what is cross dressing
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Crossdressing: Top facts

‘She is a tomboy. Always dresses up like a man'. ‘Long hair, nail paints and a nose ring on a man?’ Why do people of one gender like to dress up in clothes that are socially not deemed fit for their gender. This is called crossdressing. Let’s find out more about it!

What is Crossdressing?

Crossdressing simply means dressing up as in clothes acceptable in society as that of the opposite gender. So a man wearing a saree or a woman, well, wearing pants or trousers. This practice was first referred to as Transvestism, and the person engaging in it, a Transvestite. 

However, these terms are no longer considered appropriate or acceptable. These are considered disrespectful since they were extensively used as slurs against people who chose to dress in a manner typically associated with the opposite gender. 

Crossdressing can be further divided into two categories: 

(Male to Female) M-to-F Crossdressing : A man who enjoys wearing women’s clothes and accessories. 

( Female to Male) F-to-M Crossdressing: A woman who dresses like a man. 

However, over the past half-a-century or so, women wearing pants, trousers or suits have become so commonplace that women dressed in what was traditionally men’s attire can hardly be dubbed as crossdressing. These items of clothing are now identified as gender-neutral. That’s why, today, crossdressing is most commonly discussed in the M-to-F context. 

People engage in it to varying degrees. Some people cross-dress occasionally and in the privacy of their homes while others like to practice it full-time. Similarly, not every crossdresser embraces the clothing and accessories of the opposite sex a 100 per cent. 

Some people may choose to wear only a singular item of clothing or accessories designated for the opposite sex – blouses, scarves, nail paints or stilettos, for instance. Then, some go all out – dresses, makeup, hair extensions and all. 

Man with lipstick and nail polish
Shutterstock/Marco Brockmann

Crossdressing and sexual identity

A prevalent myth around crossdressing is related to sexual identity. It is often assumed that a person dressing like the opposite gender is either Transgender or homosexual. However, this misnomer couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

When a Transgender dresses as per their gender identity, it is not cross-dressing. Because that person is dressing as per the gender they identify with. For instance, a Trans woman dressing like a woman is not a crossdresser. She is simply dressing as per her gender. 

Crossdressers, unlike Transgenders, do not have gender dysphoria. This means they’re not uncomfortable with the gender or body they were born in. Nor do they have any desire to change their sex. For example a male who likes to dress up in a saree, but identifies as a male is not a transgender person, but a crossdresser. 

A crossdresser and a hijra are also two separate identities. 

Hijras are transgender people (mostly transmen) who take an oath to join the Hijra community and follow its culture and rituals. Not all transgender people join the hijra community 

So the Hijra identity is linked to being a transgender and being a part of a specific community. This is not the case with crossdressing. A crossdresser only wears clothes associated with a different gender. He (or she) does not identify with that gender. 

Similarly, dressing as the opposite gender has no bearing on one’s sexual orientation either. If a female dresses up as a male (usually referred to as a tomboy), it does not mean that she is attracted to other women (and thus a lesbian).  Or vice versa, if a males dresses up in a dress, saree or a skirt, it does not mean they they are gay or attracted to other men. 

So crossdressers can be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. One cannot determine their sexual orientation on the basis of clothes, whether they crossdress or not. 

Why do people crossdress?

The reasons behind crossdressing can be varied. Some folks might do it for fun and entertainment, some may crossdress to disguise, some may find clothes for opposite sex just more comfortable. some derive sexual pleasure in crossdressing and some to fulfil a fetish for clothes designed for the opposite sex. 

Tackling anxiety, feeling relaxed and calm as well as getting in touch with one’s feminine or masculine side are also factors behind crossdressing. 

It is important to note that whatever be the reasons, there is nothing wrong about crossdressing. It is most definitely not a disorder that needs to be restrained or treated. However, a crossdresser must exercise caution to ensure that this aspect of their personality doesn’t take over other aspects of their life. 

man wearing women's heels
Shutterstock/zaleskyphoto

Crossdressing: risks and cautions 

Given that very few people understand what crossdressing is, and fewer still identify with it, this practice does come with its share of pitfalls and risks. Such as: 

  • First and foremost, crossdressers may experience backlash or judgment from a society steeped in gendered expectations. Men dressing as women are more prone to this risk today than women dressing as men.
  • This stigma can lead to feelings of guilt and shame in the person, which can cause an inner conflict between desire and imposed a need for restraint. 
  • It can take a toll on one’s romantic relationships if the partner cannot understand or accept the desire to cross-dress. 
  • In some cases, the fetish for opposite gender’s clothing can become addictive and consume too much time, money and space. 
  • It can impact a person’s acceptance in the workplace as well as career growth if the co-workers and the organization lack a diversity-tolerant ethos. 
  • Risk of being isolated and alienated from one’s family is also very real. 
  • Travelling crossdressed can be a hassle, as the photo on your ID or passport may not match your current look. 
  • In certain extreme cases, the urge to crossdress can become an overpowering driving force and can start to interfere with a person’s ability to lead a normal life. 

What precautions can you take to subvert these risks? 

A lot of people choose to stay closeted (not reveal they crossdress) owing to the stigma and misconceptions around crossdressing. So much as that in some cases, even their spouses, children and parents don’t know about their penchant for it. However, a stifled existence is no answer to this predicament. 

Talking to one’s partner, children or parents about it and helping them understand this side of the personality is the mature thing to do. 

If a loved one is struggling with coming to terms with this knowledge, seeking counselling or professional intervention to help them process and embrace it is advisable. 

On the professional front, it is best to practice discretion, if one fears ostracization. 

To protect the identity, the person in the picture is a model. 

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