As I wrote in my book, I was/am part of a group of television professionals who hail from San Diego State’s Department of Telecommunications & Film, TCF for short. The Telecom part was, I like to think, a recognition of the efforts of one great man, Dr. Don Wylie, a professor at SDSU, who, as a Naval Reserve Officer, was instrumental in guiding our military satellite technology into the civilian commercial broadcast world. The truth is, by the time I entered the BS program in 1980, the technical aspects and this engineering discipline had given way to the glamorous world of TV and Film production, but the name stuck to remind us of our legacy… maybe. Either that or the University just didn’t get around to updating our name. And, so TCFers we were. Proudly.
But Dr. Don, Dr. Wylie, Wylie, or the Old Man (which was how my father, a Navy man himself loving referred to him) was the Spiritual Leader of a “Cadre” (his name for this dynamo production unit) of 9 men and 2 women. We immersed ourselves in the “act” of television production with such religious fervor, that not only did we create a renaissance for this previously sleepy breeding ground for the local Channels’ Daily News broadcast talent, but we are still friends, nay brothers, and sisters – truly family to this day.
This group is so tight that I faced coming out to them with more trepidation than I did to my own blood family (which was, I learned, a huge miscalculation on both sides of that equation). But unlike my blood family, from which you begin concealing your high risk behaviors, the Cadre had truly seen me and I them, at both my best and worst... and we were still friends.
This very boy’s club had only two very great women, one of whom married one of our boys. And for those of you just now joining my journey, the revelation that we were actually 8 men and 3 women sent shockwaves through our cadre.
Since I systematically came out through a series of personal heart-to-heart phone calls (we are spread out across this great country), I have had the great opportunity to see in person 8 of my brethren, with four hold-outs. Since I seem to be keeping score, two of the four holdouts had at least agreed to meet when I was in their areas (and had to postpone for different reasons) but the other two have to this day ignored any requests by me to connect. So, we’re 8-2 with 2 ties.
But, tho’ the sports metaphor is very much our dialect (having cut our production teeth on covering the Aztec’s teams, we shot and aired anything that bounced, was thrown, kicked or hit with a bat), in matters of the heart, it breaks down when I try to use it now. Maybe I have higher standards, but since I no longer have to “keep up appearances," I can tell you the “wins” ain’t wins but the losses are truly losses… and the ties… even worse. Just knowing that we talked is not good enough, and knowing that we hadn't talked yet is only slightly better than refusing to talk at all. As I said, this is family. The family that you get to choose. Tho’ we all are bonded by our addiction to television, love is our real drug of choice.
So yes, by phone, everyone was amazing and supportive and touched, said all the right things, and pledged uninterrupted love. I was to be "business as usual,” albeit my bond with the women was instantly a little deeper, so pleased were they to have a sister. And the guys? Well they went out of their way to make sure that this was "no big deal.
“but that was then…”
And this is now. Of the five who live near me in Southern California, three make as much effort to see me as I do them. Which means that, barring our productions schedules throwing our social calendars into the blender every other month or so, we see each other at least once a week at a "taco night."
These three men are very dear to me. I will use their “Ski-trip names” handles they earned from an annual weekend of what used to be skiing until old-age started whittling down the reason for spending money on plane tickets to famous resorts to three days of whiskey, cards, and fart jokes.
First, there’s the infamous “Puff Daddy,” and next, there’s “CF” (which stands for Chin f**k, a reference to a self-inflicted injury suffered while under the influence). Both live here in LA LA Land with me, and finally, there’s “Bigsley” who still hails from our native San Diego.
I have always been closer (emotionally) to Puffy, having sold him the first television series I created, as well as truly holding each other up in darker times (cancer for him, my father’s passing for me). Now, this is not to say that CF and Bigsley are distant seconds, they are most certainly not. CF has bent over backward and, of all the guys (Puffy included), is the only one who calls regularly to check in on his new baby sister, me. Bigsley,, it turns out, is my knight in shining armor, apparently defending my new honor (in my absence) with the other guys right down to the pronouns. As I said, in my absence, and I’d trade a little of that chivalry for seeing or talking with him more frequently, but what’s a girl to do?
So, you can imagine that, close as I am with all three, it would still be a surprise to learn that they, well, are struggling. That is, they are struggling with the enormity of my journey. They are still trying to take the abstract thought that the “transgender thing” that seems to be the hot topic “out there in the world,” and fit it onto our real lives. And, that it would be me. Mad Dog, The Madman, their wild child. Sure Scott was a free spirit and seemed to be in touch with “his” feminine side, but, really? "He's one of those?”
And these are not my words. They have all shared with Marcy Mylove, when I’ve left the room, that they aren’t as cool with my transition as they are trying so hard to be for me. Especially Puffy. He’s one of my biggest supporters. He has already dried my tears. He can and will listen to me as I work my way through some of the narrower rapids of my journey. But, when he’s sure his candor won’t hurt me (because I’m out of earshot), he confesses it’s huge. It’s enormous. We have so much lived life together and he’s not sure he’s “there” yet… sigh.
This is something I want my trans sisters and brothers to hear. Yes, they have accepted me. But I want our love to continue to grow without any glitch. And I’m sure they do too. And they are trying. They love me so much they would never hurt me by even admitting that it is hard. They are committed to diving on every grenade that rolls out from their own psyches, every subconscious stumble. They will always support me… even if they don’t or can’t understand me.
And that should be enough.
And, even without having heard this intel, I know this. As I wrote in a recent posting on this blog (The Wire, December 16) this is the psychic piano wire that is strung between all of our hearts and I knew I “twanged” this chord so hard that the pegs damn near broke off. And I knew it needed to be tightened on both ends. I am tightening my side, and Patience is the wrench. And time. Oh, and laughter.
Yesterday, Bigsley was driving back thru town. He had been further north with his son at a college Fraternity’s Father/Son weekend, so he asked Puff and me to dinner. CF was working and would be missed.
Now, something that is changing is their manners. Right from the start, they are genuinely treating me like a lady. Opening doors, letting me sit first, etc. We hadn’t even gotten thru the pleasantries and ordering when Bigsley asked,
“So Ms. Scottie, what are you up to? What are you doing?”
The standard answer with these guys is to rattle off the various shows and projects and “gigs” that each of us has in play. Puffy produces movies for Lifetime network, Bigsley followed in Dr. Wylie’s footsteps (he’d be so proud) teaching TV production as well as producing documentaries. I have always been the freelancer, running other people’s shows, and pitching my own, but this time I answered by waiting demurely for the waiter to leave to get our order and saying…
“Well, I’m getting ready for surgery, which will be next month.”
Neither of my brothers flinched. They are seasoned poker players. But the earth did skip a beat as my words continued to hang in the air. They knew without any further detail or embellishment exactly which surgery I’m talking about. Yes, that surgery, The surgery. This is the milestone that not one of us (me included) ever knew was even on the table. And now, in this moment here it is… Puff breaks the silence first with,
“Can I fill this uncomfortable silence with a totally inappropriate joke now?”
I must’ve said yes. Because we began, with hearts now wide open (and their minds completely blown) to discuss the mechanics of surgery. Educational as it was, it’s still a fertile field to fill even more uncomfortable space with more inappropriate material. As you now have surmised, this is their very boy way of dealing with intense… with, well let's face it, life. And… well, I’m admitting right here, that I used this opportunity, knowing that Puff was struggling, to lean in… and ask point blank if he is cool. If he's okay. With this. With me. With this big step.
He put his dilemma into words:
“Look, man, you’re in my heart. And I love you as you, as you are now… a woman. But I’m trying to get over the fact that my bro Scott… will never come walking thru that door… ever again. You’re going to have to get used to the fact that people loved Scott. I love Scottie. But I really loved Scott. And Scott was my brother. And I… am never going to see him again. Ever.”
Now, my mind is blown. A white sheet of rain washed all my thoughts away – all I knew was that I was so very sad for my dear, dear, brother’s loss. I was, oddly, detached from being the object of his grief. I did not feel compelled to correct his view of the truth of my experience. I felt no hurt or frustration for my part in this. And, tho’ this was seemingly directed at me, I felt no blame from him, that I was the agent of his brother’s destruction, I only felt that he looked to me in that moment as one who would hopefully understand his loss. And the one who would hold him as we had held each other thru times of challenge and loss. My heart was breaking for him.
Bigsley broke what felt like a lifetime of heartache by man-splaining Puffy’s point, “Scottie, guys are black and white. We used to relate to you as a dude, and now we have to relate to you as a woman. By the way, you are rocking the woman thing. But that doesn't make it easier. “Sorry we're just... dudes"
In essence, since I speak “dude,” Bigsley was saying that Scott had to die, so Scottie could live.
In Puffy’s world, Scott was already gone. And Puffy was trying to mourn “on the fly” as he welcomed Scottie with open arms.
Now this is something that the trans community faces all the time. Many women (and I’m assuming the guys do too, they just don’t write about it in their memoirs) in the older generation would stage funerals for their male lives. I confess that this is not the first time my own coming out and the transition has been referred to as a death in the family. My sister Kiera still hasn’t gotten over losing her cherished big brother. And my dear friend, Merrie-Lynn, actually encouraged me to conduct some sort of acknowledgment/ritual of the ending of my male past. With surgery right around the corner, I’d be silly to ignore these signs from the Universe to realize that this part of my journey is demanding more of my attention.
Maybe it was because I was raised by wolves that I learned never say “die.” I think I met these previous signs (Kiera’s and Merrie-Lynn’s) with a total dismissal. A death in the family? C'mon Kiera! A ritual Merrie-Lynn? That's a little too woo-woo for this girl. But really in both cases it was my desire to cling to the notion that even considering this as a death was a negation of... the truth.
I always had been, am and always will be the same me. I had always been a woman. How could I acknowledge, my past with the wolves as my “boyhood” and “manhood,” when I had never been either one myself?
There was never someone other than me to let go of. There was only me and I had no intention of leaving.
But seeing the loss in Puffy’s eyes made me realize another essential thing I have learned in this life… funerals are for the living. They help the living let go of their hold on the past. They allow their loved ones to move on.
So, now, I’m torn. I feel compelled to help cis people understand that trans (in my experience) is not that you "were one gender" and are now another. Sorry to start sounding like a broken record, but with 45’s recent order to dismantle protections for trans youth in public schools, this firestorm of misunderstanding has been stoked anew. Those who support this cruel and legal discrimination cite their belief and conviction that transgender is a lifestyle choice or even a mental illness. Denying the facts. Denying those who have experienced it. No one would ever in their right mind choose derision, discrimination, pain, trauma, violence and misunderstanding. Can we please put that one to bed?
Dysphoria comes of being in a body that will never, not ever, no matter how hard you try to deny it, match your truest, deepest “sense” and awareness of your very own self. I say this without the words “believe yourself to be” or “think that you are” that others have used to describe this phenomenon because they both imply an intellectual attempt at interpreting the experience that humans have of being human, that only each human can ever experience of one’s own self.
I have never not known that I wasn’t me, a girl, a woman. I had this sense before I had words. I had this sense despite the organs that this body had. I had this sense despite what my parents and then my teachers and then my society told me. I had this sense despite what I tried to reason and then discipline myself to disprove.
Even as I grew up, took my place in my family, made friends and started a marriage and a career, constantly creating a life for myself and a chance to love and be loved it was through an outer armor that looked like a dude named “Scott.” But the wearer of that armor was me.
And tho’ this body, despite being, well let’s just go with incongruent with the rest of me, has always been my trusty armor, a worthy vehicle, a true friend that has gotten me through thick and thin, and certainly deserves the utmost care and respect, I’m not sure a funeral for my armor would seem right… for me.
But for Puffy? Hmmm. Maybe? I would do anything for him.
I’ll have to get back to you on that.
But… I do feel a need to do something to recognize the crossing of this mystical, physical and very very real, threshold of my life. I do recognize it’s huge. I do feel a need to keep it as one of the most sacred moments of my life. Yes, it’s huge, but in a way that only I can ever know fully. I’m not alone as I do this, but I am the only one who will be doing this with this life called Scottie.
One thing that I am doing is allowing any and all emotions to come up – I’m trying not to stop any of them. Emotions are already a new and amazing experience for me, but in these last few weeks, as I get closer to the threshold, it's been like a roller coaster in the dark. I have no idea when the turns are coming. And some of these have no names or essences that I’ve ever felt before, or that even make sense. But instinctively I know they have a special value whether they are connected to my stepping across or not.
And then there’s Mylove… My lover. The person who's heart and body and bed I've shared for close to thirty years. Yes. This is her journey too. Equally intense - but specifically unique in that she didn’t get a say in going on this journey and more than I did. But I had 45 years to contemplate its significance and test its validity. No one can ever prepare for this, but I had close to a four decade head start on her. She had to get up to speed instantly, flying completely on faith in me and our love. And she does it every single day. She never saw this coming; didn’t want it wen it did, but… she wants me and our love. As do I. So we are figuring this out. If anyone had the right to mourn for the loss of her husband and her lover, her white knight, her king, it’s she. But those were all “flavors” of her honey, me. She’s the one who chose the name Scottie for me. I wasn’t changing who I was in her heart, I was evolving as a person.
What you need to know is that ALL of the above flashed through my heart and soul between chicken fried rice and the stale fortune cookies. Bigsley brought this night to a close by summing up his “men are black and white” theory by saying, “Look, men are stupid. Women are crazy. You were always … really crazy. Suddenly everything makes perfect sense. We should’ve seen this, you, coming.”
And there it is. My chivalrous knight Bigsley actually does get me. Despite even his own protestations. I’ve gone from black to white (again) over Chinese food. And maybe this is another bread crumb (cookie crumb?) I can leave for my sisters and brothers as they follow this path: just as you are constantly relearning things about yourself, and reexamining your every move, so too are your family and friends. They aren’t taking a step backward, they are refreshing their grip. And that’s a good thing.
Then, we’re outside and it’s time for hugs and kisses goodbye. We have always been “huggers” in this boy’s club, but this time, as 6 foot two Puffy bends down to hug me, we… kiss. It’s natural and sweet, the kiss you get from your daddy, your uncle or your big brother. It’s reassuring, and… reaffirming. And it catches me off-guard. Because…
I got lipstick on Puffy’s cheek.
Every lady knows “you don’t share colors!” and I whispered my apology in his ear as we hugged. But while I was worrying about his cheek, he was whispering in my ear:
“I do love you,. Scottie.”
And his hug went straight to my heart. As we let go, I did what my aunts and other great ladies had taught me by example and I wiped the pink smear demurely off like an Audrey Hepburn movie. I think I also lifted one foot behind as I did it… no idea where that came from…
After blessings for our various safe journeys home, I drove away in tears.
Tears of gratitude.
It was said by more than one reader of my book (which spans a year in the life of my extended family that stretches across to Europe and Australia numbering well above 200 people), that my life and journey and the people in it are some of the most amazingly generous, loving and supportive people ever gathered. I strongly agree. My journey is our journey. And tho’ they didn’t ask for it, it has given all of these people the chance to show to me, and themselves, that we are the noble, loving and best humans we hope and aspire to be. Even if and when we don’t know what we’re doing. We love first, ask questions later. And yes it’s messy. But so is life.
I have never actually been grateful that I was born trans, but I can see that my trans journey is a profound and precious gift. A humbling and amazing immersion in love that fills me to overflowing every day.
Who knew that a little bit of lipstick could change the world?
I sat down to write this week's posting, and realized...
I had already said everything (this week) in an interview for another woman's blog.
So I decided to throw light (the opposite of shade) on a fellow blogger for the great work she does, which is this: She interviews the Heroines in her Life, and as of this week's count, I am honored to be number 362.And in the three days since my post dropped, she added three more...
Yes, it's some amazing company. You'll find the "usual suspects," great women whom you have heard of, who have lead our community (either metaphorically or by real world sweat and tears) but it's also women you need to know. Women who have made a difference doing nothing more than the greatest act of courage - truly, being themselves.
Which, we're learning, is even more mystifying than previously thought.
I received an invitation a week ago from Monika Kowalska - and this started our journey together. Monika paid me one the greatest compliments I had ever received:"Scottie, I was reading and reading (your answers) and I started to feel that...
I am no longer cursed but I am gifted to be a transwoman! Thank you so much!!!!"
Well. What can you say after that other than - Thank you God that I have something to give.
So. This week, I direct you to Monika's great blog dear readers and see for yourself what all the hoopla is really all about...
Please read my responses to her insightful questions at:
And see you next week -
scottie jeanette christine madden
Last week, Marcy and I were treated to, and I won't hesitate to say, a tour de force (for once it's actually used correctly) named Alexandra Billings in her performance, "I'm still here."
It was... life affirming, life changing and... just plain ole life. But, an extraordinary one... as there’s nothing, not even her propensity for McDonald’s, is ever plain.
Now fair disclosure, Alexandra and I are getting to be better friends every day (when she picks up the phone), and I've written about her many times. Yes, I do think she walks on water and, no, you will never catch me saying that out loud—especially to her.
Nonetheless, her show consisted of more than an hour and half of songs belted to the rafters, enrobed in comedic bon mots that were both planned and spontaneous. Perfect example was when spilling her water glass on the piano became a Groucho Marx routine complete with enlisting help from the hapless, off-stage manager, and an innocent 80 year old bystander's shawl to mop it up. And there was planned patter & jokes that even tho’ I (in my few months of friendship) had heard a variation on, still got the big laugh out of me anyway.
An amazing, yes amazing performance.
In my continuing efforts at this fair disclosure thingy (I think I’ve already told you), Alexandra has signed on to the drama series based on my book. Yay! And I, in turn, have signed on to develop her stage show into a television event (stay tuned for updates on this all). None of this skews my admiration of her as a woman. As an artist. As a role model. As an activist. As a great spokesperson for our community...
that being said...
Her performance shook me all night long, and then some.
After her 90 minute set, Alexandra came out in street clothes (one of the first of many areas where we do disagree—jeans and a “t”? Please girl!) to answer questions from at least half the house that stayed for this rare chance. The audience, made of students and supporters of USC's arts community, were also, it turned out, fans of both her work on “Transparent,” and fans of the Director who runs this performance series program.
There were, you can image, the requisite questions about being a professional actor that one would expect from this crowd, not unlike the atmosphere created on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” (but without James Lipton being all James Liptony—which I rather like).
And, I saw a chance to open up a door to do another thing that Alexandra does best... represent.
Now, her show had already been a musical journey of her life from young boy to showgirl to mature professor and artist, through the broken glass-filled trenches of AIDS, drug addiction, and heartbreak (oh, so it's a family show) that’s as much the story of one amazing person’s life as it is a chronicle of the LGBT movement, experience, and legacy of the last 50 years.
But... for those of you who maybe follow her through social media (and if you don't, you should), you might know that Alexandra gets to deeper, more relevant issues in her own daily life, calling on us all to be divine, while acting humanely—with all, for all, not just the trans community. It’s one of the reasons why I value not only her friendship, but her voice in the trans community.
So, Yes, I tossed her a softball (news-speak for "an easy one"). But in this case, my intention was to give her a pivot to talk about subjects that hadn't been covered in her performance (so, sue me). And I wasn't even disappointed when she cast aside the notion in my question, reframing my premise about there even being a trans narrative into the bigger “human narrative” (that's my girl), before answering. (As I said this was her show.) But the magic worked, and the next phase of questions opened up to the broader issues about being oneself, and true to the art, and connecting with the audience… for real.
But I don't think either of us expected it to take the turn that it did, and I didn’t expect to still be “shook” days later. It started innocently enough…
One young playwright earnestly asked in this open and very public forum if Alexandra would be willing to be interviewed for her senior thesis project (a bold move that even Alexandra must’ve appreciated for its sheer chutzpah). Her play, she continued breathlessly, was about women, and Alexandra had on this night demonstrated, a perspective on being a woman that this playwright hadn't considered before (and there it is) nor, the playwright continued, even knew existed. Okay we can get into just how “sheltered” this young woman confessed to being, later. I hear my inner critic screaming from the porch, “Scottie Jeanette, you come down off that soapbox, this instant!”
The point is, she meant well! And like us all, she was captivated by Alexandra’s story & performance.
But it was Alexandra's answer that shook me, oh yeah, and probably the playwright too.
"Well, as you know, I've been married for over twenty years to a woman I've loved for over forty, and I can honestly say, having lived beside her, that I don't share the same experiences as she and her cis-sisters. I consider myself a trans woman. I'm proud of that. So, no, maybe I'm not right for your project."
Which sounded to everyone as a perfectly reasonable, gracious, maybe thanks but no, thanks dodge. But smiles and nods and the love in the air seemed to egg Alexandra on, so she continued to say, "... and if you're okay with that; and you still want me? Talk to my manager."
I was… floored. I… was… did I hear her right? Was I just… sold out?
But, again, this was Alexandra’s show.
Which is what I had to keep telling myself to get myself to take my finger off the launch buttons.
For those of you who've been following me, forgive me for repeating myself. I am a woman. I use the trans prefix only as a shorthand in pertinent conversations and context.
I struggle with this paradox (see previous posts), like last week when we pushed back on little old me, Ms smarty pants, with the unanswerable question, “Oh yeah? If you’re a woman, then how do you explain your body?"
But before you offer me up the usual get-out-of-jail-free cards,” like chromosomes and DNA and other cultures’ historical embraces (India’s Hijera, First Nation’s Two-Spirits, etc.), I will confess that, tho’ some find solace in these, I don’t. What happens for others is rarely easy for me to adopt as an explanation for my inner experience of reality.
It’s nice to know, but nothing has actually worked, except my own mental elbow grease.
I write often about how I cherish sisterhood and seek it out and, yes, get disappointed when I'm cut off from it, either by self-inflicted wounds or good ole fashioned misunderstanding.
So, when the divine Ms. Alex makes self-acceptance of the trans kind seem so easy and so... de rigueur, so… required, what's a girl to do?
I do still, obviously, duh, struggle with this.
You can see it as I'm trying to get the world (or at least my world) to not only see me as a woman, but capital “B,” Be with me as a woman. When we are capital “B,” Be-ing, we are surfing that powerful wave of connection that we are suddenly sharing (for whatever reason), ignoring the mental obstacles that judge, misjudge, fire and misfire like so much flotsam and jetsam… the ocean of truth between two people pounds the rocks of fantasy and imagination (of each other) into the fine beach sand of each of our inner shores. And we… just… connect.
I’m using the word connection as a metaphysical, spiritual, sacred embrace.
And that’s why I shy away (shy being the operative word here) from the word "acceptance." I’m not asking anyone to accept my womanhood that’s a mental surrender to a previously held prejudice. No, I'm an "all or nothing" girl. Wait… in this case, even that isn't accurate…
I'm an all or all, girl. There’s no room for nothing.
I know, and have learned from deep meaningful relationships with amazing people, that deeper spiritual connection is there for us with each of our very next breaths.
All it takes is for us to stay in that beautiful bubble that our hearts created when first they met.
So, I figure that it’s even better when we are able to now, breath freely in our bubbles with a deeper understanding of my true femininity, because now we can, when we both are just Be-ing together, achieve... well, an even richer state of love. Of connection. Of meaningfulness as two humans, you and I.
Now, put in these terms, I know Alexandra (maybe with far more inspirational prose) would say the very same things. And no, gender is not even a part of the above equation, except for my case alone. I ask that those close to me regard me as a woman and treat me in the same way they treat the other women in our life. In our bubble. According to the social rules that we have created together.
But when those close to me step outside the bubble we created and look instead to the outside society for clues and cues as to how to live with me, then, yes, I get... well, uncomfortable. It happens more often than I care to believe, and has happened to a greater degree (and heartbreak) ever since I came out.
So, when Alex so boldly declared how she wants to be regarded... yes. I braced for impact.
And I had good cause. Because it happened to me on the way home.
And it happened from the one person who loves me most, and proofs this blog and should know better than anyone else, why I feel the way I do… and I would hope be able to answer this question (were it to come up) in my absence.
And… even I, intelligent woman that I am, can see why even Mylove could agree with Alexandra, despite all of the above.
Because Alexandra declared her views from the context of being the star of the night, and Alexandra had a microphone that amplified her perspective for her life (somehow hearing things in a concert hall seems, I dunno, more important or have more value?). And maybe I'm nervous that someone else may hear Alexandra’s declaration and, knowing that I respect her, naturally and innocently apply her views to me. (I can and did correct Mylove’s misunderstanding. But I was able to talk it through with her. What about those who will just assume? What about people I don’t even know? Breathe Girl! Calm down! Ah, the wonders of being trans. We can be so consumed with making preemptive strikes to safeguard our future kerfuffles, that we walk around like porcupines!)
Truly speaking, I don't have an answer for the criteria that Alexandra presented.
I saw how my family lovingly raised my sisters to believe they could be anything they wanted, while actually kicking my butt (also lovingly) to make sure that I made it actually happen. It's subtle, but the girls weren't hammered and hammered and hammered to make sure they would follow through to success like I was, they were given the room to be or not be, and they would be loved no matter how they turned out. And now, as mature women, none of us are really sure which way was best. But…
I wasn't raised on the inside of things that are a woman's natural life—like what a period is, childbirth and childbearing, etc., though I was, as the oldest, and as my father's "second in command," the steward of the women in our house. I was keenly aware and directly involved in making sure that “our four women,” whose cycles invariably aligned, were taken care of, and this time had very high significance and attention in my family. And no, I never really disliked this. And yes, as a smart person, I knew that this made me unique—the boy who knew as much about periods as the blushing mothers of my friends. And well, let's face it, it became a great part of my stand-up routine. (Doesn’t everyone have a stand-up routine? You know, the answer that you give your friends’ parents when they ask, “So… how've you been?”)
But it also, when I'm brutally honest with myself, paradoxically spotlights that I was still separate from my sisters. I was their steward, their guardian, I understood that they were going through something. As time went on, and the female intuition of my creative mind empathized even further, I understood even deeper…
... what I was missing, and where we differed…
This alone is what made me shudder when Alexandra declared her "not-ness." On this, she was right. And I had no rebuttal.
This question even comes up in feminist circles as being "what defines a woman?" But that's not what we're talking about here. Like it or not, know it or not, women have a shared experience that I have only had from the outside looking in. Though we both may have had the same reactions and emotions to a situation, I'd be naive to think that my cis sisters, feeling both the warmth of being cherished and the bite of sexism (and being the object of both) is the same as my witnessing it “once removed.”
This is what "other" feels like on my side of the fence.
So, is she right? Is Alexandra's declaration supposed to be how I should feel? Is acceptance of my trans-ness the goal?
Do I need to get that I am not a woman but rather a woman with the trans prefix?
I fully admit that this has got to seem strange coming from a woman who wrote a book and records a regular video vlog and writes a weekly blog about being raised by wolves. Yes, I had to accept that this gender dysphoria wasn't going away. Yes, I had to deal with the fact that I had… something to deal with. Yes, I had to involve doctors and counselors, and I had to find a way to describe to my family and friends why I would be looking and living so differently from the way they had comfortably learned to live with and look at me for over 45 years. Yes. Yes.
But I never called what I was "trans;" never thought of myself as other than me. I used the words “woman” for what I was and “man” for what the world thought me to be. Trans only came into favor within the last five years (I guess we had to wait long enough for the stigma of being “Not a Camaro” to wear off?). And before that, saying I was a transsexual was too... optimistic.
And why, Ms. Scottie, yes, why dig this deep into semantics in the first place?
Why was I shook all night long and then some to make me take to the keyboard to figure it out?
… each term, each word, each label, each title, comes with a short hand that, good or bad, will be the way the world regards us all. Each has a set of social rules. (We’re talking big picture now, outside the sacred bubble described above.) Admittedly those rules are broken and being re-written all the time, but are nonetheless there to make the blind spots less blind, the unpaved roads less bumpy; to give us a way to see around corners, and more importantly, protect us from the unknown. And tho’ we’ve talked to death about the notion that “labels can limit,” but “labels should not limit,” labels are here. We’re learning that being “color blind” with race is… actually just blind—blind and, actually, a dismissing of someone’s humanity.
So, back to the word “woman,” we all have a pretty common starting point for how you can relate to me. With trans, I'm stating that, unless you're trans, you will never understand me.
But… and here’s the big “but” coming… you ready? I am, as a member of the trans community, able to make room for both my view and Alexandra's. As she does for me. Without either of us canceling out the other. (I know, what was I worried about? Geeze…)
We can do this because something that is possible to generalize about as being true across the board with trans people is that we make room for the various variations of gender identity that appear daily under our side of the LGBTQIA tent—gender non-conforming, gender neutral, gender queer… and that's just this week. We hold ourselves to the same standards we ask of the world—accept that what and who we say we are, is who we are. (Yes, I still feel the same way about the “A-word” but it’s different when we’re talking the whole community.) Please don't discriminate against us. Allow us the same opportunities as everyone else. Please treat us as equals.
So. I can make room for Alexandra's declarations just as she has generously made room for mine. She sees me as a woman. I see her as a trans woman. We see each other as sisters.
And so, I can still hate her for the way she rocks the Marilyn “seven-year-itch” dress and sparkly platform pumps.
And she will defend me when our feminist sisters judge me for making this (yet again) about shoes and hair.
And she probably still won’t answer my texts, emails or voice messages for weeks… but she will come running whenever I need her.
We’re sisters, after all.
Scottie Jeanette Madden
Screenwriter, Author, Cook and Lover. Author of "Getting Back To Me, from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years"