Dina’s Diner 7/31/17

| Jul 31, 2017

HER BODY OF WORK

The New York Times had an eye-catching feature on trans entertainer Amanda Lepore in the Styles section on July 20, 2017. It included a large color photo of Amanda in a sheer gown doing a va-va-va-voom pose. The accompanying article told the story of her upbringing, how she became and maintains her celebrity, and her place in the modern trans scene. It also deals honestly — as Amanda Lepore does herself — with the many cosmetic surgeries and procedures she underwent to become the public “figure” she is.

Born into a middle class New Jersey family, she dropped out of high school, was a seamstress for a strip club, worked as a dominatrix, became one of Manhattan’s well known “club kids,” parlayed that to become an internationally known club personality, had a recording career of sorts, modeled for famous photographers, and has now written a book titled Doll Parts. This is where you usually say “and all that before the age of. . . ” except that Amanda is either 36 or 49 years of age, depending on which source you rely on. In fairness, I guess it’s tough to be a 49 year old “club kid.”

Amanda’s combination of extreme cosmetics and wigging with a surgically enhanced hourglass figure is her claim to fame and how she maintains interest. According to The Times article, she “has had her derriere injected with silicone, her nose made smaller, her forehead lifted and her hairline lowered, her cheeks are regularly pumped with fillers and her breasts have been enhanced three times.” The Times also reported that Amanda traveled to Mexico for the procedure (not allowed in the U.S.) that breaks and re-sets the lower ribs in such a way that it appears the waist is narrowed and hips plumped. As the photo shows, it’s all there in the right places.

Her friends and supporters in the fashion and nightclub world have only good things to say about her, some marveling at her staying power without a discernible “talent” in her repertoire. But her visibility during the period while trans people are making real progress to be accepted as “normal” people is giving some activists pause. The Times writes that Denise Norris, an activist with Marriage Equality USA, “said Ms. Lepore deserves credit for fearlessly expressing herself decades before gender diversity became a cultural debate. At the same time [she] draws unwanted attention to the pressure trans women face to conform gender expression to societal norms . . . without coming off as intelligent and articulate.”

One can understand how some people in trans activism (or their own trans lives for that matter) might feel seeing Amanda’s exaggerated femininity getting attention while they work to keep their dignity and heads above water in the non-nightclubbing world of most people. Perhaps it can be seen as a broadening of the trans experience. There is room enough for brave trans middle school kids, political activists, everyday working people, and even a cosmetically enhanced ultra-femme icon like Amanda. Denise Norris put it this way: “The only way we can judge Amanda is through the eyes of 1987 [around the time Amanda was starting out] . . . she becomes a bookmark for how much we’ve changed in 30 years.”

THE CROSSDRESSING WARLORD

The New York Times had an interesting profile of Olive Yang under the provocative headline, “A Crossdressing Warlord with CIA Ties” in the July 22, 2017 edition. As The Times story recounts, Olive was a genetic female who favored dressing and acting in the male role, eventually becoming an anti-communist warlord and opium trafficker in post-World War II Burma.

Olive Yang

Talk about trans people in the military. Olive didn’t just serve in a unit, she led her own band of uniformed militia during the civil conflict between Mao’s Communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists along Burma’s border areas. According to The Times, Olive’s brigade fought the Communist forces and smuggled opium with the support of our own recently created CIA which was more concerned with defeating Mao than the drug trade.

Olive Yang died in July at age 90 prompting The Times profile. The article says “she had led hundreds of men, endured prison and torture, generated gossip for her relationship with a film actress, and finally helped forge a truce between ethnic rebels and the government.” Her family in Burma (now Myanmar) were in the nobility of that country and they were “concerned about their unconventional daughter.” They married Olive off to a cousin but she ran off to join militias and drug-smugglers. The Times article chalked up her personal rebelliousness to “her desperation to escape traditional gender roles.” A published family memoir said her attraction to gender role switching was “a temptation she couldn’t refuse.” At 25, she was leading hundreds of soldiers trafficking opium into Thailand. She was eventually arrested by authorities and spent time in prison. She was imprisoned on other occasions as well and probably tortured as a political prisoner. The Burmese government recruited her in 1989 when she was in her 60s to help negotiate peace with other ethnic rebel groups in the country.

Olive’s paramour Louisa.

The briefly mentioned juicy part of the story was her relationship with Burmese film actress Wah Wah Win Shwe which began in 1960 when Olive was acting as de facto leader of a territory in Burma with a militia backing it up. The Times reports that, “Ms Yang’s family considered them a couple, though in an interview in 2015, Ms. Win Shwe, who still lives in a house on Olive’s property, denied the affair.” Other reports about Olive Yang say that she romantically pursued Louisa Benson Craig, a native Burmese who was that country’s first Miss Universe contestant in 1956 and who also later became a female military leader in the territories. In an article about Olive Yang on NPR.org, her surviving brother is quoted, “We would ask her why she didn’t wear women’s clothes or why she had to have a short haircut. We would shout at her for chasing women,” he said. “Back then we didn’t know about lesbians and transsexuals.”

ARE GAY BARS GOING DOWN?

The New York Times Sunday Styles section had an article about the evolving gay bar scene in the June 25, 2017 edition. It was headlined “How Gay Should a Gay Bar Be?” and discussed the evolution of the bars in our current age of “sexual fluidity.” It also recounted the growing phenomena of straight people visiting gay bars as tourists or for special occasions.

Miz Cracker with a straight girl on stage.

The basic question for gay bars and their patrons is whether they are still relevant in an age where many modern straight establishments welcome gay customers. The hideaway gay bars of decades past served to let gay and lesbian patrons be themselves in public the same as straight folks took for granted. Gina Gatta, a lesbian publisher who tracks LGBT data, reports that since 2008, there has been a sharp decline in gay bars with a national net loss of 15 each year. Lesbian bars have been hit even harder to the point that even San Francisco does not have an exclusively lesbian bar in the country’s “gayest” city. The Times surmises that rising rents and the advent of gay hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff are contributing to the decline in gay bars as community gathering places.

The big development in the gay bar industry is — straight patrons. But those new customers present a new challenge for established gay bars and their patrons. Ms. Gatta, reports The Times, “sees a voyeuristic element at play.” She said, “It’s like, let’s go hang out with the gays because they’re cool.” A few of the gay club owners interviewed discussed the number of straight-girl bachelorette parties that are now held at gay bars. One patron said, “The women always say they come here to be left alone but it seems like they want as much attention from gay men as possible.” The Abbey, a popular gay bar in West Hollywood, at one time banned bachelorette parties because “they were taking over the gay bars and using the male dancers as accessories and toys.”

TMZ, the television and website production company, actually has their Hollywood tour buses stop outside the Abbey so out-of-towners can get a look at gay bar life as part of their sightseeing. “It makes me feel like a monkey in a zoo,” lamented one bar patron. A New York native told The Times that straight couples are using gay bars for “first dates” presumably because the women will know their men are only looking at them. New York-based drag performer Miz Cracker complained that the bachelorettes and other straight women can be a handful when fired up on alcohol. “A straight girl will stand in front of you, stick her pelvis out and rub it on you. And you can’t get her to sit down. That can grind the show to a halt.”

So what’s a gay bar and its patrons to do in the face of declining market share, crazy drunken straight chicks, and a tour bus full of goobers ogling you? As one bar owner is quoted, “We’ve been fighting for equality for all these years. You can’t reverse-discriminate and say ‘you’re straight, you can’t come in here.'”

BEFORE AND AFRO

Troy Mullins

I was watching a women’s long drive competition on the Golf channel recently and one of the contestants was an eye-catching beauty named Troy Mullins. She had a fit, athletic body with toned legs but the standout feature was her voluminous Afro hairstyle. Not long after, I was catching the new season of Game of Thrones and marveled once again at the sight of actress Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei on the series) and her soft Afro ‘do. I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s and always liked the big puffy Afro’s of that era on both women and men. My own hair was straight as a piece of thread so I envied anyone who could get some volume atop their heads, including the “Jewfro’s” for paler folks who could pull it off.

In the present age, I had to look on Google to see if the term “Afro” was now frowned upon but thankfully it appears to be still in use. There was a time when some folks were trying to call it simply “a natural” which had as much pizzazz as (ironically) white bread. I don’t know when the Afro fell out of favor but my guess is that offshoots like the “Gumby” and the comical high style of ’90s hip hopper “Kid” may have sent it into limbo. In the ’90s it seemed like black men all started to go short or shaved completely and the women opted for straightened styles. After twenty-plus years of straightened styling the Afro has been mostly relegated to nostalgia. Beyonce is a beautiful woman in any incarnation but did she ever look sexier than when she played Austin Powers’ ’70s inspired character Foxy Cleopatra in a giant Afro?

Beyonce is Foxy.

The Afro is a natural (pardon the pun) for wigging. In fact it’s hard to believe anyone could grow their hair out enough to get a great Afro nowadays. Some African-American drag queens work Afro’s to great advantage as can be found in a web search. RuPaul has done it of course, and some of the Drag Race contestants have worn the Afro to rock the audience. Even some of the white contestants have tried it but I don’t recommend it, myself. Looking online for African-American crossdressers, I still see mostly straightened styles rather than Afro’s on display. Too bad. The Afro is not just an homage to the post-civil rights era but it’s a uniquely hot look in its own right.

OH, SNAP!

I watched the movie Keeping Up With The Joneses on my local cable system recently. It’s not a bad comedy, starring Zach Galifiniakis, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, and Isla Fisher. If you haven’t seen the film, it has a couple of sexy scenes with Gal Gadot (lately of Wonder Woman fame) and Isla Fisher wearing lingerie and engaging in a little sapphic flirtation.

The first lingerie scene features the long limbed Ms. Gadot in a black bra, panties, garter belt and stockings ensemble. But wait: as she saunters out of the changing room towards the surprised Ms. Fisher, her garters are swinging freely, unsnapped onto the top of her stay-up stockings. To this crossdressing viewer’s mind, the unsnapped garters hit a sour note as if a saxophonist had sneezed into his horn. I don’t know if this is some new-fangled approach to the classic garter belt and stockings look but if it is . . . me no likey. It also offends my sense of lingerie aesthetics to see elasticized stay-up stockings paired with garters in the first place.

Isla with garters swinging free.

In another scene, Ms.Fisher, playing the “normal” suburban housewife role, gets inspired to put a little spice into her marriage by unveiling a breathtaking French Vanilla colored corset for Zach Galifiniakis’ nerdy husband character. Isla has that classic red-haired, creamy-skinned, bosomy body type so it’s a major treat to see her in that corset with matching panties, beige stockings and very high heels. But say it ain’t so! The corset garters are again swinging free, unattached to the stocking tops. What in the name of Bettie Page is going on with the lingerie dresser in this movie?

Back in the early VHS tape era of porn movies, I would silently yell at the screen when the sexy female star stripped to reveal garters and stockings…then peeled them off before she did the nasty with her male co-star. “No! Leave the stockings on, you dumb bimbo!” Whose idea of sexy is it to have a woman take off garters and stockings? I never understood that move and it was a staple of early porn. The directors of vintage smut were probably not crossdressers. Crossdressers appreciate the delicacy and sex appeal of the gartered stocking.

Meanwhile back in the present, I did a Google search for “unattached garters” to see if maybe I had missed an update memo from the Worldwide Lingerie Federation advising members to leave their garters unsnapped. But no, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Perhaps the wardrobe director for Keeping Up With The Joneses is trying to start a new trend of unattached garters. If so, I hope he or she fails miserably. I can’t think of any self respecting lingerie lover who would wear garters like that. I’ll give them a mulligan for using elasticized stockings with garters but, c’mon, man, you gotta snap the snaps if you’re trying to set the trap.

[Editor’s note: Ms. Gadot looked amazing in this movie but it is evident how much working out she did for Wonder Woman. Both versions of her look great.]

To make a comment on this edition of the Diner login here and use the comment area below.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Category: Community News, Fun & Entertainment, Opinion

About Dina Amberle: I started crossdressing and going out publicly in 1988. I joined the Renaissance group in the Philadelphia area that year and later became chapter leader for two years in the '90s. I always enjoyed writing and wrote for the Renaissance newsletter and magazine throughout my membership years. I've been writing for TGForum for several years now. I also contributed items to LadyLike magazine and other TG publications before the advent of the internet. My hobby-within-a-hobby is singing live as my alter-ego Dina Sinatra and I have had the opportunity to do that with several accommodating performers and in a number of venues over the years since the mid-1990s. In the Diner column items here, I try to relate crossdressing or transgender themes (and my own pet peeves and fetishes) to the larger world -- and vice versa.

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. scalesman says:

    The disappearance of gay bars is a concern to fearful and closeted cross dressers. Five years ago there were several gay bars and lounges within an hours drive of my house. Now there are none.
    Being somewhat known and quite large I cannot live in fool’s paradise and think I will pass or even blend in. I found comfort and acceptance at several gay bars. There were two or three where I started to know the patrons and bartenders. I could come home from work, dress, hit the road and find a place for a drink or two and some friendly acceptance.
    I think that gay folks have now found acceptance at civilian establishments. For the most part any gay or lesbian person/couple can drop into any bar or restaurant and be served and treated as any other customer. That is not the case with many in the trans community. We do not pass and, in many cases we need to shield our true identity. That makes going to a civilian bar or restaurant risky. I miss my old gay bars.
    Pat