Monday, October 14, 2013

"Pictures of Courage"

October is upon us, and you know what that means.  No, I'm not referring to my birthday (a date I'd sooner forget).  I'm talking about Halloween, of course- the one time of the year in which an average fella can publicly crossdress without fear of it being perceived as aberrant behavior.  This post is gonna be an account of own very limited real-life personal experiences in that arena, so you can stop reading now if that's not of interest to you.  Be forewarned, I'm going to ramble a lot.  If I were you, I don't know if I'd have the patience to read this stuff.  But hey, it says right at the top of the page that this is a place to collect thoughts and experiences, so that's what I'm choosing to share with you today.

If you've ever watched South Park, you may be familiar with Nurse Gollum, a minor character with "conjoined twin myslexia."

In 2004, I drew a sexier version of said character in my own style.  When I sketched her facial features, they vaguely resembled my own.  This was because it had occurred to me that she might make an interesting subject for a Halloween costume for myself, though I didn't have any delusions that I could make myself look as good as in the drawing.  But that's what appealed to me about dressing up as that particular character.  It would allow me to partially satisfy my curiosity about crossdressing, while at the same time, with a fake fetus sticking out of one side of my head, nobody would blame me if I didn't look especially gorgeous.  FYI, technically, I guess this form of crossdressing is known as crossplay: dressing as a specific character of the opposite gender.  

The biggest hitch in my idea was, I hadn't had cause to dress up for Halloween since I outgrew trick or treating.  It's not like I got invited to costume parties... or parties in general. 

The first real opportunity presented itself five years later when a coworker extended to me an invitation to a Halloween party being held at the home of a friend of hers.  To this day, I don't know why she invited me.  She did invite other people at our place of business, but I was the only one stupid and/or pathetic enough to accept. 

I started gathering elements I required for my costume.  I purchased a nurse's uniform over the internet- a somewhat chancey proposition in any circumstance, as I was forced to guess at the correct size.  I also bought a wig through eBay, but because the seller was shipping from somewhere in China, I grew concerned that it might not arrive by the date of the party.

When my worries about the wig came to pass, I was forced to go with my backup option.  Since I at least already had the nurse's togs (which fit, thankfully), I knew it would be a fairly simple matter to shift gears and instead present myself as the Heath Ledger version of the Joker from The Dark Knight- specifically referencing the scene from that movie where he disguised himself as a nurse.
I was not thrilled with that idea; The Dark Knight had come out the year before and I had no doubt the Joker would be a popular costume.  I couldn't help remembering the episode of The Office that started with three of its characters arriving at work dressed as the clown prince of crime.

I'm not a huge comic book geek, but I had initially been slightly perturbed that the movie Joker's appearance was the result of makeup rather than his skin being dyed that way, as in the comics and other incarnations.  However, like the vast majority of moviegoers, I was won over by the film and Ledger's performance.  More importantly, the carelessly applied makeup made for a relatively easy look to emulate.

As it turns out, I didn't need to slather my face in clown white to be the whitest person at that party. All I'm saying is, it's a good thing I didn't get even lazier in my costume selection by cutting a couple holes in a bed sheet and going as a ghost.  Lest you get the wrong impression, the ethnic disparity didn't really exacerbate my discomfort; I was already plenty ill at ease simply not knowing anybody.  My coworker didn't even show up until about forty minutes after I got there, and then she left almost immediately because she forgot something at home.

Either I'd done a lackluster job on my makeup or there were people who hadn't seen the movie, because I got asked a couple times who I was supposed to be.  One such query came from the party's host, who was wearing a black and red harlequin outfit, which made me think of Harley Quinn, the Joker's girlfriend- that is, if Harley was male and large and African American.  Wisely, I kept that thought to myself.    

The full effect of my costume was probably dulled slightly by the fact that the party was held outdoors in the freezing cold, so I never took my coat off.  Perhaps it's for the best I didn't go in full drag.  One guy there was dressed as a Scotsman, and he received some ribbing just for wearing a kilt.  Good thing my brother wasn't with me (more on that in a bit).  I can only imagine what might have been said if it had been more apparent I was in a nurse's uniform... and a slip (fearing that people could see through the fabric of the uniform, when I ran out and purchased my cheap Joker makeup at the last minute, I also grabbed a half slip off a rack).  On the other hand, such jocularity was probably reserved for those who were already acquainted. 

My wig finally arrived a couple days later.  In a way, I was glad, since if I had been able to dress in my ideal costume, the effort would have been wasted on that incredibly awkward party.

Even if the party was a bust, I could at least be proud of myself for getting out and making an attempt to meet people.

At any rate, I got another chance the following year when I learned that the local burlesque troupe was having a Halloween show at my favorite movie theater.  Admission was two dollars cheaper for those in costume.  Obviously, it made a great deal of sense to shell out who knows how much on a costume in order to save a couple bucks.  Okay, maybe not, but I had a partial costume assembled already.  The unused wig and the nurse's uniform had been in my closet all year.  I just needed to procure a few more items.

Even if my wig had arrived in the nick of time the year before, I didn't allot myself enough time to compile all the things and knowledge I needed to make this costume work.  I don't think it had dawned on me just how complicated something like finding the right makeup would be, not to mention learning how to apply it.  I consulted several websites for tips.  I know I said that the beauty of this costume idea was that I didn't necessarily have to look beautiful, but I didn't want to look terrible either.

While I perused the makeup aisle, I grabbed a box of tampons and carried it under my arm, in the hopes that anyone around would assume I was picking up stuff for a girlfriend.  I've gathered from sitcoms that buying feminine products is humiliating for men, but I believe it's more so if people think you're the one who's going to use them.

A couple embellishments I made to the original Nurse Gollum design were the addition of a pair of pink and black stripped tights and glovettes, so I wouldn't need to remove hair from the areas they covered.  The glovettes were fingerless, though, and only went up to my elbows, necessitating (by my way of thinking) the use of a foul smelling depilatory cream on my fingers and the parts of my arms that still showed.
If it seemed jarring that the hair on my arms abruptly stopped above my elbows for a few weeks after that, nobody said anything.  I was more worried about the possibility of the hair growing back coarser.  It didn't.  If it had, that would have been an unpleasant price to pay for a stupid costume that I was maybe only going to end up wearing once.
Instead of going through that again when I wore the same costume the following year, I took the gray tights I'd worn as the Joker, cut them with scissors and wore them like sleeves to cover the exposed parts of my arms.

Considering how much work I was putting into various aspects of my appearance, it may seem odd that I didn't get a bra and try to simulate a bust.  That was where I drew the line.  It was nerve-wracking enough just buying makeup; I couldn't see myself stepping into the ladies intimates section and trying to figure out bra sizes, etc. without imploding from embarrassment.

Since fetus dolls don't appear to be widely available (except among anti-abortion activists, apparently), I had to make one of my own, by removing the head from one doll and attaching it to the body of a smaller one (trickier than it sounds). 

I was very much on edge the day of the show.  I might have been less so if I'd done a dry run and practiced my makeup skills before the main event, but as with most things in my life, I procrastinated too long.  Despite telling myself that I didn't care if I "passed" or not, somewhere not too far in the recesses of my mind, I fantasized about my neighbors wondering who this pink-haired girl was emerging from my apartment.  In hindsight, that was a little too much to hope for.

I haven't yet explicitly stated that I suffer from a severe anxiety disorder which has significantly affected my ability to function in society or enjoy life.  At one point, I had been too afraid to step into this theater when it was playing my favorite film, "Bringing Up Baby."  Now I was going there to watch girls stripping down to pasties and g-strings while I was dressed as a female nurse (and an unconvincing one at that).  You can see how this was kind of a major step for me.

When I parked near the theater and got out of my car, some guy whistled at me from his porch, which I took as an encouraging sign.  Thanks to my preparation taking much longer than anticipated, I nearly made myself late for the show, which started at ten PM.  Fortunately, there were still tickets available when I arrived, or else I would have been all dressed up with nowhere to go, not to mention feeling very foolish to boot. 

The night was what I'd consider to be a success.  The theater was packed, and being surrounded by many other garishly costumed individuals greatly mitigated my conspicuousness.  I may have looked ridiculous, but my getup did garner several compliments from strangers.  The guy at the concession stand even liked my costume so much that when I ordered a soft drink, he let me have it on the house.
 The show was scheduled to end at midnight, but due to overbooking and numerous intermissions, it stretched on to twice as long.  While a portion of the crowd filtered out after the first two or three hours, I happily stuck around until the very end.  

Around this period, I went through a phase in which I became what might be described as a burlesque groupie (or junkie), attending shows virtually every month.  It wasn't so much that I got a prurient thrill from it; rather, I simply came to appreciate and enjoy the passion and energy present at those events.
 Occasionally, my emotions after such shows were unpredictable.  Half the time, I'd walk away feeling more upbeat and alive, but as time wore on, more often than not, being around other people having fun only served to enhance my own sense of emptiness and isolation.  It was like looking into a world where people led vastly more interesting and exciting lives than my own; a world that had no real place for me.  Hell, maybe there's a part of me that had some impossible wish that I could have traded places with the girls on stage and been a burlesque performer myself; I haven't bothered to examine that hypothesis too deeply.

The following year, there was another Halloween show and I donned the same costume.  No sense in using it only once after all the work and expense that had gone into it.  The one major difference between this excursion and the one the year before was that this time, I wasn't there alone; I met up with my brother and his (then) fiance.  As it turns out, my brother, who is a way more social animal than myself, was acquainted with two or three people in the show.  One of his friends- the "pickup artist" (i.e., a provocatively dressed girl who picks up discarded clothing in between sets)- granted us access to seats right next to the stage.  

My brother empathized with my frustrations trying to get my false eyelashes to adhere.  I had to wonder what he'd know about such matters, but I'd forgotten he did sell Mary Kay cosmetics for a while in college.  Additionally, he's had experience in the theater.  Either of those reasons could explain it.  It could also explain why, when they got married a couple months ago, he was the one who did his wife's makeup for the ceremony.

One might imagine my brother is the one with the crossdressing fetish.  Besides his evident prowess with a makeup brush, he happens to greatly prefer kilts to pants.  The older generation in our family may have raised eyebrows at this, but I hardly see it as worth calling attention to.  I'm certainly not one to judge.  As I expected, he even wore a kilt at his wedding.  At the reception, after he completed the tradition of removing his bride's garter from under her dress, she then proceeded to remove the garter from under his kilt. 

After this second Halloween show outing, my brother and his fiance went back to their apartment, accompanied by the pickup artist, and I went home alone, as usual.  While it was nice to not be by myself for once at one of these shows, I realized it was more stressful and not as much fun while in costume.  I was constantly aware of the need to keep my legs together while seated, for example, plus the one eyelash that wouldn't stick properly was a source of irritation.  Every time I venture outside or interact with others, I'm already putting on a facade.  For me, dressing up was decidedly not a freeing sensation; it was just one more layer of artifice I needed to struggle to maintain.

I haven't been to another burlesque show since that night.  For starters, my financial situation has become such that I can't justify throwing money away on extravagances like that.  It may be just as well; surprisingly, watching girls take their clothes off can get quite tedious after a while.  Also, the performers actually expect the audience to show encouragement by cheering and hollering- something I was never fully comfortable with, given my innate taciturnity.  I can't deny it may be possible that discovering my brother's connections to that group helped to cool my zeal somewhat as well.  Attending burlesque shows was the one offbeat activity I engaged in, and suddenly, it was no longer just my thing.

Perhaps someday I'll find another excuse to crossdress before I get too old for it.  Until such a time, I find I'm mostly content doing artwork related to crossdressing instead of practicing it myself.      


Carrie P said...

Hi Dave
Before I start this will have to be in at least 2 parts as it’s so long it wouldn’t fit in the comments section.
Great post. Bea started the blog to get people talking, help one another and share their experiences about crossdressing and all things associated probably because he didn’t have a similar forum when he badly needed one. Personally I felt the stories were great but his recollections, experiences and observations were the essential part of the blog and that goes for others like Belinda and Monica who also made wonderful contributions. I find reading about other CD’s experiences (as long as they are true) really interesting as it helps me compare and evaluate my own situation but such contributions have been scarce considering the numbers reading the blog- so thanks so much for sharing yours. You raised so many things I don’t know where to start and doubt if I’ll get to cover them all.
Halloween is not as big a thing in Ireland and Britain as in the US(despite the fact it’s based on an old Celtic tradition) so there’s not that opportunity for dressing up (but we’re catching up). For someone to go to a party dressed in any female clothing takes cojones and as you wore a slip underneath -serious cojones. When you heard the guests ribbing the Scotsman it must have set your heart racing. But if you wore a nurse’s uniform you must have had pantyhose/tights on also surely they would have seen that despite you still wearing a coat? Minor detail, anyway your second experience at the Burlesque and your reticence at buying a bra( as well as other underwear) why didn’t you just buy it over the internet you could easily guess your size - I’ve never been disappointed. Having said that there’s a great buzz to be got from just entering the lingerie section of a dept store but to enter a dedicated lingerie store is one of the most exciting experiences and if you really want to raise your heart rate to something akin to a 10k road race engage one of the assistants in conversation.
Part 2 too follow
Dave, for someone with an anxiety disorder to step outside their front door dressed in female attire is nothing short of amazing, I have no such affliction and would never dare to do anything like that Halloween or no. Maybe I’m in a minority but I find that a very brave thing to do. I also think you’re making big assumptions about other people’s “exciting lives” I knew several people who on the face of it had a lot going for them but found out later all wasn’t as it seemed -it was just a front, their public face- much different people on a one to one and away from the crowd. So you ain’t on your own.
From the account of your brother I suspect you think he may be a CD and to me the evidence certainly looks that way. Whatever about the make-up unless you’re a Scot wearing a kilt for your wedding is more than a bit strange (never mind the garter) but hard to tell as you never mentioned a Scottish connection. It’s a wonder you never broached the subject even in a light hearted fashion, maybe he thinks the same about you. Again don’t know if I would do it. Don’t know why your brother’s connection to the shows should dampen your enthusiasm – was it for fear of exposure as a CD?
part 2 to follow

Carrie P said...

comment part 2

When you said it was stressful being in costume I was a bit confused considering your interest in forced feminisation. The very idea of having to keep your legs together while in a dress is the epitome of femininity and I don’t know about you or any of the other readers but for me as a male having to keep one’s legs crossed is the very essence of forced femme submissiveness.
Last but not least – your photos. Dave you’re a great artist but Annie Leibovitz you ain’t. Only joking – it was very courageous of you,thanks for posting them. But what you are is a good looking guy (in fact very like Liam Gallagher the former Oasis lead singer) as a 100% straight guy I don’t say things like that very often. Why not get a better lit room and set the timer on the camera you’d have a much better shot. With the right lighting, pose, background and clothes of course, you’d look great. I know you mention money is tight but when you do get some together you really should think about getting a professional makeover and get some shots done professionally- I think you’d pass no bother and it would do your confidence the world of good. BTW you’re never too old to cross dress as long as it’s age appropriate -mutton dressed as lamb and all that.
Thanks again for a great post and the photos, it’s wonderful to hear of other people’s experiences, fears, reasons, history, etc regarding crossderssing. Stories are great but they are only fiction after all this is something far more interesting, helpful and relevant.


rocketdave said...

Hi Carrie. Thanks for commenting. I really appreciate the thoughtful response. It looks like I'll need to make multiple comments as well, in order to reply to everything.

You're right; I'm not much of a photographer. The first Halloween I wore my Nurse Gollum costume, I didn't have time to try to take photos of myself before the show, so the only photos I got were in front of my bathroom mirror at three AM. The second time, I did attempt to photograph myself elsewhere in my apartment, even moving my lamps around so I'd get better lighting, but those turned out really crummy and again, the best photos turned out to be the ones I took in my my bathroom.

I found I was getting awfully long-winded in my account, so there's some stuff I thought about including in this post, but left out, possibly causing slight confusion in the process.

I'm aware Halloween isn't a big deal outside the U.S.; possibly, I should have said so lest I sound Amerocentric.

I'm really not sure what people thought of my costume at that lame party; for all I know, nobody noticed because I was mostly ignored throughout the evening. I mostly stood or sat by myself drinking the majority of a two liter bottle of root beer that I'd brought (the invite said byob- most took that to mean alcohol) until my bladder felt like it was going to burst, but I didn't want to ask to go inside to use the bathroom.

As far as I'm aware, my family has no Scottish heritage; my brother just likes kilts for some reason. The sort he wears are called utilikilts; they're not the traditional plaid numbers one normally thinks of.

I don't actually have suspicions about my brother being a crossdresser; I can just see how the evidence might point one in that direction. But he normally sports some sort of facial hair, like long sideburns and/or a soul patch, which I imagine would be an impediment to that sort of hobby.

My brother is a little weird. Another thing I didn't mention is that he changed his last name when he got married. No, he and is wife didn't hyphenate; they made up an entire new surname for themselves, as a symbol of their new lives together or something like that. Again, that didn't go over well with some of the older people in the family.

rocketdave said...

It's irrational, but finding out my brother was acquainted with some people involved in the burlesque troupe made it seem less special to me. The best analogy I can think of someone who is a fan of an indie rock band, but then becomes annoyed when the band achieves mainstream success. Also, like I said, I was just getting kind of bored with those shows and I think they'd mostly stopped making me any happier.

I don't know why I didn't buy a bra online; possibly, I was just sick of spending money.

As for my interest in forced feminization... for a while, I let my hair grow really long, mainly because my regular barber was retiring and I'd been seeing her such a long time, I didn't know how to tell anyone else how I wanted my hair cut, but also- and this is embarrassing to confess- I had a slender thread of hope that one of the stories I read about would come true and I'd encounter some woman who would want to feminize me, and the protagonists of those stories usually have longish hair to begin with. But there's stuff I enjoy reading about in stories that I wouldn't actually like to experience in real life. Like Swiss Miss Sissy- I found that story to be a turn-on, but a lot of the stuff that happens to that guy is not stuff I'd like to have happen to me for real(especially some of the things that go on the bedroom).

I won't go into it, but I've had an annoying health problem for years which contributed to me not being able to enjoy the crossdressing experience more fully. Maybe if I figure out how Obamacare works and am able to get that taken care of, I'll see more merit in attempting to crossdress again.

Thanks for the compliment on my looks; I don't get that sort of thing very often. A few people have said I resemble Seinfeld (both my siblings and someone shouting it to me from their car). Personally, I don't see it.

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