I don't use xdm, but my /etc/X11/xdm/Xsession file just has ...
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# $Xorg: Xsession,v 1.4 2000/08/17 19:54:17 cpqbld Exp $
# $XFree86: xc/programs/xdm/config/Xsession,v 1.3 2001/01/17 23:45:24 dawes Exp $
# invoke global X session script
The /etc/X11/Xsession does most of the work, but will look for coniguration/parameter files in my $HOME directory to use as over-rides ... The ".xsession" file i have there just has the string ...
fvwm -cmd "FvwmM4 -debug $HOME/.fvwm/.fvwm2rc"
It's all invoked via a "startx" command at the console prompt. I would expect that aside from the differences between a console and managed boot to X, both processes would be basically the same.
If you copy over or create ".xinitrc" ".xsession" ".xserverrc" (you may or may not have that one, if it isn't one of your xdm scripts, or in /etc/X11 then probably not. Its used in my system to start X). The main system wide files should look to your $HOME directory for those files, and if found use them instead. It is a good way to apply your own customisations.