Thirty years ago in 1993. I embarked on a new body of work that explored our rights in America to freedom of expression. My subjects were from all walks of life, from various races, religious backgrounds and sexual persuasions. This melting pot that stubbornly defines America formed the palette of a series of black and white photographs that defined an era. What was that era? It was the time in which sexual freedom and multiculturalism was on the rise.
Unfortunately, in these times there are certain bigoted elements of our society that continue to attempt to roll back the hands of time. Sadly, Facisim in America is on the rise. Obsessions as a body of work reminds us of what we once were and still are, a free and open society in which each individual American is free to choose and be who they are.
Oh Alice – what are you like, and where did you come from?
I mean, I know why you are called Alice. Sorry to burst your bubble. The second outfit I bought from Amazon was “Alice in Wonderland”. You, all in pale blue with clubs and spades and diamonds and hearts on your dress. In our back garden. One of the 3,000 pictures I have taken of the world and posted on social media at the rate of one-a-day for the past seven years or so. Moments.
You (Alice) also made jokes about “A for Alice” being near the start of the phone book (if people remember phone books), the inference being that you might be selling your services, and people would start at A and move through to Z. Already, you were sexualized and playful.
But why were you so cheeky from the start, so different, so free, so unencumbered?
Gender identity, writes the brilliant Lucy Cooke, is something that only humans have a sense of. Lucy also presents categorical proof that it was, metaphorically, Eve’s rib that made Adam, but then we live in a world where facts are now up for grabs. (I was lucky enough to meet Lucy at The Crab Museum in Margate, UK – I have a signed copy of her fantastic book, “A Revolutionary Guide to Sex, Evolution of the Female Animal”, with the inscription “To Patrick/Alice…” … Lyra didn’t come out to play that day…)
In terms of existing, it’s hard to say if Alice was decades-upon-decades in the making, or just three-years. This all kicked off around 2020, during Covid lockdown. I guess she’s probably always been there, in the way that we are all an analogue. (For all of you Spotify and CD fans, rather than the connoisseurs of vinyl who are reading this, analogue means “non-binary”). Interesting.
So, what is Alice all about? Any why does she exist beyond the one-hour irreverent on-line quiz that largely gave birth to her after that period of gestation? Well, Alice certainly likes dressing as a “girl” – or should we say, as somebody who identifies as feminine – oh, I mean somebody who wears clothes that are determined in the current times to be associated with femininity … oh hang on.
You see, this is difficult stuff. Well, I guess Alice identifies as something that Patrick isn’t and cannot be (or has decided he doesn’t need to be). I’ve used the word femininity. What about sass, vulnerability, the sort of traits that are probably beaten out of you in the male playground of life?
But these are all just human traits. Some are perhaps fueled by biology (again, back to Lucy Cooke on that one), but others are fueled by society. And societal change is speeding up. The printing press, replaced by word processors and dial up modems, and then broadband 24/7 access; publishers, replaced by all of us. Hold tight, or you might fall off that narrow path onto those jagged rocks below.
Alice is wicked. In multiple senses.
Patrick would not go up to somebody in a bar and start chatting. He never would.
But Alice, usually, has no issues at all. And yet, sometimes, Alice breathes in, and is nervous before stepping out of the door, not quite knowing what awaits. Patrick never pauses.
And whilst it’s becoming easier, sometimes there is still that sharp intake of breath. Should it matter that Patrick, sorry, I mean Alice – is in skirt and tights? Looking a little C rather than AA? Has long tumbling hair and 3” heels?
The other thing about Alice though, is that she’s no “frump”. It’s been commented upon. For example, Alice had her wings clipped when going to see Barbie, as she was pushing the envelope for a 12A/PG-13. Ooops.
If Alice had been around forty years ago, she might have fitted right into that New Romantic movement, androgynous, gender-neutral, but even then, I suspect she would have been underdressed. I am 6’3”, and run a lot, and (though I say it myself) have runner’s legs. Alice is pleased about that, as it stretches out the ladders in her tights, and when she risks hospitalization (as she does at Halloween every year by donning 8” platforms, and two years ago, horns), her 7’ frame is kind of impressive, even though I (she?) say/says it her/myself.
As well as the emotional side, for Alice is gentle and generally submissive, there is a little more linked to the physical beyond the long legs that is worth mentioning on this journey. Alice loved wearing a black backless dress that it was clear was not particularly flattering in combination with my own body hair. So, whilst shaving had been restricted to facial hair up until this point, Alice persuaded me that it should go further. Hairy arms? Nope. Hairy legs? Nope. Underarm hair? Nope. Well, anyway dear reader, I suspect you can imagine where this one ended…
Alice also started reading about chastity, which is something even the mainstream media has caught onto. Not as in ancient 14th century torture, but as a discipline, a way to play with gender identity, and, well, to curtail somewhat male behaviors. Liberation through a lock and key. Really? Oddly, yes.
Alice likes chastity – there is no other way of saying it. And when Alice read an article on The Guardian website about it, her kink was merely exposed as material for Sunday newspaper-reading liberals, the material, lapped up by middle-England (or not, if you’d pardon the pun).
All these things were a sign of Alice’s identity. Of how she thinks about herself. They can, untapped, or unleashed, also cross over to aspects of our own sexuality and behavior, of course. Lyra would have something to say about that, but we’ll come to her. Or maybe she’ll come to us.
Against all of this playfulness, fun and inhibition, cruelty and misunderstanding live amongst us, and it takes intelligence (as highlighted in the wonderful JB Pritzker’s commencement speech) to suppress your natural instincts to distrust the different. Breaking through to kindness, often goes hand in hand with being clever. Because you have to be smart in order to challenge yourself and break with “convention” and be kind. As crazy as that is.
So how does Alice wearing inappropriately short dresses, skimpy pairs of lace knickers, so much mascara that a quick rub of the eyes turns her into some sort of horror-panda, and eye shadow that looks like it’ll never come off, relate to all this?
It’s not drag, though it is a bit of an act. Or is it? The chance for Alice to let go with Tony, to trust, to act the part, as well as be the part, was something else. And both Patrick and Alice thank him for that.
But then there is Lyra.
Patrick and Alice both admit to loving art, music, the sensual, the erotic. The beautiful. They respect courage, as they’d had to find it on occasions over the years. And for a lot of the LGBTQ+ community, courage is the name of the game these days. America – land of the free? Well, in places. But sadly, it’s becoming more like the land of the brave. As of course, a lot of the world is, still. A lot of words were written by a lot of misogynists a long time ago, and many of those words are cruel, uncaring, and controlling. People, amazingly, through indoctrination, and self-interest,still live by them.
A little about Lyra by way of preamble. Lyra is Alice on speed. Tony captured that, but in the world that we live in, Lyra, whilst kicking and screaming to be freed, is being held back by both Patrick and Alice (though less so), aware that letting her out of her box would see elements of Patrick’s world disintegrate around him.
Of course, they are just pictures, right? And everybody should be able to do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, right? Well, yes, but there is cause and effect, and I have a duty of care to those I love and support, and also to my various selves. And that includes Lyra, even though she doesn’t seem to give a fuck!
Alice is here to stay. She is comfortable in her skin. Gender dysphoria can be a horrible, all-consuming thing, and thankfully, Patrick and Alice have only skated across the surface of it – though they’ve heard the odd crack. For some, it is all consuming, an itch that cannot be scratched, or something that demands physical change to support the sense of self. The bravery associated with this whole area, especially when the vultures are circling, and attacking – and in some cases, killing, is astonishing. If you are in need, search for help.
How reflective of a failed society – the idea of being harassed, persecuted, locked up, harmed, killed – just because you see yourself in a particular way that other people don’t approve of. Wow.
Patrick and Alice are trying to change people’s views. They hope that these words will perhaps bring support to some, and to cause others to question. The only four-letter word you’ll find around here is “kind”. Or perhaps “love”. Lyra (also a four-letter word I note), has a lot of other four-letter words that she uses, but I’m sure she’ll tell you all about that herself.
About The Author:
Patrick is 56, though he really doesn’t feel like it, and increasingly isn’t acting like it. He lives in the UK with his partner. She’s lovely. Patrick works in IT in the public transportation/transit sector, knows lots about trains, and is CEO of his company. He feels quite a lot of responsibility. He loves kindness.
He wanted to record some of his different personas as experienced from 2020-2023 (much to his own surprise) and hopes this article will help others to unlock all of themselves.