Vanity Moment

IMG_0017Saying that I’m ecstatic is to really underestimate my current feelings. I’ve transcended euphoria 🙂 Or, well, to be honest, I didn’t; but I certainly will relish March 28th, 2015, as a date to be remembered forever…

Indulge me for a moment as I step forward into the basking glow of my own spotlight 🙂

So, to make a long story short (or as short as I can): my local crossdresser group did their monthly party at a restaurant/bar in the neighbourhood of Lisbon. This has been going on regularly every month for a bit over two years. The first time the group met there for having some dinner and a few drinks there were only four members present. Last Saturday, we were around 40 or so. This is more memorable than you might think, and, as a result, I will need to frame this into context again.

If you live in North America, or perhaps even in the United Kingdom, or some liberal country in Europe (‘liberal’ in the sense that people are a bit more tolerant), getting a group of 40 crossdressers in a restaurant is nothing special. Almost every city in North America, even in the Bible Belt, has a crossdresser/transgender suppport group of some sort. They might be more or less organised, and might have existed for a few years or a few decades. Most will provide ‘safe’ environments for crossdressers of some sort — places where they can not only talk, but enjoy their femaleness in private, maybe in a bar or restaurant, perhaps in a hotel, or simply at some private residence which is big enough to hold a party. While several crossdressers might still be at a stage where they still don’t have courage to get out on their own, those who do will soon find their nearest support group and ‘gang together’, and start going out wherever it’s possible to go.

Because of the sheer size of the population of large, liberal countries, ‘crossdresser-only’ bars, or at least ‘crossdresser-friendly’ bars, are financially sustainable. Putting it in simple words, there are enough crossdressers around to allow the management to make a profit. Obviously, the larger (and the more liberal) the city, the more likely that such bars and restaurants thrive. In some cases, like the UK, the transgender community is so large that they can pool money and resources together and open their own nightclubs; in other cases, they are enough to be able to at least hire large salons (say, in hotels) and organise ‘crossdressing conventions’ and similar mega-events.

And because there is a plethora of crossdressing and transgendered types, each can have their own groups, clubs, and events. ‘Crossplayers’ (crossdressing cosplayers), for instance, will very likely go to different events than ‘common’ crossdressers. While there might be points of contact between the many communities, the sheer size of them allows separate groups to get together in isolation from each other.

In Portugal, however, the transgendered community is simply too small for that. We have no choice but to share places used by the LGBT community and other alternative lifestyles. Therefore, we live under unusual circumstances, where swingers, BDSMers, crossdressers, female impersonators, and the remaining LGBT lifestyles are bundled together under the same roof. Even on the LGB side of things — by far the largest group! — only relatively recently have appeared ‘specialised’ bars/clubs for some selected subgroups, like bears. A decade ago or so they would also have to share the same environments as all the other subgroups.

This, of course, is a mixed blessing. On one hand, some members of specific subgroups might feel ‘awkward’ towards being ‘exposed’ to someone belonging to a different subgroup in the same environment. But on the other hand, it builds bridges between the different communities, cultures, and groups, and that requires an open mind and actively practicing tolerance towards others. It also (inevitably) leads to an opportunity to learn more about different lifestyles and gender expression.

The place we went on Saturday is a good example of this. It was originally a very private place established by a retired female impersonator for swingers. Soon, however, the BDSM community, also requiring some privacy, came to the same spot. Since there is a certain amount of bisexuality among swinger groups, it naturally lead to other LGB members to join the events, even if they were neither swingers, nor BDSMers. The restaurant/bar soon added some shows done by female impersonators; from there it was just a small step for the non-fetishist crossdressers to be allowed to join those events, and sponsor their own events regularly. However, I understand that at the very beginning, the crossdressers were actually a small minority, but were very well accepted by the remaining groups, who showed exemplary tolerance towards them. In fact, those events are mostly designed for social interaction — which, in Portugal, almost invariably means eating a lot together 🙂 and that is the main pretext for socialization…

As time passed, the crossdresser group grew in size, until last Saturday, where we were clearly in the majority (the space is not that big). The remaining members of the other groups certainly didn’t mind. They mingled freely with the crossdressers, sitting at their tables, and mutually taking pictures of each other. Some female impersonators — who, in general, are usually not overly friendly with the crossdressing community (mostly because of the fetishists among them) — were generous enough to give us a free show; but the show also included a genetic female stripper, which is quite unusual in a ‘female impersonator show’. Such ‘mix and matching’ of the several communities is common in that particular place, but, to a degree, it’s rather more common in Portugal than the alternative (i.e. taht each community can afford their own bar or club). Personally, I think this is absolutely fantastic — it’s a spirit of great mutual tolerance and a profound display of open-mindedness. And, of course, being a crossdresser doesn’t limit one’s choices. Many crossdressers are simultaneously BDSMers, sissies, swingers, or subscribe to any other of the many possible alternative lifestyles; others, like myself, are almost asexual and plain vanilla. Neither group minds the other and there is a real display of interest in each other’s self-expression and lifestyle.

There is, however, a catch. Non-fetishist crossdressers are plagued by fetishists who are constantly lusting after sexual partners who crossdress. As such, getting access to a place where crossdressers are present is seen as having the key to Paradise. That, in turn, violates the trust of the other communities present in the same space, who revere their privacy. This has necessarily to be maintained at all costs, and requires a serious amount of trust among members. Therefore, to allow access to such places inevitably requires going through a process of ‘filtering out’, through online interviews and personal contacts, until someone is deemed to be trusted with full access to those environments. This is perfectly acceptable: we want to keep stalkers out, for our own safety, but also to comply with the privacy of the other groups.

Such ‘screening’ and ‘filtering’ is not unusual in certain transgendered communities. The Beaumont Society in the UK is a good example of such practice. There are always events where anybody is free to come, but access to many of those events require a process of admission as a member which implies adopting a code of conduct and sticking to it. Of course this is not the only example, and different groups (even just online groups) have different sets of rules, with more or less strictness. Our own group is not much different from those — that’s why, for instance, I’m not posting things like names, addresses, or even pictures of those who were present without their full permission.

All right, this is enough to give you the overall context! Now I’m going to bother you by becoming more personal…

For several days before the event, I planned the whole outfit and routine well in advance. The shoes I was going to wear had been ordered by mail, and they came two days before the event, so I could try them out, wearing them in extended periods at the office, and walking in them to make sure I could do it. It was a slight risk to wear brand new shoes, I know, but that part of the plan actually worked out well.

Some things went not exactly according to plan. I wanted to give my hair a more glamorous look, which implies some heat and curling, which I don’t know how to do (yet) — so I went to the salon where my manicurist works. She had already asked her boss if he also took care of wigs, so I knew that to be the case. However, it seems that he doesn’t do them ‘on the spot’, but you take the wig to be cleaned/styled one day and pick it up on the next. This is mostly because wigs, even human hair wigs, are not supposed to take a lot of heat and should dry on their own. Bummer! So I had to wash it at home and put some rolls. I expected to give it a lot of combing afterwards, but, alas, that didn’t happen, so while my hair got a lot of volume and was sort of fluffy, it didn’t look quite right.

Actually, on Saturday, my preparation was limited to a much shorter timespan than I expected. I had the whole Saturday measured by the minute, and, because my wife knew I was going out, I wasn’t expecting any difficulties. All shopping was done. I woke up and started with the bathing routine, which also included scrubbing and removing the little patches of hair that the laser hair removal treatment still hasn’t destroyed. I expected to do a close shave on the face as late as possible. Then it would be time for lunch, perhaps a short nap, and do the rest of my routine. Last time I took 4 hours, mostly because of the stupid false lashes which refused to get stuck in the right place, as well as the false nails (which I still need to use while my real nails grow back, after having broken one of them last month). So I planned to start at around 3 PM with the final stretch of all preparations and be ready by 7 PM. The dinner started at 8 PM, and I expected to take an hour to get to the place — I’m familiar with the overall location (it’s near my former university and I had a lot of friends back then living in the area), but there are a lot of tiny streets which I’m not familiar with. And the restaurant/bar/club has absolutely no distinctive marks on the outside, not even the name, for absolute discretion. So one hour of driving and looking around would be enough. And no, I wasn’t even provided with the address, for safety reasons: they would tell me over the phone where to drive to, once I was near the place.

But nothing went according to plan! My wife had to spend the weekend doing some work for university, and suddenly she realised that we had picked a professional pen on Friday with the wrong colour, so she couldn’t do her assignments. So that meant we had to go out again to the same place to buy it (since it’s a very special kind of pen, it’s not sold everywhere, but just on specific stores with professional artist/architect tools). I couldn’t even do it on my own, since I might do some mistake (picking the wrong colour, wrong pen size, or wrong cartridge…).

And I had to wait. I thought we’d do that in the morning, so that she had more time to do her work. But, instead, because she hadn’t the pen to draw, she started to do the other task on her assignment, which was picking and selecting some photos and retouching them on Photoshop. Those photos would also have to be printed on a print shop in large sizes. Since the print shop carries the pen she needs, first she needed to deal with the photos, then we would go out.

You can imagine how my anxiety levels started to rise! We usually have lunch around 1 o’clock; it was already 3 PM when we started having lunch — remember, that was the time I expected to have already had a nap and hoped to be in the bathroom doing my things!

It’s not that we took a huge amount of time. 2 hours later, I was back at home running into the bathroom. But I was in such a state of stress that everything seemed to be going wrong: stockings ruined, the hair was a mess, and it seemed that I was even taking more time than usual! I could only think, ‘I cannot make it, I cannot make it, this is impossible, I have no time!’

But at around 8 PM I was finally on the last stages, so I texted the event organiser to let her know I would be a bit late, but definitely coming. I rushed out of the home, not even caring if any neighbours were around to see me. And actually I took slightly less time than I thought to arrive at the destination; it was around 9 PM when I finally found the place. Now I could relax.

It was a bit too dark to get a good picture :)
It was a bit too dark to get a good picture 🙂

One of my fantasies has always been to go to a restaurant crossdressed and be treated like a woman; this I can now consider to be achieved. 🙂 Of course, this is a ‘special’ restaurant, one which fully accepts transgendered and crossdressed people, and will definitely be inclusive and not discriminative. Nobody (neither the staff nor the other clients) will ‘confuse’ your gender or fail to address you with the ‘correct’ pronoun; this is taken as granted, if you present yourself as a woman, you’re going to be addressed as one (unless you explicitly tell them otherwise!). To make things even easier, there is a unisex toilet — no need to worry if you’re going to the ‘wrong’ one 🙂

My wife always wonders what crossdressers talk about when they’re together. She always assumes they spend all their time discussing lingerie, clothes, and accessories. Of course that’s just stereotyping; we talk pretty much about everything. In fact, I was assigned a seat next to my very good friend Cláudia (whom I had visited during Carnival), and one crossdresser coming from the city of Oporto who spent the whole evening telling jokes (she’s definitely the soul of the party) — she could very well have her own stand-up comedy act, since she’s so good and has an unusually large repertoire 🙂 Obviously the conversation sometimes turns to more ‘feminine’ things; in fact, it was actually fun that the first comment I got from a genetic female sitting nearby was about my boobs and if they were ‘real’ 🙂 (no, if you haven’t guessed by now, they aren’t — they’re just silicone prosthesis) Someone else also wanted to know if my hair was real; to which I had to answer that ‘nothing about me is real except the lips’ (on that day, because my fingernails still haven’t grown back to my preferred size, I was using false nails as well — not even those were ‘real’ 🙂 ).

Sherazade Charmed, Sandra Lopes, and Cláudia Melo. Picture taken by Nando Jr. Reproduced with permission of the author.
Sherazade Charmed, Sandra Lopes, and Cláudia Melo.
Picture taken by Nando Jr. Reproduced with permission of the author.

I also managed to get introduced to the best-looking crossdresser I know in our community; she has a perfectly female body and natural hair. She’s perhaps my mirror image: everything in her is ‘real’, and, except for shaving, she really doesn’t need to do much to look like a woman; in fact, I was always thinking how she’s able to pass as a male in her real life 🙂

Crossdressers are constantly complimenting each other, and that is something I have had little experience with — outside the online world. Online things are much easier: I can focus the camera from the best possible angle, and, due to the bad lighting at home, most imperfections are naturally hidden. Here, at the restaurant, I was going to be under scrutiny of all angles. And to make matters worse, I didn’t have a simple way to ‘check myself out’ (unlike the webcam, which allows me to see what I’m showing to my viewers). Think about dancers always train in front of a mirror, but their performances are on stage, where they cannot see what they’re doing — that’s pretty much how I felt!

I have to confess that I must have a slight case of body dysphoria (I have also mentioned this to my psychologist). As a male, I consider myself profusely ugly in all regards; there is not one redeeming feature in my face or body which I consider positive. As a female, I’m very critical of all those features which are absolutely male in aspect and that are impossible to disguise: the biggest issue is by far my nose, but also the triple chin and the strong jawline (just to use the face as an example; I could go on with the rest of the body…). Those features are so outstandingly ugly and un-female that they are so overwhelming as to render my face an absolute disaster. So all I can do is to enhance the remaining features that are not so bad. My lips, fortunately, are perfectly female (I had huge problems with that when I was a kid!), and all I need to do with them is smile. The eyes are androgynous: not overly male, neither very female, but pretty much gender-neutral: all they need is a bit of makeup, some mascara, and perhaps some false lashes to enhance them (except for the corner, my eyelashes have a relatively decent size — I certainly know many genetic females with shorter lashes — so usually I really don’t need false lashes; but that night was special, so I added some falsies; the two sets I have are reasonably natural-looking). The eyebrows are trimmed, and, these days, women wear much thicker and more expressive eyebrows. The ugly ears are never seen under my hair, and the hair itself helps to frame the face better so that it doesn’t look too male.

Yeah, that jawline doesn't disappear with makeup... Picture taken by Nando Jr. Reproduced with permission of the author.
Yeah, that jawline doesn’t disappear with makeup…
Picture taken by Nando Jr. Reproduced with permission of the author.

So what I do is to enhance all these more positive features and disguise the jawline a bit. There is nothing I can do to make my nose and triple chin to disappear, however. And those features will always ruin my chances to pass.

Body-wise it’s a bit simpler. I have by no means a good shape, but that’s what shapewear is for! Anyone who is chubby can get away with the right padding to get a hourglass shape. Skinny types are incredibly easier to disguise and to look female, but we chubbier ones can do a reasonably good job with an hourglass shape; it never gets out of fashion and always attracts some attention. So although my proportions are not quite right — my head always seems strangely too big for my body — they are acceptable at a distance.

That’s why I usually assume that all the compliments I get are mostly out of courtesy. In fact, I have two sources of comments that I take much more seriously. Online, when I sometimes go to a ‘regular’ webcam chat (i.e. one where no transgendered people are around), I’m immediately read as a male. Sometimes there are a few hesitations, but, in general, after a minute or so, there is no doubt for others that I’m not female, and then I get all the sorts of rude comments as you can imagine.

The other source is my wife. That particular evening she told me that it was a no-no to wear a mini-dress that would display my cleavage as well. I shrugged that off, since the dress was not that mini (it reached my knees, after all) and it didn’t expose so much cleavage — it was still above the bra line. So I think that my wife was being unusually stern. Still, she scolded me for wearing things that were not appropriate for my age. I had no ready answer to that, except that currently I’m not exactly trying to look 20ish (which I don’t) but I certainly don’t want to look like an old lady of 80! Instead, I’m 45, and I have no problem in looking sexy with 45. There is a huge difference between ‘sexy’ and ‘slutty’. I wore fishnet stockings suspended from a garter belt, but fishnets by themselves are not ‘slutty’; it really depends on the rest of your outfit. And, in any case, this was not a ‘formal’ dinner (I have dresses for that as well!) but rather a prelude for a party in a bar — so I dressed accordingly.

Signature smoking with a holder. Picture taken by Nando Jr. Reproduced with permission of the author.
Signature smoking with a holder.
Picture taken by Nando Jr. Reproduced with permission of the author.

Apparently the biggest criticism was my lack of colour. And it’s true: I tend to wear black and brown most, especially in the winter. But I promised that the next time I’ll wear a red/black dress instead, which has undergone extensive modifications by my seamstress in order to fit me well and become slightly longer (to accommodate my longer torso).

The rest, well, I have to admit that it was pretty embarrassing for me to be subjected to so many compliments; I’m simply not used to that at all.

Because the air conditioning was not working (just the ventilation), and the dining room is in a basement, this place quickly became very hot. I was not really prepared for that. It’s springtime, the weather is actually reasonably fine for the season, but the nights are still chilly. But I expected that there would be some heating (not overheating!) so I picked a relatively thin dress, and wore a black top beneath it. The black top was the first thing to go; it actually covered part of my cleavage 🙂 so that meant displaying even a bit more. It was still incredibly hot, and I regretted not having used my heat-resistant Kryolan foundation. From the pictures I took when returning home, however, it seemed that the foundation still held reasonably well; other girls were unfortunately not so lucky…

Lately, when going out, I feel a certain sense of detachment. This doesn’t always happen, nor is it very consistent. What happens is that I’m constantly observing what I’m doing, and it feels that somehow my Sandra personality is pulling the strings, while that silent observer that I conventionally label ‘I’ is just put on hold and simply watches. This is, of course, not a very precise description; the silent observer does not have a ‘personality’ by itself, it just watches and observes. Now, for most of you, this might sound incredibly strange; unless you have by some chance taken some Buddhist meditation classes, then you’ll be very familiar with that sense of detachment, as you watch your own mind. In my own tradition, we train to meditate everywhere, not only during formal (silent) meditation classes — it is something you’re supposed to do all the time, even while sleeping. I will not bother you with the details on how that can be accomplished. It’s way easier than it sounds, but it definitely requires some training to accomplish. So, technically, while probably my Buddhist teachers would frown at this description of mine, while I’m presenting myself as Sandra, I’m actually ‘meditating’ on what my mind as Sandra is doing.

That is what actually makes me also absolutely calm after just a few minutes. Let me roll back time for a bit. While I was getting dressed and doing the final touches, I was incredibly stressed out. Then, because there is always the risk of being caught by the neighbours — since it was quite early, although the sun had just gone down — there is an adrenaline rush, during which I’m naturally excited but also nervous. But as the adrenaline rush fades, I tend to relax and just freely enjoy the feeling of ‘being Sandra’. After some more minutes, let’s say half an hour or so, I’m fully ‘adapted’ — for the lack of a better word — to ‘being Sandra’.

Now there is no ‘personality dissociation’ — at least not in my case, although a lot of crossdressers describe it that way. There is no real difference between what I call ‘me’ and what I call ‘Sandra’. I’m not suddenly overly feminine, or, as some describe it, I don’t ‘feel’ suddenly like a whore in heat 🙂 just because I’m wearing women’s clothes. The sensation is way more subtle; let’s say that I just adopt the role that I would have developed if I had been born in a female body. I don’t really need to role-play, or to act, in order to ‘be Sandra’. An interesting aspect of the members of our group is that almost all behave precisely the same way as I do (there are a few exceptions, as I’ve observed). They don’t need to ‘act feminine’ in order to manifest their gender expression as females; instead, they simply ‘act as themselves’, and, in most cases, that behaviour will be feminine, without the need to ’emphasize’ it or ‘improve’ upon it in some way.

And, in essence, that’s pretty much what I’m also comfortable with. I’m not interested in playing a role, i.e., trying to look like someone I’m not. While my personality might have its many flaws, that’s the kind of person I opted to be. I want to be true to myself, whatever that ‘self’ is. Naturally enough, as I’ve reported on previous posts, the mere fact that I’m wearing women’s clothes and have a different shape and body proportions, will make things different. I’ve already explained how simply having long fingernails require you to manipulate things differently (or you’ll either break your nails, or drop things). The same applies to a lot of small details, all of which you quickly learn to do (often after a lot of trial-and-error!), and all of those little things tend to improve the overall feminine image, even if they are apparently trivial — like learning how to eat soup without having your long hair falling in it (fortunately, I’ve trained that a lot at home! 🙂 ).

Piscando o olho
Winking. Picture taken by Nando Jr. Reproduced with permission of the author.

Of course, some people overdo it, either for comic relief, or because they really feel like overdoing it because they can. This is definitely true of a few of my friends, but it’s interesting to see how it’s not a widespread behaviour. As said, during the event, there was a female impersonator show, given by some members of the group. Of course that on stage, especially the ones favouring a burlesque style, there is some exaggeration, since they are doing a show, playing an act, playing roles, which are not supposed to be ‘real’ (like genetic female singers on the stage are also playing roles). Interestingly enough, outside the stage, even the female impersonators behave naturally as women do (at least while dressed). There is clearly a difference for them between the ‘show act’ and their normal behaviour outside the stage while still dressed.

Well, to finish this off, I should come up to the single moment which marked, for me, the highlight of the whole night. It’s embarrassing for me to admit that it was something very personal and quite selfish. One would assume that the ‘best’ moments were being with friends, some of which I had been in touch with for years but never managed to talk to them in public; or perhaps reviewing friends whom I had met but who are so far away that it’s rare to be able to together with them; or maybe the warm, fuzzy feeling of ‘belonging’ to a group that gets along together reasonably well, shares a common interest, and so forth. Of course all those moments were important and will be cherished by me for a long, long time.

But for me there was something else.

After having dinner, I went to the (unisex) bathroom to take a leak. When leaving the single stall, there is a common hand-washing area. There is also a full-length mirror, which I hadn’t noticed when I first used the bathroom (to get rid of the black top I had beneath the dress). So, naturally, I checked myself out, trying to tame my hair, adjusting the dress… and while I was doing that, it suddenly dawned on me that I was looking at an incredibly gorgeous, sexy woman on the mirror. I think I even gasped for an instant, shocked that for that single moment I truly didn’t recognised myself. It really felt like I was just watching someone else standing there in a curvy body and a close-fitting snake-pattern dress.

That feeling just lasted perhaps a fraction of a second — but it was truly overwhelming. Of course, every time I dress up, I enjoy what I’m doing, and for some brief moments I tend to become happy with the results, before I start noticing all tell-tale signs again, and the illusion shatters. And all the time I’m keenly aware that it’s ‘myself’, just looking female.

But that night on the full-length mirror it was a completely different degree of detachment. I totally lost the identity with that body I was watching on the mirror. It belonged to someone else — someone who definitely fascinated me. It was perhaps as close as an out-of-body experience as I might probably have, even though technically it wasn’t an out-of body experience. Perhaps the best analogy would be the sensation you have in a dream when you have a different body, and don’t even recognise it as ‘yours’, but there is still a lingering sensation tying your ‘self’ to the dream-body, even if it doesn’t remotely look like you. This was pretty much the same, the difference being that I was wide awake.

The sensation just lasted a moment, of course, but it definitely shocked me, and I was still a bit wobbly when returning to the table. Afterwards, I thought that this could have simply been a result of the anti-depressants I’m taking — after all, it does mess up with your brain (it’s what’s supposed to be doing!) — combined with the right circumstances, namely, that I had been addressed and treated as a woman for a few hours, but, unlike what happens at home, I haven’t had the opportunity to check myself out (except briefly on a pocket mirror to refresh my lipstick), and most definitely not in a full-length mirror.

So, well, it was weird. Very weird.

Of course this is the kind of experience that doesn’t make sense to anyone else (even for me it is completely outside the realm of my own experiences) but it certainly made my day (or night).

It’s fun to realise how much your mind can be influenced by the environment and what you are experiencing with the five senses…