I entered the so-called “front porch” of the dungeon and was immediately inundated with the smell of cigarette smoke and the sound of chatter. People stood around in various states of undress, engrossed in conversation.
I looked down at my long skirt and high heels and felt overdressed, but not frightened like I was on campus.
It was the first time in years I had been in public in a skirt.
Before I started transitioning medically, the only things I had to convince people that I was male(-ish) were my clothes. I bundled myself up everyday in a chest binder, two shirts, and jacket. I wore only pants. I still loved skirts, but I couldn’t wear them.
I started medically transitioning at 18, and my first year of college was easier. I still wore thick jackets to cover up my chest binder, but my voice wasn’t so high.
Post top surgery, I can wear tank tops with absurdly large armholes. My chest is another thing I don’t have to consciously control.
On a campus full of people who know me as male, who use “he/him” pronouns toward me because I can’t convince them to use “they/them,” who know I am trans and would question why I would wear a dress, I am terrified to wear one.
When I learned that my friends were going to a kink dungeon in Los Angeles for a play party, I celebrated the chance to wear a skirt and heels and not be bothered about it. It’s already a place full of people who eschew gender and sexuality norms, I figured.
The dungeon itself has one large public playroom as well as several smaller themed semi-private playrooms. Having nobody to play with and not feeling brave enough to approach somebody new, I headed for the kitchen, filled up a cup with lemonade, and listened in on the absolutely mundane conversations.
Here’s the thing about dungeons, play parties, and other kink meetups: The people are just people. We have atypical hobbies and/or sexual practices, but we’re still people who, given the chance, will tell a listener all about an awesome tabletop gaming campaign we were a part of or how we somehow were enlisted in a fancy roller skating group.
Yes, it’s a little disconcerting to walk into a dungeon and see someone tied up in ropes and hanging from the ceiling. There were times when I looked at a scene and thought, “How can anyone like that?”
People like what they like, and I’m not going to tell anyone what to do or not to do with their Friday nights. Be aware of the risks, get consent from everyone, and don’t start a scene with anyone you don’t trust immensely.
That atmosphere of trust was why I felt comfortable wearing heels and a skirt. Notice that I’m not naming names or being too specific — I don’t want to violate anybody’s trust. It’s a two-way street.
A man complimented me on my shoes and asked if I had any tips for buying heels. I have really big feet for women’s sizes, he said, and I haven’t been able to find a good selection online.
He felt comfortable coming to me, someone wearing heels but not overtly feminine. It was comforting to me, too, that there was another guy here who wanted to buy heels, who apparently sometimes wore dresses here. I wasn’t the only one.
For the rest of the night and early into the morning, I sat on couches and watched other people play. I ventured back to the kitchen several times to listen to others’ stories — someone kept giving me tips on how to start a BDSM club at school — but I eventually ended up on a couch next to a guy I had been talking to.
We watched someone’s flogging scene until the rest of my group was ready to go. I said goodbye to my newfound acquaintance and headed out to the parking lot.
I got home around two in the morning, stripped off my clothes, and fell into bed. At 9 a.m., I woke up because I had an orientation meeting at 10 a.m.
I looked at my skirt on the floor, sighed, and put on pants.