The tiny garage at the end of Leanne Dargie’s driveway is utterly unremarkable. On the outside it appears to be a standard storage shed and nothing more.
But blending in often means hiding what’s really on the inside – something that Leanne, the owner of Lesada, knows all too well. Within this humdrum exterior exists a discreet makeover service for cross-dressers and male to female transgenders.
Leanne recently renovated the inside of her garage into an inviting meeting space for her clients, complete with pink walls and a soft white rug. Lavish furniture has been strategically positioned across the room, including a makeup vanity by the window and a dressing screen in the opposite corner.
Instead of housing gardening tools, the space is now a shrine to femininity, and more so, freedom.
“Lesada is a place where dreams come true for men who wish to express their inner feminine longings,” said Leanne. “The services at Lesada indulge cross-dressing fantasies in a safe, accepting and non-sexual atmosphere.”
Clientele arrive at the safe haven of Lesada to receive a variety of personalized services designed to help them look, act and feel like a natural woman while avoiding over-the-top clichés.
Heterosexual crossdressers typically come to experience a therapeutic release from their everyday masculine identities. Transgender clients refer to Leanne for lessons on cosmetology, shopping, and natural hair growth.
Partners are more than welcome to come along for the transformative journey. One of Leanne’s aims is to empower her clients, facilitating a space where cross-dressing lifestyles can be openly discussed.
“I would like to be an advocate in the community for getting people to feel safe about who they are,” she explained. “And also getting my clients to understand themselves and their own feelings.
“Their identity doesn’t have to fit in a box. If they’re confident in themselves then others will be confident in the way they treat them.”
A new opportunity
Before Leanne began her crusade for cross-dressers, she was a bank teller living in a small town. She never wore makeup and knew next to nothing about the LGBTQ and cross-dressing community. She became a Mary Kay consultant to learn more about cosmetology and have a creative outlet. However, it was the teaching component of the business that gave her a newfound sense of confidence.
The idea of marketing her services to cross-dressers over Kijiji came to her unexpectedly after stumbling upon a male to female photo shoot on social media.
“I thought maybe he’d like to learn makeup to go along with that. I never met him, but that’s what gave me the idea,” laughed Leanne.
She hardly anticipated the overwhelming response.
“A lot of people sent me encouraging words to say that they were so glad they had found someone who was accepting, and wishing they had found someone like me 20 years ago when they were just starting out,” she said. “I thought, maybe there’s something to this. Every time I kept questioning why am I doing this, I would get another encouraging message or someone who would want to come for an appointment.”
Building on success
Leanne was able to quit her job, sell her house and move to London to run the business full time. The move also allowed her to accommodate clients who travel from as far as Michigan to see her.
So far, London has been the ideal launching pad for ongoing development of her network and services thanks to its open-minded environment. In addition to full makeovers, she hopes to soon include professional photography, along with voice and comportment lessons.
In the meantime, Leanne has furthered her makeup expertise through courses at Fanshawe College, and marvels in how the business has transformed her own life. As someone who never wore heels and lipstick before, she prides herself not only in serving as an example of femininity, but also for encompassing the spirit of acceptance many of her clients need.
“Every individual is so different and has such a unique story,” said Leanne. “I’m so thankful for my clients and that they’re willing to share their stories with others.”
Lesada may be an ordinary garage on the outside, but inside is a space where anyone can be their true selves.