‘Bangkok Chick-Boys’ was the documentary Alan Partridge alleged he wanted to switch off his hotel cable TV in favour of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, though mysteriously found himself unable to work out a way of doing so. Grilling his Geordie sidekick about his experience of Ladyboys during his military outings to the Far East, Partridge’s fascination with these exotic self-made hybrids isn’t uncommon, as the queues of western male tourists eager to sample their talents will testify. Elsewhere in Asia, Indian culture has the Hijras, castrated men dressed as women who are supposedly blessed with gypsy-like mystical powers to bestow bad luck upon those who seek to banish them from society; despite this, most simply end up living a grubby existence as low-level prostitutes (I won’t describe them as ‘sex-workers’, as that implies a degree of career choice to their miserable little lot).
As a collective group, the Ladyboys and the Hijras largely refrain from seeking recognition as Real Women. True, their appearance may dupe the odd unsuspecting foreign punter, but they are clearly posing as the opposite sex by exaggerating stereotypical feminine traits. The same could be said of the old Warhol transvestite superstars such as Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn, who knowingly resided in a harmless fantasy world that reinvented them as the most glamorous divas Tinsel Town never had. The latter two’s roles in Paul Morrissey’s trashy early 70s underground movies contained both humour and an undeniable degree of risqué excitement that inspired both Bowie and Divine; as far as the heavyweight drag queen was concerned, his cinematic collaborations with John Waters took the humour to a glorious plateau of bad taste that has never been bettered.
Quentin Crisp, a remarkably brave man who took his life in his hands every time he stepped out into 1930s London with his painted face and nails and dyed red hair, was once criticised by the New York gay ‘community’ in an early example of libertine censorship for daring to air reservations over the OTT excesses by which being out and proud had to be advertised in the manner of a New Orleans Carnival. Crisp did so with his customary caustic wit, though this didn’t square with the witless, fanatical demands to be ‘accepted’ by a straight society that Crisp had never sought to win the acceptance of.
Ah, yes – wit, the vital element missing from the rulebook of the transgender police who pretend the glorified middle-aged Ladyboy, Bruce ‘Caitlyn’ Jenner, is a woman. With their endless additions to the Uxbridge English Dictionary and on-the-spot fines for those who dare to use terms that are no longer allowed in polite society, these humourless enforcers would actually find their Orwellian credo very much at home in Iran. There, any man prepared to publicly proclaim his homosexuality is encouraged to undergo a sex change, which the state will pay for. Subsidised gender reassignment has become commonplace in Iran, and those who emerge from the operating table are thereafter officially recognised as Real Women. Who’d have thought it? The transgender capital of the world is the land of the Ayatollah.
At one time, donning the apparel and mannerisms of the opposite sex was a deliberate act of subversion, a conscious affront aimed at the straight society that associated any hint of gender bending with deviancy – or in other words, homosexuality. The thought that a heterosexual man could adorn himself with cosmetics was such a challenge to the stringent specifications of what maketh a man that it contained genuine rebellious connotations, even in a country like Britain, with a rich history of theatrical female impersonation stretching through the music hall and all the way back to the time when pre-pubescent boys had to play Shakespeare’s female parts on account of actresses being banned from the stage. Whether Mick Jagger in a dress or Marc Bolan sprinkling stardust on his cheeks, there was always a playful, mischievous aspect to the practice that reflected the traditional British sense of the absurd; in the wider canvas of America, which has a far more prevalent macho lineage, such behaviour was restricted to isolated pockets of resistance like LA and New York. The chic freaks rejected the straights and their society and didn’t want to be embraced by it.
How times have changed. A man paints his lips or eyes today and he’s immediately claimed by fanatical lobbyists demanding he be recognised as a woman in order that he can be neatly categorised, labelled and accepted. How would the transgender police have reacted upon entering the cornucopia of sexually ambiguous individuals dancing the night away at Steve Strange’s Blitz club in the early 80s? Standing out from the crowd was crucial to any adoption of female accoutrements back then; nowadays the crowd mentality, whereby everyone has to be part of some ‘community’, has become so entrenched that the natural assumption is that a man in makeup is not expressing his individuality but seeking to be co-opted by an officially-sanctioned group. Stripped of its fearless sartorial radicalism, what was once the ultimate outsider’s challenge to the masculine straitjacket has been stolen by those who have no comprehension of the thrill embodied in blurring gender lines as a means of spurning safety in numbers; they ask why would anybody not want to belong, whereas I ask why would anybody want to?
© The Editor