Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
March 19-21, 1987
Just after Denisí folks left on the trip to Bolivar, Shae had fired off the wisecrack that he was going to make some man a wonderful wife. By the time the evening was winding down, she had started wondering if it had been a wisecrack at all.
Simply put, Denis was a wonderful cook, and he obviously enjoyed doing it. The food was well prepared Ė much of it from scratch Ė tasted zesty, and was nicely presented. Shae thought her own mother was a pretty good cook, but Denis was at least as good, if not better. Whatís more, he was organized; there was little mess, no pile of dirty dishes; as soon as he was done with something, it was rinsed and stuck in the dishwasher. During the early part of the process, heíd worn a rather frilly apron, but had taken it off when heíd heard the garage door open so as to give his folks the full impact of the outfit.
And yes, he had looked good, and yes, better than Shae, whoíd actually worn a dress of her own and spruced up a little so Denis wouldnít be too far in front of her.
The most important thing about the evening was that it convinced everyone Ė Denis, his folks, and Shae Ė that his notion hadnít been quite as far out as theyíd initially thought. Oh, sure, there were some rough spots, but he didnít really go out of his way to act girly, just tried to look that way Ė but seeing him in the context of a bright, happy teenage girl gave the whole idea more than a small degree of believability.
It was after Denis had cleared away the dishes and served some after-dinner coffee that Bill Riley spoke the conclusion that had been stunningly obvious all evening. "After tonight, I see no choice but to explore down this road a little further."
"I realized that as soon as I looked in the mirror earlier," Denis agreed. "I told Shae that it feels right. I always thought it would, but itís nice to know and that others agree."
"One evening doesnít prove anything," Arlene staunchly pointed out. "I mean, when you get down to it, the excitement level is a little on the high side tonight; it might not carry over."
"Yeah," Denis admitted, "I thought about that. It strikes me that Iím going to have to do this more, enough to get used to it, to where it isnít a big event. And not just at home, either. I think I need to do it out in public sometime, where people donít know me. I mean, I think I look pretty good, but it would be more than a little interesting to flirt with some cute guy and see what kind of reaction I get."
Bill shook his head. "Not only is my son showing signs of turning into my daughter, sheís showing signs of turning into a flirt. I thought Iíd gone through enough of that with Susie, but now here we go again."
"Just weirder this time," Arlene added.
"I can tell you this much," Bill smiled. "Whatever happens, I think weíre all going to have to get used to weird and awkward and surreal things every now and then. But the fact remains that weíre going to have to find out more about this, and tonight just makes it a little more imperative. But with everything thatís happened the last couple of days, I havenít made any real progress. Iím thinking maybe Saturday, some of us or maybe even all of us should go up and invade the university library at Western, and just see what we can find."
"That might be a good idea," Denis agreed. "Except that there are a couple of kids from last yearís class going there. I donít think Iíd want to go there dressed as a girl, and if I went as a guy and we ran into anyone who found out what all of us were searching for, well, the word would get out in an instant."
"True," Bill nodded. "But we donít have to stick with Western. West Lafayette isnít all that much farther away, and Purdue has to have a better library than Western, anyway."
"As long as weíre thinking about going that far away," Shae said thoughtfully, "I might have an idea where we can get more practical information more quickly. And it would be the perfect place for Denis to try out his skirt in public for the first time."
"Whatís this?" Bill asked.
"You just said we were going to have to get used to weird now and then," Shae smirked. "So here we go. We need to go talk to the guy where I get my shoes."
"A shoe clerk?" Arlene frowned.
"Not just any shoe clerk," Shae laughed. She turned sideways in her chair, and picked up one of her feet so they could see the platform high heel. "You donít buy shoes like this at K-Mart."
"You know, Iíve often wondered about that," Arlene smiled. "I guess I never asked your mother where she gets her shoes. You and she wear such striking heels, for being as big as they are."
"Well, Mom wouldnít want this breezed around," Shae laughed. "Thatís one secret that she hasnít spread around town."
"If your mother is keeping this a secret, then it has to be pretty good," Arlene laughed.
"It is," Shae smirked. "My athletic shoes, no problem, I can get those in menís sizes in K-Mart or other stores like that, and the fit is pretty good. But for good-looking womenís shoes in Momís and my sizes, thereís only a couple of catalogues. The shoes arenít that pretty, though, you canít try them on first, which is a hassle, and they cost a ton. But if you want a really good-looking, dressy womanís shoe in my size, thereís only one place to go anywhere close, and thatís in Chicago."
"Chicago?" Arlene smiled. "Youíd expect a bigger selection in a city that large."
"Not quite like this," Shae smirked again. "As far as we know, this is the only place like it in Chicago. There may be others, but she never looked. She told me once she used to hit a place like it in Denver before we moved here."
"Come on," Denis said. "This has got to be a good one."
"Itís a place called ĎDress to Desireí," Shae laughed. "They have an, uh, interesting clientele. Thereís a handful of women who have big feet like Mom and I do who take advantage of it, but mostly this store deals with cross-dressing men."
"You mean gay, and like that?" Bill frowned.
"Oooooh, yes," Shae laughed. "Iíve never really gotten into the details, but apparently some of the guys arenít gay, they just like to dress like women. Apparently there are clubs and shows and like that. Iíve seen a few of the guys. They look, well, pretty real."
"Iíve heard of something like that," Bill nodded. "And I can see how Denis could pick up some tips about how to dress like a woman, but I donít think it gets us any closer to the problem."
"Think it through," Shae smiled. "I know the name Renee Richards has come up more than once. Sheís a pretty big gal, right? Close to my size, if I recall correctly. Someone that size is still going to have the same problem I do. Iíll bet you a nickel that we can at least pick up some leads, and maybe they can find someone for us to talk to."
"Jeez," Denis said. "I sure would like to talk to someone whoís been through it."
"I think the rest of us would, too," Bill added.
"Thatís what I was thinking," Shae nodded. "I mean, at a minimum, I could call over there and ask."
"This sounds a little, well, uh . . . " Arlene said.
"It is," Shae shrugged. "In fact, more than a little. But Mom and I have never had any problems with it. I mean, uh, a lot of the guys who go there arenít exactly interested in women, anyway. But they do have real women customers who have big feet, so it isnít too far out. Iíve actually met a couple women there that I have to look up to."
"That would be worth the trip in itself," Bill laughed. "Do you know if theyíd be open this late, or would you have to call tomorrow?"
* * *
Dress to Desire proved to be in an area of low commercial buildings, not too far from the Loop. It was not a busy street, not at this hour of the morning, anyway, and Bill was able to park the Buick right in front of the store. "This is the place, huh?" he asked Shae, still feeling a little dubious.
"This is the place," she smiled. "Donít worry, just be cool and remember what I told you. Like you said, weíre going to have to put up with weird and surreal once in a while. This is one of those times."
Even though there had been an hourís time difference in their favor, they had to leave Bradford before dawn to have breakfast along the way and still get to Chicago in time. That meant that Denisí first appearance in public as a girl was at a service area along the Indiana Turnpike. Denis had felt a little weird about it, but then, everyone felt a little weird about it. But it went off just fine; no one noticed.
After Shae had made the arrangements and then after the stop at the service area, she passed along a little wisdom: "Carl wanted me to tell you that if we go through with this, weíre going to be around the edges of the gay community off and on all the way. Just be cool and remember that people have a right to be different." She also pointed out an important rule of etiquette, and not just for today, either: whether a person looks like a woman or a man, treat them according to the gender that they appear as, unless they tell you otherwise. Shae already understood that, which is why sheíd been the first to refer to Denis as "she."
All that sounded good, but Bill and Arlene had no idea whatsoever of what to expect Ė and what they found was about the last thing they expected: a mostly normal-looking womenís clothing store that carried a little bit of everything, and a large shoe section. On closer inspection, the clothing seemed a little more flamboyant than would be found in a neighborhood womenís clothing store, but that was about all.
Shae led them toward the back of the store. About halfway there, they heard a manís warm voice from farther back: "Hey there, big girl. So howíd the basketball season go?"
"State champs," Shae grinned at the graying, fiftyish man greeting them. He was really the first thing out of the ordinary that theyíd seen; he was nicely dressed, but couldnít have stood more than four and a half feet tall. "We play during the fall in Michigan, so itís been a while. There was this trash talking black chick from Detroit in the finals who thought she could shoot around me and found out she couldnít. She got so frustrated she started fouling me. After she fouled out, we walked away from them in the second half."
"Cool!" he said. "Weíll have to get it on the wall!"
"Looking forward to it," she smiled, and turned to the Rileys. "They have a wall back here thatís filled with the signatures of champion women basketball players. I guess I qualify, now."
"Several women from the WNBA, too," Carl smiled. "I take it this is the friend you told me about, and you brought her parents."
"Yeah, this is Denis, Bill, and Arlene Riley," Shae nodded, looking way down. "Folks, this is Carl Buttery; he runs the place."
He took a step back and looked at Denis with a critical eye. "Not bad for looking like youíre genetic," he said after a moment. "A couple things you might want to work on, but youíre not trying to look like youíre in the scene. You just want to pass, so you wouldnít want to overdo it. We might have to talk about that later. Anyway, pleased to meet you folks. Iíll bet this whole thing feels pretty strange to you."
"That may be the understatement of the week," Bill grinned, liking the friendly little guy already.
"Trust me, itís going to get stranger," he laughed. "But before we do anything else, Shae tells me youíre trying to approach this with an open mind."
"Weíre trying," Bill nodded, looking down at Carl, and getting an idea of how Shae must feel looking at the rest of the world Ė there was about that much height differential. "Itís something that, well, itís all new to us, and a lot of the time I donít know what to think."
"Iím really impressed that youíre making the attempt," Carl smiled. "If you people and Denis wind up going through with this, you will hear plenty of horror stories where friends and family donít have those open minds. In my position, I hear all too many of them. Now, Shae tells me youíre pretty straight, right?"
"Iím sure you would think so," Bill smiled.
"I thought so," he laughed. "I donít want to sound critical, but you really look it. Now, this isnít the first time someone has come to me with this, but usually it comes from a different angle, and the questions are a little different. So, because youíre making an effort to understand, Iíve asked a special friend of mine to meet with you. Sheís not part of the scene, and sheís pretty stealthed, but I think youíll get a fairer picture from her than you would from some others I could introduce you to. If you donít mind, Iím going to sit in on your discussion off and on, because thereís some things that I think I can contribute that she may not be able to."
"Sir, we really appreciate the effort," Arlene said. "This . . . this has been difficult to comprehend."
"I understand," he nodded. "Now, Barb isnít here yet, so if youíd like I can take you out back and get you some coffee."
He took them back to a comfortable lounge room in the back of the store; on the way he explained that occasionally they had classes and seminars back there, so it would be a quiet, out-of-the-way place to meet. "Classes in how to look like a woman, I presume?" Arlene smiled.
"And how to act like one," he nodded. "That is my main clientele here, and sometimes they can be quite interesting. I make it a policy to never out my customers, but you would be surprised at who some of them are. Iíll be back in a few minutes. Barb should be here shortly; sheís one of those people who has to be on time for everything."
"Shae," Bill said as Carl left the room. "Itís beginning to look like youíve hit pay dirt."
"I thought I would," she smiled. "Denis, how are you doing?"
"A little nervous," he said. "I mean, Iíve thought about this for so long, and now it looks a little more real."
It was about ten minutes before Carl returned, bringing with him a tall, dark-haired woman dressed in a business suit, mid-thirties at a guess. They all stood up to greet her, and Billís impression was that she was about his size, not slender, but not heavy set, either. Had he not been told otherwise, he would have had no question that sheíd started life as a female. Carl introduced them around, explaining that Denis was considering transgendering.
"Denis," she said in a warm, feminine voice, even before they sat down. "Iím going to tell you right up front: donít do it."
"Donít do it?" Denis replied, the question evident.
"Donít do it if you can possibly avoid it," she nodded. "Donít do it if thereís any other way you can make it. Donít do it unless itís the only option you have left to make you a whole person. Donít do it, because if youíve made a wrong decision, youíre stuck with it. Donít do it, because if you do, there are many terrible prices to pay. It will be difficult and painful, and you will have a difficult life to lead. For the most part, you will have to hide a central fact of your life and hide it well, or you will face ostracism and hate from the people you meet. You may have to start a totally new life, because you will face ostracism and hate from most of the people you now know. Donít do it, because even if you are as successful as possible, you will still have a gap between you and any natural-born woman that you will never be able to cross. So, my advice to you is, donít do it.
Now, having said that, Iíve been through all of it, the pain, the having to build a new life, the ostracism, the hate, the difficulties. Among those things is the fact that I have parents, brothers and sisters, and a son who I probably will never see again. But if I had to do it over again, I would not hesitate to do it, because things are so much better now than they were then. I got lucky and things worked out for me. It does not work for everyone, believe me, so my advice is still, donít do it."
"Itís pretty clear that itís not going to be easy," Denis said quietly; Barbís speech had been unexpected and sobering.
"It wonít be," Barb smiled. "If you do it, it may be the hardest thing you ever do. It will change your life in so many ways that I canít begin to tell you all of them. Denis, Iím not a counselor or anything even close to one, Iím just a bookkeeper. But Iíve been through it. Letís sit down and talk about this. Iíll tell you and your parents and your friend what I can, answer what questions I can, and Iíll try to be as honest and objective as I can, the good and the bad. There is good as well as bad, and in some ways you will look at the world from a perspective that most people around you will neither have, nor suspect. And, when we get done today, my advice will still be, donít do it."
The next several hours were intense, among the most intense that the Rileys had ever spent. Barb was warm and open, and quite willing to talk about her experiences, her history, her thoughts and insights and impressions. But, her openness had limits, which carried a point with it by itself. She did not reveal her last name Ė or even if "Barb" was really her name Ė nor would she give any hint of where she was originally from, where she lived, or anything else that would identify her. But, as sheíd said, she was straightforward about the good and the bad, noting that there were fun times as well as agonizing ones.
Her history Ė she said Ė was not unlike Denisí, always an outcast in school, considered gay, weird, sick, even as she suspected, like Denis, that she was a girl in a boyís body. In desperation to try to make it through life as a man after college, heíd gotten married and fathered a son. For several years, heíd tried to deal with his feminine desires by cross-dressing, and heíd been a fringe member of the scene, which is how heíd come to know Carl. But the inner drives and failures and inability to face life as a man had broken up the marriage and left him near suicide, until heíd realized that there was one other option open. Ten years before, heíd taken it.
In those hours, they learned a lot about what Denis would face if he decided to go down that road. There are only a handful of surgeons in North America who do the male-to-female surgery, and all followed the same rules, called the "Harry Benjamin protocols" after the man who originated them back in the early days of sexual reassignment surgery twenty years before. Since virtually all surgeons doing the procedure followed the protocols, they were almost like law. The protocols required that before a surgeon would agree to perform the surgery, the potential patient had to go through a counseling process with clinical professionals, with two different counselors, both recommending the surgery be performed. Candidates for the surgery had to go through a process of estrogen therapy, to drive back the effects of testosterone on the body; these usually brought on extensive body changes, of which sometimes-considerable breast development was only one.
And then, candidates had to prove that they were ready to live as a female by not merely cross-dressing but living as one for a minimum of a year in a Real-Life Test, or RLT Ė some surgeons wanted two years. During that period, candidates often had other things done to increase their feminization, which might include breast implants, training to develop a feminine voice, facial feminization plastic surgery, and most went through a course of electrolysis of facial hair, which was painful and extensive. "Three hundred hours of electrolysis will really make you think about how much you want to be a woman," Barb smiled. "It really separates the sheep from the goats."
And then, as Barb pointed out, there was still the need to build a new life, a life in which there almost always had to be a secret. The potential to keep the secret was good Ė she told them flat out that sheíd been to bed with several men whoíd never had a clue Ė but the potential for trouble was always there. Itís impossible to live without documentation, and all that documentation had to be changed Ė changes of names, changes of gender. "It never ends," she said. "After ten years, every now and then something will come up in my old name and gender, and I have to go through the hassles again. Every time one of those things comes up itís a chance to get outed. And, worst of all, there are all too many jokers out there who, no matter how anatomically correct you are, will insist youíre still a man."
In the course of the discussion, Carl was able to contribute many things Ė experiences from others heíd known for one reason or another, just to add perspective to her statements. It had been ten years, after all, since sheíd gone through the process, and a few things had changed. Especially, contact persons had changed; the man who had done Barbís surgery had retired, for example. But Carl knew people in the Chicago area who could give the needed gender dysphoria counseling, endocrinologists who could get Denis going on the estrogen therapy, and he had leads on who was currently doing the surgery, or at least who would know.
By early afternoon the session was clearly winding down, although Shae and Bill had full notepads and everybodyís head was awash with information.
"Having said all that," Barb summed up. "Denis, if youíre not going to follow my main advice, Iíd at least like to point out that youíve got some things going for you that I didnít have. First, you have youth, ten years younger than I was. Thatís important in many ways. Physically speaking, your body hasnít reached full adulthood yet. Youíre still changing. Testosterone hasnít finished working on your body and dragged you even further from a feminine appearance.
"If you decide to explore down this road further, Iíd advise that you get on estrogen therapy as soon as you can, at a minimum a testosterone blocker. The longer you wait, the more your body will mature as a man, and the more youíll develop facial hair and other secondary characteristics. You apparently donít have a lot and itís not very prominent, but every week wasted will mean that much more painful electrolysis. If, in a few months you change your mind, the estrogen therapy is still reversible without too many long-term effects, although in time it becomes more difficult.
"Along with that, you havenít yet developed some things that were so troublesome for me to change. You will be building, not rebuilding. You will not have to change a career after youíve already started on one, for example. If you do it right, you can attend college and develop a career and the documentation that goes along with it as a female, in a new name if you desire. College strikes me as a good place to do your Real Life Test; people there tend to not be as insufferable about differences between people as they are in high school and real life. And, thereís a number of other things that weíve touched on in one way or another, where youth is an advantage."
"Yes," Denis nodded. "I think I can see a few."
"Denis, most importantly, if you go through this I envy the hell out of you for it, because you have parents and a friend who are willing to at least try and understand whatís going on, and I suspect they will support you and help you every way they can. I had no one. Well, I had Carl, and he was a big help, but itís not the same thing. You have no idea of how lucky you are. Now, in spite of everything Iíve said, youíre still thinking about it, arenít you?"
"I am," Denis nodded again. "Yes, I can see there are a lot of downsides, but youíve confirmed a few things that Iíve suspected for a while, too. Iím not saying itís a done decision, but youíve given me quite a bit to think about, both ways."
"Think about it," she said. "Think about it hard. You have a year, and considering that youíre still in high school, more like two years before you can make the final decision, and you can take longer if you need to. You donít have to make a decision today, so donít. Leave your options open. If you decide to do it, you have from now until they roll you into the operating room to change your mind and turn back. Iíd tell you then, like Iíll tell you now, donít do it. But, Denis, if you do Ė be happy with it, and make the best of your new life. Donít wallow in regrets."
"If I do, I donít think Iíll have reason to," he nodded.
"We can hope," she replied, stretching and standing up. "I really need to be going. Iíve been here longer than I planned, and I have things to do. If for some reason you need to talk to me again, Carl knows how to find me. Heís the only one from my old life who can, but if possible, Iíd just as soon not meet again. Denis, if you decide to do it, and go through with it, let Carl know, so I can find out how it comes out. But, like I told you in the beginning, donít do it."
"Thanks, Barb," Denis said quietly. "Thanks for everything. Like I said, youíve given me lots to think about, and I will think about it."
"Yes, thanks," Bill spoke up. "Until now, we were operating in a fog of ignorance. I think now we have some idea of what weíre looking at. Weíd all like to thank you for taking the time to enlighten us, and I donít know whatís appropriate, other than to just say thank you very much."
"If you get the chance, enlighten someone else," Barb smiled, "especially if you go through with it, Denis. But donít take my word as gospel on anything. Check with other people, get their stories, get other viewpoints. Carl can help you with some of that, the professionals you have to talk to will be able to help with some, too. Donít make a decision just on what Iíve told you." She gave a sigh. "And with that, I really need to be going. Itís been a pleasure to meet you, and a pleasure to meet someone whoís facing the question Denis is facing and has parents like you two, Mr. and Mrs. Riley, and a friend like you, Shae. Now, Denis, can you tell me what my final thought for you is going to be?"
"Donít do it?" Denis grinned.
"Aw, you guessed," she smiled. "Have a good life, Denis. I hope it works out for you, whichever you choose."
There were warm hugs and handshakes all around before she headed for the back door. "Sheís quite a woman," Bill nodded appreciatively.
"She had a rough transition, no doubt about it," Carl nodded. "But she managed to work things out pretty well. Thereís plenty of things she said that youíd all be wise to take to heart. Now, thereís some other things Iíd like to go over with you, and especially with Denis, if youíre thinking about exploring down this road some more. They fall more in the category of practical details, though. Now, Iíll tell you what. Itís past lunch time, and Iíll bet that youíd like to just take a break and try to mentally organize some of what youíve learned. If youíd like, go out the front door and to your right. The first restaurant you come to is a place where you wonít feel uncomfortable as straights, but you might not want to get too detailed in your conversation about what we were discussing here, either."
"Sounds good to me," Denis sighed. "I could stare at the wall for an hour, not say a word, and still not get everything worked out in my mind."
"Itíll take you longer than that," Carl grinned, "Guaranteed. Go on, the four of you, you need the break. Iíll see you back here in a bit."