Types of Crossdressers: A Typology of
Transgender Persons with Behaviorally Significant
Amounts of Internal Motivation

by James T Kimber


Lake Worth, FL (April 28, 2009).— The former Largo city manager who was fired after her plans to have a sex change became public has started her new job as the city manager for Lake Worth. Susan Stanton — formerly known as Steven — started Monday. (© TheAssociated Press)

Los Angeles, CA (June 11, 2009).— Chastity Bono is having a sex change to become a man. A spokesman for Bono, born a girl to Sonny and Cher, says he “has made the courageous decision to honor his true identity” and began the sex-change process earlier this year. Publicist Howard Bragman said Bono is proud of his decision and hopes “that his choice to transition will open the hearts and minds of the public regarding this issue.” (© The Associated Press)


Introduction to the Gender-Sex Mismatch Phenomenon

Gender is an interesting topic in part because its nature is so different from what most people insist on believing. It is widely accepted in academic circles today that most if not all genetic males have some feminine qualities, and most if not all genetic females have some masculine qualities. At the outset, I should say that here I will be using the terms “feminine” and “masculine” to denote core feelings, deep intuitions probably having at least some innate basis, recognizing of course that all societies embroider genetic sex (i.e., XX or XY chromosome structures) with large numbers of presumed qualities that have little or no basis in biology. Nonetheless, individuals such as Susan Stanton and Chastity Bono (see the quotations above) clearly believe that they, at least, have strong internal “gender compasses” that are not simply products of the way their parents raised them or the subtle messages they received from teachers, friends, and other agents of socialization while growing up. Consistent with that, organized “crossdressing” groups such as Tri-Ess insist that their thousands of members, all genetic males, have durable feminine personality dimensions that are simply too strong and too basic to go away even after years of skilled counseling. “Crossdressers” such as the members of Tri-Ess want to express their “feminine dimension” on an occasional basis through clothing and makeup, while “transsexuals” such as Stanton seek to obliterate their “masculine dimension” and live their “feminine dimension” full-time, being accepted in their communities as if they were in fact genetic women.


human cell
Terminology.— Every human cell has 23 pairs
of chromosomes, giving a total of 46 per cell.
The 23rd pair for typical females is designated
XX and for typical males is designated XY. A
person’s experienced “gender sense” may
correspond to her/his 23rd chromosome pair
(herein called same-gender feelings) or differ
from it (herein called cross-gender feelings).

-

This idea of gendered personality dimensions, feminine and masculine, whose relative strengths are largely innate but imperfectly correlated with genetic sex, can be found in cultures as diverse as those of Thailand, Great Britain, the United States, India, and Brazil. Moreover, many cultures recognize a “third sex” or a “two-spirited person,” understood as a biological man who also has the soul of a woman or a biological woman who also has the soul of a man. The vast array of otherwise quite different cultures containing non-dichotomous notions of gender hint at the importance of gender as a human feature not synonymous with chromosomal sex. Assuming that there is at least some factual basis for these widely held conceptions, it might be useful to explore the variations among persons who feel that there is some degree of mismatch between their gender feelings and their genetic sex.

Even the most cursory observations, however, reveal great diversity within the transgender population. Efforts to classify crossdressers and kindred transgender persons are hardly new, but these efforts are quite varied and have resulted in a number of different category systems (see, for instance, Helen Boyd, 2003, My Husband Betty, Thunder Mouth Press, pages 41-43). These efforts seem closely tied to American experience in the early 21st century, not generalizable to the full range of places and times. I am not sure that any simple set of categories could include all the different types of persons who might call themselves “crossdressers” (or some essentially synonymous term), but if we restrict our attention to persons who act out cross-gender urges having an innate component, then we can make a useful first approximation.

Objectives of this Paper. To state the problem more succinctly, it is two-fold. First, gender and sex are not perfectly correlated, which leads some persons to engage in cross-gender behavior, the frequency (or total amount) of which depends upon the relative strengths of factors that impel it versus factors that constrain or prevent it. Second, such cross-gender behavior tends to fall into discrete categories with qualitatively distinct characteristics. My objectives in this paper are to find a model for an individual’s amount of cross-gender behavior and, in addition to that, to identify the social and cognitive processes through which different amounts of cross-gender behavior tend to become clumped together to form distinctive types of crossdressers. For now I will focus only on XY males with a signifcant feminine dimension, which of course is less than half of what a more exhaustive investigation would include.1


Model for An Individual’s Amount of Cross-Gender Behavior

An appropriate behavioral model is one of rewards and costs. The greater the rewards and the smaller the costs of engaging in some kind of behavior, the more likely a person is to engage in it. Both rewards and costs, of course, often emanate from the reactions of other people in social situations, as well as from whatever inborn or learned inclinations the individual in question may have. Translating these abstractions into the particular factors most pertinent here, these correspond closely to the strength of cross-gender inclinations relative to the strength of same-gender inclinations together with the strength of the opposing social pressures stemming from family, work, organized religion, or other external influences, a “resultant of opposing tendencies” that we can diagram as follows (where a right-pointing arrow “→” denotes favoring or increasing and a left-pointing arrow “←” denotes opposing or decreasing):


Strength of
Core Cross-Gender
Feelings
Amount of
Cross-Gender
Behavior
Strength of
Core Same-Gender
Feelings
Strength of
External Constraints
and Pressures

Figure 1. The extent of cross-gender expression depends on how the strength of
cross-gender feelings compares with the combined strength of opposing factors.


As it stands, this conception is consistent with a practically limitless number of transgender types, determined in each instance by the relative strengths of the operative factors. But we can conceive of six discrete categories rather than a continuum because the attitudes and beliefs associated with human cultures and subcultures tend to cluster around certain points on that hypothetical continuum that make some logical sense, thus making it reasonable for individuals to identify with certain intervals on that hypothetical continuum rather than imagining themselves to be truly “one of a kind” with almost no one else like them. Most psychologically healthy human beings want the comfort that comes from identifying with categories of others who seem to be essentially like themselves, and this impels crossdressers to self-select into such categories.


The Categories and Their Rationale

For males with feminine urges that are durable aspects of their personalities, a reasonable classification could be constructed in terms of the following potentially observable patterns: (1) he dresses partially at home or in ways that are not publicly visible; (2) he dresses more fully at home; (3) he ventures out in public fully dressed, at least occasionally, albeit in safe settings such as support group meetings or transgender conferences; (4) he engages in some non-trivial intimacy with other crossdressers or “admirers” while crossdressed; (5) he gets cosmetic surgery such as breast implants to improve his feminine appearance and thus his success in passing as a woman in public; and (6) he transitions to living full-time as a woman.

Now a genetic male falling into category six presumably has strong feminine tendencies and weak masculine tendencies. In addition, he presumably sees any pressures from his family, his work situation, his church, etc. (although these probably are painful) as insufficient to keep him from acting on his strong sense that he was “meant to be a woman.” Steven Stanton, for instance (see the opening quotation), suffered the loss of a well-paying job and a marriage to become Susan Stanton. External pressures typically bolster same-gender inclinations; thus, a person must have strong cross-gender inclinations even to advance to category one, progressively stronger ones to want to wear a wig and dress at home, crossdress in public, obtain intimate external validation, physically alter her/his body, or transition to full-time living as a member of the other sex.

Although there surely are minor exceptions, most people who reach a particular category (among the six listed above) have passed through all the prior categories. For instance, people who venture out in public fully dressed almost surely have gone through a period of dressing fully, but only at home or in other private settings such as hotel rooms; and people who dress completely in private almost surely have gone through a period of dressing partially or in ways that are easily concealed from others (such as wearing women’s undergarments covered by their male clothing). In short, these stages are cumulative — one reaches a certain stage only after going through earlier stages and eventually deciding that they need to go still further.

At some point, however, most transgender persons stop. They do not feel that they must go any further. They reach a balance that they come to believe is right for them. For instance, many men never venture beyond stage one. Others go beyond stage one but stop at stage two. Similarly for the other potential destinations. A majority never care to go beyond stage three, and only a tiny proportion feel any significant need to reach stages five or six.


Types of Crossdressers and Sexual Orientation

masculine gay men
The popularity of naked wrestling helps to dramatize the fact that, today and historically, gay men have tended to be at least as masculine as heterosexual men. They have been much more apt to be soldiers, gladiators, wrestlers, etc., than to be crossdressers. Conversely, crossdressers have been as least as heterosexually oriented as non-crossdressers. The contrary stereotypes probably rest on the salience of certain high profile subgroups.

One of the prevailing transgender stereotypes in the US today is that crossdressers really are effeminate gay men trying to camouflage their homosexuality by wearing women’s clothing. (The implicit logic of that stereotype is that they get homosexual satisfactions from crossdressing and/or from behavior carried out in conjunction with crossdressing, but are able to tell their wives and other loved ones, “Don’t worry, honey, I’m not gay; I just a crossdresser.”) The bulk of the existing research evidence contradicts that stereotype, and in fact the American Psychological Association’s website, authored by pyschologists who work in this area and presumably have access to credible evidence, have suggested that gender identity and presentation, on the one hand, and sexual orientation, on the other, are experienced as separate aspects of one’s personality and are largely independent. There is no question that transgender expression is entwined with sexual feelings (just as much of the rest of human life is), but the connections between sexual orientation and transgender expression are very different from what the “common sense” stereotype suggests.

The problem with such stereotypes is not that they are unequivocally wrong — stereotypes almost always have a grain of truth — but rather that they are much too simple and are often substantially wrong. They typically are based on the most conspicuous members of a category, those who are conspicuously dashing and colorful, who may be a very small proportion of the whole. For instance, “gender-bending” celebrities, often among the most popular and visible of entertainers, frequently are at least suspected of not being purely heterosexual. Elton John comes to mind. In an earlier period, such popular performers as David Bowie, Boy George, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, and Annie Lennox were flamboyant in their makeup and costumes, also flaunting what seemed to be an unorthodox sexuality. More recently, Michael Jackson and Madonna combined “gender-bending” with sexual ambiguity; and within the last few years contemporary new stars such as Adam Lambert and Lady Gaga have done much the same.

There can be no denying the existence of such highly visible entertainers as Adam Lambert, Lady Gaga, et al., who mix (or have mixed) crossdressing (“gender-bending”) with variant sexuality; nonetheless, I would suggest that the vast majority of gay men and women are not visibly distinct from straight men and women; and that the vast majority of crossdressers are straight, in spite of the stereotype that gays are effeminate and crossdressers are gay. Regarding gay men, male homosexuality historically has often been associated with strength and virility, not effeminacy. Napoleon is said to have encouraged his soldiers to engage in gay sex, which he believed would make them better soldiers. Furthermore, in the United States today, many weightlifters and bodybuilders are widely (and probably correctly) assumed to be gay. Other evidence for my statement is the wrestling clubs found in some European countries in which the athletes compete naked (or nearly so) and engage in a certain amount of gay sexual behavior. Putting one’s opponent in a hold or position that makes it possible to perform a sex act on him against his will is considered a display of domination and this earns points in addition to those earned from takedowns, escapes, reversals, etc., in accordance with a scoring system similar to that of Olympic freestyle wrestling (see, for instance, the wrestling video clip on this page). (Caution: the clip is sexually explicit and the page more generally may not be appropriate for some readers.) Whether one approves of disapproves of adding homosexual elements to sporting events, it would make no sense to insist that their competitors are effeminate. The contemporary stereotype linking homosexuality and effeminacy is contradicted by a wide range of evidence suggesting that homosexuality often is found in combination with strength, toughness, and aggressiveness.

Regarding homosexuality and crossdressing, with minor exceptions, strongly gay males do not crossdress, and crossdressers of the most common types are not gay in the usual sense. Strongly gay men typically try to suppress any feminine feelings they may have, not freely express those. That statement may strike some readers as counterintuitive based on their awareness that so-called “drag queens” almost always are gay men who not only dress in women’s clothing, but who strive for an exaggerated femininity. What we must understand, however, is that practically all “drag queens” are entertainers working in gay bars who are in demand not because they provide role models for gay men, but rather because they sharpen and sustain distinctions between effeminacy and homosexuality. By offering a caricature of feminine traits, they help their audiences to see themselves as more masculine. (“Gosh, I’m certainly not like him!”) Drag queens constitute a tiny grain of truth in the stereotype that gay men and male-to-female crossdressers are the same persons. Another small overlap arises from the fact that gay sexual behavior among crossdressers (as well as among non-crossdressers) may sometimes reflect distinctive circumstances in the lives of the persons involved. While there will always be exceptions to any largely true proposition, we must not fail to recognize ideas that are overwhelmingly true because of limited exceptions. At this point, I want to offer a more nuanced portrayal of the underlying reality for the great majority of crossdressing men.

Categories 1-through-3 vs. Categories 4-through-6

Some might see the assertions of the previous section as inconsistent with my suggested categories themselves, pointing out that categories four and above include crossdressers who might reasonably be described as homosexually oriented. I would argue against that on two grounds. First, categories four, five, and six include only about 3¼ % of all male-to-female crossdressers, which is roughly comparable to the percentage of adult males more generally who will admit to survey researchers that they are gay (for the basis of the 3¼ % figure, see the analysis presented below). Thus, this is hardly a strong contradiction of the assertion that, among adult men, gender feelings and sexuality are essentially independent. Second, the minority of crossdressers who have sexual relations with other genetic males differs from typical gay men in their motivations for doing so, which have more to do with feminine validation than with sexual fulfillment. That may seem like splitting hairs, but it is important for understanding how crossdressers of categories 4-through-6 fit into a more general conception of crossdressing.

The line between categories three and four in my suggested typology does entail aspects of sexual conduct; however, we must not assume that sexual orientation is the only, or even the primary, separator of categories three and four. In both categories, the crossdressers in question foster a mind-set of being a heterosexual transgender woman. Those of category three limit their female role-playing to non-sexual situations, whereas those of category four extend their female role-playing to include sexual situations as well. Self-identified gay men, in contrast, have a mind-set of being men who like men, not of being heterosexual transgender women. Related to that, they have almost no sexual interest in crossdressers, which implies that no rational gay man would crossdress if his main objective were to find male partners, because that would greatly reduce his chances of finding appealing partners. On the other hand, there do exist men who pursue other men dressed as women.

Most of those men think of themselves as heterosexual, seeing it as merely a harmless quirk that they are intrigued by the idea of a woman with a penis. (If they carry that fascination as far as actual sexual behavior, they are referred to as “men who have sex with transgender women,” abbreviated MSTGW in the public health literature.) Those men typically dress and act like strictly heterosexual men. Looking at this from a crossdresser’s point of view, those of category four (and beyond) gravitate towards men who claim to be straight, not men who claim to be gay. Thus, it’s probably reasonable to assume that the line between stages three and four involves the strength of the crossdresser’s desire for validation, not sexual orientation in the most straightforward sense. Perhaps significantly, that quest for attention from (apparently) straight men is even stronger (with minor exceptions) among those of category five (limited amounts of cosmetic surgery) and category six (extensive feminizing surgery).

Preeminence of Meanings and Motivations

Any coherent discussion of crossdressing and sexuality must recognize that crossdressers who have sexual relations with male “admirers” are not sharply differentiated by their actual behavior from heterosexual women or from self-identified gay men who prefer the more passive role. Regarding heterosexual women, many heterosexual women are curious about (and may actively practice) oral and anal sex with their husbands or other male partners (see the Michael Ra Bouchard and Tracey Cox references listed below). We must look beyond the behavior itself if we want to understand where crossdressers fall in the larger matrix of sex and gender.

Let’s ask what satisfactions a person in the more passive role gets from oral and/or anal sex. At first, that may seem like a no-brainer. The obvious answer is sexual stimulation or release, yet the fragmentary information available suggests that most receptive-role partners do not reach orgasm (the most notable exceptions being some strongly gay men), so what else do they get that makes them at least willing to continue in such behavior? When asked, women sometimes report that they do it because they know that their husbands like it and they get vicarious pleasure from his pleasure. Closely related to this, the larger context in which that behavior takes place entails the woman receiving some special attention: some compliments on her appearance, expressions of love, etc. Thus, part of what she gets out of it is a feeling that she is an attractive woman who is sexually appealing to someone that she sees as an attractive man. With appropriate changes in the details, any receptive-role partner could make a similar statement: his or her sexual behavior leads to a validation of his or her desired sex/gender self-image or identity.

I wish to suggest that crossdressers of categories four, five, and six are more like heterosexual women than typical gay men in their reasons for their sexual conduct.

Receptive Partner: Source of Pleasure:
Sexual Arousal Identity Validation
Heterosexual Woman Secondary Primary
Category ≥ 4 Crossdresser Secondary Primary
Homosexual Man Primary Secondary

Everyone who participates in the more passive role probably has a mixture of motivations for doing so. Furthermore, there surely are individual exceptions to the orderings of motivations suggested above. Nonetheless, I think that it would be mistaken to underestimate the importance that some crossdressers place on receiving a validation of their feminine self-images or identities. They are intent on projecting themselves in social interaction so as to control the identities that others are willing to accord them. For some, that may even include engaging in tactical sexual behavior. (I will present some further support for this conjecture below.)

Some proportion of adult men have at least occasional sexual relations with other genetic males. When heterosexual men do so, the motivation typically is domination; when homosexual men do so, the motivation typically is sexual pleasure; and when male-to-female crossdressers do so, the motivation typically is feminine validation.

Symbiosis

That desire for validation of one’s feminine persona is a crucial ingredient in my analysis and thus it warrants additional comment. What uniquely distinguishes category four from prior categories is a symbiotic relationship between (1) crossdressers who want validation of their feminine presentation from seemingly straight men and (2) “transgender admirers” who are attracted to the somewhat exaggerated femininity of such crossdressers. Below I present an excerpt from a New York Times article about such mutually supportive associations.

New York, NY (October 2, 2005).— Call her a hussy, even a tramp. But don’t call her gay, especially to her face. “I don't like men who like men,” said Georgina, a plump 47-year-old, who wore a strawberry blond wig, saucers of blue eye shadow, and enough pancake makeup to camouflage a beard. “I like a man who appreciates a woman.” Georgina, you see, is not a “genetic girl” or “double G” in the parlance of the transgender barflies who gathered one recent Saturday at the Silver Swan, a German restaurant on East 20th Street. Like most of the patrons that evening, Georgina leads a double life. By day, he is George, a buttoned-down receptionist from the Lower East Side who works at the Department of Education. By night, she is Georgina, a sassy, fun-loving woman who goes a little heavy on the makeup....

[Nearby, a] handsome real estate lawyer named Reid might be mistaken for a fraternity man except for the Evian bottle in his hand. “I come here for dates,” he said as he scoped the crowd. “I usually sleep with genetic girls, but I’m also attracted to trannies. I have no idea why. They are often more feminine than actual women.” ...

For budding crossdressers, [the Silver Swan restaurant and bar] is a sort of finishing school, offering a safe place for their public debuts as exaggerated members of the opposite sex. For their so-called admirers, it is a cocktail party at which it’s possible to mingle incognito. (© The New York Times)

To many outsiders, this symbiotic association might seem to be collusion in fantasy. Men who have sex with transgender women (MSTGW) may verbally assert that they are straight as an arrow, and the crossdressers with whom they have sex behave as if they were heterosexual women. By unspoken agreement, they accept each other’s less-than-fully credible claims. And both would be deeply offended if those outsiders were to treat them as two gay men merely out for sex. In their eyes, at least, they are an entirely straight couple seeking the same satisfactions as any other straight couple.

But much of this must be understood as the distinctive etiquette of a certain role-playing situation, not as some sort of serious delusion. As one crossdresser told me recently after I had given a talk on this subject, “I think that you’re right about the validation part. I personally do not kid myself that the sexual part is completely straight, but being treated like a woman by a guy who looks and acts straight really is a huge part of what I look for.” Another said, “I don’t think the role-playing you talked about is necessarily limited to the club scene. I get together with a guy friend about once a month, usually for a Saturday night in a small tourist town in the mountains. We don’t put a name on the physical part, but we’re not in denial about it. For me the validation part is very important and I think that you’re exactly correct about that part.” And a third added that he also largely agreed: “When a guy at a club is telling you, ‘You look amazing! I am really having a great time with you,’ you relax your inhibitions a little and the sexual part may follow. At first we don’t go very far, but as time goes on we start going further, particularly if the guys seem to accept us as real women. The typical gay guy wants sex with other guys even in his early teens — that is his primary motivation, not a secondary motivation. So I agree with you, we’re not typical gay men and what you call the validation of female feelings is the really big difference.” Finally, some portion of this group does not have actual sex. They dance with men and are happy to have their pictures taken being hugged by men, but they don’t go further, evidence that they are playing a role and seeking positive feedback, not seeking sexual satisfaction.

The fairest statement, I think, is that the difference between category three and category four involves more than sexual attraction. Category four entails a significantly stronger desire by the crossdresser to have her/his feminine feelings convincingly corroborated through social interaction with seemingly straight men. She wants to feel pretty, and that is easier if a seemingly straight man is telling her that she is pretty.


More on the System

Gina Lance, a transgender woman (crossdresser) who was featured in MSNBC’s documentary, “The Secret Closet,” had this to say about crossdressers who might (in terms of my analysis) fall into category four, rather than categories two or three:

“Although a crossdresser’s sexuality has nothing to do with the dress he wears, there are many crossdressers who enjoy their bisexuality when wearing women’s clothing. Every individual has to be responsible and admit to their loved ones what they truly are. And every wife or girlfriend needs to know that just because her man wears a dress, that does not pigeon hole him into a sexual category” (Gina Lance, 2008, Get Dressed! Breaking Out of the Crossdressing Closet, Colgate Publishing, page 107).

While Lance was not aware of my category system, her/his remarks implicitly assume exactly what my hypothesized categories assume: of those crossdressers who are comfortable dressing fully at home, only a portion are comfortable dressing fully in public facilities such as restaurants or clubs; and of those who are comfortable expressing themselves outside their homes, only a portion are comfortable expressing themselves in intimate situations outside their homes. A man who wears a dress is in category two or higher; in the final sentence quoted, Lance is saying that if you know that someone is in category two or higher, you cannot legitimately infer that they are in (say) category four. Maybe they are; maybe they aren’t.

Let me try to be a bit more abstract and at the same time more precise. In my suggested set of categories, each category entails all the essential features of previous categories, plus one more. For example, men in category three wear women’s undergarments (the essential feature of category one), wear women’s outer garments and makeup at home (the essential feature of category two), and occasionally feel inspired to wear women’s clothing in public or semi-public settings (the new feature of category three). Category four entails each of these, plus a desire for validation of one’s feminine persona from men in more intimate situations. And so forth. The essential features of category N include those of categories 1, 2, … , N-1, plus one new feature. This cumulative nature of the categories suggests a way of estimating the percentages of crossdressing men in each of the categories, a point I will return to below. Another useful implication is that if you know that a man is in category X, you cannot legitimately infer that he has the new feature of category X+1. To use Gina Lance’s observations to illustrate this, if you know that a man is in category three, you cannot legitimately infer that he is gay or bisexual (the new feature of category four). Some are, but most probably aren’t.


The Unresolved Question of “How Many?”

Concerning the percentages of crossdressers in each of the six categories, much of the “conventional wisdom” (i.e., what we often read) is not logically consistent with what we know from fairly reliable research, together with what is logically implied by the cumulative structure I have posited.

In recent years, I have become increasingly intrigued by categories four, five, and six, partly because these categories were largely swept under the rug by organized crossdressing groups until very recently. Many such groups (which consist mainly of heterosexual married crossdressers) insisted that almost all crossdressers are normal heterosexual men, albeit with a feminine personality aspect. The apparent exceptions, they said, are “drag queens,” understood to be gay entertainers who put on women’s clothing only as part of their stage performances. Except when singing or doing their acts, they supposedly did not crossdress, and thus they were outside the fold. One could speculate that these groups took this position so as not to alarm the wives or girlfriends of their members with thoughts that their men might actually be gay and might eventually want to undergo SRS.

Something that intrigues me, though, is that my conception of crossdressing types, as described above, leads to almost as comforting a conclusion for the wives or girlfriends of crossdressers as does the “all CDs are straight as an arrow” mythology. A variety of physical processes having the cumulative feature I discussed above are well described by what scientists call an “exponential distribution,” which has the property that the least dramatic categories include the largest percentages of cases, those percentages falling off quickly as the categories become more dramatic — that is, more discrepant from an implicit baseline category (in this application, the implicit baseline being non-crossdressing men). Based on what I think are reasonable assumptions, employing the best empirical evidence available, I have calculated the approximate percentages of crossdressers falling into each of my six categories:


Category # Category Label % of Crossdresers in Category
1 Underdresser 68.042
2 Homebound CD 21.745
3 Occasionally Out CD 6.949
4 Bisexual/Gay Out CD 2.221
5 Semi-Transsexual 0.710
6 Full Transsexual 0.333
All CDs All Types 100.0%


How accurate are these estimates of percentages? First, we shouldn’t take them to be accurate to three decimal places! These estimates are based on a model that I would expect to describe reality fairly well, but scientists consider such estimates to be (at best) good approximations, not literally true with a capital T. Having said that, however, the best data available indicate that about one out of every 300 crossdressers eventually transitions to the other sex, which involves surgery, hormone treatments, and (where possible) legal changes to one’s passport, driver’s licence, birth certificate, and other legally important documents. That is one-third of one percent, which corresponds precisely to the estimate given above. About 1% do at least some physical alterations of their bodies, which would be the sum of categories 5 and 6, again about what the estimates show. Categories 2 and 3 include the great majority of married crossdressers who dress fully, wearing dresses, hosiery, makeup, shoes, and wigs. Just under 30% of all crossdressers fall into these categories. But notice that 30% compared with ⅓ of 1% is a 90-to-1 ratio of crossdressers who won’t transition to those who will. The more precise ratio is about 86-to-1. For the worried wife of a fully dressing crossdresser, 86-to-1 is pretty good odds. Finally, although the skimpy survey data currently available must be interpreted cautiously, some evidence suggests that men who secretly wear an item or two of women’s lingerie under their male clothing far out-number those who dress fully (including dresses, hosiery, makeup, shoes, and wigs) in private. More generally, the model is consistent with what we know and thus its implications probably can be taken as reasonably accurate, its implied percentages being at least in the right ballpark.


Exacerbating Conceptual Chaos or Revealing An Underlying Order?

I am aware that other writers have conjectured percentages that differ from those I have presented. In trying to account for the differences, I can see three possibilities. First, the assumptions under which I fitted an exponential distribution to what I believe are reasonably reliable (albeit partial) data could be flawed in some way. Pending more and better research, there always is that possibility. Second, most other writers have focused their attention on more limited portions of the cross-gender spectrum. For instance, if one’s attention were centered on categories two and three only (the categories most represented in organized crossdressing support groups), then assessments consistent with mine would put 75.8% of crossdressers in the at-home-only category, the remaining 24.2% in the occasionally out category. To an unwary individual reading such figures, they might seem more different from mine than they actually are, due to nothing more than the narrower scope of the investigation that produced them. Third, writers whose motivations are very personal may focus most of their attention on others like themselves, leading them to overestimate the percentages of cross-gender behavior like their own. Many participate in distinctive subcultures in which most others are in fact like themselves. Thus, they may underestimate the prevalence of crossdressers who differ from themselves, simply because they are less interested in, and less aware of, other patterns.

In the scattered transgender literature, the plethora of disparate ideas about transgender persons could reasonably be called conceptual chaos. My aim has been to show that some simple ideas — ideas about gender feelings and needs for validation — underlie a very wide spectrum of the transgender subpopulations, making unnecessary wholly separate theories of underdressers, occasionally out full crossdressers, and transsexuals (among others).

Assuming for now that my conclusions are at least in the right ballpark, the significance of categories four-and-above is not that their members are plentiful — combined, they include only about 3¼ % of all crossdressers — but rather that they offer new insights into all crossdressers, even those in whom thoughts of enjoying one’s feminine feelings in sexual situations or transitioning to womanhood never occur. In this case, they help make clear that different degrees of attachment to a feminine personality dimension define different observable types of crossdressers, ranging from those who secretly wear women’s lingerie under their male clothing to those who live in “stealth mode” as full-time women. The key question is, “How much validation of your feminine feelings do you need, and how much cost (i.e., social and other benefits forgone) are you willing to incur to obtain that validation?” This is not the time or place to pursue that insight further. Suffice it to say that sometimes we gain the best comprehension of something through examining extreme cases, even if such cases occur relatively infrequently in real life.


Final Caveats

A friend recently said to me, “My brother-in-law often dresses up as a witch for Halloween parties. Where does a crossdresser like him fall in your conjectured system?” My answer is that he may not, although that depends on whether he is simply trying to be outrageous or whether his choice of “witch” rather than (say) “pirate” reflects deep feelings that he may not wish to acknowledge. More generally, my proposed system pertains to persons whose choices reflect core gender feelings; it does not pertain to all crossdressers no matter what their motivations. Human beings are inventive enough that there may be countless situations in which some people might “crossdress” for reasons having nothing to do with their core “gender compasses.” Ancient Canaanite religious rituals, costume parties, and criminal disguises suggest just a few of the circumstances in which “crossdressing” outside the scope of my analysis might occur. Surely many others exist as well.

Finally, a colleague asked if individuals like Jennifer Finney Boylan (a college professor and writer who transitioned to full womanhood, yet remained married and faithful to her spouse throughout the process) can be adequately comprehended within my system. After all, she did not seek intimacy with men to validate her evidently powerful feminine feelings, although she did progress through the categories in other respects. She and others like her, I should note, depart greatly from the competing hypothesis (that transgender expression is camouflage for underlying homosexual feelings). Genetic males who transition to full womanhood no longer need to hide sexual interests in other genetic males, so if they have such feelings they can openly pursue them. Genetic males who persist in full-time female expression, becoming legally female, yet eschew intimate relations with other genetic males, certainly cannot be comprehended in terms of that hypothesis.

Nonetheless, I’m not sure what the correct answer to my colleague’s question is. I saw the excellent Larry King Live interview on CNN, which aired on May 25, 2005. Host Larry King asked a wide range of questions during the hour, including some of Deirdre (“Dee Dee”) Boylan, Jennifer Finney Boylan’s wife since 1988, who also was present. The story of Jim (now Jennifer) and Dee Dee is an exceptional story of loyalty and commitment. I think that personal attachments sometimes override what otherwise would have occurred. To make an analogy, a stone dropped from the top of a tall building falls toward the ground in a very predictable way, but an unforeseen powerful burst of wind might alter its predicted speed and trajectory. Any theory of any phenomenon, physical or social, implicitly or explicitly makes the so-called ceteris paribus assumption. One must assume hypothetically that nothing else of significance intrudes into the process, which will not always be the case in natural situations. The Boylans illustrate the point that sometimes other factors intervene.


1A fuller investigation would include the same-gender and cross-gender experiences of XX females, also the gender experiences of those individuals having the relatively rare 23rd chromosomal components conventionally designated XXX, XXY, and XYY (among others). Roughly 1% of human beings do not have the typical XX or XY patterns. While considering the gender experiences of all human sexes or sexual types is important, that is beyond the scope of this paper.

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Links to Selected Cross-Gender Sources:

  • American Psychological Association’s “Transgender Individuals and Gender
    Identity”
    (Online Article).
  • Andrea James’s Home Page.
  • Annie Richards’ “My Sexuality ... and More” (Webpage) .
  • Denny Lee’s “Beauties in Heels and the Men Who Love Them” (NYT article).
  • Gina Lance’s Get Dressed! (Book).
  • Jamie Ann’s Home Page.
  • Jamison Green’s Becoming a Visible Man (Book).
  • Jennifer Finney Boylan’s She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (Book).
  • Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality
    in Nature and People
    (Book).
  • Lynn Conway’s Photo Gallery.
  • Michael Ra Bouchard’s “Adventurous Intimacy” (iVillage article).
  • Philippino transgender woman Alyssa’s YouTube Videos.
  • Tracey Cox’s “Oral Sex” (iVillage article).
  • Wikipedia Article on Transmen (female-to-male transsexuals).
  • Yvonne’s Place Home Page.



Last revised on January 20, 2010