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Stepping Out – Beating the Fear I

Lookee who stopped by (makes me soooooo happy)!

By Kris Burton

Yeah, I had to go Joe Jackson here…..

Part I – Developing an Approach

If you have read my bio, you know that I am a lifelong musician and music educator. I have spent a large portion of my professional life either performing music or teaching others to do so. For many if not most there is a barrier of anxiety that must be conquered, but once done it can be very rewarding on both a personal and artistic level. I am one of those for whom performance did not come naturally. I am rather shy by nature and have a tendency to avoid social situations, especially the ones where I feel I am the center of attention. I admired the work of others I but at the same time found it intimidating. How could I measure up against such artistry? How could I ever prepare enough to take on such a task? I envisioned performance as having the potential for embarrassment, disaster and rejection were I to fail. This kind of performance anxiety is often referred to as “stage fright”. I’m sure you have heard of it, maybe even experienced it. It is quite common. There is a wealth of information online to help musicians, actors, public speakers and others that present themselves publicly to overcome it.

However, I have not been able to find any research into aiding the CD into being able to step out into the community en femme. I have been crossdressing for a far shorter period of time, and stepping out publicly less than that – at the time of this writing just a bit more than a year. Like so many others, I believed that I would never be able to publicly present as my alter ego, and admired those who seemed to do it so naturally. But oh my, how I desired to do it myself! As I developed my presentation it became a goal, and I knew one day I would have to at least give it a try, consequences be damned!

How well I remember my first public foray. It was brief, impulsive and as looking back on it not very smart. It was about 6AM in the late summer, still dark. I dressed up quickly, almost haphazardly and took a brief walk up to the corner Wawa for a cup of coffee. The few patrons filling their gas tanks or coffee cups seemed not to notice my tentative presence. I simply got my coffee, walked up to the register and paid. I know I surprised the cashier with a “Thank You” in my regular male voice and I’ll always remember the shocked look on her face. Although in retrospect this whole event was amusing it was more than a little risky and not a recommended first experience. My aloneness and the dark seclusion of the parking lot could have easily gone sideways, creating an insulting exchange or even inviting a physical encounter. Such a negative experience would have been disastrous, or at the very least could have cast a pall over any future efforts in an activity I now find so rewarding. I was fortunate that didn’t occur and I’m sure I gave the cashier something to talk about to her co-workers later in the day.

Although I can now laugh at this early attempt to engage my feminine self with the outside world I realized to be truly successful I would need to develop a new game plan. I did not want to put myself in a questionable situation again, and I would need to develop the confidence to be able to effectively pull off what I had so desired to do. But how could that be done? How could experience and confidence that it brings be developed in an environment that could prove to be a vicious circle? How could I get past such overwhelming self- consciousness? I would need to develop an outside of the box approach and outlook. It was at this point that I began to formulate a theory of sorts. Based on my limited personal experiences and casual conversations with others I hypothesized that the inhibitions I was experiencing were in fact a form of stage fright, and with the right approach could be overcome.

My performance and teacher training had taught me that in order to gain experience and build confidence, a novice performer should take small, achievable first steps in order tip the success scale in his/her favor. One would not select Carnegie Hall for a first performance. In working with a school band we always played our first concerts in the school auditorium for their delighted and approving parents before entering a musical competition away from their familiar confines. Applying this to my situation I decided my second excursion would be to a venue which felt secure and familiar. Again relying on discussions with my more experienced CD colleagues and friends I surmised it was best to choose a place that was well lit and well attended for maximum visibility and safety- almost the reverse of what you might think. I immediately thought our local shopping mall might be perfect, and right in the middle of the day at that. I also remembered that if I was to perform at a new venue I would try to visit it prior to the performance – get to know the lay of the land well as it were. I decided to visit the mall “in drab” – a reconnaissance mission of sorts as my regular male self with an eye toward my prospective outing. What sort of persons might I encounter? Where were the doors, the entrances and exits? Where were the stores and restaurants I wished to visit? Where were the bathrooms? Walking through the mall I fantasized about doing so as my female self, imagining the things I might do and situations I might encounter in order to prepare myself mentally as much as possible.

Any performer worth his/her salt should always be aware of the room he/she is playing in order to fit in, unless standing out is exactly the point. You would feel horribly out of place if you were to wear a tux or gown to the local bar or coffeehouse. A shopping mall is more like one of these , a casual setting with folks dressed accordingly. I determined that blending in provided a much more achievable goal and a much better match for my personal outlook. I made the conscious choice to dress casually but stylishly. I reasoned who among us has not admired a lovely woman wearing jeans? I would also try to do my makeup as well as I could for an everyday rather than dressy evening appearance. On my recon mission and also in my everyday life I began to get a good look at what women wore in everyday situations – very discreetly of course so that the ladies would not misconstrue my motives. I discovered along the way that there were many things that I found quite feminine and liked quite a bit. As much as I favored a more formal look I need not be locked in to dressy attire only. My taste began to expand as my overall presentation began to develop beyond the solace of my home – a positive side effect in my estimation.

I found as I applied these familiar (to me) techniques my apprehension at once again scaling the daunting challenge of stepping out into the community lifting. Would my new approach yield a positive result? In Part II (this coming Monday) we’ll take a look at how it went, and what I learned along the way.


10 Responses

  1. Kris,
    Some of us struggle with the fear of failure , despite reading Gwen’s thoughts I’m afraid we are what we are .

    Even after thirty years as a professional photographer I still feared failure especially at weddings , I used to joke about my camera case containing a gremlin , I knew he would strike when I least expected it . Even professional camera equipment could be fickle at times so as a professional back up gear was as must .

    That thirty years served me well , no matter what was thrown at me, I had to remain professional , you had to excude confidence to the wedding party and guests . A large wedding party is like facing an audience very much like you as a musician , by the end of the wedding I had to feel I’d won them over , they were friends or possibly new clients .

    Relating this to my first time I stepped out the door as Teresa , after the hours of presentation I didn’t feel nervous , it just felt right . I admit now I did push the boat out on that first venture because it was a 4th anniversary dinner dance for my transgender group . This was a fist time in many repects , full makeup , wig and a beautiful long ball gown , wearing all this i had to drive forty miles to the event . My wife didn’t approve of my dressing but agreed to accept me going to a transgender group . The deal was she would vacate the house to give me time to prepare myself , I would give her a call to say I was ready to leave so she could park up close to our house to give me the all clear to leave . I did have a great time , it was a huge step forward for me , I might have jumped in at the deep end but no harm was done . In the morning she just couldn’t contain herself , she had to know the full story , those few minutes felt like two girls talking about a special night out .
    Amanda talks about boundaries in her latest post , previously I’d questioned where her boundaries were , from experience I know most are inside our heads , if we can conquer those many of the external ones fade away .

    One question is ” stage fright ” a bad thing ? Is being over confident worse ? The old saying of pride coming before a fall is true . You chose to do a cold run first , when I ventured out to buy items of clothes or makeup , I usually chose a cold, rainy wet Monday , very few shoppers were about the moment the shops opened . That’s when I chose to get a makeup colour check at my local Boots store , even then I did see a few double takes when shoppers passed my booth as the beautician talked me through the colours and application ( I was in male mode on that occasion ).

    We can’t deny what we are , so we have to believe and find strength to be true to ourselves .

    1. Hi Teresa – I’m glad you enjoyed and can relate to my post. Developing confidence is the key to whatever we undertake, and yes you can be overconfident as I was my first time. I think it is usually borne of inexperience or naivete, but can be part of the learning process if you allow it to be and not stop your further endeavors. It’s for that reason I suggest an approach where your goal is the very next step in front of you rather than reaching too far too fast… and get right back up and try again,perhaps with a new approach if it doesn’t go as you hoped.

      I don’t want to get to far ahead of myself because I try to address some of the things you mention in part II – I hope you keep reading!

  2. Great post, Kris – great minds think alike and so much of what you wrote reminded me of my own recent outings. This was one of those posts that should be required reading for anyone looking to take their first steps into the outside world and I’m looking forward to part 2 already!

    1. HI Amanda – I’m glad you like and can relate to my post. I think it’s important for all of us to realize that if you desire to go out and about that you should not be saddled by fear. I see you recognize that the “stage fright’ element never really goes away, but rather can be channeled into something more positive and exciting. I try to address that in part II – so I hope you stay tuned!

    1. Hi Jocelyn – I’m glad you enjoyed my post, and I’m glad you like on of my casual looks. I’m trying to pay as much attention to that as I would more dressy attire, since it is that attire that is used mostly when out and about. I think we can look feminine and casual at the same time – blend in with style!

  3. I was lucky in my first time out as Terri. I went to a CD party in a private house in 1977 or 8. I had seen a notice on bulletin board at Lee Brewster’s in NYC. I had been secretly dressing at home a short time. The party was about 20 miles from me. It was $10 to get in and your brought your own alcohol. There was food provided. You could change there. There were about 20 attendees. The 1st CD I met was a NYC fireman, I was a NYC police officer. That was the beginning of Terri.

  4. Hi Terri – Thanks for reading my post and sharing your first “out and about” experience. It sounds ideal! I think experiences like that are great first ones and it is so affirming to meet with others. I’ve a bit more on this in part II, so i hope you will check it out as well.

  5. Hi Kris,
    Its an (extremely) rare time when I dress up and venture out, but I am out everyday in casual clothes.
    You touched on a very important topic that might be overlooked. Most novice CDers will go out dressed to the nines. This ‘fish-out-of-water’ look will draw attention every time.

    As an uni prof, I put on a new ‘performance’ everyday. And even though I have been doing this for many decades, I still get a little nervious on the first day of a new term. But its good nervousness because it shows you care about the performance you are about to give. I think the difference between your musical perfornances and mine is that mine are one-man shows.

    1. Hi Cali – I’m glad my post had resonance for you. Yes, it is easy to make the mistake of going out all dressed up in your feminine best, but it will draw attention in most places. I think it’s important for all of us to expand our style choices to include casual wear and blend in with maximum style as many women do.
      You make a salient point about “good nervousness” too. The “stage fright” never really goes away, but you can turn it into positive excitement for the job at hand. In part II I address the solo performance vs. group performance angle too, so I hope you’ll keep reading!

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