Biological Sex is being male or female, as determined by chromosomes, and body chemistry. In puberty it is marked by the development of secondary sexual characteristics, facial hair in men, breast development in women, and so on.
Gender is expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity. It is how people perceive themselves and how they expect others to behave. It is largely culturally determined.
Transgendered this word has recently come to be used as the 'general term' to encompass all cross dressers, transvestites and transsexuals.
Cross-Dressing refers to the adoption, fully or partially, of the clothes normally identified as belonging to the opposite sex. People may cross-dress for a variety of reasons of which transvestism, transsexualism and fetishism are the commonest. Some people may also cross-dress as part of a disguise or for entertainment. Others may cross-dress as part of masochistic activities.
Transvestism is cross-dressing, with the desire to adopt the clothes, appearance and behaviour normally associated with the opposite gender. For some it is simply dressing up, while for others, known as Dual Role Transvestites, it is a need to adopt the opposite role as fully as possible on a temporary or full-time basis.
Gender Dysphoria refers to the dissatisfaction with ones gender (masculinity or femininity) which is in conflict with ones physical sex. The term is usually restricted to those who seek medical and surgical assistance to resolve their difficulty.
Transsexuality is a profound form of gender dysphoria where there is a conviction of being "trapped in the wrong body" and the need to express oneself and to be as far as is possible in the gender to which one feels comfortable.
Hermaphroditism or Intersexuality is where the physiological sex is ambiguous. The situation may, or may not, be accompanied by various degrees of gender dysphoria. The condition may be due to chromosomal complexes, such as Turners or Klinefelters syndromes, congenital errors of metabolism such as androgen insensitivity syndrome and adrenogenital syndrome. There may also be effects from the hormone balance in the foetus or the placenta.
Homosexuality or Bisexuality is a situation where sexual attraction is felt for people of the same rather than the opposite sex. Bisexuality is where sexual preference is for either or both sexes. In general, those who are homosexual or bisexual are quite satisfied with their gender and body. Most men who cross dress are not homosexual.
Gender identity refers to a persons sense of him, or herself as masculine or feminine. The cause of gender dysphoria remains uncertain and may well be a combination of internal hormonal and learning mechanisms in the early environment. There is no clear evidence of an inherited or familial factor. Both transvestism and transsexualism often lead to social consequences, which often require skilled specialist counselling. Neither condition is amenable to cure, any more than is homosexuality or left-handedness. At one end of the scale is the occasional cross-dresser who perhaps adopts the clothing of the opposite sex for fetishistic reasons while at the other end of the spectrum is the transsexual who, with thoughtful and carefully directed therapy, usually becomes happier as an individual after the gender reassignment process. Between these two extremes of cross-dressing are gradations, with the transvestite functioning somewhere in between. The transvestite who knows that he, or she in rare cases, is not alone and not insane is more able to come to terms with the condition and learn to live with it. Gender possibilities are broad, as are those of sex. People can exist anywhere along the continuum.
Transvestism tends to be little understood, though work in recent years to change public attitudes means that it is, perhaps, no longer a subject of fear, but is more seen as being harmless. It is a subject commonly treated in the press in a way which exploits it for sensationalism, but womens magazines seem to be more sympathetic. Perhaps it does not feel such a threat to women as it does to men. When one is very close to the person, however, it may well be a different matter. Among families it seems to be very threatening at first. Understanding is not as good as it might be among people in the caring professions, the clergy, police and social workers, who may be called on to offer help.
The unhappiness often experienced by many transvestites comes from loneliness and anxiety about their situation, and considerable confusion about their feelings. In a sense they are a minority group, who fail to conform to what is regarded as normal behaviour and may therefore fear the consequences should the activity be discovered. Societys acceptance of females who choose to dress in traditionally male clothes is widespread in the West, but cross-dressing by males is much less accepted. Throughout history, women adopting the male role have largely gone unremarked. Partners are often concerned that their man may become homosexual or transsexual, though this is unlikely to happen, once the person is sure of himself. Some transvestites do opt to live full time as women and some may be homosexual or bisexual by coincidence.
In many transvestites, however, the urge to cross-dress is irresistible. Belief in societys lack of approval may make the transvestite attempt to suppress the behaviour, or to keep it secret from those whom he loves for fear of destroying the relationship. This may lead to a depressive phase where counselling by understanding professionals is crucial. Self help organisations around the country provide an outlet for transvestites and their wives to meet socially to combat the sense of isolation
This is usually characterised by a continuing conviction that the physical anatomy is incompatible with the true gender role. Thus a female to male transsexual will feel she has "a mans mind trapped in a female body" and vice versa. Surgical attempts to allow such individuals to live in their chosen gender role, known as gender reassignment surgery, (or more commonly, sex-change operations), are less complex for the male to female (mtf) than for the female to male (ftm) clients. However, entering the adopted social role is often much simpler for the ftm. Hormone prescription for mtf transsexuals is said to lower sexual appetite, while for ftms the reverse is said to be the case. However, it does not seem likely that it will alter sexual interest. Transsexuals may be heterosexual or homosexual, like the rest of the population. Sexual orientation is a variable, and some transsexuals are content to remain celibate.
Erotic fetishism is the dependence on particular objects, or parts of the body, to obtain sexual arousal. Clothing may come to be a fetish object for this purpose and may enhance sexual stimulation during solitary, or partnered, sex. Common fetish objects are female underwear, leather wear and rubber, but almost anything can be identified and come to be used as a fetish object. The problem seems recorded more frequently, and in more judgmental terms, for males than females. Using female underwear for fetishistic purposes is one reason for partial cross-dressing. While many transvestite adolescents may go through a phase where the wearing or using clothes of their choice produces an erotic experience, it has intrinsically a different motivation from fetishism.
Masochists derive pleasure from pain or humiliation usually within a sexual context. In their wish to play on their idea of the weaker sex some males may cross-dress in order to be dominated by a partner. It is the fantasy experimentation with issues of power within relationships. Its opposite is sadism.
Homosexuality - Gay Men and Lesbians
People in the gay community are, in general, content with themselves as men or women. Many gay men emphasise their masculinity. Some have more feminine personalities and the distinction is clearly marked in some countries. Possibly it is the more feminine gay men who cross-dress, though such behaviour is often frowned on, and they may find an outlet in parodying women, as in drag acts.
Role-reversal in pantomime is part of theatrical tradition, and was a recurring theme in Shakespeares work. There are also many male or female impersonators, drag artists and comedy sketches involving cross-dressing. Drag balls, fancy dress parties and student rag sessions afford an opportunity for the public to dress for fun, highlighting the gender stereotypes by ridiculing both sexes
The incidence of transvestism is estimated at approximately one in a hundred of the male population. It has never been accurately estimated in the female population. The incidence of transsexualism is considerably rarer, probably being of between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 15,000 of the population. Thus a town of 100,000 people may have at least 500 males who cross-dress and five to eight transsexuals. The actual figures are probably considerably higher. Many transvestites cross dress in the utmost secrecy for fear of censure or ridicule, while those who have overcome this problem can be said to have "come out of the closet." It should be pointed out that, while some transvestites say their dressing is an expression of their femininity, transsexuals dress in a way they feel is appropriate for their innately determined gender identity.
Aspects Of Transvestism
The majority of transvestites are heterosexual men, who are often married with families. The desire to cross-dress seems usually to begin at an early age when the only available clothes may be those belonging to female members of the family. A transvestite boy may suffer feelings of isolation and guilt, but is often too young to realise the reasons for the need. At first cross-dressing is often nonsexual but during puberty may take on erotic overtones.
Transvestism is not a disease and therefore the term cure does not apply. It is a behaviour pattern which has underlying reasons which are not yet fully understood. In some societies, it might be perceived as a harmless quirk. It may however be regarded as threatening in a relationship. Often the transvestite has avoided telling his partner, believing it may pass once he is married, only to be discovered accidentally at a later stage when it re-emerges. The female partner may feel let down or angry at not being told. Often cross-dressing is simply a safety valve and a form of escape from the pressures and responsibilities of work and social demands. A partner may react with complete revulsion, leading to separation and divorce. At the other extreme, the partner may find the behaviour pattern intriguing, perhaps even stimulating. The majority probably fall in between these two extremes and form some sort of compromise and tolerance without necessarily approval.
A transvestite who indulges in cross-dressing at the expense of time spent with wife and family, and at the cost of purchasing a double wardrobe, risks alienating both wife and family. If the couple can work together in mutual acceptance of feelings, and to support the partnership, there is a real possibility that the marriage may be strengthened and enhanced. Such transvestites may have developed a better understanding of the opposite sex.
Many partners lack knowledge and assume that cross-dressing equates with homosexuality. They may also fear the possibility of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. A transvestite is no more at risk in this than any other member of the public. More commonly a partner may feel inadequate and believe that somehow she must have failed her husband as a woman. Often the most damaging is the feeling of being deceived and that the secret has gone unshared despite the intimate life which they otherwise have. Like the transvestite himself the partner may fear adverse reaction from parents, relatives, friends, and particularly the children of the marriage.
It is important to remember that people who cross-dress are primarily individuals, and that labelling can do considerable damage. Individuals should not be categorised and each person should be treated as an individual in their own right
For Wives & Partners
Women of the Beaumont Society (WOBS) is a group run by, and for, wives and partners for support and to help support those whose husbands or partners behaviour is difficult to understand. Those seeking further information may write to BM (WOBS), London, WC1N 3XX, enclosing an SAE, please. The Women of the Beaumont Society have an individual helpline available from 7.30 to 11.00 p.m. on 01223 441246, or 01203 717528.
The subject of cross-dressing is complex. The aim of this text is to give an outline of some of the problems that may occur. It is not possible to give all the answers to all the problems. If, after reading this you would like further information, please write to us at The Northern Concord, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope.
Extract Adapted From The Beaumont Trust Information Leaflet
To Contact Northern Concord write to:
or E-mail JennyB@northernconcord.org.uk
The Northern Concord
1987 - 2019
Working for the transgender community for the past