Depression. Something that hits at least a tenth of the world population, but, in some Western countries, it can be as high as a third. That means that it’s one of the most-researched diseases, with over 30 different kinds of medicine ready to attack depression, as well as a plethora of techniques that psychologists and therapists use every day to help their patients.
The main problem with ‘depression’ is that it often doesn’t look to be what it is. Most people can be sad, crying a lot, feeling frustrated, grieving over a lost family member or friend, and that doesn’t make them ‘depressed’. Sadness is one thing; depression is another. And, on the extreme-case scenario, some might be so depressed as to consider suicidal thoughts, because they see no further point in living. These seem to be easy enough to diagnose (even though they might be hard to cure…).
In-between there are several ‘shades of gray’. These are not so well-known, are much harder to spot, can take years to develop, and the person who is depressed quite often doesn’t notice them until, by chance, someone gets them to a therapist for an evaluation. Their case might not be very serious but still worth considering.
Depression and gender dysphoria go hand-in-hand — or don’t they? The recent declassification of ‘gender identity disorder’ as a mental disease, which was abandoned from the DSM-5, follows the results of research in the past years. Individuals who crossdress or even go to transition are not necessarily unhappy. In fact, research showed that there is a large number of individuals that fully accept their crossdressing/gender dysphoria and are very, very happy about it. Such individuals do not require any sort of mental therapy to ‘adjust’ — they are happy to be exactly as they want to be. As such, it makes no sense to classify their state as a disorder. There is nothing inherently wrong of being a crossdresser, much less of wishing to go through transition, because one is happy about the whole idea.
Therapists, instead, should focus merely on the cases of gender dysphoria. Now this is a very misleading term, since there are few definitions of what a ‘dysphoria’ is, with which every therapist and researcher agrees. In general, it can mean a general sense of unwellness. Wikipedia defines dysphoria as ‘a profound state of unease or dissatisfaction. In a psychiatric context, dysphoria may accompany depression, anxiety, or agitation’. Put in other words: if your relationship with your assigned gender somehow creates you a state of unease, dissatisfaction, and causes depression, anxiety, or agitation, then you might have gender dysphoria.
Unfortunately it might not be that easy. Some of those definitions are circular; and some are chicken-and-egg situations, which require a therapist to correctly diagnose. For example, a depressed person might find out that crossdressing provides some sort of relief. So the cause for crossdressing might be the depression itself, and if that individual is ‘cured’ from the depression, they might not feel the urge to crossdress again. On the reverse side of the coin, a crossdresser, or transgendered person, might be so unhappy about their situation that they become depressed. In that case, the depression comes from gender dysphoria. The depression can be cured, but the urge to crossdress or transgenderism cannot.
And finally there are many gradations. Someone who enjoys crossdressing so much — because of the adrenaline and/or serotonin rushes — might actually crave for further crossdressing, because, well, we love the adrenaline and/or serotonin rush. Deprive that person from the ability to crossdress, and they feel down, or anxious. That might not necessarily be a ‘gender dysphoria’, but much more akin to someone who is addicted to adrenaline (say, someone who is into extreme sports) who has to constantly postpone their activities for several reasons, and gets frustrated as a result. This ‘frustration’ is usually not ‘dysphoria’, nor does it lead to ‘depression’. But, in some cases, it can. I don’t like the word ‘addiction’ related to adrenaline/serotonin rushes, because those are biological mechanisms to regulate our well-being — it would be like saying that we’re all addicted to breathing — but there are obvious parallels. At least, in the case of serotonin, it clearly makes one ‘feel well’, and it’s normal for human beings to wish for that feeling.
To summarize at this point: gender dysphoria and depression/anxiety can go hand in hand, but not all individuals who crossdress and/or go through transition are depressed/anxious, rather the contrary; and in many cases it’s also possible that crossdressing, for some, is just a form of escapism to deal with depression/anxiety/stress/etc.
For two decades I was aware of that, to a certain degree. When I crossdress, I feel great. When I dream about the next session of dressing, I feel anxious. When that session gets endlessly postponed, I feel down. If I’m a bit more reckless with my crossdressing — say, interacting with people while crossdressed — I get an adrenaline rush, and, naturally enough, I crave that rush afterwards. All this I consider to be ‘normal’ for anyone who is a crossdresser, for whatever reason they are crossdressing. And there are at least three: one is for the sexual objectification of women’s clothes (fetishism); the second and most popular reason is as an aid to get sexual pleasure when interacting with others; and the third and less frequent case is to enhance and derive some pleasure from manifesting one’s female self-image. These three types are not completely isolated between themselves, of course, but they have implications on the mental setup in each case, which is quite different; the three types, for example, interact quite differently with others, and it’s relatively easy to set them apart.
But, as said, the reason for crossdressing can vary, and it can have different origins and causes, many of which modern science hasn’t yet figured out. In all the three cases, however, there is no direct link with clinical depression/anxiety. There can be moods — feeling ‘high’ when one’s crossdressed, feeling ‘low’ when one is not — and certainly there can be frustration (or elation when a particular crossdressing session works out fine), but all those behaviours and emotions are perfectly normal, even if they become very intense.
So for over two decades I didn’t really pay attention to them. I was aware that it’s quite normal for crossdressers to feel ‘low’ when they’re not crossdressing and to feel ‘high’ when they are. That’s ok. It’s also normal, probably because we get so much pleasure from a CD session, that the frequency (or intensity) of those sessions tend to increase over time. If the pleasure comes mostly from the serotonin rush, this should be the case. If it also comes from the adrenaline rush, then it’s likely that one’s crossdressing might become, over time, a bit more ‘bold’. It means, at some stage, ‘coming out of the closet’ and sharing one’s female image — maybe first to a limited group of close online friends, and progressively moving to strangers, until it might mean going out in public, first on CD/trans-friendly events, later on everyday situations (like shopping at the local mall).
Knowing that in advance, I felt that my own ‘progression’ was well within the ‘normal parameters’ for any ‘regular crossdresser’. Sure, for some it might be faster, for others slower; some might live alone and have more chances to explore their female sides, others might have to carry the burden of an unsuspecting family and will have few opportunities to crossdress. I’m probably an ‘average’ on that as well: my wife will usually not give me enough free time for me to crossdress more than once per week, but that’s far better than before telling her, when I could only crossdress a few times per year, if at all.
It took me many, many years to start to pay attention to some slight details that were not ‘right’. Here I will have once more to mention my own Buddhist training, which, after a while, makes you much more aware of the way your own mind works. In fact, the Tibetan word for ‘meditation’ is actually gom, which means ‘to familiarize with’, and that’s what we mostly do: to get familiar with how the mind works. It’s impossible to condense several years of daily training into a single sentence, but I can say that I’m much more aware of what’s going on inside my mind, and why it happens as it does.
The point is not really becoming an expert in cognitive science 🙂 but rather to learn to identify certain classes of thoughts and emotions and be able to cope with them, or deal with them in a more functional way. Thus, before I picked up meditation classes, it was very frustrating for me to finish up my crossdressing session, pack my things, and go to bed. I would not only stay up as long as I could, but I would feel terribly down at the end of the session, and cry for a while in silence, before getting asleep — and sleep would not come easily anyway. Thanks to my training, I can identify precisely that thought or emotion of sadness and disregard its compulsivity — that mostly means that I know that everything has to finish some day, that I need my sleep, and that it’s pointless to cry over something which was not going to last forever anyway — and soon I’ll have a new opportunity again. Of course that doesn’t mean I’m sad, or sorry, when I clean up after a crossdressing session. It just means that I’m not completely broken, overwhelmed, feeling horribly frustrated at the end. It’s with a light mood and a smile that I go to sleep, enjoying the brief moments of happiness I had — because, ultimately, all this moments will be brief anyway, and it’s pointless to ‘pretend’ that we can stretch them ‘forever’.
For some years, the training also helped me in dealing with some anxiety; and with the frustration when my wife changes all my plans. But that’s the limit of my own abilities. I simply haven’t practiced enough to be able to deal with anything much deeper.
In the past months, and more intensively in the last few weeks or even days, it started to astonish me how many new, ‘strange symptoms’ I was exhibiting, which clearly were not ‘normal’ for me. Perhaps the first sign came from becoming a bit obsessive about my next CD session, and by that I don’t mean ‘obsessive’ in the good sense (if there is one). For years I have been used to getting excited about the next session, and I consider that ‘normal’ for a crossdresser. It is, after all, not much different from, say, a sports fan getting excited about the upcoming game. But in my case it started to become deeper and profounder. I spend hours thinking exactly about what I’m going to wear, how to apply makeup this time, what to do over the hours I’m dressed, and so forth. Again, since to a degree this was always what I have been doing in the past two decades, it didn’t seem ‘different’. But it is. Now what happens is that I push aside all other thoughts, even important ones (regarding work, for instance), and start inwardly day-dreaming about the next session. And, at night, although I always sleep well, I drop into unconsciousness bliss while mentally going through my checklist over and over again.
Because there are so many disappointments regarding my meticulous and careful planning, I engage in my own defenses as well. I start thinking about ‘Plan B’ — what to do if my wife comes up with one of her usual stunts that prevent me from dressing again. Fortunately, at this stage, I get some contentment from ‘Plan B’. It can be something as simple as updating my blog, participating in a forum, or shopping for some more nail polish.
The crossdreamer community, which have coined the term, tend to explain that there are several ways of one’s female self-image to manifest (in case of MtF crossdreamers). Crossdressing, or even transition, is the more obvious, physical way of doing so, but it is by no means the only one. Many crossdreamers never feel the urge of wearing some women’s clothes but might spend all day writing transgender fiction, or reading TG comics. For crossdressers like me — crossdreamers who manifest their inner self-image by projecting it to our attire and behaviour — these activities work as ‘replacement therapy’. And, in the past year or so, they have become, for me, far more frequent, to the point that hardly a day passes without my reading of a TG comic or participating in a TG forum somewhere.
‘Replacement manifestation of crossdreaming’ has become, for me, way more intense and routine. In fact, there was a time, a decade ago, that I thought I could quell my urges by just crossdressing once a week. That would also mean I would worry little over the week before that session. In fact I remember that on my first sessions I would open the bags with all my female attire and accessories and think about the few options I had to wear on the spot.
These days, it’s all so much complicated. Every day I have a routine where I check if my brows and nails have been properly taken care of; I see if I have the exact shade of nail polish ready for the next session, or if that bottle has already dried out. I sweep briefly through all my clothes just to remind myself which I haven’t worn in a while and it’s time to use them again. I check the weather reports in advance to try to figure out what to wear — will it be raining? Will it be cold?
That’s obsessive behaviour.
But wait, there is more. During the week I’m constantly doing tiny things that relates to my crossdressing. I might bring some dress to get it fit; I might do some window shopping to see if there is suddenly something nice I can buy. I bring some nail polish to the office, or a nail file, and do my nails when everybody has gone. When looking at my mailbox, I read the occasional blog on fashion or makeup tips. All this is a sort of ‘build-up’ of expectations that results in a dressing session, sooner or later. Then, afterwards, there are pictures to post, videos to edit, comments to answer, so the ‘session’ isn’t completely over, even if a day or two has passed. I might wash my wig afterwards, or some of the underwear which is too delicate for the washing machine. I might make some mental notes on some things that require some mending or sewing or, well, giving away to charity (if they’re still in good condition) or throwing away (if they’re not). So there is a fluid merging of post-session chores into the upcoming pre-session chores, and, slowly, it seems as if all my life is basically just worrying about crossdressing.
On top of that, there are the many ‘replacement’ behaviours: blogging, participating in forums, browsing through online webshops, searching for some TG comics to read every day, reading articles about transgenderism — both the ones written by the community and the ones coming from academia.
You’re right, there seems not to be much time left for anything else but house chores and driving my wife around. And its true, and this became my second sign of alert: these days, besides those things that I’m ordered to do (mostly by my wife), and everything related to my crossdressing, there is little energy left for anything else. And yes, that includes most of my work.
Now, I have always looked at myself as being a fundamentally lazy person, procrastinating all the time, and rushing everything at the last possible minute to get things done just in time. While this is a lovely image I’ve created of myself, and one that I present to others as an explanation or excuse for my behaviour, it is by no means very accurate. Looking into the past, and I don’t need to look back for so long, I can see that this is not how I used to be. In fact, my professional training is in computer systems administration: this means often days of inactivity and boring, repetitive tasks (like doing backups!), but, when an emergency pops up, it means very intense work for hours upon hours at a stretch, until the problem is fixed. Sometimes this means 36 or 40 hours of continuous, intensive work, with few breaks, and no sleep. On other occasions, to prevent such emergencies to happen, it might mean two weeks or so of highly intensive work to try to get everything properly working. In the mean time, between emergencies, there is routine maintenance work, and the opportunity to learn new things, to become better prepared to deal with the next emergency.
There is really no opportunity to be ‘lazy’ or ‘procrastinating’ in my area of work. When an emergency happens, you just snap to it.
Now, it’s true that, with time and experience, those ’emergencies’ become rare, but I can notice that, these days, outside emergencies, I don’t really get much done. And I excuse myself saying that I’m just lazy, and that I had always been lazy in the past. But that’s not exactly correct. For some reason, even the simplest thing — like writing an email — requires a tremendous amount of effort. While writing 5,000 words on my blog does not.
That started to baffle me a few years ago. Why can I spend hours writing about crossdressing; or spend hours doing my makeup; but if I have to finish a research article for publication, I take eternities? I keep postponing it, find all sorts of excuses for not doing it right now. And quite often it takes far less time than the time I ‘waste’ posting articles here and there about crossdressing and transgenderism.
Often I return home late at night, having accomplished absolutely nothing during the whole day, but feeling exhausted and tired, as if I had been working all day at top speed. But I had just been writing things about crossdressing on a forum or other. I did nothing worthwhile. I still feel wasted and tired.
These signs were hardly obvious, since they appeared very slowly. Three or four years ago, this would go on for a week or two, and then I would catch up quickly. It might be months until I started procrastinating again for a few days… or maybe a couple of weeks. Overall, however, I always managed to catch up. Since I work seven days per week, without vacations, I also feel I’m entitled to a ‘slower’ week once in a while, when I do less work and focus more on things that please me.
But over the past few years, the ‘work weeks’ have shrunk more and more, while the ‘do nothing but pleasing things weeks’ have grown more and more.
And it’s not exactly that I only do pleasing things during those weeks. In fact, if I list one of those days, I find few ‘pleasing’ moments in it. I’m enjoying writing this article, of course. And later on I might be playing a game or two. But the rest of the day has just been house chores, walking a few km under heavy rain to buy things at the supermarket, worrying about what the cats have been destroying lately, and driving my wife around. When I return home, there will be a plethora of small tasks to do before sitting down to relax. But relax… from what? I haven’t done exactly a lot at work. Maybe send an email or two. Maybe read one article or two related to my work. The rest has been spent in crossdressing-related ‘replacement’ activities.
Before my wife started to go back to university — which happened last year — our major point of discussion was about ‘time’. She and I never agreed to how much ‘time’ I needed for doing things. She constantly underestimates the time that things require. A typical example: she yells at me when I tell her that I need one hour to get ready (meaning taking a bath and do my daily hygiene routine), and considers that she just takes ‘a few minutes’. Which is completely off the track, of course: I have used a chronometer, and she takes the same hour as I do. But for her it seems less. She is then always surprised why we’re always late, and somehow blames it all on me, but just in a vague way, because often she is baffled that I have been ready and waiting for her for an hour, and that hour is gone without her noticing it (because, in her mind, ‘only a few minutes’ have passed).
My usual discussions would be around the time needed to answer emails. At the time we used to work together at the same company (which still exists, but it just has one customer, who doesn’t request much work from us anyway), she would get furious at me for not doing anything she had asked. I complained that, as agreed, I had the task of replying to customer mails, and those take time. She complained that I wrote too long mails and took way too long to answer them. This could get ugly quickly, so I usually backed off, agreed that I wasn’t very quick in replying to emails. Then, after working hours, she would spend all evening writing an email to a good friend in the UK, and, around midnight or so, she would suddenly realise that we hadn’t had dinner yet, and hurriedly excuse herself because she was so intensively focused on her email that she lost all notion of time. I would shrug that off; after all, I know how long it takes to write emails. She then would grumble that I ought to have had something for dinner, and I would tell her I’d been waiting for her. Depending on her mood, this might have gotten her exploding or becoming embarrassed and apologetic.
The point is that she has no clear idea on how much time things actually take, and that’s why she’s always late. But the if I just give the slightest hint about that, I get verbal abuse for hours. So I gave up on that. Instead, I do everything at home except dinner and cleaning the cat’s litter box, so that she has more time to write emails, or do her university work, or rest if she wishes. And I know quite well about the time I take doing things, so I never start anything if I don’t know in advance that I will have a ‘free slot’ ahead of me to finish it in time.
That leads to strange behaviour, like waiting for my wife to go and have a nap so that I can wash my wig; because I know that it will take at least half an hour. If I do it while she’s waiting for me to do some chores, then I’ll get more verbal abuse. So I prefer to do it when she’s asleep. Things get done, I’m happy, and she can’t complain while she’s asleep. The trick about doing a lot of chores to ‘excuse’ my crossdressing time is something I have picked up from long ago. Similarly, while she’s at the university, I pick up all shopping lists that she spreads around the home, and do it all — trying, that way, to avoid that she postpones another crossdressing session when I have free time. Unfortunately, because she doesn’t trust me with meat and vegetables, it’s always during my free days that we have to go out and shop for that. She’s also fond of not saying what we’re running low, sometimes too late for me to go out again, meaning that there is no other solution but to go out during my free days for crossdressing — and seriously cutting on my ‘me’ time.
That’s also a reason why I started bringing some clothes to the office. It’s not 100% safe. Almost everybody is gone when I arrive; but sometimes there are some stragglers. Because everybody has a key, it’s not impossible that they come in to pick up something they forgot. I was almost caught twice. Not many weekends ago, I was at the office on a Saturday afternoon, fully dressed (but with no makeup), trusting that nobody would be working on a weekend. Last week a colleague told me that he would be ‘often’ at the office during the weekend. It was just by sheer luck that he didn’t come on that Saturday!
And there is also a slight issue. If I put a wig on, it will wrinkle my real hair beneath. My wife notices that. And if she starts suspecting that I bring some of my clothes to the office, she’ll go haywire.
In fact, she goes haywire over so many things, that these days I start to have some difficulties picking up some subjects to talk with her. Her hormonal imbalances and seasonal pain from fibromyalgia aren’t helping, either. This is very awkward for me, because since the beginning of our relationship, we would talk about every possible subject for hours and hours. I even remember quite clearly that I stated, many times, how it was so strange to see couples that didn’t talk to each other, when we two had so much to say, all the time, on so many different subjects.
But her illnesses make her moods very hard to predict. A typical example, I might start a conversation about the latest feat in space exploration, a theme that she loves. If she’s in a good mood, we can talk about that for hours. If she’s not, she’ll immediately snap at me, saying that I should stop reading so many websites about space exploration, and focus on my PhD instead, because otherwise I will be complaining that I didn’t have time to finish my work. A few years ago I’d become defensive and say that I also need some rest now and then, but she would be too angry at me to accept that argument. These days, it just gets worse. Very few subjects are ‘safe’. A friend lent me a history book about the two world wars — another subject that delights her — but when I told her about my impressions over the first chapter, since she was in pain from fibromyalgia, she immediately attacked me for believing the ‘crap’ that those historians write these days. I quickly dropped the subject.
I could go on and on with many similar examples, but the ones that worry me most are not to be able to talk to her about my health conditions — both physical and mental. Because of her fibromyalgia, I’m not ‘allowed’ to feel any physical pain, because hers is so much more intense and enduring, and all my complaints are mere mockeries. She gets positively upset at me if I make the slightest complain. Nevermind that my back is a wreck and that means I shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting; until recently, I was even forbidden by my doctors to walk (fortunately, that restriction has been lifted, and I’m back to my half-an-hour walks per day as before). It’s only when I wake up unable to move and have to limp to a doctor that she shows some slight concern, but still mistrusts my ‘complains’. And of course I have to hide from her when I’ve got a fever — it cannot be possibly anything serious. A few years ago it was only when I fainted at her mother’s dinner that she conceded that there might be something wrong with me at all. I got electrocuted some years back and lost conscience, while we were doing some repair work for some friends, and all she was worried was to get a ride back home in time, and why I was taking so long to unscrew the fixtures on the ceiling anyway?
It sounds far worse when written.
In reality, I think that this is not uncommon. When someone is severely ill, and struggles with one’s illnesses, everybody else’s illnesses pale in comparison, and they’re not to be taken seriously. This is true for both physical issues, but also for mental issues as well.
In 2007, my wife had a series of panic and anxiety attacks, and some mild depression to go with both. She got therapy for many years and did a full recovery. She got from me all the support I could possibly give her, not being a trained professional, but definitely there was a lot that I could do, namely, to try to avoid all situations that could trigger her anxiety. This is still the main reason why I don’t go out in public fully dressed — she genuinely gets very anxious about that (she’s not faking it!). It took her many years to admit that I could go out at 3 or 4 AM in the morning, because nobody would be around, and would eat all her happy pills before I went out. These days, now that she’s been pronounced as ‘cured’, she doesn’t need to take any medicine. But she also knows I won’t do anything that she doesn’t allow. We have an understanding, and she trusts me to keep to my promises.
So I avoid, at all costs, all such situations that might trigger her anxiety. For example, yesterday I had a rather lousy crossdressing session; I was so exhausted from all the chores that I had to do, plus waiting ten hours until finally my wife ‘decided’ that it was now time to go shopping for meat and vegetables, that I didn’t dress for very long. I did not go out (the weather was not inviting, anyway) and I didn’t take any pictures nor made any movies. In fact, I got to bed earlier than she did.
Naturally enough, because this session was not satisfactory, I thought all morning how to do another one today. My wife would be at the university for about 6 hours, from 6 PM to midnight. Being Friday evening, it would mean a long commute home (especially because it was raining), but I thought I could drop her at the university, drive back and be at home at, say, 7 PM, take my usual 3 hours to do the whole routine, and… what next?
Well, I broke our IKEA tea cup yesterday, so I was really considering driving to IKEA and buy a new one. There are two IKEA megashops near Lisbon, one of which we (and our closest friends and family) never use, so it would be a place relatively safe to go. And there is a nearby mall to grab a bite… and then go and pick my wife to drive her back home. Of course, it would mean picking her up fully dressed, and that would naturally mean a string of abuse, lots of kicking and screaming, a few days of getting the cold, silent shoulder, and forbidding me to go out again for many months.
The curious thing about all that, as I reviewed my options, was that I didn’t care so much as before. There was a certain feeling of overall indifference. And that is also unusual. I thought to myself, so what? I’m used to getting that verbal abuse. I just don’t put myself in the deliberate position of getting it because I don’t want to upset my wife and trigger one of her anxiety attacks. But, on the other hand, I was thinking to myself, ‘would it be worth all the trouble?’ and getting mostly a ‘yes’ for an answer.
The sole reason why I didn’t get ahead with my plan was because she would consider it ’emotional blackmail’. We both know that she cannot simply walk away and leave the home; she has no friends that would give her a place to stay. She might be able to sleep a few nights at her sister’s place, but it’s not comfortable enough. And what next? She has no income and no way to get a physical job (because of her illnesses), the only kind available to someone who has not finished their higher education. She could theoretically kick me out of home, but that’s all right, just the money saved in gas to drive her to university and back every day would allow me to rent a place somewhere, and it’s not as if we’re legally married — she has no claim over the apartment in any case, since it was bought before she started living together. So she knows that she cannot go to extremes. And she knows that I know. That means that all attempts to push her into extreme measures is a form of emotional blackmail.
And that is beneath me.
So, as ‘replacement therapy’ as an alternative of going out dressed, I just packed some clear nail polish, and did my nails. I didn’t even dress at the office.
Nevertheless, this episode — by no means the only one, but the most recent, and as such still clear in my memory — shows that I’m developing a certain degree of overall indifference towards things that I once held as important. In fact, pretty much everything, these days, I see as obstacles to crossdressing. For years I have complained that I have less and less control over my life, but there has been an increase in that feeling recently. I’m little more than an automaton without free will. I merely exist to do chores and useless things for others. My health, physical or mental, is irrelevant to anyone; in fact, when I try to discuss my symptoms of depression with my wife, she quickly disregards them. She even told me once that I suffered from some sort of ‘sympathetic mental issue’, where I ‘mirror’ or ‘copy’ her symptoms and believe, in a deluded way, that I suffer from the same things. After having heard that a few times, I simply stopped telling her about any of my symptoms whatsoever — it’s when they’re starting to become extreme that I go to the hospital.
Rounding it up
Ranting is good, but it tends to demonize my own wife, when I’m sure that she has very good reasons for behaving as she does, and the best of intentions of doing so. One, of course, is to make me constantly evaluate how ‘serious’ my crossdressing urges are. I understand that this is actually the toughest challenge for every therapist. People lie to therapists in order to get what they want; therapists know that, and patients know that they know, so they just lie better. But quite often we’re just lying to ourselves, and I think that’s what my wife is forcing me to face: am I just pretending? Is crossdressing really just a hobby to me, and I’m just behaving as a spoilt child who gets angry and throws a tantrum when it doesn’t get what it wants? Maybe. Of course I tend to answer ‘no! I’m serious about it!’ when not thinking much about the answer. But my wife is pushing me to try harder, and avoid the ‘easy answer’. If I’m serious, then I have to be able to see for myself, inside my mind, how serious I really am, and eventually learn to cope with it.
And introspection is what I’ve been doing, and definitely found some things that surprised me.
Firstly, I get overly bothered by all the amount of chores and tasks that I’m ‘forced’ to do every day, specially on those days that I have free for crossdressing. I do them all, but it requires a lot of willpower to go through them. And I get often very frustrated about what I did. A typical example: cleaning the whole home, losing two precious hours of my time (our house is small), just to have the cats spoiling everything in minutes, and having to start from scratch. It makes me always wonder what’s the point of cleaning anything. I still do it, but get exhausted, and not all of it is physical.
Then there is this constant struggle to curb my feelings. Sometimes I want to yell out, vent my frustration, demand a little bit of happiness, or cry in despair. Instead, I block all of that. I always think that others are not supposed to be ‘exposed’ to my emotions; they have their own problems and couldn’t care less about my own. So, with others, I hide my feelings, and usually I’m the one spreading good humour and happiness all around, even if inside the only thing I want to do is to cry.
There is this ‘automaton’ thing which has become second nature to me — or even first nature. It’s not just my wife; she’s just the closest example, because we live together almost 24h/7. But pretty much everybody just orders me around. I think I can trace it back to mid-2004, when suddenly all my life collapsed, and for two weeks I was deeply depressed and almost catatonic. People had just to tell me what to do, because I couldn’t trust myself to make any decision. While I have quickly recovered from that, there is now a lingering feeling that, in truth, I have absolutely no choice in my life. I often even have to ask for permission to use my own toilet. There is, however, a change when I dress: somehow, I feel I have a little bit of control during the time I dress up. And a bit of freedom when I go out or when my wife is asleep and I can have some fun conversations with friends and strangers on the Internet. But that’s pretty much it. The rest is simply as if I have forfeited any claims on the right to decide on my own. In recent years I even try to anticipate what others will demand of me and do those things in advance, to avoid being yelled at because I haven’t done them quickly enough. Because most people are completely unpredictable, at least from my perspective, this naturally fails. While I have given up on being frustrated for not being able to control my own life — there was no point in being frustrated, as in the old saying: ‘If something goes wrong, and you can do something to fix it, why worry? If something goes wrong and you cannot do anything to fix it, why worry?’ — it also means that every day just seems to be a worthless waste of time, full of things I cannot control, while I patiently and reluctantly wait for the next opportunity to dress. Nothing else is important any more.
I still make plans — but almost all plans will ultimately fail. It has become impossible for me to correctly predict which plans will go ahead, and which won’t. I’m surrounded by people who cannot commit to a specific date to do things. They leave those dates open, and will tell me hours, or sometimes just minutes in advance, if they will need me or not. So I cannot plan ahead. Over time, my own plans just become fiction — merely a way for me to entertain myself intellectually, but not really serving any real purpose. This makes it increasingly hard to have set deadlines for my work as well — ‘something’ will always pop up, interfere with my schedule, and I won’t be able to meet the deadline. It feels as it’s not because of my lack of commitment, but because everything I plan ahead will be met with obstacles which I cannot control and cannot overcome.
Others clearly don’t think or behave that way. Or, if they do, they don’t seem to be so anxious about it at all. I get laughed at by my wife when I run mentally a map of how to go to a certain place, considering the traffic at the hour, and the complicated logic of one-way streets which tend to change every few months. My wife says that I have some kind of obsession in planning routes. Now I keep that to myself, but it’s clear that others aren’t worried about planning ahead.
It’s also clear to me that most people don’t have any obsessions — except for those who, indeed, have been diagnosed with some sort of obsessive disorder. They don’t need to ‘plan’ for their activities, because they have predictable routines. I’m not fond of routines myself, but I’m fond of planning ahead some things, but not all. For instance, in the rare cases when I make a trip, I don’t plan ahead what I’m going to pack. I just leave that for a couple of hours before departure. Others, I observe, start thinking about their lists of things to carry with them a few days ahead. So clearly others have different priorities in what is important for them to plan ahead. That makes them less anxious and more happy. Why do I have different priorities?
Then comes exhaustion, fatigue, and a sense of putting too much effort in everything. I’m supposed to be working for a third of the day, and rest for the remainder of the time. But when it’s time to work, I’m already exhausted before I start. I procrastinate or turn my mind to completely different things, and so I waste a whole day doing basically nothing worthwhile. One would expect that I’d return home relaxed, but, in fact, I feel even more tired.
I’m constantly on the defensive. This might have echoes from my childhood, or maybe not, but the truth is that these days I’m always quick to apologise before getting yelled at. And it seems so unfair. I truly do my best to please everybody around me, friends and strangers alike, but all I get in return is verbal abuse for ‘not doing enough’. This has made me overly sensitive. I’m tired of being yelled at — or, even if it’s not actual ‘yelling’, I’m also tired of being scorned and criticized for everything I do.
I’m getting slower at doing the most simple things. At the beginning, nobody noticed that, not even myself, but at some point, not so long ago, I started getting verbal abuse for not being so fast. It’s mostly small things, like finding the keys to open the car, or packing the plastic bags to drop them in the container afterwards. People around me start to lose patience at my slowness and yell and taunt me, and that is endlessly frustrating, since it just makes me do things twice as slowly. I often struggle in finding more time to do simple tasks when nobody is noticing, so that they don’t complain so much.
There is an overall feeling that I’m constantly disappointing others. In some cases this is real: they tell me as much. In others it’s just imagined. I strive very hard to be liked by everybody, attending to everybody’s wishes and desires. At first, I did that to make them happier, and eventually get their thanks. More recently I started doing it so that they don’t complain so much and yell less at me. My wife has long ago said that this was one of my major faults, this urge to please everybody and worry about what they think of me; that always lands me in awkward situations where people take advantage of me. So recently I’ve tried to be more indifferent to what others think of me, but I’m not necessarily more happy because of that.
And finally, there is some endless frustration of having completely failed to realize my ultimate nature. I joke with this publicly labelling myself ‘a failed transexual’. ‘True’ transexuals, as per my own definition, know exactly what they want — to transition to the opposite gender — and that becomes their only goal in life. Everything else — family, friends, home, job, acceptance — becomes secondary. Of course it’s not so easy. They will need to deal with all of that quite early on their transition, and they also know they will require help to do so. But it’s something they are willing to endure just to attain their desired goal. In my case, however, I don’t have that strong drive. The transgendered world is full of success cases, and a few setbacks now and then, which are rare. You simply don’t get many ‘failed transexuals’ telling about their experiences. They either think they’re transgendered, but a professional therapist, at some point, shows that they’re just deluded and that their issue is something entirely different, so these people disappear from the Internet. You simply don’t get enthusiastic writers in the community saying ‘I thought I was a crossdresser, but after all it was just a stress-induced pattern of behaviour, I feel much better now since I quit my stressful job and picked up gardening’. Sure, once in a while you see that kind of thing. Sometimes these people even post on forums thanking for all the support of the community, but after therapy they realized that they hadn’t been transgendered all along, they just thought they were, and, as such, this would be their last message in this forum.
On the reverse side of the coin, a bit over a decade ago, I thought I’d be a ‘happy crossdresser’ as so many others: the kind of person who has no problem in ‘switching genders’, either as a hobby, a form of stress relief, a form of escapism that beats TV, computer games, or drugs. They just enjoy their ‘normal’ lives and are crossdressers as part of their lives: fully integrated, without regrets, but also without anxiety or frustration. That’s what I wanted to be; that’s what I thought I was, back by the turn of the century. Some males like to watch sports to relax; I prefer to wear women’s clothes. Neither activity ‘defines’ them fully, but both activities are merely part of their identity.
It’s clear to me that I’m not quite like that. While obviously crossdressing is a source of serotonin for me (and also adrenaline!), and this definitely relieves tension and stress, it’s also a source of stress, anxiety, obsession, and frustration when I’m not crossdressed. This is not how it’s supposed to be; or at least it’s not what I want it to be!
On the other hand, for long I’ve maintained that I’m a poor excuse of a male; I’m mostly a failure in ‘maleness’, and, to be honest, I gave up on ‘doing male things’ way, way long ago. But I’m also not good at being female. It has a very strong appeal, but I have this distinct feeling that it should be something I’d have to be born in, and trained from childbirth to be good at being female. I have all sorts of handicaps, the most important of them having to learn so many things (and unlearn a few), practice so much, but having little time for that, when genetic females have been females 24h/7 since birth. There is some sense of unfairness there. Even the ugliest female on the planet has huge advantages over me when acting her assigned gender role at birth. For me it’s also a constant struggle. But it didn’t feel like that, not so much time ago. I remember writing how ‘acting female’ was so much natural to me, and required so little effort. Well, nowadays I’m way more critical. I watch my own videos from 2007, and the comments I made, and now I can only think, ‘how could I possibly be so deluded?’ In retrospective, I think that I was so happy of being able to manifest some aspects of my female gender identity, that I was completely absorbed into my former overconfidence, which made me completely blind to reality. It was total delusion. In a sense, I’m now glad that I didn’t go out in public back then! I was completely ridiculous.
These days, I’ve learned more, and I have improved somewhat, but I’m much more critical. I’ve also learned — and it came as a shock to me! — that most people who compliment me for some reason are not being realistic in their compliments. It was the book that I reviewed recently that opened my eyes. In the context of crossdressing, fellow crossdressers will have a different perception of reality, and see things that ‘normal’, cisgendered things don’t see. My female self-image will look ‘acceptable’ to me in the mirror, and most fellow crossdressers will agree with that, because they share a similar perception of reality as well, and, in that context, they are being truthful in their compliments. The opposite is also true. I feel physically attracted to many crossdressers, who, in my eyes, are indistinguishable from genetic women, often with better taste and fashion sense than many genetic women I know, and I truthfully compliment them on their looks. This is really not different from what genetic females are constantly doing, complimenting each other and giving mutual support and encouragement.
The perception of cisgendered people is, however, quite different. And this is apparent for anyone who, like me, is fond of appearing on webcam, in different contexts. When presenting myself in a context where everybody knows that I’m a crossdresser, everybody will ‘play along’ with it, and ‘pretend’ that I’m female, and react accordingly. Even cisgendered males who are fond of transgendered individuals (or even sexually attracted to them) will ‘play along’ in precisely the same fashion. It’s not a question of being ‘passable’ or not. It’s merely a question of context. When switching contexts, and trying to pretend I’m really a female, almost everybody will immediately ‘read’ me, and I’m often shocked and surprised in how quickly they do it — I would expect at least a few moments of hesitation and doubt, but that’s not what really happens.
So the truth is that I’m quite aware of my status of being ‘non-passable’ in a cisgendered environment. This is something which would not change even with transition, and, as such, it’s a source of anxiety and frustration for me. It means that even if transition were recommended in my case, it would serve no purpose, as the end result would not be satisfactory: legally, I would be a woman, but no cisgendered person would view me as being a woman, but merely a transexual. Granted, the transgender community would definitely accept me unquestioningly. It is also conceivable that a few selected cisgendered friends with a very open mind would tolerate my transexuality. But not the world-at-large; for them, there would be no way to ‘hide’ my origins as having been born a male.
Well, when I first considered all the above issues, this seemed to me to have strong correlations with both gender dysphoria and clinical depression. Both, of course, are tied together. Because I don’t know for how long I might have some sort of depression, it’s hard to say what is the chicken, and what is the egg. I would claim, at this stage, that the gender dysphoria came first, and an aggravation of its symptoms produced depression, but that is something that only a therapist can know for sure. My own opinion is too biased.
Luckily, clinical depression, if diagnosed, can be cured (in the sense of getting rid of it, even forever). Gender dysphoria, as the ‘bad’ side-effects of suffering from a problem with gender identity, can also be ‘cured’, in the sense that the person with gender dysphoria can stop suffering — eliminating ‘dysphoria’. That doesn’t mean that you can ‘cure’ transgenderism. Assuming that I can be treated for clinical depression and gender dysphoria, I will just become a ‘happy crossdresser’ instead, which is what I thought I was some 15 years ago.
And because of that, I’m starting to search for therapists. It seems that I cannot afford to be privately treated (my insurance covers psychology, so long as I pick a therapist from their list, but I couldn’t find a single therapist who is simultaneously an expert in gender dysphoria and works with my insurance company), so I will need to have to deal with the professionals from the national health service. And I have to do that quickly. This is currently affecting my work to a serious degree, and people are noticing my lack of performance and result, and starting to complain.
It’s time to stop pretending that I can ‘cure myself’. I have no idea what the diagnosis actually will be. There is definitely a component of dysphoria and depression, but I can also see a lot of obsessive behaviour and anxiety. The treatment for each case is different, and it’s not unusual for gender dysphoric individuals to exhibit all three aspects at the same time. I will also need to be careful about any medical therapy that I might be allowed to take, since I have some heart-related issues, all of them minor, but I’m part of a risk group. For instance, HRT is often shown to be great to deal with all symptoms of gender dysphoria simultaneously, but HRT might be simply too dangerous for people with my condition — which is a pity, because I would certainly enjoy the benefits of HRT (and for someone who already has zero libido, HRT wouldn’t affect me on that issue anyway), even though no miracles would be possible without surgery. But surely some softening of my angular face would be a plus, as well as a greater distribution of fat towards the hips (meaning that I would need less padding). There is no way that HRT will induce large breast growth in my case — as I often repeat myself, there is just one aunt of mine who has large breasts, all females in both sides of my family are flat-chested — but remaining flat-chested (I do have some breast tissue, though) might also be a slight advantage, since it would mean no weird questions…
And I have this idea that this feeling that I’m surrounded by obstacles, most of them coming from my wife, are just a mild form of paranoid delusion caused by depression. Once that gets treated, I will very probably see my own wife under different eyes. Maybe she never really put any obstacles, they were just imagined and exaggerated because of my current state of mind. After all, I do get to dress about once per week on average, which was not more and not less than what I expected when I came out to her back in early 2005. Maybe as I go through therapy I will realize that, after all, my wife has just been sticking with our agreement all that time, and that I don’t really need to crossdress more to feel good about myself.
Anyway, I’m full of expectations already. Right now, all I wish is to become functional again in my work. That’s the only important thing. The doctors can diagnose whatever they wish, so long as they are able to cure it, and the less chemicals it takes, the better for me.