Crazy Thursday

Sandra smoking in the carAt some point last year — I cannot exactly say when — I looked at myself in the mirror for the umpteeth time and thought, ‘Ugh, I look terrible — I look less and less like a woman!’

It shouldn’t come as a surprise: every time I gain some weight, I have pretty much the same reaction. Or, well, I’m not getting any younger; there is a limit to what cosmetics can do to my face. So, yes, sometimes I just get frustrated, because, as time passes, entropy will just make me look worse and worse…

who-caresNow, before you yell: ‘it’s not true!’ let me just explain what my thoughts were. I said to myself: who cares?

Forget about passing!

This is my new philosophy for 2016 and beyond: stop worrying about passing!

There are really two types of transgender people (and I’m including crossdressers): those who are always worrying about passing — believing that passing is important to lead a life as the gender they identify with — and the ones who simply don’t care. Guess who is happier?

Consider the old saying: you can fool some people all the time, or you can fool all people some of the time — but you can never fool all people all the time. The key point is that, no matter how many surgeries you do, or how long you’re on hormones, there will be always someone who will figure out that you’ve been born in the ‘wrong’ body. It might be something as simple as looking at your hands! There is no amount of surgery that will change that — if you’ve been born in a male body, you’ll always have disproportionately large hands (unless you are really very, very lucky). Even if you’re androgynous in a petite body — your hands will be larger than the hands of a woman born in a female body with the same size and body measurements as you. Most people will never notice. Some will.

The question is always: how will you deal with that?

Some will get overanxious and worried, and go to Facebook and Twitter yelling: ‘I’ve been misgendered again!’ and complain about society in general. Others will be terribly devastated and frustrated — after so many years of working so hard at passing, they will still get ‘clocked’ or ‘read’, even if just by a tiny number of people. Others still will blame their doctors and surgeons, because they botched their jobs. Some will complain to the community who gave them the assurance that they would be able to live their lives just like cisgender women, and now they’re facing the truth — that, in reality, they will always be seen as ‘trans women’, no matter how hard they try to look (or behave) like women.

You’re trying too hard!

So the lesson I learned when looking at myself in the mirror was: it’s not that I lack makeup skills (even though they can be improved). It’s not that my hair is somehow not right (I could always buy new hair, or let it be styled professionally). It’s not that my clothes fit me wrongly, or are out of fashion (I could always get a personal stylist). It’s not that I’m overweight and can’t even disguise that with a corset (I could always go on a radical diet and start exercising like crazy). I can always find an excuse for not being ‘perfect’; but there is always something else I could do about it — take makeup classes, learn to be fashionable, spend more money on cosmetic treatments, and so forth. Ultimately, however, I will always look like a man in a dress.

What matters is my attitude. That’s the only thing I can change!

And so I shrugged to my face in the mirror, and simply stopped caring about how others perceived me.

I’m tall and will always attract undue attention. Even if I looked spotlessly perfect as a woman, I would still be conspicuous. I cannot change my height. So, yes, people will look. They will notice that I’m not a cisgender woman. So what? Why should I bother about what others think about me?

Of course, some will say: well, if you don’t pass, you’ll be a victim of transphobia; only trans women who look like cisgender women are able to avoid transphobia. Sure, that’s true. But there is ‘everyday’ transphobia — people looking at you, whispering behind your back, pointing you out in a crowd, laughing at you and catcalling and so forth — and there is ‘serious’ transphobia (getting fired, getting physically hurt, being refused access to health care, and so forth). While the latter is something to be taken quite serious, the former cases are… annoying, at worst. But why should you care? Why should others laughing at you affect you? In fact, you can even be glad that you’re making others happy 🙂

A lot of crossdressing guides tend to tell beginners to look and act with confidence, and things will be much easier that way. I would certainly underline those passages and try to remember them all the time. The shop assistant who cannot repress the laughter quickly enough will be the one regretting when you tell her that if she doesn’t stop laughing, you’ll just shop someplace else. And that’s pretty much true for every kind of interaction you’ll have.

Soooo after that day, I just do my routine and look at the mirror to see if I’m merely dressing ‘correctly’ — in the sense that you’re not wearing a cocktail dress to a casual shopping spree, or that you’re dressing your age, and making sure that no undergarments are showing, or that your cleavage is not overwhelming, or that the wig is put on correctly. That’s all that really matters — so that you can go out in public and think: ‘I may be just a guy in a dress, but at least I dress correctly‘. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

Good-bye worries!

Once I started thinking that way, there was a subtle change in my experience in going out as a woman. Previously I have to admit that I would be pumped up by adrenaline and shaking with excitement — but also with fear. Fear of being recognised; fear of being ‘read’ (which I invariably was); fear of being made a laughingstock in public. There was so much fear and anxiety that even the adrenaline didn’t really kick in to make me enjoy the experience. And recently I was able to observe that in a few of my friends. By contrast, those who have overcome the constant fear and anxiety seem to enjoy themselves so much more when going out in public.

And the latter are right! Isn’t the point of going out having fun? That’s what matters, after all! As long as you keep worrying about being ‘read’ (and consequently being laughed at, or actively becoming a victim of transphobia), you’re not really enjoying yourself at all. And what’s the point of going all the trouble to present yourself as a person of the gender you identify with if that experience is stressful and not enjoyable at all?

You might say that it’s different for transexuals than for crossdressers; after all, during and after transition, transexuals will have no choice but to live their lives as the gender they identify with, and they have to minimise the risks of becoming victims of transphobia. That’s definitely true, but… how is becoming overanxious about how one presents oneself a solution to the problem?

An old Buddhist saying goes like this:

If you can fix what ails you, why do you worry?

If you cannot fix it, why do you worry?

The point being that worrying is hardly a ‘positive’ experience, in the sense that it will not make you a happy person just because you worry all the time!

I’m not saying that you should be reckless and take unnecessary risks! By no means! What I’m saying is that the actual act of constantly worrying about everything you do when presenting yourself as the gender you identify with will not make that experience enjoyable, and it won’t lead to happiness.

Crossdressers, by contrast, will claim that ‘passing’ is important for them, because they fear being recognised, and of the consequences of that recognition. All I can say to that is — why worry about it? Sure, you might be recognised by your best friend, and, as a consequence, he’ll dump you. Then you ought to wonder if he was really your best friend after all — because true friendship is not skin deep. And yes, that means that all your friends who become shocked at your appearance are not really ‘true’ friends at all — so why worry that much about keeping them?

Some might also claim that crossdressing in public has the risk of getting caught by one’s wife (or at least a close familiar which will talk to one’s wife…) or one’s boss — resulting in a divorce and the loss of a job. Well, the divorce issue is naturally very tricky, and I can certainly offer no advice regarding that; it’s true that most women will never accept a crossdressing husband, much less a transgender husband who is planning transition — statistics will be against you. But as for losing your job… well, there are laws to protect you. People cannot simply fire you because you have put on a dress and went out for a drink. If they do, they are liable to the justice. And yes, I’m aware how complicated that is — it means going to court and assume before the judge that you are transgender, in order to get your rights properly enforced. But not everyone is willing to deal with it…

On the other hand, why worry about the likelihood of all that happening? Sure, if it happens, it’s worth worrying about it — but by then it’s too late anyway, the harm’s done. So my attitude is much more carefree these days: sure, one day I will be caught by someone I didn’t want to catch me. I’m constantly meeting acquaintances all over the place (in spite of having 2.8 million people working in my home town, it feels much more like a small village) and it’s reasonable to assume that, sooner or later, someone will see me (neighbours are seeing me all the time, but, so far, nobody ever told me anything about it — they just see me for a few seconds anyway, and I guess most will not really recognise me, because they are not near enough to see my face).

But why should I worry now about that happening in the future?

So… once I overcame all those worries… suddenly the whole experience of presenting myself as a woman changed, and in quite a radical way. But of course it was a change for the best.

It’s the medication, silly!

You know that feeling of adrenaline rush that makes you tremble in anticipation of a night out with friends? The thrill and excitement from stepping outside your home, not knowing if you’ll be seen, rushing to the safety of the car, and driving away as quickly as possible?

Well, that’s an animal reflex, common to pretty much all mammals (and probably others too): it’s called the fight-or-flight reflex, and it’s mostly to mediated through adrenaline.

I’ve talked before about the ‘addiction to adrenaline’ which makes something like crossdressing as exciting as parashooting. This reflex is triggered when we’re in the presence of something that our mind registers as ‘dangerous’ (it doesn’t matter if that something is really dangerous or not; what matters is what our mind thinks): adrenaline is pumped into our bloodstream, making the muscles respond quicker (and also increasing their strength), but the brain is also chemically transformed in a way that allows it to focus on the imminent source of danger and make quick decisions (not all of them good). The central nervous system gets a boost in terms of responsiveness and speed of signal transmission – meaning that any decision made by the brain gets forwarded to the appropriate muscles much faster than usual. Blood is pumped at a faster rate, increasing the supply of oxygen to the muscles. The ‘trembling’ that we experience when under the influence of an adrenaline rush is pretty much the muscles being ‘pumped up’ to get ready to do whatever action is appropriate in the presence of danger.

Two responses are possible: either to flee from the impending danger as quickly as possible, or to face the danger and attack it. Depending on the species, one of the possible choices is more likely than the other. Cats, for instance, in spite of being apex predators in their natural habitat, are much more likely to flee in the presence of danger than to attack – a cat will only fight back if it’s cornered with no way out.

You might be wondering why I’m talking about basic biology on an article dealing with crossdressing and transgender issues! Well, the point here is that we perceive the whole experience of ‘going out’ presenting ourselves as the gender we identify with as being dangerous. And, therefore, we fear it – we fear being recognised, we fear stumbling over our high heels and humiliating ourselves in piublic, we fear transphobia and eventual violence, we fear a lot of things that are hardly rational. This, in turn, triggers the fight-or-flight reflex – in our case, of course, we will override it and really go out, but we definitely still experience the effects of all that adrenaline pumped in our system.

And as the night progresses, we might feel the same thrill again and again: when entering the restaurant or bar we’re going to, not knowing who will be inside (who might eventually recognise us); when deciding to use the ladies’ toilet; when going out again and walking back to the car; and so forth. And although over the years we will get more and more used to it, there will always be some ‘danger’ lurking in the back of our minds, which will pump at least some adrenaline into our bloodstream – the experience, to a degree, will always be a bit exciting.

Now consider my personal case; like everybody else, I definitely was often terribly scared of being seen (although secretly wishing exactly that – we humans can be paradoxical that way!), of doing something ‘wrong’, of breaking a heel (it happened once!) or losing the wig (which never happened), of forgetting my car keys and being stranded in the middle of nowhere a few hours before dawn, of puncturing a tyre, of being caught by a gang of transphobes who would beat me up and rape me, of getting caught by my nosiest neighbours when finally going back home… Well, you name it, whatever you fear that might happen you in public, I feared it all. Of course, over time, I restricted my walks to places I felt a bit more secure, but the dread of being caught was always present.

At the same time, of course, there were two other conflicting fears. The first was the fear of not ‘passing’ and therefore attracting undue attention by transphobes; but the reverse was not exactly less worrying: if I passed as a woman, then I might become a potential victim of rape, from men thinking that I was, indeed, a woman – and who, when noticing their mistake, would be even more enraged!

Hardly comforting thoughts when walking in your heels at 4 AM in deserted neighbourhoods.

With the treatment I’m getting for depression and anxiety, anxiolytics definitely made all symptoms of anxiety disappear. That was really a wonderful feeling – the idea that I didn’t need to worry that much, that it was pointless to be angry about every little tiny thing, that I could merely relax and enjoy life instead of being a constant nerve wreck.

One side-effect of those anxiolytics, of course, was that I lost much of my ‘fear’ of going out.

Don’t think for a second that the anxiolytics turned me in a brave and bold lioness, not fearing anything in the world! Rather, they allowed me to detach myself from the whole experience and evaluate it: what activities are more risky? Which ones should I avoid? Which ones are silly to fear?

This also meant that, to a degree, I became much less anxious about going out — but I started to be more careful about where I go. Long are gone my walks in the middle of the night on empty neighbourhoods; these were, indeed, much more risky (in the sense of the real risk of becoming a victim of violence or crime). Instead, I prefer to go to well-lit public places — malls, restaurants, and so forth. These are much safer in terms of physical safety. Of course, it also means that I might be recognised more easily… especially if I’m insane enough to go to places where I’m aware that friends and family regularly go! (I’m not that insane… yet!)

It’s true that I take it much more easier than before, and I might have to thank the anxiolytics for it. But there is certainly a lot of thrill and enthusiasm!… it’s not as if the medicine I take has completely dumbed me down and turned me into an apathetic vegetable! These new-generation anxiolytics work very, very differently (most importantly: they really work!), and, in general, I don’t even notice that I’m taking them (there are no side-effects after a while). I just notice that I don’t worry so much and don’t get angry so easily. That’s truly the only difference I see. But wow, what a difference it makes…

Crazy Thursdays: The Opportunity!

So, what am I doing with my newly-found peace of mind regarding going out in public?

Well, this semester my wife has a rather intense Thursday at university — I drive her to a class starting at 10 AM and she is busy until midnight (yes, poor thing, she has to stay there for fourteen long hours — but fortunately she does have plenty of pauses and a long afternoon break). For me, it means Freedom — freedom to crossdress for all those hours!

My wife doesn’t mind that I pick her up at midnight while crossdressed; she figures (probably correctly) that the risk of being seen by a neighbour is rather small. I’ve been picking her up at university while dressed for quite a while; the only thing I have to do is to text her beforehand, so she gets rid of her colleagues (some of which already know my car) and waits for me on her own.

This is my psychologist. Yes, she looks great. No, I won't post better pictures of her here — definitely not without permission!
This is my psychologist. Yes, she looks great. No, I won’t post better pictures of her here — definitely not without permission!

Last Thursday was also the day I had an appointment with my psychologist. As you surely have been noticing, I have been catching up on alternatives to transition, and I wanted to discuss those with her. And by sheer coincidence, a friend of mine was also going to be at the same institution, also going to her therapist there, and we decided both to ‘go crazy’ — she already goes dressed as a woman regularly to her therapist, but it would be the first time for me, and then, being with her, I would be happy to go with her anywhere 🙂

This is an opportunity I didn’t want to miss — I have no idea if my wife will ever have another semestre with such long days (it’s not likely!), so I have to grab those little chances I’ve got 😉

So I’ve decided that (except for vacations and holidays, of course), until the end of June, I will always do my ‘Crazy Thursdays’. My appointments with the psychologist and psychiatrist are always on Thursdays, which is awfully convenient. But even when I don’t have any appointments at all I will most certainly enjoy being (almost) the whole day en femme, in broad daylight, and doing perfectly ‘normal’ things. Think of it as a sort of training: I’m training to deal with transphobia on an everyday basis on most common situations — going out of my comfort zone, which is mostly sticking to places that I already know that are LGBT-friendly (even if they’re not officially announced as such).

After dropping my wife at university, I rushed back to home, dressed at an impressive speed — I had bought last year a fantastic two-piece suit (jacket & skirt), made by a British company which specialises in formal wear, Pamoni. They usually do suits for men, but recently they added a collection for women as well; I have always loved British formal fashion design, and Pamoni not only make large sizes (Rule Britannia!) but they also do jackets with a waist — something that is almost impossible to find in my country, they always assume that anyone taller than 1.60m is pear-shaped 😛

It certainly looks much more like a park than a mental institution...
It certainly looks much more like a park than a mental institution…

After wolfing down something for lunch, it was time to drive to my mental institution where I have my appointments. Parking nearby is not too hard — I know that particular area of Lisbon very well since for some mysterious reason I was born in a clinic there, and spent almost all my life (with very few exceptions!) working somewhere in the area, although I’ve never actually lived there (too expensive!).

It’s just crossing the street from the parking lot to the large campus where this particular mental institution has its buildings. It doesn’t really look like a mental institution; more like a park with some scattered buildings from the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, they renamed the area as ‘Health Park’, which is much more politically correct than ‘asylum’ 🙂

The particular building I go for my appointments is actually funny. It’s circular (you can’t really appreciate it on the picture to the right; this is shot made from the café esplanade towards that building, but the trees pretty much cover everything…) and the actual offices were… former cells for the inmates. They’re cramped and tiny, and one can only imagine how conditions were, a century ago; still, at least they had good light (there is a small inner garden inside the circle) and very likely good air (by then, Lisbon was much smaller; today, this is pretty much in a very crowded area, and, worse than that, the airport is very near, and the flight routes are directly above the institution!).

I certainly walked with a lot of confidence around the campus; after all, a good amount of the transexual population in the Lisbon area goes there for their appointments, and while I haven’t got access to the actual statistics, I got some hints that there were ‘hundreds, perhaps a thousand’ current patients. This particular institution is merely one of many which has appointments for transexuals; there are at least two other major ones in Lisbon, and I’ve heard of another three, all funded by the National Health Service; and, of course, there are private doctors and clinics as well, although the actual surgeries are hard to get — there are very few doctors in our country who know how to do those surgeries. The best surgeon has been ‘forced’ to retire from the public service, due to his age, although he still continues to follow his patients and perform surgeries at a private hospital.

I was expecting to see my friend, but maybe she hadn’t still arrived; she came from far, by public transportation, and her appointment was 20 minutes after mine, so she had plenty of time. I hadn’t — I had to wait first to get my number called, present all the bureaucratic stuff at the welcome desk, and then wait for being called by my psychologist. This usually doesn’t take long, but there are always exceptionally busy days, and this happened to be one of them!

This is how the main waiting room looks like on a good day: absolutely empty!
This is how the main waiting room looks like in a good day: absolutely empty!

As I sat down to patiently wait for my turn, my friend appears — but she was in her male attire, seething with anger. I asked her what had happened. She got a cold, so she didn’t want to dress; and they had mixed up the hour of her appointment, so she had missed it — for the second time. I just mumbled something about her cold, telling her that, once she begins the real life test, she will have to dress as the gender she identifies with, no matter if she has a cold or not; she admitted that I was right, but her makeup would be ruined if she blew her nose…

We were in the middle of our conversation when my psychologist (probably recognising my voice!) came out of her office and asked me if I had already checked in; I said no, I was still waiting for my turn. As a true professional, although this was the first time she saw me in female attire, she didn’t even flinch, blink an eye, or hesitate in any way — outwardly, she gave all the signs that she would expect me looking like that every day.

Eventually, my turn came up (my friend, in the meantime, was chasing her own psychologist in order to confirm the date of her next appointment), I knocked at my psychologist’s office, but there was a novelty on her side as well: she asked me if I would be comfortable with having one of the trainees watching our session as well. I didn’t mind at all, of course, and at that point my psychologist complimented me on my choice of clothing 🙂

Well, I won’t bother you with the details of our session, but I can tell you that there was really no difference to previous sessions. This time my focus was on alternatives to transition — if you have been following my blog, you know I’ve been thinking about those — about which I wanted to know, from a clinical and academic perspective, if they were good options. My psychologist commented little about that, she just took notes, but at the very end, while complaining that I wasn’t following her ‘homework’ (she is totally right, and I have few excuses except having to deal with the complexities and nightmares of my wife’s schedule), she told me that she wanted for me to get rid of the doctorship as quickly as possible (in the good sense, of course!), to see if the main symptoms of the depression would disappear, so that she could focus on my transexuality instead.

I was actually pleasantly surprised at that. After almost an hour of ranting about ‘alternatives to transition’, I was actually expecting that my psychologist would refer me to someone else, just to deal with my depression, and that’s it, I’m not transexual, nor transgender, just someone who enjoys crossdressing and is currently suffering from a severe clinical depression, so it would be pointless to continue my treatment at this particular institution (or at least at the clinical sexology department of the institution).

Instead, somehow, my psychologist was even more convinced about my transexuality, and lately, although she is supposed not to let me know what they have internally decide in terms of diagnosis, she has dropped plenty of hints about it.

And there might be some truth in that diagnosis after all. I have read many recent studies about people who are clearly MtF transexuals (I’ll avoid the label ‘gender dysphoric’ for now) but who were (and are) not especially feminine. And many of those, while they dreamed of one day going through transition and living their lives as women, they actually were quite realistic and pragmatic, and were searching for alternatives to deal with their dysphoria without transitioning. They were all nevertheless diagnosed as transexuals, and treated as such.

Well, after my appointment, my friend was waiting for me, she had already talked to her own psychologist about a new date, and I told her that I was still free, having nothing to do until midnight, when I had to pick up my wife; although we had a lot of plans to go together dressed, the very least I could do is give her a ride home.

Instead, we went out to one of our favourite bars, which also has an esplanade, and we had never been there in broad daylight. It was definitely fun to see people’s reactions; my makeup cannot disguise me as well by day as by night, so naturally I was more ‘exposed’ — but I most certainly didn’t mind at all. It was pretty much ‘natural’ for me; in other words, although nobody looks at me when dressed as a male — I’m totally invisible — I enjoy the attention I get when dressed as a woman, even though I hardly pass. That’s, in fact, the whole point of this article: that I truly don’t care if I pass or not. In other words: transphobes will still be transphobes, no matter how well I pass or not; if I clearly assume from the very beginning that I have no chance of passing, then all the anxiety about passing or not passing is simply gone — I can simply enjoy myself!

Later, my friend had to pick up something before returning home, and while I waited for her, I managed to do a video in the car, during twilight:

Once my friend was dropped at home — we went through the rush hour, so that took some time — I still had some time to kill, and it quickly becomes boring to spend, say, 2 or 3 hours inside a car, waiting for my wife. So, instead, I went to a shopping mall where I could get something to eat, sit at a balcony and having some quiet smokes, while enjoying the free Wi-Fi and catching up with things.

I had actually been to this particular mall before as Sandra — just not on my own. It’s pretty safe, though, and I had emailed them about their policy in terms of ‘dress code’, and I got a very friendly message from their marketing department telling me that they welcome anyone in their malls, so long as they don’t cause any disturbance (which seems obvious!). So there is really nothing to fear — there is no way that a gang of transphobes can suddenly rush in and start spanking me to death! They have security — and cameras — to make sure something like that never happens (and, in fact, there has never been such an incident in any mall, at least so far as I know).

Obviously people would look at me, giggle, or look away in contempt and disgust; they would laugh and comment with their friends; or they would point at me to others; but, actually, those were in the minority, and, by now, I’m used to that. Sometimes I even smile back, just to show that I’m really not affected by what they think of me. And there was a nice lady selling sunglasses that actually was charming and wished me a good evening with a smile 🙂

By sheer coincidence, when I was eating something on the open balcony, a friend of mine called me, and we spent over an hour on the phone together — so when we finished that call, I didn’t even have time to take a look at some of my favourite shops on that mall, but had to rush quickly to pick up my wife…

The need to be in public?

What drives me to go out in public this way? As said, I will repeat this ‘Crazy Thursday’ again and again, starting the next week, during which I will also have an appointment with my psychiatrist and report him the progress I’ve been making thanks to the change of medication.

I will also very likely start to explore doing other ‘common’ things, like shopping for food, or whatever chores I need to do. I might avoid those places where I usually go, merely as a precaution to protect my wife — more than ‘getting caught’, I don’t want people to get some crazy ideas about what I’m doing to her!

In fact, there are lots of hours that I will have free on Thursdays. Often I will be with friends, but mostly during or after dinner (they work, after all 🙂 ). There will be plenty of free hours. While it’s quite likely that I will spend those doing some work (I can work while dressed, after all) — dragging my Mac and going to one of my favourite bars where I will be well-treated — I might do other things as well. Visit the plethora of people who have, in some small way, contributed to Sandra’s continued existence — hairdressers, manicurists, cosmetic specialists, bra fitters, apparel shop owners, and so forth. Who knows, the sky is the limit — or rather, it’s not, since I will only have opportunity to do that until June!

There are two main reasons for doing all that. One, of course, is strictly personal, and quite egoistic and narcissistic — people with the kind of internal drive to ‘become’ a woman like me (globally speaking, these would be all crossdreamers), to a degree, need to do it more and more often. That ‘need’ is probably unhealthy, in the sense that it becomes obsessive, pretty much like an addiction: there is never the feeling that it is ‘enough’, you can always do something more.

Not all crossdreamers are like that. Many are happy to achieve a certain level of contentment and remain in their comfort zone; they’re not unhappy about that, rather the contrary. Contentment is the best form to deal with desires, wishes, urges, expectations, and so forth, which only trigger anxiety symptoms and obsessive behaviour. Therefore, this aspect of the ‘urge’ is not so positive.

On the other hand, we also have to take into account what exactly each person is trying to accomplish. For my psychologist (and I’ve got a second opinion from a different psychologist, which pretty much agrees with her), there have been endless decades of repression and suppression of my inner feelings. There is simply a point where it is ‘too much’. Some people might live all their lives happily suppressing their feelings and never complain; others, however, are like shaking a champagne bottle — shake it strong enough, and the pressure inside is so great that the cork will pop.

When that happens, there is delight in the pleasure from stopping that suppression. This is not easy to explain, but imagine that you had a thorn in your foot, which you had caught in your teens, but, for some reason, doctors could not find any thorn whatsoever, and they simply considered your pain as being psychosomatic. For years and decades you have walked with a limp, suffering constantly from the pain in your foot, but, knowing that the doctors believe it to be psychosomatic, you simply try to ‘wish the pain away’. It doesn’t work totally, but, as years pass, you get used and used to the constant pain, and, knowing you cannot do anything about it, you simply accept it as it is: something which will not kill you, but just be a constant nuisance.

At some point, however, the pain starts to increase more and more, and it becomes difficult to walk, or even to sleep during the night, because the pain is constant. The more you walk, the more it hurts; but staying at home, with your foot in the air, is not helping much, either. Painkillers might work to a degree, but doctors will not give you any, if your pain is purely imaginary…

One day, one of your friends — who also happens to be a surgeon — visits you at home, while you’re groaning with the pain. He had, of course, heard about your ‘imaginary’ pain, but, seeing that you’re suffering so much, he says: ‘Let me take another look at your foot!’ And, sure thing, there is some swelling, some reddish colour which looks like an infection, and, while it’s not impossible for psychosomatic diseases to manifest themselves physically, it’s not that common either; so, frowning, your friend the surgeon starts poking at the sore flesh around that area, and, by sheer chance, truly finds the thorn embedded deeply in the flesh. Or maybe because, after so many years, the thorn was being slowly expelled out of the innermost folds of the flesh, and reaching the more sensitive areas near the surface (thus the increase in pain). But on the other hand, the thorn finally became visible, and, with a few improvised tools, he manages to extract it.

Immediately the pain subsides. You still feel how the area around the thorn is sore and inflamed, but your friend tells you that a few anti-inflammatories will quickly deal with that. And, indeed, after just a few days, the small wound closes completely, it heals perfectly, and the pain in your foot is completely, utterly gone.

Imagine the sense of liberation that comes from that.

It’s not only the pain itself that is gone, which, in turn, means less mental anguish, less (constant) stress, and so forth. This will eventually come later. But, right now, when the foot is healed and the pain is gone, you can now do everything you wished to do but were unable to do because of the pain: jog across the forest. Pick up some sport. Start going by bike to work. Buy a new pair of shoes. Go up the ceiling to finally fix the broken tiles (or adjust the antenna). Whatever. Now that your foot doesn’t hurt any more, a whole world has opened for you, and all you wish is to thoroughly enjoy the freedom!

I think that, at least for me, this analogy also holds for my crossdressing. For countless years, and innumerable reasons, I had to repress the urge to go out as Sandra. But that was always my dream, my deepest desire: to walk the world as a woman. It just was one of those many things that I carefully labeled as ‘impossible’ and stored carefully in the shelf for wild dreams and stupid hopes. But it constantly fell off the shelf, and I had to put it back, over and over again, until much of my mental anguish — just like the analogy with the constant pain in the foot — was about dealing with that repression. It would be particularly hard to deal with when I was feeling down for some reason.

Slowly, step by step, over the past few years, I was able to release the tip of the iceberg. And the more I released, the more happy and comfortable I feel about it. Even a certain disappointment — that no matter how much makeup I apply I will not look like Angelina Jolie… — is overwhelmed by the joy I feel when presenting myself as a woman. It’s not just ‘feeling liberated’ (although that feeling certainly also plays some part of it). It’s more about the idea of finally be doing exactly what I always wished to do — a sense of accomplishment, of finality, of reaching a goal (or of being very close to reach it), of having my whole life make sense. If I died tomorrow, I would be content, since my goal of showing the world (or at least a tiny part of it!) that Sandra is allowed to walk among other common mortals has been accomplished.

So these are the personal, egoistic reasons for ‘going out’ in public.

There is also a more altruistic reason for going out, of course. This has to do with fighting transgender invisibility, and, because that topic is so important, it will deserve a whole article about it. I have to admit that I came very, very late to understand the issue, and only very recently it started to make sense to me.

Very briefly, you can deal with transphobia in several ways. One, of course, is through education: hoping that future generations, being better informed about transgender issues, are able to deal with their own transphobia and understand how silly it is. In essence, what we wish to accomplish is that there is acceptance — through education — of transgenderity, as we already have acceptance of homosexuality, of people with different skin colours, different religions, and so forth. I’m not saying that we have dispelled discrimination in all those case — unfortunately, that is not the case at all. However, what we can see is that there has been a lot of progress made. People from all those minorities are still statistically less well treated (earn less, are more unhealthy/unhappy, are more victims of violence and crime, and so forth) than the majority, but it’s getting visibly better. In other words: yes, there is still quite a long way to go to utterly stop discrimination of those minorities, but we’re making progress. It’s certainly much better in 2016 than what it was in 1956. Or 1816.

The second way is, of course, through legislation, i.e. making discrimination a crime, and making sure that all minorities — including transgender and intersex people — are part of the list of people against whom discrimination is forbidden. Ironically, we actually have quite good laws world-wide to deal with transgender discrimination — it’s forbidden in a surprisingly high amount of countries. However, although laws can point the way towards a better, more inclusive society, the laws by themselves don’t change people’s minds. Most people right now don’t even understand why they don’t have the right to discriminate transgender people — they don’t even understand the issue altogether, since, in the popular mainstream media, transgender people are still associated with some kind of freaks (at best) or sexual perverts (at worse). Nevertheless, laws are important. At least they give minorities the right to complain and the right to demand justice — in theory. In practice, it might be hard to implement…

There is, however, a third way which can work now, and not in the vague, misty future. And this is visibility. Now, I’m not talking about doing public demonstrations, rallies, parades, and so forth; these have a limited audience, and also they often give the wrong idea: that transgender people are all stuck inside ghettos and wish their rights inside the ghetto to be respected. Most people are fine with that, so long as transgender people don’t walk outside their ghettos — where heteronormative cisgender people believe that terrible sexual perversions occur on a daily basis, and wish to have nothing to do with that.

The kind of visibility I’m talking about is connected to the idea that transgender people are just people, and, as people, they pretty much do what everybody else does — and this includes boring things like taking the garbage out of home or washing stairs, to going to restaurants, to the movies, to exhibitions. It means riding in buses and subways, as well as tanning themselves at the beach. It does not mean doing ‘terrible sexual perversions’ in public 🙂

The gay rights movement was very quick in understanding that homosexuals needed to be visible in order to be accepted. This meant coming out, of course, but also doing absolutely normal things when coming out. Although naturally there is a wide variety of aspects to the gay culture, some of which might not be so easily tolerated by the mainstream culture, I would nevertheless argue that the majority of gay people looks precisely like ordinary people (because they are!) and do precisely the same things that ordinary people do — they also need jobs to pay their bills and clean their houses, after all. The insignificant matter of whom they go to bed with is totally irrelevant in terms of making a valid contribution to society, which has nothing to do with sexual preferences. But, yes, that meant showing that homosexuals were visibly doing ordinary things, and not hiding in ghettos, closed communities, and so forth.

We need the same to happen for crossdreamers, crossdressers, and all sorts of transgender people. Note that there is still a huge number of transgender people for whom the ‘need to pass’ is an imperative: if they pass well enough, they will be mistaken by a cisgender person, and will be able to lead a normal life. That is certainly the strategy that closet homosexuals have adopted for centuries. The problem is that it’s very easy to hide your true sexual orientation, but it’s not easy to hide your physical body, if it does not conform to the heteronormative cisgender stereotypes.

Well, my point is that we should not care about how well we pass, but rather, being conscious of not passing, nevertheless become visible enough by doing ordinary things at ordinary places, so that people get familiar with us. And this has been shown to be one of the best approaches to deal with discrimination: discrimination is strongly based upon incomplete information which leads to bias against that specific minority; but when people are put in positions where they have to deal with those minorities on an everyday basis, they suddenly notice that they are really not different from anybody else. This takes much less time than going via education and/or laws to modify the values and mentality of future generations; we can do it right now and have an immediate impact.

As said, this whole topic deserves to be expanded much more; I’m just giving you a slight taste of it, because, for me, it’s also important for my fellow citizens to see that yes, in this country of us, there are plenty of citizens that are also transgender. It’s not something that ‘happens only in strange, liberal foreign countries’. And, more important than realizing that there are transgender people among us, it’s to realize that they are perfectly normal people as well, and do ordinary things on a daily basis. That’s what’s important to see!

In my country, for example, almost every contact that the cisgender heteronormative society has had with crossdressers and transexuals is with sex workers. They are visible in the red light districts and few ever venture out of them. For those seeking a sexual experience with them, there are certain places where you can go. Or, of course, you can simply look them up on Facebook — it’s crammed full of their pictures, after all.

It is therefore quite hard to get rid of the wrong concept that transexuality and crossdressing are merely sexual kinks. Even those who hear about the laws regulating transition totally miss the point: they don’t understand why someone should be allowed to get their bodies changed (and their surgeries paid by the State!) just to get more sex customers — because the only reason they see for someone to change their bodies is to get more customers (or more higher-paying ones).

The only way to fight this misconception is to become visible — outside the scope of prostitution, that is. It means showing that transgender people come from every class of society; some are doctors, engineers, airplane pilots, police officers or doing active military duty. They are no ‘freaks’ but, in many cases, highly successful individuals, who nevertheless are struggling with their gender identity. But it’s not enough to claim not to be a freak; others have to see you doing ‘unfreakish’, ordinary things as well.

As said, this deserves much more thought 🙂

In conclusion, yes, I will once again try to fully exploit the recent enhancement in my freedom. Step by step, of course, but I’m working on it 🙂 And getting all the joy that I deserve, after so many decades of repressing my feelings…

Wherever this path leads me (I have no idea), it’s certainly worth walking it for a while!

  • After posting this, which took me quite a while to write, I noticed that I have lots of references to ‘last Thursday’, when, in fact, this happened Thursday before last… but the dates are pretty much irrelevant, so I left the text as it is.

  • Emma Sweet

    Hi Sandra,

    I’ve no doubt your posts take a long time to write. Just want you to know your writing is appreciated.

    Like you, I also take advantage of times my wife is away, and dress. But I stay at home at least for now. No wig, no makeup, just a pretty dress or skirt, etc. As I told my therapist, it’s more about just living for a few hours that feels good.

    I love it that you’re in Lisbon. You write English like a native speaker! I visited Portugal a couple of years ago on business trip, and thoroughly loved it. Beautiful country, beautiful people.

    Take care,

    Emma

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