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.|
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?
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.|
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?
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?
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.