Why do some have a charmed life?
I watch the mixed reception that others either receive in society or more often fear they will receive.
Whilst I don't present in a gender ambiguous way at work (or I try not to) - I do live most of the rest of my life projecting my femininity - through clothes, physical features, and lifestyle choices. For several years now I've been very comfortable being 'me' in public, and, like you, I haven't received the much feared backlash from partner, family, friends, or society at large.
I see some shared aspects to our experiences that might explain us having such a charmed life. Hopefully they might provide clues for others to anticipate the reactions they will get.
1. The Message
Part of society's reaction to us seems to depend on what message we are giving.
The message I send is "I'm a boy who is very much a girl inside". It seems that this is something that few people find challenging. I don't care if others accept me because "I must be gay" or if they explore deeper and discover this isn't the case - it isn't for me to demand the level to which they engage in exploring gender diversity. Even my 91 year old father recently observed that he saw no evidence that the world was cleanly split between boys and girls. The message doesn’t challenge conventional norms based on binary genders but rather invites the listener to acknowledge the existence of other personas outside these norms. I think this to some degree encourages shared discoveries and mutual learning.
On the other hand I see many who confront society with the message “I am a woman”. The reaction they get is more mixed. Though many of the institutions of society accommodate this message (largely due to some recent enlightened changes to legislation) I feel the general public does not as a whole. The assertion that you wish to be considered as, and treated identically to, a woman is an open challenge to the way most individuals view the world. It doesn’t question the society norm of there being two genders, but rather attempts to blur what each binary gender actually is. A lot of people, and certainly partners and family find this message very difficult to relate to and consequently often resist it. I’m not for one moment suggesting that many of those projecting this message do not genuinely feel they belong in the “woman” box – but rather the reaction they get from the public is, to a large degree, understandable.
The final message I hear is “I’m just a crossdresser”. The implication of this message is a request for society to treat the person as a ‘normal’ man but allow for their desire to express femininity through clothing. The common response to this is an acceptance (often heavily qualified). Reactions range from it being an OK thing to do in private if you want, to perhaps an accepting amusement (particularly by shops). The reaction of the public to crossdressing outside the house or sheltered support groups does appear to be mixed. And I think it depends heavily on a second factor.
2. The Attitude
In the public forum good things seem to come to those who those who project an aura of total confidence in who they are. It doesn’t matter if you feel you are a woman, or if you just dress up for the occasion, if you project fear, inferiority, or discomfort then the reaction of the public can just make matters worse.
I know this sounds a bit like one of those self-help books in the airport bookshop but truly “Believe in Yourself and People Will Be Forced to Believe in You”. It’s beyond me to suggest how you as an individual can achieve this – perhaps you should buy a book! But there are many examples of people in our community who project their self-belief.
It is years since I came out of the closet, but for much of the time afterwards I felt I was exploring gender – trying to find a way out of what was still a confusing situation for me. Fairly recently I stopped trying to apologise for “crossdressing in public” and for “not wanting to transition to a woman” and became proud of exactly who I was. With that pride came a confidence that allowed me to organise mega-events such as TransFormal, tell my friends, and present a positive image of “me”. In all of that I have never encountered anything more adverse than an occasional double look.
So my conclusion is that a lot of the reaction you get from society is a result of the message you need to project, and the confidence with which you project it.