Change is hard. What causes a crossdresser to make a decision to stop crossdressing? And for crossdressers who successfully stop and find happiness without crossdressing in their life, what is it that helped them to change? What is it that allows people to overcome addiction? In this post, I’d like to look at several different theories of change. In other words, these are different ideas about what causes behavior change in people’s lives. They are not mutually exclusive. All of us have made changes in our lives through all of these different means.
Using my own subjective experience, and using what I’ve seen in the lives of other crossdressers, I’m going to analyze several different ways that people change. I will try to point out which ways we can put more or less hope in, and my goal is that this will help people who are struggling to change to know where they can put more of their focus and energy. I will look both at the means of change that might cause crossdressers to decide to stop crossdressing (a.), and also the means of change that might help a crossdresser who already wants to stop crossdressing to be able to stop (b.).
1. Rewards and Consequences
People often change behavior after being awarded for certain actions and being penalized for other actions. This is a very common parenting tactic. If you disobey, you get a time-out or you get grounded or you lose television privileges. If you behave, you get to watch your favorite show, or you get to stay up until such and such a time. All people respond to rewards and punishments to some degree and change their behavior accordingly. But people are complex and can be stubborn. There are always some people who will continue to live a reckless life, making terrible choices, no matter how much misery it causes for themselves and others around them. And there are always some people who will choose to do good for the sake of others, even if it means great personal suffering, or even their own death.
A. Are there crossdressers who decide to stop crossdressing in order to avoid negative consequences? Certainly. This is very common, especially in the context of marriage. A husband maybe be given an ultimatum by his wife that if he crossdresses again, there will be no more sex, or they may have to get separated or divorced. You can argue all you want about what is fair or not fair for a wife to do. But the reality is that in most marriages there are a lot of consequences for a husband who crossdresses, and this can be a powerful motivator in bringing a crossdresser to a decision to stop. Or it may be that the wife does not know about the crossdressing and the husband decides to stop crossdressing to avoid the painful consequence of his wife finding out. Or it could be a young man who is still with his parents, or perhaps with a roommate at college, who decides to stop crossdressing for fear of parents or friends finding out.
Or it could be that a man sees himself making more and more changes to his appearance, so that he decides to stop crossdressing out of fear of losing his job at his workplace if he is found out, or he decides to stop because of the consequence of feeling like he is losing his identity as a man. Or a man might get so tired of the regular shame and guilt he feels because of crossdressing, that he decides he has had enough and decides to stop crossdressing. Unfortunately simply deciding to stop will not heal the shame and guilt.
While consequences can be a good motivator for a crossdresser to decide to give up crossdressing especially at the beginning, I don’t think this driver of change has long-term sticking power. Crossdressing is an addiction that is all consuming for many. And it is something that the culture says is “a part of you” that you cannot ultimately resist. Unless there is a stronger internal drive making a person want to give up crossdressing, I don’t think the consequences will be enough to make that a lasting decision. Fear of a punishment isn’t a great motivator for most people. Look at what we see in the Bible. In the Bible, God promises rewards for obedience and punishment for disobedience, but God’s people continually failed to obey God. What we see in the Bible is that the best motivation for obedience to God was actually to receive God’s grace, and that grace changed people, and those changed people lived for God in obedience out of joy and gratitude for what God had done. So their obedience was a response to grace rather than only to avoid punishment.
Fear isn’t a strong enough internal motivator by itself. A crossdresser might get tired of living in fear of being discovered crossdressing but instead of choosing to give up crossdressing, he may just decide to go public with it and stop caring what people think. Plenty of crossdressers have done this with reckless abandon, even if the results included losing their wives and children in the process. Then the crossdresser has faced the consequences already, and he is now free to crossdress. A man may decide that the reward of the physical pleasure of crossdressing outweighs the consequence of losing his marriage. Punishments are usually external pressures and will never be as powerful as more personal and internal reasons for wanting to change.
Rewards, on the other hand, can be a stronger motivator, and a more internal reason for wanting to stop crossdressing. For the crossdressers I’ve seen come to a real and lasting decision to stop crossdressing, often there are one or more of these future rewards they are looking forward to as a result of stopping crossdressing. It is these goals and thoughts that they have in mind that give them the motivation they need to make a firm decision to stop crossdressing. Let me describe the rewards in the present tense as experienced by someone who has already given up crossdressing and is now experiencing the rewards:
- The man feels a new sense of freedom, like the chains have been broken off. Each day is a day of joy and adventure. He is not stuck in addiction. He has so much more time. He enjoys learning new things and spending time with friends. The shame and guilt don’t plague his life each day. He feels like a prisoner who has been set free!
- The man feels closer in fellowship with God without crossdressing in his life. He enjoys that daily closeness, feeling God’s good pleasure, and knowing that he is living for God.
- The man feels much closer to his wife. Without crossdressing, he finds himself desiring his wife more, enjoying time with her more, noticing her beauty more, and spending more time with her romantically and sexually.
- The man appreciates the reward of how his wife looks at him without crossdressing in his life. She is more attracted to his now more masculine appearance (now that he has stopped trying to make feminine changes to his body). She appreciates that they have more time to spend together without the time consuming addiction of crossdressing. She trusts him much more without all the secrets being hidden in the marriage. She has a lot more respect for him now that he is not living in sin and has overcome the addiction by getting the help he needed.
- The man feels better about himself. He has learned to accept himself for who he is, including his body. He no longer thinks of his body as ugly or shameful, he no longer wants to change it. He feels good about himself and who he is, the man God created him to be. He knows he is different from other men in various ways in his personality, but he has come to appreciate who he is as a real man.
B. After deciding to give up crossdressing, do rewards and consequences help to overcome the temptations that come? Do they help someone to overcome the addiction? Yes, I think they can help, but only to a small degree. A wife, or an accountability partner could give a reward to a man who successfully goes six months without crossdressing, and then again after a year, after two years, and so on. This could be a special gift, going out to a nice restaurant, a fun vacation, a new sports-bike, etc.
Someone giving up crossdressing could also give himself self-imposed consequences for each time he falls back into crossdressing, through the help of his accountability partner. In my experience, I tried fasting from food each time I failed in crossdressing or looking at sinful things on the computer. It didn’t help me in the sense of fearing a consequence because whenever I gave in to sin I wasn’t remembering the punishment until later after already failing. But the times of prayer and fasting helped me spiritually. And every time I felt a hunger pain I remembered my sin and remembered why I didn’t want to give in to it again. I have also had times where I have given money to charity each time I looked at crossdressing websites. I gave money which I would have spent on fun things. Each time I failed, then I would give, and losing out on that money made me more serious in fighting the addiction. (And I would often give to charities that counsel people with sexual addictions).
I view these measures as small supplements to the total effort of changing and giving up crossdressing. But these things alone are definitely not powerful enough to change behavior when dealing with an addiction. With addiction, there is such a strong feeling of immediate physical pleasure that the reward of giving in often seems to outweigh the rewards of not giving in. And the horrible feeling of failure and regret that people experience in any kind of addiction is an extremely bad consequence far worse than any self-imposed extra consequence, and yet people keep on doing the same thing. This is the nature of addiction. Adding in small rewards and small consequences is not going to break the addiction. More serious measures and more serious drivers of change are needed. I see these rewards and consequences as small additions to a recovery plan, but not the primary motivator for change.
2. Acquiring a New Way of Thinking
One of the biggest ways that people change is by learning something new, or thinking about something in a different way. This is also referred to as a cognitive theory of change. When we acquire new knowledge, or look at something in a new way from a new perspective, it can really change how we want to behave and change our behavior. This is why we read books, watch documentaries, and ask questions to friends.
A. Do some crossdressers decide to stop because of a new way of thinking about crossdressing? Yes, many do. This is one of the things I emphasize the most through my blog posts, partly because it’s one of the only things I can do to influence crossdressers around the world who I am not present with in person. I try to help crossdressers see their crossdressing in a new way. I try to show how it makes them less of their true selves, not more. I try to help crossdressers think about the harms that crossdressing causes. I try to show how crossdressing causes disintegration of personality and identity, not integration. I try to show why crossdressing is morally wrong and a sin before God. If a person looks at crossdressing in a new way, and comes to believe these things, they have a very strong internal reason to want to give up crossdressing. Rather than someone else forcing them to do so, they actually want to do so for themselves because of their new beliefs about crossdressing.
I’m a very rational and introspective person. I love learning and writing. And I probably overestimate the persuasiveness of my arguments on this site, so I may be biased. But I think reading and learning about crossdressing, and seeing it for what it truly is, is a very strong motivator for change, for making a decision to give up crossdressing.
I know that this works because of the testimonies I’ve received about my website. There have been so many times where a crossdresser has reported to me that he found my website accidentally while he was looking for crossdressing websites for the sake of sexual pleasure, but that the click to my website was enough to get him reading a little bit, then to start seeing crossdressing in a new way, until he read enough that he made a decision to stop crossdressing.
Therefore, I do suggest that ex-crossdressers share with their crossdresser friends posts on my site. If people have an open mind they may be challenged and see crossdressing in a new way. And I encourage wives who have crossdressing husbands to print off a few of my posts, and read them together with their husbands. Again, if the husband is rational and open-minded, this could be a great beginning point in prompting change. As a wife you could agree to read a book of your husband’s choice about crossdressing to discuss together as well. Read both and discuss both to keep it fair.
B. New ways of thinking about crossdressing can also give us more power to fight the temptations when they come, and therefore actually overcome the addiction. We need to learn strategies from other brothers who are fighting their crossdressing addictions. It also helps to learn more about the causes and origins of crossdressing desires. It helps to learn how to live a fulfilling life with God through learning the Bible and learning theology. It helps to learn more about masculinity and our identity as men. And it helps to learn from other brothers about how to deal with failures and setbacks. For all of these reasons, I continually suggest to other guys who are working to overcome this addiction that they slowly work through reading all the blog posts on this website.
For me, what was originally most helpful was reading the blogs of other ex-crossdressers. Suddenly I realized, “of course, it is possible for me to truly quit.” Once I believed it was possible, I was able to stop. I had always wanted to stop, and had always been trying to stop. But the new thought that stopping completely was truly possible, the new hope that I had, that made all the difference.
I cannot over-state this point. For me, what finally broke the addiction was realizing that there were others like me out there who were also struggling to overcome the addiction, and seeing their success led me to realize that stopping was possible. I needed this belief in order to stop! I had got into such a cycle of failure, repentance, struggle, failure, repentance, struggle – that I had become fatalistic without realizing it, believing that I couldn’t truly ever stop completely. Once I changed in this belief, stopping was possible, and easier than expected most of the time!
My only sort of caution regarding both A. and B. on this point is that much of the time addicts do not think rationally. Addiction isn’t rational. It keeps us trapped even when we know the addiction is not good for us. So exposing addicts to new ideas in a rational way might not make a big dent in the addictive cycle they are in without other drivers of change added into the mix. It depends on the person and how deeply they are stuck in addiction. Learning new perspectives on crossdressing might be enough for some people but not nearly enough for others.
3. Traumatic experience or challenging event
For all people, going through traumatic and painful experiences, or going through a really challenging episode, makes you different. You don’t remain the same after losing a job, or experiencing the death of a family member, or getting diagnosed with cancer. Such momentous and emotional events cause you to rethink your choices and your future. As Christians, we know this to be true biblically as well. The Bible teaches that God allows us to experience suffering and trials. And that these trials and times of pain are used by God to make us more holy, patient, and dependent on God. They are opportunities for growth in our character.
A. When it comes to crossdressing, I’m not sure how much focus we should put here. While it is true that many crossdressers have decided to give up crossdressing after a painful event, I am sure there are just as many who have decided to go full throttle into crossdressing after a painful event. It depends a bit on our reaction to suffering. When we suffer, will we turn towards God and living for him? Or will we turn to despair and wallow in our misery by running to sin?
I do think that wives are in a unique position to put crossdressing husbands into painful situations that might ultimately cause them to want to give up crossdressing, and end up with a healthier marriage and happier life. This may sound harsh to you! But sometimes tough love is what we need. If wives put pressure on their husbands to say that crossdressing is unacceptable and a form of marital unfaithfulness, they could separate from their husbands for a short time until he is willing to give up the addiction. This is not manipulation, not an idle threat, and not just a way to lash out against the husband. Or at least it shouldn’t be these things. This is also not a way to run to divorce. But a time of separation can help the husband to realize the seriousness of his actions and make him willing to work again with the wife to improve the marriage. A separation will surely be a painful and traumatic experience for the husband (and the wife too), but it may be just the reality check and life shaking event that the crossdresser needs to wake up and realize the seriousness of his actions, and his real need to quit crossdressing. This is a way to do an intervention without making the issue public. But just like public interventions are needed for drug addicts sometimes (public meaning friends and family), sometimes this might be needed for crossdressers as well.
Another type of traumatic event could be discovery of your crossdressing. This could be a wife finding out or people from church. In many cases the trauma of this discovery has caused crossdressers to take their addiction seriously, and then they get the help that they need to stop. They make a huge life changing decision to stop, and even become willing to go to a counselor or a recovery group.
Sometimes these separations, interventions, or exposures sadly might be the only thing to shake an addict hard enough to make him want to get help. The nature of addiction is such that the consequences (#1) or new ideas (#2) are often not enough to bring about change.
B. To think about someone who has already decided to give up crossdressing, and is now just figuring out how to fight against temptations, the idea of a traumatic event doesn’t seem as applicable. But I suppose going through a trial could cause you to reevaluate your life and make you try a bit harder to get the help you need and give up the addiction.
4. Changing the Environment
Sometimes the best driver to cause change in people’s lives is simply to change their environment. This can be done in a serious way like taking an addict to a Rehab center, which is sometimes the only thing that can truly break the addiction. But this can also be done in very simple ways like changing certain habits such as the route you normally drive in order to reduce temptation.
A. Can changing the environment make a crossdresser decide to stop crossdressing? Perhaps. I can only think of situations such as a crossdresser deciding to stop because of having children and wanting to be a good example for them. Or a crossdresser being forced to have less privacy, perhaps by taking in other relatives or friends who will stay in the same house. Largely, I don’t see changing the environment as a real driver of change to make someone want to give up crossdressing.
B. But changing the environment is absolutely critical to overcoming the crossdressing addiction by reducing temptation. I’ve written about things we can do in many different blog posts. I won’t be exhaustive here, but will mention just a few things to consider. In general, one point to remember is that we are all lazy. Laziness is a sin. But we can use to our advantage the fact that most of us will not want to put in too much effort in order to sin. So we can make changes to our environment to make it so that falling into crossdressing will take just a little bit more time, more effort, and more energy. Not that we can change our environment enough to totally remove temptation, but we can at least make giving in more difficult. Here are a few ideas:
- Get an internet filter.
- Purge the clothing you have acquired as a crossdresser.
- Ask your wife to keep her clothes in her closet and not laying all about the house.
- Limit the time you spend alone by adjusting your work schedule and family activities schedules.
- Make commitments that will use up your time, such as community sports, volunteering at church, etc. Stay busy.
- Grow a beard.
- Lift weights.
- Take trips only with other people, not alone.
Of course, doing all of these things won’t remove all crossdressing temptation. And there are ways around these things. But doing these simple things can make it dramatically easier to overcome the addiction and to not give in to temptation so often. Giving in to temptation will necessitate more work and more steps. Instead of just jumping online to look at crossdressing fiction, you’ll need to figure out how to disable the filter first. Do you really want to mess with that? To give in to the desire to spend all evening alone crossdressing, you’ll have to lie to your board gaming group about why you can’t make it. To give in to your desire to crossdress and look good in that mirror, you’ll have to shave off the beard you’ve been working on for weeks, and your wife will end up asking you why the beard is gone.
Men who are trying to give up crossdressing, you absolutely must put in place some of these things to change your environment. Wives, you can also make changes that will make things easier for your husband, as a way to support him and help him overcome his addiction. See this post – Giving Pastoral Care to a Crossdresser or Person with Gender Dysphoria.
Relationships are absolutely key to behavior change. Our relationships are the most important things in our lives that determine who we are and how we behave. It is the people we meet, the friendships we have, and the parents who raised us who shape who we end up being, and who influence the decisions that we make. When it comes to addictions like crossdressing, relationships may be the most important factor, both for deciding to give up crossdressing, and for overcoming the temptations and the addiction itself.
A. Most of the men who I know who have made a decision to give up crossdressing have done so at least partly because of a relationship.
- Some have done so through a relationship with me. I remember one guy who came on to my website intending to only ridicule me and troll me because he thought it was ridiculous that I thought crossdressing was bad. When I surprised him by responding with kindness, we began a relationship, albeit an online one and a brief one. We had a good conversation through comments on my posts. Then I didn’t hear from him for a while until months later when he came back and told me that my love and patience towards him was what caused him to change, and to read my posts with fresh eyes, and ultimately he changed his mind about crossdressing and decided he wanted to stop.
- Many men decide to give up crossdressing because of their healthy relationship with their wives. They truly love their wives and they don’t want anything to come between them in the relationship. And it is together with their wives that they discuss crossdressing and come to a decision that they will give it up and get help to overcome the addiction.
- Some men are influenced by a mentor or a pastor who has cared for them for many years, who they have a relationship of trust and respect with. And it is through this relationship of loving care, and patient discussion, that they come to the decision to give up crossdressing.
- Most importantly, crossdressers decide to give up crossdressing when they meet with Jesus. When they begin a relationship with the God who made them, and with Jesus who died for them, everything changes. They will never be the same again. All else in their life is counted as nothing compared to the greatness of knowing Jesus as their Lord and Savior, knowing his love and his forgiveness and the abundant life that can be had in him. I invite you who is reading to put your faith in Jesus, and begin a relationship with him. He says to you, “let the one who is thirsty come.” See my post – My Christian Perspective.
B. Relationships are also extremely important for overcoming the addiction. I dare to say that without supportive relationships, a crossdressing addict has very little hope at all of overcoming and finding freedom. Even if you have a strong relationship with God, you need help from people. One of the main tools that God uses to help us is other people. God does much of his work through his people. As I said before, forming relationships with other ex-crossdressers online made all the difference for me. In addition, I could never have overcome the addiction without my accountability partners and Jesus my Lord. Here are some of the important relationships crossdressers need as they strive to overcome addiction:
- Accountability Partners – We all need someone we can confess our intimate struggles to without condemnation. This person can walk with us, pray for us, encourage us, remind us of the Gospel, and ask us regular tough questions so that we can stay strong and overcome temptation.
- Supportive wife – It really is helpful to have a wife who is united with you in helping you to overcome the addiction. It is not healthy to keep crossdressing a secret from your wife, and not fair to her. To be known for who you truly are, including your struggles, and still loved by your wife is an amazing thing. It is not a good idea for your wife to be your accountability partner, but you should be able to talk to her periodically about your struggle, and discuss some of the things she may need to do to help you (like the changing the environment suggestions). Above all you want a wife who will not tolerate or encourage your sin, and a wife who will pray for you faithfully every day.
- Pastor – It is helpful to share with your pastor about your struggle in order to receive pastoral guidance, counseling, and biblical teaching. Your pastor may not fully understand your struggle, but can give you strategies to overcome temptation.
- Counselor – For many crossdressers, seeing a counselor (who doesn’t affirm delusion or sin), is really helpful. Look for a Christian counselor who can walk with you over the long journey of overcoming the addiction.
- Support groups – Support groups are one of the most helpful ways to find long-term relationships with other brothers who can walk with you in overcoming addiction. These can be 12-step groups, Celebrate Recovery groups, or more informal local church groups focused on overcoming sexual sin.
- Our prayer group – Consider joining our prayer group connected to this website. While we have the disadvantage of not meeting face to face, it is still really helpful to get the encouragement, guidance, and prayers of other men who know exactly what kind of temptations you face.
- The most important relationship we have is with Jesus. There is not much hope against addiction without Christ. Even for those who manage to overcome addiction without Christ, they don’t have the hope, purpose, love and joy to have an abundant life after the time of addiction. Knowing Jesus and his grace gives us so much power over temptation. I’ve written about this in so many of my biblical posts, so I won’t repeat everything here. But the good news of the Gospel, the grace we have received, is what changes us and transforms us so that we are people who want to live to glorify God rather than being people who live for the pleasures of an addiction. We become born again and have new hearts. And it is God and his grace which gives us motivation to do good, to fight sin. We do so not to earn something, not to avoid punishment, but we do so because we are so full of joy in God and want to please him. We obey out of thanksgiving rather than out of fear. Knowing Jesus personally changes people. Christians can overcome any sinful addiction. And Jesus gives us his Spirit to live within us so that we have power to resist the temptations that come our way. We rely on Jesus’ strength, not our own, to win the battles. I’d like to end this section, and this post, with some great quotes from the book Finally Free by Heath Lambert, that emphasize the importance of relationship with Jesus in overcoming addiction:
“The tide will begin to turn in your struggle against pornography when you begin to grasp forgiving grace and transforming grace, as you learn to repent.”
“Until God is your chief concern — until sinning against him is what makes your heart break — you will never turn the corner.”
“There are many strategies to pursue this joy. The most significant one is to learn to delight in God above all else.”
“A living, breathing relationship with the Savior of the world will drive porn out of your life quicker than anything else. When you turn your eyes to Jesus, there isn’t room for anything else in your heart because he fills it up. When you open the blinds of a pitch-black room, the sunlight drives away the darkness.”
“There is no struggle for purity so intense that Jesus’ grace cannot win the battle.”