My brother is a cross dresser – help!

Dear Dr. Milrod:

I am a woman in my mid 40s with a fraternal twin brother. We live in Los Angeles not too far from each other. I am very close to my brother and his wife. Recently, she confided in me that my brother dresses like a woman and that it keeps happening more and more. It started just in the bedroom but has now escalated to the point of him talking about taking hormones off-and-on. His wife confided in me that he acts like a woman during their love making (I found this very disturbing to hear), and that he prances around afterwards in a robe around the house. She is confused by this but she loves my brother, so she is trying to go along with whatever is happening. He has said absolutely nothing to me about it. To me, he has always been fairly manly. Why is he acting like a woman sexually? Thank you for your help in clarifying this!

Eileen F.


Dear Eileen F:

I no longer use the word “cross dresser,” as I find it inadequate in its description of gender variance. Rarely does an individual dress only because s/he likes clothes or lingerie of the opposite gender; instead, the individual is expressing his/her degree of gender variance that resides deeply within the person and generally escalates as the years go on. What may have begun as an eroticizing of the individual’s female self in younger years when testosterone levels were high and sexual expression was at the forefront, often begins to take on a much deeper sense of significance post-andropausally. The individual may be “partially transgendered” (a term I use to detoxify and neutralize the often derogatory “cross dresser” label) and moving toward a more internally bi-gendered self or even fully transgendered persona. This is very frequent among individuals in my practice. Someone who in his pre-40s used the female self for primarily erotic purposes may wish to integrate more and more of an unrepressed female identity beyond sexuality after 40. The individual begins to seek gender comfort which includes both sexual behavior components and also selfhood in the opposite gender.

Some of my clients endeavor to live a bi-gendered life; their wish is to live in a work role as male, but slip into a female role at home. This includes engaging sexually as a female – passive intromission with dildos or vibrators, the other partner becoming the sexual aggressor, etc. For these men (usually they are male), this becomes an impossibility unless the wife accepts and can integrate the two personas. For others, transitioning is the only way out. I do have my own theories regarding brain chemicals and the influence of gonadal hormones – I believe there is a reason for why the degree of physical gender dysphoria increases substantially during or post-andropause in these men. Suppression of the female gender works as long as there are sufficient androgens to fight against the need for estrogen in the brain – this is why there seems to be so much comfort and real internal peace once the individual is put on weak non-transitioning levels of estrogen or androgen suppressors.

In any event, I believe it would be useful to pursue the meaning of your brother’s gender rather than just make this into a sexuo-behavioral problem. It is entirely possible that he is moving toward transition and is not able to fully express this without fear or trepidation. Even if he is going toward bi-genderedness, dressing in private is no longer an option, since one lives life at home “in private.” Home IS private and hence s/he probably feels the need to express his/her true self unrestrictedly in this environment. As to his wife, yes, it is an arduous road toward acceptance, if that is what she will end up doing. Gender issues don’t go away – they become stronger and stronger as the years go on. If she forbids her husband’s expression, he will just take it somewhere else. I believe sex is the least of their problems – it is their open realization that he is part female, at least to himself. They need to investigate what this brings to their mutual relationship, and how they will negotiate it in the end. It will surely never go away.

Christine Milrod, PhD

Comments are closed.