Search This Blog

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Art and artifice: The Book of Dolores

I do hope you had a happy Christmas and wish you all best wishes for the New Year.

As usual, I am not able to spend any of the holiday period as Susie. However, given the two alternatives come down to spending Christmas as Susie on my own, or sharing the time with my partner, then the choice becomes a bit of a no-brainer. While I enjoy the time I can spend as Susie when L goes away for a few days, there comes a point when the house starts to feel a bit lonely.

Here's a thing.

I discovered the work of American writer William Vollmann back in the late 1980s via his Pynchonesque debut novel You Bright and Risen Angels and the collection Rainbow Stories. He followed this with a massive and ambitious 'Seven Dreams' book sequence on the history and colonization of the Americas, though my bookshelves suggest I only made it as far as the first volume, The Ice Shirt.

 I'm not sure what prompted me to remember his name and run it past Google the other day, but it turned up a book of his I'd not previously heard of, although it was published back in 2013.

This is The Book of Dolores, a book of paintings, sketches and photographs of Vollmann as his female alter ego, Dolores, who he describes as 'a young woman trapped in this fat, aging male body'

Vollmann's interest in cross dressing in the 1980s while researching an Inuit myth in which a brother transforms into a woman, and later writing about cross dressing clubs in in Japan which led to his realisation that "I had always imagined femininity as what you’re born with, what’s between your legs."  "And then I realized: no, it’s a performance. It’s about how you move, all the things you do to get ready."

Vollmann himself started seriously cross dressing as Dolores in 2008, while writing a novel about a Mexican transsexual sex worker of the same name. 

Stephen Burt, who also sometimes presents and writes as his own female persona Stephanie Burt, reviewed Vollmann's book for The New Yorker 

"His Dolores imagines herself as pretty but gets caught up short by her unattractiveness in real life. Yet she doesn’t necessarily look bad, except when she puts on a scowl; she just looks bigger than model-sized, and grown-up." and notes that when speaking of Dolores Volmann "gives her, always, the grammatical third person when he write of her like this. “How many times has Dolores imagined herself to be pretty, only to inspect her portrait with her spectacles on?”'. Burt sees this as a separation of Dolores as a construct, a self-portrayed doll he can control, rather than part of Vollmann's psyche. 

This is all rather  troubling. I'm aware in my own posts and comments that I invariably talk about Susie, my other half, in the third person, as someone separate. This maybe because I nearly always write about Susie when I am back in my male mode. Or maybe it really is that I consider Susie as someone separate and not really a part of me. But that doesn't feel true either. If so, why is she a constant - and sometimes very insistent - presence in my head most of the time - even when I'm asleep? She definitely feels part of me, and an increasingly important part of me at that, if not a fully integrated one in that she lives a separate life and has a separate set of friends than my male half. I rarely if ever think about my male side when I'm Susie, only the other way round, but I wonder if that's down to the fact that circumstances dictate I live 90-95% of the time in male mode.

Joshua Cohen in another review in The Observer notes "The strangest thing about all the Dolores images is that, unlike any images of Mr. Vollmann as a man—as a white male author depicted on book flaps—Dolores is smiling" and wonders of Vollmann has "the idea (which only a man could have) that women should smile, or else he’s truly happier as a she." 

This feels truer. There are a couple of pictures of Susie where I'm looking pensive but mostly she's smiling which is a reflection of how I feel at those times. It's harder to judge in photos of me in male mode since I never take selfies in those periods, and the few I have of me are either official (ID, passport) or social occasions where the smile is expected or forced. I have one, taken by someone else, where the smile is real. This was from a convention where I finally met up with a group of people I had corresponded with for decades but either never met or hadn't seen in many years. It's about the only photo of me after my 40s that doesn't make me cringe.

I can't make up my mind about Vollmann and Dolores. I have to confess  that I've not read the book itself - it's a little hard to find and only seems to be available in the U.S. and only the introductory 20 pages (tellingly titled 'Constructions') are available from the Amazon preview - and my thoughts are based on those reviews I've been able to find. Vollmann himself seems ambivalent, while suggesting Dolores is a part of him rather than merely a dress-up doll and photographic mannequin, "I do not exactly cherish Dolores, who is, after all, an aspect of myself" while others, in particular Stephanie Burt, seem less convinced. 

As Susie, I feel perhaps closer to Burt, who is more comfortable with her female alter-ego, than to Vollmann and Dolores. But Vollmann and I are closer in age and he hits the mark when writes about the self deception  that can happen when making up and adjusting the wig in front of the mirror "perhaps because she is newer.. she appears to be blinder to her faults than I", and then the disappointment of Dolores vainly taking off her glasses (we are both very short sighted) to primp and pose for the camera and then replacing them to examine the result only to find "she did not look as pretty as she felt" and wishing "If only the camera envisioned as she did". 

"To see ourselves as others see us" wrote Burns. But would that be blessing or a curse I wonder? And if we did, would we still have the confidence to venture outdoors in a smart coat and heels again?

I wish you all the best for 2022.



Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Happy Holidays

The holiday season is almost upon us. 

For some us us who can celebrate and share the time as their preferred/true self with their families and friends it can be a time of joy, but for others who are unable to do so fully it can be a lonely time that hits especially hard.

If you are in the latter camp, my sympathies and especial love and wishes to you all. Although it may come of scant consolation, I know something of how you feel.

 I would happily forgo a raft of presents and treats at Christmas for the one unspoken item that has topped my wish list for the last few years: the chance to spend the day quietly as Susie together with my own partner. Or failing that, opening a present from her that is specifically intended for Susie. I know that won't happen, and that it is unlikely ever to happen, but if Christmas is not about dreams and wishes, what else is it for?

In the event, Susie will remain an unacknowledged and largely unwelcome presence in the background of this relationship over Christmas and the New Year as on any other day, however much I might wish for that situation to change. But I do have the secret satisfaction that one trace of her will be there on the day as, in something that's almost become a tradition, she has done all the present wrapping again this year.


I've noticed a couple of people using FaceApp images in their blog posts and I was intrigued to try it out.  As I don't have a smartphone and there isn't a version available for Windows, I ended up downloading the BlueStacks Android emulator on my PC so I could download it and give it a try -or at least the free trial version.

Naturally one of the first filters I tried out was the gender swap option. It's interesting how different FaceApp's female version my normal male self is from my own transformation to Susie. 

(I normally wear glasses, but I'm vain enough to take them off when I'm Susie, at least for photos, although maybe I don't have the right frames. Interesting that FaceApp also thinks I should be a redhead. I'm not even sure how I knew that.)

Then I tried playing with some of the other filters, the most interesting of which was 'age'.

So I now have an idea of what what I might have looked like if I had been the person I wanted to be as teenager.

butter wouldn't melt...

xx Susie