Friday 30 November 2012

Jaye Davidson

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

Spoilers alert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 15 November 2012

Jan Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Addendum 2nd May 2014

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

Addendum: 6th October 2015

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

Emma Ballantyne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do I think of Emma?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum: August 2013

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

Addendum: December 2020

The video I had previously linked to as the first Emma video has been removed. I have therefore substituted another, but there are plenty of similar ones to choose from.