Last week I shared a recent podcast with Lady Ellen, founder of Le Femme Finishing School in New Jersey, the only one of its kind in the state. Talking to Ellen, I quickly realized the deep value of what she offers her clients: a space to be themselves, to explore their identities, express their spirits and use their experiences with Ellen to emerge from the chrysalis into themselves. Following are six additional questions for her about the School, her clients and her mission.
MM: What is some of the most common guidance your clients are looking for?
LE: Most clients want to see what they would look like as a female, want to know if they can “pass” in public and wish to learn makeup application techniques. I teach my clients what they would have learned from the women in their lives if they had been raised as a woman. I offer lessons in makeup, deportment, movement, image and style and constantly tell them to keep their knees together when wearing a skirt. That is why clients come to me, but often they thank me the most for lending them a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on, an understanding heart that makes them feel accepted. I give a lot of advice about accepting one’s self and going forward with confidence and courage. Liking what they see in the mirror helps build that confidence and positive self image.
MM: Are there differences in the way you instruct, say, a transgender woman from the way you would advise a cross dresser?
LE: There is a joke in the community. “What is the difference between a cross-dresser and a transgender girl?” The answer is “about 6 months”. They say all trans-women were cross-dressers before they figured out that they are transgender. The main difference in my approach is I am instructing trans-women to blend in with other women at work or out in the community. I give more leeway to cross-dressers who desire to dress too sexy or inappropriately for their age. The cross-dresser is often in more of an exploratory stage and wants another chance at all that she feels she missed by not growing up female.
MM: Each person is advised on a case by case basis, but what are some basic tips you give that are universal?
LE: The best advice I can give to anyone is to learn to use your powers of observation every day. See what most men do the same and what most women do the same and notice what one sex does more than the other. Men and women have different postures from each other, walk differently and gesture differently. I can usually tell if someone is male or female from nearly a block away because I watch and notice the similarities and differences. Once you see these things you can start changing to imitate what is feminine (or masculine). So the second most important tip is to practice, practice and practice more until it becomes second nature and you no longer have to think about how you are moving. My best advice to someone who will be transitioning is to have facial surgery before gender reassignment surgery because more people see your face than see your genitals (hopefully). And never believe that you need ALL of the facial surgery that plastic surgeons recommend. The average person will not notice the subtle differences that surgeons call to your attention.
MM: You said on the podcast most of your clients are over 50. Is their experience with you and the others they meet through Le Femme something you think most of them will keep compartmentalized? Are you aware of any of them coming out as transgender later (you mentioned the couple who got married)?
LE: Usually transgender refers to someone who is transforming the gender they were born with and they might be in the beginning stage of taking hormones and having electrolysis or may be post operative. But transgender is also used as an umbrella term to include a spectrum of people who identify as gender variant. I think it is helpful to think of transgender as “transcending” the normal restrictions of the gender box you were born into. I see people in every area of this spectrum. To answer your specific question, several of my clients who came to me as closeted cross-dressers later began living full time as women, including one of the two ladies who I mentioned had gotten married. Some of my clients and friends who are transgender have had gender reassignment surgery (GRS) and others would if they could afford it or if they didn’t have health issues preventing them from being a candidate for surgery. I had a client who was in her 70’s when she had GRS. I asked “Are you planning on being sexually active?” She said “no”. “So why have the surgery at your age?” She said to me, “Every time I use the bathroom I am reminded that there is something there that doesn’t belong.” Those who continue to live as both male and female usually do so because they have some contentment with their male life. So many trans-women have told me similar stories that come down to this in a nutshell; they transition because it kills them inside to live a lie and pretend to be male when everything inside of them is screaming that they are female.
MM: What would you tell someone who wants to seek your services and the social support it provides but is still unsure of themselves? What’s your mission? (It’s a twofer, I know).
LE: Everyone who thinks about coming to Le Femme for the first time is scared. It is natural. Le Femme Finishing School is a safe and discrete place. You don’t need to wait until you are sure of yourself, this is a safe place to explore, learn and figure out how you feel and what you want.
Le Femme is the first and only charm school for cross-dressers and trans-women in NJ. Le Femme Finishing School was created to offer anyone under the transgender umbrella Transformation, Education and Exploration in a safe and friendly, non-judgmental environment. My goal is to provide friendship first, the best possible customer service and the lowest fees available. My personal life mission is to love others and to treat others the way I want to be treated and of course that pours over into all my work and relationships. I am constantly trying to put myself in the other girl’s stilettos to meet her where she is, then gently lead her to a happier place of self-acceptance and healthy self-esteem.
I think it may be important to touch on another subject, sexuality. Just as any male or female can be straight, gay or bi the same is true for trans-people but it gets a little tricky to describe during transition. For example a straight cross-dresser who transitions becomes a lesbian and a gay male who transitions becomes a straight female. In the general population it is believed that if a male dresses as a female he must want to be with a male. This is a misconception or myth. Out of the hundreds of clients I have had over the last 10 years less than 5 of them identified as a cross-dresser or trans-women who were solely attracted to men. Most of my clients identify as heterosexual although I suspect at least ¼ of them are bi or at least bi-curious. Additionally, I have discovered a large group of what I call “fem-sexuals”, sometimes they call themselves trans-lesbians. They are people who are attracted to anyone who is very feminine regardless of which genitals are under their panties. These people may be part time or full time women, pre-op, post-op or non-transitioning people who would never be attracted to males or anyone masculine but are attracted to women and other very feminine trans-women or cross-dressers.