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"The Best Dressed Woman on the Ferry"-Transitioning from male to female.

Updated on December 11, 2011

This story is by my friend Gayle. She asked me to publish it as she couldn't get it past the HUBPAGES filter. I think it was because she had trouble formatting her story. I love her description of an adult man learning how to become a woman. As a trans woman, Gayle felt she must do this in order to survive.

At the end of this hub is a recent story from the "Boston Globe". It tells of a young boy happily transitioning to become a girl with his families support.

Gayle's Comments

This is the first short story I have published on the Hub. It is not, however, the first story I have ever had published. The mantra for short story writers is: ‘Show don’t tell.’ With my background as a high school physics teacher and science department head, I often find that mantra particularly difficult to follow. I feel The Best-dressed Woman on the Ferry is a compromise between the extremes of telling and showing readers what one trans person experienced on her first major public presentation as a trans woman.

HubPages is a place for “telling” and, to some extent, for receiving “advice.” As a short story writer, I don’t directly give “advice” in my stories. However, if you are a newly emerging trans person, or a loved one or ally of a trans person, you will find some. You just have to search for it. Good hunting!

Gayle in casual dress
Gayle in casual dress | Source
Gayle doesn't dress up so much these days.
Gayle doesn't dress up so much these days. | Source

The Best Dressed Woman on the Ferry

The Best-Dressed Woman on the Ferry

Jane and Rose finally found two seats together in what for them was an overcrowded ferry. For two women in their early eighties, the journey from Victoria to Vancouver by bus and ferry was already becoming tedious and boring. It was hot and the middle of summer vacation. Excited children were running around with what appeared to be little parental control. Young people – for them anyone under seventy was young – seemed to be milling around with no real purpose in mind.

Jane was the first to speak after finally catching her breath from the strenuous climb from the car deck to the main passenger deck. “What a crowd! We’re lucky to get two seats together.” Jane was three years older than her friend was but prided herself on her good health, her smart appearance, and the fact that her hair was still blond and not gray like Rose’s. “With this heat, I’m glad we decided not to wear our coats.”

Rose knew the summer heat was getting to her and the stairs had really been too much. Next time, she thought, I’m not going to listen to Jane. I’m going to wait for the elevator – even if I have to wait for several loads of passengers to go ahead of me. “I’m glad too,” she said, still puffing from the climb and with an irritated edge to her voice. “What annoys me is how young people today really dress so casually. It’s one thing for men to wear shorts and sandals but you’d think women would take more pride in themselves. Look at them. Shorts, halter tops, and flip flops…they’re hardly the things to wear on a ferry.”

As they looked around the deck it seemed nearly everyone was similarly dressed. An occasional man walked by in a pair of jeans or even more rarely wearing a shirt and tie – probably even they have packed their jackets, Rose thought.

The slogan for BC Ferries used to be "Cruising the Straights" until someone told someone of the double entendre
The slogan for BC Ferries used to be "Cruising the Straights" until someone told someone of the double entendre | Source

Most of the elderly women on the bus tour with Jane and Rose were wearing blouses, slacks, and sandals but they could see a number of their group who, like themselves, were wearing short-sleeved rayon print dresses and low-heel, lace-up shoes.

“Now there’s a well dressed woman,” Rose said. Jane turned her head in the direction her friend was looking and saw a tall, middle-aged woman walking past the ever-busy News Stand. “That’s how more women should dress these days. She looks smart in that blouse and skirt…and it’s not too short either.”

Jane turned her head away from the woman for a moment as the ship started to vibrate from the turning propellers. She thought how interesting it was that the dock looked as if it were moving backwards. “It’s about time we got going; we must be at least fifteen minutes late. I guess we’ve got to expect that though with all the tourists at this time of the year.”

Now that they were underway, Jane decided she could at last relax and make the most of the one hour and forty minutes crossing time to Tsawwassen terminal. She turned her head back to the woman walking towards them and noticed her perfect make up, her elegant clothes, and the matching white shoes and handbag. Everything was perfect – even every hair on her head was in place. She was certainly the best-dressed woman on the ferry. “She looks very smart,” Jane said to her friend, “but don’t you think she’s a little overdressed for a ferry ride?”

Rose thought for a moment, “Perhaps she’s a business woman. You know how important it is to impress people these days.”

Entering the lounge Gayle looked for a place to sit
Entering the lounge Gayle looked for a place to sit | Source
Cruising the straights
Cruising the straights | Source
Sunset on the ferry
Sunset on the ferry | Source

“On a Sunday? I don’t know, Rose. To me she looks overdressed. And just look at her face. She looks nervous…she doesn’t seem to have the confidence of a business woman.”

Rose was about to say something, but decided against it as the tall woman walked up to them, pointed at the last empty chair opposite them and asked, “Do you mind if I sit here?” She then sat down facing them as Jane smiled and politely answered, “No, not at all.”

Michelle felt relieved as she sat down opposite the two elderly ladies and no longer felt the eyes of the passengers looking at her as she walked passed them. As she relaxed, she became aware that she had slid down the seat a little and her shoulders were pulled in close to her body, all in an attempt to make herself as small as possible. At last, she could start to relax and take note of her surroundings with a sense of calm that had eluded her ever since leaving the safety of her car two decks below. Michelle looked at the two elderly ladies and smiled weakly. Please don’t start talking to me, she thought, as she took the latest edition of New Scientist from her handbag. She felt herself becoming calmer now that she could pretend her attention was focused on her magazine.

“Excuse me, are you a scientist?”

Michelle looked up from her magazine to see the two elderly ladies staring at her intently. They both smiled and the one Michelle took to be the younger continued speaking with barely a pause, “My friend and I couldn’t help noticing you’re reading a science magazine and we wondered if you are a scientist.”

Michelle felt her anxiety rising as it had done on many occasions over the weekend. They mean well, she thought, at their age they probably enjoy the opportunity to meet and talk to strangers. The empty seat Michelle had seen as a refuge only a few moments earlier now seemed like a prison – the people sitting around her being its bars. She glanced at the other nearby passengers and hoped they hadn’t heard the elderly lady’s question. The last thing she wanted to do was to draw attention to herself, or worse, have someone else do it for her. She wished she could simply ignore the question but knew she could not be rude. Leaning forward a little and as quietly as possible said, “I’m a high school science teacher. I read magazines like this one as a way of keeping up-to-date.” She smiled again and quickly looked down at the magazine sitting open on her lap and stared at it, unseeing.

“When I was a girl, all my science teachers were men.” Michelle, without looking up, knew the voice belonged to the other elderly lady. After a brief pause the voice continued, “The world is a very different place now…but I think it’s a lot better now that young women can do all these wonderful things…don’t you?”

Michelle looked up and was about to respond when the younger-looking woman said, “Rose, I think this young lady wishes to read her magazine.”

Michelle looked at the woman she now knew was Rose, smiled, and with a sense of relief now that she saw a way of ending the budding conversation without hurting anyone’s feelings, said, “I agree with you…it’s so important to encourage young people to do what they want with their lives. When I can, I make a point of telling my students that they’re going to spend a long time doing whatever it is they choose to do with their lives and that it’s really important that it brings them happiness. Your friend is right though…I must finish reading my magazine.” Michelle once again stared at her magazine and realized that she had read the same paragraph several times but had no idea what it was about.

Michelle felt herself relaxing as the two elderly ladies opposite her started talking to each other. She realized she was also feeling calmer now that she was once again just part of the background for those passengers walking by. Even the residual tension she felt from the proximity of the few passengers who were sitting close to her and who had no choice but to see her was quickly receding. Michelle took a deep breath and wondered if what she had experienced since walking up from the car deck was what paranoia was like. At least I’m safe until the ferry arrives on the other side and I have to mingle with everyone as we all make our way back to the car deck, she thought. The anticipated dread faded a little as she realized that Carol would be with her by then and she would have her close friend to talk to and help divert her attention from her fears. Carol was probably looking for her even now – after all, how long does it take to get two cups of coffee? The thought of Carol, and the sense of security she gave, helped Michelle relax even more. Carol had been a good friend for more than five years now. Certainly, Michelle thought, their common profession as teachers gave them shared interests, but that was really only incidental. It was more that Carol seemed genuinely to have Michelle’s best interests at heart. It was Carol who had suggested their weekend trip to Victoria, reminding her of the meeting a year earlier where Michelle had been told, “You need to get out and experiment.” Carol had finished hers a couple of years earlier. Michelle thought how lucky she was to have Carol as a friend, confidant, and mentor.

Michelle’s mind drifted back to the start of the weekend. This was the weekend to experiment. She felt both excitement and nervousness as she drove into Vancouver on Saturday morning to pick up Carol for their overnight trip to Victoria. They had planned the trip several weeks earlier. She remembered Carol telling her of the Tall Ships Regatta in Victoria. Michelle knew that the real reason for the trip was for her to have real-life experiences, and what better way was there to do that than viewing large sailing ships? The trip from Vancouver to Victoria had been uneventful. But that was the way she had planned it. She had decided that it would be safer to be in a community where few people knew her and the chances of being recognized were small. It was not until she got to Victoria and the security of the motel that she felt safe enough to begin. Having Carol with her gave her strength and confidence.

“You look great Michelle!” Carol had told her after Michelle had changed in the security and privacy of their motel room. “Why don’t we go to White Spot for supper? We can easily walk there from here.” Michelle remembered saying she thought it was a good idea. It really didn’t matter to her where they went. After all, the whole purpose of the weekend was to get out and do things – anything – in the real world. Michelle remembered wondering how she would feel walking into a large restaurant and how she had relaxed somewhat at the thought she would have some security in a semi-private booth once they got there. Michelle reflected on the mixed emotions she had had as they walked over to the restaurant and had their supper, the excitement and confidence she felt as she and Carol walked the few blocks, the fear of being recognized and possibly being humiliated in the restaurant and, the biggest fear, the fear of facing the unknown – how would the people in the restaurant react to her? Michelle smiled to herself as she reflected on that experience. Nothing happened! The hostess had simply said, “Table for two? Please come this way.” A few of the patrons glanced at her as she walked by them but resumed eating immediately. Michelle remembered she was ignored. From the world’s point of view, she didn’t exist – or, if she did – it was just for a fleeting moment and then she was forgotten. That was the way it was supposed to be! That realization eased her anxiety somewhat as she thought of mixing once again with hundreds of passengers in about an hour’s time as they made the mass exodus back to their cars.

Michelle’s mind returned to the present as she noticed Carol carrying two cups of coffee and searching for her among the multitude of passengers. She raised her arm and waved until Carol saw her. Fortunately, a young couple sitting next to Michelle got to their feet and headed in the direction of the restaurant. “I don’t think I’ve seen this ferry so busy for a long time,” Carol said as she sat down beside Michelle. “It must have taken me at least a quarter of an hour to get coffee…and that was standing in the express line.”

“How do I look?” Michelle asked.

“Just the same as this morning,” Carol quipped.

“You know what I mean…I feel overdressed. Remember, I just wanted to disappear into the background…instead I feel as if I’m sticking out like a sore-thumb.”

“Well that fisherman on his boat didn’t seem to think you were a sore-thumb.”

Michelle’s whole body seemed to travel back in time as she remembered the conversation they had had with the fisherman who was standing on his trawler and almost shouting at them as they walked along the wharf some distance away from him. “Are you married?” he had asked. Michelle remembered how confused she was. Normally, she was very good at repartee – you had to be, to survive in the classroom. But, this was very different. She had never had to deal with this kind of question ever before in her life.

She remembered how Carol had answered almost immediately with a polite laugh and said, “I am!”

“What about your friend then?” asked the fisherman.

Michelle remembered her confusion and saying the only thing that came into her head. “I’m married, too.”

They both heard the fisherman saying, with what Michelle took to be resigned acceptance, “That’s too bad,” as they walked on.

Reflecting on that brief encounter, Michelle felt a growing sense of confidence. Confusion yes, but very flattering. She saw it as a ray of hope for what the future might hold for her.

Michelle’s thoughts returned to the present and she heard Carol’s voice telling her “And what about the sailors on the ships? We got some whistles from them.” Michelle’s mind took her back in time again. Yes, she remembered the wolf-whistles, but that was not what had really stood out for her as they had walked along the jetty. Rather, it was the deep sense of peace that had settled over her. There were many sightseers but no one really paid any attention to her. The world just seemed right. She was at one with the world and the world was one with her. It was the confidence and sense of peace she gained from just quietly walking along the jetty looking at the sailing ships that made her decide to return to Vancouver without changing first. She had to admit that her feeling of exhilaration contributed a lot to that decision, too.

Michelle returned to the present once more. It’s been a wonderful weekend she thought. She’d learned a lot about herself. Although she was over-dressed, no one had really noticed her and no one had seemed to care – other than perhaps the two elderly ladies sitting opposite her. And, even they, Michelle realized had added, unknowingly with their brief conversation, to her growing sense of self-confidence. Then there were the few people who had noticed her as they squeezed passed her in the crowds. Even these people seemed to react to her as they did to everyone else they passed – a smile or a friendly, “Excuse me.” Michelle felt a deep sense of peace settle over her as she realized most people were unaware of her. Even for the few people who had noticed her, she seemed to fade from their thoughts immediately after they had passed her by. For them, she no longer existed. Michelle realized that even if people did notice her, it no longer mattered; what they thought was unimportant.

“We are nearing Tsawwassen terminal. All bus passengers, please return to the car deck and prepare to board your bus.” The usual recorded ferry announcement signaled the approaching end of the trip. Michelle speculated that she must have heard that announcement hundreds of times, given all the trips she had made back and forth to Victoria.

“Have a safe trip,” she said spontaneously to the two elderly ladies as they rose, collected their things, and proceeded to the bus.

“I guess we should be getting back to the car,” Michelle said to Carol as a few minutes later the recorded message continued, “All car passengers please return to the car deck.” Michelle rose from her seat, folded the still unread copy of New Scientist in half, and placed it back in her handbag. It was great to have Carol with her but she no longer felt the need for the security Carol had given her. She no longer felt terrified and the walk to the car was as uneventful as it had been on all her previous ferry trips.

“Look Jane, there’s that nice woman who sat opposite us,” Rose said as she looked through the bus window as they waited to unload. “You know, it’s nice to see a woman who knows how to dress. She’s certainly the best-dressed woman we’ve seen today.” Jane smiled and rolled her eyes a little but said nothing. She knew this lady would be a topic of conversation for the next few days.

As they drove off the ferry, Michelle turned to Carol and asked, “How would you feel about us going for a short walk beside the river on our way back into Vancouver? It’s cooler now and I think the sun will be setting in about half an hour.” A peaceful walk was what Michelle needed. She needed time away from the masses of people who had seemed to surround her constantly throughout the weekend. She needed time to reflect on the weekend. They walked together but said little. Michelle realized she had never been so much at peace with herself in her entire life.

As it started to get dark, Michelle knew the weekend had to end, even though she wanted it to go on forever. Change is part of life, she thought, as they drove to Carol’s condominium.

Michelle and Carol gave each other huge hugs as they were about to part. “Thanks so much for a great weekend, Carol. It couldn’t have been better.”

Carol waved as they parted, “It was great, wasn’t it! I may see you next weekend but I’ll phone you later in the week and let you know what’s happening.” Carol was still waving as she disappeared into the entranceway of her condominium.

Michelle returned to her car and felt the depression slowly returning as she made the half-hour drive to her own place. It had been one of the best weekends she’d ever had. Unfortunately, she thought, all good things must come to an end. She entered her own condominium and her mind turned back to the real world. Tomorrow, she remembered, she had an appointment to meet the new science teacher and show him around the department. Being a department head did carry certain responsibilities. The thought of meeting the new teacher again after his successful interview at the end of June helped to reduce the ever-increasing mental anguish she was once again starting to feel.

She entered her bathroom, looked at herself in the mirror, reluctantly removed her wig, washed her face, and paid particular attention to the mascara…none of that could remain. The nail varnish remover quickly took care of her finger and toenails. She slowly and tenderly smoothed out her skirt, attached it to a hanger, and hung it at the back of the clothes closet, folded her blouse and under-wear and carefully placed them at the bottom of the half-full wash-hamper, and then put her shoes into their box and closed its lid securely. She put on her pajamas, returned to the clothes closet and got out Michael’s clothes for the meeting the following day. The last thing she did as she got into bed was to wipe the tears from her face and hug herself tightly. One thing this weekend had taught her was that her next trip – no matter when it was – would be one way.

Gayle Michels

Trans Rights Approved in Canada

Canada has given human rights to trans gendered people.

For more stories about the adventures of my friend Gail, and about trans rights, read this hub. Transgendered Rights approved in Canada's house of Commons.


Subject: FW: Fabulous article in today's Boston Globe

This mornings front page. Nice story!


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    • marshacanada profile image

      marshacanada 6 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Many Thanks Cyrsti Hart.I am so glad to get your feedback. I will pass your message on to Gayle.

    • Cyrsti Hart profile image

      Cyrsti Hart 6 years ago from West Central Ohio

      I love the story and traveled the same path years ago!

      Good luck!!!!!

    • mbtreat profile image

      mbtreat 7 years ago

      I loved this story. As a frequent ferry user it makes me laugh about the comments and attitudes of my fellow travellers which you often overhear.

      I think Gayle must be incredibly brave.


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