Friday, 14 December 2012

Cloudy, with a chance of insights

Ask yourself this question. The answer will be potentially quite revealing. Take your time; there are no prizes. (The question is only for transgendered males!)
Would you rather be beautiful, but not necessarily passable as a woman; or 100% passable as a woman, even if that meant you were plain?
A week or so ago, I came across a new blog, On the Science of Changing Sex, written by Cloudy. Cloudy is a 55-yr old postoperative transsexual woman who transitioned four decades ago. Cloudy's blog is all about science; so much so that it could be pretty hard going if science isn't really your thing.

My first feeling on encountering Cloudy was Aha! Here is somebody like me with whom I can have a really fruitful dialogue (and indeed I opened one that day and got a response immediately). But as I read more and more of her blog, and the underlying science, I became somewhat dispirited, and it's reasonable for me here to go into some of the reasons why.

My blog here has always been about a dialogue (a dlog, rather than a blog?): about finding out more about myself, and allowing others to post their insights. Over the last year or so, I've been on a tremendous journey of insight and understanding. I've learned a great deal about myself, and about crossdressing. As you will know if you've read much of this blog, there are some themes which run right through it.

First, the theme that I don't consider myself to be all that similar to other male crossdressers out there.

Secondly, there seems to be a bewildering multiplicity of terms for people who show behaviour which is not in alignment with their birth sex. As a subtheme of this, people seem to become upset out of all proportion where discussion of their gender is concerned. For examples, see here and here. Cloudy herself admits that she has disallowed comments on her blog because too many of them were personal attacks on her.

Though I had read many theories and conceptual frameworks about crossdressing, I couldn't find one that made any sort of sense; one that "clicked". They all seemed to be full of psychological mumbo-jumbo. Well, now I think that's changed.

Before I go any further, let me state here that my intention is not to offend anyone, regardless of their perspective; I say as much on my About Me page. Secondly, I am somewhat disturbed by what I've read and what it says about me. Thirdly, I believe absolutely that science is the tool by which we can best make sense of the world around us. What that means is that no amount of wanting something to be true or untrue will make it so.

If you really want the science, head on over to Cloudy's blog and read this page. On the other hand, I intend here to chew it down a bit and present it in simpler terms.

Let's start with transsexuals. That is, people born in one sex who decide to change sex. (All of what follows is true for males who want to become women and females who want to become men, but for simplicity we will stick with male-to-female). (For a bit of a discussion about my take on the difference between sex and gender, read the comments under this blog post). Remember, this is a simplification, but it's a helpful one.

Transsexuals fall into two groups which can be easily discerned statistically. We can call them "early transitioners" and "late transitioners". For early transitioners, they display very transgendered behaviour from a very early age (e.g. a boy will persistently act and behave like a girl, even in the fact of powerful deterrents). They change sex very early, usually by about 20; and more than 90% by 25. They display persistent sexual attraction to what they consider to be the "opposite" sex; that is to say, a male (who considers himself to be internally female) will be attracted to males. They do not experience any sexual arousal from cross-dressing or imagining themselves being or becoming the opposite sex. Of transsexuals, about 10% are in this group.

Late transitioners, on the other hand, typically have gender-typical behaviour in childhood. They may experience gender dysphoria, but keep it hidden. They change sex much later, usually by 35-40, though with a wide range extending into old age. They are usually attracted to the opposite of their birth sex; that is to say a male (who considers himself to be internally female) will be attracted to females. They very commonly experience sexual arousal from cross-dressing, or from imagining themselves to be the opposite sex. They can commonly function well as men pre-transition, and may marry, and have children. They can be successful in masculine (even hyper-masculine) careers. Interestingly, they tend to have a higher IQ than the general population. Many of them remain attracted to women post-transition. Of transsexuals, about 90% are in this group, making such people far commoner.

So much for transsexuals, you might say. What about cross-dressers? The theory says that, for "ordinary" cross-dressers, like me, the difference between us and late-transitioners is not a matter of type, only of degree. In other words, cross-dressers and late-transitioning transsexuals are driven by the same motivations. Some of us go "all the way", and some of us don't.

The terminology from the literature is a bit disappointing, but if you want to read just about anything on Cloudy's blog, you will need to know the basics. Early-transitioning transsexuals are commonly referred to as homosexual transsexuals, HSTS. That's not to say they are like gay men, but instead that someone born a male is attracted to other males. Late-transitioning transsexuals (and transvestites) are known as autogynephilic, AGP, from the Greek meaning "someone who loves himself as a woman", a term which I slightly disparaged in my earlier blog post here. The reason Cloudy echoes these clumsy and unappetising terms in her blog is that these are the terms which are most commonly used in the current scientific literature.

Applying Cloudy's criteria (and you can follow her suggested test here) to everyone I've written about on this blog yields some interesting results. Jan Hamilton, Emma Ballantyne, Richard O'Brien, Grayson Perry, Charlie Jane Anders, "My Husband" Betty Crow (the partner of Helen Boyd), Lord Cornbury, John Pepper, Vernon Coleman; all of them fit into the AGP side. Jaye Davidson alone escapes: he isn't naturally a crossdresser, just an androgynous man who got a job once as an actress. It's much harder to categorise Billy Tipton, since Cloudy's questionnaire was designed for male-to-female transgendered people.

And there is one more person on this blog who fits into the AGP side: me. This brings me back to the question at the opening of this blog post, which was posed by sexologist Dr. Anne Lawrence, and quoted in Cloudy's blog post here. So what's your answer? Mine, if I am honest, is that it's more important (for me) to be beautiful than to be passable. I've been asking myself why this is my answer for about two weeks now, and the best answer I can come up with is that I fit the AGP side of the model. As an alternative (but less subtle) question, ask yourself: have I ever felt sexually aroused by cross-dressing? If the answer is "yes" (and for me, it is; it so is), then that strongly suggests an AGP makeup.

So much of this model fits. It fits with why I think high heels are sexy. It explains Charlie Jane Anders' quote "What's the difference between a transvestite and a transsexual? About two years." It neatly sidesteps all the different bloody terminology (which seems intended to confuse and obfuscate) for people born male who wear women's clothing ("There is more that unites us than divides us" is a frequent refrain of mine anyway). It fits Helen Boyd's painful and forthright observations about some crossdressers: eternally selfish, frequently overspending, sexually interested only in themselves (not their wives). It fits with what most customers want who go to that makeover shop. It explains why Betty Crow and Charlie Jane Anders are progressing to full-time crossdressing. It even fits my phenotype (white, successful, high IQ).

Photo: Suzi White
Why it makes me feel so uncomfortable is that I had been cheerfully going along reassuring myself that I wasn't like those "other" trannies out there; that there was something different about me; that crossdressing wasn't a sexual thing. According to this model, I am just like everyone else (perhaps a little less "affected" or "afflicted" or whatever term you prefer). This disturbs me, because the natural history (according to the theory and supported by lots of other things I've read, not least Helen Boyd) is that crossdressing becomes more predominant as one gets older (and in some cases, leads to full transition). I could previously ignore that consequence because I thought there was something different about me. I had thought that, if I was able to find just the right frequency of dressing, I would be happy in my "ordinary" life. This model suggests that point won't be reached; there will never be enough.

And if I had just a little more, of whatever it is that I have, my dressing might get out of control: to the point where it gets in the way of my ability to be a useful and productive husband and father. That's not something I relish in any way, and may explain why some of the people I've found on the Web that I have most in common with are people trying to quit crossdressing: these are people who are trying to keep a foothold so that crossdressing doesn't overwhelm them (but the science suggests we are incurable in every reasonable sense). It seems now that the reasons I find myself drawn to them is because of my sense of fear that maybe crossdressing will one day get the upper hand.

Reading Cloudy's blog has made me go and take a long, uncomfortable look at myself, and I can't say I am delighted with what I find.

The emergence of this model (proposed by Kurt Freund and Ray Blanchard) caused an enormous stink. It seems that late-transitioning transpeople (which we would now call AGP) were amazingly upset at the implied notion that they were different from (and perhaps inferior to?), early-transitioning transpeople. It provoked a storm in the literature, which continues still. I get that. I get why someone who felt worse than me about the implications of the model as applied to them could get so upset that they would reject the model completely (rather than rejecting their carefully-constructed self-image).

Until now, my "bible" of crossdressing has been My Husband Betty. Helen Boyd offers this about autogynephilia (from 2003):
The term has been described as the "Unified Field Theory" of transgenderism, but Blanchard's application of it to transsexuals is the epicentre of the debate. From what I understand, MTF transsexuals often gain pleasure from imagining their female bodies, but that pleasure is more about the fantasy of finally having a body that will match their internal gender identification. Transvestites and crossdressers also often admit to autogynephilic feelings, but because of the newness of the term and the general lack of research on crossdressers, there are no statistics. As one crossdresser put it: "Some guys are only ever in love with the woman they see in the mirror".
There is so much more to write; so many ramifications to follow to the ends. That will need to wait for future blog posts (like maybe this one).

I was able to talk to my wife about why learning about this model disturbed me. She was reassuring: she pointed out that just because there is a model out there, and that I happen to fit it, it doesn't change who I am; it doesn't change what I do; it doesn't change what will happen in the future. She was right, of course, and I am extremely grateful for this insight, which frees me from what had seemed like a gloomy inevitability.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Jaye Davidson

Jaye Davidson is another person I have found fascinating. In this blog post, we will be considering what he has to do with the wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Spoilers alert

This blog contains spoilers about the film The Crying Game, which is well worth your time, whether you are a crossdresser or not. Trust me, you will enjoy the film a lot more if you don't read what follows. If you haven't seen it, put this blog off now and go and watch it. Then come back and post a comment.

But if you have seen it, or you have figured out that there is a transgendered theme to the film, then do read on.

Before we consider Jaye, let's look at the Royal Wedding. I watched it all the way through, as I had done many years earlier for the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales. It occurred to me that William had spent some considerable time as Britain's most eligible bachelor. During that time, he almost certainly availed himself of the endless tide of upper class totty who made a play for his affections; he would have been insane not to!

As William and Kate walked up the aisle of Westminster Abbey, I found myself thinking about that handful of women who were watching the same thing, hiding behind a tear-stained cushion, knowing that, had the dice fallen a little differently, it might have been them standing beside William instead of Kate. But more interestingly, I found myself thinking about the ones who had dallied with William, before realising that life as his wife, though undoubtedly rewarding, would come at too high a price. In other words, having dipped a toe into that water, how many of them are glad they didn't plunge in over their head? I wonder if Chelsy Davy feels like that? Media reports suggest she does.

Jaye Davidson as Dil
So back to Jaye Davidson. Born in 1968 in the USA, he grew up in the UK, the son of a Ghanian father and an English mother. He became famous more or less overnight playing Dil, the love interest in the 1992 film The Crying Game. Like Andrej Pejic, Davidson is androgynously beautiful, and looks beautiful whether we see him as either a man or a woman. In many images, it isn't immediately apparent whether we are looking at a man or a woman.
I don't have a brilliant body at all. I've got very broad shoulders. I've got very big feet. I've also got a very muscular neck. But I know people take me for a woman. It happens all the time.
Though his father was Ghanian, I am surprised at how many articles (including the Wikipedia one here) describe him as Black British. Wikipedia points out he is the first Black British person to receive an Oscar Nomination (for Best Supporting Actor for The Crying Game; he did not win). In any case, I would not describe him as black. However, The Crying Game was Davidson's first acting role: it says much for his talent as an actor that on his very first attempt he made it to the Oscars!
It's not because I'm good, it's because it was an interesting role. It was the role that was nominated, not me. I really think that most of this is a fluke.
The film itself is a powerful story. It currently has a 100% Fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. Roger Ebert gave it four stars (out of four) and said it "involves us deeply in the story, and then it reveals that the story is really about something else altogether." I can't help watching it with my transvestite glasses on, and it's very hard for me to see anything other than the relationship between Fergus and Dil. The turning point of the story is the "reveal", where Dil, whom we have never considered to be anything other than a woman, reveals in no uncertain terms (after intimacy with Fergus) that she is genetically male. Fergus's reaction is of revulsion, but he later develops romantic feelings for Dil. The ending of the film is complex: neither a happy-ever-after ending (which would have infuriated us after the intelligence and subtletly of what has gone before) nor a definitive separation of the two.

It's entertaining to see Miranda Richardson play the villian with real menace, having previously seen her squawking around as Queenie in Blackadder II.
Oooo... those scary eyes. Davidson in Stargate.

As a result of the film, Davidson became really hot property internationally. His next film was much better known. He played a young shepherd boy whose body was occupied by the spirit of Ra, the alien villain of Stargate, (1994) opposite Kurt Russell. I managed to watch this film with two sets of glasses on: my geeky, sci-fi nutcase glasses (where it was a pretty reasonable film) and my transvestite-spotting glasses, where I appreciated Davidson's appearance and noticed again his androgynous beauty. The Stargate movie spawned a whole franchise of TV shows, none of which I have troubled myself to watch.

In any case, it seems clear that Davidson's star was in the ascension. He must have found himself inundated with offers of all kinds: to appear in photoshoots, to appear in other movies, to become a darling of Hollywood... and he decided not to bother.
The Oscars were madness; I spent half the time being blinded by flashbulbs because I didn't have the sense to take a pair of sunglasses with me.

Somewhat like the women that might have married Prince William, Davidson, having dipped his toe in the water, and tasted Hollywood adulation, decided not to take things any further, but return to a career in fashion, which (as far as I know, based on what's on the web) he is still doing.
My dream come true would be to be an architectural historian and work with the royal palaces and all the fabulous art collections. But I'm not committed enough. I'm too trashy. I like to go out and get drunk. 
I've sold a very small part of myself, but certain people think they're entitled to the rest of me. Of course, I am an incredibly strange person for the norm, so strange that I'm more normal than they'll ever be
Eww... will you put that away?
In case you are wondering, Jaye is gay. He isn't, however, a regular crossdresser. In his interviews, he states he doesn't own feminine clothing or go out dressed, although he does admit that he is sometimes taken for a woman. He doesn't have a fem name, although his stage name (Jaye) is more androgynous than his birth name, Alfred.
I knew that I was gay from the age of seven. It's one of my earliest memories. It was never a problem for me and it was never a problem for my family. I was always allowed to do what I wanted to do.
It's been twenty years since The Crying Game was released. During that time, I wonder what's happened to Jaye Davidson. He is now 44, fairly similar to my own age. In the interviews I've read, he was absolutely certain he didn't want to pursue fame; I hope the last two decades have confirmed that was the right decision for him. He probably isn't too old that he couldn't return to acting if the inclination overtook him. He must know the upsides and the downsides pretty well.
A beacon of reserve, Jaye’s been retired from acting for over 10 years. He’s probably getting by, having left the public eye at exactly the right moment to be remembered indefinitely.
I agree with the above commentator. By appearing in one, amazing, tantalising film, then another completely different, Davidson has given us precisely enough to whet our appetites for him for ever. I hope he is happy and making a fortune.

I haven't come across much on TV or in the movies where a man is deliberately cast to play the part of a woman. Other offerings I am familiar with include comedy, such as the BBC series Terri McIntyre- Classy Bitch, where the main protagonist was a woman played by a man (Simon Carlyle), and Lily Live! where the protagonist Lily Savage (played by Paul O'Grady) was depicted as a woman, rather than a drag queen. Comedy is all well and good. As I have posted elsewhere, I think crossdressing as a vehicle for comedy just isn't that funny. In addition, I find it quite uncomfortable when (say) a person whom the audience well knows is a man in drag is addressed as "Mum" by another character.

Some of my other posts are dedicated to my crossdressing heroes. Jaye Davidson doesn't quite make it as a hero of mine; his situation is very far removed from my own. On the other hand, as someone who has decided what is right for him (rather than chasing fame, that fickle mistress), I admire him enormously for taking that choice. He has passed up a lot of money and fame, in favour of (what I hope is) a more normal and manageable (and happy) life. I hope it has been worth it, and I wish him nothing but the best.

Some of the interview quotes were taken from this beautiful fan site, which seems to be designed by Jules Scott. Thanks Jules. I love your style. If you feel like giving this site your magic touch, please contact me!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Jan Hamilton

Another one of my transgendered heroes is Jan Hamilton. In research for this blog post, I have discovered that she has since changed her name, presumably in the search for better anonymity. I have therefore not used the new name in this article (but read to the end!).

You might already have come across her story, as it was widely reported a few years ago, under headlines like Sex Change Soldier. There was a sympathetic UK TV documentary a few years ago, which is what first drew Jan to my attention, and you can see it all (in sections) on YouTube.

In brief, Hamilton was an elite British soldier with a distinguished service record, who decided to undergo full gender reassignment. The British Army seemed to treat her contemptuously, and she was horrendously vilified from many angles, including her own family. Transitioning cost her two relationships and her army career. In this blog post I intend to consider some of the aspects of Hamilton's story which I find most noteworthy.

According to Wikipedia's article about her, Jan was born Ian Hamilton in Belfast, but was raised in Stonehaven, near Aberdeen in Scotland. At the age of about 19, Hamilton joined the army and served for 4 years, before leaving to become a television cameraman. This was successful, and Hamilton's media career progressed rapidly to senior management level. However, in 1995, at the age of about 31, Hamilton rejoined the army.
Going into the army was my final stab at saying no: I've got to be a guy, because that's what everybody wants me to be. And I thought: right, if I'm going to prove I am the tougest of the tough, then I'm going to be a paratrooper. There are no finer soldiers in the world.
Hamilton joined the Parachute Regiment in 2002 and underwent Special Forces training. Captain Hamilton served in the Gulf, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq in a variety of senior positions and in different missions, and was decorated. In March 2007, Hamilton was diagnosed with Gender-Identity Disorder, and changed his name to Jan, prompted by an injury sustained in the line of duty.
I hated myself, and I hated the world, and I hated being in the world.
Unfortunately, a tabloid newspaper got hold of the story, before Jan had had a chance to talk things through with the army, or her family. To prevent herself being depicted as a "circus freak", Jan went public with her story through a different newspaper, with disastrous consequences.

Jan wanted to continue her army career post transition, but was summarily dismissed from the army. In addition, her own comrades posted online comments about her which are so vicious, so poisonous, that even catching a glimpse of them now on YouTube is deeply upsetting to me. Thankfully, the resolution isn't high enough for them to be read. Most upsetting of all, to me (and clearly, to her) was the reaction of her parents, who sent her all her possessions and a note saying "Our son is dead. Never contact us again." I can't imagine how much pain this caused her.
I find it difficult to understand the complete rejection by people that I care about.
Jan had a series of cosmetic surgical operations, including full gender reassignment in Thailand in 2008. When the first 12-hour surgery was finished, the only person waiting for her in the recovery ward was the TV reporter who filmed the documentary.
It's time to say goodbye to Ian. He's done everything he could do for me. He kept me alive. And Ian has been wonderful to me. But no, he has to go. But I'll always remember him.
Jan's story is profoundly saddening in all respects. When she returns to Britain after the surgery, her girlfriend has moved out of their flat, and she returns to find it nearly empty. Her comment: "Let's see what I've got left," is a statement of despair tempered with determination.
For a while when I came back I was quite "up" because I thought, well, people just see a good-looking woman now. Unfortunately, I've come to the conclusion now that people see a good-looking transsexual, actually. I will only ever be a good approximation of a woman, and that's that. So.
Since the documentary was aired, Jan has made several other media appearances, but it's been difficult to follow her personal life in any way: once again, no public blog. Wikipedia suggests Hamilton has made her peace with the army, and has received a letter from the Regimental Colonel of the Parachute Regiment to thank her for her "years of loyal service as an Airborne Officer". In addition, Hamilton was the first serving British Army officer to change gender, although officers from the Navy and Air Force had previously transitioned. Wikipedia suggests the Army has now set in place a procedure for dealing with serving officers who wish to change gender. It was widely reported that Hamilton received a six-figure payout from the Army for her distress; this caused even more antagonism but is untrue. The most recent news seems to be that Hamilton has joined the police force in 2009 as a female Police Constable, under a new name.
Here I am. I'm 43. I'm not young any more, and I've got to create a life for myself somehow. I've got to start everything at the beginning again, and I'm just not sure if I can do it. My heart is bursting. I am just so bloody lonely all the time.
Was it worth it?
Oh yes. Not just worth it. Ten times worth it. A hundred times worth it. I'm a woman now, and I'm  happy. Truly.
So much for the official biography. Here are my impressions of what I've seen.

First, in common with every transsexual I have ever met, this is a deeply fractured individual. Transitioning has cost Jan everything: her career, her family, her relationships, a considerable amount of money. And, as she herself alludes above, she hasn't completely achieved womanhood. The personal suffering she has undergone troubles me deeply, and the cruelty meted unjustly to her by people who have no idea of her suffering troubles me even more deeply. She has shown enormous courage by pursuing her transition in the face of such difficulty.

Second, Hamilton's story reminds me of something I described in an earlier blog post, that one can be both strongly masculine and strongly feminine at the same time. Here is someone who illustrates that clearly, although was able to express only one side at any given time.

Thirdly, Hamilton, like me, seems to be someone for whom emotional expression is a fundamental necessity. People like us have two essential psychological requirements: we require to be loved unconditionally, and we require some sort of sensual pleasure (whether that be food, fragrances, colours, whatever). We love to surround ourselves with friends, and with comfortable, welcoming surroundings. Hamilton's loneliness and rejection post-transition is something I can deeply relate to: loneliness is agony for me, and clearly for Jan too. On the other hand, if we fail to have our needs met, we are capable of intense bursts of white-hot anger. I can see that it was in this frame of mind that Captain Ian Hamilton might have operated most of the time.

It won't surprise you at all that most people with this psychological profile are women; nor that men who have it struggle to be able to have their needs met in socially "acceptable" ways. I am fortunate that I can just about manage it most of the time, with a few ups and downs along the way. But my downs are nowhere near as down as Jan's have been. I only hope she has had a few ups along the way too.

Fourthly, the treatment that Hamilton received from the army reminds me of how much I would hate to be any part of any military organisation. I am far too much of a free thinker. Put me in combat fatigues and give me a gun: I would be useless. But that's not to say I would have nothing to offer my country: put me in Bletchley Park with a bunch of like-minded misfits, and we will win the war for you!

Finally, in my correspondence with other people, I have repeatedly stated that my view that crossdressing cannot be cured. I believe Jan Hamilton's story is further evidence of this; that no amount of vigorous military discipline can "make a man out of you". You are who you are. You can suppress it, or embrace it. There may be unhappiness in either direction, of course, but you can be unhappy for who you are, or unhappy for who you are not. Take your pick.

Jan Hamilton is making the best of who she is. I deeply sympathise and admire her for her choices, and I wish her nothing but the very best for the future.

===

Addendum 2nd May 2014

Though my continued efforts to contact Jan Hamilton have been fruitless, I managed to interview Treva Askey, another British soldier who transitioned. You can read the interview here.
 And for more about my thoughts about transgender people in the military, read this post.

Addendum: 6th October 2015

Jan Hamilton has finally made contact with me! Now named Abigail Austen, she has written a book describing three years working as an advisor for the US military in Afghanistan. She has kindly agreed to be interviewed for this blog, and you can read my exclusive interview with her here.

Emma Ballantyne

Time to write another blog post about one of my crossdressing heroes, Emma Ballantyne.

I first came across Emma several years ago on YouTube ("in the starry nowhere"), where she was posting short films which she had made of herself crossdressing in public places. Her technique for filming herself is simple but effective. She has a video camera inside what I assume is a bag or other innocuous item. She leaves it running on a flat surface, then (presumably) walks away from the camera, remains in shot for a couple of minutes, then returns to the camera. By skilful editing, she creates films which appear to consist of documentary shots of her walking through a park, or a town, or a country estate.

Take a look at one of her earlier efforts, and you will see what I mean. It's very effective.


This film, one of her first, shows several Emma trademarks. The style of filming is as mentioned above, with a pleasant musical soundtrack added, and a knowing smile at the camera when no-one is looking. That shares just a little delight with the viewer and is highly endearing.

It's worth commenting on this video in a detached way. First, the film-making style is highly sophisticated, for what is in effect a single person, filming themselves with a single camera. It's (IMHO) much more effective than what we also see a lot of on YouTube: first-person camera footage of crossdressers taking pictures of themselves in mirrors and whatnot. Such images tend to be fuzzy and swing wildly around, making the viewer dizzy.

Second, Emma's look is pretty natural and understated. Emma is very fortunate to have a slim figure which doesn't look out of place. She dresses appropriately: no ridiculously short skirt or blond wig or scarlet nails two inches long. She wears clothes which are what women would actually wear.

She doesn't draw attention to herself, but instead attempts to blend in. In fact, in her early videos she avoids direct personal contact. I am pretty certain that she doesn't draw a second glance from passersby, most of the time.

As time went on, the YouTube hits began to pour in, and Emma began to become a little bolder. Here she is buying a pair of shoes in a shop.


This is a quantum leap forward. Until now Emma's videos featured her dressing in basically deserted places (technically "public" but with very little chance of being seen by anyone!). But here she is, not only buying shoes, but seemingly having a pleasant conversation with the assistant, who may be a Hobbit, or it may just be the perspective. Once again, though, the outfit is understated and reasonable.

Emma's videos have become extraordinarily popular. Her YouTube channel has (as of today) uploaded 55 videos, and received almost 4.8 million hits. She has over 6,000 subscribers. One can clearly see her confidence (and enjoyment) improve as time goes by. Here she is in Venice, with Luisa. Did you say Venice? Yep. Take a look.

For some reason, Emma's video won't embed here, but you can see the full version on YouTube. This video presses my Envy button. This isn't quietly blending into the background in some deserted corner of a cloudy Scottish town. This is out and about, in Venice, with Luisa (another very successful and passable crossdresser), in full public view, mingling with crowds and seeing the sights. Emma has also posted several other videos of enjoying the nightlife in Manchester and other towns, while dressed.

I've said elsewhere in this blog that my personal crossdressing pinnacle would be pretty close to something like this: going dressed to the theatre, or a museum, or an art gallery (though a nice candlelit dinner with a lovely bottle of wine wouldn't be out of the question!). And Venice is basically all of those things (theatre, art gallery, museum) all rolled into one. Venice is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary places I've ever been, and the thought of just strolling round it, all dressed up? Excuse me, while I go and lie down with an ice pack on my brow.

In addition to her very successful videos, Emma has (naturally) posted a simply vast number of photos of herself on Flickr. I recommend Emma's 48 "personal favourites" as a reasonable tour through her hundreds of sessions and pictures. I can see Emma's style evolving and her look becoming more sophisticated and convincing as time passes. Compare this glamorous, attractive look with the hesistant look of the girl smoking on the wall in the first video.

So what do I think of Emma?

First, I admire and envy her. She and I are about the same age, and we both come from Scotland, so we already have a lot in common. Secondly, she seems to just take pleasure in the act of dressing as a woman and going out, and she has done so with what seems like considerable success, and considerable enjoyment. She has experimented with a few lingerie shots, but apart from that, seems content to stay away from overtly sexual images. No maid, no bride, no tart. That raises her in my estimation. It must be said, she draws some extremely explicit flirtatious comments on some of her photos, though she never seems to respond to them.

Second, she is fortunate enough to have a really nice figure, and makes the most of it with a good sense of what works in terms of clothes and appearance. In other words, she dresses like a woman, not like a tranny. The technical stuff; the postures, the gait, the gestures, all seem to work well. Yet she is not so beautiful that I feel that I could never possibly achieve a look as good as that. She represents an ideal to which I could reasonably aspire. I could be a contender! If I looked as good as that, would I do what she does? Hell, yeah!

Is there anything which I don't like about Emma? Well, truthfully not all of her outfits and images work equally well (IMHO). But that's what experimentation is all about. I have to say, she gets it right much more often than I do, and much more often than not. Lacking an adolescence trying out every different look, we crossdressers do need to experiment a bit, and I know I also do. Emma is also a smoker, and smokes a lot in her videos. Smoking, I can't help noting, is a real turnoff for me.

I am not stalking Emma! I haven't seen all her videos, and I haven't seen all her Flickr pictures. However, I do swing by her YouTube channel from time to time to see what she's been up to.

But what does Emma think of herself? It's quite hard to know. Although she posts images by the cartload, she doesn't seem to post text, and has no blog that I have been able to find. If you know of one, do please let me know and I will take a look (and link to it from here). And in addition, in all her videos, we never hear her voice!

She has, however, been nominated as a Covergirl on Rachel's Place, and you can read her statement here. This is a slightly edited version.
My name is Emma Ballantyne, I am in my early 40s and I hail from Scotland. I guess have always known I am transgendered since I can recall having the urge to wear girl's clothes from around the age of five.

Despite these feelings, I felt consumed by guilt and constantly fought the urge to dress. There was no internet back then of course, and very little literature available on TG subjects. The media and entertainment industries portrayed crossdressing as a habit of psychopaths, deviants and the subject of ridicule. The few girlfriends I shared my secret with tended not to be able to cope with this side of me, and I just felt like I didn't fit in. (I still don't, if I'm honest).

When I am outside as Emma I like to go unnoticed but still want to be seen, if that makes sense. But for some reason, and I still to this day don't know why, I decided to upload a short video clip I filmed of myself at an ATM onto YouTube. The feedback and positive comments I received amazed me. As a result I grew in confidence and would go out more regularly and interact with people, and I can honestly say that uploading that video completely changed my life - for the better. I have now met wonderful friends who I can share a previously unspoken side of my life with and finally feel happy to be the way I am.

Having said that, I only present myself as a girl maybe 5 or 10% of the time. As a male I have little pride in my appearance but when I transform myself into Emma I pay attention to even the smallest detail. Now I really do know why it takes genetic girls so long to get ready to go out!
And Emma once released a video onto YouTube of herself talking to the camera. She was wearing a lovely knitted top, and had a polished, interview-like delivery which worked well (even if the voice wasn't 100% convincing). This was the only time we ever heard Emma's voice. Unfortunately it's been removed from YouTube. Thankfully it survives on Rachel's place, and you can see it here in wmv format. Emma thanks her audience for their support and openly discusses crossdressing. Interestingly, she refers to herself as a transvestite in several of her video titles, and here in this one too. See my blog post about terminology.

Emma, I salute you. I admire what you do, and I congratulate you on your successes. I am more than a little envious. I wish you nothing but the best in your future endeavours, whatever they may be.

Addendum August 2013

I have not only made contact with Emma, she agreed to be "interviewed" for this blog. Read her answers to my questions here.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Crossdressing Lyrics

In 1972, Lou Reed sang this:
Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, "Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side"
He said, "Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side"
Wild: Lou Reed
Well, if only it was that easy for he to become she! But I suppose there is a bit of poetic licence involved. The song, of course, is Walk on the Wild Side, which has gone on to become a classic. Wikipedia suggests the song was written about characters from Reed's own life.

My theme today is crossdressing lyrics. I'm not talking about crossdressing anthems, the songs we sing (or wish we were singing) every time it's karaoke night. Examples here are legion; my personal recommendations are obviously Man! I Feel like a woman! by Shania Twain, or even better, All woman by Lisa Stansfield (which contains the unforgettable statement: I may not be a lady, but I'm all woman). Of course, you know at least a dozen more in this vein. Sing it with Aretha: You make me feel like a natural woman!

No, I am talking about song lyrics which expressly feature crossdressing or something very similar. My interest in this theme was prompted by my hearing today of the song Barbarian by Voice of the Beehive. OK, you've never heard of them, but towards the end of the last century, they were amazing:
He's making all these promises you know he cannot keep
He made me pick him up now he won't pay for gasoline
He's drinking all my beers, he's wearing all my clothes
And if he winks at me again, I think I'll take him home
Actually, the behaviour of the titular protagonist of the song is less than stellar:
He's started all my worries and he's finished all my wine
He's giving me a headache but I still think he's divine
He says he has a question, he starts tugging at my clothes
Would I be good enough to take him to his girlfriend's home?
Who lives in a house like theese?
There are only a couple more I can think of, right off the top of my head. In Space's wonderful song Neighbourhood, a series of bizarre and somewhat distasteful characters (who nonetheless seem to form a tightly-knit community) is described:
In number 69 there lives a transvestite
He’s a man by day but he’s a woman at night
There’s a man in number 4 who swears he’s Saddam Hussein
Says he’s on a chore to start the third world war

And finally, there is an entire song: Dude (Looks like a lady) by Aerosmith. I was going to post a lengthy and meaningful commentary on the lyrics, but unfortunately, in transcription they are close to meaningless. However, the title is plain enough. Wikipedia suggests the song was inspired when Steven Tyler went drinking in New York with Vince Neil of Motley Crue, and they ended up in a bar full of male waiters in drag. On the other hand, a later reference suggests it may have been about Vince Neil himself. Er....no. At least, not without a lot more than plucking his eyebrows and shaving his legs, as Lou Reed might have put it. (By the way, the barmaid isn't me!)

I'm afraid I also don't count mainstream songs which sound almost too good to be true. Here is Lenka, in her beautiful song (one of my favourites) The Show:
Slow it down, make it stop
or else my heart is going to pop,
'Cause it's too much, yeah it's a lot
to be something I'm not,
I'm a fool out of love
'cause I just can't get enough.
Crossdressing lyrics really make me prick up my ears, so these are the ones I have most obviously noted. I hope you will drop by and add your own. Lyrics from the Rocky Horror Show are automatically excluded as being too easy!

All together now: doop, dedoop, dedoop; doop dedoop doop, dedoop, dedoop...

===

Addendum 22nd October 2012

How could I forget this one? Fish has always been one of my favourite lyricists, even though his voice is not what it used to be these days. How many lyricists do you know who practically invented a girls' first name? I have several of his albums. One of his lesser known album tracks is called Lady Let it Lie, from the album Yin. Though I have listened closely, the song isn't about crossdressing in any way, but it does feature the following intriguing lyric:
All the boys want to be all the girls,
In this turnaround world,
I don't wanna be me no more.
My thanks also to Ralph for drawing my attention to Lola in his comment below. To my eternal shame, I didn't know this song was about a transvestite. Initially I even thought Ralph was talking about the song which begins Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl..., but no! The lyrics from The Kinks go like this:
Well I'm not dumb but I can't understand
Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man
Oh my Lola, lo-lo-lo-lo Lola, lo-lo-lo-lo Lola.
And I also found a very strange coincidence. Fish recorded a cover version of the song Apeman on his 1993 album Songs from the Mirror. Apeman was originally from the The Kinks' album Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1, which was the album from which Lola originally came. Catchy title, though.

Cherry cola, anyone?

===

Addendum 3rd January 2013

How could I have forgotten this one? Monty Python's The Lumberjack Song.
I climb up trees, I wear high heels,
Suspenders and a bra.
I wish I'd been a girlie,
Just like my dear Papa!
===

Addendum 9th June 2014

My thanks to Melissa Lynn for drawing my attention to this interesting discussion of the stories behind some of the songs I mention in this article, some more fanciful than others.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Women who Crossdress

Here is an interesting topic: women who crossdress into the male role. When I first started this post, I thought I would only have a few things to write; the trouble now is what to leave out!

Women have been crossdressing as men for centuries. I suppose one of the most famous and best-known is Joan of Arc, who dressed as a knight in full armour while pursuing a successful career as a military genius for the French against the English, before being captured and burned at the stake at the age of just 19. Her career didn't end there, and she has managed to do quite well as a saint and martyr, and heroine of the French.

Fast-forward a few centuries, James Barry managed a very successful career as a surgeon and a soldier in the British Army in the early 19th Century. He was revealed to be a woman only at autopsy. In the following century, a certain "Colonel" Victor Barker managed to have a successful life as a man, despite having been born a woman, including a marriage where his wife never suspected. Some aspects of his life were fabricated by him, including his military rank and career. Barker died in 1960.


Manly: Annemarie Schwarzenbach
A series of similar individuals is described in Chapter 3 of Vested Interests, Prof. Marjorie Garber's scholarly study of "cross-dressing and cultural anxiety". This is a weighty and impressive book, beautifully researched, and undoubtedly the subject of a future blog post (I am indebted to Garber's book for drawing my attention to other figures, such as Lord Cornbury, whom I discuss in another blog post). Garber mentions other colourful characters, including the Reverend Joseph Lobdell, and Dr. Eugene C. Perkins, who lived as men and were discovered only upon death to have been anatomically female. Swiss author Annemarie Schwartzenbach (d. 1942) often dressed and acted as a man and was reportedly bisexual.

Most recently, there is the case of jazz musician Billy Tipton. Garber's book describes him in detail, but there is quite a lot also on Wikipedia. Tipton was married to a woman, and adopted three sons. Ostensibly, Tipton adopted a male role to pursue a successful jazz career, but this fails to explain why he felt he had to carry this role into his personal life. Like Barker before him, Tipton told his wife he had been wounded in the abdomen, which explained why he had to wear bandages (to bind his breasts), and why he could not achieve penetration. Tipton died as late as 1989, making him perhaps the most recent and notable among people born anatomically female who have lived as a man, and as a result, his story was widely reported in the media.

I can't go any further without mentioning that most women can crossdress freely. If a woman wears jeans, trainers and a shirt, nobody minds. But if I want to wear (say) a denim skirt and a pair of tights? That's not going to look good at the school parents' evening. I think that may be one reason why female crossdressers appear to be fewer: if there is any sort of excitement to be had by wearing male clothing, it can be achieved very easily and without any societal condemnation.

All The King's Men, a drag king troupe from Boston
In the popular media, Annie Lennox has seemingly pursued a deliberately androgynous appearance throughout her career. And the movie Yentl (1983) features Barba Streisand as a Jewish girl who is prevented from studying scripture until she adopts the name and role of a boy. According to Wikipedia, there is quite a large drag king culture, where performers born female perform as men; and why not? This probably goes back even earlier than Vesta Tilley, a popular male impersonator from the early 20th century.

I think what unites these stories (performers aside) is a sense that each of the individuals was attempting to escape from the fetters imposed by society's expectations of them as women: that they couldn't succeed as women. In the (Western) world we now live in, full of notable female heads of state, celebrities and scientists, you might think that there would be nothing that a talented, accomplished woman couldn't now achieve, but you would still be wrong. A woman I have tremendous admiration for is J.K. Rowling. Why do we know her as J.K. Rowling and not Joanne Rowling? Because her publisher reckoned that mostly boys would read her books, and might be put off if they thought the author was a woman. So they recommended the initials. Rowling has no legal middle name, so she chose Kathleen, the name of her grandmother, for her middle initial. (I can't help recalling George Eliot, who deliberately adopted a male pen name, because she felt she would not be taken seriously as a writer if she used her real name).

Androgynous: Sigourney Weaver
So far, then, each of these individuals has seemed to adopt not just the clothing of men, but the role of men. Each of them seems to have changed role not for personal satisfaction, let alone sexual gratification, but for social reasons, although it's impossible not to wonder if they also derived some personal gratification from what they were doing. In Shakesperean times, women were not allowed on stage, so all the roles were played by men (it's interesting to consider Ophelia, Portia, and even Juliet as being played by men in the first instance!) I can't help thinking that the men who took these roles were doing it for more reasons than just the salary.

But what about the clothes? What about the sensual appeal of freshly-laundered cotton Y-fronts, a pair of polished leather brogues, a crisp white Italian shirt and a silk tie in a double Windsor knot (tied just a little tight? Ooo!). If this makes you smile at the deliberate absurdity, I hope this gives an inkling of how we crossdressers are perceived by "ordinary" people.

Some scholars (such as Ray Blanchard) have denied the existence of female-to-male crossdressers at all. And I am fairly sure scholars agree that there are fewer of them than there are male-to-female. But they are out there, and I dare say they number in their many thousands too. It's interesting to tease out their motivations: for me at least, crossdressing is only partly about the clothes, and a lot to do with roles, expectations, and emotional expression.

Here is EmTheo, writing on the website Daily Strengths:
Is there a term for us? Is there anyone out there like me? I've been cross dressing for about five years, but have never talked about it with anyone except my h [husband] (and a little bit with my therapist). It seems like my h loves it ("it" being me going out as boy, packing, cross dressing, anal sex on him, etc) as much or more than me. The store where I buy my pack and other items is very lesbian oriented. I feel like a small minority of women who shop there. Basically, I feel like a small minority of women in general... I would love to connect with another woman who is in a committed relationship with a man who does this. Maybe it is more common than I think...?
Aha! I want to say. It didn't take much clicking for me to happen on this website, where Briana asks "what makes a woman who crossdresses as a male feel sexy wearing?" The responses are absolutely fascinating. Areyan writes:
i have not progressed to full crossdressing yet (due to circumstances, not desire lol) but i have been wearing items of menswear every day. i am not sure i feel sexy so much as relieved when i put these clothes on. when i think of myself in every sense as the male i feel i am inside i can feel euphoric about it, calm, relaxed and i even feel - beautiful? maybe that's the wrong word, but it's a loving and positive feeling just feeling like myself. i'm not sure the dressing thing would be sexual for me though. good question.
lol, ok... after purchasing my first binder and wearing that with my menswear... yes, do i feel sexy? masculine? handsome? i'm going to have to say yes, having a flat chest does help with that feeling.
And Seamus writes:
Okay, firsties, like the other guys defined, sexy in this context means feeling comfortable and attractive in my own skin. Lemme see. . . I remember really enjoying the feeling of underwear when I first started wearing it (still do). Also, I love the way cargo pants hang off my frame. I almost never wear any other kind of pants. Brown leather gloves (in winter, lol). Men's sneakers, particularly anything brown. I don't really like formal wear, but it certainly helps me to pass better. And I have to say, there's nothing that feels quite like a a great cotton or flannel shirt.
This is all a bit like looking in some distorted mirror! The descriptions of how crossdressing makes these people feel is very close to how I would describe it for myself ("relieved", "relaxed", "beautiful?", "comfortable and attractive in my own skin"). On the other hand, the descriptions of clothing given in these and other replies are very interesting. Brown leather gloves? I've never worn a pair! And even if I owned a pair, I would not attribute anything particularly masculine to them: my gloves would say nothing about my sense of myself as a man. It's really fascinating to read. I can't help thinking: these people are just like me!

There may be fewer women who crossdress for pleasure, but the ones who do seem to do it for exactly the same reasons I do. I've never met such a person (to my knowledge!), but I think it would be a very interesting conversation!

So if you are a woman who crossdresses, please post your insights here!

===

Addendum 30th October 2012

I came across this interesting blog post about Joan of Arc on the Jesus in Love Blog maintained by lesbian cleric Kittredge Cherry.

Hirsute: St Wilgefortis
From it I also learned about the obscure St. Wilgefortis, also described on Wikipedia, a saint whose iconography depicts her as a crucified, bearded woman, often with one shoe missing. There are several explanations for this unusual figure. Firstly and perhaps most reasonably, she may simply have been an intersex person (see my later post for the relationship between sex and gender to save myself repeating stuff). However, a good competing theory is that some statues of Jesus on the cross were created wearing a robe instead of a loincloth, and the story of a bearded woman saint was cooked up as a means of explaining this away. Actual details of her life are so sketchy that legends have grown to fill the gaps, including the fact that she prayed to God to be delivered from an impending unhappy marriage-- and promptly grew a beard!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Beaumont Society

Somewhat following on from the previous post, I thought I would talk a little about the Beaumont Society.

As a student, I spent a few months studying in London. I was still in search of my identity. I could have thrown caution to the winds and explored what must have been an extremely vibrant and tantalising crossdressing scene, even at that time. But I preferred to take things quietly, so instead I spent a lot of time browsing the bookshops of the Charing Cross Road until I came upon A Man's Tale, by John Pepper, written in 1982. (I also spent a lot of time in museums, and at the opera. Though it was intellectually fascinating to see the Rosetta Stone and so on, I sometimes slightly chastise myself for not being a bit more adventurous. But that was me then, and this is me now).

Pepper is a British writer who, at the time of writing, was a broadcaster. His book is an autobiography describing his feelings growing up a boy with strong feminine inclinations. It begins:
I'm an ordinary man and woman. Initially, in 1942, I was born a boy, and that's that. You were chopped in half, botched, from the start. Had they lopped one of your limbs off, there'd have been an outcry. Instead they took away half your psyche, half your brain. Of such perplexing surgery is our civilisation made. Imagine building a car with an engine of four cylinders, then expecting it to run on two. Lunatic. Then, most of us are.
I don't especially enjoy his writing style, which is too pretentious for me. Likewise, Pepper's life is not especially interesting: his early sexual exploits, his failed marriage, and his attempt to unify himself by seeking Tibetan wisdom (pouring scorn on the other "misfits" who were doing the same). On the other hand, at one point, he joins the Beaumont Society.

The Beaumont Society, founded in 1966, is the oldest transgendered society in the UK, and perhaps the world (for those of you in the US, Tri-Ess, the Society of the Second Self, didn't get going until 1976). I suppose the Sixties in London was a heady time of great social upheaval: the contraceptive pill had emancipated women from their fertility, and I assume the founders of the Beaumont Society thought the time had come to emancipate transgendered people too. Burn those Y-fronts!

The society takes its name from the Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont, one of history's most famous transgendered individuals, and undoubtedly a topic for a future blog post from me. Their logo was formerly a yin-yang symbol, before being changed to a butterfly. The symbolism of either choice seems pretty clear to me. The Society is run as a charity, and caters for "the transgender, transvestite, transsexual and cross-dressing community".

Like its counterpart Tri-Ess, the Beaumont Society is long established, widely-known, and overtly chaste ("...the Beaumont Society... is not available for sexual liaisons"). As a confirmed Brit, I decided that the Beaumont Society would be ideal for me: it would be part of the establishment, no doubt full of judges and bishops and landed gentry (and academics!). It was the first point of contact between mainstream media and the transgendered community, so whenever a transgender item appeared on the TV or in the news, a Beaumont spokesperson would be interviewed.

Since it was chaste, there was no need to worry about invitations to indiscreet liaisons. Somewhat quaintly, the Society offered a service whereby a member could submit mail for another member discreetly to a central office, to be forwarded on to that member without either knowing the other's address or real name. Clearly, privacy was considered a very big deal to the Society.

I decided, if there were to be any crossdressers out there like me, the Beaumont Society would be the place they would gravitate. So I joyfully signed up. My contact with the Society was mainly through the magazine. The post of my Regional Organiser, a person who was supposed to be available for both social and practical crossdressing support, was vacant during the time I lived in the UK. This is no-one's fault: Regional Organisers do it in their own time, for no money, and I don't blame anyone for not stepping up to offer themselves to that role. But it meant that there weren't any local social events (where I might have summoned the courage to attend a meeting), and when I did try to reach out to things, I was disappointed. I have absolutely no desire to go to some nightclub and have my ossicles pounded into mush by techno music all night. But to dress up nicely, go to an art gallery, or a museum, or to the theatre, and have tea and scones afterwards: phew!

Can't compete: Vargas
Likewise I had hoped that the magazine might provide the sort of things I put in this blog: scholarly, interesting articles, discussing crossdressing in an open and detached way. But no! Much of the magazine (and I still have a large collection of them) was devoted to news reports from round the world, personal accounts from crossdressers (going on cruises, going skiing, going to the theatre, dressed), and fiction, fiction, fiction. And it seemed that every single issue had an article by Dr Vernon Coleman. The early magazines all had a print of a Vargas or Vargas-like woman (how can anyone compete with that??); later they were replaced with an authentic crossdressed covergirl (and the title changed to Beaumont Quarterly), though their choice of images was sometimes disappointing.

The news reports were basically quite interesting in themselves. The personalised accounts provoked great envy: I would love to go on a cruise and turn up to dinner every evening in a different gown. And crossdressing fiction is, in general, straightforward erotic wish-fulfilment stuff, full of loving and exquisite detail of fabrics and cosmetics and accessories. Coleman, one would have thought, would provide some intellectual perspective. But you would be wrong. Here is part of an article I just grabbed at random:
Coleman: I had a letter from a woman whose husband is a transvestite. He has high blood pressure (which could kill him) and the evidence clearly shows that when he occasionally wears a frock his blood pressure is better controlled and he needs fewer drugs. Nevertheless, the wife won't let the husband wear a frock (or any other feminine clothing). She says it is disgusting. No it's not. But her attitude is.
Happy: Coleman
This kind of thing was typical of Coleman's writing. A good doctor would not dismiss the wife's viewpoint as meaningless in this way. The pain she feels is real. Perhaps there is some compromise that can be reached, but Coleman's response won't bring it any closer. Coleman, a medical doctor, is himself a crossdresser, although his Wikipedia entry is mysteriously quiet about that aspect of him. His articles in Beaumont were entitled "Diary of a Happy Crossdresser". I became so irritated with him that I considered some articles of my own: "Diary of an Unhappy Crossdresser", but I never did.

Instead I submitted a few articles of my own, with a scholarly slant. Some of them were published (and if you happen to have old copies of the Beaumont Magazines, I'm in there under this name). When I asked the editor what she thought of my submissions, she replied "Yes, they're interesting, but what we really want is more fiction". So I entered their creative writing competition, and won.

Beaumont members receive a Members' Directory annually, in which members can put their area of the country, as well as their (gasp!) email addresses. I had hoped someone would read my articles, make the connection, and get in touch to have the type of conversations I am now having on this blog. But nobody ever did.

Thirty years ago, John Pepper wrote this about the Beaumont Society:
Even my grasping the Beaumont Society lay now in the pile of life's litter back down the motorway. When it came to it, I'd not found any real travellers there, only an empty clatter of pearls and gossip over the coffee cups; too many men who saw femininity as a matron sequestered in a polite respectability and dominated by a male hegemony they had no desire, not surprisingly, to usurp. I'd had a spot of bother myself whipping up enough flutters of the eyelashes over excitements like It's a darling lacy suspender belt, dainty but a toughie and dresses that made every wiggle a wow! I didn't just want to paint my face. I wanted to paint my mind.
What does any of that even mean? Admittedly the sort of uber-feminine language Pepper quoted is more or less absent from the magazine these days, but other than that, my impression is that little has changed in the Beaumont Society. I kept up my membership for several years out of sheer loyalty: it wasn't expensive, and I felt that, by supporting the Society I was helping to further the cause a bit.

But ultimately I've allowed my membership to elapse. I did my best for Beaumont: made myself available to them, wrote for them, supported them. Tried to be the sort of member they would want, of the sort of crossdressing society I wanted to belong to. As long as I lived in the UK, it was easy to write a cheque once a year. But once I left the UK, the impetus to belong seemed even more tenuous. And actually, my energies are much better spent here.

I wish the Society nothing but the absolute very best for the future. In research for this article, I took a quick look on their website. I am pleased to report that the website looks polished, attractive, and, dare I say it, a little bit gorgeous now (Tri-Ess, you have a long way to go!). The logo has been changed again and looks delicious. It may be that the Society is trying to reinvent itself to be a lot less stuffy and a lot more fabulous, and I think that's great. If I ever return to the UK, I will sign myself up immediately.

Addendum: July 2013

My thanks to Joanna Darrell, Vice President of the Beaumont Society, for answering my series of challenging questions. You can read her the interview here.

Professional views of crossdressing

From my very earliest memories, I am aware that I wanted to act differently from "ordinary" boys. I struggled with the masculine stereotypes I was expected to live up to; I still do! For some of my other reflections about crossdressing as a child, read my post here.
But when I got older, I came across a book on my parents' shelves. I still have it. It's called A Dictionary of Mental Health, by Richard B. Fisher, PhD. By then I had heard the term transvestite, and wanted to know more. I wasn't sure if I was one, or not, so I looked it up.
TRANSVESTISM: See Deviation, sexual
Well, that's not a great start, is it? So I flicked backward. This book is a modest-sized paperback volume, published in 1980, so we are looking at attitudes which are at least 30 years old. What's interesting to me is that the entry is a mixture of the enlightened and the mediaeval. It begins reasonably enough:
DEVIATION, SEXUAL: To define deviation, it is necessary to have a standard of normality. [...] Yet how shifting are these sands. [...] Textbooks of psychiatry still deal with the subject under the heading 'perversion', presumably because patients as well as doctors associate deviant sexual behaviour with neurosis or psychopathy. [...] On the other hand, it is now customary for textbooks to point out that such an association is unjustified. [...] To describe any sexual practices as perverse is a mischievous holdover from the intensely moralistic psychology enshrined by Freud and his followers.
So far so good. Fisher seems to highlight the point that different sexual behaviours are not necessarily pathological, while making this very connection in his own book!

He goes on to list "the most common forms of sexual deviation" as follows: (1) bestiality, (2) exhibitionism, (3) fetishism, (4) frigidity and impotence, (5) homosexuality, (6) masturbation, (7) paedophilia, (8) sado-masochism, and finally (9) transexuality and transvestism. Well, that's a bit of a mixed bag. I consider bestiality and paedophilia to be extremely disturbing, whereas masturbation and homosexuality I consider normal. Of course, this is only my point of view, and any other person might insist that their particular predilection is entirely wholesome and reasonable. And "frigidity and impotence" implies that a woman who doesn't want sex all the time, or a man who can't get a stiffy whenever he wants, are both sexually deviant.

I don't know why Fisher leaves us till last. But this is his entry:
Transsexualism and transvestism are interrelated deviations ranging from simple transvestism, in which the subject obtains gratification by wearing clothes of the opposite sex (called cross-dressing), but without genital excitement or homosexuality, to the profoundly-felt need to be physically changed, if possible surgically, to the opposite sex. Between these two states lie variations in which transvestism is in some measure symptomatic of homosexuality or fetishism and is a means of obtaining sexual gratification. It is wrong, however, to assume that transvestism is always associated with either homosexuality or with transsexuality.
If you look past the outdated, pejorative wording ("deviations"), I think Fisher is correct. I see all transgendered people as on a continuum, and I think that efforts to split us up into finer and finer groups is unnecessary and unhelpful. In fairness, I think that continuum may not be one-dimensional.
Both transvestism and homosexuality are more often seen in men than in women. Transsexual men, although they prefer to dress as women, may also marry and have children. Only a minority engage in homosexual acts. The much smaller number of transsexual and transvestite women are commonly the dominant partners in homosexual relationships.
For a detailed discussion of the prevalence of homosexuality in the UK population (and how it is sensitively determined), read my blog post here. I am not sure I wholly agree with the rest of Fisher's paragraph. I tend to think that transsexual males often attempt to live as men, before finding that they cannot. I think that gender-reassignment was far less common (and less well studied) 30 years ago than it is today, so perhaps Fisher can be forgiven. Some scholars have refuted the existence of transvestite women at all (that is, women who obtain gratification, let alone sexual gratification, from the wearing of men's clothing), although I think academia would agree with Fisher that such people are very much rarer than male-to-female transgendered people.
The causes of the deviation are obscure. In some people, transsexuality is a congenital disorder, and transvestism has often been associated with Klinefelter's syndrome. There is no evidence that these conditions are inherited. It is said that tranvestism may occur when the opposite-sexed parent is overwhelmingly dominant, but the evidence is impressionistic.
I agree with him here that nobody knows what causes transgenderism. By "congenital" I believe he means that transsexuals are born transsexuals, and I agree with that too. Klinefelter's syndrome is the syndrome where an individual possesses an extra sex chromosome. Neither male (XY) nor female (XX) but in a way, both (XXY). Such individuals are usually born looking like normal boys, but at puberty may develop breasts and other feminine physical traits. It is possible that people with Klinefelter's syndrome formerly did show signs of feminised behaviour, though now testosterone treatment is universally offered to such people, which causes them to develop and behave in a "normal" masculine way.
Simple transvestism often escapes the attention of psychiatrists. Even the marriage partner may be unaware of the deviation. Symptomatic transvestism or transsexuality, however, can raise medical problems. Adolescents will frequently respond to treatment because they feel isolation and shame. Aversive therapy (see Psychotherapy) has been effective, but the older the patient, the less likely he will be to agree to treatment. It may be better to accept the patient as female in dress and role, but in such cases, the psychiatrist is sooner or later faced with a demand for surgical sex change. Some transsexualists (sic) have attempted self-castration. There is no easy answer to such a demand. The surgery is neither difficult nor dangerous, but little is known about the degree of psychological success which the patient can expect. At present, most psychiatrists discourage requests for sex-change operations.
As an adolescent myself, I could strongly identify with feelings of isolation and shame. I believe (and have stated elsewhere; see my comments here) that I think crossdressing is "incurable" in the traditional sense, and certainly no amount of punishment therapy will do anything other than force the subject to pretend he is cured long enough to escape the treatment.

Fisher seems to share the view of Charlie Jane Anders that acceptance of crossdressing inevitably leads to a desire to change sex. A similar thing seems to have happened to Betty Crow, Helen Boyd's husband. That may or may not be true for everyone; but I think the truth is a little more complicated than that.

In the days before the Internet, finding out about cross-dressing was extremely difficult. Even at University, my very large and weighty psychology textbook, otherwise excellent, makes no mention whatever of transgender behaviour (I just checked again). So all I had to go on were the occasional snippets of information, such as Fisher's book, my parents' overt disapproval of anything sexual, and tantalising and unforgettable works of fiction such as Cuckoo in the Nest. No wonder I was confused and unhappy.

Nowadays, things are very different. Not only is there much more information, but, in the main, much more acceptance. It makes it much easier for people like Gregory Gorgeous, a young, beautiful man who really enjoys (and flaunts) his gender ambiguity. I envy him, in many ways, though I am not like him now, and I wasn't like him even when I was the same age.

But back to Fisher's book. It's a snapshot of its time: attempting to be neutral, attempting to be sympathetic, but still grounded in outdated attitudes of morality and prejudice. It's very gratifying to be able to see how things have moved on in those three decades? I wonder how things will look in another 30 years, when I am the most glamorous tranny in the retirement home?

Addendum: January 2013

This post has been unexpectedly popular. I assume this is because people come to it expecting some enlightenment, when it doesn't really provide any. My current views on the scientific background to crossdressing can be found here and here.