Reasons for Male to Female Crossdressing

Background Paper 2.1, from the Renaissance Education Association, Inc.

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 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 crossdressing 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 glamourous, 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 pysche 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 the 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 recognize that 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 theatre 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.”

Issued by Renaissance

A non-profit association to educate the professional and general communities about transgendered people.

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