Crossdressing – The Crossdresser, Children and the Family

Crossdressing – The Crossdresser, Children and the Family

S. Johnson (Eds)
[Abstract] Full Text [PDF]


“If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool.” (Carl Jung)
Labels are often the subjected of great debate in transgender circles.

Crossdressing is arguably a male that wears womens clothes or clothes likened to that of the female for relaxation and or sexual stimulation only.

Cross-dressing: Dressing, dresses: wearing the clothes usually worn by the (birth) opposite sex.
Pre-op transsexual: a person before surgery.
Post-op transsexual: a person who has had surgery (sex-change).
normal male or female life. May get a kick from dressing. Not truly TV.
Transvestite (Fetishistic.): lives as their own birth sex. Dresses periodically or part time. Dresses under own clothes.
Transvestite – True: dresses constantly or often as possible. May live and be accepted as a
woman (in the case of a male).
Transsexual- Non –Surgical: dresses as often as possible with
insufficient relief of gender discomfort. May live as a man or as a woman. Often identifies as a ‘transgenderist’. Assexual or autoerotic, may be bisexual.
True Transsexual – Moderate Intensity: feminine trapped in male body. Lives and works as a woman (in the case of male to female and as a man in the case of female to male) if possible.Insufficient relief from dressing. May have been married and have children.
True Transsexual – High Intensity: feminine. Total ‘psycho-sexual inversion. Usually lives and works as a woman. No relief from dressing. Gender discomfort intense. Surgery requested and  usually attained. May have been married and have children.
Transgendered: any of the above.
(Above based on the Harry Benjamin Sex Orientation Scale)


For convenience we will address ‘a crossdresser’ as that of a male to female. Although some aspects can be reversed.
Crossdressing is in western societies is for the most part seen as unacceptable and the social pressure for parents to have children that subscribe to social norms are overwhelming. “Is it a boy or a girl?” Intersex children are often forcibly surgically altered to have female genitalia – parents finding ambiguous sexual characteristics unsettling.

This over focus on prescribed gender roles is where the trouble begins for the crossdresser. The Transgender Zone has been surveying this area for many years and it is clear the majority of crossdressing begins in childhood, we can say with some certainty that once discovered it is frowned upon and goes underground for the rest of their childhood. We can also say that 98% of transgender people surveyed dress in childhood.

Lets assume the child is caught dressing and shamed by the family. This then leads to the internalizing of what is essentially an overwhelming desire; repressing these feminine traits does not remove them. This desire then becomes an all consuming clandestine operation. The child hiding female clothing or planning raids on the closet when the mother is not around. The urge to actualize his repressed female potentials manifests itself in dreams and fantasy.

This is where parents should be less severe, they should not scald the child for crossdressing, rather they should discuss it with the child. As the child is unlikely to stop doing it just because you tell him not to!

What causes the desire to crossdress?

The latest thinking is that a flood of hormones in early pregnancy alters the fetal development. [This is explained elsewhere on The Transgender Zone].

However, many crossdressers do not feel they are ‘Transgendered’, rather they feel they are a regular male that likes to crossdress during periods of anxiety to calm themselves, but where does this association with relaxation come from?


There can be many reasons why people crossdress and levels of intensity. Freud suggests, the idea is that the sexual feelings a male would ordinarily direct towards women, are, in the crossdresser, diverted. They become instead directed towards female clothing, or towards the crossdresser himself as an imagined female. This also involves:
The giddiness or high that a man feels when attracted to a woman
Soft, tactile gratifications of holding and touching
Sexual arousal
Stimulation of erogenous zones
Release of sexual tension with orgasm
In the ‘normal’ male, these sensations and feelings are elicited in various phases of courtship and mating with a female, and to some degree also in other relationships with women.
Inversion implies that for some reason, the normal process is not followed, the man chooses to experience some or all of these types of pleasurable feelings by himself.

 The Child

All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination.” (Carl Jung)

First born children, first male child, or only child are often shown a lot of affection. A female child could potentially be viewed as a competitor to the mother [the father can become the focus in female to male], but not so with the male child. It is easy to imagine a boy infant, experiencing this loving maternal contact, developing a strong bond with the mother, and view femininity as pleasurable. Freud also suggests a boy’s own reluctance to admit that his mother becomes an  object of socially unacceptable sexual desire. Attraction to female clothing, crossdressing, or feminine identification allows the child to indulge in a way that avoids incestual thoughts.

If the home is overly occupied by women the availability and curiosity about female clothing may likely increase the probability of crossdressing or other women playfully crossdressing and making-up the boy leading a lasting impression that it is fun and relaxing to take part in.

A mother may be a ‘good mother’ while the son is a helpless infant, but becomes  a ‘bad mother’ once male behavior develops. This is also associated with ‘splitting’ see the work of Klien. The child may also miss the affection of the mother and in time he ‘becomes the mother’ (or the father in the case of female-to-male) in order to gain the same soothing feelings associated with previous interactions with her. This would help explain the almost universal association of crossdressing with stress reduction and soothing feelings.

The adolescent may see himself as unattractive to women, thereby fulfilling the void with autoerotic behavior whilst dressed as a woman.

Telling your Children

Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” (Carl Jung)

During our individual exploration of transgendered issues we must decide how much of a public face we wish to reveal to others. Additionally we must decide which values we wish to incorporate into our private lives and ultimately extend to children. Agreed, every parent wishes to provide their child with safety, nurturance, education and the opportunity to build self and social acceptance skills.

What harm is there then in depriving our children of half their father? What would the consequences be if the children found out?
Do you share this with them, or do you trust to luck? The odds of hiding it are not good. If your child does find out, it would almost certainly be in an atmosphere of guilt and shame. What emotional trauma would they sustain? Above all this would hang the issue of trust that binds a family together. How will you deal with the pain they will have, ‘Why couldn’t you trust us with this?’  The last question decides the issue as once inclined to openness, you may want to be honest with your children.

Before disclosing any relationship of importance, establish the facts, understand how being transgendered affects your life and theirs. Talk with your counsellor regarding disclosure options. In some cases not disclosing or limited disclosure may be best. One necessity for those who are unable to disclose, is dealing with the internalised (or emotional baggage) feelings surrounding having to keep something hidden from family members, this is another subject that would be appropriate to bring into discussion with your mental health practitioner. If you choose to ‘come out’ ensure you feel revealing this will be at a time that will increase the quality of your familial relationships.


To avoid people jumping to conclusions you may have to explain your actions.

Being able to speak effectively about gender issues is important. Defining the distinction between sexual and gender identity is a frequently misunderstood process, as well these definitions are commonly misrepresented socially through essentialism (stereotypes). However, explaining the distinction does not have to be difficult.

Young children in particular may have some difficulty grasping gender and sexual concepts, thus disclosing information slowly and at a speed they can understand is best – remember you have had a lifetime to get used to this and you are still struggling with it whereas they have only had 5 minutes!!!

If your child asks you questions about ‘why are you wearing…’ it maybe worth creating a story for them to help them understand.
“Well daddy likes to dress like this because daddy is like the prince in your storybook. Look!

He wears tights too, and wears high buckled shoes and a wig…”

Not all older children are going to be immediately accepting of your cross dressing. Don’t force your child to listen. They may talk about the issue in time. Ensure you make it clear this is not their fault and you still love them the same as always!
Be as honest as possible with older children, lying to them will isolate them and make them ashamed. They are likely to get misinformation outside the family setting or unit, the best person to explain this to them is you! Not their friends or the television!

You must also be aware that your children have the right to disagree with what you do.  You should respect their views. For example a son may say:

“I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t do it in front of me, OK!!!

Another important issue is to ensure that your child understands that just because you are a crossdresser, does not mean they will become one too!

Separated parents should avoid using the child – as is commonplace with divorced parents – as a go-between, “daddy says you!” “Mummy says that you!”  This does little good for the child other than the child being forced to act out and internalize the adults scripts (baggage) leading to the child feeling overloaded and distressed.  [Click here for information about projection]
A Cure?

It is tempting to say crossdressing cannot ever stop, but we should avoid sweeping statements. It could be crossdressing has seen you through a difficult time in your life. Often cross dressers ‘purge’ their lifestyle. The ritual burning of the clothes or giving them away to friends or to a charity shop. Then after a time they begin to regret their actions and the cycle starts over again. There can be three reasons for this:

The first is they have a deeper more fundamental gender identity issue and there is more information on this site about this.

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.


“The healthy man does not torture others – generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.” (Carl Jung 1875-1961)

At this time t here may be a strong, even overpowering interest in wearing women’s clothes, or of being a woman in fantasy. This urge is natural and healthy; it is because his completeness as a person requires expressing the potentials he has repressed.
Lacking societal cues that validate or guide his impulses, he experiences confusion. The world says crossdressing is wrong, but his ‘heart’ says it is right. Guilt, shame, moral concerns, and his own overly idealized view of masculinity constrain his crossdressing. He also asks questions like, ‘am I gay’ and ‘should I change my sex?’

The stage of confusion can last years and decades. The crossdresser may dress often, delve into the culture of crossdressing, or even take female hormones. Or he may remain closeted. But the hallmark of this phase is that he remains confused and highly ambivalent, uncertain how to proceed.

This seems the end point for many. However, the theories of Jung and others imply that this is not the proper end point, but merely arrested development.

If the crossdressing urge is really a response by the organism to remove barriers that have effectively repressed half of the man’s potentials we can speculate that further developmental stages are possible.

The crossdresser basically experiences a highly refined version of infantile sexuality. It is highly fantasy laden, and extremely narcissistic. Some would argue that the very purpose of erotic pleasure is to tie us more deeply to other people. Yet in the crossdresser the pursuit of sexual pleasure tends to have the opposite effect of driving him away from people and into himself.
Psychoanalysis distinguishes between phallic love and genital love. Phallic love is narcissistic and overly concerned with ones own pleasure. In contrast is the more mature genital love, which combines the self-pleasure with the deeper emotional connection and commitment to another. Phallic love deals with fantasy, whereas genital love is involved in reality. Crossdressing, then, seems more associated with the former.

It is interesting to evaluate the periods of time between crossdressing.  If dressing is cyclical then what are the catalysts that trigger this desire to dress? Self-evaluation can expose triggers, a trigger can be anything from going shopping with your partner for lingerie, to periods of stress.

Avoidance behaviour
Seeking support for stress can help prevent the triggers and therefore the dressing. Lastly, it could be intense sexual stimulation. Post coital feelings about being dressed can be loaded with self-hatred and guilt.

For example:
Bob is alone and isolated, he decides he wants to go to a crossdressing club. He attends the club and then returns home.  He knows after he masturbates to orgasm whilst dressed he feels such self-loathing that he promises himself that he will never do it again. However a week later the cycle resumes.

Bob is alone and isolated, he decides he wants to go to a crossdressing club. He dresses masturbates to orgasm. He then feels self-disgust the desire to attend the club is gone, he removes the clothes and goes to a regular pub for a pint.
This is a bit simplistic, but it demonstrates that taking a different direction can begin to break the cycle.

What Now?
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” (Jung)

If you really want to stop then it would take extraordinary self control. Giving up smoking and losing weight, even giving up alcohol or drugs can be very difficult for people. The thought of never being able to touch another drink for an alcoholic can be what seems an almost impossible task to endure!  Nevertheless, they often overcome these desires. They will always be there, but psychotherapeutic techniques can help you cope plus they may take a considerable time even years!

The crossdresser must be extraordinarily motivated for there to be expectation of success and to succeed in life, one must descend into the recesses of ones’ own mind. It takes courage and firmness of purpose. You cannot just go through the motions.

There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” (Jung)

Find a counsellor who is competent. It may take many meetings to find the right on. 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 learn coping strategies and stress management techniques.

Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” (Jung)

Taking a new direction in life for what is essentially can be seen as an addiction that has become so entrenched in you make-up that you cannot see another way to live is not going to be easy. When you stop you will not only have withdrawal from the need to dress but also experience loss. And coping with loss is another issue you have to work through.

The urge to crossdress may diminish during the later stages of therapy. The crossdresser can come to the conclusion that clothing or being a woman merely demonstrated aspects of the personality he sought to express. Once he experiences and expresses these aspects, female clothing itself may have less meaning and importance.

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

That only you can answer!

Citation: Freud, S. The complete psychological works of Freud. Vol 6 Number 4. Jung, C.G. (1972) The transcendent function. In: Read, H., Fordham, M., Adler, G. and McGuire, W. (eds) The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, 2nd edition, Volume 8 of the collected Works of C.G. Jung. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.