Wednesday, November 14, 2018

#TransAwarenessWeek: Skirting Gender by Vera Wylde (#biography #crossdressing #genderfluid)

One of my favorite things about being a book reviewer is that I get to meet so many interesting people, hear their stories, and make a connection. It does not happen with every book, but it is wonderful when it does - as it most certainly did with Skirting Gender: Life and Lessons of a Cross Dresser.

The voice of Vera Wylde captured me from the first page. The more she talked about her life, her identity, and her expression, the more I felt like I knew her, and wanted to know her better. She is one of those new acquaintances I would dearly love to sit down, have dinner with, and talk gender, crossdressing, parenthood, performance and all things geek.

Skirting Gender is one of the most positive, life-affirming explorations of crossdressing and gender-fluidity I have ever read. There is no shame, embarrassment, or guilt. There is no talk of regrets, purging, or gender confusion. Vera is a person comfortable in two genders, someone with twin roles to play, twin personas to explore, who is equally comfortable in both.

What I love about her story is that crossdressing is just a part of who she is, a manner in which she interacts with the world. It is not a stepping stone or a mid-point on some larger journey of transsexuality. There is no sexual aspect to it, no exploration of fetishes or submissive role-playing. It does not have its roots in any sort of abuse, childhood trauma, or humiliation. Crossdressing is simply a welcome, comfortable part of who she is, and that example of self-acceptance and personal identity is one that is sorely missing from such stories. Vera stands tall as an example of what life could be like for a crossdresser in a world without judgment or labels.

That is not to say there is no element of self-reflection to Vera's tale. She does look back on childhood games of dress-up, a homophobic stepfather, and the challenge of buying women's underwear in a small town. She shares alternately touching and humorous stories of her life, including the relief of coming out to her girlfriend, and the anxiety of dressing in public for the first time. She shares those memories, but the question of 'why?' that plagues so many of us has no role in her story, and casts no shadow on her happiness. To touch on the performance aspect, her experiences with drag and burlesque are absolutely fascinating, two very different worlds that she explored for different reasons, finding something unique in each. It may seem odd that is the burlesque community with which she feels most comfortable, despite there being nothing sexual in her crossdressing, but that is part of what is so enlightening about her story.

Along with that biographical aspect, Skirting Gender also has a fantastic section dedicated to Practical Advice, in which Vera shares tips on everything from outfit selection to eyebrow shaping, and another on the Philosophical Aspects of crossdressing, which is perhaps the most intriguing. She talks of how and when to come out to your children, pointing out the "simple fundamental hypocrisy" of telling your kids to be themselves, while hiding your own truths. That really struck a chord, and I loved how she talked of normalizing it, of letting her daughter watch the process, making it clear that Vera is still daddy.

She also shares a wonderful "life-changing" celebrity encounter with Tim Curry, which was the first time he shared her birth-name with someone while presenting as feminine or gender fluid. She talks of no longer feeling "the rigid separation of a name" and of how the two aspects of her life "snapped together" allowing her to "feel a sense of joy and pride" in herself, not "as a persona or a performer or a model." It is after that, catching us up to the present, that she talks of allowing the dividing wall between masculine and feminine to fall into disrepair, and even getting a testosterone blocker prescribed to get her "default setting to be something close to a proper neutral" and make the effort to be decidedly masculine or feminine an equal effort. Rather than come across as a betrayal of her identity as a crossdresser, it feels more like the final step in self-acceptance, embracing Vera as fully half of herself, and not just a costume or a performance role.

With this being #TransAwarenessWeek, Vera could not possibly have come to me at a better time with Skirting Gender: Life and Lessons of a Cross Dresser. I fully intend to pick up a copy of the paperback and add it to my lending library of titles I use to help friends and family understand who we truly are inside.

Vera Wylde was born in Northern California and grew up in Northeast Vermont with her mother. After leaving college she moved to Boston and then later New York where she began to perform in drag and burlesque shows as some of her earliest public displays of gender fluidity. Even after returning to Vermont, she has never stopped performing for the last 13 years. In 2011 she began uploading videos to YouTube in an effort to offer support and guidance to any other cross dressing or gender fluid people who were not as far along their path as she was. This would ultimately culminate in the self publishing of her first book, Skirting Gender, in 2018.

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