The phrase "in the closet" is one that transgendered people have borrowed from the gay community, and it is used to refer to a transvestite who keeps his cross-dressing secret - often even from those closest and most dear to him. (By definition, a transsexual or transgendered person who chooses to live and present full-time in the opposite gender cannot be in the closet.)
In pre-Internet days, many, perhaps most, TVs spent their entire lives in the closet - dressing secretly when they or their families were away from home, never meeting or talking with others like themselves and often feeling desperately ashamed, guilty and confused about what they tended to see as a perverted, disreputable, disgraceful habit. Nowadays, with many Internet websites for transgendered people and the free exchange of information, support and advice, it's much easier for a TV to talk with, get to know and perhaps meet other TVs, and understand that he is not a solitary freak, that there are many, many others out there with the same feelings, desires and problems.
Nevertheless, for a great many TVs the shame and confusion still persist. Even if such a person does find and look at one or more TG websites, he may still be very hesitant about joining such a site. Years of keeping his "guilty secret" may make him feel that if he does, somehow or other his family/friends/colleagues will find out and his life will be ruined. TVs can be very paranoid about this - even if the likelihood of discovery is almost non-existent!
So "coming out" - telling people that he is transvestite - is very often one of the bravest and most frightening things a TV can do.
It's not uncommon for a TV to enter into a romantic relationship with a woman, marry and have a family, while his wife remains entirely unaware that her husband is transvestite. Many TVs - especially younger, less experienced ones who are still in the stage when their dressing has a strong sexual component - genuinely and sincerely believe that marriage, and a regular "normal" sexual and family life, will take away their need to cross-dress and that they will then be "cured". These guys have no intention of deceiving their wives or partners, they truly believe that they can stop dressing and that their transvestism need not and will not affect their married life, and when they find - as they almost invariably do - that the urges and needs are still there and possibly growing stronger, they may be deeply distressed and at a loss what to do.
In a situation like this, the TV has only two alternatives - he can tell his wife/partner about his transvestism and accept whatever consequences there may be, or he can start dressing again in private and try to keep it secret from her and his family.
If your partner has told you that he is TV, or if you've found this out for yourself, and you're distressed, angry, shocked, frightened or confused - as you almost certainly will be, to some extent - please bear in mind that he is probably feeling at least as bad as you are, and very likely worse. Not only has he had to confess something which he may never have told anyone about before - and that's something which takes a lot of strength and courage to do - he will also be feeling horribly guilty at being the cause of your distress and pain. He will probably be desperately afraid that you'll be unable to cope with knowing he's TV, that you'll despise him for it, that you might leave him, that things can never be the same between you.
You have every right to be shocked - it IS a shock to discover that the man you thought you knew so well could keep something like this from you, especially if you know very little about transvestism and can't understand why he needs to do it or what he gets out of it - but please don't make any irrevocable decisions in a hurry. Take some time to talk with your TV partner - quietly, calmly and privately - about what it means to him, why he feels he is the way he is and where he would like to go with it in the future. Listen to what he has to say - some of the answers to your questions might surprise you. Use the Internet and websites like this one to find out as much as you can about transvestism and its implications.
At this point it may be better to keep the whole issue between the two of you if you can. If you really HAVE to tell somebody, be very sure it's a close friend or relative whom you know you can trust absolutely. You may feel that you can't possibly deal with this without talking it all over with your friends/family/acquaintances, but try to remember that myths, misinformation and wrong impressions about transvestism abound, that people love to gossip, that you're still in a state of shock and confusion and the way you feel now may not be the way you'll feel later on, and that once you've told people you can't un-tell them. Confide in the wrong person now and you may come to regret it!
A word of warning - your initial reaction may be "OK, I accept that he's TV and he enjoys dressing as a woman, but I can't deal with it - if he loves me and wants to stay with me, he's going to have to stop". This is understandable, but it's also totally unrealistic. Your partner is what he is - he didn't choose to be that way, and he's not going to be able to stop being TV, any more than he could change his eye colour because you want a partner with blue eyes instead of brown ones. If you try to force the issue with an ultimatum, one of two things is almost certainly going to happen. He'll leave the relationship, either immediately or after a period of mounting tension, misery and distress for both of you. Or he'll agree to give it up, maybe even succeed for a while, but sooner or later the need will come back and he'll start dressing again, openly or in secret.
Denial really isn't an option at this point - you can't put the genie back in the bottle. You're going to have to deal with it, later if not sooner, and for the sake of all concerned it might as well be sooner.
Take as long as you need to recover from the initial shock and confusion - it may take several weeks before you're used to the idea that your partner is TV and can begin to make decisions about where you go from here. And don't allow your partner to push you into feeling that you have to make decisions in a hurry - it's the rest of your (and his) life you're talking about here, and there are no instant answers!
If your partner didn't tell you about his transvestism, but you've discovered it for yourself, all the above applies, with the additional factor that you'll probably be extremely angry about what you will, quite reasonably, regard as his deceit and dishonesty. I know all too well how that feels - I found out my own husband was TV when I found his female clothes, wigs etc. in a suitcase under the bed - and I'm not condoning deceit, but do try to understand that his guilt and shame about this particular secret has probably always run very deep and may well have caused him a great deal of distress over a period of many years.
If you can appreciate just how deep the TV need for secrecy runs, and if your relationship is otherwise a strong and trusting one, try to remember that he is still the same man you fell in love with - the only part of him that you didn't know is the female part. Many TVs with a strong feminine side to their personalities are gentle, kind, empathic people who are comfortable discussing emotional issues, in a way that the traditional "macho" man often can't manage. It could even be that it was his "feminine" character traits that attracted you to him in the first place!
© Transpartners 2008