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Viva McGlam?
Is Transgenderism a Critique of or Capitulation to Opulence-Driven Glamour Models?
- Terre Thaemlitz

Originally published in "The Future has a Silver Lining: Geneologies of Glamour", ed. by Tom Holert and Heike Munder, (Zürich: Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst/JRP Ringier, 2004).


The English word "glamour" has its roots in the Scottish term grammar in the sense of gramarye, or magic. As this text will be published in German, I do not wish to dwell on English semantics, although I believe a connection between glamour and magic is also reflected in the German term Zaubern. Let's just say notions of glamour still commonly revolve around bewitching charm, illusion, mysterious and elusive fascination or allure... and, as with everything magical, glamour is also tied closely to trickery, deceit and misrepresentation. Every society has its keepers of glamour and casters of spells - those who set themselves apart from (and often above) others through largely hollow secrets. In the ancient West, these were originally the pagan and non-Christian practitioners of "the craft" - communal leaders, advisors and healers. Over the centuries they were replaced by Christian magicians, priests, and other minions of the mightiest and still most flamboyant Christian magician, the Pope. Similarly, gramarye and divination also played an important role in sustaining the Western ruling class. As with the Vatican, Europe's ruling elite used opulence as an ideological weapon to befuddle the lower classes with glimpses of heaven on earth - a lifestyle so foreign and unattainable that it could only be the result of divination. It is this spell of opulence that led to our current definition of glamour, which is more associated with wealth than magic. This change of definition from the allegorical to the material coincides with changes in how gramarye is employed and for what ends. It marks the Western battle for "civilisation", the violence of which we laugh about every April Fool's Day while playing tricks upon one another. Few people realise that April 1 is the traditional pagan new year, one of the most sacred days in the ancient pagan calendar. The term "April Fools" refers to the believers in that day, the pagans themselves. And the act of pulling pranks on that day stems from the Christian tradition of harassing pagans and disrupting their celebrations.

Let me be clear that, unlike many of my Queer sisters and brothers, I have no romantic affinity with pagans, or Christians or any other employers of naturalisms and spiritualisms. To me they are all equally tedious, equally dangerous. However, there is no question that the historical persecution of pagans is clearly linked to the persecution of "sodomites" and other "sexual deviants" we would today call Lesbian and Gay, many of whom were tortured and murdered as witches and warlocks. Again, going back to English semantics, it is testimony to the frequency of public burnings of "sexual deviants" that the British-English term for a small twig or kindling, "faggot", has transformed into a derogatory reference to Lesbians and Gays. In this sense, the history of glamour, or gramarye, is both a history of oppression as well as resistance - in addition to the opulence-based glamour of today, there was a type of glamour that, at least for a period in time, was considered a threat to monotheism, classism, and the emerging social systems leading to contemporary post-industrial capitalism. Therefore, when considering the historical and social functions of glamour we are not merely confined to an opposition between the glamorous and unglamorous, but are confronted with longstanding oppositions between forms of gramarye themselves. Within a single society we find multiple shared and conflicting histories. Queer communities reflect this diversity and history as well, from campy glam queens to healer-performers à la A.A. Bronson.

* Transgenderism is the umbrella category dealing with gender variation, and the alteration of one's appearance and/or behavior as it relates to gender norms. Transgendered people commonly include cross-dressers and people in drag; intersex people born with ambiguous or multiple genitals who are often unwillingly subjected to hormone and/or surgical alteration; as well as transsexuals who willingly undergo hormone and/or surgical alteration. The term applies equally to people who are publicly visible (such as professional drag and transsexual impersonators, and community advocates), and publicly invisible (such as people who successfully hide their transgenderism, or people whose gender appearance is so singularly convincing to the public at large that questions of transgenderism do not arise during daily life activities). I also extend this term to people who feel too socially restrained to ever physically act upon their desires to alter or confuse their gender appearance. Such people are commonly dismissed by transgendered communities as "being in denial," and are not advocated for nor recognized as transgendered unless they express a clear interest in "coming out" and pursuing a course of physical gender transition. However, I personally contend that we "self-actualized" transgendered people who physically act upon our desires are the exception rather than the rule, and that ongoing self-suppression is likely the most common form of transgenderism in and of itself. Certainly such specific forms of self-suppression are learned through larger conditions of social repression. The "legitimization" of ongoing self-suppression as a form of transgenderism is an important complication of transgenderism's (not-always-challenging-)relation to conventional gender norms, and also reflects the fears and dangers of being publicly associated with gender taboos.
As a transgendered* person myself, when thinking about the relationship between glamour and transgendered communities certain questions begin to arise: is glamour particularly related to gender expression? Is transgendered "glam" a critique or mere capitulation to the social biases of opulence-driven haute couture glamour? Given that the majority of both Male to Female (MTF) transgendered people and women are not able to achieve an image of glamour, and that feminist visual theories have successfully clarified many social processes behind representations of the female body, can these theories also elucidate representations of transgendered bodies?

Is glamour particularly related to gender expression?

Ask anyone to name someone they consider glamorous and chances are they will name a woman - perhaps an actress, singer, performer, or royalty. It seems fair to say that contemporary glamour is more associated with feminine imagery than masculine imagery, and is in that way a feminine construct... and a feminist issue. Many mainstream feminist critiques of unrealistic beauty standards for women have targeted notions of glamour, and in particular the media's use of glamour to objectify the female body. Similarly, much feminist art has taken to particularly anti-glamorous imagery intended to neutralise glamour and present the female body in an unspectacularly flat manner (such as Yve Lomax and Mary Yates), or to counter glamour's spells of allure with elaborate counter-images of grotesque deformity (as in the early 1990s photographs of Cindy Sherman). Meanwhile, those few men we do associate with glamour are also largely associated with feminine imagery, from dandies to glam rockers. When we think of glamorous men we think of fashion designers, hair stylists, actors, musicians, artists, and men of any other profession suspect of overpopulation by flaming queens. Yes, dears, I think it is safe to say that contemporary opulence-driven glamour tilts toward the feminine - a point which becomes important when considering glamour's relation to the body, and attempting to critique or exploit that relation.

It is easy to see that within transgendered communities, the notion of glamour is almost exclusively associated with MTFs and feminine imagery. The connection between MTFs and glamour partly stems from old traditions that barred women from the public stage and required all female parts to be played by men. The flamboyancy of the stage has historically offered MTFs a culturally acceptable point of cultural visibility, even if such acceptance was limited to the stage. On the other hand, the history of Female to Male (FTM) culture is rarely glamorous. FTM culture has largely been about women "passing" as men, for example in the workplace or on the battlefield. Whereas much of MTF culture developed in relation to notions of spectacle and female parody, FTM culture developed in relation to anti-spectacle and male assimilation. Issues of passability among FTMs also differ from MTFs in that they are closely tied to the struggle for women's labour and property rights. The props required for FTMs to enter a men's working class (typically stepping up to an economically low, manual working class) are quite different than those employed by MTFs, many of whom already inhabit that men's working class by day. Therefore, as a material strategy for transforming the body, glamour has little practical application within FTM communities. Additionally, FTMs are usually trying to disassociate themselves from feminine trappings, including glamorous gowns, accessories, jewellery, cosmetics, and other such things. Even when FTMs do take on signs of opulence, such as in Japan's onabe lesbian host culture where FTMs dress in sleek men's suits while pouring drinks for their feminine-dressed women guests, the magic of their spell is in the realness of their presentation as a "normal" man. This is quite a different illusion than that offered by glamour, which employs the image of something unreal or unobtainable. Therefore, in discussions of glamour the absence of FTM content is more complex than MTF show-queens stealing centre stage (an important acknowledgement since the dominance of MTF issues in most transgendered discussions does carry a degree of "male" domination and misogyny within transgendered communities). The spotlight on MTFs may look warm and bright from the audience, but from the stage it burns, scrutinises, and most of all blinds.

Is camp "glam" a critique or mere capitulation to the social biases of opulent-driven haute couture glamour?

Today, the keepers of glamour within Lesbian and Gay communities are the queens. The divas. The drag queens and MTF transsexuals. Within these communities, I have always felt alienated by the common tendency to frame their own sense of gramayre as a cheap regurgitation of the "truly glamorous" - celebrities and models whose allure emerges from a spell of opulence. It is easy to see that some magicians' gramarye is more powerful than others' because of the social systems from which they draw their representational power. In this sense, when it comes to glamour, transgendered communities are second rate. Most people would agree that actress Elizabeth Taylor lives a truly glamorous life, whereas transgendered singer and celebrity RuPaul invokes a different type of glamour. (Perhaps we might plot the source of Cher's powers as residing somewhere between the two.) (Fig.1) While RuPaul operates in celebrity circles, her open transgenderism and homosexuality disclose something invasive and fraudulent about her glamour. Despite RuPaul's "realness", the image of glamour she projects is never as "real" as Liz' - RuPaul's pop presence creates doubts and tensions which perhaps hint at a past threat - a historical conflict between gramaryes through which the transgendered body has become both "outsider" and "loser". In that sense, the pop-glam diva reveals a moment of destabilisation, a social infiltration that discloses a brief challenge to power, and in that flash of a challenge perhaps there is the potential for resistance... That seems to be what we are continually told, in any case.

Fig.1 Shades of glam. Left to right: RuPaul, Cher, and Elizabeth Taylor.

We are told that the fact that any drag queen has reached pop celebrity status (aside from heterosexual male comedians in women's clothes) is automatically a challenge to dominant culture, and therefore a fabulous cause for celebration. It's a point of Lesbian and Gay PrideTM. It's a sign of public acceptance toward transgendered and Queer issues. It's proof that "we made it" (a declaration of arrival which always struck me as being in conflict with that other omnipresent Lesbian and Gay slogan, "we are everywhere"). But is this for real? As long as an MTF's public acceptance is gauged by her ability to emulate glamorous body and style requirements that elude most "real women", then I'll have to ask you to pardon this transgendered writer for not feeling "represented"by RuPaul any more than my mother feels "represented" by Marilyn Monroe or Princess Di.

Glamour is suspect as a critical-minded political forum because it is about social distance, not social integration. The promise of the pop-glam diva is not the promise of social transformation, but individual transformation in which the exploited becomes the exploiter. It is a promise of an individual's class mobility, not social betterment or class critique. It is, by and large, the American Dream. A dream whose spell is not limited to the odd life-ambitions of, say, a transgendered Dolly Parton impersonator, but which extends to the even stranger dreams of all those who constitute the market of her employment - the people who pay to see her. (Fig. 2)

Fig.2 Who cares? Strangely, somebody somewhere... Dolly Parton (left) with professional impersonators.

It is important to emphasise that glamour is a spell of opulence - a representational device utilising illusion - and does not mean that the magician wielding it actually lives the opulent life they project. Particularly in this Post-Modern age marked by replication and duplication, the commercial availability of glamorous commodities at bargain prices points toward the illusory nature of glamour. Glamour is a signifier of class, but is not necessarily reflected in class. Case in point: perhaps the largest glamour-lifestyle industry in the West is sex work - an overwhelmingly lower-class lifestyle for its participants. Sex workers, strippers and other "adult entertainers" employ glamour - via clothing, cosmetics, plastic surgery, glittering lights, and music - to dupe "tricks" into momentarily participating in a glamorous lifestyle. Through this social transaction, the sex workers themselves are transformed into glamorous commodities at bargain prices. And, in this instance, one of the greatest illusions of all is the topsy-turvy way in which an overwhelmingly exploited sex-working class becomes the symbolic exploiter with the magical power to entice and corrupt "good men". Of course, in the end the sex worker's criminal gramayre is powerless against the brunt of societal judgment, and it is overwhelmingly the sex workers who are legally penalised more than the tricks. In sex work, the effects of glamour are in a state of flux - its illusion simultaneously empowers and betrays the magician wielding it. From my experiences as a DJ in a New York transsexual sex-worker club, it became apparent that even independent girls with no pimps to pay were still only "leasing" their glamorous bodies, which were constantly generating debt through medical expenses such as cosmetics, hormone treatments, surgeries, drugs, and other maintenance routines required to keep up the smoke and mirrors (... and coke and mirrors). So, while I am an advocate of legalised sex work, the dominant systems of representation that it employs involving glamour (particularly in the West) strike me as unrealistic means through which sex workers can find psychological or material self-actualisation. For many of those who do lay claim to self-empowerment through sex work, glamour becomes the opiate through which they attempt to balance the emotional and physical hardships.

One alternative to this rather bleak and capitulatory approach to glamour is camp. Consider the 120kg comic queen who orders the world not to take her seriously (although in my experience it is the 120kg campy drag queens who tend to be the most professional and serious performers). One might argue that she uses satire to twist conventional images of the female body. However, even within this world of camp we find few signs pointing to a world outside of opulence-driven glamour. The camp queen is as driven by commodity fetishism as the "real" glam queen, if not more so (for example, Leigh Bowery). Her model of body representation still focuses on packaging.

And then there is the home spun tragic mess, her bargain sequins failing to conjure up anything but the absence of glamour. She is a glamour implosion, wherein the signs of glamour collapse upon themselves. (Fig. 3) Yet again, rather than escaping the allures of glamour, the tragic mess simply states that she is the unglamorous, the un-rich, the unprofessional, the unattractive.

Fig.3 Glamour implosion. Left to right: Cher, professional transgendered Cher impersonator, home spun tragic Cher and Dolly, professional transgendered Dolly impersonator, and Dolly Parton.

Of course, this is the reality for most of us. A society's unrealistic beauty standards for women become even less realistic when attempted by other-than-women. Many transgendered people never leave their homes, only dressing secretly and alone, afraid of the physical and verbal harassment that could come equally from strangers, friends or loved ones. Others hide their transgenderism by joining "safe space" clubs where they can keep their drag clothes and change once safely inside. Additionally, despite the still prevalent myth of the upwardly mobile Gay male with no wife or kids to feed and plenty of cash to burn, the reality is that the majority of Lesbians and Gays still live below poverty level, with transgendered people at the bottom and FTMs having it worst of all. In reality transgenderism does not entail much glamour, or gramarye - just the workings of a shamed "secret society" filled with mysterious ceremonies in dark corners. When the majority of transgendered bodies remain unseen, even by each other, what does it really mean to discuss representations of a transgendered body? How do we even begin to identify such a body?

Given that the majority of both MTFs and women are not able to achieve an image of glamour, and that feminist visual theories have successfully clarified many social processes behind representations of the female body, can these theories also elucidate representations of transgendered bodies?

Much feminist visual theory focuses on the subject/object contradiction experienced by women, as outlined in the famous John Berger quote:

    A woman must continually watch herself... From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman.
    (John Berger, Ways of Seeing, UK: BBC, 1972, p. 46)

Both MTF and FTM transgenderism also involve a tremendous amount of self-surveillance, particularly through the social pressure to "pass" as either a man or woman. In this sense, transgendered identity involves a similar multiple self-awareness as surveyor and surveyed. However, a key difference emerges when we consider how the subject/object formula relates to the physical body.

For women, the physical body remains reconciled with the object aims of the act of surveillance. Whether a woman is judged "womanly" or "unwomanly" the physical woman's body remains visible and identifiable as the target of such qualitative judgments. However, in the case of the transgendered body the physical body is not reconciled with the object aims of the act of surveillance. For example, when a MTF is judged "womanly" or "unwomanly" ("passable" or "unpassable", "gorgeous" or "a mess") the target of such qualitative judgments is not the transgendered body, but the woman's body. Similarly, an FTM's "manliness" is judged in relation to the ability to invoke images of a man's body. Both the "success" and "failure" of a transgendered person's appearance point us toward expectations of a physical body other than the one before us. As transgendered people, we come to survey ourselves in relation to a foreign body. In this way, the physical transgendered body exists on a social plane that is both invisible and unconsidered, by both the transgendered person and other observers. Despite the many processes of surveillance involved in formulating a transgendered identity, in most cases the physical transgendered body itself remains completely unsurveyed. Whereas the majority of identity politics have focused on a disenfranchised social group's struggle for "visibility", within transgendered communities the struggle for "visibility" seems to be nothing more than the struggle for an alternative "invisibility". I find this alternative invisibility inspiring because, with the proper spin, it implies that the transgendered body has, in effect, eluded dominant systems of representation and operates below radar. There is potential freedom in that awareness - perhaps not a transformational or redemptive freedom, but a freedom of the moment. A spell to break all spells.

Oddly enough, the seeds of this revelation were planted in me by a series of rather innocuous public service posters that have stuck in my mind since childhood. It was an anti-smoking campaign issued by the American Cancer Society (ACS). (Fig. 4) The posters were circulated through regional health departments and widely distributed to public schools, libraries, hospitals and civic offices. Unfortunately, the ACS did not keep records regarding the production of this campaign, so there is no specific information regarding the photographer, the people in the photos, or even the date of issue (which seems to be either the late 1960s or early 1970s - I recall still seeing the posters hanging as late as the mid-1980s). It is safe to assume the ACS intended the posters to be read as a simple contrast between text and images - a contrast that is striking for the use of such bleak sarcasm in a public service campaign. However, upon deeper reflection the series comprises a rather odd triptych containing several overlapping and complex representational issues, from class to economics to gender - representational issues that stumble in the grey area between dark humour and insensitivity. This tension seems to stem from a lack of clarity as to whether the images are active or passive in the representational games they play... the same question that arises when considering many transgendered bodies.

Fig.4 Bringing a light to the subject. Anti-smoking posters issued by the American Cancer Society, c.1970.

The most obvious representational issue engaged by these posters is class, which is affected by two distinct contexts. The first context is the advertising industry. The ACS images are clearly an antithetical response to the glamorous Hollywood style merchandising of tobacco products typical of the day. Attacking the field of advertising implies an active attempt to address representational issues. However, if that is the case, the posters fail through their inability to ask, "what is glamorous/debonair/sophisticated?" They do not refute or offer alternatives to the types of images generated by the advertising industry, but simply show us images that the advertising industry would also agree are not glamorous/debonair/sophisticated. Dominant economic and class distinctions remain intact, if not reinforced. This problem is compounded by the second context, which is the social context of presentation. The posters were typically found hanging in depressed public service facilities frequented by lower income people. I dare say, in such a context the class irony of advertising games is lost.

Before continuing I should state that there are two key assumptions I hold with regard to these posters, both of which may be incorrect (but which I will ask you to go along with for argument's sake). First, since childhood I assumed that the model for both the "Glamorous" and "Debonair" posters is comedy actor Don Knotts (famous roles include Mr Limpet, Deputy Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show, and the landlord Mr Roper from Three's Company), whereas the "Sophisticated" poster seems to feature either an unknown model or a documentary "stock" photograph. Second, by extension of the first, the "Glamorous" poster is targeted at women, but is actually a transgendered image. Unfortunately, despite several enquiries, the ACS was not able to conclusively confirm or deny any of this. However, in the absence of hard facts to the contrary, I will justify my assumption that the model in the "Glamorous" and "Debonair" posters is Knotts as follows: both images look like him, from the front and in profile; and having a celebrity do male/female takes seems the most plausible reason to introduce a transgendered image into what would otherwise be a documentary-style photography campaign (especially a public service campaign, which almost always employs a "lowest common denominator" model of audience accessibility). If it is Knotts, the "Glamorous" and "Debonair" photos are in that sense clearly "staged" rather than "documentary". Furthermore, the designs of the "Glamorous" and "Debonair" posters share a similar text block size, which hints that they were designed together, whereas the "Sophisticated" poster does not conform to the same design specifications and clearly features a different person in the photograph. The anonymity of the model for the "Sophisticated" photograph also makes it lean more toward documentary imagery. All of this sets the "Sophisticated" poster apart from the "Glamorous" and "Debonair" posters, and even suggests it could have been a predecessor or follow-up to the other two. So, within this one series we are left with an unusual representational shift from celebrity to documentary photography, or documentary to celebrity. In either case, the approach toward issues of representation in the three posters is inconsistent - a glitch rarely observed within a single visual campaign. It is a mindless shift that discloses how we "unthink" the processes through which we survey and represent the body, enabling people to make the leap from "fiction" to "non-fiction" without notice or enquiry. This question of whether the images are "documentary" or "celebrity" seems to be at the core of whether the images are addressing issues of representation actively or passively.

The posters are further complicated when considering their representation of gender divisions. Going back to the question of whether glamour is particularly related to gender expression, we here find glamour clearly associated with the feminine. However, what is unusual about this series of images is that the body selected to represent the feminine is not a woman, but a messy drag queen - no makeup, a moppy wig perched on top of her head, hairline visible underneath. At first glance, the "Glamorous" poster seems to rely upon the same simple oppositions between text and images found in the "Debonair" and "Sophisticated" posters: based upon the text, what is immediately perceived as missing is an image of a glamorous woman. However (and this is where we get to the differences between subject/object contradictions for women and transgendered people mentioned earlier), in a literal sense, the actual opposite of an unglamorous drag queen should be a glamorous drag queen, and not a glamorous woman. Yet, it is safe to say that most people who see the poster only relate the image to notions of a glamorous woman, and fail to even consider this more literal transgendered opposition. It remains clear that the poster is about surveying women and appealing to women's own processes of self-surveillance, implying, "don't smoke or you will end up looking unglamorous like this". The "Debonair" and "Sophisticated" posters similarly appeal to the male viewer's sense of self-surveillance (a theme sadly omitted by much feminist and gender theory). However, unlike the "Glamorous" poster, the physical bodies of the male models remain reconciled with the object aims of the act of surveillance - the models are men, and the images operate in relation to notions of sophisticated and debonair men.

Through repeated exposure to these posters in doctors' waiting rooms and other places with nothing to do but stare and think, I gradually came to see that processes of representation around transgendered bodies are rooted in deflections away from material bodies, and are therefore more about representing social processes around the body than about representing a person's physical body itself. In fact, the historic rift between feminist and transgendered communities stems from this very difference, the standard feminist argument against transgendered communities being that most transgendered people dedicate their lives to emulating patronising and conservative notions of what it is to be a "woman" or "man", and in that sense are terminally politically regressive and undesirable. Of course, there is some credibility to this argument. The majority of transgendered people approach the relationship between their genders and gender identities in disappointingly essentialist terms, such as being "born in the wrong body", etc. The ensuing drive to "restore" their bodies is a drive for "normalisation" with dominant culture, and often leads to a fixation with the most "normal", simple and clear-cut model of their "opposite sex" - the image of which is almost always a regressive cliché.

While I don't care to defend such essentialist outlooks, I can sympathise with them. It is important to realise that since birth transgendered people are indoctrinated with the same dominant cultural ideologies as everyone else, and a transgendered assimilation of such regressive gender models relates to the transgendered person's placement within dominant culture. The desire among many essentialist transgendered people to transform (and in most cases transcend) their bodies often involves a good deal of psychological denial about one's physical body - in fact, this denial is often culturally mandated in that most countries require transsexuals to submit to a clinical diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) before allowing them to undergo surgical alterations. But regardless of the conformist tendencies and conventionality of such transgendered people's body goals, it is important to remember that processes of body transformation also involve a tremendous amount of courage, and risk of failure. To go from husband to housewife, or vice versa, may not sound very feminist to some, but the radical disavowal of "original gender" involved in such a physical and social transformation is an undeniably extreme abandonment of socially prescribed gender roles - even if it results in a retreat to a second socially prescribed gender role. It clearly reflects a commonality with feminism's struggle for "choice". Of course, another commonality between feminism and transgenderism is that both women and transgendered people are conditioned to feel tremendous shame about their bodies. In fact, for "passing" FTMs and MTFs who are too ashamed or afraid to reveal their transgenderism to their partners, the potential for accidental disclosure resulting in violent retribution means that secrecy around genitals during sex acts can even be a matter of life and death. Luckily most people only see what they want to see, and it is in these fragile contexts that the distractions of glamour - heavy make-up, big hair, glittering clothes and accessories - occasionally help "normalise" and camouflage MTF's as "real women". In such instances glamour offers a strange over-performance of gender signifiers - a tenuously woven layer of super-femininity which is so distracting that it successfully hides the transgendered body beneath (as long as there are no other queens around to contextualise the glamour as queer).

It is through the elaboration of specific social contexts such as these that gender discourse and discussions of representing the body may eventually overcome the age-old feminist dilemma of how to get people to understand that gender issues are not limited to "women's issues", but affect society as a whole. One major problem, of course, is that in the end the overwhelming majority of women approach their "gender issues" in the same essentialist terms as men - they do not question the notion of a definitive female/male binarism which excludes transgendered people, but simply the social codes around that binarism which relate to women and men. Transsexuals, inter-sexed people and other genders are considered mere statistical anomalies, the rarity of which reinforces the biological "normalcy" of defining oneself as a woman or man. All of this goes against the fact that transgenderism presents numerous real, physical conditions which materially disprove the female/male binarism. A second problem is that transgendered communities construct their own essentialisms. Glamour itself becomes a double-sided "meta-essentialism" that simultaneously facilitates one MTF's assimilation and acceptance as a "show queen" within queer transgendered communities, while facilitating another MTF's "normalisation" as a "heterosexual woman" in a non-queer environment. All of these competing essentialisms lead to a lack of cross-communal alliances (not to mention inter-communal alliances).

One way to deconstruct these essentialisms is to pull the plug from the contexts which give them power, cross wire them into other contexts, and watch how the circuits overload... not to discredit the views of one group or another, but to identify the practical limitations of critical-minded communication and bonding techniques. These limitations may then point to new directions for cross-communal communication. Consider the "vaginal iconology" movement of the 1970s, in which women artists attempted to re-introduce female genitals into art. The effect was not only to challenge the phallocentricity of Western art, but to educate women about their own bodies. For example, erotic artist Betty Dodson's presentation at the 1973 N.O.W. Sexuality Conference in New York proposed a contemporary aesthetic framework for the female genitals. In her presentation she showed slides of her own work, medical and anatomical diagrams of female genitals (many incorrect), and photographs of the genitalia of women who participated in her body workshops (labelled "Classical", "Baroque", etc.). As the story goes, the result was a standing ovation from a thousand women, many of whom had never seen their own vaginas, let alone anybody else's. By making the diversity of women's genitals visible, Dodson effectively dispelled myths of the homogeneity of the female body, and thereby challenged the homogeneity of the feminine gender construct. She did so by tracing backward from her own self-image (her own art), to expectations around women's bodies (clinical imagery), to images of various women's bodies themselves (candid photographs). Personally, I consider this movement very effective and inspiring (although also a bit flakey and trapped in issues of "mothering" - hmm... the same could apply to drag queens... ).

But what if we try to adapt the "vaginal iconology" method of deconstructing representations of women's bodies to a "transgendered genital iconology" applicable to transgendered bodies? Can one trace backward from expectations around women's and men's bodies to images of various transgendered bodies, finally granting visibility to the seemingly terminally invisible? Or would we find that the transgendered bodies themselves simply point us back toward idealisations of women and men, such as in the self-portraits of the highly passable FTM bodybuilder and photographer Loren Cameron? Given the complex relationship between transgenderism and medicine, what differences in reception can we anticipate between Dodson's employment of medical diagrams of vaginas, versus medical diagrams and photographs of surgically altered transgendered genitals (which involves a higher degree of medical mutilation and patient trauma)? How would such images be seen within the transgendered community itself, which includes non-operative drag queens and kings with no intention of altering their genitals, transsexuals who consent to undergo hormonal and surgical alteration, and inter-sex people born with multiple or ambiguous genitals who were subjected to the surgeon's knife without consent? The mere fact that within the transgendered community surgical alteration is typically the ambition of transsexuals and the abhorrence of inter-sexuals leads us to a convoluted sense of "body" that eludes tracing back to a point of common origin. What is a "natural" transgendered genital? Is it pre-operative? If so, in the case of non-inter-sex people how would they differ from a man's or woman's genital? Unlike "vaginal iconology", which relies on a naturalist undercurrent that there is a "woman's body" to be represented and celebrated in diversities that unite sisters together, a "transgendered genital iconology" seems to lead us away from naturalism, away from sisterhood, and into diversities that culturally divide.

For myself, the power of transgenderism - if any - rests in this vagueness and divisiveness. It is not a power of distinction or difference from other genders, but rather the power of seeing representational systems of distinction or difference between genders collapse. It is not a power of transformation, but rather the power of transition. It is not a "third gender" offering unity, or a middling of genders. It is, by all means, a threat to the myth of social unity. Within the transgendered community, it is the potential to de-essentialise acts of transitioning in relation to social process. It is hard reality like a fist in the face (as many of us unfortunately know). The more you attempt to define it, the more it eludes and betrays you.

Of course, glamour is also about illusion (elusion) and betrayal, but for quite different ends. Glamour is the employment of illusion to reinforce a preconception. Glamour feeds on existing desires, and belays the agonies of the status quo. Transgendered glamour seems to represent the ultimate internalisation of such systems by an underclass. Within MTF communities, glamour is reified, consumed and digested without thought. McGlam - that homogenised drive-through drag culture - is found in every Western city (and these days, many Eastern ones too). Like fast food, it's easy to find, even fun in moderation, but definitely not meant for daily consumption. Sisters are getting crazy fat from being fed all this glamour shit... can't we cook up something better in our kitchens? Anybody want to trade recipes?