Rite of passage: My first bridal shower

Hanging out at Revue before my first bridal shower. Fab photo by Amy the Redhead.

Some things you just don’t think about when you’re transitioning genders and approaching 50, to boot.

Like, say, weddings.

Or going to bridal showers.

Well, for one, most of my friends from my past life in Connecticut fall into one of the three categories: married a long time ago, divorced or never married. At our age, matrimony is often in the rearview.

In my current California life, my circle of friends skews a lot younger — usually 20s and 30s. Meaning that I’m going through the cycle again.

First, it was Billy and Corie, two extremely cool people who have taken me into their lives over the past year, who were hitched in April; that was my first wedding in years (and my first as my better half). And come the end of next month, it’ll be my second in five months. Megan and Dax, two of the most wonderful people in the universe, will be saying their vows the last Saturday of September, with the reception taking place at Fresno’s Chaffee Zoo.

And about six weeks ago, Megan asked me for my mailing address. A few days later, there was a small card in the mail in the shape of a cartoon lion.

The invite to my first bridal shower.

Which I attended last Sunday.

I guess I’ve truly arrived as a woman.

I don’t take invites to anything for granted, but this wasn’t totally unexpected. Megan has become one of my dearest friends over the past couple of years.

I met her and Dax separately years ago at Revue, the coffee shop in the thick of Fresno’s Tower District that has served as my Cheers since I moved west in 2004. It’s where the two of them met about four, five years back; Dax was a good friend of Megan’s brother, Andy (aka Zanno), and the three of them were down at the shop at the same time one day. They met, fell in love, etc. — another case of two great people finding each other unexpectedly in this mixed-up, crazy world.

A good friendship developed between them and me. They and Dax’s brother, Mark, joined me for an overnight in Santa Cruz in June 2008 (Herman’s Hermits on the beach, much play at the arcade afterward, coffee in town the next day and a great trip to my favorite West Coast beach, at Scott’s Creek, 15 miles north). Anyway, the two of them have been on board with my changes since Day 1 — well, maybe not exactly Day 1, but they were there the night I first showed up at Revue in full makeup in December 2008, and way cool about it.

They invited me out to dinner with them the following Valentine’s Day, along with Nathan, a friend of hers from school. We went to Lucy’s Lair, an Ethiopian restaurant so far-out north in Fresno it might as well be Canada, or at least Oregon. I met them down at Revue ahead of time and was dolled up in Feb. 14 finery for the occasion: red top with black paisley, black skirt, black stockings and red patent pumps. Megan, who was, and always will be, much hotter, reacted with a “Look at you! You look fantastic!” and a humongous hug when she saw me.

That’s where the female bonding really started. In a bit of there-are-no-coincidences, as we drove up to the restaurant, she asked me about my transition, about whether I was going to go on the hormones or have the surgery. She was working on her master’s in psychology and had been taking a human sexuality course, where she learned about the Standards of Care, the protocol that health professionals use with transsexuals as preliminaries to both hormone replacement therapy (which is what I’m going through) and sexual reassignment surgery (which I’m not). And as it turned out, the professor who taught the class would become my gender therapist about seven months later.

Anyway, it was a wonderful night, even if the bell sleeve of my top kept dipping into the food …

Megan and I don’t get together often enough — she’s just wrapping up her master’s at long last, on top of the wedding planning — but when we do, it’s great. And she readily, immediately accepted me as one of the girls, for which I’ll always heart her dearly. The opening night of last September’s Reel Pride LGBT film festival, I ran into her and her sister-in-law, Laurie, and some other girls I know out in front of the Tower Theatre afterward. They invited me along to the Starline Grill for drinks and cake as part of someone’s bachelorette bash.

Last December, with my stuff in storage and me bumming out because I wasn’t having a Christmas party for the first time in over 20 years, she and Dax had me over to help put up the white tree with black and silver ornaments in their new apartment, to the festive, sacred sounds of Lamb of God and Rammstein. One of my favorite Christmas memories.

And five weeks back, when Megan was looking for someone to drive with her to Los Angeles (four hours from Fresno) to see one of her best friends, Joey, I said, “I’ll go,” and we ended up having a fantastic girls’ Friday out in L.A. and Santa Monica. In short, she’s been with me, stride for nurturing stride, the past two years as I’ve morphed from an unsure creature, tottering out of the cocoon on figuratively unsteady heels, to this pretty, confident (and pretty confident) woman.

And for kickers, Megan has invited me to Vegas as well, for her bachelorette weekend a couple weeks ahead of the wedding. Wish to hell I could afford that; that would be an experience. (Maybe I’ll win MegaMillions or find a rich sugar mama in the interim — nudge nudge wink wink say no more say no more …) But being invited to the shower and the wedding are more than enough. I’m honored. I’m really looking forward to the matrimony of two dear people. And I was truly looking forward to the bridal shower.

If you’ve been through a bridal shower — or seven or eight — you’re probably rolling your eyes at that last sentence. But hey — remember that this is my second adolescence. I’ve never done a lot of things a genetic woman takes for granted. (And some, thank God, I’ll never have to do, like have a period — although I do have my mood cycles that seem to come and go close to monthly …)

But this opened up a slew of questions I never had to think about before. So … what do you do at a bridal shower? And how do you dress for the occasion? And what about the bridal gifts as opposed to the shower gifts? Being on a tight budget, do I get a smaller gift now and a big gift later? How does this work?

In any instance, I figured the experience would have to be a lot better than my last stag, a few years back: testosterone, cigars, pay-per-view boxing and skanky strippers. One girl came on to me. She couldn’t have been more than 19 — and a little overweight in a baby-fat way, in a nightie, missing a front tooth — and she just seemed so desperate to be wanted, for someone to get aroused, for the money. I felt more sad for her than anything. (No — not sad enough that I gave in to her feeble attempts at seduction!)

I figured, knowing Megan and my friends, and having met the aunt who was putting on the shower, that there wouldn’t be Chippendales, or any other chairs besides sofas and folding chairs, for that matter. (I know — what a smartass.) I figured this would be a relatively sedate and classy affair.

As for the gift: I had drinks a couple Monday nights before with another friend who was also going, and I picked her brains about the gift thing, since I didn’t know the first thing about shower protocol. She told me that you usually get the smaller gift now, then the larger one for the big day. She joked that she was gonna buy something from Suzie’s, one of the two big adult stores in town, just to see the reaction on Megan’s face. (She never did go through with it.)

There were three registries included with the invite: Target, Macy’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Target, for the time being, is out of the question. Macy’s is a little too expensive for a girl on unemployment. That left BB&B. I drove up there two days before the shower — to the north part of Fresno, where all the good American consumers and chain stores are, which I usually try to avoid — and headed to the registry section in the back of the store.

The girl printed me out a copy of the registry and I went at it. I was looking at a combination of factors — mostly budget-consciousness and practicality. If I were to get them something, I wanted to get them something I knew they would regularly use. (Besides, they’re practical people.) I settled on a stylish black tea kettle, about $30. One of their girls gift-bagged it for me and I headed home, feeling good about the purchase.

As for the what-to-wear: I took my cue from the bride-to-be.

Megan is very casual most of the time — T-shirts, jeans, sandals — but can make even that look stylish. Hell, she can style just wearing a burlap sack. But I figured she’d be in some sort of cute, hot dress and looking very sunny. And Fresno, after all, is a very sunny place.

Luckily, when my friend Amy the Redhead, who’s bigger than me but also losing weight fabulously these days, purged her closet before a move last year, among the things she gave me was a sleeveless sage green dress. (Her previous purge, early last year. yielded my go-to beaded black cardigan.) The dress barely fit at the time. Now, having lost a bunch of weight, it looks just fine. I took it out for a spin for the first time for my housemate Cassie’s high school graduation in June and really liked it. It says dressy, sun, California and party in one sentence.

I found the right wig for me at long last in early July — a blonde ’60s bob that’s been a boffo hit with everyone — and the dress seemed a little ’60sish to me, so I decided to get fancy in a ’60s sort of way — the polka-dot headband, an old pair of fancy diamondnet tights I got on the cheap at Target last year, and black kitten heels. Not only are they styling and cute, they were extremely practical. Especially since I twisted my right ankle in my sleep (!!!) the previous weekend, and this would be the first time I wore anything higher than a flat all week. And I don’t normally wear red lipstick in the daytime, but since this was a party and I was going with a ’60s flair, I applied some MAC Red.

And I was good to go. And hoping I didn’t get too dolled-up for the occasion.

But first, down to Revue for coffee with my friend Heather on her lunch break — and making damn sure I didn’t spill any of my iced coffee on me. After dropping her back at work, I came back to kill some more time before the shower and ran into Amy, who was delighted and surprised — and, of course, complimented me on my taste in clothes. We had an impromptu photo shoot, and I was then on my way.

Or so I thought.

I forgot that modern convenience before I left the house — punching up the directions online. I had the address written down and I knew where the house was — I thought. (Such a guy.) The shower started at 2. By 2:30, I was leaving panicked calls with Megan and another friend, which they never got because their phones were in the other room with all the purses. I was left to my own devices.

Luckily, I had the presence of mind to keep driving north. Turns out I was a half-mile off, but I found the street, in the tony Fig Garden area: the childhood home of her other best friend, Taylor, who was down from Reno for the shower.

I arrived, not looking the least bit panicky, and found myself staring at a circle of two dozen women. Most of them I knew — Megan’s mother, aunt and many of her friends, including Joey. I gave Megan my gift, grabbed a plate of sushi and a glass of iced tea from the kitchen, then took my place in the circle.

Turns out I arrived in the midst of the first game. It’s the name game. Each woman got a name tag stuck to her back with the name of a famous woman and had to figure out, from clues given by others, who the woman and her famous husband/boyfriend/whatever was. It was also a great way to break the ice and introduce ourselves.

I took a seat about the halfway point. I didn’t have a name tag, of course, but I was still going to introduce myself.

“Hi. I’m Fran,” a good start, and I turned around to look at my back and pretend to pull a tag out of my dress, “and I guess my tag says ‘Made in China.’ So I guess my partner was a drunken British sailor, because that’s what you got back then if you were an old maid in China.”

That seemed to get plenty of laughs. If any of the older women who didn’t know me were perplexed by the transwoman in the room, I at least charmed them with some humor. I’m learning how important a sense of humor is in putting strangers at ease with me. Besides, now that I’m letting go of all the old baggage, I’m finding I can be funny as hell sometimes — and not because I can still do a mean Rodney Dangerfield, either. (I’m gorgeous now, but I was an ugly child — when I was born the doctor slapped my mother …)

And speaking of the dress, it worked wonderfully.

The star of the show was radiant, of course, in a beige mini-dress that was downright Grecian in style, with gold thong sandals to match. Most of her girlfriends were dolled out. Laurie, her sister-in-law, was wearing a green-and-blue vintage dress from the late ’50s, maybe early ’60s, tops. Our friend and my neighbor Sarah was decked in one of her vintage rockabilly dresses. Almost everyone in the room was in some sort of femme finery. So I blended in quite well.

And that was one of the cool things about the shower, and has been one of the cool things about my transition in general.  I was just one of the girls, and I was not the center of attention, and I fit in just fine. That’s a very good thing. And that’s now par for the course in Fresno. I blend in with everyday life here and no one seems to notice, especially the more I’m out and the more people know me. Above all, that means life is — dare I say it? Gasp! — normal. I surely don’t lead a dull life, but knowing that there’s a huge degree of normality has greatly put me at ease. Well, as much ease as I can enjoy still being out of work …

We got on to the questionnaire game. We had to fill out a 20-question quiz about Megan and Dax, and the winners got prizes. I got five right, which was about average. We then had to guess, by feeling, the contents of 15 mystery bags full of kitchen utensils; I got 10 right — hey, I don’t cook very often these days, y’know?

We got to the gift-opening portion of our program. Megan got a lot of cool stuff. My bag was one of the first she opened, and she liked the teapot and she loved the shape; she thought it looked like a curling stone. Of course, my heart sank a little when, close to the end, she unwrapped a box and was holding the same teapot again. Damn — my first shower and I got her a duplicate. I guess it’s the shower equivalent of showing up at a function in the same dress as another woman. And I was being a good doobie about this and going through the computer registry, too. Oh well; that’s what receipts are for …

And then it was on to the last game — the toilet paper wedding dress game. We broke up into teams of five or six and had to put the best possible dress together in 10 minutes. Laurie, a take-charge sort, rounded up our team. Sarah was the bride. I was the designer. I was happy the girls trusted my fashion sense that much.

Since Megan was a styling girl, I figured a one-strap dress, off the left shoulder, would do the trick. And so the process started. We managed a credible dress; I would tear off the TP at the right length and one or two of the other women were there with the tape. Laurie made a veil for Sarah’s hair and a bow out of a used roll for her lower back. I made a train, which I would carry.

Well, for 10 minutes’ work, and designed by someone who only really started wearing dresses not even two years ago, I thought it was a pretty damn good job. But it was no match for Joey. She’s an actress, she’s petite (size 0), and she was wearing a cute strapless dress to start with, which provided the framework. And she looked gorgeous. Besides, it’s only fitting that one of the bride’s best friends won the contest.

So that was that, save for hanging out and having some cake and sushi and veggies and talking with the girls. The only regret was that I didn’t get to talk to Dax’s grandmother — Grandma Fran. There were so many women there that I didn’t have the chance to talk with many. Besides, being in her 80s, I wasn’t sure how she’d take to me. But I’ll have another chance at the wedding.

By 7, it was back to the Tower for coffee and some writing.

And so ended another rite of passage for our heroine. As I said, it’s old school for you genetic girls reading this. But as someone who’s getting the rare chance to enjoy life from both sides of the gender fence, I had a wonderful time. I got to be gorgeous, I got to have fun with some of my girlfriends — and in what has been a not-so-normal life, I got to do something normal. I feel Megan was the one giving me the gift, as she has all along this crazy trip.

Being accepted is something that hasn’t come easy for me most of my life. And to now be accepted at long last, and for just being myself, is something so wonderful I really can’t find the right words. So I’ll shut up now.

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5 Responses to “Rite of passage: My first bridal shower”

  1. Colleen Says:

    An impeccably dressed woman who likes bridal showers. Fran, you’re the daughter my mother wanted.

  2. Miriam Says:

    Love, love, love this. I take being a girl for granted. I’m glad you are one of us.

  3. How I spent my summer vacation (aka Labor Day) « Franorama World Says:

    […] my friend Lorraine, a fellow ex-journalist I met right after my layoff. Plus, I accompanied my pal Megan on her daytrip to L.A. and Santa Monica in July. But that’s all, folks; I’ve stayed […]

  4. Peggy Nemeth Says:

    Gorgeous! I love this picture, and the dress, the hair, the beautiful eyes and smile. Nice package darlin’!

  5. Peggy Nemeth Says:

    Gorgeous! I love this picture, and the dress, the hair, the beautiful eyes and smile.

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