One of the first garments in my femme wardrobe was a schoolgirl skirt. A black and red plaid thing, so short it barely covered my ass. Steel rings decorated its waistband, punctuating its gothiness. It would have looked perfect on one of the anarchist cheerleaders from that Nirvana video.

I wore the skirt to my first kinky play parties. The soundtrack to the beginning of my transition: moans, whip-cracks, and rattling chains. The kink world was the safest place for me to get girly. Whenever I played with my gender in the vanilla world, people stared and asked invasive questions, but when I wore the skirt to a dungeon everyone would compliment me.

Just as important as the compliments, in kink spaces, I saw other folks fucking with gender. Some of my first trans and queer friends were leather-clad perverts I met at sex parties. The world of kink is not some transphobia-free utopia, but fellow gender outlaws were also drawn to its permissiveness.

A denizen of the kinky world – I’ll call her Ashley – gave me the skirt. She was my first kinky fuck-buddy. Femmes with a dark sense of humor are my weakness. It didn’t hurt that we were both writers – her of gay vampire smut; me of dense, unpublishable treatises on gender politics in the Alien film franchise.

We’d hit it off at one of my first munches. A munch is a kind of soiree for BDSM enthusiasts held at a restaurant or bar. Events like this are purely for socializing and flirting. Everyone leaves the latex at home and attends in their civvies. It was at one of these I mentioned to Ashley my interest in dressing up femme.

“I just haven’t found the right outfit,” I said. Which wasn’t entirely true.

While on my vintage store jaunts, I often found myself admiring the dresses and skirts and high heels, especially from the sixties’ section. The bold colors and designs reminded me of my favorite film goddesses – Bridget Bardot in Contempt, or Vanessa Redgrave in Blow-Up. So I’d found the right outfits, but I was afraid trying them on would invite ridicule and judgement. Who knew what kind of jackass might jeer at me as I entered the dressing room with that black cocktail dress I’d been eyeing? This was central Virginia, after all.

Ashley and I next met up at a New Year’s Eve play party. Our mutual friend Cecilia was hosting it at a suburban house right outside of Richmond. It was the first party of its kind I’d been invited to. As I pulled into the driveway, a mixture of anticipation and anxiety made my palms sweat against the steering wheel.

Cecilia was another regular at the local munches. She was one of those types that liked to talk in fifteen-minute blocks of unfiltered thought, unable to recognize when it’s time to let another person get a word in. Despite her chatterbox tendencies, she was a pleasure to be around – always doling out authentic compliments and spreading cheer like a manic, pink-haired virus.

Her party was not the Eyes-Wide-Shut-style clandestine orgy I was expecting. It turned out to be an uncomfortable social experience.

First of all, only three other people showed up. Secondly, party preparation was not Cecilia’s strong suit.

All she mustered up for dinner was a Ziplock filled with deli turkey and a jar of pickles. Before the party, she’d assured us food was covered – there was no need for anyone else to pitch in. This was just her version of “having it covered.” No bread, no condiments. Just cold meat and vinegar-soaked cucumbers. I politely refused the latter because they were the horrible bread-and-butter kind, which everyone knows are basically inedible. So I was left rolling the turkey up like a cigar and stuffing my face with it. Though it was hardly my idea of a satisfying meal, the flabby roll of bird-meat would have to sustain me for the night.

Shortly after “dinner,” Ashley produced a paper bag.

“I got you something,” she said, grinning at me.

Inside, neatly folded, was the goth skirt. Underneath it was a simple black top. It was a perfect gift – something I’d desired, but did not expect. I hugged Ashley tight and thanked her for it.

“It’s no big deal,” she said. “It cost me six bucks at Goodwill. Try it on!”

Cecilia showed me to the upstairs bathroom. There, I undressed and slipped into my new outfit.

For much of my life, I’ve tried to escape my body. But in Cecilia’s cramped bathroom, I returned to my flesh, and it felt good to be there. The cloth of the skirt accentuated my curves and the camisole stretched tight against my nipples. In the mirror I saw someone desirable, sexy. I saw beauty. When I imagined walking downstairs and sharing this beauty with the people below, my euphoria multiplied.

But I didn’t end up sharing it. Not that night, at least. The good feelings withdrew just as quickly as they arose. I suddenly felt cold and exposed. That beautiful figure in the mirror vanished, replaced by an ugly, ridiculous thing. Body hair, thick and unruly, covered its exposed legs and chest like a layer of grime. Its hips were too narrow for the skirt, its chest too flat for the top. It was not feminine, but a bad parody of a femininity.

I wish I could say that ugly figure in the mirror never came back, but it still returns. However, from that first party onwards, the kinky friends I’ve made have encouraged me to face it. They’ve helped me find the sexy, desirable queer obscured by dysphoria.

That night, simply facing that dysphoria was enough. I told myself that next time I’d cavort around dressed like a Catholic slut. I shed the skirt and blouse and donned my slacks and button-up. Closing the bathroom door, I made my way back to the party.