SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Cross-dressing is still widely misunderstood. Many people who want to do it need a supportive environment in which to experiment. From member station WFUV in New York City, George Bodarky reports that Miss Vera's Finishing School For Boys Who Want To Be Girls is there to help.
VERONICA VERA: Great to see you.
PAT: Nice to see you.
GEORGE BODARKY, BYLINE: When Pat arrives, he looks like your typical soccer dad. He's wearing a baseball cap, sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers. But in a few hours, he'll walk out of here as Bianca, a sassy strawberry blonde.
VERA: That's the perfect cue for my line, for every woman who burned her bra, there's a man burning to wear one.
BODARKY: That's Veronica Vera aka Miss Vera, the founder and self-described dean of this finishing school. She greeted Pat at the door with a kiss on the cheek and soon after, some questions about his female persona.
VERA: So in your mind's eye kind of, what would be Bianca's age?
PAT: I think Bianca is probably in her late 20s, early 30s.
BODARKY: Miss Vera is a former Wall Street trader who's now the author of three books on cross-dressing. Her latest is called, "Miss Vera's Cross Gender Fun For All." Her academy operates out of her Manhattan apartment.
VERA: Many of the people who come here are going back and forth. They're living in their lives as men, and they're coming here and living out their lives as female or learning to access those parts of themselves.
BODARKY: That's pretty much the story of her student here today, Pat. He's a married father of two in his early 40s from the Philadelphia area. Pat asked that we not use his last name because he's concerned how his colleagues and religious community will view him. Pat works in corporate consulting. He starts to leave his entire male life behind within minutes of arriving at Miss Vera's.
VERA: So let's get you out of these male duds and...
PAT: Sounds good.
VERA: ...Into some female clothing. The other deans will be here shortly.
BODARKY: The other deans include Miss Bridie, dean of cosmetology.
BRIDIE: You know, there's a lot of different kinds of primers.
BODARKY: Miss Judy is dean of voice. She helps Pat sound more feminine.
JUDY: So I can say it was amazing. Try it.
PAT: It was amazing.
BODARKY: And there's also Miss Julia, dean of high heels.
JULIA: Imagine doing a hula hoop. Throw out your hip as you walk a bit, OK?
BODARKY: Miss Vera says this is all what puts men in touch with their femmeselves (ph).
VERA: Freud only had it half right. Penis envy exists. Venus envy also exists. And there are things that we as women have experienced and what men from their viewpoint see as very positive things that they want to experience, too.
BODARKY: Pat puts it a little more simply.
PAT: I consider myself the typical American straight married man who from time to time really likes to get dressed up and look pretty.
BODARKY: About 60 percent of the people who come to Miss Vera's academy describe themselves as straight married men. In fact, Pat came to Miss Vera's Finishing School with the support of his wife of 15 years. She asked that we refer to her by her middle name, Leigh, because she too is concerned about potential scorn. Leigh says she sees how becoming Bianca lifts the weight of the world off her husband's shoulders.
LEIGH: It's definitely a stress relief for him. It definitely helps him have more balance in his life, and all of that is good. It's good for me as his wife. It's good for my children.
BODARKY: Leigh says she's more concerned about her husband being judged than being judged herself. Pat says he never takes his wife's acceptance for granted because he knows cross-dressing has ended marriages.
PAT: She could use this against me in all sorts of ways if we had to do that. She's not going to do that.
BODARKY: Pat says they've both learned that you should never judge a person until you walk a mile in her four-inch heels. For NPR News, I'm George Bodarky in New York.
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