction to keep “ blood off of thine house, if any man fall from thence” (v 8). Verse 10 also instructs us not to plow with an ox and an ass together, but does not give a reason why. Verse 11says that one can not wear a “garment of diverse sorts, as of woolen and linen together”. In the old testament of the Bible, the Jews had a very strict law that they were to adhere to in hopes of being holy enough to get into heaven. However, while Jesus was on earth, He was asked which of the ten commandments was the most important. He said that there were two; one of those was Mark 12:31 “... 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Love is, by definition the antithesis of prejudice and condemnation. However, prejudice and condemnation are exactly what most transgenders face every day of their lives; often from those who profess to follow the teachings of Jesus. As published in a Swedish newspaper, a 58-year-old transvestite from southern Sweden was told by a pastor in Hassleholm, Sweden, that he was not welcome to hold a lecture at the local Pentecostalist church hall. A group had rented the hall for the event but the rental was rescinded when the pastor found out the keynote speaker was TV. In an interview done while writing the article, the TV speaker cited the halls' own rental agreement“... they talk about taking care of the vulnerable and protecting basic freedoms and rights.” Evidently, that also happened to be the subject of the lecture. (O'Mahoney, Pentecostalist).
“Sharon” was married for close to thirty years and was unable to dress up around her family. She is especially sensitive to the fact that people are uncomfortable around her when she goes out and as a result, she does not go out often. When she does, she goes with friends. She feels safer that way and, after reading the names on the “Remembering Our Dead” website, I agree that for her own safety, she should be escorted or in a group. This will make her less likely to be attacked. However, Sharon is a very compassionate person and does not want to force her lifestyle on anyone; she does not enjoy making others feel nervous or uncomfortable. Often, trying to find someone to go out with is more trouble than it is worth. So it is just easier not to dress even though it increases her anxiety level and decreases her ability to cope with every day life.
She dresses up mainly as a stress-release mechanism. When she is “Sharon” there are no aging parents to care for, no children to worry about, no 50+ hr-a-week job to do or bills to pay. Sharon does not have to make decisions beyond how to do her hair or her makeup or which shoes go with her dress. She can relax and let her female partner have the dominant role. She is not homosexual nor does she have any desire to undergo gender reassignment; she simply wishes to be able to relax and express herself as she sees fit. How she dresses, in reality, does not harm anyone and, as far as we are aware, it is not illegal in the United States of America.
Unfortunately, let us hope she never has to travel to Dubai, U.A.E. And maybe we should each review our attitudes and preconceived ideas about members of our community who dress as the opposite sex. How do you feel about what they do? How would you treat them? How would Sharon be treated if she walked down the main street in your town?
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