The Secret Truths about Transvestites

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA


There are many myths and misconceptions about why men crossdress. A recent survey shows quite clearly that most crossdressers are neither homosexual nor aspirational transsexuals. Crossdressing is not an illness and most transvestites do not want to be ‘cured’.

Transvestism is regarded by many as a valuable remedy for stress.

The variations among crossdressers are vast. Some men like dressing entirely in female clothing; some enjoy wearing individual items of feminine apparel. Some go out in public dressed in female clothing while others stay indoors while crossdressed. Some wear feminine lingerie underneath male clothing. Transvestism crosses all class and social barriers but seems to be exceptionally common among men who have acquired exceptional responsibilities.

Transvestism: A Social Phenomenon
It is doubtful if anyone knows exactly how many men obtain pleasure, sexual satisfaction or relief from stress by dressing up in women’s clothes (or, more accurately, clothing designed primarily for women to wear). The potential embarrassment and perceived social stigma associated with transvestism means that many men are extremely secretive about their crossdressing habits; consequently it is difficult to obtain an accurate figure.

Some authorities have claimed that as many as 50% of men have, at some time or another, dressed partly or completely in women’s clothes. More conservative estimates put the number of regular transvestites at around 10% of the male population in most developed countries.

It seems that crossdressing is currently one of the fastest growing social phenomena in the western world.

My own studies suggest that the figure of 1 in 10 is probably accurate. And that the figure is undoubtedly rising quite rapidly. It seems that crossdressing is currently one of the fastest growing social phenomena in the western world.

History of transvestism
Crossdressing isn’t new, of course. Men and women have been doing it since clothing was invented. Transvestism occurs to some degree in the oldest societies, whether sophisticated or primitive.

In some societies, transvestites were ridiculed (as they usually are today) but far more often they were treated with respect, and regarded as possessing great wisdom and of having magical or mystical qualities. Christian saints and Hindu gods have changed sex at will and Hippocrates reported that men who dressed as women became priests. Ancient Jewish history contains accounts of men dressing as women. Caligula used to dress as a woman as did at least one English king and one French king. Today, shamans (powerful and deeply respected figures in religions around the world) are often men dressed in feminine clothing.

The most famous transvestite in history was probably Le Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont, a lawyer, political adventurer, spy and diplomat in the service of Louis XV. He was born in 1728, christened Charles Genevieve Louise Auguste Andre Timothee d’Eon de Beaumont and died at the age of 82, having spent 48 years living as a man and 34 living as a woman. The word ‘eonism’ is now often used as a synonym for ‘transvestism’ or ‘crossdressing’.

Crossdressing hasn’t always involved men dressing in feminine clothing, of course. Female suffragettes in England often dressed as men, and in the 18th century it was fairly common for Dutch women to dress as men in order to obtain work as sailors.

Part of the problem for transvestites is the fact that we are so wrapped up in what we now consider to be ‘proper’ or ‘acceptable’ behaviour that we often forget that fashion is never more than fleeting. In some cultures it is women who wear the trousers and men who wear the skirts. Painting fingernails is currently considered to be a feminine preserve but the habit originated in China where warriors going into battle would paint their nails crimson in the hope that this would give the enemy the impression that their hands were already dripping with blood.

The words ‘transvestite’ and ‘crossdresser’ are interchangeable: both referring to an individual (usually, and in the case of the study mentioned below, exclusively male) who dresses in the clothes normally associated with the opposite sex.

The word ‘crossdresser’ is generally preferred by those heterosexuals who wish to establish a clear difference between themselves and others such as ‘drag queens’. However, the word ‘transvestite’ is in general use. The terms ‘crossdresser’ and ‘transvestite’ are usually regarded as referring to males who wear clothing normally associated with women, for the simple reason that crossdressing among women (millions of whom regularly wear trousers, shirts, jackets and other items of clothing traditionally associated with men) is so commonplace that it is not regarded as in any way exceptional or worthy of comment.

In some communities, indeed, it is more usual to see women wearing trousers than to see them wearing dresses or skirts.

General conclusion
In recent decades, women have quite reasonably claimed the right to do nearly all the things that men do – and to behave in many traditionally ‘male’ ways. Women now fight fires, drive lorries, sit in the boss’s chair and exhibit emotions which were traditionally regarded as male – and which, in the past, women usually had to suppress. Women can be as tough and as aggressive as men without anyone thinking any the worse of them. And they can wear male clothing without anyone batting an eyelid.

But while women have won the right to exhibit qualities which used to be regarded as ‘male’, most men still don’t feel able to exhibit traditionally female qualities.

Although they now have to cope with a world in which women’s rights and expectations have changed, most men still hide their emotions from one another, and from themselves.

At heart most men are just as romantic, compassionate and sensitive as most women. (Indeed, research shows that women tend to be much stronger and more capable of dealing with divorce, unemployment and bereavement than men are.) But those basic feelings are often suppressed.

A surprisingly large number of men dare not admit their femininity to themselves – let alone show it to others. Natural feelings are suppressed and bottled up and, as a direct result, men suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease and immune system disorders.

While women have enlarged their role in society (and have, as a result benefitted in many ways) men have been pushed further and further into their destructive and damaging masculinity.

The old-fashioned theory that men are men, that women are women and that, in addition to the obvious physical differences, there are fundamental physiological and psychological differences which mean that men and women see the world through entirely different eyes and must, in consequence, respond entirely differently to identical stimuli, is a nonsense. The theory no longer applies to women but still applies to men.

Society has tried to define males and females in harsh black and white tones whereas in reality the truth is that people exist in a vast variety of shades of grey.

It seems that transvestism provides for many men a healthy release of feelings which would otherwise have remained hidden.

Crossdressing has been described as a ‘symbolic excursion across gender boundaries’. It is probably a healthier and more natural excursion than we realise for it enables a man to show his ‘softer side’. And it seems reasonable that men should have the right to express their femininity, in just the same way that women have fought for and won the right to express their masculine qualities.

Men should not be ashamed to show their female qualities; they should not be reluctant to let their emotions show, to ask for help and support, and to combine traditional male toughness with the soft, gentle qualities which are hidden deep inside.

And women should do their best to encourage their men to show their femininity. These days it isn’t women who need liberating but men.

There are many practical ways in which men can let their soft, feminine nature surface. They can learn to share their fears and admit to their vulnerability; they can learn to listen to their instincts more often and they can share their feelings with friends.

But it isn’t always easy to do these things when you’ve spent decades doing the opposite.

And so increasing numbers of men are finding that there is a short cut: by dressing in soft, feminine fabrics they can quickly liberate their feminine, gentle side – and (temporarily at least) escape from their aggressive, ambitious, demanding masculine selves.

After all, women often dress as men when taking on male attributes. The woman truck driver may wear jeans and a plaid shirt. Many female executives wear smart suits and carry briefcases. Some women hardly ever wear dresses or feminine clothing at all – claiming that they find trousers more comfortable, more practical and more satisfying from a personal point of view.

(As an aside, it seems rather sad that determined feminists, themselves often full-time crossdressers, are frequently the most vocal critics of male crossdressing. It seems curious that women who have fought for, and won, the freedom to live their lives as they wish, and the right to dress however they choose, should feel justified in expending effort condemning men who are trying to obtain the same freedom.)

This survey shows that the benefits of crossdressing are great. So many transvestites get stress relief from their crossdressing that doctors should consider encouraging some of their harassed male patients to try wearing feminine clothing occasionally. As a doctor, I have no doubt that this would be more useful, and far less damaging, than prescribing another ton or two of anxiolytic and antidepressant drugs.

Many people still regard crossdressing as a joke. It is something that often attracts sneers and giggles. And there is no doubt that a good many people find it unnerving and slightly disturbing. But, from a medical point of view, it seems clear that if there were more transvestites in our society there would probably be fewer men suffering from heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and ulcers. And that’s no laughing matter. (There is real evidence that men who crossdress are often able to reduce their blood pressure to a point where they no longer need medication.)

Sadly, many of those who have found the courage to escape from the stresses of life by putting on panties, bra, stockings and a dress still feel guilty about what they do.

It is time for the sneering to stop and the guilt to be banished. Women fighting for liberation often burnt their bras; men fighting for liberation are now wearing theirs.

There is nothing wrong with crossdressing but there is a great deal wrong with a society which deals so harshly with such a modest behavioural variation from the accepted norm. Prejudice, intolerance and fear breed guilt and shame, which lead directly to anxiety, depression and physical illness. What a pity that is, when there is evidence that men who wear bras, panties and dresses may be protecting themselves from serious health problems.

Our society requires many of us to dress up and wear some sort of uniform. The judge wears a gown and a wig. Soldiers, policemen and people who work in supermarkets wear uniforms. Hotel porters, car park attendants, railway staff, airline cabin crew and nurses all wear uniforms. Doctors wear white coats. Plumbers wear overalls. Bishops wear particularly fine gowns. Bankers wear pinstripe suits. More than ever before in history we define people by what they wear.

Men who dress in clothing usually regarded as being ‘feminine’ are throwing a spanner into the works of a finely balanced piece of social machinery. So it is, perhaps, hardly surprising that crossdressing produces confusion, bewilderment and resentment. Dressing up in feminine clothing is one of the most harmless activities imaginable but it is also one of the most socially misunderstood and challenging.

The most important conclusion from this survey is that men who dress in feminine clothing bring out a normal, healthy part of themselves; they broaden their outlook on life, and they enjoy a temporary respite from the responsibilities, demands and expectations associated with being male.

The cost of crossdressing is small, the real side effects non-existent and the benefits enormous.

The above article was extracted from the introduction to Vernon Coleman’s book Men in Bras, Panties and Dresses: The Secret Truths about Transvestites which is available as an ebook on Amazon.

Copyright Vernon Coleman

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