I recently let it be known on social media that I welcome questions about the transgender experience, and that such questions can be anonymous if that makes correspondents more comfortable. Among other responses, I got an anonymous email from someone who says we’re acquainted on social media, but aren’t friends otherwise. The question the person asked is reproduced below:
I cross-dress. In the last several years, it’s dawned on me that, in part, this predilection stems from a childhood incident wherein I was sexually abused.
How would I determine if my crossdressing is just a fetish or if I’m farther along the spectrum?
You can probably guess that I’ve paraphrased the language of the question a little to further preserve the individual’s anonymity. Normal people, unlike me, don’t use words like “wherein.”
Below is my reply. I hope you readers may also find it helpful, or at least informative:
You say you believe you’re a crossdresser, in part, because you were molested as a child. I’d be interested to know if you have you been told this by a therapist or psychologist. I’m not a mental health professional myself, so I don’t state this with any sort of authority, but it’s my understanding that such a one-to-one correspondence between a childhood trauma and an adult paraphilia is a myth. In other words, if you crossdress, that’s probably just something you happen to be into—the way you’re wired. I very much doubt that your crossdressing is related to what happened to you as a child, even if that was a part of what happened to you.
(And by the way, my sympathies over having had that experience. That shouldn’t happen to anyone, and I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to go through that.)
As for whether your crossdressing is “just a fetish” or if you’re elsewhere on the spectrum, I don’t know if I have much to tell you about that either.
For starters, I wouldn’t say anything is “just a fetish.” “Fetish” isn’t even the right word; the technical term for this behavior is a “paraphilia,” if you want to do an in-depth search of the psychological literature. But
whatever you call it, it’s a part of who you are. A small part or a larger part (TBD), but it’s valid either way. There’s nothing wrong with it, it doesn’t make you dysfunctional or bad, and you should embrace it. And celebrate and acknowledge it, if you can do so without putting your safety or livelihood in jeopardy.
To your question about whether you’re “farther along the spectrum”—well, the spectrum model has its uses, but sometimes it’s better to think of the variety of gender identities not as a spectrum, but a road. Let’s say Point A is a gender dysphoric person who lives full time in his or her sex as assigned at birth, never crossdresses and has taken no outward steps toward transition.
Point B would be a gender dysphoric person who has legally changed his or her name and the sex marker on all legal documents, lives openly and full-time in the gender they were not assigned at birth, is on a regimen of hormone replacement therapy, and has availed him or herself of all possible transition-related surgeries and medical procedures.
Very few transgender people reach Point B. Point B is a long way from Point A. Most transgender people don’t have the resources they’d need to get there. But here’s the point too many people miss: not everyone even wants to get there. It’s an arbitrary goal, and one that doesn’t define us.
Therapists and pop culture tend to assume we all want to go to Point B, and it’s common to internalize that assumption. But you can stop and pitch your tent anywhere you want along the road. Returning briefly to the spectrum model, you’re trying to find your personal wavelength.
If occasional crossdressing satisfies you, then be satisfied with it. If you decide later that it’s not enough, and you want to spend a larger percentage of your time presenting as the other gender, then go with that. If you later come to want people to call you by a name more associated with the gender other than your birth sex, do that too. Etcetera. Maybe you’ll reach a place where you’re completely comfortable and don’t need to make any more “progress.” That’s fine, and it’s a process that all of us have gone through.
There’s no wrong way to be transgender. Look at Stu Rasmussen, the mayor of Silverton, Oregon. His journey doesn’t in any way resemble the iconic model of “transitioning” put in our heads by the likes of Renee Richards, Jenny Boylan, or Caitlyn Jenner. But Stu seems happy with who he is, and that’s the only standard he or you or I ever have to meet.
Put simply, don’t overthink it. What matters in your transition is that it’s your transition. And you are transitioning; by occasionally crossdressing, you’ve already left Point A. Your eventual destination is entirely up to you.
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