Mar 26, 2010

Spring Back

Winter is, for residents of the South, and for much of the northern hemisphere, pretty much over. Some of you may have some slush to dodge before you are out of it fully, but we can all either see or anticipate Spring from here. This is a welcomed end to a time when both the Sun and the mercury are low, too low.

Spring is of course beautiful here in Atlanta, but not quite as celebrated and welcomed as it is up north. I pay close attention to it’s onset. 15 years plus of personal research leaves me with one observation on the differences between the two:

Spring happens to the land here in The South. Up north, Spring happens to people.

Here, winter is mere nuisance, an inconvenience, a house guest that stayed too long. When winter packs up and leaves, folks just get back on with life as it is supposed to be.

Up north, Winter dies, and the people dance on its grave. Sidewalk cafes and rooftop patio umbrellas pop open, layers of clothing are peeled off, cocktails are poured and love is in the air.

I do miss the Dionysian excess of it all, but not so much to make me even think about living in a Winter climate again.

Spring is beautiful here yes, but short. The Dogwoods will flower and then drop like a prom dress, pretty white crime scene tape around skinny bare limbs in 6 weeks. People then develop respiratory issues, at which point our cars will be pollen caked and the summer heat will descend. Wigs and pads, full sleeves and tights will be out of the question. Heels sink in tarmac. Make up will not hold. The line between glowing and sweating is too easily crossed. Not a terrific season for the Cross Dresser.

I think that in the same way as the earth itself prepares for a new season, at some subconscious level so have I. The Pink Tide is in pretty full reverse just now. I expressed my mood in a
post of 13 March of last year, and things are quite similar today. Just not feeling it right now friends.

This year is different in a couple of big and I believe healthy ways. One big contributor to last years loss of appetite for the pretty enterprise has been wrestled down. Myself and Mrs. Bellejambes are on the same page now. This, is good. Highly recommended, this whole honesty and sharing thing.

The other difference is that last year I really did not have any sense as to when the tide might roll back in. I started to get the stirrings in August, but my return to dressing was postponed due to the
great basement flood of ’09. The wardrobe was entombed beneath a couple of tons of rescued furniture, bedding and random tchochkees.

This year, weather permitting, I expect to come back into full flower timely for the 20th Anniversary
Southern Comfort Conference, early September, right here in my adopted home town. Sad to say I have not attended before. I will be sure to get at least a few of hours of heel-time weekly around the house throughout the summer. One does not want to suffer from altitude sickness, pinched toes or sore calves after all when called up to the big leagues.

I have family visiting for a while in early April, and some travel planned just after that, returning me home in late April. I think, therefore, that I have one more outing left in me before the annual
Drabbatical. I will plan a small treat for myself for next week, and be certain to share thoughts and perhaps a snap or two then.

The shots in this post feature some Autumn looks that I will be looking forward to sliding back in to once the tide starts pressing back in. The American Apparel knit dress up top ready for a night on the town, and the Ann Taylor skirt pictured in its natural environment - the fitting rooms at Lennox Place.

How about you? What sort of temperature is your femometer registering?

Mar 24, 2010

I See Dressed People

I told you about Liesl a little while ago, and her first sighting of a Cross Dresser. Well, Cross Dressers have sightings too. I have been on a little run of late. Let me share some amateur bird watcher notes with you here today.

I was working away at a Starbucks last week in an exurban Atlanta setting way-the-hell outside of the perimeter in advance of a meeting. It was 9:00 am, and I was nestled in, laptop whirring and iPhone pinging, with the usual crowd of North Fulton County real estate mavens, portfolio managers, multi-layer-marketing disciples and various other such windblown flotsam and jetsam of the new economy, just minding my own business and an overpriced cup of coffee.

The Fashionable-Mom Set was well in attendance too, their kids plugged into somebody else’s grid, great hair, faces freshly made, textured leggings, big belted cardigans and bigger buckled bags weighed down with god knows what.

It was a very cool day (by Atlanta standards), close on freezing point, raining, threatening sleet and altogether grim. And then, fighting against the elements and social conventions walked in a member of our proud CD/TG sorority. Her wig was not well settled, and the very big, very dark sunglasses were out of place in the grey indoors and out. The make up was not expertly applied, and perhaps a bit bold of color around the cheeks. Shoulders hunched in a thin jacket that would not close, and do little to keep the rain at bay. The beige skirt left a very solid 10” of thigh exposed except for the nude sheers pinched into 4” strappy sandals.

Heads turned and people hushed. And there on the sidelines, O so familiar with the hopes and the fears sat I, in drab, worrying for this soul who should be feeling such joy, but quite clearly was not, not at these moments. She did not smile. She must have felt terribly exposed, and very much at the limits of her daring. I was not surprised when she did not seek out a table, and turned awkwardly on her tall, pencil-thin heels, beating retreat across the parking lot and into the safe confines of her car.

I met then with a client. The business went well enough, and with time to kill or a lack of will, I bundled myself then into a mall. Upon entry to Dillard’s, I turned left through cosmetics, ran a quick reconnaissance mission in shoes and was then drawn, like bees to flowers, to intimates. On my path, walking calmly in my direction appeared an attractive form, dressier than the mall norm. A black faux-wrap dress to the knees, dark hose, and low pumps, nicely accessorized beneath a well fitted tan trench coat. A great look, dressier than the norm yes, but very setting appropriate.

As I passed her, she knew she had my attention, and she smiled nicely. It was only then that I noticed that she too was a member of the sorority. Perhaps her smile came from the place that knows that a guy eyeing the racks and bust forms of the lingerie department long after Valentines Day and even longer till Christmas likely has a secret of his own. But the smile came from a place of calm, and comfort, the place I like to think I occupy when en femme.

I continued my clockwise tour, and doubled back again to see how our sister was faring. She was now thoughtfully eyeing the table top displays, handling shoes here and there, and gracefully making her way through a lazy mid-afternoon. I thought for a moment that it would be nice to strike up a conversation, to somehow bridge the gaps between strangers and just say howdy. But we had left the moment wafting in the air beside the pretty
B-Tempt’d Bustier back in intimates. She seemed happy though and so was I, so I chose not to force the point.

And now to the current moment. I am drafting this post from a non-Starbucks coffee shop, in the middle of a work-week afternoon. We are a little closer into town here, not far from my home. More piercings, tattoos, and racial diversity here, making this shop is one of my favorite remote offices, indeed, to me, much like Winnie the Pooh’s thoughtful place. This post is about to leap the editorial tracks and head off in a new direction.

6’4” of well muscled post-gender humanity just walked in, grabbed a drink and walked out again. No pretense at “passing” here. The face bore no traces of beard shadow, or of make-up, and to my guess had been through the electrolysis wringer. A terrific complexion for anyone, let alone a mid-fifties man or woman. Now to the ensemble:

A black Clint Eastwood cowboy hat (circa “For a Few Dollars More”). The denim shirt, opened over a dark t-shirt, exposing the clanking strapped purse, hip height, over a simple black, below the knee A-line skirt. I know enough Scots to know the difference between a kilt and a skirt, between a sporren and purse. There are, believe me, no bagpipes anywhere nearby.

A low heeled and nicely jeweled pair of western boots completed the look and really added to the sound of the outfit. Not the dancing cadence of a woman’s walk, and not a thudding man-gait either. Something in between. And to the slack jawed woman he brushed by on the way out, in a deep baritone, smiling and confident … “how you doing?”

So, what to make of all of this? Atlanta is a blue town in a red state, yes. Liberal as the south gets and a bit of an urban catchment area for square pegs who simply do not fit well in round rural holes. Not quite Portland or San Francisco, but pretty accepting of all sorts. With a population topping 4 million practically every variation in human behavior and potential can be spied if you just keep your eyes open long enough.

These are far from my first sightings. They just happened in a bit of a cluster which made me think on it a little. How many more do I miss? How many drab chaps in business casual are nursing the same desires as I do? How many smartly dressed women are part time, or transitioning or newly possessed of all the right biology? How many people are looking for the box that says “none of the above” on their own census form? Are things changing to the extent that more people will be, at worst indifferent, and at best accepting of variable gender presentation in our most vanilla broad daylight environs?

I cannot help but feel that we are all at a threshold moment and that the waves of differently dressed unrest that have been gently lapping at shores here and there will be soon taking on more force and surging where we might not expect.

I realize that many are going to have moments that our short-skirt, strappy-sandal friend at Starbucks no doubt had. Moments that make you question the merit of the whole enterprise, moments that force people back into the dark confines of the closet.

Many tentative tottering steps, and many practiced and perfected pirouttes are being taken, here there and everywhere. They might as well be taken by you. I hope that if you have not found the nerve to just get out there and experience the world in a new skin and through different eyes, that you will. If you have tried and feel as though you “failed”, if the hurt weighed more than the delight, take your time, make a plan, and try again.

Have a good look around you. Somebody, in some way, not too far away from you already has taken those steps. Maybe even be the chap in the cowboy hat.

Mar 19, 2010

Hey! I made it into the DSM!

If you start off knowing what the DSM is, it should not come as a surprise that there are references to our behaviors contained in it. If you don’t know what the DSM is, now may be a great time to find happier reading.

OK … still here? Then, just quickly for the uninitiated, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the
American Psychiatric Association and provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. Fair enough. Sounds like a useful thing for a shrink to have handy ‘round the old couch. But the DSM, now in its 4th edition, has influence and impact miles away from the couch.

The production and maintenance of the DSM entails the constant labors of various committees, sub-committees, posses and lone wolves. They meet, they talk, they work out language, kick the language upstairs for editing and commentary, make required fixes and then line up for lousy chicken entrees and the pasta salad before heading out for a round of golf ( ... I find it interesting that you selected a 4 iron … why do you think it is important for you to avoid the water hazard in front of the green? ... ) at the annual conference.

Invariably, the contents and the language expressed in the DSM reflect a number of biases. A bias towards the benefits of psychiatric intervention. A bias towards yielding to the loudest and most charismatic voice on the committee. A bias towards ensuring that arenas of research and treatment that are presently driving income and billable hours remain open.

These biases, (and many truly positive and caring ones too) are solemnized and legitimized in the process of printing and binding. Numeric codes are created that facilitate billing mechanisms. Research gets funded. Causality and treatment protocols are agreed upon. Pharmaceutical sales reps pitch up on doorsteps with satchels brimful of nicely merchandized samples. Careers are made and unmade.

The big bias goes unsaid though. Wait for it … something is wrong, something is broken, something is bad. Something wants a cure. This is the bias that I take issue with.

As gentle as the
language describing Transvestic Fetishism in the current DSM is, the money shot is that the Cross Dresser engages in this activity at least in part as a self-treatment for depression. You might fairly draw different conclusions, and I have referred only to summary language, but I have a hard time drawing any other conclusions.

Yes, depression is real and, for many, debilitating. I think though that we can all agree that too wide a net has been cast over the issue. We have fairly carelessly pathologized a pretty universal aspect of the human condition. Depression is too big an issue for me to take on, fear not. But if you would like to spend a few minutes reading some terrific thoughts on the topic, I happily point you to Louis Menand’s recent New Yorker essay.

Back to the DSM now. Echoes of the past are surfacing now in the drafting of DSM-5 which is due in 2013. Between 1970 and 1973 language having to do with homosexuality was changed to de-stigmatize this long standing condition of humanity. Hooray for earthlings! It was quite a struggle. I recommend the investment of an hour of your time to listen to Ira Glass’s indispensable This American Life episode on the debate that swirled within the APA, and the mechanics of change associated with the de-pathologization of homosexuality.
This is as good as radio gets.

Similar discussions having to do with Gender oriented “disorders” are no doubt being broached (love that broach, where did you find it?) now. Actions are being taken too, and I lay claim to one action. I came across a
petition sponsored by the International Foundation for Gender Education yesterday. I then signed it.

Now, while I enjoy the odd late breakfast at the International House of Pancakes, I do not know of the work of the International Foundation for Gender Education. If you are familiar with their work, I would greatly welcome a note that helps me confirm in my own mind that they are the real deal. Until I do confirm that, I do not feel as though I can implore you to join the chorus of petitioners. I am of the belief though that a chorus is required, and I am actively seeking membership in the most full throated one there is.

In all of this, I seek not to diminish the very real truth that the caring profession of Psychiatry has been central to helping countless troubled souls better understand themselves, and find a path to peace. Nor do I suggest that Cross Dressing or any expression of gender related exploration is necessarily free from some manner of fissure in the tissues of our minds. This is complex stuff, and stuff that my mental fluff is certifiably not capable of wrestling down alone. Hence, this blog my dears.

I do believe however that the clinical de-stigmatization of much of what we feel, and much of how we act upon our feelings is a necessary step. We are participants, like it or not, in a long parade of many similarly, formerly marginalized people. Now I will think on what shoes to wear for the parade.

Are you in? Comments most sincerely welcomed here.

Mar 18, 2010

Cross Dressing vs. Cross Being

This is a post about coherence. No surprise that as I labor with the theme, coherence is eluding me. Irony can be so ironic. Thoughts on this topic were in part engendered by Janie, proprietress of “Inside and Out”, whose post back in January of this year really tugged at my skirt hem. My post today should stand (ed. or wilt) on its own merits, but I encourage you to read Janie anytime, and the linked post in particular for some provocative background into a what can be a problem area for anyone taking a really serious look at themselves through the lens of gender expression.

Cross Dressing can be, evidence suggests, a gateway behavior, a first unknowing step down a long and transformative path. For some, the path is related to their sexual orientation. For many, it uncovers a realization that there was a quality control foul-up at the Bureau of Gender Assignment.

For other Cross Dressers, and I (still) count myself amongst them, Cross Dressing in adult life is a compelling extension of what was a nameless youthful obsession, what was a fetishistic attraction or what-have-you. The chase is still on, but something other than immediate gratifications of the flesh is what is under pursuit.

Technically, Cross Dressing remains the process of temporarily altering surfaces. There is though an impact well below those hopefully pretty(er) surfaces. Cross Dressing takes me out for nice Spa Day. The perfumed air and subtle lighting relax me, and help lower my guard. Aggression gets exfoliated. Macho pressure points get a shiatsu treatment. As smooth, hot stones are applied to rigid discs, sources of irritation recede. Movement becomes more fluid. Tranquility reigns. I am at peace.

The body, in such a blissed out state carries senses and sensibilities to new places, green acres of feeling that are typically walled off from the typical guy, or at least walled off from my typical day. Much of it has to do with mindfulness of others. Call it sensitivity, I feel it in spades when en femme.

When I leave the spa, elbows jab, lights glare and horns honk, but they have less purchase on my attention. Consciously and unconsciously, the benefits of the Spa Day stay with me, and have a happy half-life in my general outlook. I have come to the belief that this sensitivity is integral to me. And narcissism aside, I really like the person who displays it.

I have spent close to five full decades either suppressing or not consciously cultivating these senses which are seeming to me now to be very important and attractive aspects of my whole self. It was always relatively easy to play the behavioral hand I was assigned at birth, to get in line with the norms (and the Norm’s I suppose). In some settings, I might find myself less capable of the display of hairy-backed simian chest thumping and jocularity than other guys in the room, but I typically put that down to generalized cynicism rather than something tied to my coordinates on some Magic Quadrant of gender expression.

I remain happy in my cynicism, but that personality trait seems not to be the thing after all. It is more a matter of gender expression.

And now to coherence. I have a choice with this realization.

- reinforce walls, or
- knock walls down

Framing the issue this way editorializes very much in favor of knocking walls down, but please believe me when I say that I truly appreciate the value of walls. Walls hold up whole structures, give shelter, provide comfort, and can be decorated to delight the senses of the people within them. I understand people who standing (hand on hip) at the same fork in the road as I might choose to separate their “parts” and provide distinct nourishment to these separate and likely to remain unequal halves.

Knocking walls down editorializes for liberation and freedom (heroic and aspirational things yes), but has with it the impact of exposing spaces to sometimes harsh winds, and all manner of plague and pest, large and small. At the expense of laying myself siege to these unknowable (but likely mostly benign) forces, I feel more inclined towards knocking down walls in pursuit of personal coherence.

I believe that there is one true “voice” contained within my two distinct outer layers. Finding and exercising that voice may result in the loss or gradual erosion of some of the natural abilities that have served me well in host of arenas. I am persuaded though that the benefits of actively tending to those inner traits that help me perceive and participate in the world reasonably well en femme outweigh the risks.

I have little acquaintance with the risks yet, but will cite a couple of examples here now.

Some weeks ago, I bought a nice top, while presenting male. There was no discussion about who the garment was for. Sometimes a blouse is just a blouse it seems. Leaving the shop I threw my arm through the bag straps and hoisted my bounty up on to my shoulder, in a way that would leave absolutely no doubt as to whose shoulders the blouse would ultimately be resting on. No big deal, but this trivial moment is merely the tip of a behavioral iceberg. How many other “tells”, signals will I send out?

And for some months now, long months really, as I have become more accomplished at presenting as "Petra", (or at least more comfortable with my limitations), the thrill of the act has become less pronounced. I think no less about Cross Dressing: I am just doing it less. Partial dressing seems not to be a requirement. I dress almost exclusively from top to toe now. When I do, I am less enthralled by the scope of change to my shape, by the smooth, clingy fabrics, by the polished make up and lengthened nails. The jangle of jewelry surprises me not.

There is a now a growing familiarity. I do not believe that familiarity necessarily breeds contempt, but it can be a breeding ground for indifference. That would be a high price for coherence. We just never know what is next it seems.

What is next for you friends?

Mar 15, 2010

Cross Pollination

When I decided in autumn of 2008 to go with the Cross Dressing flow, and to document the experience here on Voyages en Rose, I truly did not know what I might find. One entirely unexpected finding has been the readiness of women to … to deal with Cross Dressers. I wrote about Liesl last week. There is my friend Linle at The Heretic. There was Stephanie one evening at Paris. There have been other encounters here and there. Skilled waitresses with black napkins to keep the lint off my skirt, charming sales assistants ready with the key to the fitting room, gorgeous cosmeticians ready to labor heroically with my rawly-shaved raw material, wig stylists with honest views on the good, bad and dreadful, and innocent civilians too numerous mention. Above all, there has been Mrs. Bellejambes who stays true to all the good things I suspected of her from minute one, and who is side by side with me on our voyage together.

Here in the virtual world too, I am happy to report that women have rolled the red carpet out for me.

This welcome means the world to me. Women are at the heart of the “why” I roll the way I do. I am wired this way. Aesthetically, there is, to me, so much more beauty contained within the female of our species. My five senses respond much more happily to women. Always wanting my senses fed, always having treasured the society of women, their approval has always been core to my happiness.

Therefore, being today in a happy frame of mind, I am publishing the first in a series of tributes to virtual friends of the female persuasion who have displayed to me, and by extension, to all of us of the CD/TG persuasion, a warm welcome, and some very welcomed society. The tribute takes the form of yet another Blog Award: Petra Bellejambes’ Heel of Approval.

Unlike many other such awards, this award arrives with no strings, no responsibilities, no mandate to proliferate. The Heel of Approval is a simple thank you note, from me, on behalf of all people, like me, drawn to somehow explore their own inner woman. It would thrill me to no end if honorees chose to proudly post the award in their own virtual trophy case on their wonderful blogs, but that is not the main point. The main point is to encourage regular readers of Voyages en Rose to visit these blogs, enjoy the beautiful content there, and generally glow in the knowledge in that their authors simply do not have any hang ups about the likes of we.

First up,
Miss Neira, editrix of FAB (Fashion, Art & Beauty). Miss Neira and myself traded guest posts on The Lingerie Addict recently, and having at least that much in common, we struck up a little correspondence. Here is a very quick snapshot of her bio.

This young blogger has lived in four countries, picked up a few languages, and acquired a real appetite for life along the way, before settling in Boston. Neira recently headed back to school to further polish her design credentials, after a couple of years of work as a lingerie stylist and fitter in some very upmarket boutiques, where she first was exposed (in all senses of the word) to the life the Cross Dresser.

Neira tells me that the CD/TG customer was not only welcome from a business perspective, but also intriguing to her from a personal point of view. With practice, she learned not only how to help this special market segment learn how to dress, but also how to listen and understand some of the complex things that motivate us. The big learning, it seems, is that people are pretty much the same. We all want to be beautiful, in some way.

It takes a broad mind to arrive at this conclusion. Miss Neira has a broad mind and, happily for all of her admirers, a narrow waist too. She has, as well, the considerable advantages of youth, having just celebrated her 21st birthday (gasp!) just this past weekend. For all of these things, she is a worthy recipient of the very first Heel of Approval award.

Thank you Miss Neira for making it just a little easier for all of us to explore ourselves more comfortably, and to learn from someone who exemplifies inner and outer beauty in a womanly way that all of us should aspire to. Please visit with Neira, and rifle her virtual closet. I am sure that you will enjoy browsing around and find things that fit your way of thinking too.

If you have met a righteous woman in your virtual travels, someone equally free of bias please name names here in your comments. There are a few treasures and treasured friendships in my queue, but am always interested in welcoming new pledges into the sorority.

p.s. Neira, thanks for all the Sunshine. It is displayed in my trophy case.

Mar 11, 2010

Afterthoughts on a Conversation with Liesl

Parts the first and second linked for the benefit of fashionably-late comers.

I really had my shoulders back and a song in my heart after parting ways with Liesl. The sugar buzz does wear off though, and I am kicking myself a little just now. I wish I that I scratched out my URL for her. I would like her to be able to read up on “us”, follow a few links, and continue to feed her healthy curiosity.

I wish that I had taken her by the elbow, browsed some of the clothing racks or sat at a Starbucks with her for a sociable while. I did have more than a few minutes of idle time that I ended up spending solo, chatting with sales assistants, futzing with my iPhone and wondering how women with nails do any sort of text messaging. The company would have been nice.

And I wish that I had thanked her for her great, unexpected question: Why? Liesl reminded me that I have something to think on. I still do not have a good answer to “why”. Knowing it would not change anything in a material way, I realize that. But perhaps knowing “why” would be help me pick some other existential locks.

I am not too prone to regrets though. Moving forward now, dear friends.

I have found with my fairly newfound freedom to explore Cross Dressing, that the voltage that runs through me is diminished, a little, each time out. A part of me wants to experiment with places and possibilities designed to heighten the current, to bring the experience back up to those super-charged moments of the not so distant past. To expose more. This part is not the dominant part. These are the sounds of my little inner voice.

The clearer and more compelling inner voice has other desires. Principally a desire to seek the source of this river. My explorations are now tilting away from the visceral, and driving more into the cerebral. The surface fetish is losing ground to interior feelings. As I find myself better able to integrate with the world en femme, my hunger to dress is somewhat tamed.

I am willing to concede that I might be getting early signals of my natural summer Drabbatical*. Very early signals. But something happened on Tuesday of this week that tweaked my attention a little. As I watched the dogs romp in the backyard with coffee in hand, temperatures in the 50’s and skies blue, for what felt like the first time in 6 months or so, I thought about golf. And then, dammit, I golfed (shot a 92 which is for me, an outstanding season opener). And I am looking forward to more.

I played piano for over an hour that same night. Beatles songbook stuff. First time I have really sat at the bench for a long time.

Mrs. Bellejambes and myself decided as well to put the TV (television dear friends, strange how I feel the need to be very specific on that acronym here) off limits two nights weekly, so that we can do more active, less inert things together.

These are all good things, things that will soak up time and attention, and some of that time and attention will come from “Petra”. Some time, some attention, not all of it.

There are more than a couple of outings left before the weather turns against me. I am going to design them in such a way that I might meet another Liesl, perhaps even a Rolf, or in my fondest dreams, The Baroness (the exquisite Eleanor Parker, pictured above, porcelain perfection at the surface, cracked, sad and resigned just beneath). Perhaps, I will be a little closer to understanding the riddle, nicely expressed in the Oscar Hammerstein lyric…

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

Nothing comes from nothing

Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good.

Vielen Dank Liesl, wherever you are.

* to better appreciate the concept of Drabbatical, please visit this old post.

Mar 10, 2010

Further Conversations with Liesl

I will now take up my nice chat with my new friend where it was left teetering on a conversational cliff yesterday. If you missed that post, what follows will make even less sense than my usual ramblings. God help us all. So scroll down to catch up please. The very efficient or epically lazy amongst you may choose to click here.

“Hey, I shouldn’t be so rude. My name is Petra. Nice to meet you. What’s your name?”.

“I’m Liesl, nice to meet you”.

Nice handshake. I had to comment on her name;

“You know you are the second Liesl I have had a total crush on now”.

She didn’t catch the reference just then, and I volunteered Sound of Music. I really did have, and maintain to this day a healthy Liesl crush. Nice Austrian girl, well-to-do family, you just know she had a pair of Wolfords on for the rainy gazebo scene with Nazi Youth-Boy. Clearly, tragically, I would have been way better for her than Rolf, but Captain von Trapp would have set the dogs on me.

“You know, Liesl ... Sound of Music Liesl… ”

“Oh yeah! my parents loved that movie. I was named after her" (still clearly distracted, searching for words).

Petra … where does Petra come from?”

“Well kind of close to my guy name. Unique enough too. I just liked the sound of it”.

We small talked, off topic for a couple of minutes, where are you from, what sort of work pays the bills and etc. Liesl then went back to her original driving curiosity;

“How long have you been doing this?”

“O, god, it goes way back. Forever. I have really only been active, I mean, public at this for a couple of years, but its been with me forever”


“Yup, forever. Sears Catalog day was big stuff for me. I would spend hours. I just felt like I had to know more about …. everything that had to do with women, what you wore, how you dressed, just how you were different than me. I must have been seven when it started. Forever.”

“So, … why?”, smiling.


“You know … (top to toe hand gesture, again) … why?”

Here I found myself reaching for words with the same futility as Liesl was earlier in the conversation. I am still miles from why. I truly don’t know why. I tried:

“It feels good. It is a challenge. It is a little bit of theater, and I used to do a lot of acting, so this keeps me in it. It is special. But why? Why it feels good to me, and it might not feel like anything to someone else, that I do not know Liesl”.

She had not really ever stopped looking at me, even as our discussion became less halted and awkward. She was doing the little head shake of disbelief here and there that I could only interpret one way: She was still surprised. She was surprised that she had no inkling that she had been sharing a tiny, crowded little room with someone she assumed, and had no reason to doubt was a woman. Just a smartly dressed gal looking for the next pair of shoes.

If she had been trying on a pair of shoes that did not look so good, I would have been polite, and kept my mouth shut. If you cannot say something nice, say nothing at all, right? Especially about shoes. And Liesl would not have met her first Cross Dresser.

Minds open, change and grow one at a time. One minute, Liesl did not know or suspect that “this” happens, often, and has forever. A few minutes later, she knew this, and she knew as well that she could have a warm, civil, open talk with a Cross Dresser, after getting some really sound advice about shoes.

I gave her a little hug, said so long, and with a nicely whetted appetite, went off to lunch.

I have since gathered some thoughts on the encounter that I will post up here tomorrow.

Mar 9, 2010

Impromptu Cross Dresser Outreach

Last Friday was a gorgeous sunny late winter day here in Atlanta. Daffodils and other aggressive spring flowers have begun to sprout. A fine time for this aggressive flower to put my head above ground and bloom at least for a few moments. I had a late lunch planned with a friend of the full time female persuasion, and a little time to kill en femme. Phipps Plaza was near enough to the rendezvous point, and so I ventured in to test out the waters and break in a new pair of shoes.

I had been fearful that the new purple suede pumps might pinch, but they carried me nicely, and I think I returned the favor by putting them into a great outfit. They paired well with the purple suede jacket purloined from Mrs. B’s side of the hall closet, some choice accessories and a day-suitable
Ann Taylor ensemble, all pictured at left. I have never made a bigger color statement before, and felt terrific. Purple is the color of royalty and perhaps some of it rubbed off on my carriage.

This story will sound a little vain. It can't be helped if it is to be told faithfully, so I will risk it. I want to share the story, not out of pride of passing or about pulling something off but out of a desire to tell you about a terrific conversation with a complete stranger.

Belk’s had a shoe clearance on, and had their heavily marked down merchandise corralled away in a quiet, off-the-beaten-track enclosure, a storage room really, with the layout and dimensions pictured below (click images to enlarge of course). Myself and another shopper brushed passed each other a couple of times, nodded and smiled in recognition, handled the merchandise and did all the private calculus one puts into shopping. She was having better luck than I, standing in front of the floor mirror and considering the strappy platform partly laced up on one foot.

I liked them. I did what etiquette called for, on my way stepping through the door to leave, saying:

Cute. I like them. You should get them”.

She held up a hand, and worked for about 10 seconds or so attempting to form a sentence.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Of course … shoot” says I.

“No. Over, over here ... (still really not getting the words out easily, but pointing back into the tiny room).

I obliged, sensing that she wanted to converse out of view of the rest of the world, and so I sidled back into the shoe room. Here now, is my best effort to recreate the conversation. The words are off here and there, but the spirit is true, golden true.

“You are not a… , you were not always …., O, my, how do I say this, you were not born female were you?”

“No” (me smiling)

“ I just … I really, I just did not know until you were leaving, until just now … I … can I ask you something?”

“Yeah, of course, anything”

It was clear that she was really grappling with thoughts, and fearful of saying something that may offend. She looked about my age, smartly dressed, not overly so, but clearly an educated, responsible adult. She abandoned three of four sentences before she felt like she had something she could safely express.

“So, you are like … this … (head to toe hand gesture) … all the time”

“No my dear, this is just a now and then thing for me. Really not all that often”

“ Hmmm. Uhhh … do you make money doing this?”

Make money? O good god no. I spend money doing this, just like you.”

I think I could have filled in some of her blanks, but her curiosity was so interesting, her line of questioning so unexpected, I just waited for her next thought.

“So … it’s just that … I am sorry, really, I just did not know. I mean I really just did not even think twice about you. You just seemed natural”.

“Bless your kind heart my dear, that means everything to me. Thank you so much, really. And I mean it about the shoes too, they look great”.

She was not going to be detoured by shoes.

“So what are you … like … the rest of the time” (top to toe hand gesture again)

“Pretty normal I suppose. I work, I have a home, a wife …”

“A wife?! You’re married??”

“Yup. 15 years now. She is the real beauty of the home”.

OK, this had her eyes popping, and it was time, past time I suppose, to help her out a bit. It was becoming clear to me that she had never considered that a man in a skirt could be anything other than a gay man living out some sort of confused fantasy. This was most certainly her first close encounter with a visitor from Planet Fabulous.

Married? Wow. I mean uhhh. I don’t know what I mean… I mean …” (more jaw motion, no more words for the moment, Petra to the conversational rescue)

“Yeah, married. My wife knows about all of (now I am using the hand gesture) this. We are pretty “ normal” couple otherwise. Pretty typical. Most Cross Dressers are straight, or most that I know. We are not that scarce either. I am probably not the only one in the mall today, you know?”.

I extended a hand and said:

“Hey, I shouldn’t be so rude. My name is Petra. Nice to meet you. What’s your name?”

"I'm Liesl".

To be continued...

Mar 8, 2010

Cross Dresser Crossover

I am happy to welcome some new visitors to Voyages en Rose today, by way of The Lingerie Addict. Treacle treated me to a guest post there on her wonderful blog, and I summoned up a 700 word love song to a really smart pair of sheers acquired from Stockingirl.

So a few words of welcome are in order for first time visitors. First of all, I love, love your reading habits. Treacle is terrific. So knowledgeable, passionate and generous with her experience, her posts brighten me up every day. Easy on the eyes too.

Next, this blog might be the first blog you have visited written by a part-time, Cross Dresser. And while that may be true, I can guarantee you that you already are on friendly terms, and perhaps even love a Cross Dresser. It's just a numbers game. If you have met more than 100 men in your life, at least one of them shares this habit. Maybe three. Maybe five. Maybe more, nobody knows for certain. He may be very close to you, aching to share, and a little frightened by his habit. He is probably not too different than me, or most of the other people that make your day go along as smoothly or chaotically as it normally does. He just is drawn to explore parts of himself that most of the world does not have an easy way of coping with.

So I am your proud, happy ambassador from Transistan today. A bit of a gabby ambassador too. Let me gab about me for a minute.

That is me on the left. And those are my legs in the post over at Treacle’s place. I have been Cross Dressing for as long as I can remember. I stopped fighting my life long curiosity about women’s clothing just a couple of years ago, and life has become simpler and much more rewarding for me. I also found the guts to share all of this with my wife, who has been a real champ about it. I lead a reasonably successful life as a guy, and spend about 95% of my time happily being that guy. It is a pretty easy and untroubled life. For the 5% en femme, I enjoy getting out of the house, having a nice lunch, doing a little shopping, doing normal things in vanilla locations, and just blending into the world around me.

Blending is key. I have a couple of “Drag Queen” friends, and as much as I admire the kind of shock and awe approach they bring to their art, I am much more interested in observing than being observed. Clothes that are suitable for the scene, make-up that does not scream out, and a generally demure approach to my interactions with people is more my tone, and much more typical of the Cross Dresser. For the most part, my sorority mates and I are really nicely welcomed, wherever we go. This makes it easy to continue to love doing what we do. I hope you extend the same sort of easy, no-fuss welcome to people like me whose path you may cross.

Please stay a while, browse, graze, follow a link or two to some of the blogs listed in the side bar, and by all means feel encouraged to leave a comment or two. I would be really happy to know your thoughts on this topic, to hear how you might react to a loved one who Cross Dresses, or whether you have any personal experience with guys like me. If you have a question or two, please use the gadget over on the right. Answers will be promptly posted to my Twitter feed and gathered all together here in a post in a couple of days. I will be upset of course if I chip a nail in the effort, but my dears, you are worth it.

For more regular readers, don’t mind the crowd in here today, even if they are better looking than us and don’t have heartaches trying to find size 12 shoes. There is room for us all, yes?

Happy dressing, and everything else.

Mar 5, 2010

On the other foot.

My wife has periodic outbursts of shoe madness. It would be fair to guess that she owns somewhere in the 50-60 range. Handsome, or pretty, as her stable is, she is a piker relative to some genetic women I know, for whom shoe shopping is a competitive sport. The compulsion to own many shoes is a calling, something that largely passeth the understanding of the normal guy.

The "normal" Voyages en Rose visitor however is exceptional, and perhaps might better understand how people can become mesmerized by the towering heel, the exposed arch, the binding strap and the vast array of shapes and shades that meet the eye when shoe shopping, or when simply admiring the passing, click-clacking feminine parade.

A little over a year ago, I
polled readers on shoes. The purpose of the poll was to find out how large the Cross Dressers shoe collections were. The results are pictured at the right. At the time, I owned 4 or 5 pairs, which were perfectly adequate to my needs. This number put me comfortingly in the largest group of respondents (33%).

The next largest group of responses (22% of participants) indicated that they simply could not count how many shoes they owned, or rather, how many pairs they themselves were owned by. This got me to thinking about the similarities of shoes and cats. I have a friend from a former life who confessed to having “18 or 20” cats in the house he shares with his wife. I asked just how in the hell you get to having that large and weirdly uncertain number of cats.

Not sure, but somewhere we hit a number where the next one just did not seem to make a damn bit of difference”.

My suspicion then was this: Like cats, there is an incremental shoe that puts the household on a practically unstoppable slope. I believe as well that they share a number. The high-heeled, pointy-toe number of no return, the “Tipping Point” number is Five.

I stayed perched on Five for a good long while mindful of its statistical significance. I picked up Pair Six just after emerging from last years Summer Drabbatical. I went through much of the Autumn without adding to the inventory, and in December, Mrs. Bellejambes made a gift of a nice pair of tan Mary Jane’s to me. I held steady at Seven for a good while. But there has been a nagging, persistent little voice calling to me of late.

I came home with Pair Eight a couple of days ago.

I am in the curious position of being capable of self-intervention, and yet a little drawn to the idea of letting things, in the lovely words of Leonard Cohen, slide in all directions.

I have made a few more forays around the shoe sections of shops lately. I left empty handed, certain that I had not seen the perfect thing, but clueless as to what the perfect thing was.

This represents a complete reversal of my guy-mode shopping. I never venture into a shop without a very complete vision of what is required. I do not shop speculatively. But for Petra mode, and of late specifically on the shoe front, a different model is emerging.

I slowly started to develop a sense of the perfect thing. The emerging vision was tied to a recently acquired skirt. The skirt is a grey/black animal print that with a nice purple detail. The skirt required a top, and the universe provided one in the form of a lush, deep purple silk blouse. The black pumps would be fine, perfect in fact, but only one perfect outcome out of many possible states of perfection. The perfect thing seemed over time to resolve in my mind as a purple suede pump.

And lo, there they were, at 70% off, in my size, nesting in a Macy’s clearance rack. Perfect. And then at the next shop, a belt to match. Again, perfect. And then I found myself looking at bags. Exponential possibilities pulled at me. At which point, the expense of letting things “slide in all directions” was becoming abundantly clear. I took a deep breath, and headed for the exit. Self intervention while I still had the wits, will and wallet in tact.

Let me now tender my sympathies to all who have trod upon this slope. I no longer have any mystification about how it can happen that all the closet space in a comfortable house slowly disappears. I have a clearer idea of how seemingly aimless browsing can periodically result in a great win, a feeling of at least temporary completion, of a mission that really has no complete state.

I think that this ever receding horizon, is something that women are more inclined to reach for than men are. Those of us who Cross Dress, or who identify as transgendered, can be easily drawn in to the same compelling game. These thoughts are an extension of my recent ramblings on the Cost of Cross Dressing. These thoughts have now put my in mind of a mathematical model that might explain some of it. I am going to take on the Math of Feminine Dressing in a post next week. After a little shopping sortie en femme today.

Happy Dressing, and everything else.

Mar 4, 2010

From the Mouths of Babes

A couple of weeks ago I braided together a Twitter-centric application from Formspring with the normal bits of bloggitty goodness here on Voyages en Rose. The “Ask me anything” widget on your right is the result. I added this feature for a number of reasons including;

- Morbid curiosity. I remain skeptical of the utility of Twitter, but thought that this thingy might be, if not a “killer app”, at least an app that stunned people for a moment at a time.
- Quest for inspiration. I hoped that questions from the great internet protocol beyond might kindle the odd post thought when my well runs dry .
- Respect for the reader. I like to write about things that my readers like to read about. Your questions should help me tune my instrument so to speak.
- Concern for the environment. Here I can recycle your questions and my answers, and avoid overgrazing my brain.
- CDADHD. I have an acute case of Cross Dresser Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I am easily distracted by gadgets. And sparkly strappy sandals.

Well, there has been a trickle of questions over the last week plus, not a torrent, but good questions. Here is the blue recycle box of questions and answers:

When did you first know that you liked women's clothing?
Age 7 my dear. Everything that I saw women wearing just seemed so different, so secret, so ritualistic relative to my choices, I was drawn like moth to flame...

What's your favorite item of women's clothing?
This is almost like asking a mother which child is favorite. I must say though, that a beautifully tailored, back-zipped sheath dress is the very acme to me. I feel fully attenuated to the world when I feel the limits of my stride, the slight catches of breath, the baring of thigh when seated. A lovely exclusive privilege...

Is this spam proof? :-P
I don't think any thing is fully spam proof. Risk / Reward seems usually to tip in the favor of curiosity for me though. Perhaps you have another question?

There's a house fire, what do you save?
If it is my house, my dogs, presuming my wife can find her way out...

When did you start cross-dressing? I mean...what's your earliest cross-dressing memory? :-)
Great question, and do you know, I have not tried to pinpoint this moment yet. I suspect that I was 11 or 12. I had, before then, paid a lot of attention to how women looked. And then, the girls in my class started to change. Curves appeared, and straps started showing beneath blouses. My curiosity grew and the pressure got to be too much.

In my memory it feels like early summer. I had an afternoon at home alone, and like many others, I rifled drawers and closets in my parents room. I know there was a bra or two. Heels, yes. A dress, certainly. Not clear in my mind whether I got around to the hosiery then, but that could not have been too far off. I did not have a name for what I was doing, but I felt as though I was doing something absolutely wrong. It all felt good enough to banish the feelings of guilt and fear for the few moments. Quite a struggle, my dear, to make those things go away, decades in the waging.

You have given me a nice uber-theme to work out for my dressing through the decades which will of course show up on the blog. Thanks!

Typically, how long does it take you to get ready?
Too long, so I try to savor it. Make up is a 1 hour thing for me, from foundation up. Most of the time is lost to the eyes. Dressing itself, from foundation garments to finished layers is 30 minutes. None of it ever feels like a chore though, so it is time well spent :). Thanks!

What size bra do you wear?
I am rather a petite thing I will confess. 34 b is ideal for me. I took a pair of C cup silicon forms out for a test toddle one day, and really felt a little Dolly Parton-esque. Thanks for asking! Your question will appear on Voyages en Rose later this week.

It is a real treat to have these questions pop up on my Formspring profile page, and so they get priority attention and are answered on Twitter pretty much instantly, or whenever I see them, whichever comes first. So I do hope to see more of them.

Formspring allows anyone, you included, to ask a question, anonymously or with a Google / Facebook / Twitter / whatever ID. I promise to answer all questions, and where standards of decency allow, to publish them here again when enough accummulate, or whenever I am flat out of ideas of my own.

I really do not mind if the questions come from beyond the normal editorial orbit of the blog. We are all bigger than our closets and gender identities after all.

So go ahead, make my day … Ask me anything

Mar 2, 2010

The Cross Dresser on the Ramparts of Change

This post has been fermenting in the recesses of my brain for some time now, and has been uncorked in part as the result of a recent post on Gabrielle Hermosa’s blog. There, you will see the old pictorial of our species emerging from the muck, slowly shaking off fins, sprouting limbs and finally assuming a decidedly female form at the natural end of our possible progress. Nice bag in hand too.

Many of you are old enough to remember parts of the sixties. One of the more memorable cultural events of this tumultuous time was what was then known as the “Women’s Lib” movement. From a fashion perspective, things started off poorly in my mind with bra burnings. Tragic as the loss of countless innocent foundation garments to the angry bonfires of revolution was, change was clearly in the air, and change and I are old friends.

The bra burnings were a stunt, but there is always a kernel of substance within a stunt. The substance of the movement was that the rules were stacked unfairly in favor of the fellows, and that much needed to change. Broad challenges to gender role definitions and the status quo here and abroad were accepted and engaged.

Laws did, and continue still, to change. Most public sector and many private sector employers adapted their organizations to remove barriers to success in the workplace. Academic life here stateside was forever changed by the adoption of NCAA Title 9 rules mandating equal funding of women’s athletic programs. Elementary school curricula changed to mitigate gender biases in approaches to education. New role models in media, and on the streets we grew up on emerged. And new generations have been born and grown to adulthood with a different set of gender ideals and expectations than the ones we slightly greyer folk inherited in our youth. All good, and mostly great in my view.

Women now more commonly occupy more senior positions in more industries. A majority of college students in this country are female. The industries that depend on muscle-power are dead or dying. The industries that depend on brain-power are (relatively) thriving. Yes, wage gaps and all manner of subtle and not so subtle barriers to full and equitable participation remain, but those barriers are under siege everywhere. Again, hurray, says I.

Change has rough edges. Fashion for some time favored mannish fabrics, curve free silhouettes, and dull pallets. God awful shoulder pads even had their day. Overt displays of femininity, both behavioral and on the surface or were penalized. Avoiding the suspicion that the successful women was either dazzling or sleeping their way to the top was job one. We seem to have thankfully emerged from the worst of that. Femininity, surface or otherwise, is not inconsistent with success. All of this is arguable of course, and forgive me my broad brush strokes here. They are in service of a point. You ready?

The validity and the value of the female experience is sought, accepted and acted on, on it’s own natural terms more now than at any time in my experience. I suspect that this trend will continue. As it does, as the pendulum swings, as tides reverse, as societal plates shift and groan (ed. and as my metaphor hip-check the crap out of each other) a certain amount of displacement is bound to happen. The value and the necessity of a purely, brawny, traditionally male skill and sensitivity set is bound to diminish. We already feel this reality in many aspects of our daily lives.

My wonderings on the matter go like so: Do men more inclined, as I am, to discover surface and interior elements of our “femininity” have a shaved leg up on the competition?

This is a serious question. I am not interested in a revolution that makes it acceptable for me to take a meeting in a pair of heels rather than a nicely tooled brogue. I am not interested in working for an organization where my ability to mount the org chart (figuratively, dear friends) is dependant on my ability to smartly accessorize a pencil skirt and blouse ensemble. I am interested though, in providing value, and getting paid for it, where the demand is greatest, where my competition is disadvantaged, and where my skill sets are well adapted for the need.

I have a client whose customers are 99% female. The founder and CEO of the organization is about my age. Her prototypical customer has a college education, leads a growing family, and has growing economic power. The product my client sells to her client is a highly emotionally charged gift. Men do not get it, or buy it. I strategize with my client on how to engage better with her perfect prospective customer.

I am the only male outside consultant / contributor to her businesses growth. My client has commented, surprisedly, that I “get” the business, and that I understand her customer. This is a key to my continued utility. This reinforces a personal belief I have that the Cross Dressing is merely a surface aspect of a bigger, whole, true me. This really makes me happy and then I want to go shopping with my client. But not really. OK, I do. I could help her out a little. In the meantime, we are able to help each other out with our businesses in a way that could not have happened 20 years ago.

I do not have 20 years of work ahead of me, but you might have.

So dear friends, over to you. Do you believe there is something that you have, beneath the surface, integral to your worldview that you can leverage to your benefit? Are you better enabled than most of your workmates to understand women, work with them, work for them, learn from them, and make their world better? Does your secret endow you with secret powers?

Comments welcomed, as are business referrals if a marketing consultant with a uniquely cultivated view of the female consumer is required.
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