Crossdreaming and escapism

Years ago, when researching about my inner urges to crossdress, I looked for a lot of material — both from psychological research and also from the community — for an explanation. It is a very well-researched fact that all transgendered people will do that — even more so, in this age and era of the Internet, when doing research in absolute privacy is so easy.

It was relatively easy to see that there were four major groups where I might include myself. The first was easily rejected: since I’m physically attracted to women and have an absolute aversion towards having sexual intercourse with males, I couldn’t be homosexual. Even though several crossdressers and transvestites are openly homosexual, or at least bi-curious, I was clearly not one of them.

The second category was harder to dispel: crossdressing fetishism. In this case, the sexual arousal comes from wearing female clothes — subcategories like sissyfication would come under that label as well. Well, I certainly felt aroused by wearing female clothing, but that was not all of it. A fetishism, by definition, is when the sexual arousal, instead of being focused on a person, is focused on an object (in this case, female clothing and accessories). But in my case women apparel & accessories were certainly stimulating but not the whole thing. Eventually, I had to discard fetishism as well.

The third category was clear — at the beginning. It was what is still called the ‘primary transexual’ (in the 1990s it was misnamed as ‘true transexual’, but, fortunately, we got over that 🙂 ). In this scenario — and remember, I was reading things from the 1980s and early 1990s — transexuals were thought to reject their bodies and their gender roles since birth, and, at the stage they finally got in touch with an expert about their gender dysphoria, they would be in deep depression and with suicidal urges. So this category was relatively easy to diagnose. And it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be one of those — even though I might have ‘questioned’ my gender at several points in my life (specially during the teens!), I worked hard to ‘become a man’, tried my best to ‘do what men are supposed to do’ (drawing a line at some extreme behaviour… well… lots of lines really…), but, in general, I wouldn’t classify myself as being frustrated or depressed, and most certainly not suicidal! So, I scratched that from my list as well.

Finally, there was this very broad, all-encompassing definition of ‘crossdresser’. Many of the literature of the early 1990s pictured male crossdressers as ‘male heterosexuals usually living a normal life but who dress up as women for many reasons, but most often for stress release’. Even at that time, there was a recognition that there were some kinds of crossdressers that were fetishists, and others who weren’t. I felt comfortable with that label, because it didn’t imply anything ‘sexual’, nor implied a change of life (including a change of gender).

About that time, infamous Ray Blanchard came up with a very controversial theory about transsexualism. He came up with the idea that certain male individuals are born with a certain condition, which makes them feel attracted to their self-image as a woman. He called this condition autogynophilia (literally, the attraction to oneself pictured as a woman). The problem is that Blanchard mixed a lot of things in his theory which have no scientific evidence; among other aspects, he somehow considered that only male transsexuals who were physically attracted to men would be worthy of going through transition; others would be ‘mentally disturbed’ and referred to psychological therapy instead. The long list of flaws in his reasoning is beyond me, but I’m sure you can search about it if you wish. Needless to say, Blanchard’s theories are taboo in the transgendered community.

Still, it’s true that some transgendered males do, indeed, have erotic dreams about themselves as women. Among non-fetishist crossdressers, there seems to be a rather high number of those; and most of them don’t consider themselves transexual. It’s just a fantasy, a form of escapism, or — something else. The classification of ‘autogynophilia’ certainly applies to them but… not the rest of Blanchard’s very controversial (not to say wrong) theories.

Around 2008 — unknown to me until recently! — the community proposed a new name for this kind of condition: crossdreaming. There are already whole sites dedicated to it — I suggest you to start with a list of references. The new terminology gathered some support from the community — eager to move away from Blanchard’s theory — and there is a forum just for crossdreamers. As you can see from those examples, it seems that a rather large amount of people are drawn towards this new classification; however, a quick survey of the scientific literature done in Google Scholar shows that the scientific community has not embraced this definition yet. And, because of that, there is little scientific evidence to sustain the thesis proposed by notable proponents of the crossdreamer theories. It’s highly likely, however, that the scientific community is shunning Blanchard’s theories in all its aspects and, as such, not very willing to stake their academic reputations on a reinterpretation of one aspect of Blanchard’s theories, for fear of being labeled as ‘supporters’. In fact, although I identify myself as ‘autogynophiliac’, I now have to be very careful when using that word — always stating that I don’t subscribe to Blanchard’s theories.

Crossdreaming is a more neutral term, and, as such, I see that it might have some adoption — at least in the transgendered community, and maybe in the academic world as well in the near future. Basically it states that some individuals are born with a sensation of arousal when picturing themselves as women, and this — just like homosexuality and transgenderism — is not a ‘mental condition’ that can be ‘cured’. So far, so good, this sounds familiar for those who have read Blanchard.

However, the interesting aspect (for me at least) is that the proponents of the crossdreaming theory suggest that one thing is the condition itself, the other is how it is expressed. Thus, in many crossdreamers, there is no external expression whatsoever: they just dream at night about themselves as women, and derive some sexual arousal from that. They don’t need more than their imagination. The friend I told you about on my last blog post is certainly one of them. And I was like that for many, many years as well: it actually felt odd when listening to other guys’ dreams — they would dream of having sex with girls, of course. I kept silent, never revealing that in my dreams I almost always picture myself as the girl (and sex is often not even involved, except for masturbation).

Then there is what I would call a ‘non-physical’ expression of crossdreaming. These are the people who go online as females — either they use a female literary pseudonym; or they have a blog for women; or they have a female nickname on chat rooms; or, well — and there are tens of thousands like that — they have an avatar in Second Life. Obviously the level of ‘expression’ varies among individuals — some might just occasionally indulge in writing an article now and then, posing as a woman; others might spend dozens of hours per week in Second Life or similar virtual worlds, acting their preferred gender role as women. But… the acting might be ‘perfect’, and this is the difference between ‘pretending to be a girl online’ and ‘an online crossdreamer’. Online crossdreamers are very, very hard to ‘read’ as males. They will take pains to express themselves very consistently and coherently as the clever, witty females they picture themselves to be.

Many of those crossdreamers never ‘dream’ (pun intended!) to go beyond a literary pseudonym or a virtual online presence. They will appease their urges and desires that way, and be more than content with it (again, I happen to know many who are exactly like that). However, a few will wish to express their ‘inner woman’ in a more physical way, and yes, that means crossdressing.

According to this theory, the many classes of ‘crossdressers’ can be reduced to fundamentally two. One, of course, are the fetishist crossdressers — there is no ‘inner self-image as a woman’ involved, but merely the sexual arousement focused on an object: women’s clothing. In fact, there is nothing extraordinary about feeling aroused by women’s clothing — specially underwear. If female underwear weren’t sexy and attractive to men, women wouldn’t wear it! The difference, of course, is that the fetishist crossdresser wants to feel the silky, smooth feeling of women’s clothing fabric on top of their own skin, and that’s what so arousing. Many, of course, may progress to wear more and more layers of female clothes, and obviously go as far as wearing wigs and breast forms. Sissyfication is one typical example where the sexual arousal comes from a full transformation, and which may optionally even include female behaviour, as a form of submissive behaviour in a D/s relationship where the woman in the relationship forces the male to humiliation through sissyfication.

While there might be a few connecting points — like the arousal through the sense of touch, of being in contact with women’s clothing — this class of crossdressers is completely distinct from the ‘crossdreaming crossdresser’. For that class, sexual arousal does not come from women’s apparel per se, but from the inner feeling of arousal from one’s female image — which gets enhanced by women’s clothing. The point here is that fetishist crossdressers focus on the clothes; crossdreamers focuses on the self-image as a woman, which, naturally, can get enhanced by women’s clothing.

The ‘degree’ of required ‘illusion’ might vary among crossdressers. Some, to enhance the self-image as a woman, might need little more than a bra, some panties, stockings, and a suspender belt. Perhaps some heels. They might just need partial crossdressing. Others will require lingerie and at least a dress, trenchcoat or some kind of ‘exterior’ female garment. And, of course, for some, only completely wrapping themselves in woman’s clothing, with a wig, on heels, and wearing perfume, will be a satisfying experience.

Some crossdressers have naturally androgynous bodies; this means that all they need to do is to get a wig, put some makeup, and wear a dress. And that’s practically all that they do. They’re soooo lucky 🙂 If they haven’t ever considered transition (and many don’t), they don’t really understand why they should have to worry more about their physical bodies. All they need is to switch wardrobes, and that’s how they express their crossdreaming.

In reality, most crossdreaming crossdressers won’t have androgynous bodies — but definitely have the wrong shape. That, however, is not a problem. Most of them will, sooner or later, understand that women also come in all kinds of shapes, and that to express themselves as women, they don’t need much more than roll up some socks into their bras — and just wear appropriate plus-size clothing. After all, millions of women do little more than that (except that they might not need any padding on their bras…), and they most definitely are not ‘lesser women’. In fact, I believe that these kinds of crossdreamers are among the happiest of all — they have gone beyond their own expectations, and they merely enjoy the feeling of looking like women, by wearing clothing appropriate to the female gender. Sure, they won’t ever ‘pass’, but they don’t need to ‘pass’ to quench their urges. They view (probably very correctly!) ‘passing’ as merely an obsession that some crossdressers have, but which is not necessary to get the right amount of satisfaction for expressing oneself as a woman.

Even when they go out in groups, you will see how encouraging they are to each other — a trait shared by genetic women. They downplay the ‘shape’ and ‘passing’ issues, considering these to be irrelevant, and, instead, focus on the nice attire they have. They envy someone’s heels, but not their legs! I believe this group is the one that is most balanced, and, as a result, they are probably among the happiest – and, very likely, they’re also the majority of the crossdressers.

Next come two other classes, with a fine blurring line between them, where merely ‘dressing up’ is not enough: the shape also needs to be right! This means, from the start, prosthetics — yes, breast forms, a corset, hip padding, false eyelashes, false fingernails, and very good quality wigs. It takes some time to balance that all out so that a more believable — ‘passable’ — female image is accomplished, but, eventually, everything will be learned, and there will be satisfaction from not merely ‘putting a dress on’, but wearing a dress that has all the curves in the right places.

Now, genetic women have been doing the same for centuries, so the use of prosthetics is definitely ‘allowed’. In fact, in the past decade or so, I have seen how old-forgotten bits of female garments are suddenly appearing all over the place — from simple silicon ‘push-up’, stick-on enhancements, to all sorts of shapewear, which lost appeal in the 1960s, but are becoming fashionable again. So, yes, genetic women, when there is nothing else they can do at the gym, and when surgery is not an option, are coming back to prosthetics and shapewear as well.

Prosthetics can certainly enhance the illusion of a female body, but, of course, there is a catch: you cannot look under your clothes, or bye-bye illusion! One reason for the previous two classes to abhor prosthetics is because of that: they wish to be ‘natural’. Sure, there is nothing to fill in that bra they’re wearing, but who cares, when the important thing is to wear a bra — not what’s inside it? There are lots of flat-chested women around — just look at supermodels, for example!

Because those two groups cannot agree on what is ‘necessary’ to express their self-image as a woman, I’ve divided them in two classes — the ones who wish to be ‘natural’, just drop a layer of female clothing on top of everything; and the ones who wish a ‘passable illusion’ (because, otherwise, their self-image as women is dispelled), and that means lots of prosthetics in the right place.

Secretly, however, I believe that most ‘prosthetic crossdressers’ (ugh, what an ugly name for them!) actually believe the ‘natural crossdressers’ are right. Ideally, they would love to get rid of the prosthetics and go natural — but still be able to go for a passable illusion.

So, at this stage, some of the ‘prosthetic crossdressers’ will start looking at physical transformations of their bodies. Fortunately, the first steps are today socially acceptable: getting rid of your body hair (even facial hair) is definitely tolerated. Growing your hair long, specially if it’s braided, is perfectly acceptable in a male. Grooming your eyebrows — not doing them pencil-thin, just well-groomed — is also acceptable. And while long fingernails are not acceptable, treating them well is fine — we need to thank the metrosexuals for that!

And, of course, you can definitely exercise and go on a diet to get rid of that beer tummy — and the proper exercise will do that without automatically giving you a six-pack!

This also means creams for your skin and all sorts of ‘beauty treatments’ popular in salons. The result is looking more healthier, having nicer skin, (possibly) looking younger — but, of course, it also means it will be much easier to maintain a female image. Also, taking care of your body, because it’s a so typically female attitude, also helps to sustain the self-image as a woman — you’re doing ‘what women usually do’. Not to say how practical it is — after laser hair removal, it means no more hairs to shave every crossdressing session (or having to wear thick clothing to disguise all the ‘fur’!). Better skin means less makeup and a more healthier look. Good-looking nails means no need to wear false nails — even though it still means needing to paint them — even though growing them long enough to be convincing might be harder.

This stage is the easiest, and, as said, that’s mostly because metrosexuals have made ‘body grooming’ an acceptable activity for males. In many cases, for instance, wives might actually prefer that their crossdressing hubbies start paying more attention to their bodies (assuming they don’t groan about the ‘waste of money’ in all those treatments).

But then comes the last stage. How far can you go?

Going to a salon to do all those beauty treatments won’t give you nice, full breasts, nor awesome hips and buttocks, or a more feminine nose and a less male jaw; that requires a bit more than creams and massage! Unfortunately, that ‘bit more’ is mostly irreversible, and it really means either hormones or surgery, or, most likely, a combination of both.

As you can imagine, this is not an easy step to take, and, at that stage, one would definitely classify that crossdreaming person as much more than ‘merely a crossdresser’. It means that they want to start reshaping their physical bodies to become aligned to their image as women. But, of course, that has consequences which are irreversible — to a degree.

At this stage, people tend to classify themselves as ‘transgendered’ anyway, even if many (and I’m actually often surprised at how many!) don’t really want to ‘transition’ — they want the ‘best of both worlds’, i.e. looking like women when wearing women’s clothes, but still being perfectly able to wear a suit and tie when going to work every day.

Surprisingly, this actually works to a degree.

Specially in countries where temperatures are low all year over, taking hormones to grow your breasts will often mean that they won’t be very visible, even beneath your clothing, specially when wearing the right kind of bra. Breast growth is related to a lot of factors and it’s highly unlikely that the average male will ‘suddenly’ develop huge D-cups just by going on hormones. Some might, but, as said, it’s unlikely. The major issue with hormone-induced breast growth is that the shape will change, to a point where you won’t be able to go to the beach without attracting attention — even B-cups on a large frame, which look like women’s breasts (and not ‘moobs’ — ‘male boobs’), will attract attention. But as long as you avoid the beach or any indoor activity requiring you to undress, you can definitely hide those. The same applies to hormone-induced fat distribution to your hips, tights and buttocks — wear looser clothing in straight lines and nobody will notice. At home, of course, when wearing a push-up bra with extra padding and tight-fitting, curve-enhancing dresses, the results might be astonishingly convincing.

For the past six months or so, I have been testing this theory — without taking hormones. I often wear my prosthetics under my male clothing at the office (I work at very late hours, nobody is around) — and put a loose jacket or raincoat on top of everything. It’s perfectly unnoticeable — even though I’m wearing a corset, hip padding, and, of course, my D-cup breast forms. I even do my ‘cleavage tricks’ and often wear a female top, just for fun, but obviously it’s all under the coat, where it becomes invisible. Nobody notices, even when I go out to dinner at the busy restaurants near my office 🙂 (well, if someone came into close contact with me, then yes, they would definitely notice it) All that is perceptible is that the loose clothing makes me look way much fatter than I really am, but few people have prejudice against fat people, as opposed to having prejudice against crossdressers.

Obviously, D-cups are not possible to hide under regular male tops or shirts. But B-cups are! To test that out, I often wear a B-cup push-up bra, and use those cheap NuBra ‘clones’ from China to add some extra padding. Well, these are unnoticeable except under the most tight-fitting clothes. Not even my wife knows when I’m wearing them!

Due to the genetics in my family — almost every female relative I have is flat-chested — it’s extremely unlikely that I might be able to get more than B-cups even at extreme hormone levels 🙂 (which would be life-threatening for me, since I have endemic high blood pressure — another ‘gift’ from genetics — and HRT is very dangerous in people with my condition)

So now I think I got a taste of why so many crossdressers, even without wishing transition, actually are fine with hormone therapy. They will get much better skin, less body hair, more feminine facial features (which will not be overly visible to most), and some bulges and curves in the right places — but those will be ‘invisible’ during their daily activity when they present themselves as males. Of course, when dressing up as women, things will be quite different! The only thing that one must forfeit is any public activity that requires undressing; and it also means that your doctor, who does your regular exams, will (and should) know what you’re doing. Well, and in most cases, it will also mean a reduced libido and less fulfilling sexual activity — that’s the price to pay.

Beyond that, we fall into the realm of pure transexuality, and full transition — where there is no (easy) turning back. And then we’re talking about Ultimate Crossdreaming: when your body is finally your female self-image, forever and ever.

When looking at that list, you can see that it’s not too different from other, similar lists, which, however, tend to classify each type as if they were separate and independent of each other. There is a lot of discussion about the genetics and embryology that is behind all those manifestations of transgenderism.

However, ‘crossdreaming’ is a more encompassing theory, that provides a common explanation for all those types, and that’s what makes it so appealing to me. It merely postulates that, at birth, crossdreamers have acquired a mindset that makes their self-image as females incredibly arousing and sexually stimulating. The various classes or types of crossdreamers are merely expressions of that mindset. It explains so-called ‘true transexuals’ — where the only possibly expression of the mindset, since birth, is to switch their bodies to the correct gender, the one that is in their minds — but also why so many crossdreamers don’t even need to crossdress to express themselves.

Crossdreaming does not explain all transgenderism. While there is certainly MtF and FtM crossdreaming, crossdreaming might not be able to explain gender fluidness (at least not with the same explanatory power it has for the bipolar MtF/FtM cases), bisexuality, asexuality, and similar gender issues. It also sets fetishism completely apart — it has nothing to do with crossdreaming, even if its manifestation (crossdressing) might, externally, be the same. Thus, it also provides therapists with an additional mechanism to aid patients to figure out what they really want. Furthermore, it also breaks loose from Blanchard’s theories, since crossdreaming does not ‘mandate’ sexual preference — for some, the self-image as a woman requires automatically having a male partner, but, for a small percentage of the population, just like it happens with cisgendered females, ‘being fully a woman’ may include having a female partner, both genders, or none.

It also provides an explanation for something else, which I found actually quite interesting, as it applies to so many crossdressers, that I wonder why it was never fully researched before: escapism.

Now, I personally dislike the word ‘escapism’ because of its negative connotations. It seems to automatically imply that escapism is ‘wrong’; another word for ‘escapism’ could be ‘fantasy’, but that also has negative connotations…

Escapism is one of the most important activities in human life — but we tend not to label most of our activities as ‘escapism’. When we come home from a hard day at work, are tired and frustrated, we turn on the TV or start reading a book — just to take our mind off work and our hard duties. We relax. We might go to the gym, or engage in some activity with our friends. In the past, people would go to church, read the Bible…

All that is technically ‘escapism’ — a way to ‘forget’ the hardship of ‘real life’. Even if we’re watching something ‘serious’ on TV — like the ‘Cosmos’ series — or reading a tough book on early 20th-century German philosophy… those are just more intellectual forms of escapism, but they’re nevertheless escapism. And so is posting things on our Facebook timeline.

Now, what researchers have found for years is that crossdressers in general, but certainly many transgendered people (pre- and post-op included), is that they are, on average, very creative people. Most are even rather talented. Most are considered above average in intelligence (although, sadly, in many cases, specially in underdeveloped countries, they have below-average education due to discrimination, and are very limited in what they can actually do).

These days, it’s very easy to see that happening all over the Internet. The amount of forums related to gender issues — I don’t mean ‘dating sites’, but discussion groups — or the sheer amount of transgendered art (from webcomics to movies) are in a much higher proportion (and demand!) than one would expect, assuming the average percentage of the population that is transgendered in some form. The maths don’t add up! Some have suggested that transgendered people avoid surveys, and that there are far more than we think, but on the Internet, because we still have a certain amount of privacy (alas, something that is getting less and less every day…), transgendered people feel more ‘comfortable’ in participating.

The alternative theory, which is postulated by the crossdreaming theories, is that crossdreamers have a constant urge to self-express (as females). As we have seen, this self-expression is mostly some form of crossdressing, but it’s clearly not the only one, and most definitely self-labeled crossdressers will also express themselves creatively in other forms.

For example, not every crossdresser is comfortable about posting their pictures or videos online. On the other hand, they might be fine in recording music, writing femdom novels, or posting their art on DeviantArt or similar sites. All those can be accomplished anonymously (or pseudonymously) and shared by the community. And the sheer amount of creative work is really astonishing!

For a few years, I thought that there was ‘only’ TG Comics as a resource of transgendered/transformation comics; a quick search through the forums showed that there were far more; and a so-called ‘World of TG‘ blog was allegedly tracking all TG comics in existence. But that was clearly just a tiny tip of the iceberg — by searching on a popular manga website (of which there are millions) for ‘crossdresser’ or ‘transgendered’, I quickly stumbled upon thousands and thousands of comics! In fact, just browsing one of those sites uncovered more comics than I can read in my entire life 🙂 — and I haven’t even searched on the other sites!

I give TG comics as an example — TG captions and TG novels are others — because this is the kind of content that is usually not ‘censored’. Pictures and videos are much more censored — even if it’s only by the community — and even though there are millions of TG videos on YouTube, it’s clear that there are far less than there should be. Good video streaming is not easy to do — as opposed to merely hosting images, PDFs, or plain text — and that also means that either you find TG videos on sex-related sites, or, well, they are on YouTube — unless they become ‘too popular’ and YouTube is asked to remove them as ‘offensive’ by transphobes and religious fundamentalists.

Still, no matter the asymmetry between the many creative types, the simple truth is that there is a wealth of TG creative material out there.

Why? Well, as said, the crossdreamer theory explains that as a form of easing the urges. It’s a coping mechanism: when a crossdreamer cannot express themselves in their preferred way (say, by crossdressing), then, as a form of escapism, they create art.

Interestingly enough, other crossdreamers, driven by the same urges, are quite willing to consume art, as a way to quench their own urges as well. Put into other words: if you can’t crossdress for some reason, at least you can watch a video of someone who is crossdressing (or read a novel about gender transformation), and that works as a temporary replacement. It’s still mildly satisfactory. And it’s consistent, predictable behaviour of crossdreamers, according to the theory, and, as such, tends to reinforce the idea that the theory is rather well grounded — even if it hasn’t been (as yet) given much thought by the academic community.

One might wonder, what if someone has no talent whatsoever? How can they engage in a fulfilling form of ‘escapism’?

Well, not everybody can be the next Picasso — or Möebius — that’s true. But there are lots of creative ways of self-expression. Keeping a blog — or an interesting community page on Facebook — are certainly alternatives for those who can write. Second Life is another typical medium where self-expression in the different gender is very easy and accessible — it’s a form of role-playing, if you wish, and which doesn’t require any so-called ‘artistic skills’ (see also my other article and read Nick Yee’s article on gender-bending in virtual worlds). And for those who like comics, like I do, but are utterly unable to draw anything (which is most definitely my case), there is always Bitstrips:

I completely missed the Bitstrips ‘fashion’ when it spammed half the world on Facebook, and just found it recently, and, as you might have noticed, I quickly became a fan 🙂 You might have read about my early attempts of trying to hire a comics artist to draw something from me — a rather long story — which utterly failed. Well, now I can do the whole story by myself — it won’t look anything like I would have wanted it to be, but I guess it’s better than nothing.

In the mean time, I’m using Bitstrips as complementary to my own tedious, long-winded, boring blog 🙂 As you can imagine, most of those strips are based on my personal experiences as a crossdresser, with a humorous twist 🙂 I’ve read that Bitstrips wanted to become something like ‘the illustrated Facebook’, where people, instead of writing short messages about what they are doing or how they’re feeling, would use images. Well, I accept that challenge 🙂

So, happy crossdreaming!

  • I just wanted to thank you for a very interesting article on crossdreaming. I have nothing to add, really…

    • Thanks for visiting, Jack! I truly appreciate the astonishing work you've been doing for the community, and I see you as one of my role models in terms of what one can do to help out the community!

  • An excellent summary, Sandra. Very helpful. I think, in my own case, I've moved in recent years from 'fetishistic crossdresser' to 'crossdreaming crossdresser' – a process I've written about on my own blog.

    • I loved to read your blog, Dabrela! I'm certainly going to visit a lot — you're my kind of blogger 🙂 Thanks for visiting!

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