Have you ever been to a drag show where there were “drag kings”? Have you noticed it’s hard for women to do drag? After all, if they took the stage in jeans and t-shirts, or cargo pants and fleece hoodies, or shorts and flip flops, they wouldn’t look like they were in drag. They’d just look like they’d gotten dressed.
That’s because most “men’s” clothing doesn’t signal anything. It’s meant to be useful. Warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s warm. Full of pockets for putting things in.
So drag kings have to rely on those few articles of clothing that do signify masculinity: bow ties, neckties, the carefully tucked handkerchief in the breast pocket, the tuxedo with a cummerbund.
And they have to do less drag. Because there isn’t much to work with.
Men who dress as women, however, can wear almost anything off the women’s rack. Because women’s clothing is marked not by its usefulness, but by the opposite–its decorativeness. Ribbons, ruffles, polka-dots, movement-restricting skirts, wide-necked tops that fall off the shoulders, shoes that hobble the feet–these don’t help women do things. These “look cute” and/or inhibit the doing of things. Even women’s button-up cotton shirts, one of the least ornamental items available to us, are made with “darts,” those little stitches under the arms that tighten the garment around the breasts. Because God forbid a woman exit her house without emphasizing her breasts.
Women’s clothing is costume. It does not serve other purposes. There is never any reason for a woman, or anyone else, to don women’s clothing, outside the purpose of making a “feminine” display of herself. A possible exception is a bra, which arguably serves the purpose of providing comfort to a large-breasted woman who jogs.
It’s not like a spacesuit, which would be drag if a businessman wore it to work, but useful for someone who needs to walk on the moon. Or a hardhat, which is silly on a member of The Village People, but life-saving for someone working at a construction site. Women’s clothing is just decorative, all around. Nothing more.
This has always been obvious to me. When I’ve put on sparkly eye shadow or a dress suit, it’s hasn’t been because I have a “gender identity.” It’s been because I thought it would get me somewhere, socially. A date, a job, the ability to pass through a crowd unnoticed, because I’m dressed as expected. I wouldn’t put on a costume–whether it’s eye shadow or a bear suit–outside of navigating a relevant social situation.
I certainly wouldn’t put one on if it made my life harder instead of easier, as it does for a masculine “trans woman.” Thus, “trans women” don’t put on what makes them comfortable or helps them navigate the world or even what contours properly with their body type. They put on a costume.
Costuming is not an inherent interest of females. It can be one for fetishists, though.
My ex used to worry a lot about being confused with a drag queen. He had a whole complicated set of delusions around the difference between his cross-dressing and the cross-dressing of other men, including a belief that his cross-dressing was more “legit” (yes, that’s homophobia you’re detecting) and a belief that bystanders could detect his inner feelings and thereby determine that he was trans and/or an “actual” woman.
For other men, women’s clothing was drag, you see. For him, it was… natural. Or something.
But unfortunately for that narrative, women’s clothing is drag for everyone.
Since it isn’t any more “legit” for women to wear women’s clothing than it is for men–it’s just a display–it certainly isn’t any more “legit” for some men than other men.