At first, when I did it, the degree of arousal was so great it was impossible to analyse it and understand where it came from. Now, I habitually cross-dress and have done for years and I can take a more dispassionate look at how I feel.
It is a complex feeling. The ingredients are:
- a feeling of relief - as if I had been tense or anxious and now I could relax - this could just be the feeling an addict gets when she finally gets her hit
- a sense of naturalness - as if being cross-dressed was my proper state
- a feeling of being attractive - this is perhaps the strongest feeling of them all - it begs the question; "attractive to whom?" as, like most transvestites, I am strongly heterosexual
- a feeling of sensuality - this is very closely tied to feeling attractive but it is enhanced by feeling satin or lace or other flimsy and sensuous fabrics against my skin
- sexual arousal by the sight of my own body - my stockinged legs, a skirt pulled taught across my thighs, my painted finger-nails - all cues that would arouse me if I saw them on a woman.
Let's focus on this feeling of attractiveness, since I think it may be the key to understanding transvestitism. As I said, when I cross-dress I feel attractive. Let's just look at that feeling.
It is not an objectively-based feeling. I know that, compared to real women that I find attractive, I do not look anywhere near as attractive as I feel. Yet there is a warm and happy feeling of looking good and being beautiful, indeed, of being immensely desirable. Yet I do not at all enjoy the idea that a man would find me attractive, nor do I believe that any woman would like the look of me in drag! So what is going on?
The situation of feeling attractive without actually being attractive reminds me of something else. I have lived with and among feminist women for almost 30 years now and it I have often noticed that, for some of them, their feminist views do not prevent them from dressing as attractively or sexily as any other woman. They will wear short, tight skirts and high heels, push-up bras and low-cut tops while at the same time complaining that similarly-clad women in advertisements or entertainments are only there to titillate men. When I have pointed out the apparent inconsistency, I invariably get an answer to the effect of "I don't dress to please men. I dress to please myself." I have heard this from so many sources that I am inclined to believe it is true.
If so, we have the two separate cases of women dressing for their own pleasure and me - a transvestite - doing the same. Both feeling attractive and happy with their dressing up and both sincerely denying that they are trying to titillate anybody! Can we reconcile the apparent inconsistency and can the two cases be seen as part of the same phenomenon? I believe so but in order to do so, I will need to take us on a detour through the evolution of animal behaviour.
I believe that human nature - like all animal natures - has been fashioned by evolution. Mostly what evolution has fashioned in us is a set of drives and a set of emotional responses to stimuli that will, under natural circumstances, tend to keep us alive, cause us to mate and help us keep our children alive until they are able to survive on their own.
The way these drives work on us is not always appreciated by people. Take hunger as an example. We feel hunger because if we don't eat we will die. Evolution has furnished us with a powerful urge to eat so that we will keep eating and thus survive. However - and this is an extremely important point for my argument - we do not eat in order to survive, we eat to satisfy our hunger - surviving because we eat is a side-effect. Sex is just the same. In order for the species to survive we must have babies. In order to have babies, we must have sex. So evolution solves the problem of our survival by giving us a powerful drive to do sex. Again, please note, we do not do sex so that the species will survive, we do sex because we want to do the act itself. Having babies and the survival of the species are side-effects.
The sensation of being driven by an innate urge is actually different in each case. The urge to eat or to defecate is accompanied by physical sensations of mounting discomfort. The urge to mate is felt as a yearning. Other urges manifest themselves as anxiety, fear, love and so on. Some appear simple and straightforward. Others are complex and deeply mysterious. Some are precisely focused on particular objects. Others are diffuse, generalised or vague.
If we look at how men are attracted to women we see that the stimulus is primarily visual. The very fact that most men find pictures of women sexually arousing attests to this. Although there is little sexual dimorphism in the human species, there is enough clearly to distinguish women from men when they are both naked. However, for a very long time, in many places, men and women have not been naked - they have worn clothes. Since clothing tends to hide sexual characteristics, it seems reasonable that human societies would adopt clothing conventions which themselves will show sexual dimorphism. That is, there will, in any society, be one way of dressing for men and another for women. It doesn't matter what conventions a particular society chooses. It is only important that the sexes can be distinguished visually.
To see why this should be important, consider a world in which men and women, when clothed, could not be easily distinguished. Each sex would waste half of its potential courtship advances and would need to reject a similar proportion simply on the grounds that the subject or object of the advance was of the wrong gender. Evolutionarily speaking, this would be an incredibly inefficient system.
It is reasonable to assume that evolution has built safeguards into our behaviours to prevent us from wasting time in pursuing same-sex 'mates'. Largely, this seems to be managed by a sexual indifference to same-sex people. However, we might also expect to feel negatively about inappropriate 'mates' who fool us into approaching them. Indeed, the common reaction to people who do or because of their appearance could attract us inappropriately, is one of anger and revulsion.
Thus, a man dressed as a woman is something for which most people would feel an inate dislike which is born of an evolutionary mechanism to avoid wasted sexual approaches.
So why do men dress as women?
Let's go back to this feeling of attractiveness. I suggest that there is, in normal women, an urge to look attractive which they satisfy by adorning their bodies in culturally appropriate ways. A side-effect of this behaviour is that they receive more sexual advances from males. However, the urge and its satisfaction are all that the woman is aware of as 'motivation' for the behaviour. Thus women really can dress up purely for their own benefit and, at the same time, on an abstract, evolutionary view of cause and effect, be doing it to attract men.
To explain transvestitism, we need now invoke only one simple mechanism whereby the female urge to look attractive is erroneously expressed by a male. No other aspect of the transvestite's behaviour need be affected since it seems that this urge to present sexually as a female is not related to sexual preference or any other trait. It need not even be caused by defective genes or some kind of fault of inheritance. It may be that all males inherit the necessary genes but that some environmental influence causes their inappropriate expression. Indeed there is some suggestive evidence that the hormonal environment in the womb at a critical period may be such a cause.
If this were so, why do so many transvestites find it sexually arousing to cross dress? I think that, here, we don't have to be particularly ingenious about finding an explanation. I believe that the answer lies in one or, more likely, all of the following phenomena:
- Women's clothing becomes associated with sex. Items like bras and panties, even for normal men, become fetish objects by a simple process of association with the arousal they feel when they see or feel them on desirable women. Actually wearing such inherently arousing garments under the influence of a drive to feel physically attractive leads to inevitable arousal.
- For men, sexual arousal by visual cues is easy. This is even more easy when the mood is sexually oriented or the man has been primed in some way to be sexually aroused. Thus the sight of a stockinged foot in a high-heeled shoe, or of a satin dress pulled taught across a soft belly, even though these things on your own body, still evoke the usual arousal response.
- Physical intimacy and touch also lead to sexual arousal. One's own body is about as physically intimate as it is possible to be. In the already sexually charged atmosphere of a cross-dressing session, the touch of sensual fabrics against your body, the feel of the smooth lines and surfaces, the swell of a hip or buttock as your hand caresses it are all deliciously sexy.
Some transvestites talk about a kind of sympathetic magic as part of the auto-erotic experience of cross-dressing. Cross-dressing, they argue, involves turning themselves into the object of their desire, thus gaining mastery of it. It is certainly true that, when cross-dressed, it is something like having an eager and willing woman to touch and admire, who will pose for you and who will let you watch her, touch her and fondle her as much as you like. However, I think that to say this is a reason why men cross-dress is to confuse cause and effect. In fact, I suspect that this whole sexual side of transvestitism is merely a pleasant side-effect.The picture I paint of the causes of transvestitism shows the transvestite as a man afflicted with a developmental abnormality. It is by no means a positive lifestyle choice. The transvestite is driven by urges he cannot control and doesn't want, to behave in ways which normal people will naturally find abhorrent. The transvestite is the victim of an affliction that sets him apart from his fellow men and from women.