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Informative Reading

Article From The Renaissance Transgender Association, Inc.

987 Old Eagle road, Suite 719

Wayne Pa 19087

Phone 610 975 9119


Renaissance Background Paper #1 Revised, Sept. 1994 Myths & Misconceptions About Crossdressers from the Renaissance Transgender Association, Inc., 987 Old Eagle School Rd., Suite 719, Wayne, Pa., USA 19087. Phone: 610.975.9119. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It is human nature to explain strange and complex phenomena in simplistic terms. This is true with the gender role/ issue of crossdressing or transvestism. As with many popularly held beliefs, there is often some truth to the "folk" wisdom regarding crossdressing. The problem is that these beliefs are held to be true in all cases. It is often dangerous to make sweeping generalizations about such complicated issues. The following myths and misconceptions about crossdressing demonstrate how wrong these generalizations are. All men who dress like women are gay. Although no definitive research has been done to survey the entire crossdressing population, current thinking holds that the number of gay/bisexual transvestites is about the same as in the general population-approximately 10 percent. This means that 90 percent of transvestites are heterosexual. Some heterosexual transvestites fantasize about having sex with men while they are dressed as women, but this is often an extension of their "female" role. If one were to characterize the sexuality of these men, bisexual would probably be the best term. However, many transvestites choose to have sex, or fantasize about sex, exclusively with women. Women who have sex with crossdressed men are lesbians. Many wives of transvestites say that they have sex with their husbands when their spouses are dressed as women because it is something that their husbands enjoy and they love them. Some say they are ambivalent to the feminine attire their husbands wear, and allow them to wear it because it is not important to the relationship. Some of these women may have lesbian tendencies or may be bisexuals. But the fact that a woman has sex with a crossdressed man proves only one thing; that she loves him. In fact, the wives of many crossdressers report that once their husbands have opened up and shared their secret desire for wearing women's clothes, they seem to be free of the tension and anger that may have threatened their marriages. The men become more attentive and tender with their partners This provides an additional reason for women to accept their mate's crossdressing. Transvestites wish they were women. Most reasons for crossdressing do not involve transsexual desires, i.e., a wish to physically change sex. Although crossdressers uniformly enjoy wearing women's clothes, the majority seldom want to live their lives as women, nor do they want to become women. They simply want to be like women. A very few transvestites have chosen to crossdress all of the time and live totally as women, i.e., a transgenderist. But even these men have no desire to have sex reassignment surgery. It is true that prior to having such surgery, a transsexual must crossdress and live as a woman for a year or more. During this time they often receive female hormones and their secondary sex characteristics will become markedly feminine. These people are known as preoperative transsexuals, and should not be confused with transvestites or transgenderists. Most transvestites, as opposed to transsexuals, enjoy being men. As spouses, they are content being husbands rather than wives. As parents, they are happy with the role of father and do not wish to become mothers. While they refer to other crossdressers as "sisters," this is an acknowledgment of the special bond which they share. Additionally, the preference expressed by many crossdressers for being referred to with female pronouns and for using feminine names is related to their appearance rather than to their basic gender identity. Men crossdress because they were dressed like girls in childhood. It is true that many transvestites report their first crossdressing experience came when they were young children. Some of these experiences came at the initiation of the transvestite himself, playing out childhood fantasies involving gender roles. These were usually strongly discouraged by their parents. Some of these experiences were initiated by parents or guardians as punishment. Very often, these young crossdressers displayed no other effeminate behaviors. Dr. Richard Green, M.D., of UCLA, concluded a study in which he followed a group of effeminate boys from early childhood into their 20s. As children many of them were dressed as girls. But none developed into crossdressing adults, while very few developed as transsexuals and most developed as homosexuals. Green does not say that the childhood effeminacy or crossdressing caused the later development. Transvestites act like women even when wearing men's clothes. Because many crossdressers fear being found out, they consciously try to act as traditionally "masculine" as possible when not crossdressed. This is not difficult for most of them because they are usually masculine men. Crossdressers are not necessarily effeminate. In fact, crossdressers are no more effeminate nor more masculine than any other man. While in men's clothes, most crossdressers do not stand out from the general population. However, because some crossdressers have a fear bordering on paranoia that their secret will be discovered by others, they often adopt exaggerated masculine mannerisms; e.g. the "super-macho male." Transvestites suffer from a sexual dysfunction. While it is true that crossdressing and eroticism are strongly linked for many transvestites, crossdressing and sexual activity are not directly related. All male-to-female transvestites wear some items of women's clothing which are gender-linked symbols and engage in some "womanly" mannerisms which are gender-linked behaviors. Therefore, crossdressing is primarily a gender issue. It is incorrect to speak of it as a sexual dysphoria unless the transvestite is unable to function sexually unless he or she is crossdressed. Transvestism is a mental disorder. Some crossdressers do suffer mental anxiety, but this is a result of the inappropriate guilt they feel because of society's disapproval of their behavior. These symptoms frequently disappear or may never arise when a transvestite is in an accepting or tolerant environment. If a transvestite is not in "significant clinical distress" due to the crossdressing, then he is not considered mentally disordered according to the American Psychiatric Association,

There does not appear to be any one reason why some men feel the need for dressing in women's clothes, or why they do so despite the disapproval of society and the popular belief that they are sexual deviates. Many crossdressers have sought out professional help in changing their behavior, but very few "successes" are reported despite a sincere desire on the part of these crossdressers to change. This inability to "treat" crossdressing implies that it fulfills a body of complex psychological needs rather than simply being a sexual dysfunction or an expression of "deviate" sexuality. If it were purely a sexual fetish, for example, classic reconditioning should be effective; yet it is not. Many transvestites report that they experience different reasons at different times, or a combination of reasons on specific occasions. The broad range of motives listed here supports the notion that transvestism is not a simplistic behavior focused on sex and/or sexuality, but perhaps a response to a complex and interrelated group of needs, some of which are far removed from sexual issues and closely aligned with gender roles.

1. Erotic arousal/fetishism.

Often this is the transvestite's first and primary association with feminine clothing. Many times, the person is initially aroused by lingerie, perhaps by its connection with the boudoir, or by the tactile sensations these clothes present. Eventually these items are used as an aid for masturbation. For transvestites, the ultimate result is that they begin dressing in the clothes even though that may not have been their original intent. Many transvestites report that through masturbation they developed a fetish for women's clothes while in puberty. Some say that the attachment arose much later in life.

Sexual fantasies for many transvestites involve sexual contact with another person while they are dressed. Most often that person is a female. Others, who are heterosexual at all other times, fantasize about sex with men, but only while they are dressed as women. Some transvestites are fortunate in that their partner allows them to dress while having sex. When a transvestite cannot dress, he frequently fantasizes that he is wearing women's clothes while having sex with another person or while masturbating. Some can be aroused no other way.

2. Relief from tension.

Some transvestites say that they dress when they are feeling extreme pressure in their male lives. For some of these men, the act of wearing women's clothes allows them to "step away" from masculinity and all that society expects of men. Other men report while they enjoy playing a traditional masculine role, their cross-dressing provides a welcome refuge. These motives are related to the expression of hidden personality characteristics.

3. Expressing hidden personality characteristics.

Crossdressing allows some men the opportunity to express portions of their personalities that this society does not accept in "masculine" men. While these characteristics, such as gentleness, passivity, and emotional sensitivity, are neither specifically feminine nor masculine, they are most commonly associated with women. Some men also report that they have the need to be flirtatious, to feel beautiful and glamorous, or to act passive and helpless. The transvestite feels most free to express these traits only when he is dressed as a woman.

3a. The Androgyne Hypothesis.

Several clinical psychologists have hypothesized that the psyche of all men and women is innately androgynous, i.e. having the characteristics of both genders. Through cultural processes, however, most boys grow up to be fully masculine men and most women mature into fully feminine women. According to this hypothesis, these people reconcile the "residue" of their opposite gender traits through a variety of "acceptable" means. But for some people, this residue is so great and their urge to express these characteristics is so strong, that they develop a gender dysphoria which is manifested, for example, in the need to act out a feminine role (male transvestites) or by the desire to change their anatomical gender (transsexuals).

4. Envy of women.

Some crossdressers say that they envy or idolize women and therefore want to be like them. Their view of women's position in society is often unrealistic and idealized: the "little homemaker," the "sex kitten," or the "bitch goddess." Some transvestites also say that they envy women's bodies. Although this motive for crossdressing approaches transsexualism, for many men a desire to have breasts does not mean that they wish to be rid of their penises.

5. Fooling the world.

The urge to appear in public in women's clothes and pass as a woman provides all the satisfaction some men seek. They report that although they have the opportunity to dress often while they are home, they do not. Instead, they dress only when they have the occasion to go out. Appearing in public in women's clothes provides a "high" for some transvestites that in itself is a sufficient motive for dressing. These men enjoy being thought of as women, although this can have some distressing implications for confirmed heterosexual transvestites whose feminine appearance is good enough to attract the attention of admiring men. For others, however, this attention is just a testimony to their success with the masquerade. They realize an unwanted invitation need not be accepted.

6. A conscious alternative personality.

This differs from #3 in that the alternative "female" personality is a different person from the male. "She" frequently has "her" own name, makes "her" own social niche, and has "her" own history. Many crossdressers refer to their "female" selves as their "sister" or with another third person term when they are not in drag. ("My sister went out the other night and she had a ball!") This is often a matter of convenience when conversing with other crossdressers. But for some crossdressers this alternative personality has a "life of her own." This is not, however, a split personality because the crossdresser knows that the "female" character is an illusion, a character in a drama produced and directed by the crossdresser himself. The transvestite who has created an alternative personality actually finds satisfaction in bringing that character to "life" and in playing out episodes of the drama.

7. Creativity.

Some crossdressers say that their skillful appearance as a woman is an art form that involves making something appear to be something that it is not. This skill requires the full range of theater arts (costuming, make up, and acting) plus an artist's eye for color, texture and scale. Some transvestites also call their crossdressing a hobby that pleasantly occupies their leisure time, whether they are dressed in women's clothes or dressed in men's clothes and shopping for or planning their feminine wardrobe or their next excursion in drag. Some men crossdress purely as a creative outlet, i.e. the professional female impersonator. While many impersonators call what they do "simply a job" and let it go at that, others react in a strongly negative manner to the merest suggestion that they are transvestites. This reaction reflects society's belief that crossdressing in response to personal or psychological needs is "sick."

While many transvestites, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, want to have a meaningful and loving relationship with another person, most fear that discovery of their need to crossdress will result in total rejection. So, not wanting to chance being rejected by their lovers, they choose to conceal their behavior. Some transvestites believe that marriage or a similar committed relationship will enable them to stop crossdressing. But this is rarely the case and the need continues. As a relationship progresses, the transvestite is faced with a dilemma; should the behavior be revealed, or should it be concealed? On the positive side for disclosure is openness and honesty in the relationship. On the negative side is the relationship's possible dissolution. Transvestites who choose to share this facet of their personality can expect a variety of responses. In some relationships, the partner's response oscillates between outright rejection and total acceptance. But even in the best of circumstances, disclosure generally alters the relationship.

Partner's Issues: The myths of transgender behavior.

1. Social Stigma -- What you don't see is what you often get.

In our society today, it is acceptable for women to wear a variety of clothing, from sexy and sensual (e.g. slinky dresses), to utilitarian and functional (jeans and sweaters). They have the opportunity to express their inner feelings through the clothes they choose to wear in public. In general, men do not have the same option. Male attire is traditionally conservative. Flamboyant male attire, other than in a theatrical setting, is associated with homosexual or profligate behavior. A male in traditional female clothing is automatically assumed to homosexual, or a sexual pervert, or a generally undesirable person. A female in traditional male clothing will not experience the same labeling process, unless she takes the crossdressing to wild extremes. In this respect, a female crossdresser is less likely to experience a social stigma for her crossdressing behavior.

Partners in relationships with crossdressers may experience fear of social reprisals if their mate's crossdressing is discovered. This is not an unreasonable reaction. In many job situations, particularly in government service, the discovery of crossdressing behavior may be grounds for immediate dismissal. The social stigma attached to crossdressing can make a partner afraid to confide their fears and concerns to anyone else. They are afraid that they may be ridiculed or ostracized for being a partner in such a relationship. This leads to feelings of isolation.

One might assume that partners in homosexual relationships would be more accepting of crossdressing behavior. This is simply not the case. A homosexual partner may fear reinforcing the social stereotype which links homosexuality with behaviors associated with the other gender (the effeminate gay man, the masculine lesbian). So, they too have fear of social reprisals.

2. Self-esteem -- You're not okay and neither am I.

Some partners react to spousal crossdressing out of a lack of self-esteem. They immediately ask, "What have I done wrong? ...How could s/he do this to me? ...What is wrong with me?" People who react this way feel negatively about themselves and they transfer the "guilt" of the behavior to themselves.

Women in our Western culture have not enjoyed a position of equality for over 2000 years. They've been told they're "too fragile" or "not intelligent enough" to perform certain jobs. We know this is simply not true today, but the socialization of women as "lessers" to men continues around the world. It is no wonder, then, that a heterosexual women may react negatively to her husband's crossdressing. She may feel that she has failed as a women, a wife and a lover. She may also feel she must "compete" with her husband's feminine persona. She may be threatened by his crossdressing, particularly if he looks convincingly like a female.

A heterosexual man who discovers he has married a crossdressing woman, may experience similar feelings of inadequacy and competition, although "masculine" women are more acceptable to society than "feminine" men.

Because, by definition, a homosexual is erotically aroused by a same-sex body image, the partner of a crossdresser in a homosexual relationship may experience feelings of rejection, both for and by the crossdresser. If the partner already has self-esteem issues because of their sexual orientation, the crossdressing may only serve to exacerbate these feelings.

3. Sexuality -- Am I straight or gay?

Initially, a partner may have doubts about their mate's sexual orientation. The most common reactions by a heterosexual female partner are the fears that the transvestite is actually a transsexual, a homosexual who will engage in promiscuous sex, or that the transvestite is a sexual deviate and potentially psychopathic. Some of these preconceived notions are reinforced by stereotypes in film and literature, e.g. the films Psycho, Homicidal and No Way To Treat a Lady. Sometimes the assumptions about sexual orientation or transsexualism will prove to be true, but, more often than not, they are without merit.

The homosexual partner often rejects the transvestite because the partner is not attracted to other-gender figures or because of the partner's fear of the stereotype which links homosexuality with behaviors associated with the gender (the effeminate gay man, the masculine lesbian.)

However, many partners of transvestites will, sooner or later, begin to question their own sexuality. Here they are in a relationship with a person that desires (at least on occasion) to appear and be treated as the opposite sex. What does that feel like for the partner? Since male transvestism is intimately tied to eroticism, many male transvestites want to engage in sex while crossdressed. For a heterosexual female partner, questions of latent lesbiansim may appear. For a homosexual partner, the issue becomes the sexual orientation of the crossdresser. Will s/he leave me for a straight man or woman?

Whatever the case, doubt about one's sexuality and sexual orientation can only put an additional strain on the relationship.

4. Loss of Intimacy -- What I did for love.

It is often remarked by transvestites that their crossdressing activities hurt no one. This point of view is a selfish one; not surprisingly since transvestism is a narcissistic, selfish behavior. Quite often a transvestite will become so engrossed in their crossdressing that they begin to neglect the public and private social aspects of a committed relationship. Extraordinary amounts of time, energy, and, frequently, money are spent developing their alter-ego. The partner of a transvestite in the throes of this self-discovery will often find themselves an "outsider" and feeling neglected. This soon leads to resentment and problems in the relationship.

As noted above, some transvestites desire to engage in sex while crossdressed. If the partner finds this objectionable and resists, the transvestite may react by withdrawing their physical affection. This alienation of affection then feeds other problems in the relationship.

Partner's Responses

1. Total Acceptance

In some instances, partners express complete and total acceptance of the crossdressing behavior. This may be due to a knowledge of transvestism gained from past personal experience, or because of a sincere belief that people should be entitled to express themselves in any non-destructive manner. A partner of this type realizes that many of the good qualities that drew them to the transvestite are due to that person's transgendered nature. The partner also does not feel constrained by society's definitions of masculinity and femininity. In rare cases, a heterosexual couple will reverse the stereotypical roles with the male becoming the domestic partner and the female the breadwinner, even to the extent of the crossdresser adopting a full-time female persona. In some male homosexual relationships, the transvestite could adopt the visible, public role of the "wife," thus giving the outward appearance that the relationship is heterosexual. Among lesbians, the transvestite could, if both partners agreed, take on the public role of the "husband.

2. Total Rejection

At the opposite end of possible responses the partner unequivocally cannot accept the behavior and requires that the crossdressing stop. This is often followed with a threat of separation or even public exposure. Partners may try manipulating the transvestite with statements like, "If you really love me, you will stop." It is well documented that, regardless of the intentions, transvestites cannot just say "No" to crossdressing. The partner's complete rejection eventually dissolves the relationship.

3. Partial Acceptance

Some partners react mildly to the disclosure of crossdressing desires, recognizing that the behavior is unusual but generally harmless, if managed properly. However, attempts by the transvestite to involve the partner more intimately in their activities may be met with resistance. Such resistance may be perceived by the transvestite as a personal rejection when it may actually be just a rejection of the shared activity. A partner who initially shows partial acceptance is more likely to progress to total acceptance when provided with the proper information about the phenomenon. This sometimes leads to an expansion of shared activities involving crossdressing. But the partner's needs in the relationship must be recognized. Common problems occur when the transvestite loses sight of the need to have a "public" relationship; i.e. one which the partners share with neighbors and family members, or when the transvestite fails to realize that the partner may not totally share the enthusiasm for crossdressing.

4. Partial Rejection

The partner is repulsed by crossdressing and is distraught over the behavior. In an attempt to salvage the relationship, the partner acknowledges the need to dress, but will not allow it "in the house" or "in my presence." Or, the partner says, "you can do it, but I don't want to know about it." Initially, this may appear as progress in the relationship. But if the couple remains at this stage, no longer discussing the behavior, resentment may develop on the part of either individual. This discontent can spill over into other issues and eventually the partners move toward alienation. If the couple keeps a dialogue open and if they explore the phenomena together in a non-hostile manner, the partner sometimes accepts the behavior as not threatening to the relationship. Thus, partial rejection may eventually become partial or total acceptance.

Coping in a Relationship

1. When and how to tell a partner

As stated at the outset, many transvestites fear rejection and so never disclose their crossdressing behavior. The majority of transvestites in relationships are either "discovered" or eventually tell their significant other about the dressing, anyway. So, the dreaded disclosure occurs anyway. It has been noted by several researchers that the longer a partner is kept in the dark about transvestism, the more negative their reaction after disclosure. It is, therefore, recommeded that a partner be informed early on in a serious relationship, and certainly before marriage. The timing of disclosure must be selected carefully. There are no hard rules. If it feels like the right time, it probably is.

The transvestite needs to be sensitive to the partner during the disclosure process. Bear in mind that, generally, the partner has been socialized to reject transvestism. The idea is to provide information about the behavior, not force acceptance. The setting should be intimate and private. Be prepared to spend as much time as necessary answering questions. Once the initial disclosure has been made, if the partner seems understanding at all, future conversations will be much easier.

2. Some Disclosure Guidelines for the Transvestite


Don't overwhelm your partner with information. Stop long enough to let them ask questions. Be prepared to stop immediately if the reaction is one of shock. Sometimes, the reaction may be delayed by days or weeks. Be prepared to deal with this situation.

Don't describe transvestism in negative terms, i.e. a "problem." Transvestism is a part of one's personality, for better or worse, and it will never go away. So, why make it more difficult to deal with by giving it a negative connotation?

Don't surprise your partner by showing up crossdressed. Let your partner ask to see you that way. It is a good idea to show them a photo first. Later they may ask to meet your "other-self" in person.

Don't rush your partner off to a transvestite support group meeting until after they've seen you dressed in private. Your partner may choose to never see you dressed and may never want to attend a group meeting. If this is the compromise to fit your need to dress, you must accede.


Do have printed information, like this paper, for your partner to read. Avoid fantasy literature and magazines with contact ads.

Do suggest talking to a professional counselor for impartial answers to their questions.

Do suggest joining a Significant Other Support group where your partner may find peer support from the partners of other transvestites.

Do discuss limits and constraints on the crossdressing behavior if your partner seems to be understanding of your need. Some topics might be: where and when crossdressing is acceptable; the role of crossdressing in the bedroom; and whether or not to tell others, including children, other family members and friends.

3. Some Coping Strategies For Both Partners

For the transvestite:

Keep trying to communicate your needs. Listen carefully to your partner's needs too. Talk about feelings. But, overall, keep the communication lines open.

Maintain a balance between your "public" social life and your "private" crossdressing life. Respect your partner's need to have social interactions with people other than more crossdressers. Just as you want time for crossdressing, your partner will want time for hobbies and other personal interests.

Respond to your partner sexually as yourself, not your crossdressed persona, more often than you think is necessary. Show your love and appreciation openly and frequently.

For the partner:

Recognize some incontrovertible facts about transvestism. It will never go away. There is no "cure," psychological or physical, for transvestism. Your partner's need to crossdress arises from within. It is not a result of failure of your relationship nor any failure on your part.

Having sex with a crossdressed partner, if it is pleasing to both of you, is not sick or perverted. Sexual variations abound in many relationships; this is simply one variation. You may find that lovemaking in this manner is especially stimulating both both of you. On the other hand, if you find this practice wholly disagreeable, you should not be coerced into doing anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Make it clear that you are rejecting the activity and not your partner.

Focus on the positive aspects of transvestism. Some partners find their mates are more sensitive and attentive when crossdressed. Women who have transvestite husbands may find the men more helpful around the house with cleaning and cooking chores.

Be willing to compromise but don't let your own needs be overwhelmed by the crossdressing. Negotiate limits and rules.

Join a Significant Others Support group for peer support. You may find comfort in discussing your issues with other partners who have similar issues. Compromise solutions may be shared in such a group. Many transvestite support groups have formed auxiliary groups for partners. Be aware, however, that researchers have found that the most effective Significant Other Support groups are those that are independent of the transvestite groups.

4. Seek Professional Counseling

Many adults have a great deal of difficulty talking about emotional issues, particularly men. It may make sense then to seek out a professional counselor to help partners deal with transvestism in the relationship. Lack of communication and the inability to articulate one's needs are the most commonly cited problems faced by any couple in counseling. A competent therapist can facilitate the learning of new communication skills.

In addition, the therapist can prevent one partner coercing the other into unacceptable positions; either forcing the acceptance of crossdressing or forcing the cessation of crossdressing. The point of counseling is not to reach one or the other of these extremes, but to find the "win-win" compromise that will permit the partners to continue in a meaningful and loving relationship.

Dr. Carl W. Bushong

Known as "Dr. B." to many, is the originator of a new style of long-distance transsexual and transgender services having helped hundreds fully transition. Since the early 1990's, his pioneering efforts broke the mold of the few remaining gatekeeper-style gender clinics by establishing the progressive Tampa Gender Identity Program which allowed access to a variety of transition services including hormone therapies, electrolysis and guidance to be readily available under one roof. Dr. B. continues to innovate by removing the need to travel great distances for many transition services such as guidance, hormone therapy, laboratory review and recommendation through his web site, doctorbushong.com.

When we speak of gender, in a context other than language, it is a recent concept in our culture, both lay and professional. In 1955, John Money, Ph.D. first used the term "gender" to discuss sexual roles, adding in 1966 the term "gender identity" while conducting his gender research at Johns Hopkins. In 1974, Dr. N.W. Fisk provided our now familiar diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria. Previously, one's sexual role was considered one of two discrete, non-overlapping congenital attributes—male or female determined by one's external genitals. These two mutually exclusive categories allowed for no variation. Of course, we acknowledged the cultural differences in sexual roles, but there still could be only two modes of expression.

Now we see one's gender as a continuum, a blending, analogous to a "gray scale." But, our distribution of gender is bimodal, that is, most people are lumped at the two ends (see graphic) with only a minority in the middle. The great majority will see themselves as either male or female with all that implies.

But, my review of current research and experience with gender dysphoric, gay and traditional clients has led me to see gender not as a bimodal male or female dichotomy but as a matrix—a possible mix of male/female orientation within the same individual. Several researchers have developed theories of how the brain develops prenatally along sexual lines arising from androgen mediation. Dr. Milton Diamond concludes from his research that the brain has four stages of gender imprinting. The first is Basic Sexual Patterning such as aggressiveness vs. passivity. Second comes Sexual Identity (gender identity), third, the Mating Centers develop (sexual orientation), and fourth, the Control Centers for sexual equipment such as orgasm.

Gunter Dörner in Germany, using his research with rats, sees only three stages. He believes that first the Sex Centers develop giving typical male and female physical characteristics, then the Mating Centers (sexual orientation) and then the Gender Role Centers which are similar to Diamond's "Basic Sexual Patterning."

As a psychotherapist, I don't presume to enter into the discussion of what develops in what order and how. I take a more pragmatic stance and seek to observe what behaviors are linked, or independent from one another. From this research and observation, I have developed a list of five semi-independent attributes of gender. Not as a fixed dogma, but as a working theory, a map if you will, to help us understand this complex often hotly emotional issue of gender. Consider sexual identity/behavior springing from five semi-independent attributes.

These five attributes are:

Genetic Our chromosomal inheritance.

Physical Appearance Our primary and secondary sexual characteristics.

•"Brain Sex" Functional structure of the brain, along gender lines.

Sexual Orientation Love/sex object, "Love Maps."

Gender Identity Our subjective gender, our sexual Self-Map, how we feel ourselves to be: male or female.

It is my contention that it is possible for an individual to view oneself and function as male or female to varying degrees in each of the five sub-categories independent of the others. For example, an individual may be XX female (chromosomal female), physically female, have a "female brain," be heterosexual but see her(him)self as male—or any other combination. One can be either male or female in each of the five sub-categories independent of each other. If we use "F" for female identity/function, and "M" for male identity/function and one through five for the semi-independent attributes listed above we could describe each individual according to their particular breakdown:

1M 2M 3M 4M 5F
A Gender Dysphoric, Morphological Male

1M 2M 3M 4F 5M
A Homosexual Male

1F 2F 3M 4F 5F
A Dominant, But Heterosexual, Even Feminine, Female

Since each of these independent attributes is graded, it is easy to see the possible combinations and degrees number in the thousands. With regard to gender, we can be in a category of one—ourselves.

Perhaps only individuals who are homogeneously male or female at the highest degree in all five attributes could convincingly describe themselves as only a single gender— the rest of us are a matrix.

Like our genetic and physical gender, our gender identity, sexual orientation, and brain sex, expression usually remains constant from childhood throughout one's life. 

Distribution of Gender
The Five Sub-Categories


The first sub-category, Genetics, is only beginning to be understood. What mechanism and to what degree does genetic influences effect one's expression of gender? We do know that besides the traditional XX chromosome of a typical female and the XY of a typical male, that there are other combinations such as XXY, XYY, and XO.

A XXY combination results in 47 rather the 46 chromosomes. This condition is called Klinefelder's syndrome and occurs in one in every 500 births. Individuals with Klinefelder's are sterile, have enlarged breasts, small testicles and penis, and a eunuch body shape much like the "Pat" character on "Saturday Night Live." They show little interest in sex.

Another 47-chromosome occurrence is XYY Syndrome. In this syndrome, the hormonal and physical appearance of the individual are evidenced as a normal male, but behavior is effected. Typically, XYY Syndrome people are bisexual or paraphilic (pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, etc.), and show very poor impulse control.

Where Klinefelder's and XYY Syndrome are examples of an extra chromosome, Turner's syndrome is a case of a missing sex chromosome. These individuals possess 45 chromosomes (written as XO), are unable to develop gonads, and are free of all sexual hormones, except that crossing over from the mother during fetal life.

Turner's Syndrome people have external sex organs approximating a female, and their behavior is characterized as hyper-feminine, baby care oriented, and showing very poor spatial and math skills. The Turner's personality, free of all influence from testosterone, tends to be in direct opposition to the typical set of "Tom Boy" traits.

Physical Gender

Turner's Syndrome relates well to our second category of Physical Gender—that being our primary and secondary sexual characteristics. To discuss this aspect of gender we need to examine hormonal involvement, in particular testosterone. During fetal life, the amount present, or the absence of testosterone determines our sexuality—physically, mentally and emotionally. There are key times or periods during development when the fetus will go towards the male or the female depending on the level of testosterone. These windows of opportunity may be only open for a few days and if the needed level of testosterone is not present, a basic female orientation develops regardless of the testosterone levels before or after this critical period, and the resulting sexual imprint.

The first critical period is at conception when the presence of the SRY gene (Sex-Determining Region of the Y chromosome) will determine our physical gender. The SRY gene is normally found on the short arm of the Y chromosome, but can detach making for a XY female (the Y missing its SRY gene) or a XX male (the SRY attaching to the X).

The SRY gene causes the fetus to release TDF (Testes Determining Factor) which turns the undifferentiated gonad into testes. Once testes have formed, they release androgens such as testosterone, dehydrocorticosterone, and anti-mullerian hormone.

Before the release of TDF, the developing fetus has two tiny structures, the mullerian and wolffian ducts, and two small-undifferentiated gonads, neither testes nor ovaries. Without the influence of TDF and testosterone, the gonads form into ovaries and the mullerian duct forms into the female internal sex organs, the wolffian duct disappears and the external sexual tissue becomes the labia major, clitoris, labia minor and clitoral hood. With the influence of TDF, the gonads become testicles and the wolffian duct forms the male internal sex organs, the mullerian ducts dissolve and the external tissue develop into the penis, scrotum, penile sheaths and foreskin. In other words, without testosterone all fetuses develop into females. Adam springs from Eve, not Eve from Adam.

As the primary sexual differentiation proceeds towards our physical gender, sometimes deviations occur. These anomalies are sometimes called "experiments of nature." One such "experiment" is a condition termed congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) when the female fetus releases a steroid hormone form her adrenal glands which resembles testosterone. The resulting child often has confusing genitals ranging from deformed female genitals to an appearance of male genitals. If the child is raised as male, following any "adjusting" surgery and given male hormones at puberty, the individual develops as a "normal" but sterile male with XX chromosomes. On the other hand, if the infant is surgically corrected to female and given female hormones, there is a 50/50 chance of lesbian expression.

Another revealing "experiment of nature" is Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. In this case, there is a normal amount of testosterone circulating in a XY chromosome fetus, but each cell of its body is unable to react to it. This is similar to Turner's Syndrome in that neither the mullerian or wolffian ducts mature and the external genitalia develops into an approximation of normal female genitals, but differs in that TDF stimulates the gonads into becoming functioning testicles in a XY chromosome body. The child is raised as a girl and is seen as a normal female until she fails to menstruate because she has no uterus. If her testes produce enough estrogen, she develops into a completely normal appearing, sterile female with XY chromosomes and internal testicles.

Dr. Simon LeVay, in his book, "The Sexual Brain," argues that one's brain receptors for hormones may also play a significant role in our gender development. Dr. LeVay writes, 

"There is much to recommend...that there are intrinsic, genetically determined differences in the brain's hormone receptors or in the other molecular machinery that is interposed between circulating hormones and their actions on brain development. First, this would provide a mechanism that involves hormone-induced brain differentiation but does not require there to be differences in the actual levels of hormones. Second, since there are several different receptors involved (including the androgen receptor, the estrogen receptor, and at least two " estrogen-related" receptors), there is opportunity for selective effects on different brain systems."

Now we must leave the comfortable arena of biology and development and enter the more rocky, emotional and even political arena of psychology, anthropology, and sociology. An arena where deduction, speculation and circumstantial evidence is more evident than "hard fact."

The third, forth and fifth attributes all reside in the brain and there is controversy on both a congenital vs. environmental level and on a developmental one. It is still argued by some that sexual orientation is a choice and there is no difference in the mental abilities of men and women. Others argue that the evidence, both direct and circumstantial, is becoming overwhelming that these stands are incorrect.

Brain Sex

Because of the controversy over whether significant differences in brain structure do exist between the genders, I will confine my discussion of the "Brain Sex" attribute to some behavioral differences that have been noted between morphological male and female infants and children. At all times keep in mind that Physical Gender does NOT always indicate "Brain Sex" Gender. And, while these differences are the norm, they are not absolute. Individual children may differ.

Even a few hours after birth, significant behavioral differences are noted between morphologically normal boys and girls. Newborn girls are much more sensitive to touch and sound than their male counterparts. Several day old girls spend about twice as long looking back at an adult face than boys, and even longer if the adult is speaking. A girl can distinguish between the cries of another infant from other extraneous noises long before a boy. Even before they can understand language, girls do better at identifying the emotional context of speech.

Conversely, during the first few weeks of infant life, boys are inattentive to the presence of an adult, whether speaking to the infant or not. However, baby boys tend to show more activity and wakefulness. At the age of several months, girls can usually distinguish between the faces of strangers and people they know—boys usually do not demonstrate this ability.

As infants grow into children, the differences seem to intensify and polarize. Girls learn to speak earlier than boys and do a better job of it. Boys want to explore areas, spaces and things, girls like to talk and listen. Boys like vigorous play in a large space where girls like more sedentary games in smaller spaces. Boys like to build, take things apart, explore mechani

cal aspects of things and are interested in other children only for their "use" (playmates, teammates, allies, etc.). Girls see others more as individuals—and will likely exclude a person because they're "not nice," and will more readily include younger children and remember each other's names. Girls play games involving home, friendship, and emotions. Boys like rough, competitive games full of "`zap, pow' and villainy." Boys will measure success by active interference with other players, preferring games where winning and losing is clearly defined. In contrast, girl play involves taking turns, cooperation and indirect competition. Tag is a typical boy's game, hopscotch is a girl's game.

Sexual Orientation

If "Brain Sex" is controversial, the fourth attribute of Sexual Orientation is ever more so. Although there is public and political controversy, the overwhelming majority of medical and psychological practitioners agree that sexual orientation may prove to be mainly congenital, or at least firmly established in early childhood. The term "Sexual Orientation" is a bit misleading. It is more an erotic or love orientation in that Sexual Orientation determines the physical gender we find attractive, with whom we fall in love, and have romantic as well as sexual fantasies.

From experiments with animals, "experiments of nature" in humans, and genetic and neurological studies come a consistent, though still circumstantial, stream of evidence that indicates one's sexual orientation is largely hormonally determined by the presence or uptake of testosterone at key periods in fetal development, and possibly even beyond. As we have seen with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), female fetuses exposed to testosterone-like agents develop a 50/50 chance of a lesbian versus heterosexual orientation if raised as girls. Studies of identical twins also indicate that when one twin shows homosexual or lesbian expression, there is a 50/50 chance of homosexual or lesbian expression in the other twin—whether raised together or apart.

The remaining 50% of determination may be continued hormonal development, environmental considerations or a combination. One interesting consideration with determination may be during our early postnatal development since the fetal stage for human babies is not completed during gestation, but continues for a year or more outside the womb. And during this critical time after birth, we have the highest level of testosterone present, excluding the onset of puberty—with many brain receptors to receive this powerful hormone. At any rate, between the ages of three and six years, one's erotic orientation is very likely established but may not be acted upon for decades, if at all.

It is also interesting that sex- atypical traits (in regards to one's physical gender) seen in children destined to become gay or lesbian, are more evident than in adults who are gay or lesbian. One possible explanation is that the increased levels of androgens and estrogens at puberty stimulate the development of more sex-typical traits in adults.

Gender Identity

The last of our five attributes, Gender Identity, is the last to be identified, and the least understood and researched. Gender identity is one's subjective sense of one's own sex. Like pain, it is unambiguously felt but one is unable to prove or display it to others. One's subjective gender is just as real and immalleable as one's physical gender but unfortunately not recognized in our culture. When one's Gender Identity does not match their Physical Gender, the individual is termed Gender Dysphoric. Like minority Sexual Orientation, Gender Dysphoria is not pathological, but a natural aberration occurring within the population. As with minority sexual orientation, the percentage of the population having gender dysphoria is in dispute, with estimates ranging between one in 39,000 individuals up to three percent of the general population. My experience leads me to feel that the higher figure (3%) is closer to the actual prevalence.

Gender dysphoric individuals have been described, either by themselves or by others, as falling into three distinct groups: crossdressers, transgenderists and transsexuals.


Those individuals with a desire to wear the clothing of the other sex but not to change their sex are termed crossdressers. Most crossdressers view themselves as heterosexual men who like to wear women's clothing in private or in public, and may even occasionally fantasize about becoming a woman. Once referred to as a transvestite, crossdresser has become the term of choice.


Transgenderists are men and women who prefer to steer away from gender role extremes and perfect an androgynous presentation of gender. They incorporate elements of both masculinity and femininity into their appearance. Some persons may see them as male, and by others as female. They may live part of their life as a man, and part as a woman, or they may live entirely in their new gender role but without plans for genital surgery.


Men and women whose gender identity more closely matches the other physical sex are termed transsexual. These individuals desire to rid themselves of their primary and secondary sexual characteristics and live as members of the other sex.

Transsexuals are diagnostically divided into the sub-categories of Primary or Secondary. Primary transsexuals display an unrelenting and high degree of gender dysphoria, usually from an early age (four to six years of age). Secondary transsexuals usually come to a full realization of their condition in their twenties and thirties, but may not act on their feel

ings until they are much older. Typically, secondary transsexuals first go through phases that would be self-assessed as being a "crossdresser or transgenderist."

A New View of Gender

While the above categories are the generally accepted classifications both within the gender community and among helping professionals, during my work with gender folk I have come to the belief that there is only one cause and one conflict—but there are many reactions and adjustments to it. I have gradually come to the conclusion that one's coming to terms with the conflict between one's subjective knowledge of their gender and one's need to be "normal" fosters the conflict in all gender folk. I also feel that for most physically male gender folk, the male persona is an artificial construction produced by the early adolescent individual (age 12 to 15) in order to fit in and be like everybody else. For the F/M person, there is a separate and different, but still consistent pattern.

Physically Male/Subjective Female
Individual (M/F)

Because a child's greatest desire is to be normal (like everybody else), the great majority of M/F individuals create an artificial self which meets this goal. They are often so successful at this that they not only fool everyone else but themselves as well — at least part of the time, in some way.

Once created, M/F gender folk live in their male role — a 3-D personality with its own goals, likes and dislikes, values, hobbies, etc. Although indistinguishable from the "real thing," it isn't themselves. It is an artificial creation for them to be able to fit in. This is achieved at the expense of denying, locking away, their natural female subjective gender. Their desire to be "normal" has denied them their natural selves. But, as the nagging reality of the deception becomes harder and harder to suppress, one has to express their true subjective gender somehow, in some way.

For most, dressing is the obvious compromise. If one cannot be female, one can at least express femininity. But the more one expresses one's true self, the desire for more becomes greater. Some individuals continue expressing themselves more and more, others panic and purge only to start again later.

One's gender identity classification (crossdresser, transgenderist, transsexual, etc.) is due to each individual's adjustment to first the conflict between one's subjective gender (Self-map) and their need to be "normal," and later to the conflict between one's subjective gender and their "male persona." There is no objective "best solution," only a subjective, personal best solution.

After years or decades of living, working and building within their male persona, it is often too "expensive" to give up the life, perks, family, etc., one has built up—in order to go back to basics and have an emotionally 12 year old girl grow up—and live in a once male 40+ year old body.

However far one is able to go toward dismantling the male persona and allowing their female subjective gender to develop, one generally seems to have the following three levels of transition:

1. Recognition that one's Self Map (subjective gender) is different from one's Physical Gender —This can take the form of seeing one's self as a "woman trapped in a man's body," a need to express one's "feminine side," etc. This stage is mainly concerned with physical/surface changes such as crossdressing, passing, makeup, wigs, etc. In this first part, many gender folk don't even venture from their own home and often have a juvenile (before age 15) and later, an adult phase. The so called "Primary Transsexual" is an individual who never constructs a male persona and therefor never accepts their male genitals or challenges their female Self Map/subjective gender.

2. Accepting one's Self-Map (Subjective Gender)—This stage is more varied than the first and consists of changing one's life to fit one's Self-Map. These changes may only involve bringing one's significant other and loved one's into their dressing behavior and expanding their activities ("crossdressers") or continuing to express their Self Map and dismantle their male persona by starting hormones, electrolysis and public dressing. One develops towards a "comfort level" with one's subjective gender and its conflict with their male persona.

3. Becoming one's True Self — This is the last but unfortunately least experienced part of transitioning. This is the stage when that little child trapped inside an artificial persona in order to fit in breaks free, grows up and has their own life — often with markedly different values, temperament and interests.

It has been my observation that the female subjective self needs little help in growing up and developing if the overpowering weight of the male persona is removed from it. The M/F individual has spent years, decades developing, reinforcing and living in their male role. Dismantling the male persona takes a

great deal of time, effort and outside help. In those individuals identified as "transsexual," their subjective sense of happiness and success is directly parallel with the degree they have dismantled their male identity, not on their age, physical size, hormones, surgery, etc. Another interesting aspect of a female subjective gender with a male physical gender is the concept of Sexual Orientation. To classify a M/F individual as either homosexual or heterosexual would be equally false. If one views their gender as that established by their subjective gender, then having sex with a physical/ subjective female would make them homosexual (lesbian). But, if one viewed their actions from their physical gender, they would be committing a heterosexual act. In other words, no matter which gender they have sexual relations with, they are simultaneously committing both a homosexual and heterosexual act.

I believe this example illustrates the need for us to see our gender as a matrix of male/ female expression and not as an either/or classification based on the appearance of our physical genitalia.

Physically Female/Subjective Male
Individual (F/M)

The F/M individual is much simpler than the M/F one. With F/M, there is no conflict or confusion over sexual orientation. —They are overwelmingly attracted to physical females, but not as a female themselves, but as a male. There is little, if any attempt to create a "female persona" and "crossdressing" behavior, if it appears at all, has different goals and practice.

Unlike the long transition required with M/F's, F/M's seem to need little help beyond understanding their condition, accepting it and help in correcting their physical gender to accommodate their subjective one.

In male-subjective/physical gender and female-subjective/physical gender individuals, males are generally the simple ones and females, the most complex. It may be that one's subjective gender is a major component in this complexity or the lack of it.

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