Alice in Genderland

I read Alice in Genderland (2005) this weekend. I’ve been seeing the title of this book in various CD-related lists for years, but never seriously looked into it before.

I blasted through it in a day. There’s been a lot of visibility into trans-related topics over the last couple years, but crossdressers remain a relative unknown on the TG spectrum by comparison, with few highly visible public personas or quality memoirs. As Alice described her experiences, I realized it was the closest match I’d ever felt to another person’s transgender proclivities that I’d ever seen articulated in text. It was uncanny finding ideas expressed in a book from 2005 that I’d always thought were uniquely my own, but also relieving – it’s always nice to know that you’re not alone.

Alice’s writing conveys a refreshing level of honesty. Spend enough time in the CD community (note: CD; consider the trans community separate for the purposes of this review) and you eventually realize that you shouldn’t take much of what anyone says at face value. The desire to occasionally transform is detrimental (or at the very least, not constructive) to common goals in life like building stable relationships with women or living “normal”/well-adjusted lives, so it’s common to misrepresent motivations for doing it – both to oneself and others. It’s done with good intentions, but the unintentional duplicity makes it difficult to have candid conversations even with the few others dealt the same rare hand in life.

Alice pulls no punches when it comes to observations about TG communities and her own life experiences. That includes thoughts on the nature of men who like crossdressers (most of which are distilled in this free article on her site), graphic detail about her sexual encounters and desires, precise information on the relationship dynamics of crossdressing while maintaining staying married to a straight wife, and how various women she’s dated over the years have felt about her hobby. The latter is useful because understanding that the vast majority of women are either not into crossdressing, or in the best case reluctantly tolerant of it, is a prerequisite to overcoming this unfortunate inconvenience of reality, and finding happiness in spite of it.

Alice has a forward personality that led her to take rational risks to reach the stable state we find her in at the end of the book. Those risks include everything from coming out to friends and colleagues, learning the skills to confidently presenting as a woman in public, telling women he’s dating early in the relationship (to suss out whether things could work out or not), arranging audacious deals with her wife to “black box” dressing and be allowed a carte blanche one night a week, and experimenting with sex and with men. She had some lucky breaks in finding the right people over the years, but it was closer to a “the harder I worked, the luckier I got” with numerous dead ends and false starts. Her final equilibrium of happy family life while still being occasionally taken out and sexually gratified as a woman (and being honest about it with everyone involved) is one that’s very difficult to arrange, but possible inspiration for people in similar situations.

Reading the more critical reviews of Genderland, this arrangement is the most common focus of condemnation, with indignation expressed that it’s unfair for her family at home. There’s some truth to those concerns, but the alternative of keeping that sort of powerful desire totally suppressed will also inevitably lead to bad outcomes, so there’s an argument to be made that it’s the lesser of two evils. Extramarrital affairs are not as uncommon as most of the moralizing west would like to think, with common estimates being 15% of married women and 25% of married men. A stable and open version of that might be better for relationship health than a surreptitious alternative that’s discovered later, and becomes the flash point of a failed marriage. Personally, I’m not passing judgement.

Although not the main subject of the book, I also found her descriptions of LA’s nightlife TG scene in the 90s to be interesting from a historical perspective. Living in SF for the last ~10 years I felt like I got a taste for what this might be like in that we had our own TG nightclub called Divas that was open until last year, but even before it finally shut down, it’d been on a downswing for a long time. Her descriptions of The Queen Mary make it sound vibrant, alive, and well-attended by a healthy variety of different crowds. It made me wonder if these types of venues will exist in the future as they were already a niche speciality and nightclubbing in general seems to have been declining in popularity. The inevitable wave of closues from Covid might be the final nail.

In the last few pages of the book, Alice describes with some regret her unattainable fantasy state of being able to snap her fingers and become the perfect-in-all-aspects 5’7” woman that she’d love to be, and experience the new social, sex, and work lives that emerged through that lens, but goes on to acknowledge that it’s not what she clearly wants at all times, as she enjoys many aspects of life as a man. Truly the crossdresser’s curse.

Not every reader will be happy with the decisions Alice makes throughout the book, but even so, I still think it’s invaluable as an honest informational resource for people who share similar circumstances. I’d recommend the read to anyone with even a passing interest in the subject.

September 8, 2020 (3 years ago) by Frey·ja