It’s summer. Gorgeous afternoon sunshine, heat wave comin’ but not here yet, Chicago Live from Carnegie Hall tellin’ me that it’s “Only Love Beginning,” and I’m …
Carried away by it all.
It dawns on me, I have always been a California Sunshine Girl (as my father would say with a wistful and proud tenor … usually to my sister Kimm or about any of the various women he met as a car salesman in the infamous Inland Empire). It’s just that you, he and the rest of the world never knew it.
But the image of me as a naturally athletic and active woman whose beauty stemmed more from her smile than her wardrobe, who lit up every space she graced, and celebrated the outdoor lifestyle that is our birthright in SoooooCal, is actually my default state of being.
Until, that is, I remember that I’m trans.
I’ve written about my dance with this moniker, this label, in my book, and I will confess that it is even now, a work in progress.
But my personal dance doesn’t matter anymore. Because being trans in 2016 is a … well, it’s something that none of us is. Being trans in 2016 is to be something we have all fought against for our entire lives, and now, must continue to fight, everyday. Because being trans in 2016 is to be part of … a thing.
Being trans in 2016 … well, hang in there with me on this one, but it has nothing to do with our gender identity and, it turns out, has everything to do with our gender identity. Being trans is “an issue,” it has become one of the nation’s “dialogues,” one of the nation’s “narratives” (among many), and the definition or usage of “trans” could all depend on who’s saying it.
Being trans in 2016 is “a call to arms,” “a badge of honor” and “the next civil rights front.” While for some people, being trans is “a four-letter-word,” “igniting a national firestorm,” or “the height of absurdity” (this last is a quote from former “Brain surgeon” Ben Carson).
Yeah, everyone thinks they know what being trans is.
After all, we are that woman on TV, that man on Facebook, that guy in the Nike Ad, that guy on that show, that woman who was on that show and is now on that woman’s show; that dude you used to work with, that woman that just started working next to you, that girl in your child’s school, that boy in the news, those girls in that music video, that woman on the Daily Show …
In other words, we are the latest thing. We are a thing thing.
But here’s the thing … we’re not an … any-thing.
We are a somebody. And, we are somebody else’s somebody.
We are your daughter, your big sister, your big brother, your new little sister, your cousin, your neighbor, your wife’s best friend, your best friend from high school …
When we are a thing and, more recently, a “that” thing, we become the abstract that can be legislated against. When we are that thing that everybody’s been talking about, we vanish from the reality of life, and we become instead spectres, punchlines, cyphers.
We sometimes falter ourselves and surrender to the belief that this is “our lot in life,” “the cards we’ve been dealt,” or for some, “the beds we will lie in.” We sometimes allow ourselves to take on the mantel that society seems to want to continue to shoulder us with – the “othering” that exasperatedly seems so easy for some of our fellow Americans to do without even a second thought.
Now, I just admitted right there, that this is a two-way street—what society says about me and what I accept about me. But folks, the reason why we’re still talking about this is … my side of that two way street isn’t trying to kill me. And while we’re on the subject, to my friends and family: yes, your right to vote is yours and you need to vote your conscience. BUT! If your vote puts a supporter of anti-LGBTQ laws in office, then you just put a nail in my coffin, plain and simple. And it’s on you. You don’t get to wash your hands of it all, and pretend that you didn’t know. You knew, and you still voted against me and my rights, and the rights of everyone in the LGBTQ community. I will not be able to look you in the eye. So, yes, voting what you refer to as your conscience may allow you to feel good that your team won, but my life, and the lives of all my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, are literally on the line.
What I am realizing, as the summer breeze brings me back into my body, is that I need to take a breath and step back from the front lines for moment and focus on my side of the street.
And that’s when I realize that sometimes even I have bought into thinking of myself as other … feeling like a trans woman, instead of a justa woman; recognizing that I am different, that I wasn’t born “like all the other girls.” And I realize there are people who actually hate me without knowing me. They call me an abomination. They think I don’t deserve to live.
And so, I have to take refuge where there is safety in numbers—in my trans community.
Which is what I’m doing. Everyday. And that means my is-ness stays grounded in the transwoman aspect of my identity. It is a survival mode in this four-letter-word HR2 bull-pucky world. The prevailing wisdom is for us to get out there, be visible, be more than a somebody’s someone, be a loud and present and unapologetic, and wonderful, confrontational, inspirational, technological, educational, someone.
Because the time is now for us to change the hearts and minds that have gone cold (or are somehow feeling that it is suddenly okay to admit that they always were) against us. These discriminatory efforts are well-funded, strategic efforts that are there to deny us our rights, to push us outside of the family of human. It will take all of us to give our all to change those hearts and minds.
I have to admit, as a California Sunshine Girl, it’s hard for me to believe that the rhetoric, rancor, and revulsion directed at our community is … well, real. What’s even more amazing is how easily people who are supposed to know better, gleefully and with complete knowledge, swan dive onto the cesspool, and allow themselves to actually, and fully, hate in the name of God, in the name of religion, and our constitution.
Remembering I’m trans is to remember that a whole church (the church of my childhood) has been turned against me and my family. Pope Francis said, “Ideologies that profess children can ‘choose their gender’ constitute the very annihilation of man as image of God.” Wait … did he actually say “choose?” Isn’t this guy supposed to be a man of science? He reads, right? (And don’t get me started on his namesake asking to be the “instrument of God’s peace.”) Does he only feel this way about trans children? Does he feel the same way about children born with no limbs? Cleft palate? Down Syndrome? Are they also not born in the image of God? How could any religious leader denigrate a whole population of the human race? Not only does he devalue us but he effectively placed a target on our backs. I’m aghast that he could say this because, as I was taught in my catechism classes, God doesn’t make mistakes. So Mr. Pontiff-sir, you need to get on the right side of science and history and God’s love.
So, remembering I’m trans is to remember that some are trying to gain back the ground they lost in the first civil rights fight, and that’s their right (they believe) to hate. And they are all jumping on the HR2-like war wagon, turning their fight to hate on me and my community. Remembering I’m trans is remembering that my own sister has chosen to listen to everyone else about me, over asking me about me.
It’s remembering that the only way to change all of this is to remember that, as a trans woman, I am beautiful, that I have more to contribute than the average person, that I make the world a better place by being in it, and that I can never allow myself to fight the world, but that I may have to fight for my place in it. Again. And Again. And Again.
But also, that I must fight with light, laughter & love. Always. Forever.
Given all that, maybe you now can understand that every so often, I still would like to just feel that breeze across my California Sunshine Girl’s cheek…
… so I sigh. And allow myself to lose myself in that breeze … for a few precious moments.
Scottie Jeanette Madden
Screenwriter, Author, Cook and Lover. Author of "Getting Back To Me, from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years"