The Problem: People who feel compelled to wear gender non-conformant clothing (men wearing women's clothing, or vice versa) often feel that there is something wrong with them; that they are sick in some way. Some are concerned lest these feelings might mean that they are gay. Some feel that gaining particular erotic pleasure from possessing, wearing or otherwise using inanimate objects is in some way particularly perverse, and that others would be so freaked out by these feelings and behaviors that it is impossible to find a mate.
In the following brief discussion I'll talk about fetishes and crossdressing. These two topics are closely related. Some crossdressers simply feel a need to wear clothing normally associated with the other gender. Some find that this behavior is an important, or even essential, aspect to sexual arousal. Some have a particular need of certain toys or articles of clothing in order to find sexual fulfillment. It is this latter category I would like to discuss here, since we have touched on other aspects of crossdressing and transgender behavior elsewhere. Fetishistic and crossdressing desires usually start in early childhood. The underlying causes are so many and varied that it's not a good idea to go into them here. Other behaviors are often closely related to fetishism or crossdressing, e.g. desires for submission and/or bondage. With any luck, I'll be discussing these topics on other web pages in time, so I won't discuss them here.
Many crossdressers are particularly concerned about how their needs will affect their relationships or their chances of achieving a relationship. In the following text I will be talking mostly about how I might approach the impact of crossdressing on a marriage or on a committed relationship. This doesn't mean that I'm neglecting those who aspire to relationships. Much of what I say below will apply to the single fetishistic crossdresser. I'm just as concerned with helping people get into a state of mind that will allow the nurturing of new relationships as I am with preserving and enriching existing relationships.
Usually fetishistic crossdressing begins with feminine undergarments, e.g.: stockings, corsets. This is so not only because undergarments are erotically charged items of clothing, but also because these garments can be worn without notice under gender-conformant street clothes, which can provide a particular thrill to a crossdresser. There are specific feelings associated with dressing in this way. There are many ways the individual develops a liking for the particular feelings they have with particular garments. Erotic feelings are associated with the sensations they feel. This applies both to specific types of clothing as well as textiles, fabrics or materials. For example, materials such as velvet, cashmere, silk, or latex may be the primary focus of fetishistic feelings, just as shoes or stockings might be, to name but a few.
Often certain aromas are also part of this erotic charge. Some people may not be aware of the erotic source and deeply sexual nature of some of these feelings. For centuries women have worn particular fabrics in association with prevailing fashions in clothing, and they often apply perfumes for additional enjoyment. Crossdressers are particularly receptive to such stimuli.
There is much to understand and enjoy with fetishistic dressing. Perhaps because of current social norms, we usually do not use these terms in a clinical context for women wearing men's clothes. For whatever reason, society doesn't find this particularly odd any more (though it certainly did in the past). Still, a statistical argument could be made that men are more likely to get a sexual thrill from wearing women's clothing than vice versa. Of course, it's important to keep in mind that in popular parlance women are often labeled as being fetishistic about shoes, handbags or jewelry. It's just that (assuming the budget can withstand it!) people are generally not embarrassed about their shoe purchases, nor is this considered the source of pathology beyond any other form of compulsive shopping.
The following describes some of the ways in which I work with those who are suffering from the pain they experience, derived from hiding these feelings and behaviors. When my clients begin to find relief in their lives from successfully understanding themselves and their feelings during the therapeutic process, depression lessens. This leads to a more joyful life and greater confidence in finding a mate.
Many a man seeks my help as he understands that fetishistic behavior with cross dressing has become a problem in his life. The usual precipitating cause for seeking psychotherapy is the distress of a wife or a potential partner who was totally unaware of the crossdressing activity and fetishistic feelings. Figuring out what to do in order to reduce the strain on all involved is the core of therapy.
The earlier that partners know about all the aspects of how and why the client enjoys these behaviors the more positive her attitude will typically be. With therapeutic assistance, anger and fear are reduced. Understanding the fetishism associated with cross dressing is all about feelings. The sparse (and usually inaccurate) information available on The Internet will often increase the women's distaste for the behavior. I provide many ways in which both parties may come to understand the feelings associated with the fetishism and crossdressing. In many cases, partners come to enjoy participating, and may well discover in themselves their own latent desires or fantasies worthy of exploration. They learn to share the use of make up, going shopping together - their attitudes change over time.
Learning how to cope with fetishism associated with sexuality takes time. Becoming supportive, rather than merely tolerant, is a crucial part of living with someone who crossdresses. In therapy, parties learn in stages those aspects of their own sexuality that was revealed as they began to participate and experience enjoyment. This is a joint process of learning an understanding. A crossdresser's mate can, understandably, feel at sea, and even threatened by crossdressing and fetishes. In our sessions we aim to foster a mutual sense of understanding and compromise. Partners of crossdressers need to understand that they don't lose all control over their lives and relationships by admitting these behaviors into their homes. Love and compromise are essential. Part of that is the need for the crossdresser's partner to be able to limit crossdressing to mutually agreed upon times and places. Without this, security and confidence cannot flourish.
When partners learn more about why and how their mates include crossdressing with sex play, they develop more tenderness and realize that their hostility was usually based on fear of emotional competition. They may have thought that they were inadequate and that crossdressing was a way for their mates to fantasize of other, better women. Learning about what drives these feelings and behaviors is crucial. It's all too easy to fall into a negative frame of mind thinking "he loves the high heels, not me!"
Cross dressing is absolutely not wrong, but it can have damaging effects on the partner, and even the crossdresser if done imprudently. Therapy is of little use if one or the other is forced to attend. Usually there is a situation when a person simply wants to improve their overall situation. Therapy may proceed at a slow pace because exploration of many alternatives is a major part of the process. If the agonies of not being able to cross dress are interfering with other portions of their lives, therapy is probably needed.
Partners love their mates for good reasons, and those reasons aren't nullified just because he happens to cross dress. Partners want to learn that he is not homosexual (most crossdressers aren't) and so they begin therapy. Still, they continue to worry that someone might discover his cross dressing. This is not an insignificant concern - crossdressers often want to go out and about dressed according to their desires, and have been known to do so in imprudent and risky ways. Wives and other partners are understandably concerned with such social issues ("What will the kids think?"). As a result, toys or garments that the fetishistic crossdresser enjoys will remain closeted and a no-win situation develops. It is important to find a way over this hump. Bottling up feelings like this causes anxiety and depression for the would-be crossdresser, and friction and alienation within a relationship. Denial is an unwise strategy. Part of the mutual education process will be learning ways for the crossdresser to express these feelings and behaviors in ways that are not risky to either the health or social standing of the family as a whole.
Communication and learning how to experiment with sex toys associated with the cross dressing are the first issues I address when we begin with therapy. Many therapists have no experience or understanding cross dressing. Some even brand it a "perversion". This is, of course, counterproductive, not to say damaging to all parties involved. I want to be able to help both individuals in the relationship to become mutually supportive, learning how to engage with each other when both of you are interested in enjoying sex play.
Discuss, don't attack! Keep in mind that your partner is trying to deal with her own feelings as well as yours. If you try to understand what she is feeling, you can often find a way to resolve many problems. There is no magic here, but a degree of hard work and mutual respect can seem to work miracles. Any relationship will have problems that need to be worked out. Crossdressing and fetishistic desires are just some of the unanticipated stresses in a relationship that can crop up, as can be financial worries, children, or in-laws. Fetishistic crossdressing may not be well understood by the public at large (though you'd be surprised by how many people have such feelings). Still, fetishistic feelings may somehow feel more embarrassing than other problems, but as marital problems go it's fruitful to think of fetishistic crossdressing as being significantly less of a real problem than (say) infidelity or a gambling addiction. What's more, with the right state of mind, learning to deal with fetishes can be fun. There's no fun to be had in infidelity or addictions.
I begin therapeutic advise with suggestions on who and when to tell about cross dressing. When you understand that it is necessary to confide in the person who will be affected by your needs, that person will understand that honesty is an important aspect of a relationship for you.
Learning how to stick to the subject is an essential part of having this conversation. How would you describe the feelings that accompany the clothing, toys, fabrics, looks, that are associated with your sexual feelings? This takes time. Often as we begin this in therapy you will learn things about yourself that had been hidden even from you. This conversation should remain focused on the subject, not other aspects of your relationship that you are unhappy about. Listen to your partner's. Don't make demands. You probably dig in your heels when someone orders you to do something. The same is probably true for her.
Many cross dressers enjoy wearing clothing that is constructed of interesting and sensuous materials. In addition, they receive a sense of relief when wearing these clothes. There are millions of crossdressers in the US alone. An interestingly large number of them enjoy wearing shoes as an aspect of their sexuality. Women aren't the only ones to appreciate a great pair of shoes! I encourage my clients to bring their clothing and additional toys to therapy in order for me to understand what drives them so as to assist with therapy. As I understand their feelings associated with the specific toys, it provides so much information that I will have a better grasp of what their partners are seeing. This allows me to help refine presentation as well as provide to my clients a clearer understanding of their feelings.
"Why," you the partner say, "would I become so upset about clothing?" Our culture is immersed in myths, unfounded beliefs, so many negative feelings about anything pertaining to our sexuality that they determine is not "normal". I aim to help both parties understand these feelings and achieve a fulfilling life.
Most of the time it seems that fetishistic crossdressers are trying to get their women to accept cross-dressing. It sounds and feels like a one-way street. She has to accept it without question, and the crossdresser doesn't have to change at all. My years of experience in these matters tell me that crossdressing is indeed a fixed and integral part of the personality and will not go away. However, that does not mean that it has to be out of control. In any relationship of equals, there is always give and take. This means sensitivity to the other person's needs. This balance and consideration requires understanding and concern from both parties. That takes work, but it can be done and is deeply enriching to the relationship. Keep your voice low and pleasant. Raising your voice or shouting is a sure way to turn the other person off. No one likes to be yelled at. Similarly, rolling your eyes to telegraph a lack of respect is a great way to torpedo any relationship, whether crossdressing is in the mix or not.
In my office we do our best to understand and work out sexual adjustments in marriage and non-married relationships. All of this depends upon our willingness to enjoy our loved one.
More details are available on my curriculum vitae. Please don't hesitate to contact me.