Monday, March 21, 2011

Cross-Dressing - Prevention by Parenting?

cross-dressing symbol
Cross-dressing is associated with problems in parenting and may be preventable. Recently a male student in Pune was found dead with a wig and female articles of clothing lying about his room.

Types of cross-dressing

Cross-dressers in society are psychologically indistinguishable from non-cross-dressing men (Brown 1996).
  1. Fetishistic transvestism
  2. Almost three percent of men and 0.4% of women have had at least one episode of transvestic fetishism (sexual arousal from cross-dressing) (langstrom 2005). However, these 'nuclear' transvestites are less likely to venture out dressed in public.
  3. Transvestism
  4. 'Marginal’ transvestites experience non-sexual pleasure from cross-dressing and are more likely to appear in public while cross-dressed. They are probably a separate group and more likely to be homosexual.
  5. Transsexualism
  6. Cross-dressers could also be transsexuals who desire surgical sex reassignment. Cross-dressing in Asians is one of the earliest signs of transexualism (Tsoi 1990).

The cross-dresser's childhood

(RL Schott 1995)
Cross-dressers are usually the eldest male child in their family. Most had a very positive relationship with their mothers and a very negative relationship with their fathers.
As children cross-dressing was furtive and secret - the covert group of cross-dressers. In the overt group (up to 20%), cross-dressing was initiated and openly encouraged - up to school age and sometimes beyond - by a mother, sister, or other female extended family member.
Young boys, in contrast to young girls, must struggle to separate psychologically from their mother in order to establish their own gender identity. Identification as a male, as being of the opposite sex from the mother, requires individuation and separation from her. Disturbances in masculinity (cross-dressing) may be an expression of impairments in this process. The eldest male child may be especially vulnerable for lack of a role model or cushion between himself and the mother.

Cross-dressing facts

(Docter 1997)
  • Usually starts before the age of 10 years.
  • Initially associated with sexual pleasure and orgasm. However, up to 90% of cross-dressers continue to do so for non-orgasmic pleasure.
  • The most commonly used articles are female underclothing and wigs.
  • Considered as an expression of the feminine part of the self, rather than as just the self with different clothes. Cross-dressing is an expression of consciously felt femininity (Levine 1993). Hence the symbol.
  • Cross-dressers prefer complete to partial cross-dressing.
  • Cross-dressers are not bold in their public appearances. About a quarter appear cross-dressed in public and a similar number have ever used the lady's restrooms - the final frontier of femininity. With increasing awareness and activism public appearances by this group of people are increasing.
  • Transvestism in adulthood is associated with guilt. Most cross-dressers get rid of their feminine clothing at some time due to feelings of shame.
  • Most wives are aware of their partners cross-dressing. Up to a quarter of them are completely accepting of the behaviour.

When is cross-dressing normal in children?

    Cross-dressing boys are first brought for psychiatric evaluation by their parents when they are discovered in their mother's underclothes. The sexual outcome of early isolated cross-dressing is not predictable.
  • It is not uncommon for boys to prefer aesthetic activities like dance or singing to football or wrestling. 
  • They occasionally role-play as a girl, play with a doll, or dress up in a girl's or woman's costume.
    Cross-dressing is associated with transvestism and transsexualism when there is
  1. Stated preference for being a girl and for growing up to become a woman
  2. Repeated cross-sex fantasy play
  3. Preference for traditionally female-type activities like knitting and baking
  4. Female peer group

How to deal with a cross-dressing child

Parents bring their cross-dressing child for psychiatric evaluation when they fear he will become homosexual or transsexual. We have already seen that  parenting style affects the child's social, emotional and behavioural development. At this early stage the focus should be on making the child comfortable with himself or herself and to reduce social stigma (Lev 2005).

Integrate the child into his peer group

This is essential to prevent teasing
  • By ages 4-5 boys and girls differ in their manners of walking, running, throwing a ball, and narrating a story. Point out these gestures and mannerisms.

Emphasise a positive father-son experience

Whether the father is distant or the boy is more attuned to his mother - the boy with gender identity disorder typically has a strained relationship with his father.
  • The father must compromise his busy work schedule to build a relationship with his son.
  • Nonathletic activities can be mutually enjoyable.
  • Taking the son to work provides a better image of who father is.
  • Board games, video games, and a shared father-son activity, such as model making and visits to the zoo are helpful.

Convey happiness with the sex of the child

The child may believe that the parents wanted a child of the other sex. Sometimes parents did and conveyed the wish to the child.
  • Parents must convey the message that they wanted a child of the same sex.
  • Convey that they are happy with the sex of their child.

Teach the boy that sex is irreversible

Psychologically children have not achieved gender constancy at ages 4 to 6. They may think that by cross-dressing or changing hair length they change their sex.
  • The anatomical differences between the sexes should be made explicit
  • Point out that superficial changes will not change their sex.

  1. Brown GR, Wise TN, Costa PT Jr, Herbst JH, Fagan PJ, Schmidt CW Jr. Personality characteristics and sexual functioning of 188 cross-dressing men. J Nerv Ment Dis. 1996 May;184(5):265-73.
  2. Richard F Docter and Virginia Prince. Transvestism: A survey of 1032 cross-dressers. Archives of Sexual Behavior; Dec 1997; 26, 6.
  3. Långström N, Zucker KJ. Transvestic fetishism in the general population: prevalence and correlates. J Sex Marital Ther. 2005 Mar-Apr;31(2):87-95.
  4. Arlene Istar Lev. Transgender emergence: therapeutic guidelines for working with gender variant people and their families. Haworth Clinical Practice Press. New York. 2005.
  5. Levine SB. Gender-disturbed males. J Sex Marital Ther. 1993 Summer;19(2):131-41.
  6. Richard L. Schott. The childhood and family dynamics of transvestites. Arch Sex Behav. 1995 Jun;24(3):309-27.
  7. Tsoi WF. Developmental profile of 200 male and 100 female transsexuals in Singapore. Arch Sex Behav. 1990 Dec;19(6):595-605.