“I get so tired of people saying, ‘Oh, you only make fantasy films and this and that’, and I’m like, ‘Well no, fantasy is reality’, that’s what Lewis Carroll showed in his work.”
Crossdress Radio Network (Facebook @ CrossDressRadioNetwork, Youtube @ crossdresstravel) invited me along to watch and participate in an after-party commentary discussion about the 1992 film, Just Like a Woman. In the film, an American (Adrian Pasdar) in London falls in love with a divorcee (Julie Walters) who does not seem to mind his transvestism. The movie is based on the book, Geraldine: for the Love of a Transvestite, written by Monica Jay. I was fortunate enough to be joined by host Jennifer Sometimes, Julie from Fox and Hanger Wardrobe Specials, and Elizabeth and Melissa from the CrossdressRadioNetwork.
You are welcome to watch the film and the podcast discussion for yourself. Before the watch party, I decided to outline the major crossdressing themes that stood out to me, complete with minute markers (due to my former training in life as an online movie critic). Below are those moments in the film that resonated with me, with my own editorial sprinkled in.
Son watching mom putting on her makeup and getting dressed for a night out.
What stood out for me was how the filmmaker used the intro titles to capture the sensuality and ritual of the mother getting ready while the boy watched on with interest and fascination. For many crossdressers, the ritual of the transformation is very important, calming, and cathartic.
Gerald’s secretary tells Gerald that his wife and kids were back in London and at the airport getting a taxi home.
This illustrates the terrifying panic of being found out. Gerald had used his “alone time” to leave all of Geraldine’s lingerie, makeup, and stockings out while the family was out of town. There is a sadness to having to hide part of ourselves away from those we love, all the while having to make sure we cover our tracks and put everything back in its heydey-hides until the next opportunity.
Wife throwing Geraldine’s clothes off the balcony in her fit of anger, saying, “She has a terrible taste”.
The resulting off-screen divorce was due to the wife’s assumption that Gerald’s clothes were from another woman and because Gerald was too ashamed to admit that the clothes were, in fact, his. He would rather his wife believe he was immoral and an adulterer than a crossdresser. Our worry that crossdressing is still so stigmatized and disgusting leads us to believe that it would be better and easier to accept the scarlet letter of infidelity.
Monica was drawn to Gerald’s softer side. All the while, Gerald tries hard to compete in an aggressive corporate job (20:30).
Gerald is, at his heart, a kind person who tries to get ahead in life and in business, all the while being empathetic to others as he goes. Monica is drawn to his kind and gentle nature. It also serves him well as he negotiates with the CEOs and executives of international companies. When we tap into our feminine nature, it allows us to be more in tune with our sympathy and empathy for others. As men, we have been conditioned from an early age to suppress our vulnerabilities, sometimes to ill effect.
Monica sees an unknown woman sneaking around the boarding flat and into Gerald’s room. Geraldine attempts to get back to her room without being seen.
The issue of being covert while en femme is a common one. As the issue of only dressing when the family is away (or you are in a hotel on a business trip), sneaking around is something we have, unfortunately, become adept at as a survival skill.
Monica talked to a friend about the “woman” in Gerald’s room. Assumes it is another woman, just like the wife did.
It is an ironic thought that many cross-dressing men assume that everyone—from co-workers to their wife to the store clerk at the shoe or department store—knows that they are crossdressers. We assume that we give off an overt feminine vibe that everyone sees. For those of us who do not have tell-tale signs, painted nails, basic makeup, overt feminine-styled clothing, or hair, most people will never suspect.
After intimacy, Gerald panics as he worries about being in a relationship with a woman who doesn’t know about Geraldine.
Gerald shows his shame for who he is at this moment. The ghost of “her” is behind every new relationship. Wanting to share our true and full selves with those we care about is of upmost importance to us, but we are saddled, most times, with the fear of rejection and judgment by those same people. It is a scary tightrope we walk when trying to decide to share. Is it better to have loved and lost, as the quote tells us? Or, do we tell ourselves that we can carry on in the relationship while continuing to keep this part of ourselves secret?
Gerald angsts about telling Monica the truth, spinning around in his office chair. Monica tells her friend at brunch that he has been distant and will probably tell her that, “he is leaving [the flat].”
Conversing, Monica worried that Gerald’s social and emotional distancing is because of what she had done or because of something that is wrong with her. We all walk into every situation with our own baggage—whether a full set of Samsonite or a carry-on backpack—each of us worrying that we are not good enough for the other partner.
“I’m a transvestite.” He answers the typical questions for her as she struggles to come to terms with what he is telling her. When he tells Monica he has been dressing since a child, she laughs (nervously). When he tells her his femme name is Geraldine, she laughs again (this time, in a more mocking way). He is sensitive and hurt by her reaction. “It’s not hormones. Am I gay? No.”
In 1992, the term transvestite was still the most common way to describe cross-dressing. It was the same term I used in 1996 when I finally accepted Savannah as part of who I am! We are very sensitive when we reveal ourselves to others. Most times, it takes days/weeks/months/years to find the internal courage to reveal ourselves. Our fear is always that we will be misunderstood, admonished, or rejected outright.
Gerald shows Monica the transformation (in a montage).
The montage was, again, a good way to convey the sensuality of our mtf transformation. My girlfriend asked to watch me for my reveal to her, wanting to avoid the shock of seeing the male side disappear and be replaced by the abrupt and complete feminine version. While mtf crossdressing is becoming more accepted, there is still a large majority of women who do not have familiarity or exposure to the concept. To them, it is n abstract that they had not prepared themselves for.
“Dressing?” asked the waitress, referring to the salads… “No, not tonight,” Gerald replies, both he and Monica smiling at the inside joke.
It’s fun to have the ability to share our full selves in conversation, even when we are not dressed accordingly. Sharing jokes and comments and conversations in a positive fashion with others is a good way to be validated.
Gerald says, “Its ruining my life.” Monica asks, “What about a cure?… What about a therapist or hypnotist?”
This is an all-too-painful and still-relevant reminder of some of the archaic methods so-called professionals used to cure homosexuality and what they considered mental disorders. Some crossdressers have subjected themselves to electroshock therapy in an effort to rid themselves of the affliction of their feminine psyches. To think of the components of our feminine genders as something to excise from us is simply taking several pounds of the flesh of what makes us whole.
“The perfectly heterosexual man who just likes to dress up in frocks!” Monica tells her friends at brunch. Monica is surprised that his dressing does not affect how she feels about Gerald. The conversation leads to weekends where Geraldine and Monica normalize the experiences.
Some may call it desensitizing, instead of normalizing. What is really at play here is that the “normalizing” is only a way to rid ourselves of the assumptions and preconceived notions brought to the relationship based on the word “transvestite” or “crossdresser”.
Another flat-mate sees Gerald’s painted toenails. “athletes’ foot. Gets rid of it, just like that.”
I painted my nails a few times. A previous girlfriend’s granddaughter asked why I painted them after I forget to put on socks to hide them. Instead of telling her that I painted my toenails because I liked it, my girlfriend told her that she painted my toenails as a prank while I slept. While the granddaughter laughed at the “prank” on me, it occurred to me that telling her that I simply liked to have painted toenails would have been just as much a positive statement.
At the embassy dinner gala, Monica discusses Kabuki theater and the culture of men dressing as women in eastern cultures with Gerald’s Japanese clients.
Western Culture is mired in a very patriarchal mentality, where women are the weaker sex and where men and their masculinity is predominant. Wanting to exhibit more feminine traits brings with it a stigma of vulnerability and weakness. In other cultures, from the Ladyboys of Thailand to the two-spirits of the Native Americans, what has been considered third genders have been revered by their cultures instead of reviling them.
Geraldine getting the “all clear” from Monica so they can slip out to the car to go to dinner where other crossdressers frequent.
This is another case of worrying about what others may think. The upside is that Monica was there to be a support system for Gerald—which is a very important component to success.
Monica was surprised that all the couples at dinner gave off an air of normalcy. Then, she tries to pick out which women are actually cross-dressing men.
For the most part, crossdressing men who go out in public are not looking to raise eyebrows or draw undue attention to themselves. Instead, they are looking to blend in and enjoy their time out with family and friends. Some worry about passability and being “clocked” by other patrons. At the end of the day, an aura of self-confidence and putting your best “heel” forward in your presentation will allow you to move about more freely and with more public acceptance.
Drag queens vs transvestites (mock and hate women?)
This was almost a throw-away comment used by one of the wives to normalize crossdressers versus what she considered a more fringe group. This is a comment that was prevalent in 1992, since crossdressers were, oftentimes, lumped in and considered to be another form of drag queens. Even today, I often get the comment, “Oh. So, you’re a drag queen?”, because the public’s perception of crossdressing is still somewhat steeped in the misconception that crossdressing men and drag queens dress as women for the same reason—even though both are valid gender expressions.
Going out in broad daylight! Yikes! When Geraldine realizes that she is not noticed or accosted, she gains more confidence. “All I have my evening wear?!”
Most people don’t pay attention to crossdressing men strive to blend into society. The more practice you put in, the more mindful you are of the appropriateness of your appearance, the more confidence you have, the more acceptance you can achieve.
Confronted in the elevator with Miles, the boss! He didn’t even notice that it was Gerald as Geraldine.
While Geraldine, with Monica’s help, found her confidence growing in public, she found herself back in a position of fear and worry when confronted with the fact of seeing someone she knew. Courage and strength can seem fleeting when faced with a challenge like this. It is all in how we conduct ourselves and understanding that many people will not even realize we are someone they know. What we need to do is prepare ourselves for this eventuality. We cannot assume that being out in public will not bring us face-to-face with someone we have not shared our femme selves with.
Geraldine had a fantasy where she was the bride. Monica was made to feel like the groom instead of being a beautiful bride herself.
She still wants to bring femininity to the relationship and not be shoved out by Geraldine’s heightened femininity. This is an important concept to be mindful of. While we should be as free as we need to be with our femininity, we have to understand how our unprepared partners may see our overt femininity as something to be threatened by or to be seen as a competition that they are suddenly losing (even with the advantage of being a biological woman). Each woman will react in a different way to your femininity.
Geraldine is stopped by the police for speeding, driving the car registered in Gerald’s name.
The thought of being stopped and detained by the authorities while being dressed can be terrifying. If you are not out to friends, family, and co-workers, this could make your “outing” official. Many crossdressers fear that they would be treated with disdain and ill will if stopped. Some research and a couple of well-placed calls to the local authorities can go far in eliminating unfounded fears.
Purging the clothes by fire because of being detained overnight by the police.
Claiming and promising that purging the tangible and material things of our femininity will be the gateway of never dressing again is a poor experience. Trying to shut off that part of oneself, because we consider ourselves freaks, is never the solution. Gerald tried to run away from Geraldine as being a part of him, instead of embracing her as part of the whole.
At the conference room presentation, Gerald says, “Grab them by the balls, Miles. Their hearts and mind will follow.”
Realizing that who you are in how you look is only a partial reflection of who you are as a whole person. Be brave and confident.
At the formal gala ball, Geraldine says, “Monica… life is not like this.” Her response is, “Tonight, it is.”
Live in the moment. Capture every experience. Live life to the fullest, as it is the only one we know we have.