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Clement's Corner: The Cross-Dresser

Why on earth is Leslie Carlson, a man in his mid-forties, dressed up as a woman? Owen Clement’s short story brings a surprising answer.

‘Leslie! It is Leslie isn’t it? Forgive my rudeness in asking the obvious, but why on earth are you dressed like that?”

Leslie Carlson, now is his mid-forties, lives in a well-cared-for duplex next door to our Newtown home.

To find him walking down George Street in Sydney dressed as woman was quite incredible and I would have imagined, totally out of character. He had never shown any indication of this type of behaviour ever since I had known him. That would be about four or five years now. He normally knocks about in jeans and T-shirt on his days off and here he was looking like a conventional middle-class married woman. Totally unlike a flamboyant transsexual or transvestite, his slight fine-boned frame was attired in a simply-designed navy woollen suit with black low-healed shoes with matching handbag and a smartly coiffed ash blond wig. The only jewellery he wore was a plain wedding ring and a pair of black enamel earrings.

His response to my reaction was equally unexpected as he merely smiled and patted my cheek.

My reaction to this was not that surprising either, as I clenched my fists aggressively ready to knock him down. The image of me squaring off to a mature attractive woman flashed before me. Fortunately I held back, relaxed and strangely, found myself blushing.

Leslie chuckled.

Alarmed that my shocked expression might draw attention to us, he said “Come along, Dear” and quite naturally hooked his hand into my arm and guided me along the busy street. To other passers-by we were just another couple strolling along going about our own business.

Reaching an empty bench in Hyde Park, which seemed to take an age, he dusted off the seat with all the aplomb of a dignified lady and sat down, delicately pulling his skirt down over his knee.

“Before I continue,” Leslie said quietly, “you must promise to treat me the way you would treat any woman friend of yours, can you do that?”

“I - I’ll try, but it won’t be easy,” I stammered.

“Of course it will. You are a keen amateur actor, Use those talents. ”

Even with a cool autumn breeze blowing I soon found myself sweating.

Once we were both settled, he explained that he was on a secret mission and swore me to secrecy from talking about it even to my wife, Jennifer as he did not want anyone else uncovering his disguise.

I studied him and wondered what sort of mission it could possibly be.

Not able to persuade him to tell me more, I stood up. Joining in his extraordinary game I said, “Now you look after yourself, my dear. Call me if you get into any trouble, won’t you?” I even gave him a simulated a kiss on his cheek before leaving.

I saw nothing of him for a few days, which is not unusual as he works in what nowadays is known as the service industry, in other words, he waits on tables.

Because he works nights and weekends we rarely meet. Notwithstanding, I was becoming quite worried, when, for the next few days I saw no sign of activity next door, there were no lights or sounds to indicate that anyone was at home.

I said to Jennifer, “I wonder what happened to Leslie? I haven’t seen him about for a few days.”

“Why does it concern you?”

“Oh It just seems a bit odd that’s all. He usually tells us when he is going away. Have you noticed if his mail is still being delivered?”

She brushed it off as the usual fecklessness of bachelors living on their own.

My wife simply could not understand why I was so anxious.

She stressed that he did not have to answer to us for what he did or where he went and that I should mind my own business.

She is right of course, except that with his cross-dressing, I wondered if he had offended someone who took umbrage at being made to look a fool.

After a couple of weeks with still no sign of Leslie, I found I was not able eat or sleep properly as I imagined him being kidnapped, assaulted or possibly even murdered.

Jennifer saw that I had become very agitated and pestered me to tell her why it bothered me so much. I finally had to tell her something, so I admitted that I had seen Leslie in the city impersonating a woman. And not knowing the reason, I did not elaborate on his reasons for doing so. I also said that I had contacted the police who did not have anyone fitting his description on their books.

She was furious with me for not mentioning it to her earlier

Concerned for Leslie and for me, she instigated a long discussion on what would be the best type of action to take. We jointly compiled an advertisement in the personal column of the local paper asking him to contact us either by phone or letter by the weekend or we would be obliged to report him as a missing person.

I was not convinced that this was the right action to take, but when Jennifer’s mind is made up, nothing will deter her from seeing it through.

The very evening after the advertisement appeared, Jennifer called me to the phone to say that some woman wished to speak to me.

It turned out to be Leslie using a falsetto voice speaking on a public telephone in what sounded like a bar.

‘Thank you for your concern but I am fine.” He said rather shortly. “I have had a few tense moments and some rather odd adventures, which no doubt you will know more when you read about it in my book. Take care and I’ll see you soon,” he said, then he hung up.

“What book?” Jennifer had been listening in on the extension.

I said to her that I had no idea what he was talking about.

True to his word, a few months later, Leslie brought over a copy of the novel he had been working on. It had received excellent reviews. We were able to identify the female character he had been researching. We also recognized ourselves although we were somewhat heavily disguised.

© Clement 2006


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