In a recent post London en femme writes that despite many years of successfully going out en femme, she occasionally has the thought that “there is something faintly absurd about men dressing as women”.
Leaving aside men who dress female to parody women – drag artists perhaps or pantomime dames – there are many men who simply enjoy the sensual pleasure of a flowing skirt or donning a pair of high heels. Then there are those of us who despite being clearly of the male sex and carrying X-Y chromosomes, come to realise that our identity is not so male after all.
Huge strides have been made in the last few years to understand the detailed process by which a foetus develops. Sex, we know is determined by the program within the successful sperm, though the sex doesn’t become evident until the third week after conception. Around week twelve we now know, hormones flood the developing brain to determine its gender. In a male foetus testosterone is released, in a female oestrogen. In a process as complex as the growth of a new human, things inevitably don’t always go completely to plan. Either too little of the relevant hormone is released or possibly the opposite hormone. So one may be born with a sense of identity of being female even though ones sex (body) is clearly male and develops in the way male bodies do.
It is now accepted scientifically that gender (identity) is not binary; that there is a continuum between male and female with perhaps relatively few folk at either end. Very recent research looking a brain scans reveals that few have what might clearly be identified as a male or a female brain and that almost all of us have a brain with a mixture of male and female characteristics and that for most people it is generally not possible to determine their gender from a brain scan.
So if there is little discernible difference in our brains, might gender be something that is cultural and learned? Now I am ill equipped to do justice to a discussion on this topic; suffice to mention how, from the moment of birth, parents (and the wider society) treat male and female children differently – even in a society like the UK that espouses gender equality.
So am I a male dressed ‘in women’s clothes’ or am I someone who has never behaved like a ‘typical’ male and whose gender identity is more female than male, dressed simply in ‘my’ clothes. Whether I wear a skirt or trousers, I only ever wear my clothes. My clothes reflect the complexity of my gender.