Drag Artists Vs Crossdressers Vs Transgender People : Not As Similar As One Might Think!
The Trans Umbrella is an umbrella term for people who don’t primarily identify with the gender and/or the sex they were assigned at birth which includes binary trans like trans man and woman; and non-binary trans such as gender-fluid, agender, gender-queer, non-binary and many more. Although even after being categorised like that, some part of the LGBTQIA+ community are commonly intermixed and confused to be the same.
Today, we are going to discuss how trans people, drag artists and people who cross-dress are different and not similar as people seem to think. It is very important to share awareness about the differences between drag artists, crossdressers and trans people and only use the term preferred by the individual. The distinction between these really helps trans advocates and the future generation with the nuances of trans identity since not every trans person is the same.
The term “drag” came to be commonly known in 1870 when theatre started to have more actors wear opposite gender’s clothes. Dressing in drag is an over the top way to dress up either in clothes that are different from their gender identity or just an extravagant version of themselves with heavy makeup and eye-catching outfits with wigs and jewelry. Drag is considered a performance art and often linked to the gay community. Even though many drag artists are from the community, it is not a necessity and one can perform in drag just because they enjoy the aspect of the drag, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation.
“We’re all born naked and the rest is drag”, this quote is by the one and only RuPaul, the one who made drag mainstream. The quote doesn’t mean to invalidate the idea and the importance of gender identity but focuses on personal freedom on how to express your charisma, uniqueness and talent without fear of judgement. Drag is a vibrant way to present yourself and perform; it’s perfect for the people who live for the stage, glamour and the attention.
Myths about Drag Community
There are a lot of myths regarding the drag community that are debunked alongside here. –
- They are considered gay automatically just for performing in drag, even though being a drag artist has nothing to do with someone’s sexual orientation.
- They secretly just want to be the opposite gender; some may be trans or trans-curious but drag is more about self-expression and exploring their personas.
- They are “lesser men” in case of drag queens, but it takes way more confidence to be able to express yourself despite the moral policing of the society.
- Anyone can be a drag artist and they only do it for the money; it’s a challenging art to master and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It is still a rare thing to be able to live off only doing drag performances. Many have other jobs to make money and do drag for their passion towards it.
Drag culture nowadays is more accepted and appreciated in the world and is all about personas, gender-crossing and characterising with the help of flamboyant dresses and makeup. The Indian Drag scene today is filled with many talented people such as Rani KoHEnur, Betta Naan Stop, Shabnam Be-wa-fa, Mx. Stallion, Durga “Shakti” and many more who deserve more recognition and support.
The phrase “cross-dresser” itself walks a blurred line as the term itself doesn’t really define the aspects of it and lifestyle of the people that do “cross-dress”. While drag is more about dressing up over the top for the public’s admiration, cross-dressing is a more private and personal lifestyle choice. Cross dressing has been practised for thousands of years in the Native American Tribes, Egyptians, Aztecs, Incas, South-East Asians and Indians. Transvestite is an old-fashioned term for crossdressers which is widely considered to be offensive. Gender identity is a big part of how we dress the way we do. We are going to talk about the feminine side of cross-dressing in this blog since it’s not as taboo anymore for afar people to cross-dress in their day to day life.
Some cross-dress and go out in public so they can feel what it is like to be a woman and blend in the world whereas some cross-dress in private to be comfortable and in a safe space. Most cross-dressers do not live or want to live in feminine clothes full time or want to undergo any surgical intervention to change their body permanently or are just trying to discover parts of their gender identity. They want to be themselves and express their femininity and blend in the world, feeling normal in their own skin which is a large part of the desire to want to cross-dress in the first place unlike drag which is all about wanting eyes on their glamorous selves while they are performing.
Myths about Cross-Dressers
There are also countless myths regarding the cross-dressing community which are also debunked alongside here –
- They are basically homosexual people; it’s actually on the contrary and like before, sexual orientation has nothing to do with how you express yourself clothing-wise.
- It’s a mental illness and has a cure. It’s a very backward way of thinking and there’s no need to cure a person from their need to be themselves.
- It’s a choice and they are just trying to trick people. The need to express your truest self can’t possibly be turned on and off and they have no intention to trick anyone.
- They are perverts; this is the most damaging myth of them all and it is pretty clear that they are not. Although, we are going to talk about this furthermore as some people do dress up in the opposite gender’s clothes due to a fetish they may have.
Autogynephilia is defined as a person’s tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought of themselves as a woman. It is also known as “Transvestic fetishism” which is a very common fetish, way more than people would think and they just confuse this with cross-dressing and put everything together even if it doesn’t make sense.
Some people who have this fetish might like dressing in entirely feminine clothes, whereas others might just wear feminine underwear beneath their standard masculine attire. They can also either get turned on by other people dressed in feminine clothes, or be turned on by themselves wearing feminine clothes. Some are also turned on by the wrongness of the concept of gender crossing and chasing the thrill of it with the risk of being caught and face embarrassment. These are examples of the sexually driven side of cross dressing.
Cross-dressers and transgender people
Since we are talking about feminine cross-dressing done by people who identify and express themselves as men since it is rarely done by people who identify and express themselves as women possibly because they have far more social freedom when it comes to choosing masculine clothes, we are going to go deep into the emotional aspect of cross-dressing. Transwomen usually start their self-discovery journey with cross-dressing to feel more comfortable. The objective is to be treated as a woman, rather than merely appear as one. Trans curious cross-dressers may or may not be heterosexual. They just wonder and want to discover how it feels to be treated like a woman.
Trans women’s experiences are very different because they can’t just put down their womanhood at the end of the day by taking off their feminine clothes and makeup like some cross-dressers can. Gender Dysphoria i.e, clinical diagnosis for being trans is an experience of constant distress about one’s internal identity that conflicts with their body. All crossdressers do not feel this way since not all of them are trans people. It is a fairly extensive process to live their lives as the woman that they are in this society which includes HRT, legal name changes, ID changes, psychiatric counselling, social transition and sometimes surgery.
Myths about Transgender people
There are a lot of myths regarding transgender people as well which need to be debunked –
- Their sexual orientation is linked to gender identity as in gay men turn into transwoman in order to be straight, but the thing is that the transwoman can be gay, straight, bisexual, asexual regardless of that since they are not linked to each other.
- Children aren’t old enough to know about transness; though kids know about their gender ever since they can remember and they would definitely know if something didn’t feel right about their bodies, it’s our job to listen, educate and understand these kids.
- All trans people medically transition and it is as simple as getting one surgery, not all do for various reasons like the surgeries being not as accessible, financial issues, not suitable for it, just not interested, etc. One can have many gender-affirming surgeries which have extremely long recovery periods to feel comfortable in their own skin and fit in the society better.
- They make up for the third gender, trans is an umbrella term that includes people who do not identify with binary genders and those who do identify with it, do not need a separate gender category for them since transwomen are women and transmen are men.
Since the label of cross-dresser is vague and confusing and not everyone wants to identify with it in general because of the stigma around it, we decided to ask Selina Fantasy (they/she/he) who necessarily doesn’t relate to the term “cross dresser” because they think it’s pointless to assign clothing gender but do understand that they fit the general definition of cross-dresser about their opinion on how cross-dressing affects people’s lifestyle, from a seasoned perspective.
Q. I wanted to know your opinion on whether you think cross-dressing helps people find their identities more? For example, can it be a gateway to figuring out how cross dressing helps or affects their lifestyle, like some people may find that they are trans, or they might want to do drag performances or if it’s a fetish or they simply feel comfortable being in clothes that are different from their gender expression?
Selina : Oh yeah absolutely. So part of it is the taboo feeling right? Like even completely cis het people get a kick out of it when it’s an occasion. And for trans people it’s pretty much a rite of passage. People are afraid to try it for fear of what they might find. I know I was afraid to even attempt it for a very long time because it would mean having to answer questions about myself. Once I realised how damaging that fear of self was, I was quickly able to access a sense of peace and contentment that I’d never known. It took me a year to stop having panic attacks and another year to feel comfortable around friends and not to worry about people finding out. Today I’m pretty open about being nonbinary anywhere outside my hometown and I’ve put to rest all the feelings of anxiety and depression that pretty much crippled me my entire life.
Here’s the weird part. Once I went through that whole process, the desire to dress up has actually disappeared. Like now if I envision my ideal self or if I want to look really good for an occasion, that vision is absolutely female. But on a day to day basis, I present male, and am quite comfortable doing so. A large part of that is just the effort that goes into dressing up and having to gird yourself for what the unknown might throw at you. But the process of figuring myself out – who I am and what I want – absolutely required putting on that first dress.
Moral Policing Norms
Since we talked a lot about people not being able to express themselves as their truest self because of society, we are going to talk about the moral policing that is prevalent in this world. Moral policing is a blanket term for vigilante groups that act to enforce a code of morality set by religious belief, cultural and law practices. It prevents and discourages people from having the independence to actively live their lives according to what they identify with, rather than the restricted norm of gender norms and expectations. Due to this moral policing, the LGBTQIA+ community faces extreme consequences and their basic right to life and liberty has been threatened and continues to be the case. We have an article on moral policing in India that could help in understanding this in depth.
Whether you choose to keep to yourself when dressing up or get on a stage to let everyone see the Queen/King you are, we should all take pride in following our hearts and letting our true selves be who they need to be. Whether you are trying cross-dressing to satisfy your curiosity or start a self-discovery journey, either way it is a brave step to take because even with acceptance from a support system, some might still find it hard to look past the prejudice and stereotypes regarding gender roles and sexuality in general. Although the social stigma is typically not many people being accepting of transgender people or cross-dressers, the media is starting to portray them in a more positive light. It definitely can be an eye opening experience to label yourself or not label yourself and live your life the way you want. It helps to have a more open and understanding mindset to what others may have to deal with when supporting someone who is going through this dilemma.
Cover Illustration: The Kathmandu Post