A closet rack stuffed with brightly colored clothesTransvestism, which is also termed cross-dressing, describes an individual’s wearing of clothes that are typically associated with a different gender from the one with which that person identifies. Some individuals who engage in this practice may prefer the term cross-dresser, and others may refer to themselves as transvestites.

Misconceptions Regarding Transvestism

The term transvestite is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to a person who identifies as transgender (or transsexual, although this term has fallen out of general use), when, in fact, the two identities are entirely different. People who cross-dress often have a consistent gender identity, whereas a person who is transgender identifies with a gender that does not match the biological sex that person was assigned at birth. Transvestism and gender identity are two distinct, separate identities, and wearing the clothes that are associated with the gender that a person identifies with is not considered cross-dressing.

Neither is transvestism necessarily related to an individual’s sexual orientation. Some people wrongly assume that individuals who practice transvestism are homosexual: Research shows that a majority of individuals who identify as transvestites are heterosexual men who dress in women’s clothing to express an inner femininity or desire to be seen as beautiful. Though there are female cross-dressers, they tend to be less noticed and less stigmatized by others, as women’s clothing tends to be more gender-specific than men’s clothing, and a woman in men’s work clothes or a formal suit is generally no longer an incident that is remarked upon, as it may have been in the past.

Female impersonators, known colloquially as drag queens (a male impersonator would be known as a drag king), are often called transvestites, but this scenario is different, too, in that female impersonators generally dress in women’s clothing, or “drag,” for the purpose of entertaining an audience. People who practice transvestism often cross-dress privately, and not for the entertainment of others. Those who cross-dress, whether publicly or in private, do so to express aspects of their identity that may be inconsistent with their typical, socially prescribed gender expression, and not necessarily out of distress, identification with a different gender, or for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification.


In the United States, the word transvestite typically has a strong negative connotation, as it is often used to insult or mislabel transgender people, people who do not conform to gender norms, and non-heterosexual people. Some people find the term transvestite outdated and offensive and prefer the term cross-dresser, while others who do not like the term cross-dresser prefer the term transvestite.

Some advocates argue that stigmatization of transvestism arises partially from the distinct division between men’s and women’s clothing rather than the desire to dress in gender-incongruous clothes. Men who dress in women’s clothing are often considered to be demeaning themselves by allowing themselves to take on a “lesser” gender role.

Many people also assume a sexual connotation that is not necessarily present upon hearing “transvestite.” The term “cross-dressing,” on the other hand, does not tend to carry the same connotation. For many who consider themselves to be transvestites or who cross-dress, their wardrobe choices are not sexually motivated or associated with a sexual fetishism.

Transvestism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)

Transvestism is not a mental health condition and is not listed in the DSM. However, transvestic disorder, which is described as the practice of cross-dressing when accompanied both by sexual excitement and emotional distress or social impairment as a result of the excitement, is listed as a paraphilic disorder in the DSM. This condition has been shown to occur most often in males, and it may involve an individual’s dressing entirely in clothing and accessories associated with a different gender or might only involve a few articles of clothing, such as undergarments.

In general, fetishes are not problematic unless a person experiences distress as a result of the desire. Dressing in the garments of another gender is considered to be a fetish when the person is sexually aroused by wearing those garments, but the fetish is not treated unless it causes feelings of anguish or psychological turmoil for the individual experiencing it.


  1. American Psychological Association. (2009). APA Concise Dictionary of Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  2. Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  3. Transvestism. (2015). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from
  4. Transvestism & Body Image. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  5. Winters, K. (n.d.). Update: Statement on Gender Identity Disorder and Transvestic Fetishism in the DSM-V. GID Reform Weblog by Kelley Winters. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 08-28-2015

  • Leave a Comment
  • Michael C.

    October 9th, 2018 at 2:01 AM

    This is a huge step for me and I haven’t written this before. It scares me just thinking about it but my mind needs to be me. I want to start dressing and living as a woman. I have tried on my wife’s clothes but she is significantly smaller than me so they don’t fit properly. Please, please could you advise and send me all information on how to look like a woman?

    – Michael C.

  • Kelly M.

    December 4th, 2018 at 3:41 PM

    Its okay honey

  • Sam

    January 15th, 2019 at 11:17 PM

    i love to wear female dress but dont like to masterbate and have long hair and love to paint my nails , slim hygnic body am i trans gender or transvestite?

  • Michael

    February 28th, 2020 at 11:06 PM

    I love you Sam

  • Michael

    February 28th, 2020 at 11:08 PM

    I love you Sam

  • Mikie

    April 30th, 2020 at 9:48 AM

    Hi, I have been a closet crossdresser ever since I was 12 years old when I began wearing mom’s clothing with my brother. It has become increasingly intoxicating. I would love to meet others who do not stigmatize me for this practice. Since my wife passed I have dressed more and more and it helps me to feel better and relaxed but would never be accepted in my peer group. I hate living in secret with this but love the feelings crossdressing gives me.

  • sharon

    October 29th, 2021 at 8:47 AM

    We probably all agree that alcoholics should quit drinking and the drug addicted should quit using drugs. Why do aberrant sexual proclivities that adversely affect family or work life get a pass? In the case of those problems, it seems that society is told to get itself straight. Does this mean that there is no such thing as personal responsibility in areas of sexual arousal? I’m not trying to hurt anyone, but am genuinely curious as to how people can justify behaviors that really do affect others.

  • D

    December 30th, 2021 at 9:44 AM

    I have been crossdressing intermittently since my youth and recently my wife found pictures of me on the PC in a cocktail dress heels and wig. She is naturally distraught at finding this and I feel incredibly ashamed for hurting her. I have apologized over and over, but she does not know the full extent of my crossdressing. I explained this as a one off experience looking for something unconventional to try that was exciting but essentially harmless. This is what I feel guilty about, not the crossdressing itself, but having to be untruthful to spare her feelings.

  • Sally

    March 16th, 2022 at 9:20 AM

    Just be yourself and do it

  • Andrew

    May 30th, 2022 at 9:03 AM

    I have crossdressed since I was a young kid, well before I was aware of sexuality etc. I do identify strongly as a man, but have always wished I was female, so it’s very confusing. As an adult, I do associate a sexual component with my dressing up and have been with men this way to enhance the feelings of femininity but always feel guilty after. I just wish I’d been born a girl to begin with.

  • Sunil

    June 1st, 2022 at 11:13 PM

    I doing crossdressing since boyhooddays and then wored the mom cloths and now self stiched cloths which is famine like saree and female dresses with ornaments

  • Melanie

    July 11th, 2022 at 10:03 AM

    I’ve been dressing for as long as I can remember and that’s going back some 40 years. I’ve been out on the town strutting my stuff, dancing away generally having a great time, and yes for me there’s always been a huge sexual kick from it, I love looking pretty whether I’m on my own or with someone else, 99% female that is, I love women and envy what they have even though they seem to hate themselves sometimes. They don’t like there own bits it seems to me. It’s a huge complicated issue that no psychologist is ever going to understand because they’ve no idea of the truth being so clean living and perfect human beings in every way.
    I don’t know if I resent the implication that cross dressing is a disorder or not. If it is well I’ve certainly no desire to get it cured, why not just erase my entire sexual desires at the same time. Normality sucks anyway, ever been in a typical, normal, everyday relationship? It’s shit. So’s living a normal boring everyday life.

  • Bryan

    October 1st, 2022 at 7:38 PM

    I was raised mostly as a girl. I was son who was not wanted so became as much a girl as possible, if this bothers anyone I try to explain that I am who I am mom still buys me clothes and I am 55 . Live you and be happy

  • Jay

    April 16th, 2023 at 9:10 AM

    In my experience , cross dressing has done enormous damage to my life. In many ways it’s worse than what I imagine a hard drug addiction would be like. I agree with what Sharon said, it is a very selfish and destructive fetish.

  • Vik

    November 20th, 2023 at 1:50 AM

    I Cross-dressed since I was 8 or 9 with whatever piece of garment I could get my hands on. I identify as a male and have been able to fulfill all my duties as a male member of the family. Like some of the people here, my mother wanted a daughter when she was carrying me. My favorite has always been bra and petticoat. I am 50 now and what I realize is that more than the intoxication of crossdressing it is the stress relief (and being in the present moment ) that I get from being focused on the task of cross dressing really helps. I used to dress up for hours and the finale used to be a round of masturbation. The cross-dressing reduced almost to a null after I got married and I do it occasionally now when my wife is away. It is a huge stress buster. So I vouch for the fact that it is an addiction. It is my opinion, that people who lack connection, grounding and acceptance in society would be more inclined to crossdressing. Initially, it starts because we find the clothing and the act erotic, but ends as a stress relief valve!

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.


* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.