Three days of Twist-ing

Last autumn I gave myself the challenge of staying in Twist mode non-stop for three days. A couple of friends fancied a girly weekend in the Scottish Highlands, and invited me along. I could provide the transport; another had friends of her family who let out a grand house for visitors and we could stay there for free; the third was a foodie who could take care of our dining.

For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to us as the tree-hugger. the grave-hugger, and me (the silly bugger). Honestly, we’re a bunch of misfits. I’d been on trips with them before, but this was the first time we’d all been together.

Daaaaamn that’s an epic old house!

I’d already been growing my hair out for over a year and a half over the pandemic, so I dyed it to hide the grey and freed myself from the need to wear my wig all the time. Part of the plan was for the tree hugger and I to plunge into a nearby loch on Saturday morning, so in addition to waxing my neck, jaw, and chin, I went nuts and had the whole lot below my nostrils taken off. I’ll talk about this another time…

Happy Locktober to all who celebrate?

Friday was taken up with driving from Edinburgh to Kingussie, our home for the weekend. The house was grand, and filled with all sorts of antiques, curios and old, old books. It had a huge garden, and was surprisingly cosy.

In Kingussie itself, I’m pretty certain I was the first transvestite the town had seen. Most people were dressed comfortably and casually, or for hiking about the hills. And then there was me, dressed like… well, regular readers have seen how I dress. (I went into casual mode with a hoodie and leggings in the evening when we got back).

We pottered around the village and ventured into an art gallery where I bought a cushion for my living room from the artist herself (it really ties the room together). Then we chilled out with food, wine, reading, and an antique stereographic picture viewer.

Left: peeking at the past in 3D… Right: peekaboo!

There was some deliberation about which loch the tree-hugger and I should plunge into. Our best option was Loch Morlich, a short drive up the road. The weather wasn’t as sunny as we’d expected, and there was snow on the hills in the distance. The tree-hugger had been getting used to cold-water swimming as part of a long-term health kick. I… had not. The grave hugger was the only sensible one in our trio, and remained on shore taking photos.

The wind made the waters incredibly choppy. I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my wig, and I’d found – after 13 years – a more comfortable alternative to my joke shop boobies: soft, padded inserts that I could slip into pockets in my swimsuit (I bought two pairs, and slipped the second pair into my bra. So comfortable! Why hadn’t I done this before???)

Once I got over the pain of the cold water, I found it oddly energising, and actually missed it once we got out and back onto the sand. Even so, it was so cold my nuts made like a bad science paper and went for a complete retraction. (Too much info?)

Left: home sweet home until the late 19th century… Right: getting into my retro domestic groove…

Saturday afternoon was spent at the Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore. Long-term readers will have picked up I’m a massive nerd and history is one of my interests. This place is amazing – recreations of homes and lifestyles going back through the centuries. It was quite busy, and there were still a few pandemic restrictions in place, but we got to see pretty good variety of what the place had to offer, and chatted with one of the guides at a recreation of the oldest-style homestead. (I’d recently finished reading Boswell and Johnson’s trip through Scotland in the 1700s, so it was interesting to see the sort of place they’d have stayed in.)

FOR SALE: Highland home, great views, well ventilated, real fixer-upper…

We had an evening walk to a nearby loch in the hills (because we hadn’t done enough already that day), before crashing out for the night.

We went to the Highland Wildlife Park on Sunday morning; the first time for me and the tree-hugger, but along-overdue revisit for the grave-hugger who’d been when she was a child. It was spectacularly autumnal – low sun lit the trees in a blaze of bright yellow and orange against dark, brooding clouds.

And that was it – just time for lunch and a quick tidy-up before heading back home.

On a personal level, I enjoyed hanging out with friends in girly mode. Most of my friends are women – part of me wonders if it has something to do with a childhood going to a boys-only school (I’m convinced thirteen years of single-sex education will fuck you up on some level). As I’ve noted before, Twist is just a cosmetic thing – and me going into ‘girly mode’ means making an effort.

Glad I made the effort – it was a bloody good weekend!

Branching out to the Highlands…

When I met The Ladyboys Of Bangkok…

The Ladyboys’ show has been visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe since the 90s, and it’s only recently I went along to see them. It put me in a thoughtful mood… (this had been in my drafts folder for far too long!)

First of all, it’s impossible not to be aware of sensitivities regarding words and names, and that ‘ladyboy’, however it might have been regarded in the past, is now considered offensive (‘kathoey’ is the correct term in Thailand). Personally, I specifically use the term to describe the show or the performers (like it or not, that’s the brand name they perform under; and changing the name would likely confuse the fans and harm the business). Whether you take offence at the name or not, it was clear to me that many in the audience for the Ladyboys were devoted fans who loved the show.

When they first came to people’s attention in the UK in 90s, they were treated as something of a punchline. I spent my student summers working in a Fringe venue box office, and was involved with a show each night so I never really had the chance to go along and watch. To be honest, I wasn’t all that interested. The only time I saw them was when they were caught out in a rainstorm walking through one of the city parks – they stood out because compared with the locals and fellow Fringe-goers they were all outstandingly pretty (even off-duty), and they were wearing the most gloriously impractical clothing for a Scottish summer (and platform heels on cobbled streets is a brave decision!).

It was a long, long time later before a friend suggested we go along and check out the show, and I figured what the hell – clearly they were doing something right to have lasted this long, so why not see what the fuss was about? All I really knew was that they pitched their tent where they could, and the music was loud. Otherwise, they just felt like part of Edinburgh’s artsy background noise.

The show is an energetic song & dance cabaret mixing solo and ensemble performances (and a ton of costume changes), with lots of lipsynching to well-known songs and parodies (like the adult version of She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain When She Comes, with lyrics like “I was very nearly coming when you came…”). In between are smaller sketches and audience interactions. Some of the Ladyboys’ troupe were boys; one was relatively senior in years, and swapped between male and female presentation throughout the show; one was more diminutive and what they lacked in height they made up for with a powerful pair of lungs to belt out songs; and one was a slightly plumper jester/’madame’ who would harrass the men in the audience.

The audience was mostly middle age to elderly women, and quite often little old ladies would jump up and try to dance during the performance – sometimes being steadied by a friend or relative.

A notable scene – played straight – involved the senior Ladyboy slowly changing out of her evening gown into a suit while singing I Did It My Way – singing as a woman until the very end, when she removed her wig and sang as a man for the last refrain. I found it oddly affecting – I’ve long known that I won’t be doing Twist stuff forever, and at some point I’ll take the wig off and never put it back on again. Will I do it singing My Way, or will I simply not realise it’s the last time? That was the sober part of the show – it can’t be comedy and high energy all the time…

The only other bit that gave me pause for thought was the the jester/madame’s humiliation of men in the audience. Every so often she picked a victim, dragged them on stage, and groped them to cheers from the audience. The worst one I reckoned (hoped!) had to be an audience plant (we saw him later leave via the staff exit) – he refused to kiss the jester/madame on stage, so she got him on the floor and dry-humped him. My friend and I understood how this routine started as a way of “power-rebalancing”, by dishing sexual humiliation out to the men, but it felt kind of dated. (That, and I’m not keen on ‘prank’ humour – it’s a bit like comedy wanking in that the only one really having fun is the one doing it, not the one who’s on the receiving end…)

In all other aspects, the show seemed to be really in tune with the times in its message and inclusivity. Everyone was gorgeous, funny, and talented, and I’m amazed at the energy they put into the performances, given they do both lunchtime and evening shows (we went at lunchtime). But if the performers weren’t the Ladyboys, would there be anything special about it?

Afterwards we had a chance to get our photo taken with them. I felt kinda frumpy standing next to them (okay, a lot frumpy) – who wouldn’t want to look as good as they do? – and I got a lovely reaction from them when they heard my voice and figured me out!

Spot the odd one out…

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 brain structures’ in people who are ‘otherwise male’.

  • 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! 🙂