Jan 16, 2011

Head over Heels.

As much as I love a good long day in a pair of smart heels, and friends, I truly do, it is at moments like these that I am thankful that I am not required to type with my feet.

Yes, from thigh-top to toe-tip, the legs are experiencing what Diana Ross might have called sweet love hangover. Noticing these sensations on my first tentative, padded steps out of bed this morning, and being of a curious disposition, I did in fact conduct a little research on leg musculature. It pleased me greatly to learn that the longish muscle that endows the upper regions of the thigh with its superabundance of fleshy, curvy, callipygian appeal is actually known (to people who did not drink themselves rotten in their freshman year and made it into med school) as the Sartorius.

This pleases me in part because knowing a new thing is good, but more because Sartorius is just an errant spellcheck away from sartorial. If I have a sartorial signature, it is brazen display of Sartorius. Irony walks with me.

I have not witnessed many sartorial or Sartorius displays recently. Three inches of snow in Atlanta last Sunday melted well enough on Tuesday that overnight temperatures seriously below freezing turned our roads into treacherous rinks by Wednesday. On these rinks cars more or less behaved like 7 year olds playing hockey, flailing about in blind mass pursuit of a puck, careering here and there, spinning out and taking the innocent down with them in a knotted mass of shrieking earnest futility. I stayed out of the dangerous game entirely.

Chez Bellejambes was well provisioned, lots of food and drink, an ample cache of aloe infused bathroom rolls and plenty to read. We weathered well. Cabin fever had well and truly set in by weeks end though. Yesterday therefore, I was quite delighted to brazenly bestir myself, emerging from the ice cocoon to take pretty wing in Petra mode for the opening planning session of Southern Comfort Conference 2011.

I plan on haranguing you quite regularly here about your schedule and intentions for September. You really ought to start putting a shekel or two aside here and there. Maybe fight the odd shopping impulse too. If you do these things then the expense of coming to Atlanta and spending a few days or more in the company of so much smart, beautiful, liberated diversity will be more manageable. I implore you, if you have not been able to attend a conference that caters to the CD/TG set to do so. It is an expense though, and we do live in challenging times. I get that. If you are thusly challenged, let me encourage you to visit this page and note that there are scholarships available. You may be in a financial position to qualify for support. Don’t be shy. Don’t be proud. Don’t stay locked within yourself. ‘Nuff said on the matter. Head on down to Atlanta.

But back to heels now which is where I started after all. In the evening I happily pried my tootsies into the purple pump referred to in the post directly prior to this one. The morning wardrobe was perched upon newly acquired and long sought black suede (ok suede-ish) booties purloined from Macy’s for a very faint song. Too embarrassed to say the price really. Well that moment passed quickly enough. $24.00. The purchase pathology is kind of interesting to me though, and I want to share it with you out of a sense of care for your financial well being (which ties back neatly to the whole SCC attendance thing … see how I did that?).

This particular look has been in my gun sites for some time now. A versatile autumn / winter style, matches well with the legging / tunic look, skinny jeans, opaque tights / tailored skirt ensembles. In short, while not an absolute need, this is a shoe that has been more than a want. And on a half dozen sorties through a variety of shops, Nordstrom Rack, Ann Taylor, and DSW included I tried on and discarded stacks of paired suitors like a high maintenance Disney princess. This one pinched, that one swam. This one too tall, that one too low. Too round at the toe there, not sure about that platform. Thwarted time and again.

I kept at the objective though and, finally, finding them just before Christmas, was relieved greatly. As is my habit, I updated my purchase tracking spreadsheet and noticed with no small alarm that these were pair #10. I had unknowingly perched myself on an irretrievably steep slope.

A couple of years ago I polled readers to determine just how many pairs of shoes we possessed. The analysis kicked out a behavioral singularity that graphically displayed a gradual erosion of will between pairs # Five and 10. Past the 10 Threshold and basically one is left only with bilateral amputation, bunions, or bankruptcy as a brake against the desire for more and more shoes. There are zombies amongst us. Take a look around you next time you are shoe shopping. They cannot count how many shoes they own. Or rather, how many shoes they are owned by.

What havoc hath I wrought, what a fool am I. Even with the clear foreknowledge, with certain statistical indicators of a ruined future, my guard dropped, and I blithely stepped past the pointed-toe point of no return. I had barely made a mental note of # 9 only a week or so earlier, the lavish lace classic court shoe from Ann Taylor marked down from $180 to a mere $48, so blind to the charms I have become.

Enough heels. It is time for healing now. Time to mind myself and stop with the shoes for a while. You may think this a fools errand, and you might be right. I feel however that no honest exploration of ones fuller gender complexion is complete without battling against the pretty tide of shoe lust. Pictures at 11 of course. And 12. And beyond.

On a more serious note, a couple of words about the SCC planning session and evening social follow. I made some new friends, people with dazzling lives and minds, diverse interests, abundant charm and beauty. There was time as well with friends that I have met now 3, 5, or 8 times here and there. These acquaintances become more easy and meaningful each time too. The slow sedimentary process of trust building takes time, takes patience. Precious things with a commensurate payoff. A payoff available in the living, breathing company of people. People gotta meet.

There was a very pleasant surprise seeing about 60 people showing up at 9:00 am on a weekend to indicate willingness to help execute this big complex undertaking. And it was comforting to see Lexi, Blake, Lida, Christy and the rest of the board and committee chairs leading the charge. I encourage you to save the date: Sept 21 – 25. Start planning would you? And if you have figured out how to save yourself from the syren call of the shoe shop, drop a line would you?

Jan 6, 2011

Five for ’10, Part III: The Joy of Shopping

The full time woman has, it seems to me, a life time to develop a signature look, a style sweet spot. I imagine that this is a gradual and glacial learning process, sedimentary layers of progress, a long slow bake of hits and misses. For women inclined to caring about style, the learning opportunities abound. Shopping in the company of friends, and talking about clothes is so much more a socially acceptable, indeed expectable behavior for the fairer sex than it is for the less fair.

Therefore I submit, dear friends, that those of us who come around to possession of a female wardrobe by, shall we say, less than conventional means, are desperately handicapped in the style sweepstakes. As with many things in life, overcoming a handicap takes thought, patience and determination, trial and error, and above all, practice, practice and more practice. 

I practiced like quite the possessed young thing this past year. The practice has paid off in what I have to say is the signature achievement of the year for me. I have become consciously competent at knowing what to wear.

Patience is the primary virtue now, and patience pays off at the sales counter. I was impatient once this year. I responded to a swoon impulse and came home with a tunic I love, but dammit, I paid full retail, I still feel poorly about that. The sting diminishes when I consider the following Top Five steals, staples and statements, my best shopping moments of the year.

Up Top: I have a couple of silk shirts for guy wardrobe, and I have to confess that I always feel just a little suspect when wearing them, as though I am engaged in something unmanly, engaged in something unsavory. I don’t have any hang ups about unmanly, but unsavory catches rather in my throat. Rather a shame really, because I quite like the feel of silk. Here the life of Petra is a real bonus. A silk blouse is cool, it glides, no preening, all polish. Mine, from Ann Taylor at a 78% discount from a $90.00 full retail tag down to $20.00. Well made, it will last years and not date. I already have it down to $6.67 / wear. Couldn’t help going back out the next day to grab the purple one.

Down Below: More purple. Purple is a color that feels the same way in my drab wardrobe as silk does. I have purple, I just don’t feel like I fully own it, it is a color that takes dominion over my personality, and so guy me shies away from it. Again, rather a shame, because it is a gorgeous color and suits my complexion well. And again, Petra to the rescue, loving the whole regal vibe that comes along the color of Queens. I extended my license to wear purple to my feet this year, finding in late spring in the clearance racks at Macy’s a terrific, classic closed toe pump with a 3 1/2” stiletto (just my style) marked down to $20.00 from $70 for a 71% win.

‘Round the Middle. It is tough to pick a single bloom from the crowded garden. I am ashamed to admit that I own 18 skirts and all but two of them delight me. As a garment class, my average skirt retails for $82.00, and was purchased for $19.00. I think in hindsight that my first move away from the severely tailored, classic pencil cut into a more contemporary, clingy, knit style skirt was a big step for me. This was the garment that convinced me that I could and should dress young. This revelation broadened my horizons considerably, So hats off to the I.N.C. grey and black bandage skirt, retail $79.00, discounted 72% to $23.00.

On the Legs. It took me until November of last year to finally get around to trousers. This seems, in an odd way, to be a slightly seditious form of cross Cross Dressing. In any event, I wrote about the whole happy ordeal here if you missed it first time around. Having a couple of pairs of smart strides broadens my potential range considerably. Clearly it is not possible to practically and convincingly inhabit la Monde Féminine in skirts and dresses alone. Finding a pair of classic, low waisted, 5 pocket style stretch denims on my first attempt was a huge win. Finding them at $15.00 down from an original sticker of $69.00 was practically a heart stopper.

On the Town. It is fitting that my last transaction of the old year should be the most triumphant one. The first (real) Little Black Dress. This is a real threshold purchase, right up there with first knickers, first breast forms, first wig, and other big firsts. The LBD is a totemic item, it is bequeathed with social significance. Light as a feather, yet possessed of a power to stop people in their tracks. This frothy number certainly stopped me in my tracks in late December at Ann Taylor. A strapless cascade of tulle ribbons to mid-thigh, a luxurious merengue of femininity, originally listed at $250.00. For reasons that passeth understanding a small clutch of these beauties survived a seemingly endless series of markdowns, all the way to a mere, laughable $30.00. I happened upon my LBD on a +40% off day, and so picked it up for pennies under a practically insulting $18.00. I won’t have much on when I wear this to a gala evening at SCC later this year, but the dress is bound to be the least costly part of the ensemble. I am still shocked, and delighted to have had such good fortune on such a seminal first find. O, it feels like a million bucks, and I must say, looks rather fetching too. On the model too.

I will close with this thought: Shopping is, for most people, in and of itself, a pretty shallow undertaking. I think though, that shopping has the potential to be something of value and meaning to, well, the likes of we if we apply a little care to it. Each of these Five top moments in wardrobe building were executed in drab, but called upon every ounce of feminine intuition and aesthetic potential that I am capable of finding. It is good to be able to touch those parts of the self, and cater to them, on demand, without all the overhead that goes into actually presenting as Petra. Not quite the real thing, but it goes a long way in between full immersions, yes?

 I hope you have great luck in the shops this year. Would love to hear of your best wins too. Comments welcomed always.

Jan 1, 2011

Five for ’10, Part II: Great Excursions en Femme

The first post in this series focused on the fluff between my unpierced ears. Today's is a look back at a handful of highlights, memorable moments of the newly old year, enjoyed in the great outdoors in the fully feathered form of Petra.

I write this guardedly, not wanting to gloat. I recognize that I am fortunate in my relative freedom to get out of the house and away from the mirror, without much in the way of fear or complication. I live in a big city, a relatively liberal one. I have a fashionable cloak of anonymity in short, and if worse comes to worse, I can run from trouble really quite quickly even in tallish heels. At home, my habits are not secret, and while not actively encouraged, at least not fought against.

These are luxuries of chance, not of earned virtue. I recognize that many readers and some of my closest online companions do not have these luxuries. With that said, this past year I continued to push out my boundaries, cross new lines, and discover green new fields. The payoff has been huge. Whatever your circumstances, I encourage you to challenge your own boundaries, to find a way to interact with a part of the real world, presenting as best you can. As the great Marvin G. and Tammy T. sang, "… ain’t nothing like the real thing baby…".

Here therefore, I am taking a look back at some very real moments, and the great, unexpected learnings that came with them. Links to the original reportage contained below too.

Way back in January I attended the first of many mid-day, mid-week musical luncheons at The Heretic, a venerable gay bar deep in the heart of Atlanta’s own quaint and grotty tenderloin district. Apart from the great BBQ, the remarkable guitar and vocal stylings of Miss Edie, and all the joy that a warm sunny January day brings out in people, I just had a hoot chatting about fashion, music and advanced techniques for blowing off a work day with Lindley, and her boyfriend Ian. Unbridled fun. This day, in hindsight, was the first time where my presentation kind of fell off into the background of my thoughts. Being Petra seemed as though it could be an unconscious, natural and accepted thing. 

By the time winter had sloughed fully off, I was out in brightish spring hues rifling the clearance shoe racks of nice shop at Phipps Plaza. Myself and another shopper navigated around each other in the tall narrow confines until something caught her attention. Bless Leisl’s curiosity and open heart. Perhaps she was in need then of corrective lenses, but it took her a good long while to twig to the truth that I was a shopper with a difference. She tentatively and politely engaged with me, providing an opportunity for a little CD outreach. She asked a couple of questions that I needed to hear, and work out answers for. This beautiful encounter spawned a three part essay, first of which might be found just over here.

My last outing before the long, drab summer slum-fest was less commercial, more cultural. The High Museum is home to a few gems of the visual arts. It also has perfect acoustics for the crisp clack of heel on hard tile. I was surprised, alarmed, delighted and who knows what else when the nice young lady at the Members entrance kiosk recognized the other me beneath the make-up. This day I saw a couple of my favorite pictures through a different set of eyes. It was electrifying. In fact, some thoughts coalesced for me that day that wound up being the core theme of curricula I developed and delivered to an Art History class last summer. I may have missed the newness if I was in flats.

This year was my first (and god willing the creek don’t rise, not my last) Southern Comfort Conference. I spent the better part of a full week en Femme amongst a massive gathering of TG’s of all sorts, their partners and better than expected grub. Here I was able to lay to rest the last of my fears of Cross Dressing. I came away from SCC more certain of who I am than I was when I first suited up. The first post on the event is here, and more followed. If you have not attended a conference accommodative of your place on the gender expression continuum, do so. Get thee to a funnery, and soon. Let me know if I will see you at SCC 2011.

To round out the list, I still get a kick out of the impulse I followed quite without thinking in Macy’s just after wriggling into the embrace of a great new dress. I did not have to go and stand so brazenly in front of the 3 way mirror. I did not have to turn 360, smooth my contours and strike a pose. I did not have to stop and face the husbands and boyfriends sadly deposited in the soft couches just outside the fitting rooms, turn slowly on heel and vanish, but dammit, I did. A hush descended, and for a brief moment I held the magical power that all women possess at some level. Who could not respect, and not want this power?

Feeling that power, in some measure, is the dividend of our transformations and explorations. It is intoxicating. The intoxication is a feeling I seek, and a feeling that frightened once, but frightens no more. To borrow the parlance of the Heroin enthusiast, I chased the Dragon full of the knowledge that the Dragon might swallow me whole. The Dragon did not. We cohabitate. My parts feel integral. I am without doubt as to who I am inside, and more convinced than ever that my biology (for lack of a better word) is sound. 

I wondered for years whether, if I had the opportunity to roam freely en Femme, I would realize a need to change the biology. As it happens, the need is not there, my assignment is correct, and adequate to a very happy and full life. A life made more happy and full by the warm embrace extended to, and granted by, Petra.

Next up, in this continuing Five for ’10 series, five memorable shopping moments. Deep discounts and shallow breaths, great fashion fortune without (much) loss of fortune.

O, and while I remember, do have a Happy New Year.
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