Attitudes to cross-dressing in the workplace

Cross-dressing is one of many aspects of diversity and inclusion that needs more discussion

According to LGBT Ireland, more and more people are contacting the LGBT Helpline looking for support and information about cross-dressing (CD), suggesting that more needs to be done in the wider community to support people who cross-dress.

Meena Chander, events professional, LGBT rights advocate and founder of Events Together, is passionate about diversity and inclusion (D&I) and works with organisations to educate and inform them about making the workplace and their events more inclusive.

Here, she interviews her close friend, Kate, to learn about their experiences as a cross-dresser and discuss workplace discrimination issues against the community.

What has been your experience of identifying as a cross-dresser?

I guess the essential for me is that I am not considering transitioning. I like to be able to identify as a CD as and when the mood takes me. I can go several days or weeks without the need to dress and then want to be able to change, dress and be that other person for a while as the need takes me.

For me, cross-dressing is also a great escape from some of the pressures and stresses of daily life.

How long have you been cross-dressing?

I have been cross-dressing, fully dressed and made up since 2009. In recent years I have become much more serious about it in terms of wanting to perfect my look, and I put great time and effort into trying to look my best and enjoy the creativity it allows.

When did you first know you wanted to cross-dress?

I have always been a people watcher, and I have always loved female outfits and styles and would take much more notice of women’s fashion than men’s. It was probably between 2006 and 2008 that the urge to dress began, and I started to make purchases.

What has been your experience with cross-dressing and the workplace? Do you believe it is accepted?

No, generally, I don’t feel it is in any way accepted. In my own experience, there are some very receptive people, and I have some very close friends I work with that know and accept and have been around me when dressed.

However, I think there are still a large number of people that are less accepting and see it as something we shouldn’t be talking about. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people – I just think they are of a certain mindset and that will never change. I think it’s also a generational issue to a certain extent.

How would you like to be perceived?

That’s a tough one because I don’t think I would ever allow my cross-dressing to become widely known and will keep it to close friends and colleagues, but I would like to feel like I have the freedom to dress and for it to be more accepted. 

It’s very private to me, and I think I have a good balance. Those who know and know me have always respected my view and looked after my privacy.

Does your employer know that you cross-dress, and, if so, what has been their response?

Yes, my line manager does know and has been more than accepting. She also leads a D&I movement within my company. 

She accepts that I would prefer to keep it to my inner circle rather than announce it because I think she, too, accepts that there are still people that would find it hard to deal with, certainly within our specific working environment. 

My workplace is not necessarily male-dominated, but to a certain extent, parts of the environment I work in are, and that has its challenges. 

Because I choose to identify relatively infrequently, I would never be in a position where I would want to be open to all. Importantly, the key is that I like both lifestyles – the CD and non-CD life. I’m sure that issue is much harder for some.

What can employers do to make cross-dressing more accepted in the workplace?

I think employers know what they need to do, but their challenge is how to implement it. 

A good place to start would be to attend educational events and conferences to understand what an inclusive organisation should look like and how to be more diverse in its approach. This provides a valuable opportunity to share ideas and best practices with people and businesses from other industries.

Businesses should also be supporting smaller events like the This Is Us Conference which happens on their doorsteps and is designed to help them along on their D & I journeys, rather than flying the Pride flag once a year and then forgetting about it.

Reading and engaging with educational materials like the This Is Us Conference white paper is another great way for employers to become educated on different aspects of diversity.”

What is your advice for cross-dressers?

For other CDs, I think it’s good to share your experiences. I think when you talk to people, you can ultimately tell who will and won’t be accepting, and I am glad a high percentage of people do talk about it openly, as I have been lucky enough to make some very good friends because of that.

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