November 29, 2010 § 3 Comments
I am in the middle of a boy phase.
The fact that my gender identity waxes and wanes is to me one of the most interesting parts of this whole thing. I am currently very much in jeans/band shirt/patch denim cut-off/not shaving mode. Okay, my jeans are skinny and I now only ever buy small or girl-fit band shirts, I still have awesome eyebrows and my facial hair isn’t exactly wildlife-hiding but this is my expression of my masculinity. I start thinking about building my arms and my chest back up for the Australian summer and I feel odd having to cross-dress for my tour show.
In fact, I felt positively uncomfortable on the way to the last tour show I did. My stepping outside of the acceptable social norm wasn’t backed up by desire, it was warranted by the demands of showbusiness. So it felt less easily defendable. Weird, eh?
Having said this, even as I write I can feel the first stirrings of a girly phase kicking in. I’m looking at skirts on eBay and thinking about getting a ridiculously feminine dress for Christmas socialising.
The cycle aspect of my gender weirdness is often used by people as an excuse to disavow my transvestism. I am often told that I am NOT a transvestite. It happened just the other day. It’s one of the few things I find genuinely offensive. People’s clumsy attempts to understand it are charming, their blunt use of language is entirely forgivable. But to essentially tell me I don’t know who or what I am is just not on.
I hear a lot of people talking about Eddie Izzard in this way. There is a rumour, circulated among comics, that his TV-ness is all just an act, calculated to increase his profile. Having read his exposition of the psychology of transvestism in his book ‘Dress To Kill’ I can wholly discount this slur. He absolutely is a transvestite. He may well now be doing it less often, in order to fit in around Hollywood, but it will always be a part of him.
As it will of me.
Right. I’m off to eBay to look at flouncy crap.
November 10, 2010 § 5 Comments
I bought a new handbag. And then today I used it.
Not being particularly used to this particular expression of my gender I am ridiculously self-conscious about it. I suppose it’s because all the other adoptions of female-gendered clothing now feel so much like me that when I’m trying something new I am really aware of the performative aspect. I become acutely aware of other people’s reactions. As a misanthrope it pisses me right off that I think so much about other people. It’s like when I first started wearing make-up in public twelve years ago, I felt like everyone was staring, judging and disapproving. As soon as I get used to it, I’ll be oblivous to all that again, and it’ll feel like me.
There is something different about a handbag. It is so symbolic of performed femininity, and of negative perceptions of femininity. It is used as an insult in football, it is a metaphor for female bitchiness. It’s a symbol of emasculation; when a man is carrying his partner’s bag he is seen as under the thumb. It is part of our cultural gender language. So by carrying one, I am making a fairly clear statement about my attitude to my own masculinity.
Thing is, I think I am moving into a more fuck-you attitude. This is definitely inspired by the new gay tranny culture. Hence the adoption of less subtle signifiers and a slow retreat from the ‘stealth’ approach. I’m basically making the acknowledgement of my trannihood part of the look. It is a conscious decision to look less like I am trying to look like a woman and more like I am wearing exactly what the fuck I want, regardless of people’s reaction. It is stating “I don’t need your approval.”
The substance of this is an increased boldness. Brighter colours, more obviously feminine clothes, carrying a handbag.
Interestingly this also coincides with a regression in women’s fashion to a falseness that I see as quite old-fashioned. Fake tan, false eyelashes, loads of make-up. Apparently sales of false eyelashes have gone through the roof in the last few months, mainly inspired (unfortunately) by the talentless skeletor impersonator Cheryl Cole. The other side of this is the now fairly bedded-in boom in 40s and 50s fashion. People are opening up old-school hair salons that specialise in the labour-intensive hairstyles that our grandmothers wore. I have noticed a lot of women dressed more like transvestites than I ever do! This is glamour in its pure linguistic sense – as a magical deception. When it’s done well I really like it. More often, however, I have a deep-rooted feminist objection to it, because of the feeling that women have a duty to put all that effort into how they look.
So the space is opening up, I have more room to run around. And I have a fit, shiny, very fetishy handbag. Life’s pretty sweet.
In other news, last night a fellow comedian’s response to finding out I am a genderspazz was “So, do you get involved in orgies and that?” and a VERY blonde woman in a takeaway asked “Are you for real?”. I explained that I was, and gave her the URL of this blog. I hope she reads it.
November 6, 2010 § 1 Comment
November 1, 2010 § 5 Comments
Some people have voiced objections to my use of the phrase ‘genderspastic’, while some have simply asked for clarification. Which is fair enough.
It is my opinion that the word spastic has now been effectively removed from its meaning as a sufferer of cerebral palsy. The fact that the Spastics Society changed their name to Scope has widely been seen as an acknowledgement that the word is now commonly used as a general insult. It still has a connotation of disability and usually with no specific disability as its focus, but is pretty much synonymous with ‘idiot’, ‘fool’ or ‘moron’. It is also one of my favourite words. As a stand-up and someone with anarchist political leanings, I am deeply aware of the power of language and I choose my words carefully.
The phrase I invented is from a stand-up routine in which I say I don’t like the word transvestite, because it’s a loaded word with unwanted connotations. I don’t want to sound too ‘politically correct’, I say, but I prefer the term ‘genderspastic’. The idea (at the risk of killing the frog) is that I have replaced a term that I find uncomfortable with one that, surely, no-one would want to have applied to them. It plays on ideas of the reclaiming of insults by minorities and is a very successful bit.
Now, the implied suggestion is that the use of the word ‘spastic’ is offensive. Now, I do not care if I offend people. As my friend the brilliant comic Steve Hughes points out: if you are offended, NOTHING HAPPENS. No-one dies, no-one gets injured. The real issue, of course, is whether my use of the word spastic reinforces people’s prejudices against the disabled. I don’t think it does. I don’t think it will change anyone’s mind AT ALL. I think the word is now sufficiently distanced from that meaning that it will not have that effect, yet it is exactly because it is still politically sensitive that it is funny. I am basically baiting the politically-correct. I will even be as bold as to suggest that even if it does reinforce those prejudices, it’s worth it to make the point I am trying to make.
Now, I really DON’T like the word transvestite. It’s the word that scared me as a kid. I still associate it with the more pathetic, secretive, middle-aged-man-caught-in-his-wife’s-clothes end of the spectrum. It is almost universally used in a negative context. To be a transvestite is very often to be the subject of ridicule and disapproval.
What if, then, we get rid of the word? Replace it with other words or phrases. Loads of them. Make one up yourself. One that suits you. Because the ones we have are horrible.
I hate the whole language of transvestism. All the things that those awful women who make money out of us lot use. ‘T-girl’, ‘en-femme’. It’s patronising and deeply uncool. It’s the cooing language of placation. ‘It’s okay’, they say ‘we understand’. Fuck that. I don’t want the patronising acceptance of a substitute aunt-figure. I want hot women to want to fuck me.
We have an image problem. We are still way too tied to this image of middle-aged men dressed how women dressed when they were kids, but with added pvc thigh-boots. We need to drag this whole thing into the 21st century (pun intended). Plug it into the modern world.
Forget the tranny websites run by old women with maternal issues. Look at fashion blogs. Look at how alternative kids are re-shaping the whole idea of gender. Look at how gay genderjammers are taking a ghetto attitude and being fabulous. Find a space that is YOURS. And dress in a way that suits your body. Women have to do this. Talk to any woman and she’ll tell you there are things she like to wear but she is the wrong shape.
And make up your own label. Because then you are not fitting into a box. You are free to be yourself. I still get told that I am not a transvestite. It’s usually by people who don’t realise that it is not synonymous with transexual but also by those who think the way I do it doesn’t qualify. Well, fine. I mean, I know I am, but in a way I am happy that I’m doing something that is different to that mental image from which I want to distance myself. If I can wear heels, a skirt and make-up on a regular basis and NOT qualify as a transvestite, then clearly I need a new term for what I am doing.
November 1, 2010 § 7 Comments
I feel like I am moving into new territory with my genderspazzing. A little while ago I caught myself trying to decide whether or not to cross-dress that day. I realised I was trapped in a binary view of gender, despite the fact that I do not adopt a female persona, or attempt to ‘pass’. Since then, I have tried to view my gender expression as a sliding scale rather than an on/off switch. (Dimmer switches! Without that buzzing sound they make. Which I am led to believe is there to enhance the romance. There’s nothing quite so romantic as a buzzing noise. That’s how vibrators work.)
Anyway… I think one of the things preventing the social acceptability of cross-dressing is the notion of deceit, as well as the preoccupation among transvestites with the notion of ‘passing’.
S. Bear Bergmann in hir* excellent book ‘The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You’ strongly criticises the notion of passing. Ze* puts forward the idea that ‘passing / not passing’ places the responsibility on the part of the genderjammer, so that not passing is to fail. Ze suggests that a better way of thinking about it is the idea of how one is ‘read’. This removes the idea of performance, and places the responsibility on the person doing the looking (/judging /shouting).
I this is great, and I would go further and suggest that it removes the binary limitation and frees the trans-gresser to explore a wider range of gender identities that lie in between ‘male’ and ‘female’. When I cross-dress I don’t really care what gender people perceive me to be. Most of the time I try to somehow acknowledge that I am male – usually through big boots, which ground the look, somehow.
One of the biggest issues with the image of transvestites is this ‘failure to pass’. The gap between how the tranny is trying to look and what they actually achieve is the subject of ridicule and hostility, and it is also the cause of a huge amount of psychological anguish on the part of the tranny. There is often a level of self-deception at work, and the gap between the desired look and the reality is a painful, uncomfortable truth.
I went through this. And I very quickly rejected this approach. Despite being more andrognous than many, I still have NEVER managed to pass for female. The repeated assertion, usually on the part of well-meaning women, that I totally could, if only I did it right creates a false hope that causes quite a lot of pain. I am stuck with the reality of my body. So, I embrace it.
This has been a process, but I think it is, for me, the very best way to live this thing that goes on in my head.
I think that by making it clear that I am not trying to make people think I am female I bypass a lot of the social anitpathy and also it allows me to work on actually coming up with a look that looks GOOD, within the limitations of my man’s face and body. By forgetting about trying to look as much like I am female as possible, I create an achievable goal, that can be satisfyingly met.
It’s taken me ages to get to a point where I feel I am actually getting it right. I have been through the stages of getting it horribly wrong, and I still feel I’m working it out. But I cross dress as part of my everyday life. I don’t restrict it to special occasions, or to private spaces. And I am really happy with it. There’s no secrecy, no shame, there’s loads of compliments and the pleasant thought that I might be changing minds and giving hope to the closeted transvestites who see me.
The next step for me is to entirely remove my own notions of gender from what I wear. So that on any given day I can wear exactly what I feel like, rather than picking from two metaphorical boxes labelled ‘male and ‘female’.
I really think this approach is the best way for the modern transvestite to live. I think we should discard the gender binary and open up a wider vista of male femininity. Experiment, play, be confident and have fun.
I’m not big on giving advice, but I would suggest to other TVs that are reading: why don’t we all make an effort to be a bit more androgynous all the time? Try to break down the binary a bit more. This is aimed particularly at those who are still in the closet.
This is my take on things. And the very last thing I want to do is impose some kind of restriction on what people do. I’ve had too much of that myself. I get a lot of compliments that contain an unpleasant subtext. Usually along the lines of ‘but you look great when you do it’. The undertone of that is a notion that it is acceptable for a guy to cross-dress, so long as he looks attractive when he does it. This makes me shudder, because of the huge number of transvestites who unfortunately don’t look great. Should they not still be granted the freedom to live how they please?
This is not to say I am anything other than hugely judgemental myself. I am a fucking arsehole and I will make bitchy comments at the drop of a hat. Human beings are horrible to each other and I am no exception. Criticising how other people dress is a universal pastime.
However: to make up for this, and to add a note of positivity – I want you to tell me about transvestites you have seen that look great, or were brilliant, or inspired you. Tell me what they were doing that was so good. Give me positive, inspirational stories.
Thank you for reading these, by the way. They flit between feeling like self-indulgent brain splurges and difficult bits of self-examination. Your feedback is greatly appreciated. Now give me your happy stories!
*these are gender-free pronouns that Bergmann prefers. I still feel weird using them, but I am trying to get used to the idea.