[This is the text of the book review from episode 31 of the podcast.]
This episode the book is Miss Vera’s Cross Gender Fun for All by Veronica Vera.
I received this book for free, but after you hear this review I doubt you’ll think I’m lying about anything.
At the start the book is billed as
‘A cross gender guide to practical transformation.’
And that does happen…around page 71. The first half of the book is about Miss Vera and how she got to where she is—when she started Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls and so forth.
If you specifically want to learn about playing with gender you can start at 71. There are some interesting statements and things to chew on in the first half, but if you’re wondering when the premise of the book kicks in—halfway through.
That’s when you fill out what would be your Miss Vera’s Finishing School Enrollment form. It includes your current gender and cross gender, current name and proposed name, measurements and questions. Questions are things like what would you like to nurture or enhance about yourself and who your cross gender role models are.
Gender play isn’t something I’ve given much thought to, but I’m game. Wow, did I not realise how little attention I paid to men until this came up. Who the hell were my role models?
I love this sort of thing, though. When you think about yourself or the world in a new way. Realising you hadn’t noticed something because you’re just living your life.
Earlier we were supposed to choose a symbol of our cross gender self. At first I thought it would be a tie. Then it dawned on me—a waistcoat. In the States it’d be a vest. I’ve always loved a waistcoat on a man or a woman and I have several.
Then it hit me. My cross gender role model is Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds. Those smart, awkward (boy can I identify), soft-spoken, well-dressed guys. He even has long hair most of the time, which I like on a guy.
Fun fact: that character was originally supposed to be bisexual and the Emily Prentiss character was supposed to be a lesbian, but the studio nixed both of those plans. Typical.
In general, I had a difficult time with the assignment, though, because I’m not feminine. In pretty much any way. I took a quiz recently and received ‘casually masculine.’ Fittingly, I got the quiz from Laura Antoniou’s Facebook page and she received the same result.
The author of the book says people tell themselves they can’t do the cross gender thing because:
I’m too much of a guy/gal to ever make this work.
For me, I’m already about 65% dude so… yeah. I’m too much of a guy to make this work the way you want, I think. I’m just like, a dude who likes to wear a skirt and riding boots and a corset on occasion. And I really like those kinds of guys, too. The guys who wear eyeliner and nail polish sometimes? Guys who wear whatever they feel like that day.
While we’re on that subject. There’s a lot of talk about the gender binary and how it’s outmoded and such and so, and I’m right there. Indeed. But there’s not really a discussion about two-spirit or agender or the myriad other options Lee Harrington talks about in Traversing Gender.
I mean, what if you’re a bio-woman and your cross gender self is a really effeminate gay guy? Or what if you’re a bio-male but your cross gender self is a really butch lesbian? Do you have to buy into nails and hair and make up? This isn’t addressed but there’s much talk about ‘balance’ and how there’s a man in every woman and a woman in every man. Is it a pendulum? Since I’m in the middle—not very girly the vast majority of the time—would my gross gender self naturally not be very masculine by our current definition?
Which brings me to a part of the enrollment form that made my eyebrows disappear right into my hairline. Under the ‘your goals’ section an applicant is supposed to choose what qualities he or she would like to enhance based on the gender icon they are crossing to. Masculine includes things like: Logical, strong, hardworking, stoic, leader, Dominant, confidant, active. Feminine included: Fragile, playful, sexy, emotional, follower/supporter, submissive, thoughtful, compassionate, desirable.
I’m pulling this podcast over for a second. Mostly because blood is about to shoot out of my nose. This is offensive to both groups because it’s saying not only, say, women aren’t naturally logical, but men can’t be sexy. Women can’t be hardworking and men can’t be compassionate. None of these are compliments! If these are things people tell themselves about themselves I have such sorrow for the average human. Everyone needs to be in therapy! No wonder the world is so messed up.
Also, looking down this list—if these traits really are indicative of typical male and female personalities, then I’m more like 85% male.
Where was I? Oh right.
The author talks about the time she cross…something. It wasn’t really cross-dressing because she remained in her dress, but she had a beard applied. Her experiences with strap-on play were interesting, though. She talked about getting the experience of being a guy after trying it a few different ways.
The stories about real peoples’ experiences, in general, were some of the most valuable parts. Reading how accessing a different part of a person’s personality—something they didn’t know was there before—was quite moving. A book of those sorts of stories, or at least more of those, would have been interesting.
So I’ve done the parts I like, which was the second half. The first half, well, I had some issues.
Well. The first half wasn’t all bad.
Technically, it includes the cover, which has photos of a series by Hana Pesut called ‘Switcheroo’ where opposite sex couples switched clothes. So there’s one shot in their own clothes, then there’s with the couple recreating the pose but in opposite sex clothes and positions. If that makes sense. My friend Bean recognized it instantly. There’s a link to a slide show of some of the pieces in the show notes—it’s pretty cool.
She had also read Miss Vera’s book Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls. Which I had not heard of until that moment.
The first thing I have to confront is a serious health risk: The author advocates binding with ACE bandages. No. No. And no. There are safety risks that include breast tissue breaking down and permanent damage to lungs and ribs. This is a link with more info, and here is yet another one. Short version: bandages like ACE bandages are designed to get tighter with movement. This is not a thing you want!
This is one of my favourite quotes of the book. I stared at it for thirty full seconds:
My school and I have helped to change the face & the figure of society.
I know individual lives have been changed radically and for the better—that is obvious from the few stories that are included—but the whole of society? Steady on, there, Ozymandias.
There were things in the first half that were thought-provoking, though. For example:
Clothing has always been connected to the way in which we experience and identify gender. The act of cross-dressing, wearing clothing of the opposite sex, changes what we project as well as what we interpret about others. Never just a fashion statement, nor only about pleasure, cross-dressing is about liberation, expansion and a shift in power.
Also, what is defined as appropriate for men or women changes over time. High heels were originally designed for men. And of course everyone used to wear robes. When I was converting to Judaism my rabbi asked me how I would respond to the proclamation that women shouldn’t wear men’s garments like trousers. I said that if the trousers were made for women they were women’s trousers. He said right on.
As a sidebar can we stop calling them pantsuits and just call them suits? It’s also marriage not gay marriage, fuck’s sake.
Back to what the author was saying about the shift in power that comes with cross-dressing. She’s certainly correct there. We imbue clothing with such power and not just male or female but blue-collar versus white collar, as well. And then the colour of the skin of the person wearing those clothes plays into what power we give…just fabric, after all.
Our society, though, has decided that transwomen of colour have the least worth. Someone with a certain skin tone, designated a certain sex at birth decides to wear a certain type of fabric and our society finds that so intolerable that person’s life is worth less than other people’s.
I can’t help but notice that all of the photographs in this book are of white people. The Finishing School has had thousands of people go through, I believe, so I’m sure some have been people of colour, but it’s interesting that there’s no representation of that here. Maybe it’s because no one was comfortable being photographed when the call went out. Maybe there are other factors of which I’m unaware.
But there have been twenty-five trans and gender nonconforming homicides this year and at least 21 were either black or Latinx so it seems like, perhaps, there are others in our society who need to feel seen and worthy and beautiful.
Maybe I’m just sensitive to seeing white people everywhere right now because all we seem to be doing is screwing things up and dismissing people who aren’t white.
Anyway. I mentioned before about the project of creating your cross-gender other. In the first half, the author mentions your iconic other—the person you’ll be creating.
This iconic other will serve as your guardian angel, your personal champion, your inner slut—whatever you need to feel balance in your life.
As a submissive I’ve often thought of this as finding your inner Dom/me. Finding the person in your brain who will get you to do the thing. Whatever ‘the thing’ is. The washing up. The essay. Your exercises. ‘If you had a D-type right now she’d be giving you The Look.’ Subs will know what I mean. No sub wants The Look.
So if you’re not on the Dominant/submissive scale this could work for you. Find that other side of yourself find your inner Dom/me. Or your personal champion, which is sort of what a good D-type is—someone who wants you to be your best and can help you get there.
There’s a resource guide in the back that’s solid. It’s one of the best parts of the book. Kevyn Aucoin books for makeup-yes and yes. Those books are works of art. There’s a makeup guide in this book for men trying to hide a five o’clock shadow, but YouTube probably has step-by-step guides that are easier to follow and pause and such.
She also recommends The Very Short Introductions guides to anything, because there are who knows how many of those. If there’s something you want to know about—check one of those out. They’re pocket sized and accessible.
Then, if you want to be more in control of your finances, she recommends Suze Orman. That woman scares me. She’s very intense. But she’ll get your finances in order. She’s a whole different type of findom. She’ll scare your finances into order.
The font is large and the margins are wide—there are also several full-page photos, which are great. I loved seeing people in their various incarnations, but it has less content than a typical 145 page book. On the other hand, it took two days to read. You could read it in an afternoon, easy.
Overall, it’s a mixed bag. This book made me think about some things I hadn’t before. It certainly made me break out my waistcoats and ties. It could have benefited from more personal stories and explanation and less about the author.
If you’re looking for just fun gender play, especially female to male: 3/5
If you’re a middle class white male interested in exploring his female side, you could probably find more practical information online, but this is still more geared to you: 4/5