The itch that never goes away…

In our dynamic work environment of this busy century, most of us are constantly at the mercy of stress — a sad consequence of the hallmark of our society with its emphasis on constant production at the highest possible level of efficiency. The result is that we live in the most technological era of our history on Planet Earth, and, in spite of everything, an age where the highest number of human beings have reasonably good standards of living. We managed to grow the population number to limits that would completely baffle the Victorians, but, in spite of that, even on the poorest areas of the world, we’ve got access to way better health systems, more (and higher quality) food, and all types of comfort that would have been the privilege of an elite in the 19th century, and the prerrogative of royalty in the 18th century. At the same time, we live in a time where (again, in spite of everything) we’ve got way more freedom — of choice, of expression — than in the past ages.

The cost of being so productive and so efficient is, however, great. Most of us are constantly under pressure to do more and more, in less and less time, for a lower cost. This is stressful. And, as the levels of stress rise, we also have learned to deal with them in several ways. Chemical substances to reduce stress have always been around — from the ubiquous alcohol, to smoking, to many other semi-legal drugs (“medicines”) and illegal ones, we have adapted to high levels of stress by engaging in stress-relieving activities. It’s not just “chemical drugs”, of course — there are other ways to deal with stress. Simple ones like listening to music, reading a book, watching TV, having any sort of time-consuming hobby, working out, or simply sleeping — all those activities help us to deal with the “daily grind” of our workplace by subtly changing our behaviour to cope with the angstfrom stress in some form.

It’s important to understand that the end result is similar. Stress produces chemical effects in our blood flow, that have more or less damaging consequences, but so often we’re reminded that “some people work better under stress”. It’s not surprising — our body chemistry gets changed, and our brains work better and faster under stress, at least for a period of time. All the stress-relieving activities have exactly the reverse effect: to nullify the effects of stress and re-adapting the body chemistry to work at a “reduced” level of efficiency, but one that does not consume so many resources, and is less harmful to our body long-term. As we move towards a balance between the “high-efficiency” level during stress, and a “low-efficiency” level during our rest period, we conserve precious energies and sustain our bodies in a healthy way.

Moving from a stress-related to a stress-relieving activity is, thus, mostly a change of body chemistry. “Relaxing” is wiping out the stress-induced substances from our bloodstream. Fortunately for us, there are really quite a lot of different ways to do so — and the vast majority of them don’t require the ingestion of chemicals (like alcohol, nicotine, or chocolate…).

In my case, very often, it’s crossdressing (well, and smoking too, or preferably both! 🙂 ). Obviously, it’s hard to explain why crossdressing is stress-relieving to someone who is not a crossdrsser. But I might try. Imagine that you work in a law office ad wear a suit all day (or, as a woman, you’re the whole day in a tight, nice business outfit, wearing high heels). Your day of work has bee tough, and what do you do when you first arrive at home? You change clothes to something more comfortable!

Now, this simple activity — getting rid of your “work clothes” and dress up with your “comfy home clothes” — is stress-relieving. In a sense, you’re shedding a skin — forgetting about the work by changing your visuals, your external look — and wearing a new one, effectively creating a small barrier between your stress-related activity (your work at the office) and the stress-relieving one (whatever you might do at home).

I guess this will make sense to most of us. We dress differently if we go out for a party with friends, for a formal evening dinner, for work, or simply to watch TV. Our “exterior” matches, in a sense, what activity we’re performing (socially). And most definitely a “change of clothes” (from the work clothes to the comfy style at home) triggers the end of the stress-intensive phase towards a relaxation phase. I’m not so bold as to suggest that “changing clothes” will start the relaxation period, or if it is the other way round (you feel relaxed first, so you’ll wear comfortable clothes to reflect that feeling). But it’s true that they’re linked together to an extent. Even the formal Victorians would change clothes to relax in their home libraries and open a book to read — although that might just have been hanging the overcoat and the hat and keeping the rest.

So you might understand a bit better that for many crossdressers, changing clothes — in our case, wearing styles of the opposite gender — is a very relaxing and stress-relieving activity. But it is also more. Our body chemistry that triggers the change from a “stressful” to a “relaxed” state is being changed as well. Thus, just like drinking alcohol (or smoking a cigarette) triggers a change in body chemistry that will modify our behaviour (which is, of course, very apparent when you’re drunk), the same happens to crossdressers, too. The “change of clothes” is not merely symbolic — it’s a change of body chemistry, certainly subtle, but that affects our behaviour as well. What most people find perfectly reasonable (you can be a tough boss at work but a loving father at home) is, however, seen to be unacceptable when you cross the barrier across gender.

As a crossdresser, it means that I have to get used to that “unacceptability”. And, although you can quit drinking and quit smoking, you cannot quit being a crossdresser. That’s wired in our CD brains and it won’t get away, no matter what you do — therapy will not change the way you are (personality), it can only change the way you behave. In that sense, crossdressing is not an “addiction” like drinking, smoking, or any other of these drugs. It’s probably more akin to the adrenaline rush experienced by people who love to do risky things — mountain climbing, skydiving, or anything like that. If you’re addicted to your own body’s chemicals you cannot do anything about it. A skydiver who needs the urge to climb and feel that lovely adrenaline rush will not be able to avoid doing it over and over again. Of course that doesn’t mean that they need to skydive every day. But they will remember their moments with fondness; they will dream about it; they will always counting the days until the next time they happen to be on a plane jumping into the sky with nothing beneath them. Again, they cannot fight the urge — they can contain it, delay the moment it actually happens, probably go years and years until they skydive again… but they will remain, forever, addicted to their own adrenaline, with no hope of going back.

The lesson I’ve learned is that there is no point in scratching the itch, since it’s pointless. Just accept yourself as you are. If others don’t, that’s all right. We live in a society that is supposed to become more and more tolerant over the years; it’ll take some time until crossdressing is fully accepted (very likely not in our livetimes), but it’s certainly much better today than a few decades ago.

Also published on Medium.

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