Having Vivienne time isn't easy. We both have full-time jobs, and between us we have a bunch of kids that have all sorts of things on: school, sports, music, social lives, you name it. However, there has been a series of days where I have managed to get some completely free time. It was time--it was past time--for Vivienne to get out and about.
My partner Missy could see that I had been getting cranky because I was feeling increasingly feminine, but had no opportunities to express it. So she asked me what I wanted to do. The top item on the bucket list was to go dressed to the cinema, so that's what we did.
|Please turn your phone to silent.|
Missy helped me to pick out an outfit which would work. My tendency is to do more. More makeup! More nails! More shoes! She suggested that I tone it down to an outfit which a woman would actually wear, and she had a really good point. I've pointed out before how I tend to become voracious when dressing after a drought.
I am naturally aiming for a compromise with both my outfit and makeup. In one direction, there is too much, and I look like a clown, or a bad drag queen, or a caricature of a woman. In the other direction, there is too little, and I look like a man. Somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot, where I can look, if not exactly like a woman, at least like someone who is trying to make a go of looking like one. Previously I only had my own frame of reference to guide my choices; now I have Missy's sensible viewpoint.
I felt completely comfortable until we got to the mall and I got out of the car. Suddenly I was aware that everyone's eyes would be on me. This wasn't a frightening sensation, but probably the sensation that the meerkat has when out on the Kalahari desert. We walked into the cinema. Missy ordered the tickets, and I stood behind. The attendant (a woman) spotted my nails, and said they were lovely. I was taken aback by this sudden compliment, having been out for a total of about ten minutes. "Thank you!" I responded. Then she looked at me, having not really looked at me at all. She must have clocked my man-voice, and I braced myself for some sign of discomfort, but there was none. (Missy chided me jokingly for my deep manly voice, but I don't have a fem voice, and I was totally unprepared!)
We made our way into the cinema, which of course was dark and quiet. We got the luxury seats and watched the film. I couldn't believe how lovely it felt. I wanted to pinch myself. None of the other people paid us the slightest attention, though I felt as if I had a huge flashing neon sign above my head.
|Still getting used to the handbag thing.|
The following day, Missy was at work. I had the option to dress again--or I could do ordinary stuff (as if!). I decided to dress and go out on my own. I wore the same outfit as I had before, and I went back to the same mall. It was much more crowded than the day before!
I was so nervous at first that I decided to just stroll around. I was extremely self-conscious! There were so many things to remember, including a whole new way to walk and carry myself. I had, of course, been practising, but it's one thing to practise when there is nobody looking, and it's a different kettle of fish if you feel like everyone is looking at you!
At first I jumped at every noise. As I passed a sports store, I heard a burst of male laughter from within. At the time I was sure it was directed at me, but in retrospect, there is no reason at all to think it was. I began to look up and take notice of the people around me more. A woman coming the other way caught my eye, and smiled. I smiled back. Was it because she clocked me, and was being reassuring? Or was it because women sometimes smile at one another when they make brief eye contact in the mall? I was especially fearful of large, muscular men. I fear that, of all people, they are the ones who would express their discomfort most vocally.
I braced myself for strange looks; for weird expressions; for expressions of distaste. Nothing. Nothing at all. Nobody seemed to pay me the slightest notice. Was that, I wonder now, because they were silently sniggering and pointing behind my back? Maybe. Or maybe I just didn't stand out enough for people to notice me (and I am sure most people are wrapped in their own business, so that if you mostly blend in, you become effectively invisible). Or maybe (and here's the kicker) they did actually notice, and clock me, but were not bothered in the slightest?
|Hot as any Hottentot?|
I went into the sunglasses shop, and approached the counter. The assistant, a young woman, said "Can I help you?" I smiled and said "Yes, I'm looking for sunglasses to go with this look," and indicated myself. She didn't seem fazed in the slightest, but asked me how much I wanted to spend, and then showed me lots and lots of frames, several of which I tried on.
Every time--every time--I looked in the mirror, it was a surprise to see Vivienne's face looking back out at me. The assistant was lovely. I told her I wanted large round lenses, but she suggested a few alternate frames. Some of them didn't work at all, but some of them looked really good. Eventually, I settled on a pair, and bought them. She asked me if I had shopped there before, and I laughed and said "Yes, but I didn't look like this!" and she laughed too.
When it came time to pay for my parking ticket, the attendant smiled and asked if I was having a nice day, and I said "Yes, it's lovely, thanks!"
In the afternoon I went for a long stroll round the park. With my sunglasses on, nobody looked at me at all, and I seemed to blend right in. I went into the little cafe next to the park and ordered a drink, and sat writing my journal with my lovely fountain pen and its lovely sparkly ink. Other patrons came and went, and nobody seemed in the least troubled. I once wrote in this blog I considered this simple activity to be pie in the proverbial sky, and here I was, doing it and loving every moment.
You would think that no human being could stand this amount of pink fog, and perhaps you would be right. There is a definite sense in which Vivienne time seems to stand apart from ordinary time; no work, no commitments, no obligations. It's probably the same sense of "getting away from it all" that some men enjoy when golfing or fishing--but surely it's much more pleasurable than either of those activities? In any case, after a couple of days, I had to come back down to Earth.
But my reflections are these. First, going out as Vivienne seems to be OK. That is, nobody seems offended or horrified. The people of my town seem very tolerant, which is extraordinarily gratifying to me. Why should this come as a surprise? Perhaps because I've had about 20 years of being told how disgusting crossdressing is (by my ex-wife), and though I knew that her view was very skewed, some of it had inevitably sunk in. To discover that it isn't right; that people are apparently totally fine with it, has come as a revelation, and a delightful one. My biggest goal, in all of this, is simply acceptance, as I have written before.
Second, I think for me, the key is to not pretend to be a woman: I shall surely fall short. Instead, I can simply be myself, and let people make of me what they will. The woman in the sunglasses shop didn't seem remotely uncomfortable with my attitude or presentation. I am hopeful that with time and practice the anxiety will fade and the pleasure and comfort will grow, but even if it doesn't, where I am right now is fabulous.
So far, everything has been completely wonderful. I fear that there may yet be an event, which in my mind I am calling The Puncture, where I have a truly unpleasant encounter with someone, or some other experience which really puts me off going out like this. The reason I think such a thing will happen is that a part of me thinks that moments of bliss must be balanced out somehow, for the universe to keep turning. But the reason I think it might not, is that very few people (and I've read a lot of stories) mention events like this.
In any case, for each time I go out, and meet smiles and acceptance, it adds to the store of goodwill and optimism in the bank. As these experiences accumulate, it will become harder and harder to demolish the pile, and easier and easier to accept that an occasional uncomfortable encounter represents the exception, not the norm.