Miss V. then put me in pull-up stockings, a bra stuffed with very realistic-feeling “chicken cutlets” and a tummy-flattening panty-girdle that was significantly padded in the hips and buttocks and gave me some serious booty action. I was told it was the same model that Patrick Swayze wore in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. Miss Vera then put me in a pair of eight-inch, cherry red, patent-leather stilettos that would make a whore blush. I took a few steps before losing control; I had to be caught before I hit the deck. Miss V. put me in more-modest heels and handed me back to Shannon, who for the next three hours proceeded to go ape-shit with the entire contents of her makeup bag. She stopped occasionally to compliment me on my pretty lips and pretty eyes and mentioned that, thanks to her ransacking of the Maybelline warehouse, they could be made “even more prettier.”
“Your eyelashes are just so thick, long and fabulous,” she insisted, before squirting glue all over them and applying eye-bristles that would make a camel proud. “Okay, now it’s time for your crowning glory,” she announced, rifling through her big bag of wigs. “This is the most exciting part!” exclaimed Miss V. “In keeping with the dress we’ve picked out [a gold-and-royal blue cheongsam], I thought we could give you an Asian look.” Shannon frantically combed through a hairpiece I swore I’d seen atop Rod Stewart in the early eighties. She noticed my stunned reaction and corrected herself: “You know, that . . . cyber-Asian look.” I tried on about half a dozen wigs before deciding on a straight black number with high bangs. As Shannon pulled the wig over my head, I could see that my transformation was complete.
I had become Mayim Bialik, TV’s Blossom.
Exhausted, Shannon raised her hands above her head and took three dramatic steps backward. “Voila!” she screamed.
Next came the corset, which reduced my waist almost into the single figures. “Can you handle it?” asked Miss Vera. “Sure!” I wheezed and tried to sit down, almost ejecting my spleen out of my throat. “Sitting down takes some getting used to,” she added as I writhed in pain, my lung capacity halved.
A knock at the door produced Miss Tiger, ballet mistress and dean of dance, also a bona fide woman. She had arrived to teach me how to walk in heels, but was first called upon to get me into my dress. The silk number was snug when I tried it on without boobs and hips. With them it took three women to get me into it. Miss Vera and Miss Tiger pressed on my fake nails and handed me some gaudy jewelry and earrings.
I looked in the mirror at the cyber-Asian Blossom Russo dragon lady before me and almost screamed in terror. Tiger, Vera and Shannon held their hands to their chests, and their eyes went all glassy. “Gretchen, you are beautiful,” sighed Miss Vera. I smiled and looked over at Virginia and Joey, who were grimly nodding in agreement.
Miss Tiger then led me around the room, shouting out instructions punctuated with claps. “Shoulders back, tits out, move those hips, work that ass!” She showed me how to stand and how to get in and out of a cab, then decreed that I was ready to go out on the town. Virginia, Joey and I waved goodbye to the deans and went downstairs to hail a taxi. In the face of rush-hour traffic, all of my training immediately went out of the window as I teetered across Seventh Avenue with the gait of a rugby player. “Oy!” I screamed mannishly as I clambered into the back seat, legs akimbo. I had been given a very nighttime look. It wasn’t even six o’clock yet, and, like a vampire, I felt that the afternoon sun would soon destroy me. New York’s a fairly accepting place, but I as I scrambled across Broadway to the relative safety of Nerve HQ, I felt like the Elephant Lady. People were pointing. I looked scary. I felt ridiculous.
Quantify the effects of the experiment.
For a good fifteen seconds, no one recognized me as I sashayed into my office. My colleagues’ thoughts were clearly etched on their faces: “Get a load of this old dragon lady!” “What’s Blossom doing here?” “Mmmm, she’s a piece of ass!” and then, unanimously, “Oh ma gah, it’s Grant!” Riotous laughter followed. Lorelei, cutting to the chase, said that I looked awful, “like some cheap tranny hooker,” and that she wasn’t sure if she could go out with me. Not what I wanted to hear, as we had planned to hit some bars and convince the entire East Village that I was a real girl.
I had three hours to kill, and I think the wait finished me off. It was a hundred degrees under the wig, my makeup was smudging and the shoes were killing my feet. The corset was really becoming a problem: when a press-on nail popped off, I couldn’t bend over to pick it up and had to get on all fours. Isabella and I went to dinner, and that’s where disaster struck. Halfway through our meal, my eyes rolled back in my head and I almost passed out at the table. Dehydration, the heat of the wig and the compression of my vital organs brought our girls’ night out to a premature end. I hobbled to Emma‘s apartment, where all three girls struggled to free me from my bindings. I’ve never felt a physical relief like it. My rib cage assumed its normal shape and I felt great. Broken but relieved.
Seeing my pathetic figure crumpled and smudged on the couch, Em and Lo convinced me to let them give me another makeover. Their M.O. was different: they wanted to recreate me in their own image, and I was too weak to refuse. Two nights later, I went to their place, where they dressed me in a mix of their own clothes: Emma’s denim miniskirt and pink cardigan; Lorelei’s T-shirt, platform flip-flops and a platinum blonde wig from last Halloween. An hour later, they had transformed me into “Sarah,” an entirely different animal from Gretchen. Sarah had just moved to the Upper East Side with one of her sorority sisters from a Lutheran college somewhere in the heartland. Aside from being a little heavy around the shoulders (she was on the swim team), she was cute as a button. The girls didn’t let me see myself until I was entirely transformed. I looked in the mirror and was astonished. With about three pounds less makeup, I made not only a convincing girl but a heartbreaker! In the words of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, I’d fuck me. Actually given the orientation of my Johnson in the gaff, I almost kinda was.
With my feminine ego bolstered by Emma and Lorelei, I simply had to go out on the town and work it. Not twenty yards out of Em’s apartment, guys in cars pulled over — enticed my long legs and perky breasts, no doubt— and yelled at me. I gave them a wink, a finger-wave and sauntered with my gal pals through Tompkins Square Park, where I was given the up-and-down by junkies, hipsters and bums in equal measure. They can look, I thought, but they can’t touch. Unlike my brief time on the town as Gretchen, I seemed to be pulling off the whole girl thing this time. We sat down in a bar on Avenue A, and the girls told me how to sit on a barstool without putting on an impromptu peep show. I was rapped on the knuckles several times for pursing my lips and doing the pigeon-neck when a ‘Zeppelin song played on the jukebox. Occasionally, I could see more sober patrons of the bar giving me a “Is that a he or a she?” look while a couple of the less sober boozehounds gave me the come-on.
Summarize your findings. Don’t forget to attempt to identify possible variables that could result in different findings for others trying to recreate your test results.
I can’t say that I felt sexy as Gretchen, other than in a cartoonish way. Miss Vera’s academy is not really for boys who want to be girls; it’s for guys who want to look like drag queens or, more likely, for the older “student” who’s trying to capture a look and beauty regimen from a bygone era. I really wanted to be a convincing girl, but when I was sitting in the makeup chair at the academy, it didn’t take long to figure out that these probably weren’t the folks who could make that happen. Conversely, I really enjoyed being dressed up by Em and Lo, not least because having the undivided attention of two hot girls isn’t generally something that happens outside of my dreams. They too cooed over my legs and eyelashes, but unlike Miss Vera, they sought to extenuate them. As Sarah, I really didn’t go out feeling that I was dressed for battle.
Without the girdle and stockings, I walked around the East Village with the breeze up my skirt, which I guess felt kind of naughty. It’s not until you’re dressed as your gender opposite that you realize how differently men and women are constructed. I’ve always thought I had an androgynous body, but there’s something about women’s clothes that broadens my shoulders, gives more weight to my jaw, more depth to my voice, accentuates my brow, etc. Similarly, you never realize just how big your unit appears until you put on a skirt. I never really appreciated body hair until it was ripped off my body.
Three weeks later, the hair on my arms, chest and pits is starting to make a comeback, but my legs look neither male nor female. They’re covered with sparsely distributed stubble like those of a man in his seventies. Only tennis shorts and brown socks pulled halfway up my shins could make me look more like a Floridian retiree. Ultimately, I’ve realized just what a manly brute I am — and that I should own my look a little more convincingly.
Veronica Vera’s new book, Miss Vera’s Cross-Dress for Success: A Resource Guide for Boys Who Want to be Girls is available here.
Visit Miss Vera’s website here.
Have an idea for Grant’s next I Did It for Science? Let him know here.