Two decades ago or so, I used to have so-called ‘crossdressing vacations’. These were quite short, normally just 5 days or so, at some remote place where nobody knew me, and where I could indulge myself in doing as much crossdressing as I wanted.
Unfortunately, back then, I really had very low confidence in my ability to face the public dressed as a woman. It’s also more likely, these days, to find more tolerant people around, although perhaps it wasn’t that bad in the mid-1990s; the truth is that I have no way to know. So, what I did, I limited myself to a closed room in a hotel, and the very occasional car drive in the darkest hours of the night. That was how much I ‘dared’ to do.
Back then, I already had a dream: to be able to master my appearance and self-confidence to go out with some of my crossdressing acquaintances. I had to wait almost two decades for that to happen.
Of course, these days, my life is completely different. And the biggest change in that regard was the sudden realisation that I really didn’t care if I really ‘looked like a woman’ – all I enjoy is going out dressing like I enjoy the most, and being treated according to the gender I present as, namely as a woman. I care little about ‘passing’, and, indeed, people’s reactions amuse me more than annoy me. Perhaps not ironically – but it came as a surprise to me! – the people I get in touch with (shop attendants, waiters, recepcionists, and so forth) never misgender me. In other words: they ‘play along’. I present as a woman, so they treat me as a woman; we both know I might not legally, nor genetically, nor even intellectually be a woman, but people really don’t deliberately ‘offend’ me, by treating me in a way that would be inconsistent with my gender presentation, even if sometimes it can become confusing, when I meet people who have seen me presenting as a male before.
Another of those ironies is that my extrovert façade (I leave it up to my doctors to figure out if it’s just a mask or something I truly am; I can only say that I mostly think and act as an extrovert in most situations, whatever my subconscious might believe about my ‘true nature’ – whatever that is) actually helps me quite a lot in those social interactions. I put people at ease. I make it simple for them to be comfortable with me. I’m friendly, smile a lot, joke to relieve tension, and have no problem in projecting an image of self-confidence which took me perhaps two decades to achieve, but which now comes naturally. And that usually is enough to ‘break the ice’ – and before I start explaining my current dreams, I will shortly go through a few examples!
Fingernails are just fingernails!
Last year, I remember that there was a short sequence of 2 or 3 days when I would be able to dress as a woman. Thus, to save time, I decided to get my fingernails professionally done. This is something quite cheap to do these days, and there are gazillions of options; but I had picked a specific salon belonging to a small network with which I was familiar with, and which have very reasonable prices for their quality. So I walked straight in and asked if they had any vacancies for that specific hour, explaining that I had not made any reservation. It was clear that the person who received me was a bit perplexed about what she ought to do or not. Besides, she was near the end of her shift; but her colleague was still having lunch, and she wasn’t sure if she would return sooner rather than later… and in the mean time, I was obviously a waiting customer!
So she decided to do the manicure herself. I noted that she was way more nervous than I was, probably because she didn’t want to sound offensive in any way, or of doing something wrong that would earn her a reprimand from her boss… so I put her completely at ease. After all, I just wanted something quite simple – I cannot do anything fancy like gel extensions because my wife would never tolerate that (and I’ll come to that later!) so it was a plain and simple job, just what I always get when I present as a male, with the sole difference of getting a coloured varnish instead of a transparent or watery white one.
I’m usually good at small talk, no matter with whom I talk, and I’m not humble enough to pretend that I’m not a charming person; I know I can be charming, and that I actually do it naturally, I don’t need any special effort for doing that. After a few minutes we were on the best of terms, she did a great job, and I thanked her profusely; she admitted never having done a nail job to ‘someone like me’ to which I replied that ‘fingernails are just fingernails’ or something with words to the effect.
It was a nice experience, of course, and one of the many where I wasn’t really treated ‘differently’, so to speak, even though there was an initial hesitation and it took a few minutes to break the ice.
Old face but new… body?!?
Another fun episode was when I recently went to the salon where I buy my hairpieces. Usually I go there dressed as a male; but the last two times, I went as a female. Now, the penultimate time was relatively peaceful since I came in relatively late, when the salon was almost going to close. But the last time was different.
I should explain that this particular shop is located in a building almost hundred years old, in one of the largest avenues of Lisbon, which was built shortly after we became a republic in the early 20th century. The salon is on the first floor. These old buildings tended to have some ultra-small shops at the ground level, squeezed between the stairs and the front… they used to be tobacco shops or host small repair services (like shoe repair for instance) — the kind of activity where you just need one person and not much storage or display space. With the hefty renovation being done all over the city, most of these tiny shops have gone, but this building still has one: it belongs to a 50-ish old Portuguese from African descent, and he is a dressmaker, or at least he does some work on his ancient sewing machine, which is set atop a tiny counter, behind which he sits most of the time, doing his work. Along the entrance hall some of his wares — mostly ethnic dresses of all shapes and colours — are on a display, and there is a full body mirror as well. I have never bought anything from him, but since I’ve known the salon for well over a decade, even if I don’t go there that often (mostly to get my wig professionally taken care of, for routine maintenance — and, of course, to buy new ones once in a while!), the dressmaker (or whatever he is!) knows me by now; he’s very friendly, and we always exchange some small talk for the brief time I literally walk ‘across his shop’ — so to speak! — to reach the stairs. Of course, we’re not soul buddies, nor even on first-name speaking terms… but if you have seen someone so many times over such long periods, we’re sort of ‘familiar faces’ to each other.
So, as Sandra, I naturally gave him a ‘good evening’ this last time. He is used to people addressing him, and probably knows my voice even without looking away from his sewing work, so he started addressing me back, but then noticed how I looked like that day, and, shocked or surprised, or even both, he sort of stopped mid-sentence. It was kind of amusing, to be honest, but I went straight up the stairs and got to talk to my favourite hairdresser (who — I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before — is a gorgeous blonde) for a while — she had no waiting customers, I hadn’t seen her in a while, and although obviously she had seen me wearing a wig lots of times, she hadn’t seen me fully dressed as a woman before (the other time I went there, I talked to her colleague instead). She was rather positively impressed with the way I looked (even though she had seen pictures of me before!).
And when I finally left her, I passed again by the dressmaker, and gave him another ‘good evening’, a short wish for a pleasant upcoming weekend, and so forth. This time, he started to reply, but swallowed the wrong way, and just coughed in embarrassment. Poor guy! Even though he very likely suspected for years that I went there for the wigs, he clearly didn’t imagine that I would, one day, walk in the building in broad daylight dressed as a woman. But… he nevertheless tried to be polite, as he usually is; the problem was that he was too shocked 🙂
It’s just for tobacco…
You have seen my pictures smoking, and you know that I almost always use a holder (the rare exception being some ‘special request’ from a fan…). There are good reasons for that, which I’m sure I have talked about before, but what you don’t know is what is inside the holder!
You’d be forgiven to believe that it was just a hollow cylinder. And, in fact, that’s how early cigarette holders were constructed — just a tube where the cigarette closely fits at one end. But nowadays holders have another additional usage: trapping the tar. ‘Tar’ is an abstract, non-scientific name for the gooey brown residue that remains from burning an organic product. It’s not just ashes! There are other remains, and, in fact, it’s the ‘tar’ that is made of the 7,000+ (toxic) chemicals which smokers inhale. It’s also what makes a smoker’s house be covered with an almost uniform coat of a sticky, brown substance — which we shrug off as ‘nicotine stains’, but the truth is that all of that is actually ‘tar’. Now, of course, smokers know that the ‘tar’ will accumulate inside one’s lungs, to the point that the self-regenerating ability of the lungs stop working, and then it means using a hacking cough to get rid of the mucus that covers and protects the lung interiors, until not even that is enough, at which time the smoker will probably die from emphysema, lung cancer, or some similar fatal (and painful) disease.
In theory at least, if there was a way of removing all the tar from tobacco smoke, then it’s nothing more than nicotine on water vapour (just like on e-cigarettes, in fact) with some aromatic molecules for taste. Unfortunately, currently there is no easy way to get rid of the tar, or at least of all the tar, and obviously there is no moral interest in researching and developing a ‘healthier’ solution (with a few exceptions: for instance, heating tobacco, as opposed to burning it, eliminates the tar because there is no combustion, and the tobacco leaves get gently roasted that way, which will keep the flavour — and the nicotine! — but leave no residue).
The first (and nearly almost last…) technology used to capture the tar is the paper/cotton filter known as the ‘cork’ — which is placed at one end of the cigarette and is traditionally painted in an absurd orange-y colour (‘corks’ used to be made of real cork, and I guess that the colour is a reminder of those ancient days). As every smoker knows, just puffing a few times on a cigarette will turn the filter inside brown or even black — this is tar being trapped, but, as we also well know, it’s by far not enough: most of the tar still gets through to the mouth and lungs.
Modern cigarette holders have an additional filter. They can be made of several materials. The simplest models just have a way to squeeze the smoke through a tiny hole — large enough for water vapour, nicotine molecules, and aromatic molecules to squeeze through, but small enough to capture a lot more tar. This works to a degree, but tends to spoil the taste. The filters are replaceable as they accumulate more and more tar until they stop working. They’re made of plastic, so they’re not very ecological, so the clever Chinese have devised a more sophisticated method using a ‘filter’ made of metal instead of plastic. The advantage? It can be easily cleaned with alcohol (which dissolves the tar almost instantly), unlike the plastic filters, which will never be completely clean that way (yes, the tar will also adhere to the plastic over time… so we smokers should really think about what the tar must do to our lungs!).
There are, however, alternatives. My own choice is using a filter made of silica gel — that same material which is used for absorbing humidity from the air and keep the insides of boxes dry. Silica gel crystals will also trap tar quite efficiently, until they become completely black and stop being useful — meaning that you have to replace the filter with a new one, generally after smoking a pack of cigarettes.
Now, depending on the brand, using these filters can quickly become very expensive — sometimes as expensive as the pack of cigarettes themselves! One might argue that one’s health is more important than the price, but if that were true, nobody would smoke in the first place. So, what do I do? I buy silica gel filters from a different brand, which are several orders of magnitude cheaper than the ones for my own holders. The problem, of course, is that each brand deliberately has its own filter sizes, and usually they are not compatible with each other — that way, holder brands often make far more money from the filters than from the holders themselves. It’s exactly the same thing that happens with ink jet printers: ink is cheap to produce, but it’s sold at exorbitant prices, and theoretically the most expensive liquid in the world. That’s how printer manufacturers can keep the cost of their printers down, earning their profits from ink. And I use the same principle for my holders: I just open up the cheaper filters and drop the content inside an empty filter correctly sized for my holder brands. Yes, it means that every day I have to ‘refill’ the filter with silica gel, but it just takes a few seconds, and, as said, I’m saving orders of magnitude of money. In theory at least I could even go cheaper and buy silica gel wholesale directly from a supplier; my problem is that I have no idea what kinds are ‘safe’ for usage (if ‘safe’ is the right word in this context). The silica gel crystals designed for cigarette holders may be produced differently, I have no idea; so I prefer to trust (again, for a certain value of the word ‘trust’ in this context…) to cigarette holder filter manufacturers to pick the ‘right’ kind of silica gel…
Anyway! That’s quite a lot of background, just to explain my story. As you can imagine, there are not many cigarette holder users, so there are relatively few tobacco shops which carry filters for the holders. There are also several different, competing holder brands, each with its own filter system. Most tobacco shops will carry, at most, one or perhaps two brands. Very few will bother to stock filters for all brands (even though well-packed silica gel filters can last a long time), and, over the past decades, I have been a good customer of those very few tobacco shops which have ‘my’ brand. When I moved to my current home, not quite two decades ago, it took me quite a while to find the only tobacco shop in the area which carries those filters, and, since then, I have almost exclusively bought them there.
Although the tobacco shop is tiny, I know the owner quite well; she does shifts with the rest of the staff (which I suspect to be members of her family…), so it’s not as if I always buy from her; it really depends on the day and the hour. But the other day I noticed that I had ran out of silica gel after I had dressed as a woman, and it was just plain stupid to take everything off, drive a dozen kilometres or so to that tobacco shop, buy the filters, drive back home, and start dressing up again… this would take me the whole day! So I decided to go there dressed as a woman.
Now, this shop, as said, is really not much more than a glorified kiosk inside a shopping mall — it’s really tiny, but crammed full with all sorts of tobacco accessories and the most exotic brands of tobacco I’ve ever seen. Besides tobacco, they also sell magazines, newspapers, and our equivalent of the national lottery and similar games — because, at most, they can have two people attending customers (and usually it’s just one), there is always a queue for that shop. Always. The queue may be as small as 3 to 4 people, or as large as 20 or so, but it always means waiting to be served — and most customers just want the lottery, but that takes some time to automatically validate, so it means waiting (larger shops, of course, will separate the ‘games section’ from the actual queue for tobacco products, but this kiosk is too small for that).
I noticed that this time, besides another staff member I didn’t know, the owner was there, too —and she immediately recognised me. She also made a clear look of disapproval. But, of course, she knows I’m a regular customer. So she practically did everything to make sure that I got served by the other staff member. But the queue was going slow — people were patiently waiting to play their lottery games — and it was not easy to predict who would serve who. At some point, she got some help from her husband, to speed up the queue; but the husband looked at me twice, and invented some plausible excuse to get away (I could hear her saying ‘but you cannot leave me now!’ before the husband grabbed his wallet and disappeared in the blink of an eye).
At this time, I found the whole scene utterly amusing, as the owner struggled to not serve me in any possible way; but, eventually, she had no way out. Before I could even ask her for anything, she said: ‘You’re here for your usual filters, right?’ That was when I had absolutely no doubt that she had recognised me 🙂
But really… I don’t bite, and transgenderity is not catching. I was not really going to ask for something extraordinary! In fact, I was just there for a pack of cigarettes and ‘my usual filters’, as she so well put it. The whole show of ‘not serving’ me was totally pointless. I might complain now, after the fact, that I was not particularly well treated; but because I know the owner of the shop for so long, I know that she must have had her politeness glands surgically extracted decades ago. She’s absolutely incapable of being nice to anyone (apparently not even to her own husband), so I was not treated worse than usual, or, in fact, worse than anyone else on that very same queue. It was just funny how she did try so hard to avoid me! 🙂
‘Friend’ is a genderless word (at least in English)
It’s one thing to pop up in front of someone you have never seen in your life (and possibly will never see again) and watch their reaction as they figure out that this tall, curvy ‘thing’ in front of them has most definitely not been born with a female body; I got amused by the funny looks I sometimes get on, say, public transportation, where you will actually ‘see’ thousands of people at the same time, but your eye will just catch the attention of one or two; needless to say, in spite of everything (my height, my ‘unusualness’…), I remain ‘invisible’ in the foreground most of the time. I have also developed a few tricks for that: while women will usually return looks, unless they are very shy (or brought up in a non-Western society), and those who don’t will be deemed ‘unusual’ — and therefore attract attention — there is a way out of it, which is to pretend to be aloof and above everybody else, and basically look towards the infinite and pretty much ignore direct looks. That means coming out as being a snob, of course, but all gorgeous women do that, because they are so used to be ‘checked out’ by anything male in the vicinity.
So I do pretty much the same. I don’t ‘look away’ (or down, which is even worse), because most women will walk with self-confidence and a smile, and not try to disappear from the scene (as I’ve heard that some crossdressers sometimes do when they panic). The trick is never to break your stride, look ahead towards infinity (or towards a shop window, if you’re near one!), and exude self-confidence; the more self-confidence you project, the less likely people will notice you. It’s strange, but every crossdressing manual mentions that; I’ve tried it as well, and I can only say that they were not lying! It’s those who are nervously looking the other way, or down, or fidgeting with their hair or something like that, who catch the attention of the public in general.
Obviously it depends a lot on how you dress, how tall you are, how feminine you look like. There is a lot that can be disguised with a little training, of course. But sometimes there is not much you can do. In my own country, where men are almost all over 1.70m tall, but women rarely reach that height (on average), it’s impossible not to ‘stand out’ if you’re 1.78m tall and wearing heels. That means that you will draw attention, even if you look exactly like any other woman, and dress according to your age, time of the day, and the place where you are.
The other thing, of course, is how you dress and present yourself for the first time (and even on subsequent ones) to people that you know well. I mean really well, like, say, your wife… or your best friend forever.
My own BFF currently lives in Switzerland, but he has also lived in the US for well over a decade, and made a successful career in his area. We became very close friends at the university; we don’t have similar personalities, but we sort of complement each other in many ways. I’m calm and moderate; he’s brilliant and has a temper (he has become far more mellow with age, though!). We both are extroverts under most circumstances, but we also don’t make friends easily – real friends, that is, not ‘acquaintances’, much less ‘Facebook friends’. We share several common interests; I have introduced him to the wonderful world of board games, and he is now a connoisseur way beyond my own interests; we both love science fiction, speculative fiction, philosophy, and reading books. So even after university and with the decrease of available time, we managed to keep in touch regularly, at least once per week, sometimes twice, over several years. Until this country really became too small for my friend; he quickly became overqualified to work here, and, of course, there was a limit to how much he could earn. So he packed his belongings, grabbed his wife (they married in a hurry after being together for several years, since a legal marriage would make their entrance in the US much easier – I was his ‘best man’ and also attempted to play the organ at his marriage with hilarious results. Long story…), and went to work for many compànies in the US – from top software developers to defense contractors, and he even worked for NASA and the military. One day, when we are too old to get sued, we might share with the public some of the fun moments of his experience dealing with the top IT companies and IT departments of top companies and organisations of the world. Some things, in retrospective, are so incredibly absurd that very likely nobody would believe us anyway…
Being workoholics, we started to see each other much less often — only on the rare occasions that he would spend some time with his parents, say during Christmas or so. He also tends to be busy visiting them, as well as all the other friends he has in Portugal, and that means that his available time is usually very short — and often during periods when everybody else is also very busy (say, with Christmas preparations or New Year celebrations). So there were a few years when we did not even manage to be together for a single day.
Seven months ago or so, I decided to reveal myself that I was transgender, even though I met him in my male clothes; his reply was to reveal himself as bisexual and polyamorous, so he couldn’t care less about what I was or what my choice of clothes would be 🙂 Still, of course, one thing is to say that, the other is to experience that. Our friendship is now three decades old, and he has always seen me as a male and never thought of me in any other different way. Ironically, he didn’t even know that I smoked; he himself is asthmatic — not really a radical anti-smoker (his ex-wife used to smoke — not much, more like socially — but eventually gave it up because of his health), but rather not comfortable in closed places where smokers are, because the smoke irritates his respiratory system. And it is true that he can get serious lung-related issues because of his asthma (he did in the past, and very likely will be subject to them in the future as well).
Anyway… there was, of course, some anxiety in ‘dressing up’ for being with someone that knows me very well. As said, this is not a mere ‘acquaintance’. It’s not even ‘an old colleague from the university days’. We had been very close — really a ‘bromance’ if you wish — and inseparable for a few years. Even though we have not been even remotely close together often enough in the past 20 years or so, we still consider each other BFFs in spite of everything. Oh, it’s obvious that I have a handful of very good friends, some of which I have known for three decades as well — or people like my own wife, whom I’ve known for twenty years. I’m quite close to a handful of people, some of which might even be reading these lines, and they know who they are 🙂 But… there is a difference. In a sense, we can both change — and we will! — and age and change our lifestyles and so forth, and have completely different life experiences (for instance, he’s quite a millionaire these days, owning stock options on blue chips from the times he worked for them… while, as I write these lines, I have exactly €239 in my bank — all the money I’ve got in the world! — and still owe about €1200 in credit cards!). But there will always be a strange bond between us. Oh, nothing romantic, nor sexual; I’m really not attracted to men, and even if I were, my friend is not really an attractive person. He’s also not an easy person to deal with, because of his temper; but I’m used to people with bad temper (I am, after all, married to one) and that never bothered me in the least. He’s also very stubborn, obstinate, and completely sure of himself; when he is in a bad mood (which is not hard for him to get into, he gets easily annoyed by stupid people), he will pronounce his opinions ex cathedra and will never accept or admit that he is wrong in the tiniest detail. The truth is that he is clever enough not to be wrong almost all the time 🙂 — in that particular aspect, he’s quite similar to my own wife (they get along together, by the way, but my wife is the first to admit that my friend is not exactly the easiest person to live with!).
Perhaps interestingly enough, though, like most of my close friends, who always are very complex persons (or else I would never really be friends to them: I can talk for hours with shallow people with one-track-minds and little education, but I cannot forge close, long-time friendships with such people), my friend, while having a clearly male mindset in practically all his endeavours and social interactions, he does have a soft side to him as well which is almost feminine. I say that as a huge compliment, of course! And I’m quite sure that the women who are in love with him (and vice-versa!) have touched that soft side of him. I mentioned our discussions about philosophy and future speculation; but he is also very humane in plenty of subjects, and he describes his relationships in terms of the emotional bonds he has, and how he feels towards so many things. I have no idea how much he’s aware that the way he expresses himself outside the workplace is not really part of the ‘typical male stereotype’. But you, reader, should not be surprised by now — all my male friends are like that, in one way or other, no matter how much they fit in the ‘male stereotype’ otherwise. Even my neo-nazi friend (yes, yes, I’ve mentioned him before, and no, he has not changed his mind in spite of current events…) has a very soft and feminine side to him, which I’m sure his own neo-nazi friends do not even have an inkling about.
And of course I’m also stereotyping with these ‘feminine sides’. It’s so unfair, I think, to claim that males are not supposed to express feelings, or emotions, or have an emotional undercurrent to describe aspects of their lives, and their relationships with others. I have dropped hints here and there that I suspect more and more that there is no real difference between how males and females think, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, both at a physical level, as well as at several, well-researched psychological levels. Many people have told me that they quite sure that scientific evidence shows that male and female brains simply work differently, because these brains are physically different, and those physical differences are today unquestionable. Anyway, I will not get back to that conjecture, you can read my earlier articles about it, and to make extraordinary claims, I must bring extraordinary proof (although I will one day talk about Alan Turing’s original ‘intelligence test’, not the one that he is known about, but what he really proposed back then), and this article is not the right one for that…
So… closing the long parenthesis on this side-issue… I was in front of my small closet and thinking what to dress. I mean, society does not prepare us to deal with such an event!
I had some help from the location where he suggested we meet — it was a fancy bar/restaurant/esplanade, and we would meet in the afternoon, for a light snack, in an unseasonably hot day. I first thought of simply picking something out of my casual apparel; but I’m a little self-conscious about my snow white legs (not being a beach fan, I haven’t tanned them yet… it’s May after all, and even though we have been having unreasonably high temperatures for so many days, the thought of wearing short skirts without stockings at this time of the year simply never crossed my mind), so I picked one of my longest dresses — one that is simple enough to be casual, but has some delightful details (like a pseudo-lace in the back that can be pulled to make the waist tighter) to make it seem to be fancier than it actually is (it was bought as a bargain!). And, well, as you can see from the pictures… it does show off my ‘girls’. My friend always loved big-breasted women!
As you’d expect, he did not recognise me when he arrived. To give him some credit, I didn’t see him coming in, either; I was busy posting silly comments on Facebook. But it was clear that he was… impressed, to say the least. The moment of awkwardness actually just lasted some nanoseconds; but I can tell you that he obviously looked at me in a way he never looked at me before. Which ought to be expected, after all! Being bisexual and polyamorous, he had no ‘objections’ to the way I looked — and he certainly repeated twice that ‘I looked great’ — and there was this tiny spark in his eyes now and then. He was amused, surprised, and delighted, and I could tell that just from his body language. In my mind, for some brief moments, there was also some amusement — here we were, two old-time friends, knowing each other for decades, and somehow I was now in a position that I could flirt with my best friend, which evoked a lot of contradictory emotions (in both of us). I mean, I know he was willing; two decades ago, while he was still happily married, he did offer to get me and my wife to ‘swing’ with them, and I was embarrassed at the time, and naturally refused because I’m not into swinging, but in a way I was honoured as well. I’m aware of the ‘swinger code’ among the serious crowd (not the ones who engage in careless swinging ) and understood reasonably well that what he was offering was something special for him and his wife, that he would not share with anyone casually found somewhere, but that they would only do with someone they knew well and fully appreciated in terms of close relationship… which they would naturally allow to become even more closer and intimate that way. Sadly for them, as said, I’m not into it (and neither is my wife… not to mention that she does not find either of them attractive, even if she were inclined to do some swinging — which she’s not), but I made sure that he understood that I wasn’t rejecting his offer out of politeness or so, but merely that I really was not into that. He obviously understood; the good thing about living on the edge of sexual relationships is that people are so much more understanding and do not require complex explanations for a refusal to participate! You either are ‘into it’ or not; there is not much more to know or talk about.
This time, however, there was a stranger undercurrent beneath our pleasant chat. We were not just friends talking for hours upon hours, as we have done so many times in our distant, common past. There was an element of ‘newness’ into it. Sure, people change as they age, and we humans are allegedly mentally equipped to deal with that; but usually people do not change their gender presentation when they get older 🙂 and society has not prepared us to deal with that!
I remember that he was a bit sloppy with pronouns and names, and I told him that I really didn’t care — I’m not part of the activist crowd who gets furious (or depressed) if they get misgendered. We have known each other for so long that such things are irrelevant: I know perfectly well that he doesn’t mean to insult me in any way, or somehow ‘disapprove’ of what I’m doing. That’s absolutely not the case. It’s just that it’s not easy (even if you master a complex language like Portuguese where you can talk for hours without using gendered pronouns or even someone’s name in a conversation — it’s just a question of bending the grammar in a certain way!). It requires awareness, mindfulness, to do it correctly each time; and no harm is done. He did apologise several times, and I repeated each time that I couldn’t care less what he called me, but he insisted that it was ‘important’. And he also commented twice that ‘I looked great’. Besides that… we just enjoyed ourselves like in the good old times, pretty much at ease like we always did in the past, and we spent a lovely afternoon together. After the initial pleasant surprise, the way I looked or how I dressed was pretty much irrelevant.
From friend to… family
The other day I completely forgot that the doctors of the national health service were on strike. For the record, they did attempt to contact me to inform me of the new date, but I didn’t hear the message, and it was in vain that I tried to get my usual appointment with the psychiatrist.
So I had the rest of the day pretty much off… and decided to call my cousin again, to see if she had some time for us to meet. It happened that she was hurting from her back, and needed some ‘strong hands’ to help her with two sacks with 15kg of cat food. Now, I have already told you that I’m not really a strong person, definitely not for a male of my size, but obviously I could not refuse to help my favourite cousin.
She had seen me as Sandra twice before, so there was no surprise whatsoever (in fact, she has confirmed that she doesn’t notice the least difference between my male and female presentations, something that I agree with – these days, I really don’t make the least effort to ‘be’ different, it’s just the presentation that is different, not the person…). Things were different with the people I met with her. First, we had to talk to an elderly lady, who allegedly runs a wholesale shop for pet food, to whom my cousin introduced me as ‘her friend’ – and happily let me carry those bags of food up a stairway in my high heels.
We drove back to her place, and there we met some of her neighbours. I sort of half-greeted them, half-dragged the food bags out of my cousin’s car, so I missed most of the conversation; but I noticed that, this time, my cousin had introduced me as ‘her cousin’. This was a bit weird for me, to be honest, possibly because I’ve got quite a number of female direct cousins (uh, four, to be more precise… and three male ones, plus another two which are not legally my direct cousins but they are half-brothers of my direct cousins, so I tend to count them as my cousins as well, even if we do not share any genetic material… it’s complicated!), and, up to now, I hadn’t considered myself as ‘one of them’. Things surely get complicated in GenderWorld!
I was a bit curious about what my cousin had talked about with her neighbours, but it looks like they had not really discussed me at all (we trans people so often believe the whole world turns around our navel!), even though one of the neighbours told my cousin that I was very beautiful. That was a bit unexpected, like it always is for me, when people comment on my appearance – I’m much more used to the ‘dress shaming’ (does that exist?) I get from my wife.
Mischievousness is also part of my experience
While thinking back on what all these experiences have in common, I have to admit to a new side of my personality that I wasn’t aware of before: being mischievous! In other words, I enjoy seeing how people react to me, even if their reaction is not absolutely positive.
Surprise, shock, contempt, horror, amusement, or simply ignoring me? Every person reacts differently, and of course most people I come across when going out presenting as a woman will have different life experiences, different education, different knowledge and so forth, and that is why their reaction to me is never the same. It’s obvious that I feel most comfortable around people who treat me no differently in either my male or female presentations; this was certainly the case of my BFF and my cousin, and naturally it’s the case of my psychologists and psychiatrists, who are so used to so many kinds of people (and so many people with gender identity issues) that they don’t react differently (and yes, I’m paying attention to them as well!!). Then there is the case of the person that I need to interact with (say, a shopping attendant or cash register operator) and who is instructed in treating their customers as best as possible, no matter what their own opinions are. This, of course, is possibly a characteristic of my fellow Portuguese citizens: we’re simply too polite to raise issues, and this is true for all ages, so it truly must be a national feature. From the two elderly gentlemen in the pawn shop to the barely-legal-age supermarket cashier, all of them had the same exact reaction: smile, good day/afternoon, being concise and to the point in the questions, wishing me a great day. That’s it. It doesn’t hurt to be polite, and it works wonders: behind the barrier of politeness, you can pretty much ignore everything else. Sometimes I can understand what they are thinking from their body language and the glint in their eyes — usually, ‘surprise’, although amusement comes close, and contempt, if at all, is at the bottom of the list — but what they actually say to me is always with the utmost politeness. I simply believe that, these days, most people are aware of the existence of transgender people, there are just so few of us (who are clearly noticeable as being trans) that most people never come across them. When it happens for the first time, then they have to mentally check themselves. I’m not sure yet if the reason why I get so much politeness comes from presenting as a woman, or simply because I’m immediately noticed as being trans, and therefore they do an effort not to offend me, treating me like royalty, so that I cannot have any complaints. My ‘experiments’ are ongoing! It’s clear that the owner of commercial establishments usually treat me slightly differently than the employees, simply because an employee who has mistreated a customer can be fired (or at least been given a lecture!), while the owner, at worst, will have just lost one customer.
But if you walk around a big city — and Lisbon is so often crammed full of people of all sorts, including tourists, pretty much all over the place — or ride a bus or the subway or, well, any place really where tons of people are packed together, it’s impossible to ignore everyone. Obviously, our eyes are attracted to some things that catch our attention, and here I have no choice but to get a few looks simply because I’m way taller than the average woman in my country, and I have a large frame on top of that. Thanks to therapy, I’m now aware that not everybody looks at me with disgust; some of the people will be drawn to my size, sure, but they will possibly not figure out my physical gender at a first glance. And I understand now a little better why that happens: the prosthetics I use give me the sort of curves that a male cannot possibly have naturally, and that will confuse people. I’m well aware of how natural my wig looks, and, at worst, people might just think that I’ve dyed it to look more reddish, but dying one’s hair is something perfectly legitimate for a female to do anywhere in the world.
It’s just the second look I get that tends to dispel the illusion, or add to the confusion, or make people actually remain looking at me for far longer periods than one usually does when watching people on the streets or on public transportation. If the second look goes to my face, there are some features there that are not really feminine: I cannot disguise my crooked nose or the harsh line of my jaw and chin. I do have unusually full and fleshy lips for a male, and that will confuse people a lot; and although my eyes are deep-set just like all male eyes are, I know I have nice eyes with a slightly unusual colour (blue-green is not frequent in my country; these come from my German genes), and with some mascara, my lashes most definitely acquire a feminine look — and the eyebrows are, these days, thin enough to naturally look much more feminine than masculine. So… I place people inside the uncanny valley: there is a lot about my whole presentation that is clearly feminine, while other things are not, and that is often a source of confusion. At the end of the day, most people will settle on the tag ‘MtF transgender person’ and pretty much ignore me, or, well, treat me with the same respect that they treat anyone else. Some are shocked and horrified because, as a MtF transgender person, some of the things ought not to look like they look — for instance, most cisgender women are surprised at my cleavage, and even more surprised when they touch it and notice that it is human flesh (and not some makeup/SFX trick!), which should not be possible unless I went through hormones and surgery… which I didn’t, I just know all the tricks of the trade, and I’m happy to explain cisgender women what to do to pretty much achieve the same results, no matter what cup size they actually are.
But on the reverse side of the coin, I actually enjoy watching all these reactions to my female presentation. This was, for me, an interesting development. It started, to a degree, with my first webcamera chats, well over a decade ago, when I was curious to see what people thought. From the many things I already wrote about it, as well as my imperfect understanding of their reactions, I cannot really say that I had come to any conclusion. Some people knew perfectly well that I was ‘just a crossdresser’ or at most someone in the transgender spectrum, and they were liberal and open-minded enough to accept me as a human being. Most people had simply the desire to have ‘exotic’ sex with me, so of course they were naturally interested in doing their best to be polite and even nice to me. And there was certainly a group that was shocked and horrified and absolutely transphobic. Watching those reactions was interesting behind a webcam; but experiencing them ‘in the flesh’, in broad daylight, when you cannot hide behind makeup, it’s a bit different. For starters, it’s so much more intense. And there is also this notion that you cannot simply ‘turn the camera off’ if you (or anyone else!) are uncomfortable. You have to endure those reactions from others. If I’m on a long queue in the supermarket, and people are staring at me with disapproval, I cannot do anything but smile back — because I have no other choice but to remain in line and patiently wait for my turn. I cannot run away and hide! (even though I’m aware of some acquaintances who did exactly that, when it became intolerable)
It’s also interesting to notice that I’m not especially focused on the good reactions, although, of course, these are the ones that boost my self-confidence. I’m also amused by negative reactions (especially amusement!). When I’m aware that people are laughing at me, I smile mischievously as well — and I guess that sometimes they notice that, too. It doesn’t particularly bother me, in fact; I’m not exactly happy because some people ‘reject’ me, of course — that’s just dealing with transphobia, after all — but because, in a sense, I feel safe enough in public places during daylight hours, their negative reactions are, for me, amusing! I don’t know why that is the case. My best guess is that I lived a life presenting myself as a male who was totally invisible to the world; nobody would look at me twice, much less once. As a female, I do enjoy the attention — even if it is negative, there is some rewarding system kicking in at the brain level that gets me happy just for being noticed. And, as I said so often, if I get people laughing, that’s a positive thing — as a Buddhist, I’m supposed to be spreading happiness, after all! If they get shocked, or surprised, well, I hope to make them think twice, or at least understand that we trans people are real, we do exist, we’re not just something you read on magazines or on Discovery documentaries on TV or, well, on Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show about trans people. It is important to me that others see what a trans person is supposed to be like; I’m also aware that ‘being around’ and doing normal things like all other people is important to show that we trans people are not some kind of antisocial freaks, living in a fantasy world of our own, and doing obnoxious and utterly incomprehensible things for the rest of Humankind, like injecting ourselves with hormones or cutting off parts of our body, possibly related to sexual activity of some sort. No, we also have to breathe, to buy groceries (or cigarettes!), to pay our bills, to ride a bus, or even to do some research work at public libraries — mundane, un-sexy activities, that we citizens of the modern city need to do all the time, and trans people are no different from cis people, we have to do the same things as well.
There is a certain thrill in being provocative, in the good sense of the word, that is, I do not crossdress to shock people, but because I like to present myself that way; nevertheless, I’m aware that what I like to do and what others expect of me are, in this case, at opposite poles. At the end of the day, since I’m not behaving according to social expectations, that raises a reaction (positive, negative, or neutral/indifferent) — and inducing that reaction, for some reason, does give me some pleasure, some thrill, an adrenaline kick, I don’t know how to describe it, but it is fun in a certain way. It’s not pure masochism… after all, I rather prefer that people are positive or at least indifferent towards me. But even negative reactions are amusing to see. What goes on in my mind is that I’m breaking barriers in other people’s minds. It reminds me of the ongoing crisis at Chechnya, where its (Muslim) president claims to the world that there are no homosexuals (or bisexuals, or transexuals…) in Chechnya, simply because in his own mind no such people are supposed to exist inside a conservative, traditional, Muslim society. But we do exist, and that has nothing to do with the ‘society’ aspect. Society is only important in the amount of repression we get. In Portugal, I get, in the worst-case scenario, some smirks, a few laughs, and a handful of shocked expressions; in Chechnya, I would get a beating, be arrested, and possibly murdered in broad daylight. That’s the difference. Because I know I’m comparatively safe in my country, I can enjoy myself watching other people’s reactions, and even if those reactions are technically transphobia, I do not get verbally or physically abused by them. By contrast, elsewhere in the world, transphobia leads to aggression, arresting, and possibly a violent death — clearly it would be masochistic for me to go around and watch how people react in Chechnya! (Note: yes, we have Muslims too in Portugal; yes, I came across several Muslims, especially females, who clearly noticed that I was a trans person; yes, they were mostly mildly shocked but did not even dare to make a comment among themselves while I was in hearing range — it’s just that the way Portuguese people are tends to ‘contaminate’ the way other so-called ethnic and religious minorities behave in public. I’m sure there is a lesson somewhere in there, and I would guess that it includes food 🙂 but that is a completely different discussion, probably not appropriate for a blog about trans issues)
There is a good reason to believe that my strange, mischievous attraction to induce reactions in people and watch them will become, at some point, ‘old news’, and boring to an extent. Why do I say that? Well, the other day I came across a gorgeous blonde, of supermodel class, who was briskly walking through the street. She was obviously drawing attention all around her — from leering males to jealous females. But I noticed that she ignored all of them, and did that so naturally, that it was quite clear that she was totally indifferent to everything going around her. In other words: I guess it’s great fun and a boost to one’s self-confidence if you do draw attention to yourself in a positive, flattering way. But if you have to live years or perhaps even decades as a blonde bombshell, this constant attention-gathering might quickly become boring or even annoying. It was clear from the whole body language of this person that she was not enjoying being the centre of attention, but there was nothing she could do (short of donning a burqa): she had to endure all that, all the time, all days of her life, until her beauty finally fades away and she can walk around anonymously like the majority of people. But she clearly mastered the art of ignoring everybody around her. I have to admit that she became my role model: when I’m sometimes among an unusually large group of people staring at me (it’s really unusual, but it has happened a few times), I use her methods to ignore them, while at the same time not show any real embarrassment, fear, or any other such emotion — I just show that I’m above their opinions about me, and confident enough to continue to do what I was doing without worrying too much about it. In fact, when I assume that arrogant and indifferent attitude (and corresponding body language), I tend to draw far less attention that way! That’s an interesting result, and I believe it comes from a certain expectation that people have regarding unusual, exotic, or extremely beautiful women — that they pretty much ignore us common mortals. This, in turn, raises a few more intriguing questions, but I’ll leave them for another day!
It suffices to say that, at this point, I do enjoy how people react to me, and one of the reasons for going out to so many different places and situations is, indeed, to deliberately provoke people’s reactions. But I’m aware that this ‘novelty’ will fade at some time!
Dream #1 — One week of Sandra
So, now at last we come to my dreams, or wish lists, or expectations, whatever you wish to call them! Such ‘dreams’ would be merely fantasy, say, a few years ago, because I had no idea if I could live full-time as a woman — even for just a short period. One thing is to be comfortable enough to go out for a party with other fellow crossdressers. The other thing is having to face neighbours and shop attendants; having to deal with issues like the car breaking down or having to complain at the bank because of something. I did not expect, a few years ago, to be able to do any of those things. But right now… well, I’m not only comfortable in doing all those things in public, I’m actually eager to do them!
What is currently my biggest issue? Well, it’s twofold — first, my wife can be tolerant up to a degree, and she certainly doesn’t allow me to be ‘full-time’. While she suspects that I’m going to the supermarket crossdressed once in a while, she hopes that I do that with a friend (or with my cousin) on a far-away place. She has no idea that I sometimes go to the very same supermarket where her mother shops (and we shop there often enough as well) — it all depends if I can find the things I want on other places. Anyway, the point here is that my wife sets her limits, and the main limit right now is that she wants to see as little of Sandra as possible. Ideally, she would like not to see Sandra at all.
However, there is good reason to believe that this might change in the not-so-distant future, as she completes her degree and becomes an university teacher full-time or at least part-time. Once in a while she will have no choice but to be away for a few days. Or a few weeks. Or… perhaps even more time than that! I cannot foresee what will happen, but I can certainly fantasise a few scenarios!
Unfortunately, the more likely scenario at this time is just the ‘short conference’ of two or at most three days. Under such circumstances, I would very likely do precisely what I do now, i.e. dress up every day, but do it full-time (the longest I can do right now is some 10-12 hours during Mondays and Thursdays, assuming I have no conflicting schedules). It would certainly also mean letting my fingernails grow a bit and have them painted for those 2-3 days (so far, I’ve just managed to do that once, and my wife grumbled so much that I had to remove the polish on the second day…), but nothing really more dramatic than that. In other words: it would not be a great difference from what I’m doing right now.
But let’s go for a different scenario: one where my wife would be away for a whole week. What would I do then?
It’s important to understand that one of my biggest issues is the time I ‘waste’ getting dressed and undressed. In fact, if I strictly limit myself to the time I need to do the makeup and to remove it, well, then it’s not really much time. I enjoy doing the makeup, after all, it’s great fun, it’s my only artistic expression besides writing, and it’s a relaxing activity if I’m not in a hurry to finish (which, unfortunately, is most always the case).
The problem is that I have to deal with all those things that cisgender girls — and transexual women after transition — do not need to worry with. First comes all the shapewear and attaching the breasts and so forth. This takes much longer to put on than it should. Then again, I certainly don’t take the four hours used in the video below — but my own results are not so great, of course:
My current shapewear, and that includes hip padding, corset, and breast forms, are not meant to be worn during the night — the hips are not really attached, they are just kept in place thanks to Spanx; the corset is not of the kind of quality that it can be used 24h/day (you need a professional-grade waist training corset for that); and while the Amoena breastforms I currently use are really well attached (in spite of their weight!!), thanks to the amazing German technology behind their adhesive, they are not strong enough so that you can sleep on top of them — meaning that they can burst. They were simply not designed to be used that way, they’re not a ‘sex toy’ but actual silicone prosthetics used for women who have undergone breast removal due to cancer, so they’re pretty convincing when worn under a bra, but they’re not meant to be used for, uh, ‘violent exercise’… and that includes sleeping over them.
What this means is that there is no other choice but to ‘waste’ all the time to slip into the shapewear first, and, before going to bed, remove everything, clean the breast forms (they need to be cleaned each time they’re worn) and the corset (which cannot be washed, but is just cleaned with a wipe), and pack everything in its respective places.
That takes time.
Of course, my own makeup is a bit complex. I become especially proud of myself when someone tells me that my makeup looks so natural that they actually believed I have done nothing more than put some lipstick on and a bit of mascara in the lashes. Wow! If only they knew! Of course, I love to experiment with makeup techniques, but I can say that it currently takes three distinct phases or processes to achieve the desired results — which is looking as if I have not put anything at all on the face! Rather the contrary, the amount of different products I used is so huge that I’m ashamed of admitting it publicly. And no, I’m not going to post a video of my makeup routine — ever!! Oh, not to mention shaving, which also takes its time, even though, thanks to the laser hair removal I did, I have far less areas that require shaving — but those that do have extremely thick and dark hair. I usually don’t shave every day, but perhaps just twice a week, unless, of course, I have several days in succession when I’m free to dress.
So… if I had just 2 or 3 days free to dress… I really would not do anything much more different than what I do now. I would just enjoy more time being dressed, but the routine would be pretty much the same as always.
What about if I had a whole week to be Sandra in full-time?
Well, a whole week allows for a few extra steps. For starters, I would immediately get some gel extensions — that would mean one issue less taking endless time. Even though I have accelerated the whole process of applying fake nails, it still takes too long — about 15 minutes if I wish to get them right — and it’s a waste to put them on, take them off in the evening, then put them on again next morning, etc. No, for a whole week, I would simply get them done permanently, and save that extra time every day. And on the last day, of course, I would get them removed.
And the same, of course, would go for the eyelashes. I have actually managed to do a combination of tricks — from regularly applying castor oil, to using better lash combs, and the appropriate mascara — to get pretty convincingly long natural lashes, but of course I love the extra length and volume I get from fake lashes. Applying those, however, is always tricky. If I get them right the first time, I can actually do it quite quickly — perhaps in 10-15 minutes. But often things don’t work out so well on the first time. Obviously, like everything else, practice makes perfect, and having good-quality lashes makes a huge difference as well. In my case, I dislike the utterly artificial look from some ‘extreme’ lashes which are popular among younger women for their special nights out; I prefer a natural look where I can blend my existing lashes with the fake ones, so that it becomes difficult (or hopefully even impossible!) to know where one starts and the other ends. But that also means spending time in applying them — and in removing them at the end, and meticulously cleaning the fake lashes so that they can be used over and over again, without fearing that they irritate the eyes due to bacteria accumulation, etc. So, unless I know in advance that I will have a lot of time, I will give up on the fake lashes and just be generous with the mascara on my natural lashes instead.
But it’s not the same thing. So, if I had a whole week free… I would get a semi-permanent lash extension done professionally. This is not unreasonably expensive, but you really need to go to a salon with specialists if you want a natural look. Getting a ‘fantasy’ look with impossibly long and curved lashes is something you can get everywhere, but to get it done so that they look absolutely natural is another story, and this really requires some experts to apply each lash (or lash group) individually, and knowing how to trim them so that their appearance remains natural and not exaggerated. Lash extensions tend to come out by themselves after a few weeks, sometimes even less, but of course, in my case, it would mean also removing them at the end of the week.
What could I do more to waste less time? Well, for starters, I would most certainly also get the eyebrows professionally trimmed and the unruly hairs waxed out — meaning no more wasting of time in using the tweezers every time I dress. Of course, waxing does not last forever, but it should last at least a week. As for the rest of my body hair… well, the biggest problem is still the facial hair. Once I start to get a bit more money, I really need to start electrolysis. Laser hair removal did what it could. On the rest of the body, for example, I can easily just shave every week, or sometimes just every other week, because I have so little hair now — especially on the legs, where I would say that practically all hair disappeared. The same, fortunately, is also true for the chest — almost everything has disappeared, and it’s just because I’m a bit obsessive that I still shave it every week, even if it’s not really needed. On the rest of the body, it depends. During the winter, I could easily skip the arms, the remaining hair there is also so little that it can be safely ignored. So… regarding most of the body hair, I can say that laser hair removal did a pretty much convincing job. It did make a difference on the face, too, and to be honest with the team doing the work on my face, the difference is actually huge, but… there is still, say, one third of the face which still has patches of thick hair. That would mean that I would still have to deal with shaving every day that week, something I’m not really keen to think about…
There is also the issue about the shapewear. What could I do to spend less time there? Well, I cannot forfeit the corset; unless I go through major surgery, I simply don’t have the right waist shape. The corset, however, is not what takes most of the time.
For the whole week, I would very likely opt for glued-on body prosthetics. The work in this area is getting better and better, and the best prosthetics come from artists who work most of the time in SFX for movies and TV series, but have a shop to do some work for the trans community while they’re between jobs. This means that the waiting time may be long (what I have seen so far is almost always custom made and hand painted) but the results are supposed to be very convincing. I have been dreaming about these kind of prosthetics for ages. The problem is that not only they are expensive (although thanks to increasing world-wide competition, prices have come down dramatically to more acceptable levels) but they are incredibly difficult to apply, and really take a long time to do so. The advantage? Not only you can achieve incredible details of realism, but the usage of medical-grade adhesive or even liquid silicone to attach those prosthetics means that they can be worn for several days. And yes, most of these are made to survive being crushed under your body when sleeping, and you can take a shower in them without them falling off. While I was mostly interested in breast forms, I have since then also found out that the industry has gone far beyond the ‘toy’ latex vaginas (I did buy one some 15 years ago, and it was simply horrible — a total waste of money! — and unfortunately lots and lots of suppliers still make them the same way they were done 15 or 20 years ago) and has very realistic ones, to the point that you can pee in them, masturbate in them, and, yes, get penetrated in them as well — and they will be hard to distinguish from the real thing. In fact, the subtle changes that I have seen in manufacturers is that they have focused more on the trans community (and you can see in the way they announce their products as ‘useful for reducing gender dysphoria’) and not only on the fetishists, which I can imagine to be their biggest customers — and they will be fine with a cheaper product which is not ultra-realistic but nevertheless allows them to enjoy some fun for a few hours.
Anyway, the point here is that I would very likely get some prosthetics attached for a whole week — breasts and hips for sure, possibly a vulva (even though most reviews show that peeing through them with a Texas catheter is not as easy as the manufacturers tend to claim…). That would allow for a huge reduction in time spent to get ready every day! And, of course, it would give me a whole new experience — feeling the weight of breasts 24h/7 for several days, for starters. Obviously, this would also mean that the first and last day would probably be wasted in applying everything and taking everything off, which I believe that will take a huge amount of time, but during the remaining days, I would most certainly enjoy much more ‘free’ time — since I would only have to worry about putting a corset on, doing the makeup, and getting the wig in place. Hmm. That would take me perhaps 45 minutes or so, which would be quite acceptable; and, of course, going to bed would also mean wiping the face off (10 minutes or so), taking the wig and the corset off (one minute at most!), giving the wig a quick brush for the next day, and slip into a nightie — way, way, way less time that I currently waste every day I dress!
Having my wife away a whole week would also mean not really worrying that much about packing everything in its right places; after all, I would be using those things every day. In practice, doing what I’ve described above, there is not really much to ‘pack’ or ‘unpack’ — I think that the only thing I’d need to have in a handy place would be my jewelry, and that’s pretty much it.
I’ve also thought hard about it, and I think that for two weeks, I would do the same routine, with the difference that the gel extensions would very likely require a bit of maintenance, and probably the lash extensions too. Also, it’s likely — or even advisable! — that I would need to remove the prosthetics and wash them thoroughly (as well as the skin underneath) before applying them again, for hygienic reasons, at least at the end of the first week. From all I’ve read, the manufacturers always say that their prosthetics can be worn for ‘several days’, but never for ‘several weeks’; I believe that this comes from their experience in the SFX world — actors usually put the prosthetics on, do their acting, then remove them again; but it’s conceivable that in some cases, during a very intensive shooting session, they might leave some prosthetics on for several days to save time, and the SFX artists know that their glue/adhesive/liquid silicone will hold that long, while not having any serious harmful effects. More than that is just speculation: it might hold and it might not!
Dream #2 — One month of Sandra (or even a bit more…)
One month of dressing as a woman every day? Oh wow. I can only drool at the idea! But, again, it’s not absolutely beyond the reality horizon: my wife has, for several occasions, told me that she might do some workshops or apprenticeships with architects and architecture teachers in Europe (or even the US!), which usually can take, say, 1-3 months. In fact, she does work for one architect who takes apprentices or students or how you wish to call them (they have finished their degrees, they’re just looking for some initial experience outside their home country), who come all over Europe and the Mediterranean, and who stay that amount of time in Lisbon — she even goes through their applications and selects for her boss those who look more promising. In about one year and a half or so, she would also be entitled to do the same abroad, and she has done a few good connections in the mean time, so I’m pretty sure that she would be able to do that. These apprenticeships are sponsored by the European Union, so they wouldn’t be a burden on us. That’s why this scenario is actually plausible and not as far-fetched as it might sound.
So, what would I do in the mean time? Well, of course, this would require some preparation — and the first thing to do is really getting off all the remaining facial hair with electrolysis. My only doubt right now is if I could manage to do that in time — because very likely I ought to be starting now. Electrolysis is a very slow and painful process, and it takes hours and hours to remove small areas — especially on the face, which has an incredible density of facial hair! But this would really be a must, I simply couldn’t bear to waste 20 minutes or so every day to shave my face over and over again, not to mention that I do have a sensitive (and oily!) skin which already complains a lot if I shave very closely two or three days in a row. I cannot imagine how my face would look like after a month!
As an explanation, I ought to say that I have spent most of my life using an electric shaver, which has mediocre results, but at least it doesn’t leave the face in a mess; because I care so little about my male appearance, that served me well for decades. It’s only in the past decade or so that I have stuck to twice-a-week shaving, just on those days when I dress — and let the skin rest (and the ugly hairs sprout out all over the face!) between those days. This has definitely been great for my skin, of course. But doing that every day?… No, thanks!
The other thing which I would almost certainly do as well is hair extensions. This is a very, very old dream, and one that has a lot of issues. First and foremost, of course, is that they are expensive. The service of applying them, at least in my country, is dirt cheap (we get such low salaries that everything that requires service is cheap 🙂 ); the extensions themselves aren’t, and they often cannot be used over and over again, but merely for 4-8 weeks, depending on the quality, the way they have been bonded, etc. and so forth (although there are a few types that can be applied more than once). So… this is something that I could afford only for a little while, and make sure I’d experience to the fullest, thus one month would be the minimum time to be worth it!
Why use extensions? Well, my wife really dislikes to see me with long hair. Actually, there is something I truly don’t understand about her issue with ‘hair’. When I first met her, she had a wonderfully long, rich, wavy hair, full of volume and personality; over the years, of course, like all women in my country, her hair has become shorter and shorter. She is constantly telling me to get shorter wigs, and I did indeed buy shorter ones over the past decade, but there is a limit to how short I will go (the shortest wig I had, which was barely shoulder-length, I gave as a gift to a friend after only using it twice). On the other hand, she’s always praising a few millennials who go to her university and who are wearing their hair longer.
And, of course, her idol is Ian Astbury, lead singer of the alternative/psychedelic rock band The Cult, which we both love, and Ian had an amazing long hair in the early 1980s, when the current hair extension technology did not exist, and his hair was absolutely natural. So I can’t figure out why she hates my long hair wig so much (it never was as long as Ian’s in the first place!).
Whatever the mysterious reason might be, and no matter how much I love my current wig (and I think I have managed to ‘recover’ some of the damage done to it over the years — more on that on my next article!), there are some disadvantages of wigs. First and foremost, at least for me, is that they are hot. I already perspire way too much, and having something on top of my head which does not allow the scalp perspiration to evaporate is even worse. I guess that if I were less sensitive to the heat I would not complain so much, but, alas, I inherited my mother’s genes regarding low tolerance to heat, and it seems to get worse over the years (or perhaps the antidepressants and anxiolytics have made it worse, I don’t know).
Extensions are still hot, of course — it’s more hair, after all! — but at least there isn’t a ‘cap’ to cover the whole head. So this would allow me to enjoy the pleasure of luxuriously long hair without the advantage of slowly cooking my brain with the heat!
The second advantage, or at least I count it as such, is that I would be able to sleep with the extensions on — in other words, this means enjoying long hair 24h/7 — and that, in turn, would mean less time spent in putting on and adjusting the wig… at the expense of making life a bit more difficult in terms of washing and drying the vast mass of hair with extensions! And because I have oily skin and perspire so much, I tend to wash my hair every day — but the wig gets only washed every other week or so (especially after a day when I have perspired even more than usual!).
There is obviously a psychological thing about the extensions. Since I was 11 that I clearly remember how I always loved to have long hair. That’s the kind of desire that has been stifled for all my life. Now that my hair is receding and getting thinner at the top, it is highly unlikely that I could grow it longer, even if my wife allowed it; so the next best thing would be to use extensions. That way I could get the whole range of experiences of long hair without needing to grow it permanently; after a month, on the last day, I simply would get the extensions removed.
Now, this sounds much more simpler than it actually is. Even though modern hair extensions can be attached to short hair, the extension technician and hairdresser would need to work closely together to see what they could do with hair extensions to hide the receding hairline and the thinning at the top. This would probably require some consultation at a very highly regarded salon — the kind that gets certified to work with top hair extension brands such as Great Lengths. It will be tricky. It will also require several layers of differently-sized extensions (adding to the overall cost!). And to make it worse: unlike what happens with most female customers, where the hairdressers are able to cut the real hair before applying the extensions (and thus making sure it blends perfectly) and/or dye it to match the extensions, they would have no such freedom in my own case: after a month, when I would get the extensions removed, I would need to have my hair exactly as it was before, with the same stupid male cut, and so forth. That, I imagine, would really need a lot of hard work for the salon — in the sense that I would be giving them a tough challenge. I believe, from what I’ve read, that they can accomplish the ‘miracle’, but it won’t be easy, nor will it be cheap. Nevertheless, it’s what I would almost surely do.
In short: having my wife away for a month would allow me to experience the life as a woman as closely as possible without surgery, hormone replacement therapy, or any other dramatic changes, while at the same time allowing me to simplify my daily routine to get ready. After all, I would rise from bed already with long hair, no worries about facial hair, long eyelashes, no need to trim the eyebrows, gel nail extensions and glued-on breastforms, hip pads, and possibly even a silicone vulva. That represents close to two hours of work that I would ‘save’ to get ready — after taking the usual bath (which would possibly take a bit longer because of the long hair), I would only need to put the corset on, some makeup (which would be way easier and quicker to achieve), slip into a dress, and I would be ready for my daily routine — taking as little time as realistically possible. And at night, before going to bed, all I needed to take off is the corset and wipe the makeup away. I already have a long routine at night before going to bed — getting the makeup off my face (especially if I wouldn’t need to deal with getting rid of mascara and eyeliner!) would just take a few moments.
This would have some impact on my life. On one hand, it’s true that sadly I don’t need to worry about my parents any more, having lost my mother almost four years ago and my father a couple of weeks ago. That means no need to come up with complex excuses not to see them. I have already come out to my favourite cousin, and been with her several times presenting as a woman, so on that account there would be no problems. My brother would never accept me, and even if, out of politeness, he would condescend to talk to my while presenting as a woman, he would never allow me close to my nephews — mortally afraid that they would freak out. They already freak out of so many things, even stupid ones, like, say, death (I mean, they are just a bit over 10 years old!… they have plenty of time until they need to worry about dying!). Explaining that ‘uncle’ is now ‘auntie’ (but will become ‘uncle’ again in a month or two) would be way, way over the top. The good news is that I don’t see my brother physically that often; I most probably would be able to avoid him easily for a whole month.
Things become more complicated on my wife’s side of the family. It’s conceivable, for instance, that my mother-in-law would insist that I have dinner with her on Saturdays, even if my wife is away; she really considers that dinner very important. That would mean coming out to her as well, something which my wife does not want me to do. And the same would apply to my sister-in-law, because it would be highly likely that she would be at those Saturday evening dinners as well. While their reaction is a bit unpredictable, I think that it’s more likely that they tolerate me than reject me; the worst case scenario is forbidding to enter their homes dressed as a woman, but otherwise continuing to be in talking terms with me. But of course it would make my wife mad as hell when she figures out that I had come out to her mother and sister, against her strict rules. My father-in-law would probably be a bit easier to avoid, at least for a couple of weeks, but if I come out to his ex-wife and daughter, then it’s almost sure that they would tell him. And I have no idea how he will react. He’s left-wing, he has been an active member of the Socialist Party and was even elected for office at the local council, and he’s a philosopher by training, so, considerably, he might have an open mind as well… but, as my wife is constantly reminding me, it’s easy to be tolerating and accepting and all that if you watch stories about trans people on TV, but it’s a completely different story if those stories happen to you, so I cannot predict any of their reactions. Still, I think it’s inevitable that I would have to tell them — I might be able to postpone any social events for a month or so, but if my wife would be away for 2-4 months, well.. that’s a completely different story… I would have no legitimate, polite way of refusing the social invitations of her family, even though I believe I could keep my own family at bay for that period.
It’s also conceivable that I would get a part-time job somewhere, depending on the amount of work I had at that time; I might also take one of those courses to learn to use a sewing machine. There would be a huge problem, of course, if I had actually started teaching at an university. In that case, I’m pretty sure that the whole ‘dream’ would be nothing more than a fantasy. On the other hand, if this scenario happens during my present time, when I’m supposed to be doing some work on the PhD as well as for a friend’s company — all of which are remotely done and do not require physical presence — then it would work out all right. Granted, I may take a job as an university teacher and immediately declare not to be cisgender, and explaining that at least part of the time I might have a different gender presentation. If this is revealed in advance before signing any contracts, I guess that the anti-discrimination laws would be on my side, so I would not be able to get kicked out just for dressing ‘differently’ than before. But, alas, I’m jus speculating at this point…
In terms of my ongoing relationship, this would actually not affect me much; after all, I would take everything off a few days before my wife arrived, and life would turn back to ‘normal’ (to my huge regret, of course!). There would not be any lasting ‘marks’ from my ‘full time experience’ — except perhaps a rash on the chest area where the breasts would have been attached, but my wife is used to see my body full of all sorts of marks and bruises and small wounds, all due to the complex shapewear I use. She obviously would know that I would be crossdressing as much as possible, and so nothing would surprise her. And, after that period, I would just continue to do my irregular crossdressing such as before… eagerly awaiting her next period of being away for several weeks!
Dream #3 — One year (or even two!) of Sandra
Let’s suppose the following scenario becomes true: one of the teachers of my wife, after seeing the quality of her work, has given her the idea that she should do her PhD in the US (or at least at a good university in Europe), as opposed to sticking faithfully to her alma mater in Lisbon. She was surprised to hear that, because she’s often humble enough not to understand how good her work is, and she had truthfully no idea that it might be good enough or worthy enough to do a PhD abroad.
Now, perhaps because of my own heritage, and the experience I have had with many people outside my country, I don’t hold any particular university in high esteem and almost religious reverence; I’m a child of the globalisation, and I’m strongly convinced that we are pretty much all interconnected in this shrunken world — by this I mean that one’s ideas can happen in any part of the world, and their impact can be felt world-wide. I have listened to a few interviews with the start-up owners of Far Fetch or Chic by Choice — two companies probably worth a billion dollars each, in the highly competitive fashion market, both of which are present worldwide, but, in reality, they have been founded by obscure Portuguese who came out of the blue with some good ideas, found an international investor, and started their business with an international audience in mind (Portugal, for both of them, is not even an ‘interesting’ market, and if they explore it at all, it’s just out of courtesy for the country that gave them a higher education and the open mind, skills and resources to start their business). Such stories are these days more and more common, and we have entrepreneurs from all around the world doing their job anywhere else in the world, and it’s not a ‘surprise’ any more. It’s just what happened, first thanks to global television, then to global Internet — for a surprisingly large part of the population, there are no real borders between countries any more, except, of course, in the minds of those who charge for taxes; the rest is pretty much a global, universal world of commerce, innovation, ideas, even flowing knowledge, that stick together and express themselves mostly in English, but which is not strictly tied to a specific country or city, except by sheer coincidence.
As such, well, I think that it’s highly likely that my wife could be admitted to an Ivy League university. I’m pretty sure that she has all the required abilities, skills, and intelligence to be admitted anywhere. As always, it’s just a question of having a way to pay for that; but it’s also not impossible to get a grant or a scholarship or something similar; against all odds, and to the bafflement of pretty much everyone in my close circle of friends, including my own PhD supervisors, I managed to get a scholarship to finish my own PhD, and that was only on my second application. My wife is far, far more intelligent than me, and she has a much longer list of activities and skills and whatnot than I had when I first applied for a scholarship, so I’m confident that she will have it even more easier than me.
The point is, this scenario is not as far-fetched as it seems. She may get a place in, say, Yale, where one of her teachers is doing a postdoc; her other teachers come from Harvard, the Sorbonne, or other similar universities making part of the shortlist of the most renowned universities in the world. She can easily get letters of recommendation from a dozen teachers at least for any of those universities. So… her chances of doing that, if she wishes to do so, are actually quite realistic.
In fact, the only reason for her not going abroad for her PhD would be me — in other words, I’m pretty sure that she would want either to drag me around (harder in the case of the US, because of the harsh immigration laws; much easier on any EU country, even in post-Brexit UK), or demand that I find a job at the same university but in my area, or else she would reject all proposals. Obviously I would try to persuade her to do what is best for her, regardless of me ‘staying back’ or coming over with her.
So, in my dreams, I manage to persuade her to go away for one or two years to do her PhD in Yale (the US is further away, and more expensive to travel to and fro, which is essential for my own devious plans!). What would I do in the mean time?
Well, I’m pretty sure that the answer to that is medically-assisted transition.
I mean, I could just do what I have described on Dream #2, and just prolong it for one or two years. But I’m pretty sure that after a few months I would simply give up pretending that this is what I want, i.e. sticking to prosthetics glued all over my body just to enjoy a very remote simulacrum of femininity, just to make my daily life a bit easier. No, if it would come to that, I would at the very least persuade my doctors to put me on hormones. Doing the actual gender confirmation surgery requires a slightly more complex procedure — namely, two separate evaluations of my gender dysphoria — but the other surgeries are not subject to that evaluation. In other words, there is nothing in the law that forbids a physical male to get boobs and facial feminisation surgery — the difference is that I would have to pay it out of my own pocket, instead of having the national health service do it for free.
But wait. Does that mean I’m transexual after all?
Well… to be very sincere, and this fluctuates according to my mood, I would say that the answer is ‘no’. I’ve been reading a few old articles, namely, Dr Vernon Coleman’s classic study of crossdressing, which was done over twenty years ago, but is still sufficiently close to us (even if the terminology may have changed in the mean time!) to be relevant. While Dr Coleman is quite polemic, and definitely an ‘outsider’ of the medical establishment (since he is so skeptic about medical research and its hidden purposes and backstage backstabbing…), carrying often his own bias and agenda to his research (even if he claims the opposite!), at least he is honest enough to publish his data, so you can draw your own conclusions. And mine is that the variety of crossdressing reasons is wide enough to overlap a lot of more common definitions of what ‘transgender’ and ‘transexual’ means. Coleman focuses on the external appearance of MtF crossdressers and tries to figure out what drives them to dressing that way, especially in those cases where there is no attempt at transitioning.
And his conclusions are a bit bizarre, at least from our perspective in 2017, but the truth is that similar research points to the same (or nearly the same) conclusions: there is at least a group of crossdressing men which do not quite fit into the overall picture, because they are neither sexually motivated (at least not as a primary purpose), nor do they want to be full-time women. Or, to be even more precise, they might dream of doing just that, but it remains a fantasy, and they stick to part-time crossdressing instead.
What has changed in these past twenty years? Well, such cases are seen as ‘borderline’, especially if it’s clear that they are suffering (because most do not suffer except from minor anxiety of being found out; some not even that!). In that case, they might either be transvestic fetishists (if the sexual drive to crossdress is there, even if it’s not consciously acknowledged) or MtF transexuals (if they would rather go full-time as women than spend the rest of their lives ‘stuck’ with a male body and a male gender role), but neither case is so crystal-clear. If the crossdresser is consciously aware of their sexual drive to crossdress, and suffers because of that (either out of shame or lack of opportunities), then doctors can treat them in one way; if the crossdresser is fully aware that they have always been women, just tried very hard to cope with their male body and gender, and ultimately failed, then they are transexuals and referred to transition. These are the textbook cases which are much easier to deal with.
But right in the middle there seems to be a surprising large number of male-bodied individuals who do not fit in either category, but are more a mix of both. They might get an erotic thrill out of presenting themselves as women in public, but, in general, they dress as women because they like it; the erotic thrill is secondary and not actively seeked. On the other extreme, we have MtF crossdressers who are quite willing to undergo surgical procedures and hormone treatments to change their bodies to become more feminine, even if they are aware that they might not ‘pass’ much better that way, or that there might be a risk of being found out after performing some of the more dramatic changes. They do not quite fully identify as females, but they are certainly aware of not being ‘typical males’, and often describe themselves as having a ‘female side’ which needs to be openly expressed. Now this latter description is much more common among the studies in the 1990s than today: we prefer to put such people under the label ‘genderfluid’ (which subsumes a lot of possibilities, from actual fluidness to oscillating gender, bi-genderity, and so forth) and sort of ‘forget’ about them, because most genderfluid individuals do not suffer from their gender identity. Others, however, do suffer; and they can become obsessive with achieving a more female body, even if they are aware that they need to restrain themselves not to do the ‘wrong’ thing; getting female breasts is almost always at the top of their preferences (and Dr Coleman also found that out) but it can go much further than that in some cases. So are these people gender dysphoric — or do they suffer from body dysmorphia? Or do they belong to a completely different category?
Consider the case of Caitlyn Jenner. It’s not clear if she considered herself a ‘woman’ when she started crossdressing. A lot of MtF transexuals, even late on-set ones, do never crossdress in their lives, because it doesn’t make sense for them; they will only pick up women’s clothing for the first time during their transition. Jenner then proceeded with becoming a regular at several CD groups, bars, restaurants, and similar places, and would go to those very often, when she had time for them. And at some point she started auto-medicating herself and administering hormones; while at the same time she did buy all sorts of shapewear to give herself a more feminine body and figure, and it was clear that she was unhappy with the way she looked.
But she held on for decades and decades. Until she landed in the 2010s, when things became, in a sense, more easier, as gender studies have progressed by leaps and bounds, and Jenner was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and given the green light to go ahead with her full transition. And, of course, we all have heard her personal story on how she struggled to behave like a man, even if she was just a woman inside; and now she continues to tell us that it’s so much easier for her to present as a woman than to present as a man.
How much of that narrative is ultimately true, and how much has been applied backwards to one’s memories?
The reason why I ask that is because I have the good fortune of having my wife to constantly criticise me and skeptically ask me about the way I feel about my gender identity; because she has a rather good memory, especially when she is sure that she will need to recall some events and their exact context in the future (often after several years have elapsed!), she is fond of telling me that I only started accepting myself as ‘transgender’ (as opposed to ‘merely a crossdresser’) when a) I read new studies made in this field of research; b) I hang out more with my friends, some of which have undergone transition, others are beginning it, others have intention of starting their transition once it’s more convenient to do so.
She argues therefore that what I hear today tends to affect retrospectively all my own fragmentary memories, and delude myself in believing that ‘I have always been a woman’ when this thought never really crossed my mind. As I reported on a previous article, I’m quite aware of some false memories, which I know perfectly well to be false (because I apply rational thought and logic to those memories, and it’s clear that they cannot be true, simply because at the age at which they allegedly happened I had no conscious thought of myself as an independent being); nevertheless, they are so strong and bright and vivid that I’m tricked in believing they’re true. It’s weird and complicated, but it happens to us all the time — like wrongly remembering that a friend has brought a green dress to a party, when in fact the dress was red, as all the pictures show. But inside our mind we still have the image of our friend in a green dress attending to that party; we know that this isn’t possible, and that the memory is fake, but nevertheless we still have that memory.
While I cannot be sure that the same happened to me regarding what I consider to be my gender dysphoria, I can at least question it. Maybe, if I could travel back in time to, say, 1999, when I momentarily believed that I could ‘pass’ in public (at least during the night!), and asked myself if I thought I was a crossdresser or a transexual person, I might give a different answer. I’m not sure, but I suspect it to be the case. I justify that with the lack of knowledge to which I had access to: from what I read in the mid-1990s, it certainly seemed the case that I was ‘just a crossdresser’. But then why was I so obsessed back then to have some reserve money for surgeries and even living out of the bank interest, so that I could survive even if I didn’t manage to get a job as a woman? I mean — a typical crossdresser would not worry at such things. I remember telling to myself that I was not sure of what I was, and in the case I was wrong about myself (i.e. actually being transexual and not merely a crossdresser), then I ought to have a plan in place to be able to deal with that.
Regular crossdressers don’t think that way. They might plan to save money to buy more dresses or better wigs and breast forms, but they don’t think that they might suddenly ‘become transexual’ and therefore ought to start saving money for that!
In the same case that someone is transgender if they start questioning their own gender — because cisgender people will never have any doubts about their gender, and questioning it makes no sense whatsoever — I would also wonder if crossdressers who plan their future lives (even if these plans will never come true!) as women are ‘merely crossdressers’ or ‘something else’. And because the transgender community is so sensitive about the ‘body dismorphia’ label, the question is then what to say about a M2F crossdresser who is planning to start taking hormones and get surgical breast augmentation? Even if that wish does never leave the ‘planning stage’, what does that say about the person? What if the plans are merely postponed, not really abandoned? Jenner waited until she was in the mid-60s to do her transition. Has she been a ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’ all that time, or did that develop later, after Jenner got in touch with the trans community and learned about her options?
I was quite young when the first news about Brazil’s famous transexual, Roberta Close, came out. Our society was a mix of old-school conservatives still attached to the times of the dictatorship, and progressivists and reformists on the left who were enthusiastic about the freedoms we could now enjoy. Having the freedom to ‘choose’ one’s gender (not my words, but those that were used back in the 1980s) was a novel idea, and I was flabbergasted at how awesome Roberta Close looked like, and how she managed to become such a gorgeous supermodel after starting her life as a ‘normal’, healthy male baby. She transitioned relatively early; but in the wake of her fame, several people started to transition mostly because of Close’s success. Most of the media I had access to was tendentially on the political left, and the way they reported Close’ success story at the time was overwhelmingly positive. Roberta Close is actually just five years older than I am, and her story made a deep impact in my mind, namely, I had learned back then that men could ‘become’ women through medical science (in reality, Roberta Close was intersex, wrongly assigned male at birth, but she just explained that publicly in 2015). It was something that fascinated me, and became part of all my dreams, especially because I understood back then that even the strangest dreams could become true (or perhaps that dream was not so ‘strange’ after all!).
I know, I’m slipping away from contemporary transgender terminology, and please bear with me as I frame these things in context. You have to realise that transgender studies have had a tremendous (I hate that word!!) development in the past decade: we have really learned so much, that everything written back in the 1990s sounds terribly outdated and politically incorrect. But for those who, like me, learned a little bit about transgenderity in the 1980s and later on the mid-1990s, you have to understand that things were not figured out so easily as today. We were still struggling with the concept of ‘changing one’s body to match one’s gender identity’, because the concept of ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender presentation’ were still under development. Studies would still assume that the ‘natural state’ of Humanity was having a binary gender, but it was accepted that some people were outside that binarity, even though it was seen as something exceptional; it was just around 1990 that the role of the SRY gene was sufficiently understood (which determines if a mammal or marsupial develops as male) to show that just because someone has XY chromosomes, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will develop as males; and many other conditions (some of which produce intersex individuals), like CAIS, became better understood. In other words: the assumption that gender binarity is the ‘norm’ and everything else is some kind of genetic ‘defect’ was slowly been eroded by the end of the 20th century — so-called biological sex was only slowly becoming accepted as a continuum, requiring a lot of complex sequences of events to be ‘truly’ binary, and that when something in that sequence failed, people would not fit into the binary sexual stereotype; and, similarly, the notion that gender is developed separately from sexual characteristics in the body was only conceptually developed with some precision at that time (and today we are assuming that gender is also encoded genetically somehow, even though we still don’t know exactly how, although we have a few promising results).
That’s why the literature from the end of the 20th century seems to be so misleading: we still talked about ‘men becoming women’ back then. We conceptually identified individuals which had external male sexual characteristics, and who had been assigned male at birth, but who had a repressed female identity somewhere inside their minds, which could, for some unknown reason, be ‘triggered’ so that it would sort of ‘take over’ one’s identity. In some cases, this was seen as temporary, and under the conscious control of the person, who would usually be labeled as ‘crossdresser’; sometimes, this produced suffering, as the individual wanted their ‘female identity’ to ‘take over’ forever (like in the case of Roberta Close), but due to social constraints, this was deemed impossible, or at least very hard: such individuals were diagnosed with ‘gender identity disorder’ (what is today known as ‘gender dysphoria’). And finally there were clear-cut cases of people who strongly adhered to a binary gender/sex concept, they just had the wrong body for their gender, and these clear-cut cases were labeled as ‘transexual’ and it was expected that they would express themselves as such from a tender age (namely, around 3 years of age, when one’s identity is established).
It took a couple of decades to slowly evolve the model that we know today and understand to be more correct — that Humanity has a diverse spectrum of possible genders, sexes, and sexuality, and that depending on how hard they are coerced to adopt a specific combination which does not correspond to their own gender/sex/sexuality, the more they suffer; and that the only way to alleviate that suffering is to allow such people to express their gender or sexuality freely, and, if that requires an intervention on their bodies (including sexual characteristics) to make the expression of their gender identity more easy, then such interventions should be made as soon as possible.
But because the whole conceptual framework has changed so swiftly — from sexual perversion and/or mental illness just after WWII to an expression of human diversity in the 2010s — society in general has not kept up with the development; but even those who are part of the transgender community have some difficulty to be fully aware of the latest developments and how they have shaped and transformed the current understanding we have about gender, sex, and sexuality.
Why is this so important to me? Well, we all are shaped by what why read and hear — that’s the principle behind ‘education’, after all — and I’m aware I have spent a couple of decades or more learning about a swift-paced area of knowledge in constant mutation, until scientists sort of reached the current consensus, which, in turn, has provided feedback to the community, which also fed back into what researchers have figured out. While there is still some discrepancy between legislation, scientific knowledge, psychological approaches, and what the community thinks about themselves, we’re fast-forwarding to an overall consensus about gender identity, presentation, (biological) sex, and sexuality, with a comparatively solid model based on non-discriminative concepts such as diversity, variety, fluidity, a spectrum instead of fixed classifications, and several different approaches to deal with people suffering from non-conformity. All these are huge steps to what was believed in the days of our grandparents; and we have travelled a long road — at break-necking speed! — to reach the current understanding.
So, in the 1980s, cases like those of Roberta Close were described as a something which was not really a ‘lifestyle’, definitely not a mental disease or a paraphilia, but still something which was an ‘option’. In other words, it was thought that some people would make a decision to change their physical bodies to ease their suffering when presenting as the kind of person they wanted to be, and, because this would involve chopping off perfectly healthy bits of their bodies and adding a few new ones, it went way beyond ‘cosmetic surgery’ and was something completely different than body dysmorphia (which was already well-known and established as a mental disease). The difference between the 1980s and the 2010s is that today we know that our gender identity is inborn, no matter if it matches what society expects from us, even if we don’t know the exact mechanism of how it is encoded in our genes; while in the 1980s, it was thought that there were some sort of ‘anomalies’ in the brain which would get triggered by many possible causes (including environmental issues, traumatic episodes in earlier life, and so forth), but which medical science could not reverse with medication or therapy. Exactly how and when these ‘anomalies’ were triggered was unknown, but it seemed that it varied a lot from person to person — in clear-cut cases of so-called primary transexuals, it happened when the identity was formed (i.e. around 3 years of age or so), but this was clearly not the case for everybody — it could happen at any age, although, among males, it was very frequent to happen during so-called ‘crisis moments’ in our development, namely, during puberty or shortly after puberty, and then later at the age we usually associate with the so-called (and currently a debunked theory!) ‘middle-age crisis’. Because such moments in life are associated with hormonal changes, it could be more than a coincidence; but actual research (from as early as the 1950s!) showed that hormones could not induce (or diminish!) such ‘triggers’, so scientists were a bit more careful than that and tried to figure out other more likely explanations (which ultimately resulted into contemporary concepts like the ‘gender identity core’).
Thus, back then, cases like Roberta Close were ‘explained’ — at least in the media — that Roberta, at some point in her youth, possibly close to her puberty (when she started to dress as a girl against her parents’ wishes), started thinking that she would be living a much more richer and fuller life if she adopted a female gender presentation, and that was what ultimately made her to go through several surgeries (and long legal battles in conservative-thinking Brazil) until she managed to get everything she wanted in order to live her life as she wanted. There is, therefore, an implication of transexuality as a process, that is, that you somehow ‘start’ your life as being something and become something else after a (usually long and painful) process, which includes psychological therapy, surgery, hormones, and eventual legal battles — to finally become the ‘person you always wanted to be’.
This old way of thinking (and which is currently not correct!) certainly influences my own dreams, and especially Dream #2. Indeed, in my mind, I cannot honestly say that ‘I am female’ and that I have always been female since birth. What I can say is that I identify fully with the female gender presentation, and that I utterly reject the ‘male identity’ and its presentation and social role. Because I never ‘believed’ in binary gender — a ‘belief’ that has naturally been strengthened with current research in the field — I was unsure of what would describe me. A ‘crossdresser with a feminine essence’? Maybe. But I wanted more than just crossdress; I always wanted more: I wanted to have a female body, even if I really don’t know why.
When I go out in public, I usually get one of two reactions, depending on the persons that watch me. Those that know me in both the ‘male’ and ‘female’ mode tell me that I’m ‘exactly the same’ in both presentations, and this is precisely what I expected to happen, since I don’t do any effort in presenting myself differently (except, of course, for attire & apparel). I do not suddenly become a different person when dressed — something which actually does happen to many people (and is actually more frequent than most people would think!), but not to me.
But strangely enough, those who only know me in my female presentation, tend to say that I’m ‘very feminine’ down to gestures and small details. Now this truly baffles me, for several reasons. Of course I know a bit about different male and female postures, gaits, modes of walking, and so forth; and there are big differences between both. In that regard, I do make an effort (which is not easy given my large frame!) to look more naturally female when dressed as one. There is, however, a limit — I don’t have any exaggerated, effeminate gestures, like some gay drag queens tend to use. In my country, most women don’t make such gestures, although it’s true that a few immigrant Brazilians tend to use them more. It might be a cultural thing. Sure, there are a few differences, but less than you might imagine. It’s just that you don’t need them — we Portuguese, like all Mediterraneans, already talk with our hands as well (‘talking through your elbows’ is a common saying applying to those who talk really a lot!), so maybe that’s why women around here do not gesticulate in an excessively feminine manner.
My bafflement comes from the other side of the issue: if people tell me that I look and behave especially feminine, but I really don’t put that much effort in it, does that mean that my gesturing in male presentation is effeminate? The answer is ‘no’, it isn’t, not at all. It might not be stereotypically male, but nobody in the world ever told me that I’ve got ‘feminine’ gestures or body language in my male presentation!
This tends to reinforce the idea that our brains overcompensate with a few clues (because our brain evolved to do exactly that). In other words: my ‘normal’ gestures (which are almost gender neutral, if you wish) are perceived by others as ‘feminine’ just because I’m presenting as a woman, while people seeing me when presenting as a male will classify those gestures as ‘masculine’. Those who know me in both gender presentations just see the same gestures, so they say that I’m ‘exactly the same’ either way. In other words: the gender presentation (in terms of attire, makeup, wig, etc. — or lack thereof!) influences a lot what people think about us — no matter how often we repeat that looks aren’t anything. They are. They are way more important than we like to admit!
So let’s get back to my dream. If my wife went away for one or even two years to do her PhD, I would start working on transforming my physical body permanently to look much more feminine. The reasons for that are now better explained from the long context I gave above: I have no idea if I have a male or female gender identity core, but I truly don’t care at this point. What I love is to present myself as a woman. I identify with that kind of presentation much more; it makes me incredibly happy when I present myself as a woman, and it’s not just the looks, it’s how it affects the interactions with others. Granted, I admit that most of these interactions happen in a framework where people know that I’m not a ‘biological cisgender woman’ but they still treat me as one, out of respect.
Just loving to present myself as a woman, for as long as possible, doesn’t ‘make’ me transexual. I can just be ‘merely a crossdresser’, after all. The difference is that most MtF crossdressers will identify as male, even if they admit to having a ‘feminine essence’, but they do not wish to present themselves as women full-time. I do! I don’t really worry if doctors and such label me as ‘cisgender heterosexual male with a crossdressing desire’ — I’m fine with that, since for so many decades that’s how I thought about myself anyway. The difference, at this stage, is that I just want to be able to dress as a woman for as long as I can, and 24h/7 is pretty much my goal.
To do that more effectively, and stop losing so much time in getting ready, I really need to do some dramatic changes. While two years is not enough for my hair to fully grow, and that would mean relying on extensions — replacing them every two months or so! — I could work on the rest of the body to make it look more female without so much shapewear. I believe that some of my doctors would be willing to put me on hormones just to see if that has a positive effect on depression and anxiety (I would think so, but of course that’s something you have to try first!). I have repeatedly said that I do not worry about the sexual performance, and that I don’t have any particular attachment to my male genitalia, so I’m fine if the libido drops to absolutely zero (which it is already, in any case…) and the penis and testes get shrunk and withered (which is unlikely!). I’m totally fine to go through orchiectomy (to avoid being on anti-androgens for long periods of time) and I’m even ok with gender confirmation surgery, whatever that means in my case — in other words, I’d gladly exchange my male genitalia for female genitalia, if that’s what it takes to achieve a more feminine body.
This, however, is medically complicated (it requires a lot of procedures and tests, many of which I will very likely fail), so I’m also fine in being patient. By contrast, getting on hormones is more than easy, especially if I’m totally willing to do a ‘real-life test’ — I would start it today if it weren’t for my wife! So, give me hormones, as much as possible (given my pre-existing conditions, of course!).
It would also mean saving up to get a boob job, a tummy tuck, and some facial feminisation surgery, starting to get my crooked nose with a potato tip into a more desirable shape. I would probably also need some forehead bone shaving, since I have deep-set eyes; they are rather small for a woman, but I believe that they’re ok enough, so long as the forehead format is changed. So, yes, over those two years I would go through all those procedures, with or without the approval of my psychiatrists or psychologists, who might advise me to be more patient and only start those procedures after a two-year real-life test.
But honestly… I don’t care. Even if my wife returned after that year or two, and forbade me to continue to present myself as a woman full time, I would certainly do it a lot of time, and the more I look like a woman physically, the easier it will be to slip into my female presentation. I mean, I know some androgynous types who have grown their hair long to the point that the only difference between their male and female presentation is what clothes they wear and if they’re putting on lipstick or not; Andreja Pejić comes to mind, someone who was absolutely androgynous before her transition.
Now I’m definitely not androgynous (except on my lips!), but I’m pretty sure that I can shed some ‘maleness’ with hormones and surgery. Not enough to let me ‘pass’ as a woman, but certainly enough to make my ‘dressing up’ routine much, much easier. At the end of the day, I might just need to put on a corset, a sexier bra, some lipstick and mascara, and I’d be ready to go out as a woman — even if people would obviously notice that I hadn’t been born a woman. Given that my wife would never approve that, I might have to settle for keeping a feminine body underneath male clothing for the remaining of my life, and to forfeit growing the hair long and rely on wigs instead. Although some doctors tell me otherwise, I think that even all those treatments would not give me enough of a female body so that I couldn’t disguise, although it would mean thinking hard about the breast implants… there is a limit to how big I can get them to be able to conceal them under loose clothing, although famous gambler Brian Zembic was able to get 38C boobs for two decades and still wear loose shirts on top of them to hide them. I might be able to do the same if I settle for a much smaller size than the breast forms I use today (which are closer to 40E these days).
Would I really go through all that? Oh, for sure. One or two years is really a lot of time. And hormones and such take time to make a difference; I know a few people who are forfeiting their real life tests and only dress occasionally as female, and go normally every day to work in their male presentation, even though they have been a year or more on hormones. After all, Jenner, when she was still calling herself Bruce, did the same for a long time — then gave up on hormones to take care of her family for a while. And for the months before her public ‘coming out’, she was seen (and photographed) using very loose clothing that would hide her body’s true shape while it developed to the point that she was happy with it and made the big announcement. I would pretty much do the same, and over those two years, I would slowly come out to the majority of all my contacts — neighbours, friends, family, acquaintances. I’m already doing that anyway, just at a very leisurely rate, without any rushing, and picking the ‘right’ people first (those who have an open mind).
What if my wife’s reaction would be extremely negative? Well… it’s hard for me to say that, but after one or two years living mostly as a woman, it’s very unlikely that I would ‘go back’ easily. Thus, I would come to a point, similar to the one in 2004, when I would have to make a choice. The biggest difference between 2004 and, say, 2020 (when the 1-2 year absence would take place) is my wife’s financial sustaining. After getting a PhD, she will be able to get a job anywhere in the world; in 2004, by contrast, she was totally dependent on an external source of money to survive. In other words, it would be very cruel to abandon her to her fate at the worst possible moment in her life. But in 2020, things would be different. She would know that she would not need me any longer to provide her with food and a roof over her head. This would naturally weight a lot in my decision!
We all should have our dreams, and goals in lives; but disappointment lurks at every corner. The higher and more unrealistic we set our goals, the less likely they will be achieved, and the higher the disappointment. While on one hand we should at least know what we’re going to do with our lives, it should not be done in such excruciating detail and wishful thinking that it will never work out as we wish. My wife and I have several female friends who are about our age and still looking for their Prince Charming; some with still a remote hope that he’ll come along eventually, others resigned to a life of spinsterhood, since they are quite unwilling to lower their expectations, and, as they age, they become more and more inflexible and unable to make concessions. That means leaving a life of solitude — at least in term of partnership — just because their expectations are set way too high.
In my own life, I have gone through such moments as well, so I pretty much know what it means to live with unrealistic expectations. My biggest issue is probably desiring short-term goals for simple moments of self-gratification, which, for other people, might not even be very special or easily achievable; but for me they are the climax of wishful thinking exactly because they will never become true. And that’s because everybody’s life is different: what is easy to some is impossible for others, and vice-versa. Aligning what is possible to me with what I wish requires a lot of effort, because it seems to incompatible; in that, of course, I’m exactly the same as everybody else!
But when looking back to those three main dreams, I can clearly see that the first one — living one or two weeks full-time as Sandra — is quite realistic and nothing extraordinary. It is highly likely that my wife, at some point in her academic career, will have to be away for a week or so. Therefore, this dream can become true relatively easily — it’s just a matter of being patient and wait. While up to now such a dream was just that, nothing more than a dream, there are good reasons for that: our crippling financial situation which prevents us from travelling (even for business purposes) and my wife’s ongoing studies which have not finished yet. As a consequence, wishing that she goes away for a week is, at this moment, absolutely unlikely and impossible. But things will change in, say, two years or so; and then, what seems impossible right now will become highly likely in the short term. More than that: it’s almost absolutely predictable that my wife will know that I’ll be dressing as a woman every day. I mean, I almost do it these days, depending, of course, on the amount of confusion and chaos there is on each week, with the difference, of course, that every evening I will need to undress and remove everything before going to bed. From that to going full-time as a woman for a week or two is really a tiny step, and one that just needs the right circumstances to be in place.
The second dream has two further difficulties. The first, of course, is that while I can realistically expect my wife to be away for 5 days for a conference, the expectation that she might be away for one to three months to do a workshop or course or something like that is much smaller, and naturally also has a much larger financial impact. It is not totally out of the question, however, because she has already been invited to do a one-month course last year; she just declined due to our financial issues, we simply couldn’t afford that. But that is about to change, and most definitely so in two years. The second problem is that what I plan to do (namely, extensions) is considerably expensive, and, right now, I have no way to pay for that. Again, things will change very soon; even the little money I might get from my father’s inheritance might be able to cover just barely those costs. So, again, while this scenario remains a dream, nothing more than wishful thinking, there are reasonable probabilities that it might become true in the future, again, at a similar time scale (say, 2 to 5 years). It’s just that it will be way more likely for my wife to be away for 5 days for a conference than one month or more for a small course. But neither will be impossible, they will just have different probabilities of happening.
The last dream is obviously a different story. It’s true that my wife’s teachers have suggested that she does her PhD (or eventually a postdoc) abroad, and they would help her out with recommendations and getting a scholarship. She was quite enthusiastic about the idea and even started to look for possible places to go (which surprised me, in a very positive way, because I thought she would have abandoned the idea as not being ‘realistic’). So, doing some higher education after her mastership abroad is truly part of my wife’s plans and her own dreams; and of course I’m the most enthusiastic supporter of those ideas. The trouble is that she will most definitely want to drag me along, and I might not have good enough arguments to say ‘no’, especially if I remain unemployed. On the reverse side of the coin, if I get some employment, and that means full-time work at, say, some university around here, there will be quite a lot of additional difficulties to deal with — namely, making sure in advance that wherever I end up doing my work accepts a transition, which might not even be successful (meaning that I might end up detransitioning when my wife returns!).
And obviously we are talking about a much costlier dream — since I’m talking about going through surgery, most of which (if not all!) I would have to pay out of my own pocket. There might be one procedure or the other that might be paid by my health insurance, but I cannot count on it alone to pay for everything. Some of those surgeries — namely, breast augmentation — might need to be reversed after my wife returns, and that, in turn, means also having enough money to do that procedure. In short, we’re talking about a lot of money, some of which would be perfectly ‘wasted’ if I didn’t continue my life presenting as a woman. I know that most people who talk about both their transition and de-transition rarely, if ever, talk about money issues; and that’s just because those who are more vocal on the Interwebs are usually financially solid enough to think about their mental and physical health first, and ignore whatever financial issues these things imply.
I cannot afford that way of thinking. For the past months, my wife and I have been living 20-25% under the poverty line established for my country (and since we have less than half the average salaries of the European Union, but the same cost of living, you can see that this is really not much to live with!). We can survive, sure, but thinking about costly medical procedures, even if they are covered by insurance, are completely out of the question. It’s true that transition surgeries are for free if you go through the procedure with the national health system, but it means long waiting periods, a lot of psychological evaluations (some of which I now know I will never ‘pass’), and a certain doubt about which procedures are covered and which are not. While technically (at least under a certain interpretation of the law!) we are supposed to be able to get for free all surgical procedures required to live as a person of the gender we identify with, in practice it’s hard to get more than a breast augmentation and the gender confirmation surgery (besides hormone replacement therapy, which is not free, but heavily subsidised). I’m aware that some people did manage to persuade the national health service to pay for other surgeries as well, but this is decided case by case. To make matters worse, our own expert in gender confirmation surgery is now in his early 70s, was forced to retire against his will, and badly replaced by some young butchers who have no clue about what they are doing; this surgeon is still working in the private sector and training new people in his techniques, but it means that at least some of the more important procedures are only managed by him. Of course, I could do the surgeries on a different country, and so many TG people go to Thailand for their own surgeries, but, to be honest, although they might be much cheaper (and better!) than those you can get in the US, they are astronomically more expensive than what I can get around here — especially if I take into account that I might get some procedures for free and might persuade my insurance company to cover at least part of the costs of some of the procedures. It’s more a question of how much I’m willing to wait.
So, the truth is that the first two dreams do not require a big change in terms of my life. Even with dream #2, assuming ‘one or two months away’, I might still be able to pull it off with minimal disturbance of my daily routine, whatever it might be at that time. It will require some planning, sure, but probably nothing dramatic. One of the beauties of being both depressed (even though in accelerated recovery mode!) and somehow transgender is that I can give a nice excuse for dressing as a woman — I can just let people know that I do have some ‘gender identity issues’ and I’m doing a very unusual therapy. In fact, if you have been reading my articles, you know that all doctors have encouraged me to dress as a woman while I work.
Pulling it off for a year or more might be much more complicated; and I don’t know how I would react if I had to ‘de-transition’ after that time. I mean, either I get insane after two or three weeks of spending three hours every day just to go out and buy groceries, and give up living as a woman, or, well, after one or two years — especially after HRT and some surgical procedures! — it will be way harder to go back to present myself as a male. I seriously suspect it’s pretty much the same thing as leaving your parents’ home and having to return after a couple of years because you’re broke and there is no other option left. After enjoying a few years in freedom, setting one’s own routine, disregarding all those troublesome ‘rules’ set by one’s loving parents… well, going back is not easy. Some people manage to do it, mostly when they are in despair. But it would never have been their first choice. I think that forcefully detransitioning — a bit what Jenner did some decades ago — must be incredibly hard, after having tasted Paradise for a few years.
Anyway… all this long article was just an exercise in wishful thinking. I still set myself some goals now and then. I admit to having increased 2000% my levels of pleasure and amusement when going out dressed as a woman, at any time of the day, going to any place. I admit that I was worried that, at some point, it would cease to have any fun — especially because, thanks to my ever-conflicting schedules, I have been forced to go out alone way more than before — but the reverse is actually true. Even when I go repeatedly to the same places (like certain malls and supermarkets), I’m always amazed and amused by my experiences there — even if, from a strict neutral perspective, they’re totally mundane and commonplace. But there is this switch of perception — experiencing the world as a woman, or at least not-as-a-man (in the sense that people know that I’m not a woman, but they don’t interact with me as if I were a man when I’m dressed as a woman), is much more fun than I ever thought it to be.
In a sense, a lot of my previous dreams from earlier years — interacting with more people in different places while dressed as a woman — have finally become true, and this gave a boost to my self-confidence, but also raised the level of pleasure, joy, and sense of wonder that I get from crossdressing. It was exciting to dress in secret at the beginning — so much to learn, so many new experiences! But that novelty quickly faded (even though I push myself to learn to do things differently over time), and was replaced, for a while, by maintaining a regular presence on the webcam chats. I realised back then that I needed to interact with others in order to enhance the joys of crossdressing, and it’s only recently that I learned that this might have to do with one aspect of a narcissistic personality, namely, the need to get assurance by others, to get some feedback from them (even negative one!) to truthfully believe that I’m in the right direction, whatever that direction actually might be. There is, however, a limit to how much you can interact through a tiny rectangle on your home computer; and unfortunately, 99% of the people you find there are only interested in sex anyway. I needed much more than that; I needed to interact with the real world, doing mundane and trivial things. And this is one of the dreams that already have become true.
The next stage, well, I see mostly as a refinement of the current one: as said, I can dress as a woman 5 out of 7 days every week, and spend several hours like that. I just don’t do it because it takes so much time for me to get ready to go out, and to undress when I return. It’s very frustrating to take three hours just to spend an hour having a coffee at an esplanade or so. This is what my current dreams are about: I want to reduce that to a reasonable amount of time; and even if I’m aware that I will always take a little more time to get ready as a woman, compared to what I need to do as a man, there are limits to how much extra effort I’m willing to do every day! One thing is to go to a special event — the kind that happens once per week, or twice per month — and I certainly enjoy a lot getting ready for that. But the other thing is to go out to buy a loaf of bread and some cheese — it’s stupid to take three hours just for that! Sometimes, though, I still do it, realising that it might be the only chance in that particular week to get dressed. But often I give up in disappointment, and that’s really frustrating for me…