When I first started cross dressing, shopping was difficult. Now, with my continuing journey into femininity, it has got no easier.
The internet is pretty good for clothes shopping. By pretty good, I mean 'amazing'. You can buy anything on the internet: a nice party frock for the office party or a satin corset with holes in places that render the garment useless. Hats, shoes, underwear, attachments...Everything comes with exact measurements, detailed colours, zooms, turns, you can almost smell it.
And it rarely matches the picture. Fortunately, most online retailers are really good at returns.
The only real way of seeing what you're buying is to go into the shop and look at it. And you can try it on. This is important as it allows you to see if your bum looks big in it, or, for men, that it actually fits.
That's not to say that the internet should instantly stop selling clothes, and I have bought from internet stores. They're doing the best they can. But, the high street will always need clothes shops. And there will always be more clothes shops for women than men. I never appreciated it, as a full-time man, men need clothes, women want them. And where there is a want, there are shops. For every need, there is a shop. For every want, there are ten.
Thus, most of my wardrobe has been through the postal system thrice, but of late, I have begun to brave the shops.
My first experience of shopping alone was fantastic. Well, not the first experience. That was me almost running through Matalan, hardly able to see anything and leaving with nothing. I couldn't bear the thought that people would talk. My second was similar, but in Tesco, and resulted in me getting a bottle of apple juice and chocolate cookies. I consumed these in my car feeling a failure.
My seventh experience of shopping alone was fantastic. It made me wonder why I'd worried in the previous six visits.
I'd at least managed to slow down and look at the items being sold during my six dry runs.
This more leisurely approach to browsing allowed the shop assistant to approach. She asked: "Can I help you"
I have been asked before, at which point I'd mumble and run. This time, instead of bolting I replied "I'm just looking."
"Is it for you, or your wife?" she asked me, showing great clarity of vision.
So much so, I forgot to lie. "It's for me."
She gave me a smile. "Let me know when you find something you like, and you can go and try it on."
That allowed me to browse properly, and pick a nice denim jacket and a couple of tops for work. I wasn't allowed in the women's changing rooms, but that was okay. It was a small step. And I'd taken it. The next time I went shopping, I was more confident, and nobody looked at me any more than anybody else. I was also allowed to use the ladies' changing rooms. Disappointingly, they were identical to the men's.
I began to see the attraction of shopping. It was fun and there was a souvenir at the end of it. Every shopping trip is like a little holiday. Different shops are like different countries. There's huge department stores filled to the rafters with every clothing item under the sun, to me this is America. At the other end of the scale, there are the charity shops, which are like the third world.
I'd gone shopping a few times when I had my first bad experience. I won't name the shop, but the woman was called Maureen. I'd picked up a skirt, and was stood looking for a blouse that would go with it when Maureen approached.
"You can't try those on in the women's changing rooms," she said, sounding quite angry.
"Pardon," replied I.
"You're a man, you can't use the women's changing rooms."
"Okay," I kept calm, despite the fact she seemed quite angry.
"If it was up to me, I wouldn't even let you in, dressed like that!"
"You are entitled to your opinion," I said. I felt very embarrassed, but concealer conceals more than just my beard. Other people in the shop were beginning to look. The British are very good at ignoring that which makes them uncomfortable. However, this trait is completely blown away by the love of a free show.
"I'm not going to sell those items to you, so you'd better make sure you go to a different till! You've no consideration for the other people in the shop! You're offensive, and you put off the other shoppers. If we let one of you in, soon the place will be crawling with trannies!"
"That would be a good money spinner for your shop." I wondered what a shop full of crawling transvestites would look like. "Look, I don't know why you're directing all of your anger at me, but we're creating a scene, and I don't want you to get in trouble."
"Trouble?" I'm glad my mascara was waterproof as her face came very close. "The trouble is all caused by you!"
At this point a man in a dark blue suit easily half Maureen's age came over. Although the suit was half her age, he was slightly younger. Here I learned Maureen's name. After apologising to me, he gave Maureen a very public dressing down, explaining that my money was as good as anybody else's and that I had as much right to be there as anybody else. As she was led off, there was round of applause from the crowd that had assembled to watch.
"Ignore her," said one woman. "I think you're very brave."
A note to the general public: Yes that is as condescending as it sounds. We hate it. We're not brave, we're just us.
I've not actually been back to that shop.
I would like to say it was an isolated incident. And while I've not since been verbally attacked like that since, there have been snide comments, refusals to use the ladies changing rooms, and one time when I asked if they had a pair of leggings in a size 14, I was told they didn't stock men's sizes. I've learned to cope. I've got sweet stock phrases, such as "I'm transitioning. Legally I have to use the women's changing rooms." I always accompany my comments with a smile, a tilt of the head, and a light tone.