Transvestism is considered a psychosexual disorder in which erotic pleasure is derived from wearing clothing designed for members of the opposite sex.
The distinguishing characteristic of transvestism is
wearing feminine clothing . . . is associated with sexual arousal at least in the initial phase of the condition (Rekers, 1984, p. 1180). Transvestites report intense frustration when cross dressing is interfered with and many report a tension release or anxiety reduction during episodes of cross-dressing.
Rekers (1984, p. 1180) indicates that about 89% of trans-vestites are heterosexual and about 64% are married and appear masculine in their everyday life. About two-thirds have children.
However, their episodes of cross dressing may include wearing feminine cosmetics and wigs, shaving their legs and underarms, and feminine gestures, mannerisms, postures, and gait (Rekers, 1984).
The purpose of this report is to present a sociological analysis of transvestism as a sexual variation and to examine three themes – gender, power, and sexual orientation.
The report will be divided into four sections – first, characteristics of transvestism will be presented. In the
second section, a summary of the sociology of the “self” and the development of the “I” and the “me” will be conducted. Section two will also present psychological accounts of transvestism.
In the third section, a review of gender, power, and sexual orientation will be provided. In section four, an analysis and summary of the issues will integrate the issues discussed.
The major objective of the analysis is to confront sexual variations from a sociological a perspective and to utilize gender, power, and sexual orientation themes for this analysis.
It is important to note that the majority of transvestites are males. Thus, the pronoun “he” will be utilized in references to transvestites.
CHARACTERISTICS OF TRANSVESTISM
As previously noted, transvestism is considered a “psycho-sexual disorder.” Clinicians indicate that the transvestic phenomena range along a continuum. The range of transvestite cross-dressing goes from wearing women’s panties under the usual male clothing throughout the day, to episodic solitary wearing of lingerie (in about one-third of the cases). And then there is elaborate cross dressing in the privacy of one’s home, to extensive involvement in a transvestic subculture including episodic appearances in public while fully cross dressed, in a
minority of cases (Rekers, 1984).
The diagnostic criteria include: (1) repeated and
persistent cross dressing by a male with a predominantly hetero-sexual orientation; (2) association of cross dressing with sexual excitement; and (3) report of intense frustration with the interference of cross dressing. In addition, the
transvestite reports a different personality when cross dressed. Ziegler (1984) indicates that these expressions may result from their experiencing, in female clothing, a facet of their
psychological makeup that cannot be expressed, otherwise.
It is important to point out that the majority of transvestites are heterosexual and no attempt is made to attract the sexual attention of other males. The cross dressing, alone, is the focal point of sexual stimulation (Ziegler, 1984).
Transvestites report anxiety, depression, guilt, and shame with the desire to cross dress. However, they continue to cross dress because of the considerable satisfaction derived from the practice (Ziegler, 1984).
Etiology of transvestism
About 54% of transvestites indicate childhood or early adolescent cross dressing experiences. Initially, partial cross dressing leads to total cross dressing. In some cases, feminine clothing articles may be used with masturbation and become an erotic stimulus in itself.
Regarding transvestism, gender orientation or gender
identity is often considered abnormal. This abnormal identity is assigned to people who behave in ways that are culturally and normatively inappropriate to their sex roles. The assumption is that gender identity must match one’s biological sex and the cultural and normative sex-role stereotypes (Schau, 1984).
SOCIOLOGY OF THE SELF
Two primary agents, acting concurrently, serve to make
the human personality. One agent, the neurological and physical, aids our growth and development. The other agent, socialization, includes the processes through which humans learn the way of life of his or her society, acquire a personality, and develop the necessary abilities to function as individuals and as group members.
The socialization process is integral to the formation of sex role identities. Noted sociologist Charles Cooley (1864-1929) noted “one’s consciousness of himself is a reflection of the ideas about himself that he attributes to other minds” (Popenoe, 1980). Cooley called this “reflection” the “looking glass self” because of its three main components: (1) our perception of how our behavior appears to others; (2) our perception of their judgments of this behavior; and (3) our feelings about those judgments. Cooley suggested that the self developed through relationships with parents and other primary group members.
As important to the development of the self is the develop-ment of the two primary parts of the self – the “I” and the “me.” Mead (Popenoe, 1980) was instrumental in recognizing the “I” as the social part of the self or the spontaneous, unique, and natural traits of each person. The “me” represents the social part of the self or the internalized demands of society and the person’s awareness of these demands.
During the development of the “I” and the “me,” children go through various play stages in which they assume the roles of others. Popenoe (1980, p. 139) points out that “children begin to take the role of the other that is, to learn the expectations of others by putting oneself in their place.” At more advanced stages, children “play at taking the roles of others and in so doing, practice the attitudes and actions that significant others expect” (Popenoe (1980, p. 139). According to Mead, games are important to the full development of the self. For example, when playing baseball, a child must take into consideration a number of roles simultaneously, visualizing and responding to the intentions and expectations of the other players (Popenoe,
1980, p. 139).
Of the two sociologists, Mead recognized that there is
some conflict between the individual an society. In this report, I will argue that this conflict and a lack of a fully developed gender identity might be contributing factors in transvestism. GENDER, POWER, AND SEXUAL ORIENTATION
Generally, transvestism is considered a “disorder” or deviant behavior based on the power of the majority to enact and enforce normative behavioral expectations. These definitions of deviance derive from a historical foundation based on morality, or the normative of expectations of the majority of the members of a society. Morality concerns the conscience, character, conduct, intentions, social relations, and general principles of right conduct.
Morality is group-supported and there are acceptable behaviors in situations that govern the actions of members of the society. Societies establish systems of rules, regulations and principles that govern behavior. However, these rules, regulations, and principles may apply differently to persons in the society and/or govern specific situations. There are minimum and maximum expectations, so that nonconformity to and/or deviation from or violation of these expectations becomes a serious problem. Nonconformist actions usually produce reactions from groups, individuals and/or control agencies. Consequently, morality and normative expectations are integral to the distribution of power in the society.
These, in turn, are related to definitions of transvestism as a “deviance” for those persons who behave in ways that are culturally or normatively inappropriate to their defined sex roles. It is generally agreed that transvestites have not fully developed their gender identities; therefore, they act in ways that are considered inappropriate by the dominant society (Rekers, 1984). As Schau (1984, p. 305) points out the concept sex roles includes a judgmental component related to the “correctness” or “fairness” of the stereotypes.
According to Unger (1984, p. 306), typical definitions of sex roles include the behaviors or characteristics that are:(1) typical of women or men (sex role stereotypes) and (2) desirable for women and men (sex role norms).
The components of sex roles include personality traits, values, abilities, interests, and behaviors that are performed within the familial or occupational roles (Unger, 1984, p. 306).
Sex role scales were developed during the 1930s to determine placement along masculinity femininity scales. The extreme ends of the scale represented appropriately male and appropriately female behavior. The more consistently an individual responds in terms of the normative behaviors for that sex, the more sex-typed he or she is considered to be (Unger, 1984, p. 6).
This report takes the perspective that power in this society is based on conformity to culturally and normative-defined expectations. The expectations of “appropriate” behaviors are enacted, enforced, and monitored by members of the dominant society. Because “appropriate” males in this society form a political majority and because this majority has an awareness of the actions (via research studies), knowledge and expertise (eg., psychologists), and public support, they are able to label nonconformists.
Labeling theories indicate that the most significant questions about how behaviors come to be given labels for a person or group is what the consequences are for the person or group that has been given a label. Labeling theorists contend that an given acts, along with the person who commits them, only become deviant when labeled as such by others.
Three stages are important in labeling behaviors. First, the behavior must be observed by people who are close to the person committing the act. Second, the person is labeled “deviant.” Third, the person then joins a deviant group or subculture that provides social support for the behaviors (Popenoe, 1980, p. 225).
Labels get translated Labels get translated into socially supported norms
via “rule creators” or people who help create normative expectations. When rule creators are disturbed by something, they crusade against it. These crusades, in turn, lead to definitions of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
ANALYSIS AND SUMMARY
Sex role stereotyping occurs early in this society. And, there are sex-based expectations of behavior. Generally, this stereotyping is done because different roles are expected of
males and females. Traditionally, males have assumed roles of fatherhood, females have assumed roles of motherhood. Boys and girls learn the appropriate behaviors through identification with and social learning of behaviors from significant others.
As the “I” and “me” develop, children also learn what
is expected of boys and girls from parents, from others of
the same and different genders, and from rewards and punishments for appropriate behavior. However, males with transvestic orientations fail to completely internalize the self-identification of boy/male. This failure, when associated with the pleasures derived from cross dressing has at least two primary ramifications. First, the dominant society has defined transvestism as a disorder and/or deviant behavior. Second, the transvestite may experience negative emotions associated with cross dressing.