Altered ego

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
– Kurt Vonnegut

I know that it’s confusing. It is one thing to question the official story, and another thing entirely to make wild accusations, or insinuate that I’m a superhero.
– Tony Stark

I was recently asked about my use of the phrase ‘alter ego’ to describe Twist. Do I see ‘her’ as being somehow separate and distinct from ‘me’? Well, yes and no…

This is a topic I’ve touched on a few times already (the most in-depth blog entry can be found here).

Part of it comes from being treated differently, depending on whether I’m dressed as myself or Twist. The way I behave will inevitably be a reaction to other people’s reactions, and this will vary as people perceive me as a man, woman (at first glance), or cross-dresser.

What about self-generated differences?

The first thing to repeat is that while I call Twist ‘her’ and ‘she’, I don’t feel or act ‘feminine’ when I’m dressed up. It’s purely cosmetic. I’m a man in a skirt.

I’ve recently written about Twist coming from the extroverted aspects of my personality; this is only natural, as I don’t sit about at home cross-dressed – if I’m all dressed up, it’s because I’ve got some place to go.

I’ve also mentioned my pet theory that for some, cross-dressing isn’t necessarily about looking feminine; it’s about looking young. Since then, I’ve decided it’s more about feeling young. For me, I occasionally (just occasionally) like to scare myself by taking myself out of my comfort zone – where I have no idea if what I’m doing is going to work, but I’m going to give it a damn good go regardless. Something about it reminds me of the feeling of being younger, when you’re unpractised, unsure, and anything you do can result in success and failure. Going out in public cross-dressed can give me that feeling, as long as it doesn’t become routine.

These reasons all stem from specific behaviours or situations; it doesn’t really get to personality, or what some might refer to as a ‘second soul’. I’m more of a sceptical, pro-scientific mindset, and I’m not keen on trying to describe things in terms of ‘souls’ or ‘spirits‘ – they’re a little too vague for my tastes, and I find them generally unhelpful to meaningful discussion. Unfortunately for me, much of what has been written on this subject comes from psychoanalysis (akin to literary criticism/interpretation of human beings) rather than psychology (you know; actual science).

I never wanted to be Marilyn – it just happened. Marilyn’s like a veil I wear over Norma Jeane.
– Marilyn Monroe

Psychotherapist Dr John Rowan claims that we all have a number of sub-personalities with which we interact in different social situations, and our personality is the sum of all of them together. I could see how this can help describe the experience of cross-dressing, but the idea basically comes down to reacting in different ways to different situations. We’ll behave differently in front of an office boss, at a party, at a funeral, or waiting in line at an airport; are these really different sub-personalities? I’m not entirely convinced.

I’ve taken a variety of personality tests (such as this one, or one based on Facebook posts) trying to answer the questions differently, as both ‘myself’ and ‘Twist’, but in terms of personality and political views, we’re pretty much identical, with the exception that Twist is marginally more extroverted – but I knew that anyway.

So this rather reduces me to saying that I am Twist; Twist is me. We are not separate, but we are distinct. If I use the term ‘alter ego’, I mean it not in the psychoanalytic sense of ‘multiple personalities’ (now known as a dissociative identity disorder), nor an actor playing a role (although that certainly comes into it, to a degree). Neither would I refer to a (un-)hidden ‘double life’ in the style of Batman or Superman.

Perhaps calling Twist an avatar might be appropriate (in the 21st century sense of the way you can present yourself on-screen, rather than as the physical embodiment of a Hindu deity; I can be arrogant, but not that arrogant!).

The best illustration of what I mean by Twist as an alter ego would be Tony Stark/Iron Man. He’s got the same personality in or out of the metal suit, but he operates in a very different mode when it’s on. What a gold/titanium alloy exoskeleton does for him, a skirt does for me. But then, I’m working to a much tighter budget.

Now if there’s a top-secret organisation of superheroes out there looking to recruit me, just give me a call. I’ve got the initiative, requisite catsuit, and everything….

 

I'm not fussed if my personality confuses you; I have plenty more just like it.

On the couch: analyse this….

Keeping up with modern life and reality

Why are some people fine with cross-dressing (and ‘alternate lifestyles’ generally), while others freak out at the idea? Just what is wrong with these poor souls who can’t accept it?

The difference between the two mindsets became apparent in the reactions to the  2014 Eurovision Song Contest winner, Conchita Wurst (the transgender stage name of Tom Neuwirth). Described by mainstream media as a ‘drag act’, Conchita is perhaps better described as an example of genderfuck  – and certainly not transexual, like previous Eurovision winner, Dana International.

It seems highly likely that Conchita was deliberately playing on people’s reactions (an excellent analysis here); in Conchita’s words,

“Over the years I tried to fit in, and I changed myself in every way you can imagine. I just wanted to be part of the game. And then I realised: I create the game.”

In other words, Conchita knew that, as the ‘bearded lady’ she’d be controversial; she was banking on it to raise her profile.

You’d think that for a competition with a substantial gay fanbase, and the appearance of transgender performers in previous years (like Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka in 2007), a bearded lady wouldn’t really have that much impact. But that would be to underestimate the forces of social conservatism. The voices raised against Conchita (and Verka, and Dana) include nationalists and religious leaders, tinged with xenophobia and homophobia; a perfect storm of in-group loyalty, out-group hatred and moral disgust.

The Orthodox Church has spoken out against bearded men wearing dresses. Without any sense of self-awareness or irony, it seems.

The Orthodox Church has spoken out against bearded men wearing dresses. Without any sense of self-awareness or irony, it seems. Don’t they look happy, though?

I suppose a lot of this stems from thinking that things were better in the past – specifically when you were a child and had a simple understanding of the world; and that as you get older (and in theory develop a more realistic understanding of how the world works), anything new won’t seem as good as the stuff you’re used to.

This could work for information as well as culture and technology. Remember when the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto, saying we shouldn’t really call it a planet? There were some who, having been brought up to believe that Pluto was a planet, absolutely hated the idea that what they were taught as kids might have been wrong. And that was just astronomy.

Before we’re even born, people want to know if we’re going to be a boy or a girl – and depending on the plumbing of our lower abdomen, we’re raised according to one of two things, with all the stereotypes and expectations culture imposes on us. From the start, we’re conditioned to believe we are one thing or another, and that ‘the other’ is foreign to us. This ‘gender binary’ may seem instinctive, but I suspect it’s likely to be something reinforced by religious culture, based on a specific, desert-dwelling, bronze-age mythology that got a bit out of hand.

There are other cultures around the world and throughout history which recognised three, four or even five ‘genders’:

Terms such as transgender and gay are strictly new constructs that assume three things: that there are only two sexes (male/female), as many as two sexualities (gay/straight), and only two genders (man/woman).

So, if you’ve been brought up to believe that there are only two types of people, and that anything else is ‘wrong’, it will be quite hard to accept the idea that gender is a range with male and female end-points, rather than a binary (find out where you lie on the range here!). It’s entirely possible that before we’re born our genitals can develop according to a male, female or intersex template, and our brains could develop in what might be called a more or less ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ way. Trying to force someone to be something they are not can’t turn out well.

I’d say that socially conservative types are keen to emphasise differences between people that support their agendas (sexual, racial, linguistic, national, etc), because they’ve been brought up to see the world a particular way and can’t bear the thought that their cherished notions from childhood might be mistaken. That’s why they freak out at anything that goes against them; they just don’t know how else to react. Do they deserve sympathy? Well, only if they don’t have the power to make life very difficult for anyone who doesn’t fit their simple worldview.

But that’s a topic for another blog post…

I'd like to caste people out of their blissful ignorance with a bit of tasty, tasty knowledge...

I’d like to cast people out of their blissful ignorance with a bit of tasty, tasty knowledge…

Well, naturally…

Darling it’s better
Down where it’s wetter;
Take it from me…*

Guys! Not having much luck attracting the ladies? Try cross-dressing, and see what it can do for you! Scientifically proven to work!

I have to admit, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Australian ‘mourning cuttlefish’. If any animal dispels the myths that cross-dressing is unnatural, or that cross-dressers must be homosexual, it is the cute little cuttlefish.

Males of the species outnumber females 4 to 1 (sometimes, the competition is even more intense). The trouble for most of the guys is that the ladies are incredibly choosy. Usually, a whole bunch of them will hang around a large, aggressive ‘consort’ male. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re into the big, bad boys.

Some males (poor, deluded fools) try to fight the consorts. Maybe they’ll win, but don’t bank on it. Instead, other males go for a more intelligent, sneaky strategy.

Male cuttlefish have four pairs of tentacles. Females have three. The smarter males will therefore tuck their front tentacles up, change colour and effectively cross-dress in order to sneak past the consort for a long and enjoyable session of urgent bump’n’grind with the laydeez. (You can see them in action here, narrated by David Attenborough; the link might be blocked outside the UK, though.)

Sometimes, the burly consorts will attempt to mate with the cross-dressers (in between drinking beer, watching sports and farting the national anthem and other masculine pursuits), but otherwise they’ll just float back and get a load of what they think is some hot girl-on-girl action. Sometimes, they cotton on, belatedly, and intervene.

The risks are totally worth it, though. In one study, the cross-dressers were successful about half the time (not bad, given that the females reject 70% of mating attempts). Other cuttlefish, when confronted with a single male and a single female, will pretend to look feminine to the male, and masculine to the female, using this sophisticated tactic 39% of the time (when they think it’s more likely to work; cross-dressers aren’t stupid).

Can this have any bearing on human behaviour? Um… take your pick:

1) don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it?
2) you might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment…
3) it could be crazy enough to work…
4) sexiness is in the eye of the beholder…

Good luck and have fun! 🙂

blogimagery22

Me with a little wave. A wave. A WAVE!
…oh, fine; be like that.

*’Under The Sea’, from Disney’s The Little Mermaid; lyrics by Howard Ashman

Fattening vs Flattering

Cross-dressing has probably done wonders for my health – at least, it’s improved my diet no end.

A couple of years back I got a couple of tight, slinky, stretchy dresses. I tried them on and was horrified by the vision grimacing back at me from the mirror. All my flab conspired to make the dresses look appalling. Or rather, the dresses conspired to make all my flab look pitifully obvious. It was bad because instead of looking feminine, I looked like a chubby dude in a lycra tube. That certainly wasn’t the look I was hoping for. I resolved to lose weight before wearing them again. Those dresses would be my motivation and reward.

Following on from the nagging feeling that my cross-dressing perpetuates sexual objectification, I also want to consider the idea of body shape. Am I reinforcing the idea that women should be slim?

I tell myself that I have good reason to keep the fat off: men and women lay down fat differently.

fat

If I eat too much and don’t exercise enough, I’ll find my waist expanding. This is a problem for all sorts of sensible medical reasons, but where cross-dressing is concerned, it means it’s harder to squeeze myself into a ‘feminine’ shape; I have no hips to speak of, so making my waist as slender as possible is the next-best thing. If I want to wear those tight dresses whenever I want, I can’t just crash-diet every few months; rather than diet, I have to change my lifestyle.

For me, I cut down on carbs (rather than cut them out) – less bread and pasta, fewer crisps and nibbles, less beer. Lunchtime sandwiches were replaced with carrots and houmous. I’ve never been much of a driver and I live in a city that’s convenient for pedestrians, so I get my exercise by walking everywhere. I tightened my belt (and even tried a corset under my clothes for a short while) to stop myself from overeating.

It took about a year before I felt ready to wear one of those dresses. By that point, I reckoned I’d put in enough of an effort for it, and wanted to show off. My friends reacted favourably, so I wanted to get more tight, slinky dresses… which meant keeping the flab off.

At this point, I got an inkling – but only an inkling – of the hell many women must go through when they’re surrounded by gossip magazines, fashion articles, mannequins, actresses and singers and keep-fit videos all selling the idea that they have to be thin in order to fit into the latest dresses or beachwear.

I’ve found body-shaping underwear is a huge help (think of the massive underpants sported by Bridget Jones – cross-dressing isn’t necessarily sexy or comfortable), but just occasionally I’ve worn something where I don’t want any VPL showing through, and like Luke Skwalker facing Darth Vader without old Ben Kenobi to help him, I’ve had to cinch my waist without the benefit of Spanx.

When it works, and your efforts are appreciated, you think ‘Great!’ and want to do it again. So you go back to watching your waist even more closely, and start to fret over even the smallest amounts of flab. I think I can see how eating disorders might develop all too easily. It’s insidious. Happily, I’m not even close to having an eating disorder, and I won’t be so crass as to pretend to have any idea what it must be like.

While I do have this niggling concern about the image I project when I cross-dress, from my own perspective, it’s been good for me, since my diet is far healthier than it used to be. I’ve learnt not to guzzle down huge portions of food, and to regard junk food as a special treat. But damn, sometimes I just want to go nuts and wolf down a fat pile of chips…

so much for the diet...

Some definitions…

There haven’t been that many studies on cross-dressing, possibly because it’s really not that important.  It’s just a bunch of guys in skirts; that’s it!  However, one which I think might be worth mentioning is a study in the 1960s with 504 transvestites and its follow-up with 1200 transvestites in the 1990s by Prince and Bentler:

  • 12% were transexuals
  • 12% were doing it for a sexual fetish
  • 69% were “Seeking feminine expression”
  • 28% had a “homosexual experience” (versus 37% in the general population; Kinsey)

How representative the sample was I have no idea; in the earlier study, they got responses from men subscribing to a magazine, which would be a self-selecting group that skews the results.  Also, I would define “Seeking feminine expression” as “Just doing it for the hell of it” (I don’t consider myself particularly feminine; I just think the clothes look good and want to try ’em out).  The phrase “homosexual experience” is a bit vague as well; what counts as a homosexual experience?  Being hit on by another man?  Kissed?  Full-on bow-chika bow-chika?  Something considered homosexual by one person might not be considered so by another.

In October 1993, the CIA produced a report, Sexual Behaviour & Security Risk and had the following to say about transvestites. They are:

  • are male heterosexuals
  • distinct from drag queens or female impersonators (RuPaul says she “dresses like a drag queen”)
  • are Not Dangerous (yipee!)

That’s pretty much the definition I’m going to go for. The report also says transvestites:

  • lack public acceptance
  • may lack discretion
  • are susceptible to blackmail/extortion

– you don’t have to be the sharpest tool in the box to realise that the lack of acceptance and susceptibility to blackmail are linked.  As for discretion, that depends on what you’re wearing and what you do whilst wearing it…

I’ll refer to some of these studies again later (if I remember).

psychology, innit?