I started cross-dressing when I was fourteen. When I had some time alone I would sneak into the laundry room, close the door reassuringly behind me, turn on the light, and root around in the dirty laundry of my sisters and my mother. Being that I was the oldest child and had the largest body size, I rarely found much that fit me. But what I did find produced some of the strongest mixed emotions I have ever felt in the course of my life.
One of my sisters owned a form-fitting dress that I had always silently coveted. When no one was around, which was rare in the those days, I would begin my explorations. Full of nerves but strangely excited, I made my way to the bathroom mirror. The dress fit queerly, designed for curves and angles I did not possess, but somehow I liked the effect anyway. Paradoxically, it was comfortable as much as it was uncomfortable.
Too much, too soon. My image turned from an idealized and thrilling notion of perfect gender balance to disgust and shame. I quickly removed the garment, resumed male attire, and placed it back in the basket exactly where I’d found it. I became very adept at memorizing the precise way the pilfered clothes had been tossed into a laundry basket. In my mind’s eye, as though I’d taken a photograph of the crime scene, I knew what had gone on the top of a stack and the pattern it formed upon a heap of soiled wash. I was a thief, making sure not to leave behind fingerprints or other telltale signs of what I’d done.
Eight years later, I’d begun buying my own clothing. I began with underwear and intimate wear first. Making sure not to blow my cover, I invented a non-existent girlfriend for whom I was purchasing these items. Curiously, she always wore the same size that I did. It was my defense had anyone called me out on it, but I was obsessive enough about my privacy that no one ever did.
In my ignorance, I imagined that female retail employees were kinder to me for obviously having a curvaceous, voluptuous relationship partner who wasn’t a size 3. In reality, I was merely another customer, another man rendered uncomfortable and clueless within the walls of the store, seeking to make his purchases and scram. An adrenalin rush followed my exit. I began bringing along my own bags, because it felt incriminating and wrong to advertise where I’d been shopping. For what it’s worth, I felt the same way when girlfriends asked me to hold their purses for a little while.
Alone, in the solitude of my bedroom, I tried on each article of clothing, but not before locking the door behind me. This was a secretive ritual I never shared with anyone else. I had always felt out of step somehow with others and circumstances like these only confirmed that I was strange. I had accepted my idiosyncrasies, but this one seemed the least forgivable. Alone by myself was the place I felt most comfortable, which continues even to the current day.
Sometimes my proportions were not well-suited to the cut of whatever it was I was trying on. I never had the ability to try on anything before buying it, fearful of the gender police. While I had learned in buying men’s jeans and pants that a stated size might not be standard from brand to brand, I found this same problem was fifty times worse when it came to selecting clothing designed to be worn by women. I suppose I could have returned the ones I threw aside with great disappointment, but I was too ashamed. I donated the remainder of my shopping hauls to thrift stores, hoping someone might get some use out of them.
All was not gloomy. Along with all this grave seriousness came pleasure, though it was slightly muted because I believed I was engaging in taboo, unacceptable behavior. It was the same sort of euphoria I’d felt years before when stealing undergarments from middle aged women, friends of my mother. These tended to fit much better, usually because of the weight gain that comes from age and a lower metabolism.
Once I deftly lifted a pair, put it on, and got a rush of excitement. I sprinted up a huge hill until arriving at my destination five minutes later, panting and breathing heavily, as though I’d gotten away with robbing Fort Knox. In those days, I did not keep what I took. Within a week, that pair was placed inside a paper lunch sake, then burned outside. It felt cleansing. There would always be time for plotting my next move, whenever it might be.