First, a word of clarification: as a Christian organization, Focus on the Family draws its beliefs about human sexuality from the Bible. Scripture declares that, in some high, holy and mysterious way, the distinction between male and female is foundational to our identity as human beings created in God's image. It also tells us that sex is the Creator's unique gift to a husband and wife within the exclusive bond of marriage. It's important to understand that the following thoughts are based upon and reflect these biblical doctrines which have been integral to the teaching of the Church for two millennia.
The importance of the distinction between the sexes is implicit in the scriptural assertion that God created man "male and female." Attitudes, behaviors and practices that blur this line are inconsistent with the divine design. To put it another way, the biblical view is that men should be men and women should be women. Cross-dressing — the practice of wearing clothing considered appropriate only for the opposite sex — clearly violates this principle. Accordingly, cross-dressing cannot simply be regarded as a matter of personal preference or style. Within the context of a Christian worldview, it has to be understood and treated as an abnormal and undesirable form of behavior.
Viewed from a wider angle, it's possible to see cross-dressing (once popularly known as transvestism) as part of a larger phenomenon known as gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a condition characterized by confusion or disconnection between a person's natural or "assigned" gender and his or her "perceived" sexual identity. Some experts maintain that cross-dressers are not technically gender dysphoric, since they often claim to be happy and secure in their "assigned" sexual roles. Be that as it may, it seems fairly obvious that cross-dressing represents a deviation from the biblical standard of clear "male-female" sexuality. Here at Focus, we see it falling somewhere on a continuum that includes everything from basic sexual confusion to homosexuality and transgenderism.
The causes of this condition are as many and varied as its specific expressions. Indeed, perhaps the most important thing we can say about gender dysphoria in general and cross-dressing in particular is that they are extremely complex. This confusion is only compounded by the "open," "tolerant" and "experimentalist" attitudes of a society in which sexual behavior once regarded as "deviant" is increasingly accepted and embraced as normal. In such an environment, a little bit of pre-adolescent sexual anxiety or perplexity can easily escalate into a full-blown adult lifestyle.
This is particularly true in the case of young people who have been rendered unusually vulnerable to sexual confusion by background, temperament or individual circumstance. This can happen in a number of ways. In some situations, prevailing social attitudes may convince a sensitive male that his personality is incompatible with "standard" masculinity. In others, a young girl may decide — perhaps as a result of mistreatment or abuse — that she'd rather identify with what she perceives as the more "privileged" gender. Early experiences of sexual abuse can also have a powerful impact upon a child's sense of gender identity, often alienating him from same-sex age-mates and even from his own body. These negative influences assume greater potency in homes where parents are absent or negligent, where relationships are distorted, or where mom and dad fail to promote natural modesty and instill healthy attitudes toward sex. In some instances the pain of these childhood wounds eventually drive an individual to a "tipping point" at which he or she consciously chooses to engage in abnormal behavior.
The good news is that there is hope for cross-dressers and those who struggle with other forms of gender dysphoria. They can make progress toward the goal of freeing themselves from these abnormal tendencies if they receive the proper treatment and make a conscious commitment to stick with it. The first step is to seek counseling from a qualified professional, preferably an individual who is understanding, compassionate, empathetic and willing to listen. If you'd like to discuss this issue at greater length, we hope you'll feel free to call and speak with a member of Focus on the Family's counseling staff. You can reach them Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain time at 855-771-HELP (4357).
One last thought. As Christians, we know that there is something more we can do for the cross-dresser. We know that his or her life can be positively impacted by our fervent prayers. The God of the Bible doesn't simply condemn habits or practices of this kind. When calling His children to adhere to His design for sexuality, He also helps them to repent, trust and obey. We firmly believe that prayer is the key to releasing His power into the lives of those who so desperately need it.