Tuesday 25 February 2014

Ja'mie: Private School Girl

A few months ago, I posted about Simon Carlyle, an actor who created a female character, Terri McIntyre, and then played her on screen in a comedy. It turns out Carlyle is not alone in doing this. Recently, the television series Ja'mie: Private School Girl, has been produced, and screened in the US, Australia (where it was made) and the UK.

Ja-may-zing: Chris Lilley
Created by Chris Lilley (with assistance from Ryan Shelton), the titular character is a teenager, living in a wealthy district in Sydney, and attending the fictional but prestigious Hillford Grammar School for girls.
Ja'mie: Hi. My name's Ja'mie. I used to be Jamie but I added the apostrophe in year 8. I'm 17 years old, I live in Sydney, Australia, and I'm a private school girl. This series is about my last few months of school, and the events which changed my life for ever.
Ja'mie King was created as a character for two previous shows, in which short comedy skits were seen. Now, she has been given a show all to herself, all six episodes. Before we go any further, a note on pronunciation. You say it "Ja-MAY", or at least, she does.

Lilley is highly skilled at creating characters, both male and female, of different ages and races, and he portrays them all himself with great subtlety. But nonetheless, portraying a teenager must have been extremely difficult, especially as this character is so monstrous!
Sydney Morning Herald: The show is firmly grounded in reality, which is why it works as mockumentary. Lilley went to great lengths to ensure his observations were accurate. He interviewed kids from rural towns, followed an Asian amateur theatre group and filmed conversations between girls from private schools. Although he went to a private school on Sydney's North Shore and knew Ja'mie's world, he wanted to make sure he had the speech patterns and references right. "I didn't want teenage girls to watch it and think that's such an older guy's view of teenagers," he says.
School captain, or whatever
And Lilley does it brilliantly. It's a stretch to imagine Ja'mie as supposedly gorgeous (especially as she isn't very pretty), but the setting is perfect: the costume, the surrounding cast members (who play it dead straight), and the well-observed parody dialogue (especially the gossip sequences, which look very much like the real thing). After a while, we get completely absorbed in the character. Every flounce, every flick, every put-down, every girly line is flawless.

Ja'mie is the school captain, and is always surrounded by six fawning, sycophantic prefects, all attractive young girls. She is vain, shallow, self-centred, racist, homophobic, manipulative and bitchy. She is obsessed with all the things one expects teenage girls to be obsessed with: image, boys, brands, social media.

I found it all horrifying at first. From my own schooling, I remember that type of girl quite well: the queen bee. As an unattractive boy, struggling with his own identity and his self-esteem, I was helpless in the company of pretty girls-- and they knew it. Seeing all these girls with their self-importance and their casual contempt of outsiders almost made me want to hide behind the sofa.

It's all like, so totally, OMG!
Part of the reason the parody works so well is that it is so well-observed. It has its roots deep in truth, which is exaggerated enough to be funny, but without getting to the point where we think it's impossible or ludicrous. Like all the best parodies, it works on several levels. One of the most obvious levels is that the statements made about Ja'mie by herself and her parents are constantly contradicted by the behaviour we see on the screen.

But you don't need me to dissect it for you. What you should clearly do is go and watch it for yourself!

Reviews of the show have been generally favourable. Jake Flanigin of The Atlantic wondered whether the show was mocking teenage girls themselves-- or mocking the society which enables "monstrosities" like Ja'mie to exist. Madeleine Ryan of the Sydney Morning Herald, herself a graduate of a private school, draws comparisons between Ja'mie King and Frankenstein's monster:
Ryan: The question then raised by Lilley is: are young women, in order to make sense of their place in the world, becoming monsters? These motivations may seem laughable, but they are the parody of a devastating truth - in order to be loved and approved of, young women today believe that they need to master it all.
Flanigin: It’s a question better posed as “Why are young women turning into monsters?” The answer, of course, is the gauntlet of ludicrously high expectations society demands they run through—perhaps the only facet of modern culture Lilley effectively lampoons in Private School Girl. Ja’mie has quite a lot of plates to keep spinning: She must be hot (or “quiche”); she must be thin; she must be charitable, dateable, and creative. She’s the head prefect and the soi-disant “smartest non-Asian” at Hillford Girls’ Grammar, and she’s banked her entire self-worth on receiving an all-school award before shipping off to Africa for a gap-year of aid work. This on top of maintaining her record for “the most Facebook friends” in school. So maybe we have an inkling as to why Ja’mie and the young women she supposedly represents are turning into monsters.
Talking non-stop: Ja'mie
On the other hand, Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter thought it was all a bit too much:
Goodman: You'd have to be the biggest of Ja'mie fans to want to watch her talking nonstop for 30 minutes. While Ja'mie skewers the predictable targets in this new series, it's just too, too much to endure her without a break.
It seems clear so far that none of the reviewers considers Ja'mie to be anything other than loathsome. Nobody is applauding her as a person. But so much for what the reviewers think. What about me?

While Terri McIntyre was a likeable character, a "bitch with a heart of gold", Ja'mie King is not likeable in the least. Therefore it's a lot harder for me to find this programme funny. As I've mentioned before, crossdressing as a comedy device doesn't really work for me. On the other hand, the crossdressing is so clever and played so straight that it is almost incidental to this show.

But crossdressing there is. I was envious of Simon Carlyle getting made up as Terri and being able to become that other person. I remain in two minds about Chris Lilley. First, looking back, I was desperate for popularity and acceptance among girls in school. So for me to put myself in Lilley's shoes might allow me a glimpse of what that might have been like. On the other hand, the reality of it, at least as we see in the show, is cruel and lonely and uncertain and shallow. These are not things I aspire to! And I am sure I would tire of that reality very quickly.

And what did the other actors (particularly the prefects) think of it all? Was it easy to get into character? Was it easy to forget Chris Lilley isn't a teenage girl but a grown man in a pinafore? Or was it all a bit weird?

And what about Lilley himself? For him, Ja'mie is just a job. Ja'mie is one of the most memorable (but by no means the only one) of the different characters in his arsenal. Which parts of himself did he bring to the role? Did he enjoy playing Ja'mie? Was he fascinated by the glimpse into her life that the character must surely have brought him? Did he learn anything? Did he come away from the role with sympathy? With reluctance? We don't know.
Lilley: Strangely, I do find her slightly attractive sometimes. I think it's that thing when it looks like you; it's kind of like why people like their children.

As Ja'mie herself might say: yeah, whatever.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Alex Reid

Imagine you are a crossdresser. You meet and then marry a woman who is gorgeous, sexy, glamorous and adventurous. You reveal your secret to her, and she is thrilled: not only does she dress you, but she celebrates your fem side and enjoys making love to you dressed. How does that make you feel?

Masculine: Reid
Alex Reid is not short of masculinity. Handsome and chiselled, he is a mixed martial artist and cage fighter (though, seemingly, not a very good one). He has also been a bit-part actor. He shot to fame in the UK when he found himself dating a woman called Katie Price, whose stage name is "Jordan", in 2009. Here he is as he would like you to think of him. His Wikipedia article contains a single line about his crossdressing, and his personal website, nothing at all (unsurprisingly).

Price is a former topless model, whose career has included modelling, fashion and beauty, television and media, and writing books about herself.

Price is no airhead with big boobies. She is shrewd, ruthless and successful, having negotiated the treacherous waters of media celebrity for many years. According to Wikipedia, she is now worth over 40 million pounds.

Feminine: Jordan
At the time they got together, Price was splitting up from her former husband, singer Peter Andre. Andre released the single Mysterious Girl in 1996, and wowed teen audiences with his famous "washboard stomach", before disappearing without trace, until he was washed up on the celebrity career resurrection show I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! in the UK, in 2004. Down in that jungle, amid the bugs, the bush tucker, and the humiliation, love blossomed between Price and Andre.

After the show finished, they not only married, but became reality TV sensations, starting a whole franchise of programmes about their personal lives. We learned, at least at first, that Andre seemed actually to be quite a nice bloke. In any case, it relaunched his career very successfully. In a breathless moment of schmaltz, Price and Andre even released their own cover version of A Whole New World, the love song between Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. They had two children together, whose names they seemingly chose by picking letters at random from the Scrabble bag.

When the relationship came (inevitably) crashing down, the whole country was in on every detail of the separation. Depending where your sympathies lay, one could buy T-shirts, with "Team Peter" or "Team Katie" on them, to show the world whose side you were on. In other words, all eyes were on Katie Price, and who her next swain was going to be. Practically nobody had ever heard of Alex Reid, but suddenly he was being photographed on red carpets next to Price, and setting gossip columnists a-flutter.

Roxanne: seriously?
It didn't take long for things to hot up. Reports began to emerge that Alex Reid was a transvestite, whose secret alter-ego was "Roxanne". But all was not lost. Not only was Price untroubled, she seemed positively to relish having a transvestite for a boyfriend.
Contact Music: Katie Price has vowed to stand by boyfriend Alex Reid, despite revelations he is a cross-dresser. The glamour model insists she has no plans to dump the cage fighter over his feminine alter-ego 'Roxanne' and says they are very happy. She said: "We're very much together."
It was at this point that I started to take an interest. Initially upset that he had been outed, Reid seemed to calm down, when Price allowed him access to her enormous collection of clothing, cosmetics, wigs and other feminine accoutrements. She described it enthusiastically here on the Graham Norton Show:
Price: When he told me, I'm like, Oh my God, I gotta dress you up. In my dressing room I got wigs, eyelashes, everything. I went: you are perfect, you're my girl, so please let me do you up, please let me do you up. And he's like, hang on a minute, this is a bit weird, I'm not used to a girl saying "let me do you up", 'cause normally it's a private thing he does. But I'm well into it, it doesn't bother me.
Awww.... matching outfits!
Price is not simply feminine: she is uber-feminine. Everything is just a little more: the eyes, the boobs, the teeth, the tan, the hair, the lashes, the lips. This is all a carefully cultivated image, and the whole package, for me, teeters on the very brink of attractiveness, just above the cliff of grotesque. In addition, she is confident, powerful, and used to discussing her personal life in public.
Norton: Have you had sex with Roxanne?
Price: Of course! Call me strange, call me weird, whatever.
Norton: So when you're with Roxanne, are you... two women, or are you sometimes the man?
Price: I boss him about. He becomes quieter.
Guest: Can I ask, is there a bit of leather involved, and a whip?
Price: Honestly, you name it, he's been there, done it. Honestly, anything goes with him. I'm having such a fun time.
Faced with this level of approval, it was only a matter of time before we saw Roxanne publicly, and here they are, Jordan and Roxanne, in matching gold outfits, at the launch of one of Price's several autobiographies, in 2009. Price was reported to have ordered designer dresses to be specially made in Reid's size.

Getting his Rox off: Reid
So let's just pause here for a moment. What's going through Alex's mind? First, he is married to a woman who is considered to be one of the most desirable in the country, to say nothing of wealthy. Second, he seems to have entered transvestite nirvana: not only does Price accept his transvestism, she embraces it enthusiastically, and provides him with a level of access to feminine accoutrements which must be almost unparalleled. Third, Reid has gone from being a relatively unknown person to being one of the most famous faces in the country. This interview with the Guardian seems to get a very clear picture of him, without even mentioning crossdressing.

It seems quite understandable to me that all of this would be a bit of a shock; something quite difficult to deal with. And unfortunately, Reid just wasn't equipped to handle Price and her ruthless career machine. He was, unfortunately, merely a pawn.

It wasn't long before cracks started to show. Tabloids spoke of Price's disappointment that Reid was unwilling or unable to have a baby with her. There were reports of him having sex with other men as Roxanne, and the relationship shattered apart after barely one year.

It won't surprise you in the least that Price has continued to manipulate the media in her own interests. Price wrote it all down in a book, Love, Lipstick and Lies, published in 2011, excerpts from which made it into the popular press. Sex with cross-dressing Alex Reid was obscene, depraved and left me frightened, roared the Mirror.
Price: Think of the most disturbing porn you could imagine, and times that by ten. Only then are you getting close to what I witnessed and what Alex wanted me to join in with. I’ve tried a few things in my time, but I’d never before f***** a man dressed up as a woman who happened to be my husband. I felt as if I was crossing a line, going to a dark place where there were no boundaries, where there was no normal.
I just hope the poor girl can somehow get over it and just get on with her life.

Reid all about it!
I feel extremely sympathetic to Alex Reid. He is, without doubt, an autogynephilic transvestite. He wants what we all want; to dress freely, to enjoy it, and to have fun. At first, it must have been breathtaking, being dressed by Katie Price and having her order designer gowns in his size. And yet, we all look in the mirror and feel we are not as beautiful on the outside as we feel on the inside. How much more cruel is that comparison, when the face beside you is that of Katie Price?

And what about the effect on his sense of self, his manhood, when the press were calling him "Mr Katie Price" and he was known for nothing other than being her plus one? That must be pretty hard to handle. And what about those outfits? They were (almost certainly) chosen by Price for maximum impact; he would probably have looked very strange in almost any feminine garb, but careful wardrobe and cosmetics can be amazing. On the other hand, these two outfits, in which he was pictured publicly, are just dreadful. No wonder that, in every picture I've seen, he looks ill-at-ease. Partly that's because he wasn't dressed as Roxanne, he was dressed as Jordan, which is something that few women (and far fewer men) can actually pull off.

In another universe, the public acceptance of Jordan's transvestite husband would simply be mandated by her celebrity. There would be no arguing against it. Left a little longer, and it would have been downright cool. I can see young male wannabees shaving their legs and squeezing into those skimpy outfits to impress their girls. I had genuinely hoped these events would be a step towards public acceptance of crossdressing. But not in this universe.

And what do you do, when you open yourself up to someone you love about crossdressing, and they hurt you deeply? You purge, and you purge good.
Digital Spy: The cage fighter has apparently vowed never to dress up as Roxanne again after suffering emotional abuse when Price revealed his secret to others and made him dress in drag publicly for her book launch in 2009. According to The Sun, Reid told a friend: "Roxanne is dead and it was Katie who heartlessly exposed her. She murdered her. She is evil and she will pay."
I think this particular choice of language, with violent metaphors, points to deep emotional suffering. I do not doubt Reid never wants to dress again, but I do not doubt that he eventually will.
Katie Price is currently in another marriage, but will probably get divorced in the next month or so if she plays to form. Reid had a daughter with another glamour model, Chantelle Houghton, but the word on the street is that they have separated too.

Meanwhile, Reid is back pretending to be a real man's man once again-- but for how long?

Friday 14 February 2014

Gender Variants on Facebook

Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate. -William of Ockham, 14th C. 
As I write, the news is less than 24 hours that Facebook now permits its users to specify a range of genders, instead of the usual boring two.

I welcome this development. Some websites allow you to specify Male, Female, or Other, or sometimes I'd rather not say, which seems to be a catch-all option for those who don't quite fall neatly into the two boxes.

Eenie, meenie, miny, mo...
Facebook, according to its press release, had "consulted with gay and transgender advocacy groups" before adding its new categories. To me, it's an acceptance that gender isn't as binary as some people like to think, and an acceptance that transgendered people are just as entitled to their identity as everyone else. In addition to being able to specify your gender identity, you can also specify which pronouns you want used about you.

The news was announced by Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, herself transitioning from male to female.
Harrison: All too often transgender people like myself and other gender nonconforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it's kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are. This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is.
Predictably, the naysayers of the world have been roused to indignant fury, and some of them have posted their objections in response to the original Facebook announcement.
Nori Herras-Castaneda (TG spokesperson): Any time the transgender community makes advances, there is backlash, and this is a very big advance, so yes, we'll face some problems, no doubt.
Brielle Harrison making her mind up
On the other hand, the news has been welcomed by some transgender groups, such as here. And according to the article I read, the senior Facebook figures, from Mark Zuckerberg down, were comfortable with the change. The change has been offered originally in the US, but there are plans to roll out the change worldwide.

So how many new options are there? Two or three? Half a dozen? Surely not more than a dozen? In fact there are over 50 new options!

I am not sure that this is a step forward! Is it really necessary to provide so many subtle distinctions? Are we really saying that there are not two genders, but instead over 50? And what happens when someone (and there will be someone) whose particular gender variant isn't included, protests that they feel excluded? And what happens to other family relationships? If I identify as a transwoman, am I still someone's son?

I haven't yet found a full list of the categories, but it will be interesting to try to pick one which describes me. Meanwhile, why not try to suggest categories of your own?

No doubt this article will evolve as the news spreads. Comments welcome. What about one from you, Brother William?


Addendum: 15th February 2014

Thanks to Helen Boyd, I have found a website which lists all the possible options, and here they are:
  • Agender
  • Androgyne
  • Androgynous
  • Bigender
  • Cis
  • Cisgender
  • Cis Female
  • Cis Male
  • Cis Man
  • Cis Woman
  • Cisgender Female
  • Cisgender Male
  • Cisgender Man
  • Cisgender Woman
  • Female to Male
  • FTM
  • Gender Fluid
  • Gender Nonconforming
  • Gender Questioning
  • Gender Variant
  • Genderqueer
  • Intersex
  • Male to Female
  • MTF
  • Neither
  • Neutrois
  • Non-binary
  • Other
  • Pangender
  • Trans
  • Trans*
  • Trans Female
  • Trans* Female
  • Trans Male
  • Trans* Male
  • Trans Man
  • Trans* Man
  • Trans Person
  • Trans* Person
  • Trans Woman
  • Trans* Woman
  • Transfeminine
  • Transgender
  • Transgender Female
  • Transgender Male
  • Transgender Man
  • Transgender Person
  • Transgender Woman
  • Transmasculine
  • Transsexual
  • Transsexual Female
  • Transsexual Male
  • Transsexual Man
  • Transsexual Person
  • Transsexual Woman
  • Two-Spirit

  • And once again I've learned some new words. What does neutrois mean? Or transfeminine? And how does Trans* Female differ from Trans Female? And what is the difference between Transgender Man and Transgender Male? Do we really need all these terms?

    Ahead of the times: CK one
    Interestingly, the term I use to define myself, crossdresser, or male-to-female crossdresser, isn't even listed! Nor is transvestite, or crossdreamer. One can, however, identify as pangender (which I assume means "all gender") or neither (which I assume means "neither male nor female").

    I can completely relate to the idea that this is supposed to be a wholly inclusive list, catering to every infinitesimal point on the gender spectrum, including those who identify with all points of it, and none, and leaving nobody left out. And yet, by creating this list, I can't help thinking that Facebook has simply added to the confusion, to the morass of terminology which makes it nearly impossible for people like me, looking at gender, to find any sort of clarity.

    So which one are you?


    Addendum: 21st February 2014

    My thanks to Tasi for drawing my attention to Stephen Colbert's satirical (and hilarious) sketch which sends up transphobia in the media. You can watch the whole segment here. He lets loose with both barrels on the Facebook gender spectrum too, including the curious "asterisk" options.
    Colbert: I believe that's when you were born an asterisk, but deep inside you believe you're an ampersand!

    Addendum: 15th March 2014

    Helen Boyd drew my attention to this article in the Boston Globe, which attempts to explain some of the new gender language for outsiders, novices and the generally perplexed (in which I include myself).

    The article explains the mysterious asterisk, whose existence before had puzzled me. I can see that people are reaching out for new forms of language to describe gender variants, both as a means for people to express their identity with clarity and precision, and as a means to avoid giving offence to people who find themselves inadvertently improperly referred to.

    I already infer that the notion of cis as meaning "the opposite of trans" is borrowed from organic chemistry. It originally referred to the arrangement of groups around a carbon-carbon double bond. However, the article says that the asterisk is meant to be taken as a wildcard, which can therefore stand for anything, so trans* means that you can insert your own word instead of the *, a practice which is borrowed from computer search syntax (where it is at least 30 years old).

    This article also talks about gender-neutral pronouns, a phenomenon which I am opposed to, despite my sympathies, for reasons I describe here.


    Addendum: 3rd May 2014

    Australia's High Court has just voted unanimously that some people (backed by medical advice) can have their gender legally recognised as "non-specific". On birth certificates, passports and the like, the letter X is used in place of M or F. This is not considered the same as Intersex. This has been partly driven by an individual called Norrie. You can read the news report here, or there is a discussion from the New York Times here.


    Addendum: 8th October 2014

    I came across a wonderful and well-thought out discussion of this same topic by Lal Zimman on the OUP Blog.

    Thursday 6 February 2014

    Laws of Gender Bending in Fiction

    I came across this website by accident. TV Tropes is a website which celebrates the tropes which we all encounter in fiction. It started off discussing television (hence the title) and from there branched into many other aspects of popular media: film, comics, books and music.

    Before we go any further, what exactly is a trope? To quote the website:
    Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.

    The wiki is called "TV Tropes" because TV is where we started. Over the course of a few years, our scope has crept out to include other media. Tropes transcend television. They reflect life. Since a lot of art, especially the popular arts, do their best to reflect life, tropes are likely to show up everywhere.
    Catwoman in Combat Stilettos
    Well, that all sounds great, but what does it mean? Well, the sort of thing they mean is that the good guy drives the cool car, defeats all the bad guy's henchmen, confronts the villain, almost fails, but eventually succeeds in defeating him, rescues the girl, and drives off into the sunset. Sound familiar? Of course it does. We expect those things to happen.

    One of the things which I had seen in fiction which really bugged me, is the way the speed of light is variable in fiction. The character turns the switch (or cuts the cable!), but instead of all the lights going off at once, they turn off gradually one at a time in a dramatic or menacing manner. Or the character turns on the lights in the abandoned space station, and they flicker to life in the most dramatic order (near to far, or far to near, as the plot requires). And is this one explored? You bet.

    The TV Tropes website succeeds on several levels. First, it is amazingly comprehensive. I recommend typing in the name of your favourite arthouse film or your favourite 80's TV show, and you will find a list of tropes a mile long. Second, it is affectionate, even loving. It's not about criticising the ham acting or the special effects of the work; it's about pointing out how just about every piece of fiction relies on us expecting things to happen in certain patterns. (But special respect is given to works which play with our expectations and violate tropes in clever ways to make things interesting). Finally (and my favourite thing) is that it is always light-hearted and often hilarious, with tropes given quirky and amusing names, and the writing is articulate, well-observed, and wry.

    I have spent hours browsing it since I came across it. And I am not ashamed to admit, I discovered quite a few tropes which I was unconscious of, but now see everywhere. Tropes don't "reflect life", I think. They reflect a fictional world we would like life to be. In real life, villains don't have one fatal flaw for the good guy to find at the last minute. Nor do they carelessly let the good guy escape a number of times so that he can show up in the final act to save the day. But, in general, we don't especially enjoy stories where the bad guys win in the end. So I think tropes tell us something very powerful about how people perceive the world.

    What's all that got to do with a blog about crossdressing? Well, of course, crossdressing is a popular device in fiction, including film and television. And, I was delighted to find, TV Tropes contains dozens of pages dealing with the subject. If tropes reflect how people perceive the world, I think this reflects the fact that people are fascinated by the fictional representation of people who cross gender boundaries.

    Wholesome: Jimmy Olsen
    Let's start with one example, the Wholesome Crossdresser. I like to think I belong to this trope myself, as it happens. TV Tropes says this:
    Crossdressing characters who are presented in a positive (or at least neutral) way. Frequently presented as attractive (or at least not unattractive), relatively "normal" people as opposed to perverts or sexual deviants.

    The Wholesome Crossdresser may have any type of sexual orientation, but in settings where being straight is considered part of being "normal," one can expect to see the character's heterosexuality explicitly highlighted.

    Some permutations of the trope are more or less unique to Japanese works. The Japanese Wholesome Crossdresser is usually well-groomed, compassionate, nice, and above all, so convincing that their "true" gender is only mentioned on occasion, as a reminder to newer members of the audience. There's a fair chance someone will get a crush on them, although this is usually resolved after The Reveal.

    The opposite of Creepy Crossdresser. May overlap with Disguised in Drag or its Distaff Counterpart, Sweet Polly Oliver. (If the character wears crossdressing disguises more often than seems strictly necessary, this trope may apply.) Wholesome Crossdressers tend to enjoy dressing, even if only reluctantly, secretly, or subconsciously.

    Generally does not overlap with Drag Queen (which is more about "performance" and theatricality) or Transsexual (usually a much deeper and more complicated subject), though there are exceptions.
    You can see that the authors of TV Tropes have really thought this through. The article presents a huge list of wholesome crossdressers, including some classics such as Mrs Doubtfire, (Robin Williams crossdressing to get near his kids) but also some I had never known of or considered before. It turns out, for example, that Superman's journalist friend Jimmy Olsen was uncommonly fond of crossdressing as a means of fooling the bad guys. Who knew?

    Anime crossdresser Ruka Urushibara
    I could go on all day; there is so much to talk about. However, on browsing through TV Tropes, I discovered they had postulated Three Laws of Gender Bending, and I couldn't resist taking some time to debate the issues. (Remember that these laws apply to fictional circumstances! Phlebotinum is the TV Tropes name for some sort of scientific device or substance which furthers the plot in any way, and an Aesop is a life-lesson taught by a story; these neologisms soon become very clear).

    First Law of Gender Bending: Once a girl has been created, circumstances will conspire to keep her a girl.
    Not only are male-to-female Gender Benders a lot more common than their female-to-male counterparts, they are also a lot more permanent. One might think that the same Applied Phlebotinum that can change a male into a female should just as easily be able to do the opposite, but that's rarely the case in practice — most characters who try to reverse a male-to-female Gender Bender will learn that Failure Is the Only Option.

    There are many reasons for this; even if the phlebotinum is ordinarily reversible, there will be an unexpected Phlebotinum Breakdown, or something else will prevent the character from simply switching the gender-bender into reverse. Perhaps the character inadvertently falls in love with his/her best friend after Jumping the Gender Barrier (the mind is a plaything of the hormones, after all). If there's Time Travel involved, maybe a Kid from the Future turned up to save their life, and the only way to keep the kid from going Ret Gone is to remain a lady (the possibility that they could just have been the kid's father all along is never even considered). Maybe the Gender Bender bestows them with actual superpowers (and no, not those powers) that the character needs in order to protect the earth.

    Or to put the above another way, if the work is a webcomic called The Amazing Girl-Boy's Adventures in Femininity, expect the First Law to be enforced. If one episode of a Kid Com called Homeroom Genie involves the Jackass Genie turning Zach into Zoe to teach him a lesson? Not so much.

    Other reasons for enforcing First Law stem from Unfortunate Implications and the Double Standard regarding men and women: Women Are Wiser makes for a good gender-equality Aesop. There's also the stereotype that a man being turned into a woman is somehow a demotion, punishment, or loss of status — what better way to start (or finish) a man's Humiliation Conga than by requiring him to wear skirts and a bra while losing that ancient symbol of power under his pants? This is an attitude that even the most feminist Take That against men may support, consciously or unconsciously.

    In contrast, female-to-male gender benders are not only less common, but are typically resolved quickly and easily, ultimately reinforcing the woman's original femininity. And since Beauty Is Never Tarnished, the very same forces aiding the restoration of her gender will work against him restoring his.

    And of course, since Most Writers Are Male and All Men Are Perverts there's just that much more pulchritude to go around if she gets restored and he doesn't. And if the gender-bent man refuses to act in gender-appropriate ways, then who cares? Everyone loves a good Tomboy! (Nobody likes a good Sissy.)
    Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap
    First of all, I hadn't really recognised that this law was a phenomenon at all. The law was originally observed about Anime, which, I have to say, I have very little knowledge or experience of. On the other hand, assuming that it's true for Western fiction too, the reasons postulated above are (I think) very telling. There are some narrative justifications for why it might be true, but this removes the question only one step further back: why should we like narrative justifications for keeping men as women (in the same way we prefer it when the good guys win)?

    I think the article does a good job of explaining the reasons, such as gender ranking (men are "better" than women, but women are prettier to look at). Let's move on to the Second Law.

    Second Law: Any character, after being gender bent, will come to enjoy their new gender more than their old gender.
    A fictional character that gets his or her gender bent often becomes gradually accustomed to life as a new man or woman. Eventually they likely will experience an epiphany: that they are better off in their new gender than they ever were in their old one. This is the Second Law of Gender Bending, where a gender bent person would, if offered a chance to revert to their former gender, turn it down because they have come to enjoy the benefits of the change.

    The epiphany typically takes one of two forms:
    -A reluctant admission, either because they've changed too much to return to the way things were or are loath to admit the enjoyment they get from their new lifestyle.
    -A jovial acceptance, where they quickly discover how much fun life is after the gender flip, and they never want to go back.
    Forced to be a schoolgirl
    Now this is a law I can relate to, having observed it myself. It tends to overlap with a trope which is present in transgender fiction. In general, I think TG fiction is shallow, wish-fulfilment stuff, and I speak as someone who has written some of it! Characters are invited, coaxed, blackmailed or otherwise coerced to cross-dress for the flimsiest of pretexts. And they resist and protest strenuously. But once they are all dolled up (and TG fiction often goes into exquisite and loving detail over this process), they find that actually they really enjoy the sensual feeling of those soft fabrics, and the emotional freedom to act in a different way, as well as how gorgeous they look (and in fiction, at least, this is nigh-universally a male-to-female process, but see here).

    I think this trope is so popular in TG fiction because it removes one of the main obstacles to crossdressing: personal responsibility. We choose to crossdress, but it might be nice to have some sort of "excuse", because some people might consider our motivations to be unpalatable or questionable. A fictional scenario which coerces us to do what we most want to anyway is a powerful one indeed.

    As you can see, I think most TG fiction is contrived and unreal. It serves only one purpose. The best sort of TG fiction is where the crossdressing is enveloped within an actual plot. When this happens successfully (and it's rare), you get an absolute knockout story, such as The Crying Game, which is popular with mainstream as well as transgender audiences.

    Third Law: Any gender bent character will either embrace or be subject to all of the stereotypes associated with their new gender.
    Characters who change gender will adopt "gender appropriate" dress and behavior. Most of the time, this means dresses and makeup for a man turned woman and aggressive and macho behavior for a woman turned man. Frequently rationalized as being due to the characters having stereotypical views of gender roles, particularly when the character in question is depicted as being in need of a gender equality lesson.

    Like the second law, this trope typically manifests in one of two forms:
    -A masquerade wherein the character is forced by circumstances to adopt stereotypically masculine or feminine attire or behavior, sometimes under duress. (This is especially the case in "Freaky Friday" Flip or similar plots where the character becomes a preexisting person of the opposite gender and must maintain the pretence.)
    -The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body, wherein the character simply cannot resist adopting stereotypical attire or behavior due to irresistible compulsion, latent desires, Mind Control, biological imperatives, or all of the above.

    More sophisticated applications of this trope will often try to find common ground somewhere between these two extremes. It may be as simple as characters wanting or needing to be treated "like a normal person" and thus adopting stereotypically "gender appropriate" attire and/or behavior to conform with their perception of the new roles they've been forced to adopt.

    Since most gender benders are male-to-female this frequently results in scenes where the newly minted "girl" is confronted with all of the "requirements" of his new gender, which can include skirts, hose, makeup, high heels and other trappings of femininity which, while common, are by no means mandatory in real life.
    We can see an example of this above in the Jimmy Olsen image, where not only is he a girl, but a knockout, who is immediately the subject of vocal male attention. We can also see examples of it in Quantum Leap, where Scott Bakula's character sometimes "leaps" into the bodies of "real" female characters and has to act as if he were actually that woman.

    Curiously attractive: Patrick Swayze
    What is interesting to me is that these "laws" seem to have been created or written by people who love fiction, not people who love transgender themes, or by crossdressers. In a sense, then, these laws suggest that this is how fictional crossdressing is seen from the outside, rather than how it seems to me from the inside.

    So I challenge you to come up with a law of your own! For it to be a law, you need examples.

    To get the ball rolling, I propose Vivienne's First Law: A crossdressed male will be forced to use his fists in a sticky situation, to prove that, no matter how feminine he looks or acts, he is still a man underneath.

    Examples include Patrick Swayze's character in To Wong Foo, as well as similar scenes in Priscilla, and Sorority Boys. And at least one episode of Quantum Leap. All the best laws have exceptions, of course, and Sean Bean evades his obnoxious male aggressors with his wits in the wonderful Tracie's Story.

    What I find disappointing about this law is that a crossdressed male should not have to use masculine solutions to his problems! When it comes right down to it, he looks like a woman, walks and talks like a woman, and wishes everyone would treat him like a woman, or even believe he is a woman, but he is still prepared to use aggression and violence in a manly way. To me, this is a blatant example of gender ranking. A woman could never get out of that situation safely; only a man could. Is that really a message we agree with?

    Please feel free to provide examples or counter-examples of anything in this article, or to suggest laws of your own. Who knows? Maybe TV Tropes will codify them into "law" on their website!


    Addendum: 25th February 2014

    Vivienne's Second Law: Any man who unknowingly kisses (or almost kisses) a transgender woman, will, when he finds out, have a meltdown or a bout of homophobic panic.

    Horrified: Ace Ventura
    Examples can be found in the first Ace Ventura movie (where it turns out that the villain, played by Sean Young, is a transsexual); the first Crocodile Dundee movie; The Crying Game (although he later relents), and even David Tennant's first transgender outing in Scottish comedy show Rab C. Nesbitt. But not doubt other examples abound.

    What disappoints me about this law is that a man is initially attracted to someone, sometimes enough to get very intimate with them. When he finds out that the person is actually a genetic male, he becomes suddenly terrified that he might be gay. Unable to deal with the consequences to his self-esteem (because nothing could be worse than being gay!) his former attraction turns to revulsion, and sometimes aggressive revulsion. As the audience, we are supposed to sympathise with the poor fellow.

    This law is about homophobia and transphobia, played for laughs. Let's hope examples become rarer in the future.


    My thanks to Heather Colleen for sending me the Tammy front cover image.