Sunday, 13 January 2013

A Life in Skirts

I live alone and quietly now.  Although I am known to the world as Mr James Parsons and aged 75, I spend most of my time dressed as a woman.  After what seems to be a lifetime spent in skirts, I now find feminine attire more natural to me.

I was born as a male, in the summer of 1897.  As would have been common in those bygone days, I spent my early years in petticoats before being "breeched" at the age of six and then being allowed to graduate to trousers.  I felt a little sorry for girls, who had to continue in skirts and petticoats their entire lives.  It was much better to be a boy in those days.

I spent much of my childhood in the company of my mother.  She was a short, stocky woman, not intellectually clever, but quick witted, good with her hands and a very sensible woman.  Under her guidance, my early childhood was idyllic.

As for my father, I barely saw him and, I am sorry to say, I barely remember him.  He was scarcely ever home and even when he was he seemed to be so preoccupied with his business that he seemed not to know that he had a wife and son.  I was told that he worked "for the government" and that I should not bother him unduly or burden him with questions about his occupation.

I continued to flourish.  I was a bright and clever boy and excelled at all subjects, but most especially languages for which, I was told by my form master, I had a natural gift.  French, German and Latin all came easily to me.  Great things were expected of me in the future.

Shortly after my thirteenth birthday, however, something happened that was to change my life forever.  Something terrible.  My father had disappeared.  I was never to see him again.  I remember the day well.  I rushed home to show mother my report card - which showed I was an exceptionally talented pupil - to find the house in turmoil.  There were well-dressed men searching through everything and mother's eyes were red-rimmed.  She clutched me possessively.

To this day, I do not know what had happened to my father, but it seemed that the government he had been working for now regarded him as some sort of traitor.  Mother was taken away for a while and questioned but as she knew nothing of my father's business, she was soon released.

When Father disappeared, so did the income on which we relied on.  The house we had been living in belonged to the government and so we were required to leave it as soon as we had made alternative arrangements.  Mother scraped enough money together for her to open a shop and we moved far away.

We had somewhere to live and by means of the shop we had an income, but we had gone down in the world.  Instead of the large comfortable house we had previously enjoyed, we now lived above the shop in a few small, barely furnished rooms.  My education, I learnt, had been heavily subsidised by the state due to my father.  That subsidy was of course stopped and so I had to attend the local school instead.  The staff and facilities there were a far cry from my last school.  Moreover, impoverished as we now were, my prospects were far less promising than they had once been.

To my distress, Mother refused to talk about my father.  It had become a forbidden subject.  She seemed to have put him out of her mind entirely. Strong-willed and determined to build a life for herself and me, she quickly opened "Parson's Fashion Emporium".  Mother was very good at making and repairing clothes and she was also an excellent saleswoman.  As we had moved into a working class district, the shop catered for the working class woman.  The display cases were filled with jackets, skirts, corsets, cotton underwear, hats, shoes and gloves.

The early days were difficult as the shop struggled to build up a clientele.  Originally, it had been intended that mother would employ a girl to help her, but this proved to be beyond her means and to my surprise one Saturday morning she came into my room and ordered me out of bed.

"Come on please James, I need you up!"

Blearily, I stirred and rubbed my eyes and then jumped out of bed.  Usually, I was allowed to lie in for as long as I wanted on a Saturday.  I liked Saturdays as it was pocket money day.  I got dressed whilst mother made me breakfast. During breakfast, mother said to me.

"James, I going to need your help in the shop today".

I wasn't happy about this.  I was supposed to be meeting my friends later. It must have shown in my body language for mother said "Don't get all huffy with me, young man.  I've worked seventy hours this week already.  I need a break.  So, I'm going to train you up to mind the shop when I need you to.  Alright?"

It certainly wasn't alright, but I knew better than to argue with my mother.  I always lost.

"Good" mother said, as she sensed I wasn't going to offer any resistance "Once you've finished your breakfast, come to my room".  She got up and left.  When I joined her in her room fifteen minutes later, I was startled to see a pile of clothes on her bed.  They were clearly items of female clothing, but clearly not intended for use by my mother.

Mother looked at me speculatively to gauge my reaction "I'm afraid you will have to wear these" she said, indicating the bundle of clothes "It is not appropriate to have a boy involved in running a women's fashion emporium, so we will circumvent that issue by disguising you as a girl".

I was aghast.  Had my mother gone mad?  Me pass myself off as a girl?  Impossible.  I told mother that her idea was silly and that I wouldn't go along with it.

"Very well, James.  If you want to be difficult, rather than helpful, that is your decision.  But you will get no more pocket money from me!  I cannot afford it any longer, unless you work for it in the shop.  You may go". she said frostily.

But I couldn't go.  Not with mother so obviously displeased with me.  I couldn't go out with my friends and enjoy myself knowing all the time that I would have to return home and face her in a bad mood.  Besides, without my pocket money, I would have no money to spend.

I looked at the pile of girls' things on the bed.  The last thing in the world I wanted to do was have to wear them.  I couldn't think of anything more humiliating.  But I couldn't just leave things like this.

Mother looked at me stonily "I said you can go.  Are you deaf as well as obstinate?"

"Mother" I said tentatively "I want to help you, I really do, but you must see that this idea won't work.  I'm not a girl.  I can't pass for a girl!"

Mother regarded me and a glint came into her eyes "How about a bet then? If you let me dress you up in those things and you don't look like a girl, we'll forget the whole thing and I'll give you your pocket money as normal.  But, if you do look like a girl, then you will agree to co-operate with me and work in the shop and you'll still get your pocket money.  How about it?"

I considered the proposal and it seemed reasonable.  If, as seemed likely, the disguise was a failure I would have pleased mother for trying and could go out with a lighter heart.  So I agreed.

After stripping off my normal boys' clothes, mother gave me a pair of white cotton bloomers to wear.  These weren't so very different from my male underwear except for the ruffled edging and the knowledge that this was female underwear. Then she spun me round and laced me up into one of her old corsets.

All females of that period had to wear a corset.  Girls had to wear them almost from infancy onwards.  One could tell when a girl or woman was corsetted.  The outline and the shape created by it were unmistakeable.  So, as I was to pose as a girl, I had to wear one too.  Mother laced me tightly and I felt my waist contract to a tiny dimension.  I realised that trapped in the corset, things I was used to do like running and bending over would be next to impossible.

Mother next ran some coarse woollen stockings up my legs and attached these to the corset.  They itched maddeningly but it was just like wearing extra long socks.  Mother bade me to put on a plain white blouse, which I did with difficulty as the buttons did up the wrong way.  Mother then got me to step into a long black skirt and layers of cotton petticoats that fell almost to my feet.  Mother then sat me down on the bed and put a pair of black boots on my feet, mercifully with a very small heel.

Whilst still sitting on the bed, mother put a long black wig on me (for my own hair had been cropped short recently) and arranged it around my face.  Then she held up a hand mirror so that I could see the new me.

The change was startling.  With just a change of clothes and a wig, I did look like a girl. "There we are.  I win the bet!" mother said triumphantly.  I had to agree.  I felt very awkward and silly in my new clothes and hair. Mother got me to walk around for a while to get used to it all and coached me in how to walk, how to sit and how to handle my long skirts.

I didn't much like the experience of suddenly becoming a girl.  My clothes were uncomfortable and cumbersome and I yearned for my normal clobber.  It was downright humiliating for a boy to find himself in petticoats and corsets.

Mother sensed my feelings "It'll be hard for you at first" she said soothingly "But it will get better, I promise and you'll be used to it before you know it.  Now, come, I need to show you how to run the shop".

Mother showed me.  I was bright and clever and picked everything up quickly.  Within a few weekends, mother was confident that she could leave me to mind the shop for a few hours whilst she had a rest.  I was also getting used to being a girl.  Wearing corsets and skirts became natural for me, especially as mother had insisted on my wearing my outfit over the whole weekend.  I was even given a girl's name - Polly - that I had to answer to.

Over time, embellishments were made to enhance my feminine appearance.  Small trinkets of jewellery were added, my fingernails were varnished and I wore a light make up to soften and feminise my features.  My clothes were also upgraded.  I wore silk stockings instead of woollen ones and the change was heavenly.  My blouse was now also silk, as were my petticoats, and my skirt was a smartly tailored one.  I made an elegant young lady shop assistant and received compliments on my appearance.

My existence as Polly lasted for a period of eighteen months.  During the week, I was James and went to school as normal and did boy things but at weekends I became Polly and did girl things.  Under my mother's tutelage, I learnt much about feminine deportment, fashion and even how to apply make up.  These, as it turned out, were invaluable lessons for my future career.

Meanwhile, the shop prospered.  With me to help, mother had time to create some gorgeous lingerie and dresses for higher class clients.  These garments were an instant success and soon the shop was doing well enough for mother to employ two real girls to help her.  Polly was no longer needed.  Furthermore, mother was able to rent us a house in a better district.

I reverted to my whole life as a boy with mixed feelings for I had found that life as a part-time girl was actually quite pleasant.  I missed the rigidity and security of corsets and the other pretty, fussy things that went with being a girl.  But, at the end of the day I was a boy who was about to become a man.

When I left school, I was no longer certain what I was going to do.  University was not an option as  we could not afford it.  To my surprise, mother suggested that I come back to work for her.  Not as Polly, but as her under-manager so that I could take over the business as a man one day.  So, for a while, I supervised the girls and learnt what I could from mother about accounts and stock ordering.

My life was then interrupted by the Great War in 1914.  Aged 17, like most young men, I wanted at once to rush to the nearest recruiting office and join up.  Mother, fearing that I would share the same fate as my all but forgotten father, begged me not to.  I heeded her, but could not avoid being conscripted in mid 1916.

After basic training as an infantry soldier, I fully expected to be posted to the front and I also fully expected to become a casualty before long, judging from what I had heard about conditions in the trenches.  In our last week before being shipped off, one of the lads had put together a concert party for the benefit of the troops and asked me to take part.  I played a female part of course and was fully dressed up as a lady of the period.  As I had been a "lady" before, my performance was very convincing and I got rapturous applause from the audience.

The following day, to my surprise, I was summoned to the Commanding Officer's Office.  With the CO was another gentleman in civilian dress, who was introduced as Major Forbes.  It was Forbes who did the talking whilst the CO listened passively.

Forbes started by saying how impressive my performance had been the night before.  I made a very attractive and convincing woman.  This is what had drawn his attention to me apparently.  He had then looked at my service record, which was sparse admittedly at this stage in my military career, but did highlight that I could speak French and German tolerably well.  Forbes tested me on both languages.  I was a little rusty, but acquitted myself well.

Forbes explained that he worked for MI6, an military intelligence unit whose job it was was to procure information from the enemy.  My language skills alone were of interest but my ability to impersonate a woman was of even greater interest.  They had tried to infiltrate the German military with men, with limited success.  Using a real woman was unthinkable at that time.  Women were delicate and fragile creatures, quite unsuited to the work of spying.  I wished Forbes could have met my mother.  It might have changed his opinion.

Anyway, the plan was for me to join MI6, go to Germany incognito as a lady and acquire military secrets.  I would be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, a big promotion, with enhanced pay.  It was probably certain death, I decided, but then so was going to the front line and at least spying would be more interesting, so I accepted.

Weeks of more training followed, not just in fields like cryptology, radio signalling and languages, but feminine fields such as sewing, deportment, typing and voice training.  It was vitally important that I not only look like a woman but sounded like one.

I was dressed up in a very smart jacket, skirt, hat and all of the other accessories and wore silk lingerie and corsetry underneath it all.  I was of course no longer embaressed by my attire.  In fact, I rather enjoyed it.  I made my way to Berlin without difficulty, and under my cover got a job as a stenographer in an army base.  As a civilian employee, I did not have to bunk with other women at least which made things easier.

I spent three months there and obtained a good deal of useful information about troop movements and other data.  No one twigged that I was anything other than a young German woman Stenographer.  It would have been unwise to have kept up the pretence any longer, for the German authorities were tightening up security and were becoming aware that someone at the base must be leaking information.

I rapidly switched identities and moved to another city.  Obtaining a job as a waitress in a top class hotel, which top brass of the German military frequented, I eventually became on good terms with an elderly German General and stole his military secrets.  The General was a sweet man, buying me jewellery, lingerie and expensive clothes.  I wore all of these for him and became to all intents and purposes his girlfriend.  The General was too old to try anything with me.  As far as he was concerned I was just a pretty, dumb waitress who could be made to look fabulous in a nice frock.

Anyway, once the offensive that he was in charge of failed (thanks to me leaking the intelligence back to Blightly), a furious Kaiser sacked him and that was the last I saw of him.  I kept the presents though and moved again, getting another job in another hotel and under a different identity.

Having to live as a woman twenty four seven, with the added pressure that any slip could be fatal, for I would be shot as a spy if detected, became entirely natural now.  Femininity was now my profession and I was splendid at it.  Being more careful not to get involved in any relationships, I simply lifted whatever information the Generals left lying around.  As a Chambermaid, dressed in a very cute uniform with a frilly pinny, this was absurdly easy to do.

There were disadvantages to posing as a woman.  Naturally, the men assumed I was one and treated me like one.  I had my bottom fondled or slapped on a number of occasions, or ended up on a man's knee and other indignities but the men were less of a problem than other women,which whom I had to spend a lot of time and be friendly with, but thankfully none of them seemed to question my gender.  But I was always more nervous around real women, who might sense that I was not in fact a member of their sex.

Partly thanks to my efforts, the Germans were defeated in 1918 and I was able to return to England for the first time in over two years.  Since, MI6 no longer had any use for my talents as a female impersonator, I was discharged.  But I found that simply reverting to my pre war existence as a male was not possible after more than two years living as a woman.

I returned to my mother's shop, which was thriving, and after a long conversation with her about my decision to continue to live as a woman, I went back to the shop floor as one of the girls.  The other girls were made aware of my true identity and were very supportive.  I spent twenty years of happiness working for my mother as a lady shop assistant and spending our spare time as mother and daughter.  I had my own extensive wardrobe with a small section for men's clothing for the times when I had to assume my real identity.

War interrupted my life again in 1939.  This time, the war effort had no need of me to spy for them as an imitation woman as times and attitudes had changed and real women were sent out into the field in this war.  However, my language skills and previous spying experience were still of use and I worked for MI6 once again decoding communications traffic from the German High Command.  My only regret that I was required during this war to re-assume my male attire and identity in order to do the work.  This I did reluctantly for King and Country though I was glad when the war finally ended and I was able to resume my female persona.

My mother died just after the end of the war, leaving her emporium to me.  I ran it as the lady owner for another fifteen years before selling it and retiring on the proceeds.  When I think back over my past life, I am grateful that I was able to spend most of it in skirts.

1 comment: