Retro Review: The Man in The Red Velvet Dress

| Jan 14, 2019
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Reviewed by JoAnn Roberts

The Man In The Red Velvet Dress is sure to upset some people in the transgender community if only because of its overly broad definition of crossdresser: “any person who wears clothing of the opposite sex.” The author means this to include a continuum from fetish crossdressers to post-op transsexuals. Allen should know better since “he” is otherwise known as Justine Sahnjay and has served as the president of the Powder Puffs of California support group.

This is not the only problematic area of the book. It focuses solely on males crossing gender lines and makes no attempt to include females in its framework. Perhaps this is fed by a notion that MtF crossdressers possess feminine tendencies due to an altered or feminized brain, although there is no statistically significant scientific evidence to support this idea.

Allen gives us nine reason why males crossdress:

  1. I was born this way;
  2. Masculine failure;
  3. Heightened sense of aesthetic and tactile response;
  4. It makes me feel good;
  5. Forced crossdressing in childhood;
  6. Woman trapped in a man’s body;
  7. I was a woman in a past life;
  8. Crossdressing is another part of sexual avenue; and
  9. Crossdressing is an irresistible urge.

From these reasons, Allen develops a Cosmology of Crossdressers:

  • The Peripheral CD including slaves, exhibitionists and female impersonators;
  • Fetishistic CDs including fetishists and drag queens;
  • Cosmetic CD which includes closeted crossdressers, social crossdressers and she-males; and finally
  • Full-Time CDs which includes transgenderists and both pre — and postop transsexuals.

I was greatly puzzled by this arrangement and reading the rest of the book helps to explain how Allen arrived at it. I was especially surprised to see how drag queens fared and Allen seems to have had universally bad experiences. But what Allen calls drag queens, most of us would call street queens.

I don’t want people to get the impression I didn’t like the book because there is much here to like and, overall, the transgender community comes off favorably. This is not a ground-breaking work and Allen says so plainly. But, it does include a refreshing discussion of crossdressing that puts sexuality up front.

On page 84, Allen calls to task Virginia Prince’s notion of the “femme self” that serves as the basis for all of Prince’s philosophy and much of Tri-Ess. “The troublesome concept of the ‘femme self’ also reinforces the idealization of femininity and the demonization of masculinity. . . . To the degree that the crossdresser equates his femme self with positive experiences while crossdressed, he falsifies the female experience. At its worst, the femme self is superficial and utterly self-centered.” Wow, them’s fightin’ words, but I agree with them.

The heart of the book lies in Chapter 6, “Can A Man Become A Woman?” Allen uses the feminist argument that gender roles are artificial and unfair. “We can state with certainty that women cannot ultimately be defined by clothing and cosmetics. To do so would argue that women are reducible to such artifacts.” Feminists, says Allen, want to destroy male privilege and CDs want to destroy female privilege that women have created.

Finally, we come to Chapter 7, “The Black Lace Prison,” in which Allen asserts, correctly I might add, that sexuality does not exist in a vacuum. “The idea, then, that crossdressing somehow exists divorced from sexuality is the most common misapprehension people have.”

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It will make you rethink everything you think you know about crossdressing, sex and gender with notions like this, “If there is a true fetish in our culture, it is gender. The intriguing links between the words fetish, artifact and fiction suggest that gender, to the extent it is based upon artifacts, is a fiction.”

The Man In The Red Velvet DressWritten by J. J. Allen
Birch Lane Press, New York, NY, 1996. Reissued by, April 18, 2011.

Paperback: 184 pages
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1257116304
ISBN-13: 978-1257116300
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