A school in Chelsea takes ‘gender bending’ to a new level

HOST INTRO- There was a time where pink was meant for girls and blue for boys. Now Gender bending has evolved these identities. Now women sport menswear and men sport less macho clothes. Asabe Vincent-Otiono visits a school which helps men get in touch with their feminine side.

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I’m on 14th street in Chelsea. Couples are having lunch at a side walk cafe. A man in a suit that looks very Brooks Brothers sprints into a bank. I walk into an apartment. Inside is a world very unlike the one outside. It’s a school. It’s called Ms. Vera’s finishing school for boys who want to be girls.

AMBI-HI Ms Vera . Hi Asabe. I know come in.

I step into a brightly lit room and its like I stepped into the set of a 60’s movie. A red makeup chair beckons me.Bright pink walls are graced with wig heads and black framed pictures of men in dresses.

A man shows a bit of thigh in a minidress while another coyly throws his blonde hair back.Vera points to a picture of her showing a man how to wear a bra.

MS Vera -Theres me with my student Patricia. He came to me as a 38 year old virgin. I say he because he was a man.He was living as a man. Patricia has since transitioned to a woman. He was a virgin because everytime he felt sexy he had the feeling of being a woman.

Veronica Vera is 67 years old. She is the founder of the school. She grew up in a strict catholic household in New Jersey, she said she always felt the need to explore her sexuality. She moved to New York and got involved in the heavy sex scene on 42nd street.

MS VERA I was a sex journalist. I was an erotic model. I also made a handful of porn movies.

While doing research for her writing, she met a woman who was working with crossdressers.

MS VERA She was leaving town and she asked if i wanted to help the people she left behind.

Veronica started working with them and thus the academy was born.The popularity of the academy led to the decision to write a book titled Ms Vera’s Cross Dress for Success

AMBI(Ms Vera talking on the phone) so is he your husband? No just someone you are dating. Okay . I will see you Tuesday.

The first consultation with Veronica costs 100 dollars. Students are encouraged to put the cash in a pink envelope. Then you pick the classes you want. Ruth Petite is a 50 year old transgender woman. She was born a man but always felt she was a woman. But to be the woman she felt she was, she needed help.

PETITE- In terms of makeup, learning how to do my hair.Learning how to stand and hold myself the right way a woman would.

For Petite, the toughest class was the high heel class.

PETITE- Oh I needed it so badly. To learn how to walk the correct way,stand the correct way. I needed so much help with heels.

The class is taught by the Dean of highheels,Ms Julia. She was a former ballet dancer. So stepping is truly her art. Petite describes her first day in the class.

PETITE- It was a lot teetering and falling. Losing my balance and not walking gracefully at all.

Clair Martin says he is a classic crossdresser. He started wearing feminine clothing in college. He said he has been doing it ever since.

MARTIN-It’s a chance to take on whole new persona.In living colour In some ways its very soothing. Once you start doing it its very soothing.

He also participates in the high heel class and the social night called The Night of a Thousand gowns where the men come in their fanciest dresses.

MARTIN- I never really chose to get too deep into the intellectual aspect. I look at it as its fun .Its keeps me happy.

Martin is heterosexual and says he is very fluid.

MS VERA All of these people wanted the same thing. They didn’t want to be parodies of women, they weren’t looking to be drag queens. They wanted to be ms real. I really identified with them because they were sexual exploring just like I had. 

She talks about her school as a men’s movement which she likens it to the feminist movement of the 60s

MS VERA For every woman who burned her bra there’s a man ready to wear it.

Ms Vera was married to one. Her late husband Stu was a bisexual man and crossdresser. She says his alter ego, Missy was part of his sexual persona. She first met Misty when it was time for them to have sex

Ms Vera -She was a redhead .She was wearing a short dungaree overall with an off the shoulder daisy duke shirt. It was amazing we had sex for five hours.

They were together for six years.

Dr Michele Angello is a gender specialist. She said there are lot of reasons men wear dresses.

ANGELLO- Some of them do it for erotic expression.So it actually doesn’t impact their sexual orientation.

Angelo says her clients who crossdress are in very hyper masculine roles like the military.

ANGELLO- There is a stigma. At least in the US we are a misogynist and a patriarchal society. Too many woman are considered informally to be second class citizen. For a man to dress like that. People question why the men would want to do that. They want to step down from the top level of the societal hierarchy.

Pop culture particularly rock, men have dallied in more feminine clothing. Eyeliner for men was all the rage in 80’s and the phrase was coined as manliner.Ms Vera says some of her student identify with rock and roll especially the younger ones.

MS VERA-It’s all about breaking the rules and some of them would identify as rock and roll girls. They want to be Ms Tough Rock and Roller.Someone like David Bowie or Prince Prince is known for wearing his signature high heels with the baddest nonchalance.

Ms Vera says is that attitude she wants for her students.

Asabe Vincent-Otiono, Columbia Radio News

Ambi- Prince Kiss

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