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Maxine KuminA highly readable, dramatic account.
— New York Times Book Review
The big event of that half week was on the way home from the East Coast to
Iowa City. Donald had arranged to stop in a Chicago suburb for Saturday
night, going to a motel to meet his crossdressing friend Lucy. Then they
planned to navigate the parking lot of the motel next door to attend their
very first crossdressing meeting.
The meeting was for the Chicago chapter of Tri Ess, the national
crossdressing sorority, which Donald had joined through his Chicago BBS
girlfriends. He had been excited for weeks and planned it like a military
campaign, lugging from Iowa City to Philadelphia to Baltimore to Chicago a
big suitcase filled with his outfit for the evening and his Philadelphia
loot. He chose his Marilyn Monroe wig and a black crepe dress inherited
from his wife.
Lucy arrived already dressed, and Donald complimented him, as women do:
"You look great!"
"I found a cosmetician in my suburb who does makeovers on crossdressers."
Lucy looked like a suburban housewife, not a drag-show star. Later Donald
bought some dresses at the woman's store and had a makeoverhimself. The
cosmetician's youngest son was a drag queen and competed in beauty
Lucy got anxious and wanted to go, and Donald/Jane agreed as he struggled
into the dress, a little small: "I'll come over when I'm ready. Zip me up,
will you?" Better to go by myself, he thought. The probability of being
read rises with the square of the number of crossdressers in a group. (One
is "read" like a book, detected in the wrong gender.) The man on the
street reads the least convincing one of a group and then notes that all
these women seem large.
Stepping out into the hallway of his motel half an hour later he was
frightened, imagining detection and the punishment of scorn. On the stairs
going down, avoiding the elevator with its long looks, he walked by a
couple coming up, but they didn't appear to read him. Clicking in heels
around the back of his own motel, he walked into the open toward the other
one. It was Donald's first time out-of-doors as a woman, apart from a very
few nighttime walks in empty streets in Princeton and Chicago. It felt
natural. He hitched up his skirt and leaped over a little stream between
the two motels, scuttling through the other parking lot in full drag in
the glare of the late afternoon sun. Still outside, as he approached the
entrance to the meeting room he encountered a woman: Oh, oh; she'll read
me. Wait: no. It was another crossdresser on his way to the meeting. Easy
to read when you're looking for it.
When Jane came into the meeting room it was filled with crossdressers, and
his first impression was, These women are huge! They were a third bulkier
than a roomful of genetic women. It seemed to him that the average
crossdresser was above average in height. Can't be. (It can, though. If
there is a deficiency of testosterone in adolescence the bones do not
close off early in their growth. That's why boys who mature early tend to
be short and why the castrati playing women's roles with women's voices in
early opera were unusually tall for men. Not that there's any evidence of
testosterone deficiency in crossdressers, mind you. Just guys.) Still, the
clubs ordinarily do not have really big men in them, which makes one
wonder how the bigger crossdressers and gender crossers are able to
express themselves. Perhaps in football.
Most everyone was cordial, though some of the prettier ones seemed snooty.
Jane later met one of the snooty ones in Atlanta at a conference
discussion on gender-crossing life for professionals and found him shy and
uncertain about his future. They all had name tags, and Jane spotted and
hugged Suzy, one of the BBS friends he had not met in the flesh. Suzy was
"Susan Roberts," which is to say that in the convention of choosing
feminine names among crossdressers he was "Bob" as a man. He was tall,
thin, blond, breaking up with an intolerant wife whom he still loved, and
struggling with his identity.
"I went to therapy for two years with my wife," Suzy said.
"Two years. Did it help?"
"In a way. We're getting divorced. The therapist finally said to me,
'Look: your wife is unable to adjust. Some women can handle it, others
can't. She has her own reasons.'"
When the official meeting broke up Jane was standing next to a vivacious
crossdresser named Robin, a little taller than he was, with a
Chicago-accented voice. He was brassy, intelligent, extroverted,
complaining knowingly about the administration of Tri Ess. (Jane learned
later that it was his first meeting too.) He proposed that he, Jane, Suzy,
Jane's friend Lucy, and another crossdresser go out on the town. Lucy
demurred, and the remaining four musketettes set out for a lesbian bar.
The tougher straight bars are good places to get killed. Gay bars also
have the undercurrent of lethal violence that is the male condition. The
lesbians are more civilized and don't mind having crossdressers around,
regarding them as harmless. The first place was quiet, though enlivened by
the crossdressers (ten of them, others from the Tri Ess meeting, crowded
along a set of bar tables like a typing pool out for an after-work drink)
and then by an ineffectual fistfight between two lesbians in a love
triangle. Jane danced the way the kids do, by himself, different from the
lovely paired regularity of square dancing. A butch dyke paired with Jane
for a while on the dance floor, and Jane gave himself over to ecstasy.
"Just dance!" the dyke said, "Don't come on to me." When he had to go to
the bathroom Jane had the others take a picture of Suzy and him outside
the "first ladies' room." Pictures are big among crossdressers. How many
crossdressers does it take to go the ladies' room? One hundred: one to go
and ninety-nine to take pictures.
They went to a much hotter lesbian bar called Temptations on Grand Avenue
in the Chicago suburbs. It was in a strip mall next to a tire store, and
when the stars came out it glittered. Robin had been to the place before,
as everyone else had too. They regarded Jane as bold to go with the girls
barhopping on her first night out. What made Jane run? Square dancer,
middle-aged college professor, father of two, thirty years married, pillar
of the community shook to the beat of the drum with a hundred others of
assorted genders and sexual preferences. The cool dance the kids were
performing turned out to be steps that Donald had learned the year before
at a square dance in Iowa City. The company was diverting, and each set
Robin introduced Jane to a lesbian sitting at a little table crowded with
others. She looked like a suburban woman. Kids. Van. She was in her
forties, dressed butch but not too. Acceptable in the mall. Though women
can get away with more.
"I was married and have grown children," she told Jane. "I only figured
this out a few years ago."
"How have they adjusted? I mean your family?" Jane was always interviewing
people, gathering data like some sort of anthropologist, an anthropologist
who could go native.
"Poorly." It was not unusual news. In the gay and lesbian community, Jane
read later, they spoke of 80 percent: 80 percent of your family and
friends eventually adjust, perhaps after years of rejection, and go on
loving you after a fashion. That leaves 20 percent. As they talked about
rejection and acceptance Jane warmed to her, and he found himself flirting
as the femme. They danced for a while to the throbbing music, then she
bought Jane a beer. In his three later visits to Temptations Jane looked
for her, a regular it was said, but never saw her. Jane/Donald was still
unclear about his preferences. Gender crossing is a matter of identity,
not affectual preferences. A third of post-op transsexuals go on loving
women, he would remind himself out of his new learning. Not that I'm a
He went to Temptations only those three more times. Chicago is 240 miles
from Iowa City. (Deirdre would explain to Dutch people where Iowa City
was: "Near Chicago." Oh, how far? they would ask, supposing she meant 50
kilometers. "It's 500 kilometers due west, as far as Amsterdam is west of
Berlin. Not too far.") Donald never did go to similar places closer to
home. Fear, security, the closet.
Robin said later that he was struck that first time by Donald's reaction
as Jane to the unbuttoned scene. Jane came up to Robin and gushed, "Lord,
I just love this!" The gushing seemed to Robin significant, signaling more
than a guy in a dress. Robin was coming to terms with his own gender
crossing and went full time the next month, just before Donald's dam
broke. Robin had the operation in Montreal a couple of months after
Deirdre had it in Australia. Deirdre called Robin afterwards and they
talked about how they just loved this.
He got back to the motel room at 3:00 a.m. and had a 10:00 a.m. flight
home. That afternoon in Iowa he was teaching business economics in his
macho, I'm in charge style. As men brag about their little exploits, he
dropped hints to the kids about his wild night at a bar in Chicago. He
left out the detail that he had danced through it in a cocktail dress.
He went to the first meeting of his local club, Iowa Artistry, thrilled
and frightened. The meeting was held in a big motel out by the interstate.
He was pleased to drive across town dressed-This is how it feels to be a
woman-but nervous about coming into the motel as Jane. In fact respectable
motels are cordial to crossdressers, because they are good customers.
Aside from makeup on the towels, they are no trouble. They don't drink
much, and they don't do sex or violence.
Iowa Artistry was forthrightly Iowan. The meeting was like a Kiwanis Club
in drag, with reports from the treasurer and mild quarrels about
governance. Jane had long, earnest talks about living with crossdressing.
His attention was held by a thirty-something gender crosser named Anna who
worked as a technician in a corporation south of Iowa City. She had been
full time for a year and had finished electrolysis on her beard down in
Dallas, which he quizzed her about. She was intelligent and sympathetic,
once married, kids. Donald was deliberating, unaware. But of course I am a
heterosexual crossdresser. Just wondering.
Donald's wife dreaded people's finding out and was appalled that after the
meeting a group of fifteen or so went on to a local bowling alley. Nothing
happened, no one found out. One attempt at rolling the ball left
Donald/Jane's false thumbnail halfway down the alley, and he had to walk
out to retrieve it, amused and embarrassed. He watched closely another
crosser, very effeminate. She was there with her male lover, the two
making an ordinary husband and wife. Three years later she had her
operation and they were legally married. She worked as a telephone
operator. The daily practice and her determination had made her voice
good. The heterosexual crossdressers, by contrast, were breezily male in
their voice and behavior. Jane didn't think much about where he fit in.
There was only one other group in the bowling alley, at the opposite end.
Eventually one of them came over to see what was going on, and a
crossdresser replied with a smile that they were a "mixed league" of
bowlers-a man and a woman in the same body. When crossdressers meet
straight people in a group it works fine. Crossdressers call it "gender
Excerpted from Crossing
by Deirdre N. McCloskey
Copyright © 2003 by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 5, 2014
“Being a woman is what you do... not what your wear. Caring, watching, noticing.” So says Deirdre N. McCloskey, quoting lessons learned when she was still Donald. He contrasts “the self-deprecating style women use when charming others of their tribe” with “the boasting of my tribe.” And he realizes, like a New Yorker whose heart is really in the South, that he wants to be someone else.
I was an adult when I became an American. My husband and I forced a whole new world and culture on our children. There were times we wondered if family and friends would forgive us. But for Deirdre, the change is even bigger, and forgiveness can be hard to find. Doctors might easily offer a nose-job to woman who wants to change her face, but when a man wants plastic surgery to seem more womanly, the psychiatrists have to be called, and sometimes even lawyers. After expensive legal procedures (oh yes, we had those to become American) and stays in mental wards (we had none of those, but we did have to be physically examined to prove we were healthy), Deirdre finally embarks on a long series of operations. Insurance won’t pay, claiming she’s either ill, but not treatable, or mad and shouldn’t be treated. Complaining that “gender crossing is not a psychosis, and there is no medical evidence that it is...” Deirdre finally concludes “Identity is both made and not made,” while making for herself a very human, very normal new identity.
As an economist, Deirdre is well-established, multiply published, very observant and very learned. One thing I particularly enjoyed about this book was her recognition of differences between male and female points of view of economics in relationships. “People have two ways, exchange and identity. Men can grasp only exchange,” she says, illustrating her point with a lovely scene where a wife recites who gave her each ornament in the collection around her house. To a man they’re just items of property; to a woman they stand in for the friends who gave them.
The biggest surprise for me in this book was the author’s faith. I wasn’t expecting to see a connection drawn between finding gender and finding religion, though “rebirth” certainly makes sense in both realms. Faith does too; when he couldn’t imagine continuing as he was, Donald had the faith (and the money) to embark on his journey to Deirdre. While some readers might find it hard to imagine why, and some people of faith might find it hard to accept, Deirdre’s advice to “try to think of Jesus as a God of love” is wisely given and well-taken.
A fascinating, absorbing memoir, Crossing invites us to examine who we are, and how much we care for our neighbor, in the light of someone who learned who s/he was not.
Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy of this book.
Posted July 5, 2008
I enjoyed this book immensely. Crossing is a fine memoir of an economist who underwent sex reassignment surgery in order to become a transsexual woman. McCloskey begins in childhood and shows the reader how his cross-dressing 'hobby' grew more intense through adulthood, marriage, career, and life. In middle age, McCloskey decided that it was time to get serious, so to speak. After consultation with his therapist, serious rumination, and research, McCloskey began the long, difficult physical and emotional process of transition. His family (wife and kids) seemed to be against it, and apparently tried to talk him out of it. He did it anyway. His wife divorced him, as a result of his transition. Many of his friends supported him, however, including his colleagues and dean. His mother also seemed supportive. What effort was required to become a woman! Surgery, hormones, travel, consultations, huge fees. Some physical changes were obviously required---e.g. genitalia and breasts. But he also need to correct a very masculine-looking face and a masculine voice. Since he did this mid-life, aging also needed to be addressed. Much of the book deals with the lengths to which McCloskey went to 'pass.' When McCloskey transitions to a woman, the book's focus shifts to what it is like to be a woman in a man's world--especially, a late middle-aged woman. McCloskey is most insightful in explaining what it means to be a woman after a lifetime of manhood. The book's biggest weakness is the relative inattention to sexuality. Pre-transition, one gets the impression that Don 'got off' dressing up as a woman--and viewing transsexual pornography. He seems to acknowledges the weirdness of it all. I didn't see anything wrong or problematic with his sexual behavior, pre-transition. Nevertheless, this aspect of his pre-transition life--sexuality--could have been more detailed. After Don becomes Deirdre, sex more or less disappears from the equation. This was disappointing because Deirde, female in every sense, including breasts and genitalia, surely has sexual feelings. What are they? And why are they mostly missing from this great memoir? Maybe this topic was too private, but this is a memoir and this reader wanted more. This is a poignant memoir, well written and highly readable. Despite the weaknesses noted above, I recommend this book to readers of memoirs, transsexual memoirs and memoirs in general. It's a unique book and exceptional memoir. I would welcome sequel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 26, 2001
Admittedly I hate change. I despise it in any form in my life and often catch myself looking at it through the negative lens rather than the positive. Reading Deirdre's account provoked in me therefore a huge knot in my stomach, as the changes she keenly steered her life through are just downright amazing! If only I could have just a drop of her courage it would be enough to get me through a lifetime of change. Amazingly I felt changed as well when I finished with the last line and astoundingly I felt comfortable both for Deirdre and for myself. I have a new understanding of what it is like for those who go through this process and the gender defining issues involved. I did not find Donald to be selfish or narcissistic. I saw a man with courage to live the truth as he defined it to be. Admittedly the third person narrative was at first irritating to my reading. But as I read on I began to realize that she could not have written this a better way to bring home the understanding from her perspective. There are enough transgender accounts and texts out there that present someone's view of another's crossing. It is only through this fine writing style in third person that I was able to see the same traits in his transition to Deirdre, much like a butterfly spreading its wings after a long hibernation. And WHAT a beautiful butterfly she is! I feel terribly sorry for her families who were unable to cope with her journey of change or understand it. However, because of my dislike of changes their apprehension and grief makes sense to me. They grieve that they have lost a father and in a gender sense they truly have. Unfortunately they can not see what they have or could gain from Deirdre. I feel very sad for them and anyone else that does not completely understand.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 13, 2000
Deirdre McCloskey's story of her mid-life transition from male to female is a suspense thriller, anthropological study, academic novel, and bildungsroman all in one. With candor, wit, joy, pain, feminine sexiness, and intellectualism, Deirdre brings the reader along with her as she describes her journey, from hints of transgender identification in early life, to the realization, at 52, that this is about more than simply cross-dressing. Through its internal style, which reminded me often of Madame Bovary, the book takes the reader along, pondering the logistics of combining public cross-dressing holidays with academic business trips, finding the doctors and deciding on the surgeries, suffering the fear and humiliation of being incarcerated for wanting to be a woman, and feeling the exhilaration of acceptance by friends, colleagues, and clerks in stores. Most remarkably, Deirdre McCloskey gives frequent insight into differences between male and female behavior in the same setting--including her own past and present behaviors. That's a thought-provoking gift to the reader, and a unique advantage for anyone to have. Ultimately, this book is about the journey to liberation of the self--like Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or Walker's The Color Purple. And we root for Deirdre just as we did for Stephen and Celie.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.