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Friday, April 13, 2012

Reader Question: My Husband Has A Transvestic Fetishism


"My husband has transvestic fetishism. We have four beautiful children and are very active in the church, this has been building in our relationship, and I have tried to be understanding and work with him. We are trying to set limits. He is afraid if anyone finds out he will be excommunicated or disfellowshipped, but the urges continue and grow.

Can you offer any advice? We have let our recommends lapse and I haven't pushed them being renewed because I am afraid and worried. He really wants to go out to a city away from our home all dressed up and have dinner. I don't want to do this, and am trying to help him in other ways, but he is depressed. This has really made his testimony waiver." ~ Anon Feb 23rd


Dear Anon Feb 23rd,

Thank you for your question.

As I described in my article on sexual perversions, transvestic fetishism is a paraphilia. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, text revision (2000), which is also called DSM-IV-TR, this is a deviancy whose origin in the individual isn’t always clearly defined.

Also, according to the DSM-IV-TR, the desire to wear women’s clothing sometimes stems from the male’s relationship with his mother. If she held a strong grudge towards men and/or insisted on dressing her son in girl clothing, he may grow to associate dressing this way with love and acceptance. I can’t tell you if this is the case with your husband; this cannot be fully determined unless it is diagnosed by a professional.

Society, the media and our surrounding cultures are often the only entities that have determined what counts as gender deviation in clothing. There is nothing in the gospel that makes a separate distinction, other than we are to dress ‘modestly’, with dignity, and that we should dress in a way we would feel the most comfortable in the presence of the Lord.[i]

A male dressing fully as a woman at church may be possible, as long as he were dressed modestly. The members may raise a proverbial eyebrow, but generally they try to stay focused on being loving, accepting, and staying in the spirit of wanting to help others reach their spiritual potential. The members are also usually too focused on their own spiritual inadequacies. However, it would hinder his ability to exercise his priesthood (he could never bless the sacrament, hold leadership positions, or give priesthood ordinations dressed as a woman). This conflicts with known doctrine.[ii]

There’s a good chance that public displays or announcements of this sort would be viewed as a deviancy in parts of conventional society and certainly within our LDS subculture.

The Proclamation to the World does specify that spiritually we are created male and female, and we are expected to present and develop ourselves as such. Even if we feel like we are truly the wrong sex inside and have a sex-change operation in this life, a physical operation cannot change our spirit, and would only be reversed to their original state in the resurrection. (Alma 40:23)

It’s our doctrine that, when we die, our spirits remain as their original gender. When we are resurrected, we will be restored to our original form, as whatever gender we were physically born as.[iii]

If this fetish were just something fun between the two of you, I see no problem that would make either of you unworthy to attend the temple. The problem with focusing on a paraphilia (as I defined in my sexual perversions article) is that it can potentially be detrimental to your relationship for the following reasons:

  • Forcing you or guilting you into doing something you feel is wrong is called “coercion” which is a selfish act. Coercion is not condoned by the Church and will affect his worthiness as a husband, priesthood holder and recommend holder.

  • The purpose of sex is to strengthen your eternal relationship as husband and wife. If he is being selfish sexually, this will instead push you apart. That could lead to the death of your marriage.[iv]

  • More than anything else, I’m concerned that you are allowing his fetish to be put above your marriage and going to the temple. You mention that you have both allowed your temple recommends to lapse. This is a serious red flag to me, and should also be a red flag to you.

You went to the temple to be sealed for eternity as husband and wife. Your sealing is contingent upon both of your willingness to keep the covenants you have made in the temple. If he is putting his fetish above you, above his membership in the church, above his worthiness to go to the temple, he may be telling you by his actions that his fetish is more important to him than staying married.

·        LDS therapist Dr. Jennifer Finlayson Fife[v] said that one mistake many married couples make is the idea that making sacrifices for your marriage means throwing yourself under a bus to hide your spouse’s destructive behavior. This is not ever required of any man or woman in the gospel, and is not a righteous sacrifice.

  • Be aware that you’re probably being tested. The adversary doesn’t care about you or your husband, and is bent on seeing your family’s destruction. The temple and our marriages make us more like Christ and bring us closer to him. Satan knows that if he can keep you away from the temple and tear apart your marriage, he can destroy you and make you miserable like him.

  • This sort of fetish is not considered a deviancy within the worldly LGBT community, which is why those of our members who do feel this way are often drawn there. Everyone wants to feel accepted; no one likes feeling like an outsider among their own friends and family. Many times the ability to talk about what they’re going through with others in the same situation…the relief they feel from being able to be ‘open’…is what cements their identity as a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transvestite/transgender person in the world. However, the risk of going in this direction could make him sympathetic to apostate groups, which may make him unworthy to enter the temple. I’ll address this further in a moment.

You mention in your comments that it is something that you don’t like, and it concerns you that he wants to express himself this way in public. If this is something that you have expressed to him and he still pushes the issue, he is being selfish. There is no place for selfishness in marriage.

My heart truly goes out to you; this can be one of the hardest trials a couple can face. Your expectations for your marriage have probably not been fulfilled as you wished, and the death of long-held expectations can feel as bad as a death of a close friend or relative. Taking personal time or space for grieving is appropriate.

Your situation is what it is. However, I applaud you both for trying to face this and for not running away from it. The Lord loves you and your husband. Your relationship with your husband is worth fighting for, or you wouldn’t be trying to keep your marriage alive.

I do have some suggestions for you in this instance, and I hope you might find some help from these. Your situation, though thorny and difficult, is not entirely without hope. Some of the suggestions I’m about to give may sound unconventional, but try to keep an open mind and remember that there are ‘traditions’ in the LDS culture which are not necessarily ‘doctrinal’.

Anyway, here goes…

  • My first suggestion would be NOT to have your husband take his trouble to your bishop (unless you trust him implicitly).[vi] Chances are good that your bishop will not be skilled in knowing how to diagnose and come up with tools that will help your husband understand his feelings and perhaps overcome them. A licensed LDS Marriage and Family Therapist or psychologist would be the best person to speak with, if your husband still desires to be LDS. This issue is not something that needs to be confessed to the bishop, unless your husband has engaged in homosexual or other sexual activity with people he’s not married to, or unless he’s watching and masturbating to profane erotic material.
  • If you can find one, I would also recommend seeing a hypnotherapist who is trained specifically in neurolinguistic programing, but only if your husband feels like he has a problem and doesn't know how to deal with it or make it stop. As I mentioned above, many paraphilia have their origins in our childhood experiences. The subconscious governs our habits and always goes toward what we associate with pleasure. It also has no sense of time. The subconscious sees how we feel about a paraphilia as an adult and as a child, it sees as the same day. Many times, the only way to correct a detrimental behavior is at the subconscious level, and that requires a specialist.
  • I know the thought of this may be frightening, but it’s absolutely essential that both of you find trusted people to talk to about this situation. Make sure that the people you talk to are people who will not betray your confidence and expose your family to public ridicule. A good bishop, high priest group leader or Relief Society President may not be professionally trained to handle these sorts of matters, so use your best judgement. A paid professional, as I mentioned earlier, can be a godsend with a situation such as this. You both will need listening ears (other than each other) to help you address the ups and downs of this situation and help you put things in perspective. I don't recommend trying to deal with this alone. You’re too close and too emotionally invested in this situation.
  • I encourage you to reach out to others who also struggle with transvestism in the Church. There are other worthy, righteous members of the Church struggling with the same issues; you’re not alone or without those who care. One such group that I know of has formed at BYU (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aU-zw1aSy5s) and there are undoubtedly more groups online. Please go find them. Your husband is not deranged or evil. He’s not a freak of nature. There are many who struggle with this, for God’s own purposes, each trial is unique. There are loving members of the Church who can help you understand him, and help him understand himself.
  • If you’re both open to the idea of limits for the sake of maintaining your marriage, there are options you could try. If his attraction to women’s clothing is relatively minor (perhaps he prefers the feel of the fabric), he could wear women’s underwear under his garments. Even choosing to wear women’s style garments instead of men’s style is more of a preference than a hard guideline. What anyone else would say about it (other than you) is irrelevant. No one on Earth would know (and no one should know) except you and he. The garments are sacred, and if he would feel comfortable in the Lord’s presence doing this, there’s nothing wrong with that. He could also try wearing silk men’s underwear under his garments, or there are men’s garments that come in softer fabrics.
  • If he wants to get dressed up as a woman and go away to a different city for dinner, you could let him know that you could do it one time for the experience, but not repeatedly. When married couples date, they often do things they don’t like doing for the sake of their spouse. They take turns doing things the other likes to do. You are under no obligation, however, to repeatedly engage in situations that make you uncomfortable or put you both in jeopardy of violating a local law. There are venues where that would be socially acceptable - such as a costume ball.  If he can plan it in a way that helps you stay comfortable for the evening, then go for it. If that’s not an option and you already know that, then don’t.
  • Be patient with your husband; the feelings he’s feeling are very real, and will be very difficult to let go of, if he’s able to do so. This struggle could take a very long time to overcome (maybe his whole life), but you have all eternity to try. If your husband is feeling like he is a woman inside and that is why he feels he must dress this way, I strongly recommend he address this with a professional LDS counselor.

  • You said that he desires to push the boundaries of the expression of his fetish.  There are limits to how far these boundaries can be pushed while still maintaining Church membership. We are not excommunicated for our desires, but for the actions we choose to take.[vii] If he continues down this path and it leads him to adultery or a sex-change operation or any other such sin, the Bishop’s Handbook of Instruction points out that this is grounds for excommunication. Adultery can sometimes be repaired and membership reinstated; a sex-change operation would mean permanent excommunication.

  • Remember that your husband has his agency, and may choose to follow the worldly way of viewing things. In the world's view, a man dressing as a woman or having a sex-change to become a woman is simply an ‘alternate lifestyle’ that should be celebrated and accepted. That is a potentiality you should prepare yourself for. It will likely mean the end of your marriage if he does choose to go in this direction. He has made covenants with you, and keeping covenants with the Lord goes beyond feelings. We don’t go to work every day because we feel like it; we do it because we have a responsibility to our obligations. Sometimes we have to give up something we want very much for something better. Earning the Lord's trust requires that we bridle our passions. Not bind them to the ground, but keep them under control, and that requires a strong belief that the promised rewards will be worth it.

  • If you yourself want to stay a member of the Church, then renew your temple recommend (without him, if necessary) and return to the temple as often as you can. Your children need your activity for their protection, as well as yours. Your husband needs your faithful example.Regularly renewing your covenants at the Temple will also bless your marriage.

  • Be careful about what voices you associate with and listen to (this goes for your husband as well). Those who struggle with gender confusion and same-sex attraction can find themselves at a crossroads in life, with two very divergent opinions pulling them in two different directions. The Church and the gospel say one thing, and the world says something completely different. We in the Church, no matter what our situation, need to continue daily prayers, daily scripture study, regular Church attendance, and giving service to others in order to renew our testimonies of the gospel.

  • A testimony is not something we’re born with, or something that is permanent in some people and not in others. A testimony is a gift from the Lord, and it must be continually fed and maintained, like a delicate plant. If we stop feeding and renewing our testimonies, they will die. A good talk on this issue was given by David Bednar, called “Ye Must Be Born Again”. I recommend that you read this talk with your husband’s challenge in mind. Another good talk for your situation would be the more recent ones given by President Monson, “Stand in Holy Places” and three by Dieter Uchtdorf, called “Forget Me Not”,“You Matter to Him” and “The Merciful Obtain Mercy”.You can find these at LDS.ORG.

  • Be sure and familiarize yourself with the Church’s official stance on LGBT issues.[viii] It’s helpful to know the Church’s perspective on these issues, so that you don’t react to your husband or other LGBT people with inappropriate outside cultural reactions, some of which can be hostile. Your husband is a child of God, beloved of our Father in Heaven, just as you or any of us are, and he will be judged of God according to his thoughts, desires and actions, just as any of us will be.

  • The temple recommend questions about the law of chastity and associating and sympathizing with apostate groups might raise concerns for you in the temple recommend interview. An apostate group would promote same-sex marriage and promote sex outside of marriage. You can support your husband and other LGBT people by loving them and accepting them and trying to understand what they’re going through. This does not involve activities such as going to a gay bar, putting together a drag queen act with him, marching in a gay rights parade with him, or promoting same-sex marriage, adultery or fornication. Those things would make him unworthy and the Lord and his church cannot support that. From what you’ve described, I’m guessing he hasn’t gone that far yet.

With circumstances such as yours, most people email me first. I do wish I had your question in an email, so we could discuss this in a more private way. Since you asked me on my blog, I will offer you this public answer and hope that you will find your way to it. If you do have any other questions regarding this issue after reading this, please feel free to email me at samzaragoza@sbcglobal.net.

Also, if anyone reading this has had experience with gender confusion or same-gender attraction or concerns with being a transvestite such as this, or if you know of other good resources for LDS couples facing these issues, please feel free to post (anonymously or otherwise) on this blog, so that we can learn from your experiences as well.


[i] For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, Modesty
[ii] The doctrine that we are spiritually created male and female is clearly defined in the “The Family: A Proclamation To the World”, given by President Gordon B. Hinckley on September 23, 1995.
[iii] Alma 11:43

11 comments:

Strong Man said...

Interesting response. Your suggestions against consulting with a bishop was especially educational. I've been pondering what other issues that may apply to.

Go talk to the bishop seems to the catch-all advice given for any number of maladies. Not so sure that's the best advice all the time.

I'd be curious what other kinds of issues you would advice against discussing with your bishop?

For example, general marital problems that are strong disagreements, but not confessions of serious sin?

LovelyLauren said...

I have to disagree with a lot of what is given here. Sometimes a kink is just that: a kink. It doesn't mean that this woman's husband want to BE a woman, or else this wouldn't be a fetish. If he actually felt like he WAS a woman in a man's body, dressing as a woman likely wouldn't be sexually exciting, it would probably feel more normal to him. All of this focus on the LGBT community is really sidetracking from what should be a conversation about sexual fetishes and limits.

To me, this seems like a fairly harmless fetish and the less you know about it, the more it will worry you. To the wife: Have you asked him what turns him on about dressing as a woman? What about it is sexy to him? Is this an issue of gender identity or just something kinky? It's totally normal to fantasize about things that you would never actually want to do.

Assuming it is just a kink (and not a larger issue of orientation or gender identity), what about it bothers you? Assuming you're consenting adults within marriage, I see no reason to not to indulge, as long as he's willing to return the favor.

Talking about each other's fantasies can be an amazing eye opening experience when you're willing to go there with each other and not be ashamed of what turns you on (within reason). In the world of fetishes, this really isn't all that normal. If it's really a problem, a licensed sex therapist could definitely help you discuss limits with each other, but assuming this is just a kink, I see no reason why this should keep either of you from being temple-worthy. After all, "dressing up" like a woman is far different than being a woman (and some people are turned on by the taboo) especially considering that how we dress is entirely a cultural construction of femininity that has no inherent connection with womanhood.

I think this answer is pretty far off and would actually freak out the wife way more than she need to be, especially considering how little information that's she's actually given.

CoachSam said...

@ Strongman,

Thank you for your comment and question. If you haven't had an opportunity to read my article "Is The Bishop In Your Bedroom", I feel this would be a good place to see my thoughts on what is/isn't appropriate to take to the Bishop - in matters of Marriage. Here is the link:

http://ldsmarriagebed.blogspot.com/2011/02/is-bishop-in-your-bedroom.html?zx=6afe034d29681857

If this doesn't answer the question you had, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the desire to dress up as a woman isn't from a LGBT fetish or any desire to be part of them. It can arise from a man or woman not feeling they are attractive enough or feeling they could be MORE attractive if they were of the opposite gender.

Once they start down this path, the further they go the further the temptations. If they feel the LGBT groups sympathize more to their feelings, which is not unusual, they may engender themselves to those groups. This leads to further temptations down that path to an eventual joining these same LGBT groups and in some cases participating in those types of activities.

The original feeling of wanting to be more attractive or feeling they could be more attractive is one that can be difficult to overcome. This can be helped by close ones, especially a spouse, reaffirming at least once, and preferably more, stating how attractive they find their spouse as their husband, and how they really enjoy how their spouse looks. This won't necessarily solve the problem, but it gives support and if they are having problems with their appearance, gives them much needed solace and boosts their own confidence in their normal appearance.

Likewise, statements that tear down their appearance or self esteem will drive them further towards the fetish.

This is NOT necessarily what the husband may suffer from, but it is what some of those who go down this path have felt.

Anonymous said...

I know this topic is dead, but I just wanted to add my two cents real quick as an active LDS male with a similar fetish.

Well, basically everything I wanted to say was already said in Lovely Lauren's fantastic comment. I just wanted to add some cred to her words as someone who is in that boat (along with my wife). Basically, having a fetish is not a sin and you need not worry about it. The most important part of dealing with this is complete honesty (which it sounds like you have) and a willingness to give and take on BOTH of your parts.

I know from experience that this can be hard. But you can work it out. Don't let needless guilt weigh you down.

Anonymous said...

I think that this blog has a lot of potential to help people, and I admire that you use order references to answer questions. However, as you mentioned, temple garments are sacred and I don't find it appropriate that you talk about them on a public blog. I also don't think that it is your place to advise people to wear things under their garments. that is a controversial issue that is in fact something you should ask a bishop or temple worker about.

Anonymous said...

I can't fully agree with the previous commenter. The Church posts information about temple garments on a public website, right here:
http://www.lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/selected-church-policies?lang=eng&query=garments

I don't see a problem with talking about how to wear the garments. We just need to be careful about talking about the more sacred aspects. If you've been to the temple, you know what I'm talking about.
I myself wouldn't mind hearing more about these mysterious temple workers who keep advising people what to wear under or over garments. I don't think temple workers are taught about that - I've been a patron myself for over 20 years, and I've never gotten a clear answer on that, ever. I don't think it matters what you wear under or over garments, as long as you're wearing the garments properly. We should ask the Lord through the Spirit to know what's okay and what isn't. People will tell you different things, but the Lord's who really counts.

Anonymous said...

This is a difficult one given that we don't know enough about what goes on in this man's mind, but when I read the post I also tend to think that LovelyLauren's comment might be what it's all about or at least partly about. I for one, can certainly relate to the kinky side of this. As a man I love and am excited / turned on / attracted (or whatever the feeling might be), about EVERYTHING that has to do with a woman. For that reason, it can be very exciting to play with female clothing... I for one love the texture of pantyhose or stockings and the feeling of the air flowing around my legs clad in that texture. Many men love the scent of their woman lingering in her clothes and underwear. Kinks can take so many forms, but certainly does not have to mean that you are unhappy in your role as a man. I also think it's quite normal for a man to fantasize about what it would feel like to be a woman.. and again that does not mean you would want to change your gender, it's yet again more of an interest in the magic of everything female. Also, I think something like this may perhaps be a little flag that waves and says there is a general need in this relationship for more crazy fun play together :)

That said I also need to say that I have the utmost respect for your professional knowledge and in no way am I going to take away from your initial 'diagnosis'. This case COULD be serious, but there simply isn't enough info to tell.

CoachSam said...

Dear May 21 7:48 AM,

Thank you so much for reading and for your thoughtful comments.

I agree that without more information and without hearing the husband's side it's difficult to know how to guide this particular couple.

I felt a need to write this article, because I have to wonder how many LDS couples are out there who may be feeling the same challenge, but bottle it up because they don't know how to address it.

I know my article is monstrously long, but my feeling is that if even one of my bullet points can help a couple strengthen their eternal marriage, it's worth it. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm an LDS therapist and came across this article in the course of treating someone with transvestic fetishism. Unfortunately, the author is not very educated on the subject and some of the information in this article would actually be harmful if followed, while some of the information is fine. This is probably a situation where the author is speaking beyond their expertise. A few things to point out as problematic are the assumption that a transvestic fetishism is associated with homosexual feelings, which usually it is not. Troubling that you would blanket statement say that talking with the bishop would be harmful- this may not be the case. The author also seems biased towards "neurolinguistic programming" or hypnotherapy, which are not necessarily the most effective approaches in this case, rather the specialty areas of the author. Also your assertion that acting on the fetish at all might be a good idea is almost assuredly false.
I'm sorry Sam, it sounds like you're trying to do a good thing here, but I'd caution anyone who reads this from taking it all as gospel truth.

CoachSam said...

Dear "LDS Therapist",

Thank you for your comments. After reading them, I felt the need to clarify a few points that I feel may have been misunderstood.

I did make something of a connection between this particular fetish and homosexuality, only in that someone who has this particular fetish may feel drawn to the LGBT community for understanding and support. I did not mean to infer that there is necessarily a connection between the two – that someone who has this type of fetish is automatically homosexual. I agree that this is not necessarily true.

If you would more carefully read the article, I did not say that this person shouldn’t go see the bishop under any circumstances. That is an incorrect assumption to make. There are times when a bishop could be of some help from a spiritual vantage point, or where they could make a referral to a qualified counselor. But a bishop cannot and should not be counted on for psychological counseling.

If there is no moral sin that’s been committed, the bishop really doesn’t need to be involved. A man desiring to wear women’s underwear or other clothing is not in and of itself a ‘sin’ or even forbidden. It is simply outside the LDS cultural norms, as well as some of the surrounding cultures in the world.

The information the sister shared created a lot of unanswered questions. She was anonymous, so a meeting couldn’t be set up, but I felt her question was sincere. It could have gone in a lot of different directions and I attempted to cover as many possible scenarios as I could in case others had similar questions.

NLP is only one tool that could be used in circumstances such as this. Just because it was the example I used does not mean that is the only tool I would recommend. There are many others, as well as some that are unique to those of us in the LDS faith. But I would never underestimate the power of the subconscious mind to shape our decisions and actions. To discredit NLP as a possible tool I believe is a disservice to others.

Finally, I agree that my article should not be taken as ‘gospel truth’. Neither should your comments, LDS Therapist. Nor should anyone else’s, other than the apostles and prophets of the Church. Even they counsel that each member should seek answers from the Spirit, so we can know where the truth really is for ourselves.

My recent article on ‘Anthropology Vs. Marriage’ gives a good example of this. Just because people are learned does not necessarily mean they are wise, or even that all other learned people would agree. For example, you disagreed with me that acting on the fetish would be a good thing. There are some circumstances where I and perhaps other professionals would disagree with you also.

I do admit to some disappointment that you did not leave your name or your website for further investigation. I love getting in touch with others in the field and learning from them, both for myself and for my readers. It’s very easy for someone to leave the comment that they are a therapist, bishop, stake president, etc. online, and a lot of times I’ve found them to misrepresent themselves, either accidently or intentionally.

If you do in fact have any online website or links to articles or informational videos that address issues of sexuality for LDS married couples, LDS Therapist, I would be very interested to see them. If I find them credible and useful, perhaps my readers would as well.