Hi Jenni, welcome to cdh. First, I grew up in the western burbs of Chicago, Brookfield, LaGrange, Hanover Park and St. Charles. Moved from there some years ago, but I enjoy going back. Also was a stockboy at Marshall Fields downtown, and after college and service worked at Harris Bank downtown.
Anyway, about your question, well, I dressed (bought clothes, cosmetics, etc.) and then purged, oh, maybe 3 or 4 times over maybe 15 years. Finally figured out, the desires and needs would never ever go away, so over time I just learned to live with it, and then enjoy it when I was able. Of course, during all this time, I read a lot, about how some were studying and writing about gender dysphoria trying to explain it (maybe to a little bit), but mostly reading stories of others (watching all those talk shows on TV) and realizing I wasn’t alone. (this was all pre-and some early internet era – 70’s-90’s. ) Finally decided I was who I was and it was a part of me and might as well accept it, with no (or maybe very very little) shame, there is still some stigma attached, which hopefully will soon be long gone).
So, lots of support here, lots of stories and shared experiences, kind and sharing people.