Jun 22, 2010

Cross Dressing Character

I sometimes look back on older thoughts to see how well they true up with the present. The very first thing I wrote for this blog is still up on the right sidebar. Check it out with me now …

This desire has been with me forever now. It washes in and draws me out. I often swim against the tide. I sometimes let it pull. I don't believe that its going away though, and so its time for me to court it formally. And in giving it this space, perhaps understanding it better.

The desire I referred to was Cross Dressing. The tidal metaphor seemed a real natural.

I was moved to write about all of this after a very transformative transformation session. I had just then put myself in the very skilled hands of a woman who operates a Cross Dressing service. It had been 20 years or more since I had gone in for a top-to-toe, hair-to-heels treatment. Something tectonic happened. I realized (finally) that trying to keep the shifting plates from reorganizing my landscape was a poor use of my limited resources. Additionally, I rather liked the way the new landscape looked and felt. I felt complete. Becalmed and whole like never before.

That feeling was too powerful to not pursue. The pursuit seemed worthy of writing about too. Hence, all the bloggity goodness here.

I pointedly became outcome neutral about what Cross Dressing might mean to me. The thinking was to let the waves sweep me where they would, and have a good look around whatever shore they washed me up on. I realized I was running the risk of emerging in some unknown Illyria, as shipwrecked as Viola, with no bit parts left over for my own Cesario. Cross Dressing is a common gateway to gender reassignment after all. I worried, but went with it.

As it happens, I am fine with the largely masculine casting I have been assigned in my own drama. I am neither a big romantic lead or a tragically doomed prisoner of fate: just a reasonably well liked-protagonist with a flinty eye toward the human condition and the odd saucy aside for the groundlings in the cheap seats.

In this drama, I have the wonderful privilege, like Viola, of the odd costume change that effects an alteration of gender presentation. Like Viola, I see the world around me with the one set of eyes, and interpret the world with one (reasonably) constant heart. Like Viola, I have seen just how differently the world responds to me depending on whether I am presenting with feminine or masculine surfaces. Lastly, like Viola, I have found that I can present either surface without betraying anything within: I am essentially the same character always, and the clothes say less about me than I thought they might.

Yes, the importance of the surfaces, of the exteriors seems to have diminished to me. This has been an interesting and surprising finding.

What I find most surprising of late though is what is going on in the interior precincts: It is quite noisy in there.

I am practically under siege of my own thoughts. There is a steady, near constant storming and stirring of the mind having to do with matters related to dressing, gender, fashion, beauty and my relationship to it all. Like rain, these unbidden thoughts seep in through cracks in the day, through the brief interludes of idleness. Like wind, they gust and buffet when they damn well please, regardless of how busy I am and how much more my thoughts need to be on other issues.

This state of affairs has persisted for about 4 or 5 months now. My initial reflex was to think of this as a “problem”, something to be railed against (i.e. ...why won’t she just shut the hell up already?...), but I fought against that reflex.

In the same way as I initially let the desire to dress sweep me away, I decided to let my mind work as it will. Intuitively it seems to me that fighting against tireless, ceaseless forces is a sure path to madness, and a path I will be happier not taking.

I am now, only recently coming around to a model of understanding all the weather between my ears. And it goes like this:

At the time that I gave my surfaces the privilege of untrammeled exploration and presentation, I gave my interiors the same permissions. Perhaps I have sparked a reorganization of what happens behind the scenes, between the ears.

The brains of men and women famously and provably behave differently. Gender is a profound influencer of thought. Neural paths and cerebral processes that were suppressed and closeted as my wardrobe and desires were for long, long years have been given a wake up call.

When I made room on the surface for 2 distinct presentation layers, it took time and labor for it all to “normalize”. Perhaps a similar process is happening within. I therefore should not be surprised at all the noise. It is construction season in there you know.

I wonder if, in the fullness of time, my surfaces, my character and the very workings of my mind will all harmonize and seem fully in place, at peace and poised for whatever comes next. I think so. I am a hopeful sort.

I have remained fundamentally the same character regardless of “costume” I wear for the odd scene. I think that my character is better and fuller having access to “Petra”. My experiences have amplified some good things about me (empathy) and moderated some bad things (capacity for anger), but I am essentially the same person.

And this is a good thing.

I am glad too, to have access to new reservoirs of empathy for the human condition and a better ability to suppress anger just now as my brain sorts out how to process all of it. They might just come in handy, yes?

Jun 15, 2010

Musical Transgressions

I was listening to a Terry Gross interview with Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day fame a couple of weeks back. Much lively banter about the music business and society in general. They talked for a while about the formative years of the band. Back in the day as they say, Mr. Armstrong and his mates did not require too much to stage a gig – a van, a venue, instruments and some amps. With these things in place, he would then go on the hunt for a someone from whom he could borrow some mascara. I will paraphrase here (do follow the link if you want to hear it verbatim):

I just felt that it was part of the look, and I think that all women at some level want to turn a guy into a girl. I made some interesting friends”.

I more or less missed the rest of the interview as the card catalog of similarly, partially and unmistakably feminized musical performers flipped open in my minds ears and eyes. Many long forgotten favorites were drawn from the memory banks, and I was surprised in hindsight just how much of the music I loved at one point or another in my life had an expressed gender edge to it. Sometimes pure shock, sometimes sophisticated challenges to societal norms, perhaps on occasion very real relief valves for performers wrestling, as many Voyages en Rose readers do, with gender identity.

Whatever drove the urge to paint the eyes and preen various other surfaces, something was going on behind they eyes, and beneath the surface. And that something was something that never failed to get my attention. At the time, I did not draw a straight line between the performers appearances and affectations and my attention to their music.

I believed then that I listened to and defended the virtues of these individuals and bands solely as a result of them being creative, original, cerebral, non-commercial, artistic, or simply possessed of the correct measures of devil-may-care, go-fuck-yourself-if-you-don’t-get-it attitude to win my impassioned idolatry. In hindsight, I may have lowered my critical bar for a few acts who approached said bar in high heels.

My Cross Dressing was pretty suppressed then, to myself and the world. A “phase” like so many of my other teenage and early adult behaviors that would erupt from time to time, and recede just as fast and furiously. I paid these urges very little mind except when I was fully in their grip (metaphorically and otherwise) thinking that they would ultimately vanish at some point when I grew up, got sober, grabbed a (real) job and emerged from my perverse cocoon as a fully realized adult.

Drop the needle in three decades later, and well, here I am, fully realized or not, as fully adult as I suspect I will ever be. And as fully at peace with my curious mix as one could hope. From this happy perch I look back on much of the music that moved me thinking now that I was hardwired to like performers who bent the gender rules. At some subconscious level I believe that I wanted them to succeed, and to be accepted. Unknowingly, perhaps I wanted their very Transgressive-ness to clear a path for me.

I know many of you to be passionate about music. I hope therefore that you will enjoy the odd essay here through the summer months featuring a little commentary on the music and the muses of a few notable Gender Benders with Fenders, a Rogue’s Gallery of the Thoroughly Rouged. Perhaps at the conclusion of this series, we will all be possessed of some wonderful finding about art, creativity and the fuller humanity of the gender diverse. Or we may simply blush and shudder remembering fashion crimes of the 70’s and 80’s (yes, I am talking to you Bananarama fans out there).

I will start off next week with South London sophisticates Japan (Mick Karn and David Sylvian pictured above). Your comments will undoubtedly contain suggestions that overlap with my list, and introduce me to names unknown or too long forgotten. I will be happy to hear from any of you that want to guest post here in the form of a tribute to your own favorites. You can reach me at the usual coordinates (and you can borrow my mascara in return).

Jun 10, 2010

In which the Author meets her Alter Ego

Reading, you see, in those days was viewed as Virtuous use of Time and prized highly as more than a leisure activity. Reading in fact was a display, perhaps the Paramount display of Moral Fibre. Confined as we were to dull provincial precincts yet to be broadened by such miracles of modernity as The Internet, active and vigorous husbandry of the very fertility of our minds and imaginations required diligence measured in the count of turned pages and books returned to The Public Library. I happily tendered the required Diligence in anticipation of a Bounteous Harvest of thought later in life.

Alas, the Canonical Authors whose words I Pursued and Perused tended to be very Pale, very Male and on the whole, quite Dead. One does not mean to suggest that Paleness, Maleness and a condition of Eternal Repose or Unrest are, in and of themselves, evil or unsuitable things, but taken together in large helpings they do not constitute a Well Balanced Literary Diet.

Feminine Authorial voices were entirely absent from my book-bound peregrinations. Not intentionally of course; more simply as a natural course of the Times and of my evidently Masculine husk. One such unheard and unheeded voice belonged to the esteemed well remembered Jane Austen. I am familiar with her work only through glancing and half-hearted attention to Dramatizations of Her various Novels mounted for The Cinema and for audiences of Television. Her written Work however has somehow eluded my possession.

My Acquaintance with Ms. Austen was improved of late though after stumbling upon an Interesting Facility hosted at The Web Site known as Strange Girl. Nested within these passionate and informative pages is a Quiz that curious Readers are invited to take which identifies the Austen Heroine that they most closely resemble.

One might think that a person such as myself who having recently applied for yet another Extension of filing of various Tax papers and whose Garden is in a State of Overgrown Stupor might find more productive uses of Time. The merits of this argument are sound of course, but One is quite naturally prey to Idleness from time to time, and perhaps these fallow accidents of Ease and Sloth accrue benefits more subtle and less easy to measure in the here and now.

In taking the Quiz I am pleased to report that I am held to have much in common with Elizabeth Bennet, the Plucky and Proud protagonist of Pride & Prejudice. She is described briefly by Strange Girl here:

You are Elizabeth Bennet of Pride & Prejudice! You are intelligent, witty, and tremendously attractive. You have a good head on your shoulders, and oftentimes find yourself the lone beacon of reason in a sea of ridiculousness. You take great pleasure in many things. You are proficient in nearly all of them, though you will never own it. Lest you seem too perfect, you have a tendency toward prejudgement that serves you very ill indeed.

There seems to me to much to admire about Miss Bennet. I must confess to Affection for this quirky firebrand.

Many better informed Thinkers than I rate Pride & Prejudice as Miss Austen’s Signature Achievement, and Miss Bennet as a favorite character. Her enduring appeal is evidenced by countless tributes in Recent History, in Contemporary Times and even surprisingly in our Imagined Future. Jennifer Ehle (BBC, 1995), Virna Lisi (Italian Television adaption, 1957), and the ravishing Amy Wong (Voice characterization of Lauren Tom, 2001) of Futurama fame are illustrated here, each having paid Theatrical Tribute to Miss Bennet. Many Creative Liberties were taken by Ms. Wong in Matt Groening’s animated imaginings, known by it’s episodic name, The Day the Earth Stood Stupid, but it must be noted that she remained Very True to the boundlessly hopeful Spirit of our Heroine. One hopes, ardently that she, like the original Elizabeth finds her own Mr. D’Arcy somewhere in The Heavens.

I feel, quite strongly a kinship for Ms. Bennet when I see her thoughts quoted thusly:

"I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."

I am motivated furthermore, to find some time this warm Summer Season, when such Diversions as Cross Dressing and Expressing as a Woman in Public Spaces are not well enjoyed, to gain better acquaintance with the work of Miss Austen, and other Notable Authors of the Fairer Sex. Perhaps in so doing One might better understand Ones own Complex Muse.

I encourage you too, to take the Quiz, and would be pleased beyond measure to find out which Heroines you feel affinity with, Dear Reader.

I remain, devotedly yours, and etc.

Jun 1, 2010

Shopping for the Special Woman – Part II

In last weeks Part I, I kicked off this mini-series with Five Findings on the topic of shopping, getting better at it, and getting more out of it. The series concludes here today with six more tips that may range from The Bleeding Obvious to the Mind Blowing depending on just how much your purse is bleeding and how much cash you have blown shopping for your prettier half.

If the points that follow are Bleeding Obvious forgive me. I may be witty, but witty is different from clever. Everything I have of lasting value comes from hard work and good notekeeping with the possible exception of my legs. I still don’t know what I did to deserve them.

Here then, to conclude, are six more rules I apply before, during and after the shopping sorties that help Petra feel very well loved indeed.

You have eyes. Plagiarize

Why Google when you can ogle? You are surrounded in your day to day life with real world fashion examples to emulate and to avoid. Take mental notes. Strike up the odd conversation with an innocent question or harmless complement. Drink in what you see on the tube and draped around mannequins. Spend time browsing around style oriented blogs that have absolutely nothing to do with CD/TG issues (some of my favorites are in the right column of this blog in the Fashion, Foundations and Femininity section). You will benefit greatly by cultivating your own criteria for what is beautiful and for what will flatter you. If you think that this comes naturally to women, you are wrong. Connoisseurs are made, not born. Go make yourself one.

Shop. Don’t buy.

It takes time for any learned activity to become natural and reflexive, and this is absolutely true of developing a signature look. Find the time. For those of us who are not 24/7, this means getting very comfortable with browsing shops in drab mode. You must do this. In your apprenticeship you will find (or already have found) that something curious will happen. You will start gradually to lose self-consciousness about being the only guy in the joint. This is good, because that self-consciousness compromises both your sense of fun, and your critical faculties. If you are thinking about whether you are standing out like a stop sign on a ski hill, you cannot handle the complex matrix of determining a garments suitability or value. You will therefore make mistakes. It takes time to get to a place of comfort, then adventure and finally delight with shopping. So get out there and practice. Do it without any expectation or need to buy something. Every hour will make you smarter.

Shop and Buy. Two of them in fact.

Now, Grasshopper, you are learning, and you have snatched the very thing from the rack. Good for you! It is perfect. If you can afford it, you deserve two of them. Get the other color now or somebody else will have bought it by tomorrow. Explore this label further, you will find coordinates and complements, likeness in fit and silhouette. This is your opportunity to score the fashion equivalent of a 7 tile, triple-word score with a Q and a Z in it and win the Shopping Scrabble game conclusively. When you act, act decisively. Responsibly yes, within your means by all means, but admit it, you are going to spend the money, and perhaps less perfectly later. You may as well buy more perfect things and the longer future that you may enjoy together.

Don’t stress the Dress

The Dress is inarguably the tasty cherry at the top of the fashion food pyramid. It is emblematic of feminine fashion in a way that no other garment is. Wanting a great dress is a fine and natural desire. The sad truth though is that dimensionally there is much about dress construction that fails masculine body types. We are fuller through the chest cavity and broader across the shoulders. There is a smaller delta between our waist and hips. We are longer shoulder to waist, and shorter proportionally from waist to sea level. All of this considerably narrows the field of dresses that work well. If you focus on building out a wardrobe of separates, tops and skirts you will have more options and no less an exclusively feminine fashion experience. Never stop looking for the perfect dress, it is out there somewhere, but ratchet your expectations down in this regard and you will save yourself some grief.

The Seamstress is your best friend

Following on the last point, if you find a dress (or anything really) that you must have, make sure it is comfortable at armholes, sleeves and chest, and get the rest taken in. I have dropped off garments pinned and ready for tailoring in guy mode, and I have been fitted en Femme too. A fitting is actually quite a kick, and a highly recommended field trip, documented in part
here. Waists that are too big, skirts that are too full or long can be easily and economically remedied. You are deserving of individual attention in this off-the-rack world. And the seamstress deserves a little variety in their day too.

Blend in. Then stand out.

You know what your range is and the kinds places and settings that you can comfortably appear en Femme in. Figure that into your wardrobe building. A perfect and flattering outfit in a setting where it is simply inappropriate will draw attention, but attention of the wrong kind. You will feel this, and confidence will take an avoidable body check. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look better than everyone in the room, but even if you can, it is a pyrrhic victory if you win a game that nobody else is playing. What you have learned from plagiarizing comes in handy here. When in Rome, dress as the Roman “it girl” does.

By doing these things you may find it easier to find the clothes that reflect back from the mirror and out to the world the person you want to see.

Happy Shopping
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