People who hide habits or parts of their personality from their partner often do so out of fear of being judged or losing love or respect. Sometimes, if they own up, they do risk ruining their relationships, however being real about who we are can also force us to face the fallacies of our own assumptions.
Take, for instance, the call I received some months ago from a woman who arrived home unexpectedly one afternoon to discover her husband dressed in women's clothes, wearing a wig and make-up. She was devastated because they have been married for several years and she was totally unaware of his habit.
When she confronted him he told her that he was too scared to tell her for fear of rejection and he thought he might just hide it from her. She could not cope and called me in total despair. Cross-dressers are usually heterosexual men who like to dress up in women's clothes. They discover their need to cross-dress during childhood starting out by dressing up in their sister's or mother's clothes. They soon find out that it is not accepted and are told to stop it. They feel ashamed, become secretive and try to suppress their feelings and their desire to cross-dress.
Later in life the issue can cause a lot of distress because often they are not sure how to cope. A lot of questions and worries persist and for each person it is a different story.
There are also many misconceptions about men who cross-dress, such as:
1. They are gay.
Cross-dressers are not necessarily gay. The incidence of homosexuality or bisexuality among cross-dressers is same as in the population in general.
2. They don't like women.
They do. Most men who cross-dress are married.
3. They do it for sexual gratification.
Although cross-dressing is a sexual fetish for some, the vast majority of men do not experience any arousal as a result of cross-dressing. It is simply the exploration of feminine self-expression. Some men find that cross-dressing makes them feel relaxed and helps them with stress.
4. They always wear women's clothes.
Not true. Most may only dress up occasionally -- some men often wear women's underwear under their clothes.
5. They can be "cured".
There is no cure as it is not an illness but a "state of being".
For both the cross-dresser and his family, it is not an easy thing to deal with and it is very common to experience a sense of despair.
My client loves her husband and does not want to leave him. After some counselling sessions with both of them they have reached a level of compromise. For now, he will only cross-dress occasionally when she is not home and she needs some time to adjust to this newfound knowledge about her husband.
It is essential for a family member to become informed and educated by reading relevant literature to understand and come to terms with such a challenging situation. Professional counselling is a valid consideration but there are also more cost-effective options.
There are several support and social groups for cross-dressers and their family. The Seahorse Society has branches in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, The Chameleon Society in WA and the Carousel Club in SA.
The members are familiar with the issues that arise and can share their experience and offer practical advice.
Cross-dressing should not be mixed up with being transsexual or transgender, i.e. a person who is an individual with a gender identity which is not consistent with his or hers assigned gender.
It is my job as a counsellor to normalise the situation for each individual and work with them to find out what it means to them and why it is causing difficulties in their life and relationships.