I first tried cross-dressing about a week after my eleventh birthday. I can’t recall precisely what motivated it: probably my growing fixation on the physical manifestations of femininity, though some of it was a form of private rebellion. I recall that at around this time, several of my adult relatives began talking about how I was ‘becoming a man’ or some other such gross insult, so this may have been my way of being able to reassure myself that: “No, I’m not.”
Whatever the motivation, I recall that the impetus for the action came while I was attending a swimming lesson on a Sunday morning. I just couldn’t help but notice the girls my age in the pool*; the shapes of their developing bodies (in contrast to my own) demonstrated clearly by their elegant bathing suits (in contrast to my own ugly swimming trunks). I wondered, as I so often wondered those days, what it would be like to be them. How I would feel with such a body, or at least, wearing such a bathing suit.
At that point, I had what would eventually prove to be a life-changing realization: I could find out; or at least try to so.
You see, my sister at that point in her life was still involved in synchronized swimming; one of the consequences of this was that she went through swimsuits in quick succession, either due to chlorine damage or because she needed to dress in a particular way for a particular routine. The discarded bathing suits were dumped in our bathroom closet, unused and unremembered until someone (my mother) had the presence of mind to throw them out. I’d noticed them sitting there, of course, but I’d never thought twice about any of them; they were pretty much just one step above rags. I was, however, thinking quite intently about them now. So I made a resolution to myself.
After the swimming lesson ended, and I had gone home, I crept upstairs to the bathroom and cautiously locked the door behind me. Rummaging about in the closet, I found one such bathing suit: black, gray and white in colour, it had been so damaged by chlorine that it had become virtually transluscent, and was frayed about the rear**. Trembling with nervousness, I stripped out of my ‘boy clothes’ (I even remember that I’d been wearing a red shirt and blue jeans that day—my sartorial tastes having yet to crystallize into “all black all the time”) and pulled the garment up over my body, taking note of how completely alien it felt: the fabric was tight enough across my chest that it felt virtually like a second skin, and the straps slapped strangely into place over my shoulders and back. I then withdrew two lengths of toilet paper and crumpled them into balls which I used to stuff the swim suit’s front, and tucked a facecloth underneath the groin in order to hide extraneous body parts. As silently as I could, I opened the drawer in the bathroom counter and withdrew my mother’s make-up, applying globs of it inexpertly and with trembling fingers to my own face.
I suppose I must have looked ridiculous. But as I stood there, barefoot on the bathroom floor, something wondrous happened: I gazed at myself in the full-wall bathroom mirror… and smiled.
I’m not really sure how I can describe that precise moment in time. I felt as though I was looking through a hole in the universe; as though, through some magic, my mirror had at that moment been transformed into a window to an alternate reality—a parallel universe where I had been born female. What I saw there, in that fleeting vision, was a shadow or a dream of another world, one almost lost to me—but not quite. She was who I could have been; who I should have been all along.
What after all is gender? Nothing more, when you come right down to it, than an accident of circumstance: a sperm with one set of chromosomes beating out another with a different set; a squirt of hormones at one time but not at another. Such arbitrary distinctions are allowed to characterize all aspects of our lives—but why should they? What bloody difference should any of it make? Why can we not be free to be who we are, rather than who we are told that we ought to be.
Longingly, I whispered what I took to be the spectre’s name—“Jamie Patricia,” and placed my hand against the cold reflective glass. She was an illusion of course—but somehow, for the first time in my life, I was able to look in the mirror and see myself reflected back at me. There simply aren’t words to describe such a feeling.
Looking back on it, I think that that was when I knew. From that point onwards, there was no longer any attempt on my part, internally at least, to protest my own masculinity. I understood myself to be a girl—even if I wouldn’t admit it in the presence of others. Secrecy, the bane of my existence.
I remember that, later that afternoon (after I’d dawned once again my male disguise), my mother asked me if I was feeling okay; she said I’d been unusually silent and withdrawn. I’ve often wondered how my life would have been different if I’d told her the truth right then and there. Maybe I would have been able to forgo over a decade of emotional isolation, lies and secrets. Maybe I would have been sent off for an unpleasant round of counseling and become estranged from my family. Or maybe I would have been allowed to go through with it, but my secret would have come out during high school, and I would have killed myself for the humiliation. I will never know, because I decided to lie to her. “Everything is fine; I’m just feeling a little tired.”
Over the next year-and-a-half, I cross-dressed in secret at least once a week. I always felt bad about it; like it was inherently wrong. Like it was bad of me to reject what nature had allotted. I don’t feel this way anymore, though: I’ve long since jettisoned the “Just World” hypothesis. Like all things both secret and sinful (particularly those done during puberty), my crossdressing became increasing fetishized as it went on.
Then one day about a month after the start of junior high, my sister came home unexpectedly while I was modelling one of her swimsuits on the couch. She never told anyone about it, but she made me promise that I would stop. And so I did.
*And I would be lying if I were to say, in spite of my asexuality, that the fact that I was a pubescent lesbian did not play some role in these observations.
**There was another bathing suit available in much better condition: a frilly pink-with-green-polk-dots number that my sister had been given as a gift some years ago and had consigned to the far corner of the closet without ever even trying it on, on the grounds that it was ‘ugly.’ I had to concur, so I also bypassed it.