Stepping  Out  –  Beating the Fear

By Kris Burton

 Part I – Developing an Approach

If you read my bio, you’d have learned that I am a lifelong musician and music educator. I have spent a large portion of my professional life either performing music or teaching others to do so. For many if not most there is a barrier of anxiety that must be conquered, but once done it can become very rewarding on both a personal and artistic level. I am one of those for whom performance did not come naturally. I am rather shy by nature and tend to avoid social situations, especially the ones where I feel at the center of attention. I admired the work of others but at the same time found it intimidating. How could I measure up against such artistry? How could I ever prepare enough to take on such a task? I envisioned performance as having the potential for embarrassment, disaster, and rejection were I to fail. This kind of performance anxiety is often referred to as “stage fright.”  I’m sure you have heard of it, maybe even experienced it. It is quite common. There is a wealth of information online to help musicians, actors, public speakers, and others who present themselves publicly to overcome it.

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However, I have not been able to find any research into aiding the CD in being able to step out into the community en femme. I have been crossdressing for a far shorter period, and stepping out publicly less than that. I believed that I would never be able to publicly present as my alter ego, and truly admired those who seemed to do it so naturally.  But oh my, how I desired to do it myself! As I developed my presentation, it became a goal. I knew one day I would have to give it a try, the consequences be damned!

How I remember my first public foray; it was brief, impulsive, and looking back on it, not very smart. It was about 6 AM in the late summer, still dark. I dressed quickly, almost haphazardly, and took a brief walk up to the corner Wawa for a cup of coffee. The few patrons filling their gas tanks or coffee cups seemed not to notice my tentative presence. I simply got my coffee, walked up to the register, and paid. I know I surprised the cashier with a “Thank You” in my regular male voice and I’ll always remember the shocked look on her face. Although in retrospect, that whole event was amusing although it was more than a little risky and not what I’d recommended as a first experience. My aloneness and the dark seclusion of the parking lot could have easily gone sideways, creating an insulting exchange or even inviting a physical encounter. Such a negative experience would have been disastrous, or at the very least, could have cast a pall over any future efforts in an activity that I now find rewarding. I was fortunate that didn’t occur, and I’m sure I gave the cashier something to talk about to her co-workers.

Even though I can now laugh at this early attempt to engage my feminine self with the outside world,  I realized that to be truly successful there needed to be a new game plan. I did not want to put myself in a questionable situation again, and I would need to develop the confidence to be able to effectively pull off what I so desired to do. But how could that be done? How could the experience and confidence that was needed be developed in an environment that could prove to be a vicious circle? How could I get past such overwhelming self-consciousness? I would need to develop an outside-of-the-box approach and outlook. It was at this point that I began to formulate a theory of sorts. Based on my limited personal experiences and casual conversations with others, I hypothesized that the inhibitions being experienced were a form of stage fright, and with the right approach, they could be overcome.

My performance and teacher training taught me that to gain experience and build confidence,  a novice performer should take small, achievable first steps so that they might tip the success scale in their favor. One would not select Carnegie Hall for a first performance. In working with a school band we always played our first concerts in the school auditorium for their delighted and approving parents before entering a musical competition away from their familiar confines.  Applying this to my situation, I decided a second excursion should be to a venue that felt secure and familiar. Again, relying on discussions with more experienced CD colleagues and friends, I surmised it best to choose a place that was well-lit and well-attended for maximum visibility and safety—almost the reverse of what one might think. My thoughts turned to our local shopping mall, right in the middle of the day. I also remembered that if I were to perform at a new venue I should try to visit it prior – get to know the lay of the land as it were. I visited the mall on a reconnaissance mission as my regular male self with my eye gathering insight toward my prospective outing. What sort of persons might I encounter? Where were the doors, entrances, and exits? Where were the stores and restaurants I wished to visit? Where were the bathrooms?  Walking through the mall, I imagined doing so as my female self, the things I might do, and the situations that I might encounter to prepare myself mentally as much as possible.

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Any performer should also consider the visual expectations of their audience unless standing out is exactly the point. You would feel horribly out of place if you were to wear a tux or gown to the local bar or coffeehouse. A shopping mall is more like one of these; a casual setting with folks dressed accordingly. I determined to blend in, providing a much more achievable goal and a much better match for my personal outlook. I made the conscious choice to dress casually but stylishly. I reasoned who among us has not admired a lovely woman wearing jeans?  I would also try to do my makeup as best I could; an everyday rather than dressy evening appearance. On my recon mission and also in my everyday life, I began to get a good look at what women wore in everyday situations – very discreetly of course so that the ladies would not misconstrue my motives. I discovered along the way that there were many things that I found quite feminine and liked quite a bit. As much as I favored a more formal look I need not be locked into dressy attire only. My taste began to expand as my overall presentation began to develop beyond the solace of my home – a positive side effect in my estimation.

I found as I applied these familiar (to me) techniques, I felt my apprehension at once again scaling the daunting challenge of stepping out into the community lifting. Would my new approach yield a positive result? In Part II we’ll take a look at how it went, and what I learned along the way.

En Femme Style

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Trusted Member
1 month ago

Expertly conveyed, Kris. The analogy to performance, the thoughtfulness to the approach, all of it – an EXCELLENT article. Thank you!

Ellie Davis
Active Member
21 days ago

From various posts on the Forums over the last several months, I’ve noticed that shopping malls at busy times seem to be a popular choice for beginner CDs.
I remember reading about someone who used to go to airports and busy railway stations (with no intention of travelling anywhere) for the same reasons; everyone is too preoccupied and in too much of a rush to pay much attention.
Ellie x

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