Dina’s Diner

| Mar 13, 2017

INDIA IN ENGLAND

India Willoughby

I saw an online article on England’s TheSun.co.uk site about British television journalist India Willoughby. The article was dated March 5, 2017 headlined “Who Is India Willoughby?” It turns out that India is a transgender woman and according to a couple of British news sites, she is the first transgender news presenter in the United Kingdom. Although she transitioned in 2010 and underwent SRS in 2015, she became newsworthy recently for appearing as a host on the ITV network talk show Loose Women. I found some of India’s remarks interesting even though her story is universal to transgender people dealing with their lives before, during and after their transitions.

The former Jonathan Willoughby was a television journalist in northern England when he decided at age 40-something that he couldn’t go on any longer as a man. He considered suicide. He was living a double life as a husband and father at home and at work but spending weekends in other cities living as a woman. “I didn’t want to lose my family and friends. What I did was I decided to split my life in two. I spent weekends as Jonathan in one city and I lived as the real me in Newcastle.” In another interview, she put it this way: “Its like holding your breath under water and occasionally I would come up for air by going away for the weekend by myself and live my life as a woman. I had two lives in two cities for five years.”

India also made some interesting comments about physical appearances. “I’ve always considered being transgender a curse but the one blessing I’ve had is that passing privilege. People say: Oh you’re so brave, doing a public job and standing up for who you are. But I’m not particularly brave because of the way I look. The really brave people are the ones who [don’t] look the part; maybe they’re a bit broader and stand out, yet they still go out there and have a normal life.” The photos of India Willoughby on the news sites and elsewhere online show her to be blessed with a classically feminine appearance and body type. Her comments are the first time I can recall anyone really acknowledging the advantages of possessing certain visual gender cues in transition. It also points out the courage and conviction of those transgender people who do not possess those “passable” gender cues.

After her first guest spot on the talk show Loose Women last year the Sun ran an article about her on October 13, 2016. It reported: “Her story resonated with viewers, who flocked to Twitter to praise India for speaking out. They branded her beautiful, sassy and inspirational. One [viewer] wrote: “So confident and happy and wow what a figure.” India looks and is amazing. That gal has got sass!” Another tweeted: “You were inspirational today, I think you will have given hope to a lot of people.”

WHEN BROADWAY GOES DARK

The New York Times Thursday Styles section had an article about Broadway performers and gay cabaret bars in the March 2, 2017 edition. The article was headlined “Gay Bars and Broadway: They Go Together.” As the Times reports, Broadway theaters are closed (“dark” in theater parlance) on Monday nights and some gay bars feature song and piano acts geared for theater people to enjoy a night off. It seems that many of these cabarets are hosted by drag queens.

Cacophony Daniels

The booming business enjoyed by such Broadway smash hits as Hamilton and Aladdin is also lifting the fortunes of gay bars catering to theater patrons and show performers. “Broadway and the gay community have always belonged together” said Clay Smith (aka drag queen Delighted Tobehere) as quoted in the Times article. Tony-winning performers like Michael Cerveris and Idina Menzel have dropped into cabarets in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of mid-town Manhattan near Broadway theaters. They get a chance to sing music they don’t get a chance to perform in their respective shows and of course clown around with the resident drag queens. Marty Thomas, who started a cabaret night six years ago told the Times he wanted a place “to feature talent in their human element, not in character.” Another drag queen host by the name of Cacophony Daniels is herself (himself?) a star of the Jersey Boys show under his real name, Courter Simmons.

I remember an interview with Nathan Lane where he mentioned how he answered questions about his sexuality when he started to become a big star. He said he would say. “I’m single, in my forties, and work in musical theater. What do you think?” The show-tune-loving gay male is a stereotype but, as with most stereotypes, there’s more than just a grain of truth in there. One can easily imagine gay theater fans and performers taking a busman’s holiday to watch or participate in a theater-themed cabaret with campy drag queens on their day off after eight performances a week.

I enjoyed reading this Times article also because it is nice to know that traditional entertainment in the form of piano bars and show tunes is still a draw for people in the prime of their lives rather than just for senior citizens. Drag is often associated with lip-synching and the article indicates that the queens of the cabaret clubs are singing live with piano accompaniment just like the guest performers. So bravo! and encore! for all the theater queens, drag queens, and fans of show tunes whichever gender you’re identifying with on those “dark” Monday nights.

WHAT’S THE NEWS ACROSS THE NATION?

I was watching a rerun of the old Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In show recently. As I’ve mentioned before in the Diner, I enjoy the nostalgia brought on by old TV shows from my youth. Laugh-In was famous for many things but the daring showcasing of bikini-clad go-go dancers, double entendres with beautiful female stars, and Judy Carne’s “sock-it-to-me” drenchings were all a piece of the ’60s sexual revolution. One of the straight comedy bits was the “News of the Present, News of the Future” segments that were introduced by a chorus of Laugh-In’s female cast singing and dancing: “What’s the News across the Nation? We have got the information . . . La-Da-Dee-Da.”

This nostalgic interlude punctuated my recent interest in some of our local female news personalities. Actually, my interest in female news anchors and reporters goes back quite a way but was rekindled by some lineup changes at a couple of my local network affiliates. There is a lot of online discussion of female network news personalities, particularly the leg show to be found on some of the Fox News network programs. There are a series of internet photos and videos of Barbie-like international newsreaders but I don’t find them as interesting as our home-grown talents. Myself, I’m a big fan of Headline News’ Robin Meade in the mornings. Throw in ABC weather’s Ginger Zee and some of ESPN’s thoroughbred fillies and there is a surfeit for the viewing public who want to stay informed and, uh, visually stimulated at the same time. But my main interest has always been with the local female television journalists. And I don’t mean to be or seem sexist in this item. The women are accomplished and working in a serious business. At the same time . . . I’m writing about crossdressing, fer cryin’ out loud.

Inspirational local news women.

It occurred to me that local newswomen are good models for many crossdressers who are past their hotsy-totsy phase or just looking to mix in some classy duds with their usual PVC and fishnet ensembles. The news ladies almost exclusively wear well-fitted dresses, high heels, plenty of cosmetics, and carefully coiffed hairdo’s that often look wig-ish in style. Does this sound like anyone you know, dear reader? There was an article a couple of years ago pointing out certain dress styles that were popular with newswomen. Some of the dresses were virtually — sometimes literally — duplicated in various local markets by different newswomen. In my local television market, the dresses are usually business-like but figure hugging, showing to advantage the trim waistlines, curving hips, rounded bust lines for the blessedly endowed, and (at least on one notable weather-woman) a gloriously bubbled butt.

“Mommy, that’s what I want to look like when I grow up.”

RAISING THE PH LEVEL

The allure of hosiery demonstrated.

Some time ago — maybe a couple of years, even — I wrote an item about the decline of pantyhose in women’s normal dress routines. Bare legs rule the day and, truth be told, it’s getting rarer and rarer to see women in dresses or skirts at all in everyday settings. As luck would have it, I spotted a couple in just this past week.

The first was a chance meeting with a former co-worker who was wearing pantyhose with her business ensemble. This was a common occurrence for her when we worked together and made her one of the last of a fading breed in that office. I think most crossdressers prefer the look and feel of hosiery for themselves and other females. Stretching on a pair of pantyhose was the entry point for many crossdressers in their formative period. A pair of crossed female legs is a focal point if the legs are bare but raises up a notch if sheathed in hosiery. I remember one particular instance when the above referenced office-mate crossed her pantyhose clad legs and dangled one of her pumps from her toes during a meeting. It was difficult not to do a complete perv-out while I was supposed to be paying attention to the meeting.

My second brilliant moment was in the very mundane surroundings of a local post office lobby. As I stood in line waiting for the glacial postal transactions to advance the line, I spied behind me an attractive professional woman with a particularly shimmery pair of pantyhose over very well-shaped calves and ankles and nice business pumps. The juxtaposition of the sublime with the maddeningly ridiculous surroundings only heightened the interest level. Her choice of glossy pantyhose indicated to my mind that she knew she had great legs and had found a way to draw attention to them while maintaining her professional stature. Yes, sometimes I believe I over-think these things.

PUT THIS IN THE HALL OF FAME

Karen Black for Hanes.

A day after writing the above item in praise of pantyhose, I saw a cable channel showing the film Five Easy Pieces which co-starred actress Karen Black. She became one of my favorite actresses during my teen years after she appeared in the Hanes Alive! ad shown here. The full page ads popped up in Redbook and Ladies Home Journal and the other women’s magazines in the 1970s. Interestingly, the ad illustrates that during the height of pantyhose’s domination in the 1960s and ’70s, women often wore hosiery with open-toed shoes and strappy sandals. That became the first place where pantyhose started to lose its hold on American women as they shunned hosiery for bare tootsies in summery footwear.

At that time I didn’t know much about crossdressing but I knew I liked Karen’s crazy eyes, and long legs sheathed in silky Hanes pantyhose. Forty years later, it still does it for me.

OH, DANNY BOY!

Sure and begorrah she’s a grand lassie.

St. Patrick’s Day is not generally associated with crossdressing as are some of our other party holidays. The St. Paddy parades and heavy drinking would suggest it might be a good venue for party-hearty drag queens, trans people or crossdressers to bust out. Unfortunately, most official St. Patrick’s Day events are notoriously conservative, banning even gay veterans and police officers from participating. I wouldn’t recommend sashaying into Brendan O’Houlihan’s Pub for a pint of Harp on March 17 in full regalia.

But in the safety of your own home, apartment, or tiny bedsit (where this young lassie has become fabulous), enjoy the day!

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Category: Fun & Entertainment

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.

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