Time to post about another transgendered "celebrity", Leah True.
Leah first came to my attention in 2007, on a documentary in the UK (also screened in other countries) entitled Mr Miss Pageant. The whole documentary is available on YouTube, and you can find Part 1 here.
It was originally entitled Mr Miss World, but apparently the real Miss World people objected (and I guess I can see why). In any case, the competition Leah actually entered is called Miss International Queen, an annual beauty contest in Thailand for transgendered male-to-female people (pre-op and post-op), and is still going. Apparently about 10 million people in Thailand watch it every year, making it approximately one million times more popular than the Eurovision Song Contest. You can see the website here. Leah was Britain's first entrant to the competition, but since then there have been two more (but none for the last two competitions! Come on, you chaps! Where's your sense of British spirit?)
The documentary follows Leah (real name Gavin), a then 41-yr old man who runs his own company designing power tools.
Gavin: I've never liked this ambiguity thing. If I'm dressed like a guy, I like to look like a guy. If I'm dressed like a woman then I like to look like a woman.At the time of the documentary, neither his family nor his workmates knew anything about his double life. He lived in the North East of England, but travelled to London at weekends to keep his dressing a secret, where at one point he won the crown of Miss Alternative London. The reviewer of the documentary in the Sydney Morning Herald wrote: "Gavin likes dressing as a woman. No surprise there - he's English."
Gavin: I look at the results as a work of art. Basically, Gavin is the canvas, and Leah is painted on top, and that's what I'm looking at. When I'm all made up, the hair and all the rest of it, what I create, I find very erotic.Early in the documentary, we meet Sue, a cardiac nurse from London. At the time of filming, Gavin and Sue had been together for six years. Sue describes how they met in a nightclub:
Sue: It was my first experience of a tranny club. Leah was wearing a fantastic black rubber outfit and I had just been out to a gig with my friends, and they said: What do you think of this person, do you think they're a real girl or a boy? And I said wow! Who cares? They look so fantastic.What struck me about Leah while watching the documentary (a bit like Sue) was how fantastically beautiful she looked. I found myself riveted to the screen. As a trained observer, I look closely at crossdressers, and just about everybody has some "tells" (or in my own case, "screams"). Leah seemed to have nothing: the hair was convincing, the face was convincing, the figure and the cleavage were convincing; and not just convincing but fabulous. I was deeply envious, especially (and I couldn't quite believe it) when there was a short segment showing Sue and Leah, dressed more or less identically, sitting close in bed. In case you haven't watched it, Sue is blonde and slim and extremely attractive.
Interviewer: So who are you most turned on by? Yourself, or Sue?In the next scene we see them shopping together. "We are the same size," Gavin explains, and this makes it easy for Sue to try on clothing or shoes which are actually for Leah.
Leah: If I was really honest... myself. (Sue nods).
Interviewer: Do you masturbate dressed as Leah?
Leah: Yes, I do.
The documentary also introduces Darlene, who lives in Sydney, Australia, but represents Egypt in the competition. Darlene was banished from her family when she came out to them at the age of 18, but was aware she was differently gendered from the age of 6. She hadn't seen her family for 4 years.
Darlene: You have to understand. Just because I have a penis, doesn't make me any less of a woman than any other woman.
|Darlene in a different competition|
Darlene: I'm not here to promote Thailand tourism. I'm here to join Miss International Queen. To compete. To see where I stand.
At the time Leah entered the competition, there were 26 competitors in the competition. Most of the competitors were transsexuals, and professional performers to boot, used to working a crowd. Leah is described as the only "full-time man" in the competition. Gavin has to work "twice as hard" as the other competitors. He takes deportment lessons, complete with the classical walking with a book balanced on his head.
As the competition progresses, the relationship with Sue becomes visibly strained. Like a prima donna, Leah becomes irritable, petulant, snappy and demanding. Sue weeps, and Leah admits she wishes it was over because it was so stressful. After the first round, a 4-minute "talent act", where he misreads his audience completely, Gavin's confidence droops even lower.
Gavin: If you want to be put off a dress for the rest of your life, this is the way to do it. I'm not really getting a huge amount of enjoyment about dressing up every morning, for a purpose. At home, I feel quite special. In the tranny world I usually stand head and shoulders, you know, near the top of the tree. I don't feel like that here.Gavin uses his engineering skills to design a national costume for Leah, one which is "feminine and visually exciting", and "a bit more technical round the back". In a moment of national pride, his costume extends two Union Jack flags, but at the last minute he is told that he cannot extend it on stage because it takes up too much room. He defies the instructions and extends the costume anyway, but fails to win. Darlene's costume is a Nefertiti-Queen of the Nile thing, with swooping wings.
Neither Leah nor Darlene do well in the competition, and the eventual winner is Miss Mexico.
Darlene: I'll do whatever it takes to find love. Even if it's coming from a different avenue, a different type of love. I found a few friends that love me, that care about me. Now that I found that, you know, I want to find someone that can love me, and be with me. And that is so hard to find.Why did Leah enter that competition? Without doubt, Leah looks fantastic. But she was competing against competitors who had had hormones, surgery, practice, and (in most cases) were a lot younger than her. What made Gavin think that he could pull it off? Was it confidence? Arrogance even? Afterwards Gavin is seen reviewing the tapes of the competition and expressing some bitterness about being treated unfairly. But, objectively, I think Leah True's talent act was lifeless, and I think winning that competition is not just about looking fantastic in a frock, but about personality and sparkle. I don't think Leah was ever in with a chance of winning.
Of the two competitors, Leah gets (I estimate) 75% of the camera's time (it was a British production, after all), and yet Darlene is the more entertaining. Darlene said she was entering the competition to win, but I really think she was looking to prove something: perhaps prove to her family, perhaps prove to herself, perhaps prove to a future husband, that she is accepted for who she is. Not just accepted, but adored, desired, worshipped. Loved?
Darlene: If suddenly you see I'm not there? That means I've stolen the crown and the chair, and run for Bangkok.Given the choice of which of them to take out to dinner, I would take Darlene any day of the week. She just comes across as being more fun. The decision is (for me) nothing to do with who seems the more beautiful to look at.
On a completely different note, a point which is made is that, when you crossdress for pleasure, it's wonderful; but when you crossdress for a purpose, it becomes hard work. I suppose lots of crossdressers would quite value a valid excuse to dress more frequently, but when it becomes a chore, it loses a lot of its shine. Here's Helen Boyd from My Husband Betty:
Helen Boyd: Ali says he knew he was "just a crossdresser" when he agreed to be in a documentary film about tranvestism in his native England. After three days of putting on nylons it was no fun any more, and he knew he didn't want to crossdress every day.
|Photo credit: Sally Payne / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND|
Gavin: I'm very very good at what I do. I'm probably one of the best in the world at what I do.But the documentary doesn't end with the end of the competition. It follows Gavin's journey back to Britain, and where he finally "with [his] new-found confidence" comes out to his astonished parents, showing them large glossy prints of Leah. And it seems that the competition was, for Gavin, about validation too.
Gavin's Mum: I always wanted a daughter. They're [the photographs] absolutely incredible. That's wonderful, that one.Gavin's mum seems unexpectedly unfazed, indeed somewhat impressed, by Leah. There follows a tearful hug between Gavin and his mum. It would be a nice moment to end on, but instead we end with a weeping Darlene, expressing a wish to be hugged and accepted by her own mother.
Leah and Sue were interviewed a few years later on the popular This Morning show in the UK. Unfortunately the website won't give me access from outside the UK, so I can't tell you what was said. Answers on a postcard please. If you want to see more photos of Leah, you can check out her Facebook profile photos. Leah doesn't have a website; at least not one that I have come across, so there is no way to know what she is currently doing.
I didn't figure this out when I first watched this documentary, but it seems abundantly clear that Gavin has autogynephilia: show me a box he doesn't tick! And in turn, I think that Darlene is probably an early-transitioning transsexual; what Cloudy would call an HSTS. But you might disagree! Please post your comments below.
I consider several of the people I have blogged about to be heroes: people whose achievements or behaviour are inspirational to me in one form or another. Though I think Leah looks fantastic and I wish her nothing but the best, I haven't accorded her this accolade: I don't consider her to be an example I seek to follow.
My final point is this one. This blog, for me, is at least partly about my own validation. It's about trying to make something positive out of crossdressing. About me trying to point out to the world that I am not a pervert or a freak, but a nice sensitive guy who happens to like wearing a dress. And 10,000 hits is a pretty resounding validation. When you look at either Leah or Darlene they each seem so successful, so beautiful, that you would think that they wouldn't need validation (surely a case of res ipsa loquitur!). But it's really interesting that they both do; as I suspect quite a few of us do, and I don't know whether to be pleased I am in that company, or disheartened that no level of beauty will make my deep inner insecurities go away.