Over the years I have read extensively about crossdressing and talked with many crossdressers, and have found that there is great diversity among crossdressers, especially in regard to the various reasons that crossdressers engage in crossdressing. There are so many different causes, motives, and end goals. And as I’ve written in other posts, it is hard to divide crossdressers into clear categories with clear labels because there is so much overlap among the different types. Each individual has a different, and sometimes unique set of traits when it comes to their relationship with crossdressing. Setting aside those with gender dysphoria, transsexuals, and those who perform drag, there is still quite a bit of diversity in the remaining group which may be called crossdressers or transvestites.
The addictive or compulsive aspect of crossdressing seems to be nearly universal in this group, (the feeling of not being able to live a happy life without it), but there are some who:
- crossdress for sexual pleasure
- crossdress in order to escape the stresses of life temporarily by escaping into fantasy
- crossdress to let out other emotions and aspects of personality that they usually hide or feel like are stifled because of being men
- crossdress to relax
- crossdress for emotional comfort
Again, there is a great deal of overlap and some crossdress for all of these reasons at once. But interestingly, there are those who strongly claim they do not crossdress for sexual reasons at all, and they wear panties under their suit to work, or throw on a dress when they get home from work, purely for the emotional comfort and peace. It’s hard to argue with them, because I’m in no position to know for sure whether they are telling the truth. They certainly seem to be telling the truth. However, as an aside from this post, it’s good to point out that research and testimony has shown that some crossdressers will say their crossdressing is not sexual, even if crossdressing gives them an erection. Perhaps this is due to thinking that the sexual aspect makes crossdressing immoral or perverted, and that somehow it is more acceptable if it is not sexual. See these posts – Crossdressing without sexual component and Book Recommendation – Living with a Transvestite.
In this article I’d like to explore two related motives for crossdressing which may end up being different descriptions of the same motive. We will look at those who are crossdressing in order to relax and those who are crossdressing in order to have emotional comfort and peace. Most of my posts are about crossdressing for sexual pleasure and for an escape into fantasy, as those have been my main struggles personally. And I’ve already written extensively on crossdressing to let out certain aspects of your personality. Of course, there are certainly many connections between these issues, so some parts of this post may be similar to what I’ve written before, and some of the other motives will still come up in this post. For more on the aspect of crossdressing to let out your true personality, see these posts – Integration and Contentment and How to live as a man and as myself.
I’m convinced that for me personally crossdressing was at least 90% about the sexual pleasure. When I used to crossdress and then masturbate, the desire to crossdress was almost always fully gone after the sexual release. I do think that some small part of crossdressing was about emotional comfort for me and/or gender dysphoria. Since these were such a small part of the picture for me, in this post I am going to lean on what I have learned from books, forums, and discussions with many different crossdressers.
What is it that crossdressers of this type say they get out of crossdressing more specifically? Well, some say it makes them feel more like themselves. Some say it makes them feel relaxed, calm and peaceful, a way to rest and unwind. Some say it gives them emotional peace and a happy state of mind. Some say it comforts them and takes away their anxiety, depression, or stress. Some say crossdressing is a security blanket for them. Some say it makes them feel pretty, beautiful, or valuable.
Let me quote some ex-crossdressers that I have talked to about this. One man says that it provided him with emotional comfort. He explains this further by saying:
“For me, perhaps I used it as a way to escape masculinity, a way to de-stress in the same way that having sex is a stress relief… It was a way to temporarily escape life into fantasy.”
Another says that he is drawn to crossdressing when he has a lot of anxiety. In the past crossdressing would relieve some of the anxiety and give him a sense of calmness. He is content being a man but he says that sometimes his social role as a man is difficult. His job requires heavy lifting and getting his hands dirty. Crossdressing in a way provided a sense of stress relief.
A third man says, “That’s not to say that I never got anything sexual out of it. But that was not my primary motivation. Most of the time I didn’t have an erection. My grandmother started saying that I looked like a beautiful girl at the age of 2 and 3. She would hold me and rock me and say it over and over. When I started dressing at 2-3 years old, she very much approved. She lived with us, so this happened on a regular basis. All my life I had a warm, peaceful feeling when I would dress. The closer I could get to looking like a girl, the more peaceful I would feel. It had little to do with escaping masculinity. I liked and still do like being a man and even during the time that I was crossdressing the most, I never wanted to actually become a woman.”
A fourth ex-crossdress says, “About 90% of the time was purely for relaxing and to unwind. Five percent of the time there was a sexual/masturbation attraction to it and the other five percent was something all together different.”
A fifth says, “I know before the age of 18 (when my dressing became sexual) that I used to find extreme comfort in dressing. I was sexually and physically abused and grew up in a broken home, and was bullied and was super shy, so dressing for me became an escape that brought a lot of relief but also brought with it shame and it became compulsive.”
A sixth says that he struggles with depression. When he used to crossdress he was able to manage his depression better, but when he stopped crossdressing, he felt like his depression was worse even while other aspects of his life improved.
Another man claimed that crossdressing not only brought comfort, but also productivity. He was able to feel more relaxed and get a lot of work done on his to do list. In the past, he felt like crossdressing really helped him through his college days to get term papers done.
Others have claimed that crossdressing at night has helped them to sleep much more peacefully and be better rested.
It’s not only the testimonies of crossdressers I know that attest to this motivation. It is psychologists as well. Let me quote Richard F. Docter from his book Transvestites and Transsexuals. He seems to allude that crossdressing that begins as a sexual fetish can mature and develop into a stress-reducing and anxiety reducing behavior.
“Through cross dressing and adoption of the woman’s role, there is the experience of role-relief and reduced anxiety. In place of the earlier fetishism, this behavior becomes a stress management tactic. This is highly reinforcing. Hence, cross dressing and crossgender living become resistant to extinction. 4. For unknown reasons, cross dressing and female role playing generate intense feelings of pleasure and delight unmatched by other sources of satisfaction. They come to occupy a uniquely powerful and persistent set of expectations. 5. There is a gradual “erosion” of masculine identity, perhaps a weakening of the self-system, as cross-gender behavior is rehearsed and reinforced for many years. This process of self-destruction of the masculine identity is especially worthy of more intensive study. A parallel growth of cross-gender identity occurs. 6. Gender reversals, even for short intervals, are associated with a sense of rebirth, self-renewal.”
How many crossdressers are like this? I did some informal research of my own, albeit in a very limited way. I surveyed the men in our prayer group as well as some members of this community who are not Christians. Looking at the results, about 75% of the responders said that they used crossdressing in the past to bring out other elements of their personality that they had stifled. 80% said that they used crossdressing for relief from stress and to escape from life’s pressures temporarily. Around 40-50% of the responders said that crossdressing made them feel more relaxed, rather than more tense (tense as in sexual tension).
(I didn’t survey my friends about this, but I wonder how much of this phenomenon is related to feelings reverting back to childhood. For example, maybe a man crossdresses in order to feel a feminine contact and comfort that he subconsciously associates with his mother or grandmother or other comforting female figure from childhood, especially in cases where the crossdressing is not sexual but only for emotional comfort. This is just speculation. Something I’m wondering about. Probably Freud wrote about something like this somewhere…..)
It won’t surprise any of you that I find this behavior problematic. Beyond the issue that it is sin to crossdress according to my Christian faith, I would like to argue that crossdressing for this reason is not healthy and actually can be harmful.
What is the problem? As one friend pointed out to me, using crossdressing for this purpose is self-defeating. It is similar in some ways to a drug addiction. You feel depressed or stressed and you use crossdressing to feel calm, peaceful, and to feel comforted or to escape from stress. But the device you are using to bring comfort also brings confusion, pain, and destruction. So then you go back to the comfort device, in this case crossdressing, to get comfort again. And the cycle keeps going.
Listen to how some ex-crossdressers describe this (some of the same guys as quoted in the former section above):
One says that he used crossdressing to de-stress and escape from masculinity, but that “crossdressing always ends up only adding lots of stress, shame, guilt, and lies.”
A second ex-crossdresser says that crossdressing brings comfort but then you start to become very anxious about your appearance. You want to look more feminine, but you also want to be able to go back to looking like a man. You want both at once, and it drives you crazy. It takes more effort and a longer time to look feminine and then to try to cover up what you did to look more feminine. What you did for comfort ends up giving more anxiety.
The same man adds – “I have found that for a brief moment there seems to a calm respite from the stresses of life, but that calm is like a wisp of air – here and gone. The prevailing and pervading emotion is one of unsettledness, regret, shame, dissatisfaction, insecurity, fear, disgust at my weakness and at seeking pleasure in something so not me and not of God.”
A third person said – “I had to allow lust into my life, with visualizing myself as a woman to escape problems of sibling verbal abuse from my sister. It worked. It helped but it opened up a hornets’ nest and it will for you too. The thought of acting out, with dressing as a woman more important than my marriage, more important than anything else in life. I can make it feel like the only way to heal myself if I allow it to.”
A fourth man says that crossdressing was a coping mechanism. Crossdressing masks the real issues. Crossdressing created more anxiety by the way it controlled his thoughts and actions. He would be consumed with thoughts like – when is my next “fix”, how am I going to keep hiding this from the ones I love, how can I transform my body, what should I eat to stay thin, when can I shop for a new outfit. He adds that it produces a shame cycle. He also views crossdressing as a very selfish behavior that robs from others around him, his spouse, children, and friends. He said he would justify his actions, because he believed he couldn’t go on without crossdressing in his life.
A fifth ex-crossdresser pointed out that while he looked to crossdressing for comfort, it sucked hours and hours of his life away. For something that was supposed to offer refuge and comfort, it was more of an all-consuming addiction. He was constantly needing the clothes and constantly needing the fiction online. For something that was supposed to give comfort, it didn’t do a great job. There was never getting enough of it. He says – “the comfort is sweet for a moment in your mind, but the aftertaste is anything but pleasurable and the burden ceaseless, demanding more and more submission and pursuit of a lie.”
If we combine these reflections together, what do we see? The main problem is that crossdressing is a coping mechanism. These guys, and people in general, have genuine problems and genuine anxieties. It’s important to deal with those pains and anxieties and to try to treat them. But crossdressing is the wrong treatment that doesn’t match the problem. It’s like a doctor giving a patient chemotherapy to address their problem of covid-19. It is the wrong treatment. Crossdressing is the wrong treatment for the anxieties and pains in our lives.
More practically, we can notice that it is the same thing that alcoholics do. They have real pains and struggles in their lives, and they try to deal with those problems by getting drunk. But getting drunk only temporarily takes away the pain, and in the end drinking adds far more pain and potentially a completely destroyed life. Just as drunkenness is never the right treatment for any problem in any person’s life, I truly believe that crossdressing for emotional comfort is never the right treatment for any problem in any person’s life. As the guys above testified above, crossdressing may temporarily give comfort or ease anxiety, but it’s only temporary, just like the relief drunkenness brings is only temporary. Crossdressing doesn’t address the root problem of whatever is causing that person anxiety. It’s only a band-aid. But it’s not even a band-aid, because a band-aid doesn’t help you while also giving you pain, gender confusion, deception, loss of relationships, loss of time, shame, anxiety, stress, fear, insecurity, and regret. A band-aid does not enslave you. But alcoholism and crossdressing do.
What are some other ways that crossdressing causes harm in a person’s life even as they try to use it for comfort? I won’t make this post very long by repeating myself. Please see this post and the posts it links to – https://healingfromcrossdressing.org/summary-reasons-crossdressing-is-sinful-harmful/
If the problem with crossdressing is of a similar nature to alcoholism, then maybe the solution is of a similar nature as well. With alcoholism it is important to take radical practical steps to fight the addiction and heal from it, but at the same time, a holistic approach would help an alcoholic to address their underlying depressions, anxieties, fears, or pains that led them to using alcohol to drown their sorrows in the first place. I think the same is true in the case of crossdressing for emotional comfort, that is, using crossdressing as a coping mechanism for some kind of pain or stress in a person’s life. The solution is to take radical steps to break the power of the addiction and to slowly heal from the damage the addiction caused, but also to address the underlying depressions, anxieties, fears, or pains that led you to start using crossdressing as a coping mechanism in the first place.
In addition to taking steps to overcome the addiction, I would also suggest the following ideas if you have been using crossdressing for emotional comfort:
- Consider seeing a counselor, psychologist, or pastor. It is important to get some help in dismantling an entrenched coping mechanism, and to get help addressing the pain and trauma in your life. Seek out the counsel, care, and comfort from someone who can walk alongside you in this. With a skilled counselor, you may be able to more fully understand the pain and stress you are trying to treat through crossdressing, and look for healthier ways together for you to deal with that pain.
- Find healthy ways to relax and de-stress that do not add new problems, confusion, and pain of their own. Cultivate enjoyable hobbies. Make new friendships. Spend time with your wife and children. Learn to play an instrument or join a sports league. Find ways to serve others and help people around you. Enjoy cooking the fun foods that you like. Take up fun video games. Just be careful to do things in moderation. It’s possible to give up one addiction, and replace it with a new one, whether that is overeating unhealthy foods or becoming addicted to computer games.
- Most importantly, find your emotional comfort, peace of mind and heart, your sense of being valued and loved, and your identity, all in Christ.
One brother says – “I used to have particular items that I would sleep in. They just calmed and soothed me. Helped me to sleep. I lied to myself and thought I “needed” them. Over time I realised that because I was relying on those items I wasn’t relying on God. So as much as I thought it was ok, it actually wasn’t. I was looking for a sense of security – but God IS my ultimate security. I was looking for sleep – but it is God who gives rest.”
Another brother says – “The only way I am truly fulfilled is to know our Maker and this is met through many wholesome ways – healthy relationships, pursuits using God-given gifts and talents, serving others in kindness. These bring a joy and peace I never had in crossdressing.”
Look to the only one who can still your restless heart, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who gives us comfort as the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the one who gives us meaning and purpose in our lives. Jesus is the one who gives us security and makes us feel secure. Jesus is the one who brings peace into our lives as the Prince of Peace. Jesus is the one who encourages us when we are afraid. Jesus is the one who never abandons us and commits to stay with us until the end. Jesus is our victorious conqueror who destroys the plans of Satan. At the end of the day, are you going to look to the King of Kings who is full of love for your emotional comfort, or will you look to a piece of fabric?
If you don’t know Jesus yet, you can begin a relationship with him today. If you know him already, then stop looking to crossdressing to meet your needs. Look to Christ instead. He will give you the strength and comfort you need to break away from your addiction.
As an appendix to this post, I’d like to list several Bible passages on this theme. They are helpful for understanding the beautiful things God does for us, and some of them may be helpful to memorize so that when you feel that desire for your coping mechanism, you remember to look to God instead.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 4:7 –
7 You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. 8 I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
John 14:27 –
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Isaiah 26:3 –
3 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.
Isaiah 41:10 –
10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Psalm 118:5-6 –
5 In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.
6 The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
1 Peter 5:7 –
7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Psalm 139:13-14 –
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Zephaniah 3:17 –
The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”
Psalm 23 –
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,a
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD