Comparison of Transvestism in
Australia and America
Neil Buhrich, M.B.B.S.; D.P.M.; M.R.C. Psych.; M.D.1 and Trina Beaumont, B.Sc.2
Information concerning gender identity, sexual orientation, crossdressing behavior, fetishism, and bondage was obtained from a questionnaire which was posted to members of two transvestite clubs, one in the United States and one in Australia. This study reports the responses of 136 American and 86 Australian self-designated transvestites who reported a period of fetishism to women's clothes at some stage of development. Characteristics of transvestism of subjects in both countries were remarkably similar: all were male, almost half the subjects first crossdressed in prepuberty, and in the large majority crossdressing was well established by late adolescence; intense fetishism was usually experienced during adolescence but waned in later years; in almost a quarter of subjects fetishism ceased, although the desire to crossdress continued; in many subjects transvestism was associated with fantasies of bondage, usually of the subjects bound while crossdressed; sexual orientation was predominantly or exclusively heterosexual in more than three-quarters of the subjects. Subjects were categorized into two groups. One group, termed nuclear transvestites, were satisfied with crossdressing. The second group, termed marginal transvestites, desired feminization by hormone ingestion or by surgical intervention. Marginal compared to nuclear transvestites reported significantly stronger feminine gender identity and tended to report a stronger interest in the homosexual direction. The differences appeared to be present from childhood. No significant differences were found between the nuclear and marginal transvestites with regard to characteristics of fetishism, bondage, and crossdressing except that in the American group marginal transvestites currently crossdressed more frequently than did nuclear transvestites.
KEY WORDS: transvestism; gender identity; sexual orientation; fetishism; bondage; transcultural
1Associate Professor, Psychiatric Department, St. Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, Sydney 2010, Australia.
2Secretary, Seahorse Club of Australia, Box 341, Royal Exchange, Sydney, Australia.
Scientific literature concerned with transvestism is conflicting. Some authors consider it related to homosexuality (Segel, 1962; Allen, 1969; Sim, 1964), others to fetishism (Stoller, 1968; Baker, 1969). Another area of contention, namely, whether transvestism is a discrete syndrome from transsexualism (Pauly, 1965; Barker, 1966; Stoller, 1973), is important since the advent of irreversible sex-change operations. The present study aims to clarify the characteristics of transvestism by investigating a large sample of Australian and American subjects who were members of clubs established for transvestites.
For the purpose of this study, all subjects who crossdressed and reported a period of fetishism to women's clothes at some stage of development were regarded as being transvestites. The present study therefore included as transvestites subjects who had shown fetishism even if they desired a sexchange operation. All subjects who had not experienced fetishism were excluded from the study. It has been reported previously that significantly more transvestites than transsexuals have shown a period of fetishism (Buhrich and McConaghy, 1977a). In a previous study, Buhrich and McConaghy (1977b) reported that transvestite subjects who had shown a period of fetishism could be categorized into two clinically discrete groups. Subjects who were satisfied with crossdressing showed less intense feminine gender identity and a stronger interest in the heterosexual direction in comparison with those who, in addition to crossdressing, desired at least partial feminization by hormones or by surgery. In that study, Buhrich and McConaghy termed the former group of subjects nuclear transvestites and the latter group marginal transvestites. Those two categories were retained for the present study.
A 132-item questionnaire was constructed by one of the authors (N.B.) with the aim of obtaining information concerning biographical data, gender identity, sexual orientation, characteristics of fetishism, and patterns of crossdressing behavior. The questionnaire was sent to 130 members of the Seahorse Club of Australia and 225 members of the Society for the Second Self in the United States with a stamped and return-addressed envelope; it was requested that the questionnaires be completed and returned to the Secretaries of the respective clubs. The questionnaires were to be answered anonymously.
Responses were received from 139 (62%) American subjects and 97 (75%) Australian subjects. All were male. Some subjects (13 Americans and 11 Australians) reported that they had not experienced fetishism to women's clothes and were excluded from the study. The remaining 86 Australians and 126 Americans had shown fetishistic arousal to women's clothes at some stage of development.
On the basis of their responses the subjects were categorized into two groups. Those satisfied with crossdressing (31 of the Australians [36%] and 50 of the Americans [40%]) were termed nuclear transvestites. The remaining subjects (55 Australians [69%] and 75 Americans [60%]) desired at least partial feminization by hormone ingestion or surgical intervention; they were termed marginal transvestites. Of the marginal transvestites, 10 of the 55 Australians and 12 of the 75 Americans currently ingested feminizing hormones. A further 31 Australians and 46 Americans desired female hormones. In response to the question "Ignoring your situation and responsibility, would you like to have any change of sex operation at present," 21 Australians and 47 Americans desired only breast and/or nose surgery. A further 34 Australians and 28 Americans also desired genital surgery. Eight Australians and 11 Americans had sought medical help with the aim of undergoing surgical feminization. Of these one had received rhinoplasty.
The responses of nuclear and marginal transvestites for the American and Australian groups will be recorded separately and together. Discrepancies between the total number of subjects in each group and the number of responses on each item are due to the fact that some subjects failed to respond to some questions.
With regard to the 86 Australians, the mean age of the nuclear transvestites was 38 years (range 21-68) and of the marginal transvestites, 39 (range 23-72). Twenty-four (77%) nuclear transvestites were married and four (13%) had never married. Thirty-nine (71%) marginal transvestites were married and 11 (20%) never married. The remaining subjects were divorced or widowed.
With regard to the 126 Americans, the mean age of the nuclear transvestites was 49 years (range, 29-71) and of the marginal transvestites, 44 (range, 26- 75). Thirty-seven (73%) of the nuclear transvestites were married and 7 (14%) had never married. Fifty (67%) of the marginal transvestites were married and 11 (20%) had never married. The remaining subjects were divorced or widowed.
Characteristics of Feminine Gender Identity Characteristics of feminine gender identity since childhood for subjects are recorded in Table I.
Subjects were recorded as having been called "sissy" if they recalled having been called "sissy" on more than two occasions between the ages of 6 and 12 years. Playmate preference and preference for girls' games such as "dolls, cooking, or sewing" were also recorded for the ages of 6 to 12 years. With regard to the item "wish to have been born a girl," the subject's response was recorded as "often" if he was aware of the wish at least once a week. With regard to the item "feel like a woman," subject's response was recorded as "often" if he felt like a woman more than half the time.
Australian compared to American subjects significantly more frequently preferred girls as playmates (x2 < 0.05, corrected) and wished to have been born girls between the ages of 6 and 12 years (x2 < 0.05, corrected) and between the ages of 13 and 18 years (x2 < 0.01, corrected).
In both groups, the tendency for marginal transvestites as compared to nuclear transvestites to report more items characteristic of a feminine gender identity reached significance (p < 0.05, Sign Test). Significant differences on the individual items pertaining to gender identity for nuclear as compared to marginal transvestite groups are indicated by the footnotes in Table I.
Characteristics of Crossdressing
Characteristics of crossdressing behavior for subjects are given in Table II. Fully crossdressed was defined as "wearing dress, underwear, shoes, makeup, and a wig or to dress in such a way so as to be able to pass in public."
There was no significant difference between the American and Australian groups with regard to crossdressing behavior. Within the American group, marginal transvestites significantly more frequently crossdressed compared to nuclear transvestites. There are no significant differences between the nuclear and marginal transvestite groups on the remaining items in Table II.
Table I. Characteristics of Feminine Gender Identity (Percentages)
Americans Australians Nu- Mar- Nu- Mar- clear ginal Total clear ginal Total (N=51) (N=75) (N=126) (N=31) (N=55) (N=86) Called "sissy" 18 29 25 16 29 24 Preferred girls as playmates 14 12 13 26 31 29 Preferred girls' games 2 7 5 6 20 15 Wished to have been born a girl often: Between 6 and 12 years 8 35b 24 26 51 42 Between 13 and 18 years 20 37 30 32 68b 56 After 19 years 14 48c 35 26 65b 51 Feel like a woman when: Dressed as male 6 26a 18 13 25 21 Nude 6 20 14 16 33 27 Crossdressed 67 92b 82 71 87 81
ax2 < 0.05, corrected. bx2 < 0.01, corrected. cx2 < 0.001, corrected.
Sexual orientation, based on subjects' reported fantasies and activities, is given in Table III. Subjects' sexual orientations when in men's clothes and when in women's clothes are tabulated separately. Subjects were categorized as being exclusively heterosexual if they reported a sexual preference for women, if they had never experienced homosexual contact to orgasm, and if they never fantasized sexual contact with a male. Seven subjects reported no sexual interest in either sex.
Table II. Characteristics of Crossdressing (Percentages)
Americans Australians Nu- Mar- Nu- Mar- clear ginal Total clear ginal Total (N=51) (N=75) (N=126) (N=31) (N=55) (N=86)
Age in years when
Under 11 44 35 50 59 50 45 11-19 44 37 40 55 45 49 Over 19 15 8 12 6 5 6 Partially crossdressed at first crossdressing 69 85 79 87 89 87 Wear female items when dressed as male 54 76 59 65 73 70
period fully crossdressed
Hours 57 28 40 48 47 48 Days 29 55 52 32 36 35 More than a week 12 15 13 10 13 17 Has appeared fully crossdressed in public 67 79 74 55 62 59 Frequency of crossdressing when tense Diminished 6 5 6 13 13 13 Same 24 21 22 23 20 21 Increased 38 25 30 42 40 41 Varies 34 48 42 32 27 26 Currently crossdresses more often than weekly 16 49a 36 42 33 36
ax2 < 0.01, corrected.
Table III. Sexual Orientation (Percentages)
When dressed as male When crossdressed Americans Australians Americans Australians Nu- Mar- Nu- Mar- clear Total ginal clear Total ginal Mar- Nu- Mar- Nu- ginal clear Total ginal clear Total (N=51) (N=126) (N=55) (N =51) (N=126) (N=55) (N=75) (N=31) (N=86) (N=75) (N=31) (N=86)
heterosexual 92 83 87 87 64 72 67 43 52 65 51 56
heterosexual 8 11 10 13 25 21 26 31 29 19 27 24
Predominantly homosexual - - - 7 5 - 4 2 - 5 3
Exclusively homosexual - 1 1 - - - - 4 2 3 5 5
When in men's clothes, significantly more Australians reported interest in the homosexual direction compared to the Americans (x2 < 0.05, Yates corrected, cutting point nearest the mean). There was no significant difference between the groups with regard to sexual orientation when in women's clothes (cutting point nearest the mean).
There was a trend, which reached significance for the American nuclear transvestites when crossdressed (x2 < 0.05, uncorrected), for nuclear compared to marginal transvestites to report a stronger heterosexual interest when dressed as male and when crossdressed.
Characteristics of Fetishism and Bondage Characteristics of fetishism for women's clothes and of bondage reported by subjects in both groups is given in Table IV. Spontaneous ejaculation is defined as ejaculation without manual stimulation while putting on or wearing women's clothes. With regard to bondage, subjects were asked whether they ever had fantasies of being tied up or of tying somebody else up. Four American and three Australian subjects first experienced fetishism after age 40 years.
Table IV. Characteristics of Fetishism and Bondage (Percentages)
Americans Australians Nuclear Total Marginal (N=51) (N=126) (N=55) Marginal Nuclear Total (N=75) (N=31) (N=86)
Age in years at first
experience of fetishism
Under 11 16 16 16 13 18 17 11 to 19 62 68 66 61 60 64 Over 19 22 16 18 26 13 18
at some stage of
development 48 42 44 29 34 33 Has been sexually
aroused by reflection
of self crossdressed 60 66 62 77 74 76 Current intensity of
to earlier years
none 22 26 25 3 27a 19 diminished 34 45 40 42 43 43 same 32 18 24 39 15 24 increased 10 12 11 16 13 14
Fantasies of bondage
(usually of self bound
while crossdressed) 26 30 28 32 45 41 ax2 < 0.05, corrected
There was no significant difference between the Australian and American groups on the five items recorded in Table IV. Within the Australian group, significantly more marginal transvestites compared to nuclear transvestites denied current fetishism. There was no significant difference between the nuclear and marginal transvestites in the American group.
Comparison of Australian and American Transvestites There was a remarkable similarity in the characteristics reported by members of the Australian and the American transvestite clubs. No significant difference between the two groups was found with regard to marital status, the proportion who desired physical feminization on six of the seven items concerned with crossdressing, and on all five items concerned with bondage and fetishism.
Concerning sexual orientation, Benjamin's (1967) observation that transvestites while crossdressed report a significant shift of interest in the homosexual direction was supported by this study. The significantly less heterosexual interest while dressed in men's clothes reported by the Australians compared to the Americans may be a chance finding, particularly since subjects in both groups, when crossdressed, reported similar intensity of interest in the homosexual direction. It should be noted that, even when crossdressed, well over three-quarters of the subjects maintain an orientation which is predominantly or exclusively heterosexual.
Australian subjects reported a significantly stronger feminine gender identity during their formative years compared to American subjects. The differences between the two groups were not significant when subjects reported on items indicating feminine gender identity in adulthood.
The older mean age of Americans compared to Australians does not appear to influence the characteristics recorded. This may be due to the fact that the large majority of subjects had begun crossdressing by later adolescence and, consequently, their pattern of transvestite behavior was well established by the time the questionnaire was completed.
Transvestism, as defined in this article, is invariably associated at some stage of development with fetishism. However, the conclusion cannot be made that fetishism is always the primary motivating factor for transvestites to crossdress, as some authors have suggested (Randell, 1959; Stoller, 1968; Bancroft, 1972). In this study, almost 50% of subjects reported that they crossdressed prior to their first fetishistic experience and over 20% continued to crossdress despite the fact that fetishism has ceased. With regard to fetishism, little emphasis is evident in the literature written for transvestite consumption (Buhrich and McConaghy, 1976) or that written by transvestites (Prince, 1962; Personal Paper, 1971). The finding by Prince and Bentler (1972) that only 12% of 504 transvestite subjects "looked upon themselves" as fetishists is probably due to the fact that most transvestites preferred not to emphasize and may gain little pleasure from this aspect of behavior (Buhrich, 1978).
The association of bondage and transvestism has been reported previously (Kinsey et al. 1953; Benjamin, 1966; Taylor-Buckner, 1970). Over a third of subjects in this study recorded fantasies of bondage, usually of themselves bound while crossdressed. Playboy (1976) reported that 3% of 3,700 male college students had practiced and enjoyed bondage. Presumably the incidence would have been higher if the authors had included fantasies of bondage. Nevertheless, the association of fantasies of bondage with crossdressing seems likely to be more frequent than would be expected in the general population, as suggested by the college sample.
Comparison of Nuclear and Marginal Transvestism With regard to the differences between nuclear and marginal transvestite subjects of both groups, it was found that marginal transvestites compared to nuclear transvestites reported a significantly stronger feminine gender identity and a trend, which reached significance for the American subjects while crossdressed, to show more interest in the homosexual direction.
There was no significant difference between the nuclear and marginal transvestites with regard to crossdressing characteristics, apart from the finding that, in the American group, marginal transvestites currently crossdressed more frequently than nuclear transvestites. There was also very little difference between the nuclear and marginal transvestites with regard to the characteristics of fetishism and of bondage. The one significant difference - namely, that Australian marginal compared to nuclear transvestites reported less current fetishism - cannot be attributed to the ingestion of female hormones (thereby inhibiting sexual arousal) since a similar proportion of Australian and American subjects were currently taking the hormones. The difference between nuclear and marginal transvestites appears to be present from childhood, since marginal transvestites compared to nuclear transvestites in both the American and Australian groups report a stronger feminine gender identity on all items in Table I recording such characteristics during these years (p < 0.05, Sign Test).
There was no difference between the nuclear and marginal transvestites in the frequency with which bondage was reported, despite the fact that the two groups differed in gender identity and sexual orientation. It would therefore seem that there is an association between fetishism and bondage rather than sexual orientation or gender identity.
We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of members of the Seahorse Club of Australia, members of the Society for the Second Self,and the assistance of Ms. C. Beecroft, Co-leader of the Society for the Second Self.
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