Monday, 5 March 2007

The Causes of Transvestitism

From my own introspections, transvestitism is essentially sexual in nature. The wearing of women's clothing by men is about sexuality.

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.
Unlike many transvestites, I don't feel like a woman when I'm cross-dressed nor do I want to take on a female identity. My suspicion is that there is a continuum of "affliction" across the whole spectrum from "normality" through many degrees of transvestitism through to full-blown transsexualism. Like many complex human traits, I suspect that this too would be normally distributed so that the great majority of transvestites are more or less the same in how they feel and that extremely mild transvestitism or extremely strong transvestitism (transsexuality) are relatively rare. My guess would be that most transvestites you see on the Web are a standard deviation or more above the mean while I am maybe a standard deviation below it.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

8 comments:

Rob said...

John
I would like to thank you for the very deep look at cross dressing . I have started to cross dress again after years of being dormant , and this has alot to do with my girl friend who has phase 4 breast cancer. We have a 6 year old son, and the tension is very strong. I strated to cross dress as a relief from the pressure ,and to find on outlet to cheating on her, or drinking .
I do agree with your brlief about posing in the miror,as I want to be admired by men,and have found that this is true by posting my pictures in drag on verious web sites. Many men are arosed and I find it a turn on.

Nadia-Maria said...

John :
<< From my own introspections, transvestitism is essentially sexual in nature. The wearing of women's clothing by men is about sexuality. >>

Nadia :
I understand you have come to this conclusion, but it remains unproven.

<< 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. >>

Nadia :
Same experience as for myself.

<< 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. >>

Nadia :
This is especially well observed and summarized.
I would vote without ambiguity : « Me too ! ! ».


<< Unlike many transvestites, I don't feel like a woman when I'm cross-dressed nor do I want to take on a female identity. >>

Nadia :
Then count me among most of transvestites (=crossdressers), since I strongly feel like a woman whenever fully dressed up femme. And this continuous feeling – at times overwhelming - is most probably the summum pleasure of my crossdressing.
Feeling pretty, bright, attractive and sexy are ingredients of this general feeling of being like a woman, and I love admiring myself in the mirror .
I keep knowing I’m not a woman, from an objective point of view.

When crossdressed, I needn’t a female name however I find it fun and useful to have one.

<< My suspicion is that there is a continuum of "affliction" across the whole spectrum from "normality" through many degrees of transvestitism through to full-blown transsexualism. >>

Nadia :
I expect too there is a continuum concerning the intensity of the exhibited crossdressism tendancies, across the whole spectrum of transvestites, like for any other human behavioral or temperamental trait.

I may differ from your point of view in that I believe there can exist differing varieties of crossdressers, with a continuum for each variety (or trait). Transvestism is possibly multi dimensional.
For example, I don’t believe I am on the same continuum as the Transsexuals, because I don’t deny at all my male nature, at odds with what the TS and many TGirls do. I feel this criterium may be a clearcut between at least 2 main varieties of crossdressers.


<< Like many complex human traits, I suspect that this too would be normally distributed so that the great majority of transvestites are more or less the same in how they feel and that extremely mild transvestitism or extremely strong transvestitism (transsexuality) are relatively rare. My guess would be that most transvestites you see on the Web are a standard deviation or more above the mean while I am maybe a standard deviation below it. >>


Nadia :
My hypothesis is there are much more transvestites exhibiting very mild or mild transvestism than those with intense transvestism. Mild transvestites (most likely in the closet) are little driven to show themselves or go to the CD forums or clubs, because the ratio advantages/risks is way too low to be appealing for them. So they are hidden and you cannot find them at all. Take in account it might be difficult to draw a clearcut between a normal male exhibiting no significant transvestim, yet able to dress just for fun a few times in his life, and another male who would never be able or inclined to do that, even one unique time in his life by mere curiosity.
In any case it needs a strong motivation to show herself wherever as a transvestite, that explains the relative low number of transvestites on the CD forums. The most important (by far) CD forum (at crossdressers.com) shows less than 20000 members what is extremely few comparing to the expected population of crossdressers able to access these forums.

In any case both of us are making mere speculations ; they would need to be checked by an ad hoc new survey about crossdressism.



<< 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.
(...)


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.

(...) >>


Nadia :
Your whole reasoning till the end of your essay is very insightful and makes sense, and I praise you a lot for that.

Moreover it needs to be checked against the current research about ethology.
I don’t know whether you did an exhaustive bibliographic research in the literature about all these subjects (about female attractiveness in general), and believe it would be necessary to do it , to summarize it and to quote the best articles.

Nowadays, one’s intuition is no more enough to make significant theoretical advances in any field of the science, I mean.

Regards

Nadia-Maria

Hypnosatan said...

'Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on average...' (freud)

Sexual orientation through choice is a misnomer. I'm a 31 year old Gay man and I Know I wasn't born gay. However I did not choose to be gay either.
It is a much ignored irony (ignoring facts is something the homosexual community does with great gusto) that so many homosexuals claim to know for a fact that they were born gay but still react with vitriolic anger if a person suggests otherwise. If one is so certain why worry?

Homosexuality is caused by a persons reaction to certain traumatic experiences. A person isn't a result of their experiences but a result of their reaction to those experiences.

We all have to face certain traumas in the years before puberty. How the people who we are dependent on respond to us in the first few years of life will dictate how we respond to these traumas.

Transvestitism is easily explained as is transsexualism. However The explanation is never easily accepted. Particularly since the invention of genetics people have sort to explain their own behaviour by way of nature not nurture. This serves the purpose of protecting them from their own truth. Being born a certain way means there's nothing they can do about it, enabling them to easily deny or avoid exploring the traumas of childhood.

As a yard stick I suggest - if its behaviour its nurture. Homosexuality, heterosexuality, transvestitism, schizophrenia, ADHD, etc are all behaviours and all as a result of nurture.

To understand yourself you would first have to realise the minds ability to repress experiences. Repression means to push something into the unconscious mind making it totally unavailable to the conscious thoughts. The mind does this to protect the developing child. However when the child reaches a certain stage of development the repressed will try to express itself in anyway it can. Through illness, psychological disorders, and behaviours via the compulsion to repeat.

A little understood psychoanalytical concept a compulsion (Compulsion meaning: To carry out a ritualistic act which, if interrupted, causes great anxiety, and unsettledness) to repeat is responsible for transvestitism as it is for many many other behaviours. The behaviours at first sight may bare no resemblance to the originating experience. An example of a compulsion to repeat that we may all have come across and wondered about is: People who consistently enter into destructive relationships. Often a guy who has offered love, tenderness and care to a woman will be rejected by the woman only to find out she has entered into a relationship with a guy who beats her everyday. You may have heard people say 'why do I always attract the bastards/bitches?' The answer would always be 'because you want them!' these behaviours are caused by the compulsion to repeat. Like in transsexualism if the compulsion to repeat isn't carried through the person will be unable to settle or will be, in some way, 'out of sorts'.

It is no good looking to science for masses of evidence, asking other people, quoting research at people, using statistics - to understand a compulsion to repeat you would have to see it for yourself. It is absolutely impossible to truly understand your own compulsions to repeat without seeing the connections from childhood. Most people will deny everything I have just said get defensive possibly even get annoyed and accuse me of talking nonsense. I always say the same thing I'm not the one who is in the dark or who is ill or suffering. It is a sad fact that people would rather be ill than face their true-self and indeed many people even die because of it. Science is fundamentally flawed because – Scientists are in denial of their true-selfs and to allow you to face yours would mean they would have to face theirs and they are not going to do that! I am a qualified hypno-analyst and even I couldn't possibly guess at how many compulsions to repeat each person I meet would have. See it for your self before you deny the efficacy of what I say, if you deny what I say with out exploring the possibility you need to ask yourself why.

Fortunately its easy to see your own truth, takes a few weeks and is highly enlightening. You will find the answers you seek and will be a better person for it.

The need for Transsexualism and transvestitism like many compulsions to repeat including (in many but not all cases) homosexuality will dissolve after successful analysis. However it must be stressed no one should seek therapy for any of these things alone but for the purpose of enlightenment, happiness or freedom etc.
I don't care what people do as long as it doesn't hurt anyone or effect anyone else. However when people start suggesting that nature is responsible for behaviour it moves us further away from the truth and it effects all of us negatively in ways most people wouldn't even think of. Don't sit there pondering what I say go do it 12 weeks later you will have the answers and understand what I say. Then come and discuss.

However if you choose to keep wondering ,asking ,looking and searching for years that's ok too. We are all individuals and have choices. It's a shame we don't realise how we limit our choices not because of nature but because of denial. People have come up with the most fascinatingly complicated explanations for behaviour the unpalatable truth is human beings are painfully predictable.

If you look to science to explain human behaviour I guarantee you will never get the answers you seek without huge leaps of faith. Leaps of faith have fuelled religious wars for over 2000 years. Is it really worth it!

Anonymous said...

Hello!
Akiko from Japan
http://akikos-planet.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/

Paul-ine said...

@hypnosatan:

<<Transvestitism is easily explained

No, it is not.

For a start, the assertion that all behaviour is nurture is just plain nonsense. Eating is behaviour, as is drinking, crying, shitting, peeing, sensing and learning. Yet we do all of that, and more, the minute we are born.

Children are born with a basic personality. We are all different from the womb. We vary in sensitivity and intelligence and temper, and in the way we deal with experiences. And every experience will further add to who he or she is. How that person makes sense of the world and himself, feels, thinks, acts. Anybody and everybody is a mixture of nature and nurture.

Sure, childhood experiences and trauma can build patterns of behaviour so embedded we see them as biological where they are biographical, or we see them as a result of the present environment, not coming from ourselves. Jean Jenson and Ingeborg Bosch have written great books on the subject.

If you believe your own homosexuality is simply a result of experiences in your childhood, that is fine. I am not discounting the validity or courage of what you did.

What I have a problem with is that you generalise your own, very personal, experience, and whatever your therapist told you to everybody else. Who are you trying to convince?

<<human beings are painfully predictable.

Some are, sometimes. The problem is, you do not know when they will be.

kathyann24ts said...

I have read you article & even though it may make a lot of sense to you & other people here. You article no way describes how or why I started crossdressing. It more or less started when I was young. I have a older sister & one day after our parents left her in charge of me as they went out for awhile. I ended up in the cellar with her. She had me take my clothes off & dress up in one of our mother's bra. Since that day I can't stop from wearing a bra. And, that started me on the wearing of other feminine clothing as well. Try as I might & having God knows how many purges I had finally accepted the fact that I like & love wearing women's clothing.
I had conflicting thoughts in my mind & it was hard to stop them. But, while dressed as a girl I feel more at ease & also feminine. I had envied my sister as she got to wear all the nice clothes & I was stuck wearing those ugly boy clothes.
I went through of years of therapy because of this. Trying to hash it out. But, when I am dressed as a female these conflicting thoughts were no longer in me.
It got to the point where I was thinking of being a female & having relations with men as well.I also began using sex toys on myself while dressed.
Eventually, I was caught later in life dressed as a girl by 2 women. And, thats another story.

Sandra Lopes said...

I know this is an old article, but it still makes for some interesting reading. Your hypothesis — an abnormal development (or the lack of suppression) in the way a male ought to present himself — is rather well presented, and it also shows some evolutionary evidence to support it.

However, it's actually a pity you have elaborated a long argument solely based on a single case (yourself), and probably have read little (or none) scientific literature on the subject, where dozens of thousands of cases have been thoroughly studied — as thorough as you did with yourself. If you had done the same, you'd reach the conclusion that the distribution is anything but a normal.

Spending a little time chatting with the community, even if it's only online, would have you immediately shown that the vast majority of crossdressers are fetishists: they dress as women because they know they can find sexual partners there have the complementary fetish, i.e. the desire to have same-sex intercourse with someone dressed as a woman. I could easily say that this group vastly dominates the crossdressing spectrum, so it's hardly a "normal distribution".

A fetish is just the replacement of the sexual object of desire by something else; in this case, "wearing women's clothes". Thus, the vast majority of crossdressers in this group are similar to foot fetishists, latex fetishists, leather fetishists, and so forth, and indistinguishable from them as regards the way they feel about the women's attire they wear.

One might also connect a latent homosexuality in those cases — both for the crossdresser and the (desired) male partner who has the complementary fetish. By having intercourse with someone who looks like a girl, they don't "feel" they're engaged in a homosexual relationship. In fact, if asked, neither will use that tag to label themselves. They will merely say that they enjoy sex with someone dressed as a girl.

There is, indeed, a slice of the crossdresser population where your own case fits. Unlike the first case, which produces little literature about the subject, it's the crossdresser like you (and, to a degree, like myself) who write most about their crossdressing and what lead to it. The first group is just engaged in dating sites and do little reflection about their fetish. As such, it's easy to come to the wrong conclusion that "most crossdressers are like me, the exceptions (mild and strong transvestism) are rare". No: what is rare is that the vast majority of fetishist crossdressers write about themselves, so they are overwhelmingly under-represented!

Among the ones that do, indeed, reflect about their condition and talk and write about it, there might be a normal distribution between mild/average/strong, but one would have to clearly define what's meant by that — and the curve would be very flat in any case.

One can subdivide and sub-classify crossdressers almost indefinitely, but, outside the fetishists, I can agree that the majority will fall into the group where they either "do not feel themselves as women", "feel themselves as women but don't want that feeling to be permanent", and "would love to feel themselves as women permanently". The latter group, of course, is currently known as "late transexuals" and is quite large. They would not be considered transexuals at all in the 1980s and early 1990s because they lack the deep depression and suicide tendencies from so-called "primary transexuals", who suffer since birth for not having been born in the "correct" body for their gender identity.

Sandra Lopes said...

However, I do agree that your explanation does, indeed, provide a reasoned argument for the small group of crossdressers to which you belong. It also provides an explanation why female crossdressing is almost inexistent (because you link the notion of "dressing attractively" to an essentially female trait; women, even if being afflicted with the same kind of abnormal development that you postulate, would not feel that urge, since males do not dress attractively).

Your explanation of the inherent fetishist content of female clothing is quite correct. After all, if women's lingerie weren't sexually attractive to males, they wouldn't wear it. In fact, through social conditioning, males learn to associate women's clothing with attractiveness. Thus, your explanation is an excellent argument!

I just might have some issues with your conclusion: "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."

While it's true that "normal people" will find the lifestyle abhorrent, and your own explanation for that provides a sufficient argument — wasting time figuring out if someone's the correct partner for intercourse — I cannot agree with the idea that crossdressing is a "negative lifestyle", unless, of course, a crossdresser engages into deep frustration and depression because of it (in that case, yes, I would agree). In almost all cases of fellow crossdressers I know, none would agree that they have "urges they do not want" (while certainly most would agree with a certain lack of control over those urges). In fact, for this group, the experience of crossdressing is so intensely pleasing (just like you describe at the beginning!) that they most certainly want to repeat it as often as possible — that's pretty much the opposite of what you're postulating. Again, I think that your argumentation is weakened because you just have a single case of study — and apparently you're disgruntled at your own urges and would rather prefer not to have them. Well, I can only say that you're an extreme case (certainly one that has many people, though) but quite far from the "average". The average non-fetishist crossdresser will initially struggle with their urges, finding them "wrong" because we're socially conditioned to think them as "wrong", but once that barrier is overcome, crossdressing becomes not only natural, but so intensely pleasant, that it becomes very desirable.

But all in all, it was a most interestingly article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!