Writer’s Note: In the transgender world the line distinguishing who is crossdressing as a step to more permanent gender re-assignment and who is crossdressing with no intention or desire for gender change is quite blurred. This article refers to the latter group, those who enjoy crossdressing but have no desire to undergo permanent gender change.
When I set out to discover why different crossdressers reveal different amounts of their identity to others I did not think it would be a lesson in self-discovery. After all, I know who I am and I know what I want, I reasoned. However after talking with one gal I realize that I am still on that life-long journey of learning.
It started innocently enough when my friend Jan and I decided to get together for one of our regular but infrequent games of golf. Jan and I both have revealed our femme identities to our wives but to no others. Well, Jan has told a couple of family members who share their house. But that is it. In government circles I think they call that a ‘need to know’ basis.
Then Jan introduced me to Lucille who, in 30 years of crossdressing, has told no one, not even her wife about Lucille. As she put it, “when I go out to a meeting I say I’m going out to a meeting. When I’m going out as Lucille I say I’m going out to a meeting.”
That put me in mind of Amanda Ryan who is certainly at the other end of the self-revelation spectrum. As I wrote last month Amanda is out to all her friends, family and neighbors. Dropping by her place one is as likely to see Amanda as Paul and it seems that everyone in her community have come to like it that way. She is politically active, a helper with every project in her support group. Pretty well the only place Amanda does not go is to Paul’s work.
Writing about these wonderful ladies got me to thinking about someone else I know. I’ll call her Sara, or if you prefer, Sarah. For a time Sarah was like Lucille. Now she is like Jan but wonders what it would feel to be like Amanda? Sarah sometimes wonders what is holding her back from coming out to the world? What would her life have been like if she had been known to the world 30 and more years ago? What changes would be in store for her now if she started showing up at community events in her preferred dresses, wigs and make-up, showing just a bit of cleavage?
Please feel free to turn elsewhere if this bores you but I think I have uncovered through Sarah the reason I still enjoy crossdressing long after the sexual thrill is gone.
We had hooked up late one afternoon at a hotel lounge as we prepared for our dinner date with two admirers in town for some convention. We got to talking about some prominent transsexual persons in the news. “Had you ever wanted to change gender?” Sarah asked me.
I gave her an answer I have given many times before, that I had thought about it but was greatly influenced against the idea by an essay in the book Understanding Crossdressing. In the essay the author lays out about 10 to 12 questions that you should be able to answer positively if you want a successful transition. Pretty well everything is covered from the tendency of males in the family to have full heads of hair to females having larger than average breasts (if you wanted those hormones to work for significant breast enhancement) to being able to keep your job if you transitioned. When I was able to give only one positive answer among those questions I put the idea of gender re-assignment on the back burner and eventually discarded it.
“Then it probably wasn’t in the cards for you, anyway,” Sarah replied and continued, “I am convinced that we can be conditioned to enjoy, even compulsively enjoy crossdressing, completely haphazardly just by the coincidental occurrence of events.”
Sarah went on to explain that for years the debate about personality formation in humans has been nature vs nurture. Are our traits formed by nature through genetic links or by nurture through learning? Is the trait of homosexuality or of transsexuality, for instance, predetermined for us in our genes or do we somehow learn it in our formative years? I think most gay and TS would argue for nature being the determinant while the right-wing anti-gay, anti-TGs would say nurture, “It was learned and dammit it can be unlearned!”
What about crossdressing? Sarah believes nurture is probably the formative cause but not the nurture of the classroom or of the parent or some older person guiding the child to some action. According to Sarah nurture can be purposeful but it can also be accidental.
“What is the key to learning in children?” Sarah asked.
“Well they are guided to a certain action and when they get it correct they get a reward such as praise. When it is wrong the praise is withheld, sometimes there is punishment or bad consequences for an incorrect action.” I was stretching to recall my first and only university psychology course.
“That’s correct. Pee in the potty and it is all ‘oh, good boy, what a nice job, you are such a big boy now.’ But touch a hot stove and the resulting burn is also a strong learning tool. Be frightened by a dog or a spider at a young age and the child may for life carry a fear of dogs or spiders.”
“And the connection to crossdressing is?” I asked somewhat impatiently.
“It is called conditioned learning,” explained Sarah. “An action is carried out and some sort of a reward or punishment is the result. It can be purposeful and directed but it can also happen by chance. So stay with me here. We know that children get a form of sexual arousal at a very early age. What if as a curious child I just happened to have an initial sexual arousal when I just happened to be looking at, touching or wearing a piece of my mother’s clothing? That would be a pretty strong reinforcement for that action wouldn’t it?”
I knew enough from my psych course to know that yes we humans could be guided to certain behaviors by chance and that sexual stimulation was probably a very effective reinforcement for our actions. I nodded my agreement as Sarah continued, “You probably felt a sexual arousal the first times you tried on your mother’s or sisters’ clothing?” asked Sarah.
“Well, I don’t know if it was sexual but I did hear my mother telling her friend how cute I looked in her bathing suit. I guess that was an initial reinforcement. Then in my teen years it came to be that I could not easily put on a bra and panties without getting an erection. Yes, there was a strong correlation between the clothing and the reward of arousal and orgasm. I guess that was reinforcement.”
“Of course it was!” proclaimed Sarah with an enthusiasm I’ve seen in commission sales people when they close the sale. “We learn and are reinforced in our crossdressing without even realizing how it is happening. Another boy tries on the same clothing and the coincidence of sexual arousal or some other reward doesn’t happen and his continuing interest in crossdressing does not occur.”
“Because there was no ‘reward’?” I asked.
“Because there was no reward.”
“Interesting notion,” I said while quickly trying to think of a way to poke a hole in her theory.” But what about in our older years when the immediate sexual arousal from wearing lingerie subsides as it did for me in my 20s? Surely the interest in crossdressing would subside, too. For me if anything it got stronger. I could then withstand the orgasm long enough to get fully dressed, to wear make-up and to go out in public.”
“Periodic reinforcement,” Sarah responded, sounding a bit like my old psychology professor, “We know from laboratory animals that we do not have to be rewarded every time for an action to be learned. In fact apparently the learning is stronger and better if the animals are rewarded only once in a while.
“But let me tell you another idea I have about adult crossdressing,” said Sarah, “Have you heard of a thing called the adrenaline rush or of endorphins?”
“Sure, the runners’ high. I get it when a workout goes well. I get it when running out in nature or when running at night. I just love the feeling.”
“Well, I bet you get it when you are dressing but not just any time you are dressing.” She paused then continued, “Before you started going out how did you feel dressing at home and you were expecting someone to return? How did you feel the first time you stepped out in public and thought you might be seen by somebody?”
“Nervous and excited, for sure,” I said, “It was a rush, no doubt about it. I remember the first times leaving a hotel room to get some ice and then return. My heartbeat would be elevated and I’d have that feeling in my chest. Yes, it was like a runner’s high.”
“Then as you got used to doing the ‘ice capade’ I bet you looked to do more?” asked Sarah.
“You bet. From going for drives, stopping at all-night stores, and then going out to clubs, the range of my adventures grew quickly. What about you?”
“Same thing,” Sarah replied. “There is a reason for that progression. We are thrill seekers. We get adrenaline rushes from our crossdressing adventures. We get that thrill out of a concern for exposure, for being outed. If everyone knew we were crossdressers where would be the thrill in spending so much time getting ready to go out, in making sure our female image differs from our male one.”
“Right about that,” I interjected, “I remember once playing golf in a very small town called Goldendale in Washington. It is about that last place you would expect to find a transgender scene but there playing in the group behind ours was an older man wearing a golf skort and blouse. ‘That’s our town crossdresser,’ said one of my playing partners nonchalantly. I play golf en femme and I tell you I certainly take more care with my wig and make up than the Goldendale gal was doing.”
“See, for him or her, the thrill was gone,” said Sarah. “Have you ever had close calls where you are almost outed?”
“Oh many times. I once was walking through a park when a tree snared my wig.”
“That’s nothing,” replied Sarah, “I was once going through a mall when a gal who worked as an assistant in my office came up the stairs with her daughter. They did not notice me. But I got a rush, for sure”
“That’s nothing. I once was coming out of a department store in downtown Toronto when two work colleagues walked by right in front of me. They were happily holding hands as they walked along. They were married but not to each other. They didn’t find out my secret and I kept theirs – at least until they both divorced and moved in together.”
We continued back in forth revealing close calls of our CD past. I had once been almost face to face with the husband or our residents’ association president as we both watched the dancers at a local gay club. Sarah had encountered two of her former students in another gay bar. I had put a dating ad on an out-of-town Craigslist and one of the replies was from a man I knew slightly back home as he was a radio personality with strong right-wing views. Sarah had one serious encounter with the law when the Montreal police picked her up for street solicitation.
“OK, OK. That tops anything I can recall,” I pleaded. “What is your point?”
“It goes back to thrill seeking and risk taking,” responded Sarah. “Some people like to jump out of airplanes with a pack on their back. Some people like to climb mountains; others dive deep in the sea. Our equivalent is to put ourselves in situations where our male identity may be exposed while we are crossdressed. To be exposed would be very unsettling for our lives. Well me not so much now that I’m retired but I have thought about this a bit. I don’t think I’d ever care to change my gender but as long as there is at least a slight element of danger I’ll continue to love to crossdress. I set myself up to imagine there is risk in exposure.
“The occasional adrenaline rush from the risk of crossdressing is enough to reinforce our aging desire to appear as a woman,” continued Sarah. “Why would I want to give that all up by outing myself? Where would the rush have been if those students had recognized me in the gay club and called out, ‘oh hi Mr. Smith’ and then carried on as if nothing was out of the ordinary?”
“You may be right,” I said to Sarah. She did have an interesting point but as I noticed two approaching gentlemen I did not want to provoke a longer discussion, “However there is another reward that definitely plays in to my actions and that is coming right now,” I said as I nodded toward the two men approaching our table. “It is the reward I feel when a man finds the image of Linda sexually attractive. It means I have done a good job. That is a thrill in itself.”
Sarah smiled in agreement as she reached out her hand to greet the first of our dates. “Besides it beats the alternative.” She said.
“Putting packs on our back and jumping out of a plane.”
“Too right about that,” I conceded as we settled in to our evening that was certain to end in an adrenaline rush.
Category: Body & Soul