"I was utterly mortified that I'd be playing a girl's part in the school production."
by Tracy Lane
Copyright Tracy Lane 2003. All rights reserved.
I suppose I should have been excited.
Being chosen for a pivotal role is an honour in any production, even one so humble as Chamberlain Academy's school concert. I should have felt flattered, I should have felt ecstatic. But what I felt wasn't ecstasy. It was anxiety. Anxiety bordering on panic. And that was the strangest part, at least at first.
I mean, I'd been treading the floorboards since my sixth birthday. I'd appeared in children's pantomimes and dance recitals, nativity shows and mannequin parades without number. Stage fright wasn't the source of my trepidation. No, something else was fuelling my apprehension. They'd given me no choice in the matter. I'd been conscripted, press-ganged into service. And where was the honour in that?
I reasoned initially that Mrs Ramsey had chosen me for my background in dance and movement, which theoretically gave me a slight advantage over all the other boys in the dance club. But the end of the day, it was only a slight advantage. And that's why it seemed so unfair. Any of the others could have taken the part. Syd Chambers had studied classical ballet. Scott Bowers was the district ballroom champion, and Johnny Slash had won medals at the state finals. All three were noticeably better than me.
Of course, Mrs R wouldn't have chosen any of them for the role. They'd never been in the running. Let's face it; they just didn't look right. It had to be me - whether I liked it or not. The reason should have been obvious, blatantly obvious in fact, but I didn't want to admit it to myself at the time. Couldn't admit it to myself, might be more accurate.
As it was, I was utterly mortified when I heard I'd be playing a girl's part in the school production.
We were presenting an Olde Tyme Music Hall at the end of August, a musical extravaganza which seemed to incorporate half the school. The show featured a Moulin Rouge number harkening back to the nightclubs and cabarets of nineteenth century Paris, slated to be the highlight of the production. Chamberlain Academy was renowned for its theatre department, and no expense had been spared in terms of costume, lighting and set design. Mrs Ramsey had promised the local press a riveting performance of spectacular proportions, and nothing would prevent her from keeping her word. Only problem was, Chamberlain Academy was an all boy's school.
And I was the only one capable of dancing the French Cancan.
"The cancan?! But, Mrs Ramsey - I'm a boy!!"
I could feel my cheeks literally glowing with embarrassment. My voice quavered with dismay; she couldn't be serious, couldn't expect me to humiliate myself in front of the entire school. My head spun with a feverish blend of shame and excitement. I knew Mrs R extremely well, she'd been teaching me since the fourth grade. She would force me to go through with this, disregarding my protests without a second thought. I could be certain of that much at least.
"Sorry, I hadn't noticed," she replied, smiling to herself, "all the same, I'm afraid there's really no alternative."
I was standing by her desk in the staff room, desperately trying to negotiate a role of lesser importance, one which didn't involve wearing a dress and about ten pounds of petticoats. Mrs Ramsey was sitting in a computer chair, absently drinking a coffee. Nestles' cafe au lait; all of France in a cup.
"Anyway," she continued offhand, "I've already spoken to your Mother, and she's given her OK. Seemed rather pleased by the idea, as a matter of fact."
Yes, I could well imagine Momma laughing down the phone at that one, she'd always had a rather sadistic sense of humour where I was concerned. Worse still, she and Mrs R were as thick as thieves, having worked together on half a dozen local productions. I decided to press on despite the hopelessness of my situation. There was too much at stake for me to give in without a fight.
"I can't do it, Mrs Ramsey. It's a girl's dance! Everyone will LAUGH at me."
"Yes, I'm sure they will," she answered, calmly sipping from her Starbucks mug, "Mickey, it may have escaped your attention, but half the cast will be dolled up as women. Most of your friends are in the chorus, they'll all be wearing dresses in the Moulin Rouge sketch."
"But this is different," I almost cried. I'd be doing the cancan en solo, the rest of the guys would just be standing in the background, playing bar maids and waiters. It wasn't as if they had to raise their skirts and show off their underwear to like half the town. And anyway, this was the cancan. We weren't talking the Bosanova here. Even today, the cancan is considered something naughty and cheeky; back then it was thrilling, exciting and downright sexy - at least for me. Visions of frilly white panties and long black stockings filled my head.
"I guess you're right," Mrs R agreed reasonably enough, "the cancan's a tricky and rather complex routine. That's why I chose you. We need the best, and you're the one, kiddo. You should feel honoured."
Honoured?! This was going to ruin my life. I could already hear the jeers and catcalls that would follow me for the rest of the year. There were names for boys who like to dress up in women's dainties. The laughter would never stop, even if I was doing it under protest. Couldn't she see that?
"Why can't one of the girls from Saint Brigit's do it?" I asked, casting desperately about for a loophole, an escape route from this nightmare. This was my proverbial last-ditch gambit. Saint Brigit's College was the Catholic girls' school down the road, they often collaborated on our drama festivals.
"Can't spare any," my arch-nemesis explained conversationally, "we need them all for the grand finale right after your number. Seems like you're out of luck, Mickey. Good thing you have a fantastic pair of legs."
I groaned in utter disgrace, a deep, crimson flush invading my features. She was taunting me, baiting me; taking pleasure in my discomfort. Grown ups could be so cruel sometimes, especially when they had enough power to pull rank. She knew how embarrassed I felt, knew that this would make me the laughing stock of the entire school. I was already halfway there, thanks to my Mother's insistence that I study dance and movement. Flashing my panties in the cancan would only make things worse. A hundred times worse, a thousand times.
"Please, Mrs Ramsey," I wailed in shrill, keening tones, "don't make me do it, I'm not a girl, please, it's not fair!!" I glanced around the staff room, hearing muted chuckles from the other teachers. They were all enjoying this, enjoyed seeing me stripped of my fragile adolescent dignity, reduced to a pleading infant. And why not? I was a child after all, my feelings didn't matter in the least. I shifted from foot to foot, almost weeping with frustration. Mrs R regarded my performance with considerable amusement.
"Well, it's good to see you're getting your practice in early," she remarked, setting the mug down on her desk, "though I think we'll have to work on your pat en l'air. Rehearsals begin tomorrow at three thirty, Mickey. See you then."
I opened my mouth to make a final, whining complaint, but she hit me with a massive dose of Teacher's Eye. I dropped my gaze immediately, wilting like a frozen rose. The decision had been made and nothing would alter the verdict. At barely twelve years of age, I had no defence against the Eye, and Mrs R was a world class exponent. It was over, I was beaten.
Same as always.
I turned towards the staff room door, feeling used, manipulated, hurt. It was so blatantly unjust - she was an adult, a teacher, someone who was supposed to inspire faith and trust. Now she was going to force me into a skirt, subject me to the scorn and derision of the whole community. Face downcast to the floor, I headed for the hallway, dragging my steps in misery. Then I heard her voice, tugging at my ear from across the room.
"Oh, Mickey," Mrs R called brightly, just as I reached the open doorway. I looked back over my shoulder, eyebrows raised in expectation, hoping against all logic that she'd changed her mind. That she'd let me off and spare me the humiliation of a lifetime. Guess I should have known better.
"Don't forget to wear your prettiest undies," she said, eyes sparkling with hidden mischief. And that was all it took. The entire room erupted in mirth, teachers rocked back in their chairs, cackling like a bunch of old maids over some ribald joke.
Their laughter followed me all the way down the corridor.
I don't think I've ever forgiven my Mother for what happened next.
Walking home from school that afternoon, I'd rehearsed like a zillion different excuses, trying to figure out some argument I could use to sway Momma's judgement. Saying this would be difficult would be like calling a hurricane a slight breeze. Mom was pretty tight with Mrs Ramsey, and I knew that she was adamant about me appearing in the School Review. I'd have to be slicker than Johnny Cochran if I wanted to avoid public ridicule. It was a slim chance at best, little more than a razor's edge, but it was better than none whatsoever.
Well, at least things can't get any worse, I told myself, stepping in through the front door. Famous last words, needless to say: I had absolutely no idea how bad things were about to become.
"Mickey? Is that you?" Mom's voice, drifting gaily out from the living room. My belly began to tighten up. Something was going on; her words sounded too sprite, too merry.
"Yes, Momma," I replied, dropping my backpack and kicking off my runners. I glanced longingly up the stairs, fighting down a bleak sense of foreboding. Maybe I should postpone the family conference, simply bolt for my room and lock the door.
"Could you come in here please, sweetheart?" Again, that bubbly, effervescent tone. Whatever she was feeling, it wasn't motherly pride. It sounded more like glee, the kind you hear in any playground, when the big kids gather 'round to torment some innocent scapegoat. Whatever she had in mind, it was certain to rob me of my last vestige of human dignity. She was always doing things like that. I made my way down the hall, biting my lip in anticipation of the inevitable.
Needless to say, my premonition turned out to be true. Momma was sitting in the living room entertaining a couple of guests, two women from Chamberlain Theatre Society. I knew them by sight, having appeared in a few of the Christmas pantos CTS held every year. One of them I placed as Ms Rhodes, the wardrobe mistress. The other one I couldn't pin a name to, although I had the impression she'd done the make-up for last year's show.
All three burst into spontaneous applause as I entered the room (the redhead with a knowing smirk). I paused in mid-step, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks. I glanced at Momma in rising alarm. What was going on here? Why had she invited these women over for afternoon tea? Surely she hadn't -
"So - here's our little cancan boy!!" Ms Rhodes cheered, answering my unspoken question. My jaw dropped in astonishment. They knew!! Mom had told them, told them everything. I couldn't believe this was happening, that she'd betrayed me in total disregard of my emotions. I could almost see her on the phone, eyes gleaming with malicious joy as she blurted out the news: Hi, Jane? This is Alicia. You'll NEVER guess what's happened. Well, my son Mickey's been chosen for the School Concert! He'll be dancing the FRENCH CANCAN!! That's right, the CANCAN, just like they dance at the Moulin Rouge. Oh, yes, he'll be showing off EVERYTHING, all the way down to his pretty little PANTIES. Isn't it exciting? Come over RIGHT NOW, we have to celebrate!
My pulse accelerated in near hysteria. How many had she invited to my coming out party? There were only three now, but if I knew my Mother, I could expect a throng of blue rinse horrors within the next half hour, gossiping away loud enough to beat the band. Any hope of secrecy flew out the window the moment Mom picked up the phone, by tomorow morning everyone in Chamberlain would know. I turned to face her, heart thundering in my rib cage -
And right on cue, the doorbell rang, confirming my worst case scenario.
I was wrong in one respect: it didn't take half an hour to chalk up a full house. Within ten minutes, the living room was a mass of babbling, wild-eyed housewives. They arrived bearing vanilla tarts and strawberry shortcakes, literally bursting with venomous suburban humour. I stood to one side of Mom's art-deco coffee table, trembling with barely suppressed panic. I wanted to run away, hide in my bedroom, but she had no intention of letting me off that lightly. A life long devotee of the theatrical arts, this was her shining hour, her moment of triumph. And nothing was going to rain on her parade.
All of my carefully constructed arguments disintegrated before Momma's indomitable fervour. She deflected my pleas with a careless wave of her hand, dismissing my fears as inconsequential. I pressed on regardless, appealing the verdict in growing desperation. Again, I should have known better. It was a doomed venture from the start.
"Momma, I don't want to do this," I whimpered hopelessly, trying not to stammer my words, "everyone will make fun of me." Mom laughed her response.
"Oh, what are you so worried about? You'll make a beautiful little girl."
"But I don't wanna look like a girl, Momma!!"
"Well, it's too late to back out now, Mickey. Mrs Ramsey's already made her decision, and you're not going to let her down."
"But Momma -" I moaned, feeling roughly four years old. She was patronising me, treating me like an infant. The way she always had, for as long as I could remember.
"You're the one who wants to be an actor," she said, effectively terminating any further discussion on the subject, "so here's your big chance. Anyway, no more long faces, sweet-heart. I've got just the thing to cheer you up."
"What do you mean?" I asked, looking 'round uneasily.
"Oh, just a little surprise," she replied ominously, then reached down beside her chair. I watched in mounting suspense, wondering what I'd missed when I'd first entered the living room, what she'd kept hidden under her seat the whole afternoon. That sense of 'bleak foreboding' suddenly leapt into overdrive.
She picked up a brightly coloured shopping bag, a garish pink monstrosity decorated with hearts and butterflies. The logo read CONTESSA LINGERIE and bore a fifties-style picture of a Merry Widow decked out in an exotic black torsolette. The room went silent as she placed it on the coffee table for all to see.
My eyes bulged from their sockets as I realised what Momma had been saving up as the Grand Finale to the afternoon's festivities. For one second the floor seemed to lurch beneath my feet. I shook my head in utter disbelief: this simply couldn't be happening. Even she wouldn't do this to me; wouldn't subject me to such total humiliation.
How wrong I was.
"OK, gather round everybody," Mom exclaimed, taking me by the wrist, "It's time our cancan boy tried on his costume."
"Momma, noooooooo!" I wailed as she led me to the centre of the floor. I stumbled along behind her, blushing all the way to my hairline. An urgent, feverish heat filled my tummy: she was going to undress me; strip me down to my underpants before a houseful of complete strangers. Worse than that, she was going to make me wear whatever in the shopping bag - and despite her preceding announcement, I knew it wasn't a costume. It was lingerie - bras and stockings and flimsy lace panties. I stared around in gape mouthed shock. What was I going to do now?!
Momma's friends crowded in, eager to play with their new toy. Their hands ruffled my hair, tugged at my clothes. They were literally squealing with delight, eyes shining with feral pleasure. The walls trembled with their excited cries. This was one show they weren't going to miss. I felt surrounded, trapped, hemmed in.
"No, Momma, please no!" I begged, heart pounding in my throat, "take me up to my room! I don't everyone to see!" A rash of laughter rippled through the audience. Some of them chortled over my childish modesty, others sighed with maternal pleasure. Someone patted me affectionately on the hip: there there, baby, no need to be shy.
"Don't be silly, darling," Momma replied, pulling me toward her, "you're a little boy, no one minds seeing your panties. Now come over here and take off that sweatshirt." I gaped up at her, unable to believe what I'd just heard. Panties?! What did she mean? I wasn't a girl, I didn't wear panties. I straightened up, preparing to voice my objections at the top of my lungs - then felt her fingers plucking at my waistline.
"Nooooooooooooo!" I cried as she peeled my sweatshirt over my head and dropped it to the floor. More laughter; giggles of sheer delight, in fact. Several clapped their hands to encourage Mom to continue with my reluctant striptease. Knowing what was about to happen, I stepped away from her, only to discover my exit blocked by Ms Rhodes and several grinning conspirators. The message was clear: I wasn't going anywhere.
"Alright - hold still, honey-boy," Mom told me, reaching down to unbuckle my belt, "there's nothing to feel embarrassed about, we're all mothers here. Now - let's get those pants off. You can't dance the cancan wearing jeans, can you?"
It took her exactly three seconds to remove my stonewash Levis, leaving me standing in nothing but my fresh white underwear. Gasping with shame, I tried to pull my singlet down to cover my prim, cotton briefs. The action prompted a chorus of amusement from the audience: Isn't he just the sweetest little thing, look at him trying to hide his underpants, you'd never guess he was a boy, would you?
By this time, my face was blazing the colour of a ripe tomato. Even now, nearly a decade after the event, I can still recall the breathless, gasping shame of that moment, the derisive, contemptuous laughter of my audience.That was how it seemed to me at the time; twelve year old boys are terribly self-conscious about their bodies, particularly where strangers are concerned. Of course, none of that mattered to Momma. She and her company were oblivious to my tearful pleas; they were enjoying the spectacle far to much to consider a child's emotions.
"Let's get him out of those undies," Ms Rhodes said behind me, her high, warbling voice pregnant with excitement. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw her outstretched hands descending on me, her features radiating horrific delight. I cast an imploring glance at my mother, but found no sympathy there.
"OK, Jane, go ahead," Momma agreed, placing her hands around my slim waist, "I'll hold him for you."
"NOOOOOOO!!" I squirmed in her grasp, frantic to evade this final indignity. All to no avail: resisistance was futile, my fate had been sealed the instant Mrs Rhodes decided she wanted to see me naked. She had my vest off faster than it takes to read this sentence. I squealed, dancing from foot to foot like a frightened schoolgirl. Ms Rhodes tossed the singlet into the crowd -
And then it was time for my panties.
end part 1
Note: TG crossdress forced cancan dance under-13 Rated-M