The Internet Influence on Transfamilies

Diana Aitchison BSc.

Women of the Beaumont Society Helpline.

Issue 10
May 2000

I once started an essay by stating that 'the Internet is a wonderful thing for researchers' and indeed it is. I can find information on virtually any subject available globally (including a few I'd rather not know about!). There is no doubt that it is the most life enriching tool that has been made available to almost everyone since the first dictionary was published. However, like all good things there is a down side to the Internet that has dominated the calls to Women of the Beaumont Society in the last two years. The following is a sample concern;

"I've known about my husband's crossdressing for years and after the initial shock had worn off, I started to join in and accompany him to various social events. I thought that he was the average tranny and many people said that he was very well balanced so I didn't think that we had any problems.

Now though, he has discovered the Internet and since we installed it a few months ago my husband has changed dramatically. He stays up all night surfing and is consequently becoming worn out which is making him irritable. He has also become very secretive. We first started together looking for other couples like ourselves who we could share our cross dressed experiences with but he soon got fed up with that and now won't let me in on the sites that he finds. In fact he has set up a separate screen name and password which locks me out. Apart from the secretiveness I'm also concerned that he will lose his job as he has recently had a written warning about being late and performing badly. He has been with the firm for 15 years and they are at a loss to understand why he has gone downhill so quickly.

There are other issues too. He no longer wants to make love and has changed from a loving out going person into an introverted stranger who doesn't want to go anywhere except to meetings and clubs and now he doesn't ask me to go with him anymore. Things have come to a head because he won't come on holiday with me and the children unless he can buy a very expensive lap-top that he can access the Internet and e-mails on and costs more than the actual holiday. I've begged him to give the computer a break and get some proper sleep again while we are away but he just snarls at me and says that I am being selfish. He says that he cannot see any harm in having a hobby. I feel so excluded that I can't see any point in us staying married".

This wife has described an obsessional interest in something that distracts her husband from normal married life. It is probable that the same thing is happening in families where cross-dressing is not present. Parents frequently complain about the time that children spend on surfing the Internet which they feel prevents a natural interaction and socialisation process outside the home. However, in the case of the wives who call there is an additional factor - the dramatic change in their husband's personalities. There are physical concerns too; obsessed surfers soon complain of eyestrain, headaches and the features usually present in sleep deprivation such as short attention spans, lack of concentration, poor short term memories and mood swings.

A study by Dr. Donald Black of the University of Iowa (published in the American Journal of Clinical Psychiatry) and reported by James Chapman (Daily Mail, 9/2/2000) suggests that compulsive computer usage 'can increase the chances of psychiatric illness by more than four times.' In the same edition of the Daily Mail leading female divorce lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt states 'Divorce: Why we women are to blame', going on to argue that it is women's new found aggression (assertiveness) that is to blame for marital breakdowns and women should learn to be more submissive.

The most dramatic effects of compulsive behaviours on family life are the 'drip drip' effect that wears down a wife psychologically. Initially she may just be irritated by his obsession with the Internet but as her concerns are rebuffed she can experience deep emotional hurt and feelings of rejection. Children may start to notice the change in both parents and the wife will struggle to maintain the status quo, often to the extent of lying on behalf of her husband. Questions such as "Mummy, why doesn't Dad sleep in your bed any more?" or "I'm sure I can hear the click of the mouse when I'm asleep - why does Daddy stay on the computer all night?" and probably the worst complaint from a mother's point of view: "Why is Daddy too tired to take us anywhere any more?", can be distressing and guilt forming to a wife who believes that truthfulness is everything in parenting. The greatest fear for some wives is that because their husbands are usually cross-dressed for their nocturnal activities there is a real danger that one of the children may wake up and investigate their father's whereabouts, thus catching him en femme.

Ultimately the strain will take its toll with wives worn down by lack of emotional support from their spouses to the point where they are virtually ignored. One wife related that she knew that her marriage was in trouble when her husband only communicated with her through e-mails and that it was in such a way that she realised that she had been reduced to the role of housekeeper and nanny.

Having come to recognise the possible permanence of the night time regime wives will turn their attention to the content of the sites that their husbands are so interested in. Where wives have managed to gain entry to their husband's domain they have been appalled to discover the pornographic nature of the material that they have down loaded. E-mails often provide an insight too into the fantasy world that has taken over their husband's rationale. In worst case scenarios husband's have adopted a totally new identity who lives only in Cyberspace where they are gorgeous 'she-males' or single 'girls' with exciting life styles who love to flirt and engage in romantic liaisons, at least electronically. Many will be displaying a keen interest in hormones and plastic surgery; a significant number may have started a covert self-medication regime by accessing the required products through the Internet.

Not all the wives will be conscious of their husband's need to crossdress so discoveries such as these can be severely debilitating. Such is the shock of discovery of the depths of their husbands' duplicity that wives can be reduced to a shadow of their former selves in a very short time. Symptoms such as changes in their menstrual cycle/frequency, an inability to articulate properly, short-term memory loss and shortness of temper where a wife was previously viewed to be even-tempered and easy going are commonly mentioned. Some may be presented for mental illness brought on by the stressful events following the emotional disclosure of their husband's secret.

The over all effect on family life can be dramatic particularly when the husband ceases all pretence at preserving the traditions associated with family life. Sadly, when cornered he is likely to blame his wife for 'everything'; such is his confused state that he can no longer differentiate fact from fantasy and consequently resents his wife's interruption of his well-ordered world. The images from the material viewed, the nature of the contacts made in chat rooms and the self-seeking commentaries on lists have served to reinforce his gender dysphoria to the extent that they become the sole focal point of his day-to-day existence. The obsessive/compulsive nature of the behaviour in some men has led them towards the realms of dissociative disorders where they can deny their real life existence as husband and father to the extent of wishing only to be called by their female name in their domestic domain. Consequently wives find that they have to become assertive in their wishes for a normal family life that excludes the children from access to their father's alter ego. The family budget is undermined by the expensive purchasing of wigs and breast prostheses via Internet shopping sites designed specifically for cross-dressers, causing further scope for assertiveness from wives who are at their wits end trying to balance the books.

Ultimately, marriages will fail under the pressure of the duality of the husband's persona. Outwardly he remains family man, husband and father, reliable employee and pillar of society. Behind closed doors he is a self-obsessed stranger who shirks his domestic role in order to embrace the world he believes he truly belongs to. He may believe that his wife will indulge his passions for cyber life as long as he maintains the family home at least financially. He may even convince himself that he is entitled to his private world after a stressful day earning the family's daily bread. He will undoubtedly suffer periods of guilt when he rationalises his behaviour but may convince himself that he 'can't help it - after all there are thousands on the Net just like him so it must be normal behaviour'. He may also recognise the adrenaline runs that can be achieved through accessing his secret world; an addictive factor in its self. Negative forces such as denial and guilt may subsequently lead to levels of clinical depression and an inability to function normally any more thus culminating in loss of employment and further strain on the family. A gender dysphoric man who is undertaking the practises defined here should clearly be thinking about seeking the appropriate help in the form of counselling from professionals in the field that would include his wife so that she may too be helped.

Perhaps if Dr. Black and Vanessa Lloyd Platt were to join forces we might one day find an answer on how to combat the forces that encourage women to be assertive (sic aggressive) in the face of Internet influences on their loved ones that seek through the promotion of addictive, compulsive practices to destroy marriages and family life.

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