Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
“Am I gay? Darlin’, I’m 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and am a 23-year law enforcement veteran!”
Smith is a self-described truck-drivin’ bubba who lives in rural Carroll County. But on special occasions, Officer Sam Smith adores putting on party dresses, high heels, makeup, a shiny wig, and being called “Rebecca.”
Smith (not his real name) is also happily married to a woman and 100 percent heterosexual.
Smith is a cross-dresser. And he loves the company of other cross-dressers. So twice a year, he and his wife, Dixie, organize “En Femme Getaways” — cross-dressing vacations hosted by the Basin Park Hotel in downtown Eureka Springs.
“Cross-dressing amongst men is one of the best kept secrets,” Smith said with a deep drawl, “right up there with how to build an atomic bomb.”
Transgender research reveals that as many as 50 percent of men have cross-dressed and that most cross-dressers are straight married men.
Those who wear women’s clothing for sexual arousal are termed transvestites. Gay men can also be cross-dressers, but most tend toward the drag side of the spectrum.
Cross-dressers wear women’s clothes because it just feels good, said Smith, not for sexual release.
“And that’s been the biggest problem,” said his wife, Dixie. “When Sam told me on our third date that he was a cross-dresser, I started digging around to learn what I was getting into. I got mad because all I could find online was porn.”
So Dixie decided to put together her own website, for girlfriends and wives struggling to come to terms with their partners’ predilection.
“I named it ‘cross-dressers secret garden,’ ” she said. “I provide good, clean information.”
Dixie also facilitates an online chat forum that has more than 1,500 members. “It’s one of the most active, clean Yahoo groups out there,” she boasted.
And so are the “En Femme Getaways.”
Hundreds of cross-dressers, most conservative men with professional jobs, along with their wives or girlfriends, spend five days together in full regalia enjoying fine dining, dialogue, and dancing.
“We also put on lots of special activities, like makeover sessions, fashion shows, an Ozark-style chicken dinner, and lots of shopping, of course,” Smith said. “And on Saturday night we throw a formal gala banquet, followed by a champagne brunch late Sunday morning.”
Smith said the “girls,” as he refers to them, love the opportunity to dress up for days on end and freely walk the streets of Eureka without being hassled.
“Eureka allows everyone to be who they are,” Smith said. “It’s wonderful. And the staff of the Basin Park Hotel always welcomes us with open arms.”
Cross-dressing conventions are held in Chicago, Los Angeles, even Atlanta every year. “But ours is a vacation, not a seminar held in the ‘closet’ of [a] huge hotel,” Smith said.
While some of getaway-goers “pass” — or look like women — most look like men dressed up in women’s clothing, Smith said. Even then, they are not mocked on the streets of Eureka.
They come here for the same reason that a large population of gays and lesbians have moved to the historic spa community: Everyone is accepted.
Smith is confident and comfortable enough now to publicly advertise the transgender vacation. He has even asked the city of Eureka Springs to list “En Femme” on its calendar of events. And the guys are coming — from as far away as Africa, Ireland and Canada.
First organized as a casual gathering of friends, “En Femme” is now held twice a year, in late April and around Halloween.
“Halloween is the great holiday of all cross-dressers,” said Smith. “Halloween is the one day when any man can go out dressed as a woman, and no one will look at him twice.” At Halloween parties across America everyone laughs at the dude in the dress.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, cross-dressers suffer from a gender identity disorder. Even though homosexuality was stricken from the list of psychological disorders in the 1970s, transgenderism, which covers cross-dressers, transvestites, and transsexuals, falls under the rubric of “gender dysphoria,” a mental illness.
But cross-dressers like Sam Smith insist they are perfectly normal, well-adjusted citizens.
“Cross-dressing is not a fetish,” Smith said. “Cross-dressing is simply an attraction to things that are feminine, usually expressed in the form of clothing.”
Still he concedes there is little science explaining what compels heterosexual men to cross-dress.
“Some consider it a hormonal wash that occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy,” Smith said. “And some research said it may be genetics, that you are born with the propensity to cross-dress — just like you are born a woman, born black, or born gay.”
He said the “En Femme Getaways,” now in their 10th year, resonate like a family reunion.
“And we conduct ourselves in a civil manner,” said Smith. “The town accepts us. We like to associate.”