I remember from a very early age wishing that I could go to sleep and wake up the following morning as a girl. Then, of course, I would discover that I was actually a Princess who had been hidden as a boy for some reason. Even back then, I obviously had a strong imagination! As time went on, I occasionally dressed up, but only as a game. Actually one of my earlier memories is being told off by my mother for putting on a fresh new pair of tights rather than one of her old pairs. At the time, I’m sure she thought that the dressing up was innocent. At the time, I’m sure it was. I didn’t identify with it as something that made me who I was.
When I was about 13, I started going a little further. I think it must have something to do with puberty. (Obviously, I’m a mutant and should join the X-Men. I could be ‘Skirt’ – the mutant with the amazing power of dress wearing!) I started sneaking items of my mother’s under- and outerwear out of her cupboards and trying them on. I discovered that it gave me a very strong sexual thrill. So, of course, I kept doing it. At about the same time, I discovered girls. I must have been very confused, because I also started to worry about whether I was gay or not. This was despite the fact that I didn’t actually fancy anyone male.
At around this time, I also came across the concept of transvestites. My parents brought home a copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This did not help with the whole ‘Am I Gay?’ thing. Although I saw the rest as the silly comedy that it was, this aspect I took very, very seriously indeed. And the two bedroom scenes freaked me out as well. My parents weren’t meant to watch this sort of stuff! And if they did, they certainly weren’t meant to watch it (and enjoy it!) in front of me! I am obviously scarred for life.
This dressing in complete secrecy went on until I was about seventeen or eighteen. I mainly wore my mother’s clothes although I did start to buy my own. Those early shopping trips were extremely scary – full of the usual ‘she knows I’m buying this for myself’ embarrassments. I still think the same thing now but it’s tempered by not caring if the shop assistant knows or not. And often trying on clothes in the shop, which does kind of give the game away. I made some horrendous clothing choices in those early shipping trips (Of course, my taste is much improved these days. Although I admit that it has been helped immensely by constructive criticism from my wife). One item I particularly remember is a lilac lycra mini skirt that I remember thinking was gorgeous. Now, I am ever so glad that I don’t have any photos of it! Well, that was, I guess the period I was living in then – the early nineties when that sort of thing was very popular.
I had also started dating by this time. My first girlfriend, Adele, I went out with for about six months; my second was called Angela. This one was a total failure. We were together for no more than a matter of weeks, before she gave me the ‘I just want to be friends’ talk. She actually used those exact words! Neither of these two knew about my inclinations.
When I was 18, (post-Angela) I finally came to the decision that I would voluntarily come out to someone. I chose my best friend of the time – another girl called Angela. Initially, she didn’t believe me. Especially as I told her over the telephone and described the outfit I was wearing at the time. I don’t remember what it was, but I don’t think it was too outrageous!
Eventually, I got around to dressing for her and she finally believed me. And she started to help me with clothes and make up and the like. She was next to me the first time I went out in public – a seriously nerve-wracking experience. We didn’t have access to a car, so we had to get the bus. We went to a pub – The Northumberland Arms – that, looking back, I would never have gone into normally – not even dressed male. Fortunately, it was mid-week and so fairly quiet. I don’t know if I was read, as I was tucked away in a corner. However, when I was going to the loo (first time in women’s toilets!), Angela called out to me. Unfortunately, instead of calling ‘Stephanie’, the name I had settled on at that time, she called ‘Stephen’. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t reacted. Oh well… No-one actually said anything, so I think I got away with it! Or, if I didn’t, nobody cared.
Over the years, as I dressed more often, the erotic impulses that came with dressing lessened. I also started to come out to more and more people. Reactions mostly ranged from ‘Oh well, that explains your obsession with Rocky Horror’ to ‘Wow! Really?’ I’ve only ever received one negative reaction and that didn’t happen until the very late on in my coming out, to the people with whom worked a couple of jobs ago and only from one person in the group.
I was out on a staff night out. I had been wondering about whether or not to come out at work, because I wasn’t entirely sure of the reaction I would get had decided that while I wasn’t going to come all the way out, I was going to be a bit girlier at work – more femme trousers, nail varnish and the like. And I was doing the femme thing to the hilt that evening – the only male clothes I had on were a shirt and my shoes, and I had a bra top under my shirt. I also had my nails painted a very nice red and had some subtle lipstick and mascara on and dangly earrings.
Everything was fine and dandy until I said, jokingly, to one of my colleagues, ‘so, do you think I should wear nail varnish to work’, expecting an equally jokey answer in reply. Instead, I got a flat ‘no’. This kind of narked me, so I started to question her about why I shouldn’t, one thing led to another and it all came out. Fortunately, everyone else was fine and supportive and interested. She said that she wasn’t against it, she just didn’t understand it and didn’t want to understand it, which is, in itself, an attitude I don’t understand.
However, everything is fine at work and nothing has really changed. And I continued to wear nail varnish, girly trousers and dangly earrings to work, both in that job and the one that followed until I was made redundant.
Over the years, I also decided, for reasons that I now no longer remember to change my name from Stephanie. It’s never been my favourite name (although it is the name I would have been given had I actually been born a girl, instead of changing myself into one) and so I spent ages casting around for a new one, talking to people and getting opinions from them. Eventually, I settled on the name ‘Ellen’ and it’s stuck.
I was caught a few times early on – my brother caught me first, becoming the first person to discover the ‘awful truth’. Fortunately, he was cool about it and kept it a secret from my parents. I wasn’t quite ready to come out to them, although they did catch me a few times, or discover clothing or something like that. It led to a few fraught discussions and arguments, culminating once in a request by them to see a psychiatrist. Nothing actually came of that, so whether they just forgot about or did a bit of research and discovered that going to see one wouldn’t actually help or what, I don’t know.
As far as actually, voluntarily, coming out is concerned, there have been several difficult ones. None of them have been especially easy – although they do get easier as time goes by and it the rush is also curiously addictive
Anyway, the hardest one, after Angela – who was the first, was probably coming out to C, the woman who is now my wife. I came out to her after about six months or so of boyfriend/girlfriend-ness. It was at 2.30 in the morning and I had finally decided that I had to tell her. That not to tell her would be dishonest. So, I screwed up my courage, which took about ten minutes. Eventually, I blurted out my hideous secret, half sure that she was going to kick me out of bed and never want anything more to do with me. Her reaction was ‘Oh. Okay.’ I think the thing that really freaked her out was my relief-filled proposal of marriage. Sensibly, she turned me down. That time. We didn’t actually get married for another sixteen years – during which time she has been my strongest supporter and toughest critic.
The next hardest was coming out to my parents. At the time, I actually only told my mother. Telling both of them at the same time was just going to be difficult. It was a similar story to telling C – the screwing up of courage and eventually blurting it out. Her reaction was ‘Well, we sort of knew anyway…’ Which, of course, they did, having caught me and talked about shrinks and things like that in the past. However, I think they had sort of assumed that it was something that I’d put behind me. Anyway, she told my father who rang me at work the next day to tell me that it was all okay and he didn’t mind, he still loved me no matter what I wore, etc. etc.
All of the other coming out episodes have pretty much followed two patterns. The most common is that after deciding that I want to tell someone (which usually means that I am pretty much certain that I’ll get a positive reaction when I tell them), when we are alone together, I steer the conversation around to crossdressing – which isn’t that difficult, actually, strangely enough. At some point in the conversation, I will say ‘By the way, I’m a crossdresser’ or something similar. And then see where the conversation goes. It usually follows a pattern as well – ‘Really?’; ‘Are you gay?’; ‘Do you want a sex change?’; ‘What do you wear?’ So I’m really pretty good at doing this part of it.
The other method of coming out is to direct them here with the warning that they may get a bit of a surprise. While this one is easier at the beginning – it’s a case of point and shoot the email and there’s no going back – it’s harder later on, because once the email has gone, I have to wait until the person has looked at it. And, a lot of the times, I didn’t actually find out and had to ask whether they had looked.
C and I have a son who is now ten years old. While I haven’t told him about my dressing and I haven’t actually dressed completely around him, I also haven’t hidden it. He has seen the sort of underwear I wear and been around when I’ve put on tights and other femme clothes as everyday wear. He’s asked a few questions about why I wear them, to which I’ve replied ‘because I like these clothes’ and that seems to satisfy him at the moment. I know that at some point – probably in the fairly near future – I’m going to have to tell him. In fact, at the time of writing, I’m reading him The Boy In The Dress by David Walliams, which I’m planning on using as a way in to the discussion with him. We’ll see how it goes…
For the last few years, I’ve really not felt the need to get in to the crossdresser/transgender ‘scene’. I’ve always had ample opportunity to dress and mix with people – Ellen has been to a lot more parties in the last few years than Stephen – and the few times I’ve gone to a support group I’ve never really bonded with anyone. One of the worst tv experiences I had was going to a group where it really felt like a bunch of guys in skirts. I mean, I don’t really know what I was expecting other than that, but when everyone else spends the whole evening talking about football (soccer) and cars – two things about which I have no interest at all… Well, let’s just say, I didn’t feel very supported in my lifestyle choices. Not to mention desperately bored.
One of my pastimes, other than wearing skirts, is writing. I’ve written a three novels – two of which – The Long Sleep and Down Among the Yla, are available through Amazon as in both paper and electronic form. I want to point out The Long Sleep in particular as there is a very strong transgender theme that runs through the story. (Obviously, I’m not going to say more, because I want you to buy it and I don’t want to spoiler it any more than I already have.) It is actually a lot easier to write science fiction with TG themes than it is to write a contemporary story with those themes and keep them ‘true’ and not allow them to overpower the rest of the book, to ensure that it is the story comes first and is not overpowered by the desire to write about crossdressing or transgenderism. To ensure that it is a story with a theme rather than a theme with a story (if that makes any sense). I do have plans to write ‘The Great British Crossdresser Novel’ although it’s very nebulous at the moment – I mean, what’s it going to be about, other than crossdressing? As much as I enjoy crossdressing and as proud as I am of being a crossdresser, it’s obvious to me that it’s nowhere near enough to fill a novel. You can find out more information about The Long Sleep and everything else, including my forthcoming collection of short stories (which includes a couple with crossdressing themes) at Samarcand Books
If I have any advice for the newly emerging crossdresser, I’d say to just relax and enjoy it. If my experiences are in any way indicative of anything, I think that you will have a lot less trouble with people than you expect to have. One of things you have to remember is that your crossdressing is part of what makes you who you are. Without it, you’d be an entirely different person. Without it you may well not be where you are now nor would you have the friends and relationships you have now. One of my strongest arguments for coming out is that without at least knowing about Ellen (if not actually meeting her) then people only know half of Stephen. And it’s a fairly important half as well.