Transvestism

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An Italian transvestite photographed by Gloeden in the late 19th century.

Transvestism (also called transvestitism) refers to the act of dressing in clothing typically associated with members of the opposite sex. A transvestite can be an individual of any sex or sexual orientation; however, one must be a heterosexual male to be diagnosed with transvestic disorder.

Misconceptions[edit]

A common misconception is that all “transvestites” are homosexual men. However, studies and surveys have shown that the overwhelming majority of male transvestites self-identify as heterosexual men (most of whom are or have been married in the past). Due to these findings and the fact that most who identify as a transvestite are assigned male at birth, the DSM limits the criteria for diagnosis of the disorder to only include heterosexual men.

Transvestism and Transsexualism[edit]

As noted by many researchers on the topic, transvestism is closely related to transsexualism. In 2013, author Harry Brierly published Transvestism: A Handbook with Case Studies for Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Counsellors. This handbook features a collection of case studies and psychoanalysis concerning transvestism. One of the topics that briefly touches on is the link between transvestism and transsexualism. At first glance, transvestism and transsexualism appear to be quite similar. However, there are distinct differences between transvestism and transsexualism. Transvestism can be more specifically defined as the creation of a female persona to preserve male heterosexuality. This may seem like a limiting definition of transvestism - this definition only describes males who wear female clothing. Originally, the term was broader and included women as well, but in modern times, transvestites are typically men due to societal norms and views on gender-specific clothing (it is certainly easier for women to dress as men today than for men to dress as women). Jan Walinder, who studied transsexualism, classified transvestism into two categories. His strict definition of transvestism was that the desire to wear clothing typically associated with the other gender is the primary desire of the individual. Other states or reasons were secondary desires. Individuals whose desire to dress in clothing of the opposite gender resulted from secondary desires are said to have “symptomatic transvestism”. What links this secondary desire to transsexualism is gender dysphoria as opposed to erotic desires. There are some who believe that transvestism is a part of fetishism but such a view may result from the frequency of secondary transvestites in therapy. Until recently, transsexualism has been included as a part of transvestism but the difference lies mainly in the different degrees of desire held by the individual. Transsexualism involves a more permanent desire to be the other sex whereas transvestism involves dressing in clothes typically worn by the other sex. Thus it is possible that transsexualism can arise from transvestism.

The concept of latent homosexuality, which is the unconscious sexual desires towards individuals of the same sex, is also linked with transvestism and transsexualism. While latent homosexuality consists of erotic desires, it is important to note that in studying transvestism, these individuals have other behaviors and associations that are separate from sexual relations. The misconception that homosexuality, transsexualism, and transvestism are rooted in erotic sexual desires causes many to classify members who identify within these three groups as “sexual perverts”. However, at best, the erotic desires are incidental and are not the primary drive for the individual. Thus, this classification is incorrect.

History[edit]

Coined as late as the 1910s, the phenomenon is not new. It was referred to in the Hebrew Bible.[1] The word has undergone several changes of meaning since it was first coined and is still used in a variety of senses. According to some sources, the term transvestite today is considered outdated and derogatory.[2]

Origin of the term[edit]

Magnus Hirschfeld coined the word transvestism (from Latin trans-, "across, over" and vestitus, "dressed") to refer to the sexual interest in cross-dressing.[3] He used it to describe persons who habitually and voluntarily wore clothes of the opposite sex. Hirschfeld's group of transvestites consisted of both males and females, with heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual orientations.[4]

Hirschfeld himself was not happy with the term: He believed that clothing was only an outward symbol chosen on the basis of various internal psychological situations.[3] In fact, Hirschfeld helped people to achieve the very first name changes (legal given names were and are required to be gender-specific in Germany) and performed the first reported sexual reassignment surgery. Hirschfeld's transvestites therefore were, in today's terms, not only transvestites, but a variety of people from the transgender spectrum.[3]

Hirschfeld also noticed that sexual arousal was often associated with transvestism. In more recent terminology, this is sometimes called autogynephilia. Hirschfeld also clearly distinguished between transvestism as an expression of a person's "contra-sexual" (transgender) feelings and fetishistic behavior, even if the latter involved wearing clothes of the other sex.[3]

Cross-dressers[edit]

Main article: Cross-dressing
Yakkun Sakurazuka cross-dressing as a schoolgirl

After all the changes that took place during the 1970s, a large group was left without a word to describe themselves: heterosexual males (that is, male-bodied, male-identified, gynephilic persons) who wear traditionally feminine clothing. This group was not particularly happy with the term "transvestism".[5] Therefore, the term "cross-dresser" was coined.[5] Self-identified cross-dressers generally do not have fetishistic intentions,[5] but are instead men who wear female clothing and often both admire and imitate women.

This group did—and sometimes still does—distance themselves strictly from both gay men and transsexuals, and usually also deny any fetishistic intentions. It was probably this development that led to the explicit definition of transvestic fetishism as distinctively different from transvestism.[5]

However, when this group of people achieved public attention, they were commonly referred to as transvestites rather than cross-dressers. That led, paradoxically, to yet another usage of transvestism: cross-dressing, male-bodied, male-identified, heterosexual persons. This group typically self-identifies as "cross-dressers".[5]

When cross-dressing occurs for erotic purposes over a period of at least six months and when it causes significant distress or impairment, the behavior is considered a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatric diagnosis "transvestic fetishism" is applied.[6]

Culture[edit]

In some cultures, transvestism is practiced for religious, traditional or ceremonial reasons. For example, in India some male devotees of the Hindu god Krishna, especially in Mathura and Vrindavan, dress in female attire to pose as his consort, the goddess Radha, as an act of devotion.[7] In Italy, the Neapolitan femminielli (feminine males) wear wedding dresses, called the matrimonio dei femminielli (marriage of the femminielli), a procession takes place through the streets, a tradition that apparently has pagan origins.[8]

Image gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Aggrawal, Anil. (April 2009). "References to the paraphilias and sexual crimes in the Bible". J Forensic Leg Med 16 (3): 109–14. doi:10.1016/j.jflm.2008.07.006. PMID 19239958. 
  2. ^ Thompson, Sarah. "Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism page 118". 
  3. ^ a b c d Hirschfeld, Magnus: Die Transvestiten. Berlin 1910: Alfred Pulvermacher
    Hirschfeld, Magnus. (1910/1991). Transvestites: The erotic drive to cross dress. (M. A. Lombardi-Nash, Trans.) Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
  4. ^ Hirschfeld, Magnus. Geschlechtsverirrungen, 10th Ed. 1992, page 142 ff.
  5. ^ a b c d e Bullough, Vern L. Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. ISBN 0812214315
  6. ^ "DSM-V". The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Transvestic Fetishism. American Psychiatric Association. 2009. Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  7. ^ Meet the crossdresser saints of UP. CNN-IBN. Retrieved 21 January 2013
  8. ^ Il mondo del "femminiello", cultura e tradizione. TorreSette.it. Retrieved 21 January 2013

References[edit]