Date of Award

1-1-2000

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Social Science

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Margaret Sims

Second Advisor

Dr. Ruth Marquis

Third Advisor

Lyn Isted

Abstract

Being a man or woman is at the core of human social lives and personal identity, and guides appropriate behaviours such as dress, mannerisms and relationships. Transvestism, or the practice of wearing the clothes of the other gender, challenges societal values and guidelines for behaviour. The attitude of society to this practice has varied from veneration to vilification depending on the period of history and the culture of the people. In western countries, although there is little social or legal repression, transvestism is largely a hidden phenomena. The tradition of comic drag has dominated public recognition of cross-dressing. Hence transvestites are perceived to be freakish or funny. Transvestites often marry, or form a committed heterosexual relationship without telling their partner of their cross-dressing. Because the public largely ignores the practice of transvestism, women who are married to, or form committed relationships with a transvestite are rendered invisible. The invisibility isolates women from information and social support. Although a substantial amount of literature is available regarding the nature of transvestism and the experience of transvestites, only sporadic attempts have been· made to understand the experience of, and influence on, the wives or committed partners of transvestites. The purpose of this study was to describe the experience of living in a committed relationship with a transvestite from the point of view of the woman. A phenomenological approach to data collection and content analysis identified emergent themes arising from in-depth interviews with nine women who were currently living, or had in the past lived, in a committed relationship with a transvestite. The women were aged between 38 and 84, resided in Western Australia and were of English speaking background. Significantly, some participants had left the relationship. This group of women has never been accessed in previous research hence their input increases the overall knowledge of the experiences of women in relationship with a transvestite. Women described the disclosure of transvestism by their partner to be a great shock that precipitated a long period of complicated grieving. Analysis of data indicated that the relationships between their partner and the femme identity of the man and the woman, whilst unintentional on the part of the man, was experienced as emotionally and sexually abusive by the women. The women resolved the conflict in various ways. Some recommitted to a renegotiated relationship and some tolerated their partners behaviour. Most felt trapped within the relationship at some stage. The majority of women chose to leave the relationship . In retrospect, the women recognised positive changes within themselves as a result of overcoming adversity.

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