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before, and have gone through life assuming that what they learnt at the age of 11 (simplified and summarised, if not superseded by now) must always be true.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 structures’ in ‘male brains’.

  • 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.

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Gendered agenda addenda

During Edinburgh’s 2016 Science Festival I got to introduce a talk on world cultures which recognise more than two genders, by Professor William Naphy. It’s a topic I’ve briefly alluded to in a previous blog, but this seems like as good a time as any to go a bit more in-depth.

Update 13 April 2016: you can listen to the talk via the Edinburgh Skeptics podcast, starting 4m30s in. (Warning: if you do listen to the first few minutes you can hear me erm-ing, um-ing and ahh-ing through an intro to a poet and to the speaker…)

The talk was really excellent – densely packed with information, yet presented in a very clear and accessible way. I won’t regurgitate the talk verbatim, but the significant take-away messages were these:

  1. There are cultures around the world and throughout history which recognise three, four, or even five genders. From their point of view, they don’t ‘have’ three (or more) genders – there are three (or more) genders.
  2. ‘Genders’ and ‘gender roles’ seem to be inextricably linked – for example, in certain cultures if a woman wants to run a business, she will be seen as a ‘businessman’, and is not allowed to become pregnant (because ‘businessmen’ do not get pregnant). These are entirely separate from matters of sexuality.
  3. Just because a culture recognises more than two genders, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s open, tolerant and socially liberal – sometimes there can be very strict rules about what each gender is allowed to do, and the jobs they can take on.
  4. Following on from the last point, people in these cultures are likely to be disinclined to talk about genders; it would be as impolite as asking complete strangers about their sex lives.
  5. Generally speaking, across the world, there appears to be a bigger deal made about men adopting female gender roles than women adopting male roles.
  6. The influence of gender-binary cultures is adversely affecting the ones which recognise more than two – a culture which might celebrate a third gender could now start describing people in binary terms  – ‘gay’ or ‘trans’, rather than whatever words they have to describe a concept which we don’t have the words (or even concept) to describe in English.
  7. The cultures with more than two genders could be said to have more than two labels or pigeonholes to stick people into. Sure, it’s better than limiting it to two, but it can still be an inflexible system.
  8. I suspect the model we’re moving towards in ‘Westernised’ cultures is one which doesn’t see people as one thing, or another, or yet another, but rather has us occupying different points on ranges: a range of sex; a range of gender identities; a range of sexualities.

2016-ScienceFestivalAfter the talk I spoke to some of the audience in the bar afterwards. As you might expect, it drew a lot of interest from people who are, or have been through, transitioning (m-to-f and f-to-m), or otherwise gender non-conforming in various ways. I don’t really get involved with communities or support groups (because reasons), but I really enjoyed hanging out with other people who’ve had to come to terms with being at odds with what society considers ‘normal’.

If anything, I came away thinking more strongly than ever that each of us has to act as an ambassador for everyone else. We probably need to learn as much as we can about sex, gender and sexuality, even if we don’t think it applies to us, because there’s always the chance that someone somewhere will latch on to us as their ‘token’ expert in these matters.

If we want to live in a more enlightened culture, that means sometimes fielding questions from other people which might be crude, or insensitive, or blithely ignorant and we’ll have to reply openly and honestly. To borrow a phrase from Jim Jeffries‘ stand-up routine about gun control:

…we have to play to the one per cent of society who are such fuckwits they ruin it for the rest of us. We have to move as slow as the slowest person to keep society moving…

Anyway… we all agreed that Professor Naphy’s talk was an eye-opener, and he did an excellent job of presenting other viewpoints we simply aren’t used to. It’s not often you can come out of a talk having to rethink certain bits of how you think the world works, but this was one of those times.

 

The Kids Are All Right

I reckon the future’s in good hands.

I recently had the chance to help out and speak at a couple of school events dealing with gender issues.

In the first, I only provided links to some recent brain studies and helped prepare a presentation for two teenagers, made in front of about 1500 pupils and teachers. Their talk was powerful, highlighting the death rates among trans people, from suicides and murders, and making the case for (among other things) gender-neutral school uniforms. They did a bloody good job, too – it’s really quite uplifting when things like that happen.

The fact that they got the chance to do this – and the lengthy applause afterwards – made me wonder if we’re reaching some sort of turning point.

In the second, I got to speak to a pupils’ lunchtime group which discusses LGBTI issues, led by a couple of teachers. I won’t repeat what I said, since much of the information has already appeared in this blog (and the rest of it will appear in future posts). My main goals were to inform, reassure, and – when possible – to entertain.

The teachers appreciated the fact that I had citations for everything I said, and the pupils appreciated the fact that I covered a wide range of sex, sexuality, gender, history and culture (kudos from one girl when I included asexuality with the other types).

But if the group response was anything to go by, I think what they’ll *really* take away from it is my impersonation of Australian cuttlefish…

LGBTI kids still face a lot of discrimination, but public awareness is growing. Doubtless, things will improve further as more parents understand what their children (or their children’s friends) are going through and seek support.

In some schools in the UK, more pupils are challenging the rules on uniforms – skirts for girls, trousers for boys – and schools are starting to adapt.

Kids are more aware of these issues, because they are already part of the world they are born into.

Me, as depicted by the 4-year-old daughter of one of my friends...

Me, as depicted by the 4-year-old daughter of one of my friends…

In my own experience, a couple of my friends have been happy for their kids to see pictures of me, or meet me dressed up.

“[She] saw and liked your new Wild West photos.
She said, “Cool! He must have fun being able to dress in both boys’ and girls’ clothes.”

It probably helps when you can provide a friendly, familiar face (if not a respectable one…) 😉

“…it was interesting to me when she met you in full Twist mode because it challenged her expectations at an age when she was probably quite binary (genderwise)”

Obviously, openness and acceptance aren’t going to happen everywhere, immediately. But they do seem to be spreading and accelerating.

“Twist is the biggest challenge to identity norms I’ve offered my children.”

It’s going to be interesting to see where this all leads. A couple of years ago, I introduced a talk by Nathan Gale, who expressed the hope that trans- and intersex issues would be mainstream within Nathan’s lifetime. Back then I wasn’t so sure, but now… hm!

 

 

Ch-ch-changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What changed?

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

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

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

*

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

Adventures in Crossdressing (part two): hit’n’miss, hit on Miss Twist

Ciao!

Ciao!

From time to time you have to face the fact that some men will chase anyone in a skirt, quite literally. How should we deal with this? If you do find yourself being hit on whilst cross-dressed, it does help if you have bags of self-confidence. Either that, or fake it well enough that others won’t know the difference.

I once went to a meal out with friends from my writing group, and we’d decided on a general sartorial theme of “something that takes you out of your comfort zone, or other people out of theirs.” This theme was tempered by the fact we were eating in an Italian restaurant in the city centre, so we didn’t go over-the-top or anything; just goth makeup, leather kilts and me in PVC leggings – that sort of thing.

Over the course of the evening, I was hit on by three Italian waiters. I suspect the first tried to set up the other two as a prank, but I’ll never know. I also reckon they told the chef, because every ten minutes or so, a Slavic face popped out from the kitchen door to stare at me. When I tried to avoid laser-eyed Boris, or an ingratiating ‘”Hey, ciaoooo!!!”, I found myself being stared at by a guy I think of as ‘Wistful Dad’, who was eyeing up women at other tables, presumably to take his mind off the wife and kids sitting with him. I was directly opposite him, so caught him looking at me …a bit too frequently. My girlfriend (now fiancee) was sitting next to me and thought it was hilarious. At least it was a controlled environment, surrounded by friends, and we could leave easily.

More recently, I went clubbing for the first time in 20 years (I decided dancing wasn’t my thing when I was a teenager). A friend in York was celebrating his 40th birthday with a fancy dress party. After a few months of watching my diet more carefully than usual, I went as Lara Croft: blue vest, unignorable cleavage, and those tight, nad-mashing leather shorts which make me feel practically functionally female…

Boy, they really like Lara Croft in York! Especially on a Races Night. I think I had a dozen requests for people to have their photo taken with me around the streets – usually after they realised I was a guy…

Anyway, in one pub, a woman approached me and said, “‘ere, you are a bloke, aren’t ya? Me ‘usband’s been starin’ at yer arse fer ‘alf an ‘our! Come with me a minute, will ya, luv?”

She then introduced her husband and I to each other, thusly:
You’ve been starin’ at a man’s arse, ya silly sod! Go on, tell ‘im!”

I just shrugged.

“Yeah, I’m a 38-year-old man,” I explained, “All it means is you like things that look feminine.”

He didn’t say anything. He just stared, slack-jawed. A couple of groups at the tables behind him applauded and took photos with their phones. I don’t think there’s anything I could’ve said that would make him feel less embarrassed (“Hey, c’mon, don’t be sad – everybody loves buttocks!”). There was simply no way his wife was going to let him forget this. Ever.

After the party a bunch of us went to a newly-opened nightclub, still in costume. As I said, I’m not much of a dancer, but I was up to my eyeballs with Red Bull and I simply thought “fuck it.” On the dancefloor, a drunken racegoer tried grabbing one of the women in the group, going for her wig. Being a wearer of a feminine wig, I’m kind of sensitive about that sort of thing. But mostly, I just couldn’t believe that some prick would do that to someone he doesn’t even know.

“DUDE – NOT COOL!” I barked.

He looked at me and I can only assume his brain did that blue-screen-of-death you get with a crashed computer. I could see the cogs weren’t going around – they were just jammed in a kind of “Lara Croft… but it’s a guy… Lara Croft… but it’s a guy” groove. (The woman he grabbed gave him a fearsome earful. Do not mess with Yorkshire women; they’ve had to deal with Yorkshiremen.)

Going clubbing in a blue vest and tight leather shorts is either very brave or very foolish.

Going clubbing in a blue vest and tight leather shorts is either very brave or very foolish.

A month later at the end of the Edinburgh Fringe, after emceeing a show on the final night, I was faced with a 45 minute queue for a taxi at about 1.30am. Or, I could walk home in heels in 20mins. I walked. (But not before a random punter asked to take a photo of my chest. I said yeah, sure, whatever floats your boat…)

I made it a less than a couple of minutes down a steep, cobbled street when a guy jumped out, presumably to scare first girl he saw. Except I’m not a girl, nor scared. His brother and brother’s fiance standing nearby pissed themselves laughing. The fiance asked me how I got my tits like that and showed me hers (erm… you don’t have to do that, really!); the brother mocked her for taking fashion tips on how-not-to-be-flat-chested from a guy. I told her to work with what she’s got, which is more than what I have. Then the jumper came out as a closet cross-dresser with a *ton* of questions for me. Feeling charitable, I answered them all (jeeeeeeezuz). Anyway, after a group photo and handshakes and smiles, we went our separate ways.

Five minutes up the road, and a guy in too-tight jeans and a smart shirt, looking like the last dregs of his youth were slipping from his grasp, looked me up and down (I was wearing a rainbow-coloured Space Invaders dress, if that helps explain things).

“Awwight, dahhhlin’? Fancy comin’ back to my place for a pahhhhty?”

I hadn’t taken my heels off*, so my sole tactical manoeuvre (“Run away!“) wasn’t an option. I would have to rely on bravado and hope things didn’t turn nasty.

I sighed.

“Dude. I’m tired, footsore and busting for a piss. I’m in three pairs of Spanx. All I want to do is go home, take all this crap off, have a shower, and sleep. If you’re still interested, you’re out of luck.”

Happily, I appeared to have sassed him into silence/ submission/ mental-bluescreen-of-death. I think my 38-year-old-guy-voice helped. He looked really dopey for a moment (kinda like the buttock-fancier in that York pub) and walked silently away (it was a busy-ish road, thankfully). I was mightily relieved to get home without further incident.

Moral of the story? Well, I don’t have one. These are all just one-off incidents and I’m not going to generalise from them. All I’ll say is that cross-dressing may not let me know what it’s like to be a woman, but I think it gives some fascinating insights into what it’s like to be seen as a woman… and that’s a lesson I think a lot of guys could benefit from.

Tomb Raider: The Curse of the Family Jewels

I had no problem hailing a taxi dressed like this.

*Heel-wearers might question this choice – I can only assume you’ve never seen the state of Edinburgh’s streets on the last night of the Festival…

Adventures in Crossdressing (part one)

(I cropped out the guilty faces...)

(I cropped out the guilty faces…)

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

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

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

Helping out at the IgNobel UK tour...

Helping out at the IgNobel UK tour…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frequently questioned answers...

Frequently questioned answers…

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

 

I Got The Power!

izzard-quote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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