I recently came across an interesting blog post about the MTA’s weird practice of having its commuter railroad conductors mark the gender of passengers on their monthly passes. My friend Donna has experienced this on the Long Island Rail Road, and last week a blogger named Bobby posted his experience from the conductor’s point of view. I posted a comment to Bobby’s blog linking to Donna’s post, but I couldn’t help adding a correction to another comment by someone named Laser72.
Laser72 had tried to gently correct Bobby for referring to his passenger as a “cross dresser,” saying that since the passenger had a monthly pass, she probably spent a significant amount of time as a woman, and therefore “transgendered woman” was more appropriate.
A crossdresser is a man or woman who dresses up as the opposite gender on a more temporary basis, usually just for fun, or as a sexual fetish. A transgendered person is someone who dresses and lives as the other gender on a much more permanent basis, usually full time …
In response, I considered linking to my Feelings and Actions post, but I realized that that was way too in-depth and detailed for a casual blog reader to digest in one sitting. I tried to write just a few sentences saying that I disagreed with Laser72’s categories, but Laser72 asked for clarification. So now I’m trying to write something that’s shorter than the Feelings and Actions post, but still says enough.
The main problem with Laser72’s categories is that the terms don’t always mean those things. They’re ambiguous, and that ambiguity causes problems. For example, when people say that they’ve “always been transgendered,” they don’t mean that they’ve always dressed and lived as the other on a permanent or full-time basis. They mean that there are particular feelings that they’ve always had, and it’s quite well documented that many people who say that they’ve “always been transgendered” have in the past dressed up as the opposite gender on a temporary basis, for fun or as a sexual fetish. If these people have really always been transgendered, then it’s not just possible but common to be transgender and a cross-dresser.
The term “cross-dresser” is also problematic. It was invented by people who cross-dressed but were uncomfortable with the term “transvestite,” which to them suggested cross-dressing just for fun, or as a sexual fetish, or even for prositution. It was originally used to refer to anyone who dressed as “the opposite gender,” regardless of motivation. Therefore, it could refer to transgender people, either before they start living full-time as their chosen gender, or when they dress as their birth gender temporarily, like Bobby’s passenger.
This is why I think it’s better to use terms like “transgender” and “fetish” for feelings and motivations, and terms like “cross-dresser” for actions.