Articles / Categorization / Feelings / Verbal Hygiene

Feelings or Actions, Condensed

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.

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  1. Thanks for the clarification. I definitely agree with you that someone can “always be transgendered”, so therefore it has nothing to do with actions, but rather “feelings and intentions”. Still, I think transgendered can be a more appropriate term for someone living as the opposite gender on a more permanent basis, than “crossdresser”. To me, crossdresser signifies someone that dresses as the opposite gender as just a “hobby,” whereas, if I hear that someone is transgendered, I understand that it is their intention to live as the opposite gender fulltime, or almost fulltime. Perhaps there is a better term for someone who is living as the opposite gender fulltime, but I’m not aware of one. It’s my understanding that the term “transexual” is more appropriate to someone intending to have (or who has had) some type of surgery, but maybe it could also apply to other people as well.

  2. I understand that that’s the way people use the term, “transgender,” but to me it’s very prescriptivist. If they were “always transgender” before they decided to live full-time, then they were transgender when they were doing it as “just a hobby.” As I describe in more detail in my first Feelings or Actions post, there is more than one way to be trans, but using “transgender” exclusively to refer to people who live full-time implies that anyone who has transgender feelings should live full-time. In my view, that’s just wrong.

  3. “If they were “always transgender” before they decided to live full-time, then they were transgender when they were doing it as “just a hobby.” ”

    I understand and agree with that. Perhaps I can clarify my thoughts by saying that I think “crossdresser” should only apply to people who are not “transgendered”, meaning that they enjoy dressing as the other gender (for any reason), but they have no intention to live as the other gender.

  4. Well, I’ll bet that most of the people who say they’ve “always been transgender” don’t mean that they’ve always had the intention of transitioning. I think it’s more accurate to say that they’ve always had a desire to transition, right? And at some point either that desire got stronger, or the competing desires to stay in their birth gender got weaker.

    I think you’d be hard pressed to find a person who enjoys dressing as the other gender (for whatever reason) but has never felt a desire to live as that gender. They may be out there, but from a practical point of view it doesn’t make much sense to separate them from the larger population of cross-dressers who have transgender feelings, but don’t intend to act on them.

  5. Yes, good points. Thank you for clarifying. Of course, I’m still confused. I used to be a man and a crossdresser, with the hope (and intention) that I wouldn’t want to transition, but then I did, and now I’m a woman (and frankly no spring chicken at this point). When did I become transgender? (To the tune of “Sunrise, Sunset.”)

    It’s hard to remember what my desire, intention or feelings were, exactly, when I was so young. I mostly remember being confused, particularly as one who grew up very religious. And I guess I still am confused. Except that I have no regrets. And I try not to judge other people’s ideas too harshly, because my own are so prone to change.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Jill. You were hoping that you wouldn’t decide to transition, but even through the confusion it sounds like on some level you had a desire to be a woman.

    Having a desire to do something is not the same as having an intention, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a competing desire that’s stronger. When I was younger I wanted to be a rock and roll star. I also wanted to be a movie star, and a teacher, and a bus driver, and a civil engineer, and a computer programmer, and a physicist. I think you’d agree that it’s almost impossible to do all those things.

    At some point I realized that being in the spotlight is a cheap thrill, and most of the rock stars I’ve heard about who lived past the age of 35 say that it’s been incredibly difficult for them. I also realized that I don’t have the time to do all these things, and I need to make choices. I decided that my desire to have a comfortable level of anonymity, and my desire to be a teacher, were more important than my desire to be a rock star, but sometimes I still fantasize about it.

    I feel the same way about being a woman. My desire to be a man has always been stronger, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve never felt a desire to be a woman. It’s a rare person who’s capable of maintaining two lives while staying reasonably sane and healthy. At some point most people need to decide which one they want to stay with, and which one they want to keep for occasional fantasy or play.

    Ambivalence is a fact of life, and we’ll all be better off when more people in the transgender community acknowledge that people are capable of holding conflicting desires in their heads, without any of the desires determining their destinies.

  7. my monthly pass was once checked M, when i was 19 or so (which i recount in SNTMIM).

    so just because you’re passing as the gender you weren’t assigned at birth, certainly doesn’t mean you were intending to. i wasn’t.

    that is, sometimes people who’s gender presentations are cross-gender aren’t necessarily transgender, too.

  8. Would you happen to know why it’s even necessary for the gender of a person to be marked on a railroad ticket? Is it just for the purpose of knowing who (general idea of who) the ticket belonged to in the case that it could have been stolen?

  9. It’s not just a ticket, Lanie, it’s a monthly pass. It also has the name of the owner. The gender marker seems pretty unnecessary to me.

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