Having perfectly misspent some of my youth and earlier adult years in a company of theatrical players, I am acquainted with an acting technique or two for summoning up emotions. Actors will sometimes quite pointedly rummage around in their mental attics for a moment lost to time that helps underline, amplify and lend genuine feeling to an audition reading or to bring more arresting authenticity to a performance. This “memory sense” is available to us all, but is typically consciously deployed only by the curious people found exploring the human condition on stages or in front of cameras.
Fear is an emotion commonly required in dramatic settings. I may have been a more successful actor if I had tapped my own memory sense for fearful moments associated with Cross Dressing.
Fear remains in the mix today, well into my 5th decade of cross dressing (a bravura performance, widely acclaimed, Tony-worthy and held over yet again in the poorly ventilated theatre of my mind). Today, I am going to do a little Devils Advocacy for Fear.
Historically, fear is not an emotion that gets much credit. If Curly, Larry and Moe were Emotions and not Stooges, Shemp would be fear, an irregular player, never claiming the spotlight or winning the big laughs. The Cowardly Lion did heroic things with his Oz gift-bag of Courage. Tin and Straw men merely became usefully employable with their gifts of Caring and Thinking. Little boys are told to get over their fears, and punch the bully right back. The poorly suppressed subtext of course being that not mastering fears earned you a permanent set of sissy stripes.
I got along quite well as a youngster, a charter member in good standing with the fraternity of the penised. Athletic enough, I displayed no evidence of the sort of creative talent that brands a youngster as being seditiously sensitive. My handwriting was lamentable then, and worse today. Additionally, I was reliably dirty and smelly enough to not be welcomed into the company of girls on my own merits, and so was saved the stigma of being a girly-boy. These things, these evident things I knew instinctively to be behaviors that had the effect of making my life simple, and O how simple was desired.
I believe now that I knew this better than many because I had already satisfied complex curiosities and compulsions that would surely have had me drummed out of the uncivil boy society that I felt I needed to belong to at the time. I found women’s clothing, and lo, it felt good.
Even before I was old enough to associate the tactile experiences of cross dressing with sexual imaginings and experiences, it felt good. It felt liberating and confining all at once. Smooth things that clung like no boy-clothing. Structured, shapely things that fastened and twirled and shifted like no boy-garments. Things I was curious about, and intoxicated by. And for all of this intoxication, these things engendered a greater feeling of fear than any bully or bogey-man could ever summon up. My curiousities acted on, were a breach of a commandment so obvious to me that it needed no carving in stone, no bearded guy in positively ghastly sandals to stumble down the mountain with. No one, absolutely not a soul should know about this breach of the rules. I do not know why I knew, and still do not need to. Fear told me well enough.
There was fear of getting caught certainly. There was fear that not everything had been put back perfectly in place. There was fear that the missing thing would arouse inquiries and that the billboard that passed itself off as my face would advertise my guilt in tall, bright, neon-outlined letters. Tactical fears. There were the bigger, subtler fears too. Let me simplify and articulate the biggest one, confident that I am not alone in having asked then, and having asked often since then, the following question:
Does this make me a girl?
Over the years, I believe that I was happily capable of suppressing my dressing in part because of my fear that the answer was yes.
Fear is a powerful inhibitor, but it is also a useful evolutionary adaptation. We are deeply wired to stay away from things and behaviors that cause us harm or get us marginalized in our tribe. Hooray for Humanity! We are here in pretty strong numbers, and at least nominally in charge of things. Hooray too for fear! Long may we summon it up for what it is, employ it to our advantage, but keep it in check. We have been provided with the tools to do so.
Curiosity is the tool I have in mind today. Curiosity is, for me, the delicious chocolate partner to Fears peanut butter. Curiosity has impelled humanity forward as surely as fear, and has bequeathed the carefully curious with great advantages.
I feel inclined to favor curiosity more and more the older I get. I feel surer about my own boundaries, about my own desires. I do not fear for myself the question, “does this make me a girl?”. For me, a few moments at a time with the privilege to experience the world through feminine senses is satisfactory. In fact, it is a joy that I cannot believe other men are not lining up for in great, uniform and unanimous hordes. Don't they know what they are missing? Where the hell is their curiosity? Why did they not do a better job of right sizing fear along the way?
For my many friends who are on a different path, for those of you who have a different answer to your own question “... does “x, y or z” make me a girl? ...”, let me say here something that I hope you already truly know. You are not alone. And I suspect your experiences are not too, too different from many of your simple cross dressing cousins. Our fears and curiosities are surely similar, even while the root causes, the magnitude and the consequences of our truths differ.
I am going to put a little thought to these different, sometimes parallel, but seemingly divergent paths this week, and scratch out a note next. Your thinking in the form of notes left here will of course be welcomed.
Happy dressing, and happy everything else - Petra