Discovering Cross-Dressing: A Sexologist’s View

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Sometimes I’ll get a call from a frantic woman who has just discovered her husband’s cross dressing. She has no idea what this means about him or her relationship. She usually wants me to assure her that she is normal and he is sick. When I suggest the interpretation is less simple, her anger flares at me and the educating begins. Though not an ideal learning situation, she eventually calms sufficiently to consider alternatives to the divorce and/or homicide she was contemplating when she first rang up.

There’s also the call from the man tortured by his secret life, wanting to share with his beloved wife the truth about his feminine side but fearing what it can cost him. Or the call from the man who has been outed, humiliated and frightened that he is about to lose all he holds dear.

Regardless of who makes the call, I know the discovery is never simple or easy.

Despite its benign nature, the issue of cross dressing causes considerable distress for both men and women. It’s illogical, really, when we consider how we fight for gender-neutral toys, education, and opportunities. I suspect that men’s feeling comfortable in women’s clothing triggers some misogynistic alarm that confuses us. Despite women’s advances, males and masculine values remain dominant. Defiantly, cross dressers favour the feminine look. That is difficult for most of us to understand.

Then there’s the question of sexual orientation. If a man dresses like a woman, does that mean he wants to be sexual like a woman, ie: with another man? The answer is no…who you want to be is called sexual identity, compared to who you want to be with, which is called sexual orientation. If my male lover dresses like a woman, does that make me a lesbian? No, again, unless you are sexually attracted to women as well as to men.

What do we know about cross dressers? Almost all are heterosexual. They tend to be well educated, professional, loyal family men. They are described as gentle husbands and attentive fathers who enjoy a small circle of close friends of both genders. Their cross dressing generally begins in their youth with the pilfering of Mum’s or Sister’s undergarments which they use for role playing. They are—initially at least—erotically charged by the forbidden aspect of what they are doing. Throughout their lives, slipping into female mode brings them relaxation and comfort. They live in fear of discovery and go through repeated bouts of acquisition and purging of their carefully chosen wardrobes. They generally tell no one their secret, though they long to do so.

When their secret is discovered, often after years of marriage, they face relief and terror simultaneously. It is often at this juncture that they seek counselling, sometimes learning for the first time that they are not alone. Their mate’s response dictates the course of their relationship.

Both the cross dresser and I as the therapist must now be ready for the partner to go through a grief process before she can think rationally about the marriage/relationship. Her eventual decision will depend upon a complex interplay of factors including her feelings, attitudes, and sexuality as well as the history of the relationship prior to the discovery. In many cases divorce will be the answer. In others, the marriage not only survives, but thrives. Regardless the outcome, the husband will be out of the closet and experience a metamorphosis.

Cross dressing is not a psychological problem; it is a social disorder. A hundred years ago women would be slandered for wearing trousers. The Victorians were so obsessed with sex that even the legs of furniture were concealed so as not to inflame the prurient sensibilities of the household males! Though we’ve still a long way to go, eventually, gender-variant clothing will become simply another sexual expression.

Until then, education is the key for cross dressers and those who love them. The unprepared discovery of such a misunderstood behaviour unleashes a swarm of fears and myths. When those are countered with reason and facts, the relationship crisis can be shrunk to manageable size and, with sensitive and informed professional direction, the couple can get on with loving each other, not as before, but now with a new dimension of understanding and acceptance that oftentimes deepens the commitment beyond what they had once thought possible.

It’s a cold wind that doesn’t blow somebody some good. This is one situation where that old adage is sometimes true.

11 Replies to “Discovering Cross-Dressing: A Sexologist’s View”

  1. Dear DR. Pega Ren this is Petra I am a 55 year old married & Separated from my wife she support,s me in that area. But when i go see her at her home i have to dress as male. be cause she lives in a.Residential Home so that is the reason that i do that to protect her and our relationship. But i really want to dress and live as a woman. I can recall in my early childhood around 11 or so I started to experience i Would go to bed before my sister come we had a big room upstairs and it was divided between my sister & i plus our step sibling. As say i be the first to bed while in i would put on one of my sis. dress and get under the cover it felt normal until i got caught by my older step sister . When i would come home from school i would be the first one home and have the house to myself i would change from my clothes to my moms or sisters clothes i would what was to wear in the dryer to warm them up then put them i did this number of time and not get caught but one day i was wearing a avocado green wrap skirt, & a full slip underneath the skirt and a shirt. my older step sister came and caught me wearing them.First she told to change into my own clothes and while i was doing that called my stepfather at work.I also had to write i will not wear a dress a hundred time.When my step father came home he started to ask me why and you like wearing women’s clothes so he had me go to my and there he ask do i wearing women’s clothes and said i did he would dress me up in a dress and have me stand outside in a dress at the street corner.And humiliate me then i said no. from then on i never did it again. until now.

  2. My wife knew of my crossdressing before we were married. She does not participate or encourage me in any way. I keep my body and legs smooth shaven, and would love for my wife to encourage me; even better, order me to wear sheer nylons on a regular basis for her inspection, seeing as I keep my legs so feminine. She could even tease me about my crossdressing, calling me her husband “bitch”. Thus; I would enjoy a dominant side to her nature. I would give anything for her to to encourage and accept my feminine side and crossdressing. In return; I’d even be open to her seeing other men of her choice if she so desired, and even having an intimate relationship. I’ve had that fantasy since before we were married. Maybe too little; too late.

  3. My wife knows all about Joanne but does not like it, so needless to say she was very upset when I came home with my ears pierced, my eyebrows waxed super thin with a high arch in them & my hair frosted & cut in a female style. After around 2 weeks, I told her I was going to start spending all of my time home as Joanne, she had quite a few choice names she called me, none of them very flattering. I don’t know how she is going to react when I tell her I have a boy friend & I am thinking of moving in with him. I told my wife when we met that I wished I could be a woman, she even used to go out to the clubs with me & seen me kissing men, I just cant stop wanting to become a woman.

    1. Dear Joanne,
      I hear the urgency in your voice. And I promise you that if you give me a chance to help you make these decisions as an adult, I will do so without any judgment. Still, you are in a position to break some hearts unnecessarily. Don’t do it. Talk to me. Contact me at sexdoc@smartsextalk.com before you act precipitously. You cannot go backwards. Let me help you go forward thoughtfully.
      Pega Ren

  4. I recently discovered my husband seems to be a crossdresser. He had quite the collection of lingerie, bras, panties, spaghetti strap tanks, etc. I noticed him wearing a spaghetti strap tanks under his typical muscle shirt, asked why he was wearing a girl’s top. Completely denied it of course. He is a very typical Man’s-Man, tough guy type, there’s I no feminine or softer side to him. There have been affairs with other women. He thinks he can lie his way out of any situation, make lame excuses, whatever he thinks it will take to avoid taking responsibility. I’m not okay with the crossdressing, for me it’s a huge turn off when it comes to sex, which has been extremely rare for about the past​ year anyway. There’s no right way he’ll talk about this, no matter how I approach him. But I not sure how much longer I can continue living a lie.

    1. Dear Vendella,
      This is not a simple issue. Please contact me at sexdoc@smartsextalk.com. I am happy to help you BOTH figure out how to proceed, and I will do it without shame or judgment. I look forward to hearing from each and both of you.
      Pega Ren

  5. I’m wondering if you can help when the situation changes? I’ve known for most of my marriage that my husband crossdresses. It hasn’t been great but it also hasn’t been a deal breaker as he’s been very private and mostly kept it to himself, but years of marriage and two kids later and I no longer want to deal with it. I hate it and it now affects how I see him. Honestly, I guess I can’t believe a grown man and father is still indulging such a stupid habit. I won’t let him near me sexually either – the crossdressing has turned me completely off.

    I don’t know what has happened or why I have slowly grown more intolerant. I don’t want my marriage to end as we are very happy otherwise, but I’m starting to think that crossdressing is incompatible with marriage and intimacy, and maybe I’d be better off without him. Thanks for listening.

  6. What you describe for a profile is accurate. I’m over 50, happily married for 30 years, father of 7, a business professional, quiet and reserved with a small group of people I would consider friends. The cross-dressing started for me when I was around 10 with my cousin’s clothing. We were living with her family about that time, and we were approximately the same size. There were additional times from 13-18 that I had stashes, purged, etc, the usual cycle of euphoria and guilt, Around 18, that time, I got serious with school, work, girls, and the urges subsided, and I got busy with life.

    As we got serious about marrying, I did disclose to my wife to be that this was an activity that I did as a youth. And I’m so grateful I did. Because about a year ago, the urges came back stronger than they ever were as a teenager. I have no idea why (Low T do to aging?, Stress with my job, my wife going through menopause and not feeling sexy anymore, who knows). One night, I saw a pair of my wife’s panties on the bed, and I put them on and climbed into bed. When my wife eventually climbed into bed, and rolled over to me to say goodnight, she found me wearing them, and the soft fabric got us both turned on, and we had great sex. Sex has always been good over the years, thus the 7 kids, but it had been challenging with her hormonal changes lately. After we were done, I asked her if I could keep them. She looked at me weird, and didn’t respond. I know that when she doesn’t respond, it’s because she needs to think about things. It put a little distance between us for the next couple days. Finally, after a couple days, I broke down, cried because of the vulnerability I felt, and explained that those urges had returned strongly, and I don’t know why, and I don’t know how long it will last, but I need this right now. She said let me think about it, and thanked me for explaining.

    The next evening as we are watching TV, she’s folding laundry, and she casually asks me where I’d like her to put my panties. She’s smiling, and it was the most touching and freeing thing.

    Over the last year, she’s helped me cope with it a lot. I have 3 drawers in our room set aside for my girl things. She’s purchased me clothes (even a valentines day special gift!) and given me feedback on what looks right and what doesn’t.

    Just like everything in sex, she’s not crazy about all of it. I think most women probably have some bi- fantasies of being with another woman. Who wouldn’t want to; femininity is soft, sexy and sensual, and very intoxicating. My wife loves me as a man, but the occasional thought about being with another woman isn’t gross for her. But whether she’s crazy about all of it or not is kind of irrelevant. We do lots of things were not crazy about, in bed and out of bed, for our partner; because we are crazy about our partner.

    I would say that when we do that, I’ve been far more attentive in all the other ways as a lover. She’s received more oral sex in the last year than all other years combined, and she has no complaints about that! I spend more time carerrsing and kissing her entire body, and it has helped me recognize the subtle things that turn women on; the soft touches and kisses that go along way to melting them. 🙂

    The best thing we did was to establish some rules. The most important one was to set up regular days of the week that it was safe for me to dress up. For us, Thursday and Friday are my nights. I don’t always do it on those nights, sometimes I’m just not feeling it, but

    The other thing we do is continue to talk about it. One of her first questions was “Do you want to be a woman full time?” No, I’m happy with occasional in bedroom only dressing. I actually really do enjoy being a man, but the occasional opportunity to dress up is freeing/exciting. “Do you want to be with a man? Do you want to be a cuckold?” Gross and not a chance. “Do you want to give someone a blow job?” Well, if you wore a strap on, I would suck that. I’d like to know what it feels like do to that for someone. But again, no desire to be with anyone but my wife. “Do you want to be anally penetrated?” Hmm. I think I’d like to try it, but if you aren’t interested, I’m good with my backdoor staying an unknown territory.

    And so on. We keep talking about things.

    Nobody wishes for this; most cross-dressers would likely give up all the feelings if they could, because it is so painful to live two lives.

    I would hope that all wives that are here reading this that have this challenge can recognize it for the opportunity it is. Your husband is probably showing you a degree of vulnerability that few women ever get to see. He has probably put his entire life in your hands. You could literally ruin their life with an email. The level of intimacy and trust that comes from this challenge can take a marriage for beyond where it is as both try to navigate these new waters.

    Hope this helps those struggling with this.

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