Written by Ewan
It isn’t easy to open up and talk about crossdressing. That sense of shame that so many of us feel, coupled with not being taught how to talk, as well as the many secret corners of our hearts that we just don’t know how to access (or find so frightening we don’t want to) makes it almost impossible to talk. That’s why I chose the banner image: it reflects the many difficult counselling sessions I have had as I tried to understand, verbalise and change what was going on in my heart.
Yet I have found that going to counselling has been one of the most helpful tools for my recovery from crossdressing. In this post I would like to share some of the ways they have been helpful so that I can encourage you to think about seeing one. I should be clear that I didn’t specifically use these therapists for crossdressing, but they nonetheless helped me understand it and help my healing.
One of my first counsellors was a Christian therapist. I started seeing him for porn addiction. Over the course of these sessions I slowly began to understand why I was addicted to a specific type of porn. I realised that my use of porn was all role-playing, very similar to crossdressing. So we worked on what being a godly man looked like, and being comfortable as a man so that I didn’t need to pretend to be what I wasn’t. This was when I wrote the post about becoming the man God wanted me to be. We focused on internals, what my identity in God was. But it had some practical out workings, reflected in that post.
We focused on porn rather than crossdressing. Porn was easier to discuss. But as we began to study what being a godly man looked like, and as I began to live in that identity, my desire to crossdress weakened.
A couple of years later, I was referred to the local council psychologist service after I overdosed on anti-depressants as a self-harm mechanism. These sessions required lots of ‘homework’; mood diaries, for example.
Nearly a decade later I still refer back to some of the work we did. One of these was creating an action plan for when I’m tempted to self-harm. Through talking about my harm I came to believe that my crossdressing was an act of self-harm because it is a self-destructive behaviour which I sought out to make me feel better about a particular situation. That isn’t to say crossdressing is an act of self-harm for all of us, but for me it is.
In the action plan, I made a list of less harmful things I could do in my moment of temptation. This required using the mood diaries to think about trigger points to make specific action plans. There wasn’t any point putting “have a shower” when I was most likely to harm while in the car! I made a similar plan for cross-dressing. Wife away on night-shift? Make plans for the next day so that I’d have reason to get to bed at a sensible time. Feeling low during the day? Head to a cafe shop and do coursework there. Tempted to buy clothes in a second hand shop? Leave cash at home and only use card (indeed, the idea of joining our bank accounts came from that action plan). I still do this, and plan my mornings and early evenings
Some temptations take us by surprise, but the more we can do to minimise the likelihood of us being tempted the better. Of course, life throws curve-balls that can threaten plans. I am more able to deal with these after I did an online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course hosted by the NHS. I still use many of those tools, aimed at my depression. One of these is Riding the Wave. This is where you say to an emotion or feeling “you’ll pass.” You don’t act on it. You acknowledge that it’s there. But you quietly remind yourself that the feeling will, like a wave, go away.
For example, you’re driving to work and someone cuts you off. You get angry. Your initial go-to response might be to shout and curse at the other driver, flash your lights, tailgate him and blare your horn continuously. Or you can simply blare your horn (rightfully so as they put you in danger), remind yourself that in a few minutes it won’t matter and ride out the feeling. It’s uncomfortable because you really want to do something and you’re not doing it.
This took a lot of practice. I started with my desire to eat my chocolate long before my morning coffee, saying “I want it” and waiting 10 minutes, then 20, gradually increasing the time. When I had gotten good at that I was better able to do this with crossdressing – and the more I did it, the more I knew that a feeling was just that, a feeling. I had to remind myself that the sorrow after the act would be far worse than the feeling of resisting; and the feeling of victory was greater. If I’m home alone I’ll often ride the wave knowing that it will either go by the time my wife gets home or at least then I won’t be able to act on it. In the morning I ride the wave as I busy myself with getting ready and before I know it, it’s time to go to work.
Furthermore I learnt that true freedom came from choosing to not act in ways that I necessarily felt. During counselling sessions because of depression, I came to learn the truth of William James’ line “actions beget feelings.” When I do the dishes despite hating them, I am shackling the bonds of depression because I then feel better about the situation. Likewise, I soon learnt that the feeling of wanting desperately to go into a shop that would cause me temptation turned into rejoicing when I made it through the day without doing so.
As a man, counselling has not come easy. It takes time to open up to someone you don’t really know. But more than anything these counsellors all taught me how to understand what emotions I was feeling and why, and helped me to resolve them through helpful and good methods; talking and by taking positive action. Even though I didn’t see them for crossdressing, my addiction started to loosen. I can only wonder what it might be like to see one just for the crossdressing! They taught me how to be courageous in the face of these feelings and tackle them head-on. Talking therapy doesn’t sound manly, but it enables us to do one of the most manly things there is: fight.