Illusion? Delusion? But what’s real anyway? Or: what football fans and crossdressers have in common

Ana Cristina García is one of my favourite crossdressers, and not only because she’s gorgeous, incredible passable, and utterly feminine. No, it’s because she’s also immensely clever and posts very thoughtful insights on her journal at URNotAlone.

Her latest post, over a year ago (Cristy, where are you?), is superficially about Photoshopping your images to look truly at your best, and from reading her post, it seems that somewhere, someone might have felt very angry with her once they knew that those images were, well, not entirely real. Cristy has been very thorough in explaining why she does it (mostly because her wife doesn’t allow her to shave off all her body hair), and, of course, inevitably, she also explains that real life cover girls never truly look so gorgeous in real life as they do on women’s magazines. And no — it goes beyond clever makeup and photography tricks. It’s all done with digital editing, and it’s not limited to photos, almost all TV ads for cosmetics are totally “digitally enhanced” as well.

Cristy leaves the open question, how far should we go with our photo editing? Why do people accept that top models can be digitally enhanced on magazines, but you and I — common crossdressers — cannot? Cristy’s answer has been to set up two different Flickr accounts, one where all images are digitally processed, the other where she, at most, digitally removes her body hair and does nothing else (but still warns the user!). That way, people angry at her for using Photoshop on her photos can just subscribe to the regular Flickr account and see her in her naturalglory.

This made my poor mind boggle. Why is digital image enhancement taboo — while other forms of enhancement are not?

Consider what all women do every day. They wear makeup. Foundation will give you flawless skin; eye shadows will enhance and brighten your eyes; mascara will make your lashes stand out more; and lipstick will add that extra touch of sensuality on your lips. All these have been done at least since the Egyptian times — probably 4,500 years ago or more. They’re just illusion — illusion to make you look younger, more appealing, more sexy. All these “enhancements” are tolerated, and, depending on where you live, wearing makeup can even be expected, as much as you expect people to wear shoes on the street. So this form of “illusion” became common and mainstream.

But then we also have body shapers. Only a few women have perfect hourglass shapes with round breasts unaffected by gravity. Nevertheless, at least in Europe, women have been wearing corsets and bras for the past five centuries or so. Granted, corsets are out of fashion (except for us crossdressers!!), but bras — are universally worn. Push-up bras, the joy and wonder of the 20th and 21st century, have allowed women to completely defeat gravity and create cleavage where ageing skin cannot hold that perfect shape any more. Now you can be a grandma of 80 and still have the same cleavage you had with 15 years. Illusion? Of course it is. But totally accepted. Corsets might be out of fashion but they’re always connected to sexy lingerie and they’re accepted too.

You can go further. Crossdressers know all tricks of the trade — they have to, because in most cases, they haven’t been naturally blessed with an ideal feminine shape. Silicone breastforms have the problem that they need to be attached somewhere, or worn inside those special pocketbras, and that means bye-bye natural cleavage. But, alas, as said, with some duct tape (or a special undergarment that pushes the natural breast tissue together), and appropriate makeup (some blush on the fold between the breasts; some light/white shadow on the outside of the fold), you can get the cleavage you want. Now is this still acceptable illusion?

Well… we start to walk on thin ice here. A genetic girl with AA breasts would have no choice but to use the same tricks — a wonderbra, probably with some small silicon pouches inside, and some makeup to enhance her cleavage. She would be totally accepted when using those tricks, since one can understand that cleavage shouldn’t be a prerogative of the very few who have perfect breasts (either because they’re lucky enough to have born with them, or because they can afford to buythem 😉 ). And, of course, nowadays most people will accept that women get breasts implants. Some will love them more for that 🙂 A few might grumble and complain, of course, but, overall, a good implant is usually tolerated, accepted — and often envied.

Similarly, a woman that goes through thorough surgery to get her “body back in shape” (so to speak) is also accepted and tolerated. And gosh the miracles of modern cosmetic surgery!… if you remember the TV Show “The Swan“, you know what I’m talking about.

So… all this gets tolerated… you can go through a series of physical body manipulations, and come out of the experience totally transformed, and nobody will think that you’re “deluding” anyone. But… why? After all, the incredibly detailed makeover done at “The Swan” will give you a body you were never born with. So it’s… all fake, so to speak. It’s not encoded in your genes. It’s not the “you” you were born as.

But it’s still accepted. While digitally removing body hair is not. So strange!…

Well, one might say that the difference is between a change in “flesh and blood” (meaning: expensive, painful surgery — or at least working out in the gym and going through a diet) and one that is not possible without “physical pain”. Again, that is simply too confused for me. Makeup is not “physical pain” — it’s just paint! It washes out with water and soap! But it’s all right — while applying your makeup using Photoshop is not.

 Hmm. But it goes even further. If you’re totally unskilled with Photoshop (which is my case!) there are still “tricks” to look good on a photo. Photographers know these since, well, 1830 or so. We all have “better angles”. We can wear clothes (or colours) that favour us. You can see what I mean when watching, side by side, one of my pictures for June 11 and one for July 26. The poses are similar and it’s the same person. Which one do you like best? 🙂

Granted, much of it is personal taste. But I can say that on the older picture everything went wrong. My hair is not well styled. The nose seems huge (although of course the size didn’t change!). My breasts seem to be much smaller and flatter. The chin just stands out. I seem not to be wearing any makeup at all (the light is not helping). I look older, bored, and tired, even though I’m smiling, but the smile seems forced. And, of course, I look much fatter.

So what’s happening? No, I didn’t go through any major surgery in a month. It’s just showing that two pictures from the same person can make them look completely different. The illusion is in the camera, the lighting, the clothing, the hairstyle… everything!

You know I usually have some fun in chatrooms, and, while never claiming anything, I amuse myself to see how many people pick me up as a crossdresser. On June 11, dressed like that, almost everybody picked me up. My “passing level” was about zero. Except for some extreme cases — you see a lot of people from very conservative cultures online, who have little experience with crossdressers — everybody could immediately tell what my physical sex was just by looking at me.

By contrast, on July 26, nobody found out. Not a single person. And I’m usually logged in for hours, and my webcam was actually giving quite good pictures that day (sometimes it gets too dark, but it wasn’t the case yesterday). Of course, sooner or later, one of my regular online friends will burst out laughing on the open chat (as they watch what is happening and know fully well who I am) and spoil the effect, but that’s besides the point 🙂

So… the same person… on different days, with different clothes/hairstyle/makeup… in one case could, theoretically, be accused of being “deluding” others. But what is the essence of that delusion? Mere camera tricks, clothes, hairstyle, and makeup. Is that truly “delusion”?

Or perhaps the question should be asked differently. What does it take to consider something an “illusion” (crossdressing is always an illusion!) and a “delusion”? One would probably use the negative meaning of delusion as in “the intent of gaining undue advantage from someone else by falsely representing facts”. It’s true that in this case, every time I turn the webcam on, I’m “deluding” people, in the sense that it’s not my male self that is behind the camera (I understand that this behaviour can, indeed, be considered harmful and even illegal on some more conservative countries). Since we have, at least on our body of laws, a strong correlation between our identity/self and our physical appearance, it’s normal to expect a crossdressing behaviour — with or without digital/physical enhancements! — as delusional.

Well, “normal” in the spirit of the law, that is. Let’s give a different example. A male gets a picture of himself with a beard on his driver’s license. Later on, he shaves the beard off. Is he now deluding the police and driving with a fake license? We’d say “no, because shaving is natural”.

Women can go much further, though. They can change hairstyles, tint their hair, wear completely different makeup, change clothes in a dramatic way, to a point that nobody would consider them to be the same person on the driver’s license. None of these enhancements are, well, “natural”. And it’s not dramatically hard to do; after all, if we crossdressers can look totally different, so can every woman with a cosmetics kit and a hair dryer. Still, nobody would complain if a particular woman would show her driver’s license with a photo that doesn’t look like her at all — since it would not be apparent from the small size of the picture.

This is the point where, of course, it starts to get metaphysical… the next question will be what does uniquely identify an individual? How do you represent a “self” and point to it and say, “that’s person X”? In the forensics department, they might get a DNA sample to uniquely identify you, so there is a legal way to determine that identity uniquely. Still, even on a complex homicide case, judges will consider arguments like “he was drunk/doped/depressed and besides himself”, in the sense that under the influence of intoxicants and/or un-natural states of the mind (passion, depression, anger…), people can act differently from their selves. A judge will obviously consider someone’s ability to “become a different person” under certain circumstances and doing extreme acts that they would not normally do. Thus, “becoming a different person” (changing your inner self) is “acceptable” to a degree. In many countries, getting intoxicated with alcohol on a Friday night is even a mandatory social arrangement, where people are expected to “drop inhibitions” and “relax”.

So are all these people actively “deluding” others, by pretending to be a different person than they are in reality? We shrug it off saying that “external causes” (intoxicants) or “internal causes” (mental disorders) are the real cause; the person remains the same.

However, that’s also a “delusion” (pun intended!). We’re not always the same person. We behave differently at home, with friends, at the office, at a night club, or when attending a public ceremony, a wedding or a funeral. We adopt different styles of clothes, we speak differently, we act differently. And this also changes with time: we don’t behave as we did when we were teenagers or young children. We still claim “I’m the same person”. But how often are people shocked to meet someone in a business environment, and, after getting invited to their homes, they suddenly realise that this person is completely different from what they imagined?

Crossdressing is definitely illusion — at least physical illusion — but it’s as much “delusional” as someone pretending to be the best employee of the month, and then return home to hit their wife and yell at their children. Crossdressing is, first and foremost, a state of the mind (it is brought forward by something called autogynephilia, a tendency to become sexually excited to image oneself as a person of the female sex. Crossdressing doesn’t automatically follow (like SRS does not automatically follow crossdressing), but it’s frequent. So what happens is that we crossdressers are very much able to switch our mindsets to think and act like women (it’s wired in our brains!), and get sexual pleasure out of that condition; when that mindset switch becomes physical, we dress and act like women. We cannot say that we have “two” selves, one male and another female, and that we somehow have split personalities and switch among them at will; no, things are quite different and much more familiar: our minds can project a special image of ourselves on our own bodies, and that makes it easy for us to adopt female clothing styles and mannerisms.

Imagine a much more conventional example. Our model employee is also a model family father. Nevertheless, in his mindset, he is also a football fan, which stimulates his urge and desire. When there is a game, he adopts different clothes. He also adopts a different style of walking and talking. He surrounds himself with people with the same mindset. He can sometimes go to extremes — hooliganism, as a way to associate the mindset with violence, is perhaps an example. But does this perfect employee and family father have a split personality? No, even though he might act so differently when watching a game, that nobody who is familiar with his business and family environment would recognise his actions and his way of talking. But we wouldn’t find this “strange”. In fact, it’s an acceptable social behaviour for a huge part of the male population throughout the entire world. Is this football fan “deluding” people when he’s “transformed” while watching a game? Nobody would claim that, at least not seriously so.

The difference between a football fan that “dresses” as one to fulfil their inner urges of deriving pleasure from watching a game, and a crossdresser that tries to satisfy their autogynephilia, is just a question of social acceptance. Since the vast majority of the male population is a football fan, that behaviour is considered acceptable and “normal”. Since crossdressers are a tiny minority, their behaviour is considered borderline, and when they’re “caught” crossdressing, they will be flagged as trying to “delude” others by pretending to be someone they’re not.

In fact, in both cases (the football fan and the crossdresser), none are really “pretending”. They’re both aspects of their respective selves. The football fan is not “acting” as a good employee or a good father, while he in reality only thinks about football (well… he might 🙂 but that’s besides the point). He defines himself by being all three things together — just not at the same time. Sometimes, they’re employees (when they’re at work); sometimes, family fathers (when they’re at home); and sometimes, they’re football fans (when they’re with friends watching a game). In each case they play a different role, each with its own particular style of clothing, a way of behaving (mannerisms), and a way of talking. A crossdresser is pretty much the same thing: we can switch from “male mode” into “female mode” at whim, and adopt a role which is part of us and not merely pretending/acting. Although, of course, some actually enjoy the acting, but that’s besides the point: the actor is not the character in the play, and vice-versa.

Naturally, if you’re a crossdresser and are reading this, it will make sense to you. If you’re a football fan, you might find it absolutely obvious that you can be a father, a business person, and a raving lunatic while watching a game. But football fans cannot understand how crossdressers think; and usually the reverse is also true; and this naturally leads to ostracism and accusations of “delusion”. We both need to understand each other, and, more important, understand that the very same mechanisms are in play when we “switch roles”, and neither group is more “insane” than the other.

Ultimately, if the police makes you stop, and you’re in your football fan apparel and behaving as a raving lunatic, no policeman would raise a single eyebrow. So why would they frown upon a crossdresser driving a car?