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