real life

'For 20 years, I supported my husband wearing women's clothing. But now I'm ending the marriage.'

This article uses the word 'cross-dresser', a complex term which has to be used with care. Please see the editorial note at the end of the article, which offers further clarification and education on its use.

It was a month into Rosie* and Danny’s relationship that she discovered a pair of stockings.

In his cupboard.

“For some reason, I just knew they were his. I knew they didn’t belong to another woman,” Rosie, mid-50s, tells Mamamia.

She says she wasn’t shocked. Or upset. But “of course there was that initial questioning: Are you gay?”.

“I didn’t know much about cross-dressing, but I knew enough to be okay with him dressing occasionally as a female - and that’s initially how it was presented to me.”

An ideal world, according to Trans Australians. Article continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

Rosie’s love towards Danny was unshaken, and they were both delighted when she fell pregnant just six months later. They went on to marry, and have another child too. 

All the while, Danny continued his exploration of cross-dressing. 

For years, Danny’s feminine expression consisted of just donning stockings and high heels. It then progressed to skirts  - “but only at home, and only after the kids went to bed”.

And for the most part, Rosie was supportive and understanding.

When Danny joined Seahorse Victoria - a support and social organisation for the transgender community - Rosie went along to a few meetings. 

She would sometimes go shopping for him too, buying women’s clothes she thought would suit him. 

But always, a few days later, she felt herself pulling back. 

“It was always this contradiction: I very much believe in supporting people to be their true selves, but I was also having that internal struggle.” 

As years passed, Danny allowed his hair to grow long. He pierced both of his ears, and began wearing heels outside of the house - just in the car, on the drive to work.

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“What was gradually happening was, every so often, he would up the ante a little bit. I’d be unsettled for a while, and then I’d accept the new norm and it would be okay. That has been the constant cycle in our relationship,” Rosie reflects.

But she wasn’t always okay. 

“There were times I felt resentful and negative - swiftly followed by guilt. It was very much like riding a rollercoaster.”

Danny then began regularly getting his nails professionally manicured and painted. Rosie recalls the time there was a school function - “and he was going to go out with those nails. I absolutely flipped out.”

“I just remember feeling this utter embarrassment that he was going to go out with those nails.”

Sex and intimacy.

“He thought I had a low libido,” declares Rosie. 

“No, I didn’t. I just really struggled. I was not attracted to him in any shape of form when he was wearing women’s clothes; stockings and high heels.”

While Rosie says their intimacy was good at times, despite “trying to pretend” when Danny was presenting as a woman, she couldn’t feign attraction. 

Sex occurred once a month - “and sometimes even less”.

And so, in an effort to satiate their desires, they ventured into the world of swinging.

“Swinging filled a need for both of us”, says Rosie. “It was driven by me, because I wanted to have sex with a male… I didn’t need to worry if they were wishing to be dressed as a woman."

Identifying as bi-sexual herself, swinging presented more diverse opportunities for Rosie too - “I wanted to experience having sex with women… And I know that must sound pretty weird, but I didn’t want my husband to be a woman.”

When it comes to sexual attraction, Rosie explains that one of the greatest misconceptions she has encountered anecdotally is the accepted idea that cross-dressers are predominantly straight.

“Many [male cross-dressers] will either fantasise and/or have sex with men while they're dressed. And that is very common,” she says, sharing that Danny had sex with both a man and women on their swinging adventures. 

“But he’s predominantly heterosexual. When he’s dressed as male, he is not attracted to men, nor does he want to have sex with them.”

“If he could find himself a female partner who accepts his dressing, he would much prefer that.”

The relationship.

“Danny has always treated me so well,” reflects Rosie, her voice radiating warmth.

“We always just clicked, and laughed a lot. He brought me stability and a really good life together. I love him.”

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Since the onset of the pandemic, Rosie says that Danny now 'dresses' as female full-time. 

She says she's become an expert at compartmentalising.

Then, six weeks ago, Danny upped the ante once more. It pushed the marriage to a crucial point. 

He told Rosie that he wanted to get breast implants.

“It just threw me big time. I was completely blindsided. I never knew this was on the radar in my wildest dreams. He always told me he didn’t want surgery.”

She continues, “It was just a constant flip flop in my mind in saying, it’s time for us to break up, or, can I learn to live with this? It was a very confusing time for both of us.”

Rosie digested, ruminated and agonised for a couple weeks before landing on her response.

“I just told him, I can’t do this. I just can’t.”

“As gutted as I am, as guilty as I feel that I'm not trying harder, I think I'm done.”

And three weeks ago, they decided to end their marriage.

“Even now, I’m just devastated that our relationship is gone. I absolutely love this person, and I did still want to spend the rest of my life with them - but I have to be true to myself. 

“I’ve compromised myself as much as I absolutely can. I’ve got to start putting myself first, because I don’t think I have for a long time.”

Despite the emotional turmoil, Rosie still wanted to try to support Danny as best she could. She offered to join him in Thailand to care for him after the surgery. 

But in his eagerness and “pink fog”, says Rosie, she then learned that he had inadvertently booked the surgery for November 8. 

The date that would’ve marked their 20th wedding anniversary. 

Angry and upset, Rosie’s feelings erupted - big and fast. 

“When I was yelling, something came out that I didn't even know I was feeling: I said, 'We're both suffering through this, but I'm losing everything. You're losing the marriage, but you're also gaining something too'.”

Rosie says she feels like “total s**t” and has had to take some time off from her job in the healthcare sector.

“I’m not coping.”

Family, friends and support.

Rosie says their two teenage sons knew their father was a cross-dresser for a long time before they saw him present, and have been very supportive.

“He’s just dad to them. It’s normal.”

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“They’ve got trans, gay and non-binary friends; friends that don’t fit the traditional mould, which is wonderful,” she says.

Amongst the extended family, it’s just been understood that “Uncle Danny is in touch with his feminine side,” says Rosie. 

“Most of our friends have been quite accepting too." 

But Rosie is aware of the discrimination Danny sometimes faces - the comments and smirks when in public.

Just six months ago, Danny - presenting as a woman - was leaving a cafe in Melbourne’s east, when an older woman confronted him. She told him he should be ashamed of himself.

“She’s lucky I wasn’t there," says Rosie, her voice now deepening. "This is someone I love, and I'm protective of him. I won’t back down.” 

For many years, Rosie kept her husband’s true self a secret and had no one to turn to for support. Eventually, she stumbled across an internet forum for partners of cross-dressing spouses, but soon found it to be all too negative and unhelpful. She wanted to know not only how to process her feelings, but how to be there as a partner for Danny, too.

It’s for this reason that Rosie is currently in the process of setting up a support group for partners of those who identify as cross-dressers/transgender - “so no one should go through this alone”.

'We still have each other's backs.'

For the past few weeks, Danny and Rosie have been sleeping in separate bedrooms - still in the same home they’ve shared as a family for years. 

“But even this morning, I went in to have a cuddle with him,” Rosie tells. 

They intend on staying under the same roof - at least until their children finish school in a few years. 

Although Rosie has her concerns.

“I know once Danny gets his breasts, he’s going to want to try them out. We still might go to a Swingers Club; arrive together and leave together. I’ve never been jealous, but I’m worried that now I will be. 

“Even though I can’t be in this relationship anymore, I still love him. He loves me. And it hurts. Seeing each other move on will hurt both of us. That really scares me.

But Rosie is hopeful they will find their way. They’ve even discussed the idea of eventually living as next-door neighbours in dual townhouses.

“I’d still want to be a big part of each other’s lives. In old age, if we’re still not partnered up, there’s potential for us to live together again. We still have each other’s backs.”

“I’ve just always said, if you’re going to wear women’s clothes, make sure you do it properly. Do it with courage. Now, he does makeup better than me, and it’s annoying how well he can walk in heels,” she says with a hearty laugh.

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Rosie’s greatest wish is that they remain best friends. 

“And that the more accepting we become of our transgender and cross-dressing community, the more people can be themselves early on, and feel they can be upfront from the beginning about who they are. Partners can then make an informed choice if they want to remain in that relationship or not, because it’s a tough road.”

Rosie ponders, “Maybe if I grew up in a different era, where gender norms weren't so deeply entrenched, perhaps I could’ve fully accepted Danny with breasts and still had a romantic relationship? But I've just had it ingrained in me too much.”

“I really wish I could. Because I’m gutted that the person I adore most in the world is slipping away from me.”

* Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

If your partner identifies as a cross-dressers/transgender, and you are interested in finding out more about the support group that Rosie is establishing, e-mail her at [email protected]..

For more information about Seahorse Victoria, visit seahorsevic.com.au.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue at 1300 22 4636.

Editorial Note:

Mamamia understands the term 'cross-dresser' must be used carefully and only in specific contexts, as it has been in this article. In evolving society's understanding of gender diversity, the term 'cross-dresser' cannot be applied to all trans and gender diverse people. For many, it can be inaccurate, harmful and offensive, and has sometimes contributed to discrimination and violence. 

However, some people specifically self-identify as 'cross-dressers' or 'CD', and sometimes proudly so. This is particularly relevant for some older trans women for whom this was the best language available at the time they transitioned and came out. Some people may identify as 'cross-dressers' and not be transgender at all - such as cisgender men who only 'dress' occasionally or temporarily. 

We encourage our readers to embrace the terminology people use to self-identify - but to be aware that those terms do not apply to all gender diverse people and can be outdated and harmful to some. 

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on  Instagram.

Feature Image: Pexels/Pavel Danilyuk/Mamamia.

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