Crazy Monday!

Smoking & Driving with SunglassesDo you remember my Crazy Thursday, half a year ago? Well, of course I have wanted to do the same, over and over again, but, alas, even in spite of all the wishful thinking and planning, I never managed to go out again for such a long time and visiting so many different spots. Until, by mere chance, I had almost the whole of Monday free — from lunchtime to several hours past dinnertime. So I couldn’t resist— this was my chance!

Lunchtime!

The weather has been mild lately, a warm October which still feels like summer most of the time, but the nights are chilly, and the weather prediction called for some eventual rain during the night. Hmm. No more sandals, I guess. And I made a mistake in choosing a pair of pointy Italian-style shoes (in real leather — not PU or ‘vegan’ leather) — pointy heels are allegedly back in style this autumn — as you will see later; the rest was pretty casual, and the makeup was cleverly done to look as natural as possible, since I would be in broad daylight for most of the day…

So, my first step was to get ready, avoid pesky neighbours, and drive to the city. It’s always a joy to have a pretext to wear sunglasses 😉 Especially because, of course, there is really no way that anyone recognises me that way (in fact, later on that day, I stopped at some street lights near the place where my office is, and two of my colleagues crossed the street straight in front of my car, and didn’t recognise me at all! 😀 ).

enjoying-lunchMy plan was to start having a very late lunch at one of the usual places where our group tends to go — we know we’re well accepted there. It was also another chance to take a look at how busy that particular area of Lisbon is during the afternoons. I have suspected (and the bar/esplanade owners there confirm this) that there is a slight rush in the late evening, as some people prefer to relax by the river instead of facing the long commute back, and just drive back home at around 8 o’clock, when the traffic is much milder. But at the hour I arrived — a bit before 4 o’clock — the place was peaceful enough; I made a mental note that if someone in our group wants to go out during daylight, this time and place might be the best choice for them (at least during the week).

Lunch was fine, although I overdid it on the garlic 🙂 Time for my next step!

Shrink double-trouble

at-the-psychiatric-institution
That’s me, at the waiting room of the psychiatric institution!

One of the points on my agenda was to try to figure out what is happening at the institution I go for my psychotherapy sessions (as well as psychiatry, endocrinology, etc.). For months I haven’t had an appointment with my psychologist. I have always this feeling that people there don’t take me seriously, just because I most definitely don’t look like a woman, and, on top of that, seem to be postponing my decision for transition sine die. Well, honestly, not everybody with gender dysphoria goes through transition. My psychologist, psychiatrist, and endocrinologist know that. But the rest of the staff — namely, those that type down the appointments and schedule them — might simply ignore this particular someone who doesn’t seem to be ready for transition…

As before, I always feel that when I go there as a woman I get things done! And sure enough — I had been transferred to the chief psychologist, but they hadn’t sent me any letter, or phone contact, or text, or email… nothing. If I hadn’t asked in person, I would simply have missed one appointment, and they take it very hard if you skip those appointments without a good reason. Worse than that, my usual sessions are in the afternoon, which is far more comfortable for me. This next session will be quite early in the morning, which means dealing with the double nightmare of getting dressed in time and face at least one hour, if not more, of commuting time. Oh well. We’ll see how it goes…

Apparently, my usual therapist is having a high-risk pregnancy, and therefore she will need to stay at home for another year. I’m really happy for her, and admire her courage as well, but of course it means being really, really careful in the next few months. I hope that the baby is born without any trouble, and that the mother goes safely through the birth!

Shrink Part Two

Well, recently I have been discussing things with my wife, and she clearly agrees that it makes no sense trying to get therapy for my depression if I just see a psychologist once or twice a year. The institution I got to is overwhelmed with new cases, and still provides counselling and therapy to all cases they have handled (with hundreds of successful transitions and close to a thousand currently being seen through the process). They really are understaffed, and this will not change in the next few years, as the Government has no choice but to shrink (pun intended!) the costs of operating the National Health Service.

So there is no other choice left but go through a private doctor. Fortunately for me, there is a specialist in clinical sexology working not far from both my workplace and the psychiatric institution I go to. This particular doctor’s name is on the List, too. The List is a very obscure list of doctors that are allowed to pronounce someone to be suffering from gender dysphoria and for making an official report (and therefore ‘legal’) which will allow someone to go through HRT and surgery, as well as get their ID cards changed with a new name and a new box checked for gender. Nobody really knows how doctors end up on the List, because the legislation does not specify that; it’s also unclear how you prevent doctors from joining the List, but the truth is that there are quite a few out there doing medical research on transgender issues — yes, those doctors actually talk to the community! — but are not ‘allowed’ to be on the List. Nobody knows why.

But this doctor is on the List, and he has some fame among the community, since he has been a member of the board of a few transgender associations. Yes, there are a couple — where all members on the board, with a few exceptions, are cisgender; and where they clearly ‘decide’ who is a transexual and who is not. In fact, they only really care about good-looking, passable transexuals. The rest of the transgender community, for them, simply doesn’t exist. Long story!

I had already an idea about the pricing through a friend who told me where this doctor’s office was. Apparently my insurance will pay for clinical sexology (interesting… how far will they actually pay for treatments/surgery for transition?), or at least they will cover most of the costs. It’s still expensive for me, if I wish to go, say, every week. Ironically, my father-in-law offered to pay me for those sessions — he thinks it’s a ‘normal’ psychologist that will just deal with my depression. Well, to be honest, I’d be more than fine to get this doctor refer me to a colleague that will deal with the depression separately. I’m fine with that. My only problem is that my insurance does not cover any kind of psychological therapy. Don’t ask me why. It’s one of those things with insurance companies.

I had also visited the clinic a while ago, to confirm prices and availability. But this time I wanted to do more: to set an actual appointment. I got that look from the receptionist (‘oh no, another one of those guys…’) but overall she was friendly and competent, and quickly confirmed a date for me near the end of October. I’m not sure if this is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I also asked about the frequency of sessions, and this is something that only the doctor can say. Well, we’ll see what happens. At least this session will be on a Saturday, close to lunchtime, so I will be able to drag myself out of bed and get ready; sadly, however, I will need to come back and get rid of everything, since very likely on that Saturday I will need to have dinner with my mother-in-law…

But let’s not anticipate things! What will happen, will happen. I’ll deal it by then!

Ouchie, ouchie, feet hurt!

By now I had finally to admit to myself that I picked the wrong choice of heels. I had used them often, that’s true, but one thing is to walk to an esplanade and stay sitting down for hours; the other thing is to walk around in them for hours. Needless to say, I got a nasty blister at the back of the left foot, and, no, I hadn’t any Band-Aids with me. Grrr. Well, there was just one thing left: go to a supermarket to buy something. There was actually one supermarket not very far away, but the trouble is that the sun was setting, and there is a rather ugly neighbourhood just across the street, and, to be honest, I didn’t feel much comfortable to walk around — in pained feet and unable to run! — at that time. A lot of rather suspicious characters were stepping out of buses, going home, and giving me very angry looks. Nobody said nothing, of course, but you can tell that they weren’t welcoming ‘someone like me’ in their neighbourhood.

Yep, that's me on a looooong queue inside the supermarket!
Yep, that’s me on a looooong queue inside the supermarket!

So the solution was simple, drive to a nearby mall, and go to the supermarket inside it. I had been on that mall for several times before, most of the time with someone else, although on that particular Crazy Thursday half a year ago I was on my own. I know there is nothing to fear inside a well-lit and patrolled place — even if the time (around 8 o’clock) was technically one of the rush hours. People around here often shop at the malls just after working in the evenings before going home; others even eat first something at the mall and then commute back (this mall is at one of the traffic nexus of Lisbon — where you have trains to pretty much everywhere, subway, and lots of different bus operators); and others, of course, are going to spend time at the mall, possibly going to the movies (it’s cheaper on Mondays). Therefore, just to pick up a tiny pack of Band-Aid, and some cough drops, I had to face the most insanely huge queue I ever saw on that particular supermarket (and yes, I go there relatively often — it’s the closest place to buy the special cat litter we use at home, which is not easily found elsewhere).

Oh well. There is a wonderful trend these days — people having nothing to do just play around with their smartphones and forget about the surroundings. That’s what I did, although, in fact, I was discreetly checking out people around me. Even though I was very close to a lot of people, most of them never looked at me twice — nor even once. A few shrugged me away after a first look — they weren’t ‘curious’ enough to look some more. There was one exception, a girl perhaps half my age who did giggle at me; I just smiled back. The (male) attendant at the cash register was very polite and courteous to me. In fact, I’m always very surprised when I feel that people become extra polite to me. I think that most people around here, for some reason, fear to be labeled as ‘transphobic’, so they simply fall back to extreme politeness when dealing with me. Well, it feels great, of course. This is the kind of experience I normally do not get when dressed as a male! I also think that sometimes people avoid looking directly at me, are mistaken for a fraction of a second, start treating me with the politeness reserved for women, and when they discover their mistake, well… they just stick to what they were saying and doing. Note that I’m talking about interactions with sellers, attendants, reps, and so forth; not with the ‘public-in-general’.

Many friends of mine try to explain to cisgender people what it feels to go out dressed as a woman, and they mostly talk about all the sensory experiences, as well as the emotional ones, most of which are absolutely denied to us when dressed as males. This is still a bit confusing for most people. Cisgender women don’t really think that they have any sort of ‘privilege’, mostly thanks to a social conditioning which unfortunately comes from a patriarchal society which attempts to make women ‘feel inferior’. Modern girls, of course, do not notice that directly. But I still believe that many have that experience — e.g. men will never listen to women’s opinions, discarding them as being ‘worthless’, but, on the other hand, they treat women with politeness and respect, in a way that they might not treat fellow males. The ‘privilege’ here is just in getting a ‘special’ treatment which includes a degree of politeness usually reserved only for women. And let me tell you that it feels awesome. I can’t describe it better.

This is the kind of thing that I’m taking notes of to tell my ‘new’ psychologists/sexologists. They will naturally ask the infamous question: ‘So, do you feel that you’re a woman inside?’ (or a variation thereof). My answer so far has been ‘yes, but I have been so conditioned by society to do my best attempting to perform the male gender role, that I can hardly express myself as the woman I know I am deep inside’. Now I’m a bit more honest. I say I don’t know; I haven’t had any experience in being a woman before (and no, I’m not going Buddhist on them and telling them that it’s very likely I had been female in half a million lives before the current one, but of course I have no recollection of that!). All I can say is that I do have the experience of acting the male role for decades, and not only I hate it, but I’m not even good at it. So, the best I can say is that ‘I’m not a man’. Because I know many of our health professionals are still stuck with binary gender, they will very likely say: ‘Ah, so if you’re sure you’re not a man, than you have to be a woman!’ That’s not really true, of course; not only gender is not binary, but, even if you assume it is, each and every one of us has a certain degree of ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’, and that can be seen for each different trait of our personality: some might be ‘more male’, others ‘more female’, but all these things are merely concepts based on stereotypical gender roles. Nobody is 100% male on all traits or 100% female; we are all a mix.

Still, cisgender women (especially radical feminists!!) will assure us, with utter conviction and absolutely no doubt, that they are women, not only in their appearance, but also where it counts — ‘inside’, in what some like to call the ‘gender core’, whatever that might be (currently it’s just an hypothetical description of the combination of neural interconnection that makes one ‘feel’ they belong to a specific gender; it might not have a physical location in the brain, but, like so many other things, it’s probably spread all over the place). They never question their ‘gender’. They could lose their breasts to cancer, shave their heads, gain weight or do body-building to acquire muscles all over the place, they might not be fertile and even have gone through hysterectomy or any similar surgery which will remove their reproductive organs, but… they would still be women. They have absolutely no doubt about that. Actually, many early onset transexuals are exactly the same way: they also have no doubt about their gender. It’s just that their body is defective and has evolved according to the ‘wrong’ gender. But there is nothing wrong with their deep conviction that they belong to a specific gender, to the exclusion of all others.

In my case — as well as with so many different transgender people — things are not so easy. There is no ‘gender core’ inside me saying: ‘hey, you’re male, start behaving as one!’ or ‘hey, you’re female, so why are you behaving as a male?’ My ‘gender core’ is silent. It gives me the chance to ask what gender I am, deep inside. But there is a problem with this approach: I have been socially conditioned to only experience the male gender and what comes with it. And, seriously, I was never happy with that experience at all. I envy women. But does that mean that my ‘gender core’ is female? No, not really; I have never experienced what it means to ‘be female’. All I know is what it feels to be male — and what it feels not to be male. It’s not obvious, of course, but when I dress up as Sandra, people interact with me differently than they would interact with the male part of me (there are a few exceptions with some friends who interact with me exactly in the same way, no matter how I’m dressed; my wife, of course, is part of that group). So I know how it feels not to be treated like a male, and I adore it. Is that because I’m being ‘treated as a female’? No, not really; I cannot in all honesty believe that’s the way other people see me. But it’s clear that they do not see me as a ‘stereotypical male’. And because most people believe in binary gender, if they think that the label ‘male’ does not apply with me, all they know — from their personal experience — is that they ought to label me ‘female’.

I suppose that I also believed in binary gender for a long, long time, and I also guess that it’s mostly this ‘belief’ that tends to push people into gender dysphoria. I mean mostly, because there are many clear-cut cases when it’s not a question of ‘belief’ — it’s a question of being undeniably, absolutely sure of what gender one belongs to.

But I digress… I didn’t stay for long at the mall. I mean, I could have stayed for a while longer, and perhaps do some window-shopping, but… I wanted to put those Band-Aids on top of the blister!!

Last drink

late-eveningSo at the end, with my feet much more relieved, I went back to the ‘usual place’ where our group tends to meet, and just had a lemonade to chill out for a while. In a couple of hours or so, my wife would be ‘paging’ me to drive her back home. In the mean time, I could chat a bit with the bar’s owner (it wasn’t ‘rush hour’ for him — yet) and one of the attendants. These guys are really great and they truly want every customer, no matter how odd they look, not only to feel comfortable, but even more, to feel at home. In a sense — and I’m most definitely unqualified to have an opinion in this area — I believe that this might be one of the keys of its success. But then again, what do I know of these things…

Anyway, so I just spent the last two hours or so frenetically typing on Facebook — I had brought my tablet & keyboard (there is always an advantage to having large handbags!), and I even could use Skype to chat a bit with a friend. It was fun 🙂

At the end of the day…

… I was tired, with one foot burning (and cursing for having been a fool in my choice of shoes!), but very, very happy 🙂

It was worth analysing why I was happy. Sure, there is always an adrenaline rush at the beginning, while I’m still dressing myself, and wondering if this will be the day that my neighbours find out the truth about myself and start pestering my wife for it. No matter how much I rationalise over the subject, I cannot stop the adrenaline rush. At my very first crossdressing sessions, of course it was all about the adrenaline rush — like anyone doing extreme sports, I was hooked on the adrenaline. And afterwards it also meant getting very, very horny with the whole idea, and that meant another strong emotion: orgasm. Naturally enough, I craved for all that. And like any good junkie knows, you always need more and more to get the same level of pleasure as before; that means going out more, being bolder, looking better than ever, and, well, start committing some crazy mistakes, possibly even risking your life in the process.

But at some point (and this happened to me a few years ago), you don’t do it for the ‘rush’ any more — much less for the orgasm, or whatever other excitement you get from dressing up and going out. Let’s say that the feelings of pleasure come from much more abstract (and less ‘animal’) emotions. In my case, it’s a certain sense of well-being, of ‘doing things right’ in a way, and, of course, thanks to my very positive experiences, I have to include the wonderful way I’m treated when I’m dressed as a woman — because I simply lack that experience when dressed as a man. I admit that I have spent all my life getting used to the idea that people demand impossible things from me without even saying ‘thank you’; they expect me to do everything without complaining, and do my best. And why do they have such high expectations? Well, for several reasons, and one of them (but not the only one) is, of course, that I’m supposed to be male, behave like a male, and that means being able to do miracles every day as part of my job. Even going further, society expects from me an endless stream of miracles and successes, and there is no compensation for that; it’s expected that I’m an overachiever, there is no need for anything else. Naturally enough, when I fail to fulfill those expectations, I’m deemed to be at the bottom of the sewer and not worthy to be addressed as a life form any longer (much less as a human being).

As a woman, however, the whole perspective changes. Because our societies are still male-dominated in so many regards, I feel very distinctly that people relax their expectations about me. Yes, this is the old sexism at work: you simply don’t care if women excel at something or not; males do really not expect much from females; and that, in turn, means complimenting you thoroughly for your least achievements, as if they were very important.

This is naturally a completely wrong view — not merely sexist, but functionally wrong. Just look at the debates between Hillary and Trump. From Trump you just expect that, to win the election, he keeps his calm, smiles in a ‘presidential’ way, and that’s all he needs. Hillary, by contrast, has to work much harder — she needs to show that she is far more reliable than Trump, while not sounding condescending or patronising, but also not ‘bitchy’, since, well, as a woman, she is expected to be polite and respectful at all times. On the other hand, every little thing she does correctly (even wearing the ‘right’ dress!) gains her a ton of compliments — that’s because, as she is a woman, the male-dominated society never expected her to rise so high. That is to be praised. But also seen as an exception to the rule (in the sense that there never was a female nominee for the US presidency before, so, well, female candidates are rare…).

There is no contradiction here with what I feel… Trump can afford to do few things in a debate, because he has ‘proven himself to be a man’. He has built a colossal financial empire — nevermind how he started it, or how badly he manages it. He’s surrounded by girls decades younger than him; and he is constantly implying that, in spite of his age, he is still able to have sex with them and enjoy himself. He has all the status symbols of success; all the signs that he is a fully accomplished alpha male, at the top of the food chain. And that’s why he doesn’t really need to do much. It’s also unimportant how true that image actually is; what counts — like any second-hand car salesman knows — is the perception that others have from that image. However, it takes time — and a lot of ‘male attitudes’ — to get to the point where Trump is right now. He might have been born in a golden crib, but he had to make sure that everybody knew that — whatever the means he used.

Now some guys have the talent, the skill, the predisposition to do what Trump did. If we look at most alpha males in our society — from actors to athletes, from bankers to politicians — they will have a history not much different than Trump’s; the main difference, of course, is that they will very likely have been much less discreet than Trump. It’s very sad to say that, but Trump embodies all that is absurdly wrong with a male-dominated society. And it matters little if we can give some examples of women who did pretty much the same as Trump (Palin comes to my mind… but there must be better examples) — they are, after all, just trying to emulate the worst of ‘malekind’ in order to get accepted.

Obviously not everybody shares Trump’s values, or the way he achieved his alpha male status. Cheating and lying can be tolerated within certain contexts (e.g. it’s acceptable to lie to save lifes, for example), but to turn cheating and lying into a lifestyle is not universally tolerated. Because it does advance people along a so-called ‘successful career’, it is marginally tolerated — one expects every billionaire to have cheated and lied to get their first million, and, from there onwards, they can be honest and truthful, because as we all know, money breeds more money 🙂 But placing your hands on that first million requires either inheriting it, or having the ability to lie and cheat for your own profit, even if it’s done in a very discreet way and in a very close circle of persons (and not boasted universally on television like Trump does).

In fact, most people are not like that, and they might still entertain the illusion that, with hard work and a honest outlook in life, they will eventually amass vast quantities of money as well. This, of course, is not true at all; there are certainly a few who will get lucky, but the odds, frankly, are against us.

Now when you realise that you cannot ever conform to society’s expectations — that every male ought to become an ‘alpha male’ through a certain behaviour — and you contrast it with your own values, your own expectations, your own abilities… then a lot of things can happen. You might note that you’re really not trying hard enough. That might be all right — then you resign yourself to a peaceful life with few troubles, just rejecting the stereotypes and having fun in your way, and that will be your secret for happiness. Others will really become obsessed with trying harder and harder, and eventually break and collapse — possibly with a heart attack from working too hard. Others will get depressed because they know they will never achieve what society expects from them.

A few — a very few — will wonder if they are following the right gender role at all.

One typical symptom of most types of depression is a very deep feeling that you’re a failure, a total waste of breathing air, because you can’t do anything right, and everything you try to do, you will just ruin it and be even worse off than before. On cisgender males, this ‘merely’ leads to depression; and it’s even more common when you reach a certain age (more on that on my next article!). Transgender males have a further problem to deal with: they might question that, after all, they were never ‘meant’ to be ‘men’ at all. They have wasted all their lives trying to live according to what society expected of a ‘male’, but utterly failed; as a consequence, they wonder if they are ‘male’ at all.

As I’ve said before, I have a lot of doubts if I was shaped to be a ‘male’ at all. Of course, suffering from depression connected to gender dysphoria does not help at all to shake off that feeling that I’m simply ‘not-a-male’ — not suited to ‘be’ a male in this society, because not only I don’t identify with any of those so-called ‘male values’, but at the same time I know I’ve tried to do my best to fit to people’s expectations of what a ‘male’ ought to be — and failed. So I conclude that I’m not ‘male’.

Even though that does not mean that I’m female — after all, I might just be what is known as a ‘weak male’, and weak males are much more prone to depression than alpha males. That doesn’t mean that weak males cannot be ‘treated’ — all they need to understand is that it’s stupid to try to please everybody and fit into their expectations of how you should be. Well, yes, I agree, it’s pretty much just that. The problem is that you have been conditioned for decades upon decades to believe that being a ‘weak male’ is bad, and are pushed very hard, through social pressure (and sometimes even from close family), to stop being ‘weak’ and just become ‘a guy like the others’.

For many males in that situation, dealing with the constant stress of having to become a ‘better’ version of yourself might push us into drinking, drugs, sometimes into religion… — or, well, to the very harmless practice of crossdressing, where you can, for a while, escape from society’s pressure to be an alpha male, all the time, and stop worrying about all that — because you will be, for those hours, a woman, and that means not being pushed to behave as men ought to behave.

Obviously it’s not that simple, and it would mean that crossdressing is merely some kind of escape, a coping mechanism for stress; even though it really works that way for a lot of crossdressers, it’s not an universal panacea — or we would see billions of men all suddenly wearing women’s clothes to ‘chill out’. Unfortunately, society even dictates what men can or not do to deal with the stress of ‘being’ men. Drinking is a choice. Beating your wife used to be tolerated until very recently in our sad history. And so on. But crossdressing is not on the list — it’s simply not acceptable, and it also means that no man in his right mind (even if he suffers from the stress of being a man) will turn to crossdressing as a form of ‘relief against stress’. Psychologists might recommend men with some kinds of stress-induced depression to get a hobby, but they do not recommend them to start putting on women’s clothes to relax.

No, the crossdressing urge goes much deeper than that. Activists and most transgender philosophers in our community, of course, will say that there is something ‘innately female’ in us, and that’s why we express ourselves as women — when we need to have some fun, when we need to deal with stress, and even when we want to get in touch with a sexual partner. Most men will never admit that they have an ‘inner female’ that prompts them to dress like women! Only transgender people will do that — even if, in truth, nobody has 100% male traits (or 100% female traits, for that matter).

So I think that the question is much more complex than that. In sociology and psychology, as well as other social sciences, there are currently two major schools of thought. One believes that there are innate causes (i.e. existing for themselves) that produce a certain behaviour; the other school says that there are only mental constructs, nothing more, and that we attribute certain mental constructs to certain behaviours and often even reify them. In layman words: the first school will say that, because some men have inherently a certain ‘femaleness’ inside them — even if we cannot pinpoint it on a CAT scan, that doesn’t mean it’s not there, it just means we still know very little about how the brain works …— and it’s this femaleness that is expressed through crossdressing. In some cases, of course, there is much more than just a ‘certain femaleness’ — the person is female, just has the wrong body. These are the clear-cut cases of early onset transexuality. The rest of the MtF transgender community is somewhere in between. They acknowledge that there is something ‘inherently female’ about them, and that they have always had it, it’s just that they have ‘covered it up’ as best as they could over the decades — until it was impossible to continue to do so, and it bursts out, stronger than ever before, often leading to transition.

Female Inside (Intel logo spoof)The other school, however, would say that there is no ‘intrinsic maleness’ or ‘intrinsic femaleness’ at all. These are just social constructs that we create to explain certain behaviours. This is not to say that ‘only behaviour exists’ (as we did say back in the 1960s or so), but rather that what we call ‘maleness’ or ‘femaleness’ is merely an assembly of lots of traits, attitudes, ideas, concepts, and so forth, which are exemplified (or ‘made real’, if you wish) when expressed through a certain behaviour. If you wish, you are ‘female’ if all your thoughts, intentions, emotions, cognitive functions, traits, attitudes, mood, and finally behaviour (including dress code!) is typically associated to what we stereotypically call ‘female’. For this school, there isn’t a sign saying ‘female inside’ in your brain. There are a lot of things that you feel and do, and these are more common in what we label as ‘female’ than in what we label as ‘male’, so you may very well prefer the label ‘female’.

Probably neither school is right. As a Buddhist, I prefer the Middle Way — which means that both schools are correct simultaneously, and that this is not a paradox, but rather two different ways of explaining exactly the same thing, but at different levels. In other words, a Buddhist would probably say that yes, ‘femaleness’ and ‘maleness’ are just social and mental constructs and nothing more, and it is we, human beings, who create those labels — they have nothing ‘intrinsic’ in them, in the sense that the universe does not have ‘male’ and ‘female’ atoms anywhere.

But wait! — some might argue — What about genetics and biology? Surely we must accept that there are predominantly two different (and complementary) sexes, without which we wouldn’t be able to reproduce at all!…

Nevertheless, we know that intersex conditions are much less rarer than certain cisgender groups would like us to believe. So we know that biology is not either/or, but rather an extremely delicate balance between ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ — tip the scales, and the ‘wrong’ result might simply come out, unsuspected. So even if we accepted (by belief, not science!) that gender is irrevocably connected to sexual attributes, then we would have to accept that a lot of people would not belong to either gender, since they might have been born with ambiguous genitalia, and it’s only through surgery — a human procedure, not a natural one! — that they might be able to approximate the genitalia of either sex, but sometimes not even that is possible.

If we simply ‘disconnect’ sex from gender then things make much more sense, and this is very likely the best reason for postulating the existence of a ‘gender core’, like so many people do (both in the transgender community as well the scientific community). In science, we follow Occam’s Razor — the simplest explanation that does not require additional factors to explain things is usually the correct one, or, at least, we ought to pick a simpler explanation over a complex one, because it will lead to better results.

All right. What has all that to do with having fun going out dressed as a woman on a Monday? 🙂

Again, I try to be honest to myself (which is not easy, when so many conflicting emotions are fighting with each other!), and evaluate, as best as I can, what exactly is the state of my mind when I spend many hours dressed as a woman.

I will have to cheat a little bit here. It’s not easy to do that. In fact, analysing one’s own state of mind is a rather hard thing to do. It requires proper training, and a lot of practice; don’t let people tell you otherwise. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find a good teacher, and even though I’m not very good at it, at least I do have some experience — almost a decade, in fact — of analysing my own mind in a detached way.

Even though I cannot do that all the time (I simply haven’t got enough practice for that!), I can do it for a few minutes… well, perhaps a few seconds… now and then. And the results are interesting.

At the very beginning, when I start to dress, and until I’m out of the home, my dominant emotion is a mixture of anxiety, stress, nervousness. This is all from the adrenaline rush; I know it because it means that my hands will shake and tremble (this is one of the side-effects of adrenaline), which makes applying makeup so much harder. Knowing that I’m under the influence of an adrenaline rush does not help whatsoever (it should help, but it doesn’t). Also, the old theories that the adrenaline rush just last for a quarter of an hour are a myth; it depends from person to person, and usually they last for as long as the brain perceives a potential threat. That’s why you can do extreme sports for several hours and still feel the effects from the adrenaline rush. And that’s why, unfortunately, after two or three hours of doing my makeup and all preparations for going out, I’m still feeling the side effects of the adrenaline rush, which include:

While adrenaline rushes are normal, some people may experience harmless side effects during the hormone release. These effects may include severe sweating, trembling in the extremities, knots in the stomach or an inability to speak, which typically resolve after the body returns to a normal metabolic state. (Source: eHow)

Duh! I get them all. And none of the tricks to subdue them work for me.

During this stage I don’t particularly feel ‘girly’ or ‘female-y’. In fact, I tend to move and behave in rather non-female ways, especially before the whole routine is complete. At the moment I finish it, there comes another state, which, however, is still under the influence of adrenaline: it’s a sensation of accomplishment, of having successfully completed something (in this case, getting ready to go out!), but also a certain acceptance of my self-image in the mirror, which is now much more pleasant to the eyes than my usual face 🙂 This, of course, can also become exciting in a sexual way — it would always bring me to an orgasm during my first times (that’s why I concluded that I was ‘merely a crossdresser’, because, well, I assumed back then that cisgender women would not get orgasms by watching themselves on the mirror after dressing up. How naïve I was!). At this point, my shapewear is distinctly felt, but it’s not an uncomfortable feeling, just a reminder of what I’m wearing; and the same applies to pretty much all things that I wear that are ‘unusual’ for a male (starting with the wig and earrings and finishing with the heels). It’s not exactly ‘pleasant’ to feel all that, but it’s just like a strong reminder that I’m not wearing my usual clothes any longer — and that is true from head to toe!

Then comes the actual moment of going out of the door (making sure that none of the cats escape!), and because this is a moment where so many things can go wrong, the adrenaline kicks back in with a vengeance (complicating things further due to the trembling and sweating, but on the other hand also increasing my awareness, so to be able to quickly escape towards the lift as soon as it arrives). There is a momentary relief inside the lift, where I check myself out for a last time to make sure that everything looks ‘right’ (it’s too late too change, anyway…); and a rush towards the car, during which I’m quite self-conscious and try to do my best walk.

The moment I drive away from home is my first relaxing moment. It’s actually curious, because cars are a source of problems and accidents; but psychologically, for me, it just means that I’m away from the ‘danger zone’ and can finally enjoy myself for a while. The adrenaline rush slowly subsides. There is still a lot of self-consciousness; I’m fidgeting with things (like the hair) which are never quite right where I want them to be; I try to remember the ‘correct’ pose inside the car, and all that sort of things. The feeling is pretty much how I imagine that an airplane pilot will feel while doing all the pre-flight checks: they are necessary and therefore important, they might be a bit boring and not really exciting, but they are not really ‘flying’, just preparation. I guess that my ‘preparation’ finishes after a few minutes inside the car — in essence, until the adrenaline rush subsides on its own.

What happens next is actually interesting. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment (I would guess that it’s the moment that adrenaline, which is a hormone, is metabolized, and therefore leaves the bloodstream; hormones, as I’m sure I’ve told you before, actually change the way the brain works — if you wish, you can think of hormones as a way of ‘rewiring the brain’ so that it works differently), but after a while, the feeling of self-consciousness, in the sense that I’m fully aware of what I’m doing, of what I’m wearing, and so forth, starts to fade out. At this point, all the eventual inconveniences of my shapewear and accessories and so forth simply stop bothering me. It’s really strange, because that will last for several hours — it’s only if I have the bad luck of having something truly piercing the skin (say, a whalebone) or really, really hurting my feet that I’m actually aware of what I’m wearing. If you wish, I enter a state of ‘anti-crossdressing’, in the sense that certain crossdressers wear women’s clothes because of the way they feel over one’s body, and that feeling is very pleasant or even exciting (in a sexual way). I most certainly feel that while I’m getting ready; but at some point in the car, well, I stop being that much aware of all my clothing, makeup, wig, and so forth; they ‘become a part of me’ (I’m sorry, but I can’t describe it much better than that), and while this feeling is not ‘permanent’, it will remain relatively constant over a long period of time (several hours).

During this time, what I feel most is that what I’m wearing ‘is right’. Again, I cannot really describe it much better. I can say that when people touch my breast forms or my hip pads, I sort of brusquely retract myself, or move out of the way, whatever… which is actually stupid, because I don’t feel the forms or the pads, they’re just attached to the skin… but in a sense the brain registers them as ‘part of me’. This is actually interesting because it’s very consistent with the way the brain maintains a self-reference to the body in all the memories, so that many movements take into account where each part of the body is. In other words: while during the first moments after dressing up (say, if I have dinner before going out) I might walk awkwardly around the home, bumping into things, having the hair in the way and so forth… when I reach this ‘anti-crossdressing’ stage, the brain has fully adapted to the different shape I’ve got, and all movements take those differences into account.

You might find that strange, but it isn’t. We do it all the time, when we pick up something heavy, for example, or are loaded with a bulky object with a strange shape. It might take us a few minutes to adapt, but afterwards, the brain recalculates every movement taking into account the extra weight and the strange shape, and you stop bumping into things. Of course, the more used you are to the extra things you lift/carry, the quicker you adapt (as anyone who went through military training knows very well). If I dressed up every day, I’m sure that this ‘anti-crossdressing’ feeling would kick in immediately after I’d finished my routine.

It’s important to say that, although this phase lasts the longer, it’s not totally ‘perfect’ or consistent. Once in a while, I feel myself ‘slipping out’ of the ‘anti-crossdressing’ phase: that might happen, for instance, if I see myself in a mirror (say, doing some makeup retouching in the women’s bathroom). This triggers the ‘enhanced self-awareness’ mode again, at least for a while; after a few hours, this will also mean, unfortunately, that I will notice a whalebone sticking out of the corset, or how a bit of the underwire bra is actually bruising against my chest, or how bits of the hair are getting stuck in my false eyelashes because the hairspray is losing its potency… all that kind of stuff. But when I’m out with friends, I tend to get much more easily distracted, and return to the ‘anti-crossdressing’ stage.

I don’t really like that name, but… how can I describe a mental state when I feel so comfortable in my own skin (and clothes!) that I don’t even have the sensation that I’m ‘crossdressed’, but, well, just ‘correctly dressed’, or ‘rightly dressed’, or something like that? I don’t really have words for it. I can just tell that it feels ‘right’. And by that I mean that I’m not really ‘aware’ of all the shapewear and the clothes and the wig, and so forth… I don’t need to consciously remember how to walk or move appropriately… I just enjoy myself in a very relaxed way, exactly as if I were dressed in my pyjamas 🙂

Over the hours, of course, some things start to get uncomfortable. It might be the shoe creating a blister (which will burst and open a small wound). It might be the corset seeming too tight. All those tiny little things which I had not been paying attention to are now striking back with a vengeance; and I also start to feel tired. Suddenly, going back home, taking everything off and going to sleep starts to become a very attractive idea.

At that stage it’s inevitable that I feel a certain amount of sadness — if I had just been born in the ‘right’ body, I wouldn’t feel any of those inconveniences ever, which are just a consequence of having to do so many tiny little things to barely look ‘womanly’. If I’m alone, that feeling of sadness can grow a lot and really push me to drive back home; usually, however, I’m having fun with my friends, and the moment often passes, putting me straight back into the ‘anti-crossdressing mode’ again. This will naturally last for a while longer, then the discomfort will come back, and so forth.

There is the last moment, which is when I take everything off. During my first experiments in crossdressing, I would be profoundly sad at that moment, feeling really, really down, and postponing the moment I had to take everything off for as long as I could. There were good reasons for that: I had no idea when I would be able to dress up again. So I would be very sad, often close to tears, because it meant waiting for who knows how many weeks and months until I got a new opportunity.

These days, however, because I know I will have plenty of more chances soon, I don’t feel any sadness nor regrets. I had my fun; I had my pleasant moments; now it’s the time to pack all the stuff and go to sleep, having made wonderful memories, and soon I will be able to do pretty much the same again. There might be a slight touch of sadness if I know beforehand that a few difficult weeks lie ahead and that might mean no crossdressing for a while. And, of course, there is always this incredible frustration of having the wrong body for all of this. I mean, to remove all my makeup, I take perhaps five minutes; the rest of the 40-50 minutes is mostly packing stuff. Seriously! If I were a woman (cisgender or transgender, that doesn’t matter), I would not need to thoroughly wash the breast forms, wait until they dry, then carefully pack them again in their boxes… I would not need to get each false fingernail out, wash them, patiently remove every bit of glue, and put them away in the plastic case where I store them… I would not need to wash most of my shapewear, as well as all the makeup brushes… not to mention the time spent in cleaning the fake eyelashes properly so that they can be used again… I would not need to carefully put everything back in its proper storage place (because who knows when my sister-in-law might drop in)… I would not need to spend so much time brushing and cleaning and prepping up my human hair wig (although I’m sure I would still need to do something), put it back in its rightful place… well, you get my point!

When Caitlyn Jenner commented about the things that she started to enjoy most about being a woman full-time, she commented that she loved the idea of going to the salon, get her nails done, and not worry about removing the nail polish for two weeks. A lot of the media laughed at her futility. But anyone who is a crossdresser can totally understand her!

Of course, this is actually unfair, because transgender women have to do a lot of things that we crossdressers do not need to (I’m thinking about dilation, for example); and it’s ok if you just need to look your best once in a while when you go out — but it’s a nightmare if you have to do it every day until the end of your natural life. Well, or at least I can imagine it is — I don’t know. All I know is that I take 15 minutes to put makeup on, and 5 minutes to remove it. All the remaining time is pretty much wasted in doing tons of things that I ‘need’ to do because my body is simply the wrong shape for the way I like to present myself.

Human beings are always complaining, and I’m not an exception! I’m sure that if I had completed my transition, I would now be talking about the myriad small nightmares that come with transition — and probably forget all about the main reasons that have made transition worthwhile.

Therefore, although I complain a lot about the time I ‘waste’ doing what always seem to be ‘unnecessary things’ (because cisgender women do not need to worry about all that), the truth is that the time I’m allowed to express myself as Sandra is the most pleasant time I have these days. Of course I’m also aware that this is part of the depression and gender dysphoria; in other words, it’s just a question of perception.

But until I can transcend my own perceptions (and that means a lot more practice!), it still bothers me that there is such a difference between my so-called ‘male role’ and the ‘female role’. I mean, I’m not ‘a different person’; as said, anyone who knows both my male and female side know that I behave pretty much in the same way, I’m not ‘more male’ or ‘more female’ — like a few transgender people are, who have completely different personalities according to the way they are dressed — but I’m just ‘me’. The difference is how I feel about it. In my male role, the ‘best’ I can feel is ‘indifference’ — in the sense that I’m so used of being treated as some sort of yucky bug at the bottom of the trash bin that I don’t give a second thought about it, although I’m sure I should. In fact, it pains me to go out with old friends in my ‘male role’. It’s simply not ‘fun’ anymore. It’s not my friends’ fault — they are still special to me, in the same way they always have been. It’s just me that has changed: my brain has made a connection between ‘presenting myself as Sandra’ and ‘extreme pleasure’, while my ‘male mode’ lacks that pleasurable connection. I keep telling myself when I’m with my friends how much more enjoyable it would be for me if only I could dress up as I wished. But, alas, I cannot. And again I cannot blame my friends for that, either — they were merely conditioned by society to believe that it is wrong to dress as a woman if you have the body shape of a man.

Fortunately for me, these days I have plenty of days that I can go out with those friends who tolerate and fully accept me as Sandra. But sometimes I also enjoy the solitude of going out on my own; after all, I did that for many, many years. Also, because my schedule is so unpredictable, so constrained by my wife’s own unpredictable schedule, that it is often next to impossible to arrange things to go out with a friend or two — especially when the time I’m free for doing that is incompatible with most of my friends’ own schedules!

But I will definitely continue to have a hard time to talk to my new psychologists and clinical sexologists about my, uh, ‘condition’. I have to be honest with them: I cannot really say that I’m a ‘woman inside’. All I can say is that I was never a ‘man inside’, and, over the years, it became apparent how little talent I have to live others’ expectations of my ‘maleness’ (in terms of success, a professional career, and so forth), and, conversely, how much I enjoy not only dressing up as a woman, but interacting as a woman, and getting the sort of positive feedback that I would never dream to be possible… and that most definitely feels great 😀

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