You must be a bit of a Psycho!

I don’t normally write a blog post just to share someone else’s work, but when I find that someone else has already said what I was going to say, and said it better, why the hell wouldn’t I share it?

Originally, I was going to do a run-down of my favourite films about cross-dressing, (I previously did my top 20 songs split into part one and part two), but then I realised how thin the list would be: Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, Ed Wood… eh, and then what? A lot of films are just plain nasty when it comes to trans folk generally, starting with Psycho and its chin-stroking pontificators at the end deciding “well, obviously Norman Bates was batshit – he wore dresses, duh!” (I paraphrase, of course.) Then came the 90s, where it was all about recreating the big reveal of The Crying Game for comedic purposes in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Naked Gun 33 1/3, or for salacious purposes in The Jerry Springer Show on TV.

Where did all this come from? Did it have its roots in the sexual morality of the Victorian era? Or could we go back to Shakespeare for an explanation? (After all, boys used to portray female characters in Elizabethan theatre because women weren’t allowed to, which led to a number of plays having fun with gender roles.)

Anyway, as far as modern film is concerned, just as I was doing my initial research I found Lindsay Ellis has just released a thorough, hour-long look into pop culture transphobia (with a pretty comprehensive takedown of JK Rowling’s recent essays and fiction) and there’s no way I could do it better:

*
UPDATE:
Films with crossdressing, a non-definitive list…

The good (Twist recommends!):
Some Like It Hot (1959)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975),
Tootsie (1982)
Nuns On The Run (1990) – disclaimer: I haven’t seen it since the early 90s…
Ed Wood (1994)
Kinky Boots (2005)

I’ve heard they’re good (but I’ve never seen them and by this point I’m not sure if it’s still worth it):
I Was A Male War Bride (1949)
The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1993)
Mrs Doubtfire (1993) – yes, yes, I know, Robin Williams doing a Scottish accent means I should love it, right?
To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
The Birdcage (1996)

The bad (these aren’t great from any kind of trans perspective, even if they have other qualities):
Psycho (1960)
Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994)

I’m assuming they’re bad (but nothing’s compelled me to find out):
Big Momma’s House (2000)
Sorority Boys (2002)
The Hot Chick (2003)
White Chicks (2004)

Other films of note (crossdressing isn’t a big part of the story, but a character/portrayal or surprise reveal involves crossdressing or body-swapping):
Thunderball (1965) – see here
Back To The Future Part 2 (1989) – Michael J Fox plays Marty’s daughter as well
The Crying Game (1992) – everyone forgets it’s a thriller about the IRA for some reason…
Shallow Grave (1994) – Ewan MacGregor partying in a dress y’all
Austin Powers (1997) – taking after Thunderball!
Con Air (1997)
A Bug’s Life (1998) – Denis Leary as Francis the ladybug? 🙂
Wild Wild West (1999)
It’s a Boy Girl Thing (2006)
Stardust (2007) – Robert DeNiro’s sky captain (even if the crew are less accepting)
Sherlock Homes: A Game Of Shadows (2011) – hey, I didn’t say it had to be *good* crossdressing!
Cloud Atlas (2012) – an interesting case, because it’s about the actors playing recurring personalities in different bodies (age, sex, gender) across different time periods.

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.

Fife, the universe, and everything

The longest photo session I ever did took nearly nine hours. I think I should make a note of just how much effort went into it – not for my sake, but to recognise the infinite patience of my photographer/wife.

Sunny pool

Things to do on a summer holiday…

I had figured out a route that would let me get some sunrise shots in an outdoor swimming pool with weird rock formations around it, a small picturesque fishing village, the ancient university town of St Andrews, and a scenic coastal railway station. I could bring changes of costume for each location, and get all this done by breakfast (or so I thought…)

First, I had to set the alarm for 2am. we spent an hour getting ready (me putting on makeup, she getting a thermos for hot drinks and snack bars for the next few hours).

Then I had to drive through the city centre dodging drunken students at 3am, when it turned out that my usual route out was blocked off by a labyrinth of bollards (the city’s transport chiefs love to mess around with car drivers) and further on at a bridge, by a police van with strobes (I assumed someone was having A Very Bad Night, either on the bridge or not long off it, but apparently nobody was hurt). We finally escaped town about an hour later than intended thanks to some hasty re-navigation. It then turned out that our destination -the Kingdom Of Fife– had turned into a massive 20mph zone.

blogimagery92-time-and-tide

So by the time we got to Cellardyke tidal pool, it was over 30 minutes after sunrise and about five minutes off the maximum high tide. The pool was completely submerged. Well, shit.

Going downhill in Crail...

You get used to cobbles. Eventually.

Cottages

Dainty, isn’t it? (The village, I mean…)

A bit of colour

Some people live in great-looking little houses.

Instead, we went up the road to the tiny fishing village of Crail, where I found a quiet corner to change dresses and into my heels.

Crail

Early morning at a quiet little harbour…

Harbouring a secret desire?

Uh, just realised there’s a boat with ‘KY’ right next to my backside; you shouldn’t read anything into this.

On the up-side, there was nobody about, apart from a Japanese tourist taking photos, and a guy in the harbour sorting out his boat. No problem! The sun was over the horizon and the light was good.

St Andrews Cathedral

It was like that when I got there…

In at the deep Pend?

Fancy visiting The Pends? It Depends.

After that, to save me constantly changing in and out of my heels, her ladyship drove us further up the coast to St Andrews. For the sake of helping to differentiate each scene, I wore different coloured tops and belts over the dress. I did try changing the dress in the car, but ended up giving a trio of male students heading home a bit of a show. Being St Andrews students, they were too polite to catcall, point, or stare for longer than thirty seconds (I think they managed about twenty).

If I move away, the pillar falls over.

If I move away, the pillar falls over.

This is where princes and princesses learn stuff and shiz...

This is where princes and princesses learn stuff and shiz.

...in which I pretend to be clever...

…in which I pretend to be clever…

We got there before 6am, taking in photos of the cathedral and the Pends, the university (where any security guards would’ve gotten a weird show from all the cameras around St Salvator’s Quad), and the golf course… where two SUVs containing a group of gigantic US golfers with bad dress sense jumped out to take photos of themselves right at the spot we were hoping to go. Dammit.

So I photobombed them.

St Andrews Golf Club

For swingers?

My only regret is not seeing the looks on their faces when they saw what I was doing right behind them. Sadly, most of the view was taken up with stands for The Open. If I gave even a mouse-sized shit about golf, I’d’ve realised this beforehand… but at least the early morning skies were spectacular. Incidentally, until 2014 the Golf Club was men only. If it still was, I could really have fucked things up for them.

Golf is a good walk spoiled.

Golf is a good walk spoiled.

We then drove back to Cellardyke, where the tide had lowered enough to reveal the pool. I’d been unable in my researches to find out how deep it was, and I had a choice of a decrepit paddling pool, or the larger pool where I couldn’t see the bottom.

blogimagery93-the-water-is-lovely

The water was lovely.

I went for the paddling pool, going barefoot on smashed up 1930s concrete and seaweed. It was filled with a load of sea flora and small fauna (I hoped it wasn’t being filled with sewage or anything – it was manky enough as it was!).

Paddling pool

This pool was ancient, decrepit, manky, and full of sea critters. The smile is fake.

Poolside seat

Trying very hard not to fall backwards into the sea…

Lido

You can swim in it too (if you dare)…

By this time it was about 7.30am, and instead of having the place to ourselves (nice and quiet and private), I was being watched by joggers and dog-walkers and people from the nearby caravan site fetching supplies.

This pool has spent about 80 years getting smashed to bollocks by the North Sea.

This pool has spent about 80 years getting smashed to bollocks by the North Sea.

One of them was an old man walking his dog. He sat on a bench and took in the Twist swimsuit show (which began with my beloved photographer saying, “Well, we’re here now. Come on, strip, motherfucker!”).

I bet that gull had a great view.

I bet that gull had a great view.

I struck every classic swimsuit pose I could think of, as best as I could. If only the old guy knew he wasn’t looking at who he thought he was looking at. Still, he had a big, wide, happy smile on his face. And when I say smile, I mean leer. He was clearly having the best start to his day he’d had in years.

Been seen to lean by a keen teen in jeans means I'm unclean?

Been seen to lean by a keen teen in jeans means I’m unclean?

It was getting busier, and more people were stopping to watch: TIME TO GTFO.

I made damn well sure to find a spot hidden by the sea wall where I could get changed out of my swimsuit… into a shiny little black dress. Regular readers will have realised by now that I’m not averse to standing out from the crowd. I can only assume that the caravan park crowd thought I was doing a walk of shame or something.

You'll notice I'm kneeling in a paddling pool; there's no way I was jumping into the one behind me.

You’ll notice I’m kneeling in a paddling pool; there’s no way I was jumping into the one behind me.

We went for one last shoot at Aberdour railway station, this time watched only by Scotrail’s security cameras and a middle-aged couple waiting.

Stationary at the station

I’m amazed I could squeeze into this dress…

LBD, platform, heels...

I’m trying to ignore the middle-aged couple staring at me…

I should point out that we still hadn’t had breakfast. Her ladyship was in dire need of coffee. I drove us back to Edinburgh, utterly exhausted.

I'm blue dab-a-dee Aberdour, dab-a-dee Aberdour...

I’m blue dab-a-dee Aberdour, dab-a-dee Aberdour…

My lack of peripheral vision from the wig only caused one near-RTA (thankfully the other driver was happy to let me know with generous application of their horn).

Platform

You just stick your thumb and and hitch a ride – that’s how trains work, isn’t it?

By the time we got back home, it was getting on for 10.30am. That’s eight and a half hours, people! THIS is why I love my wife to bits: there’s nobody else I’d go on adventures with! 🙂

The Horror!

I recently went to the Edinburgh Horror Festival screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for the first time in …okay, a couple of decades. But you know what? It’s still damn good fun. It’s funny how fans can just fall into conversations with each other, even if complete strangers.

It was an odd crowd that night: lots of first-timers; and only one girl at the back doing all the shout-outs to the screen. And (being in a pub-slash-music-slash-cinema venue), drunken guys stumbling in halfway through the film with pint glasses in hand, and uttering profound insights such as “Fuck’s this? Is i’ like a fillum abou’ poofs or summin?” (I could go on -at length- but they left after a period of time that wasn’t short enough.)

I did a handful of shout-outs (overcoming my Edinburgh reserve and a desire not to freak out the first-timers). My main contribution was at the very end, when the camera shot starts rotating around. I leapt to the front and mimed spinning the camera shot as it went faster and faster. A lot of people hadn’t seen that one before; they liked it, and I got a round of applause for it!

One pricelessly awkward moment came after the girl at the back shouted “Slut!” at Janet for the umpteenth time. A guy at the front stood up and shouted back at her to stop slut-shaming. Rocky Horror certainly has the potential to set off a ton of trigger warnings for the more sensitive among us. I mean, the iconic character is a murderous, pansexual, alien, cannibal, sex pest. I could see a lot of kids today getting confused about whether they should no-platform him for being a homicidal rapist, or tell his critics to check their cis-het, terrestrial, vegetarian privilege.

(I am so glad I’m not growing up in the 21st century. It must be awful meeting people and apologising in advance for any perceived slights you may or may not inflict.)

*

Just as the golden age of science fiction is about 12, I reckon the golden age for Rocky Horror must be about 14 (I think I was that age when I first saw it, anyway). And at a summer drama camp the following year (an activity with a sex ratio skewed toward girls), I and the other kids my age were all into it – so we decided to end our show with a performance of Let’s Do The Timewarp Again (as the only boy involved in this, I played Riff Raff). I was just glad the dance moves are simple enough for me to do.

I try not to think too much about the really fucking awkward time my parents watched it on TV with me.

And, as mentioned in previous posts, the first time I went out cross-dressed was for showings at university (did that a couple of times).

It wasn’t long after that Simon Pegg came out with his little anti-Rocky-Horror rant:

I hate Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s boil-in-the-bag perversion for sexually repressed accountants and first-year drama students…
(Simon Pegg, Spaced)

It’s possible to like someone’s creative works, yet not really care for their opinions. In this instance, I thought he’d missed the mark, badly. He was making generalisations based on ignorance, as if Rocky Horror was nothing more than an “grown-up Hallowe’en“.

I’ve got friends who say that Rocky Horror introduced them to concepts of transexuality which helped them figure out who they were – that they weren’t “wrong”, and there was even a word to describe them.

For me, it’s more general than that.

Look at the Transylvanian partygoers in Frank’s place. They’re all ages: they’re very tall; very short; thin; fat; different skin colours; and everything in between. They’re more representative than the bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise. Not one of them ‘fits in’ anywhere else. They would never be considered ‘cool’ anywhere – but in Frank’s place, they are.

That, for me, was the big message the film had to give, and is the point Simon Pegg completely missed: the ‘cool’ kids are nowhere near as cool as the uncool kids. The uncool kids are cool in ways the cool kids cannot even conceive of. The ‘cool’ kids are the ones staggering into the cinema with their pint glasses halfway through, wondering what the hell everyone’s watching (the plot is nonsensical and the song lyrics doggerel, but none of that matters in the slightest).

The uncool accountants and students Pegg mentioned? They’re wanting to grab a bit of proper coolness by breaking out from their everyday lives, even if only for a couple of hours.

Everything you get picked on for, or you feel makes you weird, is essentially what makes you sexy as an adult.
(Justin Timberlake)

So, if you’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, the wrong colour, the wrong, sex, the wrong sexuality, or simply in the wrong clothes – you can be cooler than ‘cool’. That’s what I got from Rocky Horror, and that’s why I’d recommend it to the 14-year-old outsider marking time until they can get the hell out of school.

If you think about it, “it’s astounding…”

Braaaiiinnnsss…

I don’t have a body; I am a body.
– Christopher Hitchens

You might like to believe otherwise, but all the evidence says we are no more and no less than physical beings. Our thoughts, feelings, and memories are nothing more (and yet so much more) than a few millilitres of chemicals squirting around our brains.

We have no control over this. What we are conscious of is the result of chemical activity that took place just a tiny fraction of a second earlier. The way I like to describe it, we don’t have free will, but our brains might.

This is some heavy shit to be throwing down, Twist; what does this have to do with crossdressing?! I hear you cry.

Well, a fellow blogger recently drew my attention to a report of opponents of sexual reassignment surgery cherry-picking data to suit their prejudices and declare that more research was needed […to support their opinions]. (I paraphrase in my own way, of course!)

Among the problems in the report (and whatever you do, do not read the comments at the end) was a conflation of sexuality and sexual identity. These are, of course, separate issues – but we can find some interesting brain stuff where they’re concerned.

It’s time to say hello to your hypothalamus.

hypothalamusSexuality
Bailey & Zucker (1995) found 63% of gay men and women don’t conform to ‘gender behaviour’ as kids (vs 10-15% of straight people not conforming) – is this because of the way they are, or the way they were brought up?

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 straight women (and this develops before birth). So it seems one’s sexuality is determined by brain development before we’re born.

Garcia-Falgueras & Swaab (2010) found environment doesn’t affect sexual identity or orientation.

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). It’s not a matter of whether one prefers men or women or isn’t interested, but how much one prefers men or women or isn’t interested.

Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation.
It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment.
Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice, though sexual behaviour clearly is.

– Royal College of Psychiatrists

Sex in the brain
To be clear: yes, there are size differences between the average male and female brains:

So when they ask “Are men and women’s brains different?”, you can unhesitatingly say, “yes”. And when they ask “And what does that mean for differences in how they think” you can say “Ah, now that’s a different issue”.

Joel et al (2015) conducted 1400 MRI scans of brains; and sure, 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’.
(This has provoked some debate in letters to PNAS.)

Returning to the hypothalamus, Garcia-Falgueras & Swaab (2008) looked at the ‘interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus’ (INAH for short; it’s a bit in the middle at the back of the hypothalamus). They found the following:

  • it’s 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;
  • could the size of the INAH determined by testosterone?
  • (But their study has been criticised for a small sample size and no study of different sub-types of transexuals.)

So, it seems there’s a bit of the brain that might well tell you what gender you are?

Swaab (2007) 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. This explains why, for certain transexuals, you can expect to see ‘female brain structures’ in people who would otherwise be ‘male’ (for example).

So your body’s sex and your brain’s ‘gender’ can be different. Can we really divide people into two genders? Not if we use biology, it seems!

I don’t think anyone wanting to alter their appearance to match their gender should be seen as suffering from body dysmorphia. Being trans is the result of natural development processes in the womb, not anxiety.

Anxiety might come from lack of acceptance by others, though – but that’s something imposed from without, not something that comes from within. As the tragic case of David Reimer demonstrates, if you force someone to accept a sexual identity they do not have, it cannot end well.

If any part of your body knows what your identity is – well, it’s the brain!

*No, I’m not a neuroscientist, merely a geek and a nerd. This isn’t a complete and comprehensive run-down of brain research and sexuality and sexual identity, but is the best summary I can squeeze into less than a thousand words…