March 26, 2013 § 7 Comments
March 14, 2013 § 6 Comments
Dress, and picture by the remarkable Jema Hewitt
Now with working link:
February 27, 2013 § 17 Comments
Language is a perpetual negotiation in the trans* world.
I dislike the phrase ‘dress as a woman’. People use it a lot. “How often do you dress as a woman?” I never dress as a woman. I dress as a man. I dress as someone with no breasts, no hips and a bulge in the crotch area that must be disguised, hidden or otherwise rendered unnoticed through expert misdirection. I dress as someone with a thick torso and skinny legs, with wide shoulders and a tiny bum. I dress for my shape, and my shape is that of a man.
The phrase ‘dress as a woman’ in this context has two possible meanings; ‘dress as a woman does’ and ‘dress as though you were a woman’. The former ignore the infinite variety of ways woman dress, somehow equating more than half the human species in one clothing style. The latter suggests subterfuge and deceit. It suggests a disguise.
I’m not being disingenuous. To the casual reader it may well seem so. Surely I dress in a way that makes me look more like a woman? Is more akin to how women dress?
It’s femininity I adopt, not female-ness. I am not transexual. The gender dysphoria I have experienced in the past hasn’t made me seek surgery, nor sufficiently pushed me towards adopting a female identity.
I don’t present myself as female, ever. I exist in a cosy quantum state that is neither fully one nor the other. I seek androgyny. This fragile quantum state collapses when I have to use a public toilet.
Androgyny and ambiguity disappear when faced with two doors. I am forced to choose.
I nearly always use the men’s. I identify as male (no matter what I’m presenting) albeit one not following the rules and I feel more comfortable dealing with men’s potential negative response than that of women in the toilet situation. In the Gents I am man who is doing something out of the realm of normal acceptable behaviour. In the Ladies I am trying (and inevitably failing) to pass as female.
The gents toilet is a weird cultural and social space. The gender filter that toilets represent mean that behaviour inside is different to the outside. There are often displays of a kind of male solidarity. There is banter, badinage. Disrupting this reassuringly gendered environment is a surprisingly subversive act.
The effects are several.
- Double checking. As I leave the gents I often cause men who are entering to double check they have the right toilet. It is a significant social faux pas to use the wrong toilet. It’s the sort of thing high school kids have stress dreams about. They are not really looking at me as they enter (because it’s socially unacceptable to properly stare at people in and around toilets) but they see the feminine visual cues and panic. The more feminine I look, the greater the panic. I often have cause to say “you’re alright mate”, in my best baritone.
- Telling off. Toilet attendants are not always our brightest and best. The subtleties of trans* gender presentation are probably not part of their intensive year-long training. Several times I have been shouted after by confused toilet attendants. They act like gender police.
- Poor hygiene. Transphobia in the toilet environment often leads to nervous men rushing the process of hand washing and drying.
Added to all this is the fact that that I often have to use the toilet as a dressing room. This is behaviour way outside of what is considered normal for a toilet. Shaving in there causes amusement, invites comment. Putting on make-up makes people drop out of all normal brain activity. The act of putting on make-up is at once an unusual activity for a male toilet, an explicitly FEMALE activity, and a rejection of maleness. Hence the comment I heard the other day “it’s okay – he’s one of the acts”. The fact of my being a performer lets me off the hook. I’ll write further about that another time.
Somehow the single sex nature of the toilet, (and the fact that genitals are handled) means its a more socially conservative place. There is a social contract that means that only masculine behaviour is tolerated in the gents. There is a background homophobia too, with the residual notion of the toilet being used as a cottage.
I feel a palpable sense of relief when I do not have to adapt to the binary – when there’s only one toilet, or when there’s a handy disabled toilet I can use. That way I get to maintain my androgyny, keep my sexy air of unknowable mystery and confuse the next user by leaving the toilet seat up.
February 18, 2013 § 2 Comments
February 17, 2013 § 4 Comments
It’s a piece of piss, this challenge.
Since the 1st February I have cross-dressed every single time I have left the house. (With one notable exception which I’ll talk about in a bit.) Apart from one day where I didn’t leave the house at all I have shaved, put on make-up and worn a skirt every day.
Several changes have taken place. The biggest one is that I am less fussy about the standard to which I need to dress when crossing the gender line. I have always had a policy of making sure I am doing it ABSOLUTELY right, so that I am at least making sure I’m dressing exactly how I want. Now I’m doing it every day I’m relaxing a lot more, and treating my clothes as just clothes.
THIS IS A COLOSSAL VICTORY.
I cannot emphasise how much of a big deal this is. I have almost entirely destroyed the binary in my head, and I’m mixing and matching like crazy. I’m not even wearing make-up today. Normally I’d be worried I was presenting the wrong image, the wrong signals. Now I don’t give much of a fuck.
Shaving is proving problematic, as I thought it would. I’m getting round it by alternating a wet shave with using my electric shaver, and giving much less of a fuck about going out with a bit of shadow. The more I do that, the more I work out a coherent self-image that encapsulates both sides of my gender presentation. Props here go out to my friends Joe and Arran and to John in Melbourne. All of them do this already, and do it really well.
I’ve reached, and then pushed through the point of boredom. The novelty of cross-dressing, which is a really big part of it for the guys who do it very secretly, or at weekends only, was always a small part of it for me. Cross-dressing was dressing up. Now it’s every day. The hassle factor started to outweigh what I felt I was getting out of it. But I pushed through, and now it doesn’t feel like a hassle, it just feels like me.
The one time I went out dressed ‘straight’ was a difficult decision. I did a workshop, teaching kids about stand-up comedy. I felt that to cross-dress would lead to a lot of difficult questions, and would make it harder to communicate directly with the kids. It felt really weird wearing trousers! This is remarkable in itself. It felt unnatural, and more of a gender performance than wearing a skirt. Cool, eh?
The more I do this, the more this feels natural, and part of me. I’ve had that in the past, but not to this degree.
February 5, 2013 § 10 Comments
I just went to the shop for some beer, and was struck by the sound of my own voice.
I’ve never really considered changing my voice to make it sound more feminine. My voice is one of the things I really like about myself. For the last few years at least it has dropped one semitone with each Edinburgh Fringe I put it through, to the extent that I cannot properly sing some of the stuff on my band’s first album. I am a stand-up comedian first and foremost, and it is my instrument. It feels like a part of my identity.
But every now and then the foghorn I present to the world sounds out of key. I might try to experiment with it.
Here is a wonderful example of what is possible:
But then a contrary thought occurs and I feel defensive about the ‘me’ that I am carving out of social space. My voice might be quite masculine, but it’s so closely linked with the ideas I put over on stage that I feel like I should keep it exactly as it is. Some people have even said it is sexy. They are clearly completely fucking insane. In fact – when my band first went to America to play a big steampunk event we were told that it’s quite common in US steampunk circles to put on a ‘British’ accent. This was illustrated by several people asking if mine was my real voice. Why the fuck anyone would put on my Wallington accent, I have no idea… but I’ll take a compliment where I can get it.
The other thing that occurs today is how much easier this is than I expected. I think I was using festival cross-dressing, where I am doing it for the benefit of my shows more than for myself, as my model for what to expect. But the simple act of shaving and sticking on a skirt and a bit of beard-cover to go to the shops is actually really not that much of an issue.
I think I might be carving out a space for myself in which I can actually cross-dress – to some degree – every day for the rest of my life.