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  • Brian's story

    Recovery from compulsive cross-dressing

    My dad was a working class man who had come from a very poor, and I suspect, abusive family. Not that he talked much about that, he was an oyster of the old school and showed little affection towards my brother and I but did his best to provide for his family. Having  said that, he did share his practical experience with us to do with bicycles, gardening and country walks. He was also a good knitter. His speciality became knitting woollen inside/out dolls. I wanted to know what that was about but there was no way I could ask him why he did it. 

    My mother had learning difficulties and was a mass of contradictions. She was very caring on one level, always wanting my brother and I to get better educated than her. She worked as a cleaner to earn money so my brother and I could go on educational trips. She even took me to see Handel’s Messiah for my 14th birthday because I told her I’d liked singing the Hallelujah chorus in the school choir. On the other hand, she made hurtful personal comments about people and this included me.

    What is was like

    When I was 5 or 6 I played with the two girls in the flat above ours. One day they dressed me up as a girl and showed me to my mum and theirs. My mum’s response was ambiguous and from that time on I convinced myself she wanted a girl not a boy. My brother was the boy. From that time on I had fantasies of dressing as a girl. I instinctively felt this was something I should keep secret and did, doing all the things a boy should do but with secret desires. This secret life created a distance between me and other people. On the outside I tried to get on with people but found it difficult to keep friendships. At school I was made fun of a bit and I remember getting into a fight after being taunted by a bully about my appearance. I just lost it and unwisely fought back. I was pushed over and beaten quite badly. I remember crying and screaming at the chief bully, ‘You’re going to die, you’re going to die!’ He laughed but a few weeks later he was killed in a motorbike accident.

    In my teens I started to wear women’s clothes and found them sexually stimulating. I started masturbating at this time. I only started buying and wearing women’s clothes when I was in the latter part of my Uni years. A girlfriend bought me some ballet clothes. Our relationship didn’t last long. I had tried not to think about cross-dressing and at one point, when I was sharing a flat with two other men, the tensions between us built up and I lost it again. It wasn’t just my fault but I have a defensive mechanism which occasionally means I react angrily and irrationally. After this I lived by myself for a couple of years and cross-dressed more frequently whilst masturbating. I also liked the idea of wearing female clothes anyway but have never really come out as a crossdresser. However, if someone asked me now, I wouldn’t deny it and some of my poems explore my experience of cross dressing.

    I did have girlfriends but the relationships never lasted more than a few months. I thought I might be gay and I had some good gay friends but was never attracted to them sexually. I have never seriously considered myself as wanting to change gender either. Finally, I met my wife in a modern dance class and we have been together ever since. After a while I told her about my crossdressing but made it sound it was less of an obsession than it was. Once I cross-dressed for her and she didn’t like it so I never did again. Somehow we’ve managed to stay together through ups and downs. We had a sexual relationship although my fetish fantasies have always been a barrier between us. However we’ve always looked after each other and cared for each other. I have tried to respect her wishes but have not been able to stop crossdressing. There have been times when this has been more in the background and we have lived a more normal life. The best time of my life was when my wife got pregnant and we had our son who continues to be the joy of our lives and of whom we are immensely proud. I tried my best to be a good dad, loving in a way my father wasn’t able to and we’ve always been able to talk with each other and he still wants to run his ideas and confide his feelings to both his mum and me.

    When my wife got very upset with my lying about cross dressing I agreed to have therapy and for the first time I told somebody my fantasies. She was a good listener but, in a joint session with my wife, her opinion was that our relationship had run its course as I wouldn’t change my behaviour. This was true but we stayed together anyway and I continued seeing a therapist whom she recommended but I couldn’t be completely honest even with him. So one day when my wife was furious with me over my sexual practices, she insisted on coming with me to see him where I would tell him the truth, which reluctantly I did. I’d learnt a lot but not how to stop lying about what I did. My wife even had to force me to explain some of what I did to my son when he was old enough to understand. This made him very upset but I think he has forgiven me as our relationship is still more or less the same.

    Up until this time I had continued working and was a functioning addict. However about twelve years ago I was put under a lot of pressure to defend myself at work and had significant problems with the management. Due to my defensive behaviour I got into some bad arguments with them and eventually took early retirement. I then got into the classic position of a retiree. I tried to find things to fill my time. I learnt coding, joined a choir, continued and developed my photo and video editing skills but still had a big hole inside me which got bigger when our son left home. I found I was getting more distant from the people around me – the crossdressing was becoming more intense as I had more time to indulge. 

    What I did about it

    My wife suggested I try SAA as she was on the point of leaving. So, I went to my first SAA meetings and it was useful but I was doing it for her not me in the end and still my behaviour wasn’t really changing. I remember having a conversation about smart phones and porn saying I didn’t have smart phone and didn’t look at porn. Shortly afterwards I used certain readings at an SAA meeting from an AA manual as an excuse to not return to SAA. I have this habit of finding excuses and getting angry to justify continuing my addictive behaviours.

    After this I got a smart phone and started downloading pictures of women in fetish clothing which I would then edit to make it look as though I was wearing them. Later I would masturbate. Of course, I started on a very slippery slope because as many of us know you start looking at images of a certain type then you find others more extreme, in my case masochistic scenes. I managed to stop for a while as my wife informed me she knew what I was doing when she heard the clicks on the computer. She found images on the desktop. I don’t understand how she can still be as patient with me as she is because I wouldn’t hesitate to lie about my behaviour and she keeps giving me other chances.

    What it's like now now

    This time I decided I had to go back to the SAA group and although I still cross dress I have, so far managed to keep away from porn and the most destructive of my habits. I now realise I have to keep going back to the group because it is there I find my higher power, although for me as I don’t believe in God, it is the collective power of the group that supports me, from listening to the experiences of those around me and working towards recovery. I hope I can be a better husband, my wife deserves it. In a few days of writing this we will have been married for 42 years. In all that time I have never worn a wedding ring but I have just bought a simple gold ring and am wearing it now – as a reminder of all that’s of real value. 

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    Last updated: March 7th, 2023