Crossdressing, divorce and death.
I was remarking to Bernard, my photographer, recently that there seems to be a curious link between crossdressing, divorce and death. We were returning from a photoshoot for a client with a well known fashion business, having photographed the new Spring Collection in anticipation of next years marketing.
“I’ve never been divorced,” said Bernard. “Marriage is one institution I have not had the pleasure of enjoying.”
I glanced at him as we moved slowly through the city traffic. I tried to see if he was being sarcastic.
“Well, the term ‘enjoyed’ is not the first that springs to mind,” I said.
“Is your wife back from her trip yet? Where was it, again?”
“Kalamazoo. Or Katmandu. One of those places.” I replied a little testily. “There really are a remarkable number of my members who seem to return to their love of crossdressing following divorce. I wonder why that is,” I said.
“Well,” said Bernard, “I suppose following divorce in middle age one is forced to re-evaluate things. You know, be a little introspective.”
“Yes, but if that’s the case why isn’t every man out there who divorced putting on his wife’s clothes?” I countered.
“Perhaps it’s just something that emerges if it’s already something that existed in their past,” he said and reach over into the back seat and pulled a camera from his camera bag. He started looking through the view finder and taking random photographs out of the car window. He does this now and then. It’s both endearing and irritating.
“I do feel quite sure that when under stress some of my members dress as a coping mechanism. Hell, I do! Whenever I’m very stressed I usually put on my favorite clothes. And I’m not even going to mention the shopping.”
I thought about it a moment longer. Reverting to the person one truly is, rather than suppressing that version of oneself seems a reasonable thing to do when very stressed, and there’s little doubt that for many people divorce is a terribly stressful experience. Many of my members who never crossdressed during their marriage have subsequently found themselves drifting toward that pink and frilly landscape.
There’s little doubt in my own mind that as I began to dress more often I found it a relaxing experience. In fact today, I can hardly imagine not doing so. After all, I’ve spent enough time in my life pretending to be someone I’m not, usually for the benefit of others and not myself. Becoming myself has been one of the most worthwhile experiences of my existence.
“I think a lot of people spend their marriage trying to be someone they’re not,” said Bernard quite unexpectedly.
“Well, I know that feeling,” I agreed.
“And then at the end of their marriage some of that pretence is dropped,” he went on.
“And I suppose there’s the thought that they should try something new, or different,” I suggested
“How many men spend the first year of separation going crazy trying to rediscover their manhood?”
“I think most of them,” I replied.
“Well, perhaps there’s part of the answer. Maybe they discover something else.”
“You mean, that they like wearing a skirt?” I asked.
“Well, more than that. That they are a different person. At least, different from what they thought.”
I thought about that for a moment, and then said, “Yes, I think that may very well be a part of it. Also, in middle age we do look at things a little differently. And we know ourselves a little more. I think the time of life may be very important.”
As we continued our journey I thought about this, and remembered some of the conversations I’ve enjoyed with members. It certainly seemed to be an interesting idea. And then, out of the blue, I remembered another conversation I’d had with a member years ago.
It was about a year after the death of his wife. He was 72 and had been married for 45 years. I remember the details quite well, as we’d chatted online for hours. He lived in a Midwest city, had lived a successful life and retired well. However, his wife had succumbed to an illness shortly after her seventieth birthday and had sadly died quite unexpectedly.
The man’s sons and daughters rallied round and were vey supportive of their father, but eventually after the funeral and grieving, there’s a moment when the relatives go home and the house is empty and one feels quite alone. In that moment he’d felt the true weight of her loss. For about three months he would rattle around in the house, not touching anything of his wife’s and feeling quite down.
Eventually, after his daughter had offered to come and clean out her mother’s clothes and some of her belongings, thinking this would be easier on her father, the old man decided he really should do something about all his wife’s things. On the dressing table in their bedroom there was still the hairbrush he’d given her on her thirtieth birthday that she’d loved so much. The make up bag he’d bought her in Hawaii after their luggage had been lost twenty years ago on a holiday, and she’d always kept it. Throughout the house were little reminders of her femininity and their life together.
As he went to the wardrobe and lifted out dresses, skirts and blouses he laid them on the bed. He looked at them, and not really knowing what to do with them began folding them and packing them into old suitcases. At some point though he stopped.
One particular summer dress caught his eye and he remembered his wife wearing it in the sunny afternoon light. The way her hair reflected the sunlight, and the way she moved. He picked up the dress, and then quite inexplicably he held it against himself, and he could almost smell the scent his wife sometimes wore.
What happened next is hard to explain, but I can recount it. He decided to put the dress on and having a fairly slight form he quickly stripped and stepped into the brightly colored dress. It fit him surprisingly well.
He walked downstairs, made a cup of tea in the living room and sat and looked out at the garden. For the first time since his wife had died he felt at peace.
I’ve heard from him several times over the years. He still likes to wear his wife’s clothes now and then, though many have been disposed of. For him it’s an act of reverence and connection, and a moment in which he is closer to his wife than he can otherwise be. These are private moments, not shared with anyone else. Quiet and beautiful – as he remembers his wife once was.
As we arrived at the office and Bernard unpacked his camera gear I remembered his words about marriage being an institute he’s never had the pleasure of enjoying. Somewhere out there there’s an old Midwest crossdresser we could all learn a thing or to from.