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.
Scottie Jeanette Madden
Screenwriter, Author, Cook and Lover. Author of "Getting Back To Me, from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years"