NOTE: This page is a description of Tri-Ess and of crossdressing from 1993. We include it because, first, the information is still basically accurate and, second, because it goes into more detail on the crossdressing phenomenon than current Tri-Ess descriptions. To view current descriptions, click here.
Just What Is Tri-Ess? Tri-Ess is the Society For The Second Self, a 501 [C] [3] not for profit educational support and social organization for heterosexual crossdressers and their families.


What is its Purpose?

What Is Tri-Ess?

The TRI-ESS Perspective

Crossdressers -- people who dress in clothing normally reserved for the opposite sex -- are among the most misunderstood minority groups in the world. As with other minorities, ignorance fosters prejudice, and prejudice produces intolerance and hostility toward crossdressers.

In such a climate, many of us live in fear of discovery by our closest loved ones, by our employers, and by a scornful public. We keep our crossdressing a secret. While "in the closet", many of us think we're the only ones in the world with our rather "different" desires. In our isolation, we may even come to believe the popular stereotypes and ...... "I must be gay", "Maybe Iím headed toward a sex change operation"... "I'm really sick to want to wear women's clothing, especially in public"...

It's not surprising that many crossdressers feel or think these things. But we of Tri-Ess believe -- and know from experience -- that the fundamental problem for crossdressers is more social than personal.

At Tri-Ess, we believe our guilt, our confusion, and our fear are the products of a misinformed and non-accepting public. We know that crossdressers can -- and often do -- live happy, well-adjusted lives, in touch with both the masculine and feminine sides of their personalities.

We reject the label "transvestite" -- one that's commonly associated with the terms "drag queen" and "female impersonator". These are generally viewed by society as negative terms, and are largely irrelevant to the experiences and motivations of the typical crossdresser.

We also reject the notion that crossdressers can -- or even should -- be "cured" of the desire to wear women's clothing. We know that the best "treatment" for crossdressers is self-acceptance, a more knowledgeable and supportive circle of family and friends, and a more understanding public.

It's this vision to which we dedicate ourselves as an organization. It's this vision that we hope to help all our members achieve.

Over the past few years, crossdressing has gained increasingly enlightened coverage on national and local talk shows, and in the print media With access to solid information, the general public is gradually becoming better informed and more tolerant of crossdressing.

These developments are due in no small measure to the work of educational and social organizations like Tri-Ess. Though we've still got a long way to go before we're able to express ourselves freely and safely, we at Tri-Ess are more encouraged than ever about the possibilities.

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Understanding The Second Self

The "second self". The "woman within". Most crossdressers know what we mean by this. But even crossdressers tend to underestimate how common -- even universal -- this second self is.

There is buried within every man a composite "woman" -- the sum of all those feminine potentials, behaviors and yearnings that are part of a man's birthright, but which society says we should disown. Crossdressers have made contact -- in their own special way -- with the "woman within", and found her to be fulfilling.

For many of us, this contact comes early in life -- sometimes as early as 3 or 4 years of age. It could result from finding mother's lingerie in the clothes hamper, wondering what it would feel like when worn, and then trying the garment on. For others, the precipitating event might have been being dressed as a girl in a school play or on Halloween. Still others recall an awareness of feminine feelings that long preceded actual crossdressing.

Conservative estimates suggest that several million adult American males have had this sort of contact with the "woman within", while millions more have probably had similar contacts with women's clothes, they don't find the experience particularly noteworthy.

For the crossdresser, though, these kinds of precipitating experiences are usually quite compelling. Regardless of when or how they occur, the impact is usually the same. It feels nice, both emotionally and sensually, and perhaps even spiritually.

But what to do with this pleasant but potentially troublesome feeling? At first, many of us try to find a way to get rid of it. We throw our femme clothes away. We grow beards. We get "saved". We try to compensate by dressing our wives in extravagantly feminine styles. But nothing ever seems to work. The desire for feminine expression keeps coming back.

For many of us, contact with the "woman within" unlocks a whole treasure trove of sensitive, feminine traits. Some of us have been able to fully integrate these traits into our whole personality and lifestyle. Indeed, while the majority of us flip back and forth between the traditional masculine and feminine models, we've found the unlocking of our feminine traits to be a profoundly humanizing experience.

However we wind up dealing with our "woman within", we find that the need to cross dress turns out to be a part of ourselves, just as musicians need to play music, writers need to write, or ballplayers need to play ball. We come to see the prospect of a life without our crossdressing as being as tragic and unnecessary as the musician being denied the chance to play his music. Ability for cross-gendered expression can, like musical talent, be a real gift.

At Tri-Ess, we see crossdressing as simply one more mode of self-expression -- one which is personally and socially healthy and rewarding.

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What It Is and What It Isn't

Crossdressing is common to several distinctive behavior patterns. Crossdressers, drag queens, transsexuals, fetishists, female impersonators and others approach it with different motivations, and derive different satisfactions from it. While individual crossdressers may not always fit exactly into any one of these personality types, we can gain greater self-understanding and self-acceptance by considering how our motivations and satisfactions compare with each of these personality types.

Drag queens and female impersonators are the most visible types of crossdressers. Drag queens are usually gay or bisexual males who don women's clothing, either to mock femininity or society's stereotype of gays, to attract a sex partner or to entertain.

Female impersonators are men who develop their crossdressing and femme-manner into a performing art, usually for the purpose of making a living. They often perform impressions of classic performers such as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Mae West.

An offshoot of gay crossdressing is drag prostitution. Like their female counterparts, they typically prefer to deal with heterosexual males.

Most of our society forms its impressions of crossdressing via female impersonators in night clubs, movie theaters or on television, or through professional comedians -- Flip Wilson and Milton Berle come to mind -- who occasionally crossdress for laughs. To a lesser extent, the general public also has casual contact with drag queens or prostitutes on city streets. Thus, most people expect crossdressers to be outrageous, gay or hustling for sex!

Transsexuals are people who feel trapped in the body of the opposite sex. Male-to-female transsexuals believe deeply that they are actually females, and seek sex-reassignment surgery to correct what they consider to be nature's mistake. They typically go through a preoperative period in which they live full-time as women. Though the transsexual doesn't consider it so, most people see this pre-operative behavior as crossdressing.

Fetishists are crossdressers who have an erotic attachment to some article of women's clothing. For them, holding or feeling or smelling or wearing such items is a powerful erotic stimulant. In some cases, these men are impotent without their fetish.

The line between fetishism and crossdressing is sometimes unclear. Some crossdressers start with one or two articles of women's clothing and find their interest growing. On the other hand, the fetishist seems to be "arrested" in his development, and appears never to get beyond the erotic attachment to certain garments.

So, how does "our type" of crossdressing differ from these other types?

In contrast with the fetishist, we cultivate a complete feminine image, with undergarments, makeup, wig, padding for hips and breasts, and even a femme name. And while it's a sexually-arousing experience for some crossdressers early on, crossdressing does not take the place of sex with their wives or partners.

Unlike transsexuals, we know we are men and we like it. While we might occasionally fantasize what it would be like to be female, we have no desire to change our sex, although a small number of crossdressers (known as "transgenderists") do opt to live full- time en femme.

Though gay and bisexual crossdressers do exist, the vast majority of crossdressers are heterosexual. Indeed, many people are surprised to find that we're not interested in finding sex like the drag queen, or making a living like the drag prostitute or female impersonator. Many gay people are surprised to learn that heterosexual crossdressers exist at all!

For most of us, being free to act and move in a more feminine way, being treated as women, being free to adorn ourselves and feel the caressing touch of the many soft fabrics available to women -- these feelings are satisfying in and of themselves.

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The Crossdresser And His Family

What do the biological women in our lives think about their "sisters"? Understandably, many women are as stereotypically programmed as the rest of society, and are hostile and rejecting of their crossdressing mates. For many of us, fear of such reaction by our loved ones is the greatest barrier to greater self-expression and acceptance.

Much depends on the crossdresser's own degree of insight, the duration and solidity of his relationship, and the way in which the wife or partner learns about her mate's crossdressing. Communication -- the essence of any relationship-- is particularly vital in the case of the crossdresser. Once a wife or partner realizes that her mate isn't gay, transsexual or mentally ill, the two of them can seek a solution that suits their own unique circumstances.

The wise wife or partner realizes that her mate is the same person she has always known. She recognizes the risk that her man has taken in revealing his innermost feelings, and appreciates the trust this represents. Many of the traits that attracted her in the first place-- sensitivity, kindness, appreciation of beauty, etc.-- can now be seen as belonging to that "woman within".

What about the crossdresser's children? In our experience, timing --when they're told -- is more important than what they're told. Adolescence, a time of struggle to establish social and sexual identity, is not the right time (especially if the children are boys). If not done earlier in childhood, we've found it's generally best to wait until adulthood.

On the other hand, kids who are told in early childhood, and who grow up with a daddy who occasionally becomes an "auntie", don't appear at any greater risk of being crossdressers themselves, or of being gay. Indeed, the kids seem to benefit from exposure to a father who is usually more sensitive, creative, and involved in their lives.

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Emerging From the Shell of Secrecy

Many crossdressers are their own worst enemies. By keeping their feminine side a secret, or trying to deny its existence, they deny the experience of knowing a crossdresser to those people most likely to accept and understand them. They allow society to avoid having to deal with them as the multi-dimensional people they are. As a result, much of the public image of crossdressing comes from the more visible and extreme types, which are then mistakenly taken to be the norm.

Thus, our emergence into society is not only essential for our own peace-of-mind. It's a precondition for the creation of a more understanding and accepting society. Indeed, we've found that as others get to know us as people, most of them shed the stereotypes and turn out to be much more accepting than we ever dreamed possible.

Emergence begins with self- recognition. Admitting that "I do like to crossdress", and that "crossdressing is a part of me", is the beginning of self-recognition. For many of us the decision to join Tri-Ess was our first firm statement of self-recognition.

But recognition is only the first step towards self-acceptance. Self acceptance means feeling that it's OK to want to crossdress, and OK to do it. It involves a realization that feminine feelings and personality traits can be an asset.

For many, overcoming feelings of guilt and shame is part of this process. This is a road that few of us are able to travel alone, and that many of us may never have traveled without Tri-Ess help. Indeed, this is the very reason Tri-Ess was created.

For the emerging crossdresser, there are few -- if any-- more powerful experiences than meeting or corresponding with other crossdressers who are at peace with themselves. It's reassuring to find out that other crossdressers are living happy, well-adjusted lives with friends and families who accept and understand them. It's a broadening experience to actually meet a crossdresser's understanding wife or partner. It's satisfying to learn first-hand that crossdressers are really as likable and respectable as anyone else. And it's great to feel the companionship, the encouragement and the compassion of people who are kindred spirits.

For a growing number of us, the culmination of our emergence occurs in public. It might come when we're accepted as women on the street or in a restaurant. Or it might come when we act as the point-of-contact for a Tri-Ess chapter. Or perhaps when we do an interview in the local media, to let others in our community know they're not alone. With the support and experience gained through Tri-Ess activities, some of our members have found a confidence in public that seemed inconceivable to them a few short years ago.

Going public, though, is not for everyone. Indeed many of our members rightfully fear the loss of family, job, and reputation that public exposure 'night bring. Emergence, then, is a most personal thing. There is no right or wrong path -- only alternatives. Each crossdresser's choice must be tailored to his individual circumstances and needs. Tri-Ess provides the safe and supportive climate that can help each crossdresser chart his own personal course.

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The Crossdressing Culture

While educational and social organizations like Tri-Ess are a big part of the larger crossdressing culture, they're not the only part.

This culture includes a wide variety of conventions and weekend social gatherings for the crossdresser, his family, friends and loved ones. They range from weekend retreats sponsored by local crossdressing groups, to extended weekend conferences to week long events. Such events occur in virtually every region in this country. Among them is Tri-Ess annual 4-day Holiday En Femme. The culture also includes a growing number of businesses that either cater explicitly to, or welcome the business of, the crossdressing community. These include hairstylists and cosmeticians, boutiques, clothing stores, local restaurants, etc. Most Tri-Ess chapters maintain relations with these types of businesses in their local area.

In addition, a growing number of professionals, researchers and educational groups are doing their part in dealing with crossdressing. Indeed, many psychologists and psychiatrists now concur with our understanding of crossdressing -- that it's not a mental illness requiring treatment, but rather a healthy form of self-expression. Many such professionals counsel individual crossdressers, run couples support groups, and operate gender clinics in several of our large cities.

Lastly, the crossdressing culture includes a mix of magazines and newspapers that range from dignified to sleazy. Among the most dignified is the Femme Mirror, the quarterly journal published by Tri-Ess for our membership.

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Tri-Ess History, Structure and Identity

Tri-Ess is a private, non-profit educational, social support and outreach corporation. Tri-Ess was born in 1976, through a merger of two established organizations -- the Foundation for Personality Expression (FPE) and Mamselle Sorority. The merger combined the successful "security" membership system of FPE with the successful chapter-organizing work of Mamselle.

The merger brought together two exceptional leaders of the crossdressing community -- Virginia Prince of FPE, and Carol Beecroft of Mamselle. Carol currently serves as Tri-Ess' Executive Director, and Virginia as Treasurer. Tri-Ess has over 1,100 members nationwide, and more than 30 local chapters. It's run by a dedicated group of volunteers at both the national and local levels.

Our national Board of Directors is comprised of outstanding and experienced members. They plan and coordinate the varied programs of Tri-Ess. In addition, each chapter elects its own leadership, to plan and carry out complementary activities at the local level.

In addition, Tri-Ess national Board of Professional Authorities (BPA) advises the Board of Directors on a variety of issues. The BPA consists of both medical and psychological authorities who are well-regarded by their peers and by the crossdressing community. BPA members also conduct research and help educate the general public about crossdressing. For example, one of our BPA members -- Dr. Vern Bullough, recently retired from the State University of New York at Buffalo -- has published a comprehensive study of crossdressers wives.

Full Tri-Ess membership is limited to heterosexual crossdressers, their wives or partners, and other family members. Others who don't meet these criteria but who support our mission are welcome to join as "Friends of TriEss". This includes transsexuals and gay crossdressers, business persons supplying goods and services to the gender community, and helping professionals.

Tri-Ess policies place a premium on preserving the privacy and protecting the identity of our members. Our membership and mailing lists are kept strictly confidential, and members typically use a "femme name". Many also use post office boxes as their mailing addresses. Each new member signs a pledge to respect her fellow members security needs, and is subject to swift and automatic expulsion if caught breaking the pledge.

Most Tri-Ess members (roughly 80%) are either married or were formerly married. Tri-Ess members tend to be a bit older than the adult population in general, although growing numbers of younger crossdressers have been joining in recent years. We are a relatively well-educated group, with more than half of us being college graduates, and more than 3/4 of us having had at least some college education. Occupationally, we're an extremely varied group --virtually every occupation you can think of can be found among our membership

Many of our members are private crossdressers. That is, they limit their dressing to the privacy of their homes or a motel room or to the cover of night. Many socialize en femme only at chapter meetings with their closest confidants.

At Tri-Ess, we understand that crossdressing can subject a member's family life to severe strains. A major part of our mission is to prevent this type of domestic strife, and to help heal the wounds when they do occur. Tri-Ess considers the needs of our wives and partners as important as our own.

Over the years, we've seen this emphasis pay off. Back in 1978, a survey showed only about 1/3 of our members describing their wife/partner as "cooperative" or "understanding" when it came to their crossdressing. Today, we're happy to report that this number has grown to more than 50%!

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The Family-Oriented Concept

Tri-Ess approach to its work of support is based upon the family-oriented concept. First, Tri-Ess believes that every human being has the right to full expression of all personality potentials, both masculine and feminine. Second, we believe that we should all strive to balance and integrate our masculine and feminine gifts to make a happier, more fulfilled whole person. Third, we believe the needs of spouses and families are as important as the needs of the crossdresser - no more, no less. Finally, we promote the integration of crossgendered expression into our family lives. On these four cornerstones we have built our programs

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The Programs of Tri-Ess

Communication and Security

As a Tri-Ess member, you'll have instant access to the companionship and support of our members. But it'll be access with security in mind.

First contacts between members are channeled through our coded membership directory and mail forwarding service, both of which are available only to full Tri-Ess members (i.e. not to "Friends"). The directory lists each member by their femme name and code number, along with biographical information, thus enabling each member to make an informed choice of correspondents.

First-time letters are sent to our national office, along with the code number of the member with whom you wish to correspond. Our office staff then forwards your letter to that member at their chosen mailing address. As a first-time correspondent, you may or may not wish to reveal your mailing address in your letter. If you choose not to do so, your correspondent can reach you through this same mail forwarding service.

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Local Chapters

All Tri-Ess members (including "Friends") are eligible -- and indeed encouraged -- to join one of our local chapters. Our chapters are located in every major region, in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, Denver, Houston and Albuquerque. The well-being and continued development of these chapters is a top priority for Tri-Ess.

Our chapters hold regular social gatherings that give our members an outlet -- a chance to crossdress in a safe, accepting environment. Chapter meeting locations range from private homes to public places like motels, restaurants, and even churches.

Chapter meetings are something like a cross between an AA meeting and a tupperware party. They often include a catered or potluck dinner, as well as a special program. They're not places to make sexual partner contacts. But they are excellent places to make close friendships with people like you. Some of our members travel hundreds of miles each month to take advantage of these gatherings.

Many chapters cultivate relationships with sympathetic professionals --hairstylists, cosmeticians, lawyers, counselors, electrologists and photographers. Their expertise may be offered in group discussions and demonstrations, or in one-to-one sessions, or both. Special programs by professionals such as these have highlighted many a chapter meeting.

Our chapters are run by and for the local Tri-Ess membership. While our chapters operate within Tri-Ess overall policy framework, each one exercises considerable autonomy. Each one develops its own program of activities, its own membership recruitment strategy, its own newsletter, and chooses its own leadership. At the same time, Tri-Ess national promotes relations between chapters, so that each can learn from the others experiences and strengthen our sense of national unity.

Tri-Ess chapters are financially self- supporting, with their own dues structure and monthly meeting fees. Total costs to the member might run from around $50/year for infrequent attendees to as much as $150/year for monthly attendees.

Tri-Ess national staff provides backup help for local chapters. For example, we operate a nationwide publicity program that yields a steady flow of inquiries for chapters around the country. Such inquiries are referred immediately to the nearest local chapter. National also provides a "chapter formation kit" to members interested in organizing a new chapter in their area. Tri-Ess national has also depended on the chapters to handle major projects and functions. For example, Tau Chi Chapter produces the Femme Mirror, Sigma Epsilon administers the Big Sister Program, and Chi Chapter is responsible for the Membership Directory.

Lastly, some of our chapters become places where pilot programs are tested. For example, Tau Chi Chapter has a "Boys R Us" program that encourages members to "get to know each other as guys". They've also established "Heterosexual Cross-Dressers Anonymous" (HCDA), an independent group discussion setting modeled on the 12-step Recovery process, but adapted to a goal of self-acceptance rather than abstinence. Both pilot programs have now been recommended by our national Board of Directors for implementation by local chapters.

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Big Sister Program

Begun in 1990, the Big Sister Program provides new full Tri-Ess members with one-on-one support. Upon joining, the new member is assigned to a more experienced Big Sister, usually one who lives nearby. during1ring their first year, the new member has access to her Big Sister for "how-to" information, discussion of crossdressing issues, family issues, and the like. In its first three years, over 800 Big Sister assignments were made!

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The Femme Mirror

All Tri-Ess members (including "Friends") receive the Femme Mirror, our professional looking quarterly magazine. The Femme Mirror is a place where members share their experiences and insights. It's a place where our leaders inform us about upcoming events. Members and readers alike use the Mirror to air important issues, or to alert us to relevant newspaper articles or television shows that demand a response from the membership.

The Femme Mirror is also a place where we have some fun. Members share cartoons, photos, poems, information about relevant books, movies, etc And it's a place where our wives and women friends can talk to us and to each other about their special concerns.

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Holiday En Femme

Every year since 1979, Tri-Ess has held the Holiday En Femme, a four-day convention for members (including "Friends"), their wives and woman-friends, and other supporters of our organization. A well-rounded and full femme experience, the Holiday combines social events, educational discussions, nights on the town, and the freedom to float as a woman through a hospitable city with your Tri-Ess sisters. Past host cities have included San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

For many of us, the Holiday is among the most memorable experiences of our lives. We return home determined to help recreate the freedom and acceptance that we found for those four days!

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Activities for Wives and Partners

As of 1993, Tri-Ess membership was comprised of slightly over ten percent wives and partners.

Many a crossdresser's wife or partner has had her fears put to rest at one of our chapter meetings. Often, one such gathering can be worth a thousand books, articles or counseling sessions. Our wives and partners find that their concerns are taken seriously. They find us to be dignified and decent people, secure in our maleness and heterosexuality. In the presence of other understanding females, they find wisdom, support and peace-of-mind.

In 1989 Tri-Ess became the first major gender community organization to extend full membership status to wives and partners. They now comprise over ten percent of the active membership and are a welcome presence at all Tri Ess functions. They've taken their place as members of the Tri-Ess national Board of Directors and as officers in local chapters. The national Department of Wives and Partners Support publishes a quarterly newsletter, the Sweetheart Connection and serves as a clearinghouse for wives and partners issues.

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Spouses and Partners International Conference for Education

Every year Tri-Ess sponsors and presents the Spouses and Partners International Conference for Education (SPICE). Although it is presented in accordance with the Tri-Ess family-oriented concept, the SPICE Conference is for all wives and partners in the gender community. In fact, spouses from outside Tri-Ess serve on the SPICE Planning Board, and non-Tri-Ess groups help sponsor it.

The Department of Wives and Partners Support, whose Director serves as the Coordinator of SPICE, has assembled an eminent professional faculty. SPICE features programs on self-esteem, building relationships, women's wellness and family issues, all in the context of crossdressing. Husbands also enjoy programs on relationship building and putting balance into their lives. For the sake of wives who are struggling with their husbands crossdressing, this is a non-crossdressing event. SPICE has been called upon to present wives and partners programs at other community events as well. Pioneering the concept of a wives and partners conference is one more example of Tri-Ess use of its specialized expertise to gift the entire gender community.

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Public Education

Tri-Ess publishes and distributes educational materials on the subject of crossdressing. The brochure that you hold in your hands is but one example, and is sent free to service providers who work with crossdressers and to anyone else who inquires about us.

We also have a kind of "speakers bureau" -- members who give interviews to their local newspapers, radio or even television. To assist these members, Tri-Ess national has prepared press packets that can be used to generate these sorts of interview opportunities. In a similar vein, some of our members regularly accept invitations from faculty members at nearby colleges and universities, to appear as guest speakers in classes on human sexuality and other related topics.

Tri-Ess has produced special library cards that members insert in the index files of public and college libraries. Many an inquiry has come from persons who found our library card while looking for information on crossdressing.

For the past few years, Tri-Ess has been exchanging advertisements with most publications in the cross-gender community. We're now taking steps to expand this program to larger publications that are more readily available to the general public.

Last, but not least, Tri-Ess chapters and the national have organized letter-writing campaigns and the like in response to unfavorable publicity about crossdressing. These efforts have made a real difference in the quality of writing by national advice columnists like Ann Landers and Dear Abby. They've also sensitized many a local editor or reporter. With over 1100 voices united, Tri-Ess can make the kind of difference that few of us could make alone.

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