Recognising who they are

“The stronger person is not the one making the most noise but the one who can quietly direct the conversation toward defining and solving problems.”

(~ Aaron T Beck)

In my early teens I used to read spin-off comics based on the Aliens films. The idea was that astronaut Ellen Ripley had to protect her friends and loved ones from screaming monsters whose sole obsession is the ability to procreate for their egg-laying queen. One particular book was titled The Female War, a title which immediately bubbled back to mind when I was mentally pre-writing this post.

This week the Scottish Parliament voted 86-39 to make it easier for trans folk to legally change their gender. People in Scotland have been able to do this since 2005, but the process is cumbersome and stressful and puts people off applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. The simplified process – “Self-ID” – can be found around the world in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Switzerland and Uruguay.

In the 2016 Scottish general election, the SNP, Greens, and Labour all had gender recognition reform in their manifestos; the Conservatives didn’t put it in their 2015 UK election manifesto, but the idea was uncontroversial enough for even Theresa May to support it. Naturally, by 2022 this obscure administrative procedure affecting a tiny minority of the population drew little media attention and was passed quietly.

Oh, who am I fucking kidding?

It took six years, but was still described in the press as “controversial”, “rushed” or “forced through”. When the vote passed, a screaming TERF stood up to flash her home-made merkin to everyone in the Scottish Parliament chamber; men, women and children. Yes, it’s a weird as it sounds. And “Screaming Terf Merkin” is going to be the name of my death metal band.

Now, as a crossdresser, this doesn’t affect me much. When it comes to the ‘trans debate‘, I have no dogs in this fight. I am merely a bystander, hoping it can help my trans friends, and glad in a general sense that my country is looking out for minority groups and making their lives even just a little bit easier. I’ve written in support of trans issues in the past, and I think it’s one of those things you have to reaffirm.

The one small way it does affect me is that crossdressers are dragged into the arguments by TERFs – essentially, saying that trans women are nothing more than a cosmetic expression (and ‘not really women’), and therefore no different to crossdressers; but worse – they crossdress for the express purpose of invading women’s spaces (toilets, changing rooms, sports events, refuges, prisons).

The argument goes along the lines that predatory men – sex pests and rapists – would be able to use Gender Recognition Certificates like Willy Wonka’s golden tickets and storm these places unopposed. As a consequence of this, women’s spaces have to be rigorously policed, lest a man dressed as a woman slip inside: woman and girls must be protected. If you disagree you want to “destroy women’s rights.”

On one side, women like Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, or other politicians like SNP MP Mhairi Black arguing in favour of the changes, pointing out that it’s predatory men, not trans women who are the threat; on the other side are the likes of JK Rowling, or Joanna Cherry QC (also a SNP MP). This is an argument over women, for women, by women.

Hence my opening reference to The Female War.

The obsession with reproduction shows itself in the TERFs’ supposed ‘gotcha!’ question of how one defines a woman (along the lines of the Polish enyclopaedia definition of a horse). Usually it comes down to genitals and babymaking (as long as you’re not referring to women who’ve had hysterectomies, or who are otherwise unable to conceive because that would make the definition argument a bit complicated). Another formulation goes along the lines of “can a woman have a penis?” (My answer: it depends on the woman.)

Anyone who’s subjected themselves to the sight of Sean Connery in a red nappy with a ponytail, pornstache and thigh-high fuck-me boots might remember the line from Zardoz: “THE PENIS IS EVIL!!!”

I have a lot of sympathy with that kind of instinctive revulsion. I went to a boys-only school, memories of which revolve around the years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. I was surrounded by dicks in both literal and metaphorical senses. I fucking loathe the thought of communal, public nudity. The idea of being surrounded by naked cocks feels threatening and makes my skin crawl, and I’ve got one of the damn things. (NB: the shower area at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon resort was a bit of a trial; and I was 37 when I went there.)

But the argument about the potential horror of women or girls seeing a penis in the changing rooms is an argument against open-plan changing rooms, not trans women. (My preferred swimming pool is the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh: private cubicles.)

As for toilets, I don’t know of anyone who goes marching or dashing into public toilets with everything hanging out on display (except, maybe, good ol’ Screamin’ Terf Merkin?). And if a predatory man wanted to burst into the ladies’ toilets for a wank, he wouldn’t need a Gender Recognition Certificate or even to crossdress – this guy didn’t, and this guy didn’t have anything at all.

In sports, any law or test created for gender, cisgender people will fail as well. Hormones? Some cis women have ‘male’ levels. Chromosomes? In the 1996 Olympics ten cis women had XY chromosomes with intersex conditions and were caught out. Genitals? Ambiguity does exist. The fear is that trans women will have some sort of innate advantage over other women and take all the medals. This hasn’t happened, and the very few who have won any medals have made the news precisely because they are so rare (and precisely because they can be used as examples for TERFs to claim their fears are valid).

Other concerns are already addressed within the legislation: more time for younger trans folk to think about it, cooling-off periods, the option to change back, and making it illegal to falsely claim a certificate. Regarding prisons, if a cis man falsely applied for a GRC he would end up with a conviction for fraudulent self-ID; the Scottish Prison Service would decide which prison he’d go to and his terms of imprisonment, based on their assessment of risk to this person and risk to other prisoners – having an amended birth certificate does nothing one way or another to help or hinder a sexual predator.

This isn’t to say that all the fears or criticisms are unreasonable; I think certain group counselling sessions should be carefully chosen – I can see how it would be inappropriate for a trans woman who still expresses herself in a ‘masculine’ way (for example, at the start of her transition) to attend a woman’s group with sensitive subject matter, such as survivors of trauma or abuse – counselling in these cases would have to be accommodated, and it’s surely not beyond the wit of organisers to figure out options. I think it’s worth asking waxing salons if they do penises and scrotums instead of simply expecting it. And that’s before getting into the minefield of dating and sex – one can never assume one’s genitals will be welcome and you can’t force people to look at them, let alone like them. Please take note, Screamin’ Terf Merkin.

*

The one group that loses out from the policing of women’s and girls’ spaces is… women and girls. If a girl is deemed too successful at sports, parents can accuse her of being trans. Most supporters of these draconian laws never think it’ll happen to them or their daughters – “I never thought leopards would eat MY face, sobs woman who voted for Leopards-Eating-People’s-Faces Party”.

JK Rowling claims she only wants to look out for the rights of women and girls. Her latest venture was to set up a trans-exclusionary service who provide “support and advocacy” for sexual assault victims. Board members include Rhona Hotchkiss, a prison governor whose prison was condemned by inspectors for the frequent abuse of women prisoners by her staff.

Not a great start, and there’s a whiff of authoritarianism there. Some mistake surely? But then there’s this:

“Nobody but the very naive can fail to be aware that predatory men are capable of going to great lengths to gain easy access to victims, and have often sought out professions or special status that offer camouflage for their activities. Sex offenders have historically been found among social workers, teachers, priests, doctors, babysitters, school caretakers, celebrities and charity fundraisers, yet no matter how often the scandals break, the lesson appears never to be learned: it is dangerous to assert that any category of people deserves a blanket presumption of innocence.

“… This shouldn’t need saying, but in the current climate, it does: literally no feminist I’ve ever met claims all trans women are predators, any more than we believe that all men are predators.”

~ JK Rowling, The Times, 16 October 2022

Oh.

So JKR isn’t into that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing? And the backtracking at the end gives the quote the same energy as Donald Trump when he said of Mexicans, “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

But just because the children’s author (who wrote of a super-wealthy boy wizard at an exclusive private school with happy slaves and antisemitic stereotypes looking after his money) can be compared with far-right extremists doesn’t mean that all anti-trans people are like that, surely? I mean, yes, yes, the actual Nazis destroyed a centre dedicated to LGBT research, but what about the 21st century?

Eh, well… anti-trans group LGB Alliance shares its address (55 Tufton Street, London) with right-wing think tanks and pressure groups (like the one that persuaded Britain’s worst prime minister and chancellor to blow £30billion in seven weeks).

Jane Carnall summarises the development like this (essentially, the roots can be found in the USA exporting its social and cultural neuroses):

“Strictly in a local phenomenon, there have always been a subgroup of radical feminists – by no means all radical feminists – who believe very strongly that women are oppressed because of our biology, and men have male privilege because of *their* biology, and therefore trans women have male privilege and can’t experience oppression as women. These TERFs – Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists – have never been a large or a very influential group. They would doubtless have protested the Gender Recognition Reform legislation, but it’s hard to see how far they could have got if they were just the likes of Julie Bindel, who also protested largely against civil partnership (and then registered a civil partnership herself, because, she said insouciently, her girlfriend wanted it).

“What happened in October 2017 was a summit meeting of the Christian Right in the US after they had just lost the marriage-equality decision at the Supreme Court. They mooted the idea that they could “separate the T from LGB” – and attack trans rights by affecting to pretend they cared about the rights of women. Does anyone believe the Christian Right/the Republican Party care about women’s rights? It is to laugh.

“But in the UK, it happened that this Christian Right funded campaign met and melded with a handful of women already inclined to oppose GRR. Magically, when these women published articles claiming GRR was dangerous, they found armies of twitterbots RTing their articles: if they decided to set up an organisation and crowdfund, they found money pouring in to their online fundraising accounts. Lots of money.

“We’ve seen this happen before. Abortion rights activists know that quite small and apparently quite ineffective “prolife” groups can nonetheless raise tons of money to pay for billboards, placards, posters, t-shirts – can provide resources for people to go talk to politicians: can fund the costs for “prolife” interns to work for a MP or MSP for free. Where does this money come from? Well, we see it flowing out from US far-right organisations, and we see money flowing into UK organisations that support those US far-right goals, and – it’s surprisingly hard to definitely prove there’s a direct link. All we have is a lot of smoking guns.

“And it’s exactly the same with the anti-trans movement. They claim to be “grassroots funded”, and there may well be some of the money going in that’s genuinely local: but much of it almost certainly isn’t.

“What we’ve seen in the UK since 2018 has been a dangerous rise of a loud far right campaign, targeting trans people, claiming their justification is “sex-based women’s rights”. This as a legal concept of including cis women & trans men, and excluding cis men and trans women, doesn’t exist in the UK. Cis and trans women have been protected against discrimination *as women* since the 1990s by the Sex Discrimination Act which was rolled into the 2010 Equality Act: trans people, women and men, are protected against transphobic discrimination by the 2010 Equality Act – as are lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people protected against homophobic discrimination, whether we are cis or trans.

“Trans rights and women’s rights are no more in conflict than women’s rights and lesbian rights, and for the same reason. Christians have argued that *their* religious rights need to be protected against LGBT rights, but by that in general they mean that they want a secular right to discriminate against LGBT people respected in law, not that they cannot worship God in their own way unless they are allowed to promote hate against LGBT people as part of that worship.”

Jane Carnall, Facebook post, 22 December

*

Just because a fascist fuckwit makes a particular point, I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand straight away – is there any nugget of wisdom or an improvement or safeguard that can be gleaned? (For another nerd reference, I’m thinking of a line in a relevant episode of The Orville where Captain Mercer talks about policing himself.) As I said earlier, I’m pretty much a bystander in this. I can afford to take these little intellectual double-takes without feeling like I’m attacking the core of my being. The closest I got, as I wrote above, was a vague sympathy for the emotional disgust of penises. But when I considered the cases, I found there were alternate solutions, either accounted for already, or which could potentially be brought in if required.

It’s vitally important for trans folk to be recognised and accepted for who they are, legally and by society. I would not want it any other way. Ideally, society should be managed in a way that a minority group won’t have to be treated like they were a minority group. Sadly, we are far from living in that ideal society.

I think it’s also important to recognise their opponents for who they are too.

And when your opponents’ poster girl is Screamin’ Terf Merkin, you know you’re doing something right.

When I met The Ladyboys Of Bangkok…

The Ladyboys’ show has been visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe since the 90s, and it’s only recently I went along to see them. It put me in a thoughtful mood… (this had been in my drafts folder for far too long!)

First of all, it’s impossible not to be aware of sensitivities regarding words and names, and that ‘ladyboy’, however it might have been regarded in the past, is now considered offensive (‘kathoey’ is the correct term in Thailand). Personally, I specifically use the term to describe the show or the performers (like it or not, that’s the brand name they perform under; and changing the name would likely confuse the fans and harm the business). Whether you take offence at the name or not, it was clear to me that many in the audience for the Ladyboys were devoted fans who loved the show.

When they first came to people’s attention in the UK in 90s, they were treated as something of a punchline. I spent my student summers working in a Fringe venue box office, and was involved with a show each night so I never really had the chance to go along and watch. To be honest, I wasn’t all that interested. The only time I saw them was when they were caught out in a rainstorm walking through one of the city parks – they stood out because compared with the locals and fellow Fringe-goers they were all outstandingly pretty (even off-duty), and they were wearing the most gloriously impractical clothing for a Scottish summer (and platform heels on cobbled streets is a brave decision!).

It was a long, long time later before a friend suggested we go along and check out the show, and I figured what the hell – clearly they were doing something right to have lasted this long, so why not see what the fuss was about? All I really knew was that they pitched their tent where they could, and the music was loud. Otherwise, they just felt like part of Edinburgh’s artsy background noise.

The show is an energetic song & dance cabaret mixing solo and ensemble performances (and a ton of costume changes), with lots of lipsynching to well-known songs and parodies (like the adult version of She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain When She Comes, with lyrics like “I was very nearly coming when you came…”). In between are smaller sketches and audience interactions. Some of the Ladyboys’ troupe were boys; one was relatively senior in years, and swapped between male and female presentation throughout the show; one was more diminutive and what they lacked in height they made up for with a powerful pair of lungs to belt out songs; and one was a slightly plumper jester/’madame’ who would harrass the men in the audience.

The audience was mostly middle age to elderly women, and quite often little old ladies would jump up and try to dance during the performance – sometimes being steadied by a friend or relative.

A notable scene – played straight – involved the senior Ladyboy slowly changing out of her evening gown into a suit while singing I Did It My Way – singing as a woman until the very end, when she removed her wig and sang as a man for the last refrain. I found it oddly affecting – I’ve long known that I won’t be doing Twist stuff forever, and at some point I’ll take the wig off and never put it back on again. Will I do it singing My Way, or will I simply not realise it’s the last time? That was the sober part of the show – it can’t be comedy and high energy all the time…

The only other bit that gave me pause for thought was the the jester/madame’s humiliation of men in the audience. Every so often she picked a victim, dragged them on stage, and groped them to cheers from the audience. The worst one I reckoned (hoped!) had to be an audience plant (we saw him later leave via the staff exit) – he refused to kiss the jester/madame on stage, so she got him on the floor and dry-humped him. My friend and I understood how this routine started as a way of “power-rebalancing”, by dishing sexual humiliation out to the men, but it felt kind of dated. (That, and I’m not keen on ‘prank’ humour – it’s a bit like comedy wanking in that the only one really having fun is the one doing it, not the one who’s on the receiving end…)

In all other aspects, the show seemed to be really in tune with the times in its message and inclusivity. Everyone was gorgeous, funny, and talented, and I’m amazed at the energy they put into the performances, given they do both lunchtime and evening shows (we went at lunchtime). But if the performers weren’t the Ladyboys, would there be anything special about it?

Afterwards we had a chance to get our photo taken with them. I felt kinda frumpy standing next to them (okay, a lot frumpy) – who wouldn’t want to look as good as they do? – and I got a lovely reaction from them when they heard my voice and figured me out!

Spot the odd one out…

Because SIWOTI

You can be almost certain that someone will never change their mind because of a comment posted on social media. Does that mean we should never try?

When you get so accustomed to particular arguments and evidence, it can be something of a shock to encounter people who’ve clearly never heard them before, and have gone through life assuming that what they learnt at the age of 11 (simplified and summarised, if not superseded by now) must always be true.

What do you do when Someone Is Wrong On The Internet?

I had that experience on social media, and ended up regurgitating pretty much all of the sciencey posts I’ve done on this blog (with a couple of choice quotes I found elsewhere; unfortunately I can’t recall the original source).

Here’s what I wrote in reply:

“TL;DR version: sex, sexuality and gender aren’t ‘either/or’ concepts. If a person doesn’t fit into the way you think about the world, maybe *just maybe* the problem isn’t with that person?

The TL bit:

CHROMOSOMES
yes, there’s XX and XY, but there are other variants like XXY or XO (Klinefelter’s Syndrome or Turner’s syndrome); intersex people exist (and since 2003 are starting to be recognised on some nations’ passports, such as Germany in 2013).
– So I wouldn’t go about saying “XX or XY! Boy or a girl! End of story! Science!” because that’s not what the science says; things are more complex than that:

You can be male because you were born female, but you have 5-alphareductase deficiency and so you grew a penis at age 12. You can be female because you have an X and a Y chromosome but you are insensitive to androgens, and so you have a female body. You can be female because you have an X and a Y chromosome but your Y is missing the SRY gene, and so you have a female body. You can be male because you have two X chromosomes, but one of your X’s HAS an SRY gene, and so you have a male body. You can be male because you have two X chromosomes- but also a Y. You can be female because you have only one X chromosome at all. And you can be male because you have two X chromosomes, but your heart and brain are male. And vice – effing – versa.

SEXUALITY
Sure, most people identify as heterosexual, but homo-, bi-, and asexual people exist too. Whether or not people come out as such depends on how tolerant their society is; if it’s against the law or punishable by death, then they’ll obviously not want to say. Check Wikipedia to see how wildly the statistics vary between Brazil and Iran (for example).

Adler (1991) and Byne et al (2001) found a cluster of nerves in the hypothalamus was largest in straight men, smaller in gay men and slightly smaller in women (this develops before birth).
Garcia-Falgueras & Swaab (2010) found environment doesn’t affect sexuality. Bailey & Zucker (1995) say 63% of gay men and women don’t conform to ‘gender behaviour’ as kids (vs 10-15% of straight people not conforming.)
– So nature, not nurture, determines one’s sexual orientation – and it’s not an ‘either/or’ proposition – people can be more hetero-, or more homo-sexual (think of it as a range), or simply not interested (asexual; maybe 1% of people will identify as such).

BRAINS
Joel et al (2015) did 1400 MRI scans of brains; there are some sex/gender differences in brain and behaviour. We have unique “mosaics” of features, some more common in females, some in males, and some common in both. Regardless of whether nature or nurture causes sex/gender differences in brain and behaviour, human brains cannot be categorized as ‘male’ or ‘female’.

Garcia-Falgueras & Swaab (2008) showed that the interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus (INAH) in the brain is:

  • larger and more elongated in men and more spherical in women.
  • Male-to-female transexuals have a similar INAH to women, as do castrated males – so is the size of the INAH determined by testosterone? (But: study criticised for a small sample size and no study of different sub-types of transexuals.)

– So, there’s a bit of the brain that might well tell you what gender you are?

Swaab (2005) found sex differences in your body develop early in pregnancy (the first few months), but sexual differentiation of the brain occurs later in the second half of pregnancy and might be modified after birth by culture. This explains why, for certain transexuals, you can expect to see ‘female brain structures’ in people who are ‘otherwise male’.

  • So your body’s sex and your brain’s ‘gender’ can be different?
  • So can we really divide people into two genders? Not if we use biology, it seems!

On television, Secrets of the Sexes (BBC, 2005) said that men and women don’t always fit neatly into their respective groups. A University of Cambridge around that time study found that 17% of men have a ‘female’ empathising brain and 17% of women have a ‘male’ systemising brain. We aren’t ‘Male OR Female’; these are just end points on a range.
Hell, you can test yourself and find out where you belong on the range at this BBC website.

CULTURE
Why do we find it hard to accept there are more than two genders? Other cultures recognise three, four, or even five (such as Kathoey in Thailand, or Hijras in India, or ‘two-spirit’ people among some of the first nations of North America. Greeks accepted other sexualities, Romans accepted transgender folk. What changed?
Not wishing to upset anyone’s sensibilites, I’d just simply suggest that when the Romans adopted a variant of bronze-age desert mythology as their state religion, that’s when it started to get really difficult for women and transgender folk. This idea mutated and spread around the world for the next few centuries; almost all of us have grown up indoctrinated by aspects of it.

Bem’s Sex Role Inventory (BSRI, 1974) lists 20 ‘male’, 20 ‘female’ and 20 ‘neutral’ traits (eg: males are assertive, ambitious, swear a lot, etc, while females are meek, peacable, don’t swear… you get the idea). But by 1998, Holt & Ellis found recorded differences between men and women have decreased since the 1970s – men are less ‘manly’, women more ‘manly’ (but on average, men are still more impulsive)… at least in the west.

CONCLUSIONS?
Costandi (2013) found Sex is determined by genes; Gender is determined by culture/upbringing.
Elliott (2013) found male and female brains have far more similarities than differences; gender differences come from culture/ upbringing.

Just because we’ve been brought up to believe something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, or that we have to keep believing it. In the 21st century, bearded women win Eurovision, men can get pregnant.

Intersex people exist. Trans people exist. So do men and women. Denying any of these things will weaken whatever argument you want to make about sex and gender.

Before anyone says “But it doesn’t happen in nature!” – well, actually it does, from lesbian hedgehogs to cross-dressing cuttlefish:

…you can have females be females because they developed in a warm environment and males be males because they developed in a cool environment (reptiles), you can have females be females because they lost a penis sword fighting contest (some flatworms), you can have males be males because they were born female, but changed sexes because the only male in their group died (parrotfish and clownfish), you can have males look and act like females because they are trying to get close enough to actual females to mate with them (cuttlefish, bluegills, others)…

That’s it; I’m done. I’ve laid as much science on here as I dare to, given that nobody’s ever had their mind changed by a Facebook comment. But I just *had* to get this out because SIWOTI.”

Peace, out.

So, creeps reap what they sow?

It’s been a lot longer than intended since my last blog post, but my outings this year have been of a purely social nature; no adventures; no grand photoshoots; nothing to report (at least, not yet…).

I usually do my longer more serious, introspective posts (which always give me the stomach-turning feeling that they’ll start up a shitstorm) at the end of the year.

2017 has certainly provided a bit of food for thought in the wake of this year’s eruption of sexual harassment scandals (ranging from rape and other sex acts, to unwanted physical contact, to verbal harassment), going back decades.

I could easily add my name to the #metoo hashtag (if I used Twitter), but I’d have to add it to a #I_am_hardly_blameless_myself hashtag as well.

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#I_am_hardly_blameless_myself
To put it briefly, learning to socialise was a steep catch-up learning curve in my first year at university, and I found myself socially ostracised more than once because I had no idea what I was doing wrong (but I certainly knew that I was doing something wrong). Maybe I had a toxic personality; maybe it was extreme social immaturity. Whatever it was, if I could go back in time, I’d happily strangle my 17-year-old self and damn the time paradoxes.

Have I ever creeped women out? For certain (I had enough self-awareness to realise that my teenage attempts at flirting were about as welcome as being chatted up by Gollum). Have I ever said inappropriate things? Yes (thankfully I was able to channel these impulses into improv comedy instead). Have I ever touched a woman inappropriately? I’m sure I probably did – but I’m also sure that was the extent of it, though. It’s not like I was a rampant sex pest in the style of Pepé Le Pew; just an annoying teenage shit.

On meeting up with one of my university friends a couple of years back, she assured me that whatever I said or did (that had me twitching and gibbering to myself years or decades later with embarrassing memories) “At least you apologised.”

What changed? I learnt not to be a dick, through a process of trial and error, I guess. A year or two of solo travelling helped as well – going around the world with nothing more than you can physically carry means you have to sharpen your social skills pretty damn quick. I’d say I was in my early-to-mid-twenties before I was an acceptably functioning member of civilised society.

What about #metoo then?
It was also at university that I started crossdressing, and I’ve already written about the great fun I had.

But there were plenty of moments when guys – and it was only the guys – creeped me out: trying to lift my skirt at parties (several times – what were they hoping to see?); inviting me to sit on their laps (certainly not, if it’s going to feel like you have three knees); once asking if I ‘wanted to be fucked like a bitch’ (by a total stranger at a party – I assume he’s had a lifetime of going home alone at night); grabbed from behind and dry humped (three occasions); and then, of course, there was the whole ‘if a man is dressed as a woman then it must be funny’ thing to get over. I prefer to dwell on the good stuff that happened instead (all of these were in the late 1990s, so pre-Twist days).

More recently, however, sometimes people (men, women, or otherwise) grab or touch Twist (or ask bizarre questions) and I either don’t mind at all, or I don’t let it bother me.

Sometimes it’s just curiosity (“Are those tits real?” *poke* – “Would you really have done that if you thought they were?”); sometimes it’s just for fun (I tried very hard not to dissolve into giggles whilst being motorboated at a party once); hugs and touches are perfectly okay too (I’m not much of a huggy-touchy person myself but I won’t ever turn them down).

Some things are okay when I feel safe and it’s among friends. As for how other people might react to those same things, your mileage may vary.

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This was bloody funny actually. 😀

So, is there anything I can conclude?
I can only speak for myself here: feeling sexually harassed was something I felt more acutely when I was younger, and more unsure of myself, and low-status. And it only ever happened when I was cross-dressed, so – and it’s important to note this – it’s not like I had to face this sort of thing all the time.

These days, as Twist, I’m a big girl and I can take a lot, and I’d let someone know if they’d gone too far.

What’s my take on all the sexual harassment scandals? These are only my current thoughts, and they may or may not change (and bear in mind that explanations are not excuses):

  • If a guy says they can’t remember something they did years ago, it’s probably true.
    But – in my last year on university, a woman I met with some of my friends said I’d made a highly inappropriate remark to her way back in my first year. I had no memory of this at all, but I said that it sounded like the sort of thing I would’ve said, and apologised to her for it. If you can recognise you’ve screwed up, it seems like the least you can do.
  • Some guys have no idea they’re doing something wrong.
    Maybe it’s immaturity; maybe they can’t pick up on social cues; maybe they’re used to a touchy-feely or bantering culture (I always blame things on stupidity before I blame them on malice). I suspect a lot of people don’t realise that others won’t think the same way they do – while guys might be flattered or amused by (sexual) attention, it doesn’t mean women will be flattered or amused by the same sort of attention (depends on the person, I suppose?). Never underestimate how stupid young men can be.
  • Mixing sexual relationships with work relationships sounds bloody dangerous at the best of times.
  • Age-wise, if you want to avoid being skeevy, a neat rule of thumb I heard is:
    don’t date anyone who is younger than [half-your-age, plus seven years]. Even better, don’t blithely assume that you’re date-able.
  • Anyone shown to have abused their high status deserves to be publicly brought down. Justice must be seen to be done, and nobody is above the law.
  • Guilt and shame work best when they’re self-inflicted. Unfortunately, some people have egos too big for this to work, and need the evidence of their wrongdoing screamed at them from a thousand directions.
  • Lastly, and probably least popularly, there is a damn good reason why the law has presumption of innocence. Mob justice is ugly, fickle, hasty and forgetful, and it can turn against the innocent as well as the guilty, no matter if we like them or not. (The two links in this bullet point give different views on the matter; I recommend reading both.)

I’m a long-term optimist. It’s not going to be quick; it’s not going to be an even improvement, everywhere, for everyone – but things will improve.

Also: I’m really fucking glad I went through my teens before social media was invented.

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I have a few Twist things planned for 2018 (if I can summon up the courage), and I still have a backlog of photos to add to the gallery.

More blogging later! 🙂

What do the folks say?

So, here’s a question many of us have wrestled with: how do we tell our parents about our cross-dressing? Do we even dare? Is it worth the effort? Or is it enough to have a supportive group of friends?

Earlier this year a couple of my friends came out to their parents as trans (one m-to-f, one f-to-m). In one case, this was met with acceptance (and relief from their social circles); in the other, let’s just say the parents might need a bit more time – I gather their response was more doubting.

As my friend put it, it felt like their family was inadvertently hurting them through a misguided sense of trying to ‘protect them’, treating them as if they hadn’t already spent years thinking about their gender identity and the consequences of transitioning.

Another friend of mine transitioned a number of years earlier, and with the benefit of hindsight offered these pearls of advice (paraphrased):

  • By coming out to your parents, you might take a weight off your shoulders, but you end up putting it onto your parents’ shoulders
  • Your parents have lost a [son/daughter]; so even though you’ve thought about this for many years, you need to allow them time to come to terms with this – and grieve
  • Your parents have lost a possible future they would have expected for you
  • There might be a sense of guilt from your parents that they didn’t spot it/  understand/ help you sooner
  • While your friends might be understanding and supportive, how will your parents’ friends react to them? Your parents will also need to “come out” to friends and family.

Of course, this assumes fairly liberal, tolerant parents; not everyone is so lucky.

A friend once put me in touch with a guy who was starting to cross-dress, but didn’t have much of a supportive social community to rely on, and his parents were extremely socially conservative and religious (there’s a surprise), and utterly rejected and forbade it. My friend thought I might be able to help, (as a cross-dresser who’d already come out and was quite comfortable with my identity), but the problems this guy faced were huge, and had taken a toll on his wellbeing.

All I could do was reassure him that he wasn’t ‘wrong’; he wasn’t ‘deviant’; more than anything he simply had to become independent (especially financially independent) of his parents – that way they couldn’t threaten him, and anything they did wouldn’t harm him (of course, this ignores the emotional distress of his parents opposing him so directly). Last I heard, he’d moved to a new college and was finally able to come  out and start establishing a female identity.

As for my own parents?

Well, back in the 1980s when my mother happened to see Europe on TV singing The Final Countdown, her response was to ask “Are they men? But they’ve got long hair! And they’re wearing lipstick!” And later on my father, questioning my choice of Hawai’ian shirts, opined that in his day garish, brightly-coloured clothing like that was a sure sign of homosexuality.

The first time I told them about my cross-dressing, I was already an independent adult and had been living with my fiancée for a few years. Initially they took it as a joke, a one-off. When I made it clear that it wasn’t, they were clearly uncomfortable (but would never admit as much, being classic Brits). There were a few sarcastic comments made, and I decided that if they didn’t want to hear any more about it, I simply wouldn’t tell them. There was no reason to make it a problem.

This hasn’t given me any emotional distress. Sure, it’s frustrating not being able to share funny stories or adventures, or show them photos, but I’m constantly aware that it could be far worse (and it is, for those in other cultures, or for those who haven’t yet been able to establish themselves). I have some of the best friends I could ask for, and someone to share adventures with. I have no reason to complain!

Any advice, take-home lessons?

From my perspective – and do bear in mind how limited it might be – if you have to choose between coming out to an unreceptive or hostile family, or establishing your independence, choose independence first. Give yourself the social support and the safety of distance. Get to the point where “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.