It was 1965; I cannot remember the month, but it was a Thursday. Mum always changed the bed linen on Thursdays. However, as I walked to school, I suddenly realised that I had made a serious mistake that would confirm my mother's suspicions about me.
I was 17 and the desire to wear women's clothes had become so strong that I was taking risks that could easily lead to my secret life being discovered. The feelings had been there since I was about five years old and I had learnt that this behavior needed to be kept highly secret from every living soul. However, with the onset of puberty, the desires had become much stronger and harder to control. I was no longer satisfied with just trying on one piece of my mother's lingerie. The desire was to fully dress as a woman and I even started to think seriously about going out in public as a woman.
I knew that such behavior was very risky and actually illegal in NSW at that time. I recalled a newspaper headline: "Maid was a man!" which recounted the arrest of a man dressed as a woman who had attended an interview at Strathfield Railway Station with a woman seeking to employ a maid. Apparently the woman realised that this individual was a man and called the Police, who arrived and duly arrested the unfortunate offender. Police told the newspapers all the lurid details: "He was even wearing women's underwear!"
This story both fascinated me and scared me. I now knew that they were other people out there like me, but activities of this type were grounds for arrest. I felt so sad about the humiliation that I imagined that this unfortunate man must have experienced.
Around this time, my parents went to a new cabaret show at King's Cross, which was entitled "Les Girls", They showed me the illustrated program featuring gorgeous showgirls. "These girls are really men!" my parents told me. I was gob-smacked. I now realised it WAS possible for a man to look exactly like a woman!
By the time I was 16, my parents often went out in the evenings and, as the eldest child, I frequently babysat my four younger sibs, brothers 13, 10 and 9, and my 3 year old sister. I realised that this gave me the occasional chance to try on Mum's clothes, when my little sister was asleep and my brothers were busy playing down the other end of the house.
One evening, I was parading in front of a full-length mirror wearing Mum's ball gown and her fur stole, and wearing some rudimentary make-up. Suddenly, my brothers began to open the door. I leapt into the en-suite, but too late, the first brother had already spotted me. "There's a lady in the bathroom!" he called out.
There was no possible escape. I decided that all I could do was to come out. There were peals of laughter when my brothers saw me. I told them that I had done this because our little sister had asked me to, and "Please, don't tell Mum".
Unfortunately, they did tell her, including that I was wearing one of her bras. "He was even wearing women's underwear!" echoed in my mind. She questioned me about it a day or two later and I repeated the same unbelievable excuse that I had given my brothers. I was let off with a warning, but she clearly had her suspicions.
In the months before this, I had made two brief forays out of the house at night wearing my mother's clothes. I would take some clothes out to the garage, get changed, cover my short-back-and-sides haircut with a scarf and gingerly, walk out into the street. Terrified, I walked down the street, past a phone box with two lads about my age in it. I heard laughter, but did not know if it was directed at me. It was enough for me to do a rapid U-turn and scurry home.
I repeated this crazy adventure a few weeks later, but this time I walked in the opposite direction up the street, which was more poorly lit. Suddenly, I was briefly caught in the neighbour's car headlights, leading me to quickly abort this foolhardy trip and return home, full of fear that they might report this to my parents.
The desperation continued. I would sometimes put on Mum's nighties and wear them in my bed with the plan of returning them to their rightful place before they returned home. One night I fell asleep, waking in the middle of the night, realizing that they were home and in bed. I knew that I had to return the nightie before morning, so I crawled into their bedroom, commando-style, on my belly in complete silence, but terrified that they would awake at any second and catch me. I got away with it!
The excitement, the dangers, the risks of discovery all seemed to heighten the experience, but opportunities were quite limited until I made a discovery. I had noticed some charity bags ready to be sent off to St Vinnies. A quick search revealed exactly what I was looking for: a slip, a bra, and several pairs of stockings. I secreted them in my golf bag. No one would ever think of looking there. Many nights, I would slip into them when my brother was asleep. I could now spend the night as woman. I was in heaven.
This went on for a few weeks, carefully storing them back in my golf bag the next morning. Then, one Thursday, that fateful Thursday, I forgot to hide them and I realised by the time I reached school what the grave consequences of this oversight would be. I was racked with anxiety all day, unable to concentrate on school, dreading the reception that I would get at home.
Mum was not happy to say the least. No shouting, but quiet, seething anger. She interrogated me. I was unable to give her any reason for what I had done. I was mortified; much in the same way the "Maid was a man" must have felt when he was caught. I knew that I would never be able to wear women's clothes ever again for the rest of my life.
Dad was duly told and he looked very uncomfortable and concerned. My parents seemed to feel guilty that it was something that they had done wrong to cause my aberrant behaviour. I did not dare remind Mum that she dressed me up in her clothes to entertain her friends once when I was five.
It was decided that I was to go and talk with a psychiatrist. The thought frightened me, but he turned out to be quite a nice man who first gently asked me general questions about myself: interests, hobbies, school, friends, before asking me an open-ended question about whether I wanted to talk about anything else that was worrying me. I sat in awkward silence for several minutes suddenly robbed the power of speech.
After the visit, some good came of it all. He had advised my parents that they had been too restrictive with me, and encouraged them to allow me to go out with girls, something that had always terrified my mother as her younger brother had got a girl pregnant and this had "ruined his life". Within a month I had a lovely girlfriend and the desire to cross-dress magically disappeared (well, at least for a while).
Mum raised the subject again only once a few years later, after she had had more than enough to drink to broach the topic. "Was it still a problem?" I was very uncomfortable, I lied, "No, Mum" and I refused to continue the conversation. It was never discussed again. My parents died in the mid-1980s.
At last my heart's an open door
And my secret love's no secret anymore.
Christine Parker, Seahorse Webmistress.