For 35 years Paul Lindsay held onto a secret—he was a cross-dresser. While it cost him his marriage, he tells HELEN WOLKOWICZ how liberating it is to dress en femme.
Paul Lindsay concealed something about himself for 35 years and it cost him his marriage. When he and his wife announced their plans to separate, their daughter Michelle bolted to escape the tension-filled house. Before she could flee, he signalled there was one more thing he needed to say.
Paul took a deep breath and revealed he was a cross-dresser.
The family grappled with the news. How could he be father and femme?
Until the age of 48, Paul never dared to venture out of the safety and confines of his home dressed en femme. Fear and shame had kept his inner femme, Amanda Ryan, deeply closeted.
Paul’s interest in female clothing began at puberty. He spied his mother’s skirt in the trash and felt compelled to have it. He plucked it from the garbage and tucked it away in the basement where he would put it on. His yearning to dress en femme intensified. Each time he would wear a new female garment, his inner femme needed more: stockings, shoes, and girdles. He would take items from his sister’s room, wear them and return them.
When he married, Paul began purchasing women’s clothes; he hid his stash in a tiny crawl space of their apartment. He would only slip into the clothing when his wife would be away for several hours. She never suspected.
“There’s an urge inside. I get a tense, nervous feeling. You’ve got to express that side of you. I’ve got a woman tapping lightly inside my head, asking to come out, and it gets stronger — until I actually dress and let her out — she keeps banging harder and harder,” says Paul.
Over the years, Paul’s marriage had steadily declined until it had reached a point where he sought counselling in hopes of salvaging the relationship. His wife refused to go with him. The session would be the turning point for him to reveal his secret.
When he blurted out that he liked to cross-dress, the therapist deadpanned, “So?” After several sessions, he began to understand and accept that together, Amanda and Paul were integral to his gender identity — he no longer had to hide Amanda under a veil of shame. However, Paul would pay a heavy price for coming out to his wife.
“I said, ‘I like to cross-dress.’ She was stunned and didn’t believe it. She shut down and didn’t want to talk after that. In hindsight, I think I couldn’t keep the secret anymore — more than just being open about it.”
All attempts to have a conversation about his cross-dressing were met with silence. He left information pamphlets around the house, but she ignored them. Paul believes his transgender identity eclipsed any chance of her staying with him.
But Helma Seidl, a psychotherapist specializing in transgenderism at Ottawa’s Making A Difference Counselling and Consultation, says when marriages break up it’s often not because of gender issues.
“Generally, the marriage didn’t work before and there were already other problems. If they have a good marriage, gender issues can be worked through.”
Seidl says that older couples fare better in dealing with gender non-conforming matters. However, sometimes the spouse’s issues cannot be overcome, such as the fear of how they will be perceived. The next step for Paul was to have a conversation with his children. The counsellor advised him to get everything out in the open in one discussion. Paul’s son and daughter, then 19 and 17, had different reactions to their dad’s startling admission. His son was subdued and simply stated that his father had taught him to be tolerant. For Michelle, the disclosure was tougher to swallow.
“It was weird just trying to figure out what was going on and how to handle it,” recalls Michelle. “I was afraid that he was transsexual and that I’d lose my dad, which wouldn’t have been OK. It’s like someone died. Finding out he’s a cross-dresser was a relief, because I got to keep my dad.”
Paul was conflicted about his desire to dress as a woman and tormented over the devastating impact it had on his marriage and family.
“Children will most likely deal with feelings of loss. They will go through the grief stages. We need to let them go through the grief stages and help them understand. You didn’t lose a parent, you lost a social male,” explains Seidl.
It would take five years for his children to fully accept their father’s femme persona. During that time, his son remained stoic. Michelle researched transgenderism and had candid discussions with her father.
This father-daughter relationship would face unique obstacles. The most difficult one would be to see Paul dressed as Amanda, in full regalia: nail polish, earrings, makeup, hip pads, high-heel shoes, a dress, a wig, and breast forms.
“I didn’t want to see him dressed for a while. I just wasn’t ready for it, so I told him to show me a picture of him dressed as a woman,” says Michelle.
Seidl says that children grow up with stereotyped expectations of a father and mother. Having a parent who breaks gender norms conflicts with those stereotypes. “We need to incorporate this new person into their life. Slowly, let them accept both parts of you. Never force them.”
Michelle was able to reconnect the split image of her dad. It wasn’t long before she began dispensing fashion advice about clothing and shoes. She admits that her father can be more “girlie” than her. “I’m just dealing with my dad dressed as a different person.”
Experimenting with clothing is something most cross-dressers go through, explains Paul. Many male cross-dressers he knows came out in their 40s and 50s and they typically go through a phase of dressing “over the top,” simply because they did not get the opportunity to wear certain types of clothing when they were younger.
The freedom of not having to negotiate with a spouse about dressing as a woman has been liberating. He estimates that he presents as female 50 per cent of the time and does his best to avoid the build up of “tense, nervous feelings.”
As he began going out “en femme” regularly, Paul felt a strong sense of “gender euphoria” as he first experienced soft, smooth fabrics brush against his shaved legs. For about six months, he flirted with the notion of becoming female. After that period, his body adjusted. He realized he is content with balancing Amanda and Paul. Paul has spent a considerable amount of time on hair removal: his beard and arms have undergone laser treatments; his face still requires electrolysis; he occasionally waxes his back and chest, and shaves his legs as the need arises. He keeps his eyebrows meticulously trimmed, straddling the delicate balance between male and female and allowing for seamless transition between Paul and Amanda.
When Paul began dressing as Amanda, it took him two hours. After years of practice, Amanda can be ready in 30 minutes. A background in funeral services helped Paul with makeup, while Amanda has taken makeup courses to further hone those skills. Paul relishes being acknowledged as “ma’am” and having someone hold the door for Amanda. It validates that he is presenting as female.
Seeing a man dressed in women’s clothing often evokes a negative visceral reaction; conversely, women in traditional male clothing do not elicit public scorn. Paul is optimistic and believes attitudes are changing.
For more than a decade, Amanda, 60, has been actively educating and lobbying on behalf of Ottawa’s trans community. She is co-organizer of Gal’s Spring Fling, an annual conference designed to meet the needs of trans women by providing a safe space for them to meet in which they have fun and get information about trans issues.
This event provides an opportunity for those who remain closeted to fully express their inner femme as well as provide support for significant others and family.
She frequently gives seminars about trans identities at Algonquin College, and has worked in tandem with MPs on Bill C-279, an Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).
Amanda will be participating in Capital Pride’s Info Fair and parade this week.
“I think that we’ve accomplished a great deal, the attitude of the public has changed a lot. Ten years ago, attitudes were very stereotypical. We were perceived as ‘sexual deviants, perverts, and pedophiles.’ Now, when I say the term ‘transgender’ the response is, ‘Oh, I’ve heard about that, tell me more.’ To me, that’s a quantum leap. It opens the door to conversation and education.”
Developing personal relationships with women remains challenging. Paul had a four-year relationship with a woman. About a month into the relationship, he told her about his need to cross-dress; she said she was fine with it. Ultimately, she was not.
When asked if he would give up Amanda for a long-term relationship, Paul says, “Amanda is a significant part of my life — not one I want to repress anymore. If someone is not interested in getting involved with me as a whole, then why bother being involved? I’d rather be true to myself. I spent too many years trying to figure out who Amanda is to simply give up on that.”
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