Hard right turn.
I'm on a plane flying out of Burbank airport. It's Wednesday, September 21st. We shot down the runway heading west and as we lifted into the sky we took a graceful sweeping, high banking turn to the right and headed east...
I'm heading to Arizona. I'm a blender of emotions. Joy. Excitement. Tears. Fears.
I'm not turning back; I'm heading in the right direction.
I'm hours away from talking to a surgeon. My surgeon. For my surgery. Yes, surgery. The surgery. That surgery. Gender Confirmation Surgery.
I am writing this in real time. This is a day… well, it’s a day I never thought would come. I’m not using those words lightly. This isn’t a day long looked for, a day, like Christmas, graduation, or even my wedding day. No. This is a day that I never believed could ever come.
As the cabin pressure clutches my head, I feel a need to sleep (the natural Madden safety “override” when things are beyond intense), but I’m also driven to document my state--heck yes, this is big decision. Mylove and I just gave a lecture that took extra time to make this politically/emotionally/intellectually-charged subject as plain (as could be) to a class of 100 bright-eyed, budding psychologists at Cal State Channel Islands only yesterday...
… I guess it's on my mind.
Who am I kidding? Certainly not you, dear reader. You know better. You know me better. You, faithful reader, to whom I've spelled-out in my book, a word, the word, that has glimmered and winked out on the horizon of farthest reaches of the inner universe of my life. And this word is...
My relationship with this word is… well, it’s the chimera of my life. It’s lion’s head and dragon’s body, has shape-shifted almost as many times as the infamous "it" (dysphoria) that I also described in “Getting Back To Me.” It's a word that started out as a known but distant throb. Then, for a while, became a siren’s call, threatening to dash my life on the rocks of doom. Then faintly as a distant beacon in the darkness, before finally shredding the clouds into vast ribbons, as courage and Grace blazed into my life.
But it does demand some attention as the giddiness of sunlight warms my skin. I have, as a student of yoga, been more than casually aware of karma, destiny, fate and kismet. None of these are the same, it turns out, for me or anyone. And with almost thirty years of study, I can't confuse these. Karma, in the true yogic sense of the word, actually has three flavors. One you brought with you into this lifetime. One you created in this lifetime and are experiencing with every perceived new moment, and continue to create in this lifetime with every thing that you do with that moment. The last is the “bolt of lightning” that seemingly comes from out of nowhere, but that is still a reaction to your past actions. (I know, me, too. I have yet to understand the differences between number three and the other two, but then again, I’m “justa” student, I don’t pretend to be an expert). In simpler terms, karma is action and reaction, creating action... and reaction... demanding more action than reaction, if one’s on one’s game.
To me, the above mental pretzel is important because it’s how I’ve tried to understand this lifetime. The first flavor of karma was what I thought my life which had been, was going to be.
A sentence, if you will, a prison-term I could do nothing about. A destiny, if you will, that was going to be "as best as could be expected." The spiritual equivalent of "bless your heart." A mediocre life that would be marked by good deeds and noble acts, by the love I made, rather than received… that would earn me a better go next time. A better life could be mine next time in exchange for the effort I put forth this time.
But God did give me a mind. And a heart. And this life. The next life was a gamble. How could I sell this life and Mylove short? No. I couldn't give up. I wouldn't give up. And as many of you who have heard me write (hang with me), the she that is me staged an explosive escape. She didn’t just pick the lock on her dungeon doors, she blew up the castle.
But, as dramatic as that sounds, it didn't solve all of my life.
Which brings me to the other two flavors of karma. And that's where it's gets murky.
Am I charging toward inevitable because of karma I created or karma I'm creating?
Was I always going to heed inevitable's whisper or am I'm creating its call?
Was this path I'm now running down as fast as I can, making up for years lost, trying to live the years left by taking a hard right turn, always going to be my path?
Or did I just suddenly wake up and am now seeing the road clearly for the first time, and choosing this path consciously.
Well, Geezus when you put it that way, what idiot would confess to the former?
So there. I guess I just answered my own question. And I guess it’s so, cuz I have both duck bumps and tears.
Maybe it's why I can't help but be open, very open, almost too open about what I'm doing. I'm passionate about living this thing called life to the fullest. Now that I know what compromising oneself (I used to say checking my swing for you baseball fans) actually feels like--how insidious it really is as the water gently warms around you and you have no idea that you're being lulled by this bath that is actually soup. And you are the main ingredient. Your life got past you. And you didn't even know it as the ball went between your legs...
No. I won't have it. At least I wouldn't have it, which why the walls fell as the dragon who once guarded the hostage blew down the battlements, and this damsel jumped aboard the scaly back, took the reins and soared...
But here's the thing. This is just me.
As I've gotten further out into the world as ... well, as me, the girl who was raised by wolves (if you gimme a sec I think I can cram a few more metaphors into this before we get to the end), I find myself speaking about and to the issues of our community. In the readings and lectures Mylove and I have been devoting our lives to, I feel responsible when I’m at the megaphone.
So here goes:
We in the trans community are not our bodies. Yes, we love all that goes with glorifying and celebrating our physicality; from Buck Angel's tats and pecs to Laverne Cox's curves and hair, to Jenny Boylan's specs and class, to Liz Bornstein's bohemian flair...
... but none of those great people are their bodies. What they have done is what everyone who lives, does. They live. They have bodies. They care for them, clothe them, adorn them.
And for the outside world we know it looks confusing. We have been at odds with our own bodies for too long in most every case, so when we turn that around, it looks like we ourselves are consumed/obsessed by them. You have no idea how traumatic looking at (or not looking as was my case) my image in the mirror, because its reflection merely showed the walls of my prison. So now that I actually like how I look, I love that woman who stares back at me. It’s relief beyond compare.
So, we all fiercely guard our right to govern our bodies and our privacy. Let's be clear. GCS is not a requirement. It is not an achievement or measuring stick. No one is "more trans" than anyone else—not because of hormones or medical procedures, suffering, trials or any other outside criteria.
And we can't care if the cis world understands. It isn't for them to decide anyway.
But here's why we all politely demure to privacy or out-and-out call you out when you cite your curiosity as the excuse for being rude: when you ask that question you are suddenly making us inhuman. You are asking a question whose answer is reserved for lovers and doctors, and you are neither if you are asking. Because you would know the answer if you were one of those. You would have earned our trust to know that answer, and we would've told you.
We are not our bodies, but your question shows you don't get this. You are making my genitals the subject of your curiosity. Cis people seem to be offended that we would keep this secret from them. Hmm.
So there it is... but my flight’s about to touch down at Sky harbor. More later!
As we wait to taxi to the gate (bizzy day at Sky harbor) I am also parked emotionally. I am on the verge of tears, but there's an exhilaration in the water. I'm worried that I spent so much time writing the above disclaimer that I'm selling my own experience of now short. I am feeling like an astronaut about to leave the pod bay doors and step into the void. And on the other side is... is… is what? What do I expect will be my next... what? Step? Threshold? Milestone?
I don't even know what to call it. I am getting surgery to take care of something that has... been what all my life? A problem? An issue? None of these seems accurate. That’s because, this has been a black hole in my consciousness. A place I don't go. An area of my body I don't look at. A part of me that I try not to think about... I have always felt... okay, dissociated in this meat suit.
Am I really wearing this boy's body? and why?
Time out for an über-ride to Scottsdale…
And we're back.
Inevitably, I got here. This here, right here. T-minus 2.5 hours to my first consultation with the surgeon and counting... I’m going to eat some lunch and pick up where I left off over chips and salsa and a taco salad.
But how did I get here is still numbing my mind. How did I ever get to here, despite my own body contradicting every thought and experience about who I really am for 54 years? This could be why I am so mentally strong. I can hold to the truth of reality despite all and I mean all odds. It's why fantasy, as much as I, who had permanent creases in my jeans’ back pocket from the constant companion of Lord of the Rings, I who was the first DM (ask a geek) in my circle of D&D'ers. Yes, that I who would going to make a career in fantasy...
... just couldn't take fantasy anymore in my own life.
I couldn't take that being who I am would be a dream, a concept, a figment of my imagination.
So what was it other than inevitable?
And if so, then why is it... unbelievable that I could actually, really, finally be here?
Because the chasm between perceived reality (this body is... well, it has boy parts!) and inevitable, seemed farther than the nearest star.
And yet... across time and space, the seals on my pod have just been breached, oxygen has entered my body and I'm emerging from my suspended animation to step forth on planet Venus.
For reals? For reals. For reals!
I think, as I set foot on the Venusian soil, that it's unbelievable because I never dared believe I would ever be here. I dreamed it, oh how I dreamed it, but never, ever ever dared to actually believe it.
Remember, I make make-believe for a living. I know how the sausage is made (too soon?). I know where the smoke ends and the mirrors begin... so why would I believe that my own dream could actually come true?
Because, honey... it's inevitable. It was inevitable from the start.
This day has been coming to you since before you could dream.
And before I know it, I'm in the office and meeting with Dr. Ley. As a trans woman I feel understandably comfortable in her presence. She's drop dead gorgeous. (I need to talk to her about her internet photos. Honey, they seriously don’t do you any justice) and basically, I'll have what she's having!
And she is all business, explaining in great and perfect detail, in ordinary terms, what will be my new reality. Depth of cavity. Aftercare procedures. Surgical reality and managed expectations.
And Mylove is here by speaker phone. Dr Ley laughs that she hasn't looked at me the whole time, focusing her whole spiel at the phone. But it's better than okay. This has to be a mutual decision. And if this is the compensation for her not being on the plane with me today, then so be it. And Mylove has questions: What is the recovery time? Will [my] age be a negative factor? How does this compare to other major surgeries? Like her hysterectomy or her colostomy?
That's Mylove. She's got my back even as I'm about to tharn. I am so overwhelmed I'm ready to just let it all happen. But Mylove would never let me do something that... stoopid. She would never let me go into this half-cocked (still too soon?), wouldn't let me sleepwalk through the second biggest decision of our lives. This isn't in the least "elective" surgery, unless by elective you mean lifesaving.
Cuz that's the thing--as fucking mind-blowing, gobsmacking, knock you to you knees, crazy as this could be... as completely overwhelming brain-freezing full tharning as it should be (and is!), the alternative is still a spectre that looms out on the fringes of my consciousness... the utter despair of a life unlived, the splinter in my heart that would never let me rest.
So, maybe that's my beautiful identity showing up for its day, finally. Finally, ready to step out and step up to... inevitable.
Cuz, after the doc pulls and tugs and examines what will be her raw materials to fashion me a new vijay-jay, she makes sure I'm really okay. And it's here that I feel the most comfortable. She knows what I'm really going through--from the inside out. The tsunami of emotions and the sheer giddiness that will all be in our rearview mirrors very soon. She outlines the gory details and usually, this is where my nervous system shuts down, no exaggeration. Even the thought of cold surgical instruments and my warm flesh in the same area code will usually have me pulling the rip cord… but, I'm all in, so in, I stay. And I takein all the details that will soon be my daily (wait, daily?!) regimen. At least a year’s worth of intense, okay let's say "making intimate friends" with my new... me.
And it feels important to stop and ponder that. I never referred to the organ down there as mine. it was it, that, and the, but never "my," as if I knew on some level to become attached to it. But it will be my new me, and mine. It doesn't go away. Just like me, it will be transformed into something beautiful and feminine and... right.
And then I get my second gobsmack - from Miki the business manager, wearing her hat as scheduler... And I have to hold on to chair… am I dreaming? Cuz she just proposed a date that's a full six months sooner than everyone had led me to expect.
I am in the right place after all.
In fact, were it not for the natural cycles of my hair growth (downstairs), I could go sooner. Dr. Ley's addition to the practice has relieved almost a year’s waiting list.
And then, I'm back in an Über, listening to my Phoenix driver extol the virtues of a city that I'll soon be seeing a lot of.
But most important is the phone call I need to make now...
Mylove and I talk about the "other call" (it already has a name in our family) and we acknowledge, it's actually a call from which we will measure time.
I listen as Mylove tries to keep her own emotions in check as she makes sure that I'm okay. I am. Torn between lying on the floor and crying and screaming and dancing for joy, I'm a hot mess. And she is... almost the same.
Yes, we still have a lot to do. Yes, with nothing on the horizon but uncertainty and promise, why not schedule it for then? And then there's the second phase which requires three months of healing before it can be considered. So we opt for phase two for just after my birthday. A new me, but I'll still be a Cancer!
So, together, we turn right into the winds of change and hold on.
I’ve been talking a lot in this blog about what I am receiving as the new girl. So much so, that I could rename this weekly venture “An embarrassment of riches.” And before we go too far, I hope I have been clear I am an incredibly lucky girl.
My father used to keep me grounded (and I’m not sure my pops get enough props in my recent writings. He was, despite a few flaws, flawless—a force of nature that has 50% stake in the woman I am today, and I am proud to be his daughter). Where was I?… Oh yeah, he would say, “… but for an accident of birth …” to make sure I never got ahead of or behind myself in the entitlement department. As a working-class Irish kid from the pseudo mean streets of 1950’s Marine park Brooklyn (in early pictures, he was just like the Jets of “West Side Story,” the kind that would taunt an Officer Krupke into chasing him and his fellow hooligans from their shenanigans), my pop knew that the only thing between the Maddens and success was doing something stupid… like letting your ego make decisions for you.
In today’s 2016, Black Lives Matter world, “but for an accident of birth” is a humbling contemplation that many white folk have either too much guilt or are too defensive about to effectively “grok.”
And trust me, as a white trans woman, I’m getting a little tired of defending myself to my cisgender sisters who refuse to get past the smell of my being raised by wolves, regardless of the color of my skin. And I’m also a little weary of trying to defend being able to relate, in principle and theory, to those of color who deny that the obstacles I face against “transphobia” are anything close to racism.
Talk about double jeopardy.
So, I freaking get it. I don’t claim to say I have ever, nor will I, feel the sting of institutional and generational discrimination, but I also won’t be able to walk freely into a bathroom in any redneck overrun state anytime soon either. Racism and transphobia are not. The. Same. And yet, they both need to change. So rather than get lost in the weeds on comparing boo-boos, I would rather talk today about healing. And in this instance, it’s a case of “physician heal thyself.”
My pop’s teaching serves me well here. Because there’s another side to the “but for accident of birth” coin, and it’s this:
Since I can. Since I have. Since I know. What will I, what can I, give back? How can I serve? What shall I do about any and all of the above?
I have to admit that I never connected serving with being trans (of course I never connected myself with being trans before either, but we’ve talked about this). In truth, most of us start out just trying to figure how to live our lives, shaking off as many years of being “not trans” as we all may have. The younger girls raised by wolves of today at least don’t have this issue, but that don’t mean they get off Scott free; they get their own package of challenges, which I can only report anecdotally. I cannot say I have experienced these, so we’ll save them for later.
But my friend, Valerie (geezus am I gonna have to start paying her royalties?), said to me when I first came out, “I can see you giving lessons to cis-gender women about how to succeed in a man’s world.”
Okay, a brief moment of undying gratitude to Val. After twenty years of friendship, she literally didn’t even bat an eye when I disclosed that the man she thought she knew, had supported in the world of writing and pure friendship, was, in fact, a woman. She had watched my career in the adventure reality world, knew my successes and my rise from crew member to Showrunner, and all that that entailed… and she merely added the newest detail (my true identity) to the above equation and came out with the above analysis.
Yes, I, as a woman, had learned how to succeed in a man’s world. She never questioned how tough or crazy that sounded, but rather that I truly did have something that would be valuable to the sisterhood.
Now, it’s important to note that many of us who were raised by wolves come into the sisterhood “hat in hand,” apologizing, and as I have written in previous posts, grateful for even a scrap of acceptance. We will rarely have the confidence or the conviction that any of our years of running with wolves will be worthy of anything but the scars we used to wear as badges of honor. And I, for one, am still feeling a grumble in my stomach when I describe any of my past glories when they veer into the “lookie, how cool I was” world.
So, to hear one of my role models say that I had something valuable, I had to coax my feelings away from the natural inclination to poo-poo them as harbingers of the past, and take notice.
What would that look like? This “how to succeed in a man’s world” lessons thingy.
Mylove and I used to play a parlor game with many women over the course of our marriage, and it went something like this: Mylove would bring in a friend who had “troubles with her boy,” and I would be able to offer a “what boys are really thinking/saying” analysis. It was uncanny, (surprise, surprise!). I seemed to be the “guy whisperer” and was seen as “disclosing the secret life of boys” when in fact, I was using my women’s intuition, and combining it with boots on the ground intel and “bumped my nose many times,” experience.
I sounded like the Oracle.
And tho’ I was spot on 99% of the time (who’s perfect?), I never liked this game. My counsel never stood up when it mattered, protecting hearts from being broken, or stopping women from doing silly things that they would regret, because, ultimately, a girl’s gonna do what a girl’s gonna do. Nobody, and I mean nobody, no matter how much sense they seem to be making, will keep them from their appointment with their own destinies. Girls, am I right? When was the last time you were able to talk your girlfriend out of going home with “that jerk?”
I rest my case.
So, you can see why Valerie’s challenge made me a little gun-shy. But it’s not all.
The other chasm I had to build a bridge and get over was this: before coming out (and I wasn’t in my Oracle state), whenever I found myself engaged with women in a particular subject that we might call “women’s domain,” if I had an opinion, no matter how right it was, it was still coming out of a face everyone thought was a man’s (mine).
The flip side of that was whenever I called a guy on his actions. No matter how right I was, I was shot down. Because in the boy’s world, there’s a serious pecking order that determines when and where you can call another guy on their actions/opinions and have any effect. Again, it was dismissed out of hand. They can’t accept that their actions could be boiled down to such a simple, and predictable, behavior.
Valerie is usually never wrong. She’s very thoughtful and very direct. So I looked deeper at this while agreeing to get over my reluctance to believe that anyone would listen to me, at least long enough to see what she could’ve possible seen.
And I had an opportunity to do this almost right away. I attended a screening this summer of “I Stand Corrected,” which was made by a woman that I had mutual friends with, Andrea Myerson. I went to meet her. She’s a great documentary filmmaker, and we had corresponded a few times up to the event. As a cisgender woman, she had shown an incredible grasp of the trans journey of her subject, Jennifer Leitham. Jennifer was, and is, one of the greatest left-handed bass players in the world, and had transitioned while a member of Doc Severinsen’s band.
We got there early and we met Jennifer before Andrea even got there. She was gracious and approachable. The film is amazing and, as you can guess, heartbreaking, as this truly incredible woman and musician faced the heinous discrimination from a notorious boy’s club that she was too great a person to allow keep her down. It’s inspiring, especially when you see how her career is fruitful for her on her own terms now, after she was able to right her own ship.
After the screening, there was a Q&A with both Andrea and Jennifer. What was inspiring to see was the number of women musicians, cis- gender mostly. Jenny is a big deal in the trans community, but this screening was sponsored by the Long Beach LGBT center, and the majority of the audience were cis lesbian and allies. They had also seen the film multiple times.
My point is, they were fans and hopeful peers. And most of the questions were asked musician to musician. Jennifer is seen by many of these earnest up-and-comers as a mentor and inspiration.
But! Her answers were not helpful, especially when the questions steered into the “how did you,” “what would suggest…” vein of dealing with a professional world ruled by men. And, lest you think the music world is “enlightened,” Jennifer, as I said, regarded as one of the greatest stand-up bassists ever, and even more rare as left-handed, was denied initiation and inclusion in the jazz festivals around the world after her transition. The music world turned its back on her, and even the so-called “allies” in the film supported her only when interviewed.
So, it was not really a surprise that her answers were generally in the “yeah it sucks out there, good luck” category when asked if she had any advice for her fans.
And I could feel the bile beginning to rise in my throat.
Before I knew it, I was calling out Jenny for not helping. As elder women who had not only been raised by wolves but ran with them, and then ran the pack, we did have something to bring to the table. We should be offering our gift (thank you, Alexandra Billings) to our cis- sisters. We did have knowledge of what could, and eventually did, work. And more importantly, we could use our position to work for change for all women. Here I was, openly challenging this great woman, in her own room, on her own turf, as the belle of her own ball, to agree with me.
Okay. Yes, I felt bad for my sense (or lack thereof) of decorum. So bad that I almost compounded my felony by being a bit rude to the women who came up to exchange business cards and thank me for my… well, outburst, to catch Jennifer before she left the theater. I caught her as she took her place behind a table full of her CDs and apologized to her as we exchanged my signed book for her signed CD. And she confessed that years of concert halls and airplane miles had made hearing the spoken voice hard for her (thank god it hasn’t affected her playing), and she hadn’t really heard my challenge.
But, hearing it again, now in the quieter environs of a reception in her honor, she agreed.
We had something to say. We should take our seat at the table.
Being raised by with wolves had to be worth something, after all.
The obvious question is how? Is it by example alone? We are, as trans women (along with our trans brothers), already on shaky ground. Each one of us has a “qualifier,” an adjective bolted on the front of our “used to be” titles, careers, and positions. Alexandra Billings and Lavern Cox are trans actresses; Ian Harvie, a trans comedian/actor; Jennifer Leitham, a trans bass player. Now, each of us has been worked our way up in the meritocracy of professionalism, and we have risen to the success we enjoy through hard work, skill, and experience. We may be forced (and some do choose) to use the trans prefix as a way to stand-up for our rights and to work for change for our community, but we want our work to stand on its own, and not with a metaphysical asterisk.
And though we have fought most of our lives to be “justas” (as in justa woman or justa man), we cannot deny that we are mysterious, wise, magical “unicorns” who roam the forests of life amidst the ordinary mundane creatures… and that comes with a price. We might be regarded as too much of a muchness to be either relatable or taken seriously.
Can our credibility be recognized as easily as Valerie had seen mine, or does the general public use our prefix to suddenly color our views, taint our experience, or disqualify our achievements? Will we be afforded the respect and responsibility that Native Cultures confer on their transgender brethren? Or, will some continue to see us as a threat to power; living reminders that the narrow view of “gender-normality” is dying, that it has, in fact, always been false, and no amount of their shouting will change reality.
We, who were raised by wolves, know these challenges all too well. And truly speaking, even I (once the adrenaline backed down) couldn’t blame any Jennifer one bit if she “just” wanted to live her life, a life that had been on hold, chained to dysphoria, for decades. Who could ask her to now also take on the task of having to share how the “other half does it,” with the remaining portion of her precious life, just to get her seat at the table?
Nobody should have to pay for a seat at the table, but then again, there’s a ton of things in life that aren’t fair (but what hard work, perseverance, and maturity can, and does, change). What you bring to the table is usually the price of admission. And for those of us who were raised by wolves, the lessons we learned about how they run is just a starting point. To stay at the table, we’ll have to have the rest of who we are be just as valuable.
But I guess that’s on us.
Okay… I recently had a “come-uppance” from a dearly cherished big sister, Alex.
I’ve been developing a TV dramedy series based on my book, “Getting Back To Me – from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years,” with the amazing and fabulous Valerie C. Woods. Through Grace (I don’t believe in luck, per se) and dear friends, we are blessed to have the best of the best to sign on to play the character based on me. The incomparable Alexandra Billings.
The great news is, we started to become friends before I even approached her about the script. We both share being married to the most amazing women on the planet for over twenty years. And tho’ the divine Ms. Billings transitioned when she was in her 20s, we also share an uncompromising world view of the preciousness of this life—lives that just wouldn’t be denied despite everything we tried. Something Alexandra calls the “gift.”
I’m telling you this to point this week’s spotlight at a subtle, yet tenuous phenomenon that I’m not sure I’m alone in experiencing, but have yet to see anyone discuss. And that phenom is this:
Where do I allow my attention, my awareness to rest? And for how long?
That’s a very sterile version of the words banging inside my brainpan, but I am forcing myself to be clear. The above line is a fundamental question for students of yoga (guilty as charged), but I realized that I’m stuck on the superficial level of that question with good reason. Now that the constant despair of dysphoria that used to rule my life is a thing of the past, I have available bandwidth to use to witness the molecular re-wiring of my psyche. But it has an urgency that someone described in one of the reviews of my book:
“Ms. Madden’s unflinching honesty makes me ask myself, “What will you do with the gift of your left life?”
About once a day, that phrase (thanks Jen!) stops me in my tracks. It’s why I wrote my book in two months of solid fourteen-hour days. It’s why I am relentless in my other writing religiously, continuing a work ethic that used to come to an “all stop” on weekends. But it’s also why I take the extra time to make sure I’m looking my best. Now that I’m here, I will not waste a moment.
True, it can be a gnarly schedule to maintain—If not physically, then at least mentally; but for sure spiritually. There has to be balance in order to maintain… balance.
To this end, I had truly intended to try to lighten-up a bit this week and write something a little on the frivolous side. I’ve been keeping a notebook for just such an occasion and was planning on taking a stab at one of these themes (cue montage music as graphics slide on and off with dramatic flair and savoir-faire):
*“The Physics of a woman’s purse” -- no matter how small, you still can lose not only your favorite lipstick, but also that gigantic ring of keys and your rusa-frasin’ cell phone even while it’s ringing! I swear, I once lost a family of four for three days in my “sac.”
*“Everyday Super powers” --Marcy hates my seemingly superhuman ability to put lipstick on once and have it stay all day, whereas hers is gone as soon as she puts the cap back on. Also why can some women go sleeveless in a snowstorm? How do some women wear heels all day?
*“Yes, but can’t I like just a little bit of sexism?” --I know I’m supposed to not like it when I get called “darlin’” or ‘hun,” but at least they got the gender right.
“Geezus, I AM shrinking!” -- the never ending comedy as hormones continue to sculpt a woman out of fifty-year-old flesh. Giving up traditional jobs around the house (opening jars, carrying the heavy stuff) when upper body strength fades away.
“Like hell, we Glisten” or “How come I get no sympathy when sweat destroys the bangs I just spent thirty minutes straightening?” From the beauty is not for wimps files, Scottie’s misadventures with eye shadow primer, liquid eyeliner and that dreaded mirror.
The music swells to a comical climax as…
*“Why is it surprising that I know what shoes go with which skirt?” Or… “You don’t look half bad.” -- this one explores the madcap reactions that Scottie, as the new girl, gets at most adult gatherings. The shock and awe that a girl raised by wolves could even look presentable in polite company is offset by her own unintended, self-outing. Comedy ensues.
As I’ve said a number of times (in various ways), the everyday life of anyone in the transgender community is not all anything. We are not the clichés that TV and film portray. Some days our stories are horrifying—that’s why you are hearing them. Everyday, ordinary, “gee they’re just like normal people” stories aren’t worth repeating, aren’t really interesting, except when they break down stereotypes that even we inside the community begin to believe ourselves.
My book is groundbreaking in that I didn’t have “a hell to leave.” And my transition, so far, has been relatively painless, if you don’t count being disowned by my baby sister, oh, and that being not hired since I came out thingy! Light, laughter & love have lit the way for Mylove and me, Joy is our daily experience.
But the thread of this blog, since it first dropped way back in July, has been a tad on the heavy, if not heady side of things. So who could blame me if I wanted to let off a little creative steam “rife with comedic possibilities” that are also a part of my everyday navigating through this girl’s life?
But it’s a me who’s ears are still ringing from my come-uppance with my big sis Alexandra.
It’s a me who typed the above quote, “And…what will you do with the gift of your left life?”
It’s a me who thought she wanted a day off (heck everyone else gets labor day off, what’s with me?) and thought she could slide by with a piece of fluffy “cake” in the form a silly blog about the tropes of the trans experience— “oh, isn’t that funny, she’ll have to learn to walk all over again in high heels… a ha ha ha hah… or let’s watch as she gets all aflutter when she gets to buy a new dress! Isn’t it sweet? Isn’t ‘she’ cute?”
But it’s also a me who is trying to walk a razor’s edge between life and obsession, between accurately articulating my corner of the human experience as it’s happening, and self-absorption.
Confessing out loud that I really am excited, really do get thrilled with the little things that I’m discovering (first hand) about being a woman in today’s society is dangerous because it calls my credibility into question. If I am voice worth listening to in the community, then why am I talking about lipstick? Shouldn’t I use this moment in the reader’s life to enlighten or illumine?
But sometimes my “one little victories” of everyday life have been heard as interesting to some, as they are to me. As much as it may inspire some in my life to look anew at the little things in their lives, I am, at the end of the day, an artist and media professional. I have disciplined myself to make every moment, every opportunity, count. I have disciplined myself to make every moment, every opportunity, count. It’s what made me a royal pain-in-the-tookas with some of the shows I’ve produced in the past. It’s why I shot an entire Comanche “drum” to bless the “noodlin’ season” for the premiere of“HillBilly Handfishin.’” (A drum is a term that refers to a mini pow wow, in this case it was 15 drummers/chanters and 30 dancers in full costume, two real tipis, and a bonfire.)
Admittedly a tad “overkill” for a “cartoon” of a reality show that followed the antics of Okies and city slickers using their feet as bait to catch the catfish unfortunate enough to be born in the Red River. But I just couldn’t back down. As silly as the concept was, it still had a heart and a humanity that was a way better story about an aspect of this corner of our country’s culture than the network or the production company believed possible.
And, of course, the network killed “the drum,” using only a few shots of the funnier faces lit by firelight under the credits. This was just one more fumble to go along with the continuing lunacy in relations with Native Americans. And it really hurt to be party to it. And it also illustrates just how far this girl goes to not let herself take mediocre or “good enough,” or worse, “it’s justa…” for an answer.
So that’s why I got my come-uppance from Alexandra. When my producing partner, Valerie, and I were talking about our new show with Alexandra, she said, “Scottie, don’t waste any one’s time talking about the same old tired crap. You have to dig deep, girl, and write about the stuff that terrifies you!”
Now, I am smart enough to keep her words in perspective. Especially with a drama in this Golden Age of Television, she’s absolutely right. Our work together has to be the stuff of brilliance. There’s too much on the line to waste an opportunity like a television series. Valerie reminded me that “the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.”
But I will take my Big sis’s words to heart. I promise to also keep this blog in perspective—which is why I shifted gears as I sat down to write today. The constant mental tug-of-war between the trivial and the substantive that has become this posting is the perfect example of life imitating art. This is, I believe, worth talking about. I must thread the needle between obsession and focus, between questioning and query, with every thought that comes from a maturing mind recognizing that is maturing. Which it should be doing, right? It gets interesting, however, when you factor in the effects of transitioning (including hormones and the effects they have on the body and mind) and the ever-changing horizon of my worldview.
This constant shifting of mental impressions can be disorienting at the least. It comes from the constant evolution of a now unfettered psyche, ad it’s picking up speed every day. So yeah, swinging back and forth from the superficial, “gee, this color does look good on my nails,” to the deeper questions of who am I and how will my femininity shine in this world, can be dizzying…
And all of this is, at age 54… okay, mind-blowing. A lot of this (the blown part) stems from the realization that the reallocation of my mental bandwidth (which has just returned home from a fifty-year-old war) could be this tangible. And that’s even before we get to what this reallocated mind is coming up with. That, in turn, becomes mind-blowing after my years of running with the wolves with whom I was raised. These changes, and this evolution, as subtle as they both are, do shake me. Like that sudden knowledge that I know the way to do something has suddenly, without warning, given way to caring more that whatever is done, gets done to everyone’s benefit. I would never have confessed this out loud before. In the wolf pack, admitting weakness is usually never a good idea. In the world of women, admitting a weakness is not a weakness but a strength. A clear assessment of a situation. And nothing more or less.
Maybe that’s the gift that Alexandra speaks of—being able to see all sides and have the confidence, experience, skill and desire to make sure that all sides benefit.
I guess what she’s challenging me to understand is that just because it’s a gift, it doesn’t make it my gift. It’s not mine to hold onto, and it’s not mine to keep.
So… what will I do with the gift of my left life?
But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it in my favorite lipstick.
I get asked all the time. How is your family taking this? How are your friends accepting … this?
It’s … complicated. No … that’s bullsh*t. I’m sorry, but it’s not complicated at all.
People seem to think they can reserve the right to stay stuck about a girl who was raised by wolves. They seem justified in believing that somehow, suddenly, I’ve become a pariah, that all of my accomplishments are wiped clean, and now that I look way cuter in a dress, they treat me as if I am no longer capable of feelings or worthy of their respect or, God forbid, their love.
Yeah, I know. Dumb as a box of rocks, is that notion. Stupid beyond belief.
And it’s a lot like the time in one of Mylove’s previous marriages, when the guy said, “It’s the dog or me.” And she replied, “Thanks for making it easy.”
(“Mylove” spelled as one word, for those of you new to me and us and “Raised By Wolves,” is my beloved wife of 27 years.)
It’s not hard to dismiss idiots from your life—they do a good job taking the chicken exit without any help from me.
But what is hard is the people whom I love and who love me saging that they are “supportive” when I come out to them, only to do what my friend, Monica, calls “the French fade,” and leave my life without even saying goodbye. They just stop answering the phone, forget to respond to emails and generally…
… fade from my life.
I describe it this way: Our hearts, yours and mine, have a golden wire that strings between us across time space and our own awareness, or lack thereof, and connects us to something deeper, richer, and more … human than the strangers who walk among us.
I know I’ve jiggled our wire. I know, I’ve rocked many a world. I tried for almost five decades to never twang this chord but always answer its vibration. I was the one who never tested friendships but always showed up, stood up and stood by. I answered this wire’s hum every time, which is why everyone was caught flatfooted when I not only plucked that power chord, but thumped on it like Geddy Lee’s bass run in “Tom Sawyer.”
Nobody saw it coming. I didn’t run in the conservative or liberal tribe; I ran in a plain ’ol run-of-the mill real life tribe. Some of us were gay, some are staunch religious folks, and yeah, mostly we were a cross section of America with everyone just living their what the rebuild an party would call middle class lives.
Until Scottie ripped her bass solo! And that wire got so twanged in some hearts that the string unraveled and came loose in the take-up.
Now, some amazingly beautiful and truly inspiring people immediately grabbed that wire and reconnected it without missing a beat (see what I did there?)—true friends (many of whom I wrote about in my book). Others, having read my book, have sought me out to tell me they have tightened down that wire.
But the troubling part is there are some very close friends and family who have no idea that the wire is loose. And they seemingly are saying … they don’t care. About us. About me.
They were cool when I came out. They offered words of encouragement. But then … crickets.
I want to ask them, “are you really letting go of my hand? Is this really the end?” And is this how they want it to end? Life is too short, and putting off saying I love you hasn’t been recommended by … well, anyone. So, is this a normal human failing, or … the big goodbye?
Here’s why I’m confused. I have always been the one who dipped my shoulders in a crowd, made the effort over time to call on someone, was the first to apologize when we fought. I rarely threw my toys out of the wagon with anyone in my life, tho’ I frequently rail against “them” and “they” and pick a fight with city hall about once a week on average. (My poor Honey has to endure these metaphysical tirades and complete exercises in futility.) So I will never know if they were just busy, or if they are truly letting go of my hand, and …
… have given up on tightening our wire.
I need to know. Am I weird? Okay, that wasn’t accurate, cuz we all know the answer to that. But what I should be asking is, “does this make me weird?” In other words, do others feel the same way? Or is this a product of maturing, and starting to count down in life instead of up? (I’m 54, and medical science is improving but let’s face it, 108 is unlikely.)
I went to a memorial service for a dear friend yesterday. So maybe it’s on my mind more than the next girl. I grew up with Theresa who was a beautiful, funny, strong, and glorious woman, and a mother of two equally amazing women. She fought cancer for almost eight years, and won every day. Seeing how she spent her last years made me see that we saw life the same way—it’s waaaaay too short to spend each precious day not-in-love with your family, friends and the world. She played her side of the wire with everyone in her life with virtuosity and she never stood for any slack in her wires.
And I try to follow her lead, the same way I did in high school. She was an amazing example of how to be gracious, strong, and loving, even in the crazy world of raging hormones and teenage angst. And maybe I need to get over the hesitation some people in my life are showing, and not take “no” for an answer. Theresa wouldn’t have. She would graciously laugh when those around her were acting up or acting out. She had such strength and gentle compassion for their stupidity, and confidence that they were, in fact, actually capable of feeling the slack in the wire, even if only eventually. But that never stopped her from keeping her side of their wires taught.
Maybe I need to steal my honey’s line here and remember that “God only gives us what we can handle. She must have amazing confidence in me.”
Pluck, Pluck, twang … opps … tighten, tighten … pluck … ahhh … much better.
Let’s make some music … we have no idea if we even have tomorrow.
Scottie Jeanette Madden
Screenwriter, Author, Cook and Lover. Author of "Getting Back To Me, from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years"