Be of good cheer!

Want an excuse to cross-dress in public? Make a deal, bet, or dare with someone!

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I lost a bet, all right?

I did this with my writing group as part of National Novel-Writing Month one November. A fellow writer bet that she could write 50,000 words before I did, and I bet that I could write 50,000 words before any of the first-timers in our group. We both lost. Her forfeit was to wear one of my garish Hawai’ian shirts to the end-of-month party; mine was to attend wearing her old cheerleader skirt from her university days. She even gave me her pom-poms.

The thing she didn’t like was the fact that I could fit into the skirt and she hadn’t worn it in years. The thing I didn’t like was the fact that it was the end of November and the worst winter we’d had in decades – not ideal conditions to be prancing about town dressed as a cheerleader. Our venue had to shut early, so we scouted around for another. We ended up in a sports bar. It was the night of some big football match. This was definitely not an ideal place to be dressed as a cheerleader. Especially at a table full of fellow nerds sipping soft drinks and typing stories into their laptops.

Yes, I got stared at. Yes, I freaked out a couple of guys who were staring at me a little bit too long before I said in my chirpy, bloke-ish voice, “Can I help you?” And yes, I was bloody freezing. But dammit, it was fun.

I'd never make it in a team.

I’d never make it in a team.

A couple of years later I asked to borrow the cheerleader stuff again for an early-morning autumn photoshoot. I got a few pictures in a sports field (with only sunrise dogwalkers to wonder what the hell was going on), but –meh– they just seemed too ordinary. I don’t like being ordinary!

Reasons to be cheerful?

Reasons to be cheerful?

Instead, I went the pop-culture route. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a cheerleader, wasn’t she? And, handily enough, there was a sizeable Victorian-era graveyard nearby, overgrown and covered in autumn leaves. Perfect!

Creepy steps

I live in a city with a multitude of creepy, overgrown graveyards.

It’s a weird feeling going around a graveyard in a cheerleader outfit. I don’t have any religious sensibilities, and I don’t really get the concept of ‘desecration’; in any case, I was just walking around looking for striking scenery to pose in. The graves themselves held no interest to me other than as background ornamentation.

Buffy in undergrowth

Mucking about in the undergrowth…

Even so, I did wonder what I’d say to anyone who happened to be walking past. I wanted photos that looked incongruous when taken at face value, yet fit in with Buffy-style tropes.

Vampire Slayer

October is a time of grave concern…

On the other hand, who’s going to wander around a graveyard at silly-o’clock in the morning? There was nobody else there. It was as quiet as the grave…

Buffy: gravestones

Cheerleader Buffy doing a 3-point-landing in a graveyard. I don’t know how much more epic I can be for you people.

 

 

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, objectificationsexualisation, 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.

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.

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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!

A couple of cold fronts

Warrior princesses must make time to check their nails.

Warrior princesses must make time to check their nails.

A few years back one of my friends suggested I make a ‘Twist Calendar‘.

So far, I’ve made three of them (I only make a dozen each year, for selected friends). They have been the impetus behind a whole load of travels around the city and into the countryside, in the hopes of creating a variety of photoshoots. (If I don’t get variety, I get bored…)

Sometimes serendipity plays a part.

In 2013 I was due to attend another fancy dress party (yes, another one; sometimes any excuse to cross-dress will do) with the theme of ‘epic heroes’.

I found a cheap ‘Roman warrior’ costume which – if I cut off the red nylon cape – might just be passable as a pseudo-Xena: Warrior Princess outfit. Completing the look was a plastic sword and scabbard. I thought a headband might double as a simple diadem, but it ended up looking more like a massive unibrow.

...or Princess of Power? You decide!

…or Princess of Power? You decide!

What can I say?

Cheapest. Princess. Ever.

One of my friends lent me her sleeveless woollen robe (it was early in the year and therefore a bit chilly…), as well as an old fox skin thing I could drape over my shoulder. I’ve no idea what it was. Truth be told, it kind of grossed me out, but it fit the look I was going for.

A few weekends before the party, there was a faint dusting of snow overnight – and it was disappearing fast.

I sensed an opportunity for an epic fantasy photoshoot, envisaging the sort of white-blanketed landscapes associated with Lord Of The Rings or Game Of Thrones.

What I got was… the usual dismal weather we get, but with a slightly paler landscape. It’s a damn good thing Edinburgh’s a city with an epic landscape.

Cloak and dagger. The dagger may or may not be a euphmism for something.

Cloak and dagger? (The dagger may or may not be a euphemism for something.)

I got myself ready in record time (let’s just say that makeup is a great way to hide the results of reckless shaving, and ballet tights are a great way to avoid having to shave your legs), and hurried out to Holyrood Park with my obliging girlfriend and a camera.

If you do this sort of thing often enough, you soon learn not to think about what the locals might make of you. (I’m pretty much guaranteed to encounter dog walkers and joggers. Every single time.)

It was bloody freezing, so I didn’t linger. I usually have some idea of the sorts of photos I want to get – poses, backgrounds, things I’m trying to mimic – but on this particular morning it was a case of improvising and seeing what we could get before the few hints of white melted away.

Sometimes you just have to be happy with whatever photos you get, and make the most of them. This was one of those times. The main thing was, I had a set of cosplay photos that looked different, and fit a particular season (which helps when making a calendar).

Yes, I did have a cold for a few days afterwards. But I reckon it was worth it.

And if there’s one thing I got out of it, it’s the firm conclusion that Twist is a summertime kinda gal…

...you'll know when I come.

…you’ll know when I come.