I'm a straight man who dresses as a woman She's having a sandwich in a southside Dublin pub and no one pays attention when she walks towards the toilet, except for a middle-aged couple in the corner who giggle and nudge each other.
She's wearing women's clothes, but Beth is a year-old male civil servant, out for the day 'en-femme'. She's single, straight and hopes to get married, "eventually". It's an unwritten rule in the transvestite community that people are called by their female names, even when dressed as men, but I had to suspend disbelief slightly as I shook hands with Amanda, a no-nonsense Dublin male in his 50s.
Later, I spoke to Stuart, a year-old separated craftsman who lives in Cork and wants to meet a woman for a serious relationship. Though, it might be a problem that sometimes he dresses as Stella. I'd rather be single and honest than go through the torture of living a lie again". The term transvestite covers a broad spectrum of men, lifestyles, family circumstances, professions and trades. A sizeable proportion of the transvestite community in Ireland consists of straight men, many married.
Among married transvestites, many cross-dress secretly, fearful of being discovered by their partner or children, while others are supported and encouraged to dress by their wives. Doctors, IT consultants, taxi-drivers, builders, lawyers, aged anywhere between 18 and 70; 'dressing' crosses all age and social barriers. They're known as T-girls, gurls, cross-dressers, transvestites, TVs, trannies and, more obscurely, as she-males or he-shees.
They have their own lingo -- 'passing' or 'convincing' means successfully passing as a female when out; 'being clocked' means being recognised as a men dressed as a woman.
TH is one of a number of private Dublin clubs catering for transvestites. It's a veritable velvet underground, its sofas and flock wallpaper providing a glamorous backdrop for Dublin's more adventurous trannies.
Other clubs include the long-running Gemini club on the northside and Bunty's Boudoir in Dun Laoghaire. They attract small numbers of weekend clients, mainly because, for many men, going out is a massive and risky step. For about a year, another event called The Secret Garden was run by the female partner of a transvestite in an unlikely venue -- an industrial estate in Dublin's Blanchardstown.
The fetish event was run above a unit selling adult toys and focused on giving people, including transvestites, a private place in which to dress, away from the city centre and unwelcome attention. The event stopped running earlier this year. One Secret Garden attendee told 'Weekend': Some would arrive in their suits and change in the dressing rooms, others arrived dressed as women. The venue had two flights of stairs and no lift but none of the transvestites would lift her up the stairs.
They spent big money, even if they didn't look too pretty at the end," the former member said. For transvestites living outside Dublin, life can be dull, with no scene to speak of. In Dublin alone, there are six or seven transvestite dressing services, usually run by women, which offer men the opportunity to dress, and have their nails and make-up done, in a private setting.
They usually operate as drop-in centres, counselling and advocacy services all rolled into one. One woman, who calls herself 'Suzie Sequins' in online ads, offers a full dressing, storage, mailbox and taxi service for transvestites who are desperate to protect their identity.
But behind the scenes and the nudge nudge, wink wink treatment that transvestites are still subjected to, there's a broader, often confusing issue. Stuart, who separated from his wife and came out two years ago, spoke to 'Weekend' in an attempt to promote understanding. I just came out with it. It has to have been a completely innocent act. I got caught a couple of times by my father and it was made very clear that it had to stop.
Dressing as a female then became a secret act for Stuart. I had a girlfriend at the time who knew nothing about it. So at a young age, I could afford to buy wigs, heels and clothes, usually by mail order. I wanted to start a new life in London and I didn't want that to be a part of it".
While working in the menswear department of Harrods, Stuart met his now ex-wife, a woman from Cork. In the mids, they moved to Cork and developed a crafts business. For years, Stuart suppressed his desire to dress as a woman.
The desire to cross-dress was still there, but I suppressed it. When she returned, I told her everything. She asked to see photos of me dressed and, the following day, she asked to see me dressed.
To Stuart's relief, her reaction was positive. Stuart and his ex-wife continue to share a house and remain "the best of friends". Most of Stuart's friends and some family members know he's a transvestite, but not his parents, who live in the UK and are now in their 70s. Stuart describes what cross-dressing means for him. It's a special feeling, everyone is in good mood, there's an anticipation.
There's no doubt from reading online forums that admirers, usually bisexuals who are attracted to transvestites, go online or to clubs for the purpose of picking up a TV. Some transvestites go to Nimhneach, Dublin's fetish club, but within the community, cross- dressing is not commonly referred to as a fetish. For some TVs, dressing in women's underwear and clothes does involve a sexual charge.
For some, it's an expression of their feminine side; for others, it's a chance to perform, to become 'gender illusionists'.
Stuart is worried that sex has taken over the integrity of cross-dressing for some people. There's some quite extreme stuff written online. I'd liken it to a bunch of lads going out to watch a match and having a few pints on a Friday night, except we're dressed as women.
There's an element of planning routes, structuring nights out. I can laugh along with the comments, that works, but it does annoy me that transvestites are still laughed at, s sitcom-style, like Dick Emery or 'Are You Being Served'," he continues. Her comments, although referring to transsexuals, could also apply to transvestites. Other delusions may be challenged but not a man's delusion that he is female," she continued. Germaine's alleged 'transphobia' echoed the reaction from many women when they find out their partner or a friend is a transvestite.
While women tend to be more accepting, those closest to the man sometimes feel that their own femininity is challenged, Beth says. She told me she disapproved of what I was doing, that it was disgusting. I'm not cheating on my wife or having sex with other men. I'm a straight single man who wants to get married one day. Now, do you want a drink? Most of my friends know and in fact, these days, I prefer to go out dressed during the day than at night.
I meet friends for lunch, go shopping or for a walk in the park. The venue hosted 'TV dinners' and transvestite customers were welcome. Alan Amsby aka the non-transvestite drag queen Mr Pussy was quoted in an article at the time as saying that there were up to 30, transvestites around the country. Alan recalls visiting the Amanda Barry Centre, then a popular northside meeting place for the city's cross-dressers, watching rugby games and having a few pints with men, all dressed as women.
A relatively small number of them go out to socialise dressed as women. Many indulge their need to cross-dress without telling their wives and partners. It emerged that Stephen's online friend had gender dysphoria unhappiness with one's gender and that Stephen had planned at that time to move to the Phillipines. He and his wife separated following the incident in January. Men dressing as women is still one of the last taboos. There are certainly easier ways to live," she adds.
Eliza also runs a transvestite dressing service and says it is a huge step for men to leave the privacy of their own home dressed as a woman, even if it's for the relative safety of a private dressing service or a club where everyone else is cross-dressing. That's where dressing services can come in. She avoids wearing black wigs because they bring out her five o'clock shadow, but goes for the glamorous look at night.