You must be a bit of a Psycho!

I don’t normally write a blog post just to share someone else’s work, but when I find that someone else has already said what I was going to say, and said it better, why the hell wouldn’t I share it?

Originally, I was going to do a run-down of my favourite films about cross-dressing, (I previously did my top 20 songs split into part one and part two), but then I realised how thin the list would be: Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, Ed Wood… eh, and then what? A lot of films are just plain nasty when it comes to trans folk generally, starting with Psycho and its chin-stroking pontificators at the end deciding “well, obviously Norman Bates was batshit – he wore dresses, duh!” (I paraphrase, of course.) Then came the 90s, where it was all about recreating the big reveal of The Crying Game for comedic purposes in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Naked Gun 33 1/3, or for salacious purposes in The Jerry Springer Show on TV.

Where did all this come from? Did it have its roots in the sexual morality of the Victorian era? Or could we go back to Shakespeare for an explanation? (After all, boys used to portray female characters in Elizabethan theatre because women weren’t allowed to, which led to a number of plays having fun with gender roles.)

Anyway, as far as modern film is concerned, just as I was doing my initial research I found Lindsay Ellis has just released a thorough, hour-long look into pop culture transphobia (with a pretty comprehensive takedown of JK Rowling’s recent essays and fiction) and there’s no way I could do it better:

*
UPDATE:
Films with crossdressing, a non-definitive list…

The good (Twist recommends!):
Some Like It Hot (1959)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975),
Tootsie (1982)
Nuns On The Run (1990) – disclaimer: I haven’t seen it since the early 90s…
Ed Wood (1994)
Kinky Boots (2005)

I’ve heard they’re good (but I’ve never seen them and by this point I’m not sure if it’s still worth it):
I Was A Male War Bride (1949)
The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1993)
Mrs Doubtfire (1993) – yes, yes, I know, Robin Williams doing a Scottish accent means I should love it, right?
To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
The Birdcage (1996)

The bad (these aren’t great from any kind of trans perspective, even if they have other qualities):
Psycho (1960)
Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994)

I’m assuming they’re bad (but nothing’s compelled me to find out):
Big Momma’s House (2000)
Sorority Boys (2002)
The Hot Chick (2003)
White Chicks (2004)

Other films of note (crossdressing isn’t a big part of the story, but a character/portrayal or surprise reveal involves crossdressing or body-swapping):
Thunderball (1965) – see here
Back To The Future Part 2 (1989) – Michael J Fox plays Marty’s daughter as well
The Crying Game (1992) – everyone forgets it’s a thriller about the IRA for some reason…
Shallow Grave (1994) – Ewan MacGregor partying in a dress y’all
Austin Powers (1997) – taking after Thunderball!
Con Air (1997)
A Bug’s Life (1998) – Denis Leary as Francis the ladybug? 🙂
Wild Wild West (1999)
It’s a Boy Girl Thing (2006)
Stardust (2007) – Robert DeNiro’s sky captain (even if the crew are less accepting)
Sherlock Homes: A Game Of Shadows (2011) – hey, I didn’t say it had to be *good* crossdressing!
Cloud Atlas (2012) – an interesting case, because it’s about the actors playing recurring personalities in different bodies (age, sex, gender) across different time periods.

Tomb Raiding at Edinburgh Comic Con

You’re never too old to scare yourself. And if you ever want a safe place to go out cross-dressed, I thoroughly recommend comic/science fiction conventions. These are two things I found out for myself last month.

I had it in my head to enter the cosplay contest at Edinburgh Comic Con 2016, but I wasn’t entirely sure which character to dress up as. So I asked my friends. Three costumes involved the catsuit: Emma Peel from The Avengers TV show (but I reckoned hardly anyone would be able to distinguish her); Selene from Underworld (but I needed a much shinier catsuit to do her justice); and Black Widow from The Avengers films (but if videos and photos of the 2015 con were anything to go by, I’d be up against dozens of Black Widows). That left Tomb Raider‘s Lara Croft (the 1990s version).

I’ve already gone out as Lara for a friend’s birthday, as well as an early-morning photoshoot (which was largely uneventful, so nothing to write about; photos can be found randomly throughout the blog gallery), but going to a comic con would be my first time just on my own, talking to a bunch of strangers (although I did meet quite a few people I knew anyway).

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A couple of Rogue Ones?

On arrival, I headed to the ‘green room’ where cosplayers could get changed. The first guy I spoke to was Andrew, getting changed from Bane to a shadow stormtrooper. He was my guide and guru to my first con. He also didn’t realise I was a guy as well, at first. When I caught up with him throughout the afternoon, he’d introduce me to various friends to speak to, so I could confirm for them that he wasn’t lying; Lara Croft was a dude. This was actually great fun!

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I was glad to see I wasn’t the only 1990s icon at the con…

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Why yes, I *am* a slut for cameras…

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Covered from all angles (I think Leeloo was glad to escape and check out the rest of the con after this!)

Some of the reactions were priceless – one of my favourites was a guy who, after taking my photo, said “Thanks” and I said “You’re welcome!” …and then his eyes bugged out a bit.
“You’re a man?!”
“Well, yeah, sure.”
“Uh…”
(And then he left in a hurry. I’ve encountered this response before.)

That said, pretty much everyone else was cool with it…

Stark contrast?

I gotta be honest; I don’t recognise this character… my nerdy knowledge has limits!

An Intrepid selfie…

This was an incredibly safe, family-friendly environment. There were parents and kids all in costume (kudos to the very young girl dressed as the dancing sapling Groot from Guardians Of The Galaxy). The rules for interacting with cosplayers (essentially: look don’t touch; no photos without permission; don’t be a dick) were displayed on large pop-up stands, but I think everyone just took them as read. Everyone took pictures of themselves with everyone else. It doesn’t matter what size, shape, age, or gender anyone is – it’s all about the costumes.

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It was kinda weird seeing so many different genre characters mingling together… shopping. It’s the ultimate mix of the fantastical and the mundane.

Anyway, time was marching on and the cosplayers had to queue up for the contest. As I predicted, I saw a multitude of Black Widows (and Suicide Squads, and X-Men), but apparently a glut of Deadpools the previous day had deterred anyone from dressing up in red and black.

It was a long, nerve-wracking wait. I’d never competed in anything like this before (and had no expectation of winning; I was merely hoping to be remembered), and those nad-mashing leather shorts were really, truly uncomfortable (but Lara Croft does not cry; therefore neither would I).

After The Flash and Wolverine did their turns on stage, I was up. As the write-up of the con in Starburst magazine put it:

…a Lara Croft greeted with equal parts enthusiasm and unease after revealing herself to be an alarmingly convincing cross-dressed man…

I seemed to create an impression anyway. Someone in the midst of the audience said:

A good number of folks were surprised when he spoke I do have to say. I saw the reaction of two teenage boys when [Lara] spoke and it was priceless.

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I’m told there was a massive intake of breath from some quarters. On stage, I was just aware of a short pause and then applause. The facial tectonics of the emcee were a sight to behold as well, as he rapidly reappraised who he was dealing with.

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This is my “Surpriiiiise!” smirk. Des, the emcee, recovered well (“Stay professional… stay professional…”)

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“Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it; strike a pose, there’s nothing to it…”

“So what made you dress up as Lara Croft?” Hm. Yeah. What indeed? In retrospect I wish I could’ve come up with a wittier answer than the one I did (I could’ve mentioned the fact that like Lara Croft I have a habit of digging around for old things – apart from a clip-on ponytail, everything I wore came from charity shops, and was perhaps the cheapest costume at the con).

I’d also given thought to a short performance of how Lara picks something off the floor (shuffling around left and right until she’s finally in the right position, and then inexplicably drowning), but it’s hard to know if others will find it as funny as I do. So I limited myself to a final pose for the cameras before bounding off stage.

By the end, the well-deserving winner was a home-made Chappie. I understand a video of the contest might be available at some point – I’ll post it here if I can. I’ve already had a suggestion for a costume for next year’s comic con which some of my friends are keen on. And you know what? I’m tempted. It’ll take a lot of dieting and buying stuff I’d wear precisely once, but I’m tempted… sort of… kind of… maybe….

Photos shamelessly stolen from Andrew Judge, Mustbe2sday, Nick J Cook, Dave Jolie, Chi H Lau, Scott Mathie, and possibly others at Edinburgh Comic Con… sorry if I missed anyone!

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.

Photoshop and the art of self delusion

Talking about 'Lies, Damned Lies, and Photoshop'...

Talking about ‘Lies, Damned Lies, and Photoshop’…

Is it okay to Photoshop yourself? Or rather, when is it okay? The photo above shows me giving a talk for this year’s Skeptics on the Fringe. It has been Photoshopped. The lighting in the original had me glowing vivid magenta under the stage lights, so I figured a more human-coloured skin tone might suit me better. Does this make me a dirty, dirty liar?

I won’t repeat the contents of the talk here, apart from a few notes which relate (however faintly) to cross-dressing. (Treat any mention of “Photoshop” as referring to that program, or an almost-as-good-but-free alternative.)

A while back I mentioned one of the old blogs which inspired this is one. If I recall correctly, a few of the posts there took a dim view of cross-dressers who shared pictures of their faces badly Photoshopped onto female models. For a dated, famous non-crossdressing example, Oprah Winfrey was once photoshopped onto another actress’s body for the cover of TV Guide. It might have worked, too, if her head wasn’t sized too big in proportion to the rest of the body, making her look like she’s suffering from’Bloaty Head’ in the old Theme Hospital game.

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I can understand the desire to see a picture of oneself on a perfectly-formed body (one which has almost certainly been Photoshopped itself), especially if you feel you can’t physically indulge in the fashions you want to. But if you’re going to share them online, you have to make sure you’ve done a decent job and that you’re honest about it, or you’ll end up being called out on your bullshit (which can be surprisingly easy to do).

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It’s incredibly tempting to take one of your photos and tweak it before posting it online. Even if you don’t go to the ridiculous lengths that fashion, beauty and magazines do to thin out, stretch and smooth their subjects to barely-human degrees, you can still bugger it all up with a few misconceived tweaks. In the examples above, the ‘Liquify‘ tool was used to enlarge breasts, or to reshape hips and thighs without squeezing a Thighmaster. The unfortunate Photoshoppers seem to have forgotten that warping the bodies will also involve warping wrists, and the backgrounds, too…

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(Ignoring the background of a picture can be the downfall of many an unwary Photoshopper…)

My own take on Photoshopping yourself is: why bother?

Seriously, what is the point? Your friends will see what you really look like when they meet you. You might be able to fake your photos until you look slimmer, plump-breasted, slender-thighed and wrinkle-free, but you can’t Photoshop yourself.  Far better to work with what you’ve got and make the most of it. You could learn to take better pictures, or which poses and expressions look good for you. There are all sorts of ways you can glam up without touching a computer. And that’s before you even think about changing your diet and lifestyle to something healthier…

Is Photoshopping ever okay?

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During the talk I conducted a highly unscientific straw poll of the audience. Under what circumstances was Photoshopping acceptable? For example, is it okay to crop out bits of the background you don’t want, to focus on you as the subject? (Everyone agreed it was.) Was it okay to adjust the levels (let’s just say brightness and contrast) to brighten the image? (Everyone agreed it was.) But what if you left your coat and handbag in the scene and removed them? (Most people thought it was okay; a few thought it wasn’t.)

So it seems you should only Photoshop your pictures with a limited set of honest intentions; don’t change the way you look.

I like to give myself another excuse: for my own artistic amusement…

If you're going to Photoshop your selfies, at least make it worthwhile...

If you’re going to Photoshop your selfies, at least make it worthwhile…

 

Clothes that clash

*UPDATE, 18th November 2014: well, this post has certainly lived up to its name!
It’s caused a few (civilised!) disagreements with my friends, on the blog and on Facebook; some agree with me on some things, others not. Where I think I should clarify things (based on feedback), I’ll add new text with an asterisk.

This rather misses an important point about being compelled to wear (or not to wear) certain clothes...

This rather misses an important point about being compelled to wear (or not to wear) certain clothes… [update 26 Aug 2016] see The Ex Muslim for reasons why.

 

I may not like what you wear, but I’ll defend to the death your right to wear it.
(apologies to Voltaire!)

I have, in past blog posts, argued that if we intend to use our clothes to create an impression, then that’s precisely the impression we create. However, sometimes other people will make inferences about you, based on what you wear, and you have no control over this, even if they are utterly mistaken. Which is a bit of a pain.

Some will go further, and proscribe certain clothing – not on grounds of safety or practicality, nor for the sake of uniforms or ‘fitting in’, but morality. Now if this is because they are running a private business, then I’d say “their house, their rules” and best of luck to them. If we don’t like it, we can take our business elsewhere.

Visitors to St Peter's should not wear orange mini-dresses or purple rowing bibs. I think.

Visitors to St Peter’s should not wear orange mini-dresses or purple rowing bibs. I think.

Where I do have a problem is when people try to police clothing choices on the grounds of ‘public morality‘ (which is the polite way of saying ‘the most uptight members of society will impose restrictions on the rest of us’, having failed to learn that prohibitions never work.)

For example, Iran and North Korea require men to have fucking awful hairstyles, and the Taliban required men to grow beards. The Jewish Tzniut requires žsleeves to cover the elbows and shirts to cover the collarbone, and skirts to cover the knees. žSome women also avoid overly eye-catching colours, especially bright red; strict Jewish law requires married women to cover their hair. Presumably because women’s hair is made of magic and beams out lust rays to men?

In some parts of the world, men wear long flowing garments and cover their hair. So, too, did women (traditionally). But that didn't go far enough for some tastes, and now they are compelled to dress like ninjas...

In some parts of the world, men wear long flowing garments and cover their hair. So, too, did women (traditionally). But that didn’t go far enough for some tastes, and now they are compelled to dress like ninjas…

Restrictions on women’s clothing (among much else) is apparent in those countries which made strict interpretations of Islam into public policy. Some say the veil‘s a religious thing, some say it’s cultural; some women support it, some women protest it.

Regardless, it’s an item from the feminine wardrobe I would be perfectly happy to go without. But as much as I might loathe the veil and everything I think it stands for – I regard it as insulting and demeaning to men and women alike – I would never want it banned. *(It could be counterproductive, limiting the freedom of veiled women even to go outdoors – if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s unintended consequences; and laws used to ban things you dislike might also be used to ban things you do like, too.)

If, as a cross-dresser, I want to argue that I should be allowed to wear whatever I like, then the same must apply to anyone, even if I don’t like their choices. I do not believe people should be compelled to choose or refrain from their clothing choices.

Of course, there doesn’t have to be a law that compels people to dress a certain way (or not). This month’s (November 2014) Twitter ephemera is the story about the scientist in Rosetta Space Mission who wore a kitsch t-shirt whilst waiting for the Philae probe to land. An observer inferred from the man’s clothing that he was sexist and this was symptomatic of a community hostile to women.

This opinion hit the internet and many thousands of people decided it must be true. But it wasn’t: his friend, a seamstress called Elly Prizeman made the t-shirt for his birthday. As she says herself, there was no message. The t-shirt is not symptomatic of sexist community.

Sexualisation is in the eye of the beholder?

Sexualisation is in the eye of the beholder?

*The t-shirt in question featured cartoon women in tight or skimpy clothing, all wielding guns. Is that an example of sexualised imagery? From my perspective, I’ve run about in tight or skimpy clothing wielding toy guns, and I didn’t do it because I thought I’d look sexy; I did it because I thought I’d look cool.

*As for the scientist, I have no reason to think that he thought he was representing anyone but himself. The first I saw of him, he was showing off his probe tattoo on live international TV/streams. I would’ve hoped for discussion about his part in the science team. This was way before I even gave his shirt even a first thought (watching on a low-res, small display). Before I saw the shirt, I thought he was being unprofessional and drawing attention to himself rather than the mission. At least he apologised.

*Now this is just my preference here, but: just as a reporter shouldn’t be talking about the clothing/hair/makeup choices of a US Secretary of State, rather than foreign policy (for example), reporters shouldn’t be paying attention to the body art or dodgy clothing choices of a comet probe scientist. IMHO, of course. And yes, people should pay no more attention to women’s appearance than they do to men’s.

*As for the issue of women being under-represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths), it might’ve been more instructive to take a screenshot of the Rosetta control room, showing the ratio of men and women present. I think this would have made the point about women’s under-representation in STEM work far better (on the day, I think I spotted only two women). But the internet ran with a tacky shirt instead – not the best target, perhaps?

But reading your own messages in a garish t-shirt is trivial, and not just because of the ground-breaking space mission it took attention from. There are far more serious problems with the concept of reading messages in clothing.

For example, in a 1977 Wisconsin rape case, the judge considered the sixteen year old complainant’s clothing and sentenced the defendant to probation. The judge called for women to “stop teasing” and for a “restoration of modesty in dress.” Clothing was admissable evidence in Alabama, Georgia and Florida in the 1980s and 1990s, used to undermine a victim’s credibility. In February 2011, Manitoba judge Robert Dewar claimed a rape victim “was asking for it”, which ultimately prompted Slutwalks in cities around the world.

Attitudes in the UK were similar. It took until 2009 before plans were introduced for judges to issue instructions to rape trial juries to ignore common misconceptions about rape, including the victim’s mode of dress.

Our clothing choices are merely symptomatic of our personal tastes, and nobody should assume knowledge about us that they don’t have.

This is also true for cross-dressing. You cannot make assumptions about a man in a skirt beyond the fact he evidently wanted to put it on and probably thought he’d look or feel good wearing it.

Historically, cross-dressing was banned in a number of places (a brief history of such laws in the USA can be found here). I’d far rather live in a culture which, by law, allows freedom of expression.

It can only be a good thing, any time society recognises that cross-dressing is harmless, and not immoral – in fact, it is more moral to allow it (but, again, not to compel it).

There are all sorts of reasons why men cross-dress, but observers will come up with their own explanations instead, and this will probably have very little to do with the truth.

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*Why do we wear what we wear?

*I think a distinction needs to be drawn between ‘external compulsion’ (law, culture, religion) and ‘internal compulsion’ (wanting to wear something because you think it looks/feels good). I’m simply arguing against the ‘external compulsion’ and went for the most obvious examples. I’ll deal with ‘internal’ ones in another post, soon.

*I cannot presume to know why someone wears what they do; if they say they’re happy to wear it, I must assume that’s true.

*Do I judge people by their clothes? Hell, yeah… but that doesn’t mean 1) that I’m right, nor 2) that I should.

“My short skirt, believe it or not, has nothing to do with you.”
– Eve Ensler