The Horror!

I recently went to the Edinburgh Horror Festival screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for the first time in …okay, a couple of decades. But you know what? It’s still damn good fun. It’s funny how fans can just fall into conversations with each other, even if complete strangers.

It was an odd crowd that night: lots of first-timers; and only one girl at the back doing all the shout-outs to the screen. And (being in a pub-slash-music-slash-cinema venue), drunken guys stumbling in halfway through the film with pint glasses in hand, and uttering profound insights such as “Fuck’s this? Is i’ like a fillum abou’ poofs or summin?” (I could go on -at length- but they left after a period of time that wasn’t short enough.)

I did a handful of shout-outs (overcoming my Edinburgh reserve and a desire not to freak out the first-timers). My main contribution was at the very end, when the camera shot starts rotating around. I leapt to the front and mimed spinning the camera shot as it went faster and faster. A lot of people hadn’t seen that one before; they liked it, and I got a round of applause for it!

One pricelessly awkward moment came after the girl at the back shouted “Slut!” at Janet for the umpteenth time. A guy at the front stood up and shouted back at her to stop slut-shaming. Rocky Horror certainly has the potential to set off a ton of trigger warnings for the more sensitive among us. I mean, the iconic character is a murderous, pansexual, alien, cannibal, sex pest. I could see a lot of kids today getting confused about whether they should no-platform him for being a homicidal rapist, or tell his critics to check their cis-het, terrestrial, vegetarian privilege.

(I am so glad I’m not growing up in the 21st century. It must be awful meeting people and apologising in advance for any perceived slights you may or may not inflict.)

*

Just as the golden age of science fiction is about 12, I reckon the golden age for Rocky Horror must be about 14 (I think I was that age when I first saw it, anyway). And at a summer drama camp the following year (an activity with a sex ratio skewed toward girls), I and the other kids my age were all into it – so we decided to end our show with a performance of Let’s Do The Timewarp Again (as the only boy involved in this, I played Riff Raff). I was just glad the dance moves are simple enough for me to do.

I try not to think too much about the really fucking awkward time my parents watched it on TV with me.

And, as mentioned in previous posts, the first time I went out cross-dressed was for showings at university (did that a couple of times).

It wasn’t long after that Simon Pegg came out with his little anti-Rocky-Horror rant:

I hate Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s boil-in-the-bag perversion for sexually repressed accountants and first-year drama students…
(Simon Pegg, Spaced)

It’s possible to like someone’s creative works, yet not really care for their opinions. In this instance, I thought he’d missed the mark, badly. He was making generalisations based on ignorance, as if Rocky Horror was nothing more than an “grown-up Hallowe’en“.

I’ve got friends who say that Rocky Horror introduced them to concepts of transexuality which helped them figure out who they were – that they weren’t “wrong”, and there was even a word to describe them.

For me, it’s more general than that.

Look at the Transylvanian partygoers in Frank’s place. They’re all ages: they’re very tall; very short; thin; fat; different skin colours; and everything in between. They’re more representative than the bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise. Not one of them ‘fits in’ anywhere else. They would never be considered ‘cool’ anywhere – but in Frank’s place, they are.

That, for me, was the big message the film had to give, and is the point Simon Pegg completely missed: the ‘cool’ kids are nowhere near as cool as the uncool kids. The uncool kids are cool in ways the cool kids cannot even conceive of. The ‘cool’ kids are the ones staggering into the cinema with their pint glasses halfway through, wondering what the hell everyone’s watching (the plot is nonsensical and the song lyrics doggerel, but none of that matters in the slightest).

The uncool accountants and students Pegg mentioned? They’re wanting to grab a bit of proper coolness by breaking out from their everyday lives, even if only for a couple of hours.

Everything you get picked on for, or you feel makes you weird, is essentially what makes you sexy as an adult.
(Justin Timberlake)

So, if you’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, the wrong colour, the wrong, sex, the wrong sexuality, or simply in the wrong clothes – you can be cooler than ‘cool’. That’s what I got from Rocky Horror, and that’s why I’d recommend it to the 14-year-old outsider marking time until they can get the hell out of school.

If you think about it, “it’s astounding…”

…but I’m keeping my name…

In a bit of personal news, I just got married. So Twist is now a married man. However, you can rest assured that as ‘Twist’ I will still be ‘Miss Twist’…

Posing with a posie

Posing with a posie

In all honesty, I don’t think there’s anyone else I’d want to keep having adventures with. If it wasn’t for my wife, Twist would not exist. Nor would there be all the photos you can see on this blog.

...oh, wait, I'm not supposed to do that, am I?

…oh, wait, I’m not supposed to do that, am I?

The week before we ran off to tie the knot, we did an early-morning photoshoot; just a handful of photos outside a nearby convent (HA! The irony…). This was the quickest shoot we’d ever done. And when we nipped back to the car, a dog walker saw us and gave me a big cheery smile.

“Congratulations!”

“Yeah, thanks man.”

He just stared as we got into the car and drove away. We giggled like idiots; really happy idiots. 🙂

I'm not a blushing bride; that's just hayfever.

I’m not a blushing bride; that’s just hayfever.

It’s fun doing this sort of thing. 😀

(Just don’t ask who wears the trousers…)

…in which I speak!

Just a minor note, rather than a full-blown blog post this time…

As Colin Firth once stammered, “I have a voice!” I did an interview for a podcast regarding my 2015 talk on Photoshop fakery, and you can hear me spout off at this link.

The interview lasts about 12 minutes. One question was kinda-sorta repeated (but not deleted), so I repeat myself a little. Anyway, this is the voice I use as both Twist and as me, which explains a lot of the funny looks I get….

 

Girl meets boy dressed as girl

I suppose this will be my obligatory Valentine’s Day post about cross-dressing and romance…(nah; not really).

I’ve already talked about how a number of guys have responded to Twist; what about women? I’m a heterosexual guy in a skirt who happens to be engaged. But as ‘Twist’, I’m both more outgoing and rather more coy; I suppose I’d have to say Twist is flertarosexual – nothing more than a flirt.*

I also asked a number of my female friends for their thoughts and opinions; I’ve been swamped with so many nuggets, gems and useful insights I can probably generate three or four posts out of it all. (My thanks to all of them!)

Twist was surprising to my conservative upbringing… with very old-fashioned, strong, gender-stereotypes… The only context in which I would see a man dressed as a women is when they were making fun of women…

I couldn’t quite wrap my head around you at first because, you weren’t gay, you weren’t a drag queen – you were an actual, straight, perfectly regular man who just wanted to dress like a woman, and did it in such a way that it was obvious you weren’t making fun of us… it made me feel amazing in a way I’d never felt before. My femininity was suddenly awesome, not something pathetic for frat boys to parade and degrade themselves with.

Pre-Twistoric relationships

I went to a rather old-fashioned boys-only school in the 80s (pop psychologists are invited to keep their opinions to themselves at this point), which wasn’t really the kind of environment where a boy could express his feminine side, or engage in even the most rudimentary kind of relationship with girls. So when I made friends with girls at university, it seemed a bit mind-blowing at the time.

Happily, I got to know enough girls who were comfortable with the idea of me borrowing their dresses for parties, that I could experiment a bit with cross-dressing. And that’s when I noticed something a bit odd: for some reason, it was easier to hang around women whilst cross-dressed – or was it just me?

I can’t quite put my finger on it but it may because with Twist there’s a bit of feminine competitiveness that comes out when I’m in her company, in that she ups the ante to be funny, wild, a bit rude or risqué.

As a post-adolescent boy who’d had limited female contact, this was bloody fantastic; if I put on a dress, I’d end up surrounded by girls wanting to doll me up with makeup, lend me bras to be stuffed full of toilet paper, and actually – you know – talk with me. All the guys at these parties would end up on the other side of the room, drinking beer and burning through cigarettes, casting glances at the cross-dresser who’d infiltrated the girls’ corner (cuttlefish do this too, you know).

I guess when boys dress like girls it makes them kind of more relatable.

One of them – my psychology lab partner – once said that “if [she] was into girls, [she’d] bang my goddamn brains out” (which was the weirdest and most gratifying compliment I ever received at university, seared into my brain for all time); sadly she wasn’t and didn’t, but one of her friends took me home with her at the end of the party. (Years later, a couple of female friends have joked “dammit, stop turning me gay!”, which I take as the lighthearted compliment it’s intended as.)

Perhaps some bisexual and lesbian women are legitimately attracted to you as Twist, but any straight women (because orientation is not a choice) might simply be saying this because Twist makes you more attractive as a man.

When my improv troupe went to see the then-latest James Bond film, the girls wanted to dress as 007 in tuxedos, and they wanted the guys to dress as Bond girls – because I was the director of the show at that point, they picked out a dress for me (a flirty red minidress, amply padded)… so, as far as cross-dressing went, I think I struck lucky!

You have a very alluring and fascinating character there! Boys and girls are all drawn to Twist…

As for the girlfriends I had back then, some were OK with me cross-dressing, some were weirded out and happy if I didn’t mention it ever again, and one  really liked it. I mean really. (That would have been one of those intense ‘the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long’ kind of relationships.) Yes, I’m glossing over a lot of details; I already told you Twist is coy. Generally speaking, the ones who met me cross-dressed found it easier to deal with than the ones who found out after we started dating.

So, there are women out there who are quite happy to have cross-dressing boyfriends; I’m pretty sure there’s always someone out there who’ll accept you the way you are and the way you want to be. And there are some who’ll positively encourage it…

(From ViaVia, 8 December 1994)

(From ViaVia, 8 December 1994)

I saw this advert from a newspaper clipping used in a Dutch textbook I read for a university course. It’s asking for women’s summer clothes – “Man must wear girls’ clothes for his girlfriend; therefore looking for a wide range of tight summer dresses, miniskirts, hotpants, blouses, swimsuits…” Forced feminisation is a fantasy for some guys; clearly this dude was living the dream!

Luke, if only you knew the power of the feminine side of The Force…

…[men who] don’t act like MEN (sports, beer, and misogyny)… are generally sensitive, good listeners, not afraid to display their emotions, etc (‘girlie’ qualities)… and ‘Manly’ men don’t like this.

Cross-dressing is great fun; more so when you can find someone to share it with. But I suspect many of the women who are attracted to it might be just as reluctant to ‘come out’ as the guys who cross-dress.

Once you’re comfortable with your own cross-dressing, you’re more likely to find someone else who’s comfortable with it too. Until you find that special someone, just do it for its own sake.

After all, not all women are into manly men:

*It’s hard finding a phrase that means “my sexuality s nobody else’s business”.
I could describe myself as ‘cryptosexual’ (‘hidden sexuality’), but the illiterates of teh interwebz have gotten there before me and defined it as ‘sexual attraction to mythological creatures’, not realising that that would describe a ‘cryptozoosexual’ (attraction to ‘hidden animals’).
I can’t use ‘idiosexual’ (‘private sexuality’); it’s been hijacked to refer to chronic masturbators (that should be ‘autosexual’).
It’s a matter of some irritation to me that the evolution of language is driven by people who won’t read a bloody dictionary. Yes, I know this makes me a bitter snob; deal with it.
🙂

Ch-ch-changes

The only way you can be who you're meant to be is by having the freedom to make a lot of mistakes along the way...

The only way you can be who you’re meant to be is by having the freedom to make a lot of mistakes along the way…

I used to be afraid to admit to myself that I wanted to cross-dress. Then it became easy. I think the changes that allowed it to happen were as much psychological as social.

The best thing anyone can do when they’re still young is to leave home; there’s no other way to find out who the hell you are. I’ve written before about my childhood cross-dressing impulses, concluding with my first week at university when I met a girl who encouraged me to go to a Rocky Horror stage show wearing some of her clothes.

It was also at university I had my mind blown by the early internet (a shout-out to all those who remember using Netscape with dial-up modems!) which was young and unregulated (perfect match: so was I!) and introduced me to a whole bunch of cross-dressing and trans issues.

Even so, there was a lot my mind just couldn’t grasp; and what I couldn’t grasp I just dismissed. For example, in a philosophy tutorial group, one of the participants was middle-aged and trans. I never figured out if they were male-to-female or female-to-male. I just thought “Are you a hermaphrodite or something? No idea! Don’t know; don’t care; why won’t you shut up about male/female stuff? Men have balls, women don’t – why are you making a big deal about it?” (I was kind of a dick back then.)

It was the 1990s. As much as trans issues impinged on most people’s minds, they would have involved drag acts, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game, the arrival of The Ladyboys of Bangkok, and a whole bunch of awkward episodes of The Jerry Springer Show in which young trans women decided the best way to come out to their boyfriends was on (inter-)national television (one of the happier outcomes can be seen here). The only female-to-male examples I can think of are Hilary Swank Boys Don’t Cry and the character of Jack in Pitch Black (which actually came out in 2000).

In any case, trans issues were a mostly seen as a punchline. In the midst of all this, comedian Eddie Izzard was a breath of fresh air. He made it clear that cross-dressing wasn’t seedy, or weird, or deviant. It was just about the clothes. For my part, at university I limited my cross-dressing to theatre, and the occasional party: ostensibly, just for fun.

Fast forward about ten years or so, in which there was a long break from cross-dressing after graduation, working abroad, and then trying to re-establish myself in the UK.  Finally, I felt comfortable enough coming out to my girlfriend (written about here) and ‘Twist’ rapidly came about.

What changed?

For one thing, I was older, more broadminded and more knowledgeable; my views of how the world worked had changed considerably since my teenage years (I won’t claim to be wiser, just not such a dick). I had gained self-confidence and the emotional security of a relationship and social group. In short, I gained the ability to not give a shit what other people thought of me. If there’s one thing you need in life, it’s that.

The times seemed about right too. In the past few years, more famous figures have come out as trans: Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien (who said he was ‘70% male‘); The Matrix co-creator Lana Wachowksi; the writer Chaz Bono (Sonny and Cher’s son); Lady Gaga’s alter ego Jo Calderone… leading up to Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance on the cover of Vogue magazine in July 2015.  Gender-swapping was given less mocking treatment in comedies like It’s A Boy/Girl Thing (2006), and trans actors are getting prominent roles in BBC TV shows like Boy Meets Girl and Eastenders. Trans issues are generating a lot of media coverage.

Do I wish I could go back in time and come out as a cross-dresser sooner? There are two problems with this line of thinking. For one thing, I’ve changed (so even if circumstances were favourable when I was younger, I’d still lack confidence I have now); for another thing so has culture (so, even if I had the confidence I have now back then, the social circumstances would still be against it)… I think all we can do is make the most of what we’ve got and hope for the best.

*

Postscript:
I was different in the 1990s; I just didn’t get it. But by being presented with things that went against everything I thought about the world, by having to argue my case and lose, I ended up changing my mind about a lot of things. For me, this is one of the important parts of leaving home or going to university. One’s ideas must be tested; one must always know how to argue for what is correct and pick apart what is wrong; one might find nuance and subtlety where least expected.
For this reason, I cannot support the ‘no-platforming’ of people whose ideas are misguided, outmoded, or just plain wrong. Those ideas will not be destroyed by censorship or silence; only confrontation and constant exposure to facts and evidence can see to that. (The thought occurs that if someone’s response to an argument is to try to silence their opponent, then they either don’t have a counter-argument, or they lack the wit to argue.)
For my part, I will provide whatever facts and evidence I can find. I will not silence those I disagree with because I want to allow them the possibility of changing their minds without ill-feeling. In other words, I try not to be a dick about it.

Adventures in Crossdressing (part one)

(I cropped out the guilty faces...)

(I cropped out the guilty faces…)

I figured I’ve written enough blog posts in the past few months dealing with some very general, weighty issues and it was high time I got back to talking about just having fun dressed as a girly.

I think it helps a lot if you can take a potentially nerve-wracking experience and regard it with some slight detachment. In some ways, I’ve found it can be like operating like an undercover agent, gauging people’s reactions to you. Acting cool and glib can work as well – if challenged, telling people you’re crossdressed “just for the hell of it”, “because it seemed like a good idea at the time” or “hey, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it” can be quite disarming.

For some reason, people keep wanting to touch my boobs, especially women. When they ask, I just say, “Go right ahead; they’re not real and I won’t feel a thing.” When men ask it tends to be a ‘what the hell are those things made of’ sort of inquiry, with a tentative prod or squeeze. Women tend to approach it more from the ‘but if you’re completely flat chested, how do you get it to look like that?’ angle, and confirm that my chest does not move or feel real after all.

Helping out at the IgNobel UK tour...

Helping out at the IgNobel UK tour…

Still, it’s better than the time after I took an impromptu part in the Ig Nobel UK tour’s visit to my home town in 2012, when a complete stranger grabbed my arse. It turned out to be a middle-aged woman whose first pint of beer of the evening was so far in the past it wasn’t even a memory.

“I wanted to talk to you but I didn’t know how to start,” she explained.

“You could always say ‘hello’,” I suggested.

After that, I just answered her questions. Once we’d dealt with what, how, and when, she asked why I was cross-dressed. I gave her the ‘Just for the hell of it’ answer. She seemed satisfied with that, thanked me for my time, and staggered back to the bar.

This is the expression I have when I'm put on the spot and asked to summarise the differences between 'transvestite', 'transgender' and 'transexual' in less than 60 seconds.

This is the expression I have when I’m put on the spot and asked to summarise the differences between ‘transvestite’, ‘transgender’ and ‘transexual’ in less than 60 seconds…

I don’t mind answering people’s questions as long as they don’t monopolise my time when I’m out. The way I see it, if they’re asking, they want to know more and I’m happy to help. I have a talk on cross-dressing I gave to a couple of UK Skeptics In The Pub groups, and figured I was well-prepared with a handful of Frequently Questioned Answers at the end, before the audience Q&A got going.

Having dealt with the obvious ones already, I was less prepared for questions about where, precisely, I shaved – once it was established that the question wasn’t about ‘which room in the house’, but ‘where on the body’, I said anywhere that was likely to be seen by the general public. I was also asked if I’d ever had sex whilst cross-dressed. I said I’d answer the question if they could explain why they wanted to know, and what they were going to do with this information?

There are ways of avoiding answering questions, and There Are Ways Of Avoiding Answering Questions

Frequently questioned answers...

Frequently questioned answers…

One of these days I really should take the talk around the rest of the UK…

 

I Got The Power!

izzard-quote

Cross-dressed or not, I think it’s terribly important to own your clothing choices, so they aren’t simply ‘current fashion’; you aren’t dressed ‘like someone’ or ‘like something’ (which implies you’re wearing fancy dress); you are dressed as you.

Reading some of my fellow bloggers, I’ve picked up on a recurring theme – that dressing a certain way makes them feel ‘more like themselves’; or more comfortable; or happier; or empowered. And I think that’s marvellous. Few things demand that you learn and exude confidence like dressing differently from the crowd – even if you’re ‘blending in’. Without overthinking it, if you’re happy with your reasons for dressing in whatever way you like, you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.

In certain ways I wonder if some of my fellow-bloggers are empowered by finally getting to dress as who they are, while I feel empowered by dressing as who I’m not. My own approach to cross-dressing is on a far more superficial, cosmetic level. But even so, I do find it empowering.

For one thing, it’s not routine. When I put on a skirt or dress, it’s a special occasion. I’ll make an effort. I want to look good, and if I stand out at all, it’ll be on my own terms – if I feel I look good, then why should I care if others don’t think so? I’m dressing for myself, not for them. It’s a difficult thing to pick up, this not-giving-a-shit-about-others’-opinions, but once you master it you open up another channel of happiness.

As Twist, I feel higher-status than I usually do. Part of it comes from feeling glamorous in a way I can’t as a guy; it’s easier for Twist to get and hold people’s attention. Heels making me taller, and a cleavage that isn’t easily ignored, also help. As Twist I feel like I can get away with saying or doing things I otherwise couldn’t. Perhaps it’s my way of accessing ‘The Bubble’ described in 30 Rock?

There are some things I’ll happily wear, and some things I won’t.

I can’t see myself wearing anything which I feel would lower Twist’s status – so don’t expect to see any French maid costume photos (hell, even if I did get photos like that, you wouldn’t expect to see any of them!). Bold, bright colours; something that might show off legs or cleavage; I’ll wear these because I want to show off. If I’m going down the fancy dress route, I’ll dress as a character that’s strong, or heroic, or iconic in some way – but with my own little twist… I won’t dress as a ‘low-status’ woman, because, quite simply, I don’t know any and I can’t see why I would be applauded for doing so. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. If anyone else wants to (for whatever reason) – that’s their business, and if it makes them happy, rock on! Just not for Twist.

xena-meme

I suspect that even other ‘cosmetic’ cross-dressers like me can find ‘strength and passion and power’ while identifying with something we’re ‘not’ (borrowing a phrase from Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s essay on race and culture).

I should also point out that I’m not saying that there’s a dividing line between ‘cosmetic’ cross-dressers, and those who identify as transexual, transgender, bi-gender or gender-fluid. As with most things, I suspect these tend to be arbitrary points on a spectrum. I am but one example of someone who doesn’t conform to ideas of a strict gender binary, and as such I can’t see myself as a representative of everyone else. I’m happy to speak for myself, and to speak in very general terms (backed up with copious cite notes and references) for others, but otherwise, my position is similar to that of Peter Dinklage on ‘little people’:

“I don’t know what I would say. Everyone’s different. Every person … has a different life, a different history. Different ways of dealing with it. Just because I’m seemingly okay with it, I can’t preach how to be okay with it.

On a related note, he also said something that chimes with my take on cross-dressing:

“… the older you get, you realize you just have to have a sense of humor. You just know that it’s not your problem. It’s theirs.”

It doesn't matter what you wear, how you wear it, or why - as long as it empowers you.

It doesn’t matter what you wear, how you wear it, or why – as long as it empowers you.