"Do you mind if I smoke in your office?"

No one answered the question. They did not need to. He asked the same question every week. Nothing more needed to be said on the topic and he would always light a cigarette anyway. There were more pressing matters to discuss.

"Now, before time ran out on our session last week you were telling me that you were really female and your wife was really male. Let's touch on that again, shall we?"

It did not really matter to Dale. He lit a cigarette, raised it gently to his lips and crossed his legs. What could be said? He was paying a good chunk of money for these sessions and so far they were going nowhere. All that happened was that he was made to feel guilty for smoking in a non-smoking building. His pants were too restricting for a warm summer afternoon and his face felt itchy because he had forgotten to shave that morning.

"Tell me, Dale, what is it that makes you feel that you are female? Right now I see a man with a five o'clock shadow wearing jeans and an "I Shot J.R." tee shirt. Other than the way you crossed your legs, I see nothing that would make me think you were female."

Dale sighed, took another drag from his cigarette, uncrossed and then re-crossed his legs. The pants were feeling so restrictive and he was frustrated by the doctor's inability to grasp the concepts he had discussed the previous few weeks. Dale supposed this could be because the doctor wanted to have as many sessions as possible and repeating concepts would be one means to secure that end.

"Me femaleness comes from within, not from the outside.
Look, I'm not interested in any operations and I don't dress up like a woman.
Sometimes I prefer a silk blouse and a skirt to a business suit,
but that is a comfort issue.
I am female in nature and I am fine with that."

The doctor began scribbling on a notepad and then looked back up at Dale. He put his hand to his face, scratched his chin, and leaned back into his high-backed leather chair.

"So, Dale, why exactly are you here?"

They had been over that before as well. Dale's wife had insisted and Dale agreed only because he wanted to prove there was nothing wrong with him. At least that there was nothing more wrong with him than any other ordinary average guy. He had a female brain, a female heart and a female soul. Dale wasn't confused, he knew exactly where he stood. He did not have any unresolved issues other than those which concerned his wife and associates. His wife even thought it was odd that Dale enjoyed taking long bubble baths by himself in a candlelit room. It relaxed him and Dale didn't see why she should make that an extension of her suspicions about his competency. Those lilac bath oils were pleasurable.

"I am completely loyal to my wife.
I have no interest in pursuing any other woman or man.
I'm not attracted to men.
I think most men smell funny.
I just want her to accept that I am female inside."

Well, part of the problem was Dara's inability to accept Dale as he was. Dara and Dale had been married for eight years and he had only recently revealed to her that he was female in nature. After that she felt awkward when they made love and often stopped him. She accused him of trying to foist "lesbianism" upon him. That was the point at which Dale snapped. Dale lacked the right physical tools to become an effective lesbian, but trying to convince Dara that he was the same man she had been rocking the night table with for nearly a decade fell on deaf ears. She was not comfortable with Dale's female insides.

"Why not simply explain to her that you are not a woman and that you have no interest in being a woman. From what you have told me, you believe that you feel and think as if you were female. That doesn't sound like it should be a very big issue."

Dale sighed and began re-telling the doctor the tale of how two of his co-workers had left a bra and a box of feminine napkins on his desk after he told them he was female. The doctor listened carefully, informed Dale this was the third time he had related this particular tale, and then told him they had once again run out of time in their session. They would meet again in a week.

"Look, doc, don't you understand?
The problem is not with me.
The problem is with everyone else.
I am comfortable with my femaleness.
Why can't the rest of the world be comfortable with it?"

"Remember when you were just a boy?"

Memories sit uncomfortably like flames burning on wet candles. Youth is a devious memory, fading fast and changing so as to create a picture made up of a personal highlight reel. The emotional memories of childhood eventually become a stagnant puddle. What that seven year old boy really felt when he was the last kid chosen for kickball is remembered as anger and humiliation. The true nature of the pain and how it cuts through bone is never remembered in all of its colors.

"I try not to remember. I never felt like I belonged."

Dale could not explain to Tracy why it was so important to him that the people in his life accept and embrace him as intrinsically female. It was easier to talk to her than it was to the psychiatrist Dale's wife insisted he pay to talk to. Tracy was the bartender at the bar Dale visited whenever he felt like avoiding home for a few hours. She was young, vibrant, attractive, and most of all, she was female. She was openly female and her femaleness was accepted by everyone. Dale was jealous of her for that, as he was jealous of most women. They could be female and get away with it while Dale was punished for it. Dale found it maddening. Simply because they possessed a different set of sexual organs, they could tell the world they were female and have drinks bought for them. Because of the apparatus Dale had swinging between his legs, he was mocked.

"I married my wife mostly because she was the first.
She was the first woman I ever met who thought and felt like a man.
She just doesn't realize that.
I think her denial of her maleness is what makes her so angry."

Tracy nodded, the noncommital nod of someone who is agreeing just for the sake of making you feel better. She put another frozen strawberry daquiri in front of Dale and then went to the other end of the bar to help a young couple decide whether to order chicken wings or a seafood combo platter.

"Is a tree just a tree or does its nature change with the makeup of its roots, trunk, bark, branches and leaves? Have you ever considered that most people are afraid to be anything more than sterile copies of what is available on the rack of societal norms? If you dare to create a new sub-set then what becomes of the ready to wear rack? It becomes less attractive because everyone wants to design their own clothes. You become a threat to the very existence of polo shirts and pleated slacks."

Jamie was a man who rarely involved himself in conversations and only spoke when he had too many words in his mind to avoid releasing them into the atmosphere. He knew of Dale's problems and was one of the few that was open to the channel of understanding. A contemplative man who always an out of style sports coat with wide lapels, Jamie was mocked more openly than Dale. He welcomed mockery and perceived it as an opportunity for dialogue. He confessed that he had not bought new clothes since 1978 and argued that he saw no reason. His closet was full and money could be used for other purposes. Not everyone saw a need to keep up with the flow of time as humans dragged along through the river that blended them together.

"I am comfortable with my femaleness. They are not."

Should it matter? Dale had asked himself that question repeatedly and always came up with the same answer. He could be comfortable with himself and who he was, but as long as the people around him made him feel uncomfortable about who he was, then it was impossible to be truly comfortable. Dale knew he was female. The chaotic stream of childhood memories reminded him that he had always felt female. While the other boys rushed to play kickball and took their toy guns into the forest to play pretend army, he invented excuses to stay home. Dale had been more interested in staying home and inventing personalities and life histories for his sister's dolls and having them relate to each other. That wasn't what convinced him he was female, for he was not even sure there was anything female about the games he played, but when he father caught him having Barbie and Ken kiss in Barbie's convertible, everything began to unravel.

"I don't think you understand what it is to be female. You have a concept in your mind that convinces you that you are female in nature. What is female? What is male? Aren't we all just a little bit in between? The nature of female and male roles are learned, are they not? Or is there some inate part of us that sets us apart?"

Jamie was one of the few men that Dale felt he could have any kind of a conversation with. The fact that he preferred the company of women to men had always been the case. Jamie had never really had a male friend, only male acquaintances. He found no common ground. However, conversations with Jamie were too often unwelcome. He questioned too many things and demanded that Dale defend his position on too many levels. Could not just one person look at Dale and say "Okay, you are female. I'm cool with that." Dale had yet to find one person who could do that and it frustrated him.

"If they maybe could dip me in some kind of jello...
Some kind of jello that would give me a female form.
Then maybe I wouldn't have to fight everyone so hard.
Perception is nine tenths of reality and that sucks."

Dale finished his frozen daquiri and paid his tab. He nodded a terse farewell to Jamie and to Tracy and went to his car. After checking his hair and face in the rear view mirror, he turned the keys and drove off into the night. Somewhere he would find someone who understood. It probably wouldn't be in this town. It probably wouldn't be in this world. It would be somewhere beyond the walls that perception had erected all around him. How could he define himself with the limits of ancient languages? There was too much need for definition and Dale did not have one for who he was. All he could do was to keep repeating his mantra. He was comfortable with his femaleness. Yet, stating that, he wondered why he really cared if no one else was. For what ever reason, it mattered.

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