Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Happy Camperette

Afternoon Play


By Paula Gaikowski

Hot sunny days, cool clear lake waters, peanut butter jelly sandwiches washed down with Kool-Aid for lunch. These are reminders of my summers spent at the lake. Mixed with these halcyon days of summer are memories of angst and confusion growing up transgender.

I remember at 7 or 8 feeling so awkward that I always wore a tank top with my bathing suit. We were in the water constantly and played all kinds of games, Marco Polo, Hide and Seek, and predictably, there would always be a round of “pushing the girls in the water.” I recall the odd look my best friend Jimmy gave me when I asked him to push me in.

In the midst of all these summer memories, I was thrilled to read a recent article in The Huffington Post about Camp Aranu’tig. It is a camp for transgender youth that has grown from one New England camp and about 60 campers in 2010 to the addition of a West Coast camp, a family camp and a leadership camp with 400 campers in 2014.

I’m sure this camp will not only save lives, but will also change lives for the better. Regrettably support like this wasn’t available when I was growing up. However the summer of ‘74 was a summer of discovery and could perhaps be called my ad hoc version of a transgender summer camp.

I was 15-years-old when my parents planned a three-week trip across the country to visit a cousin and her new baby in California. Our itinerary took us by air to my Aunt Natalie’s in Chicago. From here my parents and Aunt Natalie, who was afraid to fly, would travel by car to Los Angles for a two-week visit with my cousin Helen.

I would stay behind in the Avondale section of Chicago and house sit my Aunts two dogs and one cat. By today’s standards leaving a 15-year-old alone for two weeks may seem odd, but taken in the context of the my family, it was not.

My grandparents had come to this country alone at age 16, my father was orphaned and living and working alone at 16. Both my Mother and Aunt began apprenticeships in Manhattan’s garment industry at that age traveling each day into Manhattan from Brooklyn. As many boomers will tell you, we grew up in age that allowed us a lot more freedom. However, with my two weeks of freedom came responsibility in the form of a list of odd jobs that included yard work, tending a giant vegetable garden and painting.

I was glad to be free of my parents watchful eye and the tortuous car ride and visit out west. By this time in my life I had been crossdressing in my mother’s and sister’s clothes after school since I was 9-years-old. My cousin Helen was married and out of the house and lived in California. I was given her old room and was astounded by the opportunity I found. The closet was packed tightly with clothes and dresses from my Aunt and both my cousins. The dresser contained an assortment of lingerie, slips, bras, girdles and even an old bullet bra that would become a favorite. But best of all was my cousin’s old vanity, still used by my Aunt daily to do her makeup. There was an assortment of cosmetics and accessories that lay out across an art deco vanity with a huge circular mirror. To say this got my attention would be an understatement.

I’d like to say I exercised restraint; however, my parent’s car hadn’t been out of the driveway 5 minutes before I was upstairs trying on a lavender bridesmaid gown that peered out at me the past two days. The rest of the day was spent relishing my new found freedom of gender expression. I tried on dozens of different outfits and began experimenting with makeup. The painting project started early that morning was forgotten and it was dusk by the time I found a cute set of pajamas and called it a night.

Over the course of the next few days I developed a routine. I would wake up in a pretty night gown or pajamas and have breakfast. Then I would put on a skirt and blouse and spend a few hours playing house. Lost in a dream world, I would saunter through the house caring for the dogs and cat, cleaning and sometimes cooking. It was easy to fantasize and visualize myself grown up as woman and a wife. Some days filled with guilt and shame over these feelings, I would become disgusted with myself, rip the clothes off and pack them vowing to change.

But like a moth back to a flame, each evening found me down in the coolness of the basement where my Aunt had her sewing room. There on racks and packed away in boxes was a collection of dresses and gowns accumulated during her career as a seamstress.

Things got even better mid-week when I uncovered a wig and a box of size 10 shoes. My size!

My Aunt was the type of person who didn’t clear out her old clothes. Add to that the fact that she worked as a seamstress and raised two girls, there were boxes of clothes, shoes, hats, and lingerie stored throughout the house. Each night I would get lost in the revelry of it all, so much so that one night after collapsing in bed I saw the early gray dawn filtering through the curtains.

I remember spending hours styling that wig and trying to master eye makeup. Some nights I looked like Mrs. Doubtfire, others like Milton Berle. Nevertheless, with practice and patience came progress. Slowly in the mirror she began to stare back at me, not a 15-year-old girl, but more a young woman. Like the ones who caught the bus in the morning on Milwaukee Avenue, going downtown to work in the offices. I lost myself in the dream of someday joining them. No wonder I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t want to be an engineer, accountant or fireman. I wanted to be a woman!

My parents and Aunt were due back Friday evening. My idea was to wake up early and act as if I was one of those young professional women that I admired and envied so. What was it like to wake up and get ready for work like they did?

I woke early, showered, did my makeup and then hair. After that I put on my dress, I still remember how wonderful it felt as it fell down around me. I primped then added jewelry. After that selected a purse. As I preened in the mirror, I saw that I had come a long way in the two weeks.

It was about 7 AM and the neighborhood was slowing coming to life, dogs barked in the distance, and delivery trucks roared by on Milwaukee Avenue. I walked over to the door, opened it and stepped out. A stylish handbag in the crook of my arm and a pair of white gloves held delicately in the other. For a few seconds I experienced pure joy, and then at the stop sign on the corner I saw it: a 1968 Dodge Coronet. My parents! I turned inside and raced for my room. Nothing was ever said. Camp was over.

My Camp Avondale surely was beneficial and came at impressionable time in my life. I learned how to dress completely as a woman. Yet instead of feeling joy and hope in light of myself discovery, I went home that summer feeling shame, disgrace and filled with anxiety and confusion. There was nobody to ask for help. If I did I would be branded “sick” and a “pervert.”

Today, we are seeing that change and programs like Camp Aranutiq are helping lead. Nowadays schools are starting to assimilate transgender students and counselors are being trained to understand and help students.

We are seeing transgender homecoming queens and prom queens. Transgender college students are given support and medical benefits. Still far from perfect, today transgender youth have options.

Remember that you are part of a community and share a common core of experiences with your sisters and brothers. Take pride in who you are and what you have been a part of until now. Support the fight for transgender rights anyway you can.

Gradually people are being educated and feelings are changing. No longer will transgender people have to feel the ridicule, guilt, shame and have to struggle as many of us did searching for answers all alone with a borrowed prom dress in our Aunt’s basement.





Source: MyHabit

Wearing Tahari.






The late great Robin Williams femulating Barbra Streisand in the 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Ticket

IMG_1904_crop After attending the StampShow, I drove to the Pond House Cafe, a restaurant in the middle of Hartford’s Elizabeth Park to dine with my friend Diana. Diana arrived at 5 PM sharp and we dined outdoors on the restaurant’s patio.

There is not a lot to say about dinner. The meal and the dinner conversation were great, the restaurant staff used the proper pronouns, called us “ladies” and seemed genuinely glad to have us as customers.

There were only a few other diners and they did not seem to notice us, except for one. Midway through our meal, a couple, probably in their late 60s, were seated opposite us; the woman had her back to me, but her dinner partner (I assumed it was her husband) was facing me and almost every time I looked his way, he was looking at me. His facial expression showed neither approval or disapproval, but he was studying me intently; so much so that I thought about going over to him and asking him if we knew each other. I was certain that I did not know him, but maybe he knew me or thought he did or something else was going on. (I think something else was going on, but I don't know what.)

After dinner, I drove across town to Real Art Ways for their monthly Creative Cocktail Hour. “Real Art Ways is one of the United States' leading innovative contemporary arts organizations, with programs in Visual Arts (commissioned public projects, curated exhibitions, education), Live Arts (innovative music of all kinds, performance, spoken word) and Film and Video (feature films and artists' videos)”

Real Art Ways is a very cool venue and has openly welcomed transgender folks for over a decade. Over the years I have attended about 20 of their Creative Cocktail Hours. It attracts a very eclectic crowd and is always an interesting evening.

Thursday’s installment was like old home week. In addition to Diana, three other girls from my old support group showed up and we had a good time talking about the old times as well as the new times.

We were ensconced strategically on the deck outdoors, which is the gateway between the indoor and outdoor activities. As a result, I saw everybody as they passed to and fro and they had an opportunity to see me. And I could not help noticing the guys, especially the middle-aged and beyond checking me out.

It was all so affirming, but a little disconcerting to receive so much attention and nothing more. None of the admirers made an attempt to approach me or my friends nor strike up a conversation. It was great conversing with my old friends, but it would have been interesting/different to interact with an admirer, too.

On the other hand, maybe they were not admirers. Maybe they were just amused by the appearance an obvious femulator.

On the other hand (that's three hands now), maybe they were just intimidated by an attractive woman and afraid to do anything but gawk.

Yeah --- that's the ticket!

Anyway, I called it quits early --- at about 8:30 PM. It was a long day and a woman's got to know her limitations, so I said my goodbyes and rode away into the sunset.





Source: MyHabit

Wearing SVEE.






Contestant in the 2012 Mz. Relay for Life womanless beauty pageant in Cape Coral, Florida.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My StampShow Story

I spent Thursday living as a woman.

Up and at ‘em… shaved all over, showered, fed the dog and cats, cleaned the litter boxes, took a coffee break, did my makeup, took another coffee break, dressed, brushed my teeth, and then I tried to decide what to do about my hair. 

I narrowed my choices down to three hairdos: long, short and mid-length. To help me decide, I took selfies of each wig in place on me and picked the selfie that looked best.

Ryan from Noriko won out. It is platinum blond with dark roots and it is the most authentic looking wig I own. In fact, it looks so good that in the past, some people thought it was my real hair.

Checking myself out in the mirror, I thought that overall I looked authentic, too. I certainly felt authentic and was ready to face the world as a woman.

First stop was the American Philatelic Society StampShow at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. I have been to the Convention Center a half-dozen times, so I knew the layout of that venue, but I have never been to the StampShow, so I did not know what to expect civilian-wise.

The half-hour ride to Hartford was uneventful, but the Convention Center parking garage was very full. I only found an empty spot at the extreme end of the fifth level. By “extreme end,” I mean it was as far away from the elevator as possible. 

Big decision time: do I take my flats or try to get through the show in my heels. I decided to be a big girl and tough it out. Amazingly, I was able to wear my heels (Karmen from Payless) all day long, that is, over 12 hours!

I hiked to the elevator and was joined by a 30-something woman who quizzed me about the StampShow. She wondered if dealers would be buying stamps as well as selling stamps because she had brought some very “rare” items to sell.

I told her that I assumed the dealers would be interested in buying if she had something rare. And I asked her what she had.

She said she had mint 22-cent USA commemorative stamps from the 1980s!

I did not want to burst her bubble, so I just said, “Good luck!”

I entered the Convention Center and took the escalator up to the exhibit area. Checking out the crowd, I felt I was dressed appropriately. Outfits ranged from business formal to business casual to casual casual, but not slob casual, which I often encounter at the ham radio conventions. My attire did not seem to attract undo attention, although I did catch a few people checking me out.

The woman staffing the pre-registration booth Ma’am’d me when she fetched my pre-registration package, which was under my boy name, so that was an auspicious start!

I am just getting back into the hobby, so I planned to just get my feet wet at the show and not make any big purchases. Over four hours, I viewed about one-third of the exhibits and attended two First Day of Issue ceremonies (one for new USA commemorative stamps and one for new United Nations commemorative stamps). I scored free First Day Covers at both ceremonies! I did not expect anything to be free besides admission, so that was a nice surprise.

I did have one complaint. For a relatively new building (less than 10 years old), the air conditioning in the Convention Center was inconsistent. The main exhibit area was comfortable, but the meeting rooms for the First Day ceremonies were stifling… so much so that I left both ceremonies early because I was so uncomfortable.

Femulation-wise, the StampShow was without incident. I enjoyed attending as a woman and seemed to blend into the crowd without a problem. No one stopped dead in their tracks to gawk or guffaw. The handful of people I encountered on a one-to-one basis treated me as a woman politely referring to me as “Ma’am.” And some attendees (male and female), who I happened to pass by in the Convention Center smiled and said or mouthed “Hello.”

It was a very good day out for this girl! 

Dinner and a cocktail party awaited me!

Source: Kate Spade

Wearing Kate Spade.

A femulator, circa 1930.