‘Drag is great, but this is beyond drag’: inside Miss Vera’s crossdressing school

The fairy godmother of crossdressers has helped men ease into transitioning or embrace living in both worlds with makeovers, lessons and teatime since 1992

The building that houses Miss Veras Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls is dark grey and brutalist, a squat concrete box. The hallway, an endless, fluorescent-lit corridor of identical apartments, is not better. But when the door to Miss Veras opens, it is like stepping through the looking glass. Pink walls, lace and frills welcome you inside. Framed photographs of Miss Veronica Vera, founder of the school, are everywhere, along with photos of beloved students. They are all men dressed as women, smiling and laughing at the camera.

Miss Vera, the fairy godmother of crossdressers, is a petite woman with black hair and a mischievous glint in her eyes. She is not what most people picture when thinking of a pioneer in the crossdressing and transgender movement, but an expert she is.

Vera opened the academy, which is run out her Chelsea apartment, in 1992. She has since written two books of advice for crossdressing, with a third book, Cross Gender Fun For All, due out in June.

Amy
Amy and Trish. Photograph: Veronica Vera

As soon as I enter, Vera whisks me through the steps a new student would take. A student would change into lingerie and then walk out to the makeup area, where a professional makeup artist would work their magic. The student would then be fitted for a wig, dressed in an outfit of their choice along with a pair of high heels.

Depending on which curriculum they chose, the student, now dressed as a woman, would take classes with the dean of high heels, a former ballerina who teaches elegance and feminine walking skills. Or they would take classes with the dean of voice, a professional speech therapist who would help the student speak like a woman.

When the student felt ready, they would go out on the town with Miss Vera and another dean, having tea at the Plaza, going shopping for new outfits, eating at a restaurant, or simply taking a walk in their new feminine persona. It is an amazing thrill and it is very empowering to be out and let the world see you, Vera explains.

The men who come to Miss Veras cut across every age, religion and ethnicity. Because the school is not inexpensive, as Vera puts it, the students she sees tend to be white-collar professionals. Her youngest student was 18 years old and her oldest, a spry 88. She did not look a day over 70 after we made her up, Vera quips. Her students have come from as far away as Brazil and Australia, as well as all over the US. For every woman that burned her bra, there is a man burning to wear one, she tells me with a laugh.

The time students spend with Vera can have a profound impact on their day-to-day lives. Vera recalls one student, a business executive who worked for a large corporation in the midwest. After his transformation, Vera and the deans took him to tea at the Plaza. He wrote to Vera a little while after going back home to tell her that he is no longer nervous going into board meetings. After being at high tea in full drag, he told her, nothing scares him any more.

Since starting the school, Vera has seen more men who chose to transition to become female, but many of her students are still those that, as she puts it, live in both worlds. Many of the men are married and while in the past they used to often hide their crossdressing from their wives, Vera has seen more men come to the school at the urging of their wives in recent years.

Caitlyn Jenners public transition has helped both crossdressing and the transgender movement gain wider acceptance, says Vera. Jenner gets a bad reaction because of her conservative views, but crossdressing and transgenderism cut across the political spectrum, she points out. I see quite a number of Republicans who come here too! she tells me. One of her former students used to send her emails from the conservative site The Drudge Report all the time, along with articles bashing Hillary Clinton.

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Student Bianca gets dressed. Photograph: Veronica Vera

Though the reaction of the public has shifted towards acceptance, crossdressers often still hide that aspect of their lives fearing judgment. Most people are familiar with drag and accepting of it, but crossdressing has a harder time finding acceptance. It is easier for people to identify or be around people who are doing drag because its more like fun and games and performance, says Vera. Drag is about art, and everyone knows of RuPauls well-received show, Drag Race. Drag is great, she says but there is beyond drag.

And yet, Vera has seen huge strides since she started her work. Department stores in particular have been very understanding. She took a student to Lord and Taylor to shop for womens clothing, who had a very deep masculine voice. While in the dressing room, a mother and daughter who were using a nearby dressing room heard the students booming voice and went to get an attendant to tell them a man was in the dressing room. The attendant called out into the dressing room Is there a man here? Yes, came the guilty response. Vera ran out of the dressing room to pull the attendant aside and explained that this was a crossdressing student who was in their female persona. Well then, why did she say she was a man? the attendantdemanded to know.

Student
Student Patty. Photograph: Veronica Vera

Another change Vera has seen in the past 25 years is the roles crossdressers chose. When the school first opened, many wanted to dress as a sissy maid a meek, subservient female character. At the first party Vera threw for the school, three of her students showed up dressed as housemaids. Younger students now want to dress as a rock star, a bold, breaking all the rules persona, says Vera, adding that students are seeking bolder role models.

The subservient stereotypical roles the men would often choose may have come in part due to their limited exposure to the crossdressing movement, says Vera. Before the internet and social groups for crossdressers, the only way to connect with people with the same needs was to visit adult book stores, says Vera, and the literature at adult bookstores would often paint women in very subservient terms.

While running a school for crossdressing may seem controversial, the only real negative feedback Vera has gotten has been from academic feminists, she tells me. The academics criticize her for promoting gender stereotypes. But Vera sees it completely from the other side. The fact that men want to emulate these traditional female gender roles only shows that there is something powerful about the roles, about being inherently female, says Vera.

For us [women] it would be like oh I dont want to be confined in this stereotype, but for these men they see it as freedom. I am giving men more options, Vera explains.

Vera sees the world as moving past a strict gender binary and emphasizes the good of having a male and female side for everyone. Gender is something people should play with and have fun with, she advises, and as someone who has helped people do just that for so long, she would know.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jun/17/miss-vera-crossdressing-school-for-men

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