April 21, 2005
Atlantic Monthly on Crossdressers: Glib Caricature
An open letter to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly
April 15, 2002
There are a few grains of truth in Amy Bloom’s “Conservative Men, Conservative Dresses”, published in the April edition of The Atlantic Monthly. Unfortunately, these are sparingly embedded in a glibly written article whose tone of caricature throughout reinforces prejudice and narrow thinking.
For example, she introduces her subject by discussing how gay men, transsexuals, and straight men regard crossdressers (CDs), as if all gay men, transsexuals and straight men were alike in their thinking. She says that CDs are “completely acceptable only to fetishists” as if there were not many CDs who are loved by knowing wives, family, and non-fetishistic friends. Bloom’s statements are falsehoods, because they misrepresent the truth by oversimplifying the complexity of our lives. Such totalizing statements – lies of omission – encourage thinking in terms of stereotypes over individuality, simple category over complex reality, distaste over appreciation.
If there is one unifying theme to the transgender movement (some of which has been advanced by those conservative CDs), it is respect for diversity. We work to recognize and respect the fact that individual identity, desire, behavior, relationships and much more, are as complex and varied as any other dimension of individuality. To have our individuality completely ignored in this disrespectfully shallow piece is to add insult to an already injurious situation. To be a crossdresser (or transgendered) is to be a target for cruel humor and much worse. If conservative CDs and their wives find themselves between a rock and a hard place, it is at least in part the fault of cultural myopia and generations of mysogyny. To paraphrase “The Lazy Crossdresser” author Charles Anders on GenderTalk radio, the degree to which we regard a man in a dress as uncomely is a measure of our misogyny.
Bloom’s quoting of Ray Blanchard as crossdressing authority is either incredibly naive or simply nasty. Blanchard is notoriously disliked within the transgender community. His ideas have been soundly discredited by leading academics in the field and repeatedly disproved by transgender persons. Yet he persists in his appeal to narrow-minded thinking.
Bloom’s monotonic painting of CDs ignores the many CDs who are having fun with their wives, as well as those defying convention to promote a healthy acceptance of their benign practice. Witness Peter Oiler and wife Shirley, who are challenging in court his firing by Winn-Dixie for his crossdressing off the job. They are a loving couple, and she genuinely enjoys the play that arises from his not-all-that-unusual interest. Witness academic Miqqi Gilbert, who crossdresses openly with dignity and humor. There are many more like them, all a little different in differing ways.
Perhaps the nature of Bloom’s article is best revealed by the age of the accompanying photographs, not one of which is less than a dozen years old. Dated, too, is the attitude reflected in Bloom’s insulting betrayal of those who trusted her to write something with a little more compassion – not to mention depth.
Founder and Co-Host, GenderTalk Radio