-Ask Dr. Kit.
The risk of outing yourself on your home computer
It happened again. A husband and wife in my office, she is weeping and he is looking miserable. She found photographs of him cross-dressed on his phone. Why was she looking on his phone? Why was he caring around these photos? Now the marriage is in a shambles and they have come to therapy. And they are the lucky ones. Because after such discovery many wives and girlfriends are not willing to do the cooperative work of therapy; they just give up on the relationship.
More and more of the break-ups and divorces I encounter begin with a wife or girlfriend discovering some form of sexual activity or gender expression that her husband or boyfriend had kept secret. And she does not discover this from an earring left in the bed or some other movie-version of how people find out. She always discovers it on his computer or phone. It may be a search history, and email, text or a photograph. Today I am writing this column with one point only. If you are a closeted cross-dresser and have photos or film of yourself cross-dressed they will be found and found by exactly the person or people you hope will never see them. I have also worked with people who have lost their jobs after such photos were discovered by co-workers. Of course this is not right or fair or even legal, but it can happen and it has happened.
What are these photos and why do people hold onto them? Most cross-dressers live conventional lives and spend very little time cross-dressed. When they do have an opportunity to express their female aspect, that experience is precious. The urge to take photos of one’s self takes many forms. For many cross-dressing is motivated by the desire to see one’s self as a woman. Looking in the mirror when dressed can be exciting and affirming, comforting, and uplifting. A photo can preserve that moment and allow the person to see themselves en femme even when they are in drab. Looking into their eyes in the cross-dressed photo, people may feel that they see their true self in a way that they don’t when they look in the mirror in their daily life. It is indisputable evidence of a core truth about the self. If the photo was taken in a social context with supportive people it may also be treasured as a memento of a time when the person was were free to be his/her self with people who understood. Photos may also be a common part of socializing on-line or meeting people through dating sites.
Whatever the reason that the photo is valued, the reality is that many people who are otherwise very discrete flirt with danger when they generate and hold on to this explicit evidence of their activity. People rationalize it in all kinds of ways. Some think that they are unrecognizable in the photo, which I can only say underestimates the imagination of those who know them well. To think that no one can find the photo is to underestimate people, particularly a suspicious partner, a curious child, and the cross-dresser’s ability to be careless in what you leave up on your phone or computer. I believe that any reason one can have for thinking that the photos are safe is a form of denial. There may be some cases in which the person has a desire to get caught. Discovery would eliminate the need to hide, force the conversation with their partner, and open up the possibility that the discovering person will see the cross-dresser in their entirety and love them. I am not going to say that most people are motivated to get caught. I really think that they believe they will never get caught. But if this describes you, I urge you to think again.
Dr. Katherine Rachlin is a clinical psychologist, gender specialist, and sex therapist in private practice in New York City. Her website is http://katherinerachlin.com. You can also reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 206-3636