The Crossdresser: Is He Powerless to Stop?


If you ask any crossdresser, the urge to crossdress is extremely powerful, not at all unlike a drug. The question: “Can the crossdresser simply stop?” is a very compelling and complex one. The overwhelming belief is that, “Once a crossdresser, always a crossdresser.” But is this truly the case? Are crossdressers powerless to stop?


What is a Crossdresser?


In the transgender world, labels are often hotly debated, so this question must be answered with some trepidation. According to The American Heritage(r) Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, “A crossdresser is one who engages in the act of wearing clothing commonly associated with another gender within a particular society.” Crossdressers are often mistakenly thought of as homosexual, yet this is rarely the case.

The overwhelming majority of crossdressers consider themselves to be straight. However, if the crossdresser is also gender dysphoric, meaning she feels as if she is trapped in the wrong body, then she may even consider herself lesbian. Some crossdressers do not wish to dress 24/7, because for them, the act of crossdressing is fetishistic in nature, and not a lifestyle that they wish to embody. Some crossdressers are indeed gay or bisexual and they may wish to dress full-time, as they are more likely to live in communities that support crossdressing. There are many nuances and subtleties to crossdressing, and therefore, defining crossdressers in general, is very difficult to do.


What Motivates the Crossdresser?


In order to determine if a certain behavior can be reigned in or eliminated altogether, it is important to know the causes of the behavior. With that said, there are as many motivations for crossdressing as there are rhinestones in a tiara. However, there are a few common motivators that are prevalent enough to note. Some people crossdress because it is comfortable. Some people associate women’s clothing with women and female sexuality to such a degree that they wish to actually embody the object of their desire, and hence “become” a woman.

There is more and more evidence to suggest that perhaps there is a hormonal or chromosomal link between men and the desire to present as women. Some suggest that young boys may be imprinted by circumstances during childhood that cause them to want to crossdress, such an older sister or babysitter dressing the boy for fun or punishment.


Crossdressing as a Fetish


Then there are the men, who are not gender dysphoric, who simply associate women’s articles of clothing with sexuality. Often during puberty, when hormones are raging, they discover a slip, a bra or a pair of panties in the hamper. The fabric is sensual, the smell is intoxicating and the visual cues that the garment provides are clearly sexual. So the lingerie becomes a masturbation aid. Once that early connection is formed between self-gratification and women’s apparel, it is an extremely difficult one to quash.

The taboo of wearing or using women’s clothing to gain sexual arousal and release can be very powerful for the person while he is engaged in the crossdressing behavior. However, once the individual reaches climax, he may become filled with shame, disgust, regret and self-loathing. He may even vow never to do it again. Yet the pull of women’s clothes proves too strong for him to deny and the cycle repeats itself, often again and again. This urge appears to be strongest in young adulthood, however, once a man reaches his twenties, it may even diminish or cease for a period.

Fast-forward a few years, to perhaps his thirties, when the young crossdresser now has a career, a wife, debt, a mortgage and children. The desire to escape the pressures of life becomes insurmountable and the urge to return to the old crossdressing, stress-relieving behavior from his youth returns in full force.


Biological Causes for Crossdressing


In a USA Today article entitled, Sex-identity Myths Dispelled, By Robert Sapolsky, the author suggests that typically the tapestry of one’s existence – genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, secondary sexual characteristics, gonads, upbringing, education and socio-economic status, all dictate what sex you are. However, recent research regarding transsexuality is shedding light on that standard belief. In fact, in his article, Mr. Sapolsky states:

“The new finding concerns one of those brain regions – called the BSTc – that has a large, reliable sex difference. The BSTc is involved in emotions and bodily responses to them. Human males average about twice as many neurons within the BSTc as do females. During this study, done by Frank Kruijver and his colleagues in the Netherlands and published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, a major publication in its field, researchers counted BSTc neurons during post-mortem examination of brains. In both sexes, transsexuals didn’t have the neuron number typical of their gender. Instead, the researchers discovered, they had the number typical of the sex they always believed they should be.”

This research flies in the face of previously conceived notions as to what makes certain people prone to emulate the opposite sex. The implication is that something as cut-and-dried and biological as the amount of neurons in a portion of your brain, may be conveying to your mind that you are indeed the opposite sex (on the inside). Of course, it stands to reason that this level of cognitive dissonance would propel anyone to attempt to right the wrong, or, in the words of countless crossdressers, to have the outside match the inside.


So, Crossdressing May Be Biologically Bound–Does This Mean I Can’t Stop?


Not according to Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist. He espoused that little boys naturally exhibit certain feminine characteristics, which are intrinsic to all people, regardless of gender. He called this feminine side our Anima. However, parents, in an attempt to successfully rear their boys into manly men, discourage all displays of the feminine in their sons. These feminine behaviors may be extremely subtle, and the corresponding parental disapproval, perhaps even more so. Jung contends that children, in particular, are extremely receptive to cues of approval and disapproval.

So, perhaps a little boy exhibits even a look or a stance, which is perceived as feminine by his parents, and he receives in response, a raised eyebrow, or even a slight frown. This exchange may occur on such a sub-conscious level, that neither the boy, nor his parent, even realizes that it has taken place. However, the young boy registers that transaction in his forming mind, and thus begins the negative association with that natural, feminine part of him, his Anima. He makes sure that he represses all feminine behaviors from that moment on. Or does he? Jung

sustained that it is impossible to thwart something that is intrinsic to our nature, such as our inherent masculine and feminine traits (in Jungian thought, those being the Animus and Anima, respectively). The outward manifestation of the Anima will surface again, and often, when it does, it can be in traditionally unacceptable ways, such as crossdressing. In Jungian psychology, however, the act of crossdressing is a path toward embracing one’s Anima, and a very pivotal part of the human experience and growth process. However, crossdressing is but a stepping stone toward self-actualization. The complete man, is one who may go through a period of embracing his feminine side by way of crossdressing, but who also eventually transforms into neither masculine nor feminine, but rather becomes a new being, a very healthy embodiment of both.

Jung contends that the man that allows himself to crossdress, as a healthy vehicle toward to the ultimate acceptance and integration of his feminine self, will eventually no longer need to crossdress, once those two facets of his being, the Anima and the Animus merge. Jung contends that the man who is stuck in the crossdressing phase of his life experiences arrested development.


Crossdressing and Purging


Many crossdressers, for many reasons, decide at some time in their lives, that they want to stop crossdressing. This very deliberate act involves eliminating all of the accoutrements of crossdressing through various means–burning, giving the items to charity, or throwing them away. This is known in the crossdressing community as purging. Often, once an individual purges, he feels good about the positive steps he has taken to control his desire to crossdress.

This era of good feelings can last a week, a month or years. However, it is far more common than not, that the crossdresser has not truly reformed, and that he finds himself replacing entire wardrobes of clothing and returning to his old behavior patterns. Purging is a very expensive practice.


Crossdressing Relapse


According to an abstract by Samantha Johnson (Eds), entitled, Crossdressing – The Crossdresser, Children and the Family (this article can be found on, there are usually three reasons for the cycle of crossdressing to begin again, once a person has purged himself of women’s clothing and accessories:

“The first is they have a deeper more fundamental gender identity issue. The second is when the individual purges they do not fill the space left adequately with another equally stimulating activity. The third is the individual enjoys crossdressing and identifies with the crossdressing community. Therefore feels an outsider when not dressed! Or misses the intensely sexually stimulation created the urge to dress.”

Ms. Johnson believes that crossdressers experience an extremely refined form of what she calls “infantile sexuality.” By that she means that crossdressing is intrinsically based on fantasy and is “extremely narcissistic.” It would not be preposterous to say that the purpose of erotic pleasure is to connect us in a loving and sexual way with another person. However, the crossdresser, in an attempt to please himself sexually, does just the opposite, he drives others away and turns inwardly to himself for gratification.

She goes on to say that psychoanalysts distinguish between phallic love and genital love. Phallic love is primarily narcissistic and selfishly consumed with fantasy and seeking personal, sexual fulfillment. The more mature, genital love combines self-gratification with the commitment to and pleasuring of another. Phallic love is based in fantasy and genital love is based in reality. It would follow that crossdressing is more akin to phallic love.


Crossdressing Conclusions


Should one be truly motivated to alter or cease their crossdressing behaviors, it will take a multi-faceted approach. Again, according to Ms. Johnson, EDS, the desire to overcome any habit, such as smoking, drinking or over-eating, can be daunting. She contends that it is important to determine if crossdressing episodes escalate during times of stress, or, if there are certain triggers that cause one to dress.

Those triggers may be different for every person, so one must examine and observe his own patterns in order to break them. Once he has ascertained what those triggers are, they should be avoided. If stress is a cue, ensure that there are alternate ways of dealing with stressful periods in life. Regarding therapy, Ms. Johnson concludes:

“Find a counselor who is competent. It may take many meetings to find the right one. Find out about their experience with crossdressing. Do not use therapists that are judgmental, or have their own gender issues that creep into the conversation, as they are likely to project them onto you.

Don’t look for a therapist to either tell you to stop crossdressing straight away, because it ‘wrong’ or “crossdress all you want; there’s nothing wrong with it.” You will need to work through what maybe difficult periods of your life and rebuild new neuro-pathways. You may have to learn coping strategies and stress management techniques.”

Choosing to walk down a new path can be very scary and challenging. Once a person ceases to dress, he will not only feel withdrawal symptoms from not dressing, he will also have to grieve the loss of that part of himself, his life, his coping mechanism and even, his sense of community, if he in fact forged friendships with other crossdressers. Addressing this sense of loss will add another layer of difficulty to quitting.

It is very possible, that the drive to crossdress may lessen toward the end of therapy. The reformed crossdresser may even begin to see that women’s clothing was merely a way to express part of his personality that he once repressed. In light of this new knowledge, the women’s attire may lose its attraction and significance. However, as Ms. Johnson so succinctly summarizes:

“In the end, is all of this and its cost worth it? When simply getting dressed up now and again offers you so much comfort?”

Unless crossdressing jeopardizes your family, relationships, mental or physical health, or livelihood, why not just celebrate your uniqueness and ability to embrace the feminine within you?


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