Repartee is a magazine specifically aimed at the transvestite community.
And here is the paradox – I might dress in girl clothes but you see, I’m not a transvestite and I’m not a cross-dresser – what I do is wear clothes that communicate my inner felt sense of gender and what I try to do is find ways that do that honestly and tastefully. Amusingly, I sometimes get told off by traditional transvestites for not trying harder to “pass” and for not being “convincing”. But that of course is my point – I’m not passing, I’m being – and as someone who is transgender I’d say I am convincing. Anyway, here’s the piece:
Tell me, what is the book about?
Queering The Tranny is a groundbreaking book: it takes a radical, and exciting new look at the whole phenomenon of ‘men who wish to present as female’ and rewrites the rules! Traditionally, we’ve been caught up in the binary of ‘transvestite’ or ‘transsexual’ and what the book does is to explore the historical context of these definitions, and then draws on the latest scientific understanding of gendered brain formation, then combines this with modern philosophy to explore a new and more creative way of reconciling the conflict of a female identified individual who finds themselves constrained to a male denoted body. What I’m effectively saying is I want to open up the bandwidth to help people find their own way of doing transgender – its not about being a ‘proper transvestite’ or a ‘proper transsexual’ and finding you still don’t fit in – its about encouraging people to open up to the possibility of finding an honest self, one that is free from shame and allowed to just be. And it’s about presenting an idea that allows for diversity, creativity, fluidity.
So, what is the book actually setting out to achieve?
If I had to summarise the purpose of the book then it is to introduce to a much wider audience the idea of transgender. The first part of the book explains the science that underpins the idea of ‘being transgender’ and the second part offers a real-life demonstration of ‘doing transgender’ as a legitimate and congruent way to live a life. We are at a really exciting point in history where equality and diversity issues are high on the political agenda – what I hope to achieve in launching the book is to be adding productively to the voices that are campaigning for greater tolerance and understanding of gender diversity.
Tell me a bit about your background:
I’ve had an interesting life. Although I’ve experienced many changes over the forty years one thing has always been a constant – a strong identification with being female and the need to communicate that by wearing the clothes. When I was younger I got picked on a lot for being effeminate, for wanting to be with girls, for not being good at sport, for not fighting. As I got older – teenage I guess, I started to learn about transvestites – but the messages were not good – this was a perversion, a sick thing to be apparently. It compounded my confusion and shame. Then I heard about some people who had gone through a sex-change – but in those days being a transsexual carried a very fixed script: I’d not played with dolls (mind you, I wouldn’t have been allowed) I did like cars and fixing bikes (and liking boy activities seemed to exclude me from the definition) and because I didn’t feel sexual attraction towards men and they had yet to invent the lesbian transsexual, it was clear I didn’t qualify as proper transsexual. But even then I knew that the desire to wear ‘girl clothes’ was very core to my sense of self – it wasn’t about masturbation and fetish albeit that on the rare occasions that I could take the risk to cross dress back then, the emotional energy was so charged that, yes, masturbation would provide a relief.
I qualified as a Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist back in 2001 and started researching transvestism – at that time I was working from the idea that maybe something from my childhood had caused it and therefore if I could just find out what, then I could get cured. What my research journey actually did was disprove my hypothesis and make me take a whole new look at the phenomenon and start from scratch. The research journey has been amazing and over time, in amongst these complex academic texts and advanced post-modern theories and philosophies was an answer that finally made sense – a way of viewing the phenomenon differently, healthily, creatively.
You’ve got quite strong views on the idea of ‘passing’ – can you explain where you are coming from?
I’d say I have ambivalent views on passing. Its a dilemma for me – I respect the right for those people who want to strive to achieve a convincing ‘other’ persona that has them ‘read as female’ but my experience is that few do it well. My belief is that cis-people don’t like being conned and if there is something about a presentation that doesn’t ring true there is a tension that interrupts the relationship between the trans person and the other. When we fear being ‘exposed’ or ‘found out’ we will inevitably communicate an element of anxiety or nervousness and this will be read at a subconscious level by the other. My concern too is that that some assaults on trans people are driven by the homophobic male feeling unwittingly conned into a homosexual encounter: for me there is a heartbreaking tragedy in this. It would be nice to rid society of homophobia – especially in males but for now I believe it is prudent to be cautious.
Eddie Izzard made the point that he simply couldn’t pass so he doesn’t bother pretending. In some ways I like his approach albeit he labels himself as a transvestite which is not a word I am comfortable with since it has the strong historical connections to diagnosis as a mental illness and perversion. I’d guess Eddie hadn’t heard of transgender when he was trying to work out what his desire to dress in female identified clothes was about.
From a political perspective, if people who are transgender hide their identity by passing as other then it paradoxically makes transgender cease to exist and we return to a male-female binary: I want to make it possible for transgender to be visible, to allow the space for people who can’t or don’t pass to be able to be out and proud and congruent in their self identity.
How would you answer critics who might say that you simply aren’t making an effort, that you are creating a ‘Little Britain’ style character that won’t help the TG cause in the eyes of the general public?
A strong theme in the book is the idea of trying to find an aesthetically pleasing and congruent way of doing transgender. The type of male cross-dressing that gets ridiculed is the stuff that just looks bad. Find me a woman who actually goes out wearing leather miniskirt, leopard print top, fishnets and heels that doesn’t charge by the hour, and I’ll find you four cross-dressers not getting with the whole fashion thing. The Little Britain characters are ridiculed because they are grotesques – exaggerated in form; unnatural; bizarre. Part of what I’m saying in the book is to make conscious the choice of how exaggerated you want to be but don’t do it by accident and get yourself ridiculed. My own experience of being out is that I get a lot of very positive attention – especially from women! Blokes mostly ignore me and I like it that way. Yes, sometimes I confuse people but at least the confusion is up front – there is no con, I’m very obviously transgender.
Ok, so I’ve got to ask you about the beard –
Yeah, bit of an accident that one! Well, its like this: a few years ago, when I was in one of my ‘for goodness sake stop all this wanting to be a girl nonsense and be a PROPER MAN’ phases, I figured that growing the beard would be a sure fire way of stopping me wearing girl clothes because I so wouldn’t look like a girl. And that so didn’t work. Nice try though. And it sort of stayed, and actually paradoxically I think it works for where I’m at now. I’m not for one minute suggesting that others need to do this but I guess I’m saying to the people who know they don’t pass that its ok – so long as you can find clothes to look good on you that communicate the idea of female identification then just go with it – be proud and don’t feel the need to pretend to be something your are not. Just be you, be proud to be trans – and if someone in the shop says “Sir,” bollocks it, it doesn’t matter -I’ve still communicated my grrl-ness – its not like I’m being read as exactly male is it?
What being out as transgender does it that it lets me be out with pride not shame, with confidence not fear of exposure, and it tells others that I exist – I’m transgender and transgender exists.
I hope people take inspiration from the book and I hope that it helps us move towards a better future with greater tolerance for gender fluidity – and that ultimately it helps promote greater equality for all sexes and genders.