Ng Lay Sion
Would you be totally fine if your husband’s favorite hobby was to put on women clothes and make-up? Barbara, a heterosexual crossdresser from Illinois wrote that “before long I realized that [my wife’s] image of me as a husband had been shattered, and she was no longer able to accept me in that role, even sexually” (Transvestia 1968). Some crossdressers reported that their feminine clothes were taken and burned in the incinerator after their wives found out their deviant behavior. In many cases, this eventually ended with divorce.
Crossdressing was long considered an activity practiced exclusively by gay males, but starting from the 1950s, heterosexual males began to crossdress during private meetings (Biegel 108-22). According to the Journal of Social History (2011), after experiencing the destructiveness of World War Two, people wanted three things: “to be happy, to be affluent and to be secure” (729). Due to this, gender nonconformity emerges as a threat to home and nation while prescriptive gender norms structured how men and women “understood themselves as gendered and sexual beings”—as masculine men, feminine women, strong breadwinning husbands and dutiful homemaking wives” (JSH 731).
This gender system that emerged during the postwar era was a powerful force in the domestic and intimate lives of many Americans in the 1960s, 1970s and even now. Crossdresser Joy Lynne from Colorado declares that,
“Transvestism has been a long, lonesome road to walk, wrought with self-doubt, secrecy, frustration, tension and the lack of understanding. The polarized emotional experience of dressing ranged from sheer ecstasy and pleasure to deep, guilt-ridden feelings.”
As to Joy’s wife, she claimed that she felt that he was losing his masculinity when she first discovered his secret. However, after she read several issues of Transvestia, a magazine regarding transvestism, she became more accepting of her husband’s behavior. Because of her acceptance of his being, they were “happier than ever” after that (Transvestia 1972).
Supportive wives often function as knowledgeable advisors: “offering make-up advice, fashion tips, and instructions on how to behave femininely” (JSH 734). In return, their cross-dressing husbands become the “help-mates” of their wives (JSH 734). Crossdresser Joanna from Washington states that “one of the things that [my wife] really likes is when I put my apron on…and proceed to do the housework” (Transvestia 1961). From here, we can understand that transvestism/heterosexual crossdressing could foster a happy marriage. Moreover, it is suggested that heterosexual crossdressers are more likely to be sensitive, comprehensive and caring than those who do not practice it. The wife of crossdresser Carrol can emphasize this by claiming, “it is the fact that he feels things very deeply and I think, is more understanding of me, being a girl himself at times” (Transvestia 1964).
In conclusion, transvestism/heterosexual crossdressing should not be regarded as a taboo or an abnormal behavior as it could promote deeper compatibility and understanding between marriage partners. More importantly, we should always keep in mind that gender norms are a social product—that we, human beings, are supposed to be the ones who construct the norm rather than having it constructed for us. 1
Barbara, “The Way It Was.” Transvestia #54, December 1968.
Hill, Robert. “We Share a Sacred Secret”: Gender, Domesticity, and Containment in Transvestia’s Histories and Letters from Crossdressers and Their Wives.” Journal of Social History, Xavier University, 2011.
Letter from Joanna, Transvestia #7, January 1961.
Lynne, Joy. “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby.” Transvestia #75, 1972.
Wife’s note follows Carol’s history, Transvestia #29, October 1964.