Sunday 13 January 2013

Leah True

In the last day or so, my blog counter has passed the 10,000 mark. That's a thousand times more successful than I ever thought this blog would be, so many thanks to all of you who have dropped by, and I hope you will keep on visiting!

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?)
Leah True

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?
Leah: If I was really honest... myself. (Sue nods).
Interviewer: Do you masturbate dressed as Leah?
Leah: Yes, I do.
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.

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 has a website here, and you can see a lot more of her here on her YouTube channel.
Darlene: I'm not here to promote Thailand tourism. I'm here to join Miss International Queen. To compete. To see where I stand.
Darlene's brother was getting married at the time, and Darlene was invited to attend, but only if she attended as a boy. This was clearly very painful for her. She has had some surgery to appear more feminine, but hadn't had sex-reassignment surgery at the time of filming; this may have changed.

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 / / CC BY-NC-ND
And yet, compared to what most crossdressers have got, what does Gavin have to complain about? He has a gorgeous partner who loves him (and deserves a gold medal for putting up with some of his selfish antics); he can dress freely in front of her (and she even admits she quite fancies Leah- phew!) He looks absolutely dazzling when he puts the gear on. It must be pretty close to crossdressing Nirvana.
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.

Thursday 3 January 2013

The Story So Far...

A couple of things prompted this blog post. First, it's the end of the year, which always makes me want to take stock of things which have happened over the last 12 months. Secondly, I came across another blog, Stop Crossdressing, quite recently, and having read quite a few of the more recent posts and discussion, I found myself wanting to repeat on there a lot of things which I've posted on other people's blogs. (Stop Crossdressing has been taken down since I wrote this post).


So I decided that a bit of summing up is in order. I've learned a tremendous amount about myself over the last 12 months, and I've profoundly re-evaluated my views about crossdressing. My plan is that, by putting this all together in the one place, I can crystallise my thoughts (always helpful, I have discovered), and also refer other people to here if they want to know my point of view. Regular readers won't find much that is new, but new visitors will hopefully find all my points here in one place.

For ease of reference, I have grouped everything into headings. Some of this stuff is overlapping, so please read to the bottom before you write in to complain about something!

We are all the same

First, we are all the same (provided we are talking here about men who wear women's clothing). Regardless of whether you call our behaviour crossdressing, transvestic fetishism, crossplaying, or whatever, just about everyone who comes to this site (and just about everyone mentioned on here) has the same inner motivations, which arose, at least in the first instance, for sexual arousal. (I am a "lumper", not a "splitter").

For some of us, those motivations are so strong that they overthrow us; for others, they are less strong and can be managed more easily. But all of us, all the time, feel the same desires and tendencies. For some of us, the fiery sexual component has mellowed into a gentler gratification which may not even involve arousal, but for some of us, it's still all about the sexual arousal.

For all of us, I feel sure, there is no other activity which provides the same relief and pleasure.

Alongside the assertion that we are all the same, but independent from it, is my deeply-held belief that no group is somehow more proper, more meritorious, more deserving of sympathy or recognition, than any other. I believe (and have repeatedly stated) that we have more that unites us than divides us, and that we ought to be generally respectful and courteous to one another at all times.

Crossdressing as an addiction

The concept of addiction is an attractive one for some commentators. Certainly crossdressing behaviour can have features resembling addiction, in that crossdressing desires are sometimes unrelenting and all-consuming. The person would rather be free of those desires, and they cause tremendous self-loathing. And the framework of addiction offers the prospect of rehabilitation, and eventually cure.

But for many common addictions (tobacco, alcohol, drugs, gambling) the initial activity is unpleasant. I still think smoking is loathsome, and I remember drinking my first beer, and hating it. I had to work at it to tolerate it, then enjoy it (which I now do). I have no desire whatever to take drugs, or to gamble (I don't even play the Lottery). On the other hand, I was drawn to crossdressing from my earliest memories, certainly before starting primary school, and the very first activities were pleasurable from the very outset. So I don't consider crossdressing to be an addiction in the same mould as those other things. However, it can certainly become one, if allowed to get out of control.

The morality of cross-dressing

The act of a man wearing women's clothing or cosmetics is morally neutral. I don't consider it intrinsically harmful in any way. In particular, I reject claims that there is somehow a biblical or Christian prohibition against crossdressing.

But crossdressing can be tremendously damaging and harmful. The reason is that many crossdressers seem to pursue crossdressing excessively, and it takes away time and money and other resources which could be better spent looking after a family, or a spouse, or a job. When crossdressing reaches the stage where it prevents someone being able to live a normal life, it's too much.

I frequently use the analogy of golf. Like crossdressing, golf is morally neutral. A couple of rounds a week is fine, but there are some guys who want to play golf all the time; they spend excessively on memberships and green fees, and on the latest clubs and equipment, and their wife might be called a  "golf widow". For those guys, golf is interfering with their ability to lead a normal life and has become excessive. But that doesn't make golf itself intrinsically immoral.

Who is in charge

Amour de moi en femme?
Without doubt, I wish I could be free of my crossdressing desires. They have caused me a considerable amount of personal unhappiness, self-loathing, and marital strife. I am not a "happy crossdresser". It seems I have two choices: either crossdressing is in charge of me, or I am in charge of crossdressing. It's clear for me which of us needs to be in charge.

Deciding that involves making an active choice about the priorities in my life. My marriage is more important to me than my crossdressing. My children are more important to me than my crossdressing. My career is more important to me than my crossdressing. On the other hand, setting aside crossdressing permanently costs too much in terms of mental and emotional effort: I become moody and tense all the time, and am no fun at all to be around. I know that my crossdressing feelings won't go away, no matter how long I desist.

So what I am seeking is a middle ground: to permit just enough crossdressing to assuage my yearnings, but not to pursue it to such an extent that it interferes with my normal life. You might well point out (and I would agree with you) that I am seeking to have my cake and eat it too; that such a balance won't be easily struck. But that's what I am aiming for.

Nobody can sum up my feelings better than old Polonius: This above all: to thine ownself be true.


Autogynephilia (or autogynaephilia if you speak British) is the word coined by the sexologist Ray Blanchard to describe "a man's paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman". Initially I resisted this description of myself, but after coming across Cloudy's blog On the Science of Changing Sex, I accept it as the only theory which fits all the facts and behaviour as I observe them, in myself and others.

The reason this troubles me is that I had considered that crossdressing was not a sexual thing for me; instead, it seems mostly to be about emotional expression and sensual pleasure these days. However, Blanchard's theory is that it has its roots in sexual arousal, and, though it makes me very uncomfortable to admit it, this is absolutely true for me. On the other hand, although the root of autogynephilia is sexual, sexual gratification isn't (by any means) the only reward which it provides, and emotional and sensual pleasures are comfortably within its purview.

Autogynephilia is also (I believe) the reason that late-transitioning transsexuals (like Caitlyn Jenner for example) desire to change sex, although in most cases by the time transitioning occurs the sexual aspect to it has mellowed into a sensation of comfort or belonging in the female role.

Addendum 22nd September 2015: I am extremely indebted to Alice Dreger's wonderful book, Galileo's Middle Finger, for providing the French translation of autogynephilia. In contrast to what I think is a very clunky and uncomfortable term, in French it is amour de soi en femme, (love of oneself as a woman) which sounds positively lovely.

Crossdressing is common

If you look at my post here, you can see fairly reliable figures from the UK's Office for National Statistics about the prevalence of homosexuality in the population. I had previously read a figure of about 1% of males being crossdressers. A more recent figure from Anne Lawrence says that "up to 3% of men in Western countries may experience autogynephilia". I suspect this might be a bit of an overestimate; one swallow does not a summer make, and I suspect that regular, frequent crossdressers are fewer. We are probably on a continuum of frequency or intensity of crossdressing expression, which makes drawing any line pretty arbitrary. (Are you autogynephilic if you dress once a week? Once a month? Once a year? Or are you autogynephilic if you don't dress at all, but are troubled by daily thoughts about it? How do you decide? I touch on these difficulties in my linked blog post).

What Anne Lawrence also says (and I am sure she is right) is that the number of people who change sex from male to female is rising sharply. Lawrence suggests that this increase is largely accounted for by late-onset transitioners, who previously would have been denied sex-reassignment surgery.

In any case, there are a lot of us out there.

Crossdressing is lifelong and incurable

I believe crossdressing is innate to me. Crossdressing desires have been present from my very earliest memories. Though they have faded from time to time, they have never completely gone away. I do not believe that they ever will. I do not believe that someone can be "cured" of crossdressing in any meaningful way; not any more than one can be "cured" of homosexuality.

One one occasion I met an older crossdresser, who told me that in his youth he had been subjected to electric aversion therapy as a means of attempting to cure his crossdressing. He pretended he was cured just long enough to escape the treatment, before returning to crossdressing, which he had pursued for the rest of his life. It had cost him his marriage, and he seemed deeply unhappy, even though he was dressed at a social gathering. And no amount of military discipline could permanently make a man out of Jan Hamilton.

There is a small amount of evidence that anti-androgens (such as spironolactone) can have some effect at suppressing crossdressing tendencies. However, since the hormonal balance of the human body is akin to an orchestra, to meddle with it carelessly is likely to cause far-reaching and potentially permanent side-effects. I therefore don't recommend anyone to take any hormonal medication without thorough discussion with their doctor first.

Crossdressing tends to be progressive as one gets older; a clear and detailed description of how crossdressing manifests in each decade of life is given in Helen Boyd's wonderful book (which I wholly recommend to everyone) My Husband Betty.

Putting crossdressing aside

Many of my correspondents, and some of the other bloggers I link to, are people who have chosen to set crossdressing aside from their lives. Their motivations vary, from religious or spiritual reasons, through to repugnance at crossdressing, through to a desire to retake control of their lives.

I want to be clear that I wish these individuals nothing but success. I think I have quite a lot in common with many of them (and you know who you are!), and the reason for this is that I share with them a determination that crossdressing will not overwhelm me, and a strong moral sense which keeps me away from the less savoury behaviour of some of my fellow crossdressers.

I don't think that crossdressing can be put aside permanently without considerable effort. It’s sort of like being on a diet. At first, it’s OK to go without chocolate and pizza and the other things you enjoy, but after a while you come to miss them more and more. No matter which way you dress your salad or your rice crackers, you can’t make them delicious or satisfying. And then you find that you are using up all your patience and your energy resisting the urge to have a slice of pizza, and you are moody and tense all the time. You may even accept that chocolate and pizza make you overweight, and all those vegetables are highly nutritious and doing wonders for your digestion (and all that is indisputably true). But still, nothing hits the spot like a fresh hot pizza dripping with melted cheese.

It can be done; some people can manage it for ever, but it costs. I believe people who say they have successfully given up crossdressing and no longer feel the urge to do it are lying to themselves and everyone else; just as I believe people who say they prefer salad instead of pizza are lying to themselves (and everyone else too). You can deliberately choose the salad for all sorts of reasons, and I wish you nothing but the very best of luck, but to insist you don’t like pizza any more makes me highly doubtful.

Intersex and transgender

Intersex isn’t the same as transgender because sex isn’t the same as gender. Sex is a biological distinction (chromosomes, hormones and physical characteristics). Gender is a social distinction (roles and behaviour). And to add a third term, sexuality is about who you want to go to bed with. Usually they coincide pretty neatly, but not always.

It’s absolutely true that sex is not black and white, and neither is gender nor sexuality. Intersex people cannot reliably be assigned to either female or male; some of them have unusual chromosome patterns (karyotypes, such as XXY), and some of them have other syndromes which cause them to develop features of both male and female anatomy. Almost all of them are assigned at birth in to one or other sex, and raised accordingly. I believe that's because parents want their kids to be spared the agony of growing up different. On the other hand, some intersex people, when they become adults, are very uncomfortable with the sex they were assigned to.

I think some transgendered people do probably identify with intersex people (without knowing the science well enough) and use the existence of intersex people to justify their views, beliefs, behaviour, whatever. I can also understand how transgendered people might be slightly envious of intersex people (you might wish you were a man with breasts or a woman with a penis) and why intersex people might be uncomfortable with that.

I think what makes some intersex people uncomfortable about themselves is not the same as what makes transgendered people uncomfortable about themselves. I think most members of both groups are uncomfortable about themselves; I know I am. However, I flatter myself that I do understand the science as well as just about anyone.

I imagine a transgendered person saying to an intersex person: “See, I am just like you: neither male nor female.” I imagine the intersex person replying “You’re nothing like me. You started off as one, and now you want to be the other. Whereas I started off somewhere in the middle.”

As a lumper, I say to both: I understand that you both have different feelings and different biology. But, seen from the outside, you are both people who don’t neatly fit into the categories of male and female. Therefore, perhaps you have quite a lot in common after all (rejection, loneliness, doubt), even if you got there by different routes.

Crossdressing and LGBT

And that brings me on to LGBT. The whole notion of LGBT is exactly this: an attempt to lump together people whose behaviour and predilections don’t quite fit with the "mainstream". Before I started this blog, I had joined a closed internet forum for LGBT academics. I had thought that I would have something in common with them. I was, at the time, desperate to open a dialogue with like-minded individuals, but found (almost) nobody like me there. Though I posted about my own thoughts and fears and concerns, all I seemed to get was a polite concern; nobody (and we are talking about gay and lesbian academics) seemed to feel I had much in common with them. I had hoped to strike a chord, but failed.

As it happens, this blog has done quite well, and I have all but given up visiting that forum. But in the months when I lurked, I realised indeed that I had little in common with the regular posters. I dutifully tried to pitch into some of the conversations, and was treated politely and with tolerance, but without ever developing a sensation of feeling I belonged. And I never felt like attending any of the social gatherings which were held quite regularly. It seemed to me that all I had in common with them was my sense of isolation and self-loathing.

I think, though, for the "general public" (if indeed there are any left when you subtract all the trannies and queers and gays and whatnot), crossdressers are considered to be lumped in with homosexuals. How often have you heard an accusation that because a man wants to wear a frock, he must be gay? And how often have you heard crossdressers insist and demand that they are not gay? Where men are concerned, I think most gay men are attracted to masculine men, not feminine men. So crossdressing isn't an especially effective way to find oneself a gay male partner; Jaye Davidson said something of this kind, and I guess he would know better than most.

Crossdressing isn't an expression of inner femininity

I've left this until the end because I think it is one of the most controversial, and counter-intuitive things which I have discovered. It bears repeating. Men don't crossdress because they are innately feminine. Crossdressers don't want to be like women; they want to be like men think women are. It's true that many crossdressers (and here I include myself) didn't behave like typical boys when younger, and were aware something about them made them different from others, but they didn't actually consider themselves to be girls.

Instead, crossdressers are attracted to women (remember: crossdressers are not gay). It's just, for crossdressers, the attraction to women extends to themselves as a woman (the technical term for this is an erotic target location error). In other words, crossdressing is an expression of heterosexual desire, turned inwards. Anne Lawrence puts it more prosaically, and I refer you to her whole article here:
Thinking about autogynephilic MtF... as men who “love women and want to become what they love” offers a more accurate and more richly informative model for clinicians.
In other words, autogynephilia isn't just a sexual fetish, and to dismiss it as such angers nearly everyone, who insist there is a lot more to it (I know I think so). But it can be conceptualised as a whole suite of romantic or attractive feelings, directed towards oneself as a woman, even though most of us are also capable of directing these feelings outward to a female partner. I suppose that makes me feel a little better about the label of autogynephilia applied to me: it isn't just about the sex thing.

I personally believe that the reason some male crossdressers seek out sex with other male crossdressers, is that the sex partner each is attracted to is not the other one, but themselves in the female role, doing things which they consider it erotic for women to do. Add to that the sexual overlay that many men consider it erotic for two "women" to have sex together, and you have a powerful mix indeed. And indeed, each participant will tell you he is quite sure he isn't doing it because he is gay. See here for Helen Boyd's comment.

I also believe that many crossdressers are more sexually attracted to the woman they see in the mirror than with the woman they may be married to, and Helen Boyd offers plenty in support of this assertion too.

My final piece of evidence in support of this assertion is mentioned above: if you want to suppress crossdressing desires, you don't take more androgens (which, you might think, would make you more "manly"). Instead you take anti-androgens, which suppress male sexual appetite and behaviour. Why does that work? Because crossdressing isn't driven by femininity, but by masculinity.


Anyway, that's been a lot of useful discovery for just a little over a year. For regular visitors, please do keep coming, and posting your comments; I find them extremely stimulating and valuable. For new visitors, do please browse through; one of my personal favourite, but least-visited posts, is this one.

All the best for 2013,