Toronto Star - Tuesday Nov 17, 1992

Canadian Cross Dressers Club,
Saturday night is a chance to
slip into a dress and heels,
indulge a fantasy and maybe
even catch the game on TV

When Clothes Don't Make The Man
By Peter Cheney

IT'S SATURDAY night, the night the boys can Finally be together and emerge, like butterflies from their chrysalises, into their second, radiant selves. All day they have been arriving, slipping through an unmarked gray door on Gerrard St. Some carry suitcases packed with multiple changes of clothes, while others, who have rented lockers upstairs to hold their finery, arrive with nothing.

They are a rarefied breed. Most have never confessed their secret passion to even their closest friends or, God forbid, their wives.

And so they come here, to the place where they can be with others like themselves — an anonymous building on Gerrard with black louvered blinds and a photo-electric intruder alarm in the foyer.

This is the home of the Canadian Cross Dressers Club, membership 151.

Most have come from Toronto and the suburbs. Others converge here from hundreds of kilometres away: There is a biker who rides up from New Hampshire in his black leather jacket and spurred boots, his dresses and heels packed in his Harley's saddle- bags. There is a repo man from Detroit and a Florida doctor.

The majority arrive alone, but a handful, those who have married spouses of uncommon flexibility, come with their wives. Two of the wives are pregnant.

Dinner will not be served until 7, and the sixth game of the World Series, which will be the focal point of the evening, begins at 8:35. But Melissa, as usual, arrives at 10 a.m., too excited to wait, itching to slip out of his sports coat

and slacks and into his new pink mini dress, a tight, low-cut cotton number he has picked up on YongeSt. for $10.
A bargain. And it fits him like a glove. Even now, in his 50s, he has the figure for it. He's 5 foot 9, about 140 pounds, a perfect size 12.

He first came to the club just three months ago, after spotting a small classified ad in the newspaper, just two lines of type that set his heart racing: "The Cross Dressers Club. Shop and Services." There was a number, and he dialled it.

He is a pleasant man who once led a life like a hundred thousand others: A wife (soon to be ex-, replaced by a girlfriend), a house (in Oakville), a car, a job (as a mainframe computer technician). His name was Frank.

But inside him, a small flame of strange, unrequited desire had simmered all these years, like a pilot light. And now the flames raged. He went to the Take a Walk on the Wildside boutique, the store that is situated within the club — its pro shop, you might say.

Frank was taken to the transformation cubicle, a space set off by a leopard-pattern screen, back behind the racks of corsets, the black french maid dresses with the frothy crinoline underskirts, the foam rubber breast forms and the 6-inch spike heel pumps that come in sizes 10 to 14.

Frank sat in makeup artist Paddy Aldridge's big black and chrome barber's chair, an old-fashioned model with a handle that pumped it up and down, the kind of chair where you would expect a straight-razor shave, and watched as he was turned into Melissa, the woman he had always wanted to be.

First he slipped into lingerie he had selected from the racks. (Later, as he gained experience, he could begin wearing a gaff, a triangle of satin that acts as a sort of codpiece-in-reverse, tucking away a man's privates and flattening his crotch. Gaffs are often called Jane Belts, because, as the Wildside catalogue proclaims, they can "make a Jane of any Tarzan.")

Also part of the advanced cross-dressers' repertoire are techniques that prod the straight-lined male form into womanly curves: lengths of tape are strapped across the chest, squeezing the pectorals together to create a cleavage line, and foam rubber hip and bum pads are slipped beneath the pantyhose.

But for this first time, Frank would go with the basics: panties, a half-cup bra that holds a pair of foam breast forms, and specially designed pantyhose that camouflage leg hair.

His face was covered with beige Dermablend foundation makeup, and Aldridge began the subtle process of toning and rouging his features into their feminine essence.

And then the wig, a short blonde model known as the Sandy, made of Elura fibre, a silky blouse, a skirt and a pair of sexy 5-inch heels, the kind lie had always loved best on a woman — and suddenly Melissa was there, looking back at him from the mirror.

Wendy Stevens arrives early, too, at about 1 p.m. He's a 45-year-old deejay from upstate New York who created his female name by combining two of his favorite female characters — Wendy of Peter Pan and Samantha Stevens of the '60s television series Bewitched.

He's been married for years and he has kids. He's been a cross-dresser since he was 8 or 9 years old. His wife would prefer a different hobby, but he can't stop.

Today, Wendy is wearing form-fitting black stirrup pants, a flowered top, a wide belt with gold buckle, black eyelashes the size of caterpillars, and a pale brown wig — the less model — that cascades ringlets down over his back and shoulders in a big Farrah Fawcett-style head o' hair.

"Last week, he went for a femme-fatale, flamenco-dancer look: fire engine red tank top, red skirt, and a thick, raven-black wig, a seductress mane — the Charo model.

That's Wendy for you — he loves change.

Others are more consistent. Take Patricia, a heavyset man in his '50s who likes a conservative, neatly groomed look. His favorite outfit is a navy blouse and matching skirt, set off by medium-heeled pumps and a pillbox hat with net veil, like the one Jackie Kennedy made famous.

Then there is Portia, a wealthy, somewhat mysterious man in his 30s who travels the world and comes Saturday nights dressed in exquisite Italian' couturier outfits he buys on trips to Venice and Miian. To each his own.

There are many different types of men who like to dress up as women. Most obviously, there are the homosexual "drag queens," flagrantly gay gadflies.

Then there are the trans-sexuals, people born as males, but really wanting to be women. And some of them do become women, after sex reassignment surgery.

Many trans-sexuals, however, remain men, because of the complications associated with making the change. Take Cross Dressers Club member Norman, for example, a 55-year-old electrician from Scarborough who has been married for 30 years and has two children.

Norman, who goes by the name Bernadette, would prefer to be a woman. But he can't turn his back on his wife and the life he has spent so many years creating.

"I've made my life as a man," he says. "I love my wife ... I just have too much invested in my life to change."

Norman is wistful as he contemplates what he wants, but knows he will never have: "I've always felt more female than male . . . when I was transformed, I looked in the mirror, and for the first time in my life, I saw the real me looking back out.

"My wife is understanding," he says. "But I think she wishes I didn't do it."

But the group that probably strikes most people as the most twisted of all are the heterosexual cross-dressers, the so-called "regular guy" who likes to wear dresses and heels.

And that's what most of the members of the club are.

"They're just normal men," says Wildside boutique owner Paddy Aldridge. "Most of them are just like everybody else, except for this."

Paddy Aldridge, a partner In the Take a Walk on the Wildside boutique, adjusts Bruce's wig.

Members include lawyers, businessmen, mechanics, electricians, cooks, a psychologist and a local television news cameraman.

Except for their rarefied hobby, most lead lives of surpassing normality: a job, a mortgage, an interest in sports, perhaps occasional tickets to the Leafs or Jays. Many are married and have children.

They are, they say, men in every sense of the word.

"I'm not one bit effeminate," says Bruce, a 34-year-old electronics store worker whose female persona is known as Janice.
Bruce stands almost 6 foot 6 in the stiletto heels that are part of his sexy, party-girl look: black miniskirt, low-cut white blouse, platinum belt buckle, black lace gloves and a Cher-style brunette wig.

Bruce's family has never learned of his secret passion: "My father couldn't handle it," he says. "It would freak him out. He'd cut me out of the will."

Bruce spends 95 per cent of his time dressed as a man and goes out with women regularly.

"There isn't a gay bone in my body," he says. "Most of the time I'm Bruce. Janice only comes out a couple of times a week. Basically, I'm a Saturday night girl."

Bruce has tried to quit cross-dressing many times. He has thrown out his entire female wardrobe at least five times. But each time, his fetish comes slinking back.

Jack, a 42-year-old semi-retired executive who has a wife and a 12-year-old daughter, says he experiences powerful withdrawal symptoms if he goes for more than a few days without dressing up as Joanne, his female alter-ego.

"If you haven't dressed up for a while, it's like going without sex. You've got to have it. You look forward to it. There's a lot of anticipation."

Like many cross-dressers, Jack has strong feelings of guilt.

"I think it s a pretty weird thing. I always have. It seems very strange to me."

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, which amounts to the head-shrink-er's bible, heterosexual cross-dressing is listed under the heading of Paraphilias.

That includes "basically every perversion that isn't socially acceptable," says Ray Blanchard, a research psychologist at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry's Gender Identity Clinic.

There is no clear agreement on what makes a heterosexual man a cross-dresser. Experts have advanced widely varied theories, one of them being that cross-dressing is a way of escaping castration anxiety, that classic Freudian nightmare that apparently looms over every man like a scythe.

Heterosexual cross-dressers make up a "minute" fraction of the population, Blanchard says: "They are a very rare, exotic group.

Many cross-dressers get sharp erotic arousal from dressing in women's clothing, psychologists say. It may be the pure thrill of the forbidden, the warped esthetic pleasure of wearing women's clothing, or because they are fashioning themselves into the woman they would like for themselves, "their own erotic object," as Blanchard puts it.

Many cross-dressers live in constant fear or being found out, he says, and those who confide in friends and partners often find it difficult.

In his book Understanding Cross-Dressing, Charles (a.k.a. Virginia) Prince discusses the guilt: "There is>the sense of aloneness. There is the sense of sexual conflict — 'You wear girl's clothes. That's what gay people do, so you must be gay.' "

The guilt can have its dark side: one woman called the club to ask for advice about her brother, a cross-dresser who, overcome by guilt, beat up his wife every time he gave into his urge.

But in his book Prince says the rewards make it all worthwhile:

"Golf, bowling, hunting, bridge, all of which men pursue in the name of relaxation, don't hold a candle to the complete escape from one's daily self to another that is completely different."

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