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.

*

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! 🙂

Hooked on a feline

On another old photoshoot, I had the idea of finding everyday locations that might be a bit science fictiony when seen from a certain angle, and try to get some sort of action heroine shots. This is trickier than it sounds, because it turns out these sorts of places employ security guards…

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This is more uncomfortable than it looks…

Nothing says ‘action heroine who’s got her shit sorted out’ like a catsuit. This sort of thing also tends to attract a lot of attention, so I reckoned it’d be best to get the photos done very early on another summer morning. I’d given thought to the science & engineering campus for the university as a location, but plumped instead for the back of a cinema complex, where there were lots of grilles and vents and a very long staircase that brought to mind (my mind, anyway) classic villains’ lairs from old James Bond movies. We weren’t supposed to park there, but who was going to notice at 5am?

Right after this photo was taken, we were asked to leave...

Right after this photo was taken, we were asked to leave…

We barely got started – maybe half a dozen photos to get lighting and poses figured out – before a side door opened and a chubby, spotty, greasy little teenager in an ill-fitting suit waddled out with a walkie talkie. His face was flushed, like he’d just interrupted a late-night chip supper to deal with us.

“Ye cannae be here!” he squeaked in a breaking voice, “It’s no’ allowed!”

In my heels, I felt like I was twice his height. I figured he must’ve been the cinema manager’s otherwise unemployable son or something. At any rate, I could see why he was picked for the Z-shift on the duty rota.

“We’re just taking a few photos,” my girlfriend explained.

“Ye’ve got tae go! It’s private propurrty!”

Discretion being the better part of valour, I just rolled my eyes, grabbed my coat and headed to the incredibly long staircase down to the car. Halfway down, I had that hairs-raising-on-the-back-of-my-neck feeling; I was being watched. Sure enough, I turned around and saw the wee man staring at my backside.

“I’m not who you think I am!” I told him.

I was quite gratified to see his jaw open and shut like a gasping fish as he stammered silently for a moment before waddling back to the safety of his CCTV control room.

Okay, strike one location. I had another idea: there was a water treatment facility by the shore, and from some angles it kinda looked like a nuclear reactor. It was also next to some industrial wasteland, so there would be a ton of scrap metal to strike adventurous poses on. I had visions of photoshopping in attack helicopters and explosions (still haven’t gotten around to that yet).

Despite appearances, this isn't a nuclear reactor; it's a water treatment facility...

Despite appearances, this isn’t a nuclear reactor; it’s a water treatment facility…

We tried not to breathe in the stench from the sewer water, and got a number of shots in…. before a marked security car crawled past. The driver scowled at us. Or maybe it was leering. It was hard to tell. Unlike a cinema Z-shift team, this guy looked like he strangled kittens for fun. We were glad when he drove on, out of sight.

Action heroines always seem to end up mucking around industrial waste grounds...

Action heroines always seem to end up mucking around industrial waste grounds…

Anyway, we were on a public road, and we weren’t breaking any laws, so we stayed to take a few more pictures across the road in front of the waste ground (I decided it was too muddy and potholed to actually prance around in there). That’s when a second security car crawled past. The driver looked like Spike the bulldog from the Tom & Jerry cartoons and got into the security business because he was attracted by the prospect of beating the crap out of people. He stared at me with – well, kiss-kiss-bang-bang eyes I guess…

As soon as he drove round the corner we decided this location was bust too. Time to move on again.

There was an old observatory on a hill with great views over the city centre, right next to the cinema we’d started at. So we went back, and I had to totter up the slopes and steps to the top, regretting my choice of footwear with every step.

More from the amazing adventures of Spinal Twist...

More from the amazing adventures of ‘Spinal Twist’…

The observatory itself was hidden behind a wall, but there were plenty of other points of interest on top of the hill (I used the location for other photoshoots later in the year). Best of all, there were no CCTV cameras and no guards to stop us; as far as I know it’s a public park.

Nothing like a stroll in the park to get you going...

Nothing like a stroll in the park to get you going…

Sorting out my hair, because that's what people will be looking at first... right?

Sorting out my hair, because that’s what people will be looking at first… right?

...when the revolution comes...

…when the revolution comes…

We got the photos I was after, but I wanted just a few more at a more rural-looking location, like the sort of quaint villages you’d see in the 1960s Avengers TV show. Edinburgh has that too, with a church next to a loch.

I live in a city with quaint villages right in the middle of it...

I live in a city with quaint villages right in the middle of it…

All I need is a Jaguar E-type and my image is set...

All I need is a Jaguar E-type and my image is set…

After the village pictures, we ventured down to the loch, past a bevy of swans which all stopped and stared. Just for that moment, it felt like something from one of the more surreal episodes of a sixties adventure show (“I shall conquer England with my army of robot swans! Muahahaha!”).

That swan honked at me. The sexist pervert.

That swan honked at me. The sexist pervert.

I expected the swans. I didn’t expect to interrupt a guy in a tent at the side of the loch, fishing. He certainly didn’t expect to see us, that’s for sure. I bade him good morning, and his mouth fell open, dropping his pipe onto his lap. Poor sod. He just wanted a quiet bit of fishing before breakfast time, and, well, Twist happens.

Four-inch heels are completely impractical for being a cartoon secret agent...

Four-inch heels are completely impractical for being a cartoon secret agent…

I was told to stand like this. I have no idea why.

I was told to stand like this. I have no idea why.

*For newer readers, I’ve written previously on the subject of catsuits, objectification,  sexualisation, and feelings of empowerment before – in short, I liked prancing around like this because I thought it might look cool, rather than to look sexy.

…but I’m keeping my name…

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

Posing with a posie

Posing with a posie

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

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

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

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

“Congratulations!”

“Yeah, thanks man.”

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

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

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

It’s fun doing this sort of thing. 😀

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

The Swimsuit Edition

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m deeply shallow and vain and a show-off. In anyone else, this is considered a virtue and called ‘confidence’. Read this as you will, but it takes confidence to prance about cross-dressed in a swimsuit…

*waves*

I wanted to do some beach photos for the calendars I made for my friends. I wanted them to look sporty, or glamourous, or a bit retro. Only two things stood in my way: a lack of swimsuits, and no idea where to go.

Procuring swimsuits was easy enough; cheap supermarket ones would do. There was no way I could pull off a bikini (by which I mean wear one confidently), so I found a terrifically ugly one-piece polka-dot affair, one with a magenta stripe, and cheapest of all, a simple black number. Surely, even without the benefit of Spanx, one of them would work out? (In the end, I found a use for all three.)

Choosing a location was a different problem. I wanted something on the east coast partly because of proximity, but also to get a sunrise shot – even if, at the latitude on which I live (further north than Moscow), a summer sunrise occurs at 4.30am.

It took a few weekends consulting Google Maps and driving around to some bleak, desolate, rocky coves that would only interest geological field trips, but I homed in on Tyne Sands near the town of Dunbar. Then I had to make sure the skies would be clear… and I decided to check the tides for good measure. These weren’t just swimsuit photos; I was going to science the shit out of this.

sunshine and sea

For the sake of glamour, let’s pretend this was taken somewhere warm and tropical…

All I do is beach, beach, beach…

Just a few weeks after standing at a local roundabout dressed as a bunny girl, I found myself taking off my clothes on a freezing cold deserted beach in the pre-dawn light at about 4.20am. I should get my head examined.

The first plunge into the water was agony; you won’t see any photos of that. But after a few minutes, I got used to it. And then the sun broke, a deep red. Even here, there was something incredibly life-affirming about staring at the sun as it crept over the same waves that were lapping around my knees.

Still, I wasn’t here to have fun. I tried to remember to suck in my gut, and pose properly, but I couldn’t exactly splash back to the sand and check the photos my girlfriend was taking, and then splash back for some more. A lot of it was down to just hoping for the best (in retrospect, I wish I’d gone a little bit further into the waves).

So much for the sporty shots. I changed into the polka-dot affair, and had to tuck my bra-straps into my bra in order to wear the halterneck properly. If the crew of the two distant fishing boats happened to be up and awake and looking at the beach through binoculars, then maybe they’d’ve freaked out. But I’m pretty sure they weren’t.

If modelling involves putting on a look of studied indifference, then ...I'm still practising...

If modelling involves putting on a look of studied indifference, then …I’m still practising…

The purpose of the next set was to go for the retro/glam look. I’d already sketched out poses and ideas for all of these, so it was just a case of finding a suitable stretch of beach. Happily, the sun was at just the right angle and direction to provide a good, golden light. I brought props: a beach towel; an empty wine bottle and glass; a can of Red Bull to make do for the wine; and a book (Backwards In High Heels if you must know) – all to cultivate the impression that I’m a classy fucker, me.

(That’s Red Bull in that glass…)

If you get up early enough, you can have a summer beach all to yourself...

If you get up early enough, you can have a summer beach all to yourself…

I love this dress; it’s great for making quick changes…

I had one more swimsuit and one more set of photos in mind. I wanted to do a set of astrology-themed pictures, and decided that sitting in a rockpool with a toy crab would work for ‘Cancer’ (in the end, the toy crab turned out to be too small and washed out in the sunlight, so I pulled a funny face and Photoshopped one in, instead).

The rocks were on the other side of the river, so we had to pile into the car, drive around, park next to camper vans full of slumbering surfers, and head through a patch of forest to the river mouth. The tide was far enough out to pose on the rocks and seaweed for a bit (for some reason, it didn’t feel like I was in Scotland any more; it also felt like I was on a mini-holiday).

On the way back home, we stopped at the small town of Haddington and got a few green, leafy shots by the river and the church (it was still early enough that nobody was about).

Obviously, I’m not going to share absolutely all the photos that were taken – but if you ever want to feel glammed up and have a beach to yourself, then first thing after sunrise on a summer morning is the time to do it.

On the rocks with a Twist?

On yr rocks, checkin out yr rockpoolz...

On yr rocks, checkin out yr rockpoolz…

And yes, the sand got EVERYWHERE. :/

 

Tomb Raiding at Edinburgh Comic Con

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

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

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

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A couple of Rogue Ones?

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

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

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Why yes, I *am* a slut for cameras…

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

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

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

Stark contrast?

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

An Intrepid selfie…

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

blogimagery85-shopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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