For those in our community who have given up crossdressing or who are trying to heal from gender dysphoria, one of the common questions asked is: “what does it look like for me to live as a man?” It’s straightforward to say that we should stop dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex. But what about acting in the ways, character, personality, and habits of the opposite sex? What should we give up? What should we do differently? Do we conform to the gender stereotypes of our culture, or do we reject them? These are not simple questions.
The goal is that we live in the way that God created us to live, and that we accept that we are created as male, or if female, that you are created as female. We must try to become content with the body and sex that God has given to each of us. Clearly, we know we should not continue to crossdress or pretend to be someone of the opposite sex. But the question of gender stereotypes and gender expectations of a culture are much more tricky to handle. While they are tough questions for everyone, I think they are tricky for us especially for a few reasons:
– Rigid gender stereotypes of our cultures might have actually been part of the cause or stimulus that made us have a desire to crossdress or have gender dysphoria in the first place. Maybe as a small child you already knew you did not fit in with the other boys very well. You didn’t enjoy the same types of games that they did, and you knew you were more sensitive, more gentle, or more interested in talking, like the girls. Maybe this caused shame, or just a general feeling of being out of place, and that made you question your gender and start experimenting with crossdressing or dwelling on transgender daydreams and wishes. If this is true for you, yet you are now trying to live as the real sex that God made you to be, you may have a strong passion and anger against rigid gender stereotypes. You know that they can be extremely harmful and stifling. You know the damage that they caused to you personally.
– However, though we know rigid gender stereotypes have caused us pain and exacerbated our gender issues, we sense there is truth in them. We believe that these stereotypes are generally true. This is obvious. As men who had a desire to crossdress, we envied and were attracted to the differences we saw in females and femininity. We saw them as real general differences and we wanted to be a part of that female world instead of the males we truly were. In that way, every time we crossdressed we actually were giving in to the stereotypes and affirming them. Crossdressing fiction is full of not only of the standard gender stereotypes, but also some of the worst and most offensive and degrading stereotypes (bimbos, women as nearly slaves who do all the work, etc.). So now we are stuck today with deep confusion. We have felt like we couldn’t be ourselves as men, and so we crossdressed instead. On the one hand we have spent our lives affirming the stereotypes and having all of our fantasies and daydreams fueled by these stereotypes, but another part of us has a hatred of rigid gender stereotypes that gave us so much pain and pushed us into crossdressing.
– Most importantly, we know that we have confused ourselves and our identity through years of crossdressing or transgender fantasy. We hardly know who we are anymore, or how we should act. We don’t know what it looks like, beyond the physical body, to be a man or a woman. And we question our motives. We SHOULD question out motives. We know that we used to crossdress and then act in stereotypical feminine ways or engage in stereotypical feminine activities in order to obtain more sexual excitement, or to feel more like a woman, or to make the illusion of being a real woman more complete. So now we are confused about what we are truly interested in. Am I really interested in knitting or is it something I only did while crossdressed to feel more womanly? Did you really enjoy dancing, (thinking back to all those times you danced in front of the mirror while crossdressed), or was it just part of the fantasy and lustful image you were creating? Do I really enjoy serving my family by doing housework, or did I only enjoy doing it while crossdressed as part of playing a role? Years of pretending to be something you are not really messes with your head, and it can be hard to sort out what your real personality is and what your real interests are.
– To make matters worse, many crossdressers develop a sort of divided persona over years of crossdressing addiction. Instead of being one unified person who exhibits all of your real traits and characteristics, you let some of your true character out as your male self, and some of your traits you only feel comfortable letting out while crossdressed. You become a divided person with two separate personas. The more separate they become, the more extreme both your male self and female self become. I would argue that you become more and more unbalanced and unhealthy. Giving up crossdressing and trying to integrate these personas is hard work, but very important. See this post – Integration and Contentment.
Because of these realities and feelings that co-exist in us at the same time, it’s really hard today for us to know how to live and behave as the men we are. What does it mean to be a man? What is our role? What things should I be interested in as a man? How should I dress as a man? How are men’s personalities different from women’s? What actually is my real personality? What are my real interests and desires? I don’t have all the answers to this, and I’m sure I’ll be reflecting on these issues for the rest of my life. But I want to suggest a few guidelines or pointers that have helped me and I think they will help you too. If you can remember each of these, and strive for balancing these truths, you will stay on a good track. My hope is that, like me, with each passing day and year you will feel more like yourself and more like a real man, both at the same time. This is what I have experienced, and it is a wonderful feeling of contentment and freedom.
1. Read God’s Word to study how men and women are similar and equal in their humanity and spiritual status in Christ, but also how men and women are different, and the unique roles God gave to men and women. Strive to understand the role that God has given you in society, and in the family, and try to live into that role, even if it is not easy for you. Roles given by God do not always come easily. Just think about Moses who was too afraid to go back to Egypt even though God called him. Just because God calls you to a role, it does not mean it will feel easy or natural. We must obey God and live into what he has called us to do and to be. But God’s way is the best way. You may get surprised later at finding joy in your role.
2. Praise God for who he has made you to be, a unique person made in his image. You are not the same as everyone else, but God cherishes you. You are broken like everyone else because of sin, but God created you, crafted you, and values you. Reflect on Psalm 139.
3. Integrate your divided persona, so that you are a unified person without confusion and division. Read and follow the steps in this post – Integration and Contentment.
4. Remind yourself continually that it does not make you less of a man if you are different from most other men in a few specific characteristics. Gender stereotypes of our culture are often too rigid and don’t allow for individual differences and uniqueness. Men can be generally like a,b,c,d, e, and women generally like f,g,h, i, j. But pick out a specific man and he might be c,d,e,f, g. Pick out a specific woman and she might be a,g,h,i, j. It’s okay if you are a man who is very talkative. It is okay if you are a man who is very gentle. It is okay if you are a woman who likes adventure. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that men or women cannot be like this. Do not stress yourself out by trying to conform to rigid cultural gender stereotypes that are not taught or commanded in Scripture and that you find stifling. Be yourself. You can be a full 100% male, a real man, and yet be different from men in general in certain ways, and this does not diminish your manhood. I have learned to be content and unashamed that I enjoy beautiful flowers in the house and on my computer’s desktop. I have learned to be content and unashamed that I enjoy “chick flicks” much more than my wife does. We joke about it all the time. Be yourself.
5. At the same time, we must be willing to go out of our comfort zones and learn what it means to be a real man or a real woman. Be willing to learn from other people what it means to be a real man or a real woman. For the reasons stated above, we are very confused on this issue. We must admit we are confused. We cannot trust ourselves or our instincts or our natural tendencies. We must have humility, and we must allow ourselves to be taught by other people. Sometimes this will be hard. We need good male role models who show us what it means to be men. I’m not saying we allow people to push us to conform to all of the rigid stereotypes. But we must also not be so rigid ourselves. Get out of your comfort zone. Nobody is static. We are continually changing each day in our character, personality, and interests. All boys and girls have certain things that come naturally, but in certain ways they have to be taught what it means to be male and female, boy and girl, man and woman. Like them, we must be willing to learn and grow and change.
I allowed myself to be taught by family members and caring friends. And I am very thankful today. Growing up I was always weak and shy and made fun of, and didn’t fit in with other boys. I was usually afraid of them. Secretly, I retreated into femininity and fantasy. But later people pushed me to learn how to speak in front of others, to be confident, to say what I really think, and to do many activities and participate in groups that made me uncomfortable. Today, I am no longer shy. I am extremely confident before people, I absolutely love hanging out with other men, and it’s easy to preach to a large church. And that is the true me. I’ve changed. Let me give another example. As a child, I was terrified to play sports. I would rather just have been playing “house” with the girls at recess. But people, friends, and the culture pushed me to try sports anyway, and now as an adult, with a healthy sense of masculinity and a healthy body, it is one of my absolute favorite things to do to play certain sports with friends and exalt in the body God gave me and what he has enabled me to do. If I had stayed where I was comfortable as a kid, I would never have known this joy and appreciation of my body that God gave me. I continued to push myself as an adult and I get regular good exercise even today. I am in good shape, physically strong with toned muscles, and good at the sports I play. I also feel like myself. But as a kid I would never have thought this could be the real me.
6. We should follow the gender stereotypes about dress-code in our specific culture. Clothing does not make a person. I can think of no argument to say that to be yourself means you must wear skirts. Most clothing fits a specific body type and clothing in a culture also signals to other people what sex you are. As we should be willing to resist certain rigid gender stereotypes about personality, we must not resist the gender stereotypes about clothing. The Bible never says men can’t be sensitive or loving, in fact we are commanded to be gentle and compassionate. But the Bible does command us in multiple places that we must wear clothing that fits our sex.
Culture changes over time and what differentiates masculine clothing from feminine clothing will continually change. But these changes happen gradually. If there is a man out there who really finds skirts comfortable, and doesn’t feel feminine while wearing them, and it’s nothing to do with gender, or sexual pleasure, or emotional comfort, or deception, or femininity to wear them, then so be it. Let him invent a skirt for men and try to change the culture. But I think as Christians we should be cautious about being the ones trying to make the changes, and we have to make sure our motivations are appropriate. And for those of us who have issues with gender dysphoria or crossdressing, we must flee from any thought of being the ones to try to make these changes in the culture. Our motivations are not pure, they are biased, and it is hard to even know ourselves what our true motivation is at any given time.
7. Take time to think about your male body. Think about how it is different from female bodies. What can you do easier than women can because of your male body? What can women do with their bodies that you cannot? This may give you insight in your male role and abilities and help you think about what it means to live as a man. Also, take time to thank God each day for your male body. Appreciate it. Remember that it is part of you. Try to take care of yourself and your appearance and try to look good as a man.
8. In the end, try not to focus too much on these tough issues. Think about them from time to time, but don’t let them fill your mind every day. Focus instead of following Jesus. Be a good Jesus follower. Seek first his Kingdom and the rest will fall into place. The more you keep your eyes on Jesus, the more you will be the man or the who God created you to be. The more you will be content, and the less pain you will have. You will be filled with joy and the love of God, because your eyes are focused on God’s mission and God’s Kingdom and his great love for you.