The dialectics of cross dressing

02 August 2017
Dr Ciara Cremin

On Monday 27 July 2015, Dr Colin Cremin, a senior lecturer in Sociology, dressed up as woman and arrived on campus ready to give a lecture to 100 students.

She was sporting high heels, pantyhose, full makeup, jewellery and, some months later, a new name: Ciara.

For Dr Cremin, that day ended a lifetime of repressing his — now her — desire to dress as a woman and set Ciara on a course which she has documented in a book due out this month called Man-made woman: The dialectics of cross-dressing.

"The book is a very frank consideration of my own desire to dress as a woman and what it meant as I started dressing daily as a woman in the workplace and beyond," says Ciara, who is partnered with a woman.

"I think this is a very common desire among men but not many are in a position to articulate it, either on their bodies or through theories that can help us understand how the psyche works and why, in this day and age, a man in a dress is still considered taboo by many or at best a joke."

Ciara has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom and teaches popular culture and critical theory. Of her general research focus she says: "It is a study of changes in culture and society approached through theories that operate on the border-zone of materialism, language and desire."

In Man-made woman, she draws on discussions of fetishism, aesthetics and popular culture to explore gender, identity and pleasure through the lenses of feminism, Marxism and psychoanalytic theory. She dismantles the abjection associated with male-to-female cross dressing, examines the causes of its repression, and considers what it means to publicly materialise desire on her body.

Importantly, Ciara doesn't subscribe to gender.

"I want to embody a break with gender norms," she says. "I'm saying let's scramble this up. Let men be women and women men and not care about how we are supposed to look and behave. In fact, let's dispense with these terms altogether."

Dr Cremin isn’t always Ciara, however. Because of the many obstacles and difficulties of presenting as a woman 24/7, she prefers to switch at times into a masculine presentation, often at weekends and when, for example, going abroad or sunbathing at the beach. Because she rejects the idea that there is an authentic gender, whether considered masculine, feminine or even gender neutral, she regards all presentation as a kind of artifice with no authentic self underneath.

There are only masks, she says, "but at least in makeup I remove the mask of masculinity in which respect my makeup speaks to the truth of masculine identity that it is simply a mask. If anything then, by dressing 'as a woman' I am authentic to the idea that there is nothing essential to man." 

While Ciara supports transgender politics and equity, she does not call herself transgender in the sense of a transition from one gender to another. "I would rather, if not at risk for doing so, embody a contradiction and make no attempt to 'pass'."

"I 'cross-dress' when in women's clothes and I 'cross-dress' when in men's clothes. There is no authentic gender that I aim towards or subscribe to. I'm a crisscross-dresser, always, in my mind at least, out of sync with whatever gender I represent to others."

Man-made woman: The dialectics of cross dressing