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.

Girly Road Trip! 1: a stab at St Abbs

Last year I offered to take a few friends for a girly day out to a couple of places which featured in recent film series: St Abbs and Alnwick Castle.

I’d been feeling the need for something different; it had been many months since my last outing as Twist, and many months since the one before that. I needed to add a bit more colour and interest to life. I wanted to make another calendar to hand out to my various friends for Christmas – all I asked was that they helped take photos.

Having a stab at St Abbs

A stab at St Abbs…

After being given my sole instruction for the trip (“Don’t kill us”), our first stop was St Abbs, on the south-east coast of Scotland. This tiny fishing village was a location in the Marvel films, doubling as New Asgard (the nearby cliffs were used for dialogue scenes in Thor: Ragnorok, perhaps foreshadowing the concluding Avengers double bill.)

blogimagery101

There are signs dotted about proclaiming ‘ST ABBS – Twinned with NEW ASGARD’. The staff at the tourist office there instantly pegged us as nerds and gave us a portable sign to cart about to scenic spots for selfies (“Hey look! It’s Thor’s house where he plays games with Korg and drinks Irn Bru and Innes & Gunn!”). I’m reliably informed a rare virtual Pokemon thingy can be snapped in the waters near the harbour, where we perched on a sea wall for a picnic lunch.

There isn’t a hell of a lot more to the place, and rather than potter along the cliffs, we had to continue with our journey for a different kind of Potter…

Alnwick Castle

The Hogwarts sorting hat couldn’t decide about me…

Alnwick Castle in the north-east of England, doubled as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. And boy, do they milk that association for all it’s worth (without infringing copyright, of course…). If you are so minded, you can clench a broom stick between your legs and waddle up and down the courtyard whilst being screamed at by tour guide dressed as a wizard; this is surprisingly popular. (The girly road trippers decided unanimously against it.)

Alnwick Castle chair

In which I bring a touch of Rocky Horror to Hogwarts…

Aside from the Potter-esque references, the castle tourism department makes the most of its history, with dressing up in mediaeval costumes and other activities on offer. So we went nuts dressing up for social media photos. I attempted a ‘slutty knight’ look with a cape thrown over one shoulder and showing a bit of leg.

Next to us a family were doing the same, and a small girl was trying to persuade her dad to dress up as a princess like her.

“You get used to dressing up as a girl,” I told him (this made mum and daughter smile).

Leaping from the page

Turning over a new leaf?

You can see why the castle was chosen as a location: it has all sorts of little nooks and corners next to the sort of open spaces you’d need to accommodate a film crew. Overall, though, its current tourist theme seems to be book-related; all the signs and maps and info boards are in the shape of oversized book sculptures.

Alnwick is also home to a gigantic second-hand book shop in the former railway buildings. We popped in afterwards for a browse and a bite to eat in the cafe. For book nerds, this place is like Wonkaland. There might be another girly road trip just to return to it…

Showing a bit of spine

I’m a big book fan.

On the way back home, we stopped at the Scottish border for one last photo set (I’d been making clothing changes throughout the trip for different calendar months).

As a first big outing, it was great fun – and I’ve got a whole load more girly day trips to write about (and yet more planned for the future – stay tuned!).

Subtle Scottishness

I colour-match the Scottish border.

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.

So, creeps reap what they sow?

It’s been a lot longer than intended since my last blog post, but my outings this year have been of a purely social nature; no adventures; no grand photoshoots; nothing to report (at least, not yet…).

I usually do my longer more serious, introspective posts (which always give me the stomach-turning feeling that they’ll start up a shitstorm) at the end of the year.

2017 has certainly provided a bit of food for thought in the wake of this year’s eruption of sexual harassment scandals (ranging from rape and other sex acts, to unwanted physical contact, to verbal harassment), going back decades.

I could easily add my name to the #metoo hashtag (if I used Twitter), but I’d have to add it to a #I_am_hardly_blameless_myself hashtag as well.

2013_12_17_that_thing_by_tomfonder-d6y7pgt

#I_am_hardly_blameless_myself
To put it briefly, learning to socialise was a steep catch-up learning curve in my first year at university, and I found myself socially ostracised more than once because I had no idea what I was doing wrong (but I certainly knew that I was doing something wrong). Maybe I had a toxic personality; maybe it was extreme social immaturity. Whatever it was, if I could go back in time, I’d happily strangle my 17-year-old self and damn the time paradoxes.

Have I ever creeped women out? For certain (I had enough self-awareness to realise that my teenage attempts at flirting were about as welcome as being chatted up by Gollum). Have I ever said inappropriate things? Yes (thankfully I was able to channel these impulses into improv comedy instead). Have I ever touched a woman inappropriately? I’m sure I probably did – but I’m also sure that was the extent of it, though. It’s not like I was a rampant sex pest in the style of Pepé Le Pew; just an annoying teenage shit.

On meeting up with one of my university friends a couple of years back, she assured me that whatever I said or did (that had me twitching and gibbering to myself years or decades later with embarrassing memories) “At least you apologised.”

What changed? I learnt not to be a dick, through a process of trial and error, I guess. A year or two of solo travelling helped as well – going around the world with nothing more than you can physically carry means you have to sharpen your social skills pretty damn quick. I’d say I was in my early-to-mid-twenties before I was an acceptably functioning member of civilised society.

What about #metoo then?
It was also at university that I started crossdressing, and I’ve already written about the great fun I had.

But there were plenty of moments when guys – and it was only the guys – creeped me out: trying to lift my skirt at parties (several times – what were they hoping to see?); inviting me to sit on their laps (certainly not, if it’s going to feel like you have three knees); once asking if I ‘wanted to be fucked like a bitch’ (by a total stranger at a party – I assume he’s had a lifetime of going home alone at night); grabbed from behind and dry humped (three occasions); and then, of course, there was the whole ‘if a man is dressed as a woman then it must be funny’ thing to get over. I prefer to dwell on the good stuff that happened instead (all of these were in the late 1990s, so pre-Twist days).

More recently, however, sometimes people (men, women, or otherwise) grab or touch Twist (or ask bizarre questions) and I either don’t mind at all, or I don’t let it bother me.

Sometimes it’s just curiosity (“Are those tits real?” *poke* – “Would you really have done that if you thought they were?”); sometimes it’s just for fun (I tried very hard not to dissolve into giggles whilst being motorboated at a party once); hugs and touches are perfectly okay too (I’m not much of a huggy-touchy person myself but I won’t ever turn them down).

Some things are okay when I feel safe and it’s among friends. As for how other people might react to those same things, your mileage may vary.

14615864_331310427233389_4936048907611587462_o

This was bloody funny actually. 😀

So, is there anything I can conclude?
I can only speak for myself here: feeling sexually harassed was something I felt more acutely when I was younger, and more unsure of myself, and low-status. And it only ever happened when I was cross-dressed, so – and it’s important to note this – it’s not like I had to face this sort of thing all the time.

These days, as Twist, I’m a big girl and I can take a lot, and I’d let someone know if they’d gone too far.

What’s my take on all the sexual harassment scandals? These are only my current thoughts, and they may or may not change (and bear in mind that explanations are not excuses):

  • If a guy says they can’t remember something they did years ago, it’s probably true.
    But – in my last year on university, a woman I met with some of my friends said I’d made a highly inappropriate remark to her way back in my first year. I had no memory of this at all, but I said that it sounded like the sort of thing I would’ve said, and apologised to her for it. If you can recognise you’ve screwed up, it seems like the least you can do.
  • Some guys have no idea they’re doing something wrong.
    Maybe it’s immaturity; maybe they can’t pick up on social cues; maybe they’re used to a touchy-feely or bantering culture (I always blame things on stupidity before I blame them on malice). I suspect a lot of people don’t realise that others won’t think the same way they do – while guys might be flattered or amused by (sexual) attention, it doesn’t mean women will be flattered or amused by the same sort of attention (depends on the person, I suppose?). Never underestimate how stupid young men can be.
  • Mixing sexual relationships with work relationships sounds bloody dangerous at the best of times.
  • Age-wise, if you want to avoid being skeevy, a neat rule of thumb I heard is:
    don’t date anyone who is younger than [half-your-age, plus seven years]. Even better, don’t blithely assume that you’re date-able.
  • Anyone shown to have abused their high status deserves to be publicly brought down. Justice must be seen to be done, and nobody is above the law.
  • Guilt and shame work best when they’re self-inflicted. Unfortunately, some people have egos too big for this to work, and need the evidence of their wrongdoing screamed at them from a thousand directions.
  • Lastly, and probably least popularly, there is a damn good reason why the law has presumption of innocence. Mob justice is ugly, fickle, hasty and forgetful, and it can turn against the innocent as well as the guilty, no matter if we like them or not. (The two links in this bullet point give different views on the matter; I recommend reading both.)

I’m a long-term optimist. It’s not going to be quick; it’s not going to be an even improvement, everywhere, for everyone – but things will improve.

Also: I’m really fucking glad I went through my teens before social media was invented.

*

I have a few Twist things planned for 2018 (if I can summon up the courage), and I still have a backlog of photos to add to the gallery.

More blogging later! 🙂