“imago n. […] final and perfect stage of insect after all metamorphoses, e.g. butterfly; (Psych.) idealized mental picture of oneself or another person […].”
The Concise Oxford Dictionary (Clarendon Press, 1982)
(Eleanor, in larval form…)
Did I mention I once used to be a male model? This is obviously in a very loose sense of the term… As I definitely mentioned before, during my late teens I gravitated towards the Gothic genre as a possible means of expressing some of my feminine inclinations without actually transitioning, and was compensated for my basic dissatisfaction with my fair share of compliments. Apparently, I had a pretty fetching look for a “male” goth, and was recommended by a few people to try out modelling. Thinking this might actually be a way to finally get to love my male body-image, or at least loathe it less, and possibly earn a few not-too-arduous pounds in the process, I paid for a quick portfolio, set myself up on a few modelling sites, got signed to an alternative modelling agency, took several free shoots, and never earned a penny.
Unsurprisingly, this did nothing whatsoever to reconcile me to my male-bodied condition, and after the crowning failure of “Big Brother” 2012 hammered home my lack of success in this field – both financial and personal – I gave it up as a lost cause. I then went back to fiction writing, where I could anonymously immerse myself in the adventures of my strong, self-assured female protagonists. Within their metaphorical heads, I felt more at ease than within my own, for reasons that now seem painfully obvious…
And so it was that I came full circle, finally remembered who I am, and resolved to make the most of this second chance, however belated, to be myself. And as for the modelling? Instead of deleting my old online portfolios, I actually revisited them all, seeded them with my new pictures (merely filtered versions of the smartphone images in this blog), changed my gender specific details, and added a cursory explanation of my situation:
“Gender dysphoric model / actress / writer from Cardiff. Going through a pretty difficult situation, as I daresay you can appreciate. I keep a blog of my progress at
https://burnseleanor21.wordpress.com/ (“My Belated Existence”)
Would love to connect with any photographers who could help me get better pictures on a TFP / TFCD basis.”
TFP / TFCD being industry slang for “will work for free (if I can have some pictures, please)”. Not that I expected anyone to want to work with me ever again, but I was damn sure no-one would pay to shoot with a five-foot eleven, thirty-five year-old transgendered lady with a square jaw, a fair collection of wrinkles, no curves (as yet, though we hold out hope), and as delicate a touch with a make-up brush as one might expect of a Viking berserker with a paintball gun. I was convinced my modelling days were over, and this was just my parting gesture.
I was thus very surprised about a week ago, when a photographer started leaving very positive comments on my new pictures, and upon my tentatively suggesting that I would be interested in a collaboration, he immediately jumped at the chance. I was both scared and elated: I would be shooting on location as myself, in full dress and make-up, in full view of the population of Cardiff. So daunting, yet simply too amazing to pass up. If this felt right, there could be no more pretending or denying from that point, and if I could actually see this through, who else could deny my commitment to my chosen gender and identity? I accepted at once.
As an almost-as-surprising footnote, the photographer / filmographer then offered to pay me for my time. This only happened once before in my modelling “career”, and only because travel expenses were involved. Without a single picture having been taken, I had immediately become more successful as a female model than I had ever been as a “male” model. Without wishing to sound overly superstitious, this whole thing was suddenly starting to feel as if destiny was kicking me up the arse, to put it delicately, and I quickly spent my fee on buying new clothes, props, and makeup for the shoot, desiring that it should go as well as possible. I also discussed concepts with the photographer, and we decided on a name and theme to help guide the shoot.
The word “imago” had been drifting around my head for a long time now, as a result of a deeply sad piece of pro-LGBT advertising I saw in the wake of the Leelah Alcorn tragedy (reproduced below):
Depressing, but it fired my imagination and gave me a new image for my personal struggle: that of an insect finally breaking free of some old cocoon. Not necessarily a butterfly, though. My cocoon has become so toughened over time, I suspect I will need some pretty vicious mandibles to tear through the thing, which will be painful indeed for anyone waiting to clip my wings when I finally do emerge. I think I would also like to have a venomous sting. Transgender people, like all unjustly derided classes, owe it to society to give as good as they get. I probably will not be the prettiest “imago” in the insect world, but that seems an inadequate reason to remain a poor little wriggling larva for the rest of my life…
Flight of fancy, over. You get the idea. The footage has now been shot; stills have been taken; and Cardiff Bay has now seen me in my skirt, heels, corset top, and enough pale foundation and eyeliner for an entire studio-worth of silent film starlets. The photographer treated me with the utmost respect and consideration, and told me what a pleasure it was to be doing such a shoot in Cardiff, as he would stand no chance of doing it in his rural home location where it would draw a (hostile) crowd. All we got from the passers-by in the Bay were a few curious looks. Again, I realised how comparatively lucky I am to be undergoing my social transitioning in a large and fairly decent city. It is a few miles’ worth of difference between enduring mere ridicule and enduring serious physical danger…
The footage and stills were all shot on traditional film, however, so they will be some time in developing. I eagerly await them, but whether or not we obtain useable footage, the experience alone was totally worth it. Yet again I have been accepted, validated, and allowed to achieve another of my most impossible-seeming fantasies. Becoming a female model and actress? How not realistic can you get…
I think I may have to give up being realistic. Being down-to-earth was all very well in the days before I had wings, but now the imago has taken flight it doesn’t seem to apply half so well.