Lacey Leigh is the authr of Out & About: The Emancipated Crossdresser as well as 7 Secrets of Successful Crossdressers. She moderates an online community, speaks publicly as a crossdresser, and helps a lot of CDs gain confidence as they take those first fledgeling steps out the (closet) door.
1. What do you think is the most important thing crossdressers need to know?
One of the major changes I have made is in my personal lexicon – my working vocabulary, as it were – is to eliminate the words that carry semantic undertones of judgement or personal imperative: should, must, ought, need, etc. We use them unconsciously, not realizing how such terms of absolutism color the message we’re trying to communicate.
People and friends, beginning with my wife, have reminded that while I have the zeal and passion of a recent convert to faith, there is also a frequent tendency to climb on the soapbox and get a little ‘preachy’. Mea culpa. I’m working on it. It’s especially difficult to keep the lid on it when sharing an attitude, a mindset that has provided such an empowering personal perspective – for me as well as everyone else who has tried it.
Terms that carry such cultural sovereignty are often reliable indicators of personal bias. Count the number of times people use similar words of subtle judgement, multiply by the frequency of the personal pronoun (I, me, my, etc.) and you’ll get a pretty good indicator of how deeply a person is into himself – and whether that person is operating with a closed or an open mind.
A favorite theme is “Why allow people to ‘should’ on you?”
Anyway, I would rephrase “need to know” with “might benefit from understanding.”
Back to your question…
You started with ‘the biggie’; a topic for which a glib reply can lead to greater confusion. To lend a perspective, it might benefit readers to jump over to one of the essays on my outreach website.
Clothing serves as a primary cultural communication. Absent that imperative, we might just as well wrap rags, moss, or bubble wrap around ourselves for protection and comfort. This point is essential in order to grasp a further understanding of crossdressing. We send myriad signals about ourselves through the medium of personal attire and decoration; our ethnicity, our religion, our social status, our allegiance, our mood, our gender, our fantasies, our ‘availability’, our mood – the list is infinite.
Crossdressing is communication.
Which leads to a plethora of additional questions. What, exactly, are we communicating? To whom are we sending the message (trick question)? Is it getting through or is it somehow garbled or confusing? Is the message content accurate at the source? Is the communication important in the first place?
Crossdressing is not about the clothing. Rather, the clothing is a conduit of expression – about our very essential, inner natures. Doesn’t it make sense to say positive, empowering things?
A famous Russian tennis player was once the butt of a locker room prank when his new ‘friends’ educated him with a few phrases in English to help him get by. When he thought he was asking, “Where is the men’s toilet” the words he’d been taught were more on the order of “I need to s**t, which way is the G**damn crapper?” As he became more fluent in English he didn’t appreciate the humor.
In the crossdressing ‘community’ there are many who start out the same way, attempting to communicate in a language they don’t really speak. Little wonder they don’t get much in the way of tolerance; they have made themselves (albeit unintentionally for the most part) intolerable, primarily from restating the messages they absorb from their less thoughtful sisters and from a sensational media that emphasizes the lowest common denominators.
It’s common sense that if we wish to earn respect, it’s a good idea to appear respectable. Our culture, while uncomfortable with nonstandard gender expression, is waaaaaaaaay more uneasy about things deemed overtly sexual. Thus, when crossdressers openly display as clueless Barbies, truckstop trannies, or BDSM submissives it’s understandable why the public at large react as they do. A natal female attired in the same manner would generate a similar reaction. Get a clue! As it harms no other, do as you will – behind bedroom doors, and keep them closed please.
At a recent Eureka En Femme Getaway it was an uphill battle with one middle-aged CD. When asked why she favored miniskirts and CFM strappy platform shoes she replied, “My legs are my best asset.” To which I replied, “Your legs are writing checks that your face and waistline can’t cash.” Her rejoinder was, “I don’t care – people will just have to deal with it.” Sure, a chip-on-my-shoulder attitude will win tolerance every time. Where is a good cluebat when you need one?
I finally got through to her by opening a side door; vanity. She was out on the street the next morning, blissfully displaying her butt cheeks to everyone in her aft quarter, when I walked up to her and in a conspiratorial whisper said, “One word – ‘cellulite’.” That afternoon, she was wearing trousers.
Just as with any language, there are blessings and curses; bold proclamations and subtle suggestions; the vulgar and the tasteful; the shout and the whisper; the symphony and the grunge. It’s helpful to keep in mind that we master a language through practice, total immersion, feedback, trial, and error. The kind of feedback we receive in an echo chamber (‘support’ groups, ‘trans friendly’ venues, and TG social circles) isn’t nearly as helpful as that which we gain by expressing among the culture at large.
Thus, my advocacy for open crossdressing.
2. I love that you think of your wife as one of our best supports vis a vis being a CD. Why do you think so many CDs hide their CDing from their wives?
Shame, fear, guilt, denial, and blind, unexamined acceptance of cultural prejudice. Tempered by a childhood laden with labels such as pervert, sissy, and faggot. Augmented with well-meaning but ultimately disempowering ‘diagnosis’ from establishment shrinks who would add disordered, dysphoric, and dysfunctional.
After half a lifetime of being regarded as beneath contempt, is it any wonder we avoid confronting our demons out of the hope that they will vanish as the vows are exchanged?
Marriage is our culture’s tested-by-time method for assuring a nurturing environment for raising children, for gaining financial security through sharing of resources, and for providing mutual emotional and spiritual support. If a marriage partner were to suffer a debilitating injury, it is expected that the partner will be there to carry the weight. Good marriages ‘talk things through’, whether it’s the color of the new car, the next baby’s name, or moving to a neighborhood with better schools.
That’s why it’s so puzzling why CDs don’t turn to the best possible source of support available. If a CD goes to his wife and says, “I have testicular cancer…” the response is likely to be, “What can *we* do? How can *we* get through this together.” Such a case is treated as a challenge to the marriage and a mutual concern. So how is crossdressing any different?
Primarily, it’s because – way down deep – we still believe that those terrible, awful things we’ve heard about crossdressers just might be true. We haven’t shaken the negative matrix of disempowerment that culture has dumped on us. Until we get our own heads clear, our minds fully embracing new perspectives that explain without sounding like excusing, trying to relate our fears and concerns to others is exponentially more difficult.
I have counseled scores of married CDs and, so far, not a one has failed in coming out to an unsuspecting wife in a successful way, provided:
- 1. Do you have a real marriage? If love, communication, trust, and mutual respect are present then success is guaranteed. No one said it will be easy. However marriages face all sorts of challenges and most end up making the marriage stronger. A crossdressing husband is fairly benign compared to bankruptcy, the death of a child, or the specter of cervical cancer.
- 2. Can the inevitable breach of trust be repaired? Of course it can. The necessary requirements are empathy, patience, effort, and a desire for a successful outcome. And knowledge. Not the kind you’ll pick up from whining, complaining, bitching ‘friends’ in CD groups, by the way. Most of them derive comfort only in shared misery. There are thousands who will tell you that you can’t. They are half right; *they* can’t. Especially when they cop to all the justifying pathologies, fears of change, and minimum expectations.
- 3. Are you willing to make adjustments for the good of your marriage? Certainly for a wife to tolerate and accept a TG husband, some changes on her part will be helpful in advancing things along. Is she the only one who is expected to modify? If your sole reaction to being shown marital tolerance is to declare your intention to live happily ever after in girl clothes, perhaps your wife *is* better off without you. Marriage involves compromise. It’s important to arrive at a point of accord that provides comfort for both partners.
In my book, “7 Secrets of Successful Crossdressers”, the longest chapter covers coming out to wife and family. The basic ‘secret’ is quite simple: “Darling, I need your help.” This simple statement invokes the contract of trust, support, and counsel that is inherent in every true marriage. The rest is honesty, communication, and love.
My wife Tara and I have been married for 36 years – going on forever. Were it not for her, I wouldn’t be involved in TG advocacy at all. Not only has she helped me by encouraging, cheerleading, and comforting, but also her woman’s perspective has been priceless in finding my place in this universe in general and this culture in particular. It was she who insisted I ‘walk the walk’ as a living, breathing billboard of self acceptance – and she was 100% on the money! As an open crossdresser the burdens of social shame have melted away; the tyranny of lowered expectations no longer limits my choices; the dread of discovery no longer nags at my consciousness or drains my energy.
Because of her love and limitless patience that helped me cast off the pallor of what culture insisted I must be and choosing to define myself in a more empowering manner, I am happier now than ever before.
3. You’ve been accused of only being in favor of “the right kind of CD.” Do you feel that’s a fair criticicism?
Frankly, I’m sick and tired of the bottom of the gene pool defining for the rest of culture who I must be. It’s more than disappointing that there are those who are so selfish that they have no regard how their behavior or appearance affect the vast majority of still-closeted CDs and the culture in which they would emerge and benefit. So in defiance of the multi-culti, Kumbaya, can’t-we-all-just-get-along, moral relativism that every value is equal and therefore not open to criticism attitude so common within our ‘community’, I’m often the one speaking out saying, “Those people do not represent *me*!”
Frankly, I’m weary of having to explain that I’m not a gay drag queen, not looking for casual sex, not a woman living in a male body, and not a psychologically dysfunctional SSRI depository. So I get a little testy when I see those who regard themselves as having little left to lose setting a derogatory standard for the rest of us. The clueless I can excuse; they can be brought up to speed. The intentionally obtuse or ideologically motivated (clue: listen for “should”, “ought”, and “must”) are better ignored, avoided, or effectively contradicted.
If ever TGs are going to gain cultural tolerance and respect, it is up to us – the TGs – to tell the outlandish and disrespectful among us to cover it up, stop acting out, and try behaving as if you were worthy of being well regarded. Because in the end, all of us must find a way to exist *within* this culture – it’s the only one we have. Either we can be regarded as outsiders trying to force changes on everyone (good luck!), or insiders working to encourage reasonable accommodation.
On the outside there are no strings to pull, levers of power to manipulate, or effective remedies to those issues of concern. As outsiders our efforts generate pushback and resistance. If we can manage to work within the culture, no longer perceived as a threat, we have access to many more resources and options.
4. I know you’re not big on “identity politics.” How do you think CDs and other Ts might win legal protections and societal acceptance without them?
Generals are notorious for preparing to fight the previous war. Activists are no different. Most are still attached to methods and tactics from the social clashes of the 1960s. Our culture has evolved since then; this ain’t your mother’s society any more. Yet they persist in agitating from the outside, making demands, offering appeals for sympathy, and seeking status as victims who are due some sort of accommodation.
Well, I have no problem with them doing what they’ve always done. It’s their anticipation of a different outcome from those efforts that puzzles me. The amount of meaningful change they’ve accomplished is staggering, isn’t it? (Tongue firmly in cheek.)
Frankly, the public is weary of it. Since it’s obvious that our society’s pendulum is shifting toward the conservative (with few exceptions liberals cannot successfully stand for office *as* liberals), it’s a no-brainer to consider an approach that doesn’t automatically generate conservative kneejerk rejection. Conservatives are in the majority and will remain so for some time to come. The old war plans are obsolete. Indeed, the concept of war, battle, and confrontation may be a paradigm ready for burial.
I understand this because I *am* conservative. Gasp! When you know what ticks ’em off, what floats their boats, and how to make advances among them (as opposed to ‘over’ or ‘around’ or ‘despite’ them), my approach makes a lot of sense. Realistically, where is all the perceived resistance? It doesn’t come from within the political left; they are already on board. It stands to reason, therefore, that if any progress is to be made, it won’t be done by expecting the opposition to compromise on their deeply cherished values.
Instead, it will come from redefining *us* in a manner that is non-threatening to the vast majority of those who are not in our camp at present. Enlightenment. Understanding. Knowledge. It works every time. But only if we can engage *open* minds. A really good way to keep minds open is to avoid doing the things that close them! Personal outreach. One on one. We have the numbers to make a difference that way; we simply lack the focus, initiative, and example.
We, as a group, already know that TGs are both misunderstood and essentially benign. Now it’s time to encourage the rest of culture to acquire a similar outlook. We do that by being the change we wish to see. By modeling the behavior and tolerance toward others that we expect in return. By first regarding ourselves as worthy, then communicating that worthiness to an indifferent culture and assisting them to discover that which most of us already know. We’re just people, too.
5. What is the most satisfying part of being a visible CD?
When I forget I’m crossdressing. When I have conversations with strangers and the discussion is not about gender. When others sense in me a personal place of comfort and therefore don’t even think about the fact that I’m biologically (and obviously) male but relate to me as they would any other person – not necessarily as ‘woman’ but it’s especially nice when they do.
Crossdressing is a wonderful way of reinforcing those attributes of personality that have long been kept out of view; unacknowledged; suppressed. The idea of freely expressing my femininity without embarrassment, guilt, or shame is invigorating. As well, the absence of any need to lie, deceive, or make excuses is heady stuff, too. The peace of mind that comes from knowing that I no longer feel it’s necessary to push people away lest they get close enough to hurt.
At the same time, the extrovert, entertainer, and advocate within me are delighted when I encounter strangers who start with ‘the look’ and end with hugs and handshakes. It’s sort of a mixed blessing. I am certainly proud of who I am and the emancipated, positive attitude I carry. I don’t wear a sign saying, “Ask me” but sometimes I might as well. Because an open crossdreser – a man in a dress – is going to be the focus of attention some of the time. The question then becomes, “Do I allow others’ misperceptions to go uncorrected, especially when the opportunity for personal outreach is offering itself?” Or am I obligated to once again serve as a smiling, confident, cheerful, unapologetic representative of transgender?
I don’t want to be ‘on’ at all times but understand that is the price I pay (or the privilege I accept) in return for free and open expression.
5a The worst part?
Surprisingly (or not so, when you think about it) most of the grief I get is from other TGs. It’s amazing how a happy, well adjusted, and self-accepting CD can be so threatening to other TGs. Perhaps it’s because I am the living, breathing evidence that so much in which they have invested belief (excuses, justifications, diagnoses, etc.) might be unnecessary. When people have built their barriers and nestled into their comfortable closets, along comes Lacey to demonstrate that those barriers also keep *us* in. Folks have consoled themselves that they must remain out of sight, things will be terrible if they are open – murder, mayhem and malevolence await – and I show them that it just ain’t so. No wonder I’m the target of their ire. I’ve rocked their comfy boats and challenged their rationalizations. Those who question the status quo aren’t always the most popular.
- Fortunately, I’ve learned to use triage. There are three kinds of people:
- 1. Those who ‘get it’, that they are the only ones with the motive, means, and mechanics for improving their lives. And then do what it takes.
- 2. Those who are capable of ‘getting it’.
- 3. Those who will never ‘get it’, forever condemned to a life of whining, bitching, complaining, waiting for changes to occur, afraid to step out of their comfort zones, and hostile to the first two types who ignore their communal negativity.
I choose to invest time, treasure, and talent with the first two. If someone wishes to be or remain a #3 they will do it elsewhere, anywhere that will prevent them from infecting me or others with their defeatism. I steer clear of the energy vampires, those clawing crabs-in-buckets that pull those climbing for the rim and freedom back down into their shared adversity.
The next worst part is the maintenance. I’d rather sleep the extra hour in the morning.
Anything else you’d like to add?
These past ten years, since I have decided to live openly, proudly, and eagerly working to *earn* culture’s respect, have been simply incredible. No longer wasting time, emotions or resources on building walls, seeking justifications, or placing blame, I have redirected that formerly squandered energy in a far more productive direction and life has finally lived up to its promise and I to my potential. It doesn’t get any better.