The dressing room

A suburban dad makes himself into the girl of his dreams.

Published October 5, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Robert is a suburban dad, he's the co-owner of a high-tech small business with his wife and he's a man with an penchant for pink. For the past three years, he has rented a room in the city where he makes his fantasies come true. There, Robert becomes Tracy, a self-beautifying girl who cleaves by all the images of extreme femininity. The 8-by-10-foot space fairly vibrates with white lace and ruffles, Barbies, mirrors, ribbons, scarves, stubble-disguising makeup and 200 pairs of panties.

But the room is more than a sugary glut of girlish paradise: It is also a peculiarly male place, where feminine images are filtered through the hardcore visual stimuli of male sexuality. And perhaps this is why Tracy has trouble inviting me -- a straight, natural-born woman -- into her room as a journalist. "I don't want to just be in there, talking into your tape recorder," she explains, suddenly skittish. "Why don't you pose for me?"

Tracy, who recently began doing erotic photography, somehow feels that getting me naked will level the playing field of mutual exposure. She cajoles me with promises of sexy portraits. Tracy considers this a win-win situation: She gets to share her sexual life with me (and the public) and I become a pinup, something she assumes every woman wants.

But I don't want that. I want to be the eyes here, the anthropologist who studies this foreign view of femaleness. We compromise by dressing up together but I end up changing in the bathroom. Tracy has expressed concern about my being judgmental and, having seen her room, I understand why. We both may inhabit female worlds, but her world -- in all its fervid frills, graphic sexuality and conscious self-creation -- is nothing like mine. And as I look closer, I see her evolution reflected in the room.

Framed pictures from men's magazines cover the walls -- which are painted the dark pink of flushed genitalia. Like a series of cave paintings, the pictures narrate the 40-year odyssey of Tracy's sexuality, beginning at his childhood and ending at her blossoming -- if middle-aged -- womanhood ... each set of pictures tells one chapter of her story.

In the earliest pictures, 1950s magazine ads feature women in torpedo-breasted foundation garments. Tracy began cross-dressing as a child in the late '50s and early '60s, and those first forays into his mother's underwear drawers are burned into his sexual wiring -- big white briefs are still his favorite undies. The rest of the room's hundreds of pictures come from porn magazines, slamming home the reminder that this 6-foot-2-inch person in heels and stockings and dressing gown grew up to be a heterosexual man.

Further up the wall, toward the head of the bed, there are magazine photos of women demurely masturbating. Tracy expounds on one gauzy shot of a brunette in an untied white camisole and no panties gazing into a hand mirror. "That's where Tracy's at sometimes," she says softly. "Everything is pretty. It's just a really pretty moment."

Tracy took his female name from his first girlfriend in high school. When his parents were gone, he and the original Tracy would dress up as girls together for luxuriant sex sessions featuring hours of mutual and individual masturbation. Tracy still loves watching and being watched masturbating. Performance is as central to her vision of womanhood as beauty and passivity.

The pictures on the next wall are of lesbians, in twos and threes, above a long, white table covered with hair brushes, garter belts and dildos. A naked Barbie is bent over on hands and feet, her plastic ass shoved in the face of a second, seated Barbie wearing a lace teddy. The lesbian shots continue on the third wall, above a huge wooden dresser containing the Smithsonian-sized panty collection, bras, breast forms, garters and corsets.

Tracy is generous with her stuff and suggests I try on a couple of corsets for a fetish event I'm covering, which she's attending too. I take them into the bathroom and change back into my knee-length slip before I return. "They didn't look right," I explain, and Tracy chides me gently, "I thought you were going to let me see." It doesn't feel manipulative or predatory, just confusing. Though I agreed to play dress-up, I find I can't model bra and panties and corset for this straight, married man whose female side has strong lesbian tendencies.

Tracy's wife Natalie knew Tracy cross-dressed when she married him 11 years ago, and she's indulgent, even enthusiastic, about her husband's metamorphoses. Both spouses agree the literal, visual change into a woman helps Tracy access virtues they deem "female." Natalie says Tracy is more empathic, sensitive and a better friend than most husbands.

Cross-dressing doesn't negate or contain Tracy's heterosexuality; it unpacks it like a suitcase. "Transgender," she explains, "is another sex. It travels back and forth between genders; a third creature is born. But I always want to go to bed with a woman." In fact, just about the only thing that doesn't change depending on what Tracy is wearing is her object of desire. She contends that she's a slower, "more thorough" lover dressed as a woman. "I'll spend much longer on the less-obvious erogenous zones; I might brush Natalie's hair while we're making love." Natalie occasionally plays the man, strapping on a dildo, but only with Tracy. "I have no interest in being penetrated when I'm dressed as a man," Tracy explains.

The framed photos on the fourth wall, flanking the dressing table and the makeup mirror, feature chicks with dicks, gorgeous shaved and waxed pre-op transsexuals. Most of the busty beauties wear French maid dresses or camisoles that reveal penises, drooping prettily over lace cushions or chairs. Tracy, annoyed by my gaping at these fantastic creatures, waves them off as "so mainstream. Every Penthouse has ads for them." Her irritation isn't surprising, considering that this final wall illustrates what is probably Tracy's final destination, the "third creature."

Some maintain that the hormones used to make men into she-males prevent erections, but Tracy says her research indicates otherwise -- that a transgendered man can be his cake and fuck it too. Though she loves her wife and she loves having a penis, Tracy wants to be "prettier." She plans to begin estrogen therapy, either with injections or Norplant-like subcutaneous implants, for several four-to-six-month periods. "I want softer skin, smaller pores, finer body hair, more curves," she explains. The estrogen will also give her small breasts. Next she's planning to have her Adam's apple removed, because "I'm tired of having to scarf up every time I go out."

When asked if she minds that she won't be indisputably male anymore at the beach, she shrugs. "I'm not really a big beach person, though we did go a few times this summer," Tracy starts to explain, then she breaks off. "I guess I just don't care." She seems to be aware that she may not always "pass" even after all the remodeling. Why is she ready to start cutting and injecting now, in her early 40s? Maybe it's wealth and leisure time or an understanding wife. Or maybe it's all the accumulated years of secrecy. Tracy has been hard at work constructing an authentic female self in her room long enough. Now she wants to go outside.

By Virginia Vitzthum

Virginia Vitzthum is a writer living in New York.

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