A couple of weeks ago, I received this question on our anonymous questions page:
My husband wants to occasionally dress as a woman, including makeup, wig, etc. He insists there is no sex or “turn on” with it. Early in our marriage he was open with me that he crossdressed. At that point there was sex involved when he crossdressed, but I felt uncomfortable and asked him to stop. He abstained from crossdressing many years, and for the past couple of years he has again been crossdressing. From what I’ve read, it is quite typical for a crossdresser to use it in a sexual way when younger, then take some time away from it, then around middle age return to crossdressing with a desire to “present” as a woman, but without the sexual component. It feels wrong to me, but I also feel like if it is something he really feels he needs (he describes it as just a part of himself that he needs to express), maybe I should be supportive of him. Again, it is not a part of our bedroom and he claims it is not a turn on for him, simply something he feels the need to do. We have been in therapy working on basically communication issues for several years (when we began counseling this was not even an issue), and when we’ve discussed crossdressing with our therapist she seems very supportive of it. She does not identify herself as a Christian, though I don’t know her personal spiritual beliefs. I know in some cultures it is common, even a sign of honor to crossdress. That certainly is not the case in our culture, but being accepting of gender differences is more and more supported. I think that is why our therapist is supportive of crossdressing, and partly why I am so conflicted about this.
Is it okay for Christians to crossdress?
Someone is going to get upset at me for this, but I’m going to say no, it’s not okay.
A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God. – Deut 22:5
Now, some have done things to this verse to say that women can’t wear pants, but that’s not what it says. Really what it says is that women can’t wear clothes that society has clearly deemed “men’s”, and men can’t wear clothes are that clearly deemed “women’s” in our society. Why? It doesn’t really say. I believe it’s because God is very concerned about genders. He created us to be men, or women, and doesn’t want us trying to be something else.
And if you take the biblical view of men and women, that is men being a metaphor for God, and women a metaphor for the church, his people, etc., then we can see why blurring the lines between man and woman becomes a serious issue. As our society blurs those lines, we also blur the lines between God and man.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. Romans 1:24-25
In short, God seems very concerned about the proper order of things. Some are likely to turn this into a whole gender equality argument, but it’s not. The genders are equal in value. But that doesn’t mean they are identical in other ways. And our society is trying very hard to do away with the whole concept of gender. The first step is separating gender from sex. One of the items in the news this week, is about how Service Ontario (where we get our Driver’s Licenses renewed, and other fun stuff) will no longer use terms like “sir, ma’am, Mr., Mrs. Ms., father, or mother” because they’re all considered too gender biased. Because God-forbid you assume someone with a beard and a wife who marks his “sex” as male on a form self-identifies as a man.
This is a rejection of Deut 22:5 taken to the next level in my opinion.
Is this “done away with”?
Now, some will throw out Deut 22:5 as an “Old Testament verse that is nailed to the cross” however, that argument doesn’t really hold any weight with me, because nothing about cross dressing pointed to Christ’s death.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:17-19
In short: Christ came to fulfill those parts of the law that were about Him. The sanctuary system, festivals, etc.. I don’t think the order of genders will ever be “done away with” until perhaps after “heaven and earth pass away”.
Why is he crossdressing?
The next question people tend to have is, “Why is he doing it?” I actually got a chance to discuss this with this person who sent in the question. In short, he works in a job that is stereotypically male dominated and considered “manly”. He feels he has some things he wants to express, but doesn’t think he can as a man. He feels crossdressing allows him the freedom of expression that isn’t otherwise allowed.
And this is something a lot of men struggle with, in some way or another. Most don’t resort to crossdressing, but rather just bury those parts of themselves. We are taught growing up that certain expressions (crying, for example) are not manly. There’s only about three emotions we’re allowed to have: We can be angry, horny or hungry. Even when we’re happy, it’s not considered “acceptable” to be sappy sort of happy. It has to be like an “I won!” sort of happy where you clearly dominated everyone else, so in that way, it’s almost like another facet of anger, if you get what I mean. It’s not joy out of having something, but joy out of others not having what you have.
Point is, things like sadness, joy in someone else’s accomplishment, fear, guilt, shame, embarrassment, regret, anxiety, loneliness, and a host of others we don’t feel comfortable sharing, nor often do we have a vocabulary to do so. Often if you ask men what they’re feeling, they’re confused by the question. We tend not to be very self-aware of what’s going on with us on an emotional level.
As well, men are expected to have manly hobbies. Fishing, hunting, fighting, sports, building, etc.. If you decide to take up knitting, well you’re going to catch a lot of flack. If you want to dress … well, with some flair, shall we say, people will assume you are homosexual.
So, I can see the freedom felt in crossdressing, because it sheds all that baggage and could let you feel like you can express yourself without as many reservations.
So, how do you express yourself without crossdressing?
Well, you learn to express yourself as your real self. Rather than put on a fake persona, live authentically in your life. It’s not easy. You will definitely be ridiculed and some will have some wrong thoughts and opinions about it, but, frankly, they’re going to do that with crossdressing too.
The fact is, men can express other emotions, and when they learn to, they’re better off for it. Crossdressing is a bit like having an affair rather than working on your marriage. It takes a lot of energy, and might be exciting and fun, and feel like what you need, but you’re putting your effort in the wrong place. Fix the life you are living, rather than living a lie.
In a lot of cases, men can learn from their wives to do this. Usually they grow up learning the vocabulary needed to express themselves far better than we men do. They’re also generally more comfortable with having others express their emotions, and so won’t be put off by you trying. Wives can help by asking how they’re feeling, and not accepting a “thinking” answer. Or, the way we teach kids is to say “you seem like you’re feeling ___ because of ____” is that how you’re feeling? It can seem a little patronizing to an adult, but it does help them start linking feelings to words better.
I’ve told coaching clients to practice by, when sharing about their day, to say “At work, xyz happened, and it made me feel _____”. Not only does it get you more comfortable sharing how you feel, but it also helps your wife feel more connected to the deeper you.
What if there’s a sexual component?
For others, there is a sexual component to crossdressing. In all honesty, neither I, nor the wife who wrote the question is sure there isn’t. She says that in the past, there was sex involved, which she put a stop to, but that now her husband says there’s no sexual component to his crossdressing.
I’m not sure I trust that. It’s quite possible that he’s just saying that because she reacted negatively in the past.
The sexual part gets confusing. It could just be a further extension of wanting to express yourself in ways that you feel you can’t as a man. If you grew up thinking men should basically just pound their wife into the bed until they both orgasm, but you are looking for something softer and gentler, you may feel that you can’t do that as a man. But, as a woman, you could.
Now, for some there is same-sex attraction, or gender dysphoria (where you don’t feel that you are the gender you are born with), and those get into far more complicated topics. In some cases (some say many or most), it has to do with childhood abuse. Whether it does or not, sometimes the answer is simply accepting that you have same sex attraction and accepting that it’s a temptation that you won’t indulge in. For others, it’s a little more difficult. To be honest, I lack both the research or experience to deal with those harder cases.
How do you deal with this as a wife?
This is the hard part. Some would simply say “divorce him”, but to be honest, I can’t see biblical grounds for that. Even if he felt convicted that the Bible said it was wrong and continued to do it, even if he left the faith completely, that’s not a valid reason to divorce.
And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. – 1 Corinthians 7:13
If it’s intolerable to her, she could separate, but even then, I’d say there’s probably something else going in the marriage if it pushed you that far. I’d think you are likely blaming the crossdressing as an easy escape.
The answer, as always, is to love the person while recognizing that the behaviour is sinful. In that way, he’s no better or worse than any of us. Yes, his particular behaviour may be more visible, and less socially acceptable (particularly in Christianity), but he’s still God’s creation, and I know God loves him. How could I do any less?
So, what would I do? I’d make it very clear that I love them, as they are, and always will. I’d also be clear that I don’t like this behaviour, and I’ll never say it’s okay. I’d try to understand the source of this desire, as she has. I’d probably try to encourage him to learn to express himself fully, without the crossdressing. That might be met with a lot of resistance, and they might not be willing to do it. But I’d offer to be there to help if they ever are.
One question that came up during the course of our discussions in our private facebook group is going out in public while he’s crossdressing. I’m of two minds about this.
Part of me says that I’d set a boundary that says I’m not willing to participate in this behaviour, so I wouldn’t. Another part of me says I’m being a hypocrite, because I’m willing to go out with people who smoke and drink, even though I think that’s not okay. Why? Because they’re more socially acceptable? Because there’s more people doing it?
You know what, I think I just solved my own dilema. Jesus sat with tax collectors and prostitutes. He didn’t require that they change their behaviour before he spent time with them. He loved them, and invited them to change. So, I guess that should be my example.
I’d encourage more communion with God. Establish devotions and prayer as habits, if they aren’t already.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. – James 5:16
Encourage transparency and authenticity, which means being open about your struggles. I know that’s hard, and often not encouraged in Christianity, unfortunately. It’s something we’ve lost. I heard a while back that in the early days of the denomination we’re a part of, members would get together weekly to share their struggles and failures. Their sins and temptations. So that others could console them and pray for them. Can you imagine? Part of me says “Thank God we don’t do that anymore”, but another part of me knows that God had no part in us losing that habit…
Is it okay to crossdress as a Christian?
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. – James 2:10
We need to recognize that crossdressing is just another sin. It’s no better or worse than lying, than not being hospitable, or even than not being perfect.
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:22-24
We need to realize that the same grace that justifies us justifies anyone engaging in this behaviour.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? – Romans 6:1-2
That said, we need to be clear that this is sin. Some will ask whether or not it’s a salvation issue, but that’s a wall Christians like to hide behind to rationalize away working on “common” sins. There are no salvation issues. Or, more accurately, everything is a salvation issue. Continuing to engage in any sin, deciding to ignore conviction, or self-justify that sin away leads us to ignore God’s prompting, and could ultimately lead to us turning away from Him. In that way, it’s a serious issue … like all our sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8
So, let’s be compassionate while firm. Showing love while holding each other accountable. In this way, I think we can show people both God’s loving mercy and grace as well as His loving law and truth.