Monday, 8 February 2016

Fifth Anniversary.

So I missed my anniversary again (yesterday) and with no excuse this time. I spent most of it watching telly; in particular, multiple episodes of Deep Space Nine (which is being rerun on CBS Action). DSN isn't really that good – and I'm fed up that (soft butch) Major Kira has now been "feminized" – but I'm watching it anyway. Worf has joined the cast, which is a definite plus; and the episode where Quark, Rom and Nog were the Roswell aliens was very entertaining.

Looking back at 2015/16: Post count was down to the bare minimum of 12 (one per calendar month) and seven of those were posted on the 30th or 31st. But I am still here. ‘In vision (3)’ continues to be the most viewed post. Monthly page views fluctuate above and below 2000. Total views are approaching the milestone of 100,000 (96,764 as I write this). The highest referrers are T-Central (up to first), Reddit and Google.

My favourite posts are probably: ‘Normativity’ – a grumble at the overwhelming gender tedium of popular culture; and ‘Speaking our own truth’ – or “my truth is not necessarily your truth, nor vice versa”.

Apart from that, I can't think of anything to say about last year. Instead, here are some gorgeous frocks (from, respectively, Alexander McQueen, Georgina Chapman & Keren Craig, Sarah Burton, and Luly Yang):

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Representation matters.

“I want every single person who doesn't think representation matters to look at queer folk mourning Bowie and try to believe those words.”
– Wolferfly (on Twitter).

Yes, representation matters. To be able to see ourselves, or someone like ourselves, reflected in the wider culture gives us (an often crucial) permission to be ourselves. See, it's okay to be this way.

But David Bowie wasn't that person for me. In the early 70s I was still at junior school and Bowie's gender transgression hardly registered. I don't think I even noticed that he was wearing "girls' clothes" and stuff, and it probably wouldn't have mattered if I had. That wasn't how I wanted to wear girls' clothes. I wanted to wear them like a girl, not a young genderqueer boy (even if I'd had words for anything like that). So, to me Bowie was just another wildly dressed star of glam rock; and of those bands the pictures on my wall were of Slade, T. Rex, and The Sweet, not Bowie. (I do now have Aladdin Sane from back then, but it was bought long after, and mainly because of Mike Garson's piano on the title track.)

In their 2010 book, Missed Her, Ivan Coyote writes about growing up in isolation. Many (most) of us whose formative years were pre-internet surely know about that. Certainly, I knew no one like me, and had no one to look to either. What I mostly recall is a progression of ridicule and shame:

  • Frank Spencer in Betty's nightdress in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em – cue audience laughter as the credits roll. (I just wanted to wear it.)
  • Monty Python's ‘Lingerie Shop’ sketch – which is all about shame: it's an elaborate excuse to be in that shop.
  • Norman Bates as his mother in Psycho – cross-dresser as murderous psychotic with a mother fixation.
  • Pink Floyd's Arnold Layne – more disparagement; it's not the same.
  • Anthony Storr's book Sexual Deviation – part of the Pelican series ‘Studies in Social Pathology’... and that's all I have to say about that.
  • Corporal Klinger in M.A.S.H. – played for laughs; it's his attempt to gain a psychiatric discharge.
  • Jeffrey Tambor as Judge Alan Wachtel in Hill Street Blues – another joke character, supposedly accessing his "female" side.
  • Cross-dressers in a seedy underground club in an Oscar Wilde TV serial – nothing positive to see here, move on.
  • Cross-dressing boy in a TV drama (by Alan Bleasdale?) set in Liverpool – it was just a phase.
  • Margaret Thatcher's male cabinet dancing in lingerie in Spitting Image – okay, I laughed at that one too.
  • Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture Show – so outrageously positive I couldn't see it as such until much later.

When you're growing up – if that ever stops – such relentless negativity bears down heavily upon the imagination, but it doesn't crush it entirely. (Metaphor: a plant shut in a dark shed still tries to grow.) And in the absence of standard iconography, we find our own. I had:

  • Teddy Robinson and his “best purple dress”. (What Joan G. Robinson was exploring here, I'm not sure; perhaps nothing, though it seems quite radical in retrospect.)
  • Robin the Boy Wonder, whose outfit was very femme – that yellow cape; those matching green pants, gloves and pixie boots.
  • Jo Grant in The Green Death, which was the beginning of my fondness for furry coats. (I now have six.)
  • Alice in Wonderland, as played by a boy in a play at school. That could have been me; instead, I had a small undistinguished part as the dormouse.
  • Barbara Good in The Last Posh Frock, yelling at Tom about there being men, women and Barbaras; missing the point, I saw myself as a Barbara. (Watching it again, the real point is Barbara's thwarted need to express her femininity, and of course I can relate to that too.)

It's interesting what we remember, what affected us, who influenced us, and why. We all (or at least most of us) need someone. Representation matters.

As it happens, David Bowie wasn't a very significant figure in my life. But send me back to the 1970s and he probably would be.

Thursday, 31 December 2015


New Year's Eve is traditionally the day we look both forward and back, isn't it. I'm looking forward to... losing weight. I want to be closer to 12 stone than 15 stone. I want all my clothes that don't fit to fit me again. So, today I'm assiduously eating all the goodies in the house so that they won't be there to tempt me tomorrow. That's how this dieting stuff is done, right? Time for another Eccles Cake and a bag of crisps.

Looking back transwise: 2015 saw the welcome arrival of Notts Trans Hub, which has been good for me – as was Pride in its way. I've also contributed en passant to a couple of online magazine-type thingies: to an article on genderqueer in Slate, and to Prancing Through Life last month – though not as yet to Queer Feminine Affinities...

I don't know whether QFA will ever surface now. There was a suggestion it might appear in collaboration with the Canadian queer feminist journal Feral Feminisms, but there's been no mention of it on the actual FF site, and I've not heard from either of the QFA editors since last March, so perhaps it's all gone for a Burton. If nothing materializes by next Spring, I'll probably post my own piece up here, on its second anniversary (21st April), say.

It seems almost like something from the past anyway. The notion of straight male femme (its title) is still very important to me, but mostly as a political stance – as an assertion of gender freedom for straight cis men – than one that is entirely applicable to me personally (despite the piece itself getting very personal in places).

Femme – yes, that's still fine.
Straight – hmmm, can I just say it's complicated; bisexual is better, though not quite right either.
Male – *sigh*. Well, if you really insist, then "yes"; and it's "yes" for political reasons (as I've just said); but (as I also said earlier) I'm feeling increasingly non-binary nowadays.

How would I describe non-binary? Jack Monroe wrote a nice piece in the New Statesman, relating their own journey and coming out. But for me it's more like this:

It's curling up in a warm bed on a cold winter's morning.
It's lying on the settee under a cosy blanket watching rubbishy telly.
It's a hot bath with bubbles, a book, and a mug of coffee.
It's reading a book I've already read twelve times before.
It's pulling on a pair of stretch jeans after I've just shaved my legs.
It's wearing furry coats and only ever receiving compliments.
It's a world in which no one ever calls me “sir”.
It's... comfortable.
And... a relief.

“They, them, their” pronouns from now on, please – for the time being at least. I'm not really sure whether I've changed trains, whether I'm on the same train but a different track, whether I've got off permanently at station non-binary, or am just having a little rest here.

So, it seems 2016 is starting with uncertainty – and to tell the truth, that feels perfectly okay.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Prancing Through Life.

PTL is a site for which people write on their cultural interests, life stories and viewpoints. We place an emphasis on the personal and encourage people to write about the things they love and/or take issue with. Why walk through life, when you can prance?

Or from their About page:

— If you ever prance as you wander down the street, we salute you. The power of prancing should never be underestimated or taken for granted.
— Sometimes we wonder what the world would be like if unicorns were real.

And again: “Why walk through life, when you can prance?”

The notion of prancing through life makes me smile. Just the word “prance” itself... {reaches for the dictionary} caper or dance along; to move with an exaggeratedly springing gait; to swagger; to parade ostentatiously; (plus some other stuff to do with horses). It's positive, prideful, happy, yet with a definite "sod you" quality to it. Hey, I'm prancin' here.

Season five of PTL launched at the beginning of November (in association with All About Trans) and features an ongoing set of trans-related and other pieces. It's a notably inclusive collection, incorporating voices that are often marginalized, in particular black and non-binary. Some items are new, some are republished from other sources (including one by me: a slightly revised version of Reading My Way Into Femme from this blog).

A few of my favourites so far...

Juno Roche: Trans Lives - #gendercation.
Jacq Applebee: The Loneliness of a Black Non-Binary Soul - #blackonblack.
Sawyer DeVuyst: Mine — on “an ever-growing series of daily fine art self-portraits”.
Melanie Christie: Break Free - #stillshot — on Ruby Rose's short film, which you can watch via YouTube.

But especially...

Travis Alabanza: Wide - #poetscorner — a poem, which you can listen to them read via Soundcloud.

maybe tomorrow,
when asked if I'm a boy or a girl,
I won't have to decide.

Wouldn't that be nice :)

Friday, 30 October 2015

So, what is femme? (5)

— Laura Luna Placencia, from the Los Angeles Femmes of Color Collective, in a joint interview with ColorLines news website.

An expanded (and edited) version was later posted on the Collective's tumblr page, where Laura Luna also offers this:

I am deeply inspired by the following quote by Jewel Gomez when asked to define femme: “I see femme as someone who is interested in living a life of adornment and affectation. It’s not a role but an identity, as in something embedded inside that manifests externally in many different ways.”

I'm not entirely certain what Jewelle means by “affectation” there, but the rest rings true for sure :)

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

“Do you wear women's clothes at home?”

A pertinent question indeed.

It was my eldest nephew's wedding last weekend, and famous relative was there as well. I got to tell him how glad I was that he'd spoken out on trans issues recently, and we talked about this a little, which was nice. I can't remember exactly what was said – I'd had quite a bit to drink by then – but I know it involved me stumbling for words when it came to how this relates to me personally.

Explaining this stuff is so difficult.

I think I said I was “part of the trans community”, but that leaves so much unsaid. What exactly is the trans community? And how am I part of it? What does “trans” even mean? There are as many answers as there are trans people. I once asked Roz Kaveney what "trans" was really "crossing" and she replied: “into sex/gender/sexuality liminality” – which I just love, not least because there's a whole world of meaning behind that too.

Anyway, when we reached the question, I responded with something like: “These are women's clothes”, indicating what I was wearing; “all my clothes are off the women's racks”. But later that didn't feel like a proper answer, because it didn't meet the thought behind the question.

So, now... “Do you wear women's clothes at home?”

Yes, I do. I wear women's clothes all the time. But not “as a woman”, if it's clear what I mean by that? If that's what was being asked?

At the wedding I was about as smart as I ever get: white(ish) posh jeans, brown sort-of-suede shirt, the usual furry coat. (Okay, trainers spoiled the look somewhat, but ankle boots would probably have been pushing it.) And all of these were women's clothes. The Oxford Blue faux leather coat even says “for Women” inside – just in case anyone should buy it "by mistake".

And I wear women's clothes because I prefer them – for all sorts of reasons. One of which is that they allow me to express something essential in me that needs to be expressed. Something for which I mostly use the words femme and genderqueer (which themselves take some explaining.)

But not female. My third ever post (4½ years ago), ‘Not woman, but femme’ still stands. More or less.

Actually, rather than male (or female), I'm feeling increasingly non-binary nowadays. But perhaps that's another post for another time.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Manchester Pride 2015.

No, I've not followed up Nottinghamshire Pride by rushing round the country from parade to parade. This post is about "famous relative" who was Grand Marshal at Manchester Pride again last Saturday. Here he is looking very dashing (and quite femme):

He also gave a short interview to Gay Times, which you can read here.
One bit in particular meant a lot to me:

GT: With trans coming to the forefront of the LGBT community, do you think it’s now time for trans to become seen and celebrated even more?

IMcK: If you’re trans, it’s your life. It’s not passing fashion. What’s good is that people are taking trans people seriously and trying to understand their problems and not get in the way. Stonewall has taken trans as part of their campaign. And, I must admit, I know a couple of trans people, but I’d no idea how widespread it was.

I go to schools, and many secondary schools have a transgender pupil going through the process. But, they’re heroes to the school. Everybody knows about them. But I feel that I’m as ignorant to trans problems as people of the past were about gay problems. It was a bit of an education for me. But I wouldn’t say that it’s a passing thing as we’re all taking it on board and trying to understand it.

Ian also narrated the recent Channel 4 documentary Muslim Drag Queens, which is very much worth watching, especially if you're trans – because, in case you were uncertain on this point: drag queens are our sisters!

But wait... “a couple of trans people” – presumably one of those is me :)

And as for Ian knowing (relatively) little “about drag and trans and areas of being gay that I have not been part of” (as he said elsewhere) – well, perhaps so, but he was warmer and more open-hearted in that admission than a whole world of people who could say the same.

And I just love him for it.