After three years of hard work on our relationship, my wife and I seem to have reached a point of acceptance of my feminine self. It’s been a hard slog. I now have the space to find out what makes Helene tick, why she is so necessary in my life, and my lovely wife is encouraging me to take my journey. After a few weekends of leaving me at home alone, it was time for me to fly the nest and experience Helene as I had wanted.
I had been to a few support group meetings, but it felt as if I was not really free. I was “out of the closet” but really had just stepped into a bigger closet. The ladies in the group were great, and it gave me the confidence to move on. It was like training wheels on your first bike or preschool to getting out there and being it not dreaming it.
The Eiffel in Germany is where I spent the long weekend. I booked a hotel in Bonn and set about packing; I’d never really packed for Helene, as I have a dressing room at home. It started giving me choice stress, which clothes I wanted to take. I had to take all my make-up, brushes, and the rest of the paraphernalia that I needed. I had wanted to leave the house dressed, (my kids are not in the loop yet when it comes to Helene,) but left as plain old me. Of course, you can’t buy tights (pantyhose) in Germany, so I stopped off to load up on my favourite type.
I drove, feeling excited but nervous. What should I expect? How will I deal with being made? Did I make the right clothing choices? Will I pass sufficiently to not draw attention? All the doubts and worries we go through, that insecurity elf sitting on our shoulders. Arriving at the hotel, I checked in, stopping at the bar to have a medicinal drink, one to calm the elf on my shoulder.
I talked with the bar manager, who was obviously comfortable with who she was. She was a fantastic person. She was obvious in the way she dressed and, in her manners, as being on the rainbow spectrum. She made me feel so comfortable. After chatting, I asked her how Bonn was for the LHBTQ+ community. Was it safe to go out without worrying too much about discrimination? Another glass of wine and I opened up, further explaining to her the reason for my weekend away. Her answer was, “Why aren’t you being you? Get dressed and come down and be yourself”.
It was around 07:00 pm so I did just that. I went up to my room, showered, dressed, and did my makeup and hair. I stood in front of the full-length mirror to give myself a “you can do this” chat, grabbed my handbag and took the lift to the ground floor bar. It felt like a long journey. The lift stopped, and a couple got in. It stopped again and a business guy stepped in. I’m all worried about what these people are thinking of me, but the reality was the guy had his nose in his phone and the couple were talking about getting a taxi. I wasn’t seen.
I walked to the bar with the ubiquitous sound of my heels clicking on the granite floor, who was watching me… no one. I walked up to the bar and Nadine, the bar person, didn’t recognise me straight away. When she did, it was a lovely feeling. She made me feel at home. I hadn’t felt this good in years, no more creeping around, no secrecy. It was Thursday evening, so the clientele was businesspeople, small groups having a nightcap. I ordered some food and ate at a table in the bar. I chatted with the group sitting next to me. I didn’t feminise my voice or try in mannerism to be womanly other than in the way I looked.
The conversation eventually came to my dress sense. One lady commented on my shoes and how she would love to wear them but couldn’t walk on heels. It led to the ultimate question, “Are you trans?” not in those words, but it was the question. I replied, “Of course not, I’m a guy who has to dress like this.” She asked me why? “If you can answer that, then you’re further in my journey than me,” I answered. What would normally sound like a rude, personal question was OK. It felt fine. I wasn’t justifying my right to “be,” I was only being me. My first night felt like a success. I’d gotten over my fears… for now.
After my chat about Bonn with Nadine, I woke up the next morning wondering what the day would bring. I decided Helene would spend the day shopping and sightseeing, allowing myself to see where I ended up. I dressed for the city, casual with comfortable shoes, minimum make-up. My best “let’s blend in” that I could manage. Everything was within walking distance, and I ventured out into hideous gray weather, no sun. Thankfully, it was at least dry. I wanted to break down the imaginary walls that I had spent 45 years building.
I wanted new shoes and make-up. I bought shoes in the past but always self-service, hiding in the back of the shop, trying not to attract attention from a salesperson. Before I found something that really appealed to me, I window shopped for a while. I entered and browsed. I’m lucky in that I have small feet, size isn’t an issue. An assistant approached me. He fetched the size I requested, and I tried them on. They were a little tight at the point; the assistant said he would put them on a stretcher for me and I could collect them a few hours later.
Shopping wasn’t the point, nor buying the beautiful shoes. It was more in the mundane way I went about buying them that was glorious; I felt free of the fears that many of us experience. Buying some new foundation and asking for help with the hue felt the same. The sales assistant was great. She helped, not just with the colour, but with making me feel welcome. I ended up with the right product and not the one I thought would be ok and really wasn’t. Getting over those irrational thoughts was not easy, but the rewards were immense. I went as far as to have a meal while I read the newspaper, walk around a museum, a cathedral, and then back to the hotel without feeling out of place.
Once back at the hotel, it was under the shower and donning a new outfit complete with my new shoes and make-up. I took the journey back to the bar in the evening. The people that I had spoken to previously were there. We talked about our day, our past jobs, and again my shoes were a hot topic for the lady from before. The next morning, in drab, and having breakfast, the group came in and sat down two tables from me.
I collected my food from the buffet and walked back to my table when the shoe lady took the table next to mine. She was with a colleague and said a polite “Good morning.” I replied with the same polite greeting. The look on her face was priceless. She obviously recognised my voice and didn’t know how to react further. I took the pain of the moment away by stating that my new shoes didn’t fit with this morning’s outfit.
The weekend was wonderful. I really learned a lot about what Helene is for me, and that most of my fears were unfounded. I felt liberated but also cautious, as we must be sensible about the choices we make when going “out and about.” Some fears are obviously real, that culture and topography could and can influence how we might be discriminated against. I hope that by being in the public eye and being who we want or need to be will help make our journey easier but also for others just embarking on their road to freedom.