Do as the romans do
There’s an age old expression that many people use whilst travelling, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. I’m not quite sure if the Romans ever thought that cross-dressing would fall under this umbrella!
Similarly, the envisioned intention of America’s 2nd Amendment about the right to bear arms never predicted that it would allow people to own military grade weaponry. So begins my ‘when in Rome’ story, that all began when I decided to try Couchsurfing for the first time. Introducing my first couch surfing host, Jorge, single male Ecuadorian living in his parents apartment in the hip part of Quito. Jorge does not work full-time, but rather does odd jobs here and there. I’m not talking about anything illegal as it might sound, but when I say odd jobs, I’m referring to things like helping his parents with their business and teaching English as a second language to fellow Ecuadorians. I’d stayed with Jorge for a couple of nights before heading to the Galapagos Islands and during that stay he’d told me about his cross-dressing passion. My ears pricked up the notion of this, as I usually dress up as a woman for New Years and was keen to get involved with him, as I had missed out this year. I told Jorge that I had dressed up as a woman many times before, mostly on New Years, which he informed me was a common occurrence for men on New Years Eve in Ecuador. He explained that each year everyone creates an ‘Año Viejo’, a large doll which is dressed in old clothes, to represent the past year. Young men dress up as the widows of the dolls, and then everyone burns the dolls at midnight. Even though it wasn’t New Years, I told him that on my return from the Galapagos, I wanted to join him in an Ecuadorian cross-dressing experience!
picking an outfit
I needed an outfit; finding a gown for the ball had always proven troublesome for me and I expect that most men’s body types would fall under that umbrella. Men’s bodies are just not designed to don straps or zip-up backs and you can forget about finding heels to fit a men’s size 11! Jorge took me on a tour of the local opportunity stores around Quito. We went to a couple of them before Jorge was satisfied with the outfit that I would be venturing out in that night. He selected a blue backless number, made from a stretchy material that would allow a bit of give to help me to slide into it. It didn’t have any straps but was held up around my neck by a couple of strings that I could tie around my neck. He ushered me into the change rooms to try it on but I wasn’t quite sure about it, as it was quite revealing and wouldn’t offer much protection from the cold. Slipping into the dress and fastening it around my neck, I pushed the curtains to the side and beckoned for Jorge to come and inspect my outfit. I could hear a couple of the shop attendees giggling, as Jorge visually inspected my attire. “Yes, very nice”, he beamed. I looked down at myself; I looked like some sort of gay gladiator, as the dress had a metal buckle attached to the waist. All I needed now was a plastic sword and shield and no one would have suspected I was dressed as a lady!
There was no mirror in the change room so I was pleased he thought it looked good. Mostly I was relieved, since I was kind of over-browsing through women’s clothing – it’s not a pass time with which I share the same enthusiasm as Jorge! The attended processed my purchase for a grand total of $5USD. I usually buy a few accessories, but I figured a dress and a little bit of make-up would suffice tonight. On previous expeditions I’d gone all out buying jewellery, handbags, and even a packet of tampons for my clutch. Leaving the charity shop home bound I told Jorge that he could keep it once I was finished with it, this pleased Jorge.
The time had come for me to transform into a lady. Jorge asked me what my name was going to be tonight, which I thought about for a second whilst trying to remember the previous aliases I had used. “Emily”, I thoughtfully stated, which was actually one of my cousin’s names, as I couldn’t recall any of the previous names I had used. “And how should I address you meee lady?”, I enquired. Jorge was sitting in front of his computer googling images of Asian women’s make-up, as he was wearing a red oriental dress that a friend had bought him. “Call me Brigitte!”, he delivered eloquently.
After downing a few of the local Pilsener beers (yes, the local beer is actually called Pilsener) Jorge had completed our transformation. I was surprised at how skillfully he had applied my make-up, he’d used a combination of real makeup for the eyes and face paint for the rest, which he explained was easier to remove, and said I would be thanking him in the morning. I agreed, I remembered waking up after previous New Years celebrations looking like a Panda, with a hangover like I’d just been bashed over the head with a bamboo pole. Even worse, one time I’d woken up on my bathroom floor, still in my dress, with the front door wide open – my recollection of the previous evening’s events left a mystery!
our chariot awaits
We ventured downstairs and the security guard at the door smiled as he released the front door to the apartment block. The main road greeted us and so did the cold air streaming across my bare back. “Your underwear is showing”, Jorge declared, so I hoisted up my dress and adjusted the straps, to ensure I maintained the illusion of being a woman, keeping my athletic underwear masked underneath. The whole outfit reminded me of a movie set – the facades are very convincing, but if you look a little closer, you notice it’s all a front. One year, in an attempt to outdo myself from previous years, I bought some female underwear to complete the outfit. Let me tell you, if there was a porno sequel to the movie ‘The Fly’, the main character would probably resemble what my nether regions looked like, as a combination of lacy underwear and fly eyes. I’m not sure what techniques cross-dressers use to conceal their junk, but my meat preparation techniques were neither Kosher nor Halal. We didn’t wait long before a taxi stopped to pick us up and we headed into the main bar/hostel area of Quito. The taxi driver seemed unphased by a couple of cross-dressing men clambering into his taxi, with a lack lustre attempt at concealing their underwear to his glances in the rear-view mirror. It took a while to adjust to the notion of wearing a dress, and the duty of care that must be taken in keeping one’s dignity!
Taking extra precaution to exit the vehicle this time, Jorge and I paid the driver and commenced the journey on foot to meet a few of his friends in the main square. He attempted to call them but there was no answer, so we decided to check out a nearby lesbian bar called Radar first. Approaching the entrance, we were greeted by a bouncer commanding a long line of punters. After a quick tennis match of Spanish with the bouncer, Jorge informed me it was $3USD entry and that I needed to show some ID. Well, I hadn’t brought my ID, as I’ve never been asked before in Australia but, apparently no matter how old you look in Quito, you need to show some sort of ID. Not even my Conchita Wurst resemblance, together with the man-beard I had been cultivating the entire trip, was enough to convince him to let me in! We had no option but to walk back through the crowd and get a taxi home to retrieve my ID, as Jorge was confident we would not be getting in anywhere without it.
in the spotlight
It was a Thursday night, yet there was some sort of Salsa concert on in the Plaza Foch. Regardless of the performance, it appeared that we have become the main attraction, drawing the attention of the onlooking crowd. Men wolf-whistled as we passed them on the street, cars beeped their horns, insistently beckoning us to turn around, and women nudged each other and commented on our frocks. I popped into an alcove in order to withdraw some money and hoisted up my skirt, in order to retrieve my ATM card from my underwear. I can totally sympathise with women and their lack of pockets; where does one transport all the necessary equipment required to venture out if you don’t have a handbag? I’ve seen bras mainly being used, but even that apparatus has a limit to what it can hold! Jorge dialled a number and male voice on the other end seemed excited to receive the call – no doubt Jorge had told his friends that he was bringing an Australian dressed as a woman to town – so his friends were eager to bare witness to this. He confirmed the meeting place and we continued through the square, Jorge gliding along the uneven surface in his platform shoes like a figure skater. He’d obviously been practising, as he had the whole hip-rocking movement down pat, with me by his side, strolling along in my discoloured Asics trainers.
Jorge embraced each of his entourage of friends, who flooded him with a wave of Spanish praise. After they finished their circle greeting, he turned to bring me into the fold. In unity, they all voiced their approval of my outfit, one of them commenting specifically on my breasts (well, pectoral muscles). I looked down, just to confirm I haven’t suffered a Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, and smiled in approval at the compliment. We were ushered into an outdoor bar with gas heaters, which provided some much needed warmth to my poorly clad body. Jorge and his friends all switched into English speaking mode ,after they recognised that my knowledge of the Spanish language was non-existent. After answering all the usual obligatory travelling questions, such as ‘where have you been’ and ‘how long have you been away for’, I mostly forgot that I was wearing a dress. At that moment in time it just felt like a normal night, with just the occasional reminder, whilst bending forward to retrieve my drink, inadvertently exposing a nipple. After devouring a few beers we decided to head back to Radar to tear up the lesbian dance floor, as I felt like I’d had the perfect amount of alcohol needed to put my catalogue of dance moves on display.
party in the club
At the club, I ended up on a dancing block with a sizeable longneck in hand, swaying to the drone of Reggaeton, with Jorge bopping away beneath me. Before we had even gotten to the nightclub, Jorge had told me he didn’t even know that this was a lesbian bar. Looking around the dance floor I could see why, the place was packed with men – it looked more like a gay bar. Male couples were grinding each other, pelvic sparks spattering the dance floor, as they all worked in tandem to the invisible cox of the Reggaeton music. Then in an instant, as fast as the coloured lights traversed their pulsating bodies, the DJ would change the song and whole music genre, flooding the room with electronic dance beats. It was almost like the changing of the guards in Buckingham Palace, with one group of gay men from the sidelines moving in to replace the others, who marched off, along with their preference in music. After a while on the floor, Jorge took the change-over as an opportunity to head outside for a cigarette, and I joined him as the soberness started to kick in. My stomach was starting to growl and it was that time of the evening, the time to feed the beast with some obligatory fast food, before calling it a night.
oh what a night
As the concierge at Jorge’s apartment saw us coming he raced over to open the door to greet us. I half expected Jorge to be carrying his shoes in hand, as you see a lot of women in impractical footwear do, but he had managed to tolerate the pain like a pro. It was going to be an early start tomorrow, as I was flying down to Guayaquil, en-route to Peru.
My first experience with Couchsurfing had been amazing; I would never have predicted it would have panned out this way when I made my initial contact with Jorge. Meeting and mixing with the locals had opened up so many opportunities, so many magical experiences, but you had to be willing to step out of your comfort zone: wearing a dress in a foreign country had certainly done this for me!