Outsiders in London


Cross - Dressing  ( TransvestiTism )

A transvestite (not to be confused with a ‘transsexual’) is a person who occasionally, sometimes or frequently wears clothing associated with the opposite sex.   The term ‘transvestite’ has often been seen as negative - clinical terminology with pathological implications - so the terms, ‘cross-dresser’ and ‘cross-dressing’ are preferred nowadays.

Cross-dressers often develop a liking in early childhood for wearing items of clothing related to the opposite sex, often wearing clandestinely the clothes of their siblings, parents or friends.   This pattern sometimes continues into adulthood.   Male cross-dressers do not generally have fetishistic intentions, they simply enjoy wearing women’s clothing (sometimes just underwear, worn discreetly) and often admire and imitate women, often distancing themselves from the gay and transsexual communities.   These men are often married, with children, and sustain normal, heterosexual family life but their relationships can be tinged with anxiety and guilt if their spouses discover and object to their cross-dressing.   During periods of intense inner conflict, or when some marital or other external pressure bears down on them, many cross-dressers will dispose of all their accumulated clothing, a practice called ‘purging’, though over time most will accumulate a new collection of women’s clothing and accessories.

Societies have always deliberately created different dress-codes for men and for women and such social norms are sometimes even reinforced by statute.   Some cross-dressers deliberately wish to shock by challenging these norms but the majority cross-dress just because they find it deeply fulfilling, or comforting, or a matter of personal style.

Gender disguise has been commonplace throughout history, in the world of the theatre and in real life too:  women may cross-dress, partially or fully, so as to take up what are exclusively male professions (eg the army or the police). In performance art, ‘drag queens’ are men who cross-dress in what is usually an exaggerated way, often mimicking famous film or pop stars.  

In a number of societies, cross-dressing is practised for religious, traditional and/or ceremonial reasons.   In India, for example, some male devotees of the Hindu god, Krishna, dress in the elaborate female attire of his consort;  and, in Italy, of pagan origin, the Neapolitan femminielli dress as brides to take part in streets processions. 

Most psychoanalysts today do not regard cross-dressing itself as a psychological problem, unless it interferes with the normal functioning of life;  nevertheless, cross-dressing generally continues to be misunderstood and is often ridiculed, even in relatively liberal and enlightened societies.

The Beaumont Society is a national self-help body run by and for those who cross-dress or are transsexual. They can be contacted on the Web at: www.beaumontsociety.org.uk

or by phone on:  01582 412220.

Page updated 30th June 2013

The purpose of these notes is, in the spirit of education, to provide the reader with some additional information about specific topics covered in the sitters’ interviews and to draw together statistical, sociological and other relevant data which could not easily be incorporated into the records of the interviews themselves.

The notes are largely constructed from widely-available published materials on the topic in question and every effort has been made to exclude material which could be seen as spurious or contentious.   Of course, though care has been taken to draw only from bona fide sources, it cannot be claimed that these notes are authoritative;  for those who are already expert or who wish to delve further into a specific subject, cross-referencing with other reliable references is recommended.

While no material has been consciously included that might be deemed sexist, racist or offensive in some other way to a particular minority group or to individuals adhering to a particular religious creed or moral code, it is hardly to be expected that everyone will agree with every observation and conclusion.