Interview with Veronica Vera
Dean of New York City’s Miss Vera’s finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls
Tell us briefly about the history and purpose behind Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls and the international acclaim it continues to receive?
I’ve always been an explorer of human sexuality, my own first, then that of everyone else. I spent years as a sex journalist, model, and performer in adult media and I learned a lot. During that time I had the good fortune to meet and collaborate with other artists who were doing their own explorations: Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Sprinkle, Linda Montano, Betty Dodson to name just a few. My work with cross-dressers began simply as a way to finance a book about what I describe as my personal sexual evolution. I placed an ad in a periodical cross-dressers were reading at that time and the men who answered the ad all seemed to want the same thing. They didn’t want to be parodies of women. They wanted to be Miss Real. They wanted to pass. So, I thought, what these men want is not impossible, they need a school. It just made sense. My own research had taught me that we all have a right to be who we are as long as we are not hurting other people. What I did not know was that in creating the academy I had made every cross- dressers dream come true. This was 1992. The word transgender was just coming into use as the name for a movement. And my school was an idea whose time had come. I threw a party for the school and the media arrived and so did students from across the country and around the world. The attention and interest has not stopped. The world is in need of a lot more female energy and part of the reason for the school’s immense popularity is that people want to believe there is a place where men can learn to be more like women whether for a day or a lifetime. However, the academy experience is not simply about passing as another gender, it is about learning from that experience and increasing your options as a person. This is an experience that can be relevant for all.
What connection do you see between the glamour and fashion photography of Edward Steichen and the goals of Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls?
There is a tremendous power in the art of photography, particularly when that art is coupled with changes in dress and make-up. The Steichen images portray women at the height of glamour. The models represent the realization of fantasy. Photographs are essential to the lives of our students whether they identify as transgender, cross-dresser, even non-transgendered women – they all want that record of their inner femme-self. Following their time with us, students often spend hours gazing at the photos that show their inner lives made real. To see this image of themselves out in the open is very liberating and fulfilling.
What are the insights that men and women can gain by giving your cross-dressing workshop – Miss Vera’s Cross-dress for Success: A Transformation Salon for Men and Women — a try?
A: In my workshop Miss Vera’s Cross-dress for Success, we’ll use clothing, make-up and guided play to help students break through the confines of gender and expand their options as humans. The idea is to integrate what they learn in the opposite gender and incorporate it into their lives, so no matter what their fashion statements they can be happier, healthier, sexier human beings. Of course, we’ll take photos too.