Workshop: Sex and the Transvestite

David Elvy

Vice-President, Beaumont Society. Treasurer, Family Division, British Association for Counselling. Trustee, Beaumont Trust. BT Trustliner. GEMS associate.
Gendys Conference, 1992


Accepting that everybody is an individual and that there always exceptions to a rule, there is something of a diametrically opposed perceived image of the sexual preferences of Transvestites. There are two starting points:

a: The general public's perception that men who wear women's clothes must be homosexual.

b: The transvestite's general view, based on past research, that the vast majority of transvestites are heterosexual.

Until very recently, the only national organisation for transvestites had, within its constitution, a specific clause stating that membership was only open to heterosexual transvestites. When that constitution was changed to include all transvestites, whatever their sexuality, another organisation was formed specifically for heterosexual transvestites.

I believe that both a and b above are, in the main, incorrect. The easiest to deal with is the general perception which deals with the public attitude to gender roles, which suggests that, if a man dresses as a woman, he must be effeminate, ergo gay, poof, queer or whatever the terminology for the time. A condemnation by both men and women of the cross dresser who, by virtue of the fact, is an individualist. The old story of "If you will not play by my rules, you cannot play in my game". This image has been perpetuated by many films and books. Not least of all, Quentin Crisp.

Even in today's world, one of the most common questions asked by transvestites seeking help, is "Does my need to cross-dress mean that I am a homosexual?" The question is often put by married men who profess not to have had any homosexual contact in the past.

Two interesting notes are that there appears to be little or no middle ground, giving reference to bisexuality and an automatic assumption that cross dressing is linked to sexuality.

What is, perhaps, more interesting is the general image given out by many transvestites. Research shows the vast majority of transvestites to be heterosexual. Is this statement myth or fact, and how did it arise?

Most research involving transvestite attitudes is based on surveys carried out both in the USA and here and dates back (In modern times) to the 1950's onwards. Kinsey set the ball rolling when questioning sexual behaviour patterns.

It is my belief that there was a deliberate attempt, by cross-dressers, to mislead researchers.

At the time, and up until very recently, being homosexual was an offence in both countries. Furthermore there was, and still is, in some communities, a stigma attached to homosexuality. Many transvestites were, I believe, hoping to distance themselves as far as possible from this association. Many transvestites were/are married and, until a few years ago, bisexuality was hardly ever considered in this context.

Certainly the groups organising meet ings for transvestites wanted respectability and that respectability could not be achieved unless transvestites were perceived to be "normal", or normal apart from cross dressing. Additionally the wives of transvestites were invited to meetings and consequently the organisers, quite rightly, did not wish to project an image whereby the wives of transvestites would be distressed at the thought of their husbands or partners going to meet other transvestites and possibly entering into a sexual relationship with them.

In short an image of heterosexuality amongst transvestites created a greater degree of perceived respectability and, thereby, acceptance. I have even heard statements such as "If one cross dresses and has a same sex relationship, one is not a true transvestite."

It is all too easy to suggest that cross-dressing and sexuality should be treated as separate issues, but that is not easily done until lines defining the differences between fetishism and cross dressing have been accepted. Transvestism means cross dressing. The word does not draw any distinction based on motivation for cross dressing. The only exception that I would personally make is where the subject cross dressed for professional reasons and is done for monetary gain. There is a further muddying of the waters. It is not infrequent for a transvestite to wish to be treated as a woman (or his idea of how a woman should be treated), often stereotypical or fantasy based. He then adopts that role and, because he is acting in a female role, does not see a sexual relationship with another man as homosexual.

Many transvestites will enter into a sexual relationship with another man when cross dressed, but not otherwise. Does this indicate that cross dressing is, or could be, a bridge to accepting guilt or fear about homosexual relationships. Cross-dressing makes the image right.

Assuming that both statements above, a and b, are extremes, where does that lead us? From my experiences with dealing with members of various organisations both in a befriending and a counselling capacity, (I have not carried out any direct research), I believe that very few transvestites are solely homosexual, the vast majority being either bisexual or heterosexual.

When the Beaumont Society changed its constitution, to remove the exclusivity of members being strictly heterosexual I received dozens of letters and telephone calls from members stating how pleased they were that they could now be honest about their sexuality.

All had previously signed application forms professing strict heterosexuality. On such misinformation we base research and engender myths that will, in time, serve only to make the more honest cross-dressers feel more isolated.

Unfortunately, time restrictions did not allow for lengthy discussion to take place, however, it appeared that the majority of participants held the view that sexuality was such an individual direction that, as long as any form of stigma was attached to any sexuality, it would be unlikely that any true conclusions could be drawn, other than the probability that the instances of bisexuality amongst cross-dressers was probably greater than previous research had led us to believe. This would be in line with research on bisexuality as a general topic, irrespective of any element of cross-dressing. In line with these attitudes, was the perception by the group that men who cross-dress are no more likely to be heterosexual than any other group, and possibly less inclined to either of the sexual extremes of exclusive heterosexuality or homosexuality.

Citation: Elvy, D., (1992), Workshop: Sex and the Transvestite, GENDYS II, The Second International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
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