Tag Archives: transgender

Much Ado About Butchness

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The last time I ever wore a dress was around the end of 2001: it was at a ‘suit party’ in the Glasgow Women’s Library, and I decided to be contrary by getting my nails and make up done professionally as well as curling my hair before slipping into kitten heels and a sexy wee black number that I bought cut-price from ‘Jane Norman’ in the Braehead shopping centre. This was during a fashion-phase where it was socially acceptable for women in general (and not just lesbians) to wear neck-ties, and I had a different one for every Friday and Saturday night that I spent strutting around in Glasgow’s pink triangle.

I was reminded of my ridiculous dress-and-heels endeavour after going to ‘WOW’ (‘Women Of The World’) festival last weekend at London’s Southbank Centre to see ‘The Butch Monologues’, a play which celebrates female masculinity, written by Laura Bridgeman (‘Hot Pencil Press’) and performed by ‘The Drakes’, a collective who describe themselves as ‘dandies’, ‘rogues’ and ‘kings’, as well as ‘a gallus band of butches, transmen and gender rebels’. I had seen the advert for the performance a couple of weeks before it made it’s debut at last year’s South Bank Centre, and I was thoroughly disappointed when I missed it.

Because butch and transmasculine people are so under-represented by the mainstream media that we rarely get to hear their voices. In fact, the term ‘butch’, when being attributed to a female-bodied person by someone other than themself, is usually meant as a slur, and often used interchangeably with the word ‘ugly’; and even in modern lesbian-orientated TV programs and films do we rarely see realistic depictions of strong, dapper women who don’t wear skirts and buck the traditional typecast of what a female is supposed to look like.

TBM was well worth the wait though: autobiographical stories from real butch, transgender and non-binary-identified individuals were acted out in the spirit of Eve Ensler’s controversial show, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ ; and it proved to be a candid and somewhat hilarious performance about identity and desire which packed a powerful emotional punch. One of the things I particularly liked was the way the monologues were used to point out the fine line that often exists between butch lesbians and those who are on the transgender spectrum, and yet at the same time it was made abundantly clear that for many people those two identities are poles apart.

The show was also a sell-out, with many people being turned away at the door. Now, I have no idea what percentage of the audience was lesbian, bisexual, trans or queer; and – despite my pre-conceived notion that this would only attract a gaystream audience – it really did not matter. Bridgeman took a fairly niche market subject matter and recreated it to highlight universal themes which could appeal on different levels to anyone, regardless of their sexuality or gender expression. Because most of the population has had disappointments in love; and we’ve all been forced by our parents or our school or workplace at some point to wear clothes that we hated; and it’s a rare person who has not felt socially embarrassed or, equally, elated when we have been ogled or when someone has disclosed that they find us sexually attractive.

The biggest giggles in our row seemed to be sparked when each Drake, in turn, announced their character’s preferred brand of underwear. Antonia actually snorted and nudged me in the ribs at this point. Yes, it’s true, I am a wee bit particular about what I like to wear down there; and, yes, I did once buy twenty-one pairs of identical ladies’ Bench boxer shorts (nineteen black plus a grey and a white pair) – and you can snigger all you like.

Antonia challenged me to celebrate my inner butch by writing this post. She also dared me to get my hair cut short, but that’s not happening anytime soon. Who says you can’t be masculine and have long hair anyway?

The Amateur Detective Novelist

On Sunday I attended the tail end of Noirwich, Norwich’s first crime writing festival. I had never been to Norwich before, and I probably would have gone sooner, if only I had opened my Mslexia magazine when it arrived I’d have discovered that the bloody events kicked off on Wednesday.

My friend Elaine has been telling me for years that I should try my hand at writing crime fiction. She writes it herself and often asks me to proof read early drafts of her manuscripts because I’m good at spotting red herrings and unravelling literary puzzles – unfortunately the same can’t be said when it comes to TV and film versions, because I often get confused with who’s who when two or more characters of the same ethnicity, gender and approximate age appear on the screen at the same time.

The thing is – aside from trying to avoid the genre because I didn’t want to tarred as just another stereotypical lesbian mystery writer – I don’t actually know that much about crime fiction. I mean, OK, I’ve watched a fair few film noirs (Bound, Brick, Double Indemnity and most movies starring Humphrey Bogart) plus several series’ of Poirot in a row and, I did once attempt to cowrite a dystopian-lesbian-vegan detective script set in Glasgow during a fictitious third world war – but I’ve only ever read one Agatha Christie novel (and that was last month) and until recently not much else.

Elaine is also a retired procurator fiscal with a late husband who was in the CID, so she has connections stretching all the way from the court room to the rest room of her local police precint, whereas I haven’t got a clue about the law (aside from the stories I heard from my ex-students back in the creative writing class in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution).

Of course, what I’ve realised over the last few weeks, as I’ve been delving into everything from classic pulp fiction to tartan neo-noir, is that I much prefer hardboiled detective novels to police procedurals or cosy murder mysteries; and reading about forensics and post mortems bores me rigid.

So that’s a start I suppose.

At the moment, I’m working on my first assignment of module one, ‘Crime, Mystery And Suspense Writing’ from the distance learning course I’ve signed up to; I’m also trying to figure out who to kill off and who to frame in my novel ‘Kingstreet’ (previously a transgender comedy about a troupe of drag kings who enter a Glaswegian LGBT talent contest), because after seven years of cutting and tweaking and trying to get the story lines right I’ve decided to lose the whole plot and recast my narrator as an accidental amateur detective who just happens to be transsexual.

Personally I think there’s a lot of mileage in using things like false beards and spirit gum. Old Agatha seemed to think so anyway, and she’s still a best seller.