Miss-identified

Miss Identified

This began as a very short story – then grew after ‘I’m going to go for it’!

It's been not years but decades that I have hidden inside my shell. Layers and layers of ever-hardening never-cracking tough and rough shell. And deep inside was real-me. So very different from what people saw of my outside.

I know who I am. I do, I do, I do. And I’m so not the person on the inside that I seem to be on the outside. And it’s been getting so hard. I want to break out of this shell, these layers of shell.

Perhaps the analogy of an onion would be more meaningful – because sure as tears are tears, every attempt to get beneath the skin, every cut, every slice – all of them make me cry.

So I’m a hard-shelled onion pretending to be something I am not. I’m an ugly ugly UGLY duckling that will never never never be seen as anything else. And I hate it. I hate the me that people see. I want, so want to open my inner self to the world – but I hurt with just the anticipation of the real hurt that the world will give me back.

I’ve heard the stories. I’ve read the news. I’ve sat in quiet corners listening to how the ‘normal’ people display their tolerance and kindness and love – NOT.

I must be fair (even if most of them are not) – there are some (too few) who are kind, concerned, interested, supportive and nice. But dare I trust them. Too often, I have begun to get close to approaching someone with my pains – then they do or say something that shows there are cracks in their façade. And I don’t know which is the ‘real’ person. Is it the usually nice or the occasionally vile? In my situation, I have to keep risk to a minimum - so I shiver and shudder and shelter in a corner.

Because we’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all have good and bad within us. I want to rest, to relax, to relish what it is to be free. Do I dare?

There are times, days, weeks even when I can open my being to the light and let me be.

I have spent my days, my nights, my morns, my afternoons and my evenings looking at the gorgeous, bright and fluffy butterflies dancing through life. I have watched at other times and seen their bedazzled friends in meagre plumage, less brightly coloured, less gladsome to the casual eye. But all of the ones that I see are real. Real in ways I cannot attain.

Tell the truth – shame the youth. Be bold – forsake the old. Move on. Glib and forgettable advice.

I’m a boy – allegedly. But I’m miss-identified. That’s how I wrote this story the first time oh so long ago.

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Now time has passed – and that sentence has sentenced me to a life of misery.

I have been young. I have been middle-aged. Now I am old and I cry within my misbegotten carcass. Solid with age, and ague and anxiety.

I repeat - now I am old – and still within my heart and soul and innermost being – I am miss-identified. I have been miss-identified all my life and I’m tired.

I have hidden myself deep. So, so deep. I have been married, had children, watched them grow, watched them leave. And then my wife declined as the crab within her wrenched her life away. So now I am alone. And I miss her. I miss them and I wonder if I have any time left to stop missing me. Or indeed to start ‘missing’ me.

Nobody that I care about will care. I have friends, neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances – but their interest in me is about as much as my interest in them. Some of those who, as yet, matter to me will mind too much and others as yet unknown will be the opposite and turn out to be better friends than I ever expected.

If the hurt becomes too much then it will be no problem to move away. Bit of a shame maybe because I know my way round my patch. But truly, to give my inner miss a chance at life is a real choice of ‘no pain, no gain’.

I’m going to go for it.

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And now the story goes onwards.

I had all this information stored up in my head. I did know a bit of what I was going to go through and what difficulties might lie ahead. But …….

First off, I gave myself permission to go shopping. Not like a man – with a list and all my items ready to be picked off, ticked off and driven home. This was going to be casual. I was going to take my time. I gave myself a target – I would stop for tea, coffee or a snack at least three times before I went home.

I gave myself another target – I would buy between 5 and 10 or maybe a few more to a maximum of 15 items on my trip. Not none, not fifty. I would go into at least 10 shops. And, having visited at least three, I would make an appointment at a salon.

And I would be open about my darling Martine. My name wasn’t Martin – and it wasn’t a silly sort of gender-flip on my own name. I had chosen the name after a delightful young French actress of my youth. Five foot three, slender, dark-haired with a pixie cut and dazzling blue eyes. So far from my reality that it was a joke. So I accepted that life’s joke was on me and decided that since inner-me was so different that it didn’t matter what I looked like – it only mattered what I thought about myself.

You might think this was a simple example of how screwed up my mind-body mismatch was making either my mind or my body. I don’t care. It is sort of the way that I began to cope.

Back to real life. I had my allotted tasks. I set off.

Brave or even foolhardy – I still wasn’t going to take the extra risk of coming out in my own immediate patch. I drove all of 5 miles away, to the second nearest town. I parked and looked for suitable options – coffee shops, salons, clothes shops, second-hand shops too. Okay – first stop, Marks & Sparks for new underwear.

“Excuse me. Small dilemma here. The wife needs new clothes and she’s dying in a vile attack of this cold that’s going round. At last, she’s admitted her undies are worn to shreds – so as it’s coming up to Christmas – I’ve decided to be bold and buy some new things for her. And I’ll get myself some things too, eh.”

I added the last sentence because I suddenly decided to stop faffing about and since I was buying clothes for me – to be upfront and buy clothes for me.

“I think I’ll buy the clothes for me first. Can you help? I suppose you’ll have to measure me first, eh?”

“Well, you know what they say, sir. The customer is always right. What exactly are you asking for help with?”

“I want some basic underwear, panties and so on. I’m fed up with the dull, boring, drab stuff I’ve worn for what feels like centuries. I want something new, fresh and definitely pretty.”

“Beginning to wonder there, sir. Let’s move a little to the side and I’ll get my tape.” ….. some minutes passed. “You’re going to need size 14 pants. Will that be all for the moment? Or are you going to be bold and ask for what bra size I recommend. Mmmm?”

“Do you often have men asking about their bra size, eh?”

“More often than you would think – or rather more often than most people would think. Perhaps, I could guess that you might know more than me. It can’t be your first time if you’re being so confident about it all.”

“Huh, me. Confident. Not in the slightest. I’ve never done this before.”

“Never? I find that hard to believe.”

“Believe it, my dear. Never, not never. There’s a first time for everything – and this, indeed, is it. I shall state this clearly for the record – I am a bra-virgin.”

“Well, that’s very, er, nice. I’ll take special care of you then. I won’t even snigger and suggest that we buy you undies in virginal white. That would be unkind since you’ve already said you want pretty. Okay, into the changing room with you. I’ll get you measured and see what we can do.”

Gulp. Into a feminine sanctuary. What might anyone say? My heart thudded and squeaked.

“Er, okay. If you don’t think anyone would mind?”

“The changing rooms are all empty – and if anyone comes in, then I’ll advise you when to exit tidily so that nobody gets upset. It wouldn’t help you, me or them to cause a rumpus. I’ve done it before and simply explained that the gentleman needed a quiet corner for a sit down for a few minutes.”

“That does sound neat. I’ll get on with it. Er, stripped to the waist, eh?”

“Only if you’re comfortable with the idea. I do need to see how things fit in a few moments – and I certainly can’t do that with a bra slopped on top of your shirt.” She smiled. A nice smile.

“I don’t mean to pry – but I did ask how often this happens.”

“Oh, yes, I forgot that I didn’t answer. We moved so quickly onto your especial needs that …., well, I’d guess that we have about 2, 3 or 4 a month that we are certain about. That means, to me, that there must be quite a few more who buy for themselves with sufficient confidence. I reckon that some of those who bring a bra back because ‘it’s the wrong size’ have actually been buying for themselves and got it wrong – but maybe maybe. I don’t mind what my customers do as long as I can sell them something.”

Measuring and more smiles. “So, you’re going to be a 38 or perhaps 40 and I’d suggest a C. You could try a B or a D but you’ll have to go online to obtain some respectably sized boobage.”

“Boobage?” I smirked.

“It was a phrase a previous client used when she was buying a mastectomy bra. I borrowed it for your particular circumstances. I’m sure it’s not in the dictionary yet.” Again, she smiled. “For the moment, I’d suggest some of our ‘chicken fillets’ and a size A bra. It’ll give you the feel for the support and constriction that a bra gives – with a hint of shape as you glance down. That should be enough for today. And then once you have selected your boobage size – you can come back. If you’ve only worn the bra once or twice, then we’ll be able to exchange it. Mind you – you wouldn’t believe what sort of exchanges some people try to get away with. We had a lady in last week, the skirt was over 18 months old and was fraying at the bottom. Naughty lady. We told her that it was impossible and she nearly exploded.”

“You don’t need to worry. I’ll take one bra in 38A and one in 38C so that I don’t need to cause a commotion next time.”

“Commotion. Don’t be silly. Your rights as a customer are just as special as any other customer.”
We worked on the bra for a minute or so to get it fitting as well as it could. I had never guessed that a complex piece of cotton and elastic engineering would have the effect on me that it did. After a minute or so, I decided to keep it on and wear it for a while. Part of this decision was based on the relatively loose and thick shirt I was wearing. I was confident that my bra was not immediately detectable. So I would wear my first bra out in nearly public. Yay, me.

“You’ll be careful out there, yes.”

“Oh, yes, I still want to be cautious.”

“Well, that’s not unreasonable. And when you come back here, you can always ask for me, Clarissa, or for Eleanor. I’d guess that we’re the two most amenable staff in this section.”

“I’ll remember both those names. Thanks so much. Do you know any other shops that might be quite helpful. After all, I’m a skirt-virgin, a dress-virgin a salon-virgin and lots of other sorts of virgin too. I just hope I’m not, to use an old joke, vergin’ on the ridiculous.’

“You’ll be fine. One last thing, before you leave, walk around a little, bend down for things, stretch and so on. Then , come back to me and I’ll check that the straps are still correct. You have no idea how much better a well-fitting bra is than ….” Clarissa smiled again. “Well, no, a bra-virgin would have no idea. But how does it feel?”

“It’s weird, strange, so different and yet, there’s something very satisfying about being held tight. And even though they’re tiny, I love the curve that I detect at my chest.”

“Well, so far, that sounds really satisfactory. I’d suggest that you take your time about going to other shops. And I would try Dorothy Perkins, the very fact that they offer clothes for larger women means that some of them will be, er, so to speak, larger women. And, I’d try my salon and ask for Petra.”

“I’ll keep in touch if I get through the day unscathed. Your attitude has been an immense help. Thanks, Clarissa.”

“Bye, sweetie.”

I set off to my next task. Coffee at a table – looking out at the world and studying the people. Well, no. I’d be studying a percentage of half the people. No way was I wasting my time looking at men’s clothes or teenage clothes. I’d be looking at the relatively small group of well-dressed stylish women. Women of a certain age and a solid figure. Not fat, not skinny – kind of average was what I was comparing myself to. I wanted to be just that – an average looking woman (of a certain age).

I looked at the sorts of shoes they wore – I could do that without looking at them directly. I didn’t want any unfortunate outcomes from staring at people in public.

I looked at the skirts and legwear. A very few had a skirt or dress that skimmed the knee, but most had it an inch or so longer. Rather more than a few had a bodyshape tending to the cylindrical; the waist on more than a few was held in place by a good belt – leaving the upper and lower segments to ensure the requisite feminine form.

Gradually, I came to a decision or two. I needed to buy a skirt – or even a dress if I found one that ‘called to me’ as I had read in stories. But I needed to know soon, what it felt like to not be wearing trousers, to not have my legs tied together by tubes of cloth, to have the air reaching my legs and into and upwards to areas generally free of the breeze. Yeah, alright, I was wondering what it felt like to have my groin experiencing fresh air. I smirked, maybe even smiled.

Okay, then. Coffee drunk. Start strolling along the arcade. Looking in windows that I had never looked in before – except with a pang of wrongness. Now, I was no longer worried. I was a man who was looking in the windows of the shops – what’s the problem with that.

In truth, the comfort that came with a display of confidence and determination was so good. It was so evident to me that if I displayed ‘no problem here’ then that was the message that passersby and the rest of the world was taking on board.

There is no problem here – my new motto.

I found myself looking in the window of a second-hand shop. There was a long red dress beside the window. Dark red, not bright; with slightly redder edging and a slightly frilled front and hem. Not quite neck-high, I hadn’t got a clue that every neckline had a descriptive. I liked the look of it instantly. I took a step forward then another until I was in the shop. I drifted, oh so casually, toward the dress and took a more careful look at it.

It was a size 16, which Clarissa had said might often be the sort of size I should look at. I made a decision. I picked the dress of its hanger and took it to the desk.

“I think this is the sort of thing my friend is looking for. Can you put it to one side for an hour or so.”

“Erm, yes, alright. We don’t usually do this, but for an hour, yes, that should be no problem. What name shall I tag it with. “

“Evans, please. Only for an hour or so, thanks.”

So – next. I was going to the salon because I wanted to try that dress when I was looking more like the real me. No more Nicholas. And in that moment, I decided that I could not be Martine. All of a sudden I saw the shop opposite ‘Just Janet – for the selective lady’. Yes, yes. I was so very much a selective lady – I would be Janet. I would be Janet Martine - and I was going to be free.

And so bloody what if I looked a bit like or a lot like a man in a dress. Inside me would know that she was wearing the right clothes at last – and would be happy.

I sauntered past the various salons and beauty shops and hairdressers in the centre of town. I’d never noticed how many there were before. Well, what would they think of a middle-aged man squinting through their windows with an avid gleam in his eye as to what might be going on. Now I didn’t care. I wanted to see what was going on. After passing by two, I went in and asked to see the list of options.

The young girl behind the desk twittered, “We can do anything you want for your lady but it’s a lot easier if she comes in and talks to us first. Or is it to be a surprise.”

“It’ll definitely be a surprise, dear. Can I speak to someone senior?”

“Oh, yes, no problem. I’ll get Anita if she’s free.”

Anita arrived – a pleasant looking lady of about 40.

“Oh, good morning, I gather that you’ve got some questions to ask me.”

“Yes, yes I do. Can we move over to the side – where it’s quieter. I was, er, wondering. I mean. I want to know how you, er, what if I, “

“Excuse me, dear, are you asking if I can help with any special requirements that a gentleman like you might want from a ladies hair and beauty salon. Is that want you’re wondering ?”

I floundered for a moment or seventeen. “er, um, er, ……… yes.”

“Well, that’s got the silliness out of the way. Now, your request is a bit unusual – but not unique. I think I’m more concerned that you’re – so to speak – of an age and yet it’s pretty obvious this is all new to you. Yes, dear.”

“Phew, well, er, ….. yes. It’s all very new to me. But I’m going ahead with it. I need to do this.”

“Oh dear.” She pulled me toward her and even though she was quite a bit smaller than me – it was she who was doing the hugging and supporting and calming.

“Oh dearie me. You’ve just realized there’s a girl to be freed. Oh, I do so want to help. My name is Jasmine – and you can relax. I’ve done this before and you’re in good hands. Just take a deep breath and relax as much as you can. In a moment, I’ll bring you a cup of green tea – just the warmth and the mild flavour will be enough to slow you down. It won’t take long – then we can talk about what we’re going to do.”

Wow – twice in a day I had met ladies who were kind and helpful. What an incredible, fantastic, remarkable, unreal, unexpected thing. I could feel a weight disappearing that I had never known I was carrying.

“What do you want to do – today, or in the near future.”

Gulp. “I saw a dress ……”

“And it said ‘this is the dress for you, did it?”

“Erm, yeah, yes. I really want to get it – but the thought of seeing me as a man wearing it – I just know I couldn’t bear it.”

“Sooooo. Where is this dress, and what were you thinking would be suitable?”

“It’s at the Oxfam store a few doors down – they’ve put it to one side for me.”

“Oh, well done, dear. And so?”

“The more I think about it, the more I want it. I just hope it’ll fit, well, as much as possible.”

“The first comment about that is very simple dear. Worry less. I can’t tell you not to worry – that would be silly and not much help. But what exactly are you worried about. Your shape is not too drastic. You don’t have a pot belly like many older men, you’re a bit more of a cylinder than many people – but that’s really not a problem these days. I’m not going to suggest the fantasy of corsets, basques and the like – why be uncomfortable if you want to be comfortable. Let’s go to my office and have a more detailed chat. Do you want me to send one of the girls to get your dress?”

Just the words ‘your dress’ sent a jolt through me. ‘My dress’ – what a wonderful phrase. I hesitated, but not for long. “Yes, why don’t you – although I was thinking more in terms of you helping me look just a little more feminine so that when I tried it on in the shop, I wouldn’t scream with pain and failure.”

“I think we can do better than that. What size is it?”

“16. But I do know that size is a bit flexible with ladies’ clothing.”

“That’s not a problem. I’ll send Fiona.”

“Erm, ……. Okay.”

Anita left for a couple of minutes. I used the time to think about what I was doing. Things were moving so fast and in such unexpected directions. But so much of what was happening was due to me – making decisions as things seemed to flow from my inner being to my mouth.

Anita came back. “Fiona will skip over in a minute or two. Now, we need to talk in some detail about what we can do for you – and to you – and of course with you. Starting at the top or the bottom. To look comfortable and feminine, you’re going to need to spend some money – are you willing to do this and are you going to do it just for this dress or more often?”

“I think, at think I think, that if I do this once and I don’t look awful – then I’ll be doing it more. So, I accept that I’m going to have to spend money …..just not all at once. I did have one thought – if I put on the dress, and without looking at me in it, you think there’s something to go with – then I can, you can, we can decide – no – I can decide whether this is going further.”

“You’re trusting me with a great deal. But there’s a lot of sense in your suggestion. But, a little planning while we wait for Fiona. You’re going to need shoes with the dress, and undies, and some, er, shape encouragement, “

I interrupted, “Clarissa called it ‘boobage’ – is that what you mean?”

“Oh, you’ve already met the lovely Clarissa. That should help. What did you learn from her?”

“Well, hips of 16-18, suggested bra size 38 A or more likely C when I’m ready – and just look confident.”

“Oh, she is good. How did you feel when you left her.”

“I must have been pretty confident to walk into a shop and buy a dress and to walk in here and ask about a makeover.” I smiled.

“True, very true. So you’re admitting to the need for a makeover now?”

“It would be just too grotesque to perch a man’s head on top of a pretty dress. Yes, no?”

“Now, you don’t have the ability to look at yourself with a dispassionate eye. That’s my job – and I can tell you with complete certainty that I’ve seen every variety of head and face and general shape – and you – you’re towards the softer side of the male as regards most of the important features. Your hair is still quite good, not much sign of male-pattern-baldness, that is. You have a nice chin, not too heavy, but not weak either; same with the nose. And your eyes – they’re actually well-shaped and when I’ve done some work – you won’t recognise yourself. You’ll be quite certain that you look like your sister – which is what you want, isn’t it?”

“That does sound, er, more hopeful than I expected.”

“And when I’ve shown you some basic makeup – then your girl will be ready for her first dress. Doesn’t that sound exciting?” Anita grinned at me.

Parts of me were going pitta-pat, thud, scream, aaaargh, never, yes, now, no, please, run, ……. My mouth said, “yes, please.”

Anita went on, “And we got interrupted at ‘boobage’. I’ve mentioned shoes, undies, boobage, makeup and most of the rest is, as you say, how much confidence you demonstrate as to this being the real you – the confident you – new you.”

There was a knock at the door and Fiona came in. “Hi, Anita, this is the dress you sent me out for.”

Anita stood and took it from her, putting the hanger over a nearby picture hook. “Thanks, dear. Will you be free for a while?”

“Oh yes, I’ve got about ninety minutes before Mrs Walsh, she’ll be a quick half hour, then on a quiet midweek day like this, I’m free for another good hour.”

“Thanks, dear.”

“So, I’m going to make some suggestions. Please don’t be shy or ashamed or upset at any of them – and some will turn out to be very happy-making for you. That I can promise.”

“What are these delicate ever-so-not-much suggestions, eh?”

“In most circumstances, for a new-girl who was wanting to get going, I would suggest a leg-wax and whatever else was too hairy, but you look quite minimal for hair both as regards strength and colour, so that can be set aside for the moment. You will have to have something better than nothing in your bra to give this dress anything like a fair shape. And, I think, that a modest amount of makeup will make a remarkable difference. Again, your beard is quite minimal so there’ll be no need for a cake of make-up to be plastered on you. It wouldn’t help you feel comfortable, and it probably wouldn’t encourage you to dress up every day.”

“Every day. I wasn’t planning that at all.”

“Dear, what you say and what you do and what you intend and what actually happens are all quite different things. As a friend of mine is known to say, ‘Let’s wait and see’.”

“Perchance, I do know about boobage options – and I can conjure up something that will suffice until you’ve decided your size and your order from Amazon or whoever has arrived. I’m confident that you’ve already got the undies I mentioned – as Clarissa wouldn’t have been making the comments she did unless you were already outfitted – giggle – or perhaps I mean underfitted.”

“Yes, you’re right. Clarissa helped me with panties and a bra.”

“So, we’re getting somewhere then. Stand up, dear. It’s time to see how your dress suits you.”

“I’m a bit scared, y’know.”

“I do understand – but actually there’s nothing to be worried about. You’re a person seeing if a particular costume will fit – that’s all.”

“Yes, but how many other people would understand what I’m doing.”

“Some, certainly not all. But what exactly are you asking these ‘others’ to understand?”

“That I’m an ordinary sort of person who likes or at least is interested in dressing in women’s clothes. I’ve thought about this quite a lot you know. I like the look of them, the feel of them in my hands, the variety, the colours, the whole …. Just everything about them. I never dressed up while I was married, but I got to touch and feel my wife’s clothes. And they’re just so much nicer than the drab, boring, beige-blue-brown-black-b-ness of what I have to wear as a typical man. Yuk. And now I’ve decided to give myself the opportunity.”

I paused. “I’ve hidden away for so many years – over 5 decades now. I need to give Martine, well Martine as was, I’ve decided on Janet now, I need to give Janet some freedom. Sorry, I’m wasting time. You want me to put on that dress. Okay.”

I took off my shirt, to reveal my bra. Then my trousers to reveal my matching panties. Not too surprisingly, even if I would have preferred otherwise, my panties failed to keep my erection out of sight. ”Sorry. These things aren’t exactly controllable.”

“Don’t worry, dear. Some do get excited, some don’t. It’s bound to be quite stressful and society spends so much time on mingling sex, gender, attraction and porn that it’s not too surprising. Just ignore it, if that’s possible. Just look at your dress.”

Once again, the magic of those words ‘your dress’.

“Just turn round so that you can’t see any mirrors. I suspect it will be easier to drop it over your shoulders than to pull it up over your hips. Here we go.”

Suddenly I felt a sensation I’d never ever experienced. The dress dropped over my head, caught on my shoulders and slid in a smooth, slinky, shiny. Silk-lining cascade down my dress-virginal body. With a shake of my hips, the dress slithered to my knees. It was so …. so …… wonderful, breathtaking, delicious, ……. right. And wonders of wonders, it fit me really well.

Anita clapped her hands softly. “Oh, that’s just magical. Your dress called to you – and it fits you. You’d be amazed at how seldom that happens. Oh, this has to be the day of days for you, darling. Let’s see if we can make it even better.”

Taking my hand, she led me into the salon. It was still quiet and there was Fiona and two other girls. “Fiona, can you take the desk for a while – I’m looking after Janet here.”

Fiona bobbed a salute to her boss, “Sure, no problem – and that dress looks really good too.”

Surely she had noticed that there was a man in with Anita – but what did I care just at that moment.

I’ve read too many stories about ‘the first time in the salon’ and this both was and wasn’t what I expected.

Anita gave me a coverall to keep my dress – MY DRESS – from getting spotted or marked and then began my salon-virgin experience.

And it took quite some time – not all of it was me being worked on – some of it was talking about how much did I want something, or how permanent or temporary should any change be.

Anita did things with my hair. Fiona did thinks to my nails and hands – and then to my feet and toes. Don’t be silly = she didn’t massage my toes and put polish on my feet. But since I had never had a massage or a manicure or pedicure - it was all just very nice. Gorgeous. Fascinating. Entrancing.

After the hair, Anita briefly tidied up my eyebrows before starting on my makeup. “I’m very definitely not going to go over the top on what I do – it wouldn’t give you any idea of what you would look like as an ordinary woman. It wouldn’t be helpful or kind. I’m going to give you just enough for most people to see a feminine face rather than a masculine one. Anyone who looks closely might realize – but the aim is to make you look really just an ordinary comfortable getting-older woman. Yes?”

I nodded my head – and felt instantly that my hair was ….. different. The feel at my neck, at my ears was ….. just that bit softer and, actually for a moment I felt uncertain about what was happening to me.

Just then, I realized that Fiona was working at the counter beside us. She couldn’t have failed to notice that Anita was talking to a man dressed and getting embellished as a woman. I glanced at her.

She smiled back and gave me a thumbs up.

Just that small gesture calmed me down. Clearly she knew what was going on and was comfortable with the whole process.

“Anita, how often do you have men or boys come in here?”

“Oho, wanting to know a bit more about the local scene, eh?”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“The local scene, you know. Where the girls meet up, where the girls shop,, which shops are helpful, when and where to go for decent company, you know. The local TV scene, or cross-dressers or new-girls or whatever group you want to belong to on the T spectrum.”

“Er, what, T as in LGBT etc?”

“Yes, dear, but we prefer to separate out the LGB folk as they’re actually all about external sexual preference and activity whereas the Ts and Qs and Is and so on are a much smaller percentage and their problem in approximate terms is their gender – and that their internal core may not match the label assigned to them by quick-fire medics at the birth. Thank god, or whoever, we now know so much more than the over-simplified black-white labelling of boy-girl.”

She paused, “You – like almost everyone I know – are not 100% man and you’re not 100% feminine either. I’ve never met anyone of whom I could say ‘there’s not a drop of girl in his heart or vice versa. It’s a bloody spectrum, a sliding scale, a range of people and personalities not just a simple bloody label. Aaargh – sorry, rant number 14. You’ll get used to me.”

“I may have read about too much of this stuff – but I’ve never dared look at how these things might happen in real life. I’m finding out more by the minute – and as long as I can take it, I’m going to keep being up front, bold and open.”

“Oh, I’m so proud of you. And looking at you – don’t peek – I think you’ll be able to do just fine. About another 5 or 10 minutes now. Then we will see what we will see. I think you be very pleased with how it’s going.”

The minutes passed.

Anita stepped back, then forward – another dab here, a touch there.

She stepped forward to take off the coverall. And helped me to my feet. I rocked a little on the 1 inch heels that had miraculously attached themselves to my feet. Busy little Fiona – ha.

I turned awkwardly as Anita towed me towards the big mirrored wall.

What I saw surprised me – excited me – and made me stumble. “Sorry, Victor Meldrew moment there. I Just don’t belieeeve it.”

“It’s for real. What you see in front of you is Janet Mark 2”

“Ha, when did I tell you my name was Mark, surely you didn’t guess.”

“It was on your credit card, and don’t call me Shirley.”

We both giggled –“With a feed line like that, I had to go with it.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you’re a very naughty lady.”

I stopped and looked once more into the mirror. What I saw wasn’t a top-of-the-range superlatively excellent well-dressed, beautifully presented example of wonderful womanhood. Anita had made it clear that she wouldn’t be able to do that. And I had been clear that I didn’t want it. What I saw was a nice-looking, late-middle-age woman with a solid figure and a respectable taste in fashion.

I was very happy.

I turned to Anita and said “What next?”

“You can ask me for comments – but don’t forget I want the decisions to be yours. But – if I were able to keep my opinions to myself – I wouldn’t be able to suggest that you come with me and have a coffee at the café over the way. We can sit and chat and look at the people going past. Once I have an idea of what you like to see on other people – then I’ll be able to tell you where to shop. Ii won’t suggest that every woman has her own specific tastes and preferences – but there’s probably not that many options at your age. You can go for casual, stylish, and as we sit and people-watch there’s a few more that I know we can ignore. But I'll give you one tip - if you see this sticker in any shop anywhere in this country, there will be someone friendly to help you.“ And she handed me a pink and grey business card with the logo 'Big Sisters' and some contact details.

"Don't bother with this today. This town is pretty good everywhere. But look us up on the web later. There's some good things to look at, to read and to understand. After all, I'm a Big Sister myself."

While she gave me the card, we had reached the coffee shop. Fortunately there was a table well placed to watch the passing populace.

So that’s what we did. I barely remember what we looked at, what I admired or what I disliked. I sat enjoying the feel of the frilled hem of the dress fluffing against my legs. I enjoyed the shine of my nails with their faint sheen of pale opalescent polish. I gloried in the curve of my breasts (fake though they were). I was still excited, no not quite the right word, I was still appreciating the pull and stretch of the bra at my shoulders and across my chest – so new to my body.

“I like this, you know.”

“Mmmmmmm, I can tell. Perhaps you can give me some idea of what you think is going to happen next?”

“First off – I’m going to do this a lot more. I feel so different, so free, so willing to look for and take on new challenges. I may be too old for some things – I’m going forwards, onwards and upwards. I’m ready to enjoy my life so much more.”

“That’s really rather positive. Go for it, girl.”

“I think so. I do think so. And next, I’ve got to go shopping. My list for today says – 3 stops for a coffee in public; buy 5 to 10 items; go into 10 shops; make a salon appointment. I’ll say that I’ve managed the last one. I’m at 2 of 3 for coffee stops. I’ve only bought 3 things – panties, bras and this lovely dress, and I’ve not done nearly enough shops. Suggestions, eh?”

“Mmmmmmm – again. As you say, you’re close enough on 2 out of 4. We can, no, YOU can go into shops perfectly easily now and ask any assistant for help. I promise that you’ll not have any problem. And if you can get into and out of another 5 or 6 shops without buying the necessary 1 item per shop – I’ll pay for the two most expensive items myself. I’ll be sitting down the road at the Italian Bistro in 2 hours time.” With that, she pulled me to my feet and pushed me in one direction while she set off in the opposite direction back to her salon.

I did as she suggested. And it was easy. The first two shops gave me good practice at looking, feeling, and thinking about what I wanted. The third shop was mostly knitwear, sweaters and the like so I bought a lovely soft grey cardigan with bold brass buttons and a similar one in lavender purple. I managed not to buy a long asymmetric hem jersey dress in apricot. Perhaps next time.

At the fourth shop, I bought two skirts. One a simple denim with a ragged hem and the second a longer below-the-knee paisley skirt with a lovely slithery lining.

Then at the seventh shop – and last by my count after nothing at the fifth or sixth - I found a wider variety and chose five pieces in next to no time. Two dresses and two blouses and I marked several more pieces for my next visit.

And as I left the last shop, the assistant said, “Thank you for shopping here, miss. We have a late night shopping every Thursday and Friday if you’re interested.”

What a day. I began so very very mis-identified and by the end I was miss identified. Great. Such Joy.



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