Coming out of the cross-dressing closet takes its toll on couple’s marriage—but they survive
Andrew and Christine Weber have been married 42 years. Their loving union has produced two daughters, and they are doting grandparents. On the surface, their relationship appears to be rather average.
Andrew is a cross-dresser. Every Wednesday and Friday, he goes out en femme as Linda Slater.
It’s a situation that has put an incredible strain on both Andrew and Christine (not their real names). With communication and compromise, however, they’ve managed to stay together for all these years.
Andrew’s penchant for female clothing began at age 7. In his early teens, he collected his sisters’ discarded clothing and kept it stashed in the basement. His family never discovered his secret.
“It was the thrill of doing it — it was something I always wanted to do,” says Andrew. “To some degree, I had a guilt complex about it. I went to church and confessed.”
He believed getting married would eliminate the urge to cross-dress. Alone at home, however, the yearning to release his inner female would surface. At 26, Andrew began buying women’s clothing.
“I wanted my wife to wear the stockings and high heels; she said she couldn’t be bothered,” Andrew recalls. “So, I went out and purchased all this nice new stuff.”
Christine was unaware of her husband’s predilection for female clothing. She will never forget the day he came out. She had recently given birth to their first daughter, after months of bedrest. She was in the bathtub when, she recalls, “he walked in dressed as a woman. I was in shock. I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s gay!’”
But Andrew wasn’t gay. Desperate to understand her husband, Christine searched for answers. But in 1974 she could find no information on cross-dressing.
“My husband ‘died,’ and now I have to learn to love the person that I’m living with,” Christine remembers thinking. She still struggles with those feelings 40 years later.
Guilt-ridden over the anguish he’d caused Christine, Andrew agreed to see a therapist. The therapist told Andrew he could “cure” him with aversion — or shock — therapy. Andrew accepted it for six months and purged his female wardrobe. For a few years, he stopped cross-dressing. The couple thought life would return to normal.
But it turned out to be a Band-Aid solution. The urge to cross-dress came back, with a vengeance.
“Once a cross-dresser, always a cross-dresser,” says Dr. Oliver Robinow, a psychiatrist at Vancouver General Hospital and a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. “It cannot be undone.”
Accurate statistics about the prevalence of heterosexual cross-dressers are difficult to come by, since so many remain in the closet, and women with similar proclivities are likely to escape notice in a culture that generally accepts women dressing in “male” attire.
To most observers, cross-dressers are an enigma. For the most part, they have no desire to transition to the other sex, but the need to express their experience of gender identity — the inner femme — is fundamental.
“Psychiatry understands this as something that happens far back — a splitting-off instead of a commingling,” says Robinow. “We all contain aspects of feminine and masculine. In an integrated person, you make use of both sides.”
The female and male aspects of our personalities can be represented by an egg, Robinow explains. The egg white symbolizes the male persona, and the yolk the female persona. The egg isn’t whole without both, and neither are we.
“For the cross-dresser, there is a failure of fusion; the two parts are separate,” says Robinow. “The child grows up with a male outside and a female part inside.”
Robinow says the root cause is distressing events in very early childhood: divorce, cruelty, sexual abuse or other issues, mostly involving the child’s primary caregiver.
For Andrew and Christine, the situation continued to take a toll on their relationship.
At 46, Andrew wanted Linda Slater to have a legitimate place in their life. Linda wanted to go out regularly. Andrew, on the other hand, felt tremendous stress from work, the marriage, and his financial responsibilities to the family.
“I grew up feeling that I had to be perfect,” says Andrew. “When I’m Linda, I don’t have to be perfect . . . Andrew is the guy who has to work, pay bills; Linda has no such responsibilities.
“I just feel happier and more comfortable as Linda.”
But Christine was fed up with the cross-dressing; she wanted Andrew, not Linda. She felt Andrew was going out as Linda too much; she felt socially isolated from friends and family; she felt she had no life.
“We used to have friends come by for dinner,” says Christine. Now she is afraid people will discover their secret. “So, I just keep everyone at a distance. I have two sisters who love Andrew, but they don’t want to see Linda. A lot of people are fine with it, but they don’t want it in their face.”
Christine finally issued an ultimatum. She told Andrew to go out and have fun as Linda for two solid weeks, while she took the children camping. At the end of the two weeks, she said, he’d have to choose a life with his family or without it.
While Andrew felt he could be happy living as Linda, he decided he wanted his family. So, the couple went into counselling.
Three factors ultimately contributed to the relationship’s survival: communication, compromise and limits.
Their 25th wedding anniversary was a turning point. Seated at the table with Christine for their celebratory dinner was Linda, not Andrew.
For their 40th anniversary, they renewed their vows. Christine gave Andrew the ultimate gift — Linda got to be the bride. Christine wore a simple, elegant dress and Linda wore a white wedding dress. It was an intimate gathering of 17 people, including their two grown daughters, now 36 and 31. (Both accepted their father’s cross-dressing when they learned of it as adults.)
The couple has found what works for them. Twice a week, Linda goes out, giving Andrew freedom to express one facet of his gender identity.
Passing as a woman is hard work. In preparation, Andrew shaves his entire body, including his eyebrows. He has plenty of equipment to morph into Linda: silicone breast forms, a waist-cinching belt, special pads for the buttocks and hips, bras, panties, makeup, wigs, shoes and jewellery. It typically takes him an hour to get dressed.
“I love presenting as a woman,” says Andrew. “The better you cross-dress, the more invisible you become. I don’t believe I’m a girl; I’m a guy. But I have an inner part of me that is a girl, and I want society to accept me for this.”
Christine acknowledges that she is giving up part of her life and is “just coping most of the time.” She says she knows of women whose husbands are alcoholics. “Which is worse?” she asks.
“It takes a long time to accept this, and sometimes I get fed up with it,” says Christine. “If you’re married to a good person, then you can make a lot of allowances . . . Linda completes him.”
Helen Wolkowicz is a Montreal-based young-adult fiction author and freelance writer. She is currently working on a novel about a trans teen.