Back to Wildside Press Clipping Index
Back to Take A Walk On The Wildside
2 April 2012
Professor Nicholas Matte
What’s Wild about Take a Walk on the Wildside?
Take a Walk on the Wildside is an LGBTQ-friendly hotel, boutique, and club for cross-dressers in Toronto. Cisgender owner Patricia (Paddy) Aldridge, a former sex-worker and stripper, opened shop in 1987 and started earning a living by transforming male-bodied people with her old stripper clothes and make-up tips she learned from theatre school and touring around with the drag troupe, The Great Imposters. The business has been a success. From 1991 to 1994, before the advent of widespread Internet use, Aldridge also edited The Canadian Cross Dresser (CCD hereafter). The CCD was a magazine and a forum for Wildside clientele to write in and get support. To this day, she continues to conduct transformations and makeovers on men and trans women to look however wild or tame they want. My interest is in accessing how wild Wildside actually is. Indeed, incorporating the kind of wildness and inclusivity that Aldridge allows would make the feminizing transformations and makeovers mean very different things depending on the client. The lines between sexual and gender expression can become blurred even if sexual activity is not a part of her services; a blurring due in part to the diversity of Aldridge’s clientele: cross-dressers, drag queens, trans people, and their partners. Wildside and Aldridge can help clients gratify a fetishistic fantasy (by offering transformations and the space itself), achieve the aesthetic for a stage persona, or fulfill a desire to pass as a gender-normative woman with class privilege.
The fact that Wildside is supposed to offer “non-sexual” (CCD March/April 1993: 44, Paddy’s Bio: Wildside.org) support for cross-dressers, their partners, and other trans people does not mean that Aldridge’s work is not informed by sexuality. Yet to label Aldridge’s work as a reinforcement of the gendered division of labor, or as an explicit form of sex work diminishes its complexity. Therefore, a new concept might better define the work that Aldridge performs more generally: gender work. In defining gender work, I draw on Merran Toerien and Celia Kitizinger’s analysis of the emotional work, or affective labor, in beauty salons. Just as they argue that affective labor has been taken for granted by patriarchy, I argue that gender work is similarly rendered invisible by the prominently cisgendered society we live in. This is not to say that those cisgendered people who come into a regular beauty salon are not already gendered, but this wish to improve their gender expression places their desires on the same continuum as transgender desire.
Following Viviane Namaste’s critique of Judith Butler (21-22), I argue that it is not only important to be specific about bodies, but also specific about the affective labor that supports those bodies. Thus, yet another term is needed to specify what I will call transgender work. Transgender work encompasses both sex work and gender work, much as transgender encompasses both sexuality and gender despite attempts to make them distinct (Valentine 61), and despite Aldridge’s tendency to focus on gender work with respect to her clients in order to generate a politics of respectability for Wildside. In this paper, I will draw on David Valentine’s historical look at the development of separating public gender expression and private sexuality, as well as Joanna Brewis and Stephen Linstead’s notion of “the ‘hidden’ penetration” of sexuality in organizations (back cover), in order to query Aldridge’s desexualized work at Wildside. While I examine news articles, television shows, and Aldridge’s biography, I will be using the CCD as a base to apply what theorists have discussed about affective labor and sex work. Since the CCD was published around Wildside’s opening, it is also important to make visible both thepioneering work accomplished by the publication of letters and responses between Aldridge and her CCD readers, where a significant amount of her transgender work was conducted before the age of the Internet.
While Wildside is not a sex club, its rule about “non-sexual” support obviously does not mean that only asexuals are welcome. Upon inspection Wildside’s “wildness” is tempered by comparing it to the heteronormative-informed politics of respectability that transvestite activist Virginia Prince maintained in her CD magazine Transvestia, which was published from 1960 to the early 1980’s. In contrast, Aldridge does not enforce heterosexuality in her establishment, probably due to the fact that she acquired some of her skills from gay male drag queens. Nevertheless, Wildside then and now, as well as the CCD, both implicitly employ a similar politics of respectability even while encouraging sexual diversity. While Aldridge’s intentions are not the same as Prince’s were, the barring of sexual acts and propositioning from Wildside’s services and support is linked to a more recent history of separating sexuality from gender, a long history of the desexualized transsexual, as well as an even longer history of sex and work being conceptualized at odds with one another (Hearn and Parkin qtd. in Brewis and Linstead 152). Indeed, Aldridge’s work and the club itself are reflective of a modern imperative to compartmentalize daily life into either masculine or feminine, sex or work, public or private, and, more recently, sexuality or gender.
Before Aldridge’s gender work, and more specifically her transgender work, can be sexualized, a working definition of gender work is needed. Judith Butler’s use of drag to demonstrate that all gender is performed may be used to argue that regardless if one seeks Aldridge’s services or that of or a beauty salon, one is paying for gender work. Aldridge’s 1993 response to Rusty Ryan, published in the CCD, is evidence of the way in which Aldridge applies Butler’s theory—“Drag constitutes the mundane way in which genders are appropriated, theatricalized, worn and done; it implies all gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation (Butler 313)”—as a witty justification for doing what drag queens are seen to be “better” to facilitate.
Why do you have a drag queen school and you aren’t a drag queen? I am, and I protest. Shouldn’t it be a drag queen who is [sic] teaching the drag queens?
Signed, Rusty Ryan [of the Great Imposters], Toronto (37).
I am a drag queen too. Sex, gender, and sexual preference have nothing to do with being a drag queen, or being a teacher of drag queens...
Our heterosexual drag queens are doing a great job, don’t you think?
Aldridge’s reply to Rusty Ryan appears in the letters to the editor section of the CCD, where a significant amount of both Aldridge’s and Veronica Brown’s (editor of the CCD as well as Aldridge’s first wife) gender work took place.
Similar to way in which Butler argues that drag is not a bad copy of an original gender, reading to cross dress in your mind should not be seen as a bad copy of the physical act of cross dressing. Taking into consideration Aldridge’s later justification for having a booth at a queer literary festival over a decade later, the paid physical work that Aldridge performs may have been just as good for her clients as the textual gender work she performed when replying to letters. At the literary festival, Aldridge stated, “we have books…about cross-dressing and sometimes when people don’t want to cross dress, because they’re too afraid, they read about it and so they cross dress in their minds” (“Toronto-Writing Outside the Margins-Aldridge”). Aldridge notes that, for some, reading literature can suffice as much as physically cross-dressing. Furthermore, she points to the way in which reading this literature should not be considered “a bad copy” of a supposed real “bad copy” of wearing clothes and make-up that do not reflect your “true” sex. That is, according to Aldridge all cross-dressing can be boiled down to a kind of reading response, of the Butlerian a copy of a copy for which “there is no original” (313).
Just as Butler might say that there is no distinction between cross-dressing in one’s mind and physically cross-dressing, it seems that there is no distinction between the makeovers—“just make-up for people who have their own wardrobes”(“Say Gay”)—and transformations—“for people who have no wardrobe and it’s their first time”(“Say Gay”)—Aldridge performs. Often first time cross dressers who come for a “transformation” have already chosen the kind of woman they would like to look like or at least have a sense. For example, Lisa-Marie, writing into the CCD, does not believe that hiding in her room and experimenting with what she thinks is right is sufficient. She explains that she wants to come to Wildside because she wants to realize her “full feminization potential” (9). Butler might argue that because these men and women already have gendered themselves with a feminine persona in their minds, even if they have never tried on women’s clothing, this transformation is really a makeover. Conceptually, it would appear that there is really no distinction between the work that Aldridge does and the makeovers and changes of hairstyles that happen in a regular beauty salon. If the line between transformations and makeovers is thin, it is possible that all makeovers are transformations and thus a kind of cross-dressing. Indeed, Butler might argue that there is nothing really that transgressive or wild about Wildside—it simply exposes the mundane way in which all makeovers conducted on a cis/transgender someone by a cis/transgender someone else (whether that involves going to the barber shop or buying a new wardrobe) involves gender work.
Just as Aldridge’s work reveals the way in which all beautification is gender work, In “Emotional Labour in Action: Navigating Multiple Involvements in the Beauty Salon,” Toerien and Kitzinger filmed a single case of a beauty therapist shaping a client’s eyebrows to make visible the therapist’s affective labor. Following feminist researchers, Toerien and Kitzinger argue that women’s emotional labor, whether in the public or private sphere, is “poorly rewarded” because the types of service industry jobs, with their overrepresentation of women, are poorly paid and regarded as requiring minimal skill (Steinberg and Figart qtd. in Toerien and Kitzinger 646). However, emotional labor does indeed require skill—it is “effort-intensive” labor and is essential for producing capital (645). Indeed, Steinberg and Figart argue that the intensity of affective labor “is why frontline service workers and paraprofessionals have been referred to… as the ‘emotional proletariat’ (qtd. in 645). Toerien and Kitzinger’s analysis of a beauty therapist’s use of friendliness to make her client feel like she is not having her eyebrows shaped by a robot, though not spectacular, is a clear example of how everyday affective labor can easily be taken for granted. While Aldridge does not use the term affective labor, she nevertheless gestures to it in her biography on the Wildside website. Aldridge remarks, “In the beginning I thought the only help and assistance these men needed was external. I helped them with their looks unaware of the internal problems that raged within some of them” (Wildside.org). Just as Toerien and Kitzinger’s beauty therapist “gives precedence, not to the physical tasks for which she is officially paid, but to the relational tasks of not coming off as rude, overly hurried, or not listening properly” (655), Aldridge realizes she too must give precedence to her client’s emotions.
Unlike Toerien and Kitzinger, I do not have film footage of a representative transformation Aldridge might perform, outside of the constructiveness of an instructional video. Her instructional videos are revealing, however, precisely because they particularly lack the affective labor Aldridge is praised for in the Letters to the Editor section of the CCD. At the beginning of her instructional video, Aldridge exclaims, “This is a no non-sense tape and we’re going to show you the most efficient and inexpensive method to create the illusion of being truly feminine” (“David’s Transformation to Davide”). While the “no-non sense” Aldridge refers to is the lack of dialogue and emotional engagement representative of a typical transformation. While there are two people in the video, Aldridge and Davide, the only voice is Aldridge’s—Davide is a silent canvas. Many of the letters of praise in the CCD reinforceToerien and Kitzinger’s point about affective labor involving skills that, “if practised well, leave us feeling ‘looked after’, and if not, leave us thinking we may go elsewhere in future” (655). Indeed, as one of Wildside’s members, Pamela Dresser, exclaims, “You have outdone yourselves in providing the most pleasant, friendly and accepting atmosphere imaginable and I thank you so much for making it all possible” (37). Similarly, Jean Taylor raves, “Many thanks again for your hospitality and making me feel at home from the very first minute. You are the most congenial ladies I’ve met in a long time [sic]” (35). Dawn’s praise of Aldridge’s affective labor provides a more specific and telling example:
Your understanding, professionalism, and comfortable setting made a most relaxed situation out of what I originally perceived to be a very trying experience. You can’t know what it took for me to come to your door, approach the counter and ask to have a makeover…. I have always been purely a closet TV…Paddy, you being able to translate my unsure wishes into a presentable ‘Dawn’…(36, emphasis added).
Dawn’s use of the word makeover confirms on a conceptual level that there may be very little distinction between a cisgendered woman seeking a hairstylist and makeup artist at a beauty salon to help her realize or translate her vision of the woman she would like to become, and Aldridge’s “translation.” However, this does not take into consideration how a cisgendered woman of privilege might not have to think twice about asking for a makeover. The amount of courage it took Dawn just to “come to [Aldridge’s] door, approach the counter, and ask for a makeover,” underscores that the affective labor that Aldridge performs is significantly different than that of a typical beautician.
This is not to say that typical beauticians do not have to, as Calhoun observes, sooth tempers, boost confidence, fuel pride, prevent frictions, and mend ego wounds like Aldridge might have to, but the kind of makeovers she performs are indeed stigmatized (Toerien and Kitzinger 646). Following Viviane Namaste’s critique of Butler—that, by making visible how gender is nothing more than an unconscious performance, Butler renders the lived experiences of trans people invisible (10)—it seems clear that men have turned to Aldridge’s business for “makeovers” instead of their local beauty salon in order to avoid homophobia and transphobia. Namaste argues that while Butler might be right in arguing that all gender is a performance, she does not take into consideration “the institutional site[s] in which gendered performances…occur” (21). Indeed, many cisgendered beauticians do not have trans women, like June, asking them to teach “wardrobe co-ordination and make-up application” after 13 surgeries in the span of two days, while recuperating at the beautician’s place of work (20)
. Turning back to Aldridge’s retort to Rusty Ryan and the way in which it makes invisible the lived experiences of those who actually perform drag, Namaste would argue that Aldridge does not just use drag queens as a rhetorical device; she affectively supports their and other trans people’s lived experiences. Aldridge’s transgender work encompasses the kind of affective labor that Toerien and Kitzinger outline, but only through providing a space that is inclusive to sexual orientation and gender diversity. By providing such a non-judgmental space, Wildside makes the kind of everyday mundane affective labor that Toerien and Kitzinger’s beauty therapist performs possible. Certainly, Sabrina Alexandria Marie Briggs, one trans woman who writes into the CCD, confirms this. When writing about going to have her hair done and eyebrows waxed, Briggs attributes the confidence she was able to muster to walk into an everyday beauty salon to “all the love, friendship, invaluable help and support” Wildside gave her (20).
While Aldridge’s work at Wildside has always been transgender work, which encompasses both gender and sexuality, Aldridge used to deny both the non-normative gender and sexual aspects of her work to ease the insecurities of the wives of her clients. In 2006, Aldridge comments, “In the beginning, I used to say to the wives, ‘Oh, it’s okay. It’s not going to amount to much…just let him do it...’ [however] …a lot of the guys turned into girls. A lot of guys discovered they were gay…it ruined lives, so I don’t make those promises to the women anymore” (“Centennial College's The Journal [,] Winter 2009 [,] Show 4 [,] Part 3”). Although Wildside has always been in some sense wild, in terms of non-normative sexuality and gender, the point at which Aldridge stopped making such a promise to her clients and their partners is when Wildside became seemingly more so. Even while being inviting to people with a range of sexualities and gender expressions, Aldridge had to keep not only gender and sexuality separate, but also cross-dressing separate from gender and sexuality. These separations for the sake of wives uncannily resembles the politics of Virginia Prince. In his analysis of Transvestia, Robert Hill underscores the stress Prince put on only having heterosexuals—excluding transsexuals and sexual minorities—contribute to Transvestia and become members of her transvestite sorority Phi Pi Epsilon (743). Prince did so in order to establish a politics of respectability for the sake of the wives of her male transvestite readership and membership (743).
While Wildside has progressed, however, the continued non-sexual aspect of the space presents a slight contradiction. The non-sexuality implicitly plays into not only Prince-like politics of respectability, but also a history of the desexualization of trans people, perhaps most clearly evident in how they have had to claim either heterosexuality or asexuality for sex reassignment surgeries (Meyerowitz, and Califia qtd. in Valentine 58). Indeed, Brown’s 1993 response (despite her own lesbian sexuality) to a woman who wanted to come to Wildside to “indulge [her] fantasies with TV’s” suggests Wildside had to appease its more conservative clients who share the values of “prominent [and conservative] businessmen, politicians, and even blue-collar workers and farmers” (Bedford 46). Brown’s response to the woman interested in transvestites was, to say the least, curt:
Dear Johanne S.,
Sorry, even though the CCDC is touted as an ‘open’ group, you are exactly the kind of person we don’t want at the CCDC…The [club] is not a contact service for sexual partners; it is a group of men and women—yes, women who come with their husbands and boyfriends to learn to understand…their crossdressing” (20).
Not only does Wildside feed into the problematic history of the desexualized transsexual, but also the more recent history of mainstream gay and lesbian activists implicitly using “transgender” as a category to transpose onto the gender transgression that has been associated with homosexuality. As Valentine argues, “‘transgender,’ while it has been generated by individuals who so identify, is also an effect of the historical development of a privatized homosexual identity” (64). Following Knopp, he also argues that “accommodationist” gay and lesbian activists have used this distinction to legitimize and privatize homosexuality because homosexuals supposedly have the potential to conduct themselves like unmarked “‘straight’ members of society” (qtd. in Valentine 63). By aligning homosexuality with heterosexuality as a private issue, it attempts to construct it as something that is undisruptive to society and thus in turn constructs transgender as the disruptive “other.” That is, the “non-sexual” aspect of Wildside, like mainstream gay and lesbian activists who have used the category transgender as a scapegoat of homosexual “deviancy,” displaces gender and sexual diversity even while being inviting to LGBTQ people and by no longer making promises to the wives of cross dressers. While Valentine argues that separating gender and sexuality is “uninflected by race and class”, it seems that the non-sexual aspect of Wildside is indeed inflected by whiteness, heteronormativity, and class privilege, and it continues to make implicit promises. That is to say, while Wildside is anti-racist and LGBTQ friendly, it still has to cater to the necessarily non-sexual needs of the white, heterosexual cross-dressing men who keep Aldridge in business.
Just as Valentine does not argue that (homo)sexuality and (trans)gender expressions should be re-conflated, I am not arguing that Wildside should become a sex-club or that Aldridge should start having sex with her clients. Similar to the way Valentine argues that the ontological separateness of gender and sexuality ignores the complexity of [a variety of] lived experience[s]” (62), the non-sexual aspect of Wildside ignores the fact that the transformations and makeovers Paddy performs can mean different things depending on the client’s race, class, sexual orientation, and gender expression. For some men and women, the transformations that Aldridge performs are indeed a sexual experience.
Following Brewis and Linstead’s critique of re-eroticization theory—because it proposes to incorporate sex into the workplace to help workers become more productive—instead of looking at how Wildside or transgender work can be eroticized, I ask how is it even possible for Wildside or transgender work to be convincingly de-eroticized? Following Foucault, Linstead and Brewis argue that organizing spaces as non-sexual is already a sexualized activity. The theorists also argue that “[h]owever shambolic and revolutionary, playful and chaotic, an organization might be [in addressing sexuality], there arguably remains some notions of objectives of what the organization stands for and what it does not, even where this is [sic] contested” (182). Thus, making Aldridge’s work truly wild might make the organization of Wildside collapse. Taking this into consideration, it then seems more a matter of looking for the sexual undertones of Aldridge’s transgender work in order to compensate for the non-sexual aspect of the club. Drawing on Aldridge’s former career as a sex-worker, it seems that the stripper clothes she started to dress her clients in in 1987 are symbolic of how her sex work extended into her transgender work (Nemethe: Wildside.org).
Drawing on various ethnographic studies of UK male and female prostitutes, Brewis and Linstead point out that the physical act of sex itself is only one component of sex work—the rest is affective labor (197). However, making the sex worker’s affective labor distinct from the sex act itself may be as problematic as making gender expression and sexuality distinct. Because Aldridge’s transgender work is affective labor and because it helps to nurture the sexualities and genders of her clients, albeit in a purportedly non-sexual space, it may be argued that she is indeed a type of sex worker. In this light, this type of sex work can extend to her white conservative male cross-dressers, whose heterosexuality seems to be unaffected by their cross dressing. Aldridge’s type of sex work may show these men that heterosexuality can be gender-queered, thus making a variety of heterosexualities possible. Because sexuality and gender can act on one another, looking at the implicit sexuality of Aldridge’s non-sexual work might be the solution to Wildside’s Prince-like politics.
Aldridge, Patricia. “Paddy Aldridge’s Biography.” Wildside.org. Web. 12 February. 2012. <http:/www.wildside.org>.
---. Reply to June. The Canadian Cross-Dresser. 1.1 [n.i.] (October 1991). 20. Print.
---. Reply to Rusty Ryan. The Canadian Cross-Dresser. 3:3 [Issue #24] (May/June 1993). 37. Print.
Bedford, Terri-Jean. Dominatrix on Trail: Bedford vs. Canada. Bloomington: iUniverise, 2011. Print.
Brewis, Joanna and Stephen Linstead. Sex, Work and Sex Work: Eroticizing Organization. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.
Briggs, Sabrina Alexandria Marie. Letter. The Canadian Cross-Dresser. 1.1 [n.i.] (October 1991). 20. Print.
Brown, Veronica. Reply to Johanne S. The Canadian Cross-Dresser. 3.4. [Issue#25] (July/Aug 1993). 34. Print.
Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Subordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Ed. Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, David M. Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.
“Centennial College's The Journal [,] Winter 2009 [,] Show 4 [,] Part 3.” Youtube. Web. 18 March. 2012.
“David’s Transformation to Davide.” Dir. Patricia Aldridge. 1993. Transgender Canada. Web. 18 March. 2012. <http://www.transgendercanada.ca>.
Dawn. Letter. The Canadian Cross-Dresser. 2.7 [Issue #19] (July/August 1992). 36. Print.
Dresser, Pamela. Letter. The Canadian Cross-Dresser. 3.1 [Issue #22] January/February. 37. Print.
Hill, Robert. “‘We Share a Sacred Secret’: Gender, Domesticity, and Containment in Transvestia’s Histories and Letters from Cross-dressers and their Wives.” Journal of Social History 44.3 (2011): 729-750. Project Muse. Web.
June. Letter. The Canadian Cross-Dresser. 1.1 [n.i.] (October 1991). 20. Print.
Lisa Marie. Letter. The Canadian Cross-Dresser. 2.2 [Issue#14] (). 9. Print.
Namaste, Viviane. Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Print.
Nemeth, Andrea. “Lady of the Wildside.” Fab Magazine. 2006. Wildside.org. Web. 12 February. 2012.
Ryan, Rusty. Letter. The Canadian Cross-Dresser. 3:3 [Issue #24] (May/June 1993). 37. Print.
S., Johanne. Letter. The Canadian Cross Dresser. 3.4. [Issue#25] (July/Aug 1993). 34. Print.
“Say Gay.” Take a Walk on the Wildside. [n.d.] Web. 12 February. 2012. <http:/www.wildside.org>.
Toerien, Merran and Celia Kitzinger. “Emotional Labour in Action: Navigating Multiple Involvements in the Beauty Salon.” Sociology 41.4 (2007): 645-662. Scholars Portal. Web. 29 February. 2012.
Taylor, Jean. “Letters…Letters…Letters...” The Canadian Cross-Dresser. 2.8 [Issue #20] (September/October 1992). 35. Print.
“Toronto-Writing Outside the Margins-Aldridge.” Extraonline. Youtube. Web. 18 March. 2012.
Valentine, David. Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category. Durham: Duke, 2007. Print.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” The Transgender Studies Reader. Ed. Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle. New York: Routledge, 2006. 103-118. Print.
Skeggs, Beverly. “The Value of Relationships: Affective Scenes and Emotional Performances.” Feminist Legal Studies 18.1 (2010): 29-51. Scholars Portal. Web. 12 February. 2012.
Aldridge kindly responded,
Are you sure that you’re not going overboard with the surgeries just to get your discounts? Recuperating at our TV Hotel will not provide you with the proper kind of post-op care, and is not a good idea. We have known and have seen people who had only one or two surgeries done at the same time and even they were in no shape for simple wardrobe co-ordination, much less make-up application... (20).
Back to Wildside Press Clipping Index
Back to Take A Walk On The Wildside