January 13, 2019

More than one third of non-transgender people have had crossgender dreams and fantasies

Some people dream about being the other gender. The fact that transgender people do so, are increasingly becoming accepted, but a recent Israeli study indicates that more than one third of non-transgender  people have dreamed about belonging to "the other side" too. 

It becomes harder to separate  transgender people from non-transgender (cisgender) people if cisgender people are crossdreaming, but if we think of gender as a complex continuum rather than a strict binary, it starts to make sense. The Israeli studies tell us that the boundary between cis and trans is very fuzzy, indeed.

One in three people have had erotic crossdreaming fantasies

In my recent presentation of Justin J. Lehmiller's  comprehensive study of sexual desire in the book Tell Me What You WantI noted that one third of his respondents report that they have had erotic crossdreamer fantasies. In other words: They have imagined themselves as having the body of the opposite sex in their sexual fantasies.

Given that the great majority of his respondents identify with their assigned gender, this could mean that at least one third of Americans have been crossdreaming. Since there are many who have non-erotic crossdreamer fantasies, the percentage may be higher.

He writes:
For instance, about one-quarter of men and women had fantasised about cross-dressing, and nearly a third had fantasised about trading bodies with someone of the other sex. In addition, about one in four men and one in six women had fantasised about having sex with a cross-dresser, and even more (about one in three men and one in four women) had fantasised about sex with a transsexual partner. [My emphasis]

He is mixing up a lot of different types of cross-gender fantasies here, and I doubt that the fantasies of having sex with a crossdresser or a transgender person are directly relevant in this discussion. The numbers on dreaming about crossdressing or having a body of the "opposite" gender, however, tell us that crossdreaming is quite common among non-transgender people..

Note that I am not saying that all of these people actually are transgender – even in the the broad umbrella sense of the term (meaning some shade  of gender variant). Nor am I saying that they are all crossdreamers, in the sense of people who regularly dream of being the "opposite" or "target" gender.

Only two to three percent of the women who reported body-swap fantasies, said they had such fantasies very often. The gender identities of many of these people are probably safely anchored in their assigned "birth" gender.

What I am saying is that we have to reconsider the traditional understanding of crossdreaming (as in "dreaming of being the 'other' gender") as something rare and abnormal.

The Israeli study supports Lehmiller's finding

What has convinced me that Lehmiller's numbers should be taken seriously is another study from 2018.
Daphna Joel

Roi Jacobson and  Daphna Joel from the Tel-Aviv University in Israel have published the results of this study in Archives of Sexual Behavior 2018, in a paper called "An Exploration of the Relations Between Self‐Reported Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in an Online Sample of Cisgender Individuals".

This is not a study that looks at sexual fantasies in particular, but the information of cross-gender indentification is highly relevant to this discussion.

The study explores the relations between self-reported aspects of gender identity and sexual orientation in an online sample of 4756 cisgender English-speaking participants (including 1129 people assigned male at birth).

Note that they use the word "sex" to refer to the category assigned to an infant at birth, typically female or male, and "gender" to refer to the social category a person identifies with, which is, most often, woman or man.
Roi Jacobson

The definition of cisgender used in the study is based on the relationship between reported sex (assigned gender) and reported self-affirmed gender. If the sex is male and the self-affirmed gender is man, that person is understood to be cis.

In this they have chosen a rather narrow understanding of trans, as I see it, although I understand why they have chosen to do so.

Basing such a distribution on the respondent's own understanding of the concepts of trans and cis, would cause much uncertainty, as these are very fuzzy concepts indeed, interpreted differently by different people – even within the trans community.

The Multi-Gender Identity Questionnaire 

The study is based on what they call the Multi-Gender Identity Questionnaire (Multi-GIQ). The Multi-GIQ includes  a lot of variables relevant to gender identity, including:
  • “feeling-as-a-woman”
  • “feeling- as-a-man” 
  • “feeling-as-both-genders”
  • “feeling-as-neither-gender” 
  • “satisfied-being-a-woman/man”
  • “wish-to-be-a-man/woman” 
  • “dislike-my-body-due-to-its-female/male-form” 
  • “wish-to-have-the-body-of-the-other-sex” 
To give you two examples of the type of questions the respondents were given:
In the past 12 months, have you had the wish or desire to be a man?
Always, Often, Sometimes, Rarely, Never, Not relevant
In the past 12 months, have you wished you had the body of the “other” sex?
Always, Often, Sometimes, Rarely, Never 
To analyze the data the researchers used three types of independent variables: 
  • sex assigned at birth: female assigned or male assigned (intersex-identified individuals were not included in this study)
  • gender: men, women, or gender diverse (so that the value "women" includes cis women and trans women)
  • sex-gender configuration: cis, trans, or gender diverse.
The respondents were furthermore asked about romantic relationships with men and women, as well as whether they had had erotic fantasies with men or women as the object(s) of their fantasies.

There was also a question  about their sexual orientation: exclusively heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, bisexual, mostly homosexual, exclusively homosexual, pansexual, asexual or other.

39 percent have wished to be the other gender

The results are truly unexpected...
...with 38% of the [cisgender] participants in the present sample feeling to some degree as the “other” gender, 39% wishing to some extent they were the “other” gender, and 35% wishing at least rarely that they had the body of the “other” sex. On the other hand, the percentage of individuals who were completely “binary” in their responses across all aspects of gender identity was 25.50%
To put it bluntly, only one quarter of the "normals" reports a "normal" gender identity. So much for normalcy! Nearly 40 percent report crossdreaming fantasies.

 In a related paper "Self-Reported Gender Identity and Sexuality in an Online Sample of Cisgender, Transgender, and Gender-Diverse Individuals: An Exploratory Study" (The Journal of Sex Research 2018), Joel and Jacobson explain:
In two recent studies we have shown that gender identities that transcend the either/or (i.e., either a man or a woman) conceptualization are also present among cisgender individuals (i.e., individuals whose self-labeling is the same as their birth assigned category). 
Using the Multi-gender Identity Questionnaire (Multi-GIQ; Jacobson & Joel, 2018; Joel, Tarrasch, Berman, Mukamel, & Ziv, 2013) we found that cisgender participants presented a range of gender identity experiences with different levels of feeling as the “other” gender, wishing to be the “other” gender, and/or wishing to have the body of the “other” sex (Jacobson & Joel, 2018; Joel et al., 2013). 
In other words, feelings and wishes that are usually considered typical of individuals with transgender or nonbinary identity labels were also present in cisgender individuals (for a similar finding in children, see Martin, Andrews, England, Zosuls, & Ruble, 2017).
Daphna Joel has written a third paper based on the same methodology together with Ricardo Tarraschb , Zohar Bermana, Maya Mukameld and Effi Zive, called "Queering gender: studying gender identity in ‘normative’ individuals" (Psychology & Sexuality  2014, referred to as 2013 in the quote above).

The aim of that study was to  find out how "people perceive their gender identity in a society that views ‘being a man’ and ‘being a woman’ as natural experiences within a naturalised dichotomous and binary gender system."

 This earlier paper, with respondents from Israel only, came to the same conclusions as the 2018 study.
Of the Men (n = 570) and Women (n = 1585) that participated in the study, over 35% felt to some extent as the ‘other’ gender, as both men and women and/or as neither. Although such feelings were more prevalent and on average stronger in Queers  (n = 70), the range of scores for all measures of gender identity was highly similar in Queers and non-Queers. A similar pattern was obtained for measures of gender dysphoria and gender performance. Sexual orientation was not a major contributor to the perception of gender identity in both Men and Women.
(By queer they meant non-binary people who do not identify with normative gender categories like male and female.)

This research seems to support the idea that more than one third of cisgender people engage in crossdreaming, in one way or the other.


The Israeli researchers make some very important points of relevant to the understanding of crossdreaming in their papers:

Sex, gender identity and sexual orientation are not directly linked. This means that the traditional idea that each of two  sexes (male/female) are associated with a typical, coherent gender identity (boy/man, girl/woman) and sexual attraction toward the “other" sex is false.

This is the case also if you include transgender and gender-diverse respondent. This paper on cisgender gender variance is based on data from a larger study that also includes transgender and "gender diverse" people:
The main findings of the present study are that individuals who self-label as cisgender, transgender, or gender diverse report a wide range of gender identity-related experiences and of combinations of sexual attraction to women and men; in all groups, gender identity and sexuality are only weakly correlated; and atypical gender identity is only weakly related to atypical sexuality. [Quote from "Self-reported gender identity").
Variability in gender identity is only weakly related to sexual orientation, also among cigender people. (I will publish a separate blog post on this finding).

Their research support studies that argue that sexual orientation  is a multidimensional construct  that is better defined as a spectrum rather than separate categories.

Can we trust these numbers?

Do these studies prove that more than one third of cisgender people have crossdreamed? Can we trust these numbers? I have written a separate sidebar that discusses this question.

There may be a certain "liberal" bias among the respondents. I doubt whether this will make much of a difference.

And keep in mind that even if we cut the percentage of cisgender people who have crossdreamed in half, we still have some 20 percent of the cisgender population reporting crossdreaming.

Given the data presented in these studies we may safely conclude that cross-gender fantasies are common among cisgender people.

[Click here for sidebar on the reliability and representativity of these numbers.]

What this means for the transgender debate

The broader study the cisgender paper is based on includes responses from both cigender, gender diverse and transgender individuals (cp. paper on "Self-reported gender identity and sexuality").  What the broader study tells us is that there are no clear and insurmountable  boundaries between cis and trans as regards cross-gender fantasies or dreams.

There is a difference in intensity and frequency of such fantasies and dreams, but this is not categorical difference. Note that the 2014 study even argues that this applies to feelings of gender dysphoria, a finding that fits with our own crossdreamer survey.

Transgender people (in the more narrow sense of the term, as in "identifying with  ones 'target' gender") are more likely to crossdream, for sure. But cisgender people also do so. "Gender diverse"/"queer"/"non-binary" people are somewhere in between, according to the Israeli studies.
On all measures of gender identity and sexuality, scores of individuals from the three sex-gender configuration groups overlapped extensively. In all groups, gender-identity-related feelings ranged from highly binary (i.e., feeling as one gender only) to highly “queer” (i.e., feeling as both genders or as neither), and from highly cis-like (i.e., satis- faction with one’s gender and body) to highly trans-like (i.e., wishing to be the “other” gender or have the body of the “other” sex). 
This does not mean that there are no cis people who exclusively identify with their assigned gender. There are. Nor does it mean that there are no transgender people who exclusively identify with their target gender. Of course there are.

What this means is that you cannot put these two groups up as representative of "true" gender feelings or "real" gender feelings or "sound" gender feelings.

The diversity of feelings, identities and sexualities and the way they play together is simply too complex to uphold the idea of two distinct genders with two "normal" ways of expressing themselves or with two completely distinct sets of psychologies, abilities or sexual desires.

And since there are no clear and distinct boundaries along any of these dimensions, exclusively straight cis people cannot define their gender identity and sexuality as the default, as what is "normal".

Moreover, transsexual separatists – i.e. trans activists who think try to separate the "real" trans people from the rest based on the traditional binary – are not only wrong. They may actually be causing a lot of harm to those trans people who find it harder to fit into the narrow binary categories of male and female.

Members of the Crossdream Life forum can access the Israeli papers in the library.

Illustration: ksenia bravo


Justin Lehmiller: Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life, New York 2018.

Daphna Joel, Ricardo Tarrasch, Zohar Berman, Maya Mukamel & Effi Ziv (2014) "Queering gender: studying gender identity in ‘normative’ individuals," Psychology & Sexuality, 5:4, 291-321, DOI: 10.1080/19419899.2013.830640

Roi Jacobson and Daphna Joel: "An Exploration of the Relations Between Self‐Reported Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in an Online Sample of Cisgender Individuals," Archives of Sexual Behavior 2018, Vol. 47, Issue 8, 2407–2426 DOI: 10.1007/s10508-018-1239-y

Roi Jacobson & Daphna Joel: "Self-Reported Gender Identity and Sexuality in an Online Sample of Cisgender, Transgender, and Gender-Diverse Individuals: An Exploratory Study," The Journal of Sex Research, 2018, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2018.1523998

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article Jack! And hardly a surprise as we come to more understand the true identity of people boxed into strict silos by society.

    The secret dreams, desires and true aspirations of those who dare divulge them puts an end to the imagined model we espoused for centuries. It is indeed a true rainbow of colors that we are dealing with...:))


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