Sunday, 13 January 2013

Leah True

In the last day or so, my blog counter has passed the 10,000 mark. That's a thousand times more successful than I ever thought this blog would be, so many thanks to all of you who have dropped by, and I hope you will keep on visiting!

Time to post about another transgendered "celebrity", Leah True.

Leah first came to my attention in 2007, on a documentary in the UK (also screened in other countries) entitled Mr Miss Pageant. The whole documentary is available on YouTube, and you can find Part 1 here.

It was originally entitled Mr Miss World, but apparently the real Miss World people objected (and I guess I can see why). In any case, the competition Leah actually entered is called Miss International Queen, an annual beauty contest in Thailand for transgendered male-to-female people (pre-op and post-op), and is still going. Apparently about 10 million people in Thailand watch it every year, making it approximately one million times more popular than the Eurovision Song Contest. You can see the website here. Leah was Britain's first entrant to the competition, but since then there have been two more (but none for the last two competitions! Come on, you chaps! Where's your sense of British spirit?)
Leah True

The documentary follows Leah (real name Gavin), a then 41-yr old man who runs his own company designing power tools.
Gavin: I've never liked this ambiguity thing. If I'm dressed like a guy, I like to look like a guy. If I'm dressed like a woman then I like to look like a woman.
At the time of the documentary, neither his family nor his workmates knew anything about his double life. He lived in the North East of England, but travelled to London at weekends to keep his dressing a secret, where at one point he won the crown of Miss Alternative London. The reviewer of the documentary in the Sydney Morning Herald wrote: "Gavin likes dressing as a woman. No surprise there - he's English."
Gavin: I look at the results as a work of art. Basically, Gavin is the canvas, and Leah is painted on top, and that's what I'm looking at. When I'm all made up, the hair and all the rest of it, what I create, I find very erotic.
Early in the documentary, we meet Sue, a cardiac nurse from London. At the time of filming, Gavin and Sue had been together for six years. Sue describes how they met in a nightclub:
Sue: It was my first experience of a tranny club. Leah was wearing a fantastic black rubber outfit and I had just been out to a gig with my friends, and they said: What do you think of this person, do you think they're a real girl or a boy? And I said wow! Who cares? They look so fantastic.
What struck me about Leah while watching the documentary (a bit like Sue) was how fantastically beautiful she looked. I found myself riveted to the screen. As a trained observer, I look closely at crossdressers, and just about everybody has some "tells" (or in my own case, "screams"). Leah seemed to have nothing: the hair was convincing, the face was convincing, the figure and the cleavage were convincing; and not just convincing but fabulous. I was deeply envious, especially (and I couldn't quite believe it) when there was a short segment showing Sue and Leah, dressed more or less identically, sitting close in bed. In case you haven't watched it, Sue is blonde and slim and extremely attractive.
Interviewer: So who are you most turned on by? Yourself, or Sue?
Leah: If I was really honest... myself. (Sue nods).
Interviewer: Do you masturbate dressed as Leah?
Leah: Yes, I do.
In the next scene we see them shopping together. "We are the same size," Gavin explains, and this makes it easy for Sue to try on clothing or shoes which are actually for Leah.

The documentary also introduces Darlene, who lives in Sydney, Australia, but represents Egypt in the competition. Darlene was banished from her family when she came out to them at the age of 18, but was aware she was differently gendered from the age of 6. She hadn't seen her family for 4 years.
Darlene: You have to understand. Just because I have a penis, doesn't make me any less of a woman than any other woman.
Darlene in a different competition
Darlene has a website here, and you can see a lot more of her here on her YouTube channel.
Darlene: I'm not here to promote Thailand tourism. I'm here to join Miss International Queen. To compete. To see where I stand.
Darlene's brother was getting married at the time, and Darlene was invited to attend, but only if she attended as a boy. This was clearly very painful for her. She has had some surgery to appear more feminine, but hadn't had sex-reassignment surgery at the time of filming; this may have changed.

At the time Leah entered the competition, there were 26 competitors in the competition. Most of the competitors were transsexuals, and professional performers to boot, used to working a crowd. Leah is described as the only "full-time man" in the competition. Gavin has to work "twice as hard" as the other competitors. He takes deportment lessons, complete with the classical walking with a book balanced on his head.

As the competition progresses, the relationship with Sue becomes visibly strained. Like a prima donna, Leah becomes irritable, petulant, snappy and demanding. Sue weeps, and Leah admits she wishes it was over because it was so stressful. After the first round, a 4-minute "talent act", where he misreads his audience completely, Gavin's confidence droops even lower.
Gavin: If you want to be put off a dress for the rest of your life, this is the way to do it. I'm not really getting a huge amount of enjoyment about dressing up every morning, for a purpose. At home, I feel quite special. In the tranny world I usually stand head and shoulders, you know, near the top of the tree. I don't feel like that here.
Gavin uses his engineering skills to design a national costume for Leah, one which is "feminine and visually exciting", and "a bit more technical round the back". In a moment of national pride, his costume extends two Union Jack flags, but at the last minute he is told that he cannot extend it on stage because it takes up too much room. He defies the instructions and extends the costume anyway, but fails to win. Darlene's costume is a Nefertiti-Queen of the Nile thing, with swooping wings.

Neither Leah nor Darlene do well in the competition, and the eventual winner is Miss Mexico.
Darlene: I'll do whatever it takes to find love. Even if it's coming from a different avenue, a different type of love. I found a few friends that love me, that care about me. Now that I found that, you know, I want to find someone that can love me, and be with me. And that is so hard to find.
Why did Leah enter that competition? Without doubt, Leah looks fantastic. But she was competing against competitors who had had hormones, surgery, practice, and (in most cases) were a lot younger than her. What made Gavin think that he could pull it off? Was it confidence? Arrogance even? Afterwards Gavin is seen reviewing the tapes of the competition and expressing some bitterness about being treated unfairly. But, objectively, I think Leah True's talent act was lifeless, and I think winning that competition is not just about looking fantastic in a frock, but about personality and sparkle. I don't think Leah was ever in with a chance of winning.

Of the two competitors, Leah gets (I estimate) 75% of the camera's time (it was a British production, after all), and yet Darlene is the more entertaining. Darlene said she was entering the competition to win, but I really think she was looking to prove something: perhaps prove to her family, perhaps prove to herself, perhaps prove to a future husband, that she is accepted for who she is. Not just accepted, but adored, desired, worshipped. Loved?
Darlene: If suddenly you see I'm not there? That means I've stolen the crown and the chair, and run for Bangkok.
Given the choice of which of them to take out to dinner, I would take Darlene any day of the week. She just comes across as being more fun. The decision is (for me) nothing to do with who seems the more beautiful to look at.

On a completely different note, a point which is made is that, when you crossdress for pleasure, it's wonderful; but when you crossdress for a purpose, it becomes hard work. I suppose lots of crossdressers would quite value a valid excuse to dress more frequently, but when it becomes a chore, it loses a lot of its shine. Here's Helen Boyd from My Husband Betty:
Helen Boyd: Ali says he knew he was "just a crossdresser" when he agreed to be in a documentary film about tranvestism in his native England. After three days of putting on nylons it was no fun any more, and he knew he didn't want to crossdress every day.
Photo credit: Sally Payne / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
And yet, compared to what most crossdressers have got, what does Gavin have to complain about? He has a gorgeous partner who loves him (and deserves a gold medal for putting up with some of his selfish antics); he can dress freely in front of her (and she even admits she quite fancies Leah- phew!) He looks absolutely dazzling when he puts the gear on. It must be pretty close to crossdressing Nirvana.
Gavin: I'm very very good at what I do. I'm probably one of the best in the world at what I do.
But the documentary doesn't end with the end of the competition. It follows Gavin's journey back to Britain, and where he finally "with [his] new-found confidence" comes out to his astonished parents, showing them large glossy prints of Leah. And it seems that the competition was, for Gavin, about validation too.
Gavin's Mum: I always wanted a daughter. They're [the photographs] absolutely incredible. That's wonderful, that one.
Gavin's mum seems unexpectedly unfazed, indeed somewhat impressed, by Leah. There follows a tearful hug between Gavin and his mum. It would be a nice moment to end on, but instead we end with a weeping Darlene, expressing a wish to be hugged and accepted by her own mother.

Leah and Sue were interviewed a few years later on the popular This Morning show in the UK. Unfortunately the website won't give me access from outside the UK, so I can't tell you what was said. Answers on a postcard please. If you want to see more photos of Leah, you can check out her Facebook profile photos. Leah doesn't have a website; at least not one that I have come across, so there is no way to know what she is currently doing.

I didn't figure this out when I first watched this documentary, but it seems abundantly clear that Gavin has autogynephilia: show me a box he doesn't tick! And in turn, I think that Darlene is probably an early-transitioning transsexual; what Cloudy would call an HSTS. But you might disagree! Please post your comments below.

I consider several of the people I have blogged about to be heroes: people whose achievements or behaviour are inspirational to me in one form or another. Though I think Leah looks fantastic and I wish her nothing but the best, I haven't accorded her this accolade: I don't consider her to be an example I seek to follow.

My final point is this one. This blog, for me, is at least partly about my own validation. It's about trying to make something positive out of crossdressing. About me trying to point out to the world that I am not a pervert or a freak, but a nice sensitive guy who happens to like wearing a dress. And 10,000 hits is a pretty resounding validation. When you look at either Leah or Darlene they each seem so successful, so beautiful, that you would think that they wouldn't need validation (surely a case of res ipsa loquitur!). But it's really interesting that they both do; as I suspect quite a few of us do, and I don't know whether to be pleased I am in that company, or disheartened that no level of beauty will make my deep inner insecurities go away.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this very interesting blog- I just started reading and I really appreciate your insights.

    In relation to this particular blog post, what do you think about the connection between AGP and narcissism? I find that many, many, many of us not only want to crossdress, but want to take pictures while we do it and post those pictures online for external validation. So the dressing process and the image projection (taking pictures in different poses, and choosing the ones that best reflect our desired image to post online) become intertwined. We take the pictures and post them, get the "likes" and the comments, which in turn fuels the addiction.

    Gavin expresses this sentiment pretty clearly:

    "At home, I feel quite special. In the tranny world I usually stand head and shoulders, you know, near the top of the tree. I don't feel like that here."

    I can certainly relate to this sentiment. In the real world, as men we get very little attention for how we look. As crossdressers, we get a taste of what it's like to be someone that is "desired", the "hot girl", and that feeling is intoxicating. The access to that validation (flickr, twitter, facebook, various sex sites) is almost infinite, so it's quite easy to become addicted and stuck in the proverbial rabbit hole.

    Anyway just looking at young people today and how they are caught up with image, and how social media fuels that behavior...I think there is a connection.

    Love to hear your thoughts, and thanks for this great blog!

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    1. Hi! Many thanks for dropping by and posting your insightful comments. (Would you mind giving some sort of name, just to differentiate you from others who post anonymously?)

      Your comment pushed a button which I had been thinking of for some time: what is it with all the photographs? While women like to have nice pictures of themselves on facebook, or wherever, they don't spend ages posing in front of cameras the way (we) crossdressers do. And as you've pointed out, crossdresser photography is everywhere: YouTube, Flickr, websites, and blogs (such as this one).

      Before encountering the AGP model, I reassured myself that the photos were only there as a tangible and irrefutable reminder, during times when dressing was impossible. Since then, I am not so sure. If (as Cloudy suggests), AGP is an erotic target location error, then the erotic target we are aiming at (at least some of the time) is the image of ourselves as a woman. It therefore makes sense that we would enjoy looking at pictures of ourselves dressed; it makes sense that we would want to display ourselves to others, and it makes sense that we would revel in the validation of those who post appreciative comments about the pictures. It's worth pointing out that I am as susceptible to all that as everyone else, and I think your word "intoxicating" is very well chosen and appropriate here.

      In one of my other favoured scholarly reviews, Crossdressing, Sex and Gender, by Bullough and Bullough, the authors identify a subgroup of transvestites who don't go out, but instead dress and just sit admiring themselves in the mirror. The literature uses the term "princesses" to describe such individuals; the Bulloughs agree, and so do I. This activity must be the very soul of narcissism, and I can completely relate to it: when dressed, I love to see myself in the mirror too (and have often felt that the camera is much less forgiving than the mirror when judging my appearance!). I don't want to just look like a woman; I want to look like an attractive woman, and I am certain this is true for just about all of us.

      So yes, I think there is a strong relationship between AGP and narcissism. But I am not sure that social media fuels, so much as merely facilitates that behaviour. Look at Lord Cornbury (in one of my older blog posts) who had his portrait painted dressed (in the era before photography!). I am pretty sure I could guess what his facebook page would be like!

      Vivienne.

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  2. Thanks for the reply Vivienne! I'm working on my own blog right now called smashingmymirrors (speaking of narcissism), I'll let you know when it's up.

    I read a post (I think it was on Cloudy's blog) about the high average intelligence of AGP transwomen, and it didn't surprise me at all. Many of the people I've come in contact with via this lifestyle are above average in terms of education, creativity, and intelligence. With all of the "baggage" that this entails it doesn't surprise me (the ability to buy clothes and accessories, purge, buy more clothes, arrange discreet meetings or makeover sessions, rent storage units if necessary, create and manage dual personalities...it all requires a good deal of resourcefulness, planning, intelligence, and income in a lot of cases).

    In any case, perhaps that resourcefulness and creativity is also a detriment- one can create a myriad of rationalizations to continue self-destructive behavior. In a lot of the accounts of other AGPs from Ann Lawrence's and Cloudy's sites, to personal interactions I've had w/ AGP people, the intelligence shines through, and with that an amazing ability to compartmentalize as well as rationalize the "crossdreaming" lifestyle.

    Don't get me wrong though, I'm not saying as a rule that AGPs are all unhealthy or deluded, and I agree with you that dressing isn't any more destructive than playing video games as it stands alone, but for those that have addictive tendencies, and for those (like me) that dress to feed both a sexual fetish and a narcissistic supply, dressing can be a slippery slope with self-mutilation (for the wrong reasons) at the bottom of the hill.

    Again, thanks for this great blog. You and others have inspired me to start writing as well, in an attempt to reach out to others and hopefully come out in one piece!

    -Smash

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    1. Hi Smash,

      I look forward to reading your new blog when it comes out.

      The link between higher IQ and AGP comes from Cloudy, though I wonder whether there is an observer bias: the "successful" crossdressers are the ones who can juggle all the challenges you mention, and are therefore the ones who are more likely to be visible. Perhaps the unsuccessful ones are out there too, unseen and uncounted.

      I tend to agree with you about the rationalisations though; I am as prone to these as anyone else! On the other hand, I am not seeking to compartmentalise, but to integrate Vivienne with my normal daily self as far as reasonably possible (and I had overwhelmingly realised that I don't have "dual personalities", even before I discovered the AGP theory).

      I appreciate your honesty about your own tendencies, and I wish you well in your journey, wherever it may lead. And your nickname will come in handy if you ever decide to pursue a career in professional wrestling.

      Best wishes,

      Vivienne.

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  3. Smash, Vivienne,

    The issue of high IQ is one that I have indeed explored in my blog, including using data from the only source I would trust to have captured "all" of the *surgically treated* transwomen in their catchment basin, so to speak, in the Netherlands. Surgery costs money... so too does loss of career advancement and divorce that often follows. Thus, my hypothesis is that for prospective autogynephiles, full time transition and SRS, the costs are first weighed and those who can "afford" it are the ones who proceed. High IQ and high Socio-Economic Status are highly correlated in individualist societies. This is a process of self-selection... a special case of observation bias. I very much doubt that high IQ is a sequelae nor a precursor for autogynephilia / cross-dressing in general.

    --Cloudy

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    1. Elegantly put as always, Cloudy. I can't improve on that answer in any way. However, I would add my own viewpoint that IQ measures only a single dimension of human aptitude, and there are plenty of others.

      Vivienne.

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  4. re: In the real world, as men we get very little attention for how we look. As crossdressers, we get a taste of what it's like to be someone that is "desired", the "hot girl", and that feeling is intoxicating.

    Men sometimes comment on my blog, saying that they wish they could have this sort of experience with women getting aroused by their own male bodies.

    Other guys think that women dress this way because they want to have sex with the guys who look at them, and then wonder why the women aren't interested when they proposition them.

    Other guys think that women dress hot because they want to feel secure your cement and have power over them.

    I have surveyed my female students on this question and they pretty much all do it for self-esteem reasons – it makes him feel great. Sounds like they have a lot in common with you, anonymous.

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    1. Hi Georgia. Thanks as always for dropping by to post your comments.

      It is a question I wonder about quite frequently: not "Why do some men enjoy dressing like women?" but "Why do most women enjoy dressing the way they do?" Some women's clothing is impractical, uncomfortable and inordinately expensive (the same holds true for some shoes, nails, cosmetics and so on). I feel sure that, as rational beings, women wouldn't buy and wear those things unless they got more value from doing so than they lost by doing so. In other words, for them, it's worth the expense, the discomfort, and the impracticality. So what do they gain? (And why do some women seem unaffected by these things, and are content to not bother with them?).

      I don't understand your comment about "feel secure your cement". A spellchecker glitch, perhaps?

      Some crossdressers insist they dress as women for the same reasons women dress in that way: to feel pretty, attractive, or great. I remain unsure whether this is true. Of course (as with so many things which men and women do) there is likely to be some overlap in feelings and motivations. But are they the same thing? Don't know.

      I do think some women, sometimes, dress deliberately to attract men. This doesn't make it the norm, of course.

      Vivienne.

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  5. Vivienne,

    Really miss seeing new posts and hearing your insights. Come back soon.

    John

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    1. Hi John. I am so sorry. I am not forgetting about this blog, and I have a list of about eight topics to write about. Things have been very hectic lately and unfortunately the blog has been sorely neglected.

      Vivienne.

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