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Someone to Talk to

Part One

Diana Aitchison (WOBS)

Women of the Beaumont Society Helpline: For more information see the helpline page.

 

Issue 1
February 1998

 
"MEN, they're all the same." - or are they? Certainly when a group of women gather together to discuss the matter, an amazing similarity in their loved ones' behaviour emerges, to be researched, reported and recounted until the statement is generally agreed upon. Yes! men ARE all the same! But, for some women, there is one aspect of their loved ones behaviour which they cannot talk about amongst their peers for fear of ridicule and scorn, misunderstanding and misinterpretation. For them a telephone helpline is their salvation, the one place where they can discuss their fears and anxieties in total confidence and with an empathetic listener. Women of the Beaumont Society (WOBS) exists totally for the benefit of people, mainly women, who find cross-dressing by their husband, partner or son hard to understand and harder to come to terms with. Other callers will include teenagers and above who have discovered this trait in their father, and gay men whose reaction parallels that of women in the same situation. All will display feelings of anger, distress, fearfulness and isolation, often believing that they are the only person to be facing this phenomenon.

Until a few years ago the first question generally asked was "How do I make him stop dressing in women's clothes?" but regular media coverage during the 1990's of the subject has established in the public's mind the knowledge that this behaviour cannot be changed. Recent research in the USA and Holland suggests that the need arises from a biological base, setting the 'nurture' theory somewhat on its head. Many women however will still feel that they are somehow to blame - that they are 'not enough of a woman' to satisfy their partner who therefore must ape them in order to 'teach' them how a woman should dress and behave. The one promise WOBS helpliners can make to mothers etc is that "It's NOT your fault." This is not a subject where apportioning blame is a solution to the dilemma which faces many women. For them it is a matter of how to cope, especially if there are children in their family unit.

Generally, callers fall into one of three categories - hostile, tolerant or fully accepting. Most will fall into the first category, some shifting to the second after a period of adjustment. Callers in the third category are more likely to ask questions about where they can buy the appropriate make up and wigs, when is the next 'event' in the cross-dressing world in their area or do we know of any couples like themselves in their area who we can put them in touch with. Their problems are vastly different from those whose world has been turned upside down by the revelation that their loved one has a secret which makes him different from other men and which engenders feelings of revulsion instead of admiration, hatred instead of adoration, mistrust instead of approbation, yet still mourning the image of the man they first met and which is gone forever.

Often, an early enquiry will be concerned with the sexual aspect of the cross-dresser. Confusions surrounding what is 'sex' and how does it differ from 'gender' can often lead to assumptions concerning the cross-dresser's sexual orientation. Relief quickly arrives in the mind of the caller when informed that most cross-dressers are firmly heterosexual; bi-sexuality and homosexuality, although not unknown in the married man, are never the less rarer options. The 'average' cross-dresser is more likely to be concerned with perfecting his 'gender identity' for this is the prime reason for his behaviour. Many will believe that they are actually complementing women by imitation and find it difficult to believe that women do not necessarily see their activities in the same light! The behaviour will have started in childhood, (somewhere between the ages of seven and fifteen seems to be the commonest age group) and will have been carried out in a furtive and secret way with no understanding of WHY it should happen, only the certain knowledge that there is a compulsion to behave in a way which is totally unacceptable to family, friends and peers. Little wonder that the subject will believe that if he declares himself before marriage, his chosen partner will reject him. This explanation for "Why didn't he tell me before we were married" makes perfect sense to the cross-dresser when he knows that given a choice, his wife, by her own admission, wouldn't have considered marrying him.

Why some women seem to have little difficulty in accepting cross-dressing in their partner while others suffer terribly is another question which crops up regularly. Often the answer lies in the cross-dresser himself. If he has an easy, uncomplicated and generous nature he will be far less threatening to his partner than if he is introverted, secretive and moody with a self indulgent side which rejects his wife in terms of her importance as an individual. The 'me!, me!, me!' attitude is well documented, not just in relation to 'Thatcher's Children' but in the realms of cross-dressing too. Total acceptance can be fluid though. A wife or partner may find the whole experience exhilarating and fun during courtship and the honeymoon period but reject the entire concept when children come along. There can be a dramatic swing from category three to category one by new mothers who crave the 'clean nest' in which to bring up their children. The period of infancy can be a trying and turbulent time for both parents. Mother rejecting the 'wild and hedonistic' past pleasures for a more conservative life while banishing 'her' to the loft for the duration. The confused father, far from accepting this dramatic turnaround in his wife's attention often feels compelled to dress more, sometimes fantasising that he is a mother too but is sidelined by the reality of the situation. Wives usually do not want their small children to see their father in women's clothes and should their partner persist in demanding the right to be himself in the presence of the children, the marriage may be doomed. This is precisely why the Beaumont Society was raised in order that men should be able to indulge their pastime away from family pressures but in a safe and confidential environment.

........"But if I let him dress regularly, where will it lead?"...... is the often asked question to the answer to family harmony - that the husband should join the BS. Fears that he will want to dress all the more and may eventually want a 'sex change' are easily understandable. The issue of transsexualism is one which seems to be becoming more prevalent today and as treatment becomes more accessible, it is natural that women are concerned that their partner may declare an interest in gender reassignment. In rare cases it becomes a reality, but regardless of the publicity which the subject promotes, the vast majority of cross-dressers do not want the operation.

For many couples, triumph over adversity comes around through honest discussion of each other's needs. Allowing the subject to dominate the relationship can only lead to acrimony and separation. Where compromises are not made or, after agreement, are then broken (by either partner), the relationship cannot move on. Someone once wrote about 'having the wisdom to accept the things we cannot change' and many find this ethos comforting. With ground rules firmly in place, many women find themselves emerging from what has been a bewildering period into being stronger and more confident individuals. Many have gone on to higher education or have turned a hobby into a business. Others, where their experience was less fulfilling have left their marriages but have turned their adversity into a positive challenge; one wife, who couldn't find a suitable lawyer to facilitate her divorce from an arrogant misogynist, marched into her nearest university to sign on for a four year course in the Law and Social Policy declaring, "If there's no one out there who understands us and can help us, we'd better do it ourselves." Several others, directly through their own experiences are going on to read associated subjects which will lead to degrees and counselling qualifications. Not all are considering divorces. They are acknowledging their new found courage in the face of past difficulties and asserting their individuality - for them 'coming to terms' has meant passing through a higher level of enlightenment to emerge into the sunshine of self-assertiveness and new self-esteem. For their cross-dressing partners it is a departure from the stereotypical image which he desperately tried to nurture within his originally submissive, uninformed wife to a person who he can only respect and admire for herself; a new image to which he can only aspire and one which his wife can truthfully say that here .......'Imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery!'

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