By Anne Vitale Ph.D.
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T NOTE #11
Last updated May 21, 2011Before I go any further, I want to say that I do not consider crossdressing per se to be pathological. Neither does the American Psychological Association. Upon studying the phenomenon for the last twenty eight years, I have come to believe it is simply one of a series of ways certain individuals deal with their gender variant condition. What is problematical, however, is how the crossdressing effects relationships. The range of difficulty couples present with is great. For some couples the crossdressing complicates an already troubled relationship and the situation generally leads rapidly to the divorce courts. On the other end of the spectrum where we find the underlying relationship to be strong, a therapist can be effective and the relationship strengthened.
Knowing that I specialize in gender issues usually helps the crossdresser feel relatively safe. The wife, however, is often embarrassed for both herself and her husband. Indeed it is often very difficult to convince the wife that this is not simply his issue but is really a couple's issue. There is no way this problem can be treated by working with only one of the partners. Once I get both of the partners in the room and treat crossdressing as just another misunderstood human behavior, the less it gets stigmatized as “perverted” and “sick” by both parties. The issues are taken one at a time, usually starting with the anger the female partner has over what she considers years of lying and deceit by her lover. Fortunately other non-crossdresssing issues come to the fore fairly early in therapy. This helps in two ways. Firstly it temporarily diffuses the issue by moving the spotlight into a more familiar and therefore more comfortable arena. Secondly it gives me a chance to observe how the couple goes about working on other problems, giving me a chance to formulate the appropriate therapeutic interventions when we once again focus in on the cross dressing.Eventually I start to bring the outside world into therapy. First by providing the couple with a short list of recommended reading materials. Two books I recommend most are both by Dr. Peggy Rudd: Crossdressing with Dignity and My Husband Wears My Clothes. I also suggest that they read the work of Julie Freeman. Julie is the long time wife of a cross dresser and writes a monthly column in "The Devil Woman", the monthly news letter of the Diablo Valley Girls. In her columns, Ms Freeman describes the everyday nitty gritty pluses and minuses of living with a crossdressing husband. A selected list of reprints of her "Significant Other View" column can be found elsewhere on this site. Secondly, I take full advantage of the fact that I live in an area in which crossdressing and its effect on relationships is not a new issue. Many couples in the San Francisco Bay Area have long since found a way to incorporate the male partner's crossdressing into their lives. Some of them have organized into helpful support groups and are more then willing to share their experiences with newcomers as long as the newcomer is willing to initiate the contact. Unfortunately it is common for significant others to balk at meeting other women who are in similar circumstances. Coming out is a big step but one I definitely recommend if the SO is really interested in trying to save the relationship. Getting in touch with others first by email or by phone followed by attending a support group meeting can go a long way in putting the problem into a workable perspective. In time (sometimes years) the couple finds themselves dealing with the crossdressing in a manner similar to other issues they have previously dealt with in their relationship or marriage. It usually comes down to practical concerns such as how much money the crossdresser can spend on his interest, safety, job security, who is in on the practice and when and where the crossdressing can occur. In time the situation might even prove to be an advantageous one: As Julie Freeman so aptly states in her column entitled : "Joy in Crossdressing"; "When there is no more hiding, no more secrets, no more evasive behavior, no more "skilled hiding" as one of the crossdressers put it, this can only lead to a more harmonious relationship within the family. Joy is experienced by the crossdresser as he no longer feels he is leading some kind of double life and there is joy on the part of the significant other who is now able to understand the double life her spouse was leading.” I wish I could end on that high note. Unfortunately, social pressures against crossdressing are still very high. Even if the significant other is no longer looking for a "cure"; or considering breaking up over the issue, far too often I find the spousal acceptance of the crossdressing to be more of a resignation then a celebration. We clearly have a long way to go before anyone can celebrate.
Copyright 1996 by Anne Vitale, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist, 610 D Street, San Rafael CA 94901, (415) 456-4452, This Note may be reprinted in any non-profit organization's newsletter if Dr. Vitale's name and address appears with it. Other publications must obtain written permission from Dr. Vitale. A copy of any reprints must be sent to Dr. Vitale.