Transvestism as a Cultural Phenomenon and a Political Issue

Tony Curtis with Marilyn Monroe, “Some Like It Hot”

Richard Sahn 

Discussions and readings about social deviancy are exciting in the liberal arts college classroom. One example of deviant behavior in contemporary American society I always looked forward to discussing is trans-vesting. The word means cross-dressing, intentionally wearing the garments culturally designated for the opposite sex, a taboo violation depending on where you live.

In a hypothetical society where men and women are not socially or even legally restricted in what they can wear it would be impossible to cross dress or trans vest. In most Western countries today, it is very difficult if not impossible for women to cross dress. The reason should be obvious:  it is now acceptable for females to wear clothing, such as trousers, once meant only for males. On the other hand, in a Muslim culture or community a woman can, indeed, cross dress if she wears, say, coat and tie.  Transvestites like to argue that if a woman can wear “male” clothing why can’t men wear “female” garments?

I’m not a transvestite myself so how did I become invested in the subject and, more importantly, why am I such a fan of transvestism? It all started when I asked a friend of mine who knew a transvestite from New York City to invite someone he knew to speak to my sociology class when I was covering social deviance. At the end of the class where he spoke, I interviewed him on tape. According to Michael, the guest speaker, and to subsequent research I did on the subject, there are five psychologically significant reasons why men trans vest:

  1. Auto-eroticism: When a transvestite looks at himself in the mirror, he becomes physically attracted to himself. The image in the mirror is an alter-ego. Perhaps a masturbatory fantasy.  No dating service required. And no flowers.
  2. Benign rebelliousness: Cross-dressing is a type of rebellion against mainstream society.  The transvestite is a rebel with a cause.
  3. Attracting other males (the drag queen). Most transvestites are heterosexual, but a sub-category of cross-dressers are gay males who, while in drag, want to be with other males. And there is a sub-category of this sub-category, namely, gay transvestite males who desire other males in drag.
  4. Sociological envy: Getting more respect or attention appearing as a female. The cross-dresser may feel that he lives in community that is more concerned with the rights of girls and women than with boys and men. As comedian Rodney Dangerfield always used to say as part of his stand-up act, “I get no respect.” (Perhaps Rodney shouldhave become a transvestite.) 
  5. Finally, female impersonation by a male actor on stage, such as the old Milton Berle and Flip Wilson shows or Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in the movie, “Some Like it Hot.”

As a straight male I welcome the cross dresser. I want to live in a society, or at least a community, where LGBTQ+ is acceptable, maybe even encouraged. Frankly, I take delight in people who exhibit forms of unconventional behavior and desires which are harmless to the public. They are a relief from those who consistently conform to conventional dress code norms.  I simply feel freer, socially and even legally, to engage in unconventional behaviors and conversations.

Spare us from the xenophobes and haters in politics who would return us to the “respectable” conformist behaviors of other eras.

Clarifying Notes

A transvestite is not a transsexual. The latter is a person who literally changes physically, and to some extent, physiologically to the opposite sex—the so-called sex change operation. The transvestite male only identifies temporarily as a female and thus usually has no problem using restrooms designated for males. (Of course, he might have a problem if he is still dressed in drag with other males thinking he is female.)

Why do some people, notably men, fear transvestites? My guess is that they see the male in drag as a threat to their masculinity or male identity, especially if they have the slightest desire (perhaps on an unconscious level) to wear female garments.

What about legal rights for trans people? My position is that in any society people should be free from the fear of being abused for appearing the way they want to appear. Anyone who abuses another person for his/her/their appearance should be subject to fines or imprisonment.

Richard Sahn, a retired sociology professor, is an occasional contributor to Bracing Views.

13 thoughts on “Transvestism as a Cultural Phenomenon and a Political Issue

  1. Frankly, your piece is utter bollocks! All you’ve done is regurgitate the mainstream view. There’s no attempt at any kind of analysis of the roles of gender and sexuality in capitalist society, nor the role of money in the fad of transgenderism (meanwhile, real cases of sexual dimorphism disappear under a rain of propaganda, both for and against), let alone Patriarchy!

    I’m appalled by your ignorance. Perhaps you should just leave the subject alone to someone who knows better what they’re talking about?


    1. Could you provide more details and analysis, rather than simply attacking the author for his “ignorance”?

      The author wasn’t writing about transgenderism. He wrote about transvestism. You’re attacking the author for not writing the article you wanted him to write. He is well aware of controversies re: transgenderism.

      Frankly, your comment is utter bollocks!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Of all the problems in society, transgender, transvestite, drag queens, LGBTQIA, etc. would not even make the top one thousand on my list. In fact, I don’t even see any of this as a problem, but the way many of them are treated by parts of society IS a huge problem. But I am fascinated by Barovsky’s comment “role of money in the fad of transgenderism”. That actually makes me laugh. What money, what fad?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What role does money play in ‘transgenderism’? Well there’s Big Pharma’s role in the supply of various products used to, for example, block puberty and of course, the millions if not billions being made out of all the very expensive surgeries involved. So laugh you may, but not as much as the laughter coming from the big corporations involved.


      1. Yeah of course, the universal bad guy, Big Pharma. Yes, I’m still laughing, frankly I can’t take you seriously at all.


      2. Specifics, please. How much money is being made from puberty-blocking drugs? How much is being made from sex-change surgeries? How many cases are we talking about?

        If profit is the motive here, how does it rank vis-a-vis all the other drugs sold by big pharma and all the other operations performed by hospitals across America?


  3. The Christ says, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than clothing?


  4. Bill, Jeff, Ray and Richard whenever this issue comes up with me I always respond that its none of my business what gender you think you are, or what you want to do with your genitals, or how you want to dress. And I don’t care. I treat everybody equally. End of story.

    It always irks me when I quite often get the same angry response typified by the first poster in our thread today. I’m a bigot. I don’t know what I am talking about. I hate gay people…..sheesh!

    I follow international motorcycle racing. And this year there is a big push for “diversity” in the sport. More comments than I care to read frankly – typified by this one:

    “………Motorcycle racing needs to raise the key issue that no one dare speak or write about of for commercial reasons, the deadly silence surrounding how many of the greatest MotoGP riders, present or past, have been gay. This year two of the very top MotoGP riders have posted images on Instagram during Gay Pride Month which effectively screamed out for all the world to hear: “I am either gay, or am not but have profoundly gay sensibilities.” These riders are never photographed just casually hanging out with women. It would be a world wide positive attention grabbing moment if these riders who possess unmatched physical courage and mental bravery could come out from the shadows DORNA has them locked in. It would blow to bits so many negative stereotypes about gay men. In 2022 that instantaneous audience building step is ridiculously overdue. But it will not happen.” Phew…OK!

    Anyway it’s a topic I have just learned to keep my mouth shut about and avoid. Ironically in the 70’s, 50-years ago now, there was a very good Canadian motorcycle racer riding for the Official Yamaha Team – Michael Alan Duff. He (I know I’ll get slammed for calling him a him!) had a sex change to become Michelle Ann Duff and was on the grid wearing his lipstick, makeup and long feminine hairstyle. I don’t remember any of the other racers batting an eye. Nobody cared, and I can’t recall any big uproar about “him” (Oh Gawd) being treated badly after his change.


  5. Another thing that happened to me that was a sorry experience in this area – I got into terrible trouble at our local high school raising a stink about MEN, eeerm woMEN, (oh shit) playing on my two daughter’s softball team. I thought it was unfair. But I was branded as a bigot, and the devil! I took a lot of shit!


  6. I was a police officer back in the late 70’s. One night a man who was a cross dresser, or transvestite, was arrested. Not for his dressing but DUI as I recall. When he was brought into the squad room for processing, he was stood against a wall for photographs, Polaroid at that time. A few of us were in and out of the office going about our duties but everyone had a comment and laugh at this guy’s expense as his wig was removed and he was put on display. He actually had pretty comprehensive makeup and garments. He never said anything and was processed and booked. I think back about the humiliation we put on him that night and how his life must have been hard enough in the 1970’s without us adding to it. I don’t have a lot of regrets about my LEO days but that is one. We should have acted with more dignity. I don’t understand all the gender identity and sexual preference differences but I can treat people with respect, as I would like to be treated. If someone wants to be referred to as M or F or non binary, I am perfectly happy to do so. To do otherwise may not make one a bigot but sure seems just plain rude.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. What about legal rights for trans people?

    “……..according to a new rule approved by Florida health officials last month……trans patients can no longer use Medicaid to pay for their gender-affirming care…..

    On Wednesday morning, LGBT+ and health advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida challenging the state’s new Medicaid exclusion….

    The lawsuit argues that Florida’s policy….violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and federal nondiscrimination statutes because it categorically denies them treatment based on their gender identity.”


    1. This will be a very interesting and telling court case in that it directly challenges an attempt by a State to control exactly how it administers one specific part of its Medicaid program.

      And, on the surface, at least, it certainly appears to be “discrimination” by that State against Citizens claiming a gender identity that at least certain people in that State find to be abhorrent.

      But the bigger, and far more significant issue at stake is: Does the “Right” to Gender Affirming Care include the “Right” to have somebody else pay for it?

      Does it include the “Right” to force other Citizens to pay for people receiving GAC out of their taxes? Particularly those who ~ for whatever reasons ~ feel, believe, or think that GAC is not only Wrong, but EVIL? Just as one can ask the exact same question about the “Right” to an abortion: Does that include the Right to have it paid for by somebody else? Even, or especially, if they are totally against abortion?

      Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that the question of “Who Pays for that Right” will even be raised during the proceedings, let alone addressed.

      But regardless of how the GAC court case ends up determined, and if nothing else: One can’t help but sense that this whole thing is nothing but another move by Florida’s Governor DeSantis as he contemplates what Election2024 may hold for him.


Comments are closed.