Transvestites I Have Known by Colin Cotterill

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It’s often said you can tell a lot about an author by the characters he or she or it features in his or her or its books. There’s a lot of talk about that ‘alter ego’, which is a blank cheque upon which a writer may apply any value for him or her or itself he or she or it wishes. Lee Child’s protagonist is a man of few words with a huge capacity for violence who always sits with his back to a wall. In fact he carries the wall around with him. S.J Rozan has always had a secret desire to be Asian. Her P.I. is a cute New York Chinatown Chinese who still lives with her mother. So it occurred to me recently my inner man must be a transsexual, at the very least a transvestite. I have two series (should I put another ‘s’ on there? Never an editor around when you need one.) In my Dr. Siri books I feature Auntie Bpoo, a middle-aged, overweight, pot-bellied transvestite who sees the future. In the new series kicking off next year with ‘Killed at the Whim of a Hat’, my protagonist, Jimm has an older sister called Sissi. Sissi started off life as Jimm’s older brother, Somkiet. He won the 1992 Miss Pattaya World transvestite beauty competition and was such a looker, businessmen and military officers came to court him/her after his/her stage performances. But years after the adulation and the snip, Sissy goes to seed and no longer dares be seen in daylight. There you have it. Two sad old trannies.

So what does that say about me? Am I in a closet full of paisley print frocks?

I tried to trace this obsession to my youth. English TV (TV…no joke intended… or achieved) was resplendent in those days with unattractive middle-aged men like Benny Hill, Dick Emery and Stanly Baxter dressing up as women on prime time. As they were all comedians I don’t think they contributed to a national empathy for men with an innate psychological desire to cross dress. And I don’t think that experience sparked urges in me to stick football socks up my jumper.

Unless the other encounters were so traumatic I blanked them out, I recall having only one personal close encounter of the third kind. The first transvestite I saw in the flesh wasn’t a pretty sight either. In my early teens, my gang – four weedy kids with not an SKS assault weapon or a flick knife between us – used to pick up Barny, the convent dog, and take him for walks over Wimbledon Common. The common is a large area of shrub land famous for late-night beatings of homosexuals and Pakistanis, broad-daylight serial killings, and Wombles. (If you really want to know, Google does a much better job of explaining them than I could be bothered to.) With such a reputation it wasn’t surprising the forest might offer up the odd flasher and peeping tom and blasphemer in our travels.

We, The Little Rascals and a wimpy terrier, must have sparked any number of urges in the pervert community. We were stalked constantly. But I’m not certain how we could have helped Tinkerbell. Now, it’s quite possible we christened Tinkerbell ourselves because we didn’t ever get close enough to see his birth certificate. We only saw him twice – from a distance – but he became as real and ever-present to us as Bigfoot. He was seven foot eleven, built like a portable toilet and wore a platinum blonde wig and a pink ballet dress. It had to be tailored. You didn’t pick up size 28 tutus at the charity shop. His particular speciality was to flit. He flitted from tree to tree and hid, although only the stoutest and most historic oak could hide all of him. In his hand was what we assumed to be a wand which he used to cast spells on us. Unless he had a long-term incantation that might one day turn me into a novelist, I have to assume he wasn’t a real fairy.

But, perhaps I don’t need to psychoanalyze myself. I live in a region where everyone is related to, went to school with, or lives near a third-genderer. You wont find a novel set in Thailand that doesn’t have at least one ‘grateuy’. Perhaps if I was a writer in residence in a totally non-cross-dressing community… like Queens, the thought of peopling my stories with transvestites wouldn’t have occurred to me. Nothing latent here, folks.

Damn. Don’t these bra straps cut your shoulders?

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