Body transfer illusion? 1


A decade ago, I met a very interesting person on the virtual world of Second Life. She would certainly describe herself as autogynephilic[*] (i.e. getting excited with her own image as a female), but she didn’t crossdress (although she was always intrigued by the possibilities). She did, however, use a female avatar and engaged in BDSM role-playing.

But, for her, it felt real.

What is the body transfer illusion?

Now this is hard for most to understand. A few of you might have seen the following video:

It shows how you can ‘trick’ your brain to believe that a limb (in this case, a rubber arm) is ‘part’ of you, by cleverly giving you visual and tactile clues. This condition is known in the scientific world as body transfer illusion and has been known for quite some time. Explaining why it happens is not so obvious.

Scientists had some clues from the ‘phantom limb’ effect, which affects almost all amputees — you know how it is, people would lose a hand or some limb, but still ‘feel’ as if it’s there. Early explanations tended to shrug it off as merely nerve terminations who, although severed, still tended to transmit some residual information. But more recent explanations are a bit more complex.

We know now that our brain constantly keeps a ‘map’ of our own body, which gets updated all the time. That’s how you can eat without biting on your tongue, for instance (well… most of the time). And that’s how you can scratch your back without looking, and so forth. While early science tended to shrug it all off and label it as ‘instinct’, these days we know that a lot is actually going on. Much of the ‘map’ is updated visually, even if not in a conscious way. That’s why the ‘rubber hand’ illusion works — the brain is getting visual stimula of a ‘rubber hand’ which is in the same position of the ‘real hand’, so it gets confused about which hand is real and which is not. Even though it should know that your real hand is actually hidden away somewhere, and safe from the hammer, right? So why do we cry out loud when the hammer hits a rubber hand? Well, because things are really not so simple inside our brains.

People who have gone through this experience know they’re watching an illusion, but they still get anxious (or even feel pain!) when the hammer hits the rubber hand. Or, if you wish: while rationally your brain is supposed to know that the hammer is just hitting a rubber hand and not your real hand, the brain, in this case, is not behaving rationally. It still feels the urge to move the hand away, and, because it doesn’t manage to move it, the brain ‘feels’ the pain and we wince or yell in surprise.

How intense is that ‘pseudo-pain’? Well, that obviously varies from person to person. This long-known effect seems to extract reactions from almost everybody, but some people naturally react differently. It is not surprising that clever people with a lot of imagination tend to be more susceptible to the effect.

And, of course (that’s my opinion!), I’d expect transgendered people also to rank high on the effect.

Let’s get back to my non-crossdressing, autogynephilic friend. She has a double PhD and is definitely very clever; also, she has a prodigious imagination; she is also an amateur writer of erotic novels. For her, the re-enactment of BDSM scenes, displayed on a computer screen where she fully identifies with her own 3D avatar, feels real… but not in the ‘detached’ way that we feel things when, say, watching a gore movie. We might flinch and wince, as someone’s character gets blown up by a shotgun and blood is splattered all around a room, but, deep below, we know it’s not real. We still react to violence on a screen. As we react to sex, of course. One might say that only males are ‘visually aroused’ by sex and violence (specially sex!), but this is not entirely correct; women, for instance, don’t even need ‘visual clues’ to get aroused. They can play it all in their imagination.

Sex is one of those areas where the boundary of what’s real and what’s not gets so easily blurred. We can get aroused by seeing someone extraordinarily sexy walking near us. It’s just a visual image, but we still manage to get an erection. The same happens over a webcam conversation. Or a phone call. And, of course, with a movie. Or even with a painting. Or a drawing (or we wouldn’t have erotic comics). So — with all these cases, we get further and further removed from reality, we are not in the physical presence of an erotically-stimulating object, but we still get aroused. It might not be a full erection. It might just be our pulse quickening and a smile coming to our lips. But it’s still some form of physical response, to what, for all purposes, is merely ‘imagination’.

For people like my friend (she’s hardly an exception!) this goes much, much deeper. Obviously she can get aroused by merely thinking things. But when she has the added bonus of some visual cues — like her avatar on Second Life — her brain flips a switch, and now she sort of loses awareness of her physical body and starts getting stimulation from a virtual body: she feels what the virtual body feels.

Before you claim that this is just too weird, just remember that your body is actually ‘wired’ to allow such things to happen — during dreams, for example. Even if you’re not a lucid dreamer (someone who, in a dream, is fully aware that they’re dreaming), there is clearly something ‘going on’ where you lose all perception of your physical body (which is comfortably resting on the bed!) and just get the perceptions of your ‘dream body’ — you feel what it feels, you see, hear, and touch what it touches. ‘Of course, it’s just a dream!’, some of you might be yelling now. There is certainly nothing ‘mystical’ or ‘paranormal’ at work here — this is the experience that we all have. Because we shrug it off as being ‘just a dream’, we simply ignore how extraordinary our own brain actually is — it has the ability to get perceptions from purely imagined things, and react to them. Even if you’re fully aware that they are ‘illusion’ you still feel them as if they’re not.

What happens in the case of people like my friend is that this ability, which we all have when we dream, can be somehow triggered while she’s fully awake and conscious and staring at a computer screen. All she needs is some visual stimulus to ‘engage’ her brain. I understand that she does not lose perception of her physical body; but, a bit like when you realize in a dream that you’re dreaming, she has this vague idea that her body is sitting on a chair in front of a computer, but it seems far away, remote, unimportant; the brain is much more interested in perceptions and stimuli coming from the visual environment of a 3D world and reacting to it. But she can ‘snap out’ of it any time she likes; pretty much like we do, every day, when we wake up and leave the ‘dreaming world’ behind.

Needless to say, because her perception of having a female body is so acute, her female personality is astonishingly elaborated. I had chatted with her for well over a year without having the least idea that she was not a genetic female.

Visuals trigger the body transfer illusion… and changes the personality

Now, we may claim that it doesn’t require to ‘feel’ at that level to construct a female persona, and to react in a way that females react. In fact, Nick Yee, a scientific researcher studying gender roles and perception in virtual worlds, claims that this adaptation of visual stimuli to behaviour patterns is very commonplace. This is not his first study; he has done several, and all tend to give the same overall results: males who represent themselves virtually as females, in the context of a 3D environment, tend to adapt female personas as well, and are harder to ‘read’ than most people would think. In fact, in his last study, Yee suggests that the only way to figure out who is a male and who is a female is by observing their movement patterns, not the way they express themselves (according to Yee, males are better at imitating female conversation patterns, because male-female interactions are mostly done via conversation, and people are always aware of what they’re saying, while movement patterns are harder to observe and replicate, and happen subconsciously). You might say that yes, the habit does make the monk. Dress the part, and you’ll start playing the part, too.

Many crossdressers would certainly agree with such results. Among those who crossdress to adopt a female persona — as opposed to ‘sissyfication’, crossdressing for pure fetish reasons, etc. — it is no surprise that the more accurate our female image is (compared to a genetic female), the more natural our femme persona becomes, which, in turn, pushes us to perfect this image even more.

Of course there is a little more to merely ‘visuals’, although visuals are certainly the biggest aspect. We crossdressers wear woman’s perfume, which hides our ‘male’ scent and replaces it with something that our nose will identify as ‘female’; also, cosmetics have their own range of scents, which are typically female. Specially if you have always worn short hair, wearing a good-quality wig is a completely new experience — which includes the silky touch of the hair on exposed areas of the flesh. And, obviously, we all know about the thrill of shaving our body hair and wearing tight panties and nylon stockings over the bare skin, and delight in the luxuriant sensations of smoothness and silkiness.

There is more. When wearing high heels, there is much more than merely the visual aspect of the heels. The clacking sound of the heels on the floor (or on the street!) is also incredibly exciting. But wearing heels forces us to adopt a different mode of walking, and, to avoid falling down (!), our body has no choice but to move differently. So all of a sudden your whole gait changes, and, to agree with Nick Yee, we start moving differently when on heels and fully dressed, and that widens the chasm between our male and female roles.

There is also much to be said about breastforms, corsets and padding. Again, it’s not only the question of visually presenting a more convincingly female image. It’s also the sensation of touch, of getting curves where they weren’t before, of having extra weight on parts of our body which usually are devoid of that weight; and, most important, at least for me, is the full range of perceptions that we get from these padding garments.

… but you can enhance it with some other senses

Let me give you an example. I currently use some silicone breasforms from Amoena, which are tacky and adhere reasonably well to the chest area, although they will need a bra to stay in place (the adhesive is not strong enough to support it; each form weights 750 g!). They warm to the body temperature, and, at least if squeezed, they certainly look just like human flesh. Some years ago, my wife, in a playful manner (she does not really enjoy my crossdressing, she tolerates it, and sometimes gets amused by it — but that’s rare), briefly poked one of the forms, and I immediately went ‘ouch!’.

She laughed at that, because, although it was a normal reaction (and one I certainly didn’t have time to ‘think’ about it), obviously I could not ‘feel’ anything! I remember being both baffled and a bit embarassed at the same time. What happened?

Most would say that I was simply ‘faking’ it, i.e., just playing a role, but it’s not that simple! While obviously my mind knows that I haven’t got real breasts, after wearing them for a few hours, the brain adapts to the idea or concept that now it has to carry those pairs of boobs around, all the time, and figures out the extra movement that those breastforms require. I know that this sounds weird, but I’m always surprised at how much the breastforms actually weight before I put them on (not to mention the hip padding!), but, while they’re being worn, I don’t ‘feel’ the weight at all. This is, again, not really very impressive — most of us don’t notice how much our clothes weight, and we carry them the whole day (their weight also gets distributed across a much wider area than the breastforms, which are localised at a precise spot — the chest — but the principle is pretty much the same). The brain simply registers that it has now some extra weight to carry, which moves so and so, and it just adapts. In a sense, in our mental self-image of the body, it just added 1.5 kg of breast tissue to the chest area (and some 3.5 kg of hip tissue to the hips!), and now that is taken into account when moving around. For example, thanks to the corset, but also because the brain is compensating for the extra weight, I tend to walk much more straight when crossdressed — because the weight distribution is much easier to do that way.

Let’s take another example. If you carry a very heavy bag, your movements will be different, right? That’s because the brain simply compensates for the odd distribution of weight. Except for extreme cases, we don’t really need to think a lot about it; it happens subconsciously.

Wearing breasts (and the rest of the padding) is not really much different. When walking around my home, which has some tight spots, I naturally avoid hitting walls and furniture with my breasts or hips. I don’t need to think about it. I also know that if I hit the wall with them, it will not hurt — I obviously won’t feel a thing! But that’s the rational part of the brain thinking. The subconscious part that deals with movement and equilibrium, gait and poise, does not bother to separate what is real flesh and bones and what isn’t. Visually, I get clues that now my body has some extra parts. Physically, these parts have weight, even if I consciously don’t notice it. There is a constant sense of touch, reminding the brain that ‘there is something there’; body heat seeps into the silicone, so this sensation is actually very pleasant. Add that all together, and the bits of the brain that have to subconsciously deal with movement will simply get the ‘extra bits’ into its calculations, and your movements will be made gracefully and without conscious awareness of them.

Of course, this only happens after a while. I was very conscious of all that padding during the first times I’ve crossdressed. These days, it’s more an ‘on and off’ thing. When I have just finished wearing everything, of course I’m very conscious of everything! Then, as the day progresses, this consciousness and awareness slips into the subconscience… but it’s still there! I’ve caught myself trying to scratch an itch on the breasts, and then laughing, because there obviously couldn’t have been any itching there!

That’s what let me to say ‘ouch!’ when my wife pinched the breastform, although obviously I didn’t feel anything. Or, rather, it’s much stranger than that. My subconscious brain told me that I was feeling something, and thus the involuntary ‘ouch’. But then my rational brain stepped in — a bit too late — to tell me that I actually couldn’t have felt anything, because these are fake, external silicon prosthesis. But this is exactly what happens with the ‘rubber hand’ experiment. Because I get such an overwhelming amount of cues — visual, touch, warmth, bounce, body movement… — the subconscious brain is led to believe that there is an extra part of the body ‘attached’ there. It might not have full control over it — no internal nervous connection! — but it still feels ‘protective’ about that part, and reacts as if it was ‘really there’.

‘Pins and needles’, numbness, and the ‘phantom limb’ effect

You might find that hard to believe, but let me give you an example which shows how clever our brain is in trying to ‘protect’ its parts. You have certainly gone through those ugly ‘pins and needles’ sensations on a leg or arm. Sometimes it’s so intense that the whole area feels numb; you don’t get any sensation at all from it, and you can’t even get the limb to move. It’s ‘fallen asleep’. This condition, known as parasthesia, comes from pressure placed upon the nerves, which cuts actual communication with certain parts of the body with the brain. As you shift your position, stamp on your foot, rub the affected part, etc., blood circulation is restored to the nerves, and sooner or later the brain starts making sense of the signals it gets again, and it’s as if it had never happened.

However, even if you don’t feel anything at all (when touching the affected limb, for example, you might notice that there is just the touching feeling on the finger but not on the limb, which is incredibly odd), the brain still knows it’s there — because it still gets visual clues about its position, even if there are no touch sensations any more. The brain might have some trouble giving instructions for the affected limb to move, but it compensates — you can certainly hop around, for instance. I get this numbness often on my legs and feet when sitting crosslegged for an hour or two, and I find it always funny to notice how the foot seems to be made of rubber, and, although I’m extra-careful about not placing it wrongly (without touching sensation, and without feeling pain, I’m always scared that I twist an ankle!), it’s clear that the brain knows what it’s doing (even though I might not be aware of it). And while I don’t feel anything, if someone else (taking advantage of my situation!), does some kind of prank like slapping on the leg, I yell! But that’s rather strange, since I certainly didn’t feel the slapping. But — here is the important bit — I saw it, and, as such, my brain knows that the limb was hit, and protects it — by letting me yell involuntarily, even though the brain never got the pain signals from the slap.

Funny, isn’t it? Yes, our brains are formidable things 🙂

So, wearing breastforms is like having a numb limb. The brain knows it doesn’t get any pain/touch sensations from it. But it can move them a bit — using the pectoral muscles, for instance — and get visual confirmation of the movement. The actual sensation of the form inside the bra is purely visual, but the bra will also chafe at the shoulders, the back, near the armpits, and so forth, so the brain throws it all into the calculations. Even though the forms are an ‘attachment’, they have some weight, and the brain has to compensate for the movement; I might not feel the actual ‘bounce’ (except on the chest area where the forms are attached), but I get all sorts of visual clues about what’s happening, and all that helps the brain to create the illusion that those breastforms, while not being ‘real’, are worth treating as part of my body, just like everything else.

Therefore, yes, when someone pinches them, I yell in pain — even if I haven’t really felt anything. But my subconscious brain thinks that I should have felt something, and reacts as if that was the case. It’s like a numbed foot or limb — it’s still there, even if there are limited sensations coming from it. But there are always visuals, and some weight sense, etc. Our brains are very good at working with partial data. Sometimes, however, using partial data to predict the outcome gives completely wrong results — that’s what we explore with optical illusions, for instance. And, for us crossdressers, it’s all about optical illusions.

Crossdressing is like magic!

When I’m on webcam, unlike many other transgendered people, I never do any shows — ‘no stripping, just chatting & smoking’, that’s what I have on my status. The main reason is that ‘stripping’ breaks the illusion. My breastforms, once revealed, are anything but realistic. They look real — with nice cleavage, even if I’m saying it! — when they’re tucked into the bra. But showing them breaks the illusion — not only for my audience, but, most importantly, for myself. If the illusion is broken, I cannot sustain my female persona — at least not in a natural, effortless way. Because I rely so much on visual clues to trick my brain in ‘believing’ that I’m female, everything that breaks those visual clues completely shatters the illusion. It’s like one of those immensely complicated magic tricks from Siegfried & Roy or Penn & Teller or any such great magicians — they rely on a sequence of optical illusions, sleight of hand, ‘wrong cues’ to distract the audience, etc., that only when all are working seamlessly together, the audience can believe that some magic is going on! The harder a trick is to spot, the more convincing it will be.

Crossdressing is precisely the same. It’s a magical act. You need to juggle all the balls in the air effortlessly, without revealing what is actually creating the illusion — or the illusion will be shattered. The audience might not mind it, but I will.

Improving the magic with prosthetics

Obviously, things can get some improvements. With my ancient wigs, which had very badly designed caps, I was very reluctant in playing much with my hair, because, sooner or later, it would be noticeable that I was wearing a wig. By moving towards better wigs, namely front/full lace wigs, my real hairline completely disappears, and the wigs’ hairline is so realistic, that even very close you can’t see it’s not real hair. Of course that encouraged me to be much more playful with my hair, because I have confidence that nobody will notice it’s not real.

With breastforms, the solution is also buying something like RealBreast™:

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There is a visible edge on those, because the manufacturers wish people to know that these are artificial, externally worn prosthesis; with adequate makeup from Kryolan, you can make that edge disappear completely. The result is absolutely indistinguishable from ‘real breasts’, and those are actually glued to the chest using surgical-grade adhesive, so, yes, they will stay in place without  a bra.

This is a state-of-the-art, top quality product; it is the equivalent of a personalised, custom-made human hair wig from, say, Great Lengths, compared to a regular, off-the-shelf wig. Why do people choose an expensive, high-end wig as opposed to a cheap, $10 Chinese wig? Because the illusion is complete — a high-end wig is indistinguishable from real hair. It has been specially manufactured to be perfect in every aspect. While the industry of breast form manufacture is not as advanced as the wig industry — mostly because there are far less customers for that kind of product! — the same logic applies to breast forms as well. At the lowest end, we have DYI forms — rolled-up socks with birdseed in it. Then we have forms made of latex or some kind of industrial rubber. Then we move towards gel and silicone, which have different characteristics, depending on the quality, and of the intended purpose. My own Amoena forms are very high on the ‘quality’ scale: they’re the best forms you can get if you always use them beneath your bra (because that’s how they’re intended to be worn; Amoena sells their own range of bras, which will perfectly fit — and hide! — the form).

But they’re not intended to be worn bra-less. In fact, very few breast forms are designed for that kind of usage. But there are some exceptions. RealBreast™ is not the only one, of course, but they draw from their Hollywood expertise — their ‘mother’ company, RealDoll, has for almost two decades created extremely detailed and realistic full-body ‘love dolls’, which, yes, are used on porn movies to replace actresses (or even actors, since they also have a male line of dolls) on certain shots which they refuse to do on a camera. Movie producers hire RealDoll to create a perfect replica of their porn actresses to do those scenes, and with careful editing, nobody will notice the difference.

That gave them an edge when creating anatomic parts which are indistinguishable from real humans — at least on a video camera. No wonder, thus, that their breast forms — sold separately — are also made of Hollywood-level quality. They’re also expensive!

For me it’s not just about the quality by itself; it’s how that quality actually enhances the ‘body transfer illusion’. When I see my current breast forms on the mirror, obviously all ‘illusions’ are off. They’re clearly ‘fake’, and there is a rupture with my body perceptions — by ‘dispelling the illusion’, I’m acutely aware that these ‘boobs’ are nothing more than some weighty bags of silicone attached loosely to my chest. But if I cover them up with a bra, show off some cleavage, and take pains to conceal the edges so that nobody ever sees the breast forms, but only the shape and the bounce that they have, then, yes, my brain (and most people’s brains, too) will be ‘persuaded to believe’ that they’re ‘real’. Others might also be ‘persuaded to believe’ in the illusion, too.

Illusion, not delusion: a story with 2,000 (or more) years

Notice that this not about ‘delusion’, but ‘illusion’. Consider the following example, which actually comes from Buddhist philosophy, and is over 2,000 years old. When facing a magical illusion in a circus, there are three reactions to it. Children, because they don’t understand what’s happening, believe that the illusion is real and that magic really exists. Adults, because they know that it’s only an illusion, but might not know how it works, will be able to watch the show, have fun, enjoy it, not figure out how it works and be baffled. But because they know it’s an illusion, they don’t risk any ‘confusion’ with reality. They know there is a trick to it, but they can’t figure it out. Still, even though they know magic is not real, they can watch the illusion and enjoy themselves as much as the children. The magician, by contrast, has even further knowledge. He knows very well that it’s an illusion, but, more important than that, he knows exactly what he is doing. He cannot ever be tricked by his own illusions. However, while he watches his own performance, he most certainly enjoys the illusion by itself, even if he has a full understanding of the illusion as such, and knows very well what’s real and what is not.

In that example, children are delusional. They take the illusion for reality. They have no means to understand what is real, and what is illusion (Buddhists will say that this is the class in which most humans are — we look at things and believe that they really are as they appear — this is called a ‘delusional mind’ or a ‘confused mind’, because it doesn’t understand what is an illusion and what is not).

Adults, in the example, are not delusional. They know very well that magic doesn’t exist, and that a magician on stage is just doing a performance. However, they might be able to see the illusion, take it for real, while still knowing it’s an illusion. So, in that state of mind, you perceive the illusion, and, while you don’t know why or how the illusion is made, you still don’t ‘confuse’ illusions with reality. Of course, for the adults, what they see is the illusion — just like the children. What they know is that the illusion is not real, and once they know that ‘magic is an illusion’, they cannot be tricked easily. They can still watch the illusion and be fascinated by it, because it’s what they see. But they don’t believe in what they see (Buddhists, in this case, speak of a mind trained according to Dharma teachings, i.e. the teachings of the Buddha — you can look at the universe and understand what is real and what is not. While you still continue to see things that are not really there, but you brain insists in telling you that they’re ‘real’, you know better, and won’t be fooled easily: seeing is not believing, in Buddhist philosophy, because you can be tricked by optical illusions to ‘believe’ in things that don’t really exist. Nevertheless, unless your mind is really well-trained, you will still continue to see things that are not real — like magical illusions, rainbows, etc. — but you will be aware that they’re not real).

Finally, the magician cannot ever be tricked, because he knows exactly that what he does is an illusion. For him, the ‘magic’ is just a cleverly made performance on stage. He is never tricked to believe that the illusion might be real, because he knows exactly how the illusion works. Now, that doesn’t mean that the magician is somehow ‘different’ and views a completely new world! Not at all — the point it that, while he’s executing his magic, he knows that, for instance, one hand is hiding something inside it (even though it’s not visible), or that one gadget he’s using is hollow, or where to step to open/close a door, etc. He knows all that in advance, and pays close attention while he’s performing the trick, so that the illusion is perfect. But he still sees what we see — the difference is that he ‘sees’ and ‘knows’ things we don’t. He might not ‘see’ the card hidden in his own hand, but he knows the card is there — we don’t. We might suspect there is a hidden card, but we don’t know it. The difference between the adults and the magician is that, while both know it’s an illusion, the magician also knows how the illusion is done, and has access to more knowledge than the audience — where cards are hidden, what clues to look for, and so forth (In Buddhist philosophy, this is known as ‘the mind of a Buddha’ — someone who is aware of the real nature of things, and is never fooled by the illusion of perceptions. Once you know how a trick is done, you will always be able to get those visual cues — things to look for that show you how the illusion is done. But that doesn’t mean that the whole world shatters and disappears. You’ll still be seeing the same things as before; but now you also know how the tricks work, and so, no trick can ever fool you again. Another word for this state of mind is also ‘enlightenment’ — someone who is perfectly able to separate what’s real from what’s not, all the time, and will never confuse them).

Triggering the ‘uncanny valley’ effect

So what does all the above have to do with breast forms? 🙂

No matter what your approach is — philosophical or scientific — it is important to recognise that the way our brain gets an image from reality and ‘believes’ in it depends on a lots of factors, but, among those, visuals are probably the more important aspect. In computer graphics there is the notion of the ‘uncanny valley’ — when photorealistically-generated imaging (in movies, and these days also in games…) are so perfectly accurate, that the slightest detail that is ‘wrong’ will immediately make our brain ‘disbelieve’ what it perceives as reality. Hollywood, in the recent years, has improved their special effects budget in computer graphics to the point that we’re completely ‘tricked’ into believe that what we see is ‘really real’.

Similarly, we get bombarded with photoshopped images on ads, and ‘believe’ they’re real. For almost a decade now, no single shampoo ad on TV has been ‘real’ — in the sense that every single frame of the ad has been post-processed to ‘improve reality’ — making women more gorgeous and hair more shiny — but because the ‘illusion’ is so perfect, we take it for granted. We might even be aware that the models on the front cover of Vogue not only have makeup, but the image has been heavily processed. Still, if there are no ‘obvious’ clues to make our brain ‘disbelieve’ the illusion, we still ‘believe’ that the picture on Vogue was taken from a ‘real’ model, who ‘really’ looks like that in ‘reality’. Or perhaps, these days, thanks to much better availability of information regarding photo editing tools, we might not really ‘believe’ that the model on Vogue looks exactly like she does on the cover, but we at least still believe that there might be a model that looks close to that.

The thin line separating ‘reality’ from ‘illusion’ often gets broken that way. A subtly taken picture on a Facebook profile, enhancing the owner’s best features while downplaying the worst, are taken as ‘real’ — until we meet that person ‘in the flesh’ and realize the differences. We might recognize the person without a shadow of doubt, but we also see how the ‘real picture’ on a Facebook profile does not exactly correspond to the person in front of us.

So, when presenting myself ‘as a female’, whether online or ‘in the real world’, I strive to blur that thin line between ‘reality’ and ‘illusion’. Sometimes that’s no easy task. Behind a webcam, without further references, it’s not easy to figure out my true height. But when I’m on the street, walking on my heels, and wearing a wig which adds an extra inch — I’m a ‘giantess’ measuring 1.90m or so, which will catch attention wherever I go, because the average woman in my country will be 20 cm shorter, at least. I can’t ‘disguise’ my height in the ‘real world’. But — I can make it appear less significant. This is accomplished by making my silhouette more curvy.

There is an old trick, always worth repeating — you don’t need to be born with the ‘perfect’ 90-60-90 hourglass figure (36-24-36 for you Americans). What the brain pays attention to is to the 30 cm (about 12 inches) difference between the chest/hip and waist measurements. And, in fact, if you’re tall and have a large frame (as I do), those ‘perfect’ measurements are impossible to achieve, no matter what (not even with radical surgery). Instead, I go for a visual hourglass effect of 116-86-116. As you can notice, the difference between the measurements is the same 30 cm. Looking from a distance, without a real estimate of what my height is, my silhouette looks astonishingly ‘hourglassy’, because all proportions are ‘right’ — even the larger measurements are ‘in proportion’ with my height. It’s only when someone comes close to me that they notice how tall I am, and, of course, this will dispel the illusion.

It took me some time to arrive at those proportions. I started, very early on, buying a corset and a pair of latex breast forms, later switching to some silicone ones. They never ‘looked right’. It was just by adjusting here and there that I came to some better results. For instance, there is a limit to the tight-lacing I can do on the corset, without really starting to hurt my internal organs — I’m not a tight-lacing fetishist — so that was my ‘base’ measurement to start with. This meant that those ‘tiny’ C cups which I originally bought wouldn’t be enough. I was weary to buy ‘too big’ forms, because I didn’t want to look too exaggerated, but — surprisingly — it was during the fitting at the Amoena shop that they picked the ‘right’ size for my body frame. I certainly expected to buy them smaller! But I understood what the shop owner meant: I have a very large chest — compared to a female — and just plopping two tiny, protruding breasts on the middle of a vast chest would look hopelessly wrong. Breast tissue starts to grow from the armpits! And I didn’t merely want to have some nice cleavage, visible from the front; I should be also somewhat convincing from the profile as well (harder to achieve, in my case).

But while I’ve got a passable body when clothed it also means that I cannot take my clothes off and still maintain the illusion.

Now, some of you might say that this is wholly irrelevant; people who are attracted to crossdressers will not care how they look beneath their clothing; they desire their bodies, no matter what. While that is certainly correct — and, strangely enough, there are more males with the fetish to have sex with a crossdresser than actual crossdressers! — that’s not exactly what I’m aiming at. I don’t wish to be seen as a ‘crossdresser’, and to ‘fit’ into the stereotype of what crossdressers do and how they look like. Instead, I wish to pass as a woman. I’m fine in looking like an ugly woman; I much rather prefer that to be called a pretty crossdresser, which feels almost an insult to me (I know people don’t say such things meant as an insult; of course I don’t mind any kind of flattery!). However, I understand this might not be obvious to those who only see crossdressing as part of a sexual fetish, where this notion is much less relevant.

Shaping up for success

So, sure, unless you’re androgynous like the ‘male’ (?) model Andrej Pejić, who has such a perfect body that s/he can pose both male and female clothes — and, in the case of the ‘female’ role, Andrej can even model push-up bras and carry it off:

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Andrej was born as a male. No, she didn’t take hormones. No, she didn’t have any surgery. She just looks naturally like that.

— then it’s rather likely that your own body will be ‘too male’ to look good without clothes.

Andrej does not need to worry about her ‘curvy’ figure. She has the perfect supermodel body — skinny, tall, flat-chested — so everything will look nice on her. Or him, when Andrej models as a male. This already lead to some rather polemic shots of Andrej showing his male chest on the cover of a popular magazine — it was censored in the US because readers might be lead to believe they were seeing a topless woman (and not a topless man, which would be fine).

The rest of us have no such luck — if we show our chests, there will be no doubt that we are male. Clearly ‘fake’ breast forms will not only make things worse — it will make it ridiculous. It will not only completely dispel the illusion, it will totally backfire!

So, the only alternative to keep all your clothes on, is to get the most realistic-looking breast forms that technology can produce (either RealBreast™ or some of their competitors). That’s the only way to continue to spin the illusion, and feel comfortable about it — it only works if nobody knows about it!

Obviously, once that barrier has been overcome, there are more to deal with — the bottom part is notoriously harder to deal with. The corset, for instance, might be impossible to lose — unless you’re very skinny. Below that, there is Gurl Shorts™, also from the manufacturer of RealDoll. They have a bit more competition, but here the problem is wear and tear — I’ve been told that silicone, by itself, is not a good material to be constantly under ‘stress’ (pulling the ‘gurl shorts’ on and off every day, spending a lot of time sitting on them, etc.). It’s very hard to get good evaluations of those products. As you’ve probably read, I went for the Veronica 5 which doesn’t use silicone but a gel which is a very good ‘flesh analogue’, designed to be sturdy and allow you to spend ages sitting on it if you wish. It is something you can’t ‘glue’ on top of your skin — there are competing products allowing that, though — so it always requires a special garment on top of it. It also means no bathing suits (sadly). You can pull up your skirt and show the garment, but it is not particularly sexy, even though the designers did the best they could, adding a lot of lace to it. Again, it’s wonderful to be used under your clothes, but it’s not something you can ‘show off’ if you wish to take your clothes off.

The Gurl Shorts and similar products have an interesting design, where you get a fake vagina. The ‘plumbing’ inside them allows you to pee ‘like a woman’, if you wish, but it also allows penetration, if you’re into that — you will actually ‘feel’ things (not merely in your mind, but through your physical touch sense) because anyone penetrating your silicone vagina will be rubbing their penis against yours. It also means that visually you can masturbate yourself, tricking your body to believe that you’re reaching inside a ‘real’ vagina and touching the alleged clitoris, when in fact you’ll be rubbing your thingy inside. It’s very cleverly done, but, again, I have not managed to find many reviews — it looks like an extreme fetish ‘toy’, which is used by communities that aren’t ‘social’ and don’t talk much about it.

I find the idea interesting, to say the least, because, again, it’s all about cheating your brain. Remembering the ‘rubber hand’ example, you saw how people get stimulated not only visually, but also by the sense of touch (using the brush), and that’s what makes the brain ‘believe’ that the rubber hand, which it can see, is the ‘real’ hand. If you have a fake vagina which you can touch inside and actually ‘feel’ your penis being stimulated, your brain will be ‘persuaded’ that you’re masturbating as a woman, because, in this case, your visual perception will be enhanced by the touching feeling ‘inside’. How well this works is something I cannot say, but I can imagine it to be very accurate.

Even with my tight pants/gaffer I sense things slightly differently — they will cover my penis and put it into a different position than usually, so stroking it while tightly ‘packed’ that way makes the sensation quite different. The Veronica 5 also has an interesting design, where its opening (to allow you to pee) is straight below, and not to the front — so it feels quite different from male panties which open to the front. I’m sure that the design is not accidental. In fact, it’s much easier to pee sitting down when using the Veronica 5 — try doing it standing up and ‘accidents’ will happen!

Go ‘natural’?

At this point, I guess that many of you will still not be persuaded about my theories on body transfer illusion. In fact, there is a class of crossdressers where the idea of adding so much padding makes everything much less ‘convincing’. Their point is that women come in all shapes and sizes, so, with proper clothing, you can enhance what you’ve got and downplay what you don’t. Large-size dresses (which I personally hate!) are all about that — a whole fashion industry catering to those women who haven’t got supermodel bodies but still like something nice to wear which looks good on them. So, some argue that male crossdressers should do exactly the same. And, in fact, if you look at most pictures of crossdressers, this is exactly what they do. Many don’t even bother to wear breast forms — they just use push-up bras and enhance their cleavage with some taping or makeup (or both), and that’s all they do. They still manage to look convincing as females; perhaps just not as gorgeous women, but that’s not the point — the point is feeling comfortable about one’s body, and the clothes that are worn!

My wife asked me the other day why most professional transvestite artists refuse to use any kind of padding (Conchita Wurst is a typical example of that). I only chatted with one professional, and we didn’t really talk a lot about details, but from reading several articles on the Web about the issue, it seems that many professionals are proud of their skinny, muscle-less, androgynous bodies, and, as such, they don’t want to burden themselves with any extra padding. It’s a question of pride — showing off those beautiful, lithe bodies, which could be male or female, depending only on the kind of clothes (and accessories!) they wear. In a sense, they follow the lead of Andrej — if you’re naturally skinny and have few muscles, then you can ‘pass’ as female without the need of any padding. For those professionals, the body transfer illusion is easy to accomplish — their bodies are ‘almost there’.

Some, of course, start planning to live full-time as women, and might go for hormones and breast implants. But then they’re also aware that they’re not ‘female impersonators’ any more — they just become women. Depending on what their audience is expecting from their shows, this might not be a good career move: some audiences expect them to be fully male beneath their fancy clothes on stage. It’s a bit like watching a magician performing some illusion, but, at the end, having the magician explain how the illusion is done.

The daily routine for training the body transfer illusion

So, how do we improve the body transfer illusion? Because we part-time crossdressers aiming for the ‘perfect’ female figure certainly wish to get better and better, but, on our daily routine, we might be unable to dress up as much as we wished. And that means that we will have little training in ‘playing the femme role’ — because we have little training. Is there any hope for us?

Actually, there is. Most women aren’t wearing glamorous evening gowns and having outstanding makeup every day. A few — the jet set, the celebrities, the top models and actresses — might be able to do that, but most genetic women are not in that category. They might go out for a party once per week and dress up just for that occasion — a bit like many crossdressers — but on their daily routine, either as students, working girls, or household mommas, they have little time to ‘train’ their womanly techniques of becoming gorgeous. But they still manage to do it.

I would claim that it has to do with what I call ‘glamorous maintenance’. By that I mean that you might not be able to go through the whole bag of tricks every day, but you can still do a few little things that remind you of your inner femme. I’m sure many women do the same.

Body

If you’re the working out type (I’m not!), there are wonders you can do at the gym, to slim that body down to ‘better’ proportions. The only issue here is that you will have to go through training routines that do not enhance your male muscles, but instead focus on rounding up your body so that it looks more feminine. This might attract undue attention if you go to a public gym. Fortunately, there are a lot of videos for crossdressers and transgendered people explaining what kind of exercises are appropriate — they draw a lot upon similar exercises for genetic women who wish, say, better legs, a rounder bottom, a slimmer waist, without adding unwanted muscles on the arms — and, if you have the proper equipment, you can obviously do them at home.

chi-breast-massageFor the ones willing to experiment it, you might also do the so called Chi Breast Massage at home. This is a rather simple procedure, taking 4-10 minutes every day, which is an ancient method to get some natural breast growth. Don’t expect results if you’re already very skinny, but if you have a bit of breast tissue, it might get a little more shaped by the process. While this is one of those ‘too good to be true’ things, the actual fact is that Thai/Ayurvedic/Vuddhist medicine and massage have an ancient tradition, spanning a couple of millennia, and yes, most of their techniques actually work rather well. The major problem here is getting someone who is a real massage practitioner — most people you meet announcing they do some kind of ‘Oriental’ massages have just taken a course over the weekend, or over a few months at best, and are certainly not qualified to do anything fancy (for example, a real Thai massage expert will learn from a master for 9-12 years), no matter how Oriental they look… so it’s better to stay away from them, and just follow the techniques shown on many videos. It’s actually very simple to do.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Another thing you can do is waist training with a corset. There is a difference between ‘waist training’ and ‘tight-lacing’. Tight-lacing is actually a fetish, often popular in the BDSM world, and which can become dangerous for your inner organs if you go too far (people in the BDSM community might keep tabs on each other to avoid a ‘newbie’ tight-lacer to overdo it; but if you do it yourself, without supervision, be careful). Tight-lacers might be wearing corsets 23 hours a day, just taking them off to take a bath (but most definitely sleeping in them). However, without going to extremes, I certainly have noticed some differences by wearing a corset for 3-4 hours, say, 3-4 days per week. No, my tummy fat hasn’t magically disappeared, but there is a certain ‘lasting’ effect on the ‘new’ waist seen from the sides — I was sure that I used to be completely straight there, and now there is a slightly rounded depression. Waist training does work, over time, to a degree. It will also help with posture, and that makes a lot of difference (I’ll address this below again).

The whole purpose here is to slowly get your body into a more feminine shape, which will boost your self-confidence, as well as help to trigger the body transfer illusion. These ought to be things you do to your body on a regular basis, which enhance your feminine image, without anyone noticing. But you do. It’s wonderful to know that beneath your set of male clothes, you’re actively pushing your body into a more feminine shape, and even if it’s not noticeable to anybody but you, that’s what counts!

Body hair

Fashion dictates that women ought to have super-smooth, silky skin (actually, it’s been in fashion for almost 3,000 years in the West). So we, who have the wrong genes for that, take pains to accomplish the same thing. Fortunately, it is now socially acceptable for males to get rid of their body hair, too, although many who are married/live with their partners might be prevented to do that.

Women, unless they have serious hormonal issues, might not really have much body hair to start with, but more ‘problem spots’ here and there, which might only be visible, say, in summer, when wearing short  skirts/dresses or on the beach. Still, permanent body hair removal is readily available these days, and is relatively cheap — and of course it works even better for males (because we usually have darker, coarser hair, which a laser will pick up much better than thin, fine hair).

I guess there are two schools of thought here. One would claim that the routine of shaving all body hair off every week (or twice a week…) actually improves the body transfer illusion, as you’re getting in touch with the newly found sensation of having a smooth, sensitive skin underneath your clothes, enhancing the physical sensation of having ‘a skin as silky as a woman’s’. So, shaving it often reinforces that feeling. The other school of thought takes into account that, for most males, shaving the body hair will just last 2-3 days, then it becomes prickly and has the exact opposite effect (long body hair can feel ‘silky’ too, but in a different way — after all, we love fluffy, hairy pets!), until you shave it again. A permanent solution will leave your skin smooth and silky all the time, and you will be aware of that sensation 24h/day — not to mention the time saved before each crossdressing session.

In my case, I took many years to go from the point that I only shaved on my face — and used protective clothing over the arms and legs to cover the body hair, and avoided low-cut dresses — going through routinely shaving of the hands, then the upper chest area (thus allowing me to show some cleavage), to occasional shaving of the arms and legs (strangely enough, only during winter… because I didn’t want it to be much noticeable), to the point where I simply don’t care any more. Cyclists, swimmers, and surfers, routinely shave their body hair or even go for laser hair removal, and this is ‘in’ and ‘fashionable’ for males, too. In fact, many women think that their partners are ‘slobs’ and egoists if they demand that she gets rid of all her body hair, while he has no intentions of doing the same. Other women actually love male body hair, while hating her own body hair. It’s not easy to find a compromise.

For me, however, the option has been to go for a permanent solution, mostly because of the time spent in shaving it all off (and the complains I get from my wife that I spend too much time in the bathroom!). But obviously I love the idea of having a super-smooth, silky skin all the time. When nobody is noticing I can rub my hands over my silky legs, and feel very femme about it. That’s the whole point of helping to induce the body trigger illusion — those silky legs definitely look like a woman’s, to both eyes and touch. And that’s the whole point here.

Hair

Long is gone the hundred-year-tyranny that women wear long hair, men wear short hair. The fashion for hair length has never been firmly established, and for most time in our history, across most cultures, men would not cut their hair short. I believe that this trend started somewhere in Ancient Greece and was replicated by the Romans, which still serve as an example for our Western civilization. But clearly during most of the post-Roman era, men wore their hair long. It was quite common in the 18th century, and even as late as the 19th, many men would wear long hair in a braid, and they wouldn’t be doing anything un-fashionable.

The issue is a bit more a question of style. While the length might have been ‘long’ for both genders, creating elaborate hairdresses is something typically female, and, at least in the West, it certainly was commonplace during the Roman days (and probably among the Greeks as well). Since those days, women never stopped to style their hair, while men just let it grow, unkempt and unstyled, and just braided it to keep it away from the eyes.

So, if you can pull it off, you can let your hair grow and wear it in a braid. A trick a friend of mine told me is that, when it’s long enough, you can get a hairdresser to style it in a feminine way which is undetectable when you’re wearing it in a braid. This sounds like the perfect solution to me! No more wigs; nothing like the perfectly smooth sensation of having your own hair tickling your bare shoulders, and with a style that you can change and maintain over time. During the day, in a braid, it will be unnoticeable; at home you can wear it loose. Combine that with a smooth, hair-free skin, and every day at home is crossdressing day — no fuss, no time to waste, no long routine in doing complex makeup (and remove it afterwards) — just shake your hair loose, put on something feminine, slip your feet into some feminine slippers, and that’s all you need to relax and feel comfortable in your femme image.

Obviously, if you’re balding — which will happen to the vast majority of males anyway — this won’t work. And, of course, many wives might allow you to pull on a wig, but not style your own male hair in a feminine way, even if nobody will know that, since most of the time it will be braided.

Others, by contrast, specially if seriously balding, will just shave off all their hair, which will make some wig styles work much better. In my case, I’m just doing a compromise. I tried to grow it longer, but my wife seriously objected. So, instead, I do a slightly ingenious short cut which will become unnoticeable under a wig. But that’s certainly not the same thing as wearing your own hair long and having it cut in a feminine way…

Skin

Our bodies have a time limit for growth and self-regeneration. Until you’re about 27, everything will regenerate at a faster rate than deteriorate. That’s why you can tolerate huge hangovers in your early twenties, which — usually! — don’t have serious consequences: the body will heal on its own. Up to that age, you will not have any wrinkles, and the skin’s elasticity will self-repair, even under aggressive abuse (pollution, sun, etc.).

The trouble with most of us is that we believe we’re immortal, and that old age only happens to others. If we keep a reckless lifestyle after we’re 27, we’ll hit the limits of what the body can repair on its own. The most noticeable effect will be on the skin (and, for most males, on the hair as well) — it will lose its hydration, it will become less elastic over time, it will discolour, get wrinkles, and so forth.

The process is, so far, relatively irreversible, but you can help the skin along for a while. This means starting to use creams. Most creams are designed to keep the skin hydrated, protected from the sun and other aggressive agents, keep its elasticity, and, in general, make it look young, bright, and healthy. As age progresses, and one’s skin loses more and more ability to self-regenerate, you need more ‘intensive’ creams.

Creams are different for each body part. The skin on the eyes and the lips is far thinner and delicate than on the arms and legs; similarly, the face’s skin is different from the rest of the body. Hands and feet have special needs, because they are always in contact with objects (hands) or wrapped in tight-fitting shoes (feet). So, yes, that means having a large battery of different creams for all of that.

How good are they? Well, most only work long-term, so it’s difficult to say. What I can say for myself is that, in spite of being 44 (going on 45), I have no ‘chicken feet’ on the eye edges, unlike pretty much everybody around me who has the same age. I have just the barest wrinkles on my forehead, but that’s all. When freshly shaved, my skin is baby-smooth. Now, my closest comparison is with my own brother, who is almost two years younger than me, and shares (at least) half of my genes. Because he never took care of his skin, and used to burn it during the summer vacations to a crisp, he now has more wrinkles than my own father (who is 85!), and definitely looks to be about ten years older than me. He used to be an athlete, and that still gives him a good posture, and plenty of muscles, but clearly he’s ‘downhill’ in the age business — all that because he couldn’t care much about his skin.

I have a long daily routine with all the products I use. Some are off-the-shelf body lotions; others, much more expensive, are appropriate to use 15 days before a laser hair removal session and should be used 15 days afterwards. I also scrub myself once a week or so (more than that might be more harmful than giving a benefit). My hair is probably the part of my body that gets the least attention, probably mainly because I know that there is not much I can do to prevent hair loss 🙂 But I can certainly do an effort on the rest of the skin!

Well-hydrated skin on the face and the eyes is also an advantage when applying makeup; not only it’s easier to do, it won’t look ‘cakey’ afterwards. You can also get away by wearing less — in fact, some might wish to ‘show off’ perfectly healthy skin, instead of throwing too much foundation on it (of course, that will depend mostly on how you deal with facial hair — Conchita Wurst very likely doesn’t bother with foundation 🙂 ).

Nails

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Showing off my nails at the office. Yes, they look like this every day.

Nails are one of those things where we’re really ‘crossing the line’. Most of us will really not bother with the nails — just glue on some of those cheap kits which have double-sided adhesive, and you’re ready to go out crossdressed! And, in fact, I agree that’s the simplest way to get ‘perfect nails’, and they create an almost flawless illusion. Also, if you’re worried that the false nails look ‘too fake’, think again! In my country, for the past half decade, we have been swamped by legions of expert Brazilian manicurists, and, as a result, what once was a rarity — getting your nails done — is now commonplace, as it’s cheaper to get your nails professionally done than eating at MacDonald’s! As a result, every woman gets them done these days, but the quality varies — specially because having them looking outrageously ‘fake’, decorated with all sorts of nail art, pierced, each nail a different colour, etc., all are popular and permissive. Fake acrylic nails with double-sided adhesive are almost unnaturally good-looking compared to the alternatives!

Still, it’s very fun to grow your own natural nails and paint them yourself; I find it a very ’empowering’ moment to cross the barrier towards the body transfer illusion. There are a few caveats, though. It’s not merely growing them long. That’s just part of the issue (and yes, genetic women also suffer from weak nails!). The main issue is keeping them beautiful — painted or not.

If you spent most of your adult life just murdering your nails with a scissor, then it needs some time to ‘retrain’ the nails to get them look nice. My advice is to let them grow a bit over your ‘comfort zone’, even if they look ugly at first, and get them professionally done at a salon. The manicurist will do her best to make them look nice (but she needs the extra length to have something to work with!). This might be time-consuming for the first time, and if your cuticles (the skin ‘flap’ near the nail) look awful (like mine used to be), then be prepared — they might even bleed a little. Nothing to worry about, but if you wish to be extra-careful, demand that the manicurist opens a new set of clipping tools just for you (these days, there are such things). To be honest, that only happened to me once, and that was really when I begun maintaining my nails in earnest — they were really in bad shape back then.

It is acceptable for males to use transparent polish. Matte is ‘safer’, but I understand that these days even males can wear shiny transparent polish. The polish will also protect the nails, so it’s not merely a cosmetic issue. Matte polish is virtually undetectable. Your office colleagues will notice much sooner that you’re taking care of your nails than detecting the polish, so you’ll be safe.

Now comes the trick: if your nails or cuticles are in a bad shape, the first thing to do is to daily use some nail & cuticle oil on them. There are products that do both (I use one from Kiss, which can be bought online or from speciality shops). The nail, unlike I thought (and I guess most people think the same way), is not water-proof. In fact, a lot of chemicals can pass through the nail and enter the nail bed. This is a reason for using only high-quality polish (or other products). But it also explains why rubbing cuticle oil over the nail will, in time, also benefit the nail itself: cuticle oil is designed to be absorbed by the nail as well as the surrounding skin.

Nails take some time to grow, but, within months, a nail that gets some oil or cream every day will grow much nicer than before. The cuticles will get in much better shape than that, though. I suffered from ‘flaky’ cuticles. Three days after having them done at a salon, the cuticles would immediately ‘split’ into ‘flakes’, or get hard (like a tiny callus). I was constantly cutting them, but it seemed hopeless, they would never look so great as when I went to the salon. Why? The reason was simple: too dry cuticles. When they’re not properly hydrated, then they will ‘flake’ and ‘split’ and grow those tiny calluses. Ack! If I only had asked the manicurist before! After a week and a half of using cuticle oil every night, the difference was simply amazing. I guess that this particular manicurist somehow ‘lost’ a customer, because now I know the trick, I can avoid going that often to the salon 🙂

In fact, asking the manicurist what to do to have your nails in a good shape is a good idea. of course, they’re also doing business, but, in general, they will give good advice. They might suggest a ‘paraffin bath’. This is a way to let essential oils ‘seep in’ much deeper into the hand’s skin, by soaking the hands in paraffin mixed with all necessary oils, which will be absorbed much better that way. Don’t do this at home, though, or you risk burning yourself! I’m sure salons use special paraffin for that…

Doing regular maintenance also means learning how to file your nails regularly. I have heard of several techniques, e.g. how you should only file in one direction (always from the base to the top, doing one side of the nail first, then the other). On most salons I went, however, the manicurists just file them in both directions, and I seriously cannot notice any difference. What I can say is that it’s much, much easier to do it with a professional file. They’re far more expensive, that’s true, but they’re easier to handle. There is also a trick, which I cannot reproduce perfectly, to know exactly how much you should file. Because each fingernail grows at a different rate, it’s not always easy to keep them all at the same size. Professional files, when used at an edge, will file at the exactly the ‘right’ spot, when you rest them at the base of the finger. Very clever of them.

‘How long’ you’ll grow them is, obviously, a big question. These days, I keep them 2-3 mm over the fingertip, and I’m increasing it very very slowly. You see, the main problem is that at the beginning the ‘white edge’ will be very noticeable. This means that everybody will notice how huge your fingernails are, and start asking embarassing questions. But over time, I’ve noticed that it’s the whole nail that grows, and, as such, you can file just the ‘white edge’ away (better: make it thin), and then it won’t be so noticeable. So I’m constantly watching out to see that the ‘white edge’ doesn’t grow too much, while still trying to get away with the nails as long as I can.

Thanks to the daily cuticle oil treatment, my nails are hard and healthy as I never had them before. I don’t fear breaking nails any longer! Also, they’re as strong on the tip as on the rest of the nail — which is how they should be. So, naturally, I get encouraged to grow them longer and longer, although we’re talking really about fractions of millimeters here!

When to stop? Well, for me, the ‘right length’ is when you have to naturally start to move your hands differently. If you’re used to fake fingernails, you know how it is — for example, you have to type in a way that the nail doesn’t touch the keyboard. You quickly learn to hold small things with your fingertips without touching them with the nail — from car keys to handling coins, etc. When doing that with fake nails glued on, you’ll notice how naturally feminine your gestures become — there is no magic in that, women have to use those gestures when they have long fingernails (and, because they’re so conditioned to do that, even when they cut their nails, they will still continue to use the same gestures).

We all have experienced that. Well, now I can experience that every day. Notice that this doesn’t mean that I’m doing all sorts of feminine or ‘gay’ movements in public! That’s not quite my point; you don’t need to go into extremes! It just means that I have to pay attention to what I’m doing — constantly. That’s an excellent training, because, when crossdressed, all those gestures are now completely natural, since I train every day in them.

You can see from the picture above that my nails are not outrageously large. In fact, nobody notices them. My ‘final trick’ was really having them looking healthy and well-cared. The extra length — these days, almost half a centimeter more than what I used to have — is completely unnoticeable by anyone. Of course, if I start neglecting the daily care, someone will immediately notice them.

Another trick, learned from my female familiars, is that to have nice, big nails, you don’t necessarily need to grow them. Instead, using an orange stick, you can just slowly push the cuticles back, further and further, exposing more and more of your nail. Of course, you can only do that if your cuticles are in a very good condition. And there are limits to how far it can go: after all, the cuticle is there to protect the nail. But, with time and patience, your nails can become visually longer that way. I get rather good results on my thumb nail, and on the little finger; but less so on the other three. And yes, I usually also ask the manicurist to do that for me as well (they have better tools).

My mother-in-law, using that technique, has some enormous nails. But, in fact, her nails are slightly shorter than mine (in terms of overall growth beyond the fingertip). She could grow them much longer if she wished, but she keeps them trimmed because of her many activities, both at home and elsewhere. So, to get visually larger nails, she just pushed the cuticles further and further back, over a period of many years. They look awesome that way. Clever, isn’t she?

Doing the toenails is much simpler, because, unless you’re a beach/swimming pool fan, the truth is that nobody will know. Well, unless you also wear flip-flops in the summer. I don’t, so I can get my toenails painted almost all year. This gives me good training in painting nails anyway (even though the toenails are much simpler to do) and my wife even finds it amusing.

Toenails are also simpler to take care of, because they grow much slower than fingernails. One thing that I’ve learned is that red polish tends to leave a ‘yellowish’ tint on them, if it’s worn over extended periods (it’s certainly my case), and that’s due to one of the pigments used in red polish. To get it off, you use some vinegar or lemon juice.

It’s not advisable to let the toenails grow too much. I keep them relatively short for that reason. Some women do grow them a bit, specially in the summer, when they wish to show them off in sandals or peep-toe heels, but, really, it’s not a very healthy thing to do, mostly because when you’re wearing regular shoes, they will be under pressure. Also, we wash our hands several times a day, while we don’t have the same amount of hygiene with the feet, meaning that bacteria and fungi can accumulate under the toenails if they’re too long. So, my advise is to paint them, but keep away from growing them too much. You can still push the cuticles back, too, it works almost as well as with the fingernails 🙂

When I dress with sandals, I tend to paint both the toenails and the fingernails the same colour, because I find it more cute that way 🙂 But these days, the fashion is really ‘no rules’, and there is no problem in having them done in a different colour. This is specially the case for nail art, of course, which will be different and individual on each nail — finger or toe.

I’m not much into nail art myself, so I can’t really talk much about it 🙂

What I did consider is to get some acrylic nail extensions. These days, all these things are rather cheap to do, and, if you got time, patience, and some talent, you can do them at home. The purpose here is to create a longer, stronger nail which looks like an exact extension of your own fingernail. Instead of simply gluing something over the nail — which will always look a bit ‘fake’ — this technique just adds an acrylic tip to the end of the nail, and a very thin acrylic coat over your real nail, to make everything uniform. It looks awesomely realistic. Full-time women can certainly get away with it, but not us part-time crossdressers: unlike fake nails or nail polishing, removing an acrylic nail requires an expert and has to be done at a salon, it doesn’t come off by itself. But I’ve always dreamed of taking a week off to be crossdressed 24h/7, start with getting some acrylic nails, and finish the holidays to remove them. Of course, if I ever did that, I’d do hair extensions as well instead of relying upon a wig 🙂

Ah, it’s lovely to dream…

Still, I’m happy with my natural nails and their current size. So much, in fact, that for a couple of years I haven’t won any falsies. I have even looked at them (safely stowed away for future use) and most are the same size as my current nails! Others, of course, are far longer, but I tended ever to overdo them. So I guess I should be content with what I got and what I can do 🙂

Sure, it means more nail maintenance — another routine to add to all my chores! — but, for me, it’s quite worth the effort!

Clothes, underwear

The community is often very harsh on the ‘partial crossdressers’. There is a reason for that: many online communities for crossdressers are constantly being ‘predated’ upon by guys who have the fetish to get sex with crossdressers. As such, most of the online social sites for crossdressers tend to be ‘exclusive’ and only accept other crossdressers and transgendered people. So what do the ‘predators’ do? They get some panties and stockings, take a picture of themselves, and claim to be ‘true crossdressers’, always admitting they’re on the beginning stages, and looking for tips and help from the community…

Because of that, there is some actual prejudice against ‘partial crossdressers’, because they are always suspected of being ‘predators in disguise’. And, in fact, most are; that’s why many online sites demand full-body pictures, or at least from the torso up, where you can see if someone has done their makeup, coordinated accessories, has a good wig, and so forth. But there are exceptions, and these partial crossdressers are part of the LGBT community as so many others — and should be accepted fully by us.

‘Partial crossdressing’ had its time in my own evolution as Sandra. When I had nothing else but a bra, some panties, and some stockings, that’s all I wore, and had to imagine the rest. But it was clear that it wasn’t enough. Most crossdressers and many transgendered people go through the same process: in order to trigger the body transfer illusion, you can start with very little, but soon you need more and more. So, in a sense, we have all started by being partial crossdressers.

At some point — I can’t remember when — I know that I started to wear women’s underwear under my ‘male’ clothes. This was specially true when I knew I would be many weeks without crossdressing. At the very least, I would use an (empty) bra, some panties, some stockings or pantyhose; sometimes I would use a corset as well. This was not really a ‘replacement’ for full crossdressing, but it was something which made me always self-conscious. Would anyone notice? Would anyone make a comment? Specially with a corset on, I move differently — the corset encourages a good posture.

Then, for many years, I gave up on that. It was fun to a degree, but not overly so

These days, because I have the office often for myself (I work very late hours, while waiting for my wife to finish her classes at the university), I tend to pack my underwear and padding in the laptop suitcase, and wear them after my last colleague leaves. Then I go out with my D cup breastforms under my male clothes and go for dinner, go to a laundrymat, go shopping for food (or even clothes!), etc. Because I have very loose male jackets and coats, nobody has ever noticed anything, but it gives me a thrill wearing them 🙂 A few times I even wore a female top — again, invisible under the coat — so it was certainly thrilling.

And there was one time, when I had picked up my wig from the hairdresser, and had bought a dress on a shop, that I was fully dressed in the office, shoes and all. Of course, I didn’t have any makeup (but had brought some earrings with me), but still, I went out to the fire stairway for a smoke (which is where everybody in the office goes). In the middle of the night, there was obviously nobody around.

It’s also rare, but sometimes I drive around partially dressed. This only works when I’m alone for a few hours and have places to dress and undress quickly. I might start from a public garage with a nearby bathroom to change, then drive near to the office, where there are some safe alleys (but empty) where I can quickly take away a wig, stuff it into the laptop suitcase, put my coat on top of the rest, and walk to the office.

So, why all these things? What’s the point in doing them?

I think that there are some good reasons for that, and they might not all be related to the body transfer illusion. I guess that should go into another article, then 🙂

Until then, I hope you enjoy yourself triggering the boy transfer illusion — and truly become the woman you always dreamed you were, even if everybody else doesn’t quite share the same inner experience you’ve got!


[*] Note that I don’t endorse Blanchard’s theory of ‘autogynephilia’ as he defines it. I still find it a useful word to express ‘getting excited by one’s female image’, no matter if Blanchard’s theory is completely flawed and useless. I understand that these days people prefer to use the word crossdreamer instead.

  • Claudia Sofia

    Olá Sandra,
    Já te enviei um mail mas, infelizmente, esqueci o endereço daí não saber o teu e-mail. Agradecia que mo enviasses de novo para este email: [email protected] (o outro era [email protected]).
    Vivo agora no Algarve de onde sou natural.
    Sou casada e tenho desde à muito tempo andado com problemas no casamento. Neste momento acabei com ele, sai de casa e estou a viver com a minha irmã (vou ficar por aqui, penso, até finais de Setembro que é quando a época balnear acaba e existe mais oferta de casas para alugar).
    Desde pequena que gosto de me vestir de mulher, comecei a usar as roupas de minha mãe depois parei. Serviço militar, guerra colonial, etc. sabes quais os problemas que existiam na altura.
    Depois casei e comecei a usar as roupas da minha mulher e algumas que ia comprando e guardava bem escondidas.
    Divorciei-me e vivi uns tempos nos Açores onde passava bastante tempo vestido de mulher e quando não estava totalmente vestido foram 2 anos em que não soube o que foi vestir cuecas de homem.
    depois casei novamente e foram 6 anos em que, praticamente, não usei roupas femininas.
    Agora, logo que o divorcio estela concluído (advogados a tratar do assunto) quero ir viver afastado da família, mas mantendo-me no Algarve, para poder voltar a ter as minhas roupinhas e ver se consigo sair de casa vestida de mulher que é o que eu sinto ser (talvez experimente umas hormonas).
    Gostava de falar contigo para que me aconselhes o que deverei comprar e onde comprar (temos o problema de alfandega se for fora da UE), cabeleira, seios, cinta ou espartilho, várias coisas e principalmente sobre maquilhagem de que nada percebo.
    Adorava que existissem crossdressers aqui no Algarve para fazer amizade e que me auxiliassem quer na forma de me arranjar quer para sair de casa. Talvez conheças alguém.
    Quando poderes responde.