Crossing the barriers.
A new website aimed at cross dressing males has been launched in the North East. Kay Jordan speaks to the man who has come out of the closet with this unusual business venture
When he's a man he's Paul. When he's a woman, he's Fiona. From the age of about 12, Paul MacCarthy discovered he got pleasure from wearing female clothes but as a boy growing up in a conventional family in conservative Southern Ireland in the 1970s, it was a secret he felt he had to keep to himself.
"I didn't really understand it but the idea of confiding in someone just wasn't an option," recalls Paul, now 41.
At 17, he decided upon an ultra-conservative profession, chartered accountancy, qualifying at the age of 22.
"There was no family pressure. Working with figures just proved very easy to me and one aspect that appealed was the opportunity to travel because the qualification is internationally recognised and I definitely have the travel bug."
Starting his career in the late 1970s, he was later relocated to Johannesburg, in South Africa, where society, generally, was even more repressive. There were times, he admits, when he felt deeply unhappy because of his desire to cross dress.
"I felt as if I was different but it wasn't something I could discuss with friends or family."
Instead, he threw himself into his job and went on to work in senior finance positions for a range of companies in South Africa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Zambia and Nigeria. When he was 32, he took a year off to go backpacking in south east Asia.
"Through my 20s and 30s, I went through phases with the cross dressing when I'd say `I'll never do this again. I'm going to throw away all the clothes and make-up and carry on with a normal male life' because I felt I had to conform to society and be either a man or a woman."
When he hit 40, though, he felt it was time to re-evaluate his life and do something that would make him happy and fulfilled. The result was the setting up of Phoenix Lace, a new website for cross dressing males.
While he thinks it has the makings of a successful business, he also has high hopes that through it he can help other cross dressers, like himself, to come to terms with it and change attitudes so society does not perceive it any longer as a big problem. The place he chose to set it up was North Shields.
"My local pub in South Africa was run by a Geordie lad so I understood the accent a bit and I wanted to live by the sea and somewhere where property prices weren't sky high," he explains.
Given the North East's very macho image, you might think that cross dressers would find it particularly hard to go out and about here. In fact, says Paul, it's no worse than anywhere else.
"Wherever you go, all it takes is one yobbo out of 100 people but single women get the same problem at night. I tend to go places by taxi and some taxi drivers just ignore it but others are very interested.
"Two weeks ago there was a regular get-together of about 10 of us in a very macho pub in Newcastle but it is well-managed and there was no hassle from any of the locals."
From his own research, in conjunction with fellow cross dressers in the UK, America and Canada, Paul estimates that between two to five per cent of men use feminine attire from time to time.
Through Phoenix Lace, he plans to make it easier for them to do this with a good quality, discreet service offering clothing, cosmetics and footwear at affordable prices and constantly updating the merchandise.
Some cross dressers want PVC and the more "tarty" look, he says. He specialises in practical daywear, feminine clothes only in larger sizes. He also aims through his website to give cross dressers information about sizing to help them to shop in the high street.
Shoes can be a big problem. Looking for stilettos in a size 9 to 12 is not an easy task for cross dressers because women with feet that big don't tend wear them, Paul points out, but he can source them.
He also aims to expand into new areas such as lingerie, breast forms, wigs and accessories.
The website* was launched at the beginning of January and from then until the end of March, it was getting about 10 visits a day. It has since been improved and now is getting about 70 a day on average, with interest from as far afield as Bermuda, Canada, the Seychelles, Japan and the Middle East.
Living with being a cross dresser in the 1970s, Paul did wonder if he was homosexual. He's not but it's a common assumption. In fact, he believes no more than two per cent of the cross dressing community are homosexual.
"Most tend to be married with families and leading very conventional, normal lives but they have this other side to their characters."
Paul would love to find his perfect female partner.
It's not that he wants to share a wardrobe, he jokes, he would simply like to settle down and have children but it hasn't happened yet and he does feel there is a gap in his life.
He has had girlfriends over the years, perhaps not as many as other men but that's more because his life was focused on work and he lived in places where there wasn't much opportunity to meet women, adds Paul.
Fortunately, his family now accept Paul's cross dressing and are very supportive. "To my parents, I'm their son and they love me regardless."
He does feel, however, that cross dressing is becoming more acceptable as the old-fashioned taboos weaken and men increasingly explore their inner selves.
Paul is very proud of his wardrobe of female clothes: "I can always do with some more! The glorious thing about feminine fashion is the range of materials and styles from which to choose. When it's all put together, I get an inner feeling of contentment."
Some days he sets aside as Paul, others as Fiona. He's 5ft 11in tall, wears size 9 shoes and has the larger hands of a man but when he's Fiona, he tries to look and act as feminine as possible.
There are various places in the North East where cross dressers meet and when Paul joins them or sometimes when he sees friend, he goes as Fiona.
"I chose the name about 10 years ago. I knew nobody called that and I just liked it. Male or female, you never get an opportunity to choose your name so this is one advantage."
NThe website is www.phoenixlace.co.uk
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|Publication:||Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||Apr 30, 2003|
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