Thursday, 26 April 2012

Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry is one of my crossdressing heroes.

He isn't well known outside the UK, and he isn't even all that well-known inside it. So here's a brief introduction to this very interesting person.

Dark themes in Perry's work
Grayson Perry (52) is an artist. In fact, he's a very good one, having won Britain's prestigious Turner Prize in 2003. The Turner Prize was where I first heard of Perry. Not only did he win it, but he collected it wearing a dress, which I thought was remarkably brave. That got him into the papers (and therefore brought him to my attention), and probably gave the Turner Prize organisers a bit of unexpected publicity. I am honestly not sure I could name one other Turner Prize winner, although that chap who pickled the shark in the tank might have been in with a shot for a while there.

Perry is best known for his ceramic pots, which have elegant classical shapes, but are often decorated with images of very dark themes. It was one such pot which won him the Turner Prize. He also makes quilts and embroidery and works in other media.

Perry is also a very open crossdresser. I thought that him appearing in a dress to collect his Turner Prize was extraordinary, but he still went one better. In 2004, he was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. And he wore a frock. I personally would like to be more confident in my crossdressing (wouldn't we all?), but crossdressing to meet the Queen is insane: Her Majesty is one tough lady. Perry said "I thought the Queen's eyes were going to pop out of her head when she saw me." We may not have been amused.
Perry: I'm probably the first tranny at the Palace, although one or two may have slipped through unnoticed. This just happens to be my preferred style of dress.

Other transvestites think I'm the wrong sort of weirdo because they don't like my dresses.
At Buckingham Palace, 2004
Perry's wife Phillipa and daughter Flo (20) have known about his open crossdressing from the beginning. He adopts the alter-ego Claire. He often (but not always) dresses Claire as a child (something I personally find very disturbing and touch on in a later post; the "wrong sort of weirdo"?). He is often interviewed in the persona of Claire. His autobiography, published in 2006, is entitled Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl. I admit I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list, and you can be sure I will blog about it once I have.
Perry: Claire is not a real person; it's me in a frock. All she does is swan about, look at herself in the mirror and primp, and go to parties, smile and have a nice time. She does not DO anything - she doesn't even make a bit of toast. Claire doesn't make any pots.

You can’t put on a dress and swan about in public and complain when you get attention. It doesn’t bother me. It’s a handy tool when I need it. I might be ‘the tranny potter' but at least it's a brand.
Once he was on my radar, I have kept attempted to keep up with his appearances. I unfortunately missed his appearance on Desert Island Discs (shame on you if you have never heard of this fascinating interview programme from the BBC!), but I did manage to see his personal documentary, Why Men Wear Frocks. I wasn't able to find it on YouTube, but I did find a Google video of the first couple of minutes here. If you have more success finding this online, please let me know and I will update my links. (Addendum: I have finally got hold of this documentary and have started to blog about it in much more detail here).

Perry depicted on a tricycle
What I enjoyed about this programme (and why I like Perry) is that he is absolutely fearless and forthright in what he does. He is a crossdresser, and he enjoys it, and so he just does it. He is also not afraid to talk openly about why crossdressing is enjoyable, and why sometimes it is painful or unpleasant. He may be what Eddie Izzard calls an "executive transvestite".

Why I envy him is that, when I see him, nobody seems to bat an eye at his behaviour (with perhaps the exception of Her Majesty on that one occasion). It's as if, being an artist, people expect him to behave in an outrageous way. Being an artist seems to give him permission to crossdress, somehow. When I watch him I want to shout: "It's OK for you! You're not supposed to conform to societal norms! But what about the rest of us?"

Even I admit, I feel more comfortable with crossdressing among artistic types (artists and musicians and actors) than among more traditional male archetypes (teachers, lawyers, doctors, priests).

As well as being a transvestite, Perry is also a motorcycle enthusiast. The documentary features a track day, where a large male biker is asked why he enjoys motorcycles. He responds (without a hint of irony) "Yeah, maybe it's the whole costume thing, isn't it? You're a bit freer. You've been set loose by the costume that you're wearing, and you're able to be something a bit different. Maybe. (laughs)". Perry elicited several similar comments from other bikers, and came away remarking that actually, "trannies and bikers have a lot more in common than you might think." A fuller discussion of this scene is given here.

So there you have him. Grayson Perry. Artist. Transvestite. Queen-surpriser.

Addendum October 2013

For discussion of another artist with transgender themes, see here.

Addendum 3rd February 2014

Grayson Perry CBE
Grayson Perry has been made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. In other words, he got another invitation back to Buckingham Palace. This time, he did not meet the Queen, but Prince Charles, who chatted with him warmly before presenting him with the honour.

Unlike his previous visit, when he wore an outrageous pink girly frock, this time he was far more elegantly attired, in this midnight blue dress and gorgeous ostrich-feather hat. He described this outfit as ''This is my Italian mother-of-the-bride outfit''. You can see a short interview with him here.

I personally think he looked fabulous. But what did the Palace think? According to this article, a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said that Perry's ''attire was entirely appropriate'". And yes- he bowed, (and did not curtsey).
Perry: When I got the call (about the CBE) my first thought was: what am I going to wear? It's a serious thing. I'm not going to compromise my identity as Britain's pre-eminent transvestite. I googled to see what people wore and went for the sexier end. I always do like the older woman who makes an effort.
Incidentally, Perry is nowhere near the first trans person to be given an award by the British establishment. (There is hope for me yet!) Stephen Whittle and Christine Hunt were honoured in the 2005 Honours list for "services to Gender issues". You can see a photograph on Whittle's Wikipedia page. Both Whittle and Hunt are leading members of the UK trans-advocacy group, Press for Change. If you know of any more, please let me know!

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