Myths & Misconceptions About Crossdressers
It is human nature to explain strange and complex phenomena in simplistic terms. This is true with the gender role/ issue of crossdressing or transvestism. As with many popularly held beliefs, there is often some truth to the "folk" wisdom regarding crossdressing. The problem is that these beliefs are held to be true in all cases. It is often dangerous to make sweeping generalizations about such complicated issues.
The following myths and misconceptions about crossdressing demonstrate how wrong these generalizations are.
All men who dress like women are gay.
Although no definitive research has been done to survey the entire crossdressing population, current thinking holds that the number of gay/bisexual transvestites is about the same as in the general population-approximately 10 percent. This means that 90 percent of transvestites are heterosexual. Some heterosexual transvestites fantasize about having sex with men while they are dressed as women, but this is often an extension of their "female" role. If one were to characterize the sexuality of these men, bisexual would probably be the best term. However, many transvestites choose to have sex, or fantasize about sex, exclusively with women.
Women who have sex with crossdressed men are lesbians.
Many wives of transvestites say that they have sex with their husbands when their spouses are dressed as women because it is something that their husbands enjoy and they love them. Some say they are ambivalent to the feminine attire their husbands wear, and allow them to wear it because it is not important to the relationship. Some of these women may have lesbian tendencies or may be bisexuals. But the fact that a woman has sex with a crossdressed man proves only one thing; that she loves him. In fact, the wives of many crossdressers report that once their husbands have opened up and shared their secret desire for wearing women's clothes, they seem to be free of the tension and anger that may have threatened their marriages. The men become more attentive and tender with their partners This provides an additional reason for women to accept their mate's crossdressing.
Most reasons for crossdressing do not involve transsexual desires, i.e., a wish to physically change sex. Although crossdressers uniformly enjoy wearing women's clothes, the majority seldom want to live their lives as women, nor do they want to become women. They simply want to be like women. A very few transvestites have chosen to crossdress all of the time and live totally as women, i.e., a transgenderist. But even these men have no desire to have sex reassignment surgery. It is true that prior to having such surgery, a transsexual must crossdress and live as a woman for a year or more. During this time they often receive female hormones and their secondary sex characteristics will become markedly feminine. These people are known as preoperative transsexuals, and should not be confused with transvestites or transgenderists.
Most transvestites, as opposed to transsexuals, enjoy being men. As spouses, they are content being husbands rather than wives. As parents, they are happy with the role of father and do not wish to become mothers. While they refer to other crossdressers as "sisters," this is an acknowledgment of the special bond which they share. Additionally, the preference expressed by many crossdressers for being referred to with female pronouns and for using feminine names is related to their appearance rather than to their basic gender identity.
It is true that many transvestites report their first crossdressing experience came when they were young children. Some of these experiences came at the initiation of the transvestite himself, playing out childhood fantasies involving gender roles. These were usually strongly discouraged by their parents. Some of these experiences were initiated by parents or guardians as punishment. Very often, these young crossdressers displayed no other effeminate behaviors.
Dr. Richard Green, M.D., of UCLA, concluded a study in which he followed a group of effeminate boys from early childhood into their 20s. As children many of them were dressed as girls. But none developed into crossdressing adults, while very few developed as transsexuals and most developed as homosexuals. Green does not say that the childhood effeminacy or crossdressing caused the later development.
Because many crossdressers fear being found out, they consciously try to act as traditionally "masculine" as possible when not crossdressed. This is not difficult for most of them because they are usually masculine men. Crossdressers are not necessarily effeminate. In fact, crossdressers are no more effeminate nor more masculine than any other man. While in men's clothes, most crossdressers do not stand out from the general population. However, because some crossdressers have a fear bordering on paranoia that their secret will be discovered by others, they often adopt exaggerated masculine mannerisms; e.g. the "super-macho male."
While it is true that crossdressing and eroticism are strongly linked for many transvestites, crossdressing and sexual activity are not directly related. All male-to-female transvestites wear some items of women's clothing which are gender-linked symbols and engage in some "womanly" mannerisms which are gender-linked behaviors. Therefore, crossdressing is primarily a gender issue. It is incorrect to speak of it as a sexual dysphoria unless the transvestite is unable to function sexually unless he or she is crossdressed.
Some crossdressers do suffer mental anxiety, but this is a result of the inappropriate guilt they feel because of society's disapproval of their behavior. These symptoms frequently disappear or may never arise when a transvestite is in an accepting or tolerant environment. If a transvestite is not in "significant clinical distress" due to the crossdressing, then he is not considered mentally disordered according to the American Psychiatric Association.
“Myths & Misconceptions About Crossdressers”, a Renaissance Background Paper, revised, Sept. 1994