June 23rd, 2011 09:38 EST
Truths about Transvestism: Former Congressman Anthony Weiner Caught in Women`s Clothes
In the latest exposÃ© of disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner`s sexual behavior, photos surfaced of his donning a bra and women`s hose in college. The pictures were reportedly taken by a college friend in 1982 when the now 46-year old Weiner was a sophomore student at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh.
Teenage behavior aimed at shock value - including such cross-dressing - is not uncommon, as I know from years of hearing teens report about their activities on my radio call-in advice show.
Some might be inclined to be further disgusted by the ex-pol`s behavior, but the desire to wear women`s clothes deserves more detailed analysis.
Dressing in underwear of the opposite sex can be a prank, advanced creative sex play between consenting partners, or part of a problem. The behavior, like any other sexual activity, becomes a problem if the person cannot have a loving intimate relationship with a partner, make wise judgments about how and when to engage in the behavior, or gets into trouble with his relationship, career or the law.
A major myth needs to be corrected. While some cross dressers - called transvestites - are gay and a few are stage performers, the majority are heterosexual, married with children and working in respectable jobs. The behavior ranges from secretly trying on their wife`s clothing, to hiding female panties under their business suit, to full dress-up with make-up and wigs for outings in public hoping to "pass" as a woman. Some cross-dressers adopt names for their "femme" persona, so Michael wants to be called Michelle and John renames himself Joan.
For thousands of cross dressers in this country (and also worldwide), the behavior allows relief from demands of masculinity, affords permission to feel beautiful, adored and taken care of, and offers a chance to experience both masculine and feminine sides of himself. As one man explains, "I like my male organ, but I also love knowing what it feels like to be a woman." Powerful men may engage in this behavior as a way to symbolically escape pressures to be in control or aggressive by assuming the role of a more passive and submissive female. For this reason, the behavior is often accompanied by sexual activity characterized by dominance-submission or sado-masochism. Such men may want their partner to play a "male" or dominant role, or may frequent a professional dominatrix. Of course, unlike regular Joes, Weiner`s added status as a political figure affords him the opportunity and sense of entitlement to indulge his sexual fantasies and attract willing partners.
What about Weiner`s wife, then? Why doesn`t he just do those things with her? The answer lies in the "Madonna-prostitute" syndrome, whereby such men act out their erotic wild sex fantasies with a woman they can treat as a "slut" in order to keep his public partner, a wife or mother to his children, pure and pristine. With Weiner`s wife Huma being pregnant, this split is even more pronounced. Also, while in principle Huma`s status as a powerful Alpha female in her public life (as the Secretary of States` aide, traveling around the world meeting world leaders) would qualify her to dominate a man, her character precludes her from being likely to be receptive to these of her husband`s sexual fantasies. Wives of cross-dressing men have been given ratings according to their acceptance of their partner`s behavior. In one survey, one in five wives demanded divorce and were given an "F," while one in four who got an "A" welcomed a "female" friend to go shopping with.
These "A" female partners may even request that he trade his pants for her panties where the role reversal gives her a sense of power and that he appreciates women.
"When he`s dressed like a girl, he really knows, like another woman would, how to please me sexually," one woman enthusiastically told me.
In the privacy of love chambers, a man can don his lover`s lingerie to give them both a thrill over role-playing the opposite sex, or trading traditional roles of power and control.
One man explained his cross-dressing as an outgrowth of homework given to him in couples` therapy to learn how to please his wife by "walking a mile in her shoes." He took it literally, and squeezed not only into her shoes but her underwear too. Getting in her garb was a way to get inside her head. Cross-dressing has a social context. Men are stigmatized by dressing or acting like the opposite gender, while the opposite does not apply. Women are allowed to display traditionally masculine behavior and to dress like men, like actor Diane Keaton so often seen in suits.
As a psychologist, I must point out the difference between sex play and cross dressing urges and behavior that can lead to the man`s suffering guilt and depression in private.
One source offering support for these men is Miss Vera`s Finishing School for Boys who want to be Girls. Groups provide a safe place for these men to explore their identity and classes offer training about clothing, voice inflection, and gait.
Academy founder and sexologist Veronica Vera, whose philosophy is "Venus Envy," says, "For every woman who burned her bra, there is a man eager to wear one."
The name of Miss Vera`s school is somewhat misleading, though, because men who really want to be a woman are not transvestites, but "transgender," who feel born in the wrong body and seek sex reassignment.
Psychological explanations of cross-dressing range from envy of the opposite sex, frustration with male roles and restrictiveness of male fashion, to genetic predispositions, in-utero hormonal imbalances, and childhood searches for mother`s approval.
Cross- dressing can start when a teenage boy in a bathroom casually grabs his mother`s undergarments to masturbate into, or, on a deeper level, when a little boy puts on mother`s clothes to feel close to an absent or adored female figure.
It is one thing to reveal such behavior to a grown-up partner, but coming out to children is far more complicated. For one family I worked with, the father chose to tell his children on Halloween, when dressed up as a woman, he explained that he enjoys doing this in his life on other occasions. At first, the children were confused and embarrassed (especially that peers would find out and tease them) but they eventually accepted the behavior once the family did not fall apart.
Cross dressers challenge us to question what it means to be a man or a woman and the advantages of each gender.
Dr. Judy Kuriansky is an internationally respected clinical psychologist at Columbia University Teachers College and an honorary professor at Beijing Health Sciences Center. Valued for her wise advice and well known as a radio call-in show host for decades, she is also a noted television commentator and print and online columnist, who runs workshops and seminars for public and professional groups worldwide on dating, love and interpersonal relations evident in her books, "The Complete Idiots Guide to a Healthy Relationship" and other "Complete Idiots Guides" to Dating and to Tantric Sex as well as "Generation Sex" and "31 Things to Raise a Child`s Self Esteem." An award-winning journalist and documentary producer, humanitarian and peace activist whose band "The Stand Up for Peace Project" has played for the Dalai Lama, she is also sought after for consultations and presentations about international relations evident in her work as an NGO representative at the United Nations, projects on HIV prevention and disaster recovery in Haiti, China and Africa, and books like "Beyond Bullets and Bombs: Grassroots Peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians." See www.DrJudy.com.