Fair disclosure - I am the daughter of an Irish bartender-car-salesman-force-of-nature who fed my mom, me and my three younger sisters with his wit and gift of gab, or what the Irish call “Blarney” as much as he did with an honest day’s work...
… in other words, anything that can be said with words is much better with many many more words...
We're storytellers. My pop and I. We come from a long line of storytellers and the proud tradition of Irish bards and poets... and our favorite subjects are usually, supposed to be ourselves. We’re not puffed-up egotists, mind you, c’mon, I said we’re Irish, and we’re good storytellers, which means we’ll usually be the plucky antihero at the center of a very dramatic tale worth listening to… probably even the butt of our own joke.
I willingly took the baton from my father, learning how to capture the attention of the entire room (no matter how large – we’re also very loud) and it’s something that was a great connection with my pop and the world at large. And as I became a veteran of international adventure filmmaking, I developed a huge inventory of material to draw from…
But lately, I find that all of this material, these stories, my precious archives, my history is… bittersweet? (Not quite the word I’m reaching for, but let’s go with it until something more refined comes.)
Because in these stories, the protagonist is.... well, what I usta-was.
This is a phenomenon that the trans community wrestles with all the time.
Writer, Author, TV Host, and Activist, Janet Mock knows this better than anyone. In her response to an incident where some radio “personalities” not only threatened her and all trans women with murder, but justified murder and violence against our community as "normal." Janet had no problem putting those guys in their place, calling out the Black community and our entire society to wake-up and elevating the entire incident into a teachable moment.
But she went on to make us all re-examine one of the core strategies that we in the rainbow community depend on to improve our lives - namely education when she said
“I’ve turned down thousands from colleges and corporations because I refuse to engage in Trans 101. Trans folk, especially of color, should not be obligated to help cis folk play catch-up on our experiences. The effort can detract from our work to protect and liberate ourselves.”
Ouch. So that’s why it hurts.
Trans 101 is shorthand for “Everything you need to know, are dying to know, think it’s your right to know, and should know about how and why someone is and could go from the outdated heteronormative belief that there is a gender binary, wherein a person assigned their gender by a doctor staring at the genitals at birth, transitions, either by the medical use of hormones and/or surgery and/or outward appearance to society into or to or was already there, or isn’t convinced is even the way to describe or subscribe to the seemingly “opposite” gender, which as we discussed isn’t accurate either, but since the majority of humans have a problem relating to even one word of this subject, we’ll have to agree to a modicum of clunky language in order to get them to stop killing us or wondering why we would choose this in the first place, since we keep saying it’s not a choice, but geezus can we stop now? Seriously we’ll never be able to tackle this all in one workshop, because you will still want to know if I am a girl how could I like girls instead of boys or vice reverse so what are we talking about, but yes thank you I am prettier as a guy, but it’s not about our looks, so please stop calling me sir, and I’m sorry that’s all the time we have, please remember to treat everyone with respect and no I don’t know her.”
Or… trans 101 for short.
The shorter version doesn’t flinch on addressing all of the above. Corporations, Academic intuitions, and organizations use a trans 101 to educate their workforces, student bodies, faculties and members about the elusive unicorns that they’ve heard so much about through mainstream media’s seemingly sudden discovery of this phenomenon, that apparently Janet's breakfast club idiots slept through.
But… as a trans couple, Me the transgender lesbian one, and Mylove, the cis-hetero one, who are living all of the above, and are articulate, happy, intelligent women who don’t have four heads, neither of which exploded during the process of transition, we are called upon to bring our experience to the cis world, and do so happily.
Because we have committed our house’s resources to advocating, educating and inspiring for change. Mylove and I write, produce, speak and appear and lend our voices and our experiences to the “dialogue” to improve everyone’s life, but specifically the LGBTQIA community. We know from first-hand experience that the more the cis-hetero world knows of and about us, the faster things change. This has been the LGBTQIA recipe for change since The Black Cat & Stonewall.
And yet, as a married couple neck deep in the waves that buffet the shores of our community, we always ask as we prepare each workshop, “do we really need to go into Trans 101 again?” and "Surely we're past all that by now..."
We feel that everyone everywhere must be getting the same news we are, watching the same drama unfold before us and live in the same country as we do… and invariably, after we’re done with a presentation, and it’s time for Q&A (our favorite part) we get the same questions:
How did Marcy deal with her husband admitting she was a woman? (read her book, she loves me in whatever wrapper my soul is wearing, but she says I’m waaaay cuter now.)
When did Scottie first know she was a transgender(ed)? (Yes, they use past tense of a verb that is supposed to be an adjective is still used even by our close friends… sigh) I’ve not known I was a woman. I didn’t have anyone else’s word until counseling.
How did Marcy deal with Scottie's deceit and betrayal? (By realizing there was never neither)
Did Scottie ever want to kill herself? («kill myself,» no. «Wasn't sure how I could live another day? Always. Until transition.)
Have you had the surgery? (I’m usually coy about this – except in previous blogs)
And we realize. Yes. We still need trans 101 in 2017 and 2018 isn’t looking any better.
Left on their own, the cis world really usually doesn't give us trans folk a second thought. It takes an "inciting incident" as the saying goes, to get on their radar, (which means it's usually negative). They weren't thinking about us or it, until the President’s ban on transgender members of our military, so they never really did. They never thought about us until a cabal of Christians tried to influence the state legislatures of North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana and even Washington State to close bathrooms to us. (No one is really sure why they picked these states to do this.) They hadn’t given us a second thought until ol’ Betsy started to dismantle Title IX protections. The cis world never thought about us at all until an Olympic God, the seeming pinnacle of American Masculinity turned out to be one of us. But they sure concentrated on her car accident and the fact that she, despite all logic and reason voted for the white supremacist in chief for president, and was caught on film wearing a MAGA hat days after transgender sailors, soldiers, airmen, and coast guardsmen & women were barred from serving their country.
But when the hoopla fades once again ... they stop thinking of us.
They may contemplate for an instant what they would do if their spouse came out to them, but it’s mental bubble gum, not a meal and any chewing won’t really satisfy the real hunger or provide any nutritional value. But they’ll go for a chew if they have nuttin’ else to do.
But then again... there are, of course, those who can’t stop thinking about us – and how abhorrent, abominable or disposable we are. They seem to be staying awake nights concocting ways to erase us.
However, the good news is that usually when Mylove and I speak to our audiences, it’s planned, scheduled and we have been invited, so the audience has come to listen and the exercise does go deeper and there is ample food for thought. So most partake.
But Janet’s assertion that we shouldn’t be obligated to help cis-folk play catch-up is a poignant one. Obligated. She’s describing the feeling many of us have when we have to bite our tongues as someone demands of us that we allow them the space to remain stuck in willful ignorance or worse. It’s truly bizarre. They don’t hear how their words are covered in barbs when they say, “give me a minute to catch up” or “we have to agree to disagree…” (this is my personal favorite… of what we’re agreeing to disagree about is that I am real, that I’m legal, that I am allowed to be.)
Think of it. We, as humans are all one. We are all family. We are blood. So when someone says “give me a minute to catch up” or “we have to agree to disagree…” they instantly dehumanize us. It happens in a heartbeat. The cord between our hearts is intentionally severed.
And what was one is now cut into two pieces, “one” and “other.”
It feels innocent enough when someone says, “Scottie, just let me catch my breath, you’re not the you I was expecting.” Which, if we shared history, and the last time we saw each other, I usta-was, then I get it. But take your breath and let’s get back to that connection.
But when you say, “I’m sorry, call me ‘old-fashioned’, but…” Or “I’ve read the research, and what you really are, is deluded…” Or anything else that smacks of you trying to tell me what my experience of me is, you are not only at the height of arrogance, which is “bless your heart” asinine, but you are also so out of step with the current maturity of humanity, that your opinion and thoughts are completely irrelevant. You have played your hand as woefully inadequate. Your sense of entitlement makes you impotent. You have just effectively removed yourself from the conversation.
Can you put your mommy on the phone?
Yes, Janet’s words make sense (still) on so many levels. Especially the ones that make me wonder how long we will have to continue to drag the rear flank of humanity into the present.
But… it’s that we are still having this conversation (and twitter fencing and Facebook arguments) that is the real point of what she’s saying. It shouldn’t be this way in the first place. Seriously, in which situation is it ever okay, by any measure, to dismiss, dehumanize or discriminate against anyone?
Apparently, this one.
Some people believe they have a God-given, Bible-mandated duty to hate. And others who know that those people are insane, choose to look the other way, allowing hatred to spread unabated.
But, (thankfully?) there are still those in the middle. And these are our audiences. These are wonderful humans who, despite the fact that they think they are the ones who that just discovered the unicorn, or discovered a unicorn has been in their family or saw the flash of a golden horn out of the corner of their eye for the very first time… allow their hearts to be heard. It’s still a little weird that they regard unicorns as “other,” but what are we going to do?
They want to know how to care and feed a unicorn because they truly are good people. And though they never knew a unicorn before, or had only read about one in books or saw one on TV, their heart can or has already been moved.
I guess that's why we do what we do, it is because we feel obligated not just to the straight, cis world, but on behalf of my sisters and brothers, and those just now growing up (I’m sorry Janet) but I don’t do it without having to take a breath. As I’ve said above, the fact that I have to be okay while someone "catches that breath," is still a hard pill to swallow.
And Janet's is ultimately right. It's not easy to be the unicorn in the room. No one is fooling anyone - we all know why we're all here for a Trans 101 workshop. It's a safe place to help cis-folk “catch-up” on our experiences, but to do that..,
... we have to play usta-was.
Usta-was has become an ingrained part of the trans narrative. I am an obvious version of this phenom, in that I usta appear as tho’ I was a man. But there are many variations of this phenom. All are equally valid and valued.
The point connection with our audiences is usta-was. And for most, we could end up staying here for the rest of time. Some are so blown away by the physical act of transformation and the process and the courage as well as the hardship and effort required that they don’t have the attention span for any other part of the discussion. They don’t have an appetite for the happiness, the relief, the thriving and contribution we make. It’s not as dramatic, it’s not as exciting, or easy to see with your eyes, certainly not as captivating… and Invariably, questions return to the blunt force trauma of usta-was, where Scottie was Scott, the woman, a guy.
Let’s be real, it’s the only reason the breakfast bozos had Janet on their show in the first place. She says in her article that she has no illusions that these idiots had any desire to be human, even though they have many times decried (rightly so) the devaluing of black lives that our country still can’t seem to fix. They “looked the other way” when hatred sat right before them. And they fed hatred with smiles, laughs and tacit and overt agreement. And still, others made excuses for them –
All while Tee Tee Dangerfield became the 16th trans woman murdered in 2017. She was shot to death in Atlanta, that very weekend (we have since lost two more). She was murdered because she usta-was. Janet was disrespected because she usta-was. The cis world is obsessed, repulsed, enraged by and yet, still fascinated that we usta-was.
I have no counter to Janet's point that the conundrum for us is this: even the act of engaging in usta-was to correct it, perpetuates its existence. It’s the amber that imprisons us forever in our pasts that were never correct or accurate but are still captivating and beautiful.
Our fear is that you will always see us as only usta-was. You will never see me in my womanhood - you will see me as I usta-was.
And yet, an invisible part of being Raised By Wolves is the internal wrestling match with usta-was. Some in our tribe choose to patently ignore it. Erase all traces. Others wear theirs out loud, sometimes literally tattooing the past for all to see. As we contemplate our pasts we see both good times and bad (like everyone) except ours have all kinds of heartbreak in both. When we share with you our “good,” you would never know how the lead shielding of my armor stopped joy from penetrating my heart completely, and with the “bad” you would never know depths to which I sunk.
But I do. I remember how it usta-was.
And as I settle into my own acceptance of myself, I am sometimes surprised that the pain, confusion, and sense of imprisonment of a lot of my usta-was is starting to fade. I have to "call it up" from a distant island where I had marooned it during the coup d'etat my feminine self-staged a few years back. I call it up to support others in their understanding of what this world is like. What's weird is that while the details are clear, gone is the overhanging feeling of dread. But what is left are the sometimes embarrassingly silly ways I tried to deal with a Nazgul who is no longer there. Yes, I remember being hijacked every month, and fearing both the departure and return. Yes, I remember having feelings of powerlessness, the feelings of entrapment, the feeling of injustice. But I can't recall the actual feeling viscerally.
Thank you, God.
When I do recount the times when I stood on the top of a tower of ice and fire in Iceland, or swam in the crystal waters of cenote in the Yucatan, lead my crew out of the Guyanan jungle, or stood on the legendary beaches of Uluwatu, it seems like an adventure novel...
And that’s what everyone wants to hear - it's the hook that not even I can deny. Yes, I wrote the backcover notes on my book. trading on the tropes that I was trying to overcome by writing in the first place - in order to get the reader to pick it up.
Because everyone, including ourselves (at first) is fascinated by usta-was.
But, usta-was is only supposed to be the jumping off point for those who are just waking up in 2017 and realizing that there are herds of unicorns… gosh – everywhere!
As the woman who “didn’t have a hell to leave,” I hope my story helps people understand that nature has a course that no amount of nurture can change. No mob of pitchfork-angry Republicans can “scare” it away. No mean-girls can shame it away, no father can “man-up it” away. No facebook troll can “opinion” it away. No religious zealot can “fire and brimstone” it away. Not even the very real fear of never being loved or lovable can threaten it away.
The only path is acceptance. If it comes with love, all the better.
Maybe we can be women our society is inspired by, “Scottie followed her heart despite what the world, success, society’s expectations, even her own body, tried to deny.” And “Marcy faced down her greatest fear to choose love.”
We thrive when we embrace one another.
We thrive when we choose love over fear.
We thrive when we stand for love, body & soul.
We thrive when we stand up to ignorance, inequality, and discrimination of every kind.
And to make this point, we have to tell you “the before,” the usta-was, so you can grasp the full brilliance of “the after. “
Again. And again.
So, if that’s the price to pay to open one human heart…
We’re all in.
But it's important - when I recall for you what I usta-was, and regale you with the dizzying romancing of a beautiful woman who would take my hand in marriage...
Or when I relate the ways I cared for, protected and earned the respect and love of those I led, was in charge of, or served... or when I confess to you the dreams yet to be realized...
… please know this-
It's all the part of usta-was that I still am.
One of the surprising side effects of estrogen is the melting of a chain that I tried to keep ignoring for my whole adult life. This chain was short by design and the links felt lighter than the other restraints I had used to chain my heart into its dungeon keep. They were lighter, so I would almost forget I was wearing it… but it was made of some seriously strong stuff.
I tried to convince myself that I had several tools that helped make up for the lack of mobility because of this chain, that I had ways to get the work done despite this chain.
I used to talk about this chain metaphorically, because that made it easier to dismiss that I was the blacksmith that forged it, that I probably had the strength to break it, and that I did know where it leads, what it was restraining, and that I even knew why it had been forged in the first place, and therefore…
that I was the only one who could break it.
This chain? Let’s call it Miss-direction. And it restrains the raptor of self-inquiry that hunts the smaller rodents of denial that gnaw on normal, everyday reality.
No, I am not on Molly, hang with me, I can stick this landing, I swear.
You would think that a woman who has been able to claw her way out of the dungeon, past the fire-breathing dragon of dysphoria should be able to deal with the little critters of everyday reality without so much as breaking a sweat. And you would be right.
You would say that a yogini who had dedicated her entire adult life to the practice, study, and pursuit of self-realization, after removing the large boulders of identity and fear with Grace, should have weeded out these pesky weeds in the garden of self-awareness in the process. Again, you would be right.
But the iron chain of Miss-direction was a rusted relic that I discovered as I was redecorating the deeper chambers of the temple of myself. As I said, I was surprised to discover it – it was carefully camouflaged by a thin veneer of “been there done that.”
I wish I had found it through an intentionally targeted search because that would mean I’m on my game. But the truth is, I only saw the rust marks on the floor when I pulled up the carpets that I had used for years to sweep things under.
Along with the skeletal frames of bravado and crass, it had been dissolved when estrogen began to scour the inner walls of my heart.
I guess what I’m just now realizing is that the chain had been unnecessary for a very long time – the raptor it had held captive had given up long ago – the muscle memory from her initial tests of the restraint was still there, she had thought that she was forever chained. But when I threw open the drapes and let light flood in, she could see that she was no longer clapped in iron.
And her tummy was rumbling… she was hungry.
She is stretching her wings in the sunlight, and it couldn’t be a moment too soon.
“Transition” (a noun in our community spelled with a capital T) can be so… what’s the word here, full? Sure that works. So full of both physical and emotional experiences and tasks, that it can be a full-time job just keeping your footing as your entire world shifts on its axis. This “fullness” can be all you could possibly do in a 24 hour day, between trying to shed these “Post-Surgical Pounds” and fending off the impulse to engage with that idiot who thinks their opinion on whether having transgender military personnel will affect unit cohesion is somehow more accurate or pertinent than what the Joint Chiefs already took years to know.
Yes. Good ol’ life can seem like a full time job.
Oh and then there’s getting a job. Keeping the projects that are in progress progressing. Nurturing the new ideas. And none of this takes into account the time that life is really here for, loving and caring and living with the most amazing person in the history of persondom.
That leaves about 7 minutes per day for self-inquiry. That usually comes in the shower.
But one has to take it when one can get it, right?
But as I said, I realized that the biggest restraint is gone and lo and behold, in its place is a strength and refreshed sense of… is that wonder? Why, so it is… okay, a wonder at…
how am I doing?
Well. Yes. How. Am. I. Doing?
To understand the gravity of this question, I think I need a breath here. I have not only dreamed of being “where I am now” – on the other side of GCS, but I fantasized about it (two very different things) like forever, even though I never believed I would ever really get to here. This fantasy was as painful as much as it was temporarily liberating…
until finally it just got depressing
Too painful. I knew it was just vapor. A future that would never be. A pall on my present. And, if I’m going to try to be brutally realistic, a waste of my time to “even go there.” Which was the shillelagh I used to pound myself with when my commitment wavered.
So, I finally got myself to just stop dreaming.
I built wall after wall after wall to seal off the dungeon so the light would never get in, because even just one deflected ray could pierce my heart so deeply that it would take weeks to recover.
But… back when I did dream…
Despite knowing that it would end back in drab reality, I would sometimes be able to soar… and it was giddy, euphoric, blissful (have I made it clear, yet?), ecstatic. A wonderland of gold and pink light, of sparkling newness, and glistening, scintillating… normalcy.
My life as I hoped to live it would be as normal as yours. A life with no questions that started with “how come” and ended with “why me?” In this vast and glorious queendom, I would no longer deal with the body of some guy; I would no longer have the life of that dude. I could drop pretense and fear. I could let fall the shield of appearance. I would reallocate mental energy from navigation and defense to creation and nurture. My fantasies were not of riches and creature comfort but of my family seeing me and accepting me. MyLove loving me as a woman.
I wasn’t some super heroine, but a normal, average ordinary girl.
Yeah, I know. It was just a fantasy.
So, the other day when Mylove asked, “ So… how are you really?” Which for those of you who read GBTM might remember, was a question I would dread hearing, usually about once a month from Mylove after I came out to her.
It’s a question that I also used to ask of myself, not really wanting to know the answer.
And now, as one who has made it to this side of the river trans, I confess to knowing that if I were to ask this of myself, and if that answer were to ever be negative, there would be nothing I could do about it.
So it might be better not to ask?
Yes, I know, I know, to not ask this question of one’s self is (normally) to have doubt that one may not have made the right decision in the first place. I tried to threaten the raptor with a new chain by saying to myself that I would not have this question if there was nothing to question.
But srsly girl?
And that’s why it’s important that I realized the raptor could fly the day before Mylove asked. Because I did it under my own power and direction. I didn’t relegate it to the “so what department.” I actually walked right toward this question and stared it in the face and that’s when I first discovered that the tell-tale tug on my ankle that would have stopped me from going any further “down this road”…
I wasn’t afraid to ask this question and hang around for the answer.
And it was, I’m admitting right here, a bit disorienting because as I went searching for “how” I was. I realized I had been trained to look for only two things – the pink and gold blissful sunshine of my fantasy future life, or the dank and choking fog of regret. I wasn’t prepared for what I found, and that’s why it confused me… I wasn’t sure what it was, at first.
Because it was so… um… well, this is a bit embarrassing, to admit, but… it was so… real. Realer than real. It was as if this was, and had only ever been my experience.
Because it was, you silly.
I was almost disappointed. Where were the flocks of rainbow doves? Where was the golden sparkle of reality, the crystal ring of each moment? Where was the ecstasy of “finally?” Where was the euphoria of “inevitable?” Where was the radiance of angels’ singing welcome?
I had had amazing peak experiences during the days right after (gender confirming) surgery, so now that I was healed, and starting to return to my workout and feeling physically good for the first time in like forever, why wasn’t I still floating in bliss? Why were my days just like any other days… uh! Oh…
… does that mean…?
Yes, girlfriend, it means your dream came true. Your life, your living, your reality is…
It happened so gently and gracefully that I almost missed it. Now, my everyday life looks anything but normal. I didn’t sign-up to have a sitting President try to institutionalize discrimination by not only dismantling long and hard-won rights and protections such as Title IX, the Civil Rights Act, and trying to ban transgender people currently serving in our military, or from ever serving. So there’s that.
But that’s not the normal I’m talking about. I don’t feel like a stranger in my own body. I don’t feel like a charade trying to be “okay” so you can be okay that I’m okay. I don’t think about how to get through another day, despite feeling like any moment I will be swallowed by “the hijacker” (my pet name for the dragon that came as bouts of dysphoria that stalked me for fifty years).
So when Mylove asked me how I was doing, I knew neither she nor I had the time to say all of the above, and I immediately remembered my sister Kimm’s words from a text she sent me after seeing her big sister (me) for the very first time:
“I finally figured it out. It’s weird cuz it’s not weird. Am I right ladies?”
Maybe it runs in the family. Maybe our genes view reality through a “Seat-o-the-pants” filter, an instinctual jedi–scan that looks for disturbances in the Force, that pings under the crust of appearances to scrutinize the heart of the matter to heal what needs it. Whatever you call it, it was the only thing that accurately described… how I was doing.
It’s not weird. It’s not euphoric. It is not “not normal.”
Which is weird.
I just had major surgery. I’m still trying to get the hang of lipstick. I can’t remember the last time I even watched a war movie. I walk through my daily world, where I had previously walked as a relatively high profile “dude” (albeit a flamboyantly independent Hollywood freak) gracefully, unapologetically, and even, dare I say, tastefully feminine. Not a trace of “guy” anywhere. It’s not so much how I look that I’m reveling in, but more the acceptance that greets me. Most of my people do know that I was raised by wolves, and they either don’t care, like this version much better, or are too polite to make a fuss. “It’s” not weird, am I right, ladies?”
Yes. I notice that I am different. I think twice when I feel a string of expletives revving their engines while the catapult prepares to hurl them from the deck of the carrier into an aerial dogfight. But, I flinch at the use of explosive violent adjectives to describe a benign human interaction. (example, I don’t SLAM anyone, I’m COUNTERING their opinion). I used to cringe at the assumptions of patriarchal misogyny in all human endeavors, and resort to “workarounds.” Now I (either it’s estrogen or age) weed them out. Even my sense of humor has gotten different – the jokes I now tell I either modify on the spot or let die a lonely death, unsaid. I don’t need to be the “jokester,” I can graciously just smile at the ones I’ve heard a million times (daughter of a car salesman-bartender – I grew up on the classics) knowing that every comedian needs an audience.
And… yes, I still practically dare the a**hole in the Camaro staring me down at the red light to give me an excuse to… to… to what? My adrenaline still spikes from the same stimuli, but the second part of that is when my brain kicks back in and reminds me that I was never a fighter at any time, in my life and I for damn sure won’t turn into one now. So I can stop “frontin’” here and now. When this does happen now, I spend the next hour probing my psyche for the accelerant that still wants to turn a spark into a backdraft. Before I just wrote that a**hole off without a second thought.
I’m not sure if other girls think this much about thinking.
I’ve come too far to not go all the way. But navigating the way forward by measuring the distance traveled is a cumbersome way to sail. And truly speaking, now that I’m in the seas of normal, it’s getting harder and harder to recall the weird past. The pain suffered is only a vague concept now. I made land driven by winds that came from the original desire to relieve the cause of that suffering almost… um… gee… I guess that would be… well, a few months ago. With that cause now gone, so too are those winds that filled my sails.
Which means that other winds can now take me in new directions.
I guess I will still be of service to others in the sharing of the charts from my journey. And I guess, if I’m really transparent, that’s what these writings are. The reality is that watching this raptor of self-inquiry hunt her prey is not the moment by moment experience that ignoring her had once been. She’s free to hunt. But I am free…
I’m not worried what she will find.
I am strong. I am in my body. Nothing is weird or strange. I have a lot of new in my life. I have a lot of unfamiliar. I have a lot of “really? Me? You mean I can, I am, I will, I don’t have to…” And yes, some of that recalls the vague memories in my muscles of the ways and whys of my time running with wolves, when the opposites were true, “I can’t, I am not, I won’t ever…”
I am doing all right. But that’s now, finally, wonderfully an assessment that comes by measuring the way forward rather than looking back. I’m no longer defined in the negative. Wow.
Am I right, ladies?
Yes. I’m right. I’m all right.
Actually, I’m just…
I’ve been putting this one off for a long time. And yes, those of you who’ve read my book will want to remind me that I’ve said this before –
- it’s not about our looks and it is about our looks… but not in the way that most mean when they say that to us, or about us. Please allow me to explain.
You hear a lot of confusing things when people talk about the T in LGBTQ. The most mystifying of these is Dysphoria. As in “Gender Dysphoria,” which is the medical diagnosis that has been the gateway to all of the things that made my life livable. (Despite an amazing marriage to the most incredible woman in human history, a loving family, and “normal” childhood upbringing, college education, etc.) More recently, you’ll see the term “Body Dysphoria” used as well. I never thought about it before, but when used accurately, Body Dysphoria may be a more relatable term for a huge segment of our Pink & Baby Blue community, I’m speaking of those for whom even the word “gender” can sometimes send the conversation skidding sideways. And before we go any further, we’re okay with this ambiguity in our community, so you can be okay too.
I first heard the term “body dysphoria” when a dear new BFF was sharing with me that though she was cis-woman, she could relate to my experience. She too knew what it was like to be trapped in conflict with her own body. She had suffered from Anorexia. Her own body dysphoria had ruled her life from puberty through her early twenties. And the subsequent work that it took to alleviate the trauma and the health effects that are collateral damage, had become her daily experience.
Yes. She could understand me and my experience. She could relate to the utter exhaustion and trauma of living under the tyranny of the mirror.
Those who have never had this (and God bless you) will never “get it.”
I still hear even well meaning people wondering aloud how come no amount of will power, affirmations or good intentions can ever remove the elephant’s foot from one’s head, neck, and chest. Neither of these dysphorias (gender nor body) are our imaginations. Neither are “psychological” in the lay-man pop-psych euphemism. Neither dysphorias are a curse or punishment for past wrongs or missing Sunday mass. Neither dysphorias are God’s… anythings.
They are medical realities with cures.
I will leave my friend’s reality here because I can only relate to her experience as she did mine. But the lesson learned is that “body dysphoria,” is not our community’s cross to bear alone. Other communities know this, other communities deal with this, other communities beat this. We’re in good company.
It’s important for me to try to lay to rest once and for all, that we’re not talking about “confusion” about our bodies like it’s a mental exercise that can be cleared up by restating the issue in a different way or diagraming its formula or elements.
We have never been confused.]
Bewildered. Blindsided. Betrayed. Maybe. Confused as to why this happens, sometimes. But, confused that this is true, or so, or real reality?
We are not confused.
We each (all humans) learn to develop coping mechanisms to deal with things that are “not right,” when we are children. No matter what the “not right” thing is. Everyone eventually cobbles together a defensive strategy pretty quickly.
Or they don’t -- and become a statistic.
You know these numbers – 41% of our community have attempted or contemplated suicide.
Dysphoria (at least in my case) came from the psychological trauma of trying to suppress messages from my body that were contrary to my heart and mind. That sentence seems benign enough, right? And maybe that’s why the confusion in the cis-community exists. In an effort to articulate our experience in a succinct way, we end up sanitizing words -- which makes them seem so… I dunno, almost benign, certainly surmountable.
Which is something Dysphoria is not.
For me, it was like lying on a live grenade for every moment of of my life. And knowing that someday. It will explode.
Now, try imagining that for even one minute. Go ahead… I’ll time you.
Not easy is it? A minute, under those circumstances is a very long time. Now pile on top of that the tension of feeling that you have to do it every minute of every day of every year of your life.
Now add on to that the feeling that it will never end.
Your nerves are permanently frayed. You are mentally spent trying to keep this tidal wave of grief and despair at arm's length. You are physically spent because this requires every nerve, every muscle, every breath. You are spiritually exhausted from trying to believe that God and life and nature are worth having faith in.
That's the tricky one, spiritually. Try staying afloat in the beauty that is a human birth despite bathroom laws and an asshole in the White House who just threw 15,000 valiant members of our military to the wolves of right-wing Christian hate. (Make no mistake, our brothers and sisters in the U.S. Military are taking the assault on behalf of us all… this will only embolden the idiots on the state level who have already been trying everything they can, to institutionalize their hate.) It drains the soul of a community that has had to keep the faith despite being hunted for sport, despite our own families “turning their backs” on us and disowning us and disavowing us.
Try to remain engaged with God, despite a constant feeling of bile that arises because you’ve been biting your tongue when those who claim to “have no grudge with you” look the other way because our fight is not their fight. Try to stay happy despite being told that everything you’ve been taught to accept as moral and just and good, is not for you. It's for everyone. It is your divine birthright. It is for all... except you.
If you can imagine all of that, like my friend who survived anorexia, then you can begin to understand dysphoria.
It’s a medical reality with cures. I use the plural because, for some like myself, the cure was hormones and GCS. But there are many in our community that need nothing more than love and acceptance to lift the toxic smog of Dysphoria.
And here’s the part that seems to mystify the cis-community. No one needs to know “which is which” and “who is who.” You really don’t need to know why I had to have surgery and some of my sisters and brothers do not – just like I (and my sisters & brothers) don’t need to know why you (insert what you have or have not done to your own body). It’s no one’s business but your lover’s and your doctor’s.
But the “yous” of the world still try.
They announce their misunderstanding and ignorance publicly, saying really stupid things like, “I just don’t understand…” (which, if it was an invitation for someone to come forward to clarify, wouldn’t be so bad, but sadly it’s the sound a wall makes when it goes up to end the discussion.) “Where I come from, there’s just men and women” “Or we just agree to disagree.” "We just have different beliefs, that's all," Or, my favorite is, “You’ve chosen to live this way…”
I, and my sisters and brothers, are not your opinion, belief or agenda. We are people, citizens, your neighbors, your bosses, your employees and your sisters and your brothers. Your nieces. Your nephews. Your children.
Our stunted President has already dismantled Title IX protections, excluding trans youth from services that every person is supposed to be entitled to, citing that transgender people were not entitled to protections under the civil rights act. In Texas, they used a special session to pass a bathroom law to keep trans people out of going to the bathroom with less than 10 hours of debate citing “daughters over dollars.” How hate-filled and messed up is this -- how can you tell a transgender person, “give me your tax dollars, but YOU can’t use the facilities that they pay for?” How can you say your daughter is more important than the Trans child? And this is not just about where we pee. When the child is ostracized by the Federal and state governments, the child is subject to vilification and bullying ONTOP of discrimination. THIS IS AMERICA PEOPLE!
We’re still fighting down these down all of these like whack-a-mole.
It’s the height of ego. Because the yous of the world can not, will not even try to regard us an individual people. It's safer for them to regard as a faceless mass. Easier to built a wall around us. Easier to legislate us into oblivion, Easier to erase us. Forget us. Forget trying to get them to walk in our shoes. They think their view of the world is shared by all. That everyone thinks the way they do. That there is an inherent logic to their argument. It’s like talking to a child who keeps repeating the same question over and over despite being told the facts. They aren't really asking for an answer, they’re looking for validation that they are okay.
But, and here’s the weirdest thing of all, they have made us a cause – the transgender community must be erased. Our existence tramples on their freedom to discriminate and exclude. Our right to live somehow infringes on their right to hate.
With these conditions waiting for you as you step into the world, you might be able to see why we step cautiously. We have been taught that the world thinks we should feel shame and confusion about something that we are born with. Many of us follow the world’s lead and deal, succumb or hopefully cast off this shame and confusion (not of who we are, but how we are to live with it and you) to simply live our lives. This hatred is the backdrop of our lives. Look, we know we are a minority of every minority. The color of our skin intersects with our identities and our sexuality to push us from our families and tribes. A huge segment of the cis world believes it is their divine right to hate us, be confused by us, and works to forget us because of our race, gender and sexuality and all of the above.
And another segment of the cis–world allows this to happen by their silence and indifference.
Is it any wonder then, that this potential disconnect between not only what I see, when I look at me, but also what you see when you look at me, makes me work so hard? I have to get it right. I have to thread the needle between dignity and experimentation. Between self-expression and self-preservation. If you don’t see me as a woman, then I have you constantly reminding me (with both subtle and overt messages) that something about me is “not right.” It’s one thing for someone to say, “You look pretty today,” and quite another for someone to say, “You look like, oh bless your heart.”
So, the more visual clues I give that tell you I regard myself as a woman, the better chance we both have that you’ll get the message and at least not make it more awkward than it might be. In some places this isn’t just a potentially awkward thing – it could be the difference between life and death.
Hopefully, you can see that for us beauty isn’t merely skin deep.
For girls of my age, “the ability to pass” was a holy grail. It’s an impossibly high standard for a community that has been sculpted by testosterone. I’m not sure if I do, (Mylove tries to reassure me all the time) but (knock wood) since my transition, I have not been misgendered or even looked at with so much as a raised brow, so something is working in my favor. Even so, there are those people who knew me before, who spend the better part of a conversation trying to peek under my mascara. I guess I should take even that as a compliment.
But… when I see myself in the mirror, I still go right to my “tells."
Yes, I see a woman. Thank God. But I can’t ignore the “too strong” jawline, the back that has trouble staying in any slinky dress, the wide ankles, and feet that spill over my size elevens and don’t get me started on my arms… thankfully, electrolysis has finally taken most of the hair from my face, and estrogen has softened the easy parts. With a curling iron, eyeliner and a touch of lip gloss, I look like…
… the me that is looking out from my own eyes.
Yes. She needs more sit-ups, fewer carbs, and better fitting shoes. But her confidence glows brighter every day. Which helps her lighten up on herself a little more every day.
And here’s the thing… something almost all of my close cis-sisters say to me is that this self “critiquing” with its wild swing from dismay to acceptance is one of the not-so-good parts of “being a woman.” This constantly comparing one’s own body and physical self to some sort of “ideal” differs slightly for each of us but is there nonetheless.
And I know this – I don’t have to be told. What none of my cis-sisters knows is what it’s like to cry when another girl simply pulled her hair casually back into a pony tail without a second thought. And you can’t.
Or the conflicting war between grief and pride when your next door neighbor wore a “big girl’s dress” to high school for the very first time. And you never will.
Oh, trust me, I’ve been comparing my life to other girls since I was little. But the distance was measured in light years. So yes. I know.
But what I don’t know is what you see when you see me? Do you see a woman who is desirable? Do you see a woman who is strong? Who is intelligent? Who is creative? Who is loved?
What does Scottie Jeanette Christine Madden look like?
I ask this because, the other day, I was talking to someone who said, “Funny, you don’t look trans.”
I wasn’t sure what to do with that. Look trans? I had a train wreck of images in my head from the classic Catwoman-like-too much-plastic surgery taughtface to Jeffrey Tambor’s “Oh Bless her heart” Maura. Then I thought of all the trans women that I respect – Alexandra Billings, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Jen Richards, Ashlee Preston, Trace Lysette, Zachary Drucker, Rain Valdez…
Were they saying I wasn’t… drop-dead gorgeous?????
If looking trans means looking like anyone of these amazing women, I’ll have what they’re having. Because sadly according to one person, I’m not or don’t.
Or are they merely trans stars? So, of course, they would be beautiful? Now, I know Alexandra is roaring with laughter now and calling me playful yet derogatory names for including her in this group of super models, we’ve had this conversation a few times, and she has the appropriate amount of humbleness about her looks, usually deflecting any sort of praise or adoration. But let’s face it – she is beautiful, inside and out as are we all -- some just more than others.
I don’t look trans? I. Don’t. Look. Trans?
Of course, my self-conscious self went to cynicism, taking “don’t look trans” to be cis-speak for “Now that you mention it, I can see that you were raised by wolves, despite that cute sun dress and pink acrylic nails.”
In other words, my daily fear that no amount of lip gloss will ever cover testosterone’s legacy.
Yes, I am maturing, getting stronger as I said, and on the days when I am self-confident, I like what I see. I like the me that is emerging. And I realize that I have… a different look. When I was growing up, despite not seeing my face as mine, the face that was there was never really handsome. It wasn’t not nice for others to look at, but it wasn’t particularly a man’s face per se… just a face. Now that I am seeing out my eyes and seeing my face, I’m starting to like her, even with her too strong jawline. She is unique. She is different. Is she beautiful? Well…
I hesitate because…, I am a child and a product of the televised concepts of beauty.
I formed my views of femininity and beauty during my childhood and puberty just like you. I had a vision of myself as a woman that still had Farrah Fawcett surfer bangs and wore leather mini skirts and disco inspired slinky dresses. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and my inspirations were the sunkissed FF Jaclyn Smith and Michelle Pfeiffer (I actually placed a lavalier mic on the divine Ms. Pfeiffer, and was so nervous she had to steady my hand with hers… I nearly fainted).
Remember, I was never going to actually get to be my mature womanly self, so I could set the bar impossibly high.
And now that I am a mature woman in her fifties, the bar is still high. Too high. But not quite high enough for me to judge myself with it.
I don’t want the world to view me through cis-colored lenses. But I also don’t want to be seen as a woman with an asterisk.
I’m hoping that with my continuing maturity, I’ll lighten up on myself even more and see my beauty and accept it as the most beautiful me that it… is. That’s a little hard for me to do at this point. Maybe because I still have hope in my youth. I still have a chance. Everything I see in the mirror at this point is because of hard work. Getting up early to work out, almost 50 hours of electrolysis, and dieting. I’m at least willing to work as hard as I can to see where I will end up.
Just like the fact that you will have to be okay with the future versions of you staring back at you from your mirror, I will, because I’m no longer dysphoria’s captive be okay with the me staring back at me.
But will I look trans?
The other day a day friend said something to me that has echoed across my inner skies for… well… Geezus, really? (says she looking at a calendar) Months?
Fade in: It’s Memorial Day weekend 2017 - Bright southern California sun paints the trees with the promise of summer, and the breeze, a welcome break from a late spring heat wave… a glorious treat across bare legs. I ask Siri to dial the number of my favorite Green Beret – the infamous Master Sergeant Terry “Tezzer” Schappert, who is truly one of the stars of my book – his love, support and acceptance, an inspiration to all the “real men” out there. I always call Tez on Memorial Day to sincerely thank him for his service, my freedom as an American, and to talk about our shared love for a Canadian Power Trio, called Rush.
Terry was one of the cast members of my show, “Dude, You’re Screwed!” for the Discovery Channel, three years of my life that was at once both the hardest and best times of my life. A time where I lead a boys’ club of testosterone-addled military survival experts around the world in some of the most dangerous spots (jungles, geyser riddled glaciers, deserts) as they subjected each other to a survival contest to find water, food, shelter and “not die” all in the name of reality TV… as Terry loved to say – “it’s okay, until it’s not okay, and then it’s REALLY not okay.”
The esprit de corps that I had to nurture everyday earned my reputation as den mother, despite an insane production schedule (get into and out of not one, but back-to-back third world countries, with each’s customs and ways, dependent on local transpo to remote locations in just 14 days with 100 cases of gear and 20 crew – then repeat with no more than two weeks prep between), for a network that was not only in turmoil (we had four network executive changes in season two alone) but that also treated our cast as nothing more than “wannabes.” Which was odd, cuz the reason they bought the show and promoted it as such was that these guys were the real-deal, not a bunch of weekend warriors or reality show contestants. I guess, like the rest of the country, they don’t understand the value of real soldiers.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: never regard a Green Beret, A Navy SEAL and RAF Survival instructor as “Wanna–be” anything except, maybe wanna-be removing your head from your neck when you do. Jes’ sayin’.
We did eight countries on four continents in three months with only one case of malaria, one fractured ankle, and two lost cellphones. As Terry would also say, “nobody went to the hospital, nobody went to jail, nobody got pregnant – it was a successful mission.” That these guys not only followed my lead, but had my back was largely due to my having won their respect as showrunner and professional despite long hair and hoop earrings. When they learned that I had guided our adventures despite a soul crushing gender dysphoria, my stock actually went up in their eyes. After I came out to them, they called the production company and the network and said, “Just in case you’re thinking of doing anything stupid… we’re with her.”
That’s how real men roll, boys.
They were with me when my dysphoria was at it’s tippy-top, peaky peak peak. When I was wearing sports bras under my Columbia expedition shirts to hide “the girls,” when I wouldn’t take off my shirt in the Yucatán cenotes or the southern Chilean bays to go swimming, when I was crying myself to sleep every night after screaming my rage and frustration with a god that imprisoned me in someone else’s body into my pillow. They were there right before Ms. Scottie emerged into her full bloom (and let me tell you, the beginning was anything but pretty.)
It ain’t anything like I am on this Memorial day, reddish hair in a cute topknot, white skirt and pink tank (oh, and on the other side of GCS), now a full two years since our “Dude” days, thanking newly retired (and not digging it) Master Sergeant Tez -- himself, toes in the sand of his Outer banks beach. He’s on a new show about Hollywood Weapons and once again touched that I remembered him on this day. As we catch-up about our lives, Tez says something that freezes my mind like the too cold iron spike of a brain freeze:
“Well, Ms. Madden, ever since you went in the other direction…”
I confess, I don’t even know if I heard how he completed that sentence. My mind stopped recording and skipped right to processing.
Was he saying that we had a shared path that I left? Was he talking about gender? Was he talking about… what was he talking about?
Since that time, I unstick this piece of mental bubble gum from the headboard and give it chew almost everyday.
“The Other Direction”
“The Other Direction”
“The Other Direction”
The first time I heard about “othering” was in Janet Mock’s book “Redefining Realness,” and since that time it has become a theme in our national conversation about marginalizing anyone, particularly by race, gender identity, or sexual orientation, and has become one of the various tools in getting people to understand intersectionality. But Tez’s statement makes it seem like I picked a direction that was… well, defined by being, separate from a reference vector of some kind.
Did I choose to be an “other?”
First of all, really, would anyone choose to be one? As I said in last week’s blog, many of us (particularly as adults) strive to be individuals. To be “unique,” and yes to be different. To be memorable, to stand out from the crowd.
But, make no mistake. None of us would choose to be bulldozed back into line, forced into a group of “other” that makes it easy to discriminate against, to vote down, to legislate away. But that’s how it works. Those who fear having less, want to use the boogie monster called “other” so there is no one person whom you would have to look in the eye. It’s neat trick, isn’t it? No one has to be face-to-face with “the other” to remind them that they are human, deserving of all rights equally. The captain has turned on the discrimination light; you are free to move about the cabin.
I must confess that I have... well, always looked at the rest of the entire material world as other. As an artist it's been my job to observe it, explore it. Try to make some sense of it, with film, video, clay or heck, even crayon. So, to be pushed from my post into "other," is um... what's the word? Disorienting? Close.
I was trained as an artist. I'm just now recognizing that tho' (as I've often said here) success was my armor of choice when I was running with wolves, my default survival mechanism had actually remained hidden to even me, masquerading as my gift. I call it "laser-focus," anyone who is an artist or craftsman knows this one. The ability to stay "dialed-in" on a fixed point artistically or intellectually means you can shut out all else. You can immerse yourself in the creative challenge of a project fully and tune out the noise of the world completely.
Even the gnawing on your soul.
Which is what too many realize too late that we were doing. But besides paying a dear price for this Jedi-skill/curse, (disconnection from one's loved ones being the top of a very long list) the problem is, once you start, you cannot stop, lest whatever you were ignoring, gets the upper hand. Is doesn't go away simply because you shut your eyes like a child playing peek-a-boo. And no one has been able to maintain "LF" forever... sooner or later the laser will drift from it's mark and destroy the walls of the tunnel it had bored, and the ocean of life will flood in and claim all.
When my walls crumbled, so too did the myth of security and protection that my laser focus used to whisper as promises to me to keep me separate from the "others" that I was making art for and about. I could no longer let these whispers distort my perception of reality. I knew that we as women have endured misogyny for centuries. I knew transphobia bred murder and hate. But art had hope in it. Hope for change. Belief in humanity. Faith in love. Understanding that we are all one. Being other wasn't even part of my vocabulary. Until it was.
The other direction.
Which direction was I going?
To Terry, I was a respected adventure reality showrunner. I suppose, if we kept on going in the “same” direction (even tho’ “Dude” was not going to get a third season), Terry and I might’ve met up “out in the field” together yet again. We still might. But that’s not what he was talking about. And his words “the other direction” and their Doppler effect speak to how far he knows we are from where we were going.
Terry and I shared a lot of things in our three years in a meat grinder.
Beyond our love for the best rock band in history (tho’ he still has a softer spot for Judas Priest… sigh) and Bugs Bunny, chili’ mango, malapropisms, mixed metaphors and dogs, we both knew to the core of each of our beings that our work ethic, our belief in excellence and family first was who we really were. We drove each other to be the best that we could be at each moment. We counted on each other to always be there. Wherever, and whenever that there would ever be.
Which may be in some small way, what he was saying.
Is he wondering, since I went “the other direction,” that I… won’t be there for him?
Or is he saying, where I’m now heading… he can’t go with me?
I know I have a penchant for drilling down too deep. And I can’t blame it on TV, even tho’ the truth is production, especially on my shows, becomes so intense, and so consuming, so us- against-them, that hearts get fused together by the fire of creativity, sleep deprivation and bad street food. Trying to heal the hematoma that appears when the tissue is ripped apart by time and or your next show usually makes people wary of allowing the fire to fuse their hearts anew. We even have the term “showmance” that speaks not so much to this phenomenon existing, but rather to it’s inevitable end.
No. It’s me. I know this. And so do you if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time. I expect human relationships and interactions to always be our best noblest selves. In my world, even casual encounters are supposed to be our best and no one is harder on herself for screaming at that asshole who just cut ME off on the freeway, or idiot tech support person who misgendered me, than me.
So… yes. It’s me. I always place too much weight on what people say or think. But… here’s the kicker. So does Terry. I know this having to have talked him down from several ledges (more like asking him nicely to take his finger off the trigger, being the retired Green Beret and all) countless times. Like the time when the network said that it was the format that was the star of our show, the cast was replaceable at any time. Or that time the network wanted to deduct the Canadian work permit fees out of his and the other cast members’ salaries. Or best yet, when the network came up with the title for the show. Terry was active duty at the time but delaying deployment in Afghanistan where his real brothers were laying their lives on the line. So what did this ever-awesome network think was the best title they had ever heard? The title for the show that was demonstrating to the world what and how and who Master Sargent Terry Patrick Schappert is? Why, thank you for asking – they called our our show, “Dude, You’re Screwed!” as if it was about a stoner teenager who lost his car.
Terry saw blood. I had to be the one to tell him. I had to be the one who said that titles don’t really matter – and “what’s in a name?” and a buncha other BS to chill his ire, but really, what actually worked, was when I put all that aside and did what I always did, which was speak from my own heart, and say not even a shitty inane sophomoric title could take away what we were practically dying for (not exaggerating) and that we were just going to have to live with it… together.
We shared this too. This affliction of caring. Of overthinking it. Of going too deep.
So. It’s not just me.
So why do his words haunt me so? I guess it’s because I know I haven’t made it easy on myself. The truth is, Hollywood and TV are supposed to be either so enlightened or capitalistic that neither cares if you’re green with polka dots as long as you’re good, and making them money.
But that’s not true.
What is true is that I freak people out. Before transition, I was labeled “passionate” which is network-ese for a “royal-pain-in-the-ass.” But I also had a rep for “getting it done” and bringing home ALL of the story, as a respected showrunner, given the responsibility for millions of dollars of production and literally people’s lives (adventure TV needs adventure, right? That don’t happen on a soundstage) but since coming out?
Well, okay, picture this – I’m a college educated, thirty plus year veteran of almost every genre and format of live and edited, scripted and non-scripted television, who has also taught production to everyone from the CIA to the major network news divisions – okay, hold that image in your mind as… I have had not one, but three people say to my face, “it’s not that we have a problem with your transition, we applaud your courage to be you, but it’s that we don’t want the crews to have an issue with you… for your sake.”
I haven’t worked as a showrunner since I came out in 2015.
I’ve had 10 (in two years) interviews for a showrunner position – each was amazing, went great and then ended with a variation on the above excuse, sorry, reason. I’ve been up for not one but three shows about transgender people, the last was about couples who had decided to stay married after one of them came out as transgender. I was told that even tho’ I was a transgender woman still married after 28 years, they wanted someone with more experience. Which is network-ese for a cis-gender male.
I wish I was making this up.
Terry’s right, it’s okay, until it’s not okay…. And then, it’s really not okay.
Is this what he meant? Is this “the other direction” I went? People are free to say incredibly stupid and insulting things to my face – because why, I’m powerless to stop them, because I will be so flabbergasted that I will be frozen with the aforementioned brain freeze and they’ll be able to slip out of the room?
The truth is I’m going in the direction I was always heading.
Did I know that I would be able to live and grow as a mature woman? No. I was, and maybe this is what Tez is alluding to, trying to play out the clock, pretending to be a boy. I was working double time to keep my dysphoria under lock and key while still trying to be a happy person and functioning member of society and… Tez’s showrunner. Maybe that’s why Tez is still in my corner. Because I was woman enough to be stand up and be myself, despite the world’s callousness to the “others.”
Ironically, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I actually asked Tez what he meant by this, he probably wouldn’t even remember saying it. But that’s not the point. The point is that by remarking that I went in the other direction, I did go on a journey. And it will never stop.
So, tho’ I am going in a different direction than my dear big brother Tez, it doesn’t mean we still won’t end up in the same place we both were heading together. The way to the destination is never just one road.
And I can’t wait to see you when we both get there, big brother.
I have had a busy spring and summer giving talks and workshops with Mylove about the care and feeding of unicorns, commonly referred to as transgender health and rights. One series of talks was as a member of a panel of speakers that helped prepare the entire workforce of Kaiser Permanente West LA to begin offering GCS. Yay KP, but the reason I'm bringing this up is that I was blessed with meeting amazing, articulate, engaging, and committed members of our tribe who shared my passion for getting it right for us, but who had amazingly different views and experiences..
Wow.. Didn’t see that coming.
But I will confess, the conversation during the course of 12 workshops over a 3 month period went down a few roads that even caught me off guard. And one of the most significant of these was the various privileges and status we as transwomen and transmen had given up or, surprisingly gained with our various transitions within our ethnic communities. We were as diverse as could be: Asian, Black, Latino, Latina, Native American and lil ol me, I don’t like to say white, cuz that doesn’t take my Finnish, Polish, Swedish (mom’s side) mixed with my dad’s Irish and Scottish (vs. Scotch Irish which are two very different things!) into account, and of which I’m very proud. But for argument’s sake, will use the pejorative “white” for this post, if for only to make a point.
So, fairly representative of the major ingredients of our American culture, we laughed that we made up a Justice league of trans superheroes even tho’ we had 6 incarnations of Wonder Woman and about 3 of Superman (tho’ Josh, I’m sure, struck me more as one batting for the other team… meaning the Marvel team of course, being more of Reed Richards, Fantastic Four kinda guy...).
Did I just digress? Probably. If you’re new to me, it’s kinda what I do.
What struck me in one of these convos was that Sharon, a Black woman (she never got into the label African-American), stated that, “while Scottie stepped away from White Male Privilege, I [Sharon] have gone from the bottom, reviled in my community, as an effeminate gay black man, up the ladder of status to the top, as a Black woman. Now white men are afraid of me.”
As I let this thought sweep me off my feet, Aly, an amazing Chinese-American woman laughed, “Well if we’re buying into stereotypes, which the world seems to soooo want to do these days, I went from the tippy top of Privilege as an Asian Man, down one rung to Asian woman, and I still intimidate white men.”
Gino, a transman joined in, “Well, I went from Latina to Latino, and now, somehow I am suddenly smarter.”
As we all pondered the ironies of our journeys, two things struck me:
1.We all knew what each was talking about - the assumptions and tropes didn’t need explanation or context - the reality of the stereotypes of how race and gender was regarded in each community was known by us all…
2.They all used the metric of White Male as the point from which status was calculated and measured.
It’s especially a factor when measuring my value and worth by others. In fact, one phrase that is used to continually bash my sector of the marginalized societies that march under the rainbow flag is “White Male Privilege.” As in:
“Easy for you to say, you enjoyed White Male Privilege.”
“You’ll never know, because you are stained by White Male Privilege.”
And my personal favorite, “Now you know what it’s like to live without White Male Privilege.”
So, let’s get something straight. I am, and always have been, a woman. Except when i was a girl.
Tho’ the world thought and conspired to make me the boy and then the man my original birth certificate proclaimed me to be, it was obviously a typo, which has since been corrected thru a court order (had to get the big guns involved) and medical skill. But nothing changes my experience of being raised by wolves.
So it is accurate to say I enjoyed WMP, and benefitted in certain situations. I, and my fair skinned sisters will not and do not deny that. But what is ironic is that when we are reminded by the slash of this accusation, we are often found bewildered, not because we don't understand that we, through an “accident of birth,” received endless seen and unseen overt and covert benefits merely because of the color of our skin, but we were too haunted and hounded by the spectre of dysphoria to enjoy them. This does not excuse us (okay, getting too broad here) excuse me, nor am I asking for forgiveness, sympathy or any additional anything, I am merely explaining the presence of the bruise that appears, when this question is slung at me. Because the asker of this question assumes two very messed-up things; Number 1, that WMP is something of intrinsic value that we both, asker and I, are presumed to agree to it’s value, and thus agree to a sense of loss at it’s being taken away.
And B, and more insidiously, it is also a “tell” that the asker does not see me as a woman (otherwise, how could I have had WMP long enough to lose it) but also that I am too stupid to have known what we as women have endured (for decades) with WMP’s existence, and thus need it pointed out to me now.
Why the dramatic language you say?
First my weekly disclaimer is in order. The trans people I know, myself included, are some of the greatest students of human nature you could possibly ever know. The later we transition, the longer we have been in the “observer” mode because it’s the only place we can rectify our dysphoria, by longingly and lovingly scrutinizing every move cis people make. It’s both how we soothe our aching souls and how we will protect ourselves when we do finally venture out into the world. Our radar sweep is wide and scarily astute to make sure we aren’t read, lest your clock tolls for us. So we know and must read between the lines.
And we hear the truth in your language that you aren’t even aware of.
Its why we on the panel all knew why the various changes in status made so much sense, even when it was patently absurd. Because it was undeniably… real.
And the sting of having WMP slung at us white girls whenever we cry foul at our treatment has a particular venom designed to hurt. The sins of our fathers, it seems, are to be atoned for by the daughters.
We know, especially as transwomen, that the shock and awe of our comings out make most scratch their head. It was one even of Mylove’s first questions:
“Why would you want to be a woman?”
As a woman who had been raised through the fifties and sixties and had borne the extra burdens that women have been expected to bear, and the lack of privilege and rights and general regard in our “enlightened” American society, Mylove wondered why I, who as forty-five year old, “man” just hitting my stride, would willingly walk away from all that to step into womanhood.
She didn’t use these words but others had a catchphrase, and they wanted to know, “How could you possibly want to give up “White Male Privilege?” As if being a white woman was a step down from my lofty birthright. A loss. Somehow bad or less-than.
This has, please god tell me you can see, implications of sexism that I pray we are never going to pass on to our daughters and our sons. This question acknowledges, and more importantly reinforces, the notion of male superiority. Yes.
Tho’ it might not be the intention; this is what’s being said.
This question also reinforces the notion of white supremacy. It does not merely acknowledge its existence (as WMP critics keep saying) it continually puts this bullsh*t back into the conversation. I don’t know how you were raised, but where I came from, I was taught that character and achievement made you better than yourself. No one is supposed to be better than anyone else merely by the color of their skin, the language they speak, the religion they practice and certainly not the gender or non-gender with which they identify. And if, more likely when, they act that way, or believe that way or try to legislate or discriminate that way, it must be stopped immediately… with extreme prejudice. (irony is mine).
Julia Serano wrote astutely in Whipping Girl, that the reason why cis men and, more horrifyingly, cis women have such a visceral aversion to the mere idea (i.e. a figment of a very fucked up imagination, that allows the nurturing of stupidity) of trans women, is that both men and women believe and continue to support the notion that men are superior and “given a choice” can’t believe for even a moment that anyone, in their right mind, would willingly give up that privilege to be… GASP - a mere woman.
She goes on to say that Transmen get the opposite treatment. They are suddenly regarded as smart, of seeing the light, when they step into privilege of the male class. This is an over simplification and, tho’ some of my trans male friends, including Josh “Reed Richards” might agree, others have a tough time as late-comers to the boys’ club, and face their own set of discriminations, and prejudices. But if they choose to do so, once they “pass” and blend in, they can feel the warmth of privilege. Never underestimate the superpower of facial hair.
So we as transwomen get it coming and going. When we finally get someone to wrap their heads around the reality that we are women, we get regarded as stupid or crazy for choosing to live our lives as “the weaker sex,” and then get discriminated against as women and marginalized as transgender.
As bad as it can be, it’s never, despite what my sisters in the Hall of Justice say, as bad for me and my white sisters as being a transgender person of color. 2017 is only half over and the HRC is already reporting 14 murders of transwomen, all of them women of color. Last year, 27 deaths were reported, with almost all of them trans people of color. That’s more than two a month in a population estimated to be 250,000 in the U.S. Death by “living while trans.” Seriously? Come on!
So, tho’ my mere presence can incite revulsion and violence, statistically speaking, at least I won’t end up set on fire, stabbed, shot and stabbed, raped and stabbed and set on fire, and the ever popular dragged behind a car.
So there’s that.
And let’s keep this in context - my super sisters of color in the league aren’t myopic, they are being “ironically optimistic” – when they spoke of how as individuals each had risen from various rungs within their communities, they were still measuring against the benchmark of “White Male” – they and I harbor no illusions about how their entire slices of the human pie continue to reel from centuries of abuse, discrimination and the blatant R-word “racism” at the hands of white society.
It’s 2017 and every time someone chants “Black Lives Matter,” some backassward insecure cretin, who we hope has not added yet to our gene pool, responds with “White Lives Matter too” or it’s passive aggressive lil brother, “All Lives Matter.” So, yes, an unfortunately too large a section of the fabric of our country is fighting tooth and nail to remain in its arrogance, hubris, and ignorance.
Yes. it’s been a hard lesson for whites to continually swallow that despite, “not being a racist,” our society is. Still. Despite the civil rights amendment, despite having a black President, this is still a country where black parents have to have “the talk” with their black sons; where black parents live in real fear that this might be that night when their sons die at the hands of those charged with protecting them.
This is still a country when our current “President” is doing everything in his power to build a wall between America and the entire Latino and Latin America world.
Let's get real. We all know we live in a world where, even before we got a pussy grabbing sex offender for our Commander in Chief, most everybody in government is in, or supports, the ultimate boys’ club, with the exception of shining lights like Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, and Kamala Harris who fight every day against that boys club - a world where it took a full frontal attack on women's health and the ownership of our own bodies to get women on the other side of the aisle to wake up, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins, lest our fate being determined by a panel of old white men…
So, yes. None of us in this league of heroes, despite the inherent confidence that comes with our superpowers, are Pollyannas. We get it. The world is hard out there, it’s hard for everyone. You don’t have to tell us, we live with this reality everyday.
Does your mere presence invoke violence and rage inside someone else?
Does your mere existence and the violence you suffer foster a sense of “well, she must’ve asked for it…” in the heart of anyone? How ‘bout in the heart of a sweet old so-and so, who everyone generally agrees “would never hurt a fly?” Yet, this sweet old so-and-so might as well have pulled the trigger, swung the bat, jabbed the knife or lit the match, herself. She turned her back on us in her heart. What’s her Jesus gonna think of that?
If your mere existence creates that in someone, why would you choose…
… to stand for it?
None of my sisters, no matter their color, chose this. God did. What we chose was between living and hiding, living and dying, and hopefully, one day, living and thriving. Our brothers too.
That we fly in the face of gender norms should be inspirational, not a cudgel with which to beat us.
And still the darkness reigns.
And maybe it is the wolf blood that once ran through these veins, but this… enrages me.
So, here’s where superpowers come in handy, we use them on ourselves, to keep our swords in our sheaths/ And choose instead our motherly compassion.
As a fifty-five year old woman, I expect men to be boys. I expect them to cling to the safety of their mommies’ skirts when confronted by the likes of me, to roll their eyes, scratch their heads and say aloud, “I don’t get it, but I admire your courage.” And then stumble over pronouns as they half-heartedly try to re-see me as a woman in their worldview. I also allow some to grow out of this toddler stage and grow into men that will treat me with respect. Most times the sign that this has happened is when they start treating me like woman and…
… stop calling me and forget to include me in the things we used to do together. Another sign is that I find that I start talking to their wives and girlfriends more than to them. In short, I am no longer my friends’ equal, but rather someone who must be dealt with, managed or… just plain ignored. But, and here comes the Stockholm’s syndrome that women have chosen for years as coping mechanism - at least the good news is, they do see me as woman!”
As maddening as that is, what makes my once wolfen blood boil is when I get it from women. I have been completely dismissed by some of my lesbian sisters as “will never be a woman.” As if the stain of testosterone has tainted me forever.
Are you kidding me? I'm a fucking gold-star lesbian! How many of you can claim that? And… I am not your opinion, belief or definition. You do not define me. You don’t get to admit me to womanhood. If anything I am wonder woman - having fought and won the testosterone wars, despite all odds, even biological ones - to stand in victory with Grace, with dignity, with love.
And in these emotional and psychological skirmishes, Julia’s theories become freakily prescient. Not even pure radical feminism escapes the patriarchy (which critics have said for years), because it allows itself to be defined in the negative, no matter how you spell womyn. But it can’t be had both ways - we as transwomen can’t be (in their words) stupid enough to “want” to be women, while being audacious enough to claim that we are. Both fly in the face of feminism. We are not second class anything. And no one, certainly not even another woman gets to define who any one of us, are.
We as trans people are the living examples of just that. The world believes it can have a belief and/or an opinion of whether we actually exist or not. As if its opinion matters at all. And at the same time we are mysteries who dare to flaunt the boundaries and limits of a binary world - how dare we! And where did we get such courage? “They are not like us.” “They are not human.”
We push everyone to reconsider their own identity and that comes with a price. Most push back - it’s too uncomfortable, too radical, too intimidating. If we’re living at close to total potential, why aren't you? We scare people because we are Superhuman. We know ourselves and you better than you will ever allow yourself to know yourself. Our living out loud throws shade on you living in your quiet secrets. Our light is seen and felt as your shadow.
But it shouldn’t be that way.
if we have to forgive you for abandoning core feminist views and harboring revulsion in your heart, judging us as less than anything, then you can certainly forget that physical biology has anything to do with identity.
I worked an entire lifetime to get to here. I want to be a part, not be apart. My femininity is not a commentary on yours, my womanhood doesn’t devalue yours. You do you and I’ll do me.
Look, I and my tiara’d sisters (and brothers) get it that when we first come out you may need a minute or so to reconfigure us in your mind as individuals. But for as a whole community, we as humans should never have been outside your hearts. Even if you never had an occasion to know we existed.
And if this isn’t you, great!
But if this shoe fits...
Ask yourself are you playing into sexism, supporting old outdated ideas of what a woman is, what femininity is? Are you supporting our grandparents’ notions that we, as women, could never be more than second class citizens, the weaker sex, the fairer sex? Have you allowed these to create a hierarchy in your own heart of gender, of race, of economic, intellectual or any other otherness? Do you still not see that we as trans people bring to the human table the virtues (among many): live out loud, passionate compassion, following one’s own heart fully, and above all, unconditional, unwavering love?
Follow our lead.
Adjust your tiara, coil your golden lasso of truth and let’s all get out there and fix this world!
Yes, its true. I’m back at it, after time off to heal. I have posted the events of March 21st – March 30th in three parts. This part is part 3, and the last installmentof this feature. And tho I was coy with my disclaimers in the previous posts, this time i really mean it. This time I get personal, really personal and write some graphic descriptions that those with modest mores might find a bit over the line. As always I tried to keep it in good tastse. But your boundaries are your boundaries - no judgement here. You be you and I'll keep it as real as my fingers can type. Without further ado.. Wait! Where were we? Oh yes, I left us at a cliffhanger? Good for me. Dr. Wylie would be proud. And that cliffhanger was... oh, yes, that I had just had the bandages removed from the surgical area and was handed a mirror to see for myself what had been under all that white guaze. Ready? It's Raised by Wolves 21's conclusion? Well, anyway, it’s part 3 of 3…
Scottie Jeanette Madden , June 2017
And… there… I am. In this magic window into reality (which you earthlings call a mirror). I can see ALL of me, my smiling face, even my top knot of hair at the top of the frame, but in the foreground… well, it’s… it’s…
… what I always expected to see for over fifty years, but it was always hiding behind a… well, that thing that boys have. Now I have said this in a number of ways in this blog and my book, but, my genitals were never what I expected to see whenever I did actually look down there. And the truth is, I just stopped looking. But not now! At last, I am… just…right.
And, tho’ I’m a trifle more swollen then I expected, I am… beautiful. I catch my smile in the reflection and wink - it’s a quick moment of connection with the reflection of me, that we’re developing more every day. This beautiful woman in the mirror and me.
As I'm trying to relate to my new me-ness, My surgeon’s head nurse, Meg, displays a glass dilator. It looks exactly like what you'd imagine. It has grooves at the base for my fingers to grasp it to keep it upright because there’s a gentle upward curve at the last third to the tip. Also at the base are a series of blue dots to measure the depth of penetration. The goal is for the last dot from the base to “disappear” This magic wand is actually aesthetically quite beautiful. It’s elegant.
Meg shows me how to lay a bead of lubricant along the top and add a small dollop of antibiotic ointment to the tip, and she hands it to me, "Okay girl, do your stuff and I'll be back in fifteen to see how you did." And so begins a lifelong relationship with my Vajayjay. (Thank you, Shonda!)
Now in the pre-surgical manual from Dr. Ley's office, they explain this in depth (pun intended), but the part I loved was that they suggest that we girls make it our time - candles, cushions and your favorite music.
Mylove embraces this notion, “They won’t allow us any open flames, but…” and music starts to fill the room, and she becomes my VJ (I know, right?)… rocking not one but two iPads with the combined playlists of our marriage. She has a strange look of glee on her face as she works.
As the music begins to fill the room, an Indian Bhajan, I stare once again into the mirror at Dr. Ley's miraculous work and... well, it’s not as pretty as it will eventually be, but it's sooooo beautiful.
At least what I can see through my tears.
And I take the elegant Plexiglas wand in. And I wasn't prepared for the spiritual experience that welcomed me, almost snuck up on me. I bowed in my heart to the supreme Mother Goddess - the one who has heard my prayers and tears and pleas for the last 20 years. When the God of my childhood failed to answer my prayers, it's the Goddess of my adulthood who held me as I swam across the rapids to cross this river. As the intensity of the sensation overtakes me, I allow myself to surrender... to receive... and I am cradled into the arms of the Goddess like an infant. I am swaddled in Her love and embrace. I am gently, sweetly welcomed into the fullness of my femininity.
As tears of gratitude and joy pour, I discover how wicked Mylove can be. As VJ, she’s killing me softly with her songs - Simon & Garfunkel’s "For Emily Wherever I May Find Her" is so poignant as she makes time stop for us both. I am her Emily. And I am enrobed in baroque brocades and incense. And then she’s slaying me with something silly, like “Bang, Bang” by Jesse J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj). I laugh out loud as we share inside jokes that have been refined in the daily retellings for almost thirty years of love. Which is her plan. She’s just setting me up for another push off the emotional cliff of irony with the next song. “Defying Gravity,” “Come Fly With Me,” “All You Need is Love,” “You’re the Biggest Part of Me,” “Circle of Life,” “Crazy on You,” “Don’t Stop Believin,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade” … and on and on. You get the picture. I swirled from one emotion to the next without a break between tears and gales of laughter.
This is more than just a spiritual epiphany, it’s an amazing relief. Because I’ve been anxious about… well, pain.
What we don’t talk about with GCS is that the actual surgery is the smallest part of the journey. It’s the maintenance that comes with a lifetime commitment that is the biggie. We’re not just talking hygiene. This physical therapy is a requirement - and tho’ it’s a bit… maybe “graphic” to discuss in “polite company” as my Big Sis would say, it is the real confirmation that has to be renewed every day for a year (four times a day for the first month alone!); then every week for the next three years; then “as needed” for the rest of one’s life. I’ll be doing this in my nineties… and if my Finnish bloodlines hold (My Gram lived to be 101!), well, I will be doing this… forever.
And yes, I’d been set-up for sure, I was warned about how freaking painful dilation actually is by my friend Sharon. She lets me in on a secret that only our sorority knows: The brochure lies. “This really hurts,” she says, “the pain is blinding.” Oh, Toto…
Only... it doesn't hurt.
Maybe Sharon has done me the best solid a sister can - made me prepare for the worst so the reality is much easier? Maybe it’s my VJ spinning an auditory anesthesia that dulls the pain. Maybe it’s the Grace of the Goddess and the spiritual high. Whatever it is, I don't care, cuz this dilation-thingy… amazing! (Thank you, Sharon!)
And I begin to become addicted to the spiritual experiences that await my dilation every four hours...
Here are some highlights:
My mother passed away when I was in college and, as I wrote in my book, I have always felt that she did know that I was, in fact, her daughter, I mean come on, she’s my mom. (It’s my story and I'm sticking with it.) One day, as I got past the initial fumbling with my new equipment, and everything settled in, I was suddenly embraced by my Mother's arms… my Mother’s warmth. My Mother’s… hug.
I allowed myself to once again receive completely... I float in her arms... and I drown in her eyes and then I am embraced by every departed female in my family, all welcoming me into the legacy of great women who have nurtured this family for generations.
I am sobbing with joy to once again feel them all - my grandmothers, Sylvia, and Maryann, my Aunt Mary, my Aunt Cappy, and cousin Maryann (she passed as a young woman). And then there's the women who are only names and stories, but here they have form, and that form is love and warmth and wisdom and acceptance… I look around and see a group of shadows on the edge of this circle of light - it’s the departed men, and my father leads them into the light as they join us, and I am accepted and welcomed as daughter, granddaughter, and niece.
Mylove, the VJ, crossfades into Whitney Houston's "Hero" which makes me tumble off the cliff of bliss into a snowstorm of yellowed and faded polaroids, corners curling, emulsion peeling... it’s a young boy, blond hair across the forehead, hazel-blue eyes staring, a slight smirk starting at the corner of thin lips... it’s this young boy spirit who protected and served his sister spirit as they tried to make sense of the world. Yes it was confusing, but he tried, and gosh darned it, he succeeded... standing tall in the role he was given... and I thanked him for bringing me so skillfully and lovingly to this moment in time... then I say goodbye. I start to cry. But he graciously, lovingly, and gently steps aside as the smirk goes full, lighting up into a blazing smile...
And it goes on like this for days -
A schedule of intense spiritual journeys interrupted by walks around Scottiesdale, and lunches with Mylove as spring training fans thin into spring break tourists. One day, as we hurry back for the afternoon dilation, Mylove suggests we duck into a quaint adobe mission church - Our Lady of Compassion - built by Mexican families “invited” (the docent’s word) to work on the ranches and farms of the newly created Scottsdale. The rustic chapel still has that quiet whisper of old Catholic sanctuaries. We enter and my muscle memory doesn't miss a beat, dipping fingers into the holy water font at the entrance, sign of the crossing (it’s a verb, you have to be raised Catholic to understand) and then, we’re kneeling at the rack of prayer candles. I light a candle for the great souls upon whose blessings we have floated effortlessly during this whole trip. A quick tour with the docent to be polite and off we go...
It isn't until Marcy posts pictures of this mission on Facebook that night that we learn that our dear friend, Tammy, had lit a candle in the very same sanctuary just two weeks prior for my (then) upcoming surgery…
And then, it’s day 8. The last full day in the hospital - my job today is to have my catheter removed... as long as I have "filled the hat." And maybe, just maybe, the foreshadowing I’m hinting at, the afterthought that was never part of my mental preparation, is the reason why I am not... well, hang on I’m getting ahead of myself (wow, first time for that, ever)...
Let's back up. This "hat" is the white plastic device that sits in the toilet to catch your output, it is used to make sure you are peeing properly (which means, “all’s good” in the plumbing dept.). And to fill the hat you have to pee a lot. And I mean a lot, a lot.
Yup... here it is - the actual shadow that was fored... this shadow ain't the vaporous mist of the lack of light - oh no, it’s the wall of reality that I am about to slam headfirst into at full speed that could prevent me from completing my stay here, my job here, the way I always dreamed of doing it.
If I don't fill the hat, I have to have the catheter put back in! And then I have to wear it on the plane ride home!
No. Nuh-uh! I wanted to be done. Done-done. Done and done. My life was poised to start for real. Finally. I did not want to begin with an asterisk! I want Scottiesdale in my rearview mirror, a big W, a tearful hug and then seeyoulaterbye!
Now, hopefully, I made enough disclaimers on behalf of those of my sisters in our community who choose not to go the surgical route, but for me, for me, FOR ME (clear now?) only for me, this was (as silly, misguided or naive as you may think I am) supposed to be the ending of the first phase of my life and the beginning of my second. I wanted a clear break with the past. Arrive back in Burbank, and step off into the new chapter. Done. Done, means “all done.” (Forget that I’ve got to come back in three months for the second stage of surgery - we’ll discuss that later.)
This was just so not in the plan.
So, I tried to fill the hat. My night nurse, Gloria got it - she felt for me and got into my efforts full bore, even tho’ she canceled out every stride forward with her required disclaimers and had one foot stepping onto plan B at all times.
But Mylove knows me and more importantly, knows what a wreck I will be if I can't succeed - so she takes charge - reminding me to keep pounding water - force hydrating (there's a phrase from my survival show past). We're going to waterboard my reluctant bladder into submission.
We watched both Star Trek "Into Darkness" and Star Wars "the Force Awakens" to distract my bladder as I try not to let the dilithium crystals meltdown by using Jedi mind control to push pint after pint of water into my saturated body...
...and every hour, on the hour, my nurse checks in... "Anything?"
I reassure her (these are not the hats you're looking for?) and I strike a deal her with her. I promise that if I fill the hat before Meg comes in the next morning, Gloria will promise to clear me for departure and, she makes me add, “If I fail, the catheter goes back in...”)
Armed with her promise, I head into the wee hours (sorry, I couldn’t resist - call it my last call for potty humor?).
I wake up out of a sound sleep, ready to burst! I call her to the room at midnight – “success!” I proclaim. Her faith in me was not misplaced and I go back to sleep, happy at nailing this surgery thingy...
But they don't call them the wee hours for nothing - I pee every hour on the hour! Filling the hat three times over - and still, I wake like clockwork and pee and pee and pee...
When my nurse comes in for her early morning check-in she doesn't greet my news as good. I've seen that look many a time - it's the look the ref gives you as she waves the red card in the air over your head... a sense of judgment as you are... ejected from the game.
I beg her to reconsider and when begging fails (which stage of grief is that, again?). I do get her to agree that Meg will have the final call. At this point, I’m showing how desperate I am, looking for any way to squeak out a "W" here - some habits never die.
I play my last card - reminding her, that I did what she asked, I filled the hat (never mind that several times over prolly means a bladder infection at the least!), and this wonderful, compassionate, albeit tired, nurse grudgingly agrees - maybe even thankful that Meg will be the bad cop here.
But it doesn't stop her from being my nurse now. And she orders a sonogram to measure my bladder's current volume which, despite the hatfuls, we see (hear?) is still at max capacity - 990 ml.
... and another nail goes into the coffin of my dream of leaving "all done."
Meg stands before my nurse, Gloria and me as judge and jury. We each plead our cases (which in this case is even sillier, since we're both arguing on my behalf). But Ms. Scottie is the one missing the obvious... this is a serious problem.
Meg smiles her big sisterly smile, radiating compassion and reassures me this is no reflection on me - many girls go through this... and she asks me once again to blow out my candles as she inserts the rubber catheter back in where nothing should ever be...
Despite her reassurances, I am sad, mad, disappointed. Red-carded and asterisk’d and all. But I put on my big girl panties and smile...
‘cuz its day 9, and we're going home.
The room looks like a bomb hit as Mylove and I pack. Well let’s be real, Mylove did the packing just as she has done all the work this past week. I start the “daisy chain” - taking the vases of flowers, one at a time down the hallway (I am confined to lifting no more than 12 pounds at a time - Meg’s orders!) the 100 or so yards from my room, to the nurses station - and within 6 trips, their drab counter has been transformed into a florist shop!
It’s fun to express my gratitude to the entire team in this way.
As I return to my room from the last trip, Debbi has arrived. This incredible woman is the unofficial Godmother to all of Dr. Ley’s girls. She is an ombudswoman who has Dr. Ley’s ear, the best tips for buying clothes in Scottiesdale and anything else you could possibly need to stay on track here. Today she’s checking in to give me last words of advice and goodbye hugs. The best tip she has today is that we can call ahead and have the airline have a wheelchair waiting... it will turn out to be a Godsend. She helps us calculate the time and we realize — there’s just no way around it, we're gonna have to dilate at the airport!
Again, Deb is our girl, telling us the things we just don’t know - they have special restrooms at airports for travelers with physical... well, needs. And she reassures us, we most certainly need to dilate - never never never miss a dilation. Never. Not ever.
And then, our friend Rebecca arrives and drives us to the airport, and after hugs and kisses and promises to stay in touch (which we've yet to follow thru on), I settle into my waiting wheelchair-iot, and Mylove heroically pushes me thru the crowded Sky Harbor Airport.
We find it quite quickly. The special restroom is actually a palace with a bed/couch and even a shower, should we be so inclined. But there’s a long line of travelers behind us with similar rights to this sacred space, so we take our twenty minutes (with Mylove using a mid-break to reassure the waiting people that we'll only be just another 10 - with apologies). As we exit the sanctuary, passing the waiting line, we receive nothing but smiles and wishes for our safe travels.
And then, one last burrito, and we're on the plane.
It’s an uneventful trip where we sleep on each other’s shoulders - we’re just one more wheelchair ride away. B-T- Dubs, I would’ve never made it walking. What happened? I wonder thru the exhaustion. I was walking all around Scottiesdale just the day before??? What did Debbi know that I didn't? Apparently, that post-surgical adrenaline only lasts 8 and a half days...
My brothers-in-law, Dougie and Macky, are the shining faces, so happy to welcome us home. I am a chatter box about adventure travel on the way home, answering an innocent question Dougie with a long anecdote that involves Green Berets Navy SEALS, a six foot Teddy bear and and some clown shoes. I can’t even remember his question, but Mylove wants to know what’s wrong with me... and the truth is, her question slaps me in the face. I don’t know what’s wrong - I have no idea why I am tumbling, assoverteakettle down memory lane… am I overcompensating? One thing I do know, it that I am overly sensitive... because her question shames me into silence.
But the bouquet of balloons declaring “IT’S A GIRL! Cute as a bug!” that float in our living room, return my bliss, and re-lift my spirits, and we sit and laugh and try to catch our breath.
And now life begins. Tomorrow.
As I lie back for my nighttime dilation, I take huge satisfying breath in and blow it out slowly, I envision brilliant birthday candles flickering into wishes. And epiphany flares. On the path of yoga that I’ve practiced for 30 years, the mantra of the incoming breath and the outgoing breath translated from Sanskrit can be translated into “I am that.” Which is, as a tenet of yoga, the understanding of your truest nature - the awareness of the ultimate truth of who you are. It’s a consciousness of the truth that transcends even our physical presence. But tonight, I finally slow down between each breath to realize what has actually happened to me while I was trying so hard to swim to this side the river.
I can feel that, while I was following Meg’s directions and dealing with a self-determined, all-out assault on my body, while I was in survival mode trying to just get thru the last 9 days…
The inevitable “it” that has ruled my life, that thing that stalked my every waking thought, that desire that haunted my unconscious, and that obsession that clung to every subconscious whisper… that dysphoria that was the cloud that hid that sun on my horizon, the that that was all I ever really knew in life…
And as I take stock of life now, I can feel, truly feel, that for the first time in my life, my awareness, my body, and my heart all breathe in complete and natural sync. Everything is, finally, in complete congruence.
I made it.
It’s already past tense.
No more waiting for the inevitable…
Yes. That happened.
As I wrote last time, “I’m back on line” in more ways than one, after some time off to heal. I promised to post the events of March 21st – March 30th in three parts. This part is part 2 and it contains some graphic descriptions that those with weak tummies might find a bit graphic for a place that takes pains to chart the psychological seas of transformation. I tried in as many case as I could to soften the blows, but then again, I made a pact with you waaaaay back at the beginning of our journey together to tell you all to the best of my abilities as a writer and a human. So, I do this with some… adherence to a growing sense of graciousness that I hoping comes with the territory, and so, without further ado… I present Raised by Wolves 21 pt 2
Scottie Jeanette Christine Madden ,Spring, 2017,
PREVIOUSLY ON… Scottie Jeanette has just come through “day zero” the first day of spring of the rest of her life and is surprising everyone, including her surgeon with her blooming radiance…in fact, she’s what some would call “that girl.” (and not in a flattering way) and she’s getting frankly, little annoying…
OPENING TITLES IN, READ: “Part 2 More That happens.”
I am starting to levitate in my very bed. The smell of fresh flowers and bouquet of balloons have taken hold of each cheek and stretch mouth into a pepsodent smile… Mylove has just deftly origami’d her fold-out bed from what is supposed to be a chair and stands over me to kiss me good night. She brushes the hair from my eyes… God, she is beautiful… She kisses me deepy and settles into her… nest, as I turn out the light.
The chime of my cellphone lets me know that I’ve received a text,… I look to my cell and see that My big Sister Alexandra Billings has checked in on me, and I read aloud for us both to hear:
“So much stardust and history rain on to you today. You move into a newness that is alive and glorious. Although it is filled with the unknown, there are discernible and recognizable parts to it. The fact that you are living in the center of what’s possible has been with us since Time breathed in its first space. And so the courage of who have always been rests in the knowledge of where you’re absolutely headed. That is close to you. Your courage to run into the fire; to blaze across the sun and to leave a trail of compassion and brilliance in your wake. When you do this, and when you do it out loud, others receive it and are reminded. No matter what the transition, they are saved by you.
I love you Angel.
Okay… so, it’s one thing when you feel these things in your head and heart… quite another when someone says them about you. It seems so much more, I dunno, tangible? I know, I know, we’re supposed to be self-reliant strong women, who do not require outside validation… still, her descriptions are waaaaay better than I would ever allow myself to use for myself. They carry substance. They have… an effect.I drift off to sleep, with day zero in the books…
But my status as the star blazing across the sun is short-lived.
The next day comes and I’m even more radiant as the effects of the anesthesia are wearing off. Today’s task is to take me off of the intravenous pump for pain meds. Not sure how I feel about this. I’ve actually grown fond of the fact that I can push a button and feel pain-free instantly. In fact, I will confess that I have actually figured out (by counting beats of the pump) the minimum wait time that allows me to push it again and get another dose. My goal is to get maximum doses in the two hours I have left, before they’re going to take it away.
I said I was blissed out I did not say that I was not in pain.
I make a note to look at this aspect of my character later…
The first couple of doses of oral hydrocodone seem to be OK and so is my appetite. The hospital food isn’t really all that bad – a nice fillet of salmon, some green beans and green salad what’s not to love? And they are getting me as many Italian ices as I can eat, which brings me back to my grandmother’s stoop in Brooklyn one summer when I was a child…
which is actually happening a lot today. I’m tapping into a lot of childhood and teenage and young adult memories. With each one, I connect the dots from then to now, from there to here, and realize… OH MY GOD. Oh. My. God. Oh, my God, yes it’s true…
I’ve made it. I’m here! Amazing.
And I feel great – which feels like bragging as I hear how the other girls on the floor are doing. And you know me, I’m not one to flaunt what I got…
But that night. It’s dark after midnight, Mylove is asleep in her itsachairitsacouchitsaloungeitsatorturedevice, and she’s actually sleeping for the first time in hours… And something is happening…
I can feel that feeling. My nieces call it the “mouth sweats” – that sudden watering of your mouth for a reason that you never wanna even think about. That dreadful feeling that tells you that you’re suddenly too far away from any bathroom… Now I have never, ever in my life liked the idea of barfing. I resisted it to the very last possible moment. I think I would rather be hit by a bus than throw up.
But suddenly I realize I’ve lost the ability to have a vote in this and I hit the nurses call button…
FREEZE FRAME. I have to back up.
Of the nurses and assistants who have been tending to my every need here, 98% are women. There have been only two dudes. One, a nurse named Shane and the other an assistant named David. For some reason, David and I must have some karma because I’m relating to him like every dude on every team I’ve ever played. I still have the muscle memory of how to speak “dude.” And for every shot across my bow, I return fire in kind. In other words, we have a lot of snappy banter (I said snappy, not witty). Mylove is the first to notice this give-and-take, and she asks me what (the heck) I’m doing. Like I said, it’s my muscle memory and I thought I was just reacting to things he said, but the fact that I use words like “return fire” to describe this needs to be looked at.
I don’t know why David’s firing at me in the first place. Actually, if I think about it, I do know why he’s doing it. It’s how dudes relate to the world, and this world “in partic,” which is one of the top places for GCS in the world is all about women. It’s so all about women that that’s all there is in the surgical ward. My surgical team was 100% women. Many of Dr. Ley’s office staff visited me every day. The office staff is 99% women with the exception of the man whose name and reputation is the head of the practice, Dr.Toby Meltzer. Yes, David and Shane are outnumbered and are involved in a world of all women, all the time. So, as professional as they both are, Shane cloaks himself in crisp professional confidence, while David chooses instead a benign “trash talk” as his idea of bedside manner.
But I have no idea why I am relating to him in the way that I am. It’s as if I sense his “fishoutofwateryness” (what? It’s a term, look it up), and I’m trying to put him at ease by returning fire. I’m not cutting him any slack. And he’s not cutting me any either. Our banter has an edge like a pick up street basketball game. it’s competitive, it’s fast and you’re never gonna let your opponent see you sweat…
But it’s just about to backfire on me as my mouth sweats and my stomach churns and I stab the nurse call button and…
it rings and rings and rings and finally David answers but instead of asking what I need, or even why I called, David uses this opportunity to get a couple of jabs in, because that’s what we do…
And as I try to squeak out the words, “David. Nauseous,” for fear of what will happen when I keep my mouth open too long… but It happens anyway.
And I cover the call button, and I cover my bed, and I cover the floor…
… and it keeps on coming, and coming, and coming. Mylove is up instantly from a sound sleep, but I’ve created a moat that she can’t cross. She fumbles to get the lights on, and finally David comes into the room with Shane the nurse (it’s dude night) and they see what I was trying to say over the intercomm — a tsunami of my day’s worth of food and drink.
I stare at David. He reassures me – he’s got this, I can go back to sleep… He does smile sheepishly as he disinfects… well, everything. Our banter has no place here…
It’s a rough night, and the next day, I’m down a few pegs, both emotionally and physically, my comet streak may have gotten eclipsed by the dark side of the moon… but not for long.
Because for the next few days I’ve got a job to do, and I need to get serious. it’s all about healing doncha know, come day six, my life will change dramatically… again. The packing will come out, the bandages will come off, and I begin “physical therapy.”
So Mylove and I get up every morning and walk through the town of Scottsdale now Scotties-Dale. It is for all intents and purposes almost like a vacation, except that I have to be back every three hours to the hospital (rules), but it’s a sweet time for Mylove and me. And we really have nothing to do except get some fresh air and then go back to the hospital to find a new bouquet of flowers waiting for us.
A quick note on that: it seems many of our friends have been waiting and planning for this time as well – our room is filled with bouquets of flowers and the balloons and a teddy bear and cards and well wishes all celebrating “it’s a girl!” It makes me smile, and it makes all of the nurses and assistants on the floor stop by our room just for a whiff of the amazingly beautiful fragrance of love, acceptance, and support. So much so, that one of the assistants, Amy, comes in after five days of this with yet another bouquet and says, “you are killing me with these flowers!”
Everyone on the floor agrees, they have never seen so much love in one room.
I’m not the first girl to go thru this experience with this team. I am Dr. Ley’s 44th since January. And Dr. Meltzer has been doing this for over 20 years. To say they got this down is an understatement – it’s a 10 day regimen that counts your surgery as day zero. Each morning a nurse comes in and writes on the white board that day’s “job.” And they are serious. Days 1-5 have simple tasks of healing and walking but on Day 5, Charlotte, my day nurse, gave me the pep talk for day 6 (I guess i needed a day to process it?), drawing on the whiteboard a crude drawing that would make every 7th grade boy titter with glee, of me with my legs spread like a porn star. In the newly created sacred area between my legs (which Weezie has dubbed the “Pristine Vagene”), Charlotte drew on the area a wide black oval and looked at me like a Sex Ed teacher, drawing a “black circle” for each as she says, “Scottie… there are four holes: your clitoris, urethra, vagina, and anus. Got it? Wipe from front to back always! And don’t wipe – pat, pat, pat. Any questions?”
As a matter of fact. Um.., yes.
I never thought of it before, but why did God but the ladies’ room in the middle of the playground? (This could be evidence that God is a man – guys never think these things thru, on the other hand, it cold prove that God is a woman, making the restroom centrally located, and never to far from anywhere…) I mused aloud this essential question as Charlotte left the room. Mylove stared at me blankly. She had nothing, smiling with amused dismissal, a certain “they’re so cute when they’re little,” kinda thingy.
But whatever. Right now all I know is that I’m the mummy down there, but tomorrow’s the big day… the big reveal and it starts early!
I don’t sleep a wink – It’s like Christmas and blessedly it’s finally morning. Meg, Dr. Ley’s head nurse, has given word she’s thirty minutes out. That’s Meg, my big sister, efficient, together and “on it.”
I stare at the yellow-brown rubber tube that flops out of the square of surgical tape that hides my… me. The me I’ve only dreamed, prayed, screamed and cried for, for over fifty FREAKING YEARS…
And then Meg is in my room – without a sound, she’s standing over me with huge smile and my bed starts rising up like Young Frankenstein toward the sky, so Meg doesn’t have to stoop to get to work. She winks at me, “you ready for this, Miss Scottie?” I realize I’m not breathing.
Meg tells me to use my “lady blow” – which, I learned is the magical connection between putting my lips together and blowing and the moving of muscles that open my vjay-jay,… (I know, right?) I follow her instructions… and she gently yanks the square of tape off from my abdomen and, as I wince from the warm sting of the tape’s protest, Meg starts to pull the packing that has held my new vagina open and in shape – and it’s just like a magician pulling endless scarves from a top hat… Then she says, “blow out your birthday candles, Honey.” And as I blow, she pulls the last of the packing and I feel like I’m turning inside out with her last tug… I’m blinded by a sensation that seems to light up my entire body with white hot electricity…
As I return to my body (timidly) and open my eyes, Meg smiles and says the last bit is always… interesting.
So is that what the kids are calling it these days?
Meg hands me a mirror… It’s time. As I reach for it a lifetime of inevitable rises on my horizon, brilliant rays spear the lingering mists of dysphoria. The last clouds of a storm that passed forever just six days ago. The spring breeze of the bloom of my life left fills my heart, my mind… and now, miraculously, even my own body. My fingers wrap like new shoots around the handle as I look to Mylove. She nods, “it’s time.”
Time to see just what inevitable looks like.
Next time: The Conclusion of “Well, that happened.”
This is me, getting “back on line” in more ways than one, since the biggest spring of my life. As I promised, I would take some time off to heal and bring the blog back when I could, which is now. I will post the events of March 21st – March 30th in three parts. This part is benign, but parts 2 & 3 will contain some graphic descriptions (and will also carry this premumble) reminding those with weak tummies that surgery and the human body sometimes can be… an uncomfortable affair…
So without further ado… I present Raised by Wolves 21 –
Scottie Jeanette Christine Madden ,Spring, 2017,
Well that happened…
I thought I would start writing this one a lot earlier than I actually am… I’m three weeks from the largest moment of my life with the exception of my marriage and… Yes, it’s basically a rebirth?
Is it? Because as radically different as every single molecule of every moment of every day is for me now, this is that inevitable that I wrote about in “Getting Back To Me…” that inevitable that has been the sun on my distant horizons my entire life, that inevitable that I tried to hide from for so long…
that inevitable that finally came.
When I last wrote to you all, I was on my way to Scottsdale Arizona – I returned from Scottiesdale Arizona literally a new woman.
Before we go any further, I feel it’s time for the requisite pre-mumble and disclaimers, and I confess that I say this now with a little different understanding than I had before. But it still is our promise to ourselves in our community (which is of course the Ts of the LGBTQIA+ community). That promise is that we make sure it is understood that for us a community: surgery is not the destination, it’s not a value or degree of trans-ness or a commitment or anything other than the personal choice to either have or not have; that one must make in one’s life to fulfill one’s personal life path one way or the other.
We take pains to make this crystal clear so that we don’t establish a way to judge someone’s else’s identity.
We are who we declare we are and that’s not up for debate, opinion, or judgment.
That said, it is (was) the most important aspect of my transition, with the exception of Marcy’s support for me.
So, here I am.
On the other side of the river I’ve spent my entire life staring longingly at from the far shore.
And here’s where our legacy and the generational divides start to appear. I am, in the language of the older generation in the trans community, no longer trans… Yes, in the older generation when one of us “went all the way,” that person was no longer considered trans. You were now…
just a woman. And thank you, God.
And to get academic for another half-second to completely throw this all into the blender, the whole idea of using the terms “cis” and “trans” from the Latin meaning this side (cis) and that side (trans) of the river, I suppose by definition I am on back on this side now.
What I can tell you is that, yes I am, finally after 45 years of longing, dreaming, wishing, praying, denying, trying to forget, throwing up my hands in despair, and burying my body with alcohol and any other kind of distraction…
The prayers of a 4-year-old child begging God to give her her body back when she woke up the next morning, have finally been answered.
I Got Back To Me completely.
And I wish I could say it was easy… it’s easy if you view it from afar, like watching the rising sun melt river ice. The truth is that the sun’s blaze transforms the hard crystal of ice to liquid and eventually vapor by searing the molecular bonds with such force that it cleaves atomic forces like paper dolls.
And speaking of paper dolls. For those just joining us, after waiting for six months in line for my surgical date, suddenly the day was drawing nigh. My surgeon’s nurse called me to make sure that I had all of the drugs I was supposed to bring with me, as I would be traveling from California to Arizona to enter the chrysalis and emerge as my butterfly self. I went to my local pharmacy to pick up the drugs and discovered…
According to their “infallible” computer, I was no longer covered by my insurance plan. I, or rather it, had been canceled. In their world, (which I had adopted now as ALL my world) I didn’t exist.
To say that I dissolved in a puddle of tears in the parking lot would be an understatement. I whimpered out to Mylove over the telephone as I struggled to find my car in the parking lot through a shower of tears. She calmly said, “come home Mylove, and we’ll figure it out.”
“Figuring it out” literally meant a 48 hours of round the clock phone call vigil, which i wrote about in my last blog – no need to pick that scab again.
Working with Kaiser’s managers in the members’ office and covered California to work it out was a harrowing experience considering I was just about to get on the plane. it was with those circumstances that we are driven to the airport by my brother-in-law then its a kiss on the cheeks, hugs that practical crush us and we’re on our way.
As we jog through the Burbank airport, Mylove suddenly veers left and I almost slam into a woman in a wheelchair, after making my apologies, I see what has literally attracted Mylove’s attention – A magnetic sign , in the shape of paw print declares, “I heart my 2 mommies.” Mylove is buying 2, for us each to affix to our cars back home. But it floors me, Mylove wants to declare to the world our state. Through tears I continue toward the TSA Prechek… with Mylove. Completely.
When we got to Scottsdale, the hotel clerk told us we had to pay for the entire 9 nights in advance, $2500 that we didn’t have. We realized we needed to do something and fast. And by saying “we,” I really mean Mylove.
It was all her.
And that was the beginning of her carrying me (literally) through this entire experience, emotionally physically and spiritually, keeping my spirits up, making sure I took everything I was supposed to take, and generally opening every door in front of me.
I think you may all think you really know what love is, but you have not felt the full power of it as it comes from Marcy Madden.
So we paid for the one night, both held our breath and dove into the internet… no way we could blow money we didn’t have at that moment on something KP was going to reimburse us Gosh only knows when. And here’s where Mylove and I started to realize we were on a divine path lit by angels…
One our oldest friends, a blonde tornado who goes by the name of Eloise or Weezie for short was in Scottiesdale for a conference, and decided to stay an extra day and help us out. And she had a car, and she knew where the Whole Foods was and best pho. Since I could only have clear broth – I would not be deprived. To say she was a Godsend wouldn’t cut it – she was a blast of sunshine.
After a comedy of errors and another hotel, we were finally settling in to a day of bowel cleansing, which, if any of you ever gone through any kind of major surgery, may have had this experience. You have to completely flush your system of all solids which involves using industrial-strength laxatives that they try to make palatable by adding berry flavor to. SPOILER ALERT: it doesn’t work. I mean flavoring doesn’t work. It tastes like berry burp flavored gasoline. However, the lax thingy works waaaaaaaay too well.
Weezie and I must have have been sisters in a past life because in this life we bantered and teased like siblings… I’m using the past tense because, since transition, our banter is lighter and sweeter and the edge is all gone (something that she can’t stop reminding me of… sigh).
Except that now the roles are reversed and I’m the little sister. Weezie took far too much delight in my extra-embarrassing efforts during this mega cleanse, and couldn’t stop herself from recording on camera my very first enema.. yes we have to get that scrubbed from all devices…
The jokes and puns never stopped and soon we are all completely laughed out. Weezie excuses herself to her own hotel and then it’s just me and Mylove and a hundred or so more trips to the toilet even tho’ my “lips are sealed,” in other words, absolutely no more fluids after midnight. Even so, you’d think from the volume departing my body that I had been drinking directly from a firehose.
And then dawn comes… thank God! Actually it’s predawn but I’ll take it – we have to walk to the hospital at 4:30 a.m. to be there at 5:00.
It’s eerie… walking with nothing but the street lights awake. Even the signs for Starbucks are dark at this time. The traffic lights change for no one, until we press the pedestrian button and get our way…
The hospital is as quiet as a church. Three other couples sit and whisper in the darkened lobby. We’re all anxious for our various reasons and scheduled surgeries. Not even the receptionist has arrived yet.
Marcy and I are crossing our fingers and holding our breath as we sit with the admissions woman moments later – we’re trusting that Marcy’s work with the KP members services has somehow held, and trickled down to here. Everything’s still in a whisper as if we’re not wanting to wake the hospital up lest they too have kicked us out of queue over the insurance confusion. But we’re fine, and whatever snafus we had getting here seem to be ironed out at least for now.
And then I’m escorted away. Marcy will be sent for once I’m “gowned up.” I can feel myself slipping into survival mode. I’m not afraid. I’m scared that I will miss it – these most profound steps that I’ve taken as an adult, even more intense than our wedding, are happening! And I’m trying desperately not to miss a molecule, but my mind is being clouded by adrenaline.
Weighed, gowned, and measured – BP is surprising normal, heart rate too, how could that be?
Yes, the super zen calm that I’m known for when I’m directing multi-cam television or steering a crew through a third-world customs quagmire has descended on me like a trusted friend. I am in my zone now, and the anxious turbocharged fear has given way to my superpower – I remember everyone’s name after hearing it only once, the entire surgical team flashes in and out of the cubicle getting ready for showtime. They are a well-oiled, highly professional team that moves with the tight choreography of a hip-hop ballet, smiling, gently joking and tending not only to my physical needs with needle, pill or cuff, but my emotional needs, keeping it soft and light, — they know better’n I, that every small step for them is a giant leap for me.
I’m helped onto my gurney, the warming blanket fills with warm air and I snuggle in, and Marcy arrives. Things are light and efficient – everyone is cloaked in surgical green except…
… my surgeon, Dr Ley.
She’s in her workout clothes as if she jogged to work this morning and is powering a banana and yogurt as she checks in on me and her team. She likes what she sees. Her team is ready. She gives me a reassuring squeeze as the anesthesiologist slips a pill under my tongue.
And Marcy says that she brushed aside my hair and kissed me for good luck. I have to take her word for it (I would’ve guessed as much) but that’s where the tape stops. No fade to black, no static… No freeze frames or even the film caught in the gate before melting… just a hard cut to black…
Three and half hours later I’m in a recovery room. Dr. Ley and Marcy have already spoken, apparently. I have no idea. I have no reason to disbelieve that, it’s just, I have no recollection of even being anywhere except… wait… yes, yes…
The first inkling I have that I have just finally crossed the river back to this side is when I’m aware that… yes, it’s… my face? Yes, my face is stretched into…
A huge contented smile. Mylove’s brushing the hair from my eyes and standing over me smiling (this time i remember) and she says, “every time you wake up, you have the biggest smile on your face!” Every time? Every time? You mean this isn’t the first time I’ve open my eyes? I’ve been in my room for two hours, which B-T-Dubs already has flowers in it, and a pink teddy bear holding a heart that says “it’s a girl!” and a huge bouquet of balloons. Weezie is still here having kept MyLove company.
And I am now fully starting to enter my body… this body. My body.
Did i mention that I don’t want to miss a moment? I am supremely, blissfully, wonderfully happy. I’m so happy that I can’t believe how happy I am. As much as I tried to imagine this moment, I’m struggling so hard to cling to it. I’m….
Holy cow, I am not prepared for how immense this moment actually feels. And maybe that’s a defense mechanism or maybe that’s how I was able to stay on the other side of the river for as long as I had to. Maybe that’s the way that I was able to endure all of what I had to endure in order to get through a day on the far shore. But guess what? I’m so blissed out, that I cut off thus line of introspection. Even asking that question now seems so… Irrelevant? It’s hard for me to admit this, but yes… that’s how I feel, that’s how amazing this time is! And it hits me like a thunderbolt! As my toes recognize the feeling of the warm sands of this shore… The pain of 50 years is so… distant. It feels like a story I once read.
(Now, this is me talking three weeks after the crack of a thunderbolt sheared the smog of Gender Dysphoria from my being… and some perspective is in order)I
n my writing, speaking, workshops, and activism, I’m remembering what the pain of gender dysphoria is so I can describe that to people who have never experienced it. That has been very relevant. It’s how I’ve been able to help open the hearts of people to understand our community, to help them try to understand how confusing and psychologically disturbing and traumatic this is. But more important than that – the world’s understanding of the destruction that Gender Dysphoria wreaks is crucial for getting transgender people the help and care we need to merely live our lives. Critical. Crucial. Necessary.
But… suddenly irrelevant?
Snapping back to my hospital bed…
I mull this… the black hole suddenly filled with light and love… like seeing the hole where a diseased oak had once rotted suddenly filling in with Gardenias. I reason, as my mind floats in a soup of Dilantin, the intravenous pain medication that is blissfully keeping me distracted from the sutures keeping me trussed up like a thanksgiving turkey… where was I? Oh yeah… it’s only irrelevant, this lack of gender whatchamacallit, to me right now. It’s obviously not time to think about the past, but wonderfully important to treasure this moment now.
For the next couple of hours I drift in and out of sleep, and every time I wake up, I struggle to stay awake to share this moment with Mylove… A gentle knock at the door and Dr. Ley walks in and stops and stares at me and says, “how the hell are you so blissful? you just came through major surgery and yet you look… radiant.”
This, of course is a bit surprising since she sees at least three patients per day, so I would’ve thought that everybody has this same reaction.
But now even she was surprised.
Next time: Part 2 of 3 – More that… happens.
I’m trying to hang onto the bulwarks of my inner superstructure, lest my entire being flies apart from the inside out…
Which is a very convoluted way of saying… I’m… excited. Anxious. Antsie. (Or is Auntsie?)
In other words… I’m t-minus four days from the third biggest threshold in my life… namely GCS. Gender Confirming Surgery.
For those of you who’ve followed this saga of a woman raised by wolves, you know I’m given to striking metaphors and colorful imagery to describe my inner state, but even this is… well, defying my best efforts to capture in words.
But I’m trying. So please forgive me if I jump around in my attempts.
The waiting line for GCS is, maybe, by design, a long waiting time – an ad hoc process to weed out anyone who is maybe (and would hugely mistakenly, misguidedly) trying this on a whim.
But here’s where maybe won’t cut it, sister.
Still, those who are trying to wrap their heads around my life have said to me, with the best intentions, “Well, you better be sure, because there’s no going back.”
There never was any going back. But thank you all the same. I’ve never been surer of anything in my life, except, that I had to be with Marcy forever.
But that doesn’t mean my world isn’t getting bashed by wind shear and g-forces – much the same way a rocket gets buffeted as it reaches escape velocity to break free from the gravity’s downward shackles. I am vibrating, shuddering and veering as I press on with a stronger power than I ever thought capable of having… and it's exhilarating, scary and…
… and I don’t know what.
No. I seriously don’t know what. I have nothing but a blank slate ahead, and absolutely no data other than the edges of the charts which read “here there be dragons.” My entire life, I’ve resisted even looking past my ships’ prow, much less steering for the stars. But now is the time. I’ve put both feet firmly on the accelerator…
It’s not like I haven’t fantasized what could be in that void of my cosmos. And for those of you new to this blog, in these parts the word “fantasy” refers to the wishful imaginings of what real life should be and not the fanciful play without stakes or repercussions that many use as a break from real life. In these fantasies, my life instantly returns to normal, and I’m off and running in my new normal life, where my body is no longer my concern: it’s as it always shudda been – as if it usta was – and I don’t have to spend so much of my waking time in, what my friend Dr. Alie calls, “a salvage operation.”
I say fantasy because the road to here so far was already rife with its measure of physical and emotional hardship. So, being the maturing woman that the world now knows I am, we have done our research and know that life only gets more fun from here. As the surgical contract that I signed clearly states, I agree to a lifetime of “maintenance” (EDITOR’S NOTE: Ms. Madden’s original noun has been edited/modified so as to not scare the living daylights out of the un-initiated. Thank you and sorry for the interruption).
So needless to say, I know what is waiting for me in theory, but…
I have no real idea who I will be when I get there.
I know that I’ve transformed (see what I did there) throughout all phases of my journey, and the girl that is going through one threshold is never the same girl who comes out on the other side. It’s fascinating, yes (from an anthropological point of view), it’s disorienting yes (from a psychological point of view), and it’s… okay, yes, beautiful (from a self-aware/spiritual point of view). But truly, I won’t know what it will be really be for me… until I step across.
And that will happen on the first day of spring. In just four days.
I’m letting that settle in not so much for you, dear reader, but for me.
To prepare for this, I’ve gone through over 2 years of medical scrutiny (not to mention 50 years of denial, introspection, prayer and tears), family/societal rejection, fear, and oh, yeah… 60 hours of electrolysis. Pain, it seems and it’s endurance thereof, is the dirty little secret of our daily lives.
I give you exhibit A: For those who have never had electrolysis, it’s like, if you took two red scorpions, dipped them in gasoline, lit them on fire and willingly, intentionally allowed them to fight on your face. Of course we girls don’t just have to contend with hair there. The money shot is to repeat the above process (TMI ALERT) and then drop them down your pants.
Yes. It’s like that, and no exaggeration. For hours.
Most of my sessions are three – four hours. Numbing creams and painkillers only make it manageable. After the second hour, I usually just hide-out in mediation like a storm shelter, awaiting the electro-hot tornado to do its worst and hopefully pass without bruising or worse.
But last week, the stakes were higher – it was truly our (Layla’s and my) last shot to get it right. Layla, B-T-Dubs, for over 20 years is not only the best in the biz, but as a cis-hetero woman, she has been the guardian angel of mercy for us transitioning girls. Layla knows ALL of the LA girls. And I do mean all of all of us. She knows us from the inside out, knows us better than we know ourselves, and loves us unconditionally.
But, as I said, we had one last shot to get it right. Let’s put it in perspective: the last thing you want is a hair growing up in there. Nuff said? Good. I don’t even want to think about it which is why I told her to go “all in” and let fly the songbirds of pain.
And sing they did. And in the throes of blinding, searing, white hot… clarity, I asked Layla, “Layla, do you believe in God?”
“Of course I do Honey.”
“Then, what was She thinking when she made us? Why were Trans people put on this earth?”
“Well honey, you know God doesn’t make mistakes, so why do you think She made you?”
Maybe this was the endorphins kicking in, but I heard myself say, “I can only speak for me, but maybe it’s to have ultimate faith in myself. I have always had to hold onto my heart’s experience despite what my parents told me, in spite of what the world told me, and no matter what even my own body tried to tell me, I am… the me I always was. A beautiful woman.
Layla didn’t skip a beat (and it wouldn’t’ve upset me if she did), and she said,
“Honey, listen. Trans women are the strongest people on the planet. Way stronger than cis women or cis men. You are superheroes. No one has more faith in themself than you do. Nobody is as willing as you are to examine your life and know exactly who you are. You inspire me every day. And when you come out on the other side, nobody lives their life with more joy than you girls do. So, yes, I agree, you are here to teach us all Faith and Joy.”
Well, when you put it that way…
So… those are the handrails I’m clinging to as the clock ticks, sometimes in slow motion, and other times like the clocks in a bad time travel movie. I say clinging because I’m aware that this week is the absolute last one of it’s kind. I will never be here again. The precious time before a momentous change. We rarely get this much advance notice when our life is about to change. I’m not clinging to the past, but I’m also trying (and it’s hard) to not be in too much of a hurry to leave it.
As winter here in LA seems to be a thing of the past already, with 80-degree sunshine making the hillsides explode in green and wildflowers, I’m trying to slow things down so I can enjoy this scorchingly beautiful day without wanting to hit the fast-forward or skip button. But it’s a losing battle, like trying not to anticipate Christmas morning on Christmas Eve.
The only cloud that darkens the fields of daisies is the fear that something could cancel or postpone this. Faith. Faith. Faith. Now is the time for this, sweetheart. Don’t let the irrational or the imagined (both are but wraiths of the ego). Still… things happen…
Like a mere month ago, when I was taking a super-hot bath (it was still wintering way back then), and I thought Marcy had fallen, I jumped up too fast… and passed out on the way to my feet and fractured a rib on the side of the tub. Blinding pain, unable to breathe and desperate to rescue Marcy from whatever had befallen her, what do you think was my first thought even before I was able to suck in a half breath?
This better not mess up my surgery.
Luckily it won’t. I’m better now, but it took a doctor’s note to clear me. Marcy’s fine, too. (Thanks for asking.)
Faith. Yes. I have it. Nothing between me and the threshold now but time.
And Joy. Joy that I’m aware of the significance. Joy that I can feel the Grace that supports me on this journey. Joy that Marcy is with me, side by side as we cross this threshold together. Joy that I know joy. Joy that I stand in faith.
So,yes, I make no apologies that this one is a “to be continued…” because the song of transcen-dance has a backbeat of faith and a melody of joy… and the chorus that leads up to the bridge is building to a crescendo.
I’ll see you on the other side…
Shock & Awe
I am bruised… by self-inflicted wounds. I just got out of a two-day Facebook war with a friend of my, as he put it, adolescence. (That shudda been my first clue as to just how far we had grown apart… adolescence? Who says that about themselves?)
But I digress.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit… no, I am embarrassed to admit that I took the bait with every posting until I finally pulled out of the tailspin. But I fell to what many smarter people than I have already discovered, i.e. the classic, the liberal fatal flaw of believing that:
if I could say the exact right thing using “facts” (I know, call me Pollyanna), that not only would I win the argument, but also I would change the mind of my opponent for good and for… well, good.
I said I was embarrassed because this is not the first time I’ve made this naïve, tactical error. Chalk it up to the “fool me twice” dunce-cap-kinda-thingy.
But I will also confess that merely knowing this probably won’t stop me from doing it again.
The thing is, I know this strategy will never stand up to what they got on the other side. Facts, as we have seen, are no match for the campaign that seems to be the BFF of those who are on the wrong side of history but the alt-right side of philosophy. This campaign is the Kraken that’s been unleashed onto our society, but it has another name that maybe you’ve heard before.
I call it “shock and awe” or, as it’s probably more commonly known, the scientific name for a statement of such astounding arrogance and audacity, namely “complete and total horsesh*t.”
You’ve experienced shock & awe before. Shock & awe is usually very easy to spot because it is a cover-up for something that is so ridiculously false that it can’t be believed on it surface merit. Sober people usually walk away from anything enmeshed in shock & awe instantly. Few are foolish enough to attempt to use it because it is usually stamped out faster than roaches at a wedding banquet with derision, laughter, and a complete lack of support.
There have been some historic attempts at using shock & awe – and one could understand the lure of its potential to cover-up hopeless compromising positions, and or your garden variety nefarious deeds such as “having a wide spread,” being told “she was 18,” and “that’s just locker room talk.”
But something happened on the way to the democracy of 2017, and somewhere, somehow, President Steve Bannon discovered… the real truth was unimportant to a vocal minority of the American people, but “winning is all there is.” (Thank you, Paul Newman – not Vince Lombardi.)
And President Bannon discovered something else—blatant disregard for the truth made the liberal left (and everyone with a brain) completely stark raving crazy. So crazy that they lost their minds (and their way) in every argument.
What’s funny to this girl is that this shock & awe strategy truly puts the cart before the horsesh*t, in that normal, intelligent people are so “awed” by the sheer audacity of these incredulous arguments, they:
1. Let their guard down, thinking that there’s no way to even justify stupidity and lies, so why bother?
2. Dismiss the information as so irrelevant that it is something that no one could possibly ever agree with. (So again, it’s not taken seriously.)
However, this sets the stage for the shock portion of our show…
Intelligent people are shocked that the above works. Progressives scramble to come down to Bannon’s level, which shelves all of the intelligence and thoughtfulness and more importantly good intentions of their position.
This shock knocks the progressives off their game so much that they find themselves playing defensive “Catch-up” on “solutions looking for a problem,” “False equivalencies,” “fake news,” and “alternative facts.”
This even has the Progressives questioning their own intentions. Maybe we were wrong to think that people are basically good. Maybe we did underestimate the middle of the country’s ability to ignore racism, sexism, and homophobia for the false promises of jobs. Maybe we should’ve played to their fears and lack of tolerance?
And here’s the deal, President Bannon is smart. He saw how some clever people learned from the big tobacco failures (in court with massive payouts) that you don’t need to enter into a debate. All you need to to is sell the world on the idea that there is a debate, where one hadn’t existed before.
You don’t even have to waste time creating counter arguments (that’s too much work, and requires research and footnotes). No all you have to do is conjure a myth that “others smarter than us all are not convinced.” Wasn’t that fun? See how that works? You don’t even have to invent a lie that can be struck down with facts.
And it works. We now have an entrenched view on the so-called right that there is a climate debate, which is all the daylight they need to drive a wedge into.
Why am I only now fired up about this? Because not only is shock and awe being used to try and wrest our country from us, but people are trying to use it in everyday life.
Which brings me back to my past FB skirmish with my so-called conservative-leaning former friend. This experience showed me the very personal face of astounding arrogance and audacity and I responded exactly the way I those of on the left classically do.
It started when I shared a posting on FB describing Evangeline’s protest to President Bannon’s “beard” (whom some are referring to as simply “45”) about his recent executive order to rescind the guidance by President Obama’s protections for trans kids using the bathroom in public schools. Evangeline has a trans sister and she felt (maybe naively) that her singing the national Anthem at the inauguration bought her a piece of 45’s ear. That she feels betrayed and appropriated is not getting her any sympathy from those who suffered at the hands of men, especially this man, but hey, she tried. Good for her.
And I pointed out to all of those who said give 45 a chance, that these were his true colors, he is a coward who will sell out everyone, breaking promises to the most vulnerable, in order to play to his base.
And then the comments started to flood in. One man (who I went to high school with) asked a genuine question about the legitimacy of this issue and was answered by several of my Facebook friends. In this case, they were all real friends of mine who were also FB friends, because they jumped to make it clear to this guy “what was what.”
But then “the friend from my adolescence” who I nicknamed “Stever,” decided he was the new authority on all things trans. And he let his opinion that this issue (transgender) was a mental illness, a “disorder” that didn’t require a society to accommodate, and therefore didn’t require the protections promised by Title IX.
Before I could answer, he was buried by my FB posse. But… he doubled down. Each attempt at argument revealing more of his arrogance, misunderstanding, prejudices and biases.
It was… mind-blowing. And I was shocked at his arrogance and awed by his audacity.
I struck back. I called out his misunderstanding and irresponsibility in perpetuating these lies that not even Fox News agrees with.
But he continued.
And I was immediately taken back to countless hours spent defending him to our other friends in high school who never could understand him. But I did. And I stood beside him, fought for him. And never abandoned him.
And… I admit. He hadn’t changed a bit. Even in high school he was an expert in everything we talked about. Back then I though of his arrogance as confidence, his audacity, charming. Inspiring, even. But here, now, I also hadn’t changed, and my old Pollyanna self was blindsided that he was could be so “in bed with the enemy.”
So I tried three separate times to get him to see how just “out of line” he was.
If I could show him how silly it was for him to negate my lived experience with something he read on the internet, we would both have a good laugh. He would thank me for opening his eyes. And we would listen to Rush (the Canadian Power trio, not the Pill Popper). And then his mom would call us to dinner and I’d have to call my mom and ask if I could stay.
But something has changed in all these years. Not just between friends, but our desire to be friends has eroded with the acid rain of social media. What’s happened to us? Maybe it's because it’s anonymous. It’s not like a real conversation. We can’t see our words reflected in the actual face of the listener.
Marcy even tried to knock some sense into Stever, posting in very plain language that there was no way he could ever know more than I on this subject.
Would he see that? Could he ever recognize his folly and hubris if he couldn’t see my face?
But… I still had faith that the years spent dreaming together of being in a rock band (he plays guitar, I was supposed to be the keyboardist, even tho’ I would’ve preferred to be the drummer), sword fighting together in the forest (with homemade katanas we made in his father’s woodshop), and writing screenplays for the fantasy epics (that I would direct and he would star in), would amount to something. I just knew that he had to have an ember of the “me” in his heart that I could blow on and get my friend back. I didn’t dare hope at this point that he would know what living in my life was, but I did have hope that he would see how silly he was to think he could possibly know more than me and that his opinion could really hurt me physically and emotionally, and, if nothing else, I had hoped that he would at least…
… stop working against me.
But… no. He tripled down, if that’s possible, choosing instead to make it my job to convince him that I and my community are valid and worthy. Rather than do his own inquiry to find out where he got it so wrong, was at odds with the world’s medical community, the US military and decent humans everywhere, was so, let’s face it, out of sync, Stever was holding out... holding on. Digging his heels in…
So I… opted out.
I lost a friend (probably one that I never really had?) and I learned that nothing is ever going to change his and his brethren’s minds.
What’s maybe the most troubling is that Stever’s shock & awe campaign had no discernible goal, and maybe that’s the worst of all. What could he have possibly hoped to gain? What was the point of demonstrating to the world (at least the FB world on my feed) how misinformed, arrogant and audacious he is? With others who use this tactic, they are bulldozing toward financial gain, as with President Bannon. But Stever would only, could only lose once he chose to stay in the fight.
And he did. He lost me. And I’m not sure that even matters to him. But he didn’t gain anything.
So what to do?
This isn’t an area where we can “agree to disagree.” My identity is not “up for debate” nor is “the jury still out” as to whether Gender Dysphoria is real. However, Stever, with all his outdated and misguided opinions, can still vote. He can still support any number of the attempts to institutionalize discrimination. So… I have to care what he thinks.
I guess this is why we have to enact laws to protect us from the obvious. My father used to say that locks only keep an honest man honest. If the general goodness of humanity would always prevail, we wouldn’t need locks, we wouldn’t have laws and we wouldn’t have wars.
But we do have laws, and the one that rules our land is a set of principles that make us the United States of America. Our constitution. You would think, the mere spirit and philosophy of it would be enough. But because there are always those who will try to bend the rules away from the shared collective good to a zero-sum gain of individual power and wealth, we have to enact amendments. Even these should be enough. But when they haven’t been (as in the civil rights act of 1964, which cited not only article one, but also the 14th & 15th amendments), we had to create laws that spell out what everyone should’ve known, but elected instead to bend.
So, even our laws aren’t enough? Apparently not. Our morals and American values are under fire again by those who want “freedom and justice for those who think and look like me,” instead of the true American values of united we stand, and liberty and justice for all.
How do we get back to that?
And where did this movement to dismantle our principles come from? More importantly, where are the patriots who would protect these sacred values?
Um, that would be US.
Where are the patriots? Well, we’re easy to spot. We’re out in the streets. We wear pink knit hats. We show up at the airports. We are flooding the town halls, and we’re the ones who will vote your devisive, discriminating, hate-filled hearts out of office in 2017 and 2018.
But until then, how will we deal with shock & awe, both on the national level and in our very own homes, or even with those whom we ourselves have stood up for and with in the past; our so-called friends?
It worked for Gandhi.
Scottie Jeanette Madden
Screenwriter, Author, Cook and Lover. Author of "Getting Back To Me, from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years"