The Matter of Children

Background Paper 4.0 January 1988, from the Renaissance Education Association, Inc.

Many transvestites are married and many have children. Whether or not the crossdresser’s spouse knows about the partner’s crossdressing or approves, the question of telling children about the behavior often arises and is a serious matter. The degree to which children accept their parent’s crossdressing depends on several factors: the age of the child, their relationship to their parents, the crossdresser’s motive for the revelation, and the manner in which the child learns of the behavior. 

The age of the child. 

Very young children.  Perhaps an ideal situation would be for a child to know of his or her parent’s crossdressing from earliest infancy. For as a child growing up in a bilingual home learns to speak two languages fluently, so a child who is raised in an environment where gender roles are not fixed could develop an open definition of what actually constitutes masculinity and femininity. The problem here is that while the child could have a thorough understanding of crossdressing, he or she may not understand the issue of privacy and the need to keep the crossdressing from others who may not understand, e.g. teachers, relatives and friends. It is probably better, therefore, to wait until a child can appreciate the need for discretion before telling him or her that daddy or mommy likes to wear clothes appropriate to the opposite sex.

While still very young, most children are certain about their own gender. Often, they are also accepting of gender variation in others. It is not always necessary, for example, to wait until a child knows about human reproduction to explain that “Daddy sometimes likes to dress up in women’s clothes.” But young children often do worry about their lives taking a drastic change or about major changes in the lives of their parents. According, the parents must reassure the child that the crossdressing is a long-standing behavior and that life will go on much as before. One male transvestite, when faced with his daughter’s fear that things would be very different after the disclosure, told her that he would always be her father and he had no desire to become her mother.

Teenagers.  Telling a boy who has entered puberty can be particularly difficult because the boy, as many boys do, may be worrying about his sexuality. Because crossdressing is so often associated with homosexuality, the boy may fear that his parent is gay and, therefore, he is too. The parents should explain the difference between crossdressing and homosexuality. The boy may also fear that his “buddies” will find out about his parent’s crossdressing and tease him about it. In these cases, the crossdressing parent must assure the child that proper precautions will be taken to prevent this type of disclosure.

Adult children.  Telling mature children also presents some special problems. Having thought of their parent in one manner for so many years, the adult child may accuse his parent of “living a lie” when the crossdressing is finally revealed It is also possible that an adult child who is suffering emotional problems may blame them on their parent’s crossdressing even though the child was totally ignorant of the behavior.

Family relationships. 

Between parents and children. It is generally easier to tell children about crossdressing if parents and children have a close relationship marked by frequent sharing of personal feelings and open, loving communication. This type of family dynamic provides a framework for the child’s acceptance of a deviant behavior. But if the parent is distant from the child or if both parents maintain a heavy curtain of privacy around their lives, the child may not accept the crossdressing as well. The aloof or reserved transvestite who is considering telling his/her children may want to foster a closer relationship with them before making the revelation. However, this new relationship should be allowed to mature over a period of time prior to the revelation. Otherwise, the child may feel that the new closeness was a subterfuge just to win their acceptance.

Between spouses. It is also important that the spouse at least partially accept his/her partner’s crossdressing and that the parents, together, provide a framework for the child’s desired response. If the parents have decided, for example, that the  crossdressing must be a private activity, it would be unwise for the parent to attempt to change that understanding by enlisting the aid of the child. Also, it would be inappropriate for a partner to allow hidden resentment of crossdressing to influence the reaction of the child. In this, as in may areas of parenting, it is important for the parents to agree or  to objectively discuss their areas of disagreement with the child.

The importance of motive. Children appreciate it when adults take them into their confidence, when parents tell them something about their lives that is deeply personal. Children understand how difficult it is to live with a secret, and how much better one feels when the secret is shared with others. If crossdressing is presented in this manner, children may accept it better. This method also short circuits any fear the child may have that their lives are about to undergo a serious change. For example, a child may fear that news about crossdressing is a prelude to transsexual sex reassignment. surgery.

How to break the news. 

The planned announcement.  When the parents believe the time is right for telling the child, it is easier, some crossdressers believe, to present it in a context. Such a context could be Halloween or some other occasion when costumes are common. After talking about dressing up for special occasions, the child could be told that “Daddy likes to dress up at other times, too.” This could be followed by a discussion of crossdressing appropriate to the child’s age. This tactic furthers the attitude that crossdressing is merely an “activity” rather than a “guilty secret.”

After the child has been told, he/she may express curiosity about seeing the parent crossdressed. One  way to do this is to have the child watch the transformation so they understand that the person is still their parent, just dressed differently. In this way they child can also become accustomed to any other change in mannerisms that frequently accompany crossdressing.

The surprise discovery. Most transvestites with families fear their children will accidentally see them crossdressed. This could be a traumatic experience, and its prevention could be a motive for telling the child before they stumble upon it. But what about when the child does catch the parent “in the act?” The most important thing is not to overreact It is also probably not a good idea to explain what is going on while the parent is crossdressed. If surprised while in women’s clothes, a father should quickly change into his men’s clothes, and just as quickly talk to the child. This prompt communication will prevent the growth of fear and worry. The transvestite should also be aware that while a child may never actually see them crossdressed, the child may have observed clues that suggest the behavior or that something is “not right.” This realization on the part of the child can be particularly dangerous if he/she believes they must now keep a secret they barely comprehend.

Issued by Renaissance: A non-profit association to educate the professional and general communities about transgendered people.