I couldn’t tell you what triggers the need to dress. It’s a lot like… uh… herpes? Like it’s just bubbling under the surface for weeks and months everything’s going fine and then BAM IT IS TIME FOR SHOES AND MAKEUP OMG!!!11oneone etc. People have mentioned being triggered by stress, or dressing to relieve stress, but it’s not something I’d ever experienced before until very recently.
My last post talked about the death of my dad. We knew it was coming for 18 months, and while it was awful all the way through, it wasn’t unexpected. A month before he died, I flew back to London, certain that he would die while I was in the air. It seemed like it would only be a few days (in the end he stubbornly hung on for a month, classic dad). Many of my nights were spent laying on the bench that was awkwardly next to his bed at the hospice, trying to fall asleep, but knowing that any minute I might have to get out of bed to help him go to the toilet, or call the nurse because the painkillers have run out, or the machine doling out nutrition through the feeding tube is finished, or that maybe I’d find him dead. It was a very surreal experience. I felt trapped – not just physically, but emotionally – inexorably stuck on a path that lead to only one outcome.
Stress levels were so off the charts, that if I were actually tasked with making a chart that captured my levels of stress, it would certainly undergo gravitational collapse and form a black hole, causing me just a bit more stress to deal with. As I inevitably passed through the event horizon, I’m sure that I would be quite happy that this awful parade of doom was finally coming to an end (Plus black holes are cool).
And so I laid there, wondering when I would have to get up and take care of my dad again, knowing his time would come soon, wondering when his next hallucination would be, wondering if he’d been too quiet for too long, stressed out of my tiny mind. It might have been the first night I was there when the flare-up began. Generally when the need to dress arises, it’s much more of a “Oh yeah, maybe I can find time tomorrow to dress up”. This time, the flare-up was more of a solar-flare-up. It felt genuinely dire. My only recourse at that moment was to look at older pics I’d taken as a coping strategy (kids, don’t throw your old photos away), as well as sharing a bunch on my Instagram. It was as if I needed a defined comfort-zone to mentally fall back to as a way of dealing with the awful situation.
I’d never experienced this before, this dire need to dress borne of a stressful situation. But over the following week or so, I would dig through my archive and post anything instagram-worthy each night while laying in bed. And it genuinely helped. It was unexpectedly soothing, a balm for the crossdressing burn. I think we all have those moments where we look back fondly on our photos, and it makes us feel good. In this instance, in an elongated moment of duress, dressing up seemed like the only, frustratingly unavailable, option. Thank god I take photos.
I’d heard people talk about crossdressing as a way to relax and deal with stress. For me, it had never been that way. It was never a coping strategy, or a way to unwind and relax – sometimes it was quite the opposite! In general, crossdressing was, and is, just a way to be. But, for a long time before I was finally able to accept myself, crossdressing was nothing but guilt and shame and terror; A source of abject stress, wondering if I’m wrong or broken, wondering if someone will find out, worrying about all the ways things could go wrong if I step out of the house. Stress from how friends or family or coworkers might react if they find out. If your partner finds out, if your child finds out. You hear so many stories about people being verbally abused, or physically abused, or even being arrested under the assumption that they’re a prostitute. All of these things are real things that have happened, genuine concerns with real-world consequences. Being open about crossdressing has relieved a lot of that inherent stress. If I’m out and about and I see someone I know, I don’t have to cross the street to avoid them. I don’t have to panic now, wondering if they saw me, and worrying that my shameful secret is out. I’d say hi and continue on with my day ^_^
(Fun fact, a few years ago while I was out dressed, I totally saw someone I knew, and yes, I crossed the street to avoid them.)
That all said, living in a society that as a whole looks down on us is difficult to deal with. I’ve been able to move past a lot of that now, but I still worry. I stare out of the peephole in the front door each time before I go out to make sure the coast is clear. I probably don’t need to, but I still do.
After pain, or sadness, or stress, I think it’s natural to seek out things that make you feel better, whether it’s comfort food (Cauliflower and cheese!), or watching your favourite movie (John Carpenter’s The Thing :D), or looking at pictures of yourself that make you happy. I suppose crossdressing isn’t really an exception here, but instead just an extension to the list of things that make me happy (but I suppose I already knew that).
I’m not sure I would recommend crossdressing as a general strategy for dealing with stress, unless it’s something you already actively enjoy. If you’re stressed because you haven’t dressed in a while, or feel like you need to, I would recommend it highly! If you find crossdressing to be a stressful event (which I did for a long time, in the beginning), I might not recommend it, but instead recommend finding a way towards the path of self-acceptance first.
I love looking through my old pics and feeling happy about how I looked, but there’s no substitution for getting dressed, getting out into the world, and existing in the way that makes you feel complete. It’s OK to make time for yourself to be happy.
It’s October now. Dad died a month ago. I haven’t dressed since April. It’s probably time.