"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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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