Introducing My Wife to BE ALL '90 or Dorothy in the Land of Oz, Part II by Nancy Cole (KS-2189)
"Sometimes this struggle to adapt (to the husband's crossdressing), asks more of the couple than they have to give and the pattern of growing apart is seen. For the others, the stress of transvestism has been converted into an opportunity for personal growth, and both partners gain individuality along with the strengthening of the marriage."
-Richard Docter, PhD, from his book TRANSVESTITES AND TRANSSEXUALS
Dealing with crossdressing and marriage is no easy matter. All too often we find that when the issue is addressed in either a study or a publication, the story falls into one of two categories, both of which are extremes. The first is when the wife is Gung-ho and believes that crossdressing has not only made the marriage stronger, but helps keep the world safe for democracy. The other extreme, the dark side of the force, is where crossdressing was identified as the death knell of a long and happy relationship. Serious efforts to address this issue are frustrated by a natural desire of most couples to ignore the issue ("You can dress as you like, just don't let me see you or expect me to help or participate."), an effort to keep from "airing our dirty linen in public," or, simple fear of the unknown ("If I see him dressed, what will it do to my image of him as a man and my self-image as a woman?").
The purpose of this piece is not to address the big issue at hand or to provide a solution. I have too few brain cells to deal with such weighty matters. Instead, this is a simple story, a true story about my wife's introduction to Nancy and the paraculture. The background to this story is the BE ALL gathering held in Pittsburgh in June 1990. So as to give the illusion of being a worthy effort, I'll pause throughout the story and point out where I felt I did something smart, (don't hold your breath waiting for these), and where I made an error in judgement (FUBAR).
Before we get into the main event, it is necessary to provide you with a little history. I have been a crossdresser all my life. Like many of you, I didn't know for the longest time what I was dealing with, and kept "HER" in the closet while I sallied forth in the world to be a man's man. Along the way, I met a girl who became my friend, then my lover, and finally, my wife. At the time of marriage, and for the first seven years, the desire to crossdress never left me. On rare occasions, when I was home alone, I would dress for a short period, but never went out and never wrote or talked to anyone about it. I was as far into the closet as anyone could get.
That state of affairs continued until 1980, when, for reasons I have long forgotten, I felt the need to tell my wife. I'll not bore you with that story right now. What is important is that we went through two phases. In the first, my wife agreed to let me dress at home, provided that the children didn't see me or were told. I readily agreed to this. Fortunately, phase one lasted only a few months. The reason it did is understandable. I fell into the old pitfall that too many crossdressers do; I over did it, and failed to consider my wife's feelings.
Now, I stated that it was fortunate that phase one was short. What happened was that my wife and I renegotiated. In effect, she respected my need/desire to dress, but she could not, at that time participate. As a solution, she agreed to let me join an organization for crossdressers. Enter Tri-Ess and phase two. This phase has lasted nine years, with me going from organization to organization as Nancy began to journey out of the closet to develop, discover and grow. During this period, discussion of my crossdressing between my wife and I was infrequent. I was careful to keep things in balance, while my wife was careful to keep from offending me.
These attitudes were slow to change. Key to the change was the recognition by my wife that rather than diminishing me as a person, my crossdressing had made me a better, more complete person. The fact that I was more attuned to her feelings, could understand some of the issues that women face, and developed a taste in fashions and style that resulted in a better wardrobe for her, (and of course me), helped a great deal. The final element that aided her acceptance was her observation of the effect crossdressing, or lack thereof, had on me. She told me on several occasions that when I did crossdress, I was happier and more relaxed.
By the end of phase two, we were shopping together, discussing fashions, and even traded and shared make-up and clothes, but my wife did not see me dressed during this period. We kept our clothes in the same closet and helped each other pick out outfits, but there it ended; until BE ALL.
Starting in 1989, I began attending some of the national events. The Texas Tea Party '89, was my first, followed by Fantasia '89, The Tea Party again in February 1990, and the IFGE convention in March 1990. That I enjoyed these affairs and was becoming more and more involved with the paraculture, was becoming more and more obvious to my wife. We discussed the events and crossdressing in general. During the course of these discussions, I showed her pictures of the events, including those taken of me while dressed. It was my way of opening the door, a little.
Originally, I had no intention of going to BE ALL. What changed my mind was the fact that my family was going to be back east to visit relatives in the Old States, to include Pennsylvania, at the same time BE ALL was scheduled. Rather than stay at home by myself, I decided to go. It was only after I had sent in my initial registration and saw my wife's itinerary that I thought of having her join me in Pittsburgh. After careful consideration, I suggested that she leave the children with her parents while she flew out and joined me in Pittsburgh for the weekend. Much to my surprise, she accepted. Part of the reason she agreed to come was out of curiosity; she wanted to see what I did at these things and if she could handle being with me when I was dressed. Besides, her sister-in-law, who was going through a messy divorce, lived in Pittsburgh and my wife wanted to visit her and her baby.
With that acceptance came a feeling of both joy and apprehension. Joy, that she was willing to try it again (i.e. being with me when I was dressed), and fear that she wouldn't be able to handle me dressed, BE ALL, or both. But we both were committed After nine years, the issue was being brought forth again for another vote.
IN THE BEGINNING
From the start, I knew this wasn't going to be easy, especially since my wife was not only going to have to deal with me, but also all the other BE ALL participants.
SMART MOVE #1: To help her deal with this, I provided her with some of the best information I could on wives and crossdressers. I gave her Peggy J. Rudd's book MY HUSBAND WEARS MY CLOTHES, and Richard Docter's book TRANSVESTITES AND TRANSSEXUALS to read. This allowed her to prepare herself mentally. Rudd's book was especially helpful, since Rudd was a woman dealing with the same problem my wife was.
SMART MOVE #2: In arranging for the trip, we timed it so that I would arrive on Wednesday and she on Thursday. This allowed me to register at the hotel and the convention, review the program and see who was there already. I was especially interested in people who would be able to help me with my wife. That part of the plan went well. This, however, resulted in the need to arrange for transportation for her to the hotel. There were several options available. I could have left her to her own devices (big potential for FUBAR here). I could have had the BE ALL transportation pick her up (more potential FUBAR, since it would be a stranger AND possibly a crossdresser picking her up). Or, I could rent a car and pick her up myself. Of the three, picking her up myself seemed like the best idea. She readily accepted this option. This decision, however, led into FUBAR #2.
On arriving in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, I decided to scope out the lay of the land at the airport for the next day's pick up. This was, I felt, important, since A) she was arriving on another airline, and B) I would be coming back to the airport dressed as Nancy, a real TV first. I didn't leave the airport that night until I knew where I would park, the door I would need to use, what gate she was arriving at, etc., etc., etc.
The next day, I did my best, dressing and making-up so as not to draw attention to myself at the airport. I also allowed what I thought was plenty of time for the drive to the airport. FUBAR #1: Rather than checking the time of my wife's arrival before I left the hotel, I checked after I arrived at the airport. Therefore, instead of arriving there ten minutes before the plane arrived, I reached the gate with 55 minutes to spare! A momentary flutter of panic struck me as I realized that I had almost an hour to wait while every person who ever traveled to Pittsburgh had an opportunity to inspect me. Finding the most isolated seat, I sat for a moment and start to wait for either my wife or the Pittsburgh vice squad to arrive.
After ten minutes of sitting in isolation, cautiously looking about to see what everyone else was doing, I was overcome by the urge to visit the necessary room. I thought about suppressing the urge, but decided, "What the ____! You've made it this far". So I got up, found the nearest ladies room and did what had to be done. Having survived that ordeal, I went to the bookstand, bought a newspaper and a Coke and went back to my seat. Throughout this whole adventure, I never detected a ripple in the force, resulting in a real boost to my self-confidence.
When the plane arrived, I moved to the gate and placed myself so that I could see all the passengers coming off and they would be able to see me (here's where the boost of self-confidence came into play). It was only after I saw my wife, and she failed to recognize me, that I realized that I had made an error. FUBAR #2: I assumed that my wife knew I would be dressed when I picked her up at the airport. She never thought to ask and I never thought to volunteer that morsel of information (it's only at moments like this that I remember what the first three letters of 'assume' stand for). As she walked past me, I suddenly realized I needed to do something to get her attention, and not everyone else's. As softly and as sweetly as I could, I called her name. FUBAR #3: I was wearing an outfit and a new wig that she had never seen in any of my photos.
When she finally picked me out, there was a momentary pause. What could have been a real show-stopping disaster passed. Going up to her, I greeted her, took her carry-on bag, and proceeded to lead her to the baggage claim area. SMART MOVE #3: I didn't touch her or greet her as I normally would have (i.e., a hug and a kiss). Instead, I let her set the pace, and followed her lead in conversation and action. By this time, I had self-confidence in presenting myself as Nancy in public. My wife was just out of the gate, so to say, in being with her husband while he was wearing a dress. (Two days later, during our postmortem discussion of the weekend, my wife told me that picking her up dressed was probably the best thing I could have done. She admitted that by my doing so, she was confronted with the issue right from the beginning).
The drive to the hotel was uneventful. She talked about what the kids had done, what she had done at her parents house, and how all the relatives were doing. At the hotel, we went straight to the room. SMART MOVE #4: We paused for a while in the hotel room where I allowed my wife to mentally regroup and get used to seeing me dressed. We did not go rushing off to meet people or to participate in anything. We just talked, allowing the conversation to slowly turn from the family news forum to the inevitable, "Well, what's the program?"
As she had not had lunch, we decided to go down to the small cafe at the hotel and have lunch. That she was nervous was obvious. Again, by this time, I had been out in public as Nancy and was used to going into a restaurant. As before, I allowed my wife to set the pace and tone of conversation and followed her lead. As it was mid-afternoon, the lunch crowd was gone, and mercifully, the hotel staff was cooperative and courteous, conducting business as usual. SMART MOVE #5: Since we were in the hotel, I had no doubt the staff and other patrons knew we were with the BE ALL gathering. People looked, but did not stare. We had our lunch and they went about their business. The fact that we were in mixed company (BE ALL people, hotel staff and regular customers), had a calming effect on my wife, since nobody batted an eye.
After lunch, we returned to the room, where my wife took a nap. I left her in the room and blundered about the BE ALL concessions for a while. SMART MOVE #6: Sleep is a wonderful way of dealing with stress. It allows the brain to sort out new data and information, as well as to prepare for future input. In effect, I gave my wife some time alone to deal with the new situation. Besides, the time allowed me to indulge myself as I tried on dresses (I bought two!).
Back in the room, more adjustment on my wife's part in getting used to seeing me as Nancy. I needed to get used to being Nancy in front of my wife as well. This last point, discovering that I need to adjust my conduct, came as a surprise. I suppose it shouldn't have, but it did. For the first time, I took the lead, showing my wife what I would be wearing (one of the new dresses), and asking her opinion. She took the cue, and had me try it on. She liked it and complimented me.
That decided, we began to dress. During the process, there was some light conversation, a few small jokes, and in general, an easing of the earlier nervousness. Opportunities for humor were numerous, since this was the first time we had to share a mirror so we could fix our make-up. My wife found this especially humorous, since, in the past, I had often bragged that the only prep a man needed for an evening out was, "A s___, a shower, and a shave".
Ready, we went forth to the buses that would whisk us away to downtown Pittsburgh. Here, new problems arose. I knew several of the people. When dealing with new people and introducing her, and to give her some reassurance, I like to hold her hand or put my hand around her shoulder. This however, was not possible. It was inappropriate, in her eyes, to do so. So, I had no physical means of reassuring her in a new crowd of people.
And what a crowd! Before, I was the only TV she really knew. Now, suddenly, my wife was faced with bus loads of TV's. The closest I can come to describing her at this point is to compare her to Dorothy when she landed in the land of Oz - wide eyed and apprehensive. The only difference was that she couldn't cling to Toto, for old Toto was dressed like Toto-ette.
She managed, however, to carry on. It is important to note here, that throughout the weekend, my wife referred to me as her husband and by my male name. She didn't feel comfortable referring to me as Nancy or to herself as a significant other. SMART MOVE #7: I didn't make this an issue. There was more than enough for her to deal with without fighting over a trivial issue. After all, what's in a name? The people who knew me and whom we associated with that weekend picked up on the name issue and were very cooperative. Besides, I have never cared for the term "significant other". Now pause here and think for a moment. If my wife is the significant other, does that mean that I'm the insignificant other?
Before we boarded the bus, she met Richard Docter and on the bus, we sat near Sandra Cole, by a stroke of luck. This gave me an idea. SMART MOVE #8: Once we arrived at the boat, I tried to manage the seating so that my wife was next to a real woman. I did. We had dinner with Mariette P. Allen and Sandra Cole, as well as Jamie and a very nice crossdresser from the Pittsburgh area. By being in close proximity to a real woman who was comfortable with crossdressers, my wife was more at ease. She could follow their lead, listen to their conversation, and share in it. In effect, the real woman gave my wife the reassurance that everything was okay, that I couldn't. The girl from Pittsburgh helped tremendously by pointing out interesting sights and describing Pittsburgh. In all, dinner was enjoyable and successful.
Once dinner was over, we excused ourselves and went out on deck. SMART MOVE #8: Though we didn't see the show, I felt it was time to give my wife a break. On the open deck of the boat she was able to regroup and relax again. While on deck, we ran into Richard Docter, with whom we started a conversation. As he and my wife seemed to get along well, I slowly backed out of the conversation. This was good, for my wife was able to enjoy an easy conversation with a man whose book she had read. They didn't discuss crossdressing. In fact, I forgot what they discussed. It didn't matter, however. What was important was that she was becoming comfortable with some of the people who belong to and work with our paraculture.
The bus ride back was quiet and uneventful. The rest of the evening in the room, however, was not. SMART MOVE #9: Once back, we both washed the make-up off and went to bed as we normally do back home, as husband and wife. For the first time all day, we hugged, kissed and...., Well, she was gone for two weeks. But this was important. By quickly reverting to our traditional romantic roles (sorry, best way I could think of describing it), I was able to reassure her that nothing in our relationship had changed.
DAY TWO: ON HER OWN
Day two started with FUBAR #4: Forgetting to move watches from central to eastern time zone (Gee Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!). We therefore didn't have time for breakfast together. Instead, she got up, dressed, and went to the first significant other session of the day. This left me free to get dressed at my leisure and trot on down to the cafe for that allimportant first cup of coffee (some habits just transcend the gender question). For the balance of the morning, I did not see her as she went to the morning SO sessions and I flittered about.
Even at lunch, we missed each other. This concerned me. After all, there was always the possibility that she heard something from one of the other wives that upset her. Running back to the room to pick up several outfits that I was to model during the luncheon, I failed to find her there or along the way. Assuming she had already gone to the luncheon, I picked up my outfits and rushed back to the changing room. As I was anxious to confirm that my wife was, in fact, at the luncheon, I went with the first group to model.
It didn't take me long to discover that she wasn't there. Now, stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place, I did two quick changes, discharged my duties as a model as quickly as possible, and headed back to the room. As I was en route, I finally saw my wife across the lobby. With dresses in hand, I chased her.
As it turned out, instead of eating lunch, my wife had decided to go to the local AAA club after the morning sessions in order to get directions to her sister-in-law's house in Pittsburgh. This was a great relief to me. SMART MOVE #10: Though they were holding lunch for the models, I decided to go back to the hotel cafe with my wife and have lunch with her alone. This gave her an opportunity to tell me about her experiences and observations from that morning's sessions. Though she didn't discuss details (code of silence was in effect), she compared her views with those of the other wives'. This was the first time she had ever been able to do so.
Like the day before, we had lunch in the company of a mixed crowd. Unlike the day before, my wife was at ease. Her conversation was open and normal. There were no fugitive glances to the left or right, or sudden tenseness when the waitress approached. My wife had become comfortable in my presence when I was dressed.
The rest of Friday afternoon was quite anti-climactic. While we enjoyed our late and leisurely lunch, we missed the first afternoon session. That, however, did not matter to us. We were holding our own impromptu session over lunch. We both did manage to make the last session of the day, which was a combined husband and wife discussion group. It was interesting for both of us, but the real work of the day had already been accomplished.
That night, I probably did the smartest thing of the whole weekend. Rather than go to the BE ALL dance that night, which might have been awkward, I decided to change from dresses to male clothing and take my wife out to dinner in Pittsburgh. Now, it wasn't much of a date. We ate at Houlihan's, a chain we were familiar with, at a shopping mall in Pittsburgh and then walked through a store named Horn's. But this action rates as SMART MOVE #11: Again, I provided immediate reinforcement to the fact that my crossdressing wasn't changing our roles or me as a person.
At this point, one might ask the question: After knowing about the crossdressing for ten years, why harp on the need to reinforce the fact that the relationship hadn't changed? The answer is simple. While it is true my wife had known for nine years, she had never been confronted face-to-face with it physically. For nine years, she had only seen and lived with him. The crossdressing was something that she was able to ignore. In her mind, the times I went out and dressed, or attended group meetings, didn't concern her. During the BE ALL gathering, she couldn't ignore the issue. Hence the need to be gentle with the introduction and to reinforce the fact that the relationship she had married into was healthy and still in place.
THE LAST DAY
On Saturday, my wife went to Pittsburgh to visit her sister-inlaw while I flittered about and conducted business, attended sessions, and visited friends. In effect, my wife gave me the day off, freeing me to slip into my normal convention mode rather than hovering about, being concerned for her mental well-being. Besides, she got to see her sister-in-law, her niece, Pittsburgh, and do some serious shopping (three dresses worth).
That evening, as we prepared for dinner, we had a lot of fun playing with our make-up, dresses and jewelry. In three days, we had come a long way. My wife had now seen me in all stages of dress and preparation, and it didn't bother her. While we had shared things before, we were now able to really enjoy it, for I knew she accepted me completely and she knew that I was me, her husband, regardless of how I dressed.
That evening at dinner, I was able to get some good seating again. We ate with Linda Buten and her significant other from Cincinnati, another girl and her SO from Linda's group, Kathy G., a TS from my home group, and Richard Docter. Richard Docter sat between us and was a perfect gentleman. Linda, her friend, and their wives were also perfect company, providing a natural, easy going and supportive atmosphere. Had I planned this for months, it couldn't have been better.
As the next day was going to be a long and busy one, my wife retired early, insisting that I stay and enjoy myself. With amazingly little arm-twisting, she talked me into it. So ended my wife's big adventure.
All the books I've ever read on writing state that you need a conclusion. Rule of thumb is: the conclusion is the point where the author gets tired of writing. Well, I'm tired.
One may ask, what can I gain from this story? Like any history, and this is a rather simple history, there are lessons that can be learned. But you must be careful to draw the proper conclusions and lessons. To begin with, the above was a story, not a cookbook recipe for how to introduce your wife to the wonderful world of crossdressing. Furthermore, no one can ever replicate the conditions that we operated under. The above story describes a one time, unique set of occurrences.
What I hope you glean out of this is the need to understand who you are and to understand your wife. I invited my wife to join me in Pittsburgh because I felt she could deal with it. This feeling was intuitive, not analytical. I could have been wrong, but wasn't. I had judged the time correctly.
Concerning the mechanics, I have attempted to point out those areas where I believe I erred, or did something good. I didn't go into the weekend with a grand strategy, plotting every move and contingency (hence, numerous FUBARs). Again, I trusted my intuitive judgement. Some of what I did might not work for someone else. A different woman might have reacted entirely differently seeing her husband dressed as a woman at the Pittsburgh airport (and you know something, I wouldn't blame her if she had stopped, turned and walked away). Some things, like the Friday night dinner at Houlihan's, might be necessary. What I am trying to say here is that you have to do what is right for you and your wife. Advice is great; knowledge and your gut feeling is better.
This brings up the final, and perhaps most important lesson I would like all you married crossdressers to walk away with. Be sensitive to the needs of your spouse. Consider for a moment that you are working hard at looking like, and acting like a woman. What better way to develop your feminine self than to adopt a caring, giving, open and empathic attitude toward your own spouse? All I ask is that when you do, approach the problem as the woman you are trying so hard to look like would. The results might surprise you.
Till next time, take care.
SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR GENDER EDUCATION (IFGE)
P.O. Box 367, Wayland, MA 01778 Copyright 1990 - IFGE