Q+A #2 Issues of authenticity and ‘womanhood’.

October 29, 2010 § 12 Comments

Today I’m going to tackle some questions that share common territory.

Personally I didn’t know there was a social category for ‘heterosexual transvestites’. Dunno if you’ve considered it, but I think some of your readers might appreciate an expansion of the term.

Ha! There isn’t, really. But I think the distinction is worth making, mainly because of the homophobia that accompanies cross-dressing. I should be careful to point out that I think the acceptability of homosexuality is hugely important. But gay men are often keen to seperate themselves from transvestites, and I think it benefits people who are like me, but who lack my confidence, for the terms to be made clear. The transgender spectrum incorporates all sorts of people with all sorts of identities and motivations. I think my particular flavour is much more common than most people would think, and as such is under-represented. Give it a name, and people identify with it.

Maybe you could elaborate on what motivates you or pulls you towards femininity, but stops before crossing any sexual boundaries. Is it desirable only to APPEAR like a woman? Are there certain womanly behaviors that draw you too?

Well, the basic answer is that something in my brain makes me want to turn myself into something I’d find attractive. It’s essentially a form of narcissism. It’s mainly, but not entirely about appearance. Although I don’t necessarily adopt female ‘behaviour’ (although from a feminist point of view it’s debatable that any behaviour is inherently male or female) I identify far more strongly with women than I do men. The brilliant, mental musician and artist Genesis P Orridge (who has I think entirely transitioned), talks about rejecting undesirable masculine behaviour like aggressiveness and competitiveness. I like that idea. It’s less about moving towards femininity than rejecting certain aspects of masculinity. By ‘sexual boundaries’ I presume you mean the boundary of biological / physical sex, rather than sexuality. I still very much identify as male.

Also, how do you go about explaining it to people when 99% of people think a tranny and homosexual are the same thing? Do you even bother to explain it to people?

“I fancy girls.” That usually does the trick. Most people who need it explaining are shouting at me anyway, so then I go into heckle put-down mode anyway. Usually, girls get it straight away. Men take longer, because it’s a bit more of a headfuck. They have been conditioned to think that female clothes and make-up exist to serve the needs of male  sexuality. Which is partly why they get upset when men adopt them.

Second questioneeer:

I wonder if you could have a bash at elaborating the powerful desire to wear a particular kind of clothing – and how it works. Two things make it particularly hard to grasp from outside:

1) A lot of powerful clothing related desires are ‘kinks’ – they deliver an erotic kick, and feed the sexual appetite. But you don’t indicate this is about that for you – so what appetite does it feed? You mentioned in your first post that it’s the only way you feel attractive – is that the appetite in question? The sexual ego? The need to feel desirable? If so – here’s a question – do you think if I hypnotised you and took you to the gym until you had the body of a Gillette model – or some similar conventionally attractive male type – then unhypnotised you, that your transvestism would fall away? Or is it encoded for you that nothing is ‘attractive’ in the way you want or need to be except tropes of femininity?

I have fetishes. But I think they grew out of my transvestism, rather than the other way round. So what appetite does it feed?

I think I have a hardwired notion that it is desirable to be a girl. I also have over the years accepted and internalised the fact that I cannot be a girl. Therefore it is desirable to be like a girl, and because of our hugely gendered clothing split, the easiest way to achive that is to wear the clothes of a girl. If I looked more feminine, I think I would probably act a lot more feminine, but as I don’t want to try and fail to pass for female, I ground what I do in an acknowledgement that I am male. The identity I project outwards is therefore feminine male, rather than woman. I want to dress as ME, not as something I am not.

As for sexual ego? Hell yeah. That’s definitely a part of it. When a woman I fancy tells me she finds me attractive when I’m cross-dressed, that is pretty much mission accomplished!

And no, if I were to subject myself to your sexual fantasy of buffing me up like a Gillette model, my transvestism would not fall away. In recent years I have come to accept objectively that women find me attractive, but that is still a long way from feeling attractive.

2) Harder to grasp still: the way the clothing that works for you seem to be drawn from quite a specific picture of femininity – as if that’s femininity ‘done right’ – and yet the whole practice seem to critique the idea of gender polarity. To put it another way, you seem to at once be saying ‘I can only feel right in the trappings of a Proper Woman’ and ‘there is no such thing as a Proper Woman’. Can you help with that?

I’m interested by your notion of my picture of desirable femininity, because I think it’s wrong. I don’t consider the way I cross-dress to be emulating any kind of ‘proper woman’, it’s just that it’s pretty hard for me to emulate the ‘tomboyish feminist welder/bike mechanic’ of my dreams without looking actually more masculine than I already do.

I do, however, fetishise (both sexually and not) the ‘performed’ aspects of femininity for the very reason that they are the ones I can adopt. As you correctly suggest, I see masculinity and femininity as untethered by male or female biology.

*NB I have been working on this for a week now. I am going to just publish and be damned. I will return to these issues soon anyway.

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Q&A #1: Eddie Izzard, coming out and f-m genderspazzing.

October 20, 2010 § 9 Comments

Okay, I’ve had some questions, if you have any more, send ’em and I’ll do my best to answer them.

“So you mentioned straight transvestite role models. particularly metal ones. Obviously this is a verrrry niche kind of role model, one which I’m sure you are becoming, as more people know who you are and more people are exposed to someone who is more able to be outwardly what they feel inwardly. but what do you think about the transvestite role models that do exist… and who are yours? Jefree Star, as you mentioned? What about Eddie Izzard? Or other people I might not know about? And what about women who cross dress… and is it really possible?”

Eddie Izzard had a huge impact on me. Funnily enough, the very first time I saw him on television I had a fairly typical reaction against him, because I was still suppressing my transvestism. He apparently reacted in a similar way against the New Romantics.

By the time I next saw him, things were progressing in my brain, puberty had hit and I was feeling the overwhelming impulse to wear girl’s clothes. I really started loving his comedy, and gradually came to accept that I too was a transvestite.  Because before that I had always known essentially that I wanted to wear girl’s clothes and make myself pretty but I only ever saw gay men doing that, so I just thought that was something gay men did, and that this was something different. Turns out it’s not, particularly, of course. It’s just that openly gay men don’t worry about people thinking they’re gay for cross-dressing!

So there was the fact that he was straight, and a great comic, and someone I massively admired. Finally I had some context and someone I could look up to. I didn’t want to dress like him, particularly, although sometimes he does look awesome. But the fact that he did it in a blokey way, that he was still entirely himself and not adopting feminine behaviour is something I have consciously followed.

It was reading his book Dress To Kill that made me decide to come out about it. I didn’t want it to be a secret – something that people ‘find out’ about. I’ll discuss that a bit more in answer to someone else’s question later on. But that’s what gave me the confidence to tell people. And then, VERY SLOWLY to start actually doing it in public.

I had fuck-all in the way of clothes or make-up though! I ordered some horrible platformy boots from a vegan shoe place which I first wore out under cover of darkness. I just wandered up my road in Palmers Green, hoping no-one would see me. And I had some Halloween face paint that I used to do a kind of crap gothy make-up with.

It built up inside me until one night I made the decision. I was so excited and nervous I couldn’t sleep. I remember being very excited about the idea of getting some more feminine glasses! I decided to tell my best friend John, and ended up bottling until the next day. His underwhelmed reaction pretty much set the pattern for everyone since! But in my mind – and lots of genderspazzes who remain closeted would know this well – it was the biggest deal. The first time I wore nail polish I thought the whole world was looking at me.

As I’ve mentioned before, the process of coming out never really stops. There are always people who are surprised to find out, because I don’t ‘cross-dress’ all the time. (Although I am actually trying to destroy that distinction and dress at least vaguely androgynous all the time, so that it’s no longer binary.) It’s a hassle to have to explain the whole thing, and even more of a hassle when people act like it’s something I’ve just started doing!

I met Eddie Izzard a couple of years ago, and had a lovely chat in which I thanked him for influencing me both to come out AND to do stand-up. Which is quite a double whammy of compliments. He was very gracious.

Jeffree Star is an influence more in terms of attitude and in the way he kind of ‘owns’ being a transvestite, rather than trying to look female. He revels in the artifice, and adopts a look that somehow acknowledges his gender transgression, which is something I try to do. Unfortunately, by all accounts he is a prick. Which is a shame. But then, H.P. Lovecraft was a massive racist. You can’t have everything…

Other influences include Brian Molko and a friend of mine called ‘Trash’ who is WAY more committed to his femininity than I am. I haven’t seen him in ages, and he seems unfortunately to hate the way he looks. It’s a shame because like Jeffree Star he pulls off a way of doing it that seems to get around the issue of passing vs. not passing. He doesn’t look like someone trying and failing at something, he just looks like him. He is also the most unbelievably heterosexual person I have ever met. Watching him chat up women is a lesson in brazen confidence.

He is also wonderfully diplomatic when questioned by people about the way he looks. I was out drinking with him one night and we ended up, at his suggestion, at the Tiger Tiger in Leeds. Now, I would never normally go in there, no matter what I was wearing, and he was wearing a flouncy skirt and little breast forms… (I was dressed blokey.) I went to the toilet and when I got back he was surrounded by three townie blokes. My introduction to the conversation was hilariously revealing. One of the blokes looked at me and said:

“So… are YOU gay?”

By that point in the conversation my patience would have run out, but Trash just patiently explained who and what he was, and wasn’t, and they went away with that wonderful ‘fair play mate’ attitude that I sometimes get after I’ve stormed a gig while dressed girly. I hope he finds happiness, because he’s pretty damn cool.

Now, as to the issue of whether it’s possible for women to cross-dress, I’d say yes, absolutely. When talking about transvestism people often say ‘women can wear what they want now’, which I would suggest is far from true. Women are under HUGE social pressure to fit a certain acceptable level of femininity. Yes they have more leeway, but the fact that my very obviously female friend Ros gets shit for wearing TIES suggests that battle isn’t over. Furthermore, a woman with a shaved head, wearing a tailored man’s three-piece suit, a tie and brogues would definitely be subject to a lot of hostility. Compare the visibility in the media of butch dykes to fabulously camp gay men. They are virtually invisible.

Hope that’s answered those questions! I was going to do another, but this is already a bit of a monster! I’ll do another one tomorrow. Meanwhile, please send me more questions, and keep giving me feedback. I appreciate it.

…and another two forward!

October 17, 2010 § 2 Comments

Redemption!

My second gig was delightful. Lots of the audience are going to come to my tour date at the same venue next week, too.

During the day I weighed up whether or not to cross-dress on the second night. I did, but it was a bit more subtle. Or sober, as my friend Toby said. Which confused me, initially, because his words were “You’re more sober tonight” which made me think for a minute that he thought I was drunk on Friday, and was subtly blaming my crap gig on some kind of drinking problem.

On the Friday I wore a purple slash neck top, a tight corseted fishtail pencil skirt and my awesome Iron Fist zombie heels, which is about as feminine as I get. It’s quite a striking look. And I think it was too much. It looks like I’m not just crossing the gender clothing boundary, but actively trying to look sexy with it. Which I suppose I am, if I’m honest. I’ve started dressing that way for my tour shows, and had become used to it.

So last I wore a combat skirt and converse instead. It’s interesting that if I do it too subtly, the audience don’t really get that I’m a tranny, and so when I do jokes that relate to what they are thinking (eg. “I am dressed like this on purpose, I haven’t just woken up from my own stag night”) the jokes fall flat. And o the evidence of Friday night, apparently too dressed-up pushes me into different territory.

Another issue with that particular gig is this: a lot of the women there dress like trannies. Heavy make-up (one woman looked like a Girl’s World doll that had never been cleaned), tottering heels, lots of silver and gold dresses, fake tan, fake eyelashes. It’s a very artificial look.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say I make a more convincing woman than a lot of the women there. Which suggests that there is a culture of men really digging the parts of femininity that transvestites can emulate. (Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?) Which possibly pushes the men’s thinking further towards the notion that I’m doing it for their benefit, rather than mine.

So I think that is a lesson learned. Don’t fuck with the audience’s head too much, Andrew.

So yes, last night’s gig was great. I think what I wore on Friday was only half the issue. I reckon I’d have had a weird gig no matter what. But I am learning all the time how what I wear affects things.

The late train to Manchester was less good. Again, not that long ago I would have got changed before putting myself in that sort of environment, now I don’t give a fuck. People shouted some homophobic abuse, but it was water off a duck’s back – at least I didn’t have to make them laugh. And it was balanced out by a guy telling me he thought I looked great and wished he had the confidence to cross-dress in public too, rather than just on stage and in private. One comment like that outweighs the bellowed opinions of a thousand idiots.

I went home happy.

Two steps forward, one back.

October 17, 2010 § 2 Comments

I drafted this blog yesterday:

I died on my arse last night.

Comics moan about Liverpool. My experience of it has been almost entirely positive. Last time I played there I had one of the best club gigs of my career, which was immediately followed by the lovely experience of working class Scouse blokes literally queueing up to be friendly and appreciative to a transvestite. I really felt like I’d scored a little victory for the visibility and understanding of genderspazzes.

Last night was the opposite. The room was hostile from the start. The opinion of the other acts was that the audience was thick. They certainly didn’t get me.

I made a couple of mistakes. The key line that makes an audience get where I am coming from right at the start was lost over a load of chatting, and it’s not like I can repeat a joke in order to put across a message. And I mentioned Liverpool too. Never a good idea. I got a smattering of laughs, but the ones who dug it soon went quiet under the pressure from the rest of the room. A few people came up after and said they liked it, which is always lovely. But I still felt horrible.

A bad gig is hard to take. And if I’m spazzed-up (I’m writing new terms all the time, people. I like this one. It’s borrowed from and actual spastic, too) it feels like I’ve let the side down. I;m back in the same venue tomorrow. Fingers crossed for redemption.

Transpiration

October 15, 2010 § 2 Comments

I get inspired by a lot of different things.

The main one would probably still be metal. It’s odd, because its such a testosterone-fuelled genre, but it definitely taught me to value being an outsider. From really blunt messages like the Sepultura song We Who Are Not As Others to the defiantly un-cool and aggressively anti-social attitude of the Norwegian black metal scene, I have long got the message that I really shouldn’t give a shit what other people think of me.

I still struggle to find straight, cis-gendered (ie. people who aren’t on the transgender end of the spectrum) role models. Which makes me feel it’s all the more important to try to be one, in my own way. I know for a fact that if I had seen a straight tranny metalhead stand-up when I was a teenager I would have been over the moon.

I still have to resort to picking up more directly related inspiration where I can find it, and I have to cherrypick the good and dump the bad. There is a new generation of gay teenagers who have the most fantastic defiant attitude. It’s aggressive and confrontational and very, very gay indeed. Now, if I can take the gay bit and replace it with a METAL attitude, I reckon I can synthesise something pretty special.

Examples? Jeffree Star looks great most of the time.

 He has found a look that doesn’t appear as if he’s tried-and-failed to look like a woman. Unfortunately his music is horrible.

But as someone trying to move into the role of activist / general do-gooder for people like me, I need to try to find straight people to use as examples. One of the mains thing stopping people coming out as genderspastics is the association of transvestism with homosexuality. If we can break that association, we can help people.

If every transvestite in the country came out and started dressing the way they wanted to, the rest of the country would have to change their minds. The paths of transexual people would be smoothed, homophobia would shink because gender roles would be looser and lots and lots of people would get laid.

Meanwhile, I continue to look for inspiration in a greyer world.

Day-to-day straight, ordinary, square people can be pretty damn great. Every time someone gives me a genuine compliment, every time a woman tells me she finds it attractive, every time a blokey punter comes up after a show and says ‘good on ya, mate, you was fakkin quality’, I grow a bit and feel a bit better about the world. The positive reactions massively outweight the negative. And I wish I could tell that to every closeted tranny. Trouble is, they don’t identify themselves…

Introduction and definitions.

October 12, 2010 § 3 Comments

Bonjour. (That’s French for ‘Wassup g?’)

This is my space for splurging out my thoughts, ideas and experiences that relate to me being a gender non-selective clothing wearer.

Yeah. That’s a shit term. They’re ALL shit terms. So I will stick to my own one: genderspastic. (That’s all one word. Like we used to do with our band names back when I was cool and young in the 90s.)

The battle over language is important, but it’s not my battle. I see my battle as one for territory. I am trying to open up a space within which I can live, free from the pressures of socialisation and free from the violent enforcement of gender conformity that plagued my youth. This blog is not part of the battle. These are dispatches from the front.

Cos, there is a front, you know. My friends are mostly so groovy that they find it hard to imagine that cross-dressing in public, day-to-day, is actually fucking HARD. It’s draining. People stare. They point. They fail to pretend they’re not talking about you. They shout at you. They pretend to chat you up. They implode with embarrassment. They don’t want to be seen talking to you in case someone thinks they’re – you know – with you. They stumble over pronouns. They give you UNSOLICITED MAKE-UP TIPS. They misapprehend you. They try to fuck you. Okay, that last part is pretty cool.

And also – they fucking deny you. Yep. I have been told more often than I can count that I am NOT a transvestite. I get quite annoyed at the notion that someone who has only just started thinking about the subject is more of an authority on this than me. I have only been chewing this over for 27 fucking years…

So, for the record, I am a transvestite. A heterosexual, non gender-dysphoric genderspastic. Not a drag queen, not a transexual, not a goth doing an art project, I have been a genderspastic for as long as I can remember. I have an overwhelming desire to make myself into something I think is feminine and attractive. It is, to be painfully honest, the only way I can actually think of myself as attractive.

Trouble is, I’m also a bunch of other things too. I’m a metalhead, which makes it complicated. If I was a woman with exactly the same taste in music and culture I possibly wouldn’t dress as girly as I do when I’m cross-dressed, which brings about a weird question of identity. (Whose identity am I expressing when I have my hair in bunches? Probably my repressed tranny 5 year-old self. I need more corsets…)

I have come a long way since I first began the life-long process of coming out at the age of 19.* I wore make-up today out in public without really giving much of a shit about what reaction I would get. That idea would have terrified that 19 year-old me.

The internet helps. There are hundreds of people fucking about with the expression of their gender who blog and vlog and tweet and all that. There is an army of terrifyingly confident teenage boys with make-up skills that put most adult women to shame. They inspire me with confidence and in their own way open up acres of room for the rest of us to live how we choose.

So this will hopefully turn into something interesting and useful for people out there in bloggyland.

In the meantime: what do you want to know? Ask me some questions and I’ll answer the most interesting ones. Cheers for reading this far.

Andrew

*The process of coming out never stops. I’ll cover this in detail later. Suffice to say, it always needs explaining to someone.

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