You may be reading this blog post because you yourself have a partner who cross-dresses, you suspect your partner may cross-dress, or you’re just curious about cross-dressing. Well, I’m glad you’re here and I’m hoping this post sheds some light on this pretty common, often confusing (to family, friends, and dressers themselves) form of expression.
So, What Exactly IS Cross-dressing?
The actual term “cross-dressing” can be a problematic one for me to explain. Why? Because it’s rooted in the idea that there are two genders (which isn’t true—there are many!) and that each gender has their own distinct way of dressing (Like, girls only wear dresses, boys only wear pants, nonsense). But if we are going to go along with what feels like an outdated term (or, hopefully, one day will be outdated) then cross-dressing is, most often used, when a cisgender* man wears stereotypically feminine clothing; said clothing is usually not the norm for his everyday wardrobe. For example, I cisman who usually wears clothes that align with expectations in western society, i.e. pants, suit, collared shirt, boxer/briefs, etc.; at times, will decide to wear feminine undergarments, dresses, pantyhose, etc.
Is it Possible for Ciswomen & People of Other Identified Genders to Cross-dress?
Sure. But, in my professional opinion, when we think of cross-dressing, we often think of cismen dressing in feminine clothing. So, for the sake of this blog post, that is the group of people we will focus on.
Is Someone Who Cross-dresses Transgender?
Not necessarily. I’ve met cismen who cross-dress while questioning their gender identity but aren’t yet comfortable identifying as gender non-conforming or trans. However, many of my cross-dressing patients are cismen, have no questions about their gender, but feel drawn to a more feminine side of themselves. They enjoy wearing feminine clothes because they like the way they look, feel, and the people they are when they are in them.
Is There a Sexual Component to Cross-dressing?
For some men, yes. There are men who wear feminine undergarments and clothing because it is sexually arousing, which we usually think of as a fetish. For whatever reason (I mean, why are we turned on by anything we’re turned on by, honestly?) there is something sexually arousing about wearing feminine clothing/underwear during masturbation or with a partner(s). No biggie.
Is Cross-dressing a Mental Illness?
No. Absolutely not. There is nothing wrong with cross-dressing, in fact, many of my clients who cross-dress express feeling less stressed and happier when they are able to safely dress. Although cross-dressing alone is not a mental illness, people who do cross dress may report experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, often because they’re afraid that someone may find out or dressing takes a lot of time and emotional energy to hide that part of themselves from the people they love, out of fear it could ruin their lives. The majority of my patients who have come in to discuss their cross-dressing have reported that it began when they were young, usually around puberty, and they’ve been keeping it secret (to some degree) their entire lives. That’s a lot of weight to carry on their own and can take a toll.
What Do I Do Now That I Know?
Talk to your partner. Communication is key. Masculinity and the ways in which we have internalized it are tricky. We have very rigid ideas about what it means to be a man in our society. So much so, that a man cross-dressing, in some parts of the world, could be deadly. Remember, a cross-dressing man isn’t any less of a man just because he enjoys certain aspects of femininity. Listen with an open mind; ask questions; and validate their experience. We may not fully understand what makes our partner’s tick and that’s okay. People are ever evolving, regardless of what style clothing they choose to wear.
*Cisgender: when a person’s gender identity and expression aligns with their sex/genitalia at birth.
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