I’ve been putting this one off for a long time. And yes, those of you who’ve read my book will want to remind me that I’ve said this before –
- it’s not about our looks and it is about our looks… but not in the way that most mean when they say that to us, or about us. Please allow me to explain.
You hear a lot of confusing things when people talk about the T in LGBTQ. The most mystifying of these is Dysphoria. As in “Gender Dysphoria,” which is the medical diagnosis that has been the gateway to all of the things that made my life livable. (Despite an amazing marriage to the most incredible woman in human history, a loving family, and “normal” childhood upbringing, college education, etc.) More recently, you’ll see the term “Body Dysphoria” used as well. I never thought about it before, but when used accurately, Body Dysphoria may be a more relatable term for a huge segment of our Pink & Baby Blue community, I’m speaking of those for whom even the word “gender” can sometimes send the conversation skidding sideways. And before we go any further, we’re okay with this ambiguity in our community, so you can be okay too.
I first heard the term “body dysphoria” when a dear new BFF was sharing with me that though she was cis-woman, she could relate to my experience. She too knew what it was like to be trapped in conflict with her own body. She had suffered from Anorexia. Her own body dysphoria had ruled her life from puberty through her early twenties. And the subsequent work that it took to alleviate the trauma and the health effects that are collateral damage, had become her daily experience.
Yes. She could understand me and my experience. She could relate to the utter exhaustion and trauma of living under the tyranny of the mirror.
Those who have never had this (and God bless you) will never “get it.”
I still hear even well meaning people wondering aloud how come no amount of will power, affirmations or good intentions can ever remove the elephant’s foot from one’s head, neck, and chest. Neither of these dysphorias (gender nor body) are our imaginations. Neither are “psychological” in the lay-man pop-psych euphemism. Neither dysphorias are a curse or punishment for past wrongs or missing Sunday mass. Neither dysphorias are God’s… anythings.
They are medical realities with cures.
I will leave my friend’s reality here because I can only relate to her experience as she did mine. But the lesson learned is that “body dysphoria,” is not our community’s cross to bear alone. Other communities know this, other communities deal with this, other communities beat this. We’re in good company.
It’s important for me to try to lay to rest once and for all, that we’re not talking about “confusion” about our bodies like it’s a mental exercise that can be cleared up by restating the issue in a different way or diagraming its formula or elements.
We have never been confused.]
Bewildered. Blindsided. Betrayed. Maybe. Confused as to why this happens, sometimes. But, confused that this is true, or so, or real reality?
We are not confused.
We each (all humans) learn to develop coping mechanisms to deal with things that are “not right,” when we are children. No matter what the “not right” thing is. Everyone eventually cobbles together a defensive strategy pretty quickly.
Or they don’t -- and become a statistic.
You know these numbers – 41% of our community have attempted or contemplated suicide.
Dysphoria (at least in my case) came from the psychological trauma of trying to suppress messages from my body that were contrary to my heart and mind. That sentence seems benign enough, right? And maybe that’s why the confusion in the cis-community exists. In an effort to articulate our experience in a succinct way, we end up sanitizing words -- which makes them seem so… I dunno, almost benign, certainly surmountable.
Which is something Dysphoria is not.
For me, it was like lying on a live grenade for every moment of of my life. And knowing that someday. It will explode.
Now, try imagining that for even one minute. Go ahead… I’ll time you.
Not easy is it? A minute, under those circumstances is a very long time. Now pile on top of that the tension of feeling that you have to do it every minute of every day of every year of your life.
Now add on to that the feeling that it will never end.
Your nerves are permanently frayed. You are mentally spent trying to keep this tidal wave of grief and despair at arm's length. You are physically spent because this requires every nerve, every muscle, every breath. You are spiritually exhausted from trying to believe that God and life and nature are worth having faith in.
That's the tricky one, spiritually. Try staying afloat in the beauty that is a human birth despite bathroom laws and an asshole in the White House who just threw 15,000 valiant members of our military to the wolves of right-wing Christian hate. (Make no mistake, our brothers and sisters in the U.S. Military are taking the assault on behalf of us all… this will only embolden the idiots on the state level who have already been trying everything they can, to institutionalize their hate.) It drains the soul of a community that has had to keep the faith despite being hunted for sport, despite our own families “turning their backs” on us and disowning us and disavowing us.
Try to remain engaged with God, despite a constant feeling of bile that arises because you’ve been biting your tongue when those who claim to “have no grudge with you” look the other way because our fight is not their fight. Try to stay happy despite being told that everything you’ve been taught to accept as moral and just and good, is not for you. It's for everyone. It is your divine birthright. It is for all... except you.
If you can imagine all of that, like my friend who survived anorexia, then you can begin to understand dysphoria.
It’s a medical reality with cures. I use the plural because, for some like myself, the cure was hormones and GCS. But there are many in our community that need nothing more than love and acceptance to lift the toxic smog of Dysphoria.
And here’s the part that seems to mystify the cis-community. No one needs to know “which is which” and “who is who.” You really don’t need to know why I had to have surgery and some of my sisters and brothers do not – just like I (and my sisters & brothers) don’t need to know why you (insert what you have or have not done to your own body). It’s no one’s business but your lover’s and your doctor’s.
But the “yous” of the world still try.
They announce their misunderstanding and ignorance publicly, saying really stupid things like, “I just don’t understand…” (which, if it was an invitation for someone to come forward to clarify, wouldn’t be so bad, but sadly it’s the sound a wall makes when it goes up to end the discussion.) “Where I come from, there’s just men and women” “Or we just agree to disagree.” "We just have different beliefs, that's all," Or, my favorite is, “You’ve chosen to live this way…”
I, and my sisters and brothers, are not your opinion, belief or agenda. We are people, citizens, your neighbors, your bosses, your employees and your sisters and your brothers. Your nieces. Your nephews. Your children.
Our stunted President has already dismantled Title IX protections, excluding trans youth from services that every person is supposed to be entitled to, citing that transgender people were not entitled to protections under the civil rights act. In Texas, they used a special session to pass a bathroom law to keep trans people out of going to the bathroom with less than 10 hours of debate citing “daughters over dollars.” How hate-filled and messed up is this -- how can you tell a transgender person, “give me your tax dollars, but YOU can’t use the facilities that they pay for?” How can you say your daughter is more important than the Trans child? And this is not just about where we pee. When the child is ostracized by the Federal and state governments, the child is subject to vilification and bullying ONTOP of discrimination. THIS IS AMERICA PEOPLE!
We’re still fighting down these down all of these like whack-a-mole.
It’s the height of ego. Because the yous of the world can not, will not even try to regard us an individual people. It's safer for them to regard as a faceless mass. Easier to built a wall around us. Easier to legislate us into oblivion, Easier to erase us. Forget us. Forget trying to get them to walk in our shoes. They think their view of the world is shared by all. That everyone thinks the way they do. That there is an inherent logic to their argument. It’s like talking to a child who keeps repeating the same question over and over despite being told the facts. They aren't really asking for an answer, they’re looking for validation that they are okay.
But, and here’s the weirdest thing of all, they have made us a cause – the transgender community must be erased. Our existence tramples on their freedom to discriminate and exclude. Our right to live somehow infringes on their right to hate.
With these conditions waiting for you as you step into the world, you might be able to see why we step cautiously. We have been taught that the world thinks we should feel shame and confusion about something that we are born with. Many of us follow the world’s lead and deal, succumb or hopefully cast off this shame and confusion (not of who we are, but how we are to live with it and you) to simply live our lives. This hatred is the backdrop of our lives. Look, we know we are a minority of every minority. The color of our skin intersects with our identities and our sexuality to push us from our families and tribes. A huge segment of the cis world believes it is their divine right to hate us, be confused by us, and works to forget us because of our race, gender and sexuality and all of the above.
And another segment of the cis–world allows this to happen by their silence and indifference.
Is it any wonder then, that this potential disconnect between not only what I see, when I look at me, but also what you see when you look at me, makes me work so hard? I have to get it right. I have to thread the needle between dignity and experimentation. Between self-expression and self-preservation. If you don’t see me as a woman, then I have you constantly reminding me (with both subtle and overt messages) that something about me is “not right.” It’s one thing for someone to say, “You look pretty today,” and quite another for someone to say, “You look like, oh bless your heart.”
So, the more visual clues I give that tell you I regard myself as a woman, the better chance we both have that you’ll get the message and at least not make it more awkward than it might be. In some places this isn’t just a potentially awkward thing – it could be the difference between life and death.
Hopefully, you can see that for us beauty isn’t merely skin deep.
For girls of my age, “the ability to pass” was a holy grail. It’s an impossibly high standard for a community that has been sculpted by testosterone. I’m not sure if I do, (Mylove tries to reassure me all the time) but (knock wood) since my transition, I have not been misgendered or even looked at with so much as a raised brow, so something is working in my favor. Even so, there are those people who knew me before, who spend the better part of a conversation trying to peek under my mascara. I guess I should take even that as a compliment.
But… when I see myself in the mirror, I still go right to my “tells."
Yes, I see a woman. Thank God. But I can’t ignore the “too strong” jawline, the back that has trouble staying in any slinky dress, the wide ankles, and feet that spill over my size elevens and don’t get me started on my arms… thankfully, electrolysis has finally taken most of the hair from my face, and estrogen has softened the easy parts. With a curling iron, eyeliner and a touch of lip gloss, I look like…
… the me that is looking out from my own eyes.
Yes. She needs more sit-ups, fewer carbs, and better fitting shoes. But her confidence glows brighter every day. Which helps her lighten up on herself a little more every day.
And here’s the thing… something almost all of my close cis-sisters say to me is that this self “critiquing” with its wild swing from dismay to acceptance is one of the not-so-good parts of “being a woman.” This constantly comparing one’s own body and physical self to some sort of “ideal” differs slightly for each of us but is there nonetheless.
And I know this – I don’t have to be told. What none of my cis-sisters knows is what it’s like to cry when another girl simply pulled her hair casually back into a pony tail without a second thought. And you can’t.
Or the conflicting war between grief and pride when your next door neighbor wore a “big girl’s dress” to high school for the very first time. And you never will.
Oh, trust me, I’ve been comparing my life to other girls since I was little. But the distance was measured in light years. So yes. I know.
But what I don’t know is what you see when you see me? Do you see a woman who is desirable? Do you see a woman who is strong? Who is intelligent? Who is creative? Who is loved?
What does Scottie Jeanette Christine Madden look like?
I ask this because, the other day, I was talking to someone who said, “Funny, you don’t look trans.”
I wasn’t sure what to do with that. Look trans? I had a train wreck of images in my head from the classic Catwoman-like-too much-plastic surgery taughtface to Jeffrey Tambor’s “Oh Bless her heart” Maura. Then I thought of all the trans women that I respect – Alexandra Billings, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Jen Richards, Ashlee Preston, Trace Lysette, Zachary Drucker, Rain Valdez…
Were they saying I wasn’t… drop-dead gorgeous?????
If looking trans means looking like anyone of these amazing women, I’ll have what they’re having. Because sadly according to one person, I’m not or don’t.
Or are they merely trans stars? So, of course, they would be beautiful? Now, I know Alexandra is roaring with laughter now and calling me playful yet derogatory names for including her in this group of super models, we’ve had this conversation a few times, and she has the appropriate amount of humbleness about her looks, usually deflecting any sort of praise or adoration. But let’s face it – she is beautiful, inside and out as are we all -- some just more than others.
I don’t look trans? I. Don’t. Look. Trans?
Of course, my self-conscious self went to cynicism, taking “don’t look trans” to be cis-speak for “Now that you mention it, I can see that you were raised by wolves, despite that cute sun dress and pink acrylic nails.”
In other words, my daily fear that no amount of lip gloss will ever cover testosterone’s legacy.
Yes, I am maturing, getting stronger as I said, and on the days when I am self-confident, I like what I see. I like the me that is emerging. And I realize that I have… a different look. When I was growing up, despite not seeing my face as mine, the face that was there was never really handsome. It wasn’t not nice for others to look at, but it wasn’t particularly a man’s face per se… just a face. Now that I am seeing out my eyes and seeing my face, I’m starting to like her, even with her too strong jawline. She is unique. She is different. Is she beautiful? Well…
I hesitate because…, I am a child and a product of the televised concepts of beauty.
I formed my views of femininity and beauty during my childhood and puberty just like you. I had a vision of myself as a woman that still had Farrah Fawcett surfer bangs and wore leather mini skirts and disco inspired slinky dresses. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and my inspirations were the sunkissed FF Jaclyn Smith and Michelle Pfeiffer (I actually placed a lavalier mic on the divine Ms. Pfeiffer, and was so nervous she had to steady my hand with hers… I nearly fainted).
Remember, I was never going to actually get to be my mature womanly self, so I could set the bar impossibly high.
And now that I am a mature woman in her fifties, the bar is still high. Too high. But not quite high enough for me to judge myself with it.
I don’t want the world to view me through cis-colored lenses. But I also don’t want to be seen as a woman with an asterisk.
I’m hoping that with my continuing maturity, I’ll lighten up on myself even more and see my beauty and accept it as the most beautiful me that it… is. That’s a little hard for me to do at this point. Maybe because I still have hope in my youth. I still have a chance. Everything I see in the mirror at this point is because of hard work. Getting up early to work out, almost 50 hours of electrolysis, and dieting. I’m at least willing to work as hard as I can to see where I will end up.
Just like the fact that you will have to be okay with the future versions of you staring back at you from your mirror, I will, because I’m no longer dysphoria’s captive be okay with the me staring back at me.
But will I look trans?
The other day a day friend said something to me that has echoed across my inner skies for… well… Geezus, really? (says she looking at a calendar) Months?
Fade in: It’s Memorial Day weekend 2017 - Bright southern California sun paints the trees with the promise of summer, and the breeze, a welcome break from a late spring heat wave… a glorious treat across bare legs. I ask Siri to dial the number of my favorite Green Beret – the infamous Master Sergeant Terry “Tezzer” Schappert, who is truly one of the stars of my book – his love, support and acceptance, an inspiration to all the “real men” out there. I always call Tez on Memorial Day to sincerely thank him for his service, my freedom as an American, and to talk about our shared love for a Canadian Power Trio, called Rush.
Terry was one of the cast members of my show, “Dude, You’re Screwed!” for the Discovery Channel, three years of my life that was at once both the hardest and best times of my life. A time where I lead a boys’ club of testosterone-addled military survival experts around the world in some of the most dangerous spots (jungles, geyser riddled glaciers, deserts) as they subjected each other to a survival contest to find water, food, shelter and “not die” all in the name of reality TV… as Terry loved to say – “it’s okay, until it’s not okay, and then it’s REALLY not okay.”
The esprit de corps that I had to nurture everyday earned my reputation as den mother, despite an insane production schedule (get into and out of not one, but back-to-back third world countries, with each’s customs and ways, dependent on local transpo to remote locations in just 14 days with 100 cases of gear and 20 crew – then repeat with no more than two weeks prep between), for a network that was not only in turmoil (we had four network executive changes in season two alone) but that also treated our cast as nothing more than “wannabes.” Which was odd, cuz the reason they bought the show and promoted it as such was that these guys were the real-deal, not a bunch of weekend warriors or reality show contestants. I guess, like the rest of the country, they don’t understand the value of real soldiers.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: never regard a Green Beret, A Navy SEAL and RAF Survival instructor as “Wanna–be” anything except, maybe wanna-be removing your head from your neck when you do. Jes’ sayin’.
We did eight countries on four continents in three months with only one case of malaria, one fractured ankle, and two lost cellphones. As Terry would also say, “nobody went to the hospital, nobody went to jail, nobody got pregnant – it was a successful mission.” That these guys not only followed my lead, but had my back was largely due to my having won their respect as showrunner and professional despite long hair and hoop earrings. When they learned that I had guided our adventures despite a soul crushing gender dysphoria, my stock actually went up in their eyes. After I came out to them, they called the production company and the network and said, “Just in case you’re thinking of doing anything stupid… we’re with her.”
That’s how real men roll, boys.
They were with me when my dysphoria was at it’s tippy-top, peaky peak peak. When I was wearing sports bras under my Columbia expedition shirts to hide “the girls,” when I wouldn’t take off my shirt in the Yucatán cenotes or the southern Chilean bays to go swimming, when I was crying myself to sleep every night after screaming my rage and frustration with a god that imprisoned me in someone else’s body into my pillow. They were there right before Ms. Scottie emerged into her full bloom (and let me tell you, the beginning was anything but pretty.)
It ain’t anything like I am on this Memorial day, reddish hair in a cute topknot, white skirt and pink tank (oh, and on the other side of GCS), now a full two years since our “Dude” days, thanking newly retired (and not digging it) Master Sergeant Tez -- himself, toes in the sand of his Outer banks beach. He’s on a new show about Hollywood Weapons and once again touched that I remembered him on this day. As we catch-up about our lives, Tez says something that freezes my mind like the too cold iron spike of a brain freeze:
“Well, Ms. Madden, ever since you went in the other direction…”
I confess, I don’t even know if I heard how he completed that sentence. My mind stopped recording and skipped right to processing.
Was he saying that we had a shared path that I left? Was he talking about gender? Was he talking about… what was he talking about?
Since that time, I unstick this piece of mental bubble gum from the headboard and give it chew almost everyday.
“The Other Direction”
“The Other Direction”
“The Other Direction”
The first time I heard about “othering” was in Janet Mock’s book “Redefining Realness,” and since that time it has become a theme in our national conversation about marginalizing anyone, particularly by race, gender identity, or sexual orientation, and has become one of the various tools in getting people to understand intersectionality. But Tez’s statement makes it seem like I picked a direction that was… well, defined by being, separate from a reference vector of some kind.
Did I choose to be an “other?”
First of all, really, would anyone choose to be one? As I said in last week’s blog, many of us (particularly as adults) strive to be individuals. To be “unique,” and yes to be different. To be memorable, to stand out from the crowd.
But, make no mistake. None of us would choose to be bulldozed back into line, forced into a group of “other” that makes it easy to discriminate against, to vote down, to legislate away. But that’s how it works. Those who fear having less, want to use the boogie monster called “other” so there is no one person whom you would have to look in the eye. It’s neat trick, isn’t it? No one has to be face-to-face with “the other” to remind them that they are human, deserving of all rights equally. The captain has turned on the discrimination light; you are free to move about the cabin.
I must confess that I have... well, always looked at the rest of the entire material world as other. As an artist it's been my job to observe it, explore it. Try to make some sense of it, with film, video, clay or heck, even crayon. So, to be pushed from my post into "other," is um... what's the word? Disorienting? Close.
I was trained as an artist. I'm just now recognizing that tho' (as I've often said here) success was my armor of choice when I was running with wolves, my default survival mechanism had actually remained hidden to even me, masquerading as my gift. I call it "laser-focus," anyone who is an artist or craftsman knows this one. The ability to stay "dialed-in" on a fixed point artistically or intellectually means you can shut out all else. You can immerse yourself in the creative challenge of a project fully and tune out the noise of the world completely.
Even the gnawing on your soul.
Which is what too many realize too late that we were doing. But besides paying a dear price for this Jedi-skill/curse, (disconnection from one's loved ones being the top of a very long list) the problem is, once you start, you cannot stop, lest whatever you were ignoring, gets the upper hand. Is doesn't go away simply because you shut your eyes like a child playing peek-a-boo. And no one has been able to maintain "LF" forever... sooner or later the laser will drift from it's mark and destroy the walls of the tunnel it had bored, and the ocean of life will flood in and claim all.
When my walls crumbled, so too did the myth of security and protection that my laser focus used to whisper as promises to me to keep me separate from the "others" that I was making art for and about. I could no longer let these whispers distort my perception of reality. I knew that we as women have endured misogyny for centuries. I knew transphobia bred murder and hate. But art had hope in it. Hope for change. Belief in humanity. Faith in love. Understanding that we are all one. Being other wasn't even part of my vocabulary. Until it was.
The other direction.
Which direction was I going?
To Terry, I was a respected adventure reality showrunner. I suppose, if we kept on going in the “same” direction (even tho’ “Dude” was not going to get a third season), Terry and I might’ve met up “out in the field” together yet again. We still might. But that’s not what he was talking about. And his words “the other direction” and their Doppler effect speak to how far he knows we are from where we were going.
Terry and I shared a lot of things in our three years in a meat grinder.
Beyond our love for the best rock band in history (tho’ he still has a softer spot for Judas Priest… sigh) and Bugs Bunny, chili’ mango, malapropisms, mixed metaphors and dogs, we both knew to the core of each of our beings that our work ethic, our belief in excellence and family first was who we really were. We drove each other to be the best that we could be at each moment. We counted on each other to always be there. Wherever, and whenever that there would ever be.
Which may be in some small way, what he was saying.
Is he wondering, since I went “the other direction,” that I… won’t be there for him?
Or is he saying, where I’m now heading… he can’t go with me?
I know I have a penchant for drilling down too deep. And I can’t blame it on TV, even tho’ the truth is production, especially on my shows, becomes so intense, and so consuming, so us- against-them, that hearts get fused together by the fire of creativity, sleep deprivation and bad street food. Trying to heal the hematoma that appears when the tissue is ripped apart by time and or your next show usually makes people wary of allowing the fire to fuse their hearts anew. We even have the term “showmance” that speaks not so much to this phenomenon existing, but rather to it’s inevitable end.
No. It’s me. I know this. And so do you if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time. I expect human relationships and interactions to always be our best noblest selves. In my world, even casual encounters are supposed to be our best and no one is harder on herself for screaming at that asshole who just cut ME off on the freeway, or idiot tech support person who misgendered me, than me.
So… yes. It’s me. I always place too much weight on what people say or think. But… here’s the kicker. So does Terry. I know this having to have talked him down from several ledges (more like asking him nicely to take his finger off the trigger, being the retired Green Beret and all) countless times. Like the time when the network said that it was the format that was the star of our show, the cast was replaceable at any time. Or that time the network wanted to deduct the Canadian work permit fees out of his and the other cast members’ salaries. Or best yet, when the network came up with the title for the show. Terry was active duty at the time but delaying deployment in Afghanistan where his real brothers were laying their lives on the line. So what did this ever-awesome network think was the best title they had ever heard? The title for the show that was demonstrating to the world what and how and who Master Sargent Terry Patrick Schappert is? Why, thank you for asking – they called our our show, “Dude, You’re Screwed!” as if it was about a stoner teenager who lost his car.
Terry saw blood. I had to be the one to tell him. I had to be the one who said that titles don’t really matter – and “what’s in a name?” and a buncha other BS to chill his ire, but really, what actually worked, was when I put all that aside and did what I always did, which was speak from my own heart, and say not even a shitty inane sophomoric title could take away what we were practically dying for (not exaggerating) and that we were just going to have to live with it… together.
We shared this too. This affliction of caring. Of overthinking it. Of going too deep.
So. It’s not just me.
So why do his words haunt me so? I guess it’s because I know I haven’t made it easy on myself. The truth is, Hollywood and TV are supposed to be either so enlightened or capitalistic that neither cares if you’re green with polka dots as long as you’re good, and making them money.
But that’s not true.
What is true is that I freak people out. Before transition, I was labeled “passionate” which is network-ese for a “royal-pain-in-the-ass.” But I also had a rep for “getting it done” and bringing home ALL of the story, as a respected showrunner, given the responsibility for millions of dollars of production and literally people’s lives (adventure TV needs adventure, right? That don’t happen on a soundstage) but since coming out?
Well, okay, picture this – I’m a college educated, thirty plus year veteran of almost every genre and format of live and edited, scripted and non-scripted television, who has also taught production to everyone from the CIA to the major network news divisions – okay, hold that image in your mind as… I have had not one, but three people say to my face, “it’s not that we have a problem with your transition, we applaud your courage to be you, but it’s that we don’t want the crews to have an issue with you… for your sake.”
I haven’t worked as a showrunner since I came out in 2015.
I’ve had 10 (in two years) interviews for a showrunner position – each was amazing, went great and then ended with a variation on the above excuse, sorry, reason. I’ve been up for not one but three shows about transgender people, the last was about couples who had decided to stay married after one of them came out as transgender. I was told that even tho’ I was a transgender woman still married after 28 years, they wanted someone with more experience. Which is network-ese for a cis-gender male.
I wish I was making this up.
Terry’s right, it’s okay, until it’s not okay…. And then, it’s really not okay.
Is this what he meant? Is this “the other direction” I went? People are free to say incredibly stupid and insulting things to my face – because why, I’m powerless to stop them, because I will be so flabbergasted that I will be frozen with the aforementioned brain freeze and they’ll be able to slip out of the room?
The truth is I’m going in the direction I was always heading.
Did I know that I would be able to live and grow as a mature woman? No. I was, and maybe this is what Tez is alluding to, trying to play out the clock, pretending to be a boy. I was working double time to keep my dysphoria under lock and key while still trying to be a happy person and functioning member of society and… Tez’s showrunner. Maybe that’s why Tez is still in my corner. Because I was woman enough to be stand up and be myself, despite the world’s callousness to the “others.”
Ironically, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I actually asked Tez what he meant by this, he probably wouldn’t even remember saying it. But that’s not the point. The point is that by remarking that I went in the other direction, I did go on a journey. And it will never stop.
So, tho’ I am going in a different direction than my dear big brother Tez, it doesn’t mean we still won’t end up in the same place we both were heading together. The way to the destination is never just one road.
And I can’t wait to see you when we both get there, big brother.
I have had a busy spring and summer giving talks and workshops with Mylove about the care and feeding of unicorns, commonly referred to as transgender health and rights. One series of talks was as a member of a panel of speakers that helped prepare the entire workforce of Kaiser Permanente West LA to begin offering GCS. Yay KP, but the reason I'm bringing this up is that I was blessed with meeting amazing, articulate, engaging, and committed members of our tribe who shared my passion for getting it right for us, but who had amazingly different views and experiences..
Wow.. Didn’t see that coming.
But I will confess, the conversation during the course of 12 workshops over a 3 month period went down a few roads that even caught me off guard. And one of the most significant of these was the various privileges and status we as transwomen and transmen had given up or, surprisingly gained with our various transitions within our ethnic communities. We were as diverse as could be: Asian, Black, Latino, Latina, Native American and lil ol me, I don’t like to say white, cuz that doesn’t take my Finnish, Polish, Swedish (mom’s side) mixed with my dad’s Irish and Scottish (vs. Scotch Irish which are two very different things!) into account, and of which I’m very proud. But for argument’s sake, will use the pejorative “white” for this post, if for only to make a point.
So, fairly representative of the major ingredients of our American culture, we laughed that we made up a Justice league of trans superheroes even tho’ we had 6 incarnations of Wonder Woman and about 3 of Superman (tho’ Josh, I’m sure, struck me more as one batting for the other team… meaning the Marvel team of course, being more of Reed Richards, Fantastic Four kinda guy...).
Did I just digress? Probably. If you’re new to me, it’s kinda what I do.
What struck me in one of these convos was that Sharon, a Black woman (she never got into the label African-American), stated that, “while Scottie stepped away from White Male Privilege, I [Sharon] have gone from the bottom, reviled in my community, as an effeminate gay black man, up the ladder of status to the top, as a Black woman. Now white men are afraid of me.”
As I let this thought sweep me off my feet, Aly, an amazing Chinese-American woman laughed, “Well if we’re buying into stereotypes, which the world seems to soooo want to do these days, I went from the tippy top of Privilege as an Asian Man, down one rung to Asian woman, and I still intimidate white men.”
Gino, a transman joined in, “Well, I went from Latina to Latino, and now, somehow I am suddenly smarter.”
As we all pondered the ironies of our journeys, two things struck me:
1.We all knew what each was talking about - the assumptions and tropes didn’t need explanation or context - the reality of the stereotypes of how race and gender was regarded in each community was known by us all…
2.They all used the metric of White Male as the point from which status was calculated and measured.
It’s especially a factor when measuring my value and worth by others. In fact, one phrase that is used to continually bash my sector of the marginalized societies that march under the rainbow flag is “White Male Privilege.” As in:
“Easy for you to say, you enjoyed White Male Privilege.”
“You’ll never know, because you are stained by White Male Privilege.”
And my personal favorite, “Now you know what it’s like to live without White Male Privilege.”
So, let’s get something straight. I am, and always have been, a woman. Except when i was a girl.
Tho’ the world thought and conspired to make me the boy and then the man my original birth certificate proclaimed me to be, it was obviously a typo, which has since been corrected thru a court order (had to get the big guns involved) and medical skill. But nothing changes my experience of being raised by wolves.
So it is accurate to say I enjoyed WMP, and benefitted in certain situations. I, and my fair skinned sisters will not and do not deny that. But what is ironic is that when we are reminded by the slash of this accusation, we are often found bewildered, not because we don't understand that we, through an “accident of birth,” received endless seen and unseen overt and covert benefits merely because of the color of our skin, but we were too haunted and hounded by the spectre of dysphoria to enjoy them. This does not excuse us (okay, getting too broad here) excuse me, nor am I asking for forgiveness, sympathy or any additional anything, I am merely explaining the presence of the bruise that appears, when this question is slung at me. Because the asker of this question assumes two very messed-up things; Number 1, that WMP is something of intrinsic value that we both, asker and I, are presumed to agree to it’s value, and thus agree to a sense of loss at it’s being taken away.
And B, and more insidiously, it is also a “tell” that the asker does not see me as a woman (otherwise, how could I have had WMP long enough to lose it) but also that I am too stupid to have known what we as women have endured (for decades) with WMP’s existence, and thus need it pointed out to me now.
Why the dramatic language you say?
First my weekly disclaimer is in order. The trans people I know, myself included, are some of the greatest students of human nature you could possibly ever know. The later we transition, the longer we have been in the “observer” mode because it’s the only place we can rectify our dysphoria, by longingly and lovingly scrutinizing every move cis people make. It’s both how we soothe our aching souls and how we will protect ourselves when we do finally venture out into the world. Our radar sweep is wide and scarily astute to make sure we aren’t read, lest your clock tolls for us. So we know and must read between the lines.
And we hear the truth in your language that you aren’t even aware of.
Its why we on the panel all knew why the various changes in status made so much sense, even when it was patently absurd. Because it was undeniably… real.
And the sting of having WMP slung at us white girls whenever we cry foul at our treatment has a particular venom designed to hurt. The sins of our fathers, it seems, are to be atoned for by the daughters.
We know, especially as transwomen, that the shock and awe of our comings out make most scratch their head. It was one even of Mylove’s first questions:
“Why would you want to be a woman?”
As a woman who had been raised through the fifties and sixties and had borne the extra burdens that women have been expected to bear, and the lack of privilege and rights and general regard in our “enlightened” American society, Mylove wondered why I, who as forty-five year old, “man” just hitting my stride, would willingly walk away from all that to step into womanhood.
She didn’t use these words but others had a catchphrase, and they wanted to know, “How could you possibly want to give up “White Male Privilege?” As if being a white woman was a step down from my lofty birthright. A loss. Somehow bad or less-than.
This has, please god tell me you can see, implications of sexism that I pray we are never going to pass on to our daughters and our sons. This question acknowledges, and more importantly reinforces, the notion of male superiority. Yes.
Tho’ it might not be the intention; this is what’s being said.
This question also reinforces the notion of white supremacy. It does not merely acknowledge its existence (as WMP critics keep saying) it continually puts this bullsh*t back into the conversation. I don’t know how you were raised, but where I came from, I was taught that character and achievement made you better than yourself. No one is supposed to be better than anyone else merely by the color of their skin, the language they speak, the religion they practice and certainly not the gender or non-gender with which they identify. And if, more likely when, they act that way, or believe that way or try to legislate or discriminate that way, it must be stopped immediately… with extreme prejudice. (irony is mine).
Julia Serano wrote astutely in Whipping Girl, that the reason why cis men and, more horrifyingly, cis women have such a visceral aversion to the mere idea (i.e. a figment of a very fucked up imagination, that allows the nurturing of stupidity) of trans women, is that both men and women believe and continue to support the notion that men are superior and “given a choice” can’t believe for even a moment that anyone, in their right mind, would willingly give up that privilege to be… GASP - a mere woman.
She goes on to say that Transmen get the opposite treatment. They are suddenly regarded as smart, of seeing the light, when they step into privilege of the male class. This is an over simplification and, tho’ some of my trans male friends, including Josh “Reed Richards” might agree, others have a tough time as late-comers to the boys’ club, and face their own set of discriminations, and prejudices. But if they choose to do so, once they “pass” and blend in, they can feel the warmth of privilege. Never underestimate the superpower of facial hair.
So we as transwomen get it coming and going. When we finally get someone to wrap their heads around the reality that we are women, we get regarded as stupid or crazy for choosing to live our lives as “the weaker sex,” and then get discriminated against as women and marginalized as transgender.
As bad as it can be, it’s never, despite what my sisters in the Hall of Justice say, as bad for me and my white sisters as being a transgender person of color. 2017 is only half over and the HRC is already reporting 14 murders of transwomen, all of them women of color. Last year, 27 deaths were reported, with almost all of them trans people of color. That’s more than two a month in a population estimated to be 250,000 in the U.S. Death by “living while trans.” Seriously? Come on!
So, tho’ my mere presence can incite revulsion and violence, statistically speaking, at least I won’t end up set on fire, stabbed, shot and stabbed, raped and stabbed and set on fire, and the ever popular dragged behind a car.
So there’s that.
And let’s keep this in context - my super sisters of color in the league aren’t myopic, they are being “ironically optimistic” – when they spoke of how as individuals each had risen from various rungs within their communities, they were still measuring against the benchmark of “White Male” – they and I harbor no illusions about how their entire slices of the human pie continue to reel from centuries of abuse, discrimination and the blatant R-word “racism” at the hands of white society.
It’s 2017 and every time someone chants “Black Lives Matter,” some backassward insecure cretin, who we hope has not added yet to our gene pool, responds with “White Lives Matter too” or it’s passive aggressive lil brother, “All Lives Matter.” So, yes, an unfortunately too large a section of the fabric of our country is fighting tooth and nail to remain in its arrogance, hubris, and ignorance.
Yes. it’s been a hard lesson for whites to continually swallow that despite, “not being a racist,” our society is. Still. Despite the civil rights amendment, despite having a black President, this is still a country where black parents have to have “the talk” with their black sons; where black parents live in real fear that this might be that night when their sons die at the hands of those charged with protecting them.
This is still a country when our current “President” is doing everything in his power to build a wall between America and the entire Latino and Latin America world.
Let's get real. We all know we live in a world where, even before we got a pussy grabbing sex offender for our Commander in Chief, most everybody in government is in, or supports, the ultimate boys’ club, with the exception of shining lights like Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, and Kamala Harris who fight every day against that boys club - a world where it took a full frontal attack on women's health and the ownership of our own bodies to get women on the other side of the aisle to wake up, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins, lest our fate being determined by a panel of old white men…
So, yes. None of us in this league of heroes, despite the inherent confidence that comes with our superpowers, are Pollyannas. We get it. The world is hard out there, it’s hard for everyone. You don’t have to tell us, we live with this reality everyday.
Does your mere presence invoke violence and rage inside someone else?
Does your mere existence and the violence you suffer foster a sense of “well, she must’ve asked for it…” in the heart of anyone? How ‘bout in the heart of a sweet old so-and so, who everyone generally agrees “would never hurt a fly?” Yet, this sweet old so-and-so might as well have pulled the trigger, swung the bat, jabbed the knife or lit the match, herself. She turned her back on us in her heart. What’s her Jesus gonna think of that?
If your mere existence creates that in someone, why would you choose…
… to stand for it?
None of my sisters, no matter their color, chose this. God did. What we chose was between living and hiding, living and dying, and hopefully, one day, living and thriving. Our brothers too.
That we fly in the face of gender norms should be inspirational, not a cudgel with which to beat us.
And still the darkness reigns.
And maybe it is the wolf blood that once ran through these veins, but this… enrages me.
So, here’s where superpowers come in handy, we use them on ourselves, to keep our swords in our sheaths/ And choose instead our motherly compassion.
As a fifty-five year old woman, I expect men to be boys. I expect them to cling to the safety of their mommies’ skirts when confronted by the likes of me, to roll their eyes, scratch their heads and say aloud, “I don’t get it, but I admire your courage.” And then stumble over pronouns as they half-heartedly try to re-see me as a woman in their worldview. I also allow some to grow out of this toddler stage and grow into men that will treat me with respect. Most times the sign that this has happened is when they start treating me like woman and…
… stop calling me and forget to include me in the things we used to do together. Another sign is that I find that I start talking to their wives and girlfriends more than to them. In short, I am no longer my friends’ equal, but rather someone who must be dealt with, managed or… just plain ignored. But, and here comes the Stockholm’s syndrome that women have chosen for years as coping mechanism - at least the good news is, they do see me as woman!”
As maddening as that is, what makes my once wolfen blood boil is when I get it from women. I have been completely dismissed by some of my lesbian sisters as “will never be a woman.” As if the stain of testosterone has tainted me forever.
Are you kidding me? I'm a fucking gold-star lesbian! How many of you can claim that? And… I am not your opinion, belief or definition. You do not define me. You don’t get to admit me to womanhood. If anything I am wonder woman - having fought and won the testosterone wars, despite all odds, even biological ones - to stand in victory with Grace, with dignity, with love.
And in these emotional and psychological skirmishes, Julia’s theories become freakily prescient. Not even pure radical feminism escapes the patriarchy (which critics have said for years), because it allows itself to be defined in the negative, no matter how you spell womyn. But it can’t be had both ways - we as transwomen can’t be (in their words) stupid enough to “want” to be women, while being audacious enough to claim that we are. Both fly in the face of feminism. We are not second class anything. And no one, certainly not even another woman gets to define who any one of us, are.
We as trans people are the living examples of just that. The world believes it can have a belief and/or an opinion of whether we actually exist or not. As if its opinion matters at all. And at the same time we are mysteries who dare to flaunt the boundaries and limits of a binary world - how dare we! And where did we get such courage? “They are not like us.” “They are not human.”
We push everyone to reconsider their own identity and that comes with a price. Most push back - it’s too uncomfortable, too radical, too intimidating. If we’re living at close to total potential, why aren't you? We scare people because we are Superhuman. We know ourselves and you better than you will ever allow yourself to know yourself. Our living out loud throws shade on you living in your quiet secrets. Our light is seen and felt as your shadow.
But it shouldn’t be that way.
if we have to forgive you for abandoning core feminist views and harboring revulsion in your heart, judging us as less than anything, then you can certainly forget that physical biology has anything to do with identity.
I worked an entire lifetime to get to here. I want to be a part, not be apart. My femininity is not a commentary on yours, my womanhood doesn’t devalue yours. You do you and I’ll do me.
Look, I and my tiara’d sisters (and brothers) get it that when we first come out you may need a minute or so to reconfigure us in your mind as individuals. But for as a whole community, we as humans should never have been outside your hearts. Even if you never had an occasion to know we existed.
And if this isn’t you, great!
But if this shoe fits...
Ask yourself are you playing into sexism, supporting old outdated ideas of what a woman is, what femininity is? Are you supporting our grandparents’ notions that we, as women, could never be more than second class citizens, the weaker sex, the fairer sex? Have you allowed these to create a hierarchy in your own heart of gender, of race, of economic, intellectual or any other otherness? Do you still not see that we as trans people bring to the human table the virtues (among many): live out loud, passionate compassion, following one’s own heart fully, and above all, unconditional, unwavering love?
Follow our lead.
Adjust your tiara, coil your golden lasso of truth and let’s all get out there and fix this world!
Scottie Jeanette Madden
Screenwriter, Author, Cook and Lover. Author of "Getting Back To Me, from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years"