July 20, 2016

Convicted by a Cross Dresser

Gary Thomas — 

Convicted by a Cross Dresser

Jason (not his real name) is one of the over fifty-percent of men who struggle mightily with pornography. It was causing him to miss out on life and regularly be angry with his wife (an often-ignored “secret” is that porn is cultivating an entire generation of angry husbands). One time, after an hours-long binge in San Diego, he walked outside to a stunningly beautiful vista and heard God gently tell him, “This is the beauty you are missing when you spend your time inside like that.”

Jason has a poet’s heart, and God had found a way to show him the beauty, truth, and life that he was missing out on by pursuing an artificial intimacy based on a lie. The porn use began affecting his marriage to such a degree that he finally confessed it to a marriage counselor, who suggested Jason join an SLAA group (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous).

It was terrifying for Jason to cross the threshold of that meeting for the first time, but when he saw other men struggling like him, he said he finally felt like he had found a “home.” He started collecting the chips and finding some victory, until one day he had a really bad fall.

When it was his time to share his fall with the group, Jason broke down weeping in front of everyone. He couldn’t believe it. He had tried so hard. He had truly enjoyed walking in victory. And now he was overwhelmed by yet another failure, the feelings of hopelessness strangling him spiritually. He had thought the new venture into SLAA would “cure” him, but the results were in. He had messed up. Again.

Still weeping, Jason looked up and saw Leon the cross-dresser. Leon was crying, too. Leon knew what shame felt like. Leon knew how devastating it felt to try to control urges you are convinced aren’t healthy, only to fall again.

The tears of the cross-dresser (whose name spelled backward, Jason notes, is “Noel”) ministered Christ’s spirit to Jason.

Jesus hurt with him.

I want to be like that struggling cross-dresser, in this sense: I want to cry with others in their moments of devastation and defeat. I want to feel their pain instead of letting them feel my judgment.

Dozens (if not hundreds) of conversations like the one I had with Jason have convinced me that porn is a burden contemporary men (and an increasing number of women) must bear. If porn was fulfilling, men and women wouldn’t hate giving in so much. The marital effects (anger toward your wife, erectile dysfunction, lying, isolation, shame) bring far more misery than the lost hours bring lasting pleasure. It’s an assault on who we are and who we want to be. And so, Christ suffers with us.

I don’t expect wives to not take its use personally, and I’m not asking them to. Yes, it’s unfaithfulness. Yes, it hurts you as much as or maybe more than anyone. Yes, I believe its unrepentant use, over time, can constitute an affair. No, you shouldn’t accept it. Ever.

But I want to be the kind of spouse who will cry if my wife must suffer the shame of her fallenness rather than add to that shame.

I read the story of a newly married woman who had a food addiction and some past sexual abuse that made sexual intimacy difficult and complicated. Early on in her marriage, the panic began to rise when her husband was making advances so she paused and said, “Let me go to the bathroom first.”

But she didn’t go to the bathroom.

She went to the kitchen.

She opened up the refrigerator and started stuffing herself. If it was edible, she put it in her mouth. When she had some cold noodles from Chinese take-out hanging between her lips, she heard something behind her and turned.

It was her new husband.




She wanted to disappear. But her husband walked over to the counter, opened up a drawer, pulled out a fork, and said, “Hey, you don’t have to do this by yourself anymore. We’re married now.”

I want to be that kind of husband.

I’m not saying women should ever agree to watch porn with their husbands. Of course not. Or that they should cooperate with cross-dressing. Marriage is about progressive healing, not about walking further into darkness and dysfunction.

But I want to be the kind of spouse who cries first and with his wife, and only then starts to talk about taking a new path.

While the Reformed (Calvinist) branch of the church emphasizes God’s wrath against our sins (for good, biblical reasons), the Eastern Orthodox Church is known for emphasizing Christ the Victor, the one who came to save us from our sins, viewing us as victims of sin as much as perpetrators of it. And there are plenty of Bible verses supporting this view. It doesn’t need to be either/or. The biblical case, as it so often is, is both/and.

So, to be a both/and spouse, we want to see our spouses in the light of their being victims of sin and thus hurt when they are assaulted by the burden of its temptations and are facing the devastation of its false promises.

We are all so beaten up, aren’t we? Some people were so abused as children that addictions seem all but inevitable. Others don’t have a real excuse but chose their own ways of coping with stress, inadequacy, loneliness, and shame. And then they found that the way out was much more difficult than the way in.

Marriage can be so healing, and parenting can be so transformational, when we look at our spouse and our kids and cry with them in their fallenness before we talk to them about any “solution.”

In other words (and I can’t believe I’m writing this), I prayed this morning that I could be just a little bit more like Leon the cross-dresser.

I want to cry when loved-ones hurt.

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30 responses to Convicted by a Cross Dresser

  1. Great article Gary! 12-step programs used to be very centered around a ‘power greater than ourselves’. But the past few years, this is being watered down. I met the ‘real Jesus’ through a 12-step program for food addiction. The lady you mentioned with the food addiction, I can relate too. Embarrassingly, I can understand the addiction to porn. I have never accessed porn on the Internet, but there is so much ‘soft porn’ out there now (think, fifty shades of Grey) Thank God I have Holy Spirit who warns me if I’m tempted to watch particular films or read certain books….I have the addictive nature….more is never enough.

  2. First to Jen- thank you for your transparency. I know many wives who have journeyed the same or similar road. There’s a heap of help and community for wives in all sorts of difficult marriages at Greater Impact especially the closed group Strength & Dignity which reopens in September. Wonderful Christian supportive women.

    And second I would say that lust and anger seem to go hand in hand as part of passion. Anger is not a bad thing. Neither is sexual desire for one’s spouse. If used properly, passion is beautiful. But the spirits of lust and anger seem to be “friends” who travel together. Unsatisfied lust (which porn always is) provokes anger. I offer this as someone with a history of sexual abuse and relevant issues.

  3. ”The kindness of God leads to repentance.”
    Romans 2:4
    “A gentle (or kind) word turns away wrath.”
    Proverbs 15:1
    “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another”
    Zechariah 7:9
    “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”
    Proverbs 31:26
    “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor.”
    Proverbs 21:21
    “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
    Micah 6:8

    Our God desires kindness—to speak the truth in love. May we be ever ready to catch one another when we fall.

    Thanks for the good word brother. Much love and blessings.

  4. Hi Gary,
    When I first found out about my husband’s porn addiction two years ago, 13 years into our marriage with no clue, my first response (after the blank stare of shock wore off) was compassion. I hugged him and cried with him moments, hours and days afterwards. Then a couple months later there was a therapeutic disclosure at our therapists’ office where years of secrets were confessed. After that meeting I handed my husband, that I truly love unconditionally, a letter that said I forgave him and I meant it with every fiber of my being.

    If that were the extent of our story, it would appear that I accomplished the very heart of your article. However, that is not the case. The past two years have been speckled with moments as forementioned, but there’s also a very dark side. A side to the grief that felt like it had a life of its own…where I was either crying out in deep sorrow and depression or having feelings of rage, and acting on many of those, that I never knew I was capable of. Moments of clinging to my husband and crying, followed by me asking him to leave because I couldn’t even look at him without feeling excruciating pain. So, it is a traumatizing juxtaposition of being the exact spouse you described , and also dealing with the intense roller coaster of emotions that follows this type of discovery. I commented on this article because I’ve heard/read several similar things in regards to responding to the person that promised to love you, cherish you and protect you, who is the one that has wounded you beyond comprehension and now you are paying a price for their sin. Do you have any thoughts or ideas for others like me…who at the core of our identity would want nothing less than to react with compassion, but who were also taken by surprise by the impact of betrayal?

    • I’m glad you brought this up, Jen. Your response shows a tender, spiritually sensitive heart.

      To answer your last sentence, in real-life, it’s not “either-or” it’s “both-and.” You try to display compassion, but you’re not a robot (nor would you want to be). Of course you experience grief, anger, hurt, dismay, fear. The break-down in the story above is that Leon wasn’t directly hurt by Jason’s actions, so in one sense, it was easier for him to show empathy as he had no personal betrayal, nor any reasonable fear of what this means for his future.

      In marriage, you have both. The limitation of blog posts is that, by their brevity, they make one point. Real-life and real-marriage, is layered. And that’s what you’ve experienced and still are experiencing.

      And for the sake of those reading this reply, let me add that initially crying with your spouse over their sins doesn’t mean there will be no consequences to their actions later on, especially absent repentance. Jesus wept over the sin of Jerusalem, but not everybody in Jerusalem was saved.

      • Thank you for that Gary. It touched me deeply. I felt heard and that has been a really hard part of this journey. There’s tons of support for the person struggling with addiction and I know they need it and I am thankful it exists. However, because of the intense emotional reactions spouses can experience, we tend be to labeled and misunderstood. Your comment brought me to tears because you didn’t do either of those. I’m grateful for your wisdom and your perspective. Thanks again!

        • Oh! And I really like how you said it’s not an “either or” it’s a “both and”…LOVE that!!

  5. Anecdotal, but I experienced it so acutely. Anger at ourselves comes when we men feel we have lost control. So the anger isn’t truly directed at the ones we love, but at ourselves. I believe tt does cloud our vision and we see any negative behavior or failure in others as them also having “lost control”, so we try to feel better and assuage our guilt by imposing some control over them or the external situation.

    • Thanks for sharing, Lee. So many have asked about this that I want to do an entire post on it. Would you mind sharing more of your story? We could do it by email if you’d prefer not to talk, or I could call you. If you’re open to this, email me at gary@garythomas.com.

  6. Thank you for the great thoughts. A principle I see alluded to but not stressed here or in the comments is the strong connection between our ability to receive God’s grace and our ability to extend God’s grace. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” It isn’t possible to walk free in Christ and carry a desire to condemn anyone.

    • Exactly. Which is why you often see so much compassion in recovery groups. But I’m grateful to you, Greg, for making the spiritual/theological connection clearer.

  7. “….parenting can be so transformational, when we look at our kids and cry with them in their fallenness before we talk to them about any ‘solution.'”

    I have found this response to my children’s sin to be so wonderfully defusing and helpful in bringing about tenderhearted repentance rather than excuses and defensiveness. It’s beautiful to see the relief in my daughters’ eyes when they are expecting judgement and instead receive compassion — most especially when I remind them that *I* am still a sinner with my own struggles and that I understand what they are going through. What an amazing opportunity to model Jesus’ response to our sin and failures.

    Thank you for this reminder, Gary!

  8. This goes along with carrying one another’s burdens. To carry another’s burden is to feel the weight – and often – the pain of it. We are to grieve with those who grieve, even if the grief is over our fallenness, yet (as you said) we should never leave ourselves or our loved ones there. Feeling the pain is the beginning of the journey to healing. Thankyou for sharing these thoughts.

    • Yes, I agree with your comment. Gary, Thank you for bringing this darkness
      into open light of truth, understanding
      and compassion. What a great day we live in, to see this and read that there is HOPE for us all!

  9. This is a touching article, Gary, and I agree wholeheartedly with its message.

    May I ask you to elaborate, though, on your statement that porn is creating an entire generation of angry husbands? How is this so? I am very curious about this since my husband (who was addicted to pornography already when we met) has always been an extremely angry person. And I have met so many other women who are deeply distressed over their husbands’ inability to control their anger. I’d like to understand more of the connection between porn and anger.

    Thank you.

    • Let me be clear: porn isn’t the ONLY cause of a husband’s anger. There have been plenty of angry husbands through the centuries who have never looked at porn. But I do believe that the spiritual fruit of porn is frequently marital anger. Several have asked about this so I need to make it the focus of an upcoming blog.

      • Can I offer a suggestion? Having previously been in this situation, my observation over the years was that the anger is a by product of shame. Anger is a secondary emotion that has a root in some other place such as hurt, fear, or…shame. We also lash out when we feel out of control as is the case with addiction. I’d also like to add while loving as Jesus loves us is absolutely the first answer, if a spouse refuses to get help and you are in a volatile situation, you should seek safety for yourself and children. And physical abuse isn’t the only kind that is damaging. Emotional, mental and sexual abuse (marriage does not make forced relations okay) is as damaging as physical abuse. They usually go hand in hand, but someone can be abusive with words, actions and mind control without hitting you. Prayer is crucial, both for you and your spouse. God can do miracles, but he won’t force someone who is unwilling to look at a problem and get help. The book An Affair of the Mind by Laurie Hall is a great resource.

  10. I think this is spot-on except continually refering to anyone as “the cross-dresser.” That’s my issue with AA type organizations as well; how can we move on to victory if continuing to see ourselves as miserable sinners? I have never meet to an AA meeting yet that focused on the future. (My daughter is a recovering drug addict and has made a much better connection with Smart Recovery groups. Yes, suffer with them but offer a path to making the brain and spirit changes needed on a daily basis.

    • I appreciate your sensitivity to this, Sara, and understand where you’re coming from. In this instance, I was simply using Jason’s language, since I wanted to be true to his experience. Upon further reflection, I might have worded it differently.

      However, I do know a number of recovering addicts–like alcoholics, for instance–who find it helpful to refer to themselves as “recovering alcoholics” not as a definition of who they are, but a reminder that they need to stay alert. I know of many people who have found great healing even while using labels.

  11. Helpful, as always, Gary. Thanks for sharing that porn creates anger. I suspect as much but it’s very helpful to have you confirm it.

  12. Yvonne Michelle July 20, 2016 at 6:35 am

    My husband of late has had a smack attitude and the military side of him as come out again after such a long time. As much as i know this was caused by a break in to our house, its so painful when he directs his anger to me or others who have nothing to do with it. I had tried to be patient with him but today I broke before God in anger towards my hubby. This article I guess is just God’s way of reassuaring me to keep on loving and be patient with him as He works on my hubby. So help me Lord.

    • Yvonne, I appreciate you trying to apply this to yourself. But for help for your husband, I’m a big fan of Chip Ingram’s book, “Overcoming Emotions that Destroy.” It’s been very helpful for couples who struggle with anger.

    • Yvonne, your post really touched me. I will be praying for you and your husband. You are not alone. God bless you.

  13. Thank you, Gary. This is such a timely post for this day and age. I especially like the “both/and” concept and learning to “weep with those who weep.”
    I had a moment a few weeks ago when I was feeling particularly emotional over some events in my life. I was even entertaining thoughts of self-pity which I usually resist, but not this day. I had an encounter with Jesus like no other time. I felt Him draw near and weep with me and comfort me. It must have been how Mary felt standing outside of her brother’s tomb. What a Savior who weeps with us in our weaknesses yet sets us free from the sin that so easily entangles us.
    Thank you for helping me not forget that moment.

  14. Great message about of substituting ‘Compassion’ as our first response instead of the conviction that the world view would have us reacting in such a situation, or really any situation. If we are to grow in discipleship, following Jesus, then we should note that Jesus’s first responses in instances of sin was ‘Compassion’ and Forgiveness’, because personal conviction is what stirs the soul to transformation, but Compassion and Forgiveness are what comforts the soul leading us to redemption. Whereas conviction will lead the soul to a ‘shutdown’ defense mode, because there is no understanding of the distress that led to this behavior.

  15. Can you reference a former article on why anger is prevalent in men using porn? Thank you.

    • I’ve talked about this in talks, and to men who struggle (including “Jason,” from this article). But it’s mostly anecdotal. I can’t support it from research, just from observation. (I don’t think any research has been done on it)

  16. Yeah its tough going it alone. If a close friend walks with us, it becomes bearable. Thanks Gary. You have been of huge help!