The first problem I had was my shoes. The precinct concourse was particularly slippery in the new stilettos I had bought to match the canary-yellow, feathered costume du jour. Walking up and down handing out leaflets to promote the recently re-fitted pet shop was proving difficult, despite my attempt to dress like one of the parrots in the shiny new window display. 'Rub a bit of coke, that oughta do it,' advised Sharine from the Belts & Buckles shop next door. If I were back in Soho rather than Hull, that may have meant something completely different.
Some cotton wool soaked in Pepsi smeared across my souls did the trick, and flyers for "Heavy Petting" were literally flying out of my hands like there was no tomorrow. People were stopping to ask questions about the shop, and me, and we even had a little photo-call for the local rag.
Sharine was delighted at their suggestion they mention it was next to Belts & Buckles and being something of a local celebrity herself, jumped into one of the shots just in case. Though she did get quite ruffled when one of the baying onlookers called her Sharon.
Through all this fuss and nonsense, I noticed a tall middle-aged man in sensible grey clothing staring at me through horn-rimmed glasses from under a flat cap. Well, to be more accurate, it was my legs and tits he was looking at – nothing unusual for me at public appearances. I nodded at him, which is usually enough to deter unwanted gazes, but instead of him turning away as expected, his eyes twinkled and his smile widened. Local press drama over, I was a little disconcerted to see him hanging around as the crowd slowly dispersed.
After about five minutes he seized his moment and approached. 'Some of us can just dream about it, but you… you're actually out there and doing it, aren't you?' he grinned. I was a bit confused. 'What, handing out leaflets?' I asked. 'No, cross-dressing! You're dressing as your true self in public… you know, out there in the field,' he nodded with glowing approval. 'Representing the hidden few. Widening the horizons of possibility. I'm very impressed.' Still confused, I offered him a leaflet. But he was otherwise distracted. He continued, 'All these years I've kept my secret. Oh, I've seen them on telly, but you're the first one I've actually met face-to-face.' I looked to Sharon… sorry, Sharine for support, but she was close to bursting with laughter. Throwing a hand across her mouth to save embarrassment, she turned and ran back into Belts & Buckles, pulling at the back of her knickers as she fled. It was probably a good job she did.
Putting down his Happy Shopper bags, the man leaned forward and rolled up his left trouser leg to above the knee. Standing back up, he gestured for me to look. Underneath his grey slacks and black socks, he was wearing lady's tan tights. Thick matted hair from his legs poked here and there through the tight nylon weave. 'Oh!' I gasped, a little taken aback by this sudden revelation. 'I see what you mean. Well, I actually only dress like this for work, but I know many people who do like to mix genders when they dress. I think you're very brave to show me, thank you very much!' I patted his arm sympathetically. 'Don't you just love the feel of a woman's bra stretched across your chest?' he sighed. 'Well, mostly I'm just glad to take it off when I've finished work, but that's not to say you shouldn't enjoy it.'
There was a poignant silence before my curiosity finally got the better of me. 'Erm… are you wearing one now?' I asked delicately. 'Oh yes,' he answered proudly. 'Under me vest.' At that moment, a stern looking old lady in a sensible taupe raincoat and matching hat stopped beside us. 'For God's sake cover yourself up Mr Carter, making a show of yourself.' she cursed.
'Whatever you've got, we don't all want to see it.' Mr Carter looked a little embarrassed, though still defiant. 'What I've got, Mrs Finnigan is pride. This young man has helped liberate me.' Mrs Finnigan looked me up and down with utter shock. I think until that moment, she had been so distracted by Mr Carter's leg that she hadn't noticed I was a drag queen. Face flushing a strange raspberry colour she turned back to him, shouting, 'Our Valerie's been a vegetarian since August, but she doesn't go ramming it down everyone's throats in the precinct!' She turned on her heels and stomped off up the concourse, her mumblings of disapproval fading into the distance. For a moment, Mr Carter looked broken. Then suddenly remembering himself, he hurriedly rolled his trouser leg back down.
Before he could leave, I grabbed his wrist to get his attention. 'You know, you're not alone. There are many, many more who dress like you. Be happy, Mr Carter.' He smiled and patted my hand before picking up his shopping and scurrying away. As I continued handing out leaflets, I pondered how difficult Mr Carter's secret life must be. Would there ever be a time when people like him wouldn't need to hide their true selves in public? Sadly, probably not in our lifetime.
Don't forget you can see Jeff at Molly Moggs in London's SOHO on Monday and a Thursday nights.
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