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).


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!


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


Why yes, I *am* a slut for cameras…


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.”
(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.


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.


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


“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!



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.


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.


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).


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…


(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?


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.


*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

Funny-peculiar/ Funny-ha-ha

“But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading”
~Madonna, What It Feels Like For A Girl

One of my female friends once told me that seeing me cross-dressed made her feel better about being a woman.

I was quite taken aback by this; baffled even. She grew up in a conservative, religious family in the USA and spent her formative years surrounded by a sexist culture. From what I gather, masculine things were coveted; feminine things were seen as inferior. So, seeing me coveting feminine things – even if it was just clothes and makeup – and not feeling that it was anything to be embarrassed about, was a bit of an eye-opener.

I never felt that cross-dressing was a matter of comedy. It can be great fun, in all sorts of ways, but I’ve never felt that the mere act of a man putting on a skirt should raise a chuckle. The man has to do a helluva lot more than that if he wants to be funny. But why should cross-dressing be funny?

Men and women are treated differently. This is especially apparent in the workplace, especially to trans employees who have experienced life as both male and female. And it’s no great surprise that women come off worse. I mentioned at the end of my last blog post that if you want to cross-dress and present yourself in a feminine way, then women’s issues should be of interest to you. I should probably qualify this: it depends on your motivation (something for another blog – I promise!), but if you’re coming out, going out in public, it’s something to consider.

via Cyanide and Happiness:

via Cyanide and Happiness:

Cross-dressing is often popularly viewed as either a mental problem (such as Norman Bates in Psycho) or comedy fodder. Sometimes, it’s because the perceived ‘weirdness’ of cross-dressing is seen as humourous in itself. Sometimes it’s because male comedians want to portray female stereotypes (or defy them), or for female comedians to play up male stereotypes (I’m sure someone, somewhere, found these funny?).

Presumably, it’s all to do with status-based comedy (something I’m very familiar with from my improv days), in which (high-status) men ‘degrade’ themselves by becoming (low-status) women. What man in his right mind would want to do a thing like that? See – weirdo, right?

I can’t say I’ve ever really subscribed to the idea that women are ‘low-status’; I grew up in Britain in the 1980s when the head of state and head of government -the two most powerful people in the land – were both women. All but one of my bosses at various workplaces have been women.

It’s a matter of personal taste, of course. I enjoy cross-dressing in films or other shows when it creates humorous (or dramatic) situations – for me, Some Like It Hot will always be entertaining – but not when I’m expected to shriek with delight simply because [famous actor] is wearing a skirt [insert multiple exclamation marks]. Pantomime dames never entertained me, even when I was a kid.

When I cross-dress, I don’t do it to be sexy, or for comic effect (I’ll crack jokes whilst cross-dressed for comic effect, though). I don’t see cross-dressing as degrading or humiliating (and if anyone does, that’s their problem, not mine). I’m aware that it’s very much an activity for a minority, but I don’t think it’s weird. I just do it because I think I might look good and I’ll feel good; that’s all.

I think my favourite cross-dressing character is Lord Flashheart in Blackadder. I first saw him when I was nine years old, staying up late to watch a piss-funny comedy show that my parents were wondering if they should be allowing me to see at such a young age. In Rik Mayall’s show-stealing portrayal, Flashheart is a sexy, red-blooded, bride-stealing buccaneer; the centre of attention and greeted by loud cheers wherever he goes. And he also feels more comfy in a dress. But that’s just something he adds at the end:



Playing with myself

Computer games allow anyone to be an epic hero... or heroine.

Computer games allow anyone to be an epic hero… or heroine.

Perhaps the easiest way to ‘cross-dress’ is electronically. Games, whether online or single-player, can give players the chance to inhabit a world as almost anything they like (a sort of second life, as it were). Not just games: countless internet forums, blogs, and social media allow you to interact with the world, presenting yourself with a female avatar and identity. Would you want to?

With controversies such as gamergate, the latest manifestation of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory (and regardless of whatever you might think it’s supposed to be, that’s how it’s turned out), you might be forgiven for thinking the online world isn’t a great place to be a woman. (Unless you’re pretending to be a woman in the hopes of entrapping narcissistic, middle-aged politicians.) I’m not particularly active on social media, but I’m optimistic that, ultimately, demographic changes and social pressures will put an end to the harassment.

Virtual cross-dressing?
What I’d like to focus on instead is the idea of virtual, recreational cross-dressing; a male gamer playing female characters. Very often this doesn’t make much difference to the actual gameplay, unless playing online.

Alien Isolation (2014) allows you to play engineer Amanda Ripley, skulking around a space station hoping to avoid a monster. The game itself failed to frighten me in the least; it just annoyed the hell out of me (like this reviewer, my opinion appears to be a minority view). Amanda could have been anyone – hell, it could’ve been Amanda’s father for all the difference it would make – but that’s not the point. Playing a female character like this is important as a role model.

Does that sound a bit sappy? Well, consider that maybe, just maybe, role models do matter. For example, although the character of Uhura in Star Trek didn’t have a hell of a lot to do, her mere presence counted for a lot.

(l-r) This is how Twist appears in 'Star Trek Online', 'Mass Effect', 'Skyrim' and 'Star Wars: The Old Republic'...

(l-r) This is how Twist appears in Star Trek Online (as ‘Captain Twist of the USS Hanky-Panky’), Mass Effect, Skyrim (I have no idea why she would have a boob window in a land of snow and mountains), and as a gunslinger in Star Wars: The Old Republic‘…

I still find playing a female character can give a refreshingly different feeling to a game, even if it doesn’t make any difference to the story or the way the game is played. Usually, when it does, it just changes romance options. A lot can depend on the strengths of the actresses giving voice to your character, too (I prefer playing a cocky female smuggler to a bland, male Jedi in The Old Republic, for example, and the female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect comes across as more interesting than the male default option, even though the dialogue and play options are largely the same).

Once in a while you can find a gem. No One Live Forever (2000) and its sequel, A Spy In HARM’s Way (2002) were comedy-action-roleplay games set in a world of 1960’s spy kitsch – think Austin Powers made into a game, but far wittier. (Any resemblance between protagonist Cate Archer’s hairstyle and my wig are purely coincidental.) It’s also a good, early example of a computer game passing the Bechdel test – there are at least two women, who talk to each other, and don’t talk about a man.

What about male-to-female cross-dressing characters in games? The only example that comes to mind is the non-playable bad-ass brothel madam in the reboot of Thief (2014), which was too dark and gritty to serve any comedic purpose. (I’d recommend skipping this game, and try the dated yet still far superior originals it is supposed to be derived from.)

It would be a fair point to say that playing female characters in games, or using female avatars doesn’t really count as cross-dressing – it doesn’t involve actually dressing up, nor making any effort to change your appearance. Yet, I can’t help but feel it could offer an outlet, no matter how tenuous, for many would-be cross-dressers who are unable to come out, or even to indulge in private.

It’s also a fair point to say that much of what I’ve written here relates to feminism or ‘women’s issues‘ rather than cross-dressing. To that, I would say that if you want to present yourself in a feminine way, then feminism and women’s issues should be of huge interest to you, for selfish reasons if nothing else…

However you present yourself to the world, stay classy and keep it legal!

However you present yourself to the world, stay classy and keep it legal!

Facing a torn-out page?

UPDATE (2 October 2014): it would appear that Facebook has belatedly realised that they need to rethink their approach to ‘fake names’ and how to deal with reports they receive about them. I’m leaving this article un-edited, because the points made about psychology and social media still stand. The first part will remain, like a fusty little time-capsule of old news (maybe).

This month’s entry will probably go out of date very quickly, but here goes anyway… one of the stories of September 2014 was the news that drag queens are getting kicked off Facebook, unless they change their accounts to their real names (and/or prove what their real name is). This is a problem, and not just for cross-dressing entertainers.

Mark Zuckerberg simply does not get it, and he’s rich enough not to give two shits about you, either. He does not understand that the world is not a safe and happy enough place for his utopian vision where nobody requires privacy any more:

“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.”
He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

It must be great being able to make such simplistic, black-and-white moral judgements without being called on your bullshit (I can see the appeal of founding a religion). He has no need to understand how harmful this attitude is. He’s never faced -or never felt like he’s faced- a situation where he might want to be a little circumspect. Tragically, many other people do.

Click to see larger version.

Instead of these evil, nasty, treacherous, lying, fake names which the saintly, integrity-loving Facebook absolutely loathes, there are other options:

“…we hope that they will decide to confirm their real name, change their name to their real name, or convert their profile to a Page.”

Well, that makes sense in the context of drag queens, doesn’t it? If they violated Facebook’s terms, shouldn’t they play by the rules if they want to stay?

Facebook pages can be created for a limited number of categories: businesses or places; companies, organisations or institutions; brands or products; artists, bands and public figures; entertainment shows; or causes and communities. In theory, if drag queens want to communicate, they can set up a commercial page to promote themselves (cha-ching! for Facebook, no doubt). Of course, if you are a private individual -a quiet cross-dresser, say- who just wants to use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, then none of these categories apply.

The thing is, although Facebook has this policy against fake names, they do not enforce it. For them to delete your profile, someone has to flag your name as fake. And apparently, that’s precisely what someone has done, for pretty much no reason at all, other than some complete prick deciding to troll drag queens.

So, it looks like the rest of us need not worry… for now. The trouble we feared isn’t going to erupt, and the damage is limited to a very specific group. But even so, as RuPaul says,

“…it’s bad policy when Facebook strips the rights of creative individuals who have blossomed into something even more fabulous than the name their mama gave them.”

Here I speak brainily about social media...

Here I speak brainily about social media…

In December 2013 I gave a talk to Edinburgh Skeptics about social media. In it, I related the study which described how

  • žAge, gender, occupation, education level, and even personality can be predicted from people’s website browsing logs
  • žPersonality can be predicted based on the contents of personal websites, music collections, Facebook or Twitter data (number of friends or the density of friendship networks or language used by their users)
  • žLocation within a friendship network at Facebook was shown to be predictive of sexual orientation.

To quote the study’s authors:

“…companies, governments, or even one’s Facebook friends could …infer attributes such as intelligence, sexual orientation, or political views that an individual may not have intended to share. Importantly, given the ever-increasing amount of digital traces people leave behind, it becomes difficult for individuals to control which of their attributes are being revealed.”

Facebook wants to collect all this information about you so it can help advertisers target adverts better. You have to be absolutely clear on this: you are not Facebook’s ‘user’, you are not its ‘customer’. You are the product Facebook sells to advertisers. Facebook can make or change the rules at whim and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Don’t like it? Too bad. Facebook has no obligation to keep you happy, beyond financial self-interest. (UPDATE 27th January 2015: you can find out precisely which of your data Facebook share here.)

If I had to close my alter-ego’s Facebook account, it would cause a great deal of hassle setting up a new account and recontacting my friends list, but that would be about the extent of the damage. For others, more dependent on Facebook for communication, community or support, it might be far, far worse. To suggest that people set up alternate social media outlets for themselves may not help matters. Social media is now so pervasive, I doubt there are any simple, or even good-enough answers.

As has been noted elsewhere, your identity encompasses far more than the name you were born with.


Trapped in cyberspace: sweet TRONsvestite?