Through the Looking Glass, Column 15

What Crossdressers Want to Know Part 2—continued:
What Can We Learn From Gay People?

Welcome back to my series on the most common questions I hear from crossdressers. Now keep in mind, folks, that though I’m a highly qualified psychiatrist/crossdresser, I am Alice Novic, after all, and I’m not always going to give you the answers you expect to hear—or want to hear, or what your wife wants to hear, or what your brave transsexual friend wants to hear, n’est-ce pas? What I will offer you is compassion and my best attempt at accuracy.

Last month’s question was Am I gay? And my answer was No, your not. But you’re not exactly straight either. Today I’d like to answer a related question. It’s not one the more common ones I hear, but it’s one of the smarter ones: What can we learn from gay people?

Though we love-be-femme (started-out-straight) TGs are rather distinct from gay men, they’re far more numerous and decades ahead of us in their fight for freedom. Though it’s no longer the novel idea I first tuned in to in the early 90s, we can learn a great deal by comparing ourselves to gay men, or more precisely transsexuals are like gay men and crossdressers are like bisexuals. In fact, the transsexuals who lobby for us in Washington are passionate about this and are battling hard to keep us Ts among the GLB people protected by the pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Though few of us crossdressers are out to our co-workers or look obviously transgendered in the workplace, we still can benefit immensely from the path that gay people have blazed. They as a group have gone from seeing their sexuality the way 1950s society did, a failing, an embarrassment, a curse, to their own fresh vision of it as a natural pleasure and special form of love. Nearly all of us started-out-straight-TGs begin with a horrid view of ourselves and need to forge a new self-image if we are to stand as tall and proud as our gay friends. I personally see my being a TG as a special joy, a fresh perspective, and a colorful—though at times awkward—piece of biodiversity.

Yet, some of us seem to be taking this analogy too far. Just like the naïve notion that there are only proud, open gay men and fearful closet-cases, many transsexual women think that transition-and-surgery is the only true-blue way to go and that all other MTFs (i.e. crossdressers) are clinging to male privilege and traditional family life. I think that’s a bit harsh because living as a transsexual these days is not like living as a gay man. A gay man who comes out is embraced by potential partners and rarely has to worry about his job or future prospects. An MTF, though, who transitions best be prepared to live alone and to fight for respect in the workplace, and be pleasantly surprised to learn different.

So you see, transitioning is not the equivalent of coming out as a gay man. It’s not like “If you only had the guts, this is what you should do.” It’s more like “Weigh your options on both sides and see how it goes.” Perhaps that was what it was like for gay men in the intolerant 1950s, when whether to be an out homosexual vs. a married bisexual was a near toss-up and equally-able people walked both paths.

Clearly things will get better, as more and more MTFs choose to transition, push for legal reforms, and show the people they touch that transsexuals make the same if not better professionals and family members they made while in male form. As our gay friends have known for decades, the most important political act you can make is being authentic and coming out to people one on one as it becomes relevant. The fact that practically everybody in America now knows at least one gay person accounts for the tolerance of the 2000s.

So should all we MTFs be true to ourselves, transition, and be open about being TG—even if we ended up looking perfectly GG? It would be good for the cause. Well, gay folks have faced this question too and feel pretty strongly that no one should live for the cause. Though most people will be happier with each step they take toward authenticity, every man and woman should make personal decisions based on the particulars of their romantic, familial, and economic situations. Ultimately the cause must depend on a myriad of individuals making sensible decisions for themselves rather than heroic acts of self-sacrifice.

Finally what about the crossdresser part of this CD-is-to-bi-as-TS-is-to-gay analogy? Based on my patients and colleagues, I haven’t really run into any bi men at least (I’m not as familiar with bi women) who seem altogether different from gay men. They seem to be part of the same rapier-wit, passion-for-fashion phenomenon as gay men; they’ve just chosen to get married and to express their gayness on the side. For that matter, nearly half the gay men I’ve come across are sexually capable with women; they simply prefer men.

Although it’s extremely useful for us crossdressers and started-out-straight transsexuals to distance ourselves from each other, are we really so different? Aren’t we all part of that not-naturally-effeminate-but-love-be-female phenomenon? As they mature, most gay and bi men learn to recognize and respect their brothers. Can’t we learn to do the same? Can’t we transsexuals respect our crossdressing sisters? And can’t we crossdressers see TSs and know that their struggle is ours.

Life’s rich, complex, and full of possibilities. Be careful and enjoy!

Alice Novic, M.D.

To learn more about me than you’d ever dare to ask, please see my smart, sexy memoir, Alice in Genderland: A Crossdresser Comes of Age.

Also, if you wish to eMail Alice with Questions, Comments or Topics for Future Through the Looking Glass Articles, feel free to send her an eMail at or to Post any Comments below.