A Look at Modern Tools, Accessories for Gender Play

A Look at Modern Tools, Accessories for Gender Play

Anyone who has ever seen “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is at least somewhat familiar with the concept of cross-dressing — but that doesn’t always mean people truly understand it. There is still so much stigma around alternative forms of gender expression, and specifically femme gender expression. This keeps many people, cisgender men especially, from exploring and expressing themselves to the fullest. Let’s help change that.

There is a wide range of tools and products specifically made for cross-dressing, gender expression and gender affirmation. It is important that retail staff not only know how to sell these products, but also how to talk with and about customers in affirming and educated ways. The first step is to understand what certain key terms mean.

What Exactly Is Cross-Dressing?

There are many misconceptions about cross-dressing, some of which can cause harm. Simply put, cross-dressing involves wearing clothing identified with a gender different from the one with which you typically identify. It’s not just cisgender men who do this. People of all genders can cross-dress, which means it’s essential for retailers to provide apparel and accessories in a wide range of sizes and styles without making any assumptions about the person who will be wearing them.

Cross-dressing plays a variety of roles in people’s lives. Cross-dressing can be a hobby that allows participants to bring an alter ego or persona to life. It can be a form of performance, like drag, or artistic expression. It can even be a therapeutic activity that lets the participant take a break from the expectations of their gender and spend time exploring and basking in a different one.

Cross-dressing has nothing to do with sexual orientation and does not define a person’s gender identity or sexuality. Though many people experience sexual excitement from playing with gender, cross-dressing itself is most often not a sexual activity.

What Kinds of Products Can Be Used for Cross-Dressing?

Almost any product can be used for cross-dressing if it supports the user’s intent. But there are many products made specifically for the practice, plus some extended-size apparel items that have become popular among cisgender men seeking feminine accessories to add to their closets.

For example, silicone breast forms are worn over the chest to provide a realistic look and feel. They are specifically made for people whose bodies do not have breasts or breast tissue, but who want to temporarily have the experience. Similarly, a packer or soft dildo can be worn underneath clothing to provide the look and feel of having a penis. Shapewear, such as corsets, is available in larger sizes and is designed to accentuate the waist and create an hourglass shape.

What About Gender Expression and Gender Affirmation?

Gender expression is how a person chooses to express and communicate their gender publicly. This can involve a variety of products and traits, some specifically made for gender affirmation and others that are ordinary and familiar, like makeup, hair dye, nail polish, altering facial or body hair, clothing styles and even vocal inflection. Cross-dressing can absolutely be a form of gender expression!

Gender affirmation, on the other hand, is often used as an umbrella term to describe the many ways a transgender person can live as their authentic gender. This can be anything from using a chosen name and correct pronouns to temporarily or permanently changing their physical appearance.

People of many genders use gender-affirming products on a daily basis without even realizing it. Products like shapewear, makeup, false eyelashes and push-up bras help cisgender women conform to the norms and ideals of being a woman. Products often marketed to cisgender men, like bulge-enhancing underwear, penis extenders and enlargers, shampoos labeled “For Men” and more are also gender-affirming. Hormone replacement therapy as treatment for menopause or low testosterone is gender-affirming medical care.

Something as simple as wearing a cute choker can help someone outwardly express their gender. And while gender expression is not an inherently sexual act, some people incorporate gender play into their sexual activities with partners, which is why harnesses can be a fantastic product to keep in stock.

Many people affirm or express their gender by using clothing, accessories, undergarments, hairstyles, and various tools and products typically accessible in stores. I say “typically” because some items may have a high price tag or may not be available in the appropriate size — and it is not always safe or possible for someone to purchase these items. Many of the items I mentioned in the cross-dressing section of this article can also be used for gender affirmation and gender expression. Just remember that these are not the same things and are not interchangeable terms.

Help Your Shoppers Explore

It is important to remember that there is no single or “correct” way for a person to cross-dress, or to affirm or express their gender, and what they might choose to use depends on many factors, including what feels important to them and what is accessible and affordable.

For instance, some transgender people use tools like packers, makeup, chest binders and corsets because that is what feels right to them, and they have no interest in seeking gender-affirming medical care. Others seek gender-affirming medical care because that is what feels right to them. It is also important to remember that many trans and nonbinary people don’t use any products or tools with the intention of gender affirmation, because they don’t need them to feel affirmed.

Some cisgender men who cross-dress use prosthetic tools, like breast forms or packers, because that is an important part of their process. However, many others have no interest in anatomical accessories because clothing, makeup, hairstyles and accessories are what give them their desired experience.

There is no “right” or “wrong” here, and it is essential to make space for the infinite ways people do and do not express and affirm their genders — especially in our industry. We need to stock the products that help people navigate gender in the ways that feel right for them. One helpful tip is to stock footwear in sizes 11-14 and learn how to convert women’s shoe sizes to men’s.

It is also essential to create a safe and affirming shopping experience for everyone who comes through the doors. Train and educate staff members who interact with shoppers so they can confidently and respectfully speak to and work with customers of all genders, sexual orientations, lifestyles and more. Help them learn to ask open-ended questions and truly listen to the responses. This lets the customer guide the experience, helps prevent miscommunication, and helps contribute to creating a judgment-free space that welcomes everyone. This will lead to supremely loyal shoppers who will keep returning to your store —and who will probably recommend your store to their friends and communities.

Rebecca Weinberg is an award-winning industry leader with more than 20 years of experience in the adult industry. She is the president of multi-award-winning pleasure product manufacturer XR Brands.


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