Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?
The people that you meet each day
~ People in Your Neighborhood lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
We are surrounded by people every day—co-workers, drivers sharing the road, friends and family, neighbors living across the street and behind the white picket fences. Unless you are living in a cave or on an expansive property, we have people around us in some capacity. And, that is not necessarily a bad thing. The human animal is a social one, typically more comfortable within the sightlines of others rather than choosing isolation.
For us crossdressers, we spend a lot of time feeling like we are living in isolation. Sure, as men, we have loving friends, family and partners. Many times, those people in our lives have no idea that we have an alter ego and feminine persona. We hide our femme selves from those we know because we fear reprisal and rejection. In these cases, we are living a partial life—a half-life. What if we do tell the people we love about our dual gender? We hope that we will be loved in the same way as we have always been loved as the man in her life. What would it feel like to be loved for who you are, then suddenly only tolerated for who you are a few hours later—all because of what you choose to wear at that moment?
The above are real concerns. Adverse judgement and scorn are a real fear for us. We want to be true to our gender duality, but hesitate to be our true selves because of a society that we assume will be less than accepting. Public acceptance is nice to have. Total acceptance and love inside a relationship is a necessity. Every relationship is different. I cannot speak for who you have in your life and what each of you is going through in your hearts and minds. I can only hope that you are seen for the person you are, not the clothes you wear.
What follows below is a sampling of the people I have met here in the beautiful Upstate of South Carolina—vignettes to let you know there are people everywhere filled with love and compassion for their fellow man (and woman).
I was invited out to dinner and fun by my dear friends Kristin and Christine. We intended to find food and a place for karaoke afterward. I was the designated driver. We landed on Mexican for dinner and headed off to the “big city” restaurant venue. I was wholly overdressed, but not excessively so (thankfully). We were seated and our server greeted us and asked if, “you ladies wanted to start with drinks or appetizers.” We crossdressers feel very validated when we are addressed with feminine pronouns. That simple gesture feels wonderful when heard. Ashlie, our server, was attentive and sweet—always seeming to know when to swing back around to our table without being overbearing. Always a delicate balance. While Kristin was reading my palm, Ashlie stopped by and was thrilled to get her own palm read as a result. The lines of her palm sparked a conversation about her son and daughter, her relationship status, and her aspirations as a documentary filmmaker, a writer, and a photographer. As a result, I followed her on Instagram and we have been talking ever since. She is also excited to shoot Savannah, as part of her portfolio. We are kindred creative spirits. That is what she saw in me when she met me, not a man in a dress.
I have already spoken and written about my new Starbucks friends, Karen and Rose in the article, Did You Hear That Joke. What I didn’t mention in that article was that Karen had wanted me to meet another regular, Ms. Doris, because she felt that Ms. Doris would enjoy meeting me, as well. Well, I did meet Ms. Doris that day. Then, I had the pleasure of chatting with her one-on-one on another occasion. We laughed, cried, and commiserated about the celebrations of life and each other. She told me that she had reached out to several family members and friends about Savannah and the “Living with Crossdressing” book. I was surprised that she had become a champion of Savannah. Besides such sweetness on her part, Ms. Doris also wanted me to meet her husband, Warren. She felt Savannah would be well-received and that I would appreciate his background as a chaplain, his own writing, and his positive outlook on life.
We planned to meet at the same coffee house at noon. To say that I was blessed to meet the man who was the husband of such a wonderful woman is an understatement. Even as I write this article, I cannot completely recall or convey the entirety of the hours of conversation we enjoyed. There we were, in a public space—Savannah in a flowy summer dress and the cutest older couple—talking about a plethora of topics. Warren gave me his background as a chaplain. Ms. Doris told me about her grandkids and her current reading of the “Living with Crossdressing” book. Warren asked me some difficult questions.
He was curious to know where I found my strength to be so open and public about Savannah. Ms. Doris teased me that she bet I thought I would be asking the deep questions. Warren had, indeed, asked me a very philosophical question. I pondered it for a moment, hung up on the fact that he wanted to know where I got my strength. What strength? I am a man living a secret life. If I had such strength, why haven’t I told my parents about Savannah? Why do only a handful of co-workers know about her? Am I a coward because I still live such a divided life? That was my answer to Warren. Ms. Doris placed her hand on my wrist, hearing the uneven sadness in my voice as I owned up to my own failings. I told them about being terrified to get out of my car to order to walk into Walmart (grocery section) for some cheese my girlfriend needed. Warren looked me in the eye—never wavering his gaze—to tell me that I “…do have strength…”. He told me that to be afraid and still persevere, by stepping out into a public venue, is a measure of strength. He said facing a challenge in spite of misgivings, worry and fear is basically the definition of the strength within me that he was referring to. Here was a man—sitting across from me and who only knew me through his wife until that day—looking at me from a different viewpoint than my own and finding something akin to courage. Needless to say, I was blown away by the notion.
We spoke at length about monolithic thinking, the “hardening of the categories” as it pertained to how we view the world and the labels we assign to each other, and how people continue to stigmatize minority and alternative groups. I told Ms. Doris that I was going to prepare a litany of questions for Warren to answer. But, all I could come up with was, “how can I defend myself against those who choose to discriminate or admonish me for how I present myself, based on their beliefs in the Bible’s scriptures.”
“You only have this one life to be the best, most authentic person you can be.” And, “God loves us unconditionally, and only He can judge us.” And, “How a pastor reads Scripture today and how he interprets that for a sermon is based how the Spirit moves him in that moment. The members of the congregation will interpret the same Scripture each in their own way. We could read the same Scripture a year from now and have the Spirit give us a different meaning.”
Warren is a man of deep convictions, strong faith, an open mind, and love for his fellow human being. He and Ms. Doris are people I would sit down with again to discuss life and other topics. They are just people you instantly are drawn to and love to be in their company.
While I have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing Warren and Ms. Doris, I do not want to gloss over the fact that I did see Karen earlier in the day. She was having a rough morning. I gave her a big hug and told her I had missed her. She responded in kind. While our views are fundamentally different in many ways, we do respect and appreciate each other as friends. In fact, she mentioned that she wanted another one of her friends (another Starbucks regular named Bridget) to meet me. The friend was unsure about the prospect of being face-to-face with a crossdresser and shied away from the invitation. Karen told her that if she, herself, liked Savannah (while being ultra-conservative and Christian), everyone else should have no problems with Savannah, either. Awww! So sweet!
Well, while I waited for high noon to arrive and the conversation with Warren and Ms. Doris to commence, I went up to the counter for another coffee. Out of the blue, a woman asked me if my name was Rachel. I thought maybe she had scheduled a meeting with someone, using the coffee shop as a public and safe meeting place. When I told her my name was Savannah, her eyes went wide with recognition and the comment, “Oh, I thought your name was Rachel!” I was so confused. How did this woman—who was looking for someone named Rachel—know me? When she told me that her name was Bridget, I realized that she was Karen’s friend from the earlier conversation. She had come in to get coffee to help celebrate her son’s birthday. She didn’t realize she would be meeting me in the process. When I told her of Karen’s morning and the appointment with Ms. Doris and her husband at noon, Bridget was content to stay and talk to me about her son, Karen’s rough morning, and wanting to finally meet Warren in person. I told Bridget that Karen had mentioned her shyness to meet me. She told me that was the truth, but that as soon as she met me she was surprised that she just acted “normal” around me. It is strange to imagine that anyone would think me intimidating—especially after Karen vouched for me. Needless to say, I was happy to chat with Bridget until Warren and Ms. Doris arrived with their own hearty handshakes and a super-tight loving hug. At one point, another young woman came over to comment about my chunky heeled black shoes and to talk about the best place to buy them.
I continue to worry about being in public in some ways—a feeling I never consider when in my male form. Warren asked me about strength. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” While I don’t think I am exhibiting any great measure of strength, I will agree with Ms. Doris that being visible and being approachable are hallmarks to putting Savannah outside my small sphere of comfortable security. I cherish the friendships I have made and the people who have touched me with their own positive spirit.