Ep 234: Transvestism – Is It Normal? What Is Normal Anyway?

MichaelDisorders, Gender/Sexuality8 Comments

Transvestism - normal?

Transvestism - normal?A small number of men cross dress and many movies and broadway shows feature cross dressers (often referred to as tansvestism), so obviously many people find it fascinating and those who cross dress typically enjoy it. Why? What does it mean about the people who do it? I was recently cast as Albin/ZaZa in the musical version of the movie “La Cage Aux Folles” so I’ve been doing a lot it recently. I decided to take a closer look at cross dressing and see what psychologists think about it. Along the way, I’ll also look at some of the ways we determine how or if a behavior, thought or feeling is “abnormal”


Here are my notes for this episode in concept map form: Transvestism

Resources on Transvestism


Sex Blogs by Experts

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8 Comments on “Ep 234: Transvestism – Is It Normal? What Is Normal Anyway?”

  1. When this article appeared in my RSS feed, the headline said “Tansvestism”.
    I thought that must involve men lying on the beach in women’s swimwear…..

  2. I’m a regular listener of The Psych Files, and have a particular interest in this episode. I’m a trans woman, in transition, who used to consider myself to be a crossdresser. It’s often a longer self-discovery process with us 40+ trans folk, or as I often refer to it as “peeling the onion layers”, the “onion” representing the complex (and often very toxic) social conditioning that we’re all subjected to by society.

    I’m a member of the Gay Alliance Speakers Bureau that offers educational talks to people, communities, organizations and staff about lgbtq realities.

    Thank you for exploring this topic in your podcast. It was well explained and very informative. One thing I wanted to bring up, that may or may not be well documented out there, is the fact that the word “transvestite” has fallen out of favor. It’s considered a disparaging term. The term “crossdresser” (often spelled as two separate words) is the preferred term for men, who identify as men, who wear women’s clothing (in full, or just some garments, etc.). Terminology changes over time and “transvestite” has become a very negative and undesirable word. I would compare it to referring to an African American person as “colored”. “Transsexual” is also falling out of favor, and the term is mostly only used by trans people around 50ish or older. Younger trans people may even take offense to the word “transsexual”. The preferred terms are “trans woman” for those who identify as female, and “trans man” for those who identify as male.

    When explaining the terminology associated with the great diversity within the transgender population (which crossdressing falls under the “transgender umbrella”), I like to draw people’s attention to the fact that *all* words are subject to change over time, and not those associated with lgbtq people. The example I often use is the word “intercourse”. I’ll ask someone to explain to me what the definition of the word is. As you can probably guess, “sex” is often the answer, and that is what it’s morphed into meaning in modern times. The not-too-long-ago textbook definition of the word had nothing to do with sex. “Intercourse” has become the *modern* shortening of “sexual intercourse”.

    Thank you again for exploring this often confusing (to many) topic. People often fear what they don’t understand, and attack what they fear. In an enlightened world, there will be nothing left to fear, and people, human beings, will be free to be who they are, without being demonized for this, that and the other thing, by other groups of people. It won’t be a perfect world, just a much healthier, happier world.

    Namaste

  3. Gabrielle, thank you so much for your comment. I had read somewhere that the word “transvestite” was out of favor but I used it because, well, I guess I’m old school and because the term appears in the DSM5. I’ll be sure to not use it in casual conversation. In one part of La Cage Aux Folles, Albin refers to himself as a transvestite, but the show was written in the ’80s. Your analogy to the use of the term “colored” really makes sense.

    I had no idea that “transsexual” is also falling out of favor. Are you worried at all that people will become confused by all various terms – and now the new terms like “trans woman/man”?

  4. Good catch AJ. Yes, I forgot the r in transvestite when I first published the episode and then fixed it quickly. Apparently not quickly enough.

  5. Michael, that’s a great question. The growing, constantly evolving terminology *can* be confusing for people, even those of us who are trans and/or work to educate about such aspects of humanity. The short answer is no, I’m not worried about people being confused by it, but it’s complex and there are many potential friction points.

    SafeZone Training, one of a few programs I’m involved with, is focused on educating about lgbtq realities, explaining the growing and constantly evolving terminology involved, and offer atendees a better understanding of how to create and foster a safe, welcoming and supportive environment for lgbtq people. Most of the attendees have personally chosen to there because they *want* to be; they want to make a positive difference and genuinely just want to see people do they best they can in life.

    Some of the attendees are there because it’s required training material for a position they hold at work, or are seeking. Sometimes they are resistant to what they’re presented with. The growing, changing list of lgbtq terminology is often a frustration point.

    It’s my opinion that those who challenge, are resistant to learning, and taking seriously, the extensive list of lgbtq respectful terminology, are generally more resistant to learning about (new to them) aspects of humanity they simply don’t want to allow into their understanding or acknowledge as “normal”. If you remove lgbtq from the picture, terminology is always evolving and changing, anyway. Whether it’s respectful ways of referring to different races, groups of people or even commonly used every-day vernacular, new terms are popping up while existing terms are changing, being updated, some falling out of favor for others, etc.

    It is my opinion that some people just don’t like new things being (what they perceive as) “forced” into their field of view.

    For those who have grown up with “straight privelge”, never having been disparaged, demonized, or faced harm because of their state of being, it’s understandable how they may be confused by and resistant to all the new terms. They have no personal experiences with which to compare, and may not grasp the importance of extending what amounts to basic human respect and dignity for those who are different than they are.

    Even I have trouble keeping up with the terms and sometimes get confused. There’s so much diversity just with the “t” of the lgbtq, it can be challenging to keep up with. I learn about new variants of transgender people frequently, and sometimes I use the wrong terms myself. It’s fairly common within the trans community. Some take great offense to terminology “missteps” and others don’t mind, so long as there was no offense intended and it becomes a learning/sharing opportunity.

    Some terms that used to be considered offensive are now coming back into favor, mostly with the younger generation. The word “queer”, which used to be a disparaging term for gay people, is now often used as a term of empowerment. A growing number of people are using it as a general “I’m not straight” term, which can mean a variety of things, not just having to do with sexual orientation. In this case, ambiguity is preferred, allowing people who use the term to *not* be ridgedly defined by others.

    I often use humor and poke a little fun about the whole “lbgtqia alphabet soup” when speaking publicly. To simplify things, whatever letter of the lgbtqia… people identify as, or not, there is one letter we all have in common – the most important letter: “h”. We’re *all* human beings and as such, have so much more in common than we do differences.

    If/when one is uncertain how to address or refer to someone, we teach people to mirror the terminology that people are using to refer to themselves (because different people will prefer different terms), or just ask. Most of the time, asking how people identify and/or want to be addressed is seen as a welcome show of respect, and people are grateful for that, myself included. Point being, it’s nothing for anyone to get stressed about or frustrated with, as in, “What if I say the wrong thing?” Don’t stress, just ask.

    Confusion and frustration about terminology also seems to be age related to an extent. Younger people tend to be fine with other people just being who they are, regardless of the applicable terms. They learn the terms, and just go with the flow. It’s often older generations of people; the 40 or older crowd (I’m also in my 40’s), who express difficulty with the terminology *and* acceptance of differences represented there by.

    Again, if you take lgbtq out of the picture, it kind of mirrors what’s been going on for a long time. Older generations are more likely to be resistant to new things, whatever they may be, while younger generations grow up with information, technology and resources the older generations lacked, and tend to assimilate it into their lives with relative ease. I also think it is becoming more common for older generations to be more open-minded than in years past.

    I’m so very grateful for the opportunities to meet and work with amazing people of all ages, groups, backgrounds, etc., who want to learn more about the very diverse aspects of *humanity* so that they can help bring forth much needed positive change in the world.

    And thank you so much, Michael, for your fine podcast and allowing me the opportunity to share. 🙂

  6. Really interesting post Gabrielle. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Since I’m in my 50s, I grew up with the interpretation of “queer” as a negative thing, but I did notice that the term seems to be changing into a more positive word recently. I found this link for the the Gay Alliance Speakers Bureau (I’m listening/watching the video on that page now – you know, multitasking). What kinds of topics do you talk about?

  7. The video you’re referring to is the TEDX talk Noah gave this past summer. He’s very talented member of the Speakers Bureau whom I’ve had the honor of working with.

    SafeZone Training is a program that can be anywhere from 2 to 4 hours in length (depending on the time constraints of the company/entity seeking the training). The longer presentation times are preferred because it allows for more information to be covered, in greater depth, with more room for group discussions to take place. It’s an interactive progam with dedicated education points, but the atendees also steer their learning experience during discussions and participatory exercises.

    In short, during SafeZone training we discuss, and encourage atendees to explore, what it means to create a “safe zone” for lgbtq people. Vocabulary terms are taught in a group participation word definiton game. An educational video called “Transgender Basics” is shown (this is freely available on YouTube and offers some great insight into the life as a trans woman, trans man and gender queer). We chart out and explain the model of sexual identity (sexual orientation and gender identity), some of which is also explored in the Transgender Basics video, although we get into more depth and even map out where we, the presenters, fall within each of the spectrum categories and encourage attendees to do the same). The “Cass Model” of coming out is another one of the group participation exercises that teaches general phases lgbtq people may go through in figuring out who they are, and coming out to others. The “scenario walk” explores people’s comfort level in addressing, and positive/helpful ways to address negative sentiments of others (such as when people say things like, “That’s so gay!”, referrring to something being undesirable). Ways of creating an inclusive, welcoming campus, business, community are explored in group discussions.

    That’s the “short answer” in regard to topics covered during SafeZone Training. The exercises, group participation activities and materials are often met with many questions, great discussions, and allow atendees to literally explore what they find most meaningful, interesting, helpful, etc. It’s can be difficult to get all of the planned materials in within the time alloted because there is so much to cover and almost every teaching point, exercise, and activity leads to some really great, in-depth conversations. I’ll be co-facilitating a SafeZone training this Friday at MCC College, for a group of RA’s.

    The Gay Alliance “Train the Trainer” program (also listed on the second link you posted), designed to empower others to become SafeZone Training facilitators for their organizations, has been growing in popularity and is offered nationally (and getting great feedback from atendees).

    We also offer lgbtq panels (and trans-specific panels) where Speakers Bureau members share personal stories and challenges and answer questions.

    Tomorrow (Thursday), another Speakers Bureau presenter and I will be at Pittsford High School, sharing our personal stories/experiences growing up as lqbtq people and allowing students to create their own learning experience by asking questions. They’re encouraged to literally ask us anything. I personally really enjoy presenting to teenagers because they’re not as “set in their ways” just yet, more likely to be open-minded, and still impressionable. It’s also a great way to show young people, experiencing arguably the harshest environment of their lives thus far (aka: high school culture), that it’s ok to be oneself, regardless of “social norms”, and how to rise above such things as “social policing”, bullying, etc.

    For me, it’s an honor and priveldge to work with the amazing and talented people of the Speakers Bureau and Gay Alliance, and have the opportunity to share, teach, discuss, learn, grow, open hearts and minds, touch lives, make a positive difference, offer hope and make new friends along the way. 🙂

  8. Hi, just wanted to correct you on a point:

    You say that a “transsexual” is “when you’re a man but you feel like you are a woman”.

    What you meant was, “when you’re a woman but with the primary sexual characteristics of a man”. Or vice-versa.

    Thanks.

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