Apr 30, 2010

Who are my Cross Dressing Friends?

A very happy Friday to you, dear reader. My Cross Dressing furnace is shut down for the warm southern months, but the pilot light between my ears flickers steadily. While I won’t have many new tales of pubic daring-do and fashion-don’t to relate to you here for a while, I do expect that I will need to vent the gathering fumes periodically, if only for safety’s sake.

So, who are my Cross Dressing friends? Well, readers of this blog are certainly in the mix, but there is another group. A group that I have already met, but am yet to know.

Got that?

Hmmm. Fair enough. Perhaps a few more words are required.

Unless I am more deluded than I like to think I am, I managed to obscure my habits from the world for years. I believe that I did a pretty good job of that in fact. My wife was, after all, surprised when I did get around to introducing the other woman in our relationship to her. I have every confidence that the rest of my family, my neighbors, friends and professional colleagues are equally in the dark about my life in the pink.

They really have no reason to think of me as anything other than a pretty regular guy apart from the normal ticks and quirks of personality that I mark my territory with. There is nothing in my typical day-to-day appearance that would indentify me as being active in any sort of TG Sorority. My movement and mannerisms (again in the typical day) are all guy too. On the golf course, while my scores would likely improve if I did indeed swing like a girl, I do not.

So the cloak is fairly effective. There are hundreds of people that I keep society with that do not know Petra Bellejambes and have no reason to suspect her existence.

Now, take a look with me through the other end of the telescope.

Amongst the hundreds of people in my current social universe, and amongst the thousands through all the years, it is a mathematical certainty that I have known, that I do know, and that perhaps today I am very close to a Cross Dresser who I do not know is a Cross Dresser.

And the Cross Dresser is but a single slice out of the fruity and nutritious Transgender Pie. How long would I need to flip pages of my high school yearbook before seeing a picture of an ancient and slight acquaintance who is living today happily in a different gender, or unhappily in the same gender? Not long, I suspect.

When I think of the countless commercial client presentations and theatrical audiences I have held temporary spell over through the decades, the numbers get really big. I must believe that within those rooms there have been at least a football squads worth of fellows furtively snapping a garter strap beneath the flannel trousers.

We are a stealthy bunch. We learn to be stealthy early. We optimize around stealth. We know how to cover tracks. We are expert at amplifying characteristics that convince our audiences, and sometimes ourselves, that there is nothing unusual going on within or without us.

And so, while I know Cross Dressers who I am friends with, I do not know who my Cross Dressing friends are.

We live in a good time friends, that is to say we live in better times than came before us. There are better times ahead I believe, most avowedly. I am hopeful that things will continue to trend towards openness in these matters, towards a fuller acceptance of gender diversity, towards a tearing down of the wall that separates our false binaries.

Surely as this happens, we will all get to know some of our friends a bit better, and vice versa. And that can only be a good thing.

Have a happy weekend.

Apr 23, 2010

In the company of ...

In a fairly recent post entitled I See Dressed People I reported faithfully to you dear friends, on a number of sightings of people like me. People who were moving too quickly in the opposite direction for me to be able to say:

“Hello. I think I understand you, and am very happy to see you here today”.

I would have like to have said those things, but circumstances did not allow. So it goes.

Just last week, Calie wrote beautifully about spending time achingly close to a transperson in a situation where neither of them could acknowledge the other. Read the post
here please. If Old Yeller did not make you cry, this will.

Newish blogger Halle wrote
recently on her wish for a secret handshake in Maintaining the Façade. Another good, thought provoking piece of work.

It is interesting to me that while “we” exist in good and perhaps increasing numbers, many of us, for many reasons lead fairly solitary lives. If you are not “out” to your spouse, if you live in a small town, if you have no local support organizations, if your career involves a public trust such as the care and education of young people, it can be difficult and dangerous to explore and display your full spectrum self.

I do not suffer from any of these inhibitors. Mrs. Bellejambes is entre-nous with all of me. I live in a city large enough to provide the cover of anonymity. The drums of the local TG tribe tap out welcoming messages here all the time. I have friends and acquaintances of my persuasion that I can meet with without too much bother involved. Some professional doors would be closed to me if I was more broadly out, but many would remain open, and I would know them to be more philosophically simpatico.

But with all of these inherited and earned advantages the life of “Petra” remains a largely solitary thing. This is more a matter of temperament for me than any other thing. Like Gazoo of Flintstone fame I wait patiently for the rescue mission from my home planet. I try to learn what I can while I am here, regardless of my gender presentation. Truly, I like Earthlings and get along well enough in rooms large and small, but I feel happiest when I am a slightly removed observer of things around me. My own company is usually satisfactory to the needs of the moment.

Not always though.

Being with birds of a feather, being immersed in the company of people with similar experiences and desires is healthy. It adds to what you know, it tops up your batteries, it gives you an opportunity to be helpful to people by your own example or actions. This is good stuff.

And so, with those objectives in mind, I must tell you here today that I am looking forward to attending the Southern Comfort Conference here in Atlanta, September 8-12. SCC will be celebrating its 20th year of comfort, joy and etc. to the TG community and their friends and families.

The full conference schedule will be posted in early June. In the meantime all the activities and registration information are available on the site. I have not attended SCC before, but having met with a few people who volunteer their time to making it work, I have a very good vibe about the event.

If you are looking to add to what you know, to top up your batteries, and to be a great example to people around you, won’t you consider attending too? I am going to keep a link open in the right column here to remind you from time to time.

If you are going to attend, please leave a comment or drop me a line. My contact information is in my Blogger profile. I look forward to being in the company of more of you.

Apr 19, 2010

Less Pretty. More Vacant.

It has been quite some time, dear friends, since I have managed to go a couple of weeks without feeling driven to post something up here. This exact time last year in fact, and here now with much the same motivators (or de-motivators as the case may be) behind the relative quiet. Yes, the predicted Drabbatical Season is in full bloom.

It is not all about the seasonal loss of passion for the engaging and pretty life of the Cross Dresser though. Mrs. Bellejambes and I enjoyed a rush of houseguests earlier in the month and so I needed to empty a guest room of dresses, wigs, shoes and other such accoutrements of beautification to make room.

I then travelled north to visit family and friends in my home town last week, a drab suitcase in hand, feeling no particular urge to look any different than the old neighborhood expects me to look. Lots of great feminine style to generally gawk at and take note of about in the big city, and a lovely early spring crispness in the air. Really, a terrific trip, but a fully guy-mode time.

Throughout my little holiday time, the days were fun, full and active, leaving me not too much idle time. Typically, when the days are cooler and darker, the Petra parts of me demand much of my idle time attention. This is a force of nature that I yield to, when the force is applied. This part of me however is now quite dormant.

I did have the moment when I needed to withhold tendering a fashion tip simply because it would have been to difficult to answer the “how do you know that?’ question. A dear and beautiful friend had a treatment done on a varicose vein and was under Doctors orders to wear compression hosiery in the aftermath of the procedure.

She was lamenting to the large dinner party the difficulty of pulling her expensive new tights up and over, and was fearful of gutting them with her nails. Poor lamb, I thought to myself, she really just needs a good pair of rubber gloves and she’ll be fine. I kept this little gem quiet though, not wanting a complication at exactly that moment.

I do think that I will, at some point, selectively, stop caring about the complications and questions. I think that, at some point, I will start opening up in my answers, and just generally care less about who knows what about Life, the Universe and Petra too. I have been breathlessly following Staci Lana’s recent adventures in tactical self-outing over at Femulate, and can see through her remarkable example, that this is possible. Ultimately, this sort of honesty and openness is required too, contributing as it does to a gradual diminishment of stigma, ignorance, fear and misunderstanding that so many labor under in matters of gender expression.

But this is not for me, not yet, no ma’am.

I am back home in Atlanta as of late last night, and here in the sweltering south, its nothing but bare arms and legs for the ladies for the foreseeable future. I will be keeping my arms and legs and the rest of me out of that pageant entirely for a few months. I know that I will be ready for a nice night out come September, and look forward to opening up the fall season at the Southern Comfort Conference. Today’s snapshot comes courtesy of charming and lovely friend Lida (thanks Lida!), and was taken at an SCC planning session social earlier this year.

Many smart and dedicated people are putting together a great program to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this essential TG conference. Please visit the site, and put some thought to joining in on the fun.

The summer editorial schedule here at Voyages en Rose is pretty loose friends. If I have something for you, well, you will see it here. Enjoy your summer, however you are dressing for it, and keep cool.

Apr 6, 2010

Petra gets lost at the Museum

When I left you, dear reader, I had just left Teesha at the very warm welcome carpet she had rolled out for me at The High. Teesha, if you are ever applying for work with the Defense Intelligence Agency and need someone to vouch for your facial recognition talents, let me know, please. The art world will miss you, but girl, you have a gift that you might as well be paid real money for.

The current marquee installation at The High is
The Allure of the Automobile, and features some truly lust-worthy examples of automotive art including the rarest of the rare, a 1937 Hispano-Suiza Xena. This charmer, the Bugatti, The Dusenberg and the Aston Martin will stay on idle for another trip though. My thinking was that the crowds for this exhibit would be too thick and a little too testostone soaked for my appearance. I would feel terrible about causing any blown head gaskets. Or something like that.

I took the less beaten path therefore to the permanent exhibits and passed by a pair of security personnel who were very complementary of my appearance. Being from a cold place, and born of reserved northern European stock, I have always envied the freedom and gusto with which southerners in general, and particularly Atlanta-based women of color greet the world:

“Uh-huh, Looking good

I could only smile and return the kindness. Long time readers will know that I pass from far, but close inspection alerts people watchers that I am a bird of a different feather. This is not a matter of despair for me: there are limits to my art after all. Museum staff spend more time watching the visitors than they do looking at the exhibitions. These two strolling staffers seemed to enjoy the effect I had on their space. God bless ‘em.

Museum visitors have their focus on the stuff up on the walls though. This is part of the “why” I wanted to visit The High en femme. Museum crowds, such as they are, are prone to getting lost in thought, and this was part of the appeal of this setting. The feminine sounds and silhouette I was presenting would likely be in the background of the other patrons minds. Why look at the pretty woman when there is so much else to stop you in your tracks? I felt as though there would be enough happy distractions within the museum for me to get lost, and not attract too much attention.

Lost not only to my fellow visitors, but also to myself, and this is the other part of the “why” behind this adventure. The part time Cross Dresser is often very self-conscious, and I am no exception. When looking at a work of great beauty though, I happily tend to forget myself. I wanted to see whether Petra would disappeared to me, as much as I suspected she might to all of the other awe-struck strangers.

A little Monet goes a long way towards that end, and The High has a couple of beauties in the permanent collection. My favorite (above, click to enlarge) comes from very early in his career, before his eyes started to fail, before tragedy took his wife, and long before the grotesque machinery of modern war would display its ability to ruin whole landscapes. The Canal at Zaandam, painted a full four decades before the famous Water Lillies of Giverny displays the beginnings of his long travels along the border between imagination, perception and the limits of brushes and paint.

This picture, and others of this prolific period seems to me a perfect reaction to the camera. I never get tired of looking at it. A completely original response to the question that the simple perfection of photography posed: Why Paint? The artist struggles with technology, and emerges as necessary. This is to me, a happy story.

It is a story that repeats itself. I took a long walk from the 19th century European galleries to the modern/contemporary spaces on the fourth floor to measure my Monet against a Chuck Close self portrait, where a similar approach, an assembly of geometries is employed to create a vivid reproduction of the subject of the painting. Close, like Monet before him wrestled against the inevitability of technology, now in the digital age, and found a way to express life in a way that pixels cannot, and found a way to mock pixels along the way.

Yup. That is where my mind goes when let off the chain of the everyday. I completely forgot who was doing all the wondering. Then back to wandering, still lost in this contemplative space when I blundered in front of a massive mirror and shocked the hell out of myself. Clearly, 20 well lit yards away stood a smartly dressed person I did not recognize for a moment. She really caught my attention.

And she brought me more or less down to earth again, not fully, but much of the way there. I took a quick picture of her, wanting to remember the moment, and to have something to look back on in the future.

It felt amazing. I did get lost. The sound of my heels, the press of my skirt, the touch of my hair had all become background elements, outside of my senses for long happy moments. Such is the power of art. I recommend such a visit and experience to you, dear reader, regardless of how you chose to present yourself.

Enjoy your art.

Apr 1, 2010

The High en Femme

Mrs. Bellejambes and I are members of The High Museum. I visit three or four times a year, and manage to wrangle the odd out of town visitor in as a price of our hospitality. The original Richard Meier building of 1983 houses the permanent collection. The exteriors and cold and austere, but the interiors provide terrific sightlines and ample space for both creative works and the people who like to contemplate them.

Four years ago, a friendlier Renzo Piano extension doubled the gallery footprint . The High became more suitable for blockbuster events like the Terra Cotta Army, and other such migratory exhibits that make cash registers clang and belch smoke. Their coffers have been considerably padded of late through its long standing association with the Musée du Louvre, whose masterpieces of pre-revolutionary statuary, portraiture, furniture and the random spoils of empire have helped drive a staggering 1.3 million curious people more or less voluntarily into a place of learning in the last few years.

The place is a real gift. And a place I have meant to visit for quite some time in Petra mode. Occasion presented itself yesterday, as I had a couple of hours free before a visit with a friend on a perfect, warm spring day and so I want to share with you today a pleasant adventure.

The courtyard was busy with sun-worshippers, the patio lounge at Café 1280 was thrumming, and I was clearly the most fully dressed patron of the arts to be seen. Shorts and ball caps, sundresses and sandals were the the dominant fashion look, but not for your correspondent. I was the one in the half-sleeved ruched neckline blouse tucked into a 17” wool/lycra blend I.N.C. skirt with a couple of pounds of brass detailing bias-zipped neatly over the Hue black micro-mesh tights. While it was warm enough to go without a jacket, I was not bold enough to show that much arm.

With an exhibition of John Portman buildings and pictures on presently, I thought I might pass as an architect or designer of some variety. At the very least I was passing as someone who has absolutely no spring wardrobe. And passing quite well, thank you vey much, attracting no undue attention from my fellow patrons until an interesting thing happened.

I walked up to the Members wicket in the main foyer, and the smiling woman behind the counter greeted me with:

“I remember you from when you joined”.

Keep in mind, dear friends, a couple of things here. We joined several years ago. I did mention the 1.3 million visitors just a moment ago, right? I was dressed then in my more typical drab gear. I do not consider myself to possess any real distinguishing facial characteristics. I was 3” shorter that day not being perched on a nice set of heels. You would think that with the make-up, with longish bangs obscuring much of my face, and a couple of mitt-fulls of neck, wrist and finger bling, that it would be hard for a stranger to match these two very distinct visitors, but evidently not.

“Wow, you are good. What’s your name?” said I as I tendered my membership card.

“Teesha. I remembered your wife more clearly, but I do remember you.

That made some sense to me. My wife stands out. I get a lot of scrutiny along the lines of.. “how the hell did they happen?”.

And with a little thought I remembered that myself and Teesha did have a nice little chat when I signed up, but we were merely two amongst hundreds jamming the building on the last day of an Annie Leibowitz exhibition. Good god, what sort of recall do you have to possess to pull two faces from memory and imagine one of them in a different gender presentation?

This encounter set off a cascade of neural activity. I had never thought of my personal Clark Kent / Wonder Woman pair as a natural match. They seem to be from such different shores, and possessed of such unique characteristics. These two halves are integral to me yes, and after a few decades of labor I have managed to put them together (ed. such a nice couple too) but I have the advantage of familiarity with myself.

I have always quite happily run the risk of bumping into someone who knows the everyday me while out en femme, and never weighed the “risk” as anything more than trivial. I am pretty good at mastering urges to run flailing like a mad bastard, or to freeze, bunny-like in the glare of predators, thereby attracting the wrong sort of attention. I am mindful of my physical presence, and never more so than when dressed: I know where the exits are. Barely recognizing myself when Petra takes over the surfaces, I never felt as though anyone else would.

So doesn’t that just beat hell out of everything? We just never stop learning.

Be assured, I was very much south of being rattled by the encounter. Amazed yes, but not rattled. Teesha was just warm and natural, clearly in love with her work, and happy to see a smiling and (oddly) familiar face. Perhaps as well she was happy to see a visitor to her temple of beauty so engaged as I was in my own act of creativity and artistic expression.

What we do is creative after all. There is much art in uncovering who we are, and embellishing our canvasses in a way that pleases the senses.

Less artistic matters however press in on me just now. I will continue with your tour of The High tour here in the next day or so.

Happy dressing and everything else….
Subscribe in a reader