Monday 13 February 2012

High heels!

High heels! Could there be a more tangible object of crossdressing desire? A clearer icon of feminine aspiration?

I've been thinking about them a bit lately. Pondering high heels tells me, I think, something about my own femininity. But first, let's take a look around.

Impractical: heels
Wikipedia tells us (correctly, I am sure) that high heels started off as a form of male attire, as a means of preventing the heel of the boot from slipping out of the stirrup when riding a horse, like a cowboy boot. That makes a lot of sense for me. Later, in several countries, stacked heeled footwear was fashionable for both sexes as a symbol of status and wealth, from which comes the phrase "well-heeled". Wikipedia tells us that high-heeled shoes became fashionable for only women from about the mid 19th century onwards. This fits with some of my beliefs about crossdressing, that things only started to get interesting for us from the Victorian era onwards. But for that, you will need to wait for another blog entry.

So much for the official history. How about this one? Oscar Kiss Maerth, in a distasteful pseudoscientific work from the 1970s, called The Beginning was the End postulated that modern humans evolved from a more primitive species of cannibalistic, brain-eating ape, which nonetheless had several behaviours in common with modern humans (though being unclothed, cross-dressing isn't among them):
Maerth: The rape of the female apes was... no simple matter and the mating could not be carried out as is usual among apes, that is, with the male animal entering the female from behind... Therefore the females normally had to be pulled to the ground by several cannibal ape-men and laid on their backs so that they could be raped... The legs of the females being raped were raised when they lay in this position and the tips of the feet were extended forward at the moment of orgasm so that the ball of the foot was pushed up. This was a sexually exciting sight for the males... and has remained in their subconscious right up to the present. That is why female legs with the tips of the foot stretched downwards and the [heels] of the feet raised are still sexually stimulating today. This is the origin of high heels.
Man the pumps!
Sorry to put you off your dinner with this. This is only one of a hundred junk science theories to explain human sexual behaviour. Before we move on, Maersk has a point: high heels are no longer about height, status, or horse riding. They are about sex.

The best book about crossdressing ever written is, in my opinion, My Husband Betty by Helen Boyd. This book is simply stunning: insightful, articulate, powerfully written, forthright to the point of agony, deeply sympathetic and yet occasionally ruthless. I couldn't finish it in one go, since the book told me so many things about myself that I couldn't confront them all at once; the book still makes uncomfortable reading, since it so effectively demolishes the facade I live behind. You can find Boyd's blog, which is regularly updated, here, and I intend to explore many of her other points in future blog entries.

Here she is, in typical style, giving it both barrels. Watch also her deliberate use of pronouns.
Boyd: Meredith tells me that her husband Victoria claims to be more comfortable in women's clothes. "How can he tell me that? They're not comfortable. I have to wear them. I know they're not comfortable. He's full of it." I can't help but agree. High heels, bras and pantyhose are not comfortable, and the types of lingerie many crossdressers really love-- garters, stockings, and corsets-- are something close to sartorial torture. What I've learned is that Victoria means he is psychologically comfortable, and that dressing as a woman satisfies him so deeply that the physical discomfort is immaterial. 
Ouch! Once again, Boyd hits home here. After a lovely day of crossdressing, the next day I sometimes get a twinge (say in my ankle) which reminds me of the previous day. It may be physically uncomfortable, but since these episodes are few, I welcome reminders of them. And high heels are painful! And awkward to balance in. Despite much experimentation and very careful balancing, I still can't walk comfortably or naturally in stilettos, although wedge heels are easier to balance and walk around in.

High heels have become a powerful expression of femininity. This is associated with the traditional (outdated!) notion of women being delicate and sensitive creatures, ill-suited to coarse manual work. It's also associated with beauty (since high heeled shoes are deliberately highly crafted with lots of gorgeous detail); with reward (since they are expensive, women reward themselves with buying new shoes); and with sex appeal (for which high-heels are practically a synecdoche). High heels make you feel fabulous.

So women don't wear high heels for comfort or practicality; they wear them because they value the associations which the shoes have more than the drawbacks, which is that they are gloriously impractical, quite amazingly uncomfortable, and eye-wateringly expensive (at least the good ones are).

Alluring: Emma Bunton
For many women (such as the model with the red shoes in the picture above) the shoe causes the forefoot to be a linear extension of the calf, which accentuates the apparent leg length. But a few women, such as Emma Bunton, (always my favourite Spice Girl) pictured here, can hyperflex the ankle, so that the contour of the ankle is slightly greater than 180 degrees, and this is powerfully alluring (I am sure it is quite intentional).

So where does that leave me? I flatter myself that, for me, crossdressing isn't a fetish. It's simply about expressing a side of me which would otherwise be suppressed. And yet, I can't find a pair of flat girl shoes I like, no matter how sparkly, or how elegant, or how flattering. I would rather wear high heels every time.

What this tells me is that, one way or another, crossdressing does have a fetishistic component for me. If it were not so, I could simply wear clothes that women themselves wear, and that would suffice. The fact that this doesn't satisfy me reveals that simply wearing what women wear (which is flats or trainers almost all the time) isn't enough. This is a powerful (and, if I am honest) uncomfortable truth about my own crossdressing.


Addendum: 12th March 2012

I've been thinking a bit more about this post. I haven't changed it, since I wrote what I was feeling at the time. However, for me, cross-dressing is an unusual event. It doesn't happen every day; not even every month, and therefore I want it to be as special as possible. I suppose for a real woman, going to an unusual event (a particular birthday party, or a family celebration) she would want to wear something special too, and turning up in trainers or flat shoes might not be it.

A small number of women seem to want to wear high heels all the time: on long-haul flights, for example, one would think that high heels would be extremely impractical, yet one still sees women wearing high heels on such flights.

But most women wear high heels on special occasions, and so do I. I honestly think that if I could crossdress freely every day, I would very shortly change to more comfortable footwear, or perhaps invest in a pair of bionic ankles. So maybe my interest in high heels isn't so fetishistic after all?

Addendum: 28th January 2013

Just this week the good old BBC have run an article on their website about this very subject, entitled Why did men stop wearing high heels? You can read the full text here. And the BBC also has an interesting magazine article here, called Sex on Legs: The Stiletto.

Addendum: 23rd December 2016

More about high heels from the BBC. I am beginning to think they may be obsessed. There is a wonderful podcast called The Why Factor, presented by Mike Williams. The Why Factor is a series of short (15-20 minute) explorations of "why we do the things we do". I hope to discuss the episode which discusses crossdressing, in more detail, in a future article. However, this one is about high heels. (Interestingly, the episode on the BBC website is an abridged, 12-minute version. The full, 18-minute episode which I heard came from iTunes). This podcast confirms the things I discuss above: that high heels were originally worn by men; that they became a symbol of wealth, and then they become an image of sexuality.

Interestingly, Williams turns up for a lesson in how to walk in heels. In her dance studio in London, Sarah Toner runs workshops to teach people (and freely admits some of them are men) how to walk elegantly in high heels, and of course Williams does poorly.

But the new insight, which I found unexpected and slightly disturbing, came from Toner herself, when she discusses why high heels are popular.
Toner: I also think it has to do with the way that you can't really run away. You become a more vulnerable person in a sense, and I think that also has something to do with it.
Williams: I hadn't thought of it like that but when you consider it like that, the fact that the woman is more vulnerable, it's quite sinister.
Toner: It is quite sinister.
This is an interesting take on the phenomenon of high heels, coming as it does from someone who makes her living (at least partly) out of teaching people how to walk in them.


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    1. Zoiks! Pain. I don't enjoy pain at all. Or humiliation. Or cruelty. I don't get at all why some people do. What I enjoy is the reminder of the experience, but it doesn't have to be painful.
      When you wear lipstick, you forget after a while you are wearing it. Then you leave a smudge on a teacup and it gives you a little reminder. I really enjoy those little reminders.
      When I wear heels, I tolerate the pain, but I don't enjoy it. As Helen Boyd says, the psychological satisfaction outweighs the physical discomfort. However, I have shoes which are not painful, and I am quite happy wearing those.
      I don't think transsexuals "mutilate" themselves. That's not the word I would choose. I suppose they try to change their bodies to more closely match their desired sex. If you believe that God made them in perfection, then any change to that would be mutilation. But I don't see it like that, even though for some transsexuals the result is not cosmetically very pleasing.
      One of my other crossdressing heroes, Grayson Perry, points out that gender reassignment surgery is actually a very male solution to the problem of gender dysphoria. If a man has a car which has broken down, he opens the bonnet, fixes the problem, and bam! Sorted.
      So a male who feels he is a woman trapped in a man's body goes for surgery. A few snips, a tuck and some neat little stitches and bam! Sorted.
      I don't suppose these views are popular among male-to-female transsexuals! However, they are certainly thought-provoking and unconventional.
      I am not sure about your use of the word "addiction".

  2. Maybe God makes us in perfection but we all have an amazing ability to screw things up quite a bit!

    Personally, I think mutilation happens when someone takes a perfectly operating body part such as a penis and then deliberately wrecks it (I mean changes it) so much that it no longer can operate correctly as originally designed.

    Finally, if wearing high heels or a bra is painful, then there is a problem with the size or the fitting. Correctly sized and fitted shoes and clothing should never be painful...

    1. Hi Robyn. I really appreciate you dropping by and taking the trouble to comment.

      Are you saying that a transexual person who undergoes gender reassignment surgery has been mutilated? Even though from their perspective they have been corrected?

      I agree with you that correctly fitted clothes and shoes shouldn't be painful. However, I also recognise that what I wear was designed for someone with a different body shape to mine, so sometimes it doesn't quite fit like a glove.

  3. Yes, I think that GRS is mutilation and I think nature agrees with me. What happens to someone who has had GRS if they stop dilation and hormones? Their body slows tries to return to its previous state. Why? Because GRS and hormones cannot change our DNA encoded in every cell in our bodies. Of course, a TS thinks they have been corrected because they know or they feel they are a woman deep down inside. The religion of a TS makes their knowledge about themselves or their feelings about themselves infallible gods who are never, ever wrong. These gods must be obeyed and sacrifices of family, job, money, and time are given up to placate these gods so they do not get angry and mean.

    Sorry if I seem like I've gone off the deep end on this... One thing I have learned on my journey through life is that my brain, my feelings, my knowledge about myself have been and can be incorrect and sometimes very misleading. I no longer trust many of my thoughts without some sort of external verification. If I can be wrong about my thoughts and feelings, others can be as well...

    On the other point, I am a fairly large person, 6'1", 185 lbs (185 cm, 84 kg). My first several years of crossdressing, I had only cast-offs and several thrift store items, all being way too small to fit correctly. When I first started thinking about buying something of my own, I used to think that I would be very unsuccessful as a crossdresser because there isn't anything my size to properly fit (unless I went to a tent maker...). Much to my surprise, there were plenty of stylish, fashionable clothes for someone my size and body shape and even larger. I cannot wear EVERYTHING out there but very happy with the selections available.

    1. Thanks for your post, and your viewpoint, even though I don't quite share it. (I don't think you've gone off the deep end! The purpose of this blog is to exchange ideas and I am delighted that you are doing exactly that. Keep posting!).

      I find it very interesting that you use the phrase "religion of a TS". In my experience, transsexual people are often fractured souls, neither one thing nor another and unable to find perfect acceptance in any camp: male, female, gay, straight, whatever. I believe that for some of them, it is worth those sacrifices you mention (family, job, money and time) and I have only sympathy for their feeling that way. (A little bit of how they feel is true for me; I am a lumper, not a splitter, and see transsexualism and "ordinary" crossdressing as ends of a continuum).

      On the other hand, I also have great sympathy for the people caught up in it; the collateral damage, so to speak. Wife, and possibly kids. Other family members. It may be deeply traumatic for a 10-yr old boy to try to deal with the fact that daddy wants to be called Jane and to wear lipstick and long hair, when what junior wants is someone to take him fishing and teach him how to skin a rabbit.

      Thanks for posting your vital statistics. I'm six foot three according to my weight ;-)

      Like you, I know there are plenty of lovely clothes out there. The limitation is not the clothes but the opportunity to browse them, and the girly dress sense to know what works and what doesn't.

      Does my bum look big in this?