Crazy, sexy, cool!

"My dress, believe it or not, has nothing to do with you."

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

(Warning: this is about twice the wordcount of my usual blog entries, so brace yourselves. This took ages to write because it’s a subject I wanted to be very, very careful with. We’ll see…)
*Updated with extra links 17/04/15.

There are certain assumptions made about the way we dress, and some of them bug me. Hopefully, I’ve written enough from a psychological perspective to show that crossdressers aren’t crazy. And I’ve been fairly consistent in saying that if other people read some sort of message in what you’re wearing, that’s their problem, not yours.

I dress for the image. Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men. – Marlene Dietrich

For example, I recently wrote about a hipster scientist’s t-shirt covered with cartoon women in tight or skimpy clothing wielding guns. Some of my friends were incredulous that I couldn’t see it as sexualised imagery, objectifying and degrading women. The design wasn’t really my taste, but I didn’t think of the characters as sexy or sexualised – merely cartoony, deliberately trashy, and (to my eye) contrived – which, on a (desperately?) fashion-conscious scientist could only be described as ‘kitsch’.

So my friends saw it as sexualised; I did not. I don’t think any one of us was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; these are only judgement calls.

Sometimes I’ll decide an image is sexualised and I don’t think there’s anything scientific about it; it’s just an impression I get, and sometimes I’ll change my mind. Even so, I’m bothered by the insistence that some things are ‘sexy’ or ‘sexualised’.

I have no problem with sexiness. The things I find sexy are nobody else’s business; but whatever I find sexy, others might not. Whatever others find sexy, I might not. I think the same holds true for sexualisation, too; sexiness and sexualisation are in the eye of the beholder.

I do wonder if there’s persistent assumption that female clothing is sexy clothing; that women dress to look good (…for the benefit of men); and that if men wear female clothing it’s because they want to look sexy (or that it says something about their sexuality).

It’s the idea of seeing things in a sexual context that bugs me – because I think we all do it, it’s done pretty much all the time, we can’t help it, and I think -somehow- it’s a problem.

I think that sexuality is only attractive when it’s natural and spontaneous. – Marilyn Monroe

Disgusted by ‘sexiness’?

Examples of 'sexy' and 'conservative' clothing from Vaillancourt & Sharma's study.

Examples of ‘sexy’ and ‘conservative’ clothing from Vaillancourt & Sharma’s study.

A study by Vaillancourt and Sharma (2013) found women were typically hostile towards to the perceived sexiness/sexualisation of another woman, and suggested female competition for male mates as a reason. Thinking back to some of the religious, cultural influences on clothing (not mention on sexuality), I’d suggest there’s an element of ‘moral disgust’ at work.

Ever hear of short, figure hugging, or skimpy clothes on women being described as ‘slutty’, ‘tarty’, or ‘whore-ish’? I don’t think it matters if it comes from socially-conservative types complaining about women wearing whatever they want, or socially-liberal types complaining about the way female characters are presented in the media (for example). Both strike me as disapproving, censorious attitudes and I don’t care much for either of them.

Whether it’s clothing, costume or art, it’s merely a form of expression, and it shouldn’t matter that not everyone is OK with it – but that’s just my current opinion. (Mind you, if women are presented almost entirely in a particular way in certain media – as busty, pouty-lipped, super-fit, spandex-clad superheroines, for example – then yes, I can easily see how that shit gets old fast. Variety is a good thing, and I like to identify with well-written and interesting characters rather than ‘good-looking’ ones.)

If I don’t see particular imagery as ‘sexualised’ it could be because 1) not everyone will see it as such and that’s fine, or 2) people who don’t see sexualisation are blind to it because they’ve been brainwashed by the media (or for some other reason). The second of these strikes me as one of those unfalsifiable ‘heads-I-win, tails-you-lose’ arguments. This doesn’t mean the idea is wrong as such, just unfalsifiable; but one should never assume one must be right simply because one’s argument can’t be proven wrong.

Is sexy/sexualised imagery harmful?

In a 2009 review of studies into the effects of pornography, Christopher Ferguson found that the effects of pornography “appear negligible, temporary and difficult to generalize to the real world”. As McKee (2007) found, it’s not exposure to pornography that correlates with negative attitudes towards women, but more general things such as being old, or voting for a socially-conservative political party. If anything, all we can say is that there is no demonstrable link between sexualised or pornographic imagery and sex crimes or harmful attitudes towards women.

Porn and sexualised imagery aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’; they just ‘are’. You’re entitled to be attracted, disgusted, offended, or turned on by them as you wish; just don’t expect others to see things the way you do. If you want to find out what drives harmful attitudes, you’re better off looking at the effects of peer groups and social culture, rather than anything that might appear in the media.

Sexy or sexualised clothing?

Say what you want about long dresses, but they cover a multitude of shins. – Mae West

What do you think when you see someone in tight running gear? Maybe you think they look sexy. But it’s not sexualised clothing, despite the tiresome arguments over yoga pants that have flitted past my attention in recent weeks. The same is true of swimwear and underwear. Fancy dress costumes might be a grey area, but I still think it’s in the eye of the beholder – as are ‘fetish’ materials like latex, rubber, leather and the like.

Maybe, instead of thinking they’re sexy/sexualised, the wearers simply like the look and feel of these clothes? That’s not to say the wearers aren’t putting them on to look or feel sexy, but just to say that there’s a whole range of reasons for wearing what we wear. I think if someone views clothing (or art) only through a prism of how sexy/sexualised it is, and whether it delights or offends their sensibilities as a result, it’s a terribly limited perspective. Sure, they’re entitled to it, but I hope they’ll understand that not everyone has to go along with it.

So what about me?

What about my clothing choices? What motivates me to wear tight catsuits or short dresses? Simple: vanity.

It’s not because I’m slutty, tarty, or whore-ish. It’s not because I want to look sexy or feel sexy. It’s simply that I think the clothes look cool. And I feel that if I want to wear them with any degree of confidence, I have to watch my weight and keep my figure slim (easier said than done). After going to all that effort, you’d better bloody believe I want to show off.

I’ll only show off if I’m feeling confident about myself. And there’s nothing sexier than confidence. (Make of that what you will…)

The notion of seeing clothing as sexy/sexualised does nobody any favours.

While I was putting this blog entry together, my attention was drawn to comments made by Tracy King (15th April 2015):

Men must have a chart somewhere that specifies, in millimetres, the exact size of boobs that crosses from ok to not ok. It’s a sort of weird backwards fat-shaming. Bigger boobs must be hidden not because they’re unattractive, but because they’re attractive. I got street harassed three times yesterday because the weather is warm and I dress appropriately (appropriately for the weather, that is). Wear skimpy clothing, invitation to all men ever to initiate a conversation in the street that usually starts with “hey babe”. I also don’t consider the street harassment I get based on clothing/body to be “victim blaming”. I am not a victim. The men who think women should cover up, THEY are the victims, of toxic masculinity.

Just who in the hell decides what’s ‘appropriate clothing’ or not? And is there anyone out there wearing ‘inappropriate clothing’ telling them where to go? Well, that’s a question I’ll have to tackle next time…

*(NB: The title of this blog entry came from a marketing slogan I kept hearing on New Zealand television many, many years ago. Personally, I have no objections if anyone thinks of me as any of those three things; I know what I’m about, even if they don’t…)

I, object?

Trying to look sexy? Trying to look cool? Dressing your age? Is that how women are ‘supposed’ to look? What do you think you look like anyway?

There’s something that niggles about people’s perceptions of our clothing choices. I want to give it an in-depth take, which has led to a whole bunch of pondering (not always a good sign) and I’m going to have to split this up over a couple of blog posts (at least) – and think very, very carefully about what I want to say and how I say it. Treat this as a work-in-progress; it might not even reflect my current views, let alone my final views.

There are certain cliches, stereotypes and mental shortcuts we use when we think of women (the stick figure in a dress on women’s toilet doors being a clear example). Crossdressing – for whatever motive – will pick up on some or all of these. The way women are treated or represented in culture will no doubt correlate with the way cross-dressers are regarded too. Previously, I’ve wondered if cross-dressing helps reinforce these stereotypes, ‘objectifying’ women in some way – should I feel guilty at all? (And that’s way before we get to our cliches, stereotypes and mental shortcuts of cross-dressers…)

Objects of discussion

Venus de Willendorf (from Wikipedia)

Venus de Willendorf (from Wikipedia)

The Venus de Willendorf is one of the oldest representations of a woman in Western European art history; she is naked.

Why was she created? As a toy? Does she represent a goddess? Was she used to instruct people on anatomy or reproduction? Was she created as a symbol of beauty for women to aspire to? Or was she carved by a lonely man desperate for company? Already, based on these ideas, this statue could be a paleolithic version of Barbie, the bible, a biology text book, Cosmopolitan or Playboy, and there’s no way of deciding if any of these interpretations are correct or not.

Whatever answer the observer comes up with will say more about the observer than the creator.

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485 (from Wikipedia).

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485 (from Wikipedia).

Sticking with Western art, subsequent representations of women have become more varied and sophisticated (and you can find some great interpretations of what’s going on in them here). Take an obvious example like Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus. We can say it represents a religious figure; it illustrates a story; she might hint at standards of beauty at the time she was painted, and we can’t rule out that there might be a hint of titillation on the part of the artist (maybe there was; maybe there wasn’t). Some people might like the image, others might be put off by the nudity. I have no problems with someone else’s ‘yuk’ response, as long as they don’t impose it on others; if they don’t like it, they can look the other way. (For some people, the ‘yuk’ response extends to destroying any hint of male genitalia on statues, or disfiguring feminine features on mannequins.)

A much-mimicked image...

A much-mimicked image…

Fast forward again to modern culture (yes, I know; but I’m trying to keep this brief and focused). There’s a bit of a backlash against some of the ways women are presented in toys, television, movies, games, comics (such as the Not Safe For Work Spiderwomanskewered here by, men’s magazines and women’s magazines. I’m leaving pornography out of this, since it is made with a specific intent; however, some people may see non-pornographic representations of women as sexualised – something I hope to address in the next blog entry.

Part of the problem is the fact that female characters are presented in unrealistic ways which their male counterparts never are – see, for example, John Scalzi and Jim Hines’ delightful, cross-dressed piss-takes of book covers (I knew I could get cross-dressing in there somewhere!). Are these stereotypes and cliches merely stylistic choices – a visual shorthand to tell the viewer what sort of character they’re looking at? Is it lazy art? Is it cruel, or demeaning? Or is it ironic, kitsch, just for fun? Are those who see problems in these images hypersensitive? Are those who don’t see problems blind to them?

I couldn’t possibly say. But I can say that the notion that poor representations of women in the media will cause them to be poorly regarded in real life does not work (at least, not as simply as you might imagine); ‘Media Effects Theory‘ gets causality the wrong way around.

Audiences… use media in their own way and for whatever purpose.

I’m not about to tell people that their opinions are wrong, but I’m not going to tell them they’re absolutely correct, either. My opinions are my own, and I might disagree with you – and this isn’t a matter of ‘being right or wrong’. As with the Venus de Willendorf, what you think probably says more about you than the image you’re looking at.

I’ll leave you for now with a picture I put together a couple of years ago (in a pose I could hold for 15 seconds, tops).

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

Why did I make it? To look sexy? To look cool? To show off? To make a point about unrealistic poses struck by female action heroes? Because I think this is what women should look like, obviously being a male sexist pig and all? Because I like kitsch action heroine images and wanted to copy them? To give people something to look at while they spank the monkey? Maybe I did it just for a laugh?

You could read all sorts reasons into it. I’m not going to tell you what to think or how to react. Just be aware that you could be wrong about my motives: the truth is, I can’t remember why I did it. All I can tell you is, like the story of the man who took off his clothes and jumped onto a cactus, “it seemed like a good idea at the time”.

I think the same is true any time I cross-dress, no matter what I’m wearing…

(To be continued!)

“She told me to walk this wayyyyy…”

One thing I wondered about when I started cross-dressing was what the hell I was going to put on my feet. It wasn’t long before I realised why certain women go nuts when it comes to footwear.

Shoo away
The first thing a cross-dresser should know is that you don’t have to wear heels. Really; you don’t. Take a look at a busy street in the middle of the day and see if you can figure out the proportion of women wearing heels. It’s pretty damn low. Heels are uncomfortable, impractical, and unsuitable for a variety of surfaces and gradients.

If you’re starting out, it’s a better idea to figure out what style of footwear goes with the rest of the clothes you’re acquiring (a quick, handy guide can be found here). Does the colour match your outfit? Or will you take the easy option and just go with all-black footwear?

How much into crossdressing do you want to go? Do you want to have a different pair of shoes for every outfit, or do you just want a few different styles that will cover all possibilities? (I ended up with just three pairs of boots -one flat, one with stiletto heels and one with insane four-inch heels- and two pairs of heeled shoes.)

It’s also worth considering where you’re going and how much walking or standing about you’re going to do. I can attest that walking on cobbles in heels is a bit of a sod, and that if you’re going to climb eight storeys of stairs in stilletto heels, you’re going to have a bad time. The longest I spent in heels was 14 hours, and I regretted it for days afterwards. So, if you want to try to look glamorous, go ahead; just be aware that you’ll pay for it…

These boots were made for walkin’
Even with only fifteen dots on a black background as a guide, it’s possible for us to identify the differences between a ‘male’ and ‘female’ gait. So, if you really wanted to present yourself as ‘feminine’ as possible, you’d have to learn how to alter the way you walk. This doesn’t mean walking like a runway model, but it could mean making some subtle adjustments to your, pace, stride and posture. (If you want to play about with different walk styles from the comfort of your chair, I strongly recommend giving the BioMotionLab walk simulator a go.)

Brought to heel
Personally, I think there’s something oddly empowering about walking around in heels. There’s the gain in height, the loud clack (or scrape) as they hit the ground, and the shift in posture they bring. And if you can walk in heels confidently, you’ll earn minor kudos. Bear in mind that men are heavier than women, so heels may not support your weight. And, like most things in life, don’t overdo it.

One tip I was given for learning to walk in heels was to do vacuuming around the house in them; in the process, your feet and ankle joints will go through a full range of motion in them, helping you to acclimatise. And you’ll have clean floors, too, so hey – that’s a bonus. My girlfriend once returned to find me doing this, and you can imagine her surprise. Not that I was wearing heels; that I was doing the vacuuming.

If you’re at all unsure, film yourself and see how you look. Try to find something that feels comfortable; if your gait is natural and easy, you won’t draw attention to yourself in a bad way.

Sometimes, though, you just need to make a complete tit of yourself in public in order to learn to do better the next time. This is me walking in smooth-soled heels on the polished, curving deck of a boat:


Assuming you’re not wanting to stay at home and cross-dress quietly, it’s usually a good idea to figure out what sort of ‘look’ suits you.

Tarting yourself up before going out isn’t really an impulsive, snap decision to make. After all, you’ve been practising putting on makeup and choosing what to wear, but does it suit you? Are you at all worried that the skirt is too short? Or that you look like a guy in a dress rather than someone more ambiguous or even feminine? Will people stop and stare and ask you, “Dude… what the fuck?

There’s a lot you can miss looking in the mirror, so you can give yourself permission to take a selfie. Really, it’s OK. Take pictures of yourself standing, sitting, walking about even. The main thing is, when you look at the pictures or movie clips, would you say to yourself, “Dude, what the fuck?” If you would, if you have a niggle in the back of your mind that maybe you shouldn’t go out looking like that, then don’t. Only head out once you’re wearing something you feel works for you. Put your mind at ease as much as possible. If something doesn’t look good, try to figure out why.

For my part, it helped me reject a whole load of skirts, tops and dresses I got from charity shops to see if I could make them work. The one on the left, below, is from my not-quite-ready-to-go-public days. I wore it for a few selfies before realising I hated the colour and style – and that just because something looks good on a mannequin, it doesn’t mean it’d look good on me; picking up basic stuff like this took a bit of trial and error. As for the one on the right, I figured out very quickly that skirt length is important when you’re sitting down…

Figuring out what not to wear is just as important as figuring out what to wear...

Figuring out what not to wear is just as important as figuring out what to wear…

Looking at selfies also made me hypercritical about my makeup and posture and how much fat I should lose. But it was worth it; by the time I did go out, I was as confident about my appearance as I could be without getting independent feedback.

Now, I’m a vain, loudmouth attention-slut (when I’m in a good mood and things are going well), so I’ve had pictures taken in all sorts of places just so I can have a record of different looks I’ve tried. A lot of these were done really early on summer mornings, or in quiet locations, or sometimes both. The main thing is, there was plenty of time and space to get poses, backgrounds and angles right (or at least, ‘right’ enough, given I was freezing my arse off and didn’t want to completely exhaust my girlfriend’s patience).

The trouble is, taking photos in public can cause problems when there are other people about. If you’re wanting to try something cute, having onlookers can be a bit inhibiting. Worse than that, if you’re on private property (cinemas, shops and the like count as this), people can ask you to leave, which is awkward. Strictly speaking, you need permission to take photos in a shopping centre (for example) because it’s private property. In practice, you can take photos until you’re asked to stop (and security guards *will* ask, because it’s an easy way to demonstrate they’re doing their jobs). They can ask you to leave, or escort you out, but they can’t take your camera, ask to see or delete photos or detain you. You can take photos from the pavement (but not the car park), though.

Personally, I think it’s worth taking pictures when you’re out cross-dressed. Give yourself something to look back on. Give yourself something so you can see how your ‘look’ has developed from the early days. Give yourself a record of something you’ve never done before!

Boldly going where no man... uh... never mind.

Boldly going where no man… uh… never mind.

That’s just nuts

So, tell me about your genitals; I find them fascinating.

Bit of an odd conversational gambit don’t you think? Yet any conversation with (or about) guys dressed in skirts has a pretty good chance of turning to a morbidly curious question about their wedding tackle. Still got the meat and two veg? Where do you hide the family jewels? (etc…)

I was asked by a taxi driver once, when I decided I didn’t want to walk across town in heels. He’d been silent for about ten minutes, when, towards the end of the journey, he asked,
“So are you a man or a woman?” (I told him I was a man.)
“And you’re comfortable like that?” (Pretty much. It was a warm day and I was well ventilated.)
“So, are you pre-op, then?” (Nope, I’m just a guy wearing a dress; that’s all.)

Why the interest? Nobody else gets asked this, do they? It’s baffling.

As Stephen Fry found in his documentary Out There, homophobes seem to have some sort of fixation with genitals and anuses. Maybe it’s a religious thing (by which, I mean, religions derived from bronze-age Hebrew mythology)? Maybe this religious fixation with genitalia has percolated through society for long enough that everyone’s become obsessed, regardless of whether they’re religious or not?

During Skeptics on the Fringe this year, I introduced a talk by Rich Peppiatt, a former tabloid reporter who was once asked to cross-dress… for no particular reason, as far as anyone could tell. And yes, he was obliged to tell readers that he tucked everything away between his legs (where else?) and that it wasn’t comfortable. Well, no kidding; as it has been said, balls are weak and sensitive.*

This isn’t something I get offended about by the way. Life’s too short to take offence. If someone asks me, I can’t really take it as an insult. If anything, it just means they’re curious and want to find out more. The whole issue of transexuals, transgenders and transvestites can be tough for people to get their heads around if they haven’t encountered it before. If they persist, I just quote Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park: “Nature finds a way.”

I don’t often wear clothes that require me to hide everything; I’d rather be comfortable than not. Trouble is, it’s the tight dresses and skirts that look good, so once in a while I just think ‘what the heck, why not?’ There are a few things, though, that I’ll only wear for a quick photoshoot. I have a pair of leather shorts I refer to as my nad-mashers which I’ve worn on only a couple of occasions, and for no longer than about an hour. Any longer than that, and I’d start to wonder if the pain was worth it…

Tomb Raider: The Curse of the Family Jewels

Tomb Raider: The Curse of the Family Jewels

*No, Betty White did not say “Grow a vagina; they can take a pounding.” Sorry to disappoint you!