July 24, 2017

Telling your Girlfriend About Being a Crossdresser or Crossdreamer

Last week I got an email from a male to female crossdreamer and occasional crossdresser who wondered what and how he could tell his girlfriend about his gender variance. 
Illustration: nuravectorgirl

His girlfriend had taken an open approach to his story, but was hesitant about the crossdressing. Now he was looking for ways of explaining his feelings to his girlfriend.

He is using male pronouns.

He also wondered if this crossdreaming would progress into something more, like in wanting to transition and live as a woman. At the moment he expresses no need to transition or dress publicly as a woman.

Here is my reply:

I wish I had a simple answer for you. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) there is so much variation among crossdreamers that it is hard to foresee what is going to happen in the future.

There are, as I see it, two main reasons for this:

1. Gender variance is a continuum, and whatever it is that triggers these dreams and desires come in different forms and intensity.

2. Some crossdreamers are on a journey. They gradually find out that they are somewhere else in that landscape than they originally thought. There is -- for obvious reasons -- a lot of repression going on.

There is a lot of variation among crossdressers and crossdreamers

I our survey of crossdreamers we found that 1/3 reported severe gender dysphoria (in the sense that they could be considered transsexual, and transitioning would be one possible solution).

I reckon that another 1/3 lives in what I have called the twilight zone, being some shade of non-binary or gender queer, while the final 1/3 feel comfortable in their assigned gender and their crossdreaming and crossdressing is more like a trait spicing up their life.


I belong to the 1/3 with gender dysphoria. I have not transitioned but I must warn you, my own experience might color the way I look at this.

I recently got a message, though, from an MTF crossdreamer who told me he had found that his thoughts of becoming a woman had practically disappeared an that he had found good ways of living his life a straight male. That happens too.

I guess what you have to do is to really allow yourself to feel what you truly are. One part of you probably already knows the answer to the question you is asking, but other parts are so busy trying to become "normal" that it is hard to hear it.

I spent years not even acknowledging the fact that I was some variant of transgender to myself.

I  recommend that you find some trans-positive therapists that can help you sort out your thoughts and feelings.

Telling your partner about this

Coming out to your girl friend was definitely the right thing to do. I lived with this secret for may years in my marriage. That is so hard to do.

My wife was pretty angry with me when she realized that I had kept such an important part of my life secret for her. This made it impossible for her to help me, and she could not understand my depressions.

When she finally found out she accepted this side of me fully. Not all women do (and I cannot really blame them, as they did not sign up for this), but many see past the gender and sexuality and look at the whole of the person they love.

Most women who find themselves in this situation fear that the one they love will transition, and given that sex is an important part of life, they are unable to think of themselves in a lesbian relationship. Others find that less complicated, but again, I cannot blame them for reacting any way they do.

Sometimes this works out (see the books of Helen Boyd ) and sometimes it does not. The only thing I find completely unacceptable is transphobic rants and harassment. I am glad your girl friend is open to all of this. Kudos to her!

The best would be if you could reassure your girl friend that you are sure you are not going to transition, but if you are not sure, this might come back and bite both you and her later on. This is why a therapist might be helpful.
Illustration: Ekaterina P

From what you tell me, you are not severely gender dysphoric, and you feel no need to transition. If that is the case, you are left with another issue that has to be resolved.

How do you develop a love life where there is room for your desire to -- sometimes -- explore your feminine side, while at the same time making sure that her needs -- whatever they are -- are met?

Many couples of this kind find roleplaying games and ways of being together that allows all these needs to be met.

You may play the strong manly man the one day, and the woman the next, while she may please you in the way your "inner woman" prefers one day and have you please her as the woman she wants to be the next.

What rarely works is a love life where your feminine side is completely suppressed, or where her needs are ignored. I guess I am talking about sensible compromises here.

I am sorry that I cannot be more precise. Ultimately you are the only one that can know what your true self is and what you should do to yourself and the one you love. But talking helps. It truly does.

Jack

More about crossdreaming, love and partnerships:

10 comments:

  1. no easy answers for sure and the ones that work hinge on a delicate compromise between both partners which is no simple task. Honesty from the outset is pivotal which can only be rooted in the self understanding of the transgender person themselves.

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  2. I have very recently told my girlfriend that I use to dress in my Mothers clothes when I was a teenager. I have a very honest and open relationship with my partner, and we are both very much in love. She straight away said that it all made sense. The fact that I had lots of female friends and they all considered that they had a special connection with me. My gf also said it explained how meticulous I was with my appearance, and took care of my skin, hair and nails. Anyway she has encouraged me to be who I really am, and has helped me choose clothes and taught me how to dress properly. I have no interest in becoming a transsexual, and certainly am not attracted to men. I just love the feel of a hairless body and wearing pretty clothes. I have buried this need in me for years, but thank god i am in a relationship with someone who loves me enough to encourage me to be the absolute true person that I am. I do have pangs of guilt at times, and worry what other people close to me would say if they knew what I truly am, but my darling girlfriend tells me to enjoy it, and not to ever hide anything from her or worry that it will affect her love for me. It is early days but I feel elated, and have butterflies as I right this. I guess I'm very lucky! :)

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  3. My apologies, Anonymous. Your comment was caught in the spam filter.

    I am so glad your girlfriend understands. It seems to me you have found a way of expressing "the other side" that makes you happy. Nothing could be better than that.

    Send her our love!

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  4. Hi Jack, I replied to your article dd. 18 September 2012 ("My life as a transgender crossdreamer")
    English is not my native language so excuse me if there are some mistakes in my text :) Kind regards.

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  5. I take it that was this comment: http://www.crossdreamers.com/2012/09/my-life-as-transgender-crossdreamer.html?showComment=1501710492864#c4563571697608964438

    Don't worry, your English is great.

    (English is my second language too. I have stopped worrying about mistakes. As long as people understand me they will have to accept some grammatical errors.)

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  6. Hi. I am the girlfriend who was once told... and now I am his wife.

    Posts like this tend to make me furious, as they offer all the compassion in the world to the cross dreamer and almost none to his/her partner. The line that really pissed me off here -- "but many see past the gender and sexuality and look at the whole of the person they love."

    Suggesting that those who chose to leave can't "see the whole person that they love" is utter bull shit.

    My boyfriend - now husband - came out to me through a series of escalations, from maybe being interested in crossdressing to AGP to sexual dysfunction in the form of exclusive addiction to AGP to believing he needed to transition to become a woman.

    There were so many lies. Look me in the face, big lies. White lies. Lies of omission. I barely recognized this person as the man I was in love with. There was practically no transparency and I was in the dark for much of his exploration. Him not living up to his ethical and moral standards in this arena seems to be the norm from conversations with other partners.

    Through this whole experience, what was best FOR ME, without question, was to leave, move on with my life and find someone better matched (we both agree with this). Yet here he was begging for support. Let me live in the guest room while I transition. You're the only one who knows, I need you. Meanwhile, I wasn't allowed to tell other people (which I respected because it is HIS thing, not mine), but that means that I was completely cut off from my support network and it fundamentally undermined my ability to cope and to make good decisions for myself.

    IT WAS LIVING HELL AS A PARTNER. And that is from a partner who loves and sees her whole husband. And a partner who decided to marry AFTER the whole gender-rainbow-explosion.

    Everyone who is in this situation should grow a pair (and yes, I say that to everyone of all genders) and a crap ton more compassion for their partners. They are going through hell just as much as you are, if not more. They don't get to see what you see. They have to trust you, and you've probably lied about it. They are in the dark so much more than you.

    Its unacceptable to offer "you can't blame them" but ZERO real empathy for the struggles of the partner. The two year aftermath of my husbands AGP realization were, BY FAR, the two worst years of my life. And I doubt that I am alone in that.

    And you sure as hell can't say I didn't see the whole person. I did and that is what caused me so much pain.

    I can say fairly confidently that I would be better off if I had been able to compartmentalize and cut him off at the start.

    And I love him to death and he is my best friend and my husband.

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  7. One more thing. Its more than just 'could I imagine having sex with a woman?' -- I am bisexual and attracted to women but I am NOT attracted to (actually rather repulsed by) my husband as a woman... because he is a very unattractive woman!

    I get that you'll hate me for it, but its not just a 'could you be attracted to a woman' question -- its can you be attracted to THIS woman?

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  8. //Suggesting that those who chose to leave can't "see the whole person that they love" is utter bull shit.//

    I have never said that, not here or elsewhere. Sometimes things does not work out, not because people do not love each other, but because there is so much that comes in the way, causing much more pain than happiness.

    Life is a mess for most people, and being transgender does not make things easier. The problem is that it is so hard to decide when enough is enough and that this is not a hard patch that cannot be overcome.

    Both parties are suffering in such a situation, and I have never hidden that fact. Indeed, this is why I asked my wife to write about how she faced the realisation that her spouse was transgender.

    //Him not living up to his ethical and moral standards in this arena seems to be the norm from conversations with other partners.//

    I know a lot of crossdreamers and transgender people. They are people, plain and simple, with strengths and weaknesses like everyone else and neither better nor worse than others.

    Transgender people do face an extra challenge, however, and that is that they by coming out risks ridicule and harassment and losing the ones they love. That fear is well grounded in reality. This especially applies to male to female transgender people, who have to face transphobia, homophobia and even misogyny from the people around them.

    That is why so many transgender people fear to talk about this.

    And listen to yourself for a moment. You are using toxic terms like AGP, using the wrong pronouns and basically calling your spouse ugly. You are confirming the fears of all those crossdreamers who keep their mouths shut.

    Again: If it doesn’t work out and you cannot live with a situation like this, I will most certainly not blame you for leaving. When I am listening to you now, it looks like things would have been better for both of you if you had left earlier. You say as much yourself.

    Your pain is real and you deserve understanding and compassion. Even your anger makes sense to me. But to use a comment on a transgender blog to invalidate and ridicule a transgender spouse is not helping anyone. What you are expressing here is not love. Seriously!

    So what we are facing here is a perfect example of how a transphobic culture triggers all parties — even good people — to do the very things that compel so many trans people to stay in the closet, causing the kind of problem we are talking about here.

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  9. Jack,

    I thought long and hard about your comment. And a few things:

    1) I am sorry that I wrote my previous comment when feeling very angry and reactionary.

    2) My husband came out 6+ years ago and we largely learned about AGP on your blog. At the time it wasn't taboo / disrespectful. I haven't been back in years and didn't realize that terminology had changed. It was not intended with disrespect.

    3) I am using proper pronouns. My husband prefers to use the male pronoun at all times except in the present when he choses the female pronoun... meaning she is she until it stops then she was a he. Yes, confusing. Yes, what he prefers.

    4) I think you take the partner side too lightly here. So many of us are being held to non-consentual silence and are completely cut off from our support network. Most of my best friends and family still do not know to this day, not because I don't want to tell them, but because its my husbands secret and I am forced to cut myself off out of respect for him. There were very few resources out there for partners of cross dreamers and I know that I got a lot of my information and support from this website, as did he.

    5) It might be helpful to view this in the context of -- wow, even a loving supportive partner who has stayed with her partner for 6+ years (through potential transition, through a LOT of unknowns, through HELL and back), who decided to commit her life to him after all of that can still get super triggered by all of this. It's BIG. HUGE. And it impacts me a LOT.

    6) I think we disagree here, but I think its a moral imperative to share cross dreaming with your partner. This is crucial information that they need in order to make long term decisions and make the best possible decisions for themselves. It is incredibly selfish and unacceptable to withhold the information under any circumstances, no matter how hard, awkward, painful, alienating or ostracizing. Want to talk about a not loving action? Not disclosing is incredibly hateful action towards a partner.

    7) The sex stuff matters. I know people don't want to hear it, because it can be hard. But its just true. And I get to have real, honest opinions of my husband and his sexual expressions. And he of mine.

    8) My husband and I both agree that I would have been better off leaving. But what you don't know is that he believes that he is 100x better off because I stayed. Perhaps he's wrong. Maybe he has Stockholm Syndrome. But the thing is that HE HAD to do the work. I didn't have to do the work. Neither do any of the partners here. If we even attempt it, its out of generosity and love -- and, frequently, its taking away from our lives and our happiness.

    --
    And in terms of it working out. It has for six years post coming out. We decided to get married two years ago. We're not going anywhere and despite what you think, I do love him.

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  10. //I am sorry that I wrote my previous comment when feeling very angry and reactionary.//

    As I said: «Even your anger makes sense to me». Which is why I let your comments remain.

    //I think we disagree here, but I think its a moral imperative to share cross dreaming with your partner//

    It is not that I disagree in principle. It is definitely much better for both parties to be open about this from the beginning, and you are right: the partner does deserve to know what she is going into.

    Unfortunately real life often gets in the way of moral imperatives. I am not saying that it is OK for crossdreamers to keep this part of them a secret. I am just saying that it is understandable, given the cultural and social context. This is taboo territory.

    The irony is that many crosdsdreamers keep this a secret because they do not want to hurt their partner, hoping desperately that it shall go over and they can become the «normal» man their partners sees every day.

    That does not happen if the crossdreamers is gender dysphoric, as I am and — it seems — your spouse.

    I should definitely have told my wife much, much earlier, about my own gender dysphoria, but I was afraid of losing the love of my life. Stupid? Yes. But I can assure you it made perfect sense at the time. She is still here, I am glad to say!

    I am following a lot of younger transgender and non-binary people over at tumblr. They are also struggling, but there is one important difference between them and earlier generations.

    They have a language that helps them make sense of their feelings at a much earlier age. That makes it easier for them to find support, both offline and online. And it makes it easier for them to explain and discuss who they are with others. Terms like trans, queer and non-binary even help them find friends and lovers.

    The transphobes make fun of «special snowflakes» (of course they do), but the increasing tolerance of diversity and gender variance will hopefully lead to a world where openness about sexuality and gender between partners becomes a guilt free and natural thing.

    But we are not there yet.

    Anyway, I do hope you will manage to turn all of this into something good. I wish you the best, both of you!

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