Spouses & Partners


The spouses and partners of cross-dressers do not escape from the general excoriation and pathologizing that the psychiatric profession heaps on their cross-dressing mates.

I have referred to this phenomenon already in these pages (see here), but the professional literature is replete with similar claims and a number of these claim that a cross-dresser’s spouse is more likely to seek psychiatric counselling than her partner. Robert Stoller was writing them off as having low self-esteem and “moral masochism” in an article entitled Transvestite's Women (American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 124, pps. 333-339), whilst others, such as Thomas Wise et al., were dismissing them as “...having character styles rich in dependency and, therefore, as settling for a cross-dressing mate as an alternative preferable to the pain of loss and loneliness...” in their 1981 paper entitled Partners of distressed transvestites (American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol.  138, pps 1221-1224). It should be noted, however, that Stoller, Wise and colleagues had interviewed these women in a clinical setting, since they had presented in the belief that they had problems in their own right. Naturally our friendly and helpful psychiatrists were happy to convince them that they did, but any suggestion that the findings were the consequence of iatrogeny  is denied.

Studies in non-clinical settings, however, produced startlingly different results. Most of the problems seemed to be directly attributable to the fact that they had discovered their husband’s cross-dressing accidentally (see, for example, Brown GR, Collier L Transvestites' women revisited: a nonpatient sample, Archives of Sexual Behavior (sic) Vol. 18, pps 73-83, 1989). Whilst other reports mention that a substantial percentage of transvestites who were divorced cited cross-dressing as at least one of the contributing factors to their divorce, most often this was due to their not having revealed their transvestism before marriage to their partners. On the other hand, women who were informed of their mate’s cross-dressing prior to becoming involved in a committed relationship display a wide range of acceptance of such behaviour, often adjusting to, or becoming accepting of, his transvestism. Even the great Magnus Hirschfeld, as far back as the start of the 20th century also appreciated the importance of disclosure, instructing the transvestites he saw to inform their wives of their cross-dressing activities.

Some of the issues raised by the wives and partners of cross-dressers are summarised in the following table:-

    Impact of cross-dressing on the wife
     Am I a lesbian?
    What's wrong with me that he would want to dress as a woman?
    Am I going to lose my husband (to another man/woman)?
    I'm jealous of what "she" gets (clothes, makeup)!
    I must be all alone in this.
    I feel shame and guilt for being married to a transvestite.

    Impact on the family
    What should we tell the children (if anything)?
    Will our sons be transvestites or transsexuals?
    The money and time spent on "her" is lost to the family.
    What if neighbors/family/employers discover this?

    Impact on the marital relationship
    He hid this from me; therefore he cannot be trusted.
    What else has he lied to me about?
    What other "perversions" does he have?
    How will this affect our sex life?
    I married a man - I didn't get what I bargained for!
    If I "let" him cross-dress, will he get out of control?

    Impact on her husband
    Is he gay or bisexual because he cross-dresses?
    Will he eventually want to have a sex change operation?
    If he goes to "support groups," will he get out of control?
    Will his desire to cross-dress ever go away?