30 May My Crossdressing Father
Cross-dressing has been going on for centuries. Most countries have well know examples of cross-dressing characters from ancient times and cross-dressing has even been the featured in films (for example ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ starring Robin Williams 1993) Anne-Maree Brown reports:
‘He’s still the same man’ I thought to myself. ‘He just likes to wear dresses, and polish on his nails, and it’s not hurting anybody. It’s part of him.’
PART 1: The Daughter, 15
For the most part, as a 15-year-old, I have a fairly typical suburban life. I have good friends, I’m doing well at school and my home life’s harmonious. My family and I are close. They can be annoying sometimes but I think that’s pretty normal.
From an outsider’s perspective, there’s one thing that’s unique – my dad is a cross-dresser. I wish I could tell you that when I found out I was completely fine with it, that I maturely told him, “It doesn’t matter as long as you’re happy”, but that’s not how it went.
I was 13 and we were outside the local gardening centre when he told me. There I was, with the words “I’m a cross-dresser” hanging in the air. He pulled out his phone and started flicking through photos of him dressed as his female alter ego. I just sat there, nodding in disbelief. Who was this woman with the brown hair and floral dress?
The smile looked the same, the eyes, the chin, but it wasn’t my dad.
My life was turned upside down and my mind was racing. What did it really mean? Did he want to be a woman? Did he still love my mum? Would things be the same between us? So many questions, and an overwhelming fear that everything was going to change.
For the next week, I avoided both of my parents and shut myself away, confused and withdrawn. Then I started to research. I kept coming across images of men in full theatrical drag – none of these men looked like the photos my dad had shown me.
A few weeks before his birthday (just after I found out), I went shopping for his present and found myself wandering into a make-up store. I went to the nail polish section and saw a huge packet in all different colours. ‘He’s still the same man’ I thought to myself. ‘He just likes to wear dresses, and polish on his nails, and it’s not hurting anybody. It’s part of him.’
I started asking him questions and we all talked as a family. A complication I didn’t see coming was talking to friends about it. This is hardly small talk. “Oh yeah, by the way, I just found out my dad is a cross-dresser, how was your weekend?” I’ve told a few friends and most of them were supportive and understanding, but others were shocked and reacted badly. I felt exposed, vulnerable and angry.
Now I can honestly say that the fact my dad cross-dresses doesn’t bother me at all. I hope in the future I’ll be able to go to one of my dad’s cross-dressing meetings and get to know other people like him. Most importantly, I hope to see him dressed in person. I love my dad and I love that he is able to express himself freely. In the end, it’s just fabric and lipstick.
PART 2: The Father
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to look ‘pretty’. My earliest recollection is somewhere around four or five and admiring girls’ clothing in shops.
I grew up the youngest of three boys. We roughhoused, argued and if tempers flared enough, we’d settle our issues with fists. I was often the odd one out and would spend more time with my mum than my brothers.
Around the age of eight, my mum had gone through her wardrobe, gathering bags of clothes to donate to charity. While she was distracted by housework, I snuck off and stood in front of her full-length mirror, a dress pulled over my shorts and t-shirt. My dirt-stained face and scruffy hair was in contrast with the oversized shift dress.
It felt right, but even at that young age I had an overwhelming sense of shame.
A couple of years later, I found one of my mum’s magazines on the sideboard. It told the story of a family whose father liked to wear women’s clothing. I was relieved there were others like me out there, but I thought no good could come of addressing it openly.
I was pretty wild as a teenager. I worked on building sites during the day and partied with my mates when I could. I’d put on makeup, dress up as a woman and take photos. It was near impossible to always fight the urge. While I thought I’d kept the photos well hidden, a flatmate uncovered them in my early 20s. His response was pure repulsion to the extent that he threw me down a flight of stairs.
A teenage friend became my girlfriend sometime in my early 20s, and then my wife. When my wife was pregnant with our second child, my mother was suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer. This vibrant, nurturing person shrank into a shell of pain and suffering and three months later she died. While grieving was hard, the thought did occur to me that life was too short to have secrets, and maybe I should address mine.
I decided to tell my wife the truth, and I’ve never been so scared in my life. It wasn’t all hugs and cups of tea. It was deeply traumatic for both of us. Was I gay? Why didn’t I tell her before we got married? Before we had children? It wasn’t easy for either of us. Luckily, my wife is my soul mate and with time it became our shared secret, which in itself was quite special and tender.
The children grew older and years later, a picture my son posted on social media caught our attention. Lots of eye shadow and lipstick indicated to us he might have concerns over his own sexuality. If we as parents couldn’t share the real parts of ourselves, how could we expect them to share their own truth?
How would they cope knowing their own father had this secret?
I decided it was time to tell them. While I knew I had a mature, worldly daughter, it still struck fear in my heart. Of course there was the initial shock and she even accused me of pulling her leg. Her brother, who was a few years older, reacted with “Oh cool, Dad”.
It’s been several years now and we still take things slowly. I show both my kids photos, and my daughter and I go girly shopping. My children haven’t seen me dressed in person yet, but I’m so blessed that my wife and children are supportive.
I’m aware not all cases are the same and it’s not easy for wives, girlfriends and children to deal with. It’s too much for some to take on and that can lead to divorce, deep depression, isolation and tragically sometimes suicide.
I often think to myself, why should cross-dressing be kept a secret? Why should such a harmless activity be kept quiet? I’m not considered normal, and I don’t fit under the LGBTIQ community. I’m not struggling with my gender identity and I’m not homosexual. Being brave and honest has shown me that you can find support for cross-dressers and their family.
The picture of my son with full makeup turned out to be him trying to look like someone from an 80s rock band. Either way, he knows he can always come to me for advice – even if it’s about choosing the right eyeliner.
Find support at the Seahorse Society. The Society’s main function is a social support group. It focuses on helping cross-dressers to meet socially with like-minded people and to help their relatives who maybe having difficulty or experiencing the many emotional and social problems associated with this phenomenon.
In the past, men and women cross-dressed to assume new roles, to enable them to do things they otherwise couldn’t, or because they just plain wanted to. Here are some of many individuals who for whatever reason decided to adopt the clothing of the opposite sex: Joan of Arc, Soldier (1412 – 1431) Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689); Isabelle Eberhardt, Explorer (1877 – 1904); Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage, Entertainer.
This article was first published in 2016 and has been updated for the web.