This post is based on a comment I made on one of Nicky's recent posts (which she called 'My biased views'). The basic subject was male impersonators and one's reaction to them. I wrote:
My Mum always found Danny La Rue very funny, and admired the makeup and costumes he wore. But he made me cringe. And I generally found overt campness embarrassing, as in the 'Carry-on' films, and yes, Dick Emery and John Inman. I wondered why I wasn't laughing, and felt very awkward. When old enough I went out rather than see these things.
There was also something disturbing about depictitions of men dressed up as women, even if for a deadly earnest reason - as in war films: escaping prisoners, say. I didn't understand that either.
Then were three things I saw on TV during the 1970s and 1980s that made me have a more complicated and less knee-jerk reaction, and began to set me thinking a lot. One was a early episode of 'Casualty' on TV, in which an MTF transsexual prostitutute got beaten up and admitted to hospital, to the concern of one of the female nurses, who begs 'him' (not 'her') to give up what 'he's' doing because of the danger. Horribly reminiscent of modern transphobia. But I was fascinated by the idea that here was someone living as a woman who had 'crossed the line' so to speak. She couldn't 'give it up'. Then two films. One was 'Triple Echo' a 1970s film starring Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed about an army deserter who is taken in by a lonely woman, convincingly disguised by her as her 'sister', and then finds that he likes the sensation of looking and acting a like a girl. His undoing is a yearning for a good time at the local dance, with the inevitable exposure and ugly retribution. The other film was 'Tootsie', and whatever its limitations, I thought Dustin Hoffman (playing a perfectionist actor desperate for work, who lands a starring role in a hospital soap as a feisty female adminstrator, raising all kinds of issues) found something in the role beyond farcical situation comedy. The film showed the practical difficulties of clothes, makeup and babycare, an insight into a woman's feelings and position in society, and handled the attitudes, roles and emotions of several very different men 'she' encountered. I thought there was much that was deep in that film, and almost for the first time I pondered seriously on how much I hated being male. It was a risky role for Hoffman. Several reviewers thought they detected an empathy with the part that went beyond what a good actor might be expected to achieve.
Strangely, these three rather random experiences (all fictional; I had completely internalised all my proto-trans thinking and emotions) made me feel easier about the Danny La Rues of this world. And I coped better with office chortles and ribaldry about anything that was 'deviant' or 'unmale'.
I neglected to say some other things about those three instances. I found them enthralling and yet disturbing. Had I been asked why I was watching so rapty, I would have blushed. They were forbidden fruit. They rang loud bells in my mind, a clamour that took some time and willpower to silence. Putting things away into sealed, soundproof boxes was my typical coping strategy. I learned it early, pre-school. By the 1970s I was an expert in suppressing all inconvenient emotions. I had the temperament to do it so well. But it meant no emotional development. My therapists saw that. How novel and liberating it now is to open these boxes and examine the contents without shame!