Monday, 14 January 2019

Forwards... and backwards

Shantel VanSanten: red-hot even in black-and-white
I haven’t posted on this blog for a couple of years now. Regular readers – I seem to have a few; thank you, one and all! – may wonder what’s been going down since then.  Well, I can only describe it as ‘coming full circle’. Thirty years ago I started to get seriously into crossdressing. About five years back, prompted by a ‘midlife crisis’, egged on by reading and online chatrooms, I began to question whether the crossdressing was a symptom of transsexuality, a guilty secret that I had long hidden, even from myself. The year before last, when for the first time I ventured out in public ‘dressed’, I realised that I’d reached my limits. If (heaven forfend!) someone addressed me as female, I wasn’t flattered, or ‘confirmed’ in my identity, I was disoriented; I scuttled away as fast as my mid-height heels would permit. Since then, I’ve fallen back on earlier certainties. At home, I am in control. Whatever is this identity I access when I crossdress, whether it be fantasy or alternative reality, it is an emanation of my ‘self’, and that self I continue to identify as male at core. Curiously, once I’d accepted that, some forgotten pleasures began to return. In particular, the pleasure of wearing sheer hosiery: the tight casing of the legs and even tighter constriction of the crotch, so necessary for someone who has never been able to ‘tuck’ without discomfort. At the same time, the herbal regime I’ve followed now for half a decade has ‘feminized’ my body as far as I’m happy to go. Thus, after going all round the houses for several years and even thinking hard about transition, I seemed to be back at my starting-point: a guy who likes to wear 'female' clothes and dream that he's the person inside the clothes. Only it wasn’t the same point, when I got back to the start. As a result of my tour d'horizon, the familiar landscape now looked different. Armed with new self-knowledge, I hoped to move forward. 

But, despite my greater self-acceptance, still the questions remain.

I continue to ask myself: is what I feel now the long-suppressed expression of a trans identity, or is it something I’ve willed into existence as a solution to a state of unwelcome bachelorhood? My taking up crossdressing seriously in the late Eighties was a deliberate decision, a response to the failure of my efforts throughout my twenties to form alloerotic relationships. Having failed in relationships, I took to crossdreaming; being a crossdreamer, I was unable to form relationships: a feedback loop. Arguably, my gender dysphoria has developed out of that state, because, with no escape from the loop and little diminution in the sexual feelings that keep it charged, I have fallen in love with, or lust with, my own creation.

Or, to go back to an earlier ‘turn’ in my life, at the end of the Sixties… Being in a single-sex environment at home and school and inhibited by a shyness that made it hard to break out of that environment, I was placed in a state of involuntary celibacy. My earliest dabbling in ‘transvestism’ from that time was about finding an outlet for unexpressed hetero feelings and trying to satisfy my curiosity about the opposite sex by wearing items of their clothing. Anne Vitale* talks about ‘gender expression deprivation anxiety disorder’; mine was more like ‘desire expression deprivation anxiety disorder’. The question then arising is this: why, in my twenties, when I’d lost some of my shyness and did have opportunities for intercourse, I didn’t take them. Something was ‘getting in the way’. Was it a trans persona breaking through to the surface, or was it that the habits of self-sufficiency developed early on had become second nature, leaving me permanently closed? The ‘otherness’ of other people – which I suspect for most folk lies at the heart of sexual attraction, even in same-sex relationships – for me was alienating.

But perhaps this ‘unexpressed’ desire was inexpressible? It was always directed at unrealistic, unattainable objects. And out of the frustration thus produced, I started to map the fantasy onto my own body, reasoning that if no part of it was achievable out there, then some shadow of it might be conjured from my own physical resources.

Which comes first – the trans component or the inability to ‘close the deal’? Frustrated in alloerotic expression, did I turn to an autoerotic substitute? Or was an ‘autogynephilic’ disposition present from adolescence or earlier, so that, unbeknown to me, conventional relationships were always destined to fail?       

Saving yourself for the special ‘One’ can be counter-productive, since the longer you hold off, the greater the expectations that build up: in the end you’re waiting for a nonpareil who is unlikely to exist. If it’s possible to make the postponement of gratification into a fetish, then I fetishized it. This, I speculate, was a relic of post-war (even wartime) austerity inherited from my parents; the attitude was that ‘if something’s worth having, then it’s worth waiting for’. In our throwaway culture, we forget that people in the 1950s spent a lot of time waiting for things. And this condition could readily be adapted into a virtue: at a time of material scarcity, a single possession was more valuable; and the longer you anticipated receiving something, the greater your excitement when it finally came into your hands. 

*Anne Vitale, ‘The Gender Variant Phenomenon - A Developmental Review’ (2003)

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