A Path Less Travelled

Copyright © 2012 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.

“I’m sorry Damien, I thought I could deal with it, and God knows I’ve tried, but I can’t. Either the dresses go or I do.”

This revelation had been brewing for some time now and it came as no surprise. What did surprise me was how strongly I reacted to it still. A mist of cold descended on me and stole my breath for a moment. It was hard to speak, but I had already decided my course of action if – no, when – this eventuality arose.

“You’re asking me to deny a part of myself Lindsey. I could make any promise you wanted to hear right now and I would do my damnedest to keep it, but I wouldn’t be able to guarantee in six months or a year, or maybe ten years, that I could continue to do so.”

“So where does that leave us?” From her tone, the question was rhetorical and lacked almost all hope. Still I wasn’t going to give up on her just as readily as she seemed to want to give up on me.

“Well either you go with part two of your ultimatum, or we could talk about it.”

“What’s there to talk about?”

“Well at the risk of sounding egocentric, we could talk about me. Specifically we could talk about the part of me that you seem to find so unacceptable.”

She remained silent, but at least she remained. I took that as consent to continue.

“Do you think I want to be like this? Do you think it’s a choice I make?”

“Well, you’ve already as much as said that it’s a part of you, so I’m going to go with no. But I don’t understand, how can it not be a choice deciding what clothes you wear?”

I sighed. I’d tried to explain this all to her years ago before we were married. I’d been terrified of her reaction, but I couldn’t consider a commitment like marriage with a secret this big still hanging over us. She hadn’t understood back then, thinking that it was just something sexual, that once she had satisfied all my desires and demands in the bedroom there would be no place left in my mind for such ‘a kinky pastime’ as she had called it.

I’d been younger then and had less of an understanding of what I was going through myself, so maybe I didn’t do such a good job of telling her what was going on inside me. I’d at least come clean, and even if she didn’t understand the whys and wherefores, the secret was out in the open. I’d thought it was enough just to tell her. We’d both thought it was enough.

“It’s not so much about the clothes,” I said picking my words carefully as I made my way gingerly through the minefield of thoughts and feelings that made up a part of me I both loved and hated. “It’s more about who I am inside. I’ve been trying to understand it since I first realised I felt this way, and I’m not sure I do even now.

“I’ve tried to read what there is on the subject, but it’s a very private affliction. Most people who have it – and yes they’re mostly men – keep it hidden because they know full well how they will be seen once it comes out in the open. It’s a djinni of sorts in that once it’s been released you can’t put it back in the bottle, and most people like me are so afraid of how they will be regarded after the secret is out that they clam up and keep it hidden. With the Internet, a lot more people are getting online and sharing their thoughts and feelings – something that the web is great for, being able to talk anonymously. The thing is, the the way most people talk, they come up with a whole set of clichés to describe what they’re feeling – I guess we all do that to some extent – and they don’t quite fit the way I feel.

“Most people like me talk about feeling like a woman trapped inside the body of a man, that they’ve felt the wrongness of who they are since their earliest childhood, and I’m sure in those cases that they are speaking very much from the heart. For me though, it’s not like that. I guess I’ve always felt different, but it wasn’t until I was ten or eleven that I found out that dressing as a woman made me feel different – better.

“There are those who try to tell me that makes me a transvestite, that I get a sort of sexual kick out of dressing up as a woman, and I won’t deny that putting on a dress does arouse me, but it’s more than that. There are times when I dress up and end up using it as a stimulus for sexual release, but then I feel ashamed and guilty for what I’ve done. Other times I dress up and just enjoy being dressed, and it makes me feel complete somehow.

“The general term is transgendered, I believe, and like so many things of this sort, it exists as a spectrum. For most people, the way they feel inside matches the way the look on the outside – men in men’s bodies, women in women’s. Then there are the ones we hear most about; the ones who are so completely turned about that they cannot live as they are – the fully transgendered, if you will – who have a sense that’s been with them since their first memories that they should have been born differently from the way they are. Men who should have been born as girls, and vice versa. There’s medical evidence, I believe, that shows a significant number of such people with genetic traits that can explain something of why they’re the way they are.

“Then there’s people like me who fall somewhere in the middle. I would be guessing, but by the laws of averages I would suspect that the majority of people with some degree of gender confusion lie somewhere in the middle. We don’t hear from them because most of them find a way of living under the radar, content enough to be the way God made them – to coin a phrase – most of the time, and only occasionally feeling the need to indulge the hidden part of their nature. I think for people like myself it would be a mistake to consider something so radical as a sex change, because we hold inside of us a bit of both – male and female mixed – but because we live in a world where society demands you be either just male or just female, it becomes impossible for people like me to express themselves fully as themselves.

“There’s a part of my mind, of my soul perhaps, that is female, Lindsey, and if I keep it hidden away, if I deny it, it begins to cry out for attention. The more I bury that part of me, the more I feel incomplete, unresolved, and the more I feel the need to let her out into the sunshine, so to speak. I can deny that side of me for a while, especially if I have been indulging it recently, but eventually the need to let the girl inside me out becomes too great and I have to let go.

“I think it’s easier for women to deal with such mixed feelings, which probably explains why there is an estimated one female transgendered for every ten males. Women are more accepting of differences among themselves. Tomboys may not gain full approval in female society, but they are tolerated, perhaps even indulged, by both men and women alike, so it’s more acceptable for a woman to live as a woman while expressing a masculine aspect to her personality, than it is for a man to do the converse. If I were to live as a man with a feminine side, I would become an object of scorn and ridicule.

“Men compete to become better than each other in different aspects of life, which means they set targets for behaviour, all of which narrows down the parameters of what is an acceptable way of being a man. Anyone who falls outside those acceptable parameters is seen as someone who’s not playing by the rules, so either cheating or not a part of the game in the first place. Either way it’s a one way ticket to being excluded. Women on the other hand are more accepting of one another because the central focus of being a woman is being part of a community. To be part of a whole, you have to make allowances for people’s differences, so you accept behaviour that doesn’t quite match your own.

“I just want a way to fit in this world, Lindsey, I don’t want to have to hide away a part of me, and I shouldn’t have to. I don’t know what it is you find so abhorrent about my dressing up, whether it makes you think of me as some freak who doesn’t fit into your world, or whether you think I have some dirty, kinky habit that’s just a few steps away from something truly awful. Maybe it’s not me so much as the concern you feel about how others would see us if they knew, I don’t know, but isn’t there some way of working this out?”

“I don’t know Damien,” she wouldn’t meet my eyes. “I guess it’s just that I never factored something like this into my life. You know, when the world behaves the way you expect it to everything’s okay, but when something comes along that turns everything you thought you knew on its head, it gets hard to cope.”

“So you have a choice,” I said, almost more to myself than to her. “Either run away from the thing that feels wrong, or stay around and try and adapt. In most situations you don’t get to run away, so you have to adapt, but here, if you leave me you can go on pretending that people like me don’t exist – at least not in your world.

“We made a commitment when we got married Lindsey. For better or for worse, remember?”

“I don’t remember the vows saying, ‘in trousers or in skirts.’” She fairly spat the words at me.

“They didn’t, probably because it would take an awfully long time to go through all the possible ups and down that fill a marriage. I tried to be honest with you about this from the outset, love. I guess neither of us really understood what it was all about or what we were letting ourselves in for, but as long as nobody knows about what it is that drives people like me, I guess we’re not going to be the last people on Earth to have this conversation – well okay, maybe a lot shorter one than this, but at least the same topic.

“I guess I can’t hold you to a vow when you didn’t really have a clear idea of what it would mean when you made it, but isn’t our life together worth fighting for? Is this such a big thing that you can’t bear to stay with me and work on finding a solution?”

“What solution is there, Damien? You’ve said you can’t give up dressing, and I can’t live with a man who wears dresses. Do you know how ridiculous you look in a frock?”

“Pretty much, but it’s the only safe way I have of letting the girl in me come up for some air. Okay, you want some options, how about this. If I agree to give up wearing women’s clothing, will you agree to help me to incorporate the girl in me into my everyday life?”

“What exactly will that mean?”

“I don’t know yet. I guess to start with, trying to figure out what exactly is the difference between being a man and a woman in this world we live in, and finding ways that the girl in me can express herself more readily. It’s almost certainly going to mean that people will notice something different about me because if she’s coming out into my everyday life, I won’t be able to hide her from the people we know. We’ll almost certainly face some flack and it may get a lot nastier than if I just came out as trans, but I guess what this comes down to is just how much value you put on our marriage, on our relationship.

“If you’re more concerned about how people will see you – the poor wife with misguided loyalty to the pervert – then I guess now’s the time to jump ship. I can’t tell you all the ways I’ll miss you, but I won’t force you to stay in a relationship that you don’t want. If, on the other hand, you care about what we have and are prepared to fight for it, I will do everything I can to find a solution that works for both of us as long as you agree to stand by me and work with me.”

“But no dresses though, you promise?”

I sighed. “I’ll try Lindsey, but can’t promise more. You’re going to have to help me find other outlets for the woman inside of me though.”

“That should be easy enough. There’s a pile of washing and ironing in the other room, the whole house needs a clean and I wouldn’t mind not cooking tonight.”

I cracked a half smile. If she was joking – even half joking – then the worst of the crisis was averted, at least for now. “That’s not what I mean, Lindsey, and you know it. You’d be climbing all over your high-horse, if I were to suggest that those sorts of thing were woman’s work.

“We’ll do that stuff together like we usually do, which is at least part of what I’m trying to get at.”

“What, doing things together? Is that all you want? That’s easy. It’s something I’d like as well.”

“No, it’s…” I search around the room looking for inspiration. There wasn’t any, so I struggled on. “Look, Lindsey, sit down.” She did and I took my place beside her, close but not touching. “People behave differently around each other depending on who they’re with – not just the personality, or whether it’s someone they know or don’t know, like or don’t like, but there are other cues as well. We relate to old people differently from the way we relate to children or babies or people our own age – kind of like there’s a preprogrammed attitude – and it’s the same sort of thing between men and women.

“When you, or any woman for that matter, is around a man, there’s a kind of wariness about you. It’s like a natural defence where you’re expecting some sort of ulterior motive on the part of the guy, like he’s going to try and get in your knickers or something. Women seem to be able to trust other women far more completely though. I mean not every woman, obviously, but when you find another woman who’s on your wavelength, you seem to be able to open up to her far more readily and far more completely. Even more than you open up to me – the man you loved enough to marry, despite my confessed strangeness.

“I want that kind of openness and sharing, with you, with any woman who’d be prepared to drop the defences.”

“Why can’t you have that with any of your mates? I mean I’ve seen guys get really close and trusting with each other.”

“Yes I suppose, but it’s not the same. Even with that kind of closeness there are issues that a lot of men wouldn’t share. That and the closeness is more from two guys holding in most of what they’re struggling with – sort of solidarity in suffering, not sharing the struggle like you lot seem to do. Anyway, I doubt any of my friends would be prepared to understand and accept this thing about me.”

“What makes you think that women would be?”

“I don’ t know. I suppose I kind of hoped, because if they – if you – could see the part of me that’s female, or feminine or whatever, you’d be able to relate to me far more easily. For you it’s a hurdle to get over – seeing past the man on the outside – but once you get underneath, you’ll see and be able to accept a sort of kindred spirit. If I were to try it with another guy, once he’d got past the concept that I felt like a woman underneath – something that would be hard for a lot of men to accept because they have this inbuilt sense of superiority over women – he’d find it hard to relate to the differences in me because he would recognise that we were different. He might not even be able to get past why a guy like me would choose to say he was one of the ‘lesser species’?” I did the thing with my fingers to show that I was putting the last bit in parentheses.

“Yeah, I don’t get that. Where do guys get off thinking they’re better than us?”

“It happens wherever there’s polarisation of opinions. Guys will think they’re better because they can parallel park or think single mindedly and logically. They’ll disregard things like multi-tasking, caring of youngsters, attention to detail, etcetera because they’re not a part of normal masculine life. All men and women ever manage to show with those arguments is that women are generally better at being women and men better at being men, then because each is more familiar with their own side of the divide, they attribute more value to the things they can do better.”

“Wow, you really have been giving this some thought haven’t you?”

“Only touching the surface, love.”

“But, no. I’m sorry Damien, I can’t just open up to you the way I do with Kathy or Amy. There are things I’d tell them that I wouldn’t dare to tell any other man – even you.”

“Because you don’t trust me. Because you don’t understand men and you wouldn’t expect a man to place the same value as you on the level of vulnerability you’re showing. You half expect your secret to end up on MyFace or SpaceBook or something.”

“Yeah… I guess so.”

“But that’s what I’m trying to say. I understand the trust that’s implied in being that vulnerable. I would have hoped you’d see that from the way I’ve shared with you about my feminine nature.”

“Well…”

“Oh God, Lindsey, tell me you didn’t.”

“I’m sorry Damien, but I had to talk to someone about it.”

“You could have talked to me.”

“It’s not the same. I didn’t understand you, I still don’t.”

“Who did you tell?”

“Just Kath and Amy, and they said they wouldn’t tell anyone else.”

“So maybe you don’t trust men with women’s secrets because you know that women can’t be trusted with men’s…”

“That’s not fair Damien. You dropped that particular hot potato in my lap without any warning. What did you expect me to do with it?”

“I hoped you’d respect the trust I placed in you by telling you, the same as you do when you talk with your girl friends.”

“But it’s different. Damien I’m sorry, but I… I don’t know, I didn’t think.

“Look, this is too much to ask right now. I couldn’t be open and honest with you the way I am with Kathy, no matter how hard I tried. Can’t we start with something easier?”

“Like what?”

“Like… going shopping. Girls do that all the time, and the mall’s open late this evening. You can tell me what you think looks good on me, and I can do the same for you.”

I held back the sigh. This wasn’t going to work, not in the way she thought it would, not in the way I would want it to, but at least she was showing willing. Maybe from small beginnings. I nodded my consent and, showing way too much relief, she rushed off to get her coat and shoes.

-oOo-

The shopping trip wasn’t all disaster. I did point out quite a few things that I thought would look good on her, and saw a grudging respect begin to show in her eyes. The problem came when she tried to do the same for me. She’d pick out shirts and sweaters she thought I’d like, and for a while I played along, pretending that I approved of her choices, but her suggestions weren’t anywhere near the things I would have chosen for myself.

In the end it became too hard to bear. I took the latest offering from her and placed it back on the shelf.

“I’m sorry Lindsey, but this isn’t working. I thought I could go through with it, but I can’t. I’m asking for a deeper level of trust, but how can I expect that if I’m not completely honest with you. None of these things do anything for me.”

She bristled a little. “So, what? You want me to pick you out a nice skirt and a pair of heels do you? You promised Damien. You promised you would at least try.”

“I know I did, and I am, but this is part of the problem I’ve had to face all my life Lindsey. Look, it was your idea to come shopping, and I should have mentioned my misgivings at the outset. Right now I have no intention of putting on a dress, nor do I expect you to pick any female clothes out for me, but don’t expect me to get all excited about male clothing, because I can’t.”

“Why not? I mean this sweater would look great on you.”

“Yeah, it probably would, but it does nothing for me. I can’t get excited about wearing it because it’s not how I see myself.”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

I sighed. I seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. There was a parallel which kind of worked. “It’s like you’re not into frills and lace and stuff, and you avoid yellow like it’s puddle of vomit…”

“Which is what it looks like.”

“Yeah I get that, but what I’m trying to say is we’ve passed a whole bunch of stuff today that would look fantastic on you, but I haven’t suggested it because it’s not what you like. I mean that summer dress over there…”

“Yuk!”

“I know – you hate it, which is why I never suggested it, but just humour me.” I went over and picked one off the rack, then led her over to a convenient mirror and held it in front of her. “Forget what you think about frills and lace and even the lemon colour. Forget it’s you standing with this in front of you. Imagine you saw someone who looked a lot like you wearing this dress, can you see how good it looks.”

“Yeah, but it’s not me.”

“Which is exactly my point. You don’t like looking frilly and fussy, and I have no idea what your deal is with the colour yellow – some custard related traumatic incident as a child or something – so there’s no way you’d choose this for yourself, but it would look good on you. The only thing wrong with it is that you wouldn’t be projecting the you you feel inside by wearing it.

“It’s the same with me. The only way you’d get me into camos or football colours is if I were in complete and utter denial, because they say absolutely nothing about me as a person. And that’s pretty much true of just about any male clothing most of the time.

“It’s like if the girl in me can’t get out at least every now and again, she tries to take over. The reason I put on a dress from time to time is so that I can feel like the girl I am inside. I don’t do it for long and I don’t do it in public because I know most people would see it as weird or perverted, but after I’ve let her have her time, I don’t feel so out of place in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt.

“Us being out here today doing this… Every time you suggest a new shirt or something from the men’s section, it just drives home what I’ve agreed to – like hammering nails into the coffin of my inner woman, only she’s still alive and I can already hear her screaming and scratching on the inside of the lid.”

“That’s a bit melodramatic, isn’t it?”

I shrugged, suddenly aware of everything I had been saying out loud in a public place. Fortunately we were alone, the nearest fellow shopper being three aisles over and totally engrossed in some potential bargain or other.

“Maybe it is, but it’s the only way I can get this across. I am not all male, and unless I can do something to express the female part of my personality, then I’m not going to cope. I’ve agreed not to dress, but that means we need to find something else that will do the trick – yes we, you agreed to help me out with this – and shopping just isn’t cutting the mustard.”

“So this has all been a waste of time then?”

“I wouldn’t say that. We bought you some new stuff and I got to explain my point of view a little better. It just isn’t an answer to the problem at hand.”

“So what is?”

“I don’t know, but as long as we’re talking about it and looking for it, chances are we’ll find it.”

-oOo-

We headed home and blitzed the house between us. It’s not something I usually enjoy, but I felt somehow more invested in the outcome this time and put more effort in. Lindsey noticed but didn’t pass comment.

We cooked dinner together and sat talking late into the night. I could see that the discussion was making her uncomfortable. She wanted me to be the man she’d married, and couldn’t cope with this strange new aspect to me. I tried to explain that I was the man she’d married, that some of the characteristics she’d been attracted to in me – my gentleness and sensitivity for instance – actually derived from the fact that I wasn’t entirely male in my personality, but she couldn’t wrap her mind around it. For some reason – like her blind spot on the colour yellow – she couldn’t find a place in her world for a man with a woman’s soul.

“What is it that makes a man a man and a woman a woman then?” I asked her.

“Well it’s obvious isn’t it? A man is, well, like you – big and hairy, filled with testosterone and with a thingy between his legs, whereas a woman is soft and gentle and… different.”

“But what you’re describing is physical characteristics, and personality traits that are derive largely from different hormones. I’m physically male, but personality-wise I don’t have typically masculine attributes. Go beyond the purely physical and tell me what makes men and women different.”

“I don’t know. Women are gentle and quiet, friendly and supportive, interested in children and clothes. They like things to be pretty and clean and tidy. Men are loud and aggressive, only interested in sports and cars and rubbish, and they tend to be slobs.”

“Apart from anything else, do you realise that you used only negative terms to describe men? Why did you get married to me in the first place if you have such a low opinion of the male side of the gene pool?”

“You were different from most guys. I remember how shy you were when you asked me out.” She smiled at the memory. “You could barely get the words out of your mouth; it was so sweet.”

I couldn’t help an involuntary smile myself. “I remember. I was so terrified you’d say no. Do you realise how crushing that kind of rejection would have been for me? The thing is I knew that if one of us didn’t ask then there would be no chance for us, and you weren’t about to…”

“Not my place.”

“No, one of those mixed blessings about being a woman. You get to take the passive role, which means you don’t have to deal with the stomach churning, mind numbing terror of risking rejection by the person you love when asking them out, but at the same time you don’t have as much control over whether or not that person asks you out in the first place. Given my druthers – as my gran used to say – I’d rather (or I druther) take the passive route. I didn’t have the choice though. If I hadn’t asked then we’d both have missed out.

“You’re kind of making my point though. You fell for me because I was different from most guys, but now you’re having a hard time dealing with that difference.”

“No Damien, you’re missing the point. You’re right, I don’t have much time for most male behaviour, but you were the kind of man I could love.”

“Except that the things that made me that kind of man were aspects of my personality which, let’s face it, were more readily attributed to women.”

“Oh, I can’t talk to you.” She jumped to her feet. “You keep arguing in circles.”

“And you keep denying the obvious.

“Lindsey, I understand why you’re having a hard time with this. In your world view, guys are guys and girls are girls, and there isn’t any place for someone to sit in between the two camps. So now that you’re confronted with someone who says he is, you’re having to deal with it. Denial is the first stage, but sooner or later you’re going to have to work it through.”

“Or I could just leave.”

“Which is just a continuation of the denial, but yes I concede your point; you could leave. And that brings us back to the original dilemma – how much do you value our relationship?”

“So where do we go from here?”

“We need to think of something where, without me putting on female clothing, possibly in private, I can be just one of the girls for a while.”

“I’m going to the spa with Kathy and Amy on Saturday. I suppose you could join us.”

“You’d all be okay with that? You’ve already said you can’t fully relax and trust me the way you do them. Wouldn’t I just get in the way of your recharge time?”

“You’re the one who wants to experience some girl time.”

“I know, but for one thing this is your real decompression time. I mean I’d love to join you and be a part of it, but not if it means you don’t get the relaxation you need. Besides, you usually get your legs waxed and your nails done when you go to the spa.”

“What’s the matter? Afraid of a little pain?”

“A little nervous maybe, since I’ve never done anything like it before, but I’m more wondering what you’d think of me if I had all that done too. I mean if you freak out at my wearing a frock, surely you can’t be happy for me to have smooth legs and varnished nails.”

“I’m not happy about any of this Damien, but I think it’d be worth it just to see how you react to what we go through to look good for you guys.”

“Well, if you’re sure, and only if Kathy and Amy agree, I’d love to come.”

That heralded an end to our discussion for the evening and we headed for the bedroom. By the time I’d washed, changed – into PJs – and brushed my teeth, Lindsey was already curled up on her side of the bed. I climbed in beside her and moved over to cuddle up next to her, but she stiffened so I retreated to my side and resigned myself to a lonely night.

I couldn’t blame her really, I was putting a lot of pressure on her. I couldn’t think of any other way though. She’d already thrown down the ultimatum about the clothing, and I considered myself fortunate that she was prepared to work with me to address different aspects of my condition. I felt the dull ache settle on my chest that always appeared when Lindsey and I were out of sorts with each other, and couldn’t help wondering how much worse she must be feeling. I only hoped we could resolve this quickly, for both our sakes.

-oOo-

The rest of the week dragged. By mutual, unspoken consent we agreed not to raise the topic again for the time being. Kathy and Amy were happy to have me along on the spa trip – more for novelty value than anything else I suspected – so Lindsey booked a fourth place and we waited out the interminable hours until the weekend arrived.

Lindsey’s two friends arrived early Saturday morning, resplendent in loose fitting lycra. Kathy’s was a mixture of pinks and purples, while blonde Amy wore a yellow jogging bottoms with an acid green tee-shirt. Lindsey’s gear was royal blue and white and I, suitably warned ahead of time, had managed to dig out an old black tracksuit, also with white highlights. I was stuck with nylon to their more modern fabrics, but I wasn’t about to splash out on new gear just for one day out in the country.

We all climbed into Kathy’s rose pink Mini Clubman, Lindsey and I sharing the back seat, and roared off down the road.

“So Damien,” Kathy said paying far too little attention to the road for my liking, “Lindsey tells us that you’re up for the all in girl experience today.”

We weaved through the early morning traffic, missing everything more, it seemed, by luck than judgement. You understand I don’t buy into the cliché about women drivers being dreadful, but Kathy was. She was driving today because she’d wanted to show off her new wheels, the last lot having been totalled in an argument between her and a lamp post which, to hear her tell the story, had all but leapt across the road into her path.

“Oh I’m up for it,” I replied wincing at the most recent near miss, “but I don’t want to go so far that I’ll make Lindsey uncomfortable, so I’m relying on you lot to keep things in check, alright?”

“Don’t worry,” Amy’s smirk was anything but reassuring, “we won’t go any further than Lindsey wants.”

The day started off with a steam in a sauna. The spa weren’t too happy about having me share with the girls, but most of their resources were intended for small groups so, with my solemn promise not to get up to anything scandalous, they allowed us the use a small sauna to ourselves. I was a little surprised that Lindsey seemed okay with us all going in together, and in retrospect I think she was probably putting on her game face.

“We’re all girls together, aren’t we?” she said with something of an edge to her voice, and that seemed to settle the matter.

The girls wouldn’t let me wrap my towel around my chest or put another one on my hair like they did, but apart from that I managed to get by okay without showing any signs of arousal or interest despite the excessive amount of skin showing.

After the steaming came a long and relaxing massage. Again the spa reluctantly accommodated us by providing us with a private room. The girls chatted among themselves while all the knots were kneaded away. I tried to join in a couple of times, but it was like they’d almost forgotten I was there, and my speaking up reminded them. After they clammed up a couple of times I learned to keep my own mouth shut. If this was going to work at all we would have to ease into it slowly.

Suitably relaxed by the massage, the next part came as a nasty shock. The masseurs left to be replaced by beauticians who began to paint a sweet smelling goo onto our legs. A length of material was pressed onto the goop and almost immediately pulled off.

Somehow I managed to keep silent that first time, but my eyes bugged so far out of my head they almost bounced off the ceiling. I barely heard the girls laughing as a second and third strips were swiftly applied and torn away. Involuntary tears blurred my eyesight as the torture continued and I retreated inside my head, praying for it to end.

But it didn’t, at least not in a hurry. The girls only needed their legs done, but I was, in Alan Bennett’s words, “an hairy man” and my wife and her friends had decided that I needed the full treatment. I had two people working on me to their one, presumably so they wouldn’t be kept waiting by the intensive deforestation that was going on in my vicinity. Legs done, they moved on to my arms and back, including my bum, and finished off with my chest. That last was the worst, leaving me bleeding in places and, I’m not ashamed to say, whimpering.

“Now you know what we go through every few weeks for your benefit,” Amy said.

“Shit! Pardon my French, but is it like that every time?”

“No silly,” she laughed. “It gets easier each time, especially if you don’t leave it too long. Your hair was a little longer and thicker than any of ours so it was probably a bit worse for you. You did well though. I screamed like stuck pig the first time I had it done.”

A bit! Yeah, right.

Once my violated pores stopped oozing blood, the girls who had been working on me took pity and rubbed in some soothing and pleasant smelling oils. By the time they were done, my skin was tingling delightfully and I was almost ready to admit it had been worth it. Almost.

Next came the manicure and pedicure. I didn’t much care for having my cuticles pressed back into the joints with my nails, but having my hands and feet held and dealt with by the delicate touch of the spa’s manicurists was almost erotic. The smell of nail varnish had me raising my head to see what was going on, but they reassured me they were using a clear matt which would be all but undetectable when they were done.

It was over and we headed back to the locker rooms to dress. My clothing felt strange over my newly hairless skin and, despite the promised near invisibility of the varnish, my hands looked oddly feminine with the nails filed and neatened.

I seemed to have passed some rite of passage though, because the girls, Lindsey too, included me more in their chatter as we drove home. I might have appreciated this more had the day’s retreat managed to mellow Kathy’s driving skills even slightly, but it felt like a step forward even so.

I half expected Kathy and Amy to head off once they had dropped Lindsey and me back at our house, so it came as a bit of a surprise when they climbed out of the car along with us and retrieved a couple of bags from the car’s small boot.

“You didn’t think that was it did you?” Lindsey asked as she led the way into our bedroom. Kathy and Amy had ducked into the spare bedroom to change. “You know we always end up a spa day by going out for a meal at Luigi’s.”

She pulled her little black dress out of the wardrobe and for just the briefest moment I caught myself hoping that I might be allowed the evening off from my clothing restriction. I couldn’t help thinking that I might actually look halfway decent in a dress with my newly smooth body. Lindsey had other ideas though and pulled out a suit and plain white shirt for me to wear. She’d suggested a few alternatives in the shirt line while we’d been shopping earlier in the week but, like I said then, I didn’t like frilly or pink – not in men’s clothes at least.

The shirt was one hundred percent cotton and the suit a blend of natural and man made fibres. They were both smooth enough, but on my newly hairless body they felt as rough as burlap. It was strange. I’d been wearing a man’s track suit or a towel all day and hadn’t felt at odds with myself – probably because the three women with me were similarly attired – and it was only now that I pulled on these clothes that I felt the familiar weight settle once more on my chest.

It pulled at me all the more when I saw the way Lindsey and her friends were dressed. It hurts to recall the details, but suffice to say that they were as stunningly feminine as it is possible for three young women to be, and it tore at me all the harder to contrast that with the way I was dressed. I guess it felt like I was being excluded all over again. By the time we’d left the spa, I all but felt like one of the girls, but now I had to be different again.

-oOo-

The plan was for Kathy and Amy to spend the night in the spare room, which left us all free to drink as long as we took a taxi. Between the four of us, the cost of getting into town was actually less than if we’d taken the bus – blasted privatised companies. Quicker too, and more convenient. The girls chatted all the way into town, but a dark fugue had settled on me and, even though they did try, they couldn’t draw me into their little bubble of noise.

Kathy preceded us into the restaurant, closely followed by me with Lindsey and Amy hanging onto my arms. Any red blooded male would have been puffed up and preening like a peacock to be in the company of such astonishing beauty, but metaphorical clouds were building over my head and you could almost hear the thunder rumbling, deep and low, inside me.

The pendulum swings, and the further you take it one way, the further it will swing the other when released. I had spent the entire day as one of the girls – perhaps less so at the beginning, but definitely one of the girls by the time we pulled up outside our house. Now everything was changed. Something as stupid as a suit had undermined all of that and I felt drab and ugly to the core of my being. However much the day had been filled with tricks and traps to make me regret agreeing to it, I had felt so much a part of our little group that to have it wrenched away like this was more painful even than having my chest denuded.

Luigi himself led us to a table in the centre of the restaurant, where he seated us all. I should mention that Luigi is the original nine bob note. Gay to the nth degree, he is something of a character in our little corner of the country, and he was eyeing me lasciviously as he settled us into our seats. He settled his hand on my shoulder more than once as he went into excessive detail describing all the options on the menu. The girls could barely keep a straight face and burst into gales of laughter when he finally retreated.

“It’s all part of the experience,” Amy said once she had learned how to breathe once more. “Every good looking girl knows what it feels like to be gobbled up by hungry eyes. Now you do too.” With that she joined the others in a renewed burst of giggles.

“But I’m not dressed any different to usual. He’s never been this way before.”

“Ah, but the devil is in the details. Your hands look amazing after that manicure, and you still smell of the oils they rubbed into your body after the waxing. Red rag to a bull Damien, watch out for when he charges.”

“I’m not gay,” I said fuming.

“Do you think that matters?” Lindsey asked. “Do you think we particularly like being ogled by every passing guy? This way you get to know what it’s like to have some stranger undress you in his mind. It’s one of the reasons we come here, because there are fewer men around who are likely to be interested. The fact the Luigi fancies you is just gravy.”

“You could dress a little more conservatively if you don’t want to attract so much male attention.”

“And you call yourself a girl.” Kathy managed, controlling her own merriment. “We dressed like this for us, not for them.”

I knew that. There was something in me that longed to be dressed as they were, and not because I was on the prowl for a man. Self worth is tied up in self image. If you think you look good then you feel good about yourself. Wasn’t that my problem right now? Luigi hovered at the periphery of my vision and it was more than I could take. I launched to my feet, all but knocking the chair over behind me.

“I’m going home,” I announced. “I’ve had enough of this.” I stared Lindsey in her eyes until every last trace of humour was gone from them. “You said you’d help me, but that wasn’t the intention of today was it? You and your friends decided that maybe you could have a little fun with me – introduce me to the bits of being a woman that would make me regret asking to be a part of your world. Well guess what, it backfired. There was a time today when I really felt a part of this group, and it felt like everything I’ve ever wanted.

“This though, this really takes the biscuit. I knew women could be cruel, I’ve seen the films and read the books where the bitches draw their victim in and make them feel welcome before turning things around and totally humiliating them. Well congratulations, your plan worked out brilliantly and you should have a lot to laugh about. Personally I expected better from you. I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

With that I stormed out leaving a stunned and silent group behind me. I could have taken a taxi home but I needed to walk, to clear the cobwebs tangling my mind. Disappointment and depression had bloomed into a full blown rage. By habit I avoided the dodgier parts of the town, but there was a part of me just then that wanted to head for ambush alley to find out just how much anger I had boiling inside me. In retrospect, it’s as well that I didn’t as I would almost certainly have had my arse handed to me on a silver platter.

It took me over an hour, but I made it back home on Shanks’s pony. The lights were on inside and the door flew open almost the instant my key touched the lock. A distraught and red-eyed Lindsey threw herself at me, hugging my neck hard enough to risk dislocating a couple of vertebrae.

“Thank God, I was so worried. Where have you been? We’ve been home ages.”

I caught a glimpse of Kathy and Amy perched on the sofa in the lounge. They both wore expressions of concern.

“I walked,” I explained. “I had to clear my head. I would have thought you’d still be eating.”

“Do you think we could eat after you left like that? We’ve been worried sick.”

“Why? I’m a man, remember? I can look after myself.”

I tried to push past her to get to the bedroom, but she wouldn’t let me.

“You’re a bloody obstinate pig, I know that much,” she spat back at me. “If there were any girl in you, you wouldn’t be so wrapped up in your own stupidity and you’d be able to see.”

I saw. My eyes passed from one face to the next and I saw the contrition and the concern. My anger evaporated leaving me stranded and emotionless. Lindsey tugged at my arm and, simply because it was easier to give up than to fight, I followed her into the lounge. The girls gathered round, resting hands on my arms and chest – tactile reassurance that I was, in actual fact, there.

“We’re sorry Damien,” Amy spoke quietly for all. “We didn’t see, not until it was too late. We were only having a bit of fun; we didn’t mean to upset you like that.”

“Yeah,” Kathy joined in. “We came out looking for you, but by the time we’d recovered from what you said and went to look, you’d already gone.”

“I’m sorry love,” Lindsey leant her head on my shoulder. “I really didn’t know what to make of this thing of yours. I half-thought it was all a wind up, which was why we tried all sorts of things with you at the spa and again tonight. It was only after you ran off that I thought about how you’ve been today and when it changed, and how much.”

She pulled at my unresisting hands again and led me to the bedroom. On the bed was a not so little black dress in my size, along with everything else I’d need. The underwear and the shoes were from my stash, which I had squirrelled away in the loft the day Lindsey and I had made our agreement, but I didn’t recognise the dress.

“I don’t understand.”

“We talked things over after you left,” Lindsey said. “The way you were today at the spa, the way you changed inside when we all changed to go out. What we talked about with getting dressed up and how looking good is such a big part of what makes a woman feel special.

“We were so busy today trying to get you to prove to us all that you really were a guy that we didn’t notice the tell-tale signs. We figured a guy would have played along right up until the waxing, then he would have chickened out. We figured a guy would have actually be relieved to get back into some normal clothes at the end of the day. I guess in the end we figured that, when all’s said and done, there really has to be a girl underneath all this.” She gently poked my chest.

“Amy runs a charity shop, and she remembered they had a bunch of clothes delivered the other day. She suggested we stop by and look through it all to see if we could find anything.”

“You mean the thing with the clothing…”

“Well, I’d still like my husband around most of the time, but given that there really is a woman inside there too, it would be cruel not to let her out every now and again, wouldn’t it?”

I picked up the dress and held it against me. It wouldn’t leave much to the imagination, but then what was the point of going through all that painful hair removal if not to show off a bit of skin? Deep inside me something trampled and half dead flickered with renewed life.

-Fin-