Portraits of Crossdressers

Photographs by Nigel Dickson / Text by David Macfarlane

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From David Macfarlane's Introduction to Between:

When I set out to become a writer, I followed a pretty straightforward course: I wrote. I did this privately, and without much hope of publication. I understood the writing part - or, at least, I understood that by writing I was working toward understanding the writing part. What I wasn't much good at was finding anyone - other than a few patient girlfriends - who had any interest in what I wrote. My work fell somewhere between the literary quarterlies that consistently rejected me and the newspapers that stubbornly wouldn't hire me - a gap that I imagined to be uniquely mine.

Were I to employ gender as a metaphor, I'd borrow a term that a cross-dresser I know uses to describe where he fits in: I was between the binaries. I was the writing equivalent of a five-o'clock shadow and a bra.

Unfortunately, this analogy can't bear much scrutiny. Editors were not interested in me. But they tended not to want to beat me up. Uncertainty about my career was not so painful that I ever cried myself to sleep, or ran away from home, or mutilated myself, or attempted suicide. My notion of being a writer was bound up with who I was, but, as dimensions of self-identity go, it didn't have anything like the deep complexity of gender.

Speaking of which. As I write, I am sitting beside someone who is dressed, with shimmering conviction, as Marilyn Monroe in the "Two Little Girls From Little Rock" scene of Gentleman Prefer Blondes. In a famously breathless whisper she tells me that she's female. That I find her kind of sexy inclines me toward the somehow ridiculous hope that she's telling the truth.

Not that anything is going to happen between us. For one thing, I'm on assignment. I am here, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, with the photographer, Nigel Dickson. The two of us thought that a convention of cross-dressers would be interesting. In this, we have not been disappointed.

For another, I'm married - although I am being flirted-with by someone who in the right light could pass as Lorelei Lee, and this is a temptation I've never imagined being called upon to resist. I've never been so close to such red cushions of lips and such black-winged swaths of eye-liner. It's impossible not to wonder what such Hollywood blondness feels like.

Of greater concern is her husband. He is sitting right next to her - a mere left-hook away from me. The three of us are backstage, watching Nigel Dickson adjust the height of his lights for a portrait he is taking of one of the participants in the Fantasia Fair's annual talent show. The combination of Lorelei's airy whispers and the steady gaze of the man to whom she is married are making me nervous - although the threat of the husband's proximity is, if not diminished, certainly complicated by his red gown, high heels, and striking resemblance to Jane Russell.

A Virtual Museum for Toronto

In partnership with the Toronto Star, the Toronto Project is devoted to bringing the city's history to life. Its short description is "a digital museum of the history of Toronto." Its long description is as multi-faceted as it is because the words "museum," "history," and "Toronto" are possessed of so many exciting possibilities in the digital age.

Yes, the Toronto Project is educational. It is our fundamental belief that the better understanding a community has of its past, the better equipped it is to deal with the challenges of the present and the future. But an educational mandate doesn't mean that the Toronto Project is earnest or dull. The Toronto Project uses the tools of inter-active, digital media, social networks, graphic design, film, and innovative story-telling techniques to make our local history entertaining and to reach as wide an audience as possible.

And history?

In our view, it is neither dusty nor old. As far as the Toronto Project is concerned past, present, and future are inextricably combined in a city as dynamic as Toronto. History isn't only what happened two hundred, or two thousand years ago. It's what happened yesterday. It's what comes just before now.

The Toronto Project is multi-dimensional because that's what the city is. Our digital presence includes a monthly "magazine" that celebrates the histories of Toronto's many, diverse communities (published in association with the Toronto Star.) Under development are digital portraits of Regent Park (in association with Daniels Corporation), and the animation of the Toronto Public Library's Special Collection (in association with TPL and with our design partners, Hambly&Woolley.)

But the Toronto Project is not only digital. It's also about establishing physical manifestations of history throughout the city. These installations are woven into the fabric of Toronto, drawing attention not only to themselves and the specific stories they tell, but acting as physical reminders of the much deeper, broader history of Toronto that is available on the websites of the Toronto Star and the affiliates of the Toronto Project.

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