Prof. Miqqi Goes To Work

by Miqqi A. Gilbert

12 November, 1996

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #098, Summer 2002

It?s the day before my first time ever going to work dressed en femme. This is a major part of my coming out process?not, as you might imagine, as a transsexual who is going full-time, but as a crossdresser who is public about his pastime. I am, just so you know, quite nervous about the whole thing. I?m also excited. It?s going to be a wild, crazy, emotionally tumultuous day that I will remember forever.

I should explain that I?m a philosophy professor at York University in Toronto, Canada, and have worked there since 1975. I?m 50 years old, and my wife and I have four children in a blended family, the youngest of whom is 23. I began my first comings out shortly after I turned forty by telling a very few very intimate friends. Of course, I have been transgendered since I was small, but I identified myself as a transvestite only in my early thirties. Since then I?ve been involved at various times, and especially recently, in our local club, Xpressions.

The big change for me came as I approached 50. I found it increasingly difficult to hide such a large and important part of myself from friends and family. I felt more and more that I was withholding important parts of myself from those closest to me?my brother, sister, mother, children. There were often times things I wanted to say that I didn?t because I was afraid to shock them, and as my transgender experiences became a more important part of my life, that self-censorship became more and more difficult.

As a result, I began to tell those close to me, and found, by and large, that the revelation was well-received. The road was not absolutely smooth, and I lost count of how many times I had to say, ?No, I?m not gay,? but there were only a few potholes, and those ended up being repaired.

But why go to work dressed? If I?m a crossdresser?and I am?then it?s not part of my plan to live full-time as a woman, to go to work daily as a woman, to encounter the world all the time in feminine mode. So, why expose myself to the potential difficulties, darts, and stresses liable to come from revealing my transgender status? I think there are two reasons.

The first is selfish, or at least, is for me: It?s a question of owning my own soul and taking pride in who and what I am. It?s a matter of beating shame and innuendo at its own game by being there first. I call myself a ?committed crossdresser,? and by that I mean I no longer regret being what I am. I?m a crossdresser, will always be one, and, thank you very much, I?ve reached the point of enjoying it. In fact, I can?t imagine how life can be interesting to those who get stuck with only one gender to play with. So my first reason is an assertion of myself and my right to be.

There?s also something in this demand to be myself that speaks to my old hippie revolutionary soul. When I was young, I was part of a generation that took great pride in being different, in mocking sacred cows, in confronting authority with rebellion and sass. I honestly enjoy being a gender outlaw. When I play with gender, when I violate the rules by being a man wearing a dress, I feel I?m shaking up the restrictions we rely upon to organize society, erasing, or at least weakening, the lines between some of the holiest of categories society embraces. If I weren?t a gender outlaw, I?d have to be doing something else, and I?d rather be doing this.

The second reason has to do with a sense of responsibility that comes with being tenured. I?ve always defended tenure on the grounds that academic freedom is an important foundation of democracy. Being tenured means a professor can speak her or his mind, be whoever he or she is, without fear of reprisal of loss of income and security. But there?s another side to that coin. Tenure also brings with it an obligation to speak out or stand up when your view or behavior is unpopular or not mainstream. What?s the point of being protected if you don?t use it? Finally, I came to the conclusion that not to come out would be nothing less then cowardly.

My belief is that I?ve an obligation to my students, especially my transgendered students, as well as my colleagues and others not even in the university environment to expose myself as transgendered in order that others, for whom the risk might be greater, can also do so. So many crossdressers I know, and many transsexuals as well, are afraid to come out because of the social and economic consequences. But if enough of us who are protected, if enough of us who feel safe come out, then it will normalize the abnormal. Once it?s sufficiently common for someone to be transgendered, then the revelation that someone is becomes pass?.

I teach a course called the Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality. In that course we talk a great deal about the role the transgendered play in deconstructing the limits of gender; as a tenured academic, I need to do more than talk. The best teaching is not from telling, it?s from showing. And that?s what I must do.


The morning began with great butterflies, but there was no time to be nervous. I had to do my makeup, fix my wig, and organize everything I needed to do and take with me. I had already chosen my perfect professorial outfit (no color at all!)

For the sartorialists out there, I was wearing a matching black jersey skirt and jacket with a gray collarless top with a black flower design. The jacket is loose, with folds in the front, and hides a great number of sins. My only bit of color was a red African multi-strand bead necklace. This was an intentional decision. Once I had decided to dress to work, I spent several weeks carefully observing the dress code of my female colleagues: Women professors, especially those of a certain age, don?t wear color. Dark burgundy is as wild as it gets.

Ninety minutes later, I picked up my usual car pool colleague (who happens to be my department chairman) and off we went. He had been a great support to me throughout the process I was putting myself through. I had been there for him when he was coming out as a gay academic, and he likes to tell people I simply one-upped him by announcing to him one night that I was a crossdresser. I had previously told him my plans to dress for work, and he was encouraging. The fact that he?s a gay philosopher, and so quite thoughtful about the meaning of being in a marginalized group, made it that much easier. We were now in a department that had Les as a gay Chair and me as a crossdressing Undergraduate Program Director!

The first people I met after removing my coat were our departmental administrative assistants. I had previously told them about my coming to work dressed. I felt that while my academic colleagues should be able to handle the shock, it would be polite to let the staff have some notice. I told the head Admin Assistant for the department, and she informed the others. They all told me in no uncertain terms that they believed in diversity, and were behind me one thousand per cent.

And they were both wonderful. The first touched my arm and patted my hair?the first time she had touched me in 20 years. The other gave me a hug and a great big smile. I felt as if I was being treated as someone of their gender, as someone they could touch without sending a sexual message or worrying about mixed communications. I couldn?t have imagined a better, warmer, response, and it made me feel I belonged where I was and that I was doing the right thing.

Shortly afterwards, two male colleagues passed my door. Neither recognized me. A few minutes later, one went by again, and I called his name. He stopped and we had a cordial chat about the department?s web site and some other business matters without him ever mentioning or, to all intents and purposes, even noticing that I was wearing women?s clothes. I think it was easier for my male colleagues to completely avoid the issue, to pretend as if it was business as usual. Perhaps it was a way of dealing with (and avoiding) their own discomfort, but it certainly felt odd not to be asked or have this dramatic alteration in my appearance given notice. Was it really like having a piece of spinach stuck in your teeth?something that you pretend isn?t there because you don?t want to embarrass someone? Maybe they thought I didn?t know I was wearing women?s clothing and would be embarrassed to suddenly have it pointed out. Or maybe they just thought it was my own business to wear whatever I wanted to, and not their place to ask. This did happen in Canada, after all.

Of course, the quietude on the part of my male colleagues was a function of discomfort, or, at least an indication of an inability to really absorb what I am doing. My female colleagues, on the other hand, behaved differently. They would see me, do a double-take, and say something on the order of, ?Whoa, what?s this all about?? They had no hesitation in showing surprise and curiosity. They would comment on my outfit and appearance (always kindly) and listen as I explained that I was teaching Gender and Sexuality and had promised the class a transgendered person would come in?and it?s me. Sometimes there would be further query, other times not.

There was also an entire corps of transgendered folk on the Transgender Canada Listserv, following the adventure by e-mail. I reported from my home and then my office. Through it all, I?d been getting supportive e-mails from friends and family out there in the e-world. I did become even more aware than I had been of how vital electronic communication has been to the solidifying of our community.

My closest friend, Simon, also works at York, in the law faculty. He and Les, my chairman, took me for lunch at the Student union Building. Going there and returning was new for me; I kept sneaking glances to see if I was being read. I was. But these two friends with very different attitudes were great support. Les? political view was that I simply had the right to do it, while Simon?s was more that I was his best friend, and even though he couldn?t understand what the hell I was doing, he?d stand by me. I was fairly well quaking, so I took whatever I could get. Mostly I wasn?t noticed, and when I was, no one was about to make an issue of it. York University has fairly strict rules about sexual harassment; add to that my status as faculty, and all in all, I had good reason to feel safe.

My day has not been all marching about explaining myself. Most of the time I?ve been sitting in my office working. People walk by and don?t notice. They just see what appears to be a woman sitting in an office. Unless they know me or know it?s my office, there?s no confusion at all. Sitting and working is, for me, more or less the same, except that my posture is different, and I can feel the hair from my wig on my face (but I can?t scratch, or I?ll ruin my makeup.)

Miqqi Alicia Gilbert is a Professor of Philosophy at York University. She can be reached at