Ellen Havlik, the past-lives person, welcomed David politely. She seemed more casual and self-assured than before, and her acne didn’t bother him as much. There was even something erotic about her and David wondered if she had any possibilities.
Ellen apologized for being on a tight schedule and after glasses of wine they got down to business. David turned on his tape recorder, lay down on her soft sofa and relaxed as her ethereal voice took over.
Again she guided him back through his childhood and back beyond a previous life. His eyes were closed and his replies to her questions were slow and languorous.
“You are now in a time ten years before your birth,” droned Ellen as her voice seemed to merge with the passage of much time. “Where are you?”
David vaguely remembered that all of this was being tape recorded, so he wouldn’t have to worry about retaining anything. “I see a lot of the color blue,” he offered, “and I see much green, the green of trees.”
“What else do you see?” Ellen’s disembodied voice seemed to be coming from a faraway, dark place.
“I see people — they must be Indians. I’m in a village of sorts next to some trees — pine trees with tall, straight trunks.”
“What are you wearing?”
“Leather. Soft, like doeskin.”
“Are you a man or woman?”
“A woman.” A sexual twinge passed through his body.
“Do you know your name?”
“Pem-on-quin, I think. Just Pem … on … quin.”
Where am I getting this stuff from? He figured that either he was a good bullshitter or else this information was coming from … The Source. He went on and on, providing details, years, locations — in the Four Corners area of Arizona — and costumes. He provided a story first of happiness, then of privation as soldiers wearing deep blue uniforms forced her tribe to move. Pem-on-quin had a husband and told of making love. Ellen didn’t show any emotion during the elicitation of these memories. When she finally brought David back to the present he discovered he had covered so much the recorder had run out of tape. He was proud of himself.
To his amazement, after some library research, David found that he had described a Navajo hogan hut perfectly. Also, he learned that the Navajo reservation occupied the Four Corners area of northeastern Arizona.
He told the story to Gene the next day at lunch, mentioning a plan to visit the Navajo reservation to “do a story for one of the magazines or the the Sunday supplement. Maybe this would give me a break on starting in as a photojournalist.”
“A woman, huh? So you really think you were a woman in a past life. That’s something.”
“Blows my mind to think I might’ve made love with a man once.”
“So you’re actually taking your vacation in Arizona, then?” asked Gene.
“The last two weeks in June.”
“Well, I ask because I might need a place to stay. I’m going to have to move about then.” Gene’s face darkened. “D-Damn the landlord — he wants to move his niece in. I’ve been s-so g-g-good for the place. I’ve been quiet, kept it up, w-worked on the back yard. This is the thanks I get.” His eyes moistened. “I mean, I might need a place ta-ta-ta-temporarily if I can’t find a new apartment by then.”
“Don’t see why not,” allowed David. Gene could watch over things, feed the fish, and so on.
Thanks for the letter. I’m not going to have a sex-change operation, if you’ve ever wondered. And I am not a homosexual.
I don’t know what to write. Yes, I’m still fermenting (working) at the VA. Still a lowly correspondence clerk.
And yes, I still dress as a woman sometimes. I’ve been coming out of the closet with it, you might say. People are more accepting here in California. I don’t know if you ever realized it or not but I was dressing on the sly at home after I was ten or so using your clothes.
It’s not something I do deliberately to shame you but it’s something that is organically necessary for me. For the future, who knows? Believe it or not I actually would like to get married sometime.
I’m taking a vacation in June to try to verify a past life of mine.
As he dropped the letter in his mailbox, he found a newly-delivered letter inviting him to a party a week later.
The invitation’s directions led David to an old second story space in the South of Market area which served as the office for a stock photo agency called Pacific Image. The hostess and manager of day-to-day affairs for the company was Sam Waggoner, an affable, muumuu-clad woman.
It was a party for the old staff of the Real Times who’d pretty much left the fold after its sale. Diane was there with her son, being kidded about working for the new owners. Rounding out the crowd were venerable bearded writers and cartoonists who still looked very hippie- and sixties-ish. Sam was making the rounds of the photographers trying to drum up more stock photos for her business.
David was rescued from his unease by a woman he’d met several years previously. Jeanette had the sloe-eyed face of a princess and was as entrancing as before. He learned that she worked for an upscale food catering place besides being a textile artist. They exchanged phone numbers.
Diane seemed friendly enough and talked to David briefly about everything but ropes and humiliation. Later David noticed her talking to a slight, wispy-haired photographer — probably another feast for the spider lady and her partner. David hoped she wasn’t telling anyone about Natalie.
There was the lament at the party that the photographers were all getting older and going either more commercial or more into the woodwork. As he left, David thought that he should be on the side of the entrepreneurs. He should be out there capitalizing on his talents, too. At least, he told himself, he could follow up with Sam and her offer to broker some of his photographs.
Upon returning home that evening, David finally dared to call the transvestite whom Diane had met at the Diana Society meeting. That person gave David the mailing address of the society and suggested they go to a meeting together.
David tentatively joined by mail, hoping to avoid another confession-oriented group experience. The first exposure to the society was through their newsletter, Gender Expressions International. Part of the publication devoted itself to stories written by transvestites — or TVs — and transsexuals about their experiences in the outside world. David now knew that his own story was not an isolated one.
He read the story of a man who lost favor with the other members of his paramedic team when they found out he was a TV. Then his wife and children left him. After yet more troubles, he finally found a woman who accepted him.
Then there was the story of Lisa, who’d lived as a woman for several years and finally had a sex-change operation in Colorado. She had assumed that once she was a woman she would be attracted to men and live with one — but no, she was still attracted to women so she called herself a post-op lesbian.
There were great hopes and disappointments in these stories. Gender and cross dressing came up more often than sex, though several stories were quite graphic. When he looked at photographs of the writers, David saw some disappointing types with bad makeup and big shoulders. The quasi-women attempted sexy poses. On the other hand, there were photos of truly gorgeous transvestites.
Finally he was ready to take the leap and called the transvestite he’d connected with earlier. They met in a bar-restaurant in David’s neighborhood, then proceeded to the TV’s apartment. Jimmy Kim was a somewhat rotund Korean who often laughed unexpectedly. After some small talk, Jimmy took out his photo album and showed pictures of himself in drag. David didn’t say much, not being impressed, but he did arrange to go to a Diana Society gathering with him. Jimmy assured him that there was nothing to it — Jimmy would drive and they could dress at the party, or as some did, just come and remain dressed as men. David thought he might as well dive in and attend in drag, something he was ripe for.
All during the week before the party David thought he would die of heart failure. What would he wear? He changed his mind a dozen times. What would the others be like? Would they laugh at him?
Jimmy picked him up and they drove to Millbrae with their neatly-packed bags of clothes and makeup. In the excitement David began to enjoy the Korean. “Damn,” David said, “I never thought I’d be doing this. I’m so charged up I could pee my panties.”
Jimmy snorted. “You get used to it after awhile.”
The meeting house, in a quiet middle-class neighborhood at dusk, was surrounded by cars. David wondered how much the neighbors knew. He thought he must be part of a crime, but what an intriguing crime! Like attending a communist cell meeting in I Led Three Lives.
The Diana Society’s hostess welcomed them at the door, a friendly woman with a man’s etched face under makeup. She graciously introduced them to several of the fifteen or so transvestites and their friends inside. The TVs were sipping wine and seemed to be acting as women even if there were minor physical discrepancies, with one glaring exception. An older transvestite was speaking in a loud man’s voice and laughing heartily, a Fellini caricature. David was taking a quick course in how and how not to act as a woman.
He and Janet, as Jimmy called himself, went to a long bathroom to dress. He saw Janet unhesitatingly slipping into pantyhose, his leg hair and penis squished underneath. David nervously put on tights, a padded girdle and his favorite bra. Breathing fast and with nervous stomach, he added a tight body shirt and finally wrapped a Thai sarong around his waist. When he finished his makeup and adjusted his long wig he looked in the mirror. This is how Cinderella felt! David was in a dream. There was perfume in the air, soft lights and the expectation that anything might happen.
He opened the bathroom door and tentatively walked out into the living room. Well, the sky hasn’t fallen down. He expected all heads to turn but only several noticed him. One tall, hearty-looking woman came over with a smile and spoke in a strong English accent.
“Hi! I saw you when you came in! You look so nice! I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.” She dressed conservatively and her hair was well-arranged.
“I’m Natalie. I came with Janet.”
“I’m Darlene. This is your first time at the chapter, isn’t it?”
“My first time ever in public,” said David, trying to sound soft and feminine. He’d seen himself in the mirror as a woman and now his personality was slipping into the mold. He was becoming Natalie, a somewhat shy, demure creature who felt sexy and curvaceous. Looking down, he saw the double rise of breasts as they pushed healthily against his bodyshirt.
“Oh, I love it,” said Darlene as she hugged Natalie and held her sweaty hand. She introduced her to the crowd and proposed a toast to “this gorgeous Natalie who’s coming out for the first time tonight.”
There was a warm glow in the room. Wine and smiles flowed easily. Natalie was glad she’d come. She took some photos of the TVs, including a group portrait. The highlight of the evening was a makeup demonstration by a real woman who sold cosmetics. She acted as if she was selling to another bunch of housewives.
Jimmy had changed back into male attire for the ride home but the wine had made Natalie more adventurous and she remained dressed. The Korean was nervous — “What if the police stop us?”
Just after midnight Natalie unlocked the front door to her building, crept lightly up the stairs and entered her apartment, hoping and not hoping that someone would see her. She began the time-consuming process of removing all traces of makeup. The silent and darkened apartment and the distant sounds of cars in the night were at odds with the tingling electricity in her body.
The second meeting of the Diana Society convened in San Jose at night. It was a combined meeting for all three chapters in Northern California and tended toward society business. David went with Jimmy. Among veteran attendees there was some infighting and disagreement under guise of Robert’s Rules of Order. David-as-Natalie stuffed herself at the snack table while listening to old-timers who looked and sounded like bewigged male English barristers.
Natalie, wine in hand, eventually overcame her shyness to talk to a TV she’d been eyeing at the other end of the food table. This young and slim person dressed tastefully and looked convincingly female. Her face and movements indicated intelligence. She wore a shoulder-length wig that framed her face nicely, and a stylish blouse with a slim, dark skirt. Her breasts were understated.
“Hi, I’m Natalie. I think I’d like to meet you –”
“I guess I’d say the same.” The TV smiled. “Well, I’m Karen from San Francisco.”
Natalie liked her voice. A little maleness showed, but she could pass on the street. “I’m from the city as well,” Natalie said, wonder why she adopted such stilted language. “I hate to say this, but the meeting’s kind of boring.”
“Yes, gawd, I’m glad someone said it,” said Karen. “So far it’s been an absolute desert here. I mean a desert. The only thing that’s kept me here is the food and wine and the fact that my ride won’t be by for an hour or so.”
“Some old men in skirts.”
“Politburo in drag.”
Natalie reached out and slipped an arm lightly around Karen’s waist. Karen mmm-ed but Natalie pretended not to hear. She complimented Karen’s taste in clothing.
“You’re not so bad yourself.”
“I’m just a beginner — I’m learning. Pardon my curiosity, but who brought you?” asked Natalie.
“Oh yes. Who brought me. I have a girlfriend, Jean, who you might say is very supportive of my lifestyle.”
“How long have you known her?” Natalie wanted to be more spontaneous.
“Oh, jeez, I think it’s about a year now. Before her I was going with a woman for three years. I didn’t tell her about my dressing at first, then when I did, ka-boom. She tried to accept it after the shock, but it really never worked. But Jean–I made sure she knew from the start. She’s into the scene–helps me dress.”
“Sounds like an angel.”
“She stays with me most of the time–even shops for me. It’s so nice to sleep with her with my nightie on.”
At that, another woman interrupted. “Hi, I’m Roz from the Stockton chapter.” She eyed both of them. “Well, I hate to butt in, but I need to ask if you like the name of the society as it is. Some of us from the Valley Chapter would like it to be Genesis. ‘Diana Society’ sounds too cutesy-cutesy to us.”
There was something confusing about Roz. She had real, long hair, but it was oily and had dandruff. Her dress was out of style–too short, too tight, like something one might see at a back-country bar.
“Oh, I think it’s fine,” said Karen with a mischievous smile.
“Which one is fine?” asked Roz.
“I think it’s all fine.”
“I think we ought to call it the American Legion Auxiliary,” teased Natalie, tossing her hair around with a flip of her head.
Roz could see she wasn’t getting anywhere.
“By the way,” asked Natalie, “are you living as a woman all the time?”
“I’m a true hermaphrodite, mostly a woman, and I’m married to a guy.” She threw up her hands in resignation, turned abruptly and walked away, leaving Karen and Natalie looking at each other blankly.
Natalie changed back to David at the meeting. After Jean picked them up, he ended up at Karen’s apartment in the Union Street district of San Francisco. Jimmy Kim had been peeved that David was leaving with someone else.
Karen and Jean’s apartment was a comfortable place with big, lush plants, primitive art from the South Pacific and two lovable parrots. Artistic lighting dramatized it all.
David sat in a comfortable breakfast nook with Karen and Jean. Jean, a nurse from the Philippines with a difficult-to-pronounce last name, seemed quiet and relaxed — a woman in her twenties with long black hair and tranquil eyes. Ever since he’d been a GI in southeast Asia, David had been an especially soft touch for Asian beauties.
The wine they sipped was from a prestigious vintner. Jean was talking in a low, melodious voice.
“Karen’s a doctor, a pediatrician.”
David had wanted to know. He’d wanted to ask Karen at the meeting but didn’t, since asking about occupations seemed such a male hangup.
“We have to be careful about where Karen goes dressed because if the word got out –”
“Karen never goes to the office dressed,” chuckled Karen, “though Karen would like to very much.”
“I wish I’d seen you in drag.” said Jean to David. Then, turning to Karen — “How does he look as a woman?”
“Very, very nice.”
David complained, “My makeup needs work. I’ve had to learn it all by trial and error.” He described his times with Corky and Diane and how he’d connected with the Society. Then he asked the two how they’d met.
Jean explained that she’d come to Karen’s office as a temp. He was the first doctor who’d ever attracted her. “You should also know that I’m bi.”
“Sometimes she goes out to women’s bars and picks up someone,” explained Karen, whose male name, Robert Vitriano, was only used professionally.
David couldn’t resist telling about his upcoming vacation and his search for a past life as Pem-on-quin. Intrigued, they made him promise to report back. When he left in the wee hours, Karen hugged him and kissed him on the cheek, and Jean exchanged a more restrained hug. She seemed very soft and yielding. They had smoked some pot and David made his way home in the dark quite elevated and happy.