In the past, there was no way for me to attend my therapy sessions in “Ali mode”, even if I had wanted to (which I’m not sure I did) — I worked every day so I was always going straight from work to therapy. Last week was the end of quarter, however, which meant a couple of weeks of downtime, which meant I could take some vacation days, which meant … stepping out and attending therapy as Ali.
Saturday night really was a turning point for me. It broke that public barrier, and in doing so tempered my fears. And if there was anyplace to go where I knew I’d be accepted, it was therapy. This week I actually had two sessions: the monthly group meeting on Tuesday, and my weekly individual session on Wednesday. Two opportunities to take this to the next level.
Plus, neither therapist would see it coming. And that means it would be fun. 🙂
The first thing I had to do was suss out what I was going to wear. And by think about, I mean overthnk about. I had purchased a skirt at SalArmy about a month ago that I absolutely loved, and I had long promised myself that my first time out would include that skirt. In fact, it’s the one I wore when I took my midnight stroll, but I never liked the top I paired it with that night. So like some teenage girl, I tried on practically every top I had in the closet and hated them all.
Then I remembered that, just last week, I’d grabbed a cranberry/wine colored button-up shirt at SalArmy. It was still in the bag; I’d forgotten all about it. And it looked great with the skirt. Outfit accomplished!
Makeup also proved to be an issue Tuesday. It was near 80 degrees, and also humid, which meant my bathroom was stuffy and I was sweating. [Note to self: buy a little table fan for the bathroom.] My water-based powder foundation was not interested in staying on. I’d heard women talk about “melting faces” before, but I never knew what they meant. Now I do. I eventually sorted it out enough to leave the house, mostly by taking breaks near the living room AC unit.
Going to therapy in Ali mode meant going out in daylight, when the apartment complex is active. I had so far managed to completely avoid anyone in my nighttime egresses, but I had to let people see me at some point. And sure enough, there was a family of four grilling burgers in the yard, right in front of where my car was parked! I very nearly ran back inside, but instead managed to grit my teeth and walk by. They didn’t stop their conversation as I passed, though I’m certain they stole glances my way as I pulled out.
In all the months I’ve attended group, I was only one who came dressed in male garb. And what’s more, the last time anyone saw me I was also bearded. I wasn’t sure who would recognize me. And sure enough, a couple of people who know me from past meetings looked right past me when I entered. Even Cecelia, the therapist, did a double-take before recognizing me.
Once the cat was out of the bag, I was put on the spot to speak first. It’s a support group, so it ws no surprise that everyone was supportive and positive. Still, it was nice to be getting the feedback. At one point, Cecelia said to me, “Well, we can’t call you [my male name] anymore. Do you have a name picked out?” So I reintroduced myself and was Ali for the rest of the night. Honestly, it was the first time anyone has called my Ali out loud. It felt good.
The picture taken at the therapy session is hideous. I am hunched, squinting from the harsh florescent lights, and mugging my biggest man-smile, but I share it here anyway for documentary purposes.
Wednesday afternoon was my session with Nancy, the UMCGSP therapist. This time, I wore the same brown top and flare jeans that I’d worn to the store Saturday night; right now I think it’s the best outfit I have in terms of fit, look, and silhouette. Plus, I wanted to dress down; realistically, who would attend therapy in a pressed skirt and heels?
Nancy knew about my plan to go to group therapy in Ali mode — I’d formulated the idea last week — and during the conversation she’d joked that she’d never get to see me dressed since I always came to her straight from work. So I thought it was worth using a vacation day to catch her off-guard. And boy did I! It took her a few minutes to actually get into therapy mode. It was a pleasant session, and one where she said I smiled more than I ever had in sessions past.
My Wednesday session is in the mid-afternoon, so it was still around dinnertime when I left. And frankly, I was feeling adventurous! I was all dressed up, and I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to keep this adventure alive a little longer. And as it so happens, the IKEA store in Canton, MI, is just off the highway on my way home from Ann Arbor. I had used the IKEA for the first day out with my purse, and so I figured, “Why not?” If I wanted this to be my reality, my life, I had to be wiling to be seen, to be public. [But not to interact. My voice is still undeveloped, and hey, IKEA has self-serve checkout.]
So I pulled into the Sweedish home furnishings giant, and I walked in, and I browsed the showroom for awhile. And … nothing happened. No one bothered me. No one pointed or laughed. No one seemed to even notice anything about me; and if they did they kept it to themselves, which was fine with me. I bought a cutting board, and an extra set of towels, and a chocolate bar (I love IKEA’s dark chocolate bars), and I went home in about the best mood of my life.
Some day, going out in Ali mode won’t be a big deal. Some day, it won’t even be Ali mode; it’ll just be me. But for now it’s a first, and therefore worth blogging about. And hey, check it out: I even took a mirror selfie in one of the IKEA display rooms. Vanity in a vanity? You decide …