Visibility with style is Kandi’s new monthly column for Sister House. Our purpose is to provide readers with real world advice on getting out in the mainstream public and doing so with style! I’ll cite actual experiences and provide pictures. The column will run here at Sister House as well as on my blog, Kandi’s Land, a daily diary of sorts, with uplifting and positive posts on being who I am. Hopefully you will see how I have had my meal purchased for me by a mother with her family; been asked for hugs from total strangers; had drinks purchased for me on many occasions; and been complemented time after time. Is this because I “pass”? Because I am beautiful? Absolutely not (although I will admit to photographing well, from a distance). It is exactly the opposite, because I am who I am, do so proudly and with style, always with a broad smile on my face.
Through my blog and interaction with others on one of the leading CD forums, I do all that I can to offer support and advice to others like myself. As a result, I think I get enough feedback to understand what many of us go through in dealing with our female alter egos. Long story short, for me it was almost 50 years of struggle, followed by four years (and counting) of joy, happiness, complete acceptance by the world in general. I am blessed to be able to go out usually three times a week, attending my church and volunteering for quite a few organizations including three of the most prominent museums in Cleveland (and we have quite a few world-class museums). My outings are almost always in a mainstream setting, being who I am proudly and confidently. I strive to place myself in front of as many people as possible on any given outing. As I’ve explained to many, I don’t go to CD friendly restaurants, I go to restaurants. I don’t go to CD friendly stores, I go to stores. When dressed, I am a woman just like any other woman. I hold myself that way and in turn, am treated as such.
The reality of me is that I do not pass, never have and never will. I know this because of all the positive attention I receive, attention I would never receive if I did pass. Strangers frequently complement me, many often hug me (I do like that) and I gather smile after smile. Sure, there are those that probably roll their eyes or laugh behind my back, but now being out in public well over 400 times (just in the past four years), no one has ever vocalized that to me. Zero negative experiences. Please understand, I attempt to pass, I just accept my reality and have now road tested it so often, I know what works for me.
I have a male voice, male biceps, veiny forearms, male fingers, male facial features, I turn into a pumpkin after about eight hours, I am tall for a woman (especially in heels) and while thin, I have a male body frame. None of this stops me from enjoying life as a woman when I want to.
So, what’s my secret? First off, after all those years of struggle, I absolutely know that people are accepting, very accepting. Times have changed, things are different. I am talking about actual people, not the media, not organizations or religions, but people. Working at three different museums, I face a constant stream of people, all kinds, from Cleveland, other towns and other countries. I greet them with a smile and generally engage them in friendly conversation. Most conversations flow with no acknowledgement of my attire. I am frequently referred to as “she”. I am also often referred to as “he” (I speak always in my male voice), but it is never done derisively, it is done as an acceptance that I am indeed a man, I simply choose to present myself as a woman. I have studied human nature, how people in general move about, how women present themselves, what it takes to enjoy my Kandi time.
I have three basic rules that I preach.
Be smart. I principally go anywhere I wish, without thought about how I will be perceived. However, I am smart about it. I don’t go anywhere that I would not feel safe in any attire. I generally seek places where I would expect to find more accepting people. So I spend quite a bit of time at art museums, where creative people gather as well as the theater. I park my car where it is well lit. Basically I practice safety in this day and age, just as I would if I were out (male) with my wife and/or children.
Be appropriate. Dress for the venue. Dress for your age. Dress for your body type. Be stylish but don’t overdo it. Don’t wear a ball gown to a bowling alley. While you can certainly wear a short skirt or dress dependent on where you are going, don’t dress like you are 19. Don’t dress like a hooker (we’ve all seen that). If you need to lose a few pounds, don’t wear a tight dress. Exercise common sense. Look at other woman. Dress like them. Act like them. Be one of them.
Be confident. Smile! Own it! Be proud! Love yourself! A smile is the prettiest thing you can wear. Regardless of your attire, if you are looking nervous, you will draw negative attention. I once met a sister who was very well dressed, but she had a five o’clock shadow and her hair pulled up over her face (no, really), looking like Cousin It. Really! It’s all common sense.
I’ve been the principal greeter at an art museum party with over 4,000 guests, almost all seeing me in my pretty pink sundress. I walk into the Rock Hall and am immediately acknowledged by those that work there. I am the main hostess for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland for special events and private parties. My presence at The Cleveland Museum of Art is welcomed and noticed. I cannot tell you how many times I have been elsewhere and told they knew me from the art museum. I could go on and on. I am not bragging, I am trying to clear that path for my sisters and those to come.
We’ll talk more about the benefits of volunteering in another column, but allow me to talk about a weekend I recently had this past summer. I work for the North Coast Men’s Chorus, a gay men’s chorus and we perform in Cleveland’s historic Playhouse Square district (the largest in the country outside of Broadway). This weekend we were at The Hanna Theater, where Tom Hanks got his start.
Here I am on Saturday:
I picked up the cute cold shoulder dress at Goodwill! Money well spent. The dress speaks for itself; I wanted to wear a prominent necklace and bright makeup. I received two specific complements on my lipstick color, both from employees at the theater. The one that stuck with me the most, a doll of a young lady told me how she liked the color and how it tied in with my dress and accessories. Well……that was what I was going for! Both women got big hugs from me. After dishing up that wonderful complement, she told me to keep being wonderful! This world could use more wonderful people like that!
These selfies were taken as I walked about downtown before the show, in crowded public areas. I was no different than any other adorable young lady! Then before heading over to a favorite restaurant for dinner, I stopped in a bridal boutique, made friends with the proprietor and she took the picture you see above. I sat at the bar, had dinner and some wine, chatted with those seated next to me, again treated like the woman I am. The show was a great fun as I renewed many friendships and doled out hug after hug.
Now here I am on Sunday:
As you’ve read, Saturday was a blast. Sunday, a blast of heat! Ninety degree temperatures dictating my activities for the day. Short walks, stay inside. We had a matinee performance. I got this great peplum dress a while back and was looking for the opportunity to take her for a spin! It’s funny, there is always one thing I tend to get complements on. The day before it was my lipstick color, on this day it was the necklace. I always seem to get complements on it every time I wear it.
As usual, I needed something to do to stretch my day a bit. I am an active member of a church (Methodist). Well our services were too early for me to have enough to keep me occupied until the performance. So I decided to attend (Catholic) Mass at the Cathedral. I got there early, as I really find it relaxing and cathartic to sit quietly in a dress in a quiet church.
So after Mass, I headed over to the theater and continued my hug-a-thon! I am supposed to sell tickets for a wine raffle. I sold very few tickets as many, many friends sought me out, pumped my ego with undeserved complements and chatted with me. I am becoming more of a goodwill ambassador than a ticket salesperson.
All in all, it was a weekend that exceeded my high expectations. I, as always, went wherever I wanted and was welcomed. I did things and saw people I love. And I had a great Father’s Day on top of everything. Lucky, lucky, lucky…..
Ladies, things are better. We do have work to do, but being visible, being out there, makes all the difference. Be smart, be appropriate, be confident, get out there and be visible!
Sister House Fashion and Style Columnist
You can read about my back story in the “About” section of my blog and contact me through the “Contact” section.
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