David-as-Natalie walked into a gay bar on outer Market Street one night, recognizing some Diana Society regulars in the hazy, dim light. She had walked a scary five blocks from her flat to The Parlour, where the Society had begun holding nighttime get-togethers. The Parlour also included a straight restaurant.
Natalie hadn’t been sure, walking along Church Street under streetlights, if passersby had seen through her. If they had, they’d been polite and didn’t stare. She had worn an unremarkable coat that took away the thrust of her breasts and covered her face slightly with a large collar. It had been a thrill to pass by men who had sex in their eyes — to see them from the eyes of a woman.
If anything gave her away, she thought, it was her not-quite convincing gait, so she tried walking with smaller steps.
“Natalie!” exclaimed Karen, using a pay phone in a shadowy corner of the bar. She walked over and they warmly embraced. Karen’s body felt good. The doctor was wearing a wraparound dress which displayed her figure well.
“My dear, you do look ravishing,” said Karen, noticing Natalie’s improved confidence.
“Well, babe, let’s party tonight!” said Natalie. “I’ve had a tough week at the office.”
With glasses of wine from a beefy, quite gay bartender, and hors d’oeuvres, Karen and Natalie made their way through knots of other TVs, some of whom provided amusement to the bar regulars with their unkempt wigs over weathered old men’s faces. Sitting down at the one remaining empty table, Karen was eager to talk. She whispered, “I’ve started taking hormone shots. I’ve been seeing Doctor Phil, you know, Doctor Samuelson.”
After a startled look from Natalie, Karen continued. “I think I eventually want to have the operation. But while my buds are developing I’ll have lots of time to think about it. Jean wishes I wouldn’t But it seems right. I’d really like to live as a female all the time.”
“You’d make a beautiful woman,” said Natalie, speaking softly. “But remember, once you’ve done it there’s no turning back — that’s it.” Natalie made a karate chop on the table. “No dickie no more, forever. Besides, what would it do to your practice? Parents would worry about bad influences on their kids.”
Karen only smiled. “You know I’ve thought about all that. But what it comes down to is that you only go around this merry-go-round once and we might as well do it the way that suits us best — that’s a pun, dear. I’m happy to say that I’ve saved a tidy sum over the years so I can afford to lose some of my patients for awhile. Who knows? I might even relocate.”
Somehow Karen had seemed too lighthearted to have conscientiously put money away.
Karen winked. “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about a sex change.”
“I hate operations. I really do! Actually, I thought about it a couple times. But I’m the first to admit that I have a lousy figure and a man’s face. I know I wouldn’t look good as a woman. You’re lucky, you have such a classy face.”
“But really,” Natalie continued, “I wouldn’t like the idea of having a nice part of me cut off. I just like the idea of being able to change from one sex to another whenever I want. And last but not least I might want to be a father some day.”
“Freeze some sperm.”
“Yeah, and what happens if someone pulls the plug? Seriously, having a sex change isn’t a possibility here.”
They both became distracted by a woman visitor with a good-looking boyfriend in tow. Everything — her manner, voice, dress and looks — said woman, the sort men compete for. She soon let on that she’d had a sex change. As she virtually held court among the admiring TVs, Karen looked on with awe and jealousy. Later, the two talked.
The party had become increasingly lively. Natalie had never been so relaxed while dressed and acting the part. She felt she could drop her guard and have fun rather than worrying about displaying masculine traits. When two tipsy straight businessmen blundered into the bar and tried to pick her and Karen up, Natalie knew how far she’d come.
When closeted, she used to concentrate on such refined delights as how lingerie felt against her skin. Now the thrill was in the finer points of makeup and in passing in public. The Diana Society’s occasional classes helped.
In October David decided to dress up as a cowgirl and go to the Hookers’ Ball. On the appropriate Saturday evening he showered and put on his padded girdle and very tight blue jeans. There was no hint of a penis behind the zipper. He wore rented chaps, borrowed cowboy boots and a very white, close-fitted shirt over his bra. A sheriff’s badge and cowboy hat over a curly blond wig completed the fantasy. Seeing that his costume was in a playful vein, Jeanette helped out, arranging David’s wig and offering suggestions on his makeup. When they finished he had her photograph him in various amusing poses. “This is fun,” she allowed.
“You should go with me sometime.”
“Are you going to any other balls?”
“A week from today.”
“I’ll be in an evening gown.”
“Where’s the ball?”
“The Hyatt at Embarcadero Center. You could go as a giant bumble bee.”
“You’re reading my mind, David. But no, not as a bee. I think I’d like to go, but I think I’ll surprise you.” She gave him a rare coquettish smile.
David-as-Natalie got a lift to the Civic Auditorium for the Hooker’s Ball with Karen and two other Society members. Karen, dressed in a fifties prom dress with built-up bosom, tight waist and fluffed-out skirt, sat beside Natalie in the back seat of a small car. Karen’s hand snuck between Natalie’s legs against the roughness of her Levi’s. The two then over-dramatically kissed while a beautiful Asian TV in the front seat tisk-tisked and shook her head in mock disapproval.
Natalie had known they were moving toward this moment. The kiss was fun, yet mixed with the forbidden and unnatural, because behind Karen’s sexy lipstick and eye shadow and dress were male muscles and a trace of beard. Natalie was aroused — and queasy.
Natalie had her camera and flash as always and shot two rolls of celebrants at the ball. Some of the men wore scanty G-strings while more than a few women displayed their breasts. Toward the end, when he took a series of photos of a walking banana, there were plenty of volunteers to join in the pictures.
After the party, with unresolved energy between her legs, David-as-Natalie went home and developed the film. There were some solid, exciting shots. The following Monday he stopped by Pacific Image, the stock photo agency, to leave some other prints for their files. Sam Waggoner was there, working busily at her desk while baby-sitting her sister’s three-year-old. This time Sam’s muumuu was a wild flower print. Eventually, she offhandedly asked if he had any shots of ‘wildness in San Francisco. You know, outrageous costumes, general licentiousness.”
“Funny you should bring that up. It seems like that’s all I’ve been shooting lately.”
“Well, whatever moves you. TIME called and they’re going to do major coverage about new American ways of having fun. They want some interesting stuff on how far we go out here.”
“Hmmm. I have lots of black and white material. Is that OK for them?” He tried to act as though dealing with TIME would be just another business transaction.
Sam shook her head and explained that TIME used mostly color. She allowed that he might bring in some transparencies “and a few of the best black-and-whites” from the Beaux Artes Ball he was attending with Jeanette. “Also, there might be a tie-in with TIME-LIFE books.”
“By the way, I like the prints you left here last time. I’d suggest giving your prints more contrast in the future, though.”
David felt humbled as he shuffled down the worn wooden steps to the street. He concluded that she must badger all of her photographers this way.
At home, he found another letter from his mother in the mailbox.
I want to thank you for your letter. It made me feel so good to think that you cared to write.
I think that your father is trying to understand you. There was a program on PBS recently and I kind of “arranged” for him to be watching TV when it came on. A part of it was about what you are. He almost switched the channel at first, but the film was pretty non-controversial and he ended up watching it all. At least we know more now about different lifestyles.
Sometimes your father and I think back about raising you kids in a small town and wonder if that was right. You grew up in an isolated atmosphere.
You said in your letter that you were dressing up when you were living with us as a teenager. It makes us feel bad (well, me mostly) that you had to keep it from us. Of course, we probably would’ve tried to discourage you from doing it. As I said, we didn’t know about people doing those things.
Well, I’ve gone on long enough. I finally showed your last letter to your father and I guess he coped. Sometimes I think he hates things to get complicated.
We’d like you to write again if you could.
Love, Mom and Dad
David poked through the dress racks at the Friends of the Ballet thrift store on outer California Street looking for a dress to wear to the Beaux Artes Ball. He was the only man in the women’s section and he thought his purpose must be transparent. It was too bad, he thought, that he was larger than the average woman. He usually took a size sixteen dress. The sexy ones were smaller. All he could find in sixteen were absurdly cut, dismally plain ones. Except for the one he had just uncovered. He ran the black velvet material between his fingers. The bodice was low-cut and classically simple.
He took the dress to a seamstress favored by some Diana Society members. The woman was quite busy with work for other TVs and complained that she had so time until after the ball season. David managed to get on her good side and finally she agreed to help, saying that she’d rather fit a dress to a TV who wasn’t overweight.
Fortunately, they agreed, the dress had been floor-length, so it wouldn’t be too short when altered for him. When David showed up for the first fitting two days later the woman again complained that she didn’t have enough time and nobody appreciated her. Finally she threw her head back in exasperation and began to pin the dress on him, making chalk marks as she went. She said he had chosen well — the dress would good on him.
All this took place in the back room of her storefront, concealed from her straight customers.
On the night of the ball David could barely contain himself. Jeanette was dressing in her candlelit room as a butterfly. She’d made her wings and mask of papier-mâché and had painted the whole outfit violet and purple. In the bathroom, David shaved the parts of his body which would show, then began a process of taping his chest to imitate the beginnings of breasts above his dress’s bodice. Because his skin wasn’t loose, the taping hurt a little. Filling out the cups of his bra were cloth sacks of rice. Finally, on went the dress. David-as-Natalie felt as tight as the rigging on a clipper ship and as loose as a slinky black panther.
After final touchups to her makeup and long, blond wig that shone in the light, Natalie lifted her new high heels to appreciate them. Admiring herself in the mirror, she dabbed a touch of perfume to her neck and to her thigh, vaguely hoping it might bring luck. For a moment she imagined David meeting Natalie on the street — surely he’d be captivated!
Wobbling slightly on her slender heels, she traipsed down the hall and found Jeanette on the phone in her room. When Natalie bent over and kissed her neck, Jeanette turned around and was speechless.
They parked Jeanette’s VW in one of the cavernous Embarcadero Center garages, then Natalie escorted Jeanette like an older sister might across the street to the Hyatt Regency. They circulated for a time in the ballroom lobby looking at all the sinful, Marti Gras-like costumes. Natalie took photos of men in leather, lingerie or full drag and of real women dressed fancifully. Then sexy, pounding, disco-style music drew the pair into the ballroom. Through a smoky haze and the crush and warmth of beautiful bodies they entered an immense area with mirrored ceilings and columns and sat at one of the round tables the Diana Society had reserved.
As Jeanette saw the show that underground San Francisco was capable of, her eyes grew larger by the minute.
Finally the official show began — the judging of costumes for individuals and groups. Natalie self-consciously made her way up to the stage to take photographs. Straight newspaper photographers, several of whom Natalie recognized from her riot-photography days, made room for her without recognizing her. On the stage above were processions of costumes overflowing with feathers, gold and silver. Like cut flowers, the costumes would be used only this one time.
After a few glasses of wine Natalie became more gregarious. Costumed celebrants circulating below the stage seemed at ease being photographed by her because she was one of them. Some propositioned her and gay men put their arms around her. It was a night where even dirty old men could do almost anything they wanted.
The show seemed to go on forever. Groups paraded on stage with Egyptian or Oriental themes. Some had an outer space motif. Just when the audience thought a production had climaxed, as in a fireworks display, a final surprise would bring gasps and cheers.
Natalie drank in the atmosphere of magic and conjuration. For one night she could leave the world of dullness and conformity. Here the blossoming of imagination and goodwill prevailed.