So, I headed into London again last weekend, just two days ago, for another desperately needed bit of Sarah time; people ask why I do it so often etc etc but, without explaining it because ‘why’, I need my fix.
A bit of backstory if you haven’t read the last blogpost; I took a dress I’d bought at Marks and Spencers that was a little different for me, a modern ‘new season’ animal print midi shirt dress. Not retro but it appealed to me for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on (translation – ‘squeee!’) and when we used it it was adorable. And, as per usual, bless her, Cindy suggested we should go out.
I brushed off the suggestion with the usual humour and deflection; there was a touch of rain in the air, I had a load of other frocks I wanted to model, the makeup was retro and would stand out too much. You know, all the ridiculous excuses I always give to avoid leaving the wonderful safety of Cindy’s studio.
See, as I mentioned last time, I really, really want to go out and about as Sarah. Well actually, as Julie, the more ‘real’ feminine personality (Sarah is the girl who is obsessed with all things retro, Julie just wants to sit in Starbucks and sip coffee daintily, watching the world go by from under long lashes, legs crossed and draped in an adorable skirt.
But I am terrified.
Yes, you say, ‘you’ve been out before’. I have; I have blogged extensively about the trips to Wayout and Torture Garden. But there’s a common denominator to those tales that the more discerning reader would have noticed. I was plastered for all those excursions.
I have issues. Granted, they have a lot of very good reasons, naff childhood, PTSD, amplified anxiety, empathy, the works. But I find those issues fade away if I’m, well, under the influence of alcohol. A lot of alcohol. Years of practise have, or rather had, made it very easy for me to consume a good deal of alcohol and still remain vaguely socially acceptable, although I have spent a lot of times in female toilets fighting down panic attacks that have slipped between the cracks of the armour of alcohol. I find a cubicle in a female toilet my ‘other’ safe space.
Anyway, why did I write this? Well, for the last session we tried a different makeup look, something more modern. I took a load of brand new M&S and New Look dresses, Cindy did three of her amazing Dealer’s Choices and I tried on a couple of brand new retro dresses, even though it was a modern-look session, because, gasp, I’ve decided to attend London Pride in September as Sarah (retro glam, currently debating between a gorgeous Collectif tea-dress or something really Pride-y, a ‘Wizard of Oz’ themed 1950’s swing dress, blue and white check pattern with little Totos, Ruby Slippers and other WoO themed things. Still not sure which to wear, the plan will be to get a makeover and then plonk myself in Soho for the duration of Pride and just see what happens.
We got to the end of the session, doing a lovely Dealer’s Choice ‘female lawyer’ look, when Cindy did her normal wonderful and sweet attempt to get me to go outside.
Some more background; I’ve been on an intense controlled diet since August 2020 and been doing a huge amount of exercise (for instance as I sit here typing this my legs are numb because I did a 50.5 mile fast cycle ride this morning). Part of the diet means I’ve almost completely cut alcohol out of my life; instead of having three or four nights a week where I’d have four or five beers, or a bottle of red wine, I now occasionally have an evening where I have a couple of beers (and it hits me like a train now). Since the Covid silliness I’ve switched to driving to London and back home on the same day – start at 5:00am, 3.5 hours drive in, 10 hours of dressing, 3.5 hours drive home. Long story short I no longer show up at Cindy’s with six or seven cans of BrewDog; I don’t drink any alcohol during the sessions.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered going outside at this session, but as the day went on I’d lost my bottle; when Cindy asked at the end, before my terror and anxiety attack could stop me, I said….. yes.
I have no idea why I find the idea of being out in the real world as Julie, rather than Sarah, so appealing yet so terrifying. I have a mind that over-thinks everything; I need to know all the risks, all the outcomes before I do anything. It comes from my damaged mind state and it makes life anxious and, frankly, boring. When Cindy asked if I’d like to step outside I was dressed in a smart woman’s business suit, silky bow blouse, full face of makeup and surrounded by a wonderful cloud of Chanel No.5.
And for the first time Julie spoke rather than drab me.
The minute I said yes, of course, I felt cold water in my veins. But I was committed and there was a delightful warm feeling in my soul. So we took off the business suit and I put my animal print dress on again; I’d put it in the bag for some unknown reason (I thought I could blackmail myself into going out – why add weight to the bag if I’m not going to wear it kind of thing). Cindy picked a more normal wig, gave me a chic little leather jacket and a handbag I could put over my shoulders. I’d brought a pair of my own heels that only had an inch heel, again for no reason other than if I had a whim to go out.
Cindy got her coat on and I took a couple of selfies. My hands were shaking so much I had to delete a couple of them. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling such trepidation; it was trepidation rather than terror, combined with a sudden deep urge to be outside.
And I went outside.
I’m not going to lie or big-it-up; I wasn’t outside for long and I didn’t go that far. But the moment I stepped outside I felt a rush and a happiness I have not felt before. The sun was still up, there was a bit of wind, and as I stepped out over the threshold of the entrance door into Cindy’s building I felt alive; vulnerable but oddly comfortable.
It was like all of my senses had been turned up to the maximum. I could feel the wind moving my fringe; Cindy had done her magic and added a pair of sunglasses on top, casual but such a feminine touch. I could hear people, cars. I actually felt myself shrink into a smaller footprint; as a drab man who really doesn’t like being outside (I am borderline agoraphobic due to PTSD and anxiety) I often puff myself up; I stand tall, I let my body take up more space, I walk fast. As Julie I felt myself smaller in the area I stood, I felt oddly delicate yet empowered.
A car drove past and every impulse I had was to beg Cindy to open the door, but I took a deep breath. The car didn’t stop, the driver didn’t shout, point or laugh. He just drove past the two women stood at the door to the building as if they were, well, just women stood outside a building.
It was that realisation that hit me so hard I become a little breathless. We walked up the road a little to the junction, only about 40 yards at most. As we got to the junction, me taking small steps as slowly as I could, fighting the urge to move quickly, a family walked past the junction. It was a mum and dad, both wearing exercise clothes, and two children. They all looked at me without a second glance, continuing their conversation. I was just dismissed as a woman walking out with her friend.
I cannot put in words or describe how bloody wonderful that felt. The wind was whipping my dress around my legs, I could hear the city, and realised that I was both not important and not unusual. Just a well dressed older woman out in London.
It was literally too much for me. I asked Cindy if we could head back and she asked if we could walk a little further; no pressure and I love her for that, her ability to encourage without forcing is one of her sweetest features. I thought about it but the rush of emotions was enough; I’d stepped outside completely sober, no crutch or armour from alcohol, and walked up a street in London as Julie.
We walked back to the building and noticed Cindy’s partner, Vicky, was cleaning her car in the garage – as a London building this garage was off the road and behind an iron gate; my car was parked their as well. So rather than dive back into the safety of the building we decided to step into the garage – yeah, it was cheating a bit as once we were in with the iron gate closed behind me I felt safer, but I was still visible from the street. We chatted for ten minutes or so until my courage failed me and we headed in.
We took some pictures on the stairs up to Cindy’s studio, and did a video where I stepped in off of the streets and ascended the stairs. All normal, day-to-day things but for me it was unbelievably exciting.
I know for other girls, like me and not like me, that that little adventure was trivial, was nothing. Fifteen minutes outside. But for me it was and is huge; there was nothing of my drab persona there – the woman stood outside on the street was dressed like a stylish and fashionable older woman, I had women’s underwear, tights, heels, my new woman’s watch, earrings. I smelt of Chanel No.5. I’d even bought and replaced, for the duration of the session, my usual iPhone black case with a cute little ‘daisies’ case to even make my phone look femm; I actually held my phone in my hand the entire time I was out.
I’ve worn hundreds of outfits and done hundreds of styles as Sarah. I’ve been out to T-Clubs as Sarah, drunk. But this was so, so different. And when I saw the pictures that Cindy had taken it took my breath away. I see a woman outside.
I could go on for hours about what it meant to me and what it made me feel, but there’s one single important fact I want to share before I wind this post up – this felt like a beginning. This felt different. And even when I’d got back inside, taken off the jacket, it took me a good fifteen minutes to start to undress, even though the session was over. I didn’t feel like Julie. I was Julie.
I need to think about what that meant. The pleasure I got from just being out was mind-blowing. It felt like the real me, like the drab persona I have worn for so many years is the costume. That’s a lot to take in, but I am so happy to have taken that one small step for man, one giant leap for Julie.
Stay beautiful and be yourself, once you find who that is.