A Cure for Transvestism?

Diane S. Frank comments on an anonymous remark left on our website’s contact form.

We recently received the following remark:

"I believe that the reason I started having Transvestic inclinations was my mother threatened me with castration at the age of 4. I have found that Buddhist meditation has helped me to largely eliminate tranvestism in myself though I still have powerful urges at times to try on some shoes. I am now at a stage where the inclinations to dress up are on the wane. I think this information should be shared as there is apparently no good cure for transvestism. There are many like me who have been able to deal with this issue. This information should be shared. Buddhist meditation is only for some and should ideally be done with a teacher".

I wish the person writing this had left contact information so we could engage in some sort of dialogue. I've already shared these remarks and solicited comments from an on-line discussion group to round out my thinking on the matter. From my own perspective I think we need to be careful of what we mean when we use the word "cure". To me, a cure for something means that the something doesn't shadow your life, that you don't have to exercise vigilance against its possible return. A cure for something is different from managing something.

ne correspondent pointed out that in the Christian tradition, we are all subject to earthly temptation to do things we ought not to do. We are accordingly not expected to eliminate temptation, only not to succumb to it. The Buddhist tradition is to gain detachment from desire, so will desire or temptation may still be present it does not rule one's life. In these contexts a cure is equivalent to management. One can say homosexuality is cured, not by the absence of desire for sex with men and the replacement of that desire with a desire for sex with women, but by the elimination of sexual contact with men. One could say that crossdressing is cured by eliminating the behavior. Of course, if you isolated a homosexual from men, or a crossdresser from any women's clothing, making the acts impossible you could also claim a cure. I don't agree. Merely controlling what one does about desire doesn't cure one of it, even if controlling is the wise and responsible thing to do.

I have no idea whether our unknown correspondent saw any potential in his own life for crossdressing to be a positive meaningful addition to it. If it was just a burden, I'm glad he's found a way to set it down. Reading the post, I'm not quite sure the person really has set it down. How do we now that this person isn't on the downside of a normal cycle? Why is there still a powerful urge to try on shoes? And if the person has detached crossdressing from his being, why seek out and contact a group like ours unless the topic was still greatly on his mind? Couldn't focus on ideas about crossdressing simply be a substitute for the act itself?

One of our group was deeply into Buddhist practice and spent years on an Ashram. In this person's case deep meditation and guidance of a teacher was of no help. I meditate regularly, but I've never tried (or wanted to try) deliberately using meditation to change something. The tradition of my mediation isn't objective focused.

I have written elsewhere, if perhaps not as visibly, that I have never liked the widely held notion that crossdressing isn't curable, by which most people mean manageable. I take the general meaning to be in the context that we read of cycles of purging and re-acquiring clothing. The attempted cure has failed here, although I would say the attempt at management has failed. I am greatly bothered by the idea that we can manage and control alcoholism, and drug-addiction but somehow crossdressing is beyond that. I want people who crossdress to do so because it adds something positive and meaningful to their lives, not because they are unable to stop despite the harm it could cause them and their families. I want management techniques that work, whether they are Buddhist mediation or Christian prayer and counseling or psychotherapy or anti-depressants. I want equal validity for people's choices to crossdress or not to crossdress, and I want people to be happy in their choices.

What do you think?