By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
Before making headlines with their accusations of discrimination against North Portland’s P Club, most Portlanders had probably never heard of the Rose City T-Girls. The 200-plus member social group for t-girls (transgender women and crossdressers) is not political or activist in nature. For many of the members, group social outings provide as safe space to dress and present as women.
Most folks in the LGBTQ community (and, increasingly, the world at large) know that “transgender” is an umbrella term for various manifestations of gender nonconformity; they may be less familiar with those whose gender identity, expression, or behavior differ from social norms occasionally, rather than daily.
While some members of the RCTG identify and present as women “full-time,” others consider themselves crossdressers and maintain a strict separation between their masculine and feminine identities.
Dressing and presenting a “feminine persona” is just part of Vancouver resident Susan Miller’s identity. It’s an important part of the 48-year-old retail worker’s self-care and social routine, but she says she can’t imagine transitioning to live as a woman full-time.
“Susan, my female side, is only part of who I am and what makes me the person I am. I need both male and female sides in my life,” Susan says. “There are things I love about being female and would love to do all the time, but the same thing also applies to being male.”
Cassandra Lynn can relate. Though the 51-year-old Beaverton business owner has thought about getting breast implants, she doesn’t want to be a woman full-time. RCTG member and 61-year-old Tualatin resident Amy Lynn, on the other hand, currently dresses part-time but hopes to transition to full-time after she retires from her job in auto parts sales.
Though Susan and Cassandra present as woman part-time, it doesn’t mean their feminine identities are any less important to them. Susan blog regularly about her experiences as a crossdresser and Cassandra is the founder of RCTG (and the driving force between the complaint against P Club).
“I hate the word ‘just’ in the transgender world,” Cassandra says. “I can’t stand when someone that is full time transitioned say ‘you are JUST a crossdresser,’ conveying they are better than me, or I don’t know as much as them.”
Still, both Susan and Cassandra choose to remain largely closeted. Susan says it’s a personal thing that most people wouldn’t understand, while Cassandra believes there’s no point if you aren’t full-time. Amy is out to everyone but her son and granddaughter and coworkers.
“People in general have a harder time understanding crossdressers,” Susan says. “People can understand someone who feels they were born the wrong sex or wants to be the opposite sex, but when it comes to someone who just wants to live part of their life as the opposite sex, that is harder to understand.”
Most people are familiar with drag queens or full-time transgender women, Susan says, even though they are far less common than crossdressers. This is largely because these identities are public, while crossdressing can be a more private or infrequent expression of gender identity. As a result, misconceptions abound.
Common ones include that most crossdressers are gay men, that they all want to transition and live full-time as women, or that they are perverted or mentally unstable.
“Most crossdressers are straight/heterosexual — studies show between 75 percent and 85 percent,” Susan says. “Some may only dress occasionally; they may like to wear just one or two items of clothing and may wear them under their male cloths. It actually is a small percentage that dress fully and go out.”
Cassandra takes issue with perceptions of instability.
“How can I run and operate three very successful retail businesses being a sicko or a mental case?” she says. “We have many cross dressers that are much more secure, much more successful, much happier, and much more content than most of the straight public.”
Amy says she has been well received by the people she has come out to (including her ex-wife), and hopes to open up to the rest of her family soon. And yet, because of the stereotypes, she feels she has to be careful.
“So far everyone I have told is totally accepting. I told my two sisters-in-law and both of them said that they love Amy way better,” she says. “I have several neighbors that know [and] are just fine with it. Although I’m still very cautious when kids are around, as I live in an apartment.”
Amy credits the Rose City T-Girls for giving her the space and the courage to be herself.
“I have been dressing off and on most of my life, over 50 years,” she says. “I have only been going out in public for about four years, thanks to the Rose City group getting me out of my shell.”
To learn more about the Rose City T-Girls, contact Cassandra at firstname.lastname@example.org.