Sunday, 25 August 2013

Other Bluestockings

You might not have noticed it, but you've just missed Bluestocking Week 2013. This awareness-raising event is run by Australia's National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). Though the NTEU is open to membership from both sexes, the Bluestocking Week is all about celebrating the contribution of women to tertiary education.

As you can see from my About Me page, the word bluestocking refers to an educated, intellectual woman. The word originally referred to people of both sexes (which makes me marginally more comfortable about appropriating it for my own use), and became prevalent in the 18th century. The idea was that bluestockings wore blue, woollen stockings instead of the fashionable black or white silk stockings of the day. This was presumably because their minds were on higher matters than mere fashion, and it must be said, the word was not used (nor intended) in a complimentary way. I suppose the original bluestockings were the geeks or nerds of their day. Female bluestockings were deliberately sidestepping societal expectations: instead of getting married upon leaving school, they sought education, enlightenment and achievement on their own merits.

I chose the name for several reasons. First, I am all about words. Secondly, I studied in London in Bloomsbury, which was known for a particular group of intellectual women, the Bloomsbury Bluestockings. Thirdly, one of my favourite music groups recorded a beautiful song, Bloomsbury Blue, about just such a woman. In the song, the woman is referred to as Bluestocking Blue, and I liked the pleasant alliteration of that phrase, so I adopted it. I didn't intend anything to do with blue or blues in the emotional or musical sense. Finally, I have struggled to find other crossdressers with a similar outlook to my own, which makes me feel somewhat distinct from them. A scholarly, geeky, crossdresser: a bluestocking.

More recently, the word has been reclaimed with pride by intellectual feminists and scholars. First on the list (at least, in Google order) is this one: The Bluestocking Blog. The blogger is Lauren C. Teffeau, and the subtitle of her blog is "the weekly musings of an over-educated young woman on writing, reading, and other miscellany". So far so good. In her profile, she writes:
I am an avid reader, an apprenticing writer, an active mediaphile, an adored wife, an annoying sister, an adept daughter, an adequate woman. I am an acquired taste.
I must admit, as someone who adores words, and is also a writer, I cannot think of a more enticing profile entry. An acquired taste? Oh, I somehow doubt it would take long! It isn't possible, I believe, for a woman (or anyone) to be over-educated.

Lauren writes fiction (something I am dreadful at), and her career seems to be taking off, with a string of successful publications. Her blog is insightful and interesting, and she has earned a string of "blogging awards". I haven't read any of her published work, though when I do I will be sure to let you know.

My favourite mode of writing is in my journal, with a fountain pen on thick white paper. Writing in my journal is healing, and centering. I write for an audience of one, though I hope my children will eventually read all about Vivienne in my journals (which run to many volumes) and feel some compassion for their old dad doing the best he could with his weird affliction.

Mostly I write, of course, to be read (doesn't everyone?) and to be read requires dissemination, which requires the Internet. A mentor of mine is fond of remarking "the shoemaker makes good shoes because he makes them every day". I think the same is true of writers. Good writers write all the time. I have personally found blogging to be really helpful: I can write on any one of several devices, in just about any location, and revisit or edit the material whenever I like.

My next bluestocking identifies herself only as Bluestocking. Her profile says:
There's little to me that you should know - a romantic, finding her dazed way through life. A pragmatist who dreams of magic. Glimpses of both, you shall see here. And my thoughts, sometimes laid bare.
Sappho
I find myself jealous of the poetry in these profiles! This woman not only embraces poetry, but uses Sappho as her avatar. She also has an "alter ego", Weaver Imp, whose blog consists of chapters of an ongoing novel. Bluestocking's blog consists of book reviews, snatches of fiction and poetry, self-reflective fragments and occasionally visual art.

Bluestocking writes: come not here for pearls of wisdom. This place is simply my canvas.

So much for individuals, how about groups?

The Bluestockings Magazine is written by students at Brown University in the USA. It's not quite clear whether there is a paper version, or whether it exists only online. On looking at its website, I was surprised to find an article about Bradley Manning, who now wishes to be known as Chelsea Manning, and who has announced his intention to transition. The article is very sympathetic to trans people.

On looking at the production team, there is a huge string of interesting biographies, with pictures of quirky, gorgeous, and above all, intellectual young people. And among them is a young man! Well done, Kyle. This team of young people reminds me why I find academic life so inspiring sometimes.

The magazine has an impressive Mission Statement, which includes statements like:
We believe feminism is not a rigid set of guidelines or restrictive beliefs, but instead contains a fluid spectrum of definitions that can be negotiated through the creative process. It is a malleable perspective that is both personal and public.
Baroness Greenfield
As you can imagine, with such a long list of contributors (and the magazine accepts contributions of all kinds), the output is copious, lavish and all-encompassing. I will be sure to have a good browse through the archive the next time I have a bit of time off.

Across the pond is its British equivalent, Blue-stocking, written and produced by students at the University of Oxford, an institution for which I have great fondness. Its angle is slightly different:
We are a feminist journal based in Oxford who publish insightful yet critical articles on the contributions of female thinkers over history.
It focusses on "women as creative thinkers", and is resolutely, unapologetically, by women only, and about women only. It also seems to have a narrower, more academic focus. Its list of patrons includes one of my personal heroes, Susan Greenfield, whose seemingly inexhaustible output I have found in several media, not least my favourite radio station, BBC Radio 4. Greenfield is one of those ridiculously competent people who makes me think: I wish I was half as good as that. Wikipedia says she has been awarded 30 honorary degrees, as well as a CBE and a life peerage with a seat in the House of Lords. Let's see you top that! Greenfield's personal website is here.

While I feel quite at home on the Brown website, which seems more open and more accepting of people like me (even Vivienne), I suspect in Oxford, I would be viewed as an unwelcome impostor and given a frosty cold shoulder.

There are plenty more bluestockings out there. I suspect at least some of them might squirm at my appropriation of the title bluestocking for myself. If you are such a person, please give me a chance. I think you might find we have a lot more in common than you might think. But do please post your thoughts below.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Seriously not helping

In this blog, as you know, I celebrate all sorts of human expression, particularly if it's to do with clothing or gender role. I am all for relaxation of societal attitudes and acceptance of men (in particular) who want to wear women's clothing in public. But a few items have lately caught my eye on the Internet, and reminded me that there are people out there who are seriously not helping.
Howard: seriously??

The first incident is this one. A grey-haired man wearing female heels, underwear, and basically nothing else, fronted up at an airport to board a plane for an internal flight across the US. Passengers complained about the man, but the airline (US Air) allowed him to board the aircraft because they "don't have a dress code policy".

The man, identified only as "Howard", says he is a business consultant, and "does it for fun". As can be seen here, he willingly poses for photos taken by other passengers. This incident is not isolated; it seems Howard, from Phoenix, likes to fly around the US wearing ridiculous female attire, and there are quite a few pictures and videos of him out there.

Howard asserts: "It has never been my intent to put people in a situation where they feel uncomfortable. I try to respect other people's opinions. As long as my dress is not indecent from a legal perspective, and so long as the airline does not object, I have the right to wear what I wear. And others have the right to wear what they want to wear. This is just something I do for fun. I don't mean any harm."

Seriously, though, what is he thinking? As a crossdresser myself, going out dressed in public is desirable and pleasurable. But only (and here is the important bit) if people behave decently. Howard may be having fun, and acting within the law or his rights-- perhaps only just-- but his behaviour is awful. This sort of thing is exactly why I don't want to be associated with crossdressing. He is setting out to deliberately provoke outrage, and by doing so, he is giving the rest of us a bad name. If I saw him dressed like that in an airport, I would protest, loudly.
Rob: seriously??

Okay, the next incident is a few years old now. Rob Moodie, a New Zealander, joins the police force as a young man, rises to the rank of inspector, retires, takes a law degree, and subsequently a PhD. He sounds like a man of irrepressible competence. Then he starts turning up to court wearing girly frocks, then officially changes his name to Miss Alice.

His motivation for this ridiculous behaviour was reported to be "a gender-bending protest against the male-dominated corruption of New Zealand's judicial system".

The NZ Police does mention him on its website, but is uncomfortably tight-lipped about his biography.

Even if New Zealand's judicial system is male dominated (aren't they all?) and even if he isn't the only lawyer in the world who likes to wear women's clothing, how could he possibly do anything other than undermine his own arguments, and attract scorn and contempt? I mean, would you take him seriously? Would you hire him to defend you against criminal charges, or to plead your case in the High Court? (Although just maybe, the judge would throw out the case on the grounds of insanity-- of the counsel, not the defendant!).

What Rob and Howard are doing is not harmless fun. It tarnishes the rest of us by reputation. Members of the public, looking at them, might conclude that all crossdressers are flagrant, disturbing and unrestrained. And I have to say, that would be a hard point to refute. Men like these may be few in number, but they have an influence out of proportion to their number, by their memorability and deliberate visibility.

Bradley: seriously??

The third incident is the most recent, and is very different in tone. Bradley Manning, the US Army soldier who leaked the largest cache of secret documents ever released to the public, to WikiLeaks, was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison for his trouble.

I know next to nothing about Bradley Manning, although he has been at the centre of a very, very large media storm.

As a young military officer, he must have surely known that if he violated his duties of secrecy, he would be severely punished. Was he amoral, treacherous, and malicious? Was he acting defiantly, out of an unshakeable moral sense that what he was doing was right? Or was he a disturbed and volatile young man who should never have been allowed anywhere near national secrets? (And I bet there has been a lot of uncomfortable discussion behind tightly-closed doors: "Okay, whose idea was it to give Manning the passwords?")

I can't answer those questions. All I can say is that it was brought up in the trial, in his defence, that Manning is a young man of uncertain sexual orientation, who has deliberately dressed as a woman. In fact, a photo was shown in support of this point. It's not a very good photo, but it makes the point.

Whatever you may make of Bradley actions, or his punishment, the association between Manning's actions and his crossdressing carries extremely uncomfortable implications. For me at least, it seemed to be saying: of course this young man is unstable! He likes to dress as a woman! He must be crazy! Any man who dresses like that can't be OK.

From my perspective, it doesn't matter to me whether Manning is a transvestite or not (but see below!). What matters is the way this has been portrayed in the court, associating crossdressing with mental instability, moral weakness, and dangerous national disloyalty. In this case, it's not Manning himself who is not helping, but his defence. (Though I must admit I would clutch at any straws, even this one, if I thought it would keep me out of prison).

In any event, I suspect that Manning's next few years in prison at Fort Leavenworth will be uncomfortable. And I mean, seriously.

Addendum

Sometimes events can change pretty rapidly. In the last couple of days, Manning has released this statement:
As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility).
Just a couple of comments spring to mind. The use of the phrase "I am Chelsea Manning", not "My name is Chelsea Manning" is a powerful statement of identity. The statement "I am female" is less clear-cut, partly because it's hard to argue that it's true. Finally, Manning's remark about "except in official mail" seems to be an overt recognition that she can insist who she is, all she likes, but the Army will not recognise that insistence.

The Army's statement is as follows:
All inmates are considered soldiers and are treated as such with access to mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and behavioral science non-commissioned officers with experience in addressing the needs of military personnel in pre- and post-trial confinement. The army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder.
So that's that, then. Paris Lees, herself a transwoman who has spent time in prison, comments that Manning hid her gender-identity disorder because she feared she would be treated more harshly by the military justice system. I admit, I can see this angle (but why then bring it up at the trial?). On the other hand, I am somewhat more cynical. I can see that a young man, facing 35 years of military detention, might try to do anything-- anything-- which would mitigate the unpleasantness of that experience to some degree. To announce a desire to change sex, right now, would seem to be a desperate plea to be treated a little more gently, by what is clearly going to be a very harsh and punitive prison environment.

My concern is that this strategy backfires, and that Manning ends up being treated even more harshly. I don't blame Manning for what she is trying to do, but I believe that she is nowhere near in the right place to be taking decisions of this magnitude.

===
Addendum 11th October 2013

For the detailed accounts and pictures of someone who regularly flies crossdressed, and does so responsibly and with circumspection, I suggest Kimberly Huddle's blog here.

===
Addendum 18th July 2014

Tyler: seriously??
The BBC has just reported that Chelsea Manning is to be allowed some "gender treatment" while incarcerated.

===
Addendum 9th May 2016

My thanks to Megan Martin for drawing my attention to the case of Tyler Grant, who identifies as genderqueer (and prefers gender-neutral pronouns), who was thrown out of their local fast food outlet in Texas by a police officer when they tried to get a burger wearing this leopardskin number, with stockings and heels. The whole thing was recorded on video, so we know it happened.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it was transphobia driven,” Grant says. “I explained (to the manager) that… (my outfit) was no more revealing than yoga pants and a tank top.”

Grant's friend adds another layer: “Now I don’t know if there are dressing regulations at <burger outlet> or not, but the officer didn’t seem to intend on enforcing any (regulations) while under the assumption that Tyler was female. The fact that he suddenly had a problem with it after finding out that Tyler was a ‘dude’ is what I find to be discriminatory. It appeared that he was okay with a girl wearing such clothing, but for (Tyler) to wear such clothes was suddenly crossing the line.”

I have to say, Tyler looks a knockout in that outfit. I wish I looked half that good. But seriously, wearing that to go out for a burger? Megan points out that any woman might easily face difficulties going out in the evening wearing that outfit, and Grant's innocent denial seems hopelessly naïve at best. For this, Tyler Grant gets admitted to the Seriously Not Helping Hall of Fame. Ta-daaah!

Further applicants welcome!

===
Addendum: 15th September 2017

Chelsea Manning since release
Chelsea Manning was released from prison back in May 2017. She has left the army. Before she was jailed, it seemed that the only picture anyone had seen was the fuzzy monochrome selfie in the car. It's definitely not the most flattering picture in the world.

However, since release, Manning has appeared on TV and given interviews to several media sources. She looks a lot better, and I thought, in the interests of fairness, that I should put up a more recent picture of her, to set the record straight.

I think that selfie will be associated with Manning for ever more, but it's only a matter of time before much more flattering pictures of her become the accepted norm.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Gay Football Players

Perhaps just a quickie for this one.

One of my favourite radio programmes is More or Less, a mathematics and statistics programme produced by the BBC. I heartily recommend the podcast, which I adore. A shout out to regular presenter Tim Harford, who is brilliant, funny, quirky and fascinating. Another shout out to series producer and frequent guest presenter Ruth Alexander, who has one of the most beautiful voices ever to tickle my eardrums.

The program styles itself as a guide to the numbers "in the news and in life", and is very, very good at sniffing out numerically dubious reports in the news, claims by politicians, and interesting angles on problems, such as the Tuesday Boy problem, or the wonderful question (answered definitively): if you stacked a 4x4 Lego brick on another one, then added another, and another, how tall would the stack become before the bottom brick is crushed by the weight of the stack on top? (*)

So one of the questions they tackled was this: how many gay professional football players are there? (Of course, you know I mean soccer when I say football). How many can you think of? Not many, I'll bet. The most recent openly gay professional footballer in Britain was Justin Fashanu, and that was 20 years ago. Wikipedia devotes a whole article to the question. Football statistician Bill Edgar, of The Times did some analysis.

First, Edgar made the assumption that the rate of homosexuality among professional footballers was the same as in the general male population. He found varying estimates of the prevalence of homosexuality, so chose the lowest reasonable estimate he could find: 1.5% (see my discussion here), which is still a bit higher than the 1% figure which I suggest.

Looking specifically at Premier League football players, there have been 3,200 of them in the last 20 years. The statistical chance of none of those men being gay is 1 in 1 thousand million million million; 1 in 10 to the power of 23.

Okay, so numbers this large make my head hurt. What does that mean? More or Less says it means that if the whole Earth's surface were covered in white drawing pins touching edge to edge. and just one of them were red, the chance of you picking the red one, at random, is 200 times higher than the chance of there not being a gay footballer somewhere in the Premier League over the last 20 years.

So, mathematically speaking, we can say it is exceptionally unlikely that there hasn't been a gay footballer in the Premier League. We cannot, of course, say how many there have been; we cannot know if the prevalence of homosexuality in Premier League footballers is the same as in the general male population.

It may mean, of course, that gay men are excluded, either overtly or covertly, from the Premier League. It may mean that gay men can become professional footballers, but remain in the closet for fear of hostility from fans, managers, clubs, or media. And Justin Fashanu's career definitely suffered after he came out.

What it shows to me is that acceptance of homosexuality is not as far forward as we all like to think it is. This is bad news for any group seeking integration and equality with what we like to call the "general population".

(*) The answer is 375,000 bricks; a vertical tower of 3,591m (or 2.17 miles) tall.

===

Addendum: 26th January 2014
Thomas Hitlzsperger

Top NZ rugby player Ryan Sanders has come out and admitted he is gay, after his professional playing career was over. In the interview in the NZ Herald, Sanders admits to having feigned relationships with women to conceal his homosexuality. The elite rugby players here are the national team, the All Blacks, and Sanders believes at least one of them is gay (and he may be including past members). Statistically speaking, he is almost certainly correct. According to this article, there were 1109 men in 2011 who had played for the All Blacks. That's not far off the figure (3200) used to calculate the British odds, as above.

This article also drew my attention to Thomas Hitzlsperger, a German by birth who played in the English Premier Division. Hitzlsperger came out as gay only a couple of weeks ago, after officially retiring from football in September 2013. According to Wikipedia, Hitzlsperger had a long-term girlfriend, Inga, from whom he split in 2007, just before they married.

What these men have in common is (seemingly) concealing their homosexuality during their careers, only coming out after they have retired. Each has concealed his homosexuality by dating women. Whoever the gay footballers are, they are still keeping it quiet while they are in the public eye. I feel certain that Hitzlsperger is not the only gay Premier Division footballer. Where are the others?

Addendum: 23rd February 2014

Stoney
Well, it's like buses. You wait for ages, and then three come along at once.

The England Women's Soccer team captain, Casey Stoney, has just come out and revealed she is gay in the last couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, across the pond, NFL player Michael Sam has announced he is gay. Almost predictably, anti-gay campaigners protested openly in public (methinks they doth protest too much?), attempting to picket a ceremony at which he was to be honoured. But their protest was drowned, heroically, by 500 students who formed a human wall between Sam and the small group of vocal protesters. This is an extraordinary gesture, and you can read the full story here.

And it has just been announced that NBA player Jason Collins has been given a contract with the Brooklyn Nets. Collins announced he was gay last year-- but found himself without a team. Admittedly, his contract is only for 10 days, but it's a start.

Collins, Stoney and Sam are still within their playing careers; in fact, in the ascendency. Does this mean that a floodgate of gay sports people is about to open?

I am indebted to Rachel for drawing my attention to Casey Stoney. Please feel free to tell me about any other gay sports people you may hear about.

Addendum: 30th April 2014

I have just become aware of the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame, which was established in 2013. It's inaugural list of inductees is very sparse, and includes at least one dead person as well as several organisations (rather than individuals). And, of course, it's limited to the US, though it is (apparently) open to trans people. Nonetheless, it's a step forwards.

Addendum: 5th May 2014
Star player: Saeluah

I didn't think I would be able to do this, but finally, I can introduce a transgender international soccer player. Jaiyah Saeluah plays for American Samoa, officially one of the weakest international football teams in the world.

Saeluah is a fa'afafine, one of a culturally-accepted third sex which exists in the Pacific Islands. In simple terms, fa'afafine are usually boys raised as girls. I have blogged about them twice already, here and here. She is also one of her team's star players. She is fully accepted by her team mates, and her manager, although she is known as "Johnny" when out on the pitch, and she was rejected from the college soccer team when she went to study in Hawaii.

Admittedly, as a player for one of the most inconspicuous teams in the world, it's unlikely that Saeluah will make much of a dent in the status quo. But nonetheless, hers is a triumphant story. They've even made it into a movie, which I can't wait to see.

With thanks to Peter, I can direct you to a Guardian interview with her here.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Emma Ballantyne Speaks

How cool would it be to lead a secret double life? Being a superhero with a cool car and a secret, hi-tech hideaway would be great, but sometimes (as I have touched on in this blog) it's nice to just escape from being yourself for a while.
 
What if you escaped at whim, not into anonymity, but into celebrity? To be someone cool, interesting, who attracts adulation and approval? It seems that Emma Ballantyne has achieved just that.
 
I first blogged about Emma last November, and I have since been able to get in touch with her personally. We've exchanged a few emails, and she very kindly agreed to be interviewed. I have to say, I had to ask her several times. Despite the fact that her YouTube channel has 3.7 million hits, and over 7000 subscribers (I admit, I am one), Emma seems remarkably reluctant to court public attention. She also seems very balanced and down-to-earth.
 
She writes: "I'm still finding it hard to come to terms with the notion that people may be interested in reading what I have to say!" Erm... exsqueeze me? I suspect (like me) there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there who would hang on her every word. In addition, to long and insightful answers, Emma has also provided us with four of her favourite images to illustrate this post. So get ready to hang away, here she goes.
 
How long have you been a crossdresser?
 
I can still vividly remember the first time I sought out some of my mother's clothes to try on. I would have been around 10 or 11 years old and had been watching Von Ryan's Express (of all things!) with my parents, but had lost interest in the film and gone upstairs to my room. On the way, without thinking I raided the airing cupboard and took a skirt and some tights/ pantyhose to try on.

Taurus Bar, Manchester. July 2013.
This was my introduction to actually knowing that I wanted to wear women's clothes, but the signs were there for may be five or six years prior to that. I remember the sheer enjoyment of having to wear tights for a part I was playing in a school play when I was in infant class at school, playing tennis in the garden with a towel tied around my waist pretending it was a skirt, and being scolded by my mother for pulling my old fashioned vest down and wearing it as a skirt in the house. But my "proper" introduction was through my mother's wardrobe, and thinking back I must have left a trail a mile long for my parents to find!
 
When was the first time you ventured out dressed?
 
Probably in my late teens. Although I had wanted to go out for a long time, I just didn't have the clothes to wear. I lived with my parents until I was 17, and tried to be very careful to hide my "secret" from them. Eventually I realised that I needed some clothes of my own, so I bought a mini-kilt, black blouse and black tights which I hid under the floor of the built-in wardrobe of my room. Within a few weeks of purchasing these items I started to sneak out of the house wearing them, usually on weekend nights after having been out late with friends when I knew my parents would be asleep. At this time I had no shoes, make-up or wig, so I tried to style my hair into a pixie cut and wore some Doc Martens to try to look a bit indie!
 
After leaving the family home I soon expanded my wardrobe, acquired a wig from a charity shop and bought some basic make-up, but even then my outings were after dark and it wasn't until around 2003 that I gained enough confidence to venture out in daylight.
 
What gave you the idea to start taking video of yourself dressed?
Local shopping centre. June 2012.
 
I was housebound for a few months in 2006 after a spinal injury and it was during the long hours spent in my home trawling the internet that I discovered YouTube. There were maybe only a couple of thousand trans-related videos uploaded at that time, and although some were very basic I was definitely inspired to film myself. At the time I had no intention of making my recordings public, they were purely to analyse to see how I could improve my posture and walk, and to see which styles of clothes did or didn't suit me.
 
I had noticed that that the majority of videos on YouTube at that time tended to be of crossdressers walking to and from their camera, vlogging, or maybe filming themselves in a mirror, so after my first (very basic) outdoor video I decided to upload a clip of something I thought was a wee bit different. I never expected the clip to provoke any reaction or be viewed to any great extent so I was pleasantly surprised when I received positive feedback!
 
One gets the impression from watching your videos that you go out dressed daily, perhaps even full-time. How often do you go out dressed?
 
Not nearly as often that I would like to! Until about four years ago, I would go out maybe once a fortnight during the day, but I then ran into some problems with some rather intolerant neighbours which really knocked my confidence. I do like to take 2 or 3 trips a year to meet crossdressing friends, but since the issues with my neighbours surfaced, I am much more reluctant to go out of the house dressed, so it's now down to maybe once a month, or every six weeks or so in daylight. I dress 2 or 3 times a week in the house though, and will often head out for takeaway food or cigarettes in the evenings. I've no wish to dress full-time as my job would become impossible, and my social life would be curtailed as there is a bit of a small-town mentality where I live.
 
Also, I have to say, I don't think I could put myself through the make-up and prepping every day!
 
How does it feel to know your videos have been seen by almost 5 million people?
 
Amazed and flattered! There are so many videos which I feel are superior to mine, and so many t-girls who are more convincing than me that I often wonder what the appeal is with my videos. I do know that I have a perhaps unfair advantage over many who make videos, in that my channel tends to pop up first when one searches for "transvestite" on YouTube, so maybe it is easier to stumble over my videos as a result of this. I'm not sure why this happens-- I don't pay YouTube for this dubious privilege!
 
Have you ever been to a crossdressing social event? A ball or weekend?
 
No, and to be honest these events do not really interest me. I like to try to be as regular as I can in what I do when I'm dressed, and to my mind these events are a little too closed off from reality. This isn't to say that those who organise events aren't doing a great job, as they are giving opportunities to many who perhaps have no other opportunity to dress over an extended period; or to take away from the attendees, but for someone like me who isn't very good in large social gatherings at the best of times, I fear I would find it awkward being in a group of people I know little about and maybe have nothing in common with, other than a shared passion for dressing.
 
What was it like spending a holiday crossdressed in Venice? (I still can't believe that you did this!)
 
Well, believe it or not it was my first experience of any overseas travel! The build-up was both exciting and nerve-wracking, but to be honest I was more nervous about flying for the first time in my life! There were actually a number of things which made the trip a lot easier for me. Firstly, and most importantly, I fully trusted my friend Luisa who lives in Northern Italy to plan what we were going to do, and I knew that if there was something I felt uneasy about doing that she would understand and not force me into an uncomfortable situation. Venice being so busy was also to our advantage, as it was much easier to blend in and not be seen, unlike in say a small town where people have more opportunity to do a double-take if they think you may not be what you first appear to be. It was also a bonus for me in that I don't speak Italian, so if people were commenting I didn't realise!
 
It's probably been the most thrilling experience of my life, and when I think of some of the things we did (train journeys, boat trips) it brings back so many good memories which I will always treasure. The only negative was how exhausting it all was! Obviously there is a lot of walking to be done in Venice (thank goodness I wore flats!) but the sheer adrenaline rush absolutely sapped the energy from me.
 
What sort of look are you trying to create? Who are your inspirations?

University campus. May 2012.
I have two favourite looks - an "indie-girl-next-door" look, and a business look. I also adore the styles of the 60s - short mod dresses, etc. I definitely veer towards conservative styles over flamboyance as I want to feel comfortable in my dress and not draw too much attention to myself. I do try to dress my age but fail miserably! Probably most of the time I'm wearing clothes designed for girls at least 10 years younger than me, but I seem to have reached an age where I fall between fashions designed for twenty-somethings and styles which I consider to be too frumpy or mumsy for forty-somethings like me! I'm not sure how much longer I can get away with dressing as I do though...
The women whose looks and style inspire me are Susanna Reid, Audrey Hepburn, Clare Grogan, Lily Allen and Miquita Oliver - I would kill to look like any of them! My t-girl inspirations are Jennifer White, Alison St John, French Lolita and the aforementioned Luisa Baris amongst many others.
 
Do people read you in public? How do they behave? Have you ever met hostility?
 
Oh I'm read regularly, without a doubt! The width of my shoulders and size of my feet are a giveaway to anyone paying enough attention. I am careful where I go though. I avoid groups of people, and younger people. Generally the older the person is or the smaller the group they are in the more accepting they are. In conversation people are very polite to my face, but of course their reaction could be very different once my back is turned. Most people don't seem to want to show any sign of a reaction. I'm aware of the second glances, but it's very rare for people to stop and stare.
 
To be honest, I go out expecting to be read. That way I am prepared for the worst but not obsessively thinking about passing every second I'm out there. I have seen hostility towards t-girls but none has been aimed at me, I think the odd sarcastic comment or wolf-whistle is the most I've had to put up with.
 
What is your single greatest crossdressing moment?
 
There are three which stand out. My first night out in public in a restaurant was a major breakthrough for me, the Venice trip, and a day out in Edinburgh which included walking from Holyrood to the Castle and back, and touring the Castle itself.
 
What is the most difficult thing for you about being a crossdresser?
 
Not being able to talk freely about it with many of my friends and family. Crossdressing is the most important part of my life, but it seems to still be misunderstood in society as a whole who maybe see it as a sexualised pastime or a subject of ridicule. I would love to say to my mother "I've bought this new dress for myself. Do you think it suits me?", but although my parents know I crossdress they will not broach the subject with me as it is something they don't understand, or maybe even feel guilty about.
 
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow your example, to strut their stuff in public?

Relaxing at home. March 2013.
Dress in a way that makes you feel confident and comfortable within yourself. If you want to draw attention to yourself by all means wear a 13" mini-skirt, 6 inch heels, over-pad your breasts and show off your stocking tops... if you want to blend in, dress in the everyday styles you see most women wearing. Above all, stay safe.
 
What's your favourite crossdressing tip?
 
Watch real girls to see how they gesture, walk and hold their posture. Then spend endless hours in front of a mirror trying to do the same thing!
 
What famous person would you most like to meet?
 
A dinner party with Stewart Lee, Chris Morris, Alisdair Gray, Susanna Reid, Julian Cope, Madonna and Davey Henderson ([who performed in] Fire Engines, Win, etc) would be entertaining if nothing else! If the ghosts of Orson Welles, Billy Mackenzie, Audrey Hepburn and George Orwell popped in too that would make my night!
 
If that party ever happens, book me a seat!
How do you see the future of you crossdressing?
 
Hopefully I can become more open about it and be less scared about approval or acceptance.
 
===
 
So, what to say about all that? Of all the crossdressers I've "encountered", Emma is the one I envy the most. Why is that? Well, we are about the same age and have similar backgrounds. My life isn't so different from hers. Therefore she represents to me the pinnacle of what might be achievable. From her answers above, it's clear we have a similar take on quite a lot of issues.
 
I find myself surprised by how modest and unassuming she is. She seems to have been able not to let it all go to her head. In contrast with, say, Leah True, Emma seems content to keep to herself. She is not in competition with anyone.
 
What I also find interesting (and also agreeable) is Emma's choice of clothing. By her own account, she favours blending in; just wearing what real women wear, and this is a point which resonates with me. She doesn't dress like a "tranny".
 
This interview has also been a lesson to me in drawing too many conclusions from what you see on the Web. People present their best sides on the Web (I know I do). Emma's multiplicity of videos and photos suggest that she is basically Emma all the time. This was the impression I formed, and it's interesting how skewed that impression was. My surprise is how little Emma dresses, not how much.
 
I do not look as good as Emma dressed, and I have yet to venture out in public. I do not lack the confidence to do this, but like Emma, I live in a small town where people talk. When I see her videos she looks so comfortable, so natural, that I just assume that she passes, and again this may be an incorrect assumption. It is a reminder to me that passing isn't really about being unnoticed, but about being presentable enough that small children don't run away screaming, and confident enough that a few double-takes or whispered comments don't put you off.
 
The opening notion of this post is: how great would it be to be Emma? And yet, in among all this glamour and excitement, there are also hints of unhappiness: difficulties with family and with neighbours. That reminds me that most of us are living a compromise. For me, that compromise means hiding, so that I can keep my relationship with my family and my neighbours, stifling though this is at times. Emma has struck a different balance, and has achieved much greater freedom, but not without cost.
 
My thanks to Emma for agreeing to sit still under my microscope and be subject to my scrutiny.
 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Men With Long Nails

A couple of years ago, my family went for dinner in quite an up-market restaurant. It was in a prosperous town famous for hosting international golf tournaments.

As the food came, the waiter had linen towels draped over his hands to enable him to hold the hot plates. But something caught my eye, and I had to wait for a couple more visits before I could be sure I was seeing what I thought. The waiter, a young man of maybe 25, and not in the least feminine-looking, had fingernails more than an inch long, and painted in sparkling metallic green.

I commented on this to my mother who was part of the group. She replied "Oh, yes. He always does that. He's a very nice lad." (As an aside, my mother doesn't know about this aspect of me, and I wryly wonder whether she would be upset to find out. If she ever does, I will be sure to let you know her reaction!).
His mother told him not to bite his nails.

I didn't get the chance to talk to him ("Excuse me. Do you by any chance dress like a woman in your spare time?"), and certainly not in front of my mother. However, it did strike me that what he was doing was somewhat impractical (carrying around plates and serving dishes all day must practically invite breakage).

Wikipedia suggests (and I am sure it is correct) that colouring the nails with a variety of colouring substances has been practised for centuries. I am aware that henna is still used as a nail colouring agent in some countries (and I think that intricate henna patterns on the skin of young women is absolutely gorgeous). But it wasn't until the invention of nitrocellulose lacquer in the early 20th century that modern nail polish really took off. Nitrocellulose lacquer forms a quick-drying, durable, flexible finish which can be polished to a high shine.

Nitrocellulose lacquer is the same stuff they use to make the paint on cars and other vehicles, and for the same reasons (ease of application, durability and lustre). Wikipedia suggests that nail polish was originally used to hide the grime under fingernails, and I can see the utility in that. On the other hand, polished, long nails imply that the owner doesn't have to engage in dirty manual work, so I can imagine that, among aristocratic women (and maybe men too), the display of delicate, long nails could easily be a status symbol. Look at me: I don't work with my hands. (In the same way, the delicate, pale skin of someone who doesn't work with their hands contrasts with the dark, tough, leathery skin of someone who does, giving rise to the idea that noble people have blue blood, because their blue veins can be easily seen).
And all for want of a nail...

As with Men in Skirts, the more I click around on the Web, the more I find out. It seems there are plenty of men out there who just like painted nails. They don't wear skirts, or shave their legs. They don't adopt fem names. They just like painted nails, and for some of them, the more elaborate, the better.

Sometimes long fingernails have a purpose, such as when a guitarist grows the right nails long to act as picks, and keeps the left nails short to fret the notes on the fingerboard. But when taken to extremes (as in this individual, who incidentally shows us long nails in men is nothing new), nails begin to curl around on themselves and form spirals. Admittedly, the sort of very long and curly nails illustrated here seem pretty rare, even on the Web. Most guys with nails have only moderately long nails, and go with the elaborate nail polish.

So what is it with the long nails? You might well ask: why do I dress as a woman? Well, because I enjoy it. More specifically, I enjoy two things about it. I enjoy the way it feels, and I enjoy the way it looks. So I guess men who enjoy painted nails might enjoy those things too.
He's totally nailed it.

For me personally, I like long nails when I am dressed because they are considered more feminine. I am fortunate that my nails grow quite well, and are quite strong, and look quite good when I let them grow out a bit. I have also experimented with stick-on nails and other substitutes. Let's be clear: I love the way they look. I find myself holding my hands in such a way that I can see the nails. They don't even need to be intensely coloured. I quite like, for example, the French manicure style. But having long nails when I wasn't dressed wouldn't feel right. On it's own, it's not enough to "do it" for me in a crossdressing sense; and it does feel a little strange to mix male and female behaviour (which is one reason I don't "underdress").

Even when dressed, long nails irritate me because of their impracticality. I can't easily hold things, type, use my phone, unlock a door, or do any one of a thousand fine tasks-- and my nails are very much towards the shorter end of the spectrum I see out there!

And I am really sorry. I mean no disrespect to people who grow their nails to huge lengths, but seriously, I think it's really quite off-putting to look at. How do they wash their hair? How do they avoid getting them caught in doors? How do they even shake hands, or sign their names?

On the other hand, slightly long nails, elaborately decorated, look fantastic. From a feminine aesthetic point of view, I totally get it. They are gorgeous. So why do men want to do it too?

Scott_F_Nails has a blog here about his nails (and these sparkly blue ones are his). He writes:
Come on guys, you know you want to get your nails done, now is the time to do it. You can be straight, not a rock star and have great looking nails.
Guy Purcella, whose blog is entitled It's Ok For Men to Have Painted Nails in Public, writes:
He's hit the nail on the... oh, forget it.
Society has led us to believe that for some strange reason, it is not okay for men to paint their nails. This is all silly thinking as painting our nails does not make us feminine, nor does it change us in any way, it is simply an expression of our sense of style. [...] This blog isn't about crossdressing or being fem, it's for ordinary guys who just happen to like painting our nails although we may discuss other emerging fashion trends for men.
Jim ("Guy Polish") from Hawaii (pictured here), whose blog is entitled Men and nail polish writes:
I am regular guy that just happens to like nail polish. Polish should be for everyone. I played Offensive Guard in college and may not be the stereotype of a male polish wearer.
So what is the stereotype of the male polish wearer? Is it someone like me, perhaps? Someone who wants to shave his legs and wear a frock? Or something else?

Steve Winfield at the blog Lacquer Man, writes:
I’m not saying that it “made” me a better man – but in that first week, I did a lot of thinking about how society defines masculinity, and what it really means to “be a man”. In a way, it gave me a different perspective on the issue, and it helped me to discover some of the absurd assumptions I had unconsciously accepted. By stripping these away, it helped me focus on and realize the things that really are relevant to who I am. [...] I’m more like the opposite of a crossdresser. To me, a crossdresser wears nail polish as part of an effort to appear female. His use of nail color depends on his acceptance of the premise that this paint is inherently feminine. I reject that premise. I wear colors that I believe enhance my masculinity as they demonstrate confidence and independence. I recognize that some colors are symbols of femininity – pink, for example, and many pastels – but it’s the color itself that is feminine, not the material that carries the color. [...]Man, it’s JUST PAINT! There’s nothing in the bottle that is inherently feminine, nothing that has any power to change you or make you less of a man. In fact, for a guy to wear nail color, he has to have an abundance of boldness, confidence, adventurousness, independence and a little defiance. These traits are at the heart of REAL masculinity.
All of these guys (and there are plenty more out there) seem to be clear that they simply enjoy having long, visually striking nails. The ones I have seen seem to spend ages on their nails; perfecting the appearance, experimenting with all sorts of different effects, comparing different brands and colours of nail polish.

And all of them seem to insist that there is nothing feminine about nail polish, and there is nothing feminine about a man who wants to paint his nails.

For all of these bloggers above, it seems to be about how it looks, rather than how it feels. They seem to be quite keen to point out that it isn't an expression of femininity. I basically agree with that: none of the bloggers I have seen seem remotely feminine in any other way, and if they did, I would simply assume they had autogynephilia.

So, to men who want to paint their nails: good luck to you all. If you have a particular perspective to offer, your comments are very welcome here. You might also be interested in the related topics, Men in Skirts, or Women with Beards, or that perennial question: what do men's underwear and Fight Club have in common?

===

Addendum: 30th September 2015

Well, I did promise to let you know if my mother ever found out about Vivienne, and now she knows, and has been amazingly accepting and supportive.

Terri McIntyre, Classy Bitch

A decade ago, living in Scotland, I was flicking through the channels late one night on the TV. I stumbled across a sit-com about the owner of a tanning boutique in Glasgow. There was something about the lead actress I couldn't put my finger on at first. I watched the rest of the show, desperate to catch the credits. And there it was. The lead actress was a man, Simon Carlyle, and the show was called Terri McIntyre, Classy Bitch. Simon not only played the lead, the eponymous Terri, but created and co-wrote the show with Gregor Sharp.
 
Naturally I was hooked on the show from then on. And to be honest, I watched it because I am a crossdresser. But the show was brilliant: funny and clever and subtly observed, but tempered with enough vulgarity to appeal to the schoolboy in me who loves that. I also enjoyed the Scottish quirkiness of the humour.

What strikes me about Terri McIntyre, Classy Bitch, is that it's common for comedy actors to crossdress as part of the joke, to add a dash of absurdity to the comedy. Typically there is a hint of acknowledgement, a wink to the audience that this is "supposed" to be funny. I am thinking of the characters in Little Britain, Mrs. Brown's Boys, Lily Savage and the Catherine Tate Show. On the other hand, this show seemed to make nothing of it at all: the character of Terri was not played for laughs as a man in drag, or as a grotesque parody like Mrs Brown or "rubbish transvestite Emily". Terri was sassy, outspoken, and attractive and believable as a woman.

This blog post isn't the first time I have mentioned the show; I mentioned it here. However, I decided to attempt to contact Simon Carlyle and see if he would answer some questions about the show. And he very kindly agreed. Here are the questions I put to him:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Are you a crossdresser?

Fan of the Tan: Terri McIntyre
I am not a cross dresser as such, but after the experience of doing the show I felt I'd discovered a side to myself and to life I had never imagined.

I began as a model in my teens and as I wasn't tall enough (or chiseled enough!) to be a proper male model, I figured I would pursue my figure skating as I'd been doing that competitively for years. However I was not sure I could see myself doing that for my whole life and so when I got offered a job as a tea boy on the Wheel of Fortune gameshow I took it.

I always knew I wanted to write, in hindsight. I'd been jotting down scenes on fag packets, etc., but I never thought it was a job or that I could do anything like that. So when my boss threatened to sack me for general laziness I confessed I was lost.  She then suggested I try to do characters and write them and she would send someone to film me at night in the office. I did, and out of that came Terri.

Lots of comedy writers cast themselves in the lead role of their productions. But most comedies featuring crossdressing are doing it for reasons of farce or burlesque. Terri McIntyre, on the other hand, is clearly meant to be a woman, but played by a man. This is a very unusual angle. What gave you the idea to cast yourself as Terri?
 
Terri felt so naturally an extension of myself that not to play her would be odd.
 
What aspects of yourself did you bring to the role? Where did the character of Terri come from? And was that your real hair?
 
She was part my mother, part my female friends, part some of my gay friends. It just seemed natural and novel. She came from a stereotype, to be honest. A Glasgow female stereotype of a low-end footballer's wife. I suppose we didn't calculate it in this way, but with hindsight this seems to make sense. We loved the idea of bold, brash stupidity coupled with a big heart and a big mouth. We wanted to celebrate feminine strength too, I remember. We liked the idea of a sexually proactive woman too.
 
It was a wig!!! A very very expensive one. So light to wear! My next female role (Yes, there is one in the pipeline) I will grow my own hair. I want to go even further in to bring a woman for the role.

Your next female role? Tell us more!

I can't at the moment-- I'm sorry!!
 
Did you come across any resistance to the idea? After all, Scotland isn't a place known for its acceptance of men dressed as women.

Terri's twin brother, Simon

Resistance was muted but notable. Some people bought it; others who were slower on the uptake could not understand it. Straight males tended to be the most split but there were many in the BBC who supported the show and understood it. Scottish audiences were more receptive-- they loved her and didn't question gender, I found.
 
What was the most difficult part of acting in the role of Terri?

The most difficult part? The heat build up in the bra from the silicon breasts and finding stylish shoes in a 43/44.
 
Sorry, I can't resist. What was it like working with David Tennant?

David was great. Very, very professional. I moan a lot: he doesn't. He is a pal still.
 
What was the popular and critical response to the show? Why was it not renewed for a third season?
 
The show was popular but I think series one was funnier. Series two was too muted. I got offered the chance to do Thin Ice on BBC Two so I did that, and series three did not happen.
 
Who do you regard as your strongest influences as a comedy writer?

I think Woody Allen, Caroline Aherne,  Mel Brooks, Jennifer Saunders, Derren Litten and Joe Orton are among those whose work springs to mind.

What famous person would you most like to meet?

I would only like to meet one person, Liza Minnelli. Famous people don't interest me as such, but she does.

Why Liza Minnelli, if other celebs don't interest you?
 
God-- you know, I have no idea. I think it's because I got allowed to buy a VHS once when I was about 13, and it was of her singing with Sammy Davis, Jr. (my parents didn't allow me much and they watched everything that I bought so this was a rare treat). Shortly afterwards my friend bought me the album she did with the Pet Shop Boys and that was a prize posession too, so I think it is from that. She's pretty funny too I think-- her comic timing is good and underrated and I like that as much as the singing.
 
What place (if any) does Terri McIntyre have in your life now?

Terri coming out to play
Terri still comes out to play once a year approximately, but she has faded in terms of the voice. I hear others now who are more part of the work I'm doing now. I do about once a year go out [as Terri] and go to a party or something as a treat for friends. If not at Hallowe'en it's usually around then or Christmas when everyone is in the party spirit. It's really just for laughs and to see how many admiring glances I can get from men (laughs).

When you say "she has faded in terms of the voice", are you referring to hearing Terri's voice inside you? Or did you mean something else by this?
 
I just mean yes, hearing it inside me-- as you move on and write different things then you have different characters whose voices are those that you play with and ad lib with, in the house, etc. Terri is not so much there now-- she was in my twenties.
 
Are there any plans to release the show on DVD? Apart from a few fragments on YouTube, where can the interested reader see it? And where can we see your other work?

All my work is on YouTube really. I've not reached the giddy heights of DVD release yet!!!

===

So, as someone who has successfully played the part of a sassy and foxy woman, in his own television show, Simon is counted among my crossdressing heroes. In addition, being paid to get made up, wear those nails, and those heels, and adopt that character, makes me more than a little envious.

I want to pick up on Simon's comment: Terri felt so naturally an extension of myself that not to play her would be odd. On the one hand, Simon's performance is an act: a deliberate facade. On the other hand, by his own admission, some (many?) aspects of Terri came from within him. And indeed, when one watches Terri in action, it's clear that the wiggles, the sneers, the pouts look very convincing. Put plainly, Simon does it so well that it's clear that he has a lot of Terri inside.

I've touched before on this theme. When I am dressed, I carry myself differently, I hold my body differently, and my gestures and expressions are different. How much of that is just mimicry (a conscious effort to behave in a feminine way)? And how much of it is innate (the way I would like to behave all the time)? The answer is not clear to me. I seem to remember learning very early (and very hard)  that there were certain gestures and behaviours which boys "don't" do. But if that hadn't happened; if I were somehow raised to adulthood apart from anyone to copy my behaviour from, what would it look like? Would it look masculine? Would it look feminine? Would it be a bit of both? Or would it be so removed from normal human behaviour that it wouldn't be possible to identify it as one or the other (which would suggest that all our gender-specific behaviours are learned)?

My thanks to Simon for answering my questions and providing the images that illustrate this post. I can't wait to hear about his next project, and you can be sure I will let you know about it the minute I hear anything!

If you want to watch Terri McIntyre, you can start here on YouTube.