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Letter to the Editor, Psychiatric Times (1994)

Letter to the Editor, Psychiatric Times (1994)

©1994, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1994, 28 July). Letter to the editor, Psychiatric Times.

I’m unsure if this letter was published.



28 July, 1994

Editor, Psychiatric Times
CME, Inc.
1924 E. Deere Avenue
Santa Ana, CA 92705-0445


Dear Editor:


I am writing in response to the article on teen transvestism by Domeena C. Renshaw, which appeared in the May, 1994 issue of Psychiatric Times, and a letter by Kim J. Masters, which appeared in the July issue.

Dr. Renshaw’s article contains many errors of fact. For instance, she does not seem to realize that many transsexuals do at some point in their careers obtain erotic satisfaction from wearing women’s clothing (Stone, 1991). She also seems to believe that women’s clothing is necessary in order for the fetishistic transvestite to have sex. No doubt it is for some, but for the majority, it simply heightens arousal. Nor is crossdressing, as she suggests, illegal in any state, although a few towns may have non-enforced ordinances prohibiting it. Since Dr. Renshaw admits that she has very little knowledge of the subject of teen crossdressing, one wonders why her article was even written.

But worse than Dr. Renshaw’s lack of knowledge is her apparent view that crossdressing behavior is aberrant and undesirable, and therefore should be treated (read eradicated). She writes, “If (teenage male crossdressers) obsessively continue cross-dressing for life… are we not obligated as pioneers to identify, recognize, respect, and attempt to treat them?” My answer to this question is yes, yes, yes, and no. That is, yes it is important to identify them; yes it is important to recognize them; yes, it is important to respect them; and no, it is not advisable to treat them in any way which is designed to “cure” them of their crossdressing behavior.

It’s true some males are driven to crossdress, but others are as strongly driven to have heterosexual or homosexual intercourse, or for that matter to make lots of money, publish in professional journals, or play with electric trains. It is dangerous and I think unprofessional to place one’s value judgments on a behavior which is legal and harmless to others, positioning it as undesirable and unacceptable and therefore fair game for treatment, and then justify it by claiming that society deems the behavior unacceptable rather than admitting that the behavior is personally distasteful to the author.

There is an amazing change happening in the way crossdressing and crossdressers are treated in our culture. I’ve been to fine restaurants in Atlanta and Asheville and Philadelphia and Dallas and Houston and San Antonio and New York City with groups of as many as 50 obviously crossdressed men, and watched them be treated with respect and dignity. Certainly, acceptance of crossdressing in America is far from universal, but it’s clear that Dr. Renshaw’s frequent statements that crossdressing is not reflective of changing and increasingly tolerant social mores don’t reflect this. Too bad she didn’t spend some time in public with crossdressers, learning this.

While being a crossdresser or being transsexual can certainly be a challenge, it is hardly as bleak a life as Dr. Renshaw believes. Blackmail is not possible unless an individual is living in shame and denial; crossdressing need not be a major issue in a marriage or other relationship; and 77-year-old crossdressers are often as happy as larks.

Many crossdressers and certainly transsexuals do not want to be “cured,” either as adults or as teens. When I was fourteen years old, I was discovered in a crossdressed state. My parents took me to a psychiatrist, and I lied like a champion, for I knew (it was 1963) it would be exceedingly dangerous to admit my true feelings, which were that I desperately wanted to be a woman. It is now 31 years later, and I am indeed a woman. Keeping my feelings secret probably saved me a great deal of shame and psychological abuse disguised as “therapy.” I have acquaintances, who are also now women, who identify as psychiatric survivors because of aversion therapy, bullying, and even sexual advances suffered at the hands of the psychiatric community because they did not keep their desires to themselves.

I am not only transsexual; I am a scholar. I have reviewed the literature of transsexualism and crossdressing extensively and published an annotated bibliography (Denny, 1994) in which I document decades of abuse of people like myself at the hands of the psychiatric community. It’s written in black-and-white in the professional literature, in The British Journal of Psychiatry and Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases and other prestigious publications. To give just one example (Cooper, 1963), in an attempt to reduce crossdressing with aversion therapy a fetishistic crossdresser was kept awake for more than a week with large doses of amphetamines and given drugs every hour to make him violently nauseous. He developed cardiac problems and had to be hospitalized for a month. In his discussion, the author blithely suggests (no doubt more to protect his own interests than out of concern for his patient) that future studies include frequent EKGs; he did not suggest that perhaps his treatment of a private and nonoffensive behavior was more than a bit extreme.

Finally, it is unfortunate that Dr. Renshaw chose to make an association between autoerotic asphyxiation and crossdressing and that Dr. Masters chose to make an association between crossdressing and sexually aggressive behavior. Crossdressing may be common in those who engage in autoerotic strangulation, but that does not mean autoasphyxiation is particularly common among crossdressers. Similarly, rapists often engage in a variety of behaviors, including bondage and dominance, sadomasochism, and wearing women’s clothing, but they are rapists—not crossdressers. Making such assertions is as pejorative as saying Jews are greedy or Blacks are lazy and shiftless. The truth is, transgendered people are considerably less aggressive than the general population. Milliken (1982), who had the bright idea of looking at violence by transsexuals, had to go out of his way to find evidence of three transsexual people who had committed or attempted homicide. The very fact that Milliken’s article was written and passed peer review is evidence of the disrespect with which transgendered persons are treated. It would have been easy to find three murderous psychiatrists—but where is the article “Homicidal Psychiatrists: Three Cases”? The simple answer is it wasn’t written because it’s not acceptable to ask such questions about psychiatrists, but it is acceptable to ask them about transsexuals, because they (we) are dehumanized and devalued in the literature.

I’ve suggested (Denny, 1992, 1993, 1994) that the psychiatric literature of transsexualism and crossdressing has developed in a reactive fashion, focusing on people in extreme distress, to the exclusion of the tens of thousands who do not come to the attention of helping professionals. It’s very like the old Sufi parable of the blind men and the elephant, but with all of the blind men standing in the same spot, experiencing the same part of the elephant. Until outdated notions about crossdressing and transsexualism are discarded, we’re never going to see the elephant.

It is high time medical journals stop publishing outdated reports like Renshaw’s and high time that researchers and clinicians face the fact that their biases color the way they see and treat transgendered persons.



Dallas Denny, M.A.
Licensed Psychological Examiner
Executive Director, American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc.


pc Dr. George Brown



Cooper, A.J. (1963). A case of fetishism and impotence treated by behaviour therapy. British Journal of Psychiatry, 109, 649-652.

Denny, D. (1992). The politics of diagnosis and a diagnosis of politics: The university-affiliated gender clinics, and how they failed to meet the needs of transsexual people. (1992). Chrysalis Quarterly, 1(3), 9-20.

Denny, D. (1993). Letter to the editor: Response to Charles Mate-Kole’s review of In search of Eve: Transsexual rites of passage by Anne Bolin. (South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 22(2), 167-169.

Denny, D. (1994). Gender dysphoria: A guide to research. New York: Garland Publishing.

Milliken, A.D. (1982). Homicidal transsexuals: Three cases. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 27(1), 43-46.

Stone, S. (1991). The empire strikes back: A posttranssexual manifesto. In J. Epstein & K. Straub (Eds.), Body guards: The cultural politics of gender ambiguity, pp. 280-304. New York: Routledge.