In Chapter 3 we discussed the concept of transgenderism. Typically, a transvestite (TV) obtains sexual pleasure from dressing in the clothing of the other sex (see Table 16.2). As the accompanying Personal Voices, “A Cross-Dresser and His (Her?) Wife” illustrates, a transgendered person typically feels a sense of comfort, whereas a TV typically feels sexual arousal (Seligman & Hardenburg, 2000). Both may be comfortable being the gender they are and not in search of sex reassignment surgery.
True transvestism is often referred to as transvestic fetishism (trans-VESS-tick FEH-tish-iz-um) to emphasize the fact that the cross-dresser has an erotic attraction to the clothing he or she wears. Clothes are, in all cultures, symbols of sexual identity and gender roles. Many transvestites are not comfortable with the gender roles that society forces on them because of their biological gender, and many men feel that cross-dressing liberates them from the expectations society puts on them.
A true transvestite is almost always a heterosexual male (Docter, 1988), although perhaps this is because cross-dressing for women is much more acceptable in our society. For example, in the United States, women often wear traditionally male clothing such as pants, suits, or ties, and they are free to wear pink, blue, or whatever colors
they choose. Drag kings (straight and gay women who dress up as men) are generally less noticeable than their male counterparts.
Male transvestites are more common in society because men have limited ability to explore female gender roles in our society (Dzelme & Jones, 2001), although this is slowly changing. Recently your author saw a T-shirt in the men’s section of a department store that said “Real Men Wear Pink!” However, although it is more common for a man to wear a wide range of colors today, it is still generally not acceptable for him to wear a dress. Imagine what students at your university would say if a male student wore a dress to class. In fact, the entertainment industry is the only area in which society approves of men cross-dressing (Bullough & Bullough,
1993) . For example, cross-dressing has been depicted in popular movies, such as Big Momma’s House, White Chicks, or the classic Mrs. Doubtfire.
Transvestites differ from transsexuals in that they do not desire to change their biological gender. Their differences also seem to begin early in life; one study found that transsexuals, but not transvestites, lacked interest in playing with other boys while young, and transvestites, but not transsexuals, cross-dressed very early in life (Bullough et al., 1983). A small number of transvestites will go to great lengths to feminize their appearance, employing electrolysis (hair removal), taking hormones, or even getting surgical implants to simulate female breasts. But even most of these transves-