The Office Christmas Party

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The Office Christmas Party


By Katherine Day


(Copyright 2012)


(Shelton is the only male in an office of women. All’s going fine until the office holiday party is announced and he is told he’s not able to attend.)

I guess I was one of those kids who psychologists might say suffers from low self-esteem. It was probably accurate since I don’t really recall being good at anything except tinkering with computers. And I never thought that was much of a talent, either. Weren’t most kids growing up in the years around the turn of the century good at that?

Not knowing what to do with my life after high school, I enrolled in a two-year program in computer technology at the local community college. During those two years, I led a life largely focused on my schooling and helping mom out with her cosmetics marketing company, which was based right in our home.

At age 20, I received my certificate in CT, but at first put off searching for a job. The idea of holding down a job frightened me immensely since I had never worked outside of the house; I had grown terribly shy, and had no real friends. Yet, I was content: mom and I were great friends and companions and I loved our time together. I spent lots of time designing all of the computer programs that she used for her cosmetics business that consisted of recruiting and supporting more than 80 women who sold the cosmetics through house parties throughout a five-state area.

“You’re such a great help to me, Shelly,” she’d say regularly. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, dear.”

As was our practice, I would kiss her and hug her in reply, and our hugs would last well over a minute. I felt so warm and comfortable in her arms. I had never kissed another woman in my life, except for grandma, Aunt Maryann and my cousin Amy. Of course, I was a virgin, and had yet to date a girl. What girl would want me, I wondered.

My name is Shelton McBride, but mom always called me Shelly, even when introducing me to the “associates,” the term that the large cosmetics company used for the women who sold their products in the field. Often times, mom would refer a woman who was having problems navigating the computer program to me, telling them, “Let our technician Shelly assist you.”

Now, here’s where I have to confess something: I had a voice that was soft and in a high register, and since I spent most of my life around women, my inflections apparently were feminine. Invariably the women would call me “miss” and “ma’am,” and I would not correct them. When I told mom about that, she replied:

“Don’t correct them dear. They feel more comfortable talking to another woman, so just let it be.”

I didn’t argue with mom on that, since it would have been embarrassing trying to explain that I was a guy. The fact was, too, that I sort of liked being a “woman” in my work. My life truly had revolved around the feminine life; working with mom I had gotten to know and understand cosmetics, including developing skills in applying makeup. Mom had sent me to a two-week crash course in makeup, which was required of all the associates. Of course, I was the only male among 25 women at the classes in suburban Chicago. I finished at the top of the class, and was given a $500 gift certificate for (what else?) cosmetics.

*****
To keep my skills, mom regularly sent me out with one of her most active “associates,” a middle-aged woman who still did fashion modeling as a sideline, to assist at house parties. I would demonstrate the products at parties, which nearly always were in the most upscale neighborhoods in Chicagoland. I learned the women loved being addresses as “dear” or “darling,” and they loved it when I worked on them.

“You have such lovely and gentle hands,” one older woman said to me at a recent party. “You’re better than any of the girls who’ve worked on me before, Shelly.”

“Well you have such a sweet face, too,” I’d coo in reply.

“Ooh you make me blush, Shelly,” Mildred said. “If you weren’t . . . ah . . .ah . . .so young, I think we could be lovers.”

“Are you flirting with me, Mildred?” I smiled back.

I had many moments like this, it seemed. The women all loved me probably because they thought I was gay and harmless. Several times I was told I was a “pretty man,” which caused me to blush.

The truth was I didn’t understand myself; I had never had any sexual experience with a woman and frankly I was afraid of how I’d do in bed. I know I’d be wary of undressing before a woman and displaying my rather puny body with its soft, pale hairless features. Didn’t most women want a real man, a man with muscles and broad shoulders? I had none such manly features; I only needed to shave my face every other day.

After I finished my community college course, mom suggested I try to get a job outside of the house.

“Why mom?” I asked. “Don’t you need me here?”

“Yes, I do, Shelly, but I think it’s important you get some experience working outside of the house. You need to get out into the world. You’re so sheltered here, dear.”

“But mom, I’m happy here. And who’ll do my work for you?”

“You’ve got everything running smoothly now, and I was going to hire Maryann to be my associate anyway,” she explained. “Maryann would like to get out of doing house parties, and she’d been such a loyal associate, I feel I’d like to have her join me here. I know you like her.”

“I do, mom,” I agreed. “Besides, I’ll try to live here if you want me to and can iron out any computer issues in my off-time from work.”

Mom and I were together in bed, as we often slept in the same bed at night. Don’t get me wrong; we didn’t do the sexual act. We just hugged and kissed a bit and usually fell asleep in each other’s arms. I loved waking up next to her in the morning.

“Don’t tell anyone we sleep together, Shelly, because they might get the wrong impression,” she warned.

“Maybe we shouldn’t sleep in the same bed, mom,” I’d suggest. I realized boys didn’t sleep with their moms once they get much beyond being infants.

“Don’t be silly, dear,” she scoffed. “We’re just being affectionate. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just our prudish society. You love me, don’t you Shelly?”

“Oh mom, you know I do,” with that I snuggled tightly against her, moving my face onto her firm, sweet breasts.

These were magical moments for me. Mom was a real beauty; she had also modeled as a younger woman, and maintained her figure, although she had gained a few pounds to grow more voluptuous and, to me, more desirable. You probably have figured out that I often ejaculated during these evenings, and mom would also grow hot and excited and orgasm.

“That’s Ok, dear Shelly,” she said after I sent semen flowing onto her thighs. “You’re doing what comes naturally.”

About six weeks after my May graduation from community college, I reluctantly began searching for a computer job somewhere in the Chicago area.

“Normally, we’d have no trouble placing a student as talented as you are in a job,” said George Dimitropolous, the placement counselor at the community counselor. “But with this recession, Shelton, it seems to no one is hiring.”

“I understand, but keep me posted if something shows up, Ok?”

“You’ll be on the top of my list, young man,” he assured me. “You’re record was top-rate in school and you’ve also had experience in your mother’s home business. That should help.”

“I’ve also developed a website for mom and got her into social media,” I said. It was not on Dimitropolous’s records for me. I told him to look it up, giving him the URL.

“Wow, that’s a terrific site, Shelton,” he said, visibly impressed. “Did you use a template, or did you design it from scratch?”

“From scratch.”

“Well, you must have a creative eye, too,” he said. “That’s rare combination have both technical and creative skills.”

You can believe I blushed at his praise. I seem to blush so often in my life. I wonder why.

Within three days, the counselor called and said he had a lead. “It’s with a nonprofit organization with a good reputation,” he said. “The pay may not be the greatest, but it’ll be great experience and their benefits are top-rate.”

*****
Women’s Equality Illinois (WEI) was located in a narrow 12-story building on N. Wabash adjacent to the noisy EL overhead in the Chicago Loop. I took an ancient elevator to the 10th Floor, its creaks and groans making me nervous. Added to the disappointment of the setting was the smell that permeated from the pizza parlor on the first floor and mixed with the mustiness of the old building. It opened onto hallways that looked like they belonged to the 1930s, with white and black tile floors, dirty grey marbled wainscoting and dim globe lamps overhead. The entrance to WEI was right across from the elevator, and I opened the door, its cloudy glass window identifying it as my destination.

What I saw amazed me; the room was a hub of activity with women of all ages busy on phones, at computers and talking earnestly. A young woman in a Chicago Bears sweatshirt and with unruly hair was apparently the receptionist and she looked up after a moment of heavy concentration on a computer screen and said, “Yes, may I help you, miss?”

“Ah,” I stuttered, trying to make my voice sound masculine. “I’m . . . ah . . . here to see Carolyn Eubanks.”

The girl, obviously near-sighted, took a closer look at me. “Oh, I’m sorry sir. It’s just that we see so few men up here.”

“That’s Ok,” I nodded, smiling at her to show her I took no offense. Actually, I do get mistaken for a girl sometimes, particularly when I don’t tie my hair back in a ponytail.

Carolyn Eubanks had gained renown in the state as perhaps the key leader in the women’s equality movement. I had seen her on the TV news occasionally, either speaking before a state legislative committee or at rallies. While she was often portrayed in the media as a strident, harsh talking woman, she proved to be warm, matronly and pleasant in person.

I was led back to her office through a haphazard maze of desks, with their occupants giving me fairly close examination. Perhaps, too, they were unused to seeing a man here. What struck me too was that all of the desks seemed to be old and unmatched, as if they were accumulated through many rummage sales. Ms. Eubanks office also looked like it came out of a 1930s movie, and she had no privacy at all. Windows composed the top half of all her walls, including the view of a dirty brick building viewable across an alley through the outside windows.

“You must excuse the looks of this place, Mr. McBride,” she said after directing me to an old-fashioned wooden office chair, which proved to be surprising comfortable even without padding. “We’re in the midst of the referendum campaign here, you know.”

“Yes, mom and I have been following it,” I said with a smile.

“Apparently you support us?”

“Oh yes, very much so, or else I wouldn’t have come in. Besides, my mom is so excited when I told her I had an interview for a job here. She’s been a supporter for a long time, and I think she’s sent you donations in the past, too.”

“Thank your mother for that, Mr. McBride, or may I call you Shelton?” she asked kindly.

“Shelton’s fine,” I nodded.

She explained that the agency’s IT girl had quit suddenly, leaving it in a bind, since the agency had a highly integrated computer system that required much coordination among the 20 employees and tons of volunteers who worked there.

“You come highly recommended by the college, and I’ve looked over the website you have created for the cosmetics business. Very impressive,” she said.

“Thank you.”

She called in a youngish, heavyset woman named Penny Hartshorn who was the agency’s business manager and human relations director. I felt a pang of fear when she first addressed me with curt, sharp phrases. Oh my, I thought, I’m doomed. This woman won’t like me.

As much as Ms. Eubanks put me at ease, Penny made me tense and nervous, and I realized how my voice raised in pitch and grew hurried. Penny quizzed me on several points involving computer knowledge, and I had no trouble answering them. Then, she explained the computer system, rattling of the names of the programs the agency used. Fortunately, I knew them all and felt I could handle them.

“I’m sure I won’t have any problems with those programs,” I said when she finished. “I worked with them all.”

Penny could hide her skepticism. “Are you sure you can handle these, young man? Or, are you just overconfident? We can’t hire someone who’s just boasting and then falls flat on their face in the first week. We need help now.”

I was nonplussed at the meanness in her voice, but Carolyn Eubanks was quick to intervene. “I’m sure Shelton will do just fine, Penny. He comes highly recommended.”

“Well, I’ll be watching him closely if we hire him,” Penny said. “You know he’ll be the first man ever on the payroll here. I’m not sure that’ll be popular with the women here, Carolyn. We have to think about morale. Having a man here isn’t good.”

“Penny, I know your feelings on this, but you know we are governed by the same anti-discrimination laws everyone else is and if Mr. McBride is best suited for the job, we should hire him,” the director said.

“Of course, Carolyn, but it’s something we should think about,” Penny said, getting up to leave.

“Thank you for coming in Penny. I’ll talk with you later,” Ms. Eubanks said, not unkindly.

Ms. Eubanks asked me a few more questions, particularly hitting upon the fact that I had no work history outside of the home. I explained how closely mom and I worked and how successful her business had become. Ms. Eubanks was aware of the products we sold and agreed that among all of the cosmetics companies that hired women to sell for them our company was one of the most reputable.

“I love your company’s face lotion in particular,” she said.

Finally, she asked me how I would feel being the only man in the office.

“I should be all right,” I told her honestly. “I seem to have been around women most of my life, and I have to admit that working with mom I’ve learned lots.”

“I’m sure you have, but some of the girls may give you a hard time and you seem quiet and reserved. Are you sure you can handle it?”

“Ma’am,” I said. “I’m used to being treated as someone different and as long as I am busy with the computer stuff I’m sure I won’t let it bother me.”

She nodded and I left with the promise that she’d call me first thing the next morning with an answer. “If we agree to hire you, and you accept, we’ll keep you plenty busy, I’m sure. I’d like you to start the next day, if possible,” she said. “We’re so far behind here.”

“I’m sure I could start now if I had to,” I said, smiling. “But about the pay and benefits?”

“We advertised the potential starting rates in our advertisement, and you saw those,” she began. “Your rate might be in the higher level between those rates, if we agree to hire you. That’s not as high as you might get in a corporate office, but it’s the best we can afford, as I’m sure you understand.”

I nodded, fully aware that wages in such agencies were bound to be lower than many in the private sector.

“But we try to make up for it in benefits, Shelton, and have one of the better health insurance plans, we think, plus we still maintain a traditional pension plan, though it’s modest,” she smiled. “None of this 401 (k) stuff, which has proven to be so unreliable.”

It was at 8:30 the next morning, while I was still on my first cup of coffee that Penny called me and said I was hired. She quoted me the pay I would be getting, if I accepted. It was nearly at the top of the published scale. There was no congratulatory sense to her call, no phrase like “we’ll be glad to have you join us.” She was all business. I was uneasy: she didn’t sound like she wanted me in the office at all, but was doing so just because Ms. Eubanks said she should.

Yet, I loved the idea of working for an agency with such a great mission, and for pretty good wages and benefits to boot. And so, by mid-July, I began working at Women’s Equality Illinois — the only man on the scene.

*****
So eager was I to start that I agreed to come into the office at 1 p.m. that same afternoon to complete all the details and paperwork required to start a new job, as well as to get acquainted and to set up my desk area so I could begin with a running start the next day.

Ms. Eubanks was enthusiastic when she welcomed me that afternoon, but I could see she was busy, and within 60 seconds I was handed over to the dour Penny for a tour of the office. Ms. Eubanks did take time to say: “By the way, this is that last time I want you to call me Ms. Eubanks. From now on, I’m Carolyn. We call everyone by their first name around here and you’ll be Shelton. Ok?”

“Thank you, Ms., sorry, Carolyn.” We both laughed. Penny scowled. I wondered why she had a name like “Penny.” Shouldn’t that belong on a girl with a cheerful face?

At first glance, seeing the haphazard layout of the huge room, with its random collection of desks and makeshift dividers, I wondered how these women got any work done. It was a maze of telephone cables with rubber strips covering wires that ran from desk-to-desk. The room itself covered the entire 10th floor of the long narrow building, with private offices located in both the front and back of the building.

Yet, I was amazed to see that each desk was equipped with an up-to-date computer station, in which laptops were linked to large flat screen monitors.

“Wow, this is amazing, you have some of the best equipment I’ve seen,” I said to Penny, as she showed me around the office, introducing me to the staff, usually with a curt “this is Shelton McBride. He’s your new IT contact, and this is …” giving me the person’s first name and brief description of her job. She hardly gave me a chance to shake the woman’s hand before hustling me off to the next person.

“We had a benefactor from one of the city’s big IT outfits who made a donation specifically for up-grading our system,” she explained.

Later I learned that virtually all of the rest of the office equipment in the place was second-hand, often hand-me-downs from other companies or government agencies that have either gone out of existence or upgraded their own furniture. This fact impressed me greatly, since it appeared the agency believed in spending money to become more effective, rather than to put on a show. From what mom told me, WEI had become a powerful, respected force for women’s rights in the State of Illinois, and I was proud to be on the staff of Women’s Equality Illinois, even if I was the only man.

*****
You’d be surprised at how quickly I got to know all the women staffers and volunteers, and how quickly I seemed to be accepted by them. My job began that first afternoon by sending an email to all staffers introducing myself. I wrote them all, stating that beginning the next day they were to contact me whenever they had problems with their computers, cell phones or system network. I listed my email address and cell phone number, inviting them to text message requests.

When I checked in at my computer at my desk in the office the next morning, there already were nine messages by personnel seeking help. Shortly thereafter, I got text messages from three workers.

I decided to begin with the requests based on the order the requests were made. To put everyone’s mind at ease, I emailed them to say I’d attempt to be at each station by the end of the work day, and that if their problem required priority attention they should get their immediate supervisor to email me to that effect. “Thank you for your patience, Shelton,” I signed off.

The word day was to start at 9 a.m. and continue to 6 p.m., with an hour free for lunch. Hoping to make a good impression — and to avoid any delays so typical of the Chicago transit system — I left our North Side bungalow at 7:30 a.m. Though there was no dress code — except to dress appropriately when representing WEI in public — I wore pressed khaki pants, a blue blazer, a blue button-down collared shirt with a satiny sheen, women’s black knee high stockings and my moccasin-toed brown slip-ons with tassels. I thought I look pretty snazzy to tell the truth.

Oh, those women’s stockings! I had grown to love wearing them after I realized one day I didn’t have any clean black socks to wear one day. I was scheduled to do a presentation to a group of potential associates that mom was recruiting to sell her products. “Here, Shelton, wear these,” mom suggested, handing me a pair from her own dresser. “They’ll just look like men’s black socks.”

“Your feet look so pretty in them,” mom said, as I put them on my feet.

As I completed smoothing the socks up my slender calf, I held my leg up, seductively waving my stocking foot. There was something erotic in the silky feeling of the material on my leg. I realized my legs and feet were as sexy and feminine as any I’d seen in advertisements for female stockings. I couldn’t help thinking my legs were those of a pretty girl’s.

Mom knows me like a book, you know, and she sensed my discomfort. “Oh honey, don’t worry. Once you have your pants and shoes on, no one will know what you’re wearing,” she said.

“I know mom,” I said, blushing.

The truth was I loved how my feet and legs looked, and began wondering how they’d look in a pair of women’s sandals. It got my mind racing now: Might I not look pretty hot in a skirt, maybe even a mini-skirt, or one of those short denim skirts I’d seen some of the girls wear?

At work that morning, I was deep in concentration at my computer when I heard a cheery good morning from Theresa Cortez who arrived at her work station, across from mine in the maze of desks.

“Hi Theresa,” I mumbled, still staring into my screen.

“Welcome to WEI,” Theresa said, her voice welcoming and friendly.

“Thank you, I’m glad to be here.”

I looked up from the computer to see Theresa, a short, compact girl with gentle smile on a face with sparkling black eyes, framed by dark bangs and hair flowing down to her shoulders. My only word for her was “cute.”

What shocked me was that she was wearing a denim mini-skirt and a scooped neck purplish blouse and short sleeves that displayed her bosom, complete with a hint of cleavage. Strangely I was not sexually aroused by the sight of this lovely young woman; what bothered me was that I suddenly envisioned myself in such an outfit.

There were a few awkward moments as I tried to get my mind to override my sudden fantasies, but somehow I was able to exchange pleasantries with Theresa without sounding, I hoped, too weird. She must not have noticed anything, since she soon became my closest friend at WEI. I never dated her, if that’s what you’re thinking. She had a fiancée with whom she was deeply committed. She must have thought I was gay, which was Ok by me since I was sure I wasn’t gay. We just became confidants, gossiping about workmates, about our families and even about our own futures.

*****
Despite the strong sense of mission that all members of the WEI staff seemed to hold, I soon noticed there were cliques that had developed among them. I guess that’s not unusual in an office, but how would I know? Nonetheless, I found that strange. Basically there were two major groups of women, mainly the younger girls, who were single or recently married and childless, and a generally older group of mainly married women or those unmarried with children.

The younger group seemed to find more time to gather for brief conversations, with much audible giggling, with the high pitched laugh of Sophia Menke rising above all others, drawing stern looks of many of the older women in the place. That was usually enough to break up the group; even I found her laugh distracting, but I had already learned she was a dedicated, hard-worker otherwise.

From the beginning I had worked on the principle, taught to me by mom that the customer needs to be served promptly, cheerfully and efficiently.

“Show them you will do everything in your power to help them solve their problem, honey, and they won’t care who you are, what race or gender you are or whether you have two heads,” mom had told me many times.

I guess it was my low self-esteem, but I had always felt I was inadequate; I was slender, not very strong and always acted a bit effeminately. I sensed that people looked at me and found me less of a boy — and now, less of a man. As a kid, I had sometimes been teased over my ineptness at sports and most kids shunned me. As I said before, I couldn’t imagine a girl wanting me as her boyfriend; she’d probably be embarrassed to be seen with me, I was certain.

Mom reassured me time and again that I was talented and skilled in my work, and that I needed to use those abilities to win respect from others.

“Just do your job the best way you know how, and with humility, and you’ll see. All the girls at WEI will learn to love and respect you just as much as your mother does,” she told me.

I followed her advice, and I soon found out I was developing a whole host of friends in the office; I was usually cheerfully greeted each morning by most of my nearby cubicle mates, even engaging in small talk as the time permitted.

My job — helping the women solve their computer problems — helped, since when a woman needs her computer to work she needs you; even when I couldn’t immediately get to the problem, or would have trouble diagnosing the issue, I learned to be pleasant with the woman (who might be impatient and a bit unpleasant), fully explaining the issue as I knew it at the time.

“You’re so much more pleasant to deal with than our previous IT girl,” commented Kathleen O’Hearn, a gray-haired, fiftyish woman legislative representative, who was always intense, impatient and excited.

Kathleen was difficult to deal with, since she never did master the even the basics of using computers. She was of the “old school” of lobbyists who carried in her head more knowledge of the maze of state politics than a whole bank of computers.

“Kathleen, you seem to have deleted that file on past voting records of Republicans,” I said, trying to explain her problem.

“What? How could I? My God, this’ll kill us. What’s the matter with you? Can’t you find it?” she shrieked.

The whole office seemed to stop working and Penny emerged from her office, her perpetual scowl seemingly more intense than ever, as if to accuse somebody, probably me, of being a total screw-up.

I stood up, so that I was visible over the 4-foot high cubicle barrier, and said loudly, “Kathleen, don’t worry, I’ll get it back for you.”

Kathleen, who was always smartly dressed in a modest business suit or skirt and blouse, looked at me. “Really?”

“Yes, really, Kathleen, we save everyone’s work, once they save it into our server, so we can retrieve most everything you do,” I explained.

“Oh you’re adorable, Shelton,” she said, hugging me in full sight of the office.

It seemed everyone cheered (they had all heard Kathleen’s outbursts before), but I noticed the scowl on Penny’s face grow even deeper as she realized again that I truly did know my business when it came to computers.

*****
“Penny doesn’t like you very much, it seems,” Theresa, my cubicle neighbor, said to me as we joined for lunch at a sandwich shop nearby.

“She hasn’t liked me from the first interview I had, and I think she and Carolyn may have argued about my being hired,” I said.

“I don’t think she likes men.”

“That may be it, I guess. Oh well, Carolyn seems pleased with me and I guess I’m passing probation Ok.”

Theresa smiled. “You’re doing more than Ok. The girls all love you; you’ve not only solved our problems but you’ve taken time to explain how all these programs work. Lots of us girls struggle with stuff, you know. Besides, you’re cute.”

What could I do but blush?

“And I love how easily you blush,” she said, smiling. “It makes you even cuter, like a teen girl.”

She said it kindly, but I stiffened when the word ‘girl’ left her mouth. She sensed my discomfort.

“Oh I’m sorry, Shelton,” Theresa said, placing her hand on mine. “I didn’t mean it that way that you’re like girl. It’s just that . . . oh darn, I’m sorry I said that, Shelton.”

“That’s Ok, Theresa, I should take it as a compliment, I guess.”

Of course, my blushing became even more pronounced.

“Yes, there’s nothing wrong with being a sensitive young man, Shelton,” Theresa said.

“Thank you, Theresa. And by the way, you can call me Shelly if you’d like. That’s what mom calls me.”

Theresa smiled: “I like Shelly better, so much more . . . ah . . . informal, I guess.”

*****
I’ve heard that sometimes plumbers can be the most important persons in the world, particularly when a family is dealing with a plugged toilet. Thus it is with the computer tech person (or IT guy) in a busy office; when that computer just doesn’t seem to want to do what you want it to, it’s then when the IT guy can be the most important person in a worker’s life. Thus it was with me: all of a sudden I was a “person of value” in the eyes of the women in the office.

I was careful not to let my new-found importance go to my head, and I still dealt with the other staffers with a pleasant smile, even when they were stressed and I was terribly busy. Mom taught me the value of being “nice” to people. “It doesn’t cost anything,” she said.

In truth, it seemed I had become just one of the girls. In more ways that one.

It wasn’t long before I found myself regularly in the midst of a half dozen young women in our lunch break room or around Theresa’s cubicle, joining in their chatter about fashions, makeup, the latest “hunk” singer or boys in general. I soon found myself venturing opinions on what kind of outfits were most fitting for a girl or on makeup choices.

“How do you know so much about makeup, Shelton?” Heather Springer, a healthy, tanned looking young woman with carefully brushed blond hair. She was a research assistant in our legislative department and I found myself almost once a week rescuing her from computer disasters.

“Well, I worked in my mom’s cosmetics business before I came here and I still help her on my off-time,” I explained.

The five girls in the breakroom turned their attention to me. After some querying, I told them I occasionally do makeup classes for women. I also told them the name of the company whose products we sold.

“Oh how great!” Heather cooed. “I use their stuff. It’s great stuff.”

“And you teach makeup, Shelton?” Theresa asked.

I nodded.

“Maybe Carolyn will let us use the big conference room and you could do a class for us, Shelton,” Heather said.

My first reaction was to say “yes” to the idea, but fortunately I thought for a moment before answering: “I don’t think I should, Heather. After all, it wouldn’t be right to promote our products in our office.”

“I’m going to ask her anyway,” Heather pressed.

“Yes, why not? We don’t have to buy anything and we all need lessons,” Theresa said.

“I’d rather not,” I said, but I don’t think I said it very convincingly.

The next day Carolyn agreed that, if I was willing, I could conduct just such a class during the one-hour lunch period (which was not paid time) in the conference room.

“However, I don’t want you to sell any of your products there, nor to pressure any co-workers to buy,” she said.

I agreed, and two weeks before Thanksgiving, I gave my first class; more than 15 women showed up, mainly from the younger staffers. I scheduled it to last 40 minutes, from 12:15 to 12:55, to give everyone a chance to get something to eat (or bring it to the room) and then five minutes to get back to their workstations.

Now there’s nothing strange about a male makeup artist, some of the best makeup experts are men. But I had developed a gimmick in my routine that had become a favorite among previous audiences. I called it my “Silk Purse” segment; you know, that’s in reference to the saying that it’s hard to turn something ugly into something beautiful. The saying usually goes this way: “You can’t make a pig’s ear into a silk purse.”

“I’m going to prove that it is possible to create that silk purse,” I would say to open the segment of my routine. Then I’d continue:

“Now the only person in this room who is like that pig’s ear happens to be me. So watch me for the next eight minutes and then you be the judge as to whether I can become a silk purse.”

Everyone would laugh, but I’d then put a towel over my shoulders and proceed to make myself up, using foundation, mascara, eye shadow, eyeliner, lipstick and lip gloss. When done, I do a quick brushing of my longish light brown hair, creating a bang and a slight bob at the back.

“What do you think?” I’d say.

And they’d all applaud, with someone shouting out more than once, “If I didn’t know better, you’re a girl now,” and someone would echo, “Yes, and in 8 minutes.”

With that I’d curtsey, to even more applause.

I did that on the first session at the office, this time drawing hoots of laughter from the girls in the room. “Maybe you belong in dresses,” Heather said afterward. She was teasing, of course, but for some reason the idea tantalized me.

Needless to say, my makeup session grew to be a big hit; repeatedly the women urged me to do my self makeup routine, but I resisted. The truth was that I knew more about applying makeup in a tasteful and efficient manner than any of the others in the office. I specifically refrained from selling our products in the office, only suggesting that they check our website for further information. When mom told me she’d been receiving inquiries from my office-mates, I told her to keep me in the dark; I wanted no part of being accused of a conflict of interest.

Outside of watching Penny’s scowls grow whenever I put on these once a month makeup sessions, only one other woman seemed distressed by them. Anita Embree was a well-coiffured volunteer from a wealthy neighborhood who seemed disturbed by my behavior. She told Kathleen, one of the older ladies who had become friendly because I had helped her with computer problems, that she was glad that I wasn’t her son, and that what I did was “abominable.”

Kathleen said she argued with the woman about me, saying there’s nothing wrong with a man being a makeup expert or even acting a bit effeminate. “You just keep being yourself, honey,” Kathleen advised me.

As I was slowly learning, I was being well-accepted in this workplace of all women.

*****
Activities in the office heated up quickly in November as the staff reviewed recent election results, particularly in the State Legislature; that’s where most of our efforts had been directed in recent years, since legislation on such matters as women’s pay equity, domestic violence prevention, abortion rights and same sex marriage centered mainly on state governments.

“We’re going to have a dickens of a time in the new legislative session,” Carolyn told us in a staff meeting on the Monday before Thanksgiving. “We have fewer friends in the Statehouse now, and we can face much negative efforts to backtrack on women’s rights issues.”

She spent an intense 90 minutes discussing strategies for WEI in dealing with the situation, causing considerable debate about what caused the election losses, before Carolyn raised her hand and said: “Stop. That’s enough. We can’t cry over spilt milk. Let’s look ahead.”

I had to admire her: I know she was disgusted with the election results in the state (although nationally the returns were more positive), but she recognized the focus should be on the next few months. What a leader!

“Now,” she said, after the long, sometimes heated discussion. “Let’s spend a few minutes on something more pleasant. Our holiday party.”

Everyone let out a sigh of relief. “Are we planning the same thing, Carolyn?” one of the women asked.

“Why not? It seems popular with all of us.”

“Cool, I love going there,” said another worker.

“Yes, ladies,” she said, probably not realizing I was in the room, since I was in the back and with my long hair probably just mixed in with the rest of the women.

It turned out that the party for the last number of years was held at the Women’s Club in its second floor ballroom. The party would begin at 12:30 p.m., on a Friday, and would include a light lunch, cocktails and a fashion show staged by an upscale women’s store in town. Realizing the women who worked for the agency could hardly afford to shop at the place, the store brought along samples, seconds and overstock that it sold at ridiculously low prices.

“Sometimes I think I’d work here just because of this annual Christmas party and the chance to shop for bargains,” Megan Foster, one of the girls who frequently stopped by to chat with Theresa or myself. The two had stopped by at my desk after the staff meeting, just for a quick chat.

“It’s really a pretty cool party,” Theresa said. “Lots of nice fashions, including lingerie, plus great food and drinks.”

“Sounds great,” I echoed.

“And it’s a real dress-up party, too,” Megan said. “We all get to wear our best outfits. I’m planning on putting on a lovely holiday cocktail dress. Oh, I’m so excited.”

“Oh my God,” Theresa said, bringing her hands to her mouth as if in horror. “You can’t go, Shelly.”

“That’s right,” Megan said, displaying the same shocked expression. “You’re a boy.”

“And boys or men are strictly forbidden in the upper floors of the Women’s Club,” Theresa said. “It’s got something to do with an old deed restriction. It’s been fought in the courts, but the Club is still bound by the rules.”

Just then Carolyn walked by. Megan hailed her, and the executive director moved next to my cubicle.

“See you’re all glad we’re holding the party at the Women’s Club again this year,” she said, smiling.

“Yes, Carolyn,” Theresa said. “But what about Shelton? How will he be able to attend?”

Carolyn looked at me, her face turning into a scowl. “Theresa, you’re right. No men allowed up there. This is the first time we’ve faced this issue. I’m so sorry, Shelton; I don’t want to leave you out, but I don’t know if there’s anyway to get you in there.”

“Can’t they make an exception?” Megan asked.

“I don’t think so, Megan,” Carolyn said. “I understand that repair men can only go up there when the place is closed. Even the wait staff has to be all female.”

Theresa argued: “Wow, that’s so old fashioned. Isn’t there a law against the discrimination? We’re a agency fighting against such laws for women. It should follow for men, too.”

“I agree, Theresa,” Carolyn continued. “But the club is private and has that right. This party is being provided by one of our wealthiest donors, and I’d hate to alienate her.”

I stood by silently, listening to the women discuss my issue, feeling a bit embarrassed by it all; yet I was warmed by the concern all three of them seemed to have for me. I certainly didn’t want to spoil their party. The truth was, however, I really wanted to go since I knew of the fashion house that was putting on the show and always admired their outfits aas being classy, functional and innovative without being outlandish.

“Oh that’s Ok,” I finally said, breaking into the conversation. “Don’t worry about me? I wouldn’t want to ruin the event in any way.”

Carolyn looked at me, her face betraying relief.

“It’s not fair,” Theresa said.

“That’s Ok, Theresa,” I said. “You can all tell me about it later.”

Carolyn looked at me. “That’s awful understanding of you Shelton,” she said. “I hate to leave you out, but we’ll arrange something suitable for you since I think you know we’ve all come to value your contributions to the agency here.”

The director left, but promised she’d check with the Women’s Club and the sponsoring donor to see what could be done to include me. I didn’t have much hope that there’d be any changes made. The following day, Carolyn informed me that she had no luck in getting the “women only” policy waived so that I could attend.

“You’ll get the whole day off, of course, and with pay, plus we’ll get you a generous gift certificate to the store of your choice,” the director said.

I must have shown my disappointment, since I had been secretly wishing I could have attended; as I had gained in makeup skills I had become more and more aware of women’s fashions. I just loved how many choices women had in clothing, while men were so limited. Often I found myself wondering how I’d look in some of the fashions, a feeling I had every time I did my makeup demonstration on my own face.

“Oh, Shelton,” Carolyn cooed, sensing my feelings. “Really, I’m so sorry. Next year, we’ll plan something different.”

“No, that’s Ok, Carolyn. I know how much the girls love it.”

*****
At noon, Megan joined Theresa and myself as we went to the food court of the downtown mall for lunch. We were giggling about something when our turn came up to give our order at the Thai House counter, and the diminutive Asian woman behind the counter said to us: “What can I get you girls?”

I blushed and Megan and Theresa giggled, but none of us corrected her as we gave our orders.

“That gave me an idea, Shelly,” Theresa said, after we had settled in at our table.

“What gave you an idea?” I asked.

“She took you for a girl, Shelly, and I can see why,” she said, he cute round face sparkling mischievously.

“Yeah, with your longish hair. Besides, there’s the way you brush it back, just like a girl,” Megan said.

“When you do that makeup demonstration, Shelly, my God, you become so pretty. Your face really is handsome. Well . . . ah . . . ah . . . let’s say pretty.”

“What’s your idea?” I said, already beginning to suspect what was on her mind.

“Why we could dress you up just like one of us, and no one would be the wiser and you could attend the party, too,” Theresa said quickly.

“Yes, he’d fit in so easily,” Megan agreed.

“Oh, I couldn’t do that?” I protested, though I suspect my protest may not have been too vigorous.

“Of course you could, Shelly,” Theresa pressed on.

“Yes, and you’re about my size, Shelly,” Megan said. “What are you” about 5’7”? Almost the same as me, and we got about the same body size, too. I’m a size 4 or 6 in misses sizes, depending on the outfit.”

Theresa looked at both of us. “My gosh, Megan, you and Shelly could be twin sisters with your light brown hair and light complexions.”

I continued to protest, but the lunch period was consumed with a discussion, mainly between the two girls, as to what outfit would look best on me.

“It’s not right,” I continued to argue. “It’s dishonest, since I’m not a girl.”

“You could fool us,” Megan giggled.

“And you fooled the lady at the Thai House,” Theresa added.

Even as I protested the idea, I began to realize something. Yes, I could easily be a pretty girl.

*****
The following Saturday, I took the train into the area just north of the Chicago Loop, where Heather had an apartment. Theresa and Megan were to join us.

“Let if we can outfit you to be a pretty girl,” Heather said. “I got some outfits that you can wear for the occasion, Shelly, I know Megan will be bringing some.”

“Oh, I’m so excited,” Theresa giggled, when I agreed to the fitting. My rational mind told me I was crazy for going along with the two girls’ idea; I would have enjoyed staying at home for an extra day, since I was somewhat behind in working on mom’s business. What I couldn’t fathom now as I boarded the bus from our northside bungalow was why I agreed to it? Yet, I knew deep down I truly wanted to see how I’d look all fixed up to be a girl.

Heather lived in a second story apartment in a posh neighborhood, just a block west of Lake Shore Dr. I tied my hoodie tightly about my face as I walked the several blocks from the bus stop to her building, heading into a brisk, damp, chilly wind off Lake Michigan that bit into my face. I loved Chicago, particularly its vitality and energy, but on days like this I wondered why we continued to live in this challenging climate.

I knew Heather came from wealth, and guessed that she could afford to live here because of support from her family. Certainly, she couldn’t do it on her wages from WEI. Her apartment was in a red-brick building that had clearly been renovated in recent years, complete with a well--painted black iron fence, cleanly manicured landscaping and neat front steps. I pressed her buzzer at the entryway, and when I heard Heather’s eager voice I announced myself.

“I’ll buzz you in girl and I’m on the first apartment to your right at the top of the stairs. No. 3,” she said cheerfully.

“Girl?” I said to myself, as the door buzzer sounded. It bothered me: maybe I should leave, but I opened the door to enter, anyway.

Heather and Theresa both were waiting for me at the top of the stairs, smiling broadly. “Here’s our girl,” Heather said.

“Yes here she is,” Theresa said, with a grin.

“Girl” and “she.” More of that nonsense, I thought.

Nonetheless, I smiled, did a mock limp wrist movement and followed that with a slight curtsey once I reached the top of the stairs where I was quickly hugged by Heather and then by Theresa, who also added a kiss. It was just the kind of hugs and kisses that girls so often exchange with each other.

Heather’s apartment was surprisingly roomy with a broad front window that looked South and even on this gloomy Chicago day was cheerful and bright. The walls were painted with a light, peach-colored tint, and modern prints, many in bright colors hung on the walls. The furniture was light-framed with accented colors. Along one wall was a bookcase, though stuffed to near-overflowing with books, was broken with fluffy animals. I had thought of Heather as being a bit flighty, but could see now she was a serious, intelligent girl who was not afraid to show her femininity.

“I thought Megan was going to be here, too,” I said.

“Oh, she called me and told me she had to take her mother to the doctor and the grocery store today,” Theresa said

“But she and I are about the same size, and we found three outfits for you to try on today, Shelly,” Heather said.

“I think you’d look darling in any of them, but we think you should try them on to see what you like, honey,” Theresa said.

They led me into the bedroom. What a lovely room, I thought. Everything was a mixture of pinks and whites, with some highlights of violet providing accents. A fluffy duvet covered a double bed, with three white stuffed bunnies gathered together atop pillows; gauzy curtains framed the one large window, and the same materials covered the cushions of a rocking chair and vanity.

“First, honey, we want you to take a nice warm bath,” Heather said.

“But I shaved and showered this morning,” I protested. For me shaving is kind of a joke, since I grew hardly any beard on my face and little fuzzy strands of hair on my legs and underarms.

“Oh, poor girl,” Theresa said. “To be truly pretty, a girl needs to feel sweet and smell nice to start with.”

I scowled at the both of them. What was I getting myself into?

Yet, I agreed, and soon found myself in a tub covered with puffy bubbles and scented water, where I sat in warm comfort for about ten minutes, before Heather rapped on the door. “Time to get out and dry yourself, Shelly girl,” she said. There was that “girl” thing again.

They had left a pair of satiny-looking white panties with a cute pink ribbon in the front and lace trim for me to put on, but that was all I would wear before I would reenter the bedroom. My long hair was in a ponytail, but when I looked at myself in the mirror, wearing only the panties, I saw how puny my upper body looked and suddenly was ashamed at how unmanly it must appear. It would be humiliating to appear before these girls almost nude. So I wrapped a towel around my body, covering from it the breasts on down, realizing that’s how I’d seen my mom as she would leave the bathroom. I must have looked quite girlish, I figured.

“Wow, what a girl!” Heather exclaimed as I moved into the bedroom with the towel draped over my breasts.

“What girl wouldn’t kill for a lovely body like that!” cried an enthused Theresa. “I’m jealous.”

There praise prompted me to sashay about in mock feminine form, bringing giggles to all of us and causing me to lose hold on the towel, letting it fall to the floor, and leaving me standing there totally bare-skinned, except for the panties. The whole exercise had so stimulated me that my penis grew hard, creating a tiny tent in my panties, which I quickly covered with my two hands.

“You don’t need to cover that up,” Heather teased. “There’s not much there anyway, is there?”

“No,” I said, a bit humiliated by the whole episode. My male appendage certainly wasn’t terribly manly, I knew, but it did cause a noticeable bulge in my panties.

“Nonetheless, we’ll have to make sure we do something about that,” Theresa said.

“Don’t worry, I thought of that and I have a gaff for her to wear,” Heather said.

“You thought of everything, haven’t you?” I said.

*****
After the girls had put a bra on me and stuffed it with sponge rubber filler, I tried on the three outfits they had chosen from Heather’s closet. The first was a faux-wrap dress of a soft stretch violet-colored material that seemed to cling to my body. It had three-quarter length sleeves and ended at just above the knee. It fit like a glove I was surprised to feel it felt so comfortable on me.

“You have such lovely legs, Shelly,” Theresa remarked.

“The dress creates such a feminine silhouette,” Heather continued. “You appear to have such a naturally girlish body, Shelly.”

I moved over to the full-length mirror affixed to a closet door to see myself, astonished at realizing I did indeed — even without makeup and with my hair tied back — look convincingly female. My shoulders were narrow and my arms lacked muscle mass, creating a truly feminine shape.

“I love the dress,” I said.

They helped me out of the dress, and assisted me to step into a salmon-colored cocktail dress with thin straps over the shoulders, exposing them and my arms. It was of a more satiny material with dark red piping placed discreetly at the hemline and across the bodice.

“I think that’s better for her,” Heather said. “I think she should wear something a bit more formal.”

“Oooooh,” gushed Theresa. “I wished I had a pretty arms like you Shelly so I could wear something like that.”

“Oh you do have pretty arms,” I argued.

“Nah, not like yours which are so soft. My muscles show too much.”

She was right, of course, since she had such a pert, compact figure, her sinewy body showed prominently when she wore sleeveless dresses in the office.

“But isn’t this dress only for summer?” I asked. It could be below zero on the day of the party, since we lived in such a snowy, northern city.

“Not with this,” Heather said, producing a short black jacket that would be worn to cover the shoulders. It looked divine on me.

The other outfit was a pleated, plaid skirt with prominent red and greens, with a white blouse and topped off with a Christmassy sweater jacket. I loved it, but the girls thought the cocktail dress would be just right for the occasion.

*****
Later that afternoon, after the girls had worked on my hair, brushing it and leaving it flow freely with bangs, they dragged me out with them to a bar on Division Street that seemed to be populated by stylish 20-somethings. I wore the skirt, blouse and sweater combination, but covered it with a warm, light grey jacket and a pink wool cap. On my feet I wore flats, and as I walked with them easily mimicked their short steps and girlish mannerisms.

We found a table near the entrance, and all three of us ordered cosmos, a fitting drink for young ladies, I guessed. I had turned 21 a few months earlier, but normally I was carded; I worried that ifthat occurred I’d have trouble explaining why a young lady would have a driver’s license for a “Shelton McBride,” whose gender was listed as “m.” The male waiter, obviously a graduate student or even a law student at one of the colleges who did the job for money, was courteous and friendly, but didn’t bother with IDs. I thought he look most closely at me, and I wondered whether he realized — or suspected — I was really a boy. Or, maybe, he didn’t think I was 21.

“He’s a hunk,” Heather said. I had begun to realize that Heather always seemed to be on the lookout for new boyfriends, as I noticed her eyes wander often.

“But he only had eyes for Shelly here,” Theresa said.

“I noticed that,” Heather said. “Looks like we’ve created a monster.”

“But a mighty pretty one,” Theresa giggled.

As the hunk presented our check, he looked directly at me and asked: “You girls from around here?”

I blushed, too surprised to answer, and was pleased when Theresa told him: “Just Heather here.”

“You all students?” he pressed on.

Theresa said we all worked at Women’s Equality Illinois. The information seemed to set him back, and I’m sure he must have figured the three of us were hardened feminists, maybe even lesbians. That often was a misconception about the girls who worked there, but in my uneducated observations I believed virtually all of the staffers seemed to be married, have boyfriends or were searching for boyfriends.

“Don’t worry, waiter,” Heather plunged in. “We’re all perfectly normal girls who like guys.”

I was shocked to hear such frank talk; Heather seemed to have no shame.

He smiled: “Well I hope to see you all again soon.” He walked away, but not before giving me a slight wink.

“Damn, he was only interested in you, Shelly,” Heather said.

*****
The girls insisted I continue to wear the outfit I wore to the bar on the bus trip back home. “Let your mom see what a pretty girl you are,” Theresa said.

I protested, saying mom might be shocked at me arriving home dressed as a girl. My protests, of course, weren’t too strong, since I was excited to show off how pretty Heather and Theresa had made me. Actually, mom may not have been too shocked, since I had become such an accomplished makeup artist and she had seen my “silk purse” routine many times, usually commenting on what a lovely face I had. Once she had even remarked that I would have made a “pretty daughter.”

As I boarded the bus, the driver, a jovial, round-faced African-American man, greeted me: “Welcome aboard, miss, on Chicagoland’s premiere bus route.”

I smiled back at him as I slid my $2.10 fare into the farebox. “You certainly bring a bit on sunshine onto this humble bus,” he quipped, speaking loud enough for the passengers in the front rows to smile.

Naturally, I got looks from virtually all the passengers as I ventured forward, fortunately finding an aisle seat next to a middle-aged, gray-haired woman who was holding packages on her lap.

I carried a large plastic shopping bag which held my boy clothes, which I placed on my lap as I sat down, hoping I didn’t look too awkward as I attempted to smooth the back of my skirt as I sat.

The woman moved more tightly toward the window, as if to give me more space, and I instinctively said “thank you.”

“Been shopping, too, young lady?” the woman said as I settled in.

“No,” I smiled at her. “Just visiting girl friends today.”

“Oh,” the woman said. “Seems like I spent the whole day looking for Christmas gifts for my grandkids.”

“Bet you enjoyed that,” I volunteered.

“Yes, but you don’t know how much toys cost these days. Just wait ‘til you have grandkids.”

I giggled, picturing myself as a 50-plus year old woman bragging about my grandchildren.

“Time goes fast, darling,” the woman said. “Pretty soon you’ll be a married woman with kids. You must have a boyfriend, I bet.”

“No, not really.”

“Such a pretty girl. I figured you’d have boys hounding you. But, that’s good, dear. You don’t want to rush things. We get old so soon.”

What a weird conversation, but I joined it willingly, playing the part of a young woman, who though being pretty, was without a boyfriend. It seemed so natural.

“Merry Christmas, dear,” the woman said as I rose to get out at my stop.

“Have great holidays, young lady,” the bus driver said as I was about to step off his bus.

I halted at the top step, looked back at the bus driver, gave him a flirtatious smile, and said: “Thank you sir for a ride on Chicagoland’s premiere bus route.”

He burst out with a jovial laugh. Was he not Santa Claus in disguise?

*****
Of course, mom was shocked, but it didn’t last long. She wouldn’t let me change into my boy clothes, suggesting I continue to wear the skirt, blouse and sweater for the rest of the evening.

“Now you must tell me all about it, dear,” she said, suggesting that we share a bottle of wine together before she fixed supper.

She couldn’t take her eyes off me, as I told how the girls had me try on various outfits. She wanted to know the details of each one; when I explained that I would be wearing a salmon-colored cocktail dress to the Christmas party, she smiled.

“That’s exquisite. You’ll look just divine, darling.”

That night as I prepared for bed, mom walked into my room with a pink girl’s pajamas on her arm. “You better wear these tonight, Shelly,” she said. “These are more suitable for a girl.”

“Oh mom, I love you,” I said, running to hug her.

I was so happy and excited that sleep came slowly that night. Mom had accepted me as her daughter!

*****
I don’t know how Heather, Megan and Theresa did it, but they told no one about my transition, so things at the office continued to be continuing as normal. I continued to assist the staff with their computer problems, the girls continued to be grateful to me and Penny Hartshorn kept her scowling visage. Virtually all of the girls put some form of Christmas decoration in their cubicle. As the only male in the office, I did as well, stringing some garlands around the top of my four-foot walls with a few ornaments hanging from them. I resurrected a tiny lighted Christmas tree from our storage area, and set that up as well, even wrapping a few small boxes in holiday paper with bows.

Theresa giggled at my fastidious decorating and teased me quietly, telling me I gave my workspace a real ‘”woman’s touch.” She was right, of course.

The three of us told Carolyn about the plan to make it possible for me to attend the Christmas party, since her approval would be needed. She accepted the idea readily, though all five of us were uncomfortable with the need to lie about me by misleading everyone into thinking I was a girl.

“Oh well,” Carolyn said. “It’s a silly rule anyway. You may come as Michelle McBride. I’ll inform Penny to add your name. She may not like it, but I’m the boss here.”

Later that same day, I was surprised to have Penny drop by my cubicle; her soft featured face, a layer of fat under her jaw line, was actually smiling. I couldn’t ever remember this woman smiling before. I was struck suddenly with the fact that this overweight woman had such a pretty face. I had never noticed that before, and I realized that it was her warm smile that suddenly made her beautiful.

“Welcome aboard, Michelle,” she said softly to me, so as to not be overheard. “Of course, we’ll be glad to have Michelle McBride join us at the party.”

I almost slipped out of my chair at the woman’s complete about-face in her attitude toward me. I mumbled some form of thank you, and she moved off, leaving me wondering what was going on with the woman, who had seemingly despised Shelton McBride in the six months I had been with WEI.

*****
I guess you could say I came “out” at the Christmas Party. I doubt if I’ll ever forget how warmly all of the women on the staff of Women’s Equality Illinois treated me. They gathered about me as I entered along with Heather, Megan and Theresa, my sweetest girl friends. Fortunately, the room was warm — a rarity in many buildings in Chicago in the cold December weather — and I was able to take off the light jacket and show off my pretty shoulders, neck and arms.

Mom had trained me well in the week leading up to the party, showing me how a proper young lady sits, walks, eats, holds her cup and sips her wine. “You do this all so naturally, Shelly,” she said.

It was true, I guess, since I had basically been in all-female environments most of my life, and obviously the mannerisms must have been etched into me. I remember, too, the many times I had been called a fag, sissy or girl by bullying boys.

Needless to say, I had a lovely time at the party, enjoying the fashion show and the shopping for bargains afterward, even buying a lingerie set and a lovely evening dress at unbelievable bargain prices.

Penny Hartshorn surprised me by joining us younger girls at our table as we ate our buffet lunch, even sitting next to me. I could not believe that this dour woman could be such a lively companion; she thrilled the girls at the table (including Heather, Theresa and Megan) at stories that seemed to make fun of herself and her weight.

I found myself sitting next to her at the table, and noticed that several times her knee and mine seemed to touch. She also touched my arm as she talked, leaning over at times to whisper in my ear. As we began to leave, she called me aside and suggested that maybe I’d like to join her for dinner some night at her apartment. “I’d love to cook for you,” she said.

I nodded in apparent agreement, but wondered whether I should have stifled such a notion on her part. Nonetheless, she sounded sincere; it seemed obvious, too, that she may just be yearning for companionship. I was sure she was at least ten years older than me, and couldn’t see why she was suddenly so interested in Michelle McBride.

I hugged just about every girl in the place as we broke up. It was the merriest of Christmases.

One Year Later
The committee planning the Christmas Party for the following Christmas included Penny Hartshorne, Heather, Theresa, Kathleen, Megan and me. Carolyn had prevailed upon the sponsor of our party to pressure the Women’s Club to change its policy to permit men in its ballroom. It took some legal maneuvering, but it was accomplished.

Again this year, we had a young man, and young Irish immigrant name Kevin O’Shea who turned out to be a whiz as both IT guy and website manager. I have to admit he may even been better than I was.

Early in the year, Carolyn had been convinced that the agency should take up the cause of providing equal rights to transgendered persons, based largely on my experiences in trying to obtain a name change to Michelle Marie McBride (three m’s, don’t you think that’s cute?) and getting an Illinois driver’s license as Michelle. She recognized, too, how difficult it might be for transgendered men or women to get jobs.

“Shelly,” she said one day in June, “Shelly, you will lead our campaign for transgendered persons rights. That means no more IT work for you.”

To be truthful, I was overjoyed. Once I had assumed a fulltime role as a woman — which I did in early January after the Christmas Party — I seemed to have come out of my shell. I had joined an advocacy group for gay rights, but was upset that they seemed to care little about women and men like me who had transitioned. I told Carolyn about the issue and to her credit she agreed to bring it up before the board of the agency, even inviting me to tell me story to the board to dramatize it.

I must have done a good job, since they approved the idea quickly. I even cried when doing so, but it wasn’t an act: the tears were real.

In July, I moved in with Penny Hartshorn. We were lovers — women lovers. She wanted no part of me as a male, it developed, and with the hormones I was taking I know I couldn’t have been much of a man anyway — if I ever was. Within a couple of years, I knew I’d be having sexual reassignment surgery. I could hardly wait.

Penny was love struck and kept telling me how feminine and dainty I was. She loved to lie in bed with me, drawing me tightly into soft, warm body, as she caressed my tiny shoulders and slender arms. Our kisses were wet and sweet.

I enjoyed a task of making Penny over, which she had accepted with eagerness. We both stayed on a strict low calorie, low salt diet and took almost daily advantage of the fitness room in her apartment complex. I loved working on her face; she was truly pretty. By the time we began planning the Christmas party, she had lost weight and lost much of the fat under her chin. She was truly a beautiful woman, and I was in love with her.

The only regret I had was that mom seemed hurt at first that I moved out, but that quickly changed. I continued to help her with her business, with assistance from Penny, who truly was great with the details of running a business. A month after I moved out, an old boyfriend of mom’s called; they had dated for a while in high school, and he had recently become widowed. They soon became constant companions. Mom was so happy to introduce him to her lovely daughter … me!

And then in September, Heather and I were bridesmaids for Theresa’s wedding, which was a huge event in a Catholic parish frequented by Mexican families. I had been used to Polish weddings, which were always elaborate affairs, but this seemed only bigger. The bridal party all wore gauzy dresses in yellow with an off the shoulder drape. I loved looking at the pictures: the girls were all so lovely. It may have been my shameless vanity, but I honestly thought I was the most feminine and most beautiful of the entire party.

We were so happy for Theresa: her boyfriend was a doll, and a very accomplished music teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. He played a mean guitar and keyboard for several songs at the dance afterward. I was pleased when Heather caught Theresa’s tossed garter, and thus soon might be ready for a wedding, too.

I continue to get flirting looks from men of all ages, which is flattering. However, when I’m out with Penny, she gets a bit testy if men look at me too closely. I really wasn’t interested in men; I was in love with Penny.

We were going to have a marvelous holiday together, I was convinced. Merry Christmas to all!

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