A Complex Identity
ABOUT JOURNEYS OF FAITH
The Journeys of Faith Project features the personal stories of Latter-day Saint individuals and families addressing gender identity or transgenderism who are striving to find congruence and peace within the context of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jared (pseudonym) was born and raised in Utah, where he currently lives. Jared studied and majored in Computer Science, and he currently does computer programming and consulting work. In addition to spending time with family, Jared also enjoys biking, running, and photography.
I was very young when I first felt the urge to cross dress. By the time I was 8 years old, I was old enough to realize that there were distinct differences in the ways that boys and girls dressed, and I didn’t understand why there were such strict boundaries between what each gender was allowed to wear. I would have preferred to wear the clothes my sisters were allowed to wear—hair bows, tights, slips, bright dresses, and patent leather shoes. As a young boy, I was only allowed to wear plain clothing that only seemed to come in monochromatic tones—blue denim, solid colored t-shirts, brown khaki pants, white collared shirts, white socks, and plain black shoes. In looking at the differences between the clothing, I realized that girls not only had more options and variety, but the clothes girls wore were pretty. My clothes were not pretty. I started to wonder what it would be like to wear their clothes; I wanted to experience different colors, different textures, and different types of clothing. Eventually, I did have the opportunity to wear some of their clothing, first by finding a pair of my sister’s underwear mixed in with my own clothes. I tried it on for a few minutes, but then felt shameful and wondered if I had done something wrong. I didn’t have the courage to bring it up with my parents, so I kept it secret and tried to put it from my mind. Another time, we were doing a Sub-for-Santa project as a family and my mother said I was the same clothing size as one of the female children from the family we were helping. She held the dresses up in front of me to test the length, but I was severely disappointed I didn’t get to actually try them on. From these early experiences, I understood that this clothing was enticing for some reason, but also forbidden in a way I couldn’t articulate at the time. As I became older and entered my early teenage years, I experienced a series of health problems that lasted for many months. Because I was often sick, I was sometimes left home alone for a couple of hours at a time while I was home from school and my mom ran errands. By this time, I clearly understood not only the differences in the clothing that boys and girls wore, but also the physical differences between boys and girls. With this free time at home by myself, I would go in to my sisters’ bedrooms and try on their clothes, while also trying to mimic the curves of the female body by finding padding to try and make myself appear more realistic in a physical sense. I didn’t stay dressed up for long, but the behavior was comforting in a way, and I liked it. This pattern continued into my teenage years, and because I often was sexually aroused during this process, I became incredibly ashamed. I never told anyone, but researched Church doctrine as much as possible to try and figure out what this meant. I was hoping that this was normal behavior, while knowing in the back of my mind that it was not. Additionally, I began questioning what this meant in the bigger picture. Did this behavior mean that I was a homosexual? I was very disturbed and upset by the cycle of feeling compelled to dress, dressing and feeling better, and then feeling guilt and shame. In my mind, I thought that cross dressing might mean that I could be homosexual. For instance, if I dressed up as a girl, did that mean in order to act like a girl I needed to feel attracted to boys? This thought scared me until I finally realized that when I was dressed as a girl, I still was attracted to girls. This thought reassured me that while I might not be normal, I probably wasn’t homosexual. At times, I wanted to talk to my parents about my behavior, but every time I almost worked up the courage, it seemed that my father would make some comment about homosexuality that seemed negative, and I would change my mind. I even had thoughts about trying to talk to my bishop about it, particularly as I advanced within the Aaronic Priesthood and had advancement interviews. However, I never brought it up because while cross dressing was arousing, I did not masturbate, and it seemed like much of the discussions and warnings about discouraged behavior at this time centered around sexual purity, pornography, and masturbation.
A Phase of Experimentation
Shortly after graduating high school, I left home to attend a semester of college. During this time, I tried to abstain from cross dressing behaviors because I was preparing to serve a mission. Although I received my mission call and entered the MTC, I was sent home shortly after because of medical issues and was released from my mission entirely. At this point, I was very discouraged and angry, and shortly after, I left home again to continue with my college education. During this time, I was so angry that I had not been able to serve a mission that I turned to cross dressing to alleviate a lot of my stress and frustration. When I felt overwhelmed with a challenge in my life, it seemed like it was a challenge that I was facing solely by myself within my male identity. By dressing up, I was taking a break from being me, and that meant leaving my frustrating, fears, and sadness behind. The self that was dealing with being overwhelmed or stressed was male—it was the self I identified with for almost every second of the day. Dressing up allowed me to try out a new identity, be a different person, and have different problems. It was comforting to know that something as simple as putting on female clothing allowed me to escape my male problems. Along with this, I took advantage of the freedom of living on my own in a private apartment, and began buying many types of female clothing, along with other things such as wigs that could help me dress more convincingly. I would dress up for a few hours after a stressful day, sit in my room, and then enjoy the feelings of being calm and stress free. At times, I did masturbate, which did add a lot of shame to the process as well, but I put it in the back of my mind, particularly since I had stopped going to church at this time. After a few months, I did decide to go and speak with my bishop, who said that his main concern with the cross dressing was the masturbation itself. He did not have any direct information on whether or not cross dressing itself was a sin, although he did not condone or encourage the behavior. As a result, I threw out many items of the female clothing I had bought to try and symbolically get a new start and try and get rid of the cross dressing. If I didn’t have the clothing around, that must mean I wasn’t a cross dresser. While the urges persisted, the evidence that I gave in to them was nowhere to be seen. In this way, I gave in to self-denial as a way to bolster my self esteem, even as I realized it was only temporary. This was not successful, and I gradually decided to continue the cross dressing as much as possible without letting it become a sexual behavior. During this time, I was dating a girl who I eventually married, but as we became more serious, I started to feel anxiety about whether I should tell her about the cross dressing. I knew that I risked the possibility that she might leave and be disgusted with me, but at the same time, it was only fair for her to know about this secret if we were planning to get married. I also knew that I might not ever be able to stop the behavior permanently, so I worked up the courage over several weeks to finally tell her. I did my best to present my feelings, how I felt my cross dressing might impact our marriage, and emphasize that this behavior was part of who I was. Surprisingly, she seemed almost unconcerned about this issue, and with this positive reaction, I calmed down. Clearly if she felt this was a big problem, she would have mentioned something. We became engaged, we got married, and we settled in to a new life of working, going to school, and enjoying our marriage.
Throughout the first couple years of our marriage, we did not have children and were still going to school. Our lives were often filled with the stress of paying the bills, trying to work enough hours to pay tuition, and going to school full-time so we could graduate. During some of these stressful times, I approached my wife about getting dressed up for a few hours. She clearly did not like the idea that I still wanted to cross dress, and she admitted she thought the urges would have stopped entirely once we were married. She also tried to suggest that maybe this was only a behavior that needed to be used in more extreme circumstances, such as when I was sick and needed to take a break or relax from not feeling well. While I understood that she was trying to be helpful, I felt like she was judging me and minimizing how much cross-dressing had helped me in my life. Cross dressing was like my oldest, best friend and she was dismissing it as unnecessary as it had outlived its usefulness. I didn’t know how to articulate how cross-dressing made me feel. When I put on female clothing, I felt like I was completely released from all of my challenges. It was the only way I had ever found where I could clear my mind of everything that was stressing me out, and instead just focus on feeling calm and relaxed. It was like tapping into the most authentic parts of who I was while leaving behind all of the clutter that seemed to weigh me down. How could she not see that this was valuable to me? Why would she want to deny me something that was so simple and yet so fulfilling? I began to resent that my wife was not more willing to learn more about the behavior, and I was upset that she was not interested in my cross dressing. I felt like I tried hard to be supportive of her and interested in things that mattered to her, so I felt rejected by her reaction to my request to cross dress more often. In addition to her lack of interest, my wife seemed to avoid the topic of cross dressing altogether; almost like she pretended it wasn’t even there. Additionally, my wife did not like the idea of spending any of the little spare money we had on clothing or wigs, so I was also limited in what I had available to cross dress with. I often asked to use her clothes, which was embarrassing and made me feel a bit ashamed. Because we were busy and my wife did not seem interested in cross dressing, we did not talk about it much. I dressed infrequently, and only in one or two items that I mostly borrowed from my wife, and then felt compelled to leave the behavior alone for a while to appease her. Gradually, we both graduated and got jobs, and our financial stresses eased. We also started a family, which added a new stress, but brought immense joy into our lives. During this time, my wife didn’t bring up cross dressing, and I didn’t want to approach her with another concern to add to her already full plate. However, I was feeling that I wanted to delve further into cross dressing by not only trying on clothes, but also by putting on a wig and make-up. I tried to push her a bit to see what she would be okay with, and she finally agreed to let me buy a wig, but I didn’t wear it often or in front of her. I became increasingly frustrated as I wanted to cross dress more often and more convincingly, and my wife clearly did not want me doing those things. When I would come into the room dressed up, I could tell from her glance that she was not attracted to me and didn’t want to be by me. She would sit further way from me on the couch than she normally would and she would not touch me at all. At times, I even felt like I was revolting to her. I searched her face for any clue that she was accepting of the behavior, but she was very good at concealing her emotions. When I actually asked her directly about how she felt, she admitted that she did not like how I was trying to hide who I really was behind an identity I was trying too hard to fit into. Seeing me dressed up was even distressing at times, and caused her to experience confusion about her own feelings towards me. These opinions seemed consistent whenever we talked about the topic, and I was unsure that she would ever change her mind. While later in our marriage she began to be more accepting of me and my cross-dressing behavior, at the time, I could not imagine her ever feeling differently. At this time, I felt like the urges were only getting stronger, and without an outlet, I was feeling more depressed and anxious by the day. While close to my parents, I had never talked to them about cross dressing, and I felt like I had no one to talk to about my cross dressing, my depression, or my anxiety. The few times I did dress up, I felt guilty and shameful. I also felt that if everyone knew the true me—the cross dresser—they would look past all my other successes and just see a failure. I felt like one aspect of my identity was overshadowing everything else in my life, and that drove me to feel inadequate as a husband, a father, and as a man. I also became increasingly frustrated with the Church at this time, because I felt like there was no room for me there. I felt like an outlier, and if other members knew about my behavior, they would be disgusted and abandon me. To counteract this feeling of rejection, I decided to abandon them by attending Church less frequently. This caused only further isolation, and it reached a point where I decided to seek professional mental health counseling.
Crisis and Support
I attended this counseling on a regular basis and it was very helpful, but soon after entering counseling, my son was born and I wondered to myself how I could ever raise a son. How could I be a strong example of masculinity when I had such obvious feminine urges? Would my son ever respect me as a father if he were to find out that I gave in to urges that were so clearly taboo when viewed against what is considered masculine and strong in our culture. I felt weak and defeated before I even began. I felt like a hypocrite in trying to model for my son how to be a strong, male figure. In short, I was overwhelmed with the feelings that I would fail before I even started to parent my son. Things spiraled out of control quickly, and I became suicidal. I felt like there was no way out and this fear became so overwhelming I could not see or feel anything else. These feelings were so intense they were suffocating and skewed my perspective and all of my thoughts towards this dark place. I truly believed that if anyone in my life knew my secret, they would hate me and abandon me. If I was a failure to even my immediate family, what good was my life? The only solution was to cause those I loved a bit of short-term pain to alleviate the long-term pain they would face of coping with who I was. At that point, I felt like there was only one solution, and the quickest and most painless way to end my own life seemed to be through an overdose. This seemed like a suitable way of numbing myself to the point where I could peacefully leave without regret. Shortly thereafter, I overdosed on Valium. My wife found me when I was clearly struggling to behave normally, but not completely incoherent and unable to explain what I had done. Fortunately, the dosage was not enough to cause permanent harm, but I was put on a suicide watch for the next 48 hours. My extended family was shocked and distraught, and I finally decided to explain to my parents what was going on. While reserved, they did seem supportive, and a huge weight was lifted off me as I realized that they still loved me. I gradually stabilized, and although we didn’t discuss the cross dressing in much detail, at least the information was out in the open. Meanwhile, my wife and I decided that a change of scenery would be beneficial, and I had a job opportunity with my current company that would relocate us to a new state. Although she did not want to move our family cross-country, my wife did agree that it would be a good choice in many ways, and we decided to go ahead with the move. Once we had settled into our new area, things did seem to calm down a bit. However, I was in a new environment and a different culture, and it seemed that my cross dressing was not quite as taboo. I began to share information with a few close colleagues about not only my cross dressing, but some of the history surrounding my experience. My colleagues were very supportive, and even asked to see me dressed up sometime, but when I approached my wife about this, she was very unsupportive of the idea. Feeling like she was not being accepting of me, I felt like I had to push my boundaries further to see if she truly accepted my cross dressing. I asked to dress more frequently, and once again bought more things to try and help me look more like a woman when I was dressed up. Although I knew my wife didn’t like it when I put on a wig, padded my body, and acted feminine when I was dressed (such as trying to change my voice), I wanted her to prove she accepted me by being willing to let me try new things. Instead of reacting the way I had hoped, she pulled back further and seemed to be more disturbed by my behavior. She didn’t want to talk to me while I was dressed in case she heard my voice sounding more feminine. She didn’t want to touch my body when I was dressed up because she said it was uncomfortable to see me looking so foreign to her. While I was disappointed, I decided to ask her what she was comfortable with. At first, her suggestion that I dress up without her having to touch me or interact with me seemed too drastic. However, after she became comfortable with this, she was able to extend small gestures, like holding my hand for a few minutes. While these small steps were not what I had initially hoped for, these gradual changes helped me to see that she was making an effort and trying to be supportive. Over time, she was willing to listen to more of my suggestions about how she could be involved, and we set clear boundaries that we both agreed to. Before we reached this point though, and throughout our experience of trying to figure out what we both were comfortable with, we both felt extremely frustrated. As we tried to navigate the new experience of establishing boundaries, my wife was obviously concerned what this meant for our relationship. To help me throughout this process, I began seeing a therapist, and I felt like the situation was gradually become easier. Finally, my therapist encouraged me to attend a local support group for cross dressers, and I gradually found that there were many people like me. Most of these cross dressers were married, and all were heterosexual. I even met a fellow Mormon who cross dressed, and we had many conversations about how this affected our standing in the Church, our feelings about the behavior, and the shame and guilt we had experienced. While I hadn’t brought it up again with my bishop, I felt very unsure about how the church might react in the future about cross dressing. In other words, even though they hadn’t specifically come out with a statement against it, I was afraid of what might happen in the future. One thing I did know is that my cross dressing wasn’t going away. It was part of who I was, and if the church came out with disciplinary action associated with the behavior, I simply didn’t know what I would do. Cross dressing was a way for me to take the stresses I was facing and put them aside. In this way, I was able to view my life from an outside perspective as I dressed and acted like someone else. Through the experience of dressing up like somebody completely different, I was able to see my problems and come up with solutions that I simply did not see when I felt trapped by my own reality. I did not see that I could give up this part of which I was or how much relief and calmness it brought to my life. As I became more involved in the cross dressing support group, my need to find more support outside my own family and the group lessened. I no longer felt the need to share the information with close friends I worked with, and instead kept it more private. The group allowed me to be myself entirely without having to explain why I felt this way or what the behavior meant. I was completely at ease with other people who knew without having to be told that cross-dressing was a part of why I was. Within the group, I was accepted completely, and I also learned a lot of from other members in the group. For example, I met and became friends with another man who was also a faithful member of the Church. He had been married for far longer than I had, and had many helpful suggestions about how he had navigated the challenges of being a cross dresser. In turn, I was able to help him be more understanding of his wife’s frustration with his behavior by sharing some of the things I had learned in dealing with my own wife’s struggle with my cross dressing. Additionally, we talked about how cross dressing made our relationships with the Church feel complicated, and how we sometimes felt judged by other member of our ward simply by hearing an offhand comment they made about masculinity. Through these experiences with my friend, as well as other members of my support group, I began to find great self acceptance in my life. As a result, I didn’t feel compelled to share my behavior and feelings with other people outside the group, such as my colleagues. This choice to be more selective about who I shared my cross-dressing with helped my wife, who felt that cross dressing was more of a private behavior that shouldn’t be shared with others. This also helped my wife and I heal some of the rifts that can been caused over the past few years as we had dealt with the stresses of not only cross dressing and its effects on our lives, but the many other life stressors that had occurred as part of raising a family and pursuing careers. While life was certainly not perfect, it had reached a more stable and happy point than at any other time previously in our relationship. I wish I knew specifically what factor was the most influential in helping us reach this point. It is likely a combination of mutual sacrifice, support, encouragement, and compromise. It is also likely a result of the two personalities of me and my wife. In other words, I don’t think there is a simple equation of how exactly to find self-acceptance with cross dressing or how to prevent it from causing damage to relationships. However, I do think that we can benefit from more open dialogue, less judgment, and more understanding of the unique and heavy trials that each person faces.