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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Melodee
Ambassador
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
Ambassador
Active Member
21 days ago

@krisburton 
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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