Raising the bar

Carnival. That’s the season in the year where anybody can dress as they wish and nobody will even look twice at you. It is the equivalent of Halloween in the Anglo-Saxonic world, without the gothic overtones.

Typically, Carnival is associated with Brazil, which definitely helped to turn it very popular throughout the world. It is, however, a local adaptation (thanks to being held in the summer) from much older traditions, probably originating in Italy. Christians commemorate Lent starting on the day after Carnival, and that means a period of fasting, or at least of not eating meat. So, historically, on the days before Lent began, people would eat as much meat they could, in order not to have it spoilt. This, in turn, prompted Christians to hold banquets and parties, to consume all excesses. Lent is also a time of reflection, of piousness; so all ‘excesses’ would be done a few days before Lent, and that also meant outrageous behaviour and a breaking of all the rules — but also a sense of tolerance (accepting all kinds of behaviour) and of equanimity (the nobility and the peasants would enjoy the feasting side-by-side). It might sound strange to look at the Carnival in Brazil and think of it as a religious event with some profound meaning!

From Italy, Carnival quickly spread to the Catholic countries of France, Portugal and Spain, and that happened in medieval times. Portugal, of course, brought it to the island of Madeira, in the middle of the Atlantic, where in 1424, almost six hundred years ago, the first European town outside of Europe, Funchal, was founded — a hundred years after that, Funchal was already a city, and ships travelling to recently discovered Brazil would stop there before doing the rest of the journey. Carnival was already quite well-established there, and quickly exported to the new colonies in Brazil. It’s fair to say that Brazilians celebrate Carnival for over 500 years. Other European countries, of course, exported the tradition elsewhere; that’s why New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras, ‘imported’ there by the French.

Carnival is not uniformly celebrated across my country, and each city has its particular ‘flavour’ and traditions — not unlike what happens elsewhere in Europe. There is no ‘standard Carnival’, although some things are common: it is a party and you’re supposed to eat a lot; social norms and rules are conventionally broken; role reversals are accepted; humour is part of the whole event; it usually lasts a few days, and, at the end, there is a presiding ‘King of Carnival’ who is formally ‘executed’ (how that happens depends on the local tradition). Until very recently, Carnival was an official holiday in Portugal, therefore allowing the events to start on the Friday evening before, and go until Tuesday; it’s still celebrated that way in those cities where Carnival is still very popular and held in the city streets. In cosmopolitan Lisbon, it’s usually a social affair, restricted to private places, but it’s not uncommon to see people ‘dressed up’ (especially children) in the streets for those few days. On that day, it used to be common to go to the movies dressed up in our favourite characters or actors — perhaps a form of early cosplay, which, however, didn’t catch on.

"Tablao Cordobés 06" by Ruggero Poggianella - Flickr: Tablao Cordobés. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Tablao Cordobés 06” by Ruggero Poggianella – Flickr: Tablao Cordobés. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Well, to be honest, as a child, I was afraid of Carnival, because it was (and still is) popular to dress little male children as female Spanish Flamenco dancers. Why and when this tradition started is unknown to me, but it’s still quite typical, especially for males (but also for females) to dress like that. Stories abound of couples who celebrate Carnival by going out as matching Flamenco dancers.

And I was scared that my parents would find out that there was nothing that excited me more than the idea of being allowed to wear one of those glamorous dresses, even if it were just for a day. So I avoided Carnival as the plague; when I couldn’t, I usually dressed up as an astronaut or as a painter.

During most of my adult life, I totally avoided Carnival at all. There was really no interest. When I started crossdressing, however, that became a different issue. That’s the only day where crossdressers can safely walk the streets and pretty much go everywhere dressed up. And I really mean everywhere; even strictly conservative places like fancy restaurants, hotels, or casinos (here, casinos are way more conservative than in the US, and until recently, you were forced to adopt a more strict dressing code or be barred access — but I understand that the rules are much looser these days) will allow people dressed in the weirdest possible ways. Crossdressers, by contrast, might actually look boring compared to the rest of the Carnival lovers!

So for years I wished to be able to go out during Carnival, because at least on that day, nobody would really care about what I was wearing. Even if I stumbled across some acquaintance, that would be not an embarrassing situation. You can shrug it off because it’s Carnival. Even if one’s actively trying to pass, and not merely ‘dressing up in the weirdest possible way’, that’s absolutely acceptable. As mentioned, role reversals are popular during Carnival, and they’re perfectly acceptable — some people go to pains to look exactly like the role/person they’re imitating, and such behaviour is absolutely tolerated.

Unfortunately, I never had the occasion to do so before I met my wife, and after I met, until I revealed myself, I would only dress in secret, and very occasionally. It’s just after I revealed myself that I hoped to go out one day during Carnival.

But as you all know, this never happened. Until this year.

For the past days, our celebrations at the Buddhist centre have also prevented ‘celebrating’ Carnival. Carnival, like Easter, is a lunar festival — meaning that the calculations for the exact day depend on the moon’s phase. For some strange coincidence, the New Year in most of the Far East is calculated in the same way as Carnival (or perhaps it’s not a coincidence). While there are some disagreements — and that’s why the Chinese New Year is usually not on the same day as the Tibetan or Thai New Year — for the past years, the Tibetans have calculated their New Year to start precisely on the same day as Carnival. Bummer! I was stuck at the Buddhist celebrations without hope of escaping. Nevertheless, a few years ago, I at least managed to dress up late in the afternoon, drive around a bit, and go to some towns nearby where celebrations had already finished. Last year I didn’t even do that.

This year, things were different. Because the Tibetan year is not 365.25 days long, there are always a few rounding errors. This year it actually coincides with the Chinese New Year, something which only happens rarely. And, best of all, it’s not on Carnival’s Tuesday.

So I got my hopes up and started my planning. My worst case scenario, of course, was just dressing up on one of the days during the Carnival season and drive around like I did in the past. My wife, this year, has her vacations between semesters — so there was no need to pick her up at university as usual. It would however mean requiring her permission to go out.

Some years ago, the crossdressing community was very active during Carnival. Last year, things were not so organised — because it’s not a national holiday any more, it means that most people will be at work. This year, the heavy restrictions on banning holidays have been slightly relaxed, and officially, while not a holiday, companies (as well as public entities) were allowed to give their employees a day off. Still, that came for most people as a surprise, having only being announced rather late, and I guess that it was something that meant people had little time to prepare themselves.

A few groups actually organised some travelling to cities in Portugal where Carnival is very popular. But I had my own plans as well: going to the Algarve, in the south of Portugal, and where I have such good impressions about the way they treat crossdressers, and meet my good friend Cláudia, who lives there. One of the cities in the Algarve is also famous for its Carnival celebrations, so we had a good pretext to go there.

It also meant a long trip — well, long for me — of about 300 km, which in turn required some logistics.

However, things were shaping up. The week before Carnival, I had prepared myself, and was expecting to attend two events — one on Monday evening, and visit Cláudia on Tuesday. I got my wig specially conditioned for the occasion (my wife actually went with me, not suspecting my plans) and already had planned my outfits in advance. The Monday group is a bit extravagant and includes some drag queens, so I would be wearing a more bold dress with elaborate makeup, which I haven’t done in quite a while. Cláudia is fond of casual, passable dressing, so I would also use something more casual instead of a very fancy dress.

During that week, as you remember, I was struck with a nasty cold — the second this winter. Unlike the ‘flu, which has just a few strains, and it’s rare to catch a ‘flu twice in the same year, the cold has hundreds of strains, all mutating quickly every few months, making vaccination impossible. So the sad truth is that you can catch hundreds of different colds every season, and your body will never be immunized against it. The cold has a period of about three days which renders you unfit for work or going out, but some of its symptoms, like a blocked/running nose or a cough, can persist for another week or two. It would not be incapacitating, of course, but having to blow your nose every five minutes ruins your makeup! So time was running against me — would I get rid of the worst symptoms of the cold before Carnival was over? I started to see definite improvements by Friday, so it seemed possible…

Of course, there was the last — and ultimate — barrier to overcome: my wife.

On Sunday evening, after a long and exhausting day spent with my demented father, we had some well-deserved rest, had our dinner, and it was time for me to announce my plans. My friends were already waiting to see if I would fail on them once again — like I have been doing for uncountable years. But these days I try to be far more careful and state very clearly that, while I might have the intention to go, usually my wife foils all my plans, so I wouldn’t be able to confirm my presence until at the very last moment. I literally texted Cláudia saying that I would only be able to confirm my visit at the moment I was safely at the steering wheel heading southwards in my car!

As I expected, my wife’s reaction was initially negative. I should, once more, explain two or three things about my wife. On top of her three chronic physical conditions, she also suffers from anxiety. As I wrote elsewhere, this is not the kind of ‘anxiety’ we felt as kids at school before an exam, or as adults before a job interview that we desperately need. It’s not even similar to the anxiety of entering a strange, new place; or of standing in front of a large audience and doing a presentation; or of asking our future parents-in-law for the hand of our future wife-to-be. Anxiety is a mental disorder, which, at an extreme level, can emulate the physical processes during a heart attack. In fact, people can die from anxiety, thinking they’re having a stroke or a heart attack, and feeling that with such intensity, that they actually die from a heart attack. To be even more specific: not only my wife suffered from such an anxiety attack, making me drive her to the hospital as quickly as possible, to relieve her symptoms, but my very own mother effectively died from anxiety in the summer of 2013. So it’s not a ‘minor’ thing, something we ought to brush off as unimportant. Anxiety — medically diagnosed anxiety, at least — is not something to laugh at, it’s to be taken very seriously.

That’s one of the major reasons why I always ask my wife for permission to go out. I don’t want her to get an anxiety attack while I’m away, and she has nobody to take her to the hospital. Of course, lately, thanks to her therapist, and also some medication for her ’emergencies’, she’s way, way better. But it still needs to be checked, and avoid stressful situations. For her, my crossdressing in public is always a stressful situation.

One might wonder why I don’t simply lie to her, and go out inventing some sort of excuse. After all, husbands all over the world cheat on their wives, and they do it routinely. Even those who don’t — like closet crossdressers — are still able to keep their wives away from their innermost secrets.

There are several reasons for that. The first, of course, is a question of principle — I know it’s outdated, out of fashion, but I still have my principles, even though often it seems I’m the last person in my circle of friends who has any sort of scruples. I’m exaggerating, of course! But some days it does feel a little bit like that; people without scruples seem to lead such better lives…

The second reason is mostly one of trust. If I lie to my wife, and she catches me at that, it means that she will lose her trust in me. More specifically, she will never know if I’m away, crossdressed, doing things that she specifically forbade me to do, and that will trigger her anxiety to very high levels (which may even be possible fatal ones). It seems rather selfish of me to think that I can afford to let my wife die just because I want to go out with some friends! While for many people this might seem to be far-fetched and another exaggeration, I can only say that you will only start understanding what anxiety actually is when you get a close relative of yours dying from it. I already lost my mother that way. I don’t want to lose my wife as well. And most definitely I don’t want that to happen because of me.

The third main reason is, of course, pragmatic. I’m not very good at crossdressing in ‘improvised’ situations. I envy my CD friends who can grab a lipstick, some mascara, and one or two items, and hurry to a public bathroom, and get fully dressed in 15 minutes or so. I take at least three hours and I need my full array of things to do so. That means having unrestricted access to a bathroom for all those hours. So I would have to lie to my wife, prepare all my stuff well in advance and put it in the car trunk without my wife noticing, drive to a hotel and rent a room there, get dressed and then go out… besides the expense, the sheer logistics nightmare seems almost impossible for me. A typical example, if my wig disappears from my usual place, my wife will ask me what happened to the wig. I would need to have a good explanation for that — say, that it was being washed and conditioned. But I would need to have similar explanations for the rest of my (missing) stuff, not to mention having to explain what this strange new bag is doing in the car trunk. Truly, you need to be very convincing to pull something like that off, and I’m a terrible liar, having little experience — I get caught on a lie in few minutes.

But back to my wife. Besides physical and psychological problems, she also has personality issues. She fully admits to herself and to anyone who asks that she is positively anti-social. She sees no point in ‘having many friends’ and much less in going out with them. While it’s true that, for a while, in her teens, she did indeed have a relatively large group of friends who would go out four nights in a week — every week  — she feels that she has ‘outgrown’ her need for that. In fact, she only visits her ‘closest friends’ about once per year, and sometimes she might skip a year or two altogether. It’s not that she hates her friends. It’s just, well… that she doesn’t feel it’s ‘important’ to be in touch with them. I have some difficulty in explaining it, since it’s not clear to me, either. Of course, since living with her, I had to pretty much abdicate from all my own friends. I still find it surprising that it was actually easier than I thought. Pretty much everybody assumes naturally that when you start your ‘married life’, you lose all your time for your friends, so the truth is that my friends don’t hate me with a vengeance — they actually also began their own ‘married life’ and wouldn’t have any time for me anyway. In a sense this is quite sad, but that’s things how they are.

So, although we both are pretty much friend-less, there is still a major difference between my wife and myself. She is actually happy that she has ‘outgrown’ the need for friends. I, by contrast, was never truly anti-social, except during a small period in my early teens, where I really was way too shy. I enjoy being with friends, and never had many — just a few very close ones, with whom I’d hang out all the time. And I certainly miss that a lot. My wife doesn’t understand that, at least from an emotional point of view: she might understand intellectually that some people ‘need’ friends, but she doesn’t understand it emotionally. She just has one friend — myself — with whom she spends all the time, and that’s more than enough for her. In fact, her biggest compliment to me was once: ‘I like you a lot because being with you is the same as being alone by myself’. It’s perhaps strange to most people, but for us it makes perfect sense: her ultimate state of pure happiness is being alone, without being bothered by anyone, and I’m so unobtrusive that I don’t ever bother her enough to be ‘a nuisance’.

All right. So, taken all this together, perhaps I can draw a better picture. The reason why she doesn’t allow me to go out is because of her anxiety that something happens to me; but, on top of that, she truly and sincerely doesn’t understand, in an emotional way, why I should desire to be with friends. That makes it doubly difficult to ‘persuade’ her to allow me to go out dressed and meet with friends; even if I weren’t dressed, she would still not understand why I should wish to go out with them.

Back to Sunday evening. She started with her usual negative stance, but then threw the hands up in the air and said, ‘oh, why not, do whatever you think it’s best for you’. This is not the first time she said something like that. I don’t know if she expects me to take her words literally or not, but I have learned my lesson: wait and see what happens. She almost always regrets such a decision and reverts it after a few hours.

So I carefully got in touch with my friends and told them that the door was not completely closed, I actually got a temporary permission to go, there was a dim right of hope, but it was very likely that she would revert her decision.

She went peacefully back to her computer games, but I could read on her face that she was mulling over the subject. When I was starting to prepare myself to go to sleep — there would be a long day ahead on Monday, since, on top of all chores, I would have to prepare myself for two events — she asked me to wait a bit because she needed to talk more about the subject.

And, exactly as I expected, she immediately reversed her decision.

When we two talk together, it’s usually something that takes several hours. And so we did. She pretty much admitted that her ‘permission’ was something she gave in a moment of weakness, but that she really didn’t feel she should allow me to go out in broad daylight, in public, do a 300 km journey, and be with someone she doesn’t know. At that stage, she still assumed she would be coming with me. She reinforced her point: she’s not comfortable with people at all, she admits being anti-social, she hates going out with unknown people, and because she’s not very feminine in the way she talks with people, the prospect of staying several hours with two crossdressers exchanging fashion and beauty tips couldn’t be further from her idea of ‘spending a good time’. Then, of course, she accused me of indulging into excessive risks — which is a typically male trait — and runs contrary to my expectations of being ‘more female’. Females don’t take unnecessary risks. I could still crossdress at home, as often as I wished, and for as long as I wished, even taken into account that I ‘abuse’ my bathroom privileges for three long hours…

By that point, I pretty much abandoned all my plans, and left a few messages to my good friend telling me that everything was off. And I also gave up dressing on Monday. In fact, I had so many chores to do that day that we returned home impossibly late. My wife, by then, had actually reversed her decision. To my surprise, she actually said that I could go out if I wished. But I was reluctant to take her word on it. It was clear that she was still struggling with the whole concept. She already gave me permission once, and removed it a few hours later. I wasn’t going to disappoint anyone on Monday evening, so I just gave up on that. I just waited to hear about her decision reversal. But it didn’t come on Monday.

I still intended to do some crossdressing on Carnival day (Tuesday), and probably go out at 4 or 5 AM as usual, so the next morning, I went through my full routine as usual. The difference was that I started much, much earlier than usual. One of the points we talked over the long night was that I missed those days, almost a decade ago, when I started crossdressing in the morning and could stay dressed up all day — instead of what has been happening in the past years, when I rarely start my routine before 4 or 5 PM or so, have to be ready by dinner, have to do some quick after-dinner retouching, and, say, by 10 PM, I’m finally ‘finished’ and ready to enjoy myself — there is hardly any time left for that, though.

Because I still didn’t get a ‘no’ from why wife, and there was a slight hope that her decision was ‘final’ (but I was not truly counting on tha), I therefore picked a casual outfit, since my friend in the Algarve favours a passable, casual look. In spite of taking even longer than usual — almost five hours 🙂 — I was ready for lunch. In the mean time I was texting and sending private messages on Facebook. There were some rays of hope, but not many. In any case, I was dressed, I was ready, for whatever might come.

And after lunch was finished, I popped the question again.

Well, my wife had slept over the subject and was not in her usual foul moods. She admitted to two or three things. One is that she has to slowly get used to the idea that I might, one day, crossdress for extended periods — or even permanently. This surprised me to a degree, since I had not brought up that extreme point. Somehow, this is the idea she got into her mind: that one day I might go through a certain ‘transition’, which might not involve hormones and/or surgery, but nevertheless make me dress up as a woman every day. Her challenge, therefore, is to delay that day as far into the future as possible, while slowly getting used to the whole process, and making sure that she can still be part of my life when that happens. Note that she used when, not if.

Well, my most faithful readers know that I have certainly toyed with that idea for a while, but quickly abandoned it as being utterly irrealistic. More crossdressing, yes, for sure; with more liberty and freedom, definitely; some slight body modifications… well, so far as they’re safe for my health and are easily disguised, sure, I would enjoy that. But I’m quite aware that I cannot live in my society as a woman in full time. Apparently, however, my own wife is giving that thought a much more serious consideration than I do!

The other point, of course, was the present, not the far-fetched future. She admitted that she should not be constantly preventing me to go out with my friends. Because she finds ‘going out with friends’ a basically pointless activity, she is aware that this is just her own point of view, who doesn’t really ‘need’ to go out with her friends to be happy. But she is aware that others, including myself, have different views on the subject.

So we were fundamentally avoiding the whole issue of her anxiety, and I brought that up. I told her that I had already given up on the whole idea, on the basis that I don’t want her to be anxious during all the time I would be away, or, worse, getting drugged to oblivion with her anti-anxiety drugs. But she said she would be fine, as long as I promised to drive safely and text her frequently to let her know how I was.

Well, talk about a change of opinion! I think my heart jumped at that, and, before she changed her mind, I got ready in the fastest time possible — way faster than I usually take before going out. I knew that she could regret her last words in minutes. And of course, even on the road, she could always text me to get me back; but the first and possibly biggest hurdle — going out in broad daylight, be seen by the neighbours — would have happened anyway, and coming back after minutes or hours would be twice as risky.

I actually only texted my friend when I was already driving away. I didn’t even manage to update most of my Facebook threads, but eventually did that later.

Years ago, I had bought a pair of femme sunglasses (a cheap Chinese copy of a classical D&G style) for exactly this occasion. To be honest, I didn’t really believe I was so lucky as to be able to wear them! It was some kind of ‘lucky charm’ for me, something standing for a wish that would very likely never become true. But on that day, I finally used them ‘for real’. They are large and cover most of my features, but of course anyone who knows me well would recognize me immediately. They have an advantage, though. I’ve been blessed with very large lips, which are actually a bit weird-looking for a male, but when people see me in the streets, their attention is usually drawn to my eyes and huge nose, not to the lips. With sunglasses and pink lipstick, eyes and nose get disguised, and most people would never believe I had such big, fleshy lips. So I might escape detection for a few seconds. That was all I needed anyway: my car was strategically parked just in front of the door for our building. Technically, I’m not supposed to park it there, but I didn’t want to risk longer walks in broad daylight, so I took some risks — fortunately I didn’t get fined.

And, ironically, just when I was opening the car’s door, some neighbours drove down the street and parked — not even 50 m away from me. I’m quite sure that they saw me. I believe they know my car. But I have no idea if they recognised me. In any case, because it was Carnival, I would always have a wonderful excuse, so I didn’t really worry too much (but didn’t tell my wife afterwards, either!). It wasn’t the first time my neighbours saw me, anyway; just the first time during the day.

And what a day! Carnival is during mid-winter, and it’s usually freezing cold and raining. January is colder than February on average, but the weather seems to perversely anticipate Carnival and become extremely nasty during that particular day, to spoil the celebrations country-wide — the lucky Brazilians have it in mid-summer, a much more sensible day to hold outdoor activities. But, this year, the weather was surprisingly nice. Not a cloud in the skies, and we got a glorious sun, shining all the way, and warming up, during the afternoon, to some 16-18ºC, which is really above the usual average. It was windy, though — quite windy at some periods, making it a bit harder to drive — but at least it was not the usual arctic blast we get during the winter. And, of course, temperatures would drop close to freezing point during the night, but, for now, the weather was perfect — it would hard to ask for better weather in February!

In fact, after doing the first kilometers on the motorway, I got rid of my winter overcoat — I’m actually perfecting the art of dressing and undressing while driving, which I definitely do not recommend to anyone. The car had been heating up on the sun, and the inner thermometer showed some 30ºC inside! No overcoat for me, I could display myself publicly in my pink sweater 🙂

Because it was already 3 o’clock, this meant that many of my plans had to be scrapped. My original plan was to get to the Algarve by lunchtime. I would probably even have some free time to drive to Lisbon first, enjoy myself on the streets, get my friend some gift (I had something in mind, which I won’t reveal, because she might read this text 🙂 ), and then continue my voyage southwards. But, alas, I was running out of time. My second plan was to drive through the busy streets of Lisbon (even though it was not the rushing hour) and enjoy the simple pleasure of being looked at — probably laughed at, too, but I was way too happy to worry about that. But I quickly abandoned that idea as well. It was really too late for that. I’m a slow driver, meaning that I strictly keep to the speeding limits. There was no need for my wife to beg me to drive safely, I only drive safely, especially with a 15-year-old car which actually belongs to my father and is hardly a powerhorse — and, in any case, I don’t enjoy driving so much anyway. I did enjoy it back in the days when I was rich and owned a MG sports car, over a decade ago; on the very same road I was going to drive today, I managed to reach 225 km/h in it, and it was fun. Of course, by then I was rich enough to pay all the fines if got caught speeding like that; these days, I simply cannot afford to pay the fines and risk losing the driver’s license!

So, realistically, driving safely all the way, and doing some stops to text my wife (she gets furious at me when I text her while driving, and she’s actually right, I shouldn’t do that…), the whole journey would take me some good three hours. And then I would need to figure out where exactly my friend lives. I’m broadly familiar with a substantial part of the Algarve — especially because only two years ago I drove across it so much, refreshing my memory — but specific neighbourhoods of course elude me. The GPS maps on the iPad were worthless: her street didn’t show up on either of the three apps I got, and, in any case, I think I have run out of credit for data communications — no time to figure out how I could buy more. So that meant reaching her by sunset, at around 6:30 PM. That would not give us much time to enjoy ourselves, but it would definitely be better than nothing!

My good friend Erin Swallows commented that the above video didn’t look like winter at all! Well, almost all vegetation in Portugal are evergreens, with some notable exceptions like chestnuts (which only grow up in the highlands anyway) and some non-native imports. Portugal is green all year round (except in August/September when the grass in the fields becomes yellow 🙂 ). The only clue to the season is the colour of the sky: in the winter it’s milky white, in summer it’s azure…

Anyway… besides being the first ever time that I was driving fully crossdressed in broad daylight, it has also been, so far, my longest drive while dressed. Two years ago, while at the Algarve, I believe that my longest stretch was perhaps one hour and a half, and, of course, it was during the night.

Traffic was moderate at the beginning. Because of the strong winds, I actually avoided the shortest route, which goes through the longest suspension bridge in Portugal, pictured below. Honestly, I actually don’t like crossing that bridge much, especially on bad weather, although the view is magnificent. It is supposed to resist an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.5 and simultaneous high winds of 120 km/h, but somehow I’m always queasy when travelling across it.

'Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) viewed towards Lisbon'. CC-by-2.0, Wikicommons (2005). Image was originally posted to Flickr by Portuguese_eyes at http://flickr.com/photos/21446942@N00/72329714.
‘Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) viewed towards Lisbon’. Licensing: CC-by-2.0 via Wikicommons (2005). Image was originally posted to Flickr by Portuguese_eyes at http://flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/72329714.

 

Instead, I drove through the other bridge crossing the Tagus.

Aerial view of Bridge Ponte Vasco da Gama in Lisbon, Portugal. CC Atribution-Share Alike, original work by Till Niermann (2010), via Wikicommons
‘Aerial view of Bridge Ponte Vasco da Gama in Lisbon, Portugal’. Licensing: CC Atribution-Share Alike 3.0, original work by Till Niermann (2010), via Wikicommons

This is actually the longest bridge in Europe (and resists wind speeds up to 250 km/h and earthquakes 4.5 times more intense than the one that destroyed Lisbon in 1755 🙂 ), and, as a result, it means driving much more — and, from my perspective, crossing through the whole of Lisbon to its eastern side, since the bridge is at the extreme northeast of the city, while I commute from the west. But I feel much better about crossing this other bridge when the winds are strong enough to sway the car, which was the case — this bridge is much wider, and the speed limit is the same as on motorways, 120 km/h, as there is plenty of space to stop if something goes seriously wrong 🙂

Traffic was moderate for a while, which actually surprised me, since I was expecting none. The southwards motorway is close to congestion during peak hours, especially in the summer (there are a lot of beaches just immediately to the south of Lisbon), but this was a partial holiday — most people would be at work, so I was wondering why there were so many cars on the roads! I suppose that after so many years of austerity and recession, where pretty much everybody stopped driving, the Portuguese have money again to fill up their cars with cheap petrol, and returned to the roads.

Outside the Lisbon-Setúbal sprawl, which covers an area of some 50 km to the south of Lisbon, traffic decreased to a trickle, and then to just the occasional driver. This is the Alentejo (literally: beyond the Tagus), the most deserted region of Portugal, and traditionally it used to be where the main plantations were that supplied all corn to the whole country, as well as the extensive olive and cork plantations, and vast vineyards. These days, raising cattle is also common. The motorway crosses the Alentejo at about the middle of the country. In area, it’s about the size of Switzerland, and there are only two main cities, and very few sparsely-populated towns, which you can’t see from the motorway. It’s also the flattest area in Portugal, although there is really no spot which is absolutely flat — more like low, rolling hills. And it’s also the hottest area in summer and one of the coldest in winter; the main difference between the flat south and the mountainous north is that snow is very rare, even with subzero temperatures, while snow is common up in the mountains (to give you a rough idea, ‘mountains’ are pretty much everything in Portugal which is not the Alentejo…). Because Portugal is unusually densely populated northwards of the Tagus, and very sparsely southwards (at least until the Algarve), it makes a huge contrast in landscape. Historically, it was also hard to settle this country — but it had strategic significance, since the Algarve was always much more populated, with five large cities existing there since times immemorial (they already had a teeming civilization, based on commerce, centuries before the Romans arrived), and there was no easy way to connect both areas of the country, because of the vast distances that had to be crossed with no towns in sight. The usual rivalry between north and south in Portugal comes mostly from such differences between both — in landscape and in population.

Anyway, enough historical babble! I stopped at one service area to text my wife to tell her all was well, but then I had to face my next issue. For as long as I remember, I have always had a small bladder — I have to pee every other hour or so. It was quite clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to hold myself for so many hours. That definitely meant stopping to take a leak at a service area — there was no way to avoid that. And, of course, you can’t stop on a motorway, except on the service areas, so there was no way to take a leak behind a bush!

Portuguese service areas on motorways follow similar patterns, although they’re not precisely the same. First you have an area for petrol servicing. This usually has a building with a convenience store, usually with public restrooms at the back. Then there is often a small park where you can take your meals outside. Some have their own toilet facilities, but most have not. Finally, there is a much larger parking area near a restaurant — sometimes a complex of restaurants linked together — and there will always be public restrooms there. But it also means having way more people there.

In Portugal, we’re not so obnoxious about using a restroom that is for the ‘wrong’ gender. I would say that, in general, gender-separated restrooms are more a convenience than a rule set in stone. It’s not unusual for people just to use the ‘wrong’ restroom if the other one is occupied, especially when they are small (i.e. just allowing one person at the time). It’s not something that is done often, but it’s not a crime. Also, restrooms for the disabled are almost always single-gender. That was my actual plan — it’s also not forbidden to use those restrooms, although people tend to leave them empty, since the disabled obviously have priority, but, in an emergency, it’s socially acceptable to use them.

In many service areas, however, to prevent vandalism (which happens rarely anyway), the restrooms are locked, and you have to ask for a key first. So the first thing to do was to walk to the building and ask the nice attendant for the key to the restrooms. There were no cars at the petrol area, so this building was actually empty except for the (female) attendants, and, in my experience, females are much more open to talk to crossdressers. So, well, I just went there and asked for the key — I was still wearing my sunglasses, even though I would obviously be ‘read’ for my voice.

But I was told that this service area did not lock their restrooms, I was free to use them. Bummer! All that adrenaline had been in vain. I made a mental note to remember this particular service station for my return journey; it’s way easier if I don’t need to ask many questions 🙂

While going to the back, I noticed that a guy was pretty much doing the same. Actually, he had parked his car next to mine, near the restrooms in the back, leaving her wife inside it. I first tried the restroom for the disabled, which was my original plan; but that one was locked, which actually makes sense. When the guy rounded the corner and entered the male restroom, I didn’t hesitate — I picked the female one.

Actually, I was expecting a single-stall restroom — most of those restrooms in service areas are small, since most people will use the ones at the restaurant, not at the convenience store. But no! This one actually had three stalls and a common washing area. Hmm. Well, it was empty, so I had no trouble using one of the stalls and relieve myself.

You might find it funny, but when dressed, I always sit down on the toilet to pee. I don’t do it really because it’s ‘more female’. It has to do with my padding undergarment. It has a very clever design which hides the genitals quite well, but has a sort of flap beneath, so you can actually pee (or, well, do… you know what!). However, it’s hard to do it standing up, because the opening is not in the front, but below. I’m sure that this is intentional! The point is that it’s very easy to pee when sitting down, but a complete mess if you attempt to pee standing up!

While I was doing my business, suddenly I hear the door opening, and somebody coming in. Oops. I was definitely not counting on that!

Still, there is a huge advantage of female restrooms. Since whoever came in entered one of the stalls, they wouldn’t see me leaving. Therefore, I timed everything perfectly to exit peacefully, wash my hands (no time for retouching the makeup!), and leave the restroom, well in advance of the ‘other occupant’.

I walked nonchalantly to my car, noticing now that the guy had returned to it, but not his wife — very likely, she was the one using the restrooms as well (and I was right). He never looked at me — not even when I did my makeup retouching in the car, and combed my hair, a mess after getting hit by the wind. His wife returned shortly, and she didn’t even look at me, either. I felt invisible! Was that a good or bad sign? I thought it was good; I wasn’t attracting undue attention, and that was exactly what I was hoping for.

So, after another text to my wife, I went back to the road. I actually stopped another time, further on the journey, just to stretch my legs and have a smoke outside the car. It gets cramped in there! You might actually wonder how I can bare to drive for so many hours wearing a corset, but as I like to explain to everybody, it’s actually quite comfortable (if you’re not into tight lacing as a fetish), because it keeps your straight back, gives a lot of support to your back, and, as a result, you actually relax much more inside the corset, by keeping a good posture for hours and hours. I definitely recommend it, and not just to give you a gorgeous hourglass figure!

Radio reception was terrible during the whole trip, thanks to my father’s completely outdated and semi-broken radio. FM is almost impossible to listen to — it just catches medium wave stations reasonably well, and there are only two left in my country, with little coverage. In fact, in the Alentejo, it’s easier to catch the many Spanish, French, and Moroccan medium wave stations than the two Portuguese ones, but the quality is insanely bad in any case. Oh well. I tried to get the radio fixed last year, but it didn’t improve much. That means listening mostly to noise during long journeys. My wife hates listening to music in almost all cases — when she wants to actually listen to music, we go to a concert — either at home or in the car, so I never got many incentives to get a new radio. On my return trip, to stay awake, I just listened to the music on the iPad instead — it’s not too loud, though, but better than the crackling noise from the bad radio, which gets annoying after dozens of kilometres…

Finally the vast plains of the Alentejo came to an end, and the mountains signaling the border to Algarve came into view. I texted my friend Cláudia saying I was getting nearer to her. She sent me some instructions. There would still be a drive of another hour, with the sun setting, until I got to her town — right into the rush hour. Of course, for someone who is used to the rush hour in Lisbon, the small towns of the Algarve are a breeze compared to that 🙂 After a few false starts, I finally figured out where her apartment building was, picked a parking spot near the entrance, and walked in.

Ironically, I didn’t find the light switch, and the sun had already set. Without light I couldn’t read the numbers on the apartment doors! So I had to call her, just to let her know I was inside the building, and couldn’t see anything — except for a neighbour of hers who just came out of the lift 🙂

Finally she opened the door and we greeted each other with the traditional two kisses on the face 🙂 And immediately afterwards I had to use the toilet again. 🙂 I know, I’m extremely impolite that way, but the first thing I always do on any place I go to — be it a restaurant or a home — is to use the toilet. I’ll never know when I’ll have another opportunity 🙂

Well, our plans for lunch were of course off. I understand that my friend had some sightseeing plans, especially because originally I thought my wife would come with me. Although I did mention that she utterly hates the Algarve, my friend was convinced that she could persuade her to think otherwise (I think differently — I know her much better 🙂 ). But, of course, the sun had already set, and all those plans were off. She suggested going to a nearby mall instead, and try to get something to eat.

Cláudia e Sandra Carnaval 2015 sorrindoActually, I declined, for her sake. While I was in ‘safe’ territory — nobody knows me in the Algarve — she would routinely go to that particular mall during the week, and that might lead to embarrassing moments there. As you can see from the picture, we were dressed relatively casually. While we could shrug it off with an old Portuguese saying, é Carnaval, ninguém leva a mal (‘during Carnival, nobody cares’), the truth is that most party-goers who dress as women do not dress casually. As said, the Flamenco dancer outfit is more appropriate. If not, then dressing as a drag queen would be also fine. In fact, the whole point is to dress as a parody of a female, not to pass as a female. Our dressing option would mean that most people would immediately know that we were crossdressers using the pretext of being Carnival to go out like that in public — and they would be absolutely right, since that was exactly what we were doing!

Now, in public places, this would not be a problem whatsoever. But if my friend met someone she knew personally, it could lead to some complications. They would wonder why she was dressed as a woman, not as a drag queen, which would be more appropriate for Carnival. So, to avoid all that, I suggested we went elsewhere. Unlike the empty Alentejo, the Algarve is relatively densely populated — more so in the summer, of course — and its many cities and towns are all near to each other. So Cláudia suggested to go to a nearby popular beach and see what was happening there.

I have to say that we both were very disappointed. The Algarve livens up during the summer, when over a million people trawl its beaches and nightclubs, but during the winter, it’s inhabited by a bit more than 400.000 people. As a consequence, quite a lot of its nighttime establishments close down. There are a few exceptions, namely, during the New Year celebrations, and during the Easter holidays (when traditionally many people visit the Algarve), but, outside those periods, almost everything is closed.

A handful of locals gathered around one of the town’s squares, for an impromptu party, with a few booths selling drinks and some street food, but, at little after 9:30 PM, they were packing everything up — probably because most people would have to go to work next day and had no time to continue to party. We still saw many people in fancy customs. And, strangely, I felt ‘invisible’ again — practically nobody ever spared a glance in our direction, even though we were talking all the way, and our voices would clearly reveal us as males. But we were totally ignored. The wind was abating, and while the temperatures were falling, it was not very unpleasant — much more like early spring than deep winter. Of course, the Algarve has much better weather than Lisbon — that’s why it attracts tourists in summer, after all.

We walked around for a bit, in search of a place that would allow us in. What we hoped for was a restaurant or pub which was celebrating Carnival, and, as such, would not mind having two strangely-dressed persons joining them. Alas, nobody seemed to be holding such celebrations. So, disappointed, we gave up and went back to the car.

Cláudia suggested that we tried Albufeira next. If you recall my visit from two years ago, that’s the city where I had stayed before. Albufeira is one of the rare places in the Algarve which tends to attract tourists all year long, so there might be more things open — it’s also got a rather large area with bars and restaurants. So large, in fact, that we walked for about two hours — without finding anything open worthy of our attention. And, unlike the other beach, there were no public Carnival celebrations going on the streets. Once or twice, some waiters standing patiently in front of their almost-empty restaurants, invited us to eat there, but, by then, we were not in the mood.

Carnival is, however, celebrated thoroughly in the city of Loulé, attracting 20-30 thousand visitors every year. That was a possibility, but, by then, we started to get hungry, it was near 11 o’clock, and Loulé is an hour’s drive away or so, not counting the time to park and look for a place to eat. So instead we went to a place which sells sandwiches made of suckling pig — a Portuguese delicacy which, however, is not typical of the Algarve, and I was actually surprised of learning that there were some places selling it. I actually love it when it’s well done (it usually is!) so I eagerly complied with the suggestion.

Cláudia, by then, was absolutely confident, and had no qualms ordering two sandwiches, at a place which she would probably be recognised, since she was familiar with it — but I guess she wasn’t this time. We grabbed our sandwiches and drove back to her place.

When we finished our meal, it was almost midnight. I had seriously start to think about the way back. Now, fortunately, I sleep very late, so the prospect of starting a journey at 1 or 2 AM and be back at home by 4 or 5 didn’t scare me. But I was also getting tired. We did walk a lot. Even though I had my most comfortable pair of boots, and I’m no wimpy when it comes to walking, we definitely were in serious danger of ruining our makeup from all the sweating! (Well, I’m exaggerating a bit here, but we certainly showed signs of exertion…)

We still lingered over an espresso, and talked about our wonderful experience. Of course it had been a pity that I had only managed to come so late; but the truth is that when I started dressing up in the morning, I didn’t even expect to be allowed to come! I texted my wife saying that we were finishing our improvised dinner and that I would return shortly. And, in fact, that’s what I did, after profusely thanking my good friend for a most wonderful evening — the best I had in many years!

It was time for the long trip back. Now it was way colder, and it would be colder still across the Alentejo, and it didn’t help being tired from all that walking. Still, I had driven in much worse conditions. I would just take my time, and stop along the road more often. Again, when I reached the same service area as before, I went to the female restroom — this time, there was no need to ask for a key, since I knew it would be open. So I took my time retouching the makeup and even brushing my hair:

Even in the middle of the night, the service areas were not completely empty. On one of them, a bus full of Portuguese tourists unloaded a lot of passengers who, like me, enjoyed the opportunity of stretching their legs. I was having a smoke and walking around a bit, but, in spite of everything, I was pretty much ignored by everybody. It actually felt good not to attract any attention whatsoever! I still considered having something to eat at one of the restaurants at the service area, but it was completely empty — even the (single) attendant was away from his usual place, watching TV. I decided not to bother him and just continue to drive.

Finally I reached my home, still before dawn. My wife was still awake — it was not yet her usual sleeping time. I sent a message to my friend saying that I had arrived safely and thanking her once more for all her patience. Then it was time to get undressed and get a well-deserved rest!

Some of my CD friends asked me to describe the whole experience… it’s really hard to put my feelings in words, even though I tried to do it here! To quote myself, saying that it was ‘amazing’ simply cannot describe it. Perhaps a better word is ‘freedom’. In a sense, finally doing what I wanted for such a long time — decades, actually — felt extremely liberating. There were some moments of anxiety — the moment I exited my building and saw the neighbours just parking; the moment I had no choice but to ask for a key for the restroom at the service area (before I learned that a key was not necessary); when I was at my friends’ floor with all lights turned off, without a clue which was the door to her apartment, all alone, and suddenly one of her neighbours popped out of the lift — but these were trivial to handle. While walking around with Cláudia I was absolutely confident; it’s so much easier when I’m with someone else (there is strength in numbers!). And because of that, I was closely paying attention to how others looked at me, and quite surprised that I was truly mostly ignored. Sure, one person or another threw a glance at us, but totally left us in peace. As said, I have a very good opinion of the Algarvians, since I was so well-treated last time, and this trip definitely reinforced that opinion. My friend is not such an optimist, though. I just told her that most people are so used to the oddities of tourists that they only really care about doing a good job and being nice, so they couldn’t care less about the way we chose to dress.

The whole experience, of course, opens new doors. Firstly, I have to understand if this was just an ‘exception’ or if my wife really changed her mind about my going out. Of course there is a difference between visiting a friend peacefully in a harmless city and environment; the other thing is going to Lisbon’s nightlife to a gay bar and meet other fellow crossdressers there. My wife might not be so happy about that idea. In fact, I’m not overly keen in going to gay bars; I just understand their relative safety, tolerance, and acceptance. The crossdressing community, while definitely growing, is still not big enough to have transgender-specific bars; we have to ‘share’ them with the LGBT crowd, or with the swingers and BDSMers, who are open-minded enough not to mind having a few crossdressers around.

But here I have to agree with a CD acquaintance of mine, Daniela Sousa, who goes to ‘regular’ places instead of sticking to ‘ghettos’. Her point is simple: she thinks that to gather more popular acceptance, crossdressers should be seen in public, dressing as regular women do, and behaving in public as expected from them. When we crossdressers avoid the public eye, it means that people start imagining all sorts of things about us — namely, how we dress up like whores because we want to be treated as whores. That is, indeed, a problem, which I have addressed elsewhere on my blog, and will continue to do so, because I feel it’s the biggest issue that crossdressers face today.

It is indeed by ‘behaving normally’, and being publicly visible as ‘normal’ persons, that we can slowly start to build up acceptance and tolerance. That’s something that takes time. And, unfortunately, not everybody in the crossdresser community wants that. The vast majority are really just after sex, and that’s the plain truth — it’ll be hard to get ‘acceptance’ for that in public places, and it has really nothing to do with being a crossdresser or not.

Now, at the end of this long trip, I have to offer some explanation to many who are reading this long report. For almost two decades, I have been invited by dozens of fellow crossdressers to meet them and go out with them. Some have already wondered why I have refused their invitations for so many years, but suddenly, out of the blue, I engage in a 300-km-trip to visit one friend. It doesn’t seem to make any sense.

The plain and simple truth, my friends, is that I would positively adore to visit all of you, and I wish I could have done so, years ago, when I was far better good-looking 🙂 I wish I could go out every night (well, perhaps every other night… I have not the same stamina as a 15-year-old!) with you girls, be it simply for some walking around, to go shopping together, to go to a nice and quiet restaurant, or to a rowdy bar with live sex shows; the whole point is that I would like to be with you, no matter what the occasion!

The problem is that until last Tuesday I was strictly forbidden by my wife to do so. Some of you can understand that, since you have similar restrictions imposed by your significant others. Some of you haven’t revealed yourselves to your beloved ones yet, and might never do it, and will also understand the difficulties involved. This is the (much smaller) group that actually only goes out occasionally and therefore understand the problem of logistics.

Another small group has no problems in cheating their wives — not with any sexual intentions, though, but merely blatantly lying about what they’re doing. They just invent some plausible excuse, like having to be out for a business trip, and use that pretext to go out with their CD friends, and therefore cannot understand why I don’t do the same. Besides not doing business trips whatsoever (I’m a student!), the truth is that I cannot lie to my wife. Our relationship is based on mutual trust. I know I’m old-fashioned like that, but I’m also proud of having kept this relationship alive for 17 years, and I don’t foresee any reason for not continuing ‘until death does us part’. It’s very easy to maintain long-standing relationships that can survive any crisis, if those relationships are based on mutual trust, intimacy, and a very close friendship. If I have to choose between lying to my wife and avoiding my crossdresser friends, I choose the latter. For many of you, this does not make much sense. All I ask from you is a little respect. Yes, of course my friends are important; but my wife is my best friend, and she is the most important of all. Sorry about that!

The largest group of crossdressers I know, however, has no such restrictions. For one reason or other, they either have a fully supporting significant other, who places no restrictions nor limitations to what they do, or they are simply single (either by choice or by design), and, as such, have the freedom to do whatever they wish. In that situation, of course it’s hard to understand someone like me, who has always to struggle with my wife’s compliance with my wishes to be able to go out when I want. I don’t expect full understanding, to be honest. Just a little. Enough to see that not everybody has the same priorities in their lives. Crossdressing is what keeps me alive, and I think constantly about it, but in terms of priorities, my wife (and my wife’s wishes) come first, no matter what. This is something I cannot easily explain to anyone; all I ask is that it gets accepted.

So, no, I’m not being ‘choosy’ and saying, I like this person best, so I go out with her, while I refuse to go out with others for some stupid reason. Of course I have my preferences, and, among the many people on the Internet that I consider my friends, there are some who are much closer to me than others. There are many reasons for that, the main one being that they usually share a similar outlook on our condition of crossdressers. That doesn’t mean that I despise the rest. In my mind, all manifestations of crossdressing are equally valid. For me, as I have written elsewhere, there is no such thing as a ‘true crossdresser’ or a ‘real crossdresser’, as I have seen often being claimed. We crossdress for several different motives, and all are equally valid. But of course some of those motives clash with each other.

It also means that I’m much less comfortable in some situations than in others. For instance, I’m not comfortable in going out with a fellow crossdresser who has only one thought in mind, which is how to get laid that night. I have no problem whatsoever with crossdressers wanting to go out to have sex with willing partners; in fact, I count several friends among that group as well. It’s just simply that I’m not interested, and a night hunting for partners is at the very bottom of the list of pleasant things to do while crossdressing (in fact, it’s actually off the list for me).

On the other hand, there are lots of crossdressers who would be hopelessly bored if they had come with me to visit Cláudia. We talked about a lot of things, and crossdressing was perhaps just 5% of the range of topics — and sex was not even on the list, either. For some crossdressers, the whole prospect of spending all day talking and walking and ‘doing nothing’ would be a living hell of boredom and a waste of their time. I truly understand that. We just think differently. I accept the way you are, but please also consider accepting the way I am as well.

So, to conclude: it’s obviously true that I have my preferences. I never go out with someone I ‘just met’. An occasional message on Facebook, every other year or so, is not a ‘meaning relationship’ for me. I need to be comfortable with someone before I meet them — and that actually is true outside the crossdressing community as well. ‘Comfortable’ means knowing the other person well enough that we exchanged some intimate confidences (and no, I’m not talking about sexual fantasies) and have a certain degree of trust in each other. That takes years to ‘build up’. I’m relatively easy-going, and have left my shyness back decades ago, but I don’t forge strong, lasting relationships with just some flippant comments every now and then. It takes a bit more than that. Actually, it takes a lot more than that!

Still, there are a few exceptions. There are really many people in the crossdressing community that I admire a lot, for what they do on behalf of the community itself. I might not be very ‘intimate’ with such persons, but I have such a huge respect for their work, and how they set an example for us all, that I have no qualms in meeting them in person. If you are on that list, you know who you are, and you can expect that, if my wife’s views haven’t changed, and that she allows me to go out again — even if only irregularly — you will definitely be on my list for sure. It will just be a question of time!

And, of course, for those with whom I’m much more intimate, I will certainly hope to be able to see you again soon 🙂

Until then, I hope you will forgive me for not being around as much as I would love to. Take care; you are definitely not forgotten by me, ever.

For now, however, I really must thank Cláudia personally for her patience with me and for granting me one of the best days in my entire life!

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