Hot! Advice for Galtroops

There has been a lot of discussion recently within the hobby about “galtroops” (women dressed as men, also called girlfarbs or WIR – women in ranks).  Their legitimacy has been debated repeatedly, as well as questions that have been posed about what qualifies as a “good” galtroop.  It seems that most people who aren’t vehemently opposed to having women portraying men’s roles agree that the main issue is the “passability” of some of the women who galtroop, in that many do not do an adequate job of disguising their feminine features.

Seeing as how I’m a transgender man, and I have to deal with such concerns on a daily basis (though less and less as hormone therapy has taken effect), I figured that I probably have something I can contribute to this discussion to help galtroops with “passing” as male.  So, here’s what I’ve learned over my years as a galtroop and my more recent year living in society as a man.  With her permission, I’ve used photos of Sherri Rapp to demonstrate a few of the concepts.

1.  Use proper undergarments such as binders in order to properly (and safely!) change your shape to one that is more masculine.

208669_1993349676886_5165845_nDo NOT use ace bandages or any other such “wrap” to hide your breasts.  It’s a fast route to broken ribs and muscular-skeletal damage.  Instead, wear a proper binder, made for transgender men like myself.  I personally highly recommend Underworks, particularly these two: 1, 2.  I’ve also used binders from T-Kingdom and Danae.  If you have particularly large hips, there are compression shorts that can help with that as well, but only to a point.

One note about binders and other compression-wear: if at all possible, take a break from it every 4 hours, and don’t wear it for more than 12 hours, preferably less than 8.  Compression-wear causes poor circulation and organ compression while you’re wearing it, and with long-term wear can cause rib warping and permanent tissue damage.  They’re like wearing stays or a corset – if you wear a binder frequently/long enough, it will make permanent changes to your shape.

Once you have the proper undergarments, the next step is wearing them correctly.  About a year ago (before I came out), I made a video about how to properly put on a binder.  You can view it here:

Wearing a binder is especially important for military impressions where you’re going to have straps across your chest, such as the “cross belts” you see in the Rev War period.  Anything cutting across your chest will accentuate your breasts if you’re not in a binder, but not if you are.  Likewise, you’ll see that even though binders don’t change the whole shape of the body, they do make enough of a change to make a big difference in how that body is perceived.

2.  Watch how men move and position themselves.  Imitate it.

35163_1547459369907_4215563_nNow, this part has always come naturally to me, but even still, there were a few things I had to re-learn.  Men move differently, walk differently, sit differently, even stand differently.  The way a person moves is one of those subconcious cues that seems small on the surface but which goes a long way toward determining how you “ping” a person’s “gender radar”.

Men generally take up a lot more space, literally-speaking.  If you’re sitting, don’t keep your legs together or cross them at the ankles – rest one ankle on your knee, or sit with your legs spread.  Likewise, when standing, take a broader stance – keeping your feet shoulder width apart is a good rule of thumb.  In general though, just look at period images and see how the men in your era posed themselves, and learn to copy that with your own body.

3.  Make sure your clothes fit and the rest of your kit is up to snuff.

One of the refrains I have heard from several folks is “I wouldn’t mind women in the ranks if they didn’t look so bad!” and “I want to galtroop but most of the units that allow it look pretty bad”.  If your impression looks bad from the beginning, it’s going to look doubly so if you’re crossdressing.  Make sure that your clothes are properly tailored to you according to the standards of your era.  Avoid the temptation to make your clothes baggier to hide your figure if the mens clothing of your period is close-fitting; it will only make you stand out more and draw attention to you.  Aim to look like the other men in your unit.  If you’re short like me, make sure that your clothing isn’t too long, as it will make you look even shorter.  My waistcoat is a full seven inches shorter than the pattern calls for as “standard”.  If you’re galtrooping and you’re shorter than 5’6″ or so, buying your clothes “off the rack” is going to be essentially off-limits.

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4.  Don’t draw attention to yourself as female or ask for special treatment.

One of my pet peeves is women who want to galtroop but then ask for all sorts of accomodations.  If you can’t keep up with the other men in your unit or carry what they’re carrying, you need to find a way.  Likewise, if you’re going to be presenting yourself as male for the weekend, that means leaving your feminine trappings at home.  No makeup, nothing that would be out of place on a man of the period that you’re portraying.

5.  Have someone to vouch for you to help keep up your persona.

Now that testosterone has lowered my voice and given me the peach fuzz of a 17 year old, I don’t have to worry about this that much anymore.  However, back when passing was more of a concern, it helped for Marc to make a point of using male pronouns and terminology for me when we were around the public.  I often portrayed his younger brother, giving us an excuse to interact in a way that would reinforce my gender to the public.  If someone isn’t quite sure if you’re male or female, someone else referring to you as male can easily tip them over the edge of their confusion.

So, those are my tips for galtrooping in a way that is safe, fun, and that upholds the hobby’s goals of authentic portrayals.  I hope you found this helpful, and if you have any further questions, feel free to ask and I’ll add it to the guide!

3 Comments

  1. Pvte McShambles

    Interesting. I’ve read that the higher borne the man the less traditionally masculine they acted and that a certain effeteness was considered a sign of good breeding and intelligence. In a brutish, tough world all men strove to act somewhat effeminate as a way of seeming higher above their real station in life. Just like men flash bling nowadays, especially those that cant really afford it.

  2. As a man, I can’t really come up with many very effective suggestions at the level you’re providing here (BTW, I applaud what you’re doing). One of the things that many of us fret about regarding WIR is that most of us are uncomfortable having to be, well, a boobie inspector…Nobody really wants to walk up to a woman who is doing a lousy job passing as a man and tell her that she can’t wear her kit in a way that accentuates her cleavage–something an awful lot of ineffective galtroops seem to do. So I’d HIGHLY encourage women passing as men to band together, make a point of checking out each other’s impression before (and at) events, and taking the opportunity to help each other along. You’ll all improve, and the hobby as a whole will improve too.

  3. This is a great post. I think a lot of the reason you see so many half-baked “galtroop” impressions is because it can be really difficult for newcomers to get good, constructive advice about what to do/what not to do and how to improve. Sometimes it’s because they’re in units that are too farby to police what anyone’s doing, sometimes it’s because guys like Abraham are uncomfortable telling someone, “Hey, uh, you’re looking a little chesty, Private!” (which I completely understand!) and sometimes it’s because, just like some men, they just don’t care enough to be authentic. I think that last one actually applies to the minority of female reenactors, but because the farbiest ones tend to be the most visible, those are the impressions that stick out in people’s minds. After all, if you’re doing it right, no one should really know, you know?

    I just did a Civil War event that would probably be classified as progressive or campaigner. The organizers knew my gender initially, but no one else did. Some of the guys figured it out by the end, but they actually backed me up and stuck with the impression right through the weekend. Ultimately, they had some great, constructive advice about what helped give me away and how to do better the next time around. So for guys, I would say not to be afraid to offer some input in a constructive/encouraging way- I don’t think there’s ever anything wrong with striking up a conversation with someone and saying in a friendly way, “Hey, do you want some advice on your impression?” If they say, “No,” fair enough, but they may want to hear your feedback. And for women doing the galtroop thing, don’t be afraid to use the guys in your unit as a resource. They know what men look like, they know how men act, and most of them, in my experience, are happy to offer their thoughts and advice about how to do a better job of passing.

    I will say that one thing I was told that gave me up was that my gender became more obvious when I socialized with the guys more. Doing this impression may mean having to be somewhat standoffish if you’re trying to pass not only with spectators, but with some of the people in your unit, as well.

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