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.
 

9 comments:

  1. I too sometimes look at my crossdressed self as some kind of super secret hero identity. Since this is about Emma, I won't get into that.

    I have long been a fan of Emma since I watched her buy a pair of shoes. My first experience with crossdressing was with a pair of shoes, and shoes remain my number one guilty pleasure. So the thought of casually browsing the selection and trying on whatever you like without judgement is my nirvana. Seeing Emma doing this helped me to realize that dream this year. Thank you so much Emma for your courage.

    Emma mentions that, "I'm not sure how much longer I can get away with dressing as I do though..." For those of us in the 40 something category, We must seize the time we have to enjoy this experience. The hill is approaching fast! I am not there yet, but I am sure that the worst thing is to be rolling down the other side toward the end full of regret.

    Emma also mentions, "In conversation people are very polite to my face, but of course their reaction could be very different once my back is turned." This is generally how I feel that most people operate anyway. In my experiences, both dressed and not, people have been pleasant to my face, and if they choose to talk behind my back, then there is something wrong with them. Anyway, my point is that when people are polite, they are trying hard to be accepting in stead of displaying an ingrained reaction, and I do appreciate the effort. And perhaps they are saying, "Wow, it must take some courage to face the public like that."

    Probably the number one complaint, "Not being able to talk freely about it with many of my friends and family. Crossdressing is the most important part of my life." I feel your pain Emma! I would love to have told my dad that I got a really nice french manicure with the money that he sent for my birthday, and that dressing up and going out that day was one of the best experiences of my life. Maybe some day. But this is why I am so glad that in this electronic age, we are able to discover that we are not the only ones, and we do not have to feel guilty about it, and we can find those out there who we can talk to about it.

    Emma, you are such an encouragement to me, and I than you for your courage and inspiration. Emma, you look fabulous and I envy your figure and your courage. Keep doing what you enjoy, and maybe the rest of the world will one day catch-up.

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  2. I also wanted to mention that I do not think that Emma's shoulders or feet look big or out of place on any of the photos or videos that I have seen. Her figure is just lovely.

    I also wanted to ask if Emma's ears are pierced.

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  3. "Crossdressing is the most important part of my life"

    This is what bothers me so much about taking everything so literally. Especially isolating statements from their context so that

    they seem to have a different meaning than what was intended.

    Absolute statements are usually an exaggeration for emphasis. And in the absence of direct interaction with the statement giver for

    clarification, we can get clues from the context to see more clearly the intent.

    In her heyday, “I would go out maybe once a fortnight during the day”
    But, “since the issues with my neighbours surfaced … it's now down to maybe once a month, or every six weeks”
    Also, “I've no wish to dress full-time as my job would become impossible, and my social life would be curtailed.”

    From these contextual clues, we can ascertain that Emma places her job and social life ahead of her crossdressing. We even see that

    she places peace with her neighbors ahead of her crossdressing. This all points to an interpretation that suggests that after other

    obligatory responsibilities are met, crossdressing is what she wants to spend her time on.

    I could meet a new person, and say to them that, “I am all about golf.” Would they think that all that I do is golf, and not work

    or socialize or take care of my family? I would hope not.

    And plenty of people even go to golf tournaments or call of duty tournaments without it being called an addiction, even though it

    could be. But where is the tipping point? And who is to decide. To look at someone else’s life and decide that something is an

    addiction is a judgment in my mind.

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  4. But let us explore the addiction model for a bit.

    Let us start with alcohol. A little is OK, right? Some wine to celebrate the wedding. Perhaps a glass of red wine every night with

    dinner for the antioxidants. How about a couple of beers on a hot afternoon after we just completed re-shingling the roof. How

    about a couple of beers with the fellows on a Friday night at the local watering hole, or a couple of beers while watching the big

    game on the weekend. And just how many is a couple, 2, 6, 12, 24? And at what point does it become a problem, certainly not the

    same for everyone.

    But alcohol is kind of gray so let’s look at something at the other end of the spectrum, heroin. This is kind of a “one try and you

    are hooked” addiction. And in this case, it truly would be sad if a careless parent left a “stamp” laying around for their son to

    find. He has no idea what the effect would be if he were to try it. But one taste and he is hooked. He can not steal himself away

    from the transcendent relaxation and intense euphoria it induces.

    Likewise is the case for crossdressing. A curious boy sneaks away and tries on a pair of high heels that his mother “carelessly”

    left lying around. Or a child in a school play puts on a pair of stockings for his part only to discover that he can not steal

    himself away from the transcendent relaxation and intense euphoria it induces. He can not understand why it feels so good. He only

    understands that it is nice to feel good. And by the time he reaches an age of reason, the pleasure that he gets is so ingrained

    that it is nearly impossible to remove. The only thing that he gains from reaching an age of understanding is guilt from a world

    that does not understand but judges him anyway.

    So, is it really Emma’s fault that she discovered that she could derive pleasure in this way? Or is it her mother’s fault for not

    locking away all of her clothes? Or is it the school’s fault for making him wear pantyhose in a play? And what about me? Is it my

    fault that I paid attention in kindergarten to the story of Little Red Riding Hood? Is it my fault that since I knew all the

    answers, I got to play Little Red Riding Hood in our re-creation of the story? And thusly, is it my fault that I discovered that I

    could derive pleasure by assuming a female role? No, it is not my fault, nor does it make any sense to try to assign any fault,

    because after all, nobody would ever guess that exposing a male child to female clothing would be so “toxic.” Unlike heroin, where

    even the worst of parents would not intentionally expose their children, what parent really even fathoms that leaving a pair of

    heels lying around could start their child on a life long addiction.

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  5. In a world of infinite variety, you have to agree that the condition exists where a young boy can derive great pleasure from

    wearing the clothing of girls. And we can look at that condition under several models to try and gain insight as to why it might

    exist.

    Firstly, lets take an atheistic approach. Pow, big bang, it was just the roll of the dice that this condition exists in this

    universe and thus it is the natural order of things.

    Ok, if that does not suit your fancy, lets take a theistic approach. We are faced with two possibilities, that God created this

    condition, or it is the result of the fall and the devil is responsible. If God created this condition, then it is inherently good.

    Like many things in creation, we may not understand fully the purpose, but that does not negate the goodness of a perfect God.

    And if it is from the fall, and of the devil, what a cruel thing it would be to allow a child who can not even properly reason to

    fall into that temptation and a lifelong addiction.

    “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little

    ones to stumble.” Luke 17:2 (NIV)

    I certainly did not ask for this condition in my life so that I could live every day in conflict questioning whether God really

    loves me or do I really love God. And should we be fitting my mother or kindergarten teacher for their millstones?

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  6. Ho Kay. Thorin and Darien. Much as I respect both of you, and I am glad that you posted, please don't allow these comments to turn into a slanging match.

    Vivienne.

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  7. Hi Darien. Good comments. Thank you for Vivienne for the gentle nudging, but have no fears, I'm not up for a slanging match.

    A couple thoughts. 1. Your first point is granted. Perhaps he did not really mean that crossdressing is the most important thing in his life. I guess only he can let us know what he really meant by that. I apologize if I read him wrongly on that.

    2. I am not trying to lay fault on anyone for developing crossdressing as an addiction, or hobby or whatever you might want to term it. Nor do I directly fault myself with developing crossdressing myself. I didn't choose it either.

    3. But you present a false dichotomy. You say either God created this condition, and so therefore its good, or the devil created it, with God allowing it, and therefore we should also still give in.

    Why not a third option? God did not give me this struggle, but the devil, or my sinful nature, or a combination of both, or just a set of crappy circumstances allowed this condition to grow up within me. But since God is all powerful, he obviously allowed this to grow up in me, as well as how he allows other addictions and sins to grow up in other people. In fact, he allows people to freely sin every day. But why did he allow this condition in us? Perhaps he wanted us to turn to him for healing because of this condition, and so find wholeness and joy and restoration and redemption in him. Perhaps he wanted us to learn how to struggle against sin, to learn how to choose to do what is right even when it is hard.

    You may not agree with that at all and I can't prove it to you. But it is a logical third option. And it is the one I believe.

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  8. *NOTE* This post has absolutely nothing to do with the above conversation.
    Vivienne, after searching through your archives I want to comment you on the work you do. You seem to put a lot of time into your interviews as well as your blog in general. Love this interview with Emma. I knew absolutely nothing of her before. She seems to really have a very practical and real world cross dressing niche carved out. In my personal experience the confidence you have going out dressed is over half the battle. Can't wait to read more from you.
    Thanks,
    ---Teela

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    Replies
    1. Hi Teela,

      You're right. The discussion above got way, way out of control. Thanks for bringing it back!

      Vivienne.

      Delete