Reasons for Crossdressing

By Marlena Dahlstrom

I have had some thoughts on the various reasons why we dress, which I'd originally posted in reply to the SO of a TS who is transitioning and who was -- understandably -- upset and puzzled that it took her husband until his 30s to realize he was a TS rather than a CD. I think it's more useful to think in terms of motivations rather than labels, although I think the type and strength of each person's motivations leads them to a different place along the transgender spectrum. It's unfortunate the terms have gotten muddied, not that I want labels to put people into little boxes, but rather as a way to understand our differences as well as our commonalities.

Much probably has to do with the still-unequal gender roles in society. If a woman acts manly, she is just trying to assert herself into a man's world. If a man acts feminine, he is surrendering his place in the world. Personal circumstances also probably make difference, depending on your family's and culture's attitude toward sex roles. It's not uncommon for "late" transitioners to have been hyper-masculine in earlier years in an effort to convince others -- but mostly themselves -- that they are really male. This is in contrast to "early" transitioners who are typically are overtly "girly" in childhood and transition as early as they can. For the "lates," CDing is transition period while they struggle with their true identity.

But not everyone becomes a TS. Myself, I reflexively cross my legs protectively at the thought of SRS. From what I've seen you're either born TS or you're not. But there are some CDs who probably do have mild gender dysphoria. As I mentioned there's "early" and "late" transitioners, which to me this suggests that the gender dysphoria of "lates", while no less real, isn't as quite as strong as the "earlys." Anne Vital, a psychologist who works with transgendered folks, speculates that first group has minimal prenatal androgenization leaving the default female gender identity intact, while the second group have some partial prenatal androgenization, which enables them to appear and act normally as males, even it doesn't feel "right." (See

Taking that a step further along the spectrum, it seems reasonable that there are those who feel partly- to wholly-female, but not strongly enough to do HRT or SRS. These are likely girls who constantly feel the need to dress and might dress most or all of the time if they could. Or to put it another way, these are the folks that Virginia Prince originally referred to as "transgendered" before that became an umbrella term encompassing all of us.

Maybe the difference between them and "conventional" TSs is how they feel about their male bodies -- they may not be fond of it, but they don't regard it as an unbearable birth defect or deformity. Again if there's a spectrum, then it also explains why some TSs do HRT and may have facial surgery and implants, but don't feel the need to do SRS (assuming they aren't skipping SRS due to other reasons, such as finances, family situations, etc.) From what I've heard from these individuals, they regard their male genitalia as an annoyance, but not something completely alien.

GWs who fall into this "lesser-end" group probably just resolve their mild gender dysphoria by being manish women or butch lesbians, since there's are pre-existing groups they can find a niche in. (Note: I'm _not_ saying all butch lesbians are gender dysphorics, I'm just saying that since there's a visible group that a mildly trans-woman can slot herself into and satisfy some/most of her gender discomfort, she may not consciously think of herself as having gender dysphoria. (digression) Interestingly I've heard of one FTM who was a bit disappointed after her transition because he went from being the most macha lesbian around to a short, slightly-built, "wimpy" (his words) guy. (digression) I suppose maybe there's a similar dynamic for some of those who are "femme" gays and effete straights.

Since those in the "mild to middle" group probably doesn't goes in much for counseling with TG-specialising pyschologists (at least compared to TSs seeking to transition), they fall under the radar and therefore aren't accounted for in their theories.

In my case, I've had issues with men's gender role, but I've never doubted my maleness, nor would want to change sex except in a fantasy situation of being able to switch back and forth. (I suppose I might consider myself a "twin spirit" since if various online personality tests are to be believed, I've got a fairly androgynous personality. If I was braver and society were a bit more accepting, I might do the Eddie Izzard "tough androgynous" look, being more on the male side than female side compared to "twin spirits" I know who choose to present as women. but don't do HRT, etc. OTOH, I have to say I _do_ like being in full guy mode, as well as being in femme mode. So call me flexible, or maybe I am just exercising a women's prerogative to change her mind.... g) So how to you account for folks like me?

My own speculation is that men cross-dress for a variety of reasons. (And it's generally men, since women can be "masculine" in everyday life without overtly stepping out of society's gender role.) The reasons include:

- Submissives -- They're most visibly prevalent in the BDSM scene. Their primary kick is submission and what could be more "humiliating" than being emasculated. However, forced femme is a pretty common fantasy among both CDs and TSs, and I think that it's way for T-girls to avoid guilt and shame (similar to women who have rape fantasies to cope with anxiety about their sexuality), and it may also be a wish-fulfillment rewriting their childhoods where they were forced homme.

- Fetishism -- Since most of us start dressing around adolescence, I think that's probably a common spark, even if the tinder was laid by other causes. (Some CDs do start in childhood and I can't really speak to what starts it for them, since that's not my own story.) Not surprising, since given my teenage hormones _anything_ having to to do with girls had sexual overtones. But there's studies showing this driver often fades over time.

However it does seem like a number of girls do have an "embracing their inner slut" aspect. This might have a couple causes. First, underneath the dress, we've still got testosterone-fueled sex drives. Second, since of lot of girls only get to come out occasionally, they're still teenage girls emotionally and strutting their stuff the way some of the GWs did at that age. Just like the over-done make-up corresponds with the Bozo years of teenage GGs. Especially since there's no parents to say "You're not going out dressed like that!", nor the peer groups who might label you the school slut, both of which cause most GGs to tone things down sooner or later. Third, women still generally control how far things go. So it's a fantasy projection of "if _I_ were a women I'd never say no."

- Sensuality/Feeling Good -- Let's face it, silk feels nicer than denim. If this is the main driver, it may be enough just to wear some panties under their guy clothing and they don't feel the need to appear as a woman. In a similar vein, getting a manicure or facial feels great, and fortunately it's now acceptable for men to do that sort of thing, whereas it was considered odd only a few years ago so you had to be a "women" to enjoy it.

- Looking good -- Women's clothes can be more fun -- shoes, shoes, shoes! -- especially if your guy clothes are drab by comparison. And while I'm not sure if I'm more attractive wearing make-up than in guy-mode, I'm certainly prettier, since make-up by definition helps improve your appearance. It'll be interesting to see if the metrosexual revolution satisfies this urge for some.

- Showing off -- Men in our culture don't have license to be exhibitionistic the way women do. For example, I used to work with a GW who just loved showing off her body in a tight summer dress and heels. A guy who did the equivalent would probably get hauled into HR for a talk about sexual harassment. It does seem like a lot of CDs go through a phase of acting like 14-year-girls who've just discovered womanhood -- too much make-up, too much on display, etc. But you'll also find some GWs who enjoy being exhibitionistic -- as you'll see at any fetish event or nightclub. 'Course if you're _expected_ to constantly be on display that's not necessarily fun. But I think CDs are generally acting out an idealized version of what being a woman would be like. Dress up doesn't include bloating, cramps, doing the second-shift of housework after a long day at the office, pay discrimination, etc.

- Expressing your "feminine" side -- It seems like there's a lot of girls who in guy mode are in either macho or logical professions/cultures. The Myers-Briggs personality theory has the idea that everyone has a "shadow self" that's the opposite of your dominant personality traits, i.e. if you're extroverted, you've got a introverted part of yourself, if you're natural temperament is intellectual, you've got a feeling-oriented "shadow self" as well. MB argues these "shadow" parts tend to surface more as we age, developing a more rounded personality. For guys who's en homme personality is macho or Spock-like, I think CDing may be a way of dealing with parts of themselves that they've compartmentalized off, but that are "leaking" out. For guys who with more androgynous personalities, it's a way of letting out the more sensitive parts of their personalities that they don't feel comfortable doing so en homme for fear of being labeled wussy.
- Being someone else -- A fair number of CDs dress as a form of stress relief according to various studies. And what could be a better way to get away from yourself than to be someone else, especially some who's even a different gender (and perhaps a different race in our fantasies). For me, I think that's a significant reason why I started since I didn't really fit in during high school. In this sense, putting on a dress ain't that different than putting on a Starfleet uniform or being a hard-core Ren Faire participant. (Again, has anyone else noticed that these kinds of "alternative" activities, tend to attract a lot of engineers and programmers? It's as if putting on the costume allows them enough distance to act out parts of their personalities that they wouldn't do otherwise.) What's different is we're explicitly stepping away from some of the pressures "to be a man." Instead of getting up the nerve to ask someone to dance, we can be the ones who can sit back and choose who we accept.

- Mastery --The desire to become skilled and competent at what one does. I don't think this is something that starts men cross-dressing, but it's a reinforcer that can develop over time, similar to any other hobby. Once I decided I wanted to be able to leave the house, I realized I need to improve my dressing, make-up and voice skills, and did so with a vengeance. I'm not obsessed with passing, since I know I'll be read part of the time, but when I do blend in there's a certain satisfaction in having pulled it off.

I suspect in most cases, there's probably more than one driver -- since there needs to be enough momentum to overcome the self-knowledge that we're about to do something society generally considers strange at best -- and also the main driver depends on circumstances. For example, if I'm out clubbing, it's probably more about looking good/showing off than expressing the softer part of my personality. And I'm sure there's probably other motivations that I've missed. If anyone's got suggestions about other motivations, I'd love to hear about them.


Stacie Ku said…
(By Stacie Ku)

We who cross gender boundaries are all on a journey. Depending on where we are we are different 'things'. I dress because it feels right. I feel more natural in a bra and panty than I do in a t-shirt & briefs. I've been dressing since I was 4 or 5 years old. I know because my parents moved into their present house when I was five and I have memories dressing in our old house. When I started cross dressing, it wasn't erotic; it just felt natural. However, when puberty set in, dressing definitely became very erotic. Erections and masturbation while dressed definitely became part of my routine. Would you consider me dressing for sex during that phase of my life??

Today, when I dress, erections are far and few in between when I dress. The simple act of dressing is no longer erotic (unless I’m dressing specifically for sex). I dress to dress and I dress to pass. What I mean is (for the most part) I don’t dress to draw attention to myself. I really don't want anyone male or female giving me more that a passing glance. I think the idea is to dress for the environment you are going to be in. If I were to wear a micro mini skirt with 4' heels in downtown San Francisco at high noon, I would stick out like a sore thumb. By the same token, if I walked into the hottest dance club in the city in a business suit, I would also stick out like a sore thumb. So dressing inappropriately for the environment they are in is what makes someone stick out.

Of course, there are definitely those men and women who dress for sex. All I can say is if they want the attention that comes from dressing that provocatively; I’ll give them my attention. They are what they are, and I am what I am.

I think the difference between me and the CDs you refer to who dress for sex or whatever is simply I'm further along in my journey than they are. I am more aware of myself and where I am in my head. I just don't think they've reached that stage in their journey where they understand that clothing does not make you a female. IMHO, those CDs who dress for sex as you put it are simply at the beginning of their journey. Their focus, when they dress, is on the feel and texture of the clothing, and the sexual thrill that comes from doing something 'forbidden' like crossing the gender divide. Unfortunately, some men do get stuck at that stage.

My ‘sex’ is in my head, not my clothes. I suppose that’s why, on several occasions, I’ve been “Madame’ while in drab. Bottom line is femininity emanates from within. All that the surgery, hormones and clothes do is make you look female. If your insides don’t match, you’ve wasted your money.

I am a TS. - '...real differences is style, for exampled, a TS will wear pants while us CDs love our dresses.' While I prefer skirts and dresses, I do own several pairs of womens' pants, which I've worn both in boy mode & girl mode.

OTOH, when you say 'It does seem like a lot of CDs are mainly interested in embracing their inner slut' then maybe I'm really a CD cause I certainly have an inner slut which I take pleasure in embracing.

But you also say 'how to square that with the large number of CDs who do seem to be primarily interested in the sexual aspects of it' which makes me think I'm more of a TS cause crossdressing alone no longer gets me sexually exited. I'd rather be intimate with another TS/TG/CD or even a guy, than with the outfit I'm wearing.

I could go on and on, but to get to my point, I think I'm/we are all of the above. I'm on a life journey. At different points of my journey, I am a different person. Some of us end up in a cul de sac or dead end and remain CDs or pre-op trannies (which is sort of how I presently see myself). Some of us journey on to just HRT, others to HRT and SRS.

People change. Same with our motivations to dress. Erotic pleasure was a definite factor when I was much younger. Today, I'm sad to say :>( it doesn't raise it's head (pun intended) much anymore. I just like to dress. But am I crossdressing or is it a nylon fetish if I insist on wearing pantyhose under my drab clothing in 90 degree heat, when most women would prefer to go bare legged? BTW, I agree with all the motivations for dressing you listed. I think different reasons are dominate for different people
Marlena Dahlstrom said…
(By Marlena Dahlstrom)

As far as who wears the pants in the family, I didn't mean to imply any hard and fast rules. That's why I prefer to think in terms of motivations -- although it seems like some motivations do tend to be more common at different points in the gender spectrum, and at different times on one's life. At least in my experience, those who are part-time dressers, do seem more interested in stereotypically "feminine" attire and make-up than those who are full-time. Part of it may be just that familiarity breeds satiation. I know for me that if I had to do my make-up every morning, it would become less special than is it doing it occasionally, and in fact probably become routine.
I agree part of the fun is being sexy. (I can be a very freaky girl, the kind you don't take home to mother myself). The post was taken from it's original context, so of my comments might not have translated as well without the prior messages that I was responding to. I guess my point is there are a number of people out there who seem to be dressing for fetish reasons, and/or as a way to go have a lot of sex. I think we'd recognize the type -- they're the ones who post looking for play partners, often in explicit terms, and whose profile pics leave little to the imagination.

In an odd sort of way they're the mirror image of many tranny chasers, who post the same kinds of messages and have the same kind of pics. In both cases some may be doing it for "plausible deniability" that they want to do it with other men. There's also the "super-charged sexuality" factor: I'm someone who's so horny I need both tits and a cock to satisfy my needs. Sort of similar to the widespread fascination about anal sex among men, including those who are violently hetro -- it's "dirtier" and thus more alluring than conventional intercourse. And some may get off on the yin-yang energy, similar to Dominess' elegant post from the GW POV.

OTOH, there's plenty of others (CD, TS, TG, whatever) who have healthy appetites and aren't shy about expressing them. Part of that I'm sure is hormonal -- beneath the lingerie we're still full of testosterone. (Interestingly, I've heard more than a couple FTM stories about how they suddenly become overwhelmingly horny when they start the big T. 'Course the problem to what extent if any is that partly a placebo effect, since they assume that's what supposed to happen.) And hot-blooded GWs enjoy being sex goddesses and have fetishes too.

I think you put your finger on one key difference, being intimate with the other person rather than the outfit, or the fantasy version of one's self. A second difference is that even though one might have some boudoir photos publicly posted, a crotch shot isn't usually the first thing you'd want to show people on your profile (except in certain contexts). In other words, as you've said, sexuality is a component but it's not the entire reason why you do it.

But overall, I think we agree that motivations are complex and dynamic over time.
Devi said…
(By Devi)

By its very nature, feminine attire is sensuous and quite often erogenous as well. I can't deny being aroused frequently when I'm dressed, and at the very least, my emotions are heightened by the constant feel of the garments against me.
But for me this has never been about putting on a couple of token pieces of lingerie and frantically attempting to relieve myself; I'd feel really stupid doing that. That is partly because it never started out that way - I have been fascinated by women's wear well before puberty and have known my interest in dressing just for the emotional expression of my feminine side.

If someone starts out down the CDing path with the clothes essentially being apparel sex toys, its unlikely that in his fetishionistic high that person will see them the same way another TG whose experience is rooted in a fascination from her childhood days, or one who genuinely believes herself to be a woman in a man's body and acts like that woman. Note my use of his and her - I don't really see the first case as an expression of 'her', while the latter are.

I do agree with the statement that TGs who carry themselves and express their feminine selves in a dignified manner can do a world of good for this community. I also believe that the broad acceptance of the community will primarily lie in how well they are accepted by the the 'original' members of the gender they are expressing, i.e. the GGs. Acceptance by GGs at large is IMHO the most crucial step towards acceptance of the TG community by society.


How about this one.... As a 3/4yr.old
I was "dressed up" repeatedly by my
teenage live in Aunt and her h'sch girlfriends. (with some contribution by
her teen sister - my mother).

They played , and I remember very plainly, full blown social scenes where
I was the "beautiful girl" - fully made
up, dressed to the hilt , but mocked
and ridiculed by the crowd for being
so prominent. It was quite a while ago,a time of bed jackets and cigarettes, satin nightgowns and feather boas, etc. The girls spent whole afternoons with their delights.

I sure my compulsions come from those memories. Specially, the thrill and satisfaction I get in "pleasing" my
wife while dressed. I think I'm correct in this diagnosis, specially since my wife helped me identify the
whole background .

In any case, I've managed to carry on
for decades with degrees of some extreme - always to be pulled back to earth by the missus (thank god).

One special result of all these years
is that I can go partially dressed
virtually all the time , again, thanks
to the input from my wife on how to find and "size" any sort of item
that can satisfy without compromise.

"Bonus of Bonus" -- I can pass with no
difficulty , again "the wife".

Tough topic to deal with over a life
time. But , if you can "keep your cool"
and be blessed with an S O who helps,
you can manage.

Thanks for your insights.

genevieve said…
I started crossdressing last as a person in his mid fifties. I had never had the desire in my lifetime, previously. Then last June, I got the urg e to try on my SO's dress. I tried it and have been dressing ever since. I love it!

I have always been a quiet person, keeping things inside of me. About three years ago, I confided with someone that I was ready to 'bust out' and do some living. The thing is I didn't know how or why I wanted to. I also felt it wasn't the right time to let loose.

I have always been drawn to strange
and unusual things. Crossdressing also goes against the grain on how a man should behave in society. It's one of the reasons that I like to crossdress. The main reason is that I enjoy it very much.

Crossdressing has opened up a whole new world. I am on a journey along with my trans sisters and brothers. There has been changes in me, especially psychologically. I'm thrilled to be in touch with my feminine side because it has made me a complete and liberated person.

I am transgendered for sure, but have no desire to transition. I have read so many stories of those who have or are transitioning. I applaud you for the courage to be your true selves. I want to do the same thing as a crossdresser.

Finally, I want to say that my love for the transgender community knows no bounds. I desire the best for all of you.


Gef said…
Hey that is way cool! Thanks for the insight
Sean Cody

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