When my boyfriend tells me he is into women's clothes, we are in his game room listening to the Who and knocking back shots of Tequila on my regular 'I'm sick, I can't come into work' Friday. We are 36 and 34 and pretty sure we are going to make a baby, get married, have his debts be my debts, his car be our car, and his art works be high enough and out of the way enough so that I can't possibly crash into his Calder lookalikes when I drink too much.
When he tells me over the sonic boom of Pete Townsend's piercing guitar riff that he is into women's clothing, at first I think that means at last I have a lover, a friend, a husband, and a personal shopper. Shopping and I are two. I need someone with an interested eye and expertise to lead me around like a seeing eye dog. Here, at last, is an answer to this Lost in Shopping Space maiden's prayer.
"You're kidding! Oh my God, this is great— I can never tell what goes— and I have to tell you I have—"
"No it's for me. I like to wear women's clothes."
The Tequila bottle stands between us on the backgammon table. I've never swallowed the worm before.
"What does that mean?"
"Well, when I'm alone, I dress up, I put on make-up, and I vacuum."
I'm definitely going to swallow the worm.
"I wanted to tell you, because you need to know this if we are going to get married."
"Do we drink the whole bottle before the worm comes out?"
"What do you think— can you handle this?"
My head and my heart and my body line up like tin soldiers. I am a child of the '60's. A 'No thank you, I don't want any painkillers during labor' mom of the '70's. A chakra adjustment devotee of the '80's. In the '90's, I drink a lot and call in sick to my great benefits job whenever I can get away with it. I have cable. I want to be a girl with a big heart. I want to love unconditionally. I want to be a Seattle Mandela.
"Hey, I think that this is wonderful. Can I see your clothes? Anything that would fit me?"
He takes me to his office. In the closet behind the flow charts, tax records, and flyers for the Democratic party are house dresses. Grandma clothes. Clothes that promise homemade pie and ice cream before 9 o'clock bedtime. On the floor in tidy rows are sensible shoes. Eleanor Roosevelt wanna-be's.
I want to laugh. I want to cry. I want to wrap my head around a concept whose time I think has come to my androgynous planet. I can't possibly be threatened by Grandma. In fact, Grandma seems like a nice idea.
"I can accept this. Does it make you happy?'
When I move in, his make-up is in the bathroom. I don't wear any because I am a natural girl. His size 12 pumps own the floor of the closet. I don't mind because I fling my tennis shoes when I get home. Whatever I trip over, I wear.
Soon after I move in, I cop two joints from a co-worker and say to my intended, "Let's have you dress up. I want to see who lives in our house when I'm not here."
We smoke a joint while listening to Bessie Smith. Then he goes backstage and I wait out front like a new groom, eager to see what I'd bought.
When he makes his entrance, I pray I will laugh. A laugh is needed. A big cosmic Ha Ha Ha. A get it out of the way laugh. An I know you're serious and I know this is one of the scariest and bravest times of your life— but please God let me have a rolling on the floor holding spilling guts laugh— please.
Instead, I go numb as this vision in hose and garter belt and corset pauses in the doorway. Then enters the room with hairy chest, mustache, and coarse black leg hair mashed down in fishnets. He stands before me trembling. And I am numb.
"'Well, here I am."
When in doubt, do something. My southern belle genteel upbringing kicks in first. Welcome your guests. Get them some ice tea. A nice crumb cake with a doily underneath. However, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to react as me, as me being a man, as me being a man but in reality a real woman, or as me being a man but in reality a Katharine Hepburn free spirit kind of girl.
Numb, I sit. Wanting to laugh. Wanting to cry. Wanting to sport talons and rip off the costume of man's idea of female — rip all that male I'll protect you fur off his chest and curse his better idea and my own shame that I will never own underwear that nice.
With dead weight arm, I reach up and cup a hairy breast. He exhales and relaxes. Taking my cues from my very own road show Marilyn Monroe, I Arthur Murray dance step my hands over his clothes and am glad I'm stoned on Tequila and a little pot. A wave of sadness comes over me. I ride that wave into rage and pin his arms back and rip his clothes apart and bury my face between his legs and make believe. And all that wetness is not from a real cunt or a hungry tongue, but from tears that seal our agreement.
"Your house, your protection, one more baby, and bolt the door when I drink too much, and I will hide you and your secret. I will hide your make-up and your tampons, by calling them mine. I will make sure I take the kids out on Saturday afternoons and not come home unexpectedly. I will go to Goodwill with you and have you ask me in loud and loving tones: "What do you think of this? Do you like it? Does it fit you? Is this what you are looking for?"
Why not? You are small. I am big. My size ... yes, is your size."
For ten years, I go numb with brief forays into wanting to share. One Christmas, I get matching Folies Bergere corsets. He'd won a medal in French in high school. On Chrstmas Eve, he opens his present at our traditional candlelight "just the two of us" celebration.
Oh, a thank you. Back in the box. I've overstepped. I took control. I had an idea. I thought I could help write the play. Instead, I went backstage to see how the magician creates his illusions and found an angry man sitting on his box of props smoking a cigarette and not wanting to talk to the public. I am too embarrassed to return my ticket and get my money back. After all, I did stay til the end of the show.
When I sober up in our eleventh year of marriage, I find the meanest, biggest uber-male in my AA group. I spend hours on my knees giving head to a penis that remains ... a penis. When I present my own breasts for his mouth, he says, "I don't suck tit. Women get all romantic and think it means shit." I don't go numb and we split the atom anally and I ask if he's ever killed a man.
My ex marries a woman who does crafts, bakes coffee cake for our daughter, and doesn't believe my statements in our divorce case.
I find an AA sponsor who loves to shop.