Society plays a role in prescribing appropriate and inappropriate behavior. How a man and a woman are supposed to dress are unwritten codes of behavior that most people tend to follow. Cross-dressers represent a group that is defiant of established norms as they opt to dress in ways contrary to their gender assignment. Further controversy surrounds the issue of cross-dressing particularly because there is little consensus on its definition. There is also debate on the distinction, if any, that exists between transvestism and other similar behaviors performed by men.
There are similarities in some of the behaviors performed by these separate groups. Research has yet to determine the causes of cross-dressing linking it to home, parental, behavioral and genetic factors, none of which has been established. Similarly the heterosexual non-cross-dressing male attitude, reflective of society’s overall attitude, towards cross-dressers is not positive, but with the male fashion trend of skirt like kilts and high-heeled boots coming to trend one may find it more than just a fad to be clad in something similar to ones heterosexual partner.
In this essay I would like to dive in to the less talked about world of cross-dressing and mixed sexual feelings and and how this once uncharted secret life is becoming more and more talked about and is an okay norm in our new modern decade. In societies throughout the world there are certain unwritten codes of behavior that individuals within the society adhere to and often unconsciously follow. Ingrained in these behaviors are certain unquestioned principles that just seem to make sense.
One of the most potently ingrained societal norms that pervades in almost all societies worldwide is the concept of dress and its intimate connection with sex, gender and sexual orientation. It is taken as a given in society that women, not men wear dresses. Dress comes to represent one’s sex which in turn connotes ones gender and that in turn denotes one’s sexual orientation. This automatic connection that is made between sex and dress does not develop as a result of investigative scholarship but rather it is a socially constructed, unwritten principle. From within the wombs this societal principle is already being transferred to the child.
In preparation for the arrival of the baby specified colors of clothing and other baby related paraphernalia are purchased that have a distinct orientation towards a particular sex. The “pink for girls and blue for boys” phenomenon is familiar to most . As the child is birthed this societal principle is emphasized in the choice and style of clothing, frilly dresses for girls, sober designs for boys. It is therefore no wonder that as a child develops he unconsciously associates styles and types of dress with particular genders, maintaining these beliefs into adulthood.
Cross-dressing has arisen as a phenomenon that is causing some people to question these principles. However the dress equals sex principle is a socially constructed phenomenon and therefore says very little about an individuals sexual orientation or gender association. Cross-dressing as a phenomenon, though it goes against prescribed societal norms, is simply a person’s way of expressing individuality without all the schisms of gender and sexual orientation that are attached so intimately with what and how someone dresses.
Like all people, gay men express themselves by how they dress, and those members of the gay community who ‘cross-dress’ or dress ‘in drag’ are no exception. Transsexualism and transvestism are variations from society’s views of “normal” sexual behavior. These variations of the norm are explained as being disorders and are almost exclusively found in men. Transvestism is the activity of cross-dressing for sexual arousal from that specific object, whether it be clothing, shoes, or what. This can simply be called a fetish.
The reasoning behind the few cases reported of female transvestism is explained in the following statement. “The culture apparently permits a greater range of fashion to women. The male transvestite wears female undergarments and uses makeup to achieve a female appearance” (Feinbloom 17). The only reason transvestites do not cross-dress for is to “transform themselves temporarily into an entity that more closely matches their own identity” (Brown 36). This is a description of why a transsexual would cross-dress.
This is the difference between transvestites and transsexuals. Transvestites feel that their assigned gender is “correct” for them, and transsexuals do not feel that theirs is necessarily “correct”. This mind and body incongruity of the transsexual has also been recently referred to as gender identity disorder (GID). Male cross-dressing can be divided into three groups: homosexual transvestites, heterosexual transvestites, and bisexual transvestites. Homosexual transvestites dress for egotistical reasons or to be sexually attractive to other men.
Heterosexual transvestites are compulsive cross-dressers. In the beginning their cross-dressing is purely for erotic purposes. “To use as a measure of the sources of genital pleasure and self-identity, both the homosexual and heterosexual male transvestite see themselves as male and would be most uncomfortable at the thought of sex-reassignment surgery” (Feinbloom 18). “There are also bisexual transvestites who feel attracted to both sexes” (Hirschfeld 160). One of the factors in becoming a transvestite is the psychological experiences that occur during childhood.
The experiences felt by a transvestite during childhood consist of an array of different feelings and emotions. Many transvestites remember voluntarily or accidentally cross-dressing when they ere younger. Most of the time, the feelings experienced were those of comfort and security. A Very extensive documentation exists to show that cross dressing often begins in early boyhood and persist into the adolescent years for the majority of adult transsexuals and transvestites” (qtd. in Docter 55).
Government is another forum where the role of power is rampant, specifically in legislating laws to control, restrict, and punish behaviors deemed deviant by society. The power of legislation is conveyed many times in this statement regarding the matter of biology in homosexuality. “If homosexuality were found to be an immutable trait, like skin color, then laws criminalizing homosexual sex might be overturned. Same sex marriage, job protection, anti-discrimination in housing laws – all these could hinge on the redefinition of homosexuality as biologically caused rather than socially and culturally chosen” (Garber, p. 25). This statement brings up several ways of exerting control over deviant behavior (linked to a particular group of people): by making the behavior a punishable, criminal act; by discrimination through laws; by not granting protection of rights; and by prohibiting the recognition of same sex marriage (as if by not recognizing it, it isn’t really there). The reinforcement of gender roles and boundaries through societal constructs is shown in Woodhouse’s discussion of transvestites or cross-dressers.
Cross-dressing heterosexual men (dressing in women’s clothing) pose a threat to traditional society that presents male and female gender categories as immutable categories that have no room for malleability. “On a social and cultural level the two groups (male and female) are mutually exclusive…” (Woodhouse, p. 117). This is maintained and strictly enforced in our male-dominant society through approval of masculinity and disapproval of femininity. Outside of the closely demarcated boundaries of the drag act or the fancy-dress party, men cannot appear in any item of women’s clothing without immediate loss of the superior status attached to the male and the full imposition of ridicule and censure” (Woodhouse, p. 119). We see examples of this ridicule from very early childhood and adolescence with boys being scorned and called a “sissy” for playing with dolls or expressing feminine traits which are reserved for the secondary, inferior female role and “should be eradicated” (Woodhouse, p. 119).
There is a vice-grip on the primacy of masculinity which refuses to let go of pointing out that which is not masculine, and giving it a value. “Any man who is effeminate cannot be heterosexual, there must be something wrong with him” (Woodhouse, p. 137) and is therefore considered “less than. ” “To deviate from this [primacy] status is to take a step down; to adopt the trappings of the second sex is akin to slumming it or selling out. And those who protect and maintain the primacy of masculinity cannot allow this to happen or the whole edifice would crumble” (Woodhouse, p. 119). And identity politics as well as science has an interest in keeping them [”homo” and “hetero”] opposite” (Garber, p. 231). The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality is a flagship among organizations in constructing particular interpretations that serve their particular group. The title on their brochure, “Taking a Stand: For Those Seeking Freedom from Homosexuality,” wouldn’t be implying that homosexuality is negative, would it? By promoting negative interpretations of homosexuals, for example, groups like NARTH can help to influence and enforce what is considered deviant.
NARTH warns that a pro-gay “philosophy usually includes the redefinition of marriage; the disparagement of gender differences as arbitrary ‘social constructs’; the undermining of family and religious authority with the substitution of a different set of standards; and the idea that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality” (NARTH, p. 9). This statement embodies the tactic of demonizing and vilifying the deviants to enforce traditional gender and sexual constructs by pointing to the many ways in which homosexuality threatens to destroy society.
Cross-dressing has been seen through out the ages and in many of shakespeare‘s plays one of which is As You Like It. The androgen is a strong figure that mentally joins the female and male characteristics together as one (American Heritage). Androgyny does not only refer to the physical senses it also refers to the cultural and social aspects of daily life. There are two main types of androgyny that were applied during the Renaissance which are referred to as mythic and satiric androgyny (Orgel, 38).
Satiric androgyny mainly deals with “feminized male figures and unfixed, unstable individual identities, and is essentially negative,” (Hermaphrodites, 1). Mythic androgyny consists of “cross-dressers, water imagery and the fluid individual identity, and is essentially positive,” (Hermaphrodites, 2). As You Like It is based on the concepts included in Mythic androgyny. We find that Rosalind dresses as a man after she is banished from the court, yet her actions continue to revert back to her female. characteristics.
Her disguise would be considered cross-dressing and her changing could be considered as being the fluid individual identity. The fluid individual identity is a way of saying that she changes her own identity. When Rosalind is talking with Celia or Touchstone, she takes on her female identity, but when Rosalind talks with Orlando she takes on the male identity of Ganymede. As You Like It starts out in the court, where Rosalind in a female dressed as a female, and Orlando is a male dressed as a male. Rosalind is being treated like a woman and she clearly acts like one.
She attends the wrestling match, where her uncle, Duke Frederick, asks her and Celia, her cousin, to try on talk Orlando out of participating in the match. This is the point when Rosalind and Orlando meet, coerce, and begin having feelings for each other. Orlando does in fact defeat Charles, the Duke’s wrestler. In this situation, Rosalind is portraying a female with typical female characteristics and Orlando is carrying out his male characteristics. In the court, they are in there true societal roles, but once they enter the forest of Ardenne those roles are dramatically changed. The androgynous woman literally incorporates the independence that the male was designed to exemplify prior to the introduction of woman, but the male who depends on a woman becomes effeminate and is perceived as missing something in the outline of maleness,” (Rose, 25). While in the forest of Ardenne, Rosalind is dressing in and taking on the male persona. She is now being called Ganymede, and dresses in male garments, while Orlando is in a sense turning into the lovesick female persona. He takes “Ganymede” up on his offer to try and cure Orlando of his love sickness.
In this new setting, the roles are reversed; Rosalind is this strong man who has a way with women, a way to know what they want and what they expect. Where as Orlando is this lovesick “man” pining away for a woman who has been banished from the court. The androgynous woman, Rosalind encompasses all of the male characteristics. Where as Orlando is leaning more toward the female characteristics. In conclusion, society has drilled an image into the minds of people of how the role of each gender should be played out.
There are two recognized types of gender, a man and a woman, however there are many types of gender roles a man or a woman may assume or be placed into by society. The ideas of how one should act and behave are often times ascribed by their gender by society, but these ascribed statuses and roles are sometimes un-welcomed, and people will assume who they want to be as individuals by going against the stereotypes set forth by society. Gender can be defined as the sex-role that a person takes on according to guidelines or standards instilled in us by society.
One can be a male or female biologically, but still be perceived as the opposite sex due to the way one may think or present him self or her self. Whether or not we are born with certain biological traits different in male versus female is the nature versus nurture question that has been around for years. Through research, science has found that men and women differ in the way they process information, but whether or not this is due to the way that they are socialized or if in fact they are born this way has yet to be proven.
In women and men, both respectfully, there exist many obvious differences that may sometimes overshadow some similarities. Some of the more common identities familiarized with the males are their independence and sometimes exaggerated aggressiveness. Males also tend to be more focused on tasks and connections when with larger groups. The women, on the other hand, tend to be more interdependent, less aggressive, more sharing, more imitation of relationship and intimate discussion, more charitable, more empathetic, more likely to smile, more sensitive, and more skilled at expressing emotions non-verbally.
Let’s face it males, women are the super humans. One of the positive key advantages of a male is their assertiveness and high self-esteem. The women on the other hand are more extroverted and tender minded, qualities, which enable them to be all of the characteristics listed before. When gender differences are viewed at in a sexual aspect, the men are still the stereotypical “pigs”. Through relationships males are more likely to be involved for one thing, sex. The females, being much more sensitive and all, want love and compassion through a relationship, and maybe sex, or making love on the side.
In other words men want lust and women want love. Although popular belief may have that the females are the more mentally advanced, or smarter, studies show that both males and females have the same academic abilities and IQ average. Males are much better with mental rotation though. Studies show that males are more likely to take and successfully complete higher level math and science courses. Through the differences and similarities that both males and females share or don’t share, whatever the case may be, one may attempt to find a common bridge.
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