This post is different from my other posts. I have written from a more neutral vantage point rather than specifically out of a Christian worldview, in the hope that this post can help others who may not share my faith. In this post, I synthesize a lot of the things I have written about in other posts, and hopefully this concise article will help not only non-Christians, but Christians as well who have been reading my blog for some time.
In this brief article, I would like to address men1 who feel the need to crossdress, but who find it problematic to do so in their current life situation. This could include:
- Married men whose wives do not approve of crossdressing.
- Men who would not be comfortable having it known that they crossdress, and so therefore they crossdress in secret with constant fear of being caught.
- Men who are prohibited from crossdressing legally because they live in oppressive countries, and would face prison or death if caught.
- Men who might not view crossdressing as inherently bad, but recognize that crossdressing has become an unhealthy addiction negatively affecting their lives.2
I have tremendous compassion for crossdressers and for gender nonconforming people in general. We have to deal with society caricaturing us, often hating us, and misunderstanding us. We often carry our own feelings of confusion, guilt, and fear. Given this reality, it’s not surprising that the types of men described feel intense pressure to give up crossdressing. Our problem is that most of us do not want to give up what we view as an important part of ourselves. Some call this their “feminine side” or “inner femininity.” Crossdressing for many men makes them feel more like their true selves, and gives them important feelings that they do not get any other way.
In this article, I propose an alternative method to crossdressing that still achieves the same result as crossdressing: being able to embrace one’s inner femininity. I call this method the Integration (or Unified-Self) Method. I hope to show not only that it is possible to stop crossdressing, but also to show how this does not entail losing or suppressing anything essential in one’s identity and personality.
I will begin by telling my own story. Second, I will outline my rationale for the Integration Method. Third, I will explain how to actually pursue this method in real life. Fourth, I will explain why it is possible to stop crossdressing and give a few suggestions about how to stop. Last, I will give some thoughts about pursuing contentment in the difficult situations some of us are in.
My own story drives me to show compassion to others who might share a similar situation. Biologically I was born a male, and for many years I used to be a very active crossdresser. While it primarily seemed to be a sexual issue for me, it was certainly more than that. I had sharp pangs of longing to be female. Even before I started grade school I secretly longed to be a girl, but could not understand why. Almost every night I would imagine being transformed into a girl. Later in life, I felt like I did not fit in with other men. I felt like my personality was much more truly a woman’s personality and so I dreamed about living as a woman full-time. But I was terrified to tell anyone about my feelings. I felt very much alone.
In some ways crossdressing was very satisfying. It not only gave me sexual pleasure but it also seemed to bring out aspects of my personality that I had previously felt uncomfortable expressing as a boy/man. For example, I could dance freely while crossdressed, but could never do so, even when alone, as my male self. However, I felt strong internal pressure to give up crossdressing because it was an addiction that was interfering with my life (and there were also moral and religious reasons I need not discuss here). This led me to half-hearted attempts to quit both crossdressing and my fantasizing about being a woman. I tried hard for years, with occasional success, but I could never quite seem to fully shake my strong desire/need for crossdressing.
My cycle of frustration ended five years ago when I first learned about the Integration Method. Through a great deal of effort and introspection I was able to stop crossdressing. But I also was able to find inner peace and to no longer desire to be a woman. Today I have learned to accept my male body and now I am proud to be the man I am. All of this was only possible because it was not done at the expense of suppressing my “inner femininity.” To be honest, my desire to put on female clothing has not completely left me as on rare days a crossdressing thought might still find purchase in my mind for a time. And I did put on articles of female clothing a few times in the last 5 years, purely for sexual pleasure, episodes which lasted only minutes and were surprisingly unsatisfying. Besides these anomalies, I now feel free from controlling crossdressing desires, free from confusion about my identity, and free from guilt. I am content and happy now.
So what is the method that allowed me to embrace my inner femininity while also giving up crossdressing? I call it the Integration or Unified-self method. To put it simply, this method focuses on integrating both the masculine and feminine aspects of myself into my one true persona, my male self. Let me unpack this a bit to make it clearer.
I think that most of us would agree that both sexes, male and female, can experience a wide spectrum of feelings and personality traits, and no sex owns particular personality traits. For example, it is very possible for men to have the trait of being sensitive, just as there are sensitive women. However, in many societies certain feelings and traits have been labeled as “masculine” or “feminine.” To be fair, this is helpful in some ways. It is true on average that women tend to exhibit certain traits, and that on average men tend to exhibit certain traits. So perhaps we could say that many men are strong, rational, organized, protective, and like to lead. And perhaps we could say that many women are sensitive, nurturing, emotional, gentler, and supportive. We could add many more traits to this list. This is a helpful way to label the general differences between men and women. Many people delight to poke fun at the differences, to analyze them, to see how the differences cause friction in relationships, and also many see beauty and complementarity in the differences between men and women.
The problem is that societies and people tend to absolutize the traits. Instead of thinking, “many men are like this,” people start to think that “men must be like this to be a real man.” Many of us have internalized and believed these absolutist messages growing up, whether consciously or subconsciously. As a result, those of us who do not exhibit a high number of the masculine traits feel like we do not belong. So we either force ourselves to do things we are not comfortable doing in order to fit in with other boys/men, or we abandon the “male project” altogether. Every man experiences the tension of cultural expectations to some degree but for a few of us this becomes painfully frustrating and overwhelming. Men like myself who gravitate towards crossdressing have greater difficulties fitting into such cultural norms because we often have much less of the traditional masculine traits than the average man to begin with. Similarly, we tend to have a lot more of the traditional feminine traits compared to the average man. The unhappy result is that men like us often go through life with our personalities more stifled and more stretched than the average man. We are much more likely to cause injury to our sense of self.
I believe that it is precisely this type of suppression of self which leads many young men (including myself) to begin to crossdress in the first place, as a secret outlet for many of our suppressed feelings. Crossdressers use the act of crossdressing to feel more like their true selves. The act seems to give us permission to feel “feminine” feelings. For example, when crossdressing we feel like we are allowed to be gentle, nurturing, sensitive, drawn to beauty, attractive, etc. The act seems to bring these personality traits and feelings to the surface.
To pursue this integration method, I argue that we must first begin to think about all of these personality traits and feelings as “human traits.” Often a society will recognize that men can be generally like a,b,c,d,e, and women generally like f,g,h,i,j. But pick out a specific man at random and he might be c,d,e,f,i. Pick out a specific woman and she might be a,d,h,i,j. And in reality, men and women have many more personality traits in common than are different. I affirm the common understanding that if we measured society as a whole according to masculine and feminine traits we might get a bell curve like this:3
My opinion is that a chart like this illustrates well the amount of sameness and difference between the two sexes, men and women. We can see that there are real personality differences between males and females.4 But we can also see that most people fall in the middle. Men and women are more the same than they are different. Some elements of society might want to steer men and women towards the extreme ends of the spectrum, but this is not where most people naturally fall. The first principle of the Integration Method is the understanding that our cherished personality traits are not exclusively “female” or “feminine” in their essence but may simply be more towards the feminine side of the spectrum. They are, in fact, human traits.
The Integration Method itself is the difficult process of discovering and understanding all of our human traits, including the ones some might call “feminine.” Then we determine which human trait crossdressing brings to the surface or helps to enhance. Finally, in lieu of crossdressing, we try to free ourselves to exhibit all of those human personality traits and feelings in the course of our regular male lives. We learn to undo the suppression and embrace the so-called “feminine” traits we cherish in ourselves, while still looking like a man and dressing like a man. To put it another way, the goal of this path is to take our two divided personas – the overly-stretched masculine self of our everyday life, and the secret, stifled feminine (crossdressed) self – and integrate them together so that we possess only one self, a unified self. If we successfully pursue this path, this would mean dressing and identifying as a man, but exhibiting the full range of human personality traits and feelings that are important to us and that we view as part of our identity.5 I actually affirm the statement, “be yourself and accept yourself.” But when I say this, I mean that you should accept yourself fully and completely, including your body and all your personal traits and feelings.
But this sounds easy when it is all theoretical. The reality, I admit, is much harder to achieve. What do we actually do in order to achieve this integrated self? I and my fellow bloggers have written much about this, and space does not permit to repeat everything here. But in what follows I will present a few ways to go about doing this. I want to be honest that these steps will not be as immediately fulfilling as crossdressing. Allow me to use an analogy concerning stress and illegal drugs to illustrate what I mean by this (and please remember that it is certainly not meant to be taken as an exact analogy, nor am I at all suggesting crossdressing should be made illegal). Some people use illegal drugs in order to deal with stress and anxiety in their lives. Such a treatment often works, for a time. There are probably some better ways to deal with one’s stress and anxiety, such as vigorous exercise, journaling, and perhaps even therapy. But these are more difficult. Why not take the easiest path to arrive at the same goal – the lessening of stress and anxiety through drugs? Here’s what I mean. I’m not naïve, and I know that for many the Integration Method will be a more difficult path compared to crossdressing in order to reach the end goal – experiencing certain “feminine” cherished feelings about one’s self. But as I mentioned from the outset, many men have the option taken away from them, or seek to distance themselves from crossdressing because it has become something closer to an addiction. I myself found this method (and giving up crossdressing) to be extremely difficult at the beginning. But now that I look back, I do not regret anything and I have found this process far more rewarding than crossdressing in achieving wholeness.
In fact, looking back, I believe that this alternative path brought about wholeness in a way that crossdressing cannot. In a strange paradox, while crossdressing could have been bringing true “feminine” feelings and personality traits to the surface during that moment, I think it was also causing further suppression of those traits in my normal male persona. From the stories I have read of other crossdressers, it certainly seems that regular crossdressing can in some cases cause people to further divide their sense of self into two personas, with two different names and identities, each with some of their personality traits, but with no one persona exhibiting all of that person’s personality traits and feelings as a unified whole. This is the opposite of a unified self. This is the opposite of a self which has embraced both so-called feminine and masculine personality traits in a healthy way. This is yet another reason why I believe the path of integration is the best path to wholeness and internal peace.
Some of the following steps take courage. In certain ways, it’s easier to crossdress in private than it is to be our true atypical male self in public. My personal feeling is that to continue to crossdress is to give in to the unfair gender stereotypes culture tries to impose upon us. I’d rather resist the stereotypes and champion a way forward for all of us men to be able to be ourselves, without thinking we need to put on a dress in order to fit in.
Some ways to pursue integration:
- Regularly affirm to yourself that masculine and feminine traits are only labeled as such because of cultural generalities. Remember that they are actually “human” traits.
- Think about all of your personality traits and feelings. Explore how you feel and what you are like when crossdressing. Explore how you feel and what you are like when you are not crossdressing. Write down and journal about the similarities and differences. Try to write down which traits most accurately describe your real natural self, when you feel comfortable and are not stretching yourself to live up to other people’s expectations. Now imagine what it would be like to exhibit all of these traits as your one unified male self.
- Make a firm decision to be who you are, and accept yourself as you really are, both your body and all of your personality traits and feelings.
- Every day tell yourself things like, “It is okay that I am a man but want to be beautiful.” “It is okay that I am emotional (or sensual, sensitive, spontaneous, etc.) as a man.”
- Think about what activities you have tried or been trying to do only in order to fit in and make yourself seem more masculine, rather than out of enjoyment. Consider stopping those activities if they are stressing you out because they do not really fit your temperaments or interests.
- Think critically about what activities, hobbies, or jobs you might have enjoyed doing but did not because you felt insecure about doing them as your male self. Maybe you pursued these activities only while crossdressed. Be intentional about pursuing some of them now. These could be things like knitting, ballet, cooking, painting, babysitting, or even something as simple as playing a supportive role in a cooperative video game or board game. Some things that I made a choice to do: I put a picture of flowers on my desktop and I let myself enjoy decorations people might think of as feminine. I enjoy shopping together with my wife for clothing for her.
- Most importantly, every time you get an urge or thought to crossdress, stop and ask yourself what the underlying motivation is. Are you longing to feel beautiful? Are you wanting to let your emotions out? After analyzing the underlying motivation, figure out what you can do instead of crossdressing to meet that need. It doesn’t matter if the stereotypical man would not have that same need. For example:
- If the need is intimacy, you could look for it in time spent with God, your wife, or a friend.
- If the need is to feel beautiful, you can think about how God views you as his beautiful creation, or how you are attractive to your wife. Or you can dress up nicely as a man wearing a fancy suit to make yourself feel attractive.
- If you want to enjoy the curves of the feminine body, remind yourself that this is not the body you have. Practice body appreciation of yourself! An alternative could be showing affection to your wife, or enjoy dressing her up in a beautiful feminine way so that you can enjoy her real bodily femininity.
- If your desire is sexually motivated, see if you can be intimate with your wife instead, or if that need must wait, try to look forward to the next time of being your wife with patience and excitement. Or, depending on your values, you could consider masturbation as an alternative.
- If you need to relieve stress, perhaps you can watch a favorite movie or play video games, or take up jogging.
- If you feel like decorating yourself, you could decorate your house instead or paint a painting. Or you could dress up as a man, but with more stylish clothing. I now wear pink and purple men’s shirts!
- If you want to feel soft and gentle, you could make a cup of tea and wrap up in a blanket on the couch.
I am not pretending that it is easy to know how to meet our needs in other ways. We have to think critically about these things. This list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it gets you started. Find what works for you. Each one of us felt different things while crossdressing, and so what we will each need may be different.
Whether these are truly feminine needs or traits that we cherish does not matter. Some of us grew up with terrible stereotypes of women that we now reject as educated adults. But we may have still suppressed a part of ourselves based on those stereotypes we grew up accepting. In fact, it may be we crossdressers who originally had the most internally absolutized views of masculinity and femininity, male and female, which led us to suppress parts of ourselves in the first place. So even if you now know that a certain trait or activity (like knitting) is not technically feminine in essence, it might be still something you suppressed previously and should now accept in yourself.
In the course of unifying our inner self through the Integration Method we might, on occasion, find that there are some “feminine” needs or feelings that we cannot achieve apart from crossdressing. If this occurs we might try reevaluating whether it really should be a need in our life in the first place. Is it really necessary for our happiness? Or is there a way we can redefine it or look at it in a new way? For example, perhaps I have the feeling of being carefree when crossdressed. I do not see how to get that feeling in any other way. But after careful thought, I can now see that real women actually do not necessarily have innate feelings of being carefree. This may be true in advertisements, but not in real life. In real life women have to take responsibility for their actions, and their lives can be hard and stressful and unfair. Recognizing this allows me to reexamine this desired feeling and come to the conclusion that that is not a feeling I should be trying to achieve anyway. I should instead be trying to be a responsible adult who is not always carefree.
Although this method requires real effort and perseverance, it has the potential to achieve for you much of what crossdressing was doing for you. This will allow you men in these terribly difficult or dangerous situations to give up crossdressing, so that you can keep your lives, your marriages, or your jobs and still keep your “inner femininity.”
But pursuing the long term integration method is only half of the solution. Men in these situations are hard pressed to quit crossdressing right away. How can that be done? Actually, after hearing my story, many crossdressers have wondered with some incredulity: “Is it really possible to stop crossdressing?” But I insist that it is possible to stop crossdressing if you really want to. This is simply logical and I’ve seen many other active crossdressers admit this as well.
We all have free will and we can make choices about what we will do and how we will live. Of course, we do not have the power to choose to instantly remove our longings to be the opposite sex, or to remove the internal impulses to crossdress. But we can indeed choose whether to crossdress or not, and whether to use time in fantasizing about our longings. All of us have thousands of desires and thoughts going on inside of us every day, and they regularly change due to our experiences, cultural expectations, and relationships. And of course, many of our desires are in conflict with each other. For example, we might desire a piece of cake but also desire to lose weight. We not only have competing desires on little issues, but on huge issues as well, such as relationships, which new job to take, and whether to transition or not.
It is impossible to fulfill all of our deepest desires, and that is okay, especially since some of them are harmful to ourselves or others. Every day we choose what we most want to do and act on it, while at the same time we choose not to act in other ways. But none of our desires need control us. If you really desire the path of integration and contentment that I am proposing rather than the path of crossdressing, then you can truly stop.
But it is difficult stop. I know from experience. Here are some basic suggestions that may help you to successfully stop:
- First, make sure you really believe you can stop. Do enough thinking and study about this so that you come to the point where you really believe it is possible. Otherwise you are unlikely to succeed.
- Second, make a firm decision to stop. Do not be wishy washy about it. The urge to crossdress will surely come, and you need to be ready to tell yourself you have already made a concrete decision to stop.
- When an urge comes, do not suppress it. Face it and deal with it. Remind yourself of the decision you made to quit. Consider the RAIN approach. “R – Recognize what craving feels like. A – Allow it to be present without pushing it away, allow it to come up, do its dance and fade away. I – Investigate what craving feels like in my body right now with curiosity. N – Note craving as it comes and goes along with tension, yearning, and tightness in the body.”6
- Find purposeful things to do in your life that will be fulfilling to keep your mind focused on other things (new job, church ministry, volunteering, travel, etc.). When the urges to come, consider distracting yourself until the urges die down. Hobbies, walks, weight lifting, video games, and even naps have worked for me. My favorite is to find beautiful clothing for my wife to wear for me.
- Try to decrease the number of triggers in your life that make you think about or want to crossdress. This could mean spending less time alone, less business trips, avoiding certain stores in the mall, avoiding certain websites, etc.
- Ask your wife to keep her clothes put away nicely so that you are not constantly seeing them over the floor or chairs.
- Consider finding an accountability partner or support group who will encourage you and help you to quit.
- When you fail and crossdress, tell someone else. Don’t let the failure paralyze you from continuing to try. Dust yourself off and keep on trying. Change is hard, but possible.
- Keep reading about crossdressing in books or at websites like mine. The more we understand ourselves and our desires, the easier it is to control those desires. Just be cautioned that thinking about crossdressing often can be a trigger.
But maybe you are thinking: “Quitting crossdressing does not seem any easier than the difficult work of integration! It hardly seems worth it.” I’ll be honest, I did find it hard at first. But I found it to be very worthwhile and I would make the same decision again 100 times over. Is it worth it for you? Well that of course depends a lot on what pressures you are facing to stop crossdressing. In some ways, only you can answer this question. Are you willing to keep living in fear? Are you willing to risk your marriage for the pleasure of crossdressing?
Unfortunately from my perspective, most crossdressing websites and books will tell you that the only way to deal with crossdressing urges is to continue to crossdress, or even to pursue hormonal or medical treatments to go further. And they usually advocate that doing this is so important, that it should be pursued regardless of opposition or consequences such as losing a job, a relationship, or a spouse.
Although these messages are well-intentioned and given out of love to spare others pain, I do not think that suggested path will necessarily heal people from their pain and gender discomfort. Firstly, while pursuing crossdressing might provide some pleasure or fulfillment, the potential loss of spouse or job could be devastating and add a great amount of pain. Secondly, I would say from personal experience that are crossdreaming longings cannot ever be fully satisfied. The more I crossdressed, the more I wanted to crossdress. The more womanly I looked, the more I “needed” to do to try to look even more womanly. I just could not sate those desires. Even in an ideal world where there was no danger and all of our spouses celebrated our crossdressing, if we went the far step of undergoing medical treatments to change our bodies, we still would know we are XY males who were not truly born females. It is a thirst that I believe we can never fully quench. And it is, I think, universal wisdom that when we focus on and spend our time longing for something that we cannot truly obtain, we will be discontent, frustrated, and less happy.
Giving up crossdressing and pursuing the path of integration can actually be more rewarding in some ways. The more we can accept ourselves for who we are, without changing ourselves or our bodies, the happier we can be. The more we can have an integrated and unified identity, with ALL of our personality traits being allowed, the happier we will be. However, I’m not going to make any false promises or guarantees. If you give up crossdressing, but do not do the hard work of integration, then perhaps you might not be as happy as if you were crossdressing. Crossdressing surely gives a temporary rush of endorphins and nice emotional feelings. But for me, after putting in the hard work, I am completely happy without crossdressing and do not miss it at all. It was one of the most important decisions of my life and that decision has given me regular feelings of freedom and joy. And I gave it u while not giving up any of my so called “feminine” traits.
As I conclude, I want to offer a few tips about learning contentment. Contentment is a form of happiness or satisfaction. It is a happiness obtained from accepting our situation, even if it not an ideal situation. If we can learn to accept that there are certain things in our lives that we cannot change, and stop focusing on those things that we cannot change, we can become more satisfied and happy, or in other words, more content.
The men I am writing to are in very difficult situations. There are certain things that they cannot easily change. They cannot make their wives enjoy their crossdressing. They cannot easily change an oppressive country. They cannot crossdress in public for various reasons. They cannot truly become the women they long to be. I propose that if we stop focusing on these things we cannot change, and rather focus on making our lives the best they can be in our current situations, that we will be happier.
Here are some ways we can pursue contentment:
- Accept the truth that your body is part of who you are and that you truly cannot change it. Let that reality sink in.
- Think about what is positive about your body and focus on that. Focus on the positive traits about your character and personality. Find joy in being yourself even if you are atypical.
- Celebrate your maleness by trying to look good and dress in a way that flatters your body.
- Every day focus on making positive changes in your life, the things that you are in control of changing.
- Cultivate gratitude, rather than envy. Do not let yourself give in to fantasies and thoughts of envy towards others. Resist thoughts of bitterness, resentment, or anger about your life.
- Focus on building others up every day instead of focusing on yourself. This is more fulfilling and the way to find a joy filled and happy life.
The serenity prayer is a good summary of these steps:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
The path I am advocating is not easy. It not only takes the work of learning self-control, but the hard emotional and intellectual work of understanding yourself and your inner motivations. It takes work to learn to be content with your body, and to integrate all of your personality traits. It can be a long journey until you come to full self-acceptance. But for many of us this may be the best path to freedom and happiness.
1. While this writing may resonate with some women crossdressers, I will refer to men throughout for simplicity and clarity. I have more understanding about men who crossdress, being one myself.↩
2. This article will not address addictions of a sexual nature, such as the combination of crossdressing and masturbation (which can often be similar to a pornography addiction). Such men also might have reasons to want to give up crossdressing, and they can find many posts, resources, links, and tools on the rest of this site that can help them.↩
3. Graph taken from the article, “The Masculine-Feminine Continuum,” by Caroline Turner.
4. Some argue that these differences are purely due to cultural expectations. Others argue that they are due to the differing biology of the sexes. Most now recognize it’s not nature or nurture, but nature AND nurture. I think there are real biological differences between men and women that play a big role in their personality traits and gender expression, but I also believe culture and environment play a big role as well. It is outside the scope of this article to pursue the current research on these questions. More importantly for this article, however, is that disagreements about the nature/nurture debate does not affect my basic point about accepting all parts of our personality and integrating them together, rather than trying to conform to cultural stereotypes.↩
5. A couple of friends who also gave up crossdressing give excellent further explanation of this integration process in these blog posts. It would be fair to say that I learned it from them.
6. Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor (Adjunct) of Psychiatry; Medical Director, Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic. http://yourbrainonporn.com/simple-and-powerful-tool-yale-professor-judson-brewer-recommends-skilfully-handling-our-urges↩