February 27, 2013 § 20 Comments
Language is a perpetual negotiation in the trans* world.
I dislike the phrase ‘dress as a woman’. People use it a lot. “How often do you dress as a woman?” I never dress as a woman. I dress as a man. I dress as someone with no breasts, no hips and a bulge in the crotch area that must be disguised, hidden or otherwise rendered unnoticed through expert misdirection. I dress as someone with a thick torso and skinny legs, with wide shoulders and a tiny bum. I dress for my shape, and my shape is that of a man.
The phrase ‘dress as a woman’ in this context has two possible meanings; ‘dress as a woman does’ and ‘dress as though you were a woman’. The former ignore the infinite variety of ways woman dress, somehow equating more than half the human species in one clothing style. The latter suggests subterfuge and deceit. It suggests a disguise.
I’m not being disingenuous. To the casual reader it may well seem so. Surely I dress in a way that makes me look more like a woman? Is more akin to how women dress?
It’s femininity I adopt, not female-ness. I am not transexual. The gender dysphoria I have experienced in the past hasn’t made me seek surgery, nor sufficiently pushed me towards adopting a female identity.
I don’t present myself as female, ever. I exist in a cosy quantum state that is neither fully one nor the other. I seek androgyny. This fragile quantum state collapses when I have to use a public toilet.
Androgyny and ambiguity disappear when faced with two doors. I am forced to choose.
I nearly always use the men’s. I identify as male (no matter what I’m presenting) albeit one not following the rules and I feel more comfortable dealing with men’s potential negative response than that of women in the toilet situation. In the Gents I am man who is doing something out of the realm of normal acceptable behaviour. In the Ladies I am trying (and inevitably failing) to pass as female.
The gents toilet is a weird cultural and social space. The gender filter that toilets represent mean that behaviour inside is different to the outside. There are often displays of a kind of male solidarity. There is banter, badinage. Disrupting this reassuringly gendered environment is a surprisingly subversive act.
The effects are several.
- Double checking. As I leave the gents I often cause men who are entering to double check they have the right toilet. It is a significant social faux pas to use the wrong toilet. It’s the sort of thing high school kids have stress dreams about. They are not really looking at me as they enter (because it’s socially unacceptable to properly stare at people in and around toilets) but they see the feminine visual cues and panic. The more feminine I look, the greater the panic. I often have cause to say “you’re alright mate”, in my best baritone.
- Telling off. Toilet attendants are not always our brightest and best. The subtleties of trans* gender presentation are probably not part of their intensive year-long training. Several times I have been shouted after by confused toilet attendants. They act like gender police.
- Poor hygiene. Transphobia in the toilet environment often leads to nervous men rushing the process of hand washing and drying.
Added to all this is the fact that that I often have to use the toilet as a dressing room. This is behaviour way outside of what is considered normal for a toilet. Shaving in there causes amusement, invites comment. Putting on make-up makes people drop out of all normal brain activity. The act of putting on make-up is at once an unusual activity for a male toilet, an explicitly FEMALE activity, and a rejection of maleness. Hence the comment I heard the other day “it’s okay – he’s one of the acts”. The fact of my being a performer lets me off the hook. I’ll write further about that another time.
Somehow the single sex nature of the toilet, (and the fact that genitals are handled) means its a more socially conservative place. There is a social contract that means that only masculine behaviour is tolerated in the gents. There is a background homophobia too, with the residual notion of the toilet being used as a cottage.
I feel a palpable sense of relief when I do not have to adapt to the binary – when there’s only one toilet, or when there’s a handy disabled toilet I can use. That way I get to maintain my androgyny, keep my sexy air of unknowable mystery and confuse the next user by leaving the toilet seat up.
February 18, 2013 § 2 Comments
February 17, 2013 § 4 Comments
It’s a piece of piss, this challenge.
Since the 1st February I have cross-dressed every single time I have left the house. (With one notable exception which I’ll talk about in a bit.) Apart from one day where I didn’t leave the house at all I have shaved, put on make-up and worn a skirt every day.
Several changes have taken place. The biggest one is that I am less fussy about the standard to which I need to dress when crossing the gender line. I have always had a policy of making sure I am doing it ABSOLUTELY right, so that I am at least making sure I’m dressing exactly how I want. Now I’m doing it every day I’m relaxing a lot more, and treating my clothes as just clothes.
THIS IS A COLOSSAL VICTORY.
I cannot emphasise how much of a big deal this is. I have almost entirely destroyed the binary in my head, and I’m mixing and matching like crazy. I’m not even wearing make-up today. Normally I’d be worried I was presenting the wrong image, the wrong signals. Now I don’t give much of a fuck.
Shaving is proving problematic, as I thought it would. I’m getting round it by alternating a wet shave with using my electric shaver, and giving much less of a fuck about going out with a bit of shadow. The more I do that, the more I work out a coherent self-image that encapsulates both sides of my gender presentation. Props here go out to my friends Joe and Arran and to John in Melbourne. All of them do this already, and do it really well.
I’ve reached, and then pushed through the point of boredom. The novelty of cross-dressing, which is a really big part of it for the guys who do it very secretly, or at weekends only, was always a small part of it for me. Cross-dressing was dressing up. Now it’s every day. The hassle factor started to outweigh what I felt I was getting out of it. But I pushed through, and now it doesn’t feel like a hassle, it just feels like me.
The one time I went out dressed ‘straight’ was a difficult decision. I did a workshop, teaching kids about stand-up comedy. I felt that to cross-dress would lead to a lot of difficult questions, and would make it harder to communicate directly with the kids. It felt really weird wearing trousers! This is remarkable in itself. It felt unnatural, and more of a gender performance than wearing a skirt. Cool, eh?
The more I do this, the more this feels natural, and part of me. I’ve had that in the past, but not to this degree.
February 5, 2013 § 10 Comments
I just went to the shop for some beer, and was struck by the sound of my own voice.
I’ve never really considered changing my voice to make it sound more feminine. My voice is one of the things I really like about myself. For the last few years at least it has dropped one semitone with each Edinburgh Fringe I put it through, to the extent that I cannot properly sing some of the stuff on my band’s first album. I am a stand-up comedian first and foremost, and it is my instrument. It feels like a part of my identity.
But every now and then the foghorn I present to the world sounds out of key. I might try to experiment with it.
Here is a wonderful example of what is possible:
But then a contrary thought occurs and I feel defensive about the ‘me’ that I am carving out of social space. My voice might be quite masculine, but it’s so closely linked with the ideas I put over on stage that I feel like I should keep it exactly as it is. Some people have even said it is sexy. They are clearly completely fucking insane. In fact – when my band first went to America to play a big steampunk event we were told that it’s quite common in US steampunk circles to put on a ‘British’ accent. This was illustrated by several people asking if mine was my real voice. Why the fuck anyone would put on my Wallington accent, I have no idea… but I’ll take a compliment where I can get it.
The other thing that occurs today is how much easier this is than I expected. I think I was using festival cross-dressing, where I am doing it for the benefit of my shows more than for myself, as my model for what to expect. But the simple act of shaving and sticking on a skirt and a bit of beard-cover to go to the shops is actually really not that much of an issue.
I think I might be carving out a space for myself in which I can actually cross-dress – to some degree – every day for the rest of my life.
February 4, 2013 § 6 Comments
Today has been a lazy admin day, so I haven’t even changed out of my dressing gown. I will observe the rules later when I go to the shops, but for now I haven’t broken them!
So I will indulge those wanting this to go more in the direction of a fashion blog and show you the vegan ankle boots I’ve been perving over online. One pair of these will be mine.
I found these:
…and assumed they just happened to be vegan. They’re made by ‘Madden Girl’. A bit of investigation makes me think that this offshoot of Steve Madden (whose shoes I fucking LOVE) are all synthetic uppers!
Then I found PURPLE VEGAN SHINY DOCS!
I have a full-on fetish for shiny docs (when on the right woman…) and these are LUSH! But not helpful. I need something with a heel in order to help me with the challenge.
Then there’s these:
Dammit. I want these. Massively impractical though they are.
And then I get caught in a web spiral and don’t get any work done at all…
February 3, 2013 § 6 Comments
I have started using make-up in a different way. Up until now, because crossing the clothing gender line was kind of an ‘event’ I would always use make-up in dramatic ways. I’d give it the works, more often than not.
Now, with the everyday cross-dressing I’m using it much more subtly – I suppose I’m using it more in the manner of someone trying to pass.
I never really try to pass, because I have reconciled myself to the fact that I can’t. Some of the pictures on here might suggest otherwise, but they’re the ones I’ve selected and the real life me has issues of scale, body language and voice to consider. I can’t choose the angle people see me from.
There are loads of visual clues that give away gender. We barely notice most of them. Jawline, adam’s apple, hand size and shape, the distance between the fold of the eyelid and the eyebrow, proportion of leg length to body length… they all go together to make a general impression. We have evolved to recognise gender in order to maximise our child-rearing potential. Personally I’m also pretty good at determining a cat’s gender too.
So I am using make-up to smooth the impression I create. It’s not to pass, but to look less jarring. To create the impression in people’s minds that – at the very least – this is part of a consistent effort.
I do find that sort of thing quite fascinating. The range of responses depending on how and to what degree I’m crossing the line. Flouncy skirt and pink tights are very different to pencil skirt and straightened hair. I think increased tolerance and visibility of transgender people means that a ‘sober’ look is more likely to be thought of in that category. (There’s a whole load of stuff to write there about the relative acceptance of TS and TV people, but that’s for another day.) In an earlier blog I spoke about how a perceived effort to look ‘sexy’ can sometimes cause problems with audience response in my stand-up. I’ve never thought consciously about it in more day-to-day terms. But certainly a mini skirt and massive heels would bring about more of a fuss than what I’m currently wearing. But there we stray into the territory of how society reads ALL clothing, which is much less of a trans* issue.
Today I am covering up my beard shadow and wearing a little bit of eyeliner. Enough to reduce my projected biological masculinity (beard cover) and project a little societal femininity (eyeliner). The combination makes the skirt and stripy tights I’m wearing look part of a coherent whole more than BLOKE IN SKIRT.
I’m continuing to learn, and to find stuff out. The experiment is working.