Reading Me by Prairie Lights

1899 bookstore

A couple of years ago, I found myself in Iowa City, Iowa. It’s a college town. I was there only because I was visiting family and giving them a chance to meet the real me. They were awfully busy most days, so one afternoon I took myself off to window shop

Like many college towns in deep red states, I found a stark contrast between the university district and the surrounding rural area I had driven through coming from the regional airport.

The countryside was covered up in billboards that said things like “Get US out of the UN!” or “God is Watching YOU!” or “Make America Great Again!” or “Build the WALL!” or “Protect Your Right to Bear Arms: VOTE!” or, of course, “God HATES Fags!”

Downtown was slightly different. It had a locally-owned-coffeehouse, feminist-yoga-studio, organic-gluten-free, all-genders-welcome, peace-through-justice, rainbow-flag-sticker-on-the-door, racial-diversity-is-wonderful atmosphere.

Anyone who thinks that America is only one country is not paying attention!

So after I parked my sub-compact car, I strolled around in the still-mild Fall weather and wandered in and out of shops, mostly women’s clothing stores.

When you finally give in to a profound need that you just can’t explain to cisgender people and stop killing yourself throttling impulses and behaviors that come quite naturally—but when you were young got you beaten up—you begin to have moments when you startle yourself.

When I first began shopping for women’s clothes and wearing them full time, I realized, after spending over three hours in the same store, that I didn’t want to stop shopping even though I had by then assembled a workable minimum wardrobe and had in the process left my credit card steaming.

I did not want to stop shopping for clothes in the way that someone who has been on a diet of salads and rice crackers for months doesn’t want to stop nibbling a slice of hot, cheesy pizza with all the toppings!

I had become—or, I suppose, had potentially always been—one of those women who will shop ‘till she drops.

I was stunned!

I had lunch with a female clinical psychologist a day or two later, and I told her about this. She laughed, and said, “Listen, if I hadn’t been able to shop for clothes for decades, I’d probably go nuts too!”

My tendency to keep shopping indefinitely has gotten better. Mostly.

My Higher Power employed to control my shopping addiction is how much debt I think I can add to my credit card before I start having anxiety attacks.

But anyway, there were so many beautiful clothes in those shops that I knew I was in trouble. I needed to get away from the clothes. So I went and found a bookstore.

This was Iowa City, the home of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Almost as famous among writers is the Prairie Lights Bookstore, where you are more likely to see the latest Man-Booker or Pulitzer Prize winner displayed in the front window than whatever is on top of the best-seller lists.

I had been browsing for a little while, when a cheery young woman wearing a badge that identified her as a store employee came at me.

“We are so glad you’re here!”

I had encountered friendly salespeople before but never like this!

“Um, thank you.”

“Are you ready to get started?”


“Yes, we’re all set up. Would you like some coffee or water? Oh, and if you could sign some copies of your book first, it would save time.”

The penny dropped. She thought I was an author on a book tour. Well, in a modest way, I am an author—I think I can use this incident as the raw material for a story!–but I was certainly not on a book tour.

I explained that she had the wrong woman!

A few minutes later, I saw a cardboard promotional sign about the real author. There was a picture of her.

Our hairstyles, our coloring, our ages, our builds, even the type of glasses we wore were eerily similar.

We looked like sisters!

Maybe in some alternate universe, I was the one promoting my book at Prairie Lights. You never know.

But it was deeply affirming to be read as the wrong woman!