Friday, 2 February 2007

Man I Feel Like A Woman !

What does it feel like to be a woman? This is a question that should be of profound importance to the TV community, although I have never seen it discussed in any depth. It may seem self-evident that, as a man, I simply cannot know what a woman feels. It may even be true that, as an individual, I can never truly know what any other individual feels. Yet it is commonplace to hear TVs talking about their 'female persona', their 'feminine side', or the woman 'inside them'. I don't want to deny that all these men feel something but how do they know it is anything like what a woman would feel? How do we even know that women feel differently to men?
What is going on here?

I think that a significant part of the pleasure of cross-dressing for me is that, in some strange way, it frees me to experience myself in a different way. I can be more sensual, more auto-erotic and I can feel things that I don't usually feel: like feeling feminine. The more I cross-dress, the more this experience of myself spills over into my 'drab' times but it is still strongly associated with the dressing. Is this experience anything like what a woman feels about herself? Is this even the same experience that other transvestites feel when they cross-dress?

In the end, I believe we can never know the answer. However, I believe that this feeling of femininity or of being a woman is very real and that it even has a certain validity. While a transvestite man can never really know what it feels like to be a woman, I believe there are some aspects of the experience of femininity that we can share. In particular, it is a sensation of being physically attractive as a woman that transvestites crave and seek, through cross-dressing, to achieve. It is the feeling of presenting to ourselves and the world as an attractive female that we call femininity and I want to argue that this limited way of experiencing the female condition is at the heart of what it is to be a transvestite and is also the source of much of the confusion about gender identity that afflicts us. To get to this conclusion, I’m afraid I will have to go all around the houses. However, if you’ll bear with me, I hope to bring you back here with some understanding of how I reached it.

If transvestites feel the same way that women feel, we would expect the way they describe their feelings to be similar. There are so many dimensions to this that it is hard to know where to start.

One of the most common self-reports from transvestites is that they feel so "feminine" when dressed. Do women report the same thing? I think they do - not so often perhaps and only when they are really dressed up in something special - but I have heard it often enough to believe it. So what do women mean by it and do transvestites mean the same thing?

Feeling "feminine" is not like feeling sexy, or handsome, or 'cool', or any of the other things a man normally feels when he dresses up in his own clothes. Probably the nearest feeling a man could have that is still more-or-less gender-appropriate would be to feel 'elegant' but this is still a long way from feminine.

Feeling feminine is a heady blend of feeling pretty, desirable, submissive, delicate, touchable. It is about seeing one's self as something that could be desired and cherished for its very vulnerability. About relishing and emphasising one's own attractiveness and desirability. It is also very much about having the physical attributes and appearance of a woman.

How do I know? Well, of course, I don't. I only know how I feel when I'm feeling feminine and that the way I describe it seems to coincide with how some women describe it.

Another very common self-report by transvestites is that they feel so much more "natural" when dressed. In reading such reports one can almost feel the sense of relief, the draining away of a pent-up tension as the female persona supplants the male. So we need to ask ourselves whether real women also feel 'natural' when dressed in gender-appropriate ways.

I think the answer to this is not very clear. Although there are clearly many women who are comfortable in feminine clothes, I have often heard women state that they feel more comfortable and more relaxed in traditionally masculine clothing. Some have also told me they feel very uncomfortable, exposed and even unpleasantly vulnerable in particularly 'dressy' outfits of the kind I would die for.

The situation is complicated. Personally, I regard the feeling of 'naturalness' that comes with cross-dressing as, at least partly, a feeling of relief and relaxation such as any addict feels when their craving is at last satisfied. The rest of the feeling is the reduction in the constant tension we experience between our true physical appearance and the appearance our instincts tell us we should have and which we can approximate when dressed.

If transvestites feel the same way that women feel, we would expect behaviours that reflect their inner states to be the same as those of women who feel the same way. There is, for example, lots of evidence in the psychological literature that women and men really do feel things differently. An example I saw recently was the finding that men cry less than women, that men cry for different reasons than women (more often crying with happiness than with sadness for instance) and that women have more reasons to stop crying than men (for example, through being comforted). Of course, such differences might be learnt rather than innate but that doesn't matter. The point is that, truly to feel like a woman, the transvestite would need to experience this different pattern of emotions. The fact is that we don’t.

I believe we cannot fully share the feeling of being a woman, not only because of the distinct differences in brain chemistry, hormonal make-up and physiology that nature handed us but also because of the very different lives that males and females experience. None of these things can be undone by dressing up and walking differently.

If you have read my earlier pieces, you will know that I believe that being a transvestite is fundamentally irrational - that is, there is no 'meaning' behind the desire, as the desire itself springs from basic brain structures. In some of us, the instinct to present ourselves as women has been inappropriately activated (or not suppressed). It is an instinct that causes women to like to feel ‘attractive’. The side-effect of which is that they attract mates. In men, it gives us an uncomfortable dissonance with our true appearance and drives us to correct it by cross-dressing. The unfortunate side-effect of this is that it can frequently drive away mates! I believe the main reason transvestitism feels so inexplicable to us and remains so inexplicable to science, is precisely its instinctive basis. (I was very taken with a quote, attributed to Mark Twain, that goes "I know why I like breasts but I don’t know why I like them so much." Some things are just wired into the brain to help us pick the right kind of mate so we reproduce effectively!)

I believe we have many drives or urges that are part of the physiology of our brains. They make us social animals, they make us eat, they lead to sex and reproduction. Yet we experience these instinctive drives. They are not entirely subconscious. We feel hunger, we feel sexual arousal, we feel loneliness. Some of these feelings are integral to our gender identities as men or women. The drive that makes me competitive with other men, the urges that make me ogle women who pass in the street, the instincts that drive me to copulate, are all part of my identity as a man. To present to the world as an attractive female is, likewise, part of a woman’s gender identity.

As transvestites, when we feel our inappropriate urge to present ourselves as an attractive female, we probably experience it in exactly the same way that women do—as something we—and they—would call femininity, or being attractive, or feeling like a woman. The fact that is only part of the full experience of being female escapes most of us and leads to confusions such as feeling that we are women "inside" while at the same time having primarily heterosexual desires. Yet, our presented sexual self is such a big part of a human being’s identity, it is quite understandable how the confusion arises. Couple such a dysphoric instinct with below-average masculine drives in other areas (half the world is below average by definition!) and it is easy to see how many men would feel they were meant to have been women really and that their masculinity is some kind of horrible mistake.

So I have come back to the conclusion, at last. It is the actual sensation of presenting to ourselves and the world as an attractive female that we call femininity and this limited way of experiencing the female condition is both at the heart of what it is to be a transvestite and also is the source of much of our confusion about gender identity.

I feel this to be of key importance to the whole experience of transvestitism and I hope you will share your own thoughts with me and the other readers of this website.


Anonymous said...

I think it's more than that. The urge to dress and present occurs in me when i see a pretty girl. It's a feminine competitive urge. I don't think it would matter what culture I was in - be it western dressed culture, or a primitive african culture where the women wear practically no clothes but decorate themselves.

I have a screen saver and when it shows certain pictures, i often feel a sudden urge. And note, that if you end your cross-dressing episodes with maturbation (which often results in the urge suddenly and completely disappearing), then you've essentially gone through a feminine mating cycle. dress up, attract a male, have sex, feel release. you just played the feminine role, start to finish.

if there are gender differences in erogenous zones (a questionable possibility), i wouldn't be surprised to find that cross-dressers have erogenous zones that are more like females than like males, so they respond to wearing feminine clothes, which are arguably much more sensual and tactile than male clothes.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am a woman and I'm with a transgender parterner and I feel like He is a she trapped in a male body. The brain of every individual is differant so who's to say that a man doesn't have the same thoughts and brain chemistry as a woman as well as the feelings and urges. Some may argue that these circumstances would classify some one as homosexual, but it acctualy doesn't.
Sexual arousal to and wanting to be the opposite gender are two completely differant things. I love being a woman and I am attracted to both sexes (which some say that bisexuality is false or is a choice are wrong.) Sexual orientation is most of the time genetic and if two straight people had a child there is the possibility for the atraction to males and females to occure (along with hetero and homosexuality).
Now, back to the original topic, Cross-dressers don't feel the same as a woman does completely. They feel it in a shallower form since they don't have the same estregin levels as a woman would, however transvestites do because the take estregin. So in a way transvestites feel more feminine or more like a woman than Cross dressers can.

altosphere said...

I found your blog post on this site:

Thank you for this blog post! It is the most informative piece on the TV phenomenon that I have yet found. I'm a student researching skirts in Western society. Now I see that I have been barking up the wrong tree! TV is really much more than the choice to wear cross-gender clothing.

Your analysis is fascinating. It's great to find something written from personal experience. I wonder, is there also a community of women dressing up as men, for similar reasons? It would be interesting to interview them and see if their experiences correlate with yours.

Sandra Lopes said...

While we cannot describe what another person "feels", we can certainly apply a behaviour analysis as a consequence of those feelings. And doing that it's quite easy to prove that a large number of crossdressers do, indeed, express the same range of emotions and feelings as women do, and much less of the range of emotions and feelings that males express.

Obviously every individual is different, and behaviour analysis only works on averages. My own wife, for instance, is far more aggressive and rational than most males I know — much more than me! — but she also loses her temper in a very feminine way :)

So it's complicated. I think that one can postulate the argument that some crossdressers do, indeed, express female feelings as analysed by their behaviour, but that this is not universal among all crossdressers. Nevertheless, RMI has shown that at least from the outside, the brain scans of certain types of male crossdressers — and certainly many MtF transgendered people — do, indeed, look similar to brain scans of genetic females, while being at odds with brain scans of genetic males without crossdressing urges. However, it's still early to say what is cause and what is effect; we already know how well our brain gets constantly re-wired by our own mind, so perhaps these studies are just showing that certain crossdressers, by wishing to feel like a woman, reflect on their brain scans similar activity patterns as women do. If that's the case, well, the brain scans would prove nothing except the extreme plasticity of the brain! But it's too early to say what interpretation is correct.