Okay… really. Where to start?
Yes. We marched along with the millions of people around the world – including Antarctica… for women’s rights.
And, while a millions stories and posts are and will be written about this proud moment in history, and many will be trying to understand it, quantify it, lionize it, and rationalize it, I want to just revel in it.
The bask in the brilliant light of community, sisterhood, and graceful power of us. Of we. Of all.
And, before we go any further, there are so many people to thank. The organizers of every March. The speakers at every march. Whoever started the pink pussy knitting circles. The unbelievably creative and clever signs. The men who marched alongside. The police who kept us safe. The parents who brought their children. And everyone who participated from home. And everyone who marched for marching with our respect, caring, joy and intelligence. Not one incident of violence or vandalism.
And this simple act of gratitude speaks to why I was marching. I marched for and because and to insure our rights. These and many other virtues and values of women were in crystal focus for everyone to see. Yes, I started with gratitude –, because that’s who I am and I believe who we are. And yes I thanked everyone for marching, or as we’ve seen marching from home via the interwebs – because this was not, as the organizers stressed many times just a woman’s march, it was a march for women’s rights.
And here’s the deal. Say what you will. The Gracious Power of Women has been and always will be, the creative, nurturing, sustaining the power of life. So though this was almost overwhelming, it should be no surprise that we stood together. For women’s rights are human rights. (Thanks HRC!)
I first heard of the March in Washington D.C. via the posting that announcing there would be a sister March in Oakland. I immediately responded. Not only is the Bay area near and dear to our hearts, but it’s the spiritual home of our marriage, and so many members of our vast extended family are there. So, what better way to celebrate than with our peeps?
Now, of course hailing from La La Land, it could be a little strange, to make the trek north, even after LA announced their sister March., (750,000? So proud of us!) Stranger still to go even when Snow snow threatened to close the Grapevine, .
But I felt the call of sisterhood beaconing us ever north.
I will confess as “the new girl” I had no idea what to expect. I only knew to follow my heart. I had to let my feet and spirit do the talking. I had high hopes for something, but I specifically stopped those in the “inkling stage,” so any of my preconceived notions wouldn’t get in the way of the Grace that would arrive.And I wished I could say (because it would make me seem so darn smart) that I intended to march for all of the above reasons. But I can say that I was truky letting my heart lead the way…
Mylove and I had a very simple agenda. Get there. Hug. March. Hug some more.
But, Mylove was also trying to be “the adult in the room.” She knew we should be concerned with the immense rain storms in the forecast. That’s it. I didn’t think too far ahead. I didn’t plan out every second – make a bunch of appointments, nor a serious of checkpoints. I didn’t even have an exit plan – and with e. With even bigger storms threatening the Grapevine for our return drive homereturn, this was not “good drills,” as my survival expert pedigree should dictate. And… I really didn’t care.
Get there. Hug. March. Hug some more.
Now, for any of you who know me, you know that this in itself is very strange behavior for moi.… As “adventure girl,” I am usually the designated field marshall – yes,. I know how to move a large crew (20-50) people and 100’s of cases of equipment into and out of remote countries around the world – so I better know how to pack the car, right? I better have the back-up battery chargers for our cellphones, the appropriate foul weather gear (not just for me but spares for whomever joins whatever leg of the journey) and yes, I get a little, ahem, “passionate” when someone strays from the rendezvous point(s), even if it’s “just for moment” to get a better look at the signs going by. And tho’ I did do all of the above as expected, it was more because it was left-over in my muscle-memory, not the consuming “strategery” (thank you Bugs) that had been my M.O. for my professional career and reputation.
And… it did give me pause… as it was noted in it’s absence… so I’m either maturing as a woman, and confident in myself to get sh*t done, or… I’m no longer defining myself by what I do, but rather how I do it… (but maybe that’s a subject for a future posting – stay tuned.)
And, I will also confess that I am as realizing (or rather coming to grips with) that I am usually the resident “Amazon” of almost every grouping of female friends that we have., i.e I am usually, the one woman in any group of women in our circles thatwho was raised by wolves. And, though estrogen has seriously and lovingly reshaped my… shape, I’m still almost as physically strong, and almost as physically large as I was… that. And more importantly, I still have that protector gene that rises up when we’re out in any crowd.…
But. I hadn’t allowed myself to think too far down any of the above roads.
Because for the last few weeks, I had been so consumed with keeping a dull pounding ache at bay. I felt that I had been kicked in the heart… and that the kicking would continue for the next four years, or until it ended in it’s certain impeachment.
For the first weeks of this brand new shiny year, I could only see divisiveness. I could only see strife. I could saw only disrespect, disservice, and just plain, ol’ dissing of anyone (and everyone) who is not a redstatered-state, rich, white, male corporation.
And my Amazonian tiara felt heavy.
As, I too, took my seat at my own pity party of one (and I’ve heard from a number of my dearest and strongest women friends –, my sisters -, that this table had more than one single seat), I didn’t care that I had been allowing myself to dine regularly on the sour gummy worms of insanity, anger and acrimony streaming from every news source, social media platform and even closest friends. And I knew, that I knew better. I knew what I was doing wasn’t right. I knew I would never be able to continue at this pace – t.These gummies are hard to chew, they ruin your appetite and they make your tongue swell… (not unlike Capt’n Crunch rash! Remember?).
So, I knew I needed to change. I needed to do something to pull myself out of this tailspin. I knew I needed to fill the tank and head north. Like millions of people all over the world, I put on my raingear and, locking arms with Mylove and my dear sisters, leptleapt out into the sea of love that in our case flowed like a river through the downtown streets of Oakland… .
… and despite our agreement to stay on the edges of the crowd, we – found ourselves right in the middle of it all…
… were swept alongside the pack of twenty ten-year-old girls – carrying their signs and wearing their hand knit pink hats…
… were captivated, as a young mother patiently explained in great patience (and, (I might add, with great insight) to her six-year-old son, why “we shall overcomb” made everyone laugh…
… cheered, laughed, chanted and walked in yes, the truly festive atmosphere….
… marching for Women’s rights, human right’s, Black lives’ rights, Environmental rights, Native American rights, Muslim-American rights, American-American rights. …
… and wasWe were all were baptized with love, with respect, with the Gracious Power of women.
This is my “takeaway.” I still feel our power. It has cleansed my heart. It has given me hope. It has washed the sour taste of those gummiegummy worms from my palate.
Today. T, the Monday after, the White Hhouse debates are already changing tone from the combative defensiveness of this weekend’s missteps.
Was it because of the March?
Probably. No one will probably give it credit. And it doesn’t matter.
The Republicans will be taking a retreat this weekend where they will strategize getting away from “small ball.” Is that because of the pink knit hats?
It doesn’t matter. Because, as women, we don’t give two hoots about “small ball.” And yes we know what it is and yes, we still don’t care.
This was not a movement to be judged. Success wasn’t depending on someone else or anyone who beieves themselves “outside” to validate.
None of the metrics men concoct can measure the power of what happened.
And, as a few have stepped forward to try to throw shade on the movement, to try to undermine and attempt to divide us for whatever reasons, (including those, who, as women felt they were being shamed for not wanting to march. N (newsflash –, we don’t care that you didn’t march, we marched so that we all have the choice to be and do what we feel is right for each of us in our own lives. If you felt shame –, I’m sad for you. I’m sad that you felt the need to shame yourself. And please know: we didn’t do that to you.)
There were pundits (even women pundits) who asked the same questions and made the same accusations that were levied against the Occupy movements. “Yes, but this will only mean something if now, you take this energy and do something with it” “Yes, but they better get the one message or this will be for naught.” “Does everyone even o know what they’re marching fo?” “They need a clear leader or their movement will die.”
Again. It doesn’t even matter what they say. W -- what anyone outside thinks. All we cared about was that it was showing how many of us there are. How many of us are watching. How many of us will stand up for our rights.
More than anything, I learned so much about myself from just being in the company of us. I can place too much “belief” in the fallacy that bad can have its day, despite my faith that good will ultimately prevail. (who wants to live thru even a bad having a good inning? Still too much.) But, what I learned, even more, is how easy it was to allow the acid of hopelessness to erode my resolve.
And even now, as I watch “alternative facts,” executive orders try to dismantle Sanctuary cities, and even the Republicans like Paul Ryan try to invent a new definition for, “there’s a lot of ways for Mexico to ultimately end up paying for the wall in way or another,” I am held up by a Gracious Power that stands even if I might waver...
The millions of people who stood together around the world are the Gracious Power.
This Gracious Power plays by its own rules.
This Gracious Power is undeniable.
This Gracious Power will overcome.
This Gracious Power wears pink knit hats.
This Gracious Power wears what it wants.
But this Gracious Power is love. Is inclusive. Is Respect. Is Intelligence. Is creativity. Is Inspiring. Is nurturing. Is sustaining. Is the force that makes, holds, and supports this universe.
This Gracious Power is Woman.
Each morning my workout is to “power hike” (no other word for this – it’s not quite running, and way faster than hiking) in the hills that are the northern border of the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy. Locals here call it “dirt Mulholland.” It’s the stretch of the infamous Mulholland Drive between Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Havenhurst – a fire road that’s the mother artery for hundreds of smaller trails that feed off of this idyllic length of paradise between ocean and valley.
It’s a favorite for a morning cult of dog walkers (I’m one), mountain bikers (one of those too), trail runners, casual strollers and… well, it’s as a diverse a group of humans as the wildlife that call it home.
Why am I telling you this?
To put you in the same morning-sunshined, ocean-caressed, crisp-aired, rosy-cheek-kissed bliss that could only be made better by Return to Forever’s, “Romantic Warrior” pouring from my earbuds and marinating my soul…
You there? Ahhh, yes, there you go… now, breathe in and…
Cue the hawk. Her shadow kisses your face first and you look up – she waves with a curt tip of her wing as she soars out over the valley. And… something else passes by … and before you can even ask yourself what…?
She backs up and re-enters your field of vision, blocking out your hawk’s majesty… and as Stanley Clark’s bass line seduces your attention like warm maple syrup, a bright-faced, blond, brilliant light of a woman is talking… to you… she doesn’t seem to notice the earbuds…
So, you pull them out, and you hear her say, “… and would it be okay, I know this is terribly forward, but my daughter is a film student at USC, you see. And she’s making a film about a transgender police officer…”
Now, I am, and have always been, really good at inference. Sometimes to my downfall. All I need is a seed of a thought to deliver you a forest of a story. But as I struggled to hang on to this woman’s breathless story about her daughter, and the efforts she’s making, and the support she’s getting from the LAPD, and the officer himself who served in the Marines as a woman but transitioned after a distinguished tour of duty and is now quite happy as a male police officer, and the rest of the officers have been great with accepting him…
… my own thoughts were starting to drown out her voice. I realized I was desperately trying to figure out why is the woman, whom I have never met, who seems very nice and earnest, and proud of her daughter…
… why is she telling me this?
And when I still hadn’t heard a question in this waterfall of information and detail, nor even a request, a cold shiver went through me that I could not stop. I heard myself asking her,
“How did you know I was trans?”
Instead of a direct answer, I heard instead that she actually has other friends who transitioned years back and struggled, and are very brave, and after two in-depth stories about these friends, she confesses that she has seen me many times up here.
Now, for those of you who have never seen me. I am working very hard to reclaim a body that spent 50 years being Raised by Wolves. I’m happy to report, it’s working. And so is the estrogen. I have hips, and I am starting to get an hourglass figure. A woman is emerging In place of all the sweets and carbs I have given up. On this day, in fact, I am looking quite cute (ask Mylove) in athletic tights and red trainers (way better word than sneakers, I think) and, my hair is pulled up into a cute top spray. I’m wearing my Audrey Hepburn oversized sunnies… I tell you this so you too will have the same vision that she had. That way, you too should see my crest falling…
Which makes her talk even faster, and I hear her say:
“But really honey, you are so close, you are at least 80 percent. Yes, 80 percent for sure.”
Now. I don’t want you to misunderstand me. First, yes I was thunderstruck. And we’ll talk about that in few paragraphs, but I need you to know that I was so blown away by her blunt honesty and matter-of-fact brightness, that I kept talking to her and actually walked the rest of my morning hike with her (albeit more the stroll mode).
We parted ways at my home trail. I agreed to talk to her daughter and help her in any way that I could and when the subject of my career path came up (30 years in television, I know a thing or two about documentary filmmaking), she was overjoyed and proclaimed this meeting “meant-to-be.” I can’t lie, I felt that way too… I found out all kinds of interesting and wonderful things about her and, yes, we could be friends.
When I got home and told Mylove about the whole encounter, just as I was about to say her name, Mylove said it with me in stereo, “Oh, you met Lenka. She’s amazing, isn’t she? A brilliant light.” Hmmm, where have I heard that before? I guess it was meant to be, just as she said. And so I followed-up, and I’ll let you know how it goes. It feels weird after all that to confess that, as wonderful as it was, I was still… “unsettled.”
Okay, I promised, so here goes…
Eighty percent? Eighty? Eight-o percent-o. A solid “B.” A nice, “thank-you for playing” rating?
Eighty percent of what? Of womanhood? Of physical femininity? Of you’re almost there, but not quite? I’ve heard of measuring up… but really?
Why did this number rock my world? Well. It couldn’t have come at a more intense time or as they say, happen to a nicer girl. In the week leading up to this, I’ve had to endure whispers behind my back that the timing of my “choice” to be a woman was ill-timed. (This was from someone who should know how wrong at all levels that thought is.) I had direct in-my-face accusations that I haven’t “paid my dues – by working at sh*t jobs, like most women.” With these, I have no idea where to even start to correct these misconceptions. They are deep judgments that all my good deeds and my past efforts can’t seem to cleanse.
I was accused of conflating make-up, hair, and clothes with being a woman.
It doesn’t matter how many disclaimers I put out, this is the gum on my shoe that I can’t shake for love nor money. And, if I’m honest with myself, I have to confess that the number of references I make to the above, with all their requisite rationales and justifications, don’t quite add up to making the case for acquittal.
But, this was flung at me like the bag of trash that sprayed the feet of the teary Iron Eyes Cody, and… it hurt.
Do I celebrate my femininity every day with the way I now freely present myself to the world? Oh, heck yes! Do I still have a sense of urgency to make up for lost time? Without a doubt. Does it matter how I look? Well, yes honey, it does. Just as much as it does for the next girl: okay, maybe a little more enthusiastically than the average middle-aged woman, and just shy of obsessed, but not for the psychotic reasons that would land me in therapy. I care because I can now fully, freely, care about how I look. I can look into a mirror and see me. Caring and taking the time to do something about it does not define or confirm my womanhood, it glorifies it. My womanhood. Not yours or hers or Mylove’s. Mine. It also doesn’t say a thing about your womanhood. It doesn’t comment on what you should do or not do, just as yours doesn’t, mine.
Especially since it’s apparently only at 80%, anyway.
This was the frame of mind that was my “plus one” as I went to my friend Tarrah Von Lintel’s Art Gallery for the opening of Mark Seliger’s “On Christopher Street” Photography Show. My iPhone crapped-out on the way there, killing my GPS and sense of direction so much that I got horrifying lost. (I actually had to resort to orienteering survival skills, thanks, John Hudson.) Finally, I arrived 15 minutes before it closed (I missed about 80 percent of the show?) and, together with close to 300 people, I was taken by the portraits of transgender people who live in the Christopher Street neighborhood of New York. These portraits were stark black and white, with the soft-focused background urban textures, like armor worn proudly by these people. There were singles and duets; a quartet my favorite. They were from all walks of life, and all pure New Yorkers. The camera caught their steely, worldly, been-there stares. They are Loud. Proud. Out. 100 percent there.
The crowd appeared to my 80 percent perspective to be 50-50 percent “cis” to trans split. There was a spectrum of the trans community present. So many faces I had never seen before. I glommed on to my new BFF Ashlee (whom I met thru Tarrah), and she was a friendly life raft in a sea of anonymity. Ashlee,who was live on Facebook as I hugged her hello, spent the rest of my fifteen minutes introducing me to everyone who came with ten feet (she’s like that). And I met some amazing people, doing amazing work for our community. It was a vibrant, happy, hopeful vibe, and I was sorry when the lights began to go off, effectively “brooming us out “of the gallery as the show closed. As I drove home, I had to admit to myself that I haven’t really been involved in the LA community maybe as much I should be. I’m an author and speaker, darn it, helping the world understand our experience – and the world out there is so… big.
A few days later, I had lunch with Tarrah and we talked about this. Now, she is a solid pillar of grace and calm wisdom. She admitted she had never had such a happy, hopeful vibe at any of her openings before. As the conversation got deeper regarding my experience of the portraits, I confessed that as amazing as they were “technically,” some of them were actually a bit “on the nose” (LA speak for “expected,” i.e. clichéd) with regard to the transgender “narrative.” (Also LA speak, but also used by many to describe the commonly held belief that we think we invented it. But really, it’s a collective story we tell ourselves to document and ascribe meaning to our various groupings.) And by this I mean that there are several “tropes” (this one is ours – LA speak, I mean) such as “trans street walkers,” “trans overcompensators,” and “trans body alteration.”
To be transparent (I couldn’t - but maybe shudda - resist), the niggle in my tummy was that too often these tropes become truths – that is, they become “prejudices” or, at the least, “preconceived notions” about any sector of society. In this case, our trans community that can impede equality. That’s the fear anyway, and, I admit, it was sorta mine. It’s why GLAAD exists. It’s why we try to bust stereotypes of all kinds. It’s the first steps toward (my fingers are gagging on the word as they type), normalization. We’ll talk later about why, if I take a breath, I try to never buy into this fear or oversimplification, but for this post, Tarrah is the hero…
So without further ado…
Tarrah defended her choices (after all, she is the curator for the show, and those were her choices) saying that that was precisely why she chose the more provocative shots (a few were the professional sex workers in the neighborhood). These photos asked us all (especially trans people) to confront internalized transphobia. We are not the choices many of us have had to make to live – and we certainly better not be judging those choices as the measure of character. In our community, the hard options between life and obliteration are never easy, never cut-and-dried, never the easiest path. Our choices are never between being what we are and hiding. but rather, how we will live as who we are with the world often not only in our way but actually conspiring against us.
And, all of that, our history, our journey, our legacy, in the glare of the streetlamps was on display in all it’s glory in the denizens of Christopher Street. As Tarrah says, “These people completely owned their authenticity, 100 percent.”
Really. 100 percent.
Well then, and tell me you saw this coming if I’m 80 percent…?
Was that what Lenka was talking about? Did I just presume (shut-up, Tarrah) that she meant I was 80 percent woman when she meant I was 80 percent … trans?
80 percent authentic? 80 percent both? (Um, ain’t that 160 percent?)
Nah… I’m sure she meant… well, she must’ve meant… Come on, as a cis-woman, she had to mean… (Gosh darn you Tarrah! How dare you make me… think!)
Shoot, okay, so now, I’m confused. And why am I allowing myself to fling myself down this rabbit hole? Well, actually there’s a very good reason. Because that’s also who and what I am. When I realized that my real survival mechanisms weren’t the ones that had me believe that I could finish out this precious gift of life from God as “half of a man,” but were the ones that finally, blessedly kicked in when annihilation seemed truly imminent to live life as a whole woman.
But if Lenka’s right. Let’s say I am 80 percent. That means I still have work to do. What 20 percent should I start on? The woman part? The trans part? Both? (And never mind that I am already devoting all of me to working on both. As my writing partner always reminds me, the biggest room on the planet is the room for improvement.) So… it’s a poser, yes it is a real stickler.
Maybe Tarrah is right. Maybe I should get to work right away on that part that cares too much about what other’s think.
And in that case, maybe Lenka is right… I’m almost there.
My Godson’s name is Sam. He’s 24 years old. I have watched in awe as this precocious child grew to be an amazing man. Not so special, you say? Well this man was dragged through a knothole backwards called “Autism.” As I wrote in my book, through his parents tirelessly, selflessly (well, there’s just no adverb that adequately describes how they, and Sam) wrested his life from the cul-du-sac of society’s narrow-minded ways. Maybe it’s because they worked for Sam to live, instead, a rich and wonderful life. And lo’ and behold, when all was said and done (and yes, that word done is elastic too), Sam and fam live what some might actually accuse them of living,… a normal life (tho’ that’s a four-letter word in our world).
But, I won’t lie, we all had to learn how to live this life with Sam. There wasn’t a map and they were making it up as they went. But, it wasn’t hard to zip left or slide right as things changed. I myself have asked the world to change how they live with me. So, Sam and I, well, we’re alike that way.
Sally Joy, Sam’s sainted mother, has patiently guided me in my interactions with Sam until, I as a big girl, was able to do my part and develop my own relationship with Sam.
Now, I, or at least my work, have always had a special place in Sam’s world. My syndicated children’s TV show, “Pug And Zero’s Field Trip” was, for a long time, Sam’s “stim.” “Stimming” (some say it’s short for Self-Stimulation) is a term which refers to the default behavior that some on the autism spectrum use when social situations become confusing or uncomfortable. The person tries to calm themselves by making repetitive sounds or hand and body movements. In Sam’s case, he would recite an entire episode of P&Z from start to finish, including the commercials. Flattering, huh? It was until I realized that, if I tried to interact with him during these episodes, he wasn’t looking at me, but rather through me. If I interrupted him, he would start over from the very beginning.
But, as I said, Sally & Ed (Sam’s father) turned their entire life into learning how to be in Sam’s world, rather than allow his round peg to be slammed into the world’s square holes. And it started to work. Luckily, Pug and Zero would eventually become just another one of Sam’s favorite TV shows and it turned out to be a bit of inspiration (what every artist hopes for).
Sam became a filmmaker just like me, and earned the basic techniques of stop-motion animation and creating cartoons. He wanted to follow in my footsteps. As a teenager, Sam took on a gargantuan task of producing a “making of” featurette for the home video version of my indie-horror feature film, “the kiss.”
As one of his Godparents, of course I would make use of any opportunity to show my Godson how our business is run. Sam stood up for himself creatively, and threw tantrums where appropriate (that’s my boy!), and showed both potential and a maturing as an artist. The end result was a pretty good half-hour of television – with no excuse for his age or experience. The best part of this was being involved with Sam on a regular basis. And our relationship also started to mature.
The fog swept in, and Mylove and I had to deal with our own lives. Gender Dysphoria. Cancer. Turmoil… a tiny bit of chaos. Marcy and I had to circle our own wagons and cling to each other for dear life as the stagecoach careened passed the “bridge-out ahead” sign. We were heading for the… (sorry, I’ve run out plum out of western movie metaphors to paint the hardest years of our marriage with a sardonic wash). What I’m trying to say is that, as we braced for impact, we didn’t have a hand left to reach out to family and friends.
I was sad when Sally Joy confessed that they were hurt (tho’ they understood) by our silence. I realized, almost too late, that they were one of the inner circles that I forgot to have “the chat” with. (The chat is the formal, “hey, I’m a woman” phone call or, when lucky, face-to-face discussion, where we start the process of changing the pronouns for me in the hearts, minds, and mouths of those closest to me.)
I’ll just blurt it out right here: Sally Joy had a rough time processing my transition. So much so, that she had to paint me in order to understand me. (Her portrait of my FB profile pic, which announced my transition to the world, is on the cover of the first edition of my book, “Getting Back To Me”.)
But Sam didn’t have a rough time. It took him about 15 seconds to transition me in his heart. It blew me away how fast the speed of love is, and how much it bends the trees when it passes…
Fast forward to 2015.
Sam posted on his FB page – “Congrats to Bradley Whitford for his supporting actor Emmy as Marcy in Transparent.”
Now, you need to know that Sam has quite the connection to Bradley – dating back to his “The West Wing” days. Sam will say that it’s Bradley and his support of Sam back then, that made Sam want to get into acting (which he also does professionally, B-T-Dubs). Sam went on in his post to say that “here’s also a painting my Mom did of one of my Godmothers, Aunt Scottie, who is a trans woman.”
Insert crack of thunder here…
Why did I just feel the world shift on it’s axis?
Why did it strike me so hard?
I told both of us (you and me) how well Sam took the news about me and immediately recoded me in his wetware. I had already celebrated his acceptance.
So, why did this benign posting hit me like the proverbial “ton of bricks?”
Part of it was my survival software kicking in… “Captain! Radar shows extreme risk of negativity from a direct Facebook outing.” Battle stations? What? Permission to engage? Are you kidding? Do I still need to worry about the world knowing about me? Am I not over this? Should I be over this? Why does it matter?
Sam’s posting forced me to look at the dichotomy of my feelings. As I said in GBTM, I am a woman (no trans qualifier/prefix). I want the world to know me, regard me as a woman. When new people meet me, I don’t shake their hand and say, “Hi, I’m trans.” I want them, after meeting me to say to themselves, what an amazing woman. Or, hey that chick is pretty cool. Or, that lady is freakin’ smart. Or who’s that girl? Heck, I’ll take anything that celebrates and recognizes me for the woman I am.
AND, at the very same time, I always stand with my sisters and brothers in the trans community. I respect everyone’s right to identify as they see fit, just as I want that same respect from others.
Granted, to stay coherent in the dialogue, I do use the term trans as a short cut to describe my experiences when appropriate. It’s why I usually just say, speaking as a woman who was “Raised by Wolves,” I yada yada yada.
So I called Sam to have a chat about “it’s okay for me to say I’m trans, but it’s better if someone grants me the courtesy of asking me when they want to refer to me as trans, especially in print. Trust me, my words were already falling apart before I even said them. His posting was not only innocent, it was respectful and, freakin’ celebratory. My Godson was proud of me.
Sam, of course, was wonderful, and he got my dilemma right away – it clicked for him even as I fumbled and stumbled to make sense. He said that he faces a similar quandary when he gets described as an “autistic man,” rather than “justa” man.
We both agreed that we are proud of our pasts, but that we are not our pasts anymore. I admit that I do feel a little weird looking back or if I get reminded about my past. In the end, it was a fruitful. and heady, terribly intellectual conversation with my Godson, now a man, and we connected in a mature way – each bringing our experiences to the table as equals. It was truly magical and I was proud of my Sam.
But nothing prepared for the floor dropping out as I decided to steer the conversation into more personal waters.
I asked Sam about his girlfriend. She and Sam have been dating for almost two years. And I will confess, I, like most people, didn’t take young “relationships” in the family, seriously. I mean, they last for a semester at best, right? But when Sam & she passed the two-year mark, it got my attention… and Sam is smitten with her.
Sam has that amazingly, wonderful and dizzying relationship with “first love” as much as he does this particular young woman. As a young man who hasn’t had the traditional childhood and teen years of most people his age, Sam hasn’t ever had a serious relationship until she came along. And that means he hasn’t been tainted by heartache or by cynicism or by gender politics, and I hope he never is…
… but I was absolutely mesmerized by the timbre of his voice as he described how she makes him feel. I felt a buoyancy in my body that went straight to sweet and exhilarating vertigo, late summer sun sneaking through the clouds of an unseasonal rain, a fresh breeze blowing Zuzu’s chimes and Sam’s first love sparkling in the air like stardust, kinda dizzying.
I didn’t want what he had, I was just happy that he had it!
I wasn’t wishing I had that first love – I knew I had never lost it.
No, this was an “elder auntie” joy at reveling in her Godson’s joy.
And this was a new feeling –an incredibly subtle, yet amazingly powerful feeling that ripped through my entire body like lightning, and ocean waves, and morning breezes, and maple syrup.
And this is something that feels weird to admit out loud. We in the trans community try to explain our existence to a world that already doesn’t, for even a moment, get how or why we are. Explaining something with “born-again fervor,” like it’s the first time that emotion has ever been felt in the history of humankind, seems as if we have been in a sleeping beauty slumber, until estrogen’s kiss wakes us. Which seems at odds with the “I’ve felt this way my whole life.”
Well, if we did, then, why does it feel so new?
And why am I worried to say that out loud?
Because we are judged up one side and down the other more than many other groups. We already are confusing and don’t fit into anyone’s box. So, when our stories don’t add up, we are vulnerable to being dismissed, discounted and just plain dissed… each one a spokesperson to the circle we’re addressing of the entire trans experience. Talk about pressure. Talk about the exposure. Talk about inaccurate.
Yes. We are snowflakes. No one speaks for us all… but that doesn’t stop our being put in that position. By your mom. By your boss. By your neighbor who knows everything.
Your family & friends are trying their absolute best (mostly) to understand something that they have been told by life and society is un-graspable. So, when you hit on something that shines a light on an aspect that becomes clear for them, it’s understandable that they would try to apply that across the board.
That might work in almost every static case of circumstances, but never works in practical one-on-one human relations. Even those in the fields of psychology realize that the only thing they can predict about another human is that they will be unpredictable. Still, the human mind wants to hold them accountable for knowing.
We have watched our every word for our entire lives – weighing, worrying, dissecting. Will our words stand up to scrutiny? Will I pass muster? Will my words “out me?” Will I put everything I hold dear at risk; will I put my life at risk?
So… yes, it’s a tough habit to break. But it gets easier everyday.
Because I now live everyday in the pure light of sunshine’s embrace. And I grow a little more everyday. Watered and tended by the love of Mylove. Of my Sam. And those around me.
So, yes, Sam, I am:
One of your Godmothers.
Your Aunt Marcy’s love.
Your Aunt Scottie.
Sam, I am, Yours.
Well, well, well… 2017. Here. We. Are. And, B-T-Dubs, welcome! To my regular readers, thank you for the little Christmas break. If you missed the ending, it’s in the archives. Thank you for indulging me, letting me wax a little nostalgic and, most importantly recharging. Now, back to this blog, eh?
I will confess, that this experience can be a little like having an “online diary” that the world is welcome to peruse to their own peril. I am surprised at the things I will say with my fingers to seeming stranger, but you’re no strangers, you’ve decided to follow me. So I need to “bring it,” as they say, and make this worth your time. Opening a window into our marriage and the transformation its going through is hopefully worth everyone’s time. So, we have fearlessly put on our crash helmets and pulled down the roll cage, as Bette Davis is often misquoted as saying, ”it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” So with that, let 2017’s wild rumpus start!
Beauty & the Breast -
One thing I need to make sure every reader understands of my experience is that it is (proudly) the perspective of a woman married for coming up on 28 years.
Marriage is everything everyone says it is.
And if you’re like me, you’ve gone through some very interesting stages and changes (okay, I hear you snickering – I’m talking about the “expected changes” – oxymoron if never there was one – that everyone faces over the course of a human life, silly). These stages or changes have certainly changed the lens through which I view life. I had an arrogance about our accomplishment at ten years of marriage that was way gone by year 20. The longer I’ve been married, the more talking about it or thinking about makes even less sense… and, yet, paradoxically, it makes oh-so-much more (sense).
I can’t imagine not being married.
Really… and I have been making a living imagining the impossible into existence, dreams into reality and (with reality) foretelling the future. Seriously. (But then, foretelling the future with today’s reality show “talent” is like shooting fish in a barrel, and is not even on par with a good card trick.) So reality, I just cannot imagine not being married.
And that’s only because of Marcy. Mylove.
I can’t imagine not being with her for even a day, and with all the powers of my imagination, I certainly just can’t conjure a world where she and I are not in it, together.
Through fighting her cancer, and lovingly transforming our marriage that started as a seemingly cis-hetero “traditional” marriage into a love affair between two women wedded in more bliss (if that was even possible) than ever before, everything we’ve done, was done together. Including the creation and nurturing of the greatest relationship in human history.
But as two middle-aged women, this isn’t as easy as anyone wants to make it. Nor is it something either of us is proud to admit. And surprisingly (at least to this girl), the big things have always been easy – the choices are clear and the action (or inaction) relatively defined. Sorry, newlyweds, but it’s the small things that trip you up. Maybe It’s that, as you get older, you get less willing to put up with less, more willing to expect more, and you both know how to get it, from each other – both good and bad. The danger is that we are also quicker to slip into the kindergarten mentality that less for you means more for someone else, and vice reverse. Marriage is the knowledge that that “zero sum” bullshit is just that, and has no place in marriage. Less for you is never more for her. And yet more for you can mean less for her – and why oh why would anyone in love want that?
Okay, so, now you can add the layer of our transition (see what I mean? We do everything together). As I continue to grow into the woman I am, blossoming and developing and yes, changing right before her very eyes, we’ve stubbed our toes on some surprising bumps in the road.
And since the cat is literally out of the bag (at least here) that I am going to have GCS, this example takes on a certain poignancy that has us both nodding and scratching our heads.
First of all, some context for those of you just joining this show. Yes, I am physically changing and nobody has watched this with as much fascination and, let’s be real, trepidation, as Mylove. Her knight in shining armor has already been riding sidesaddle. The arms that have held her, the chest that has pressed against hers, the face that she studied, the hair that she has run her hands through for all these years – the man she thought she had married has curves and softer skin, hips, a waist… and yes. Breasts.
Soon, there won’t be anything male left.
And as dramatic as all this is to Marcy,When I stare into the mirror the woman who stares back at me is … well, let’s say, yes, she’s working very hard, and God has blessed her with certain, “charms,” but…
Let’s take a moment here to look at that “but.”
Because it’s a “bone of contention” between trans women and cis women, that frankly seems very odd to me. And this is important because in the abstract, every cis-woman seems to agree with us trans gals – we all have physical “flaws” we either wish we could fix, or, have stopped looking at (or, yes, even really figured out a way to just not care about). Our physical appearance is a bizzillion dollar industry fed by media, society (and yes, biology). That this is true is the subject of countless books, films, talks, and mother-daughter chats, and is usually not in dispute. In 2017, this is something that we as all women have started to make some in-roads into getting men to understand. The ugly truth is we as women are just not raised not to care about how we look. And despite everything Gloria taught us, and we are trying to make true about our worth, we are still objectified, judged, sexualized and scrutinized for it.
Trans women have all that AND we are coming from behind the power curve. Our bodies have been saturated in testosterone – our bones and muscles, skin and everything else has been bombarded into an image that for many is a massive mountain to scale toward feminine form. Not only is that a hair on our chin, but it’s a chin chiseled by testosterone! To top that off, we haven’t been raised or taught any sort of acceptance of ourselves, only complete and total surrender. And lastly (unless we go the showgirl route), we aren’t taught the tools to “make-do” with what we got.
Try accepting that.
It’s not possible (for this girl anyway), and it’s why the walls eventually fell.
A confession here – some cis-women try to make it “okay,” with any efforts we make toward feminizing our appearance, making exceptions to beauty’s rules for us because, well, for all the reasons above. Yes, thank you, and we love you for trying – but… no.
So, that’s the backstory when I or my sisters say… I really need to change this about me…
And as I work to retake my body from the ravages of testosterone through hormones, exercise, diet, and eyeliner, and yes, surgery, I guess all I’ve ever been asking is please understand what that really is – or rather what it’s not – vanity. It’s not a misunderstanding. I’m not misguided.
No. A surgeon won’t make me a woman. God already did that. An endocrinologist can’t make me a woman. God already did that. Cosmetics and wardrobe don’t make me a woman.
God did that.
So, with all that in mind, we now return you to our regularly scheduled marriage. A marriage that was love at first sight for both us. But, she was married at the time. So, instead we got to know each other as friends, and when fate thought it was finally time to intervene, it struck us like a thunderbolt. Throughout our marriage, just like the very first time I laid eyes on her, Marcy’s beauty would always bring tears to my eyes, and over time my regard for her physical beauty and sexuality and sensuality has been burnished deeper by passion, love, respect and is and always has been – as brilliant as a thousand suns.
As I transform, I’m learning that she was enraptured by the little things about me – the strength in my hand as it effortlessly balanced and (simultaneously operated) a broadcast video camera on my shoulder. The ways my eyes focused on any obstacle, the way light played across my “cute Lil Polska nose” (don’t ask – I’m Polish and Finnish on my mother’s side… and well it’s a long story). But, and here’s the punchline - she admits that I’m way cuter as a woman.
That said, she has never been attracted to women, whereas I have only been attracted to women. So my transformation right before her very eyes, tho’ interesting, is not what she ever wanted in a partner. And tho’ she wasn’t blown away by masculine form, she was attracted to the overall package.
And here’s where it gets surprising and… a little dicey. Because as I start to mature into the woman I am, and get more confident with what I want and how I want to be, I’m developing my own sense of style and self.
Previously (and by that I mean, over close to three decades of romance and daily life), Marcy had been the arbiter of all things woman. She had set the bar for what was and was not desirable and acceptable in the world of femininity. And, this, I can say, is how it should be. Yes, there are too many times when a woman will give up what she wants to make her mate (man or woman – we’re not discriminating here) happy. We’re talking about maintaining the laws of attraction, right? It’s a two-way street. But someone is driving the car if you catch my drift. In a perfect relationship, both are driving together in the same direction… what someone is or has or wears or accentuates or whatever is attractive to their lover.
I will confess that this did take me a few years to figure out. Early in our marriage, I bought what I would want to see Marcy in (and soon to be out of) which was not always how she would want me to see her (and certainly not what she wanted to wear or take off. Period). Over time, she helped me see how she views her body and her beauty, which like many women is both the product of trial and error, personal taste, and a dash of history. And, like many women, is defined as much by what she wants to wear as by what she would never be caught dead in.
Because I am a woman, tho’ she didn’t know it at the time, I understood... perfectly, eventually. Remember, a lot of a woman’s upbringing isn’t done out in the open, certainly not in our day. Propriety and modesty are hallmarks of the feminine world. “A lady has her secrets.” “Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” “This is just between us girls.” Mystery cloaks the things that boys frankly think are too icky to want to know.
Marcy was and should be in charge of her. And that was the standard of beauty in our home. She took great pride in her natural beauty – very little make-up, comfortable clothes, health, sunshine and yoga lifestyle. Now, let’s be real here. She looks freakin’ amazing even if, as my father would say, she wore a burlap sack. Nobody can ever guess her age. But her beauty comes from meticulous care of herself for over fifty years – and great genes. She has eschewed the beauty trends throughout five decades because she never wanted her beauty to be depended on any technique or product. No hair coloring, no nail polish nothing toxic in anyway. She never needs much to light up a room. And this is not just my opinion… tho’ it is my experience. She is beauty incarnate.
But now, there’s two sets of hands on that steering wheel… in that car careening down Beauty Blvd.
And the other set is an enthusiastic newbie who never, ever thought she would live this dream come true and is going to make darn sure, she gets the most out of every moment she still has left.
I never thought I could rock a set of acrylic nails.
I never dreamed I could color my hair to a color I actually wanted.
Tho’ I am an artist, I never believed that I could draw a black winged swoosh on my eyelids, or that it would actually look… darn… adorable? Nah… it’s, dare I say… actually… sexy?
Yes, I could wear pants. Women do wear pants. Yes, Katherine Hepburn looks killer in pants. Marcy rocks pants like nobody’s business, all my women friends wear pants! But I’ve worn them every day for fifty years – four-letter-word, pants, and dayam if I… holy moly, I got my mother’s gams! Gimme the miniskirt!
And yes, heels. Hell yes heels! I hear all the essays about how they are a symbol of this and that but, FOR ME – they represent freedom. So, yes, I can wear them, thank God.
And… yes, I’ve been blessed with being Monday’s child and will not have to resort to FFS. But, and here’s another confession, I did draw the line after permanent lip liner, well I didn’t draw it – Layla my aesthetician did – and my lips are fuller now (I also got my mom’s lips, can’t have everything, I suppose).
But… here comes the surprise. Marcy actually liked the lip liner. That’s not the surprise. She does roll her eyes at some of my skirt lengths – but she will admit, if pressed, that I do actually have the legs to pull most of them off.
No, the surprise came when I announced that I was going to see if I could also get breast augmentation when they did my GCS. (This a common practice for a lot of trans women – same recovery time, but one less trip under anesthesia, and it gets done all at once.)
Now, this, for every woman is a very personal decision. Hormones have done a very good job at giving me “the girls,” but, they are still on a skeleton that was constructed with testosterone for many years. And proportionally, they could use some… well, augmentation.
Marcy was silent for a very long time.
I know, this is never a good sign.
But also, I’ve (THANK GOD) learned something very important during this transition. My words aren’t ever going to change her feelings. And I’m an idiot if I think that’s even desirable – really. You win the fight but lose the support – now, how bad did you really want what you were fighting for?
Finally, she confessed that I can do what I want, but she’s saying this out loud – she’s not sure she can deal with touching ‘fake boobs.”
So… I swallowed all of the stuff that was wrestling to be the first to shoot out of my mouth… she is okay, even supportive, and really understands how critically important it truly is that I will undergo GCS. A major, life-changing, world altering irreversible surgery. But… and, there’s that but again, she is not okay with “cosmetic” surgery.
I decided to try to understand what she was saying.
I get it.
Woman to woman, I appreciate that this could be taken as a slight of the woman Marcy is. As if she’s somehow not good enough. Like she’s not the kind of woman I admire enough to want to be. She could say that she has “brought me up right” – teaching me the things that only women know about their bodies and beauty and self-image. So, why wouldn’t I honor that by being that same kind of woman. Her kind of woman.
Instead, it would seem, I’m the other woman.
But we’re in love. And in her defense, this is unlike other relationships – she didn’t “pick" me (in my current form) as people pick each other in the so-called “normal” way. Normally, two people meet each other, see something they like on some level, fall in love and decide to be in a relationship. Marcy met Scott, fell in love, decided to get married 27 years ago, and um… well, Scottie, well, let’s just say that she became “not the man” Marcy married. But she is, and always will be the person Marcy fell in love with.
So, yes, I’m the other woman. The key here will be balancing my drive to be the woman I always swore I’d be, while remaining attractive to my lover. Yes, she will (already has) accepted me fully and totally. But that’s not attraction. Attraction is that x-factor that gives love a place to sing and dance. How do you change what you are attracted to? Women have had to do this throughout our existence. In traditional marriages, we’ve had to be okay that our men got fat and bald (while maintaining our figures for him), so it’s a skill we’ve developed. But that puts it on Marcy, and that’s not how we do things around here.
All I can say at this point is… this isn’t settled by a long shot. Work in Progress as they say on the set.
Work in Progress, indeed.
Scottie Jeanette Madden
Screenwriter, Author, Cook and Lover. Author of "Getting Back To Me, from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years"