As I wrote in my book, I was/am part of a group of television professionals who hail from San Diego State’s Department of Telecommunications & Film, TCF for short. The Telecom part was, I like to think, a recognition of the efforts of one great man, Dr. Don Wylie, a professor at SDSU, who, as a Naval Reserve Officer, was instrumental in guiding our military satellite technology into the civilian commercial broadcast world. The truth is, by the time I entered the BS program in 1980, the technical aspects and this engineering discipline had given way to the glamorous world of TV and Film production, but the name stuck to remind us of our legacy… maybe. Either that or the University just didn’t get around to updating our name. And, so TCFers we were. Proudly.
But Dr. Don, Dr. Wylie, Wylie, or the Old Man (which was how my father, a Navy man himself loving referred to him) was the Spiritual Leader of a “Cadre” (his name for this dynamo production unit) of 9 men and 2 women. We immersed ourselves in the “act” of television production with such religious fervor, that not only did we create a renaissance for this previously sleepy breeding ground for the local Channels’ Daily News broadcast talent, but we are still friends, nay brothers, and sisters – truly family to this day.
This group is so tight that I faced coming out to them with more trepidation than I did to my own blood family (which was, I learned, a huge miscalculation on both sides of that equation). But unlike my blood family, from which you begin concealing your high risk behaviors, the Cadre had truly seen me and I them, at both my best and worst... and we were still friends.
This very boy’s club had only two very great women, one of whom married one of our boys. And for those of you just now joining my journey, the revelation that we were actually 8 men and 3 women sent shockwaves through our cadre.
Since I systematically came out through a series of personal heart-to-heart phone calls (we are spread out across this great country), I have had the great opportunity to see in person 8 of my brethren, with four hold-outs. Since I seem to be keeping score, two of the four holdouts had at least agreed to meet when I was in their areas (and had to postpone for different reasons) but the other two have to this day ignored any requests by me to connect. So, we’re 8-2 with 2 ties.
But, tho’ the sports metaphor is very much our dialect (having cut our production teeth on covering the Aztec’s teams, we shot and aired anything that bounced, was thrown, kicked or hit with a bat), in matters of the heart, it breaks down when I try to use it now. Maybe I have higher standards, but since I no longer have to “keep up appearances," I can tell you the “wins” ain’t wins but the losses are truly losses… and the ties… even worse. Just knowing that we talked is not good enough, and knowing that we hadn't talked yet is only slightly better than refusing to talk at all. As I said, this is family. The family that you get to choose. Tho’ we all are bonded by our addiction to television, love is our real drug of choice.
So yes, by phone, everyone was amazing and supportive and touched, said all the right things, and pledged uninterrupted love. I was to be "business as usual,” albeit my bond with the women was instantly a little deeper, so pleased were they to have a sister. And the guys? Well they went out of their way to make sure that this was "no big deal.
“but that was then…”
And this is now. Of the five who live near me in Southern California, three make as much effort to see me as I do them. Which means that, barring our productions schedules throwing our social calendars into the blender every other month or so, we see each other at least once a week at a "taco night."
These three men are very dear to me. I will use their “Ski-trip names” handles they earned from an annual weekend of what used to be skiing until old-age started whittling down the reason for spending money on plane tickets to famous resorts to three days of whiskey, cards, and fart jokes.
First, there’s the infamous “Puff Daddy,” and next, there’s “CF” (which stands for Chin f**k, a reference to a self-inflicted injury suffered while under the influence). Both live here in LA LA Land with me, and finally, there’s “Bigsley” who still hails from our native San Diego.
I have always been closer (emotionally) to Puffy, having sold him the first television series I created, as well as truly holding each other up in darker times (cancer for him, my father’s passing for me). Now, this is not to say that CF and Bigsley are distant seconds, they are most certainly not. CF has bent over backward and, of all the guys (Puffy included), is the only one who calls regularly to check in on his new baby sister, me. Bigsley,, it turns out, is my knight in shining armor, apparently defending my new honor (in my absence) with the other guys right down to the pronouns. As I said, in my absence, and I’d trade a little of that chivalry for seeing or talking with him more frequently, but what’s a girl to do?
So, you can imagine that, close as I am with all three, it would still be a surprise to learn that they, well, are struggling. That is, they are struggling with the enormity of my journey. They are still trying to take the abstract thought that the “transgender thing” that seems to be the hot topic “out there in the world,” and fit it onto our real lives. And, that it would be me. Mad Dog, The Madman, their wild child. Sure Scott was a free spirit and seemed to be in touch with “his” feminine side, but, really? "He's one of those?”
And these are not my words. They have all shared with Marcy Mylove, when I’ve left the room, that they aren’t as cool with my transition as they are trying so hard to be for me. Especially Puffy. He’s one of my biggest supporters. He has already dried my tears. He can and will listen to me as I work my way through some of the narrower rapids of my journey. But, when he’s sure his candor won’t hurt me (because I’m out of earshot), he confesses it’s huge. It’s enormous. We have so much lived life together and he’s not sure he’s “there” yet… sigh.
This is something I want my trans sisters and brothers to hear. Yes, they have accepted me. But I want our love to continue to grow without any glitch. And I’m sure they do too. And they are trying. They love me so much they would never hurt me by even admitting that it is hard. They are committed to diving on every grenade that rolls out from their own psyches, every subconscious stumble. They will always support me… even if they don’t or can’t understand me.
And that should be enough.
And, even without having heard this intel, I know this. As I wrote in a recent posting on this blog (The Wire, December 16) this is the psychic piano wire that is strung between all of our hearts and I knew I “twanged” this chord so hard that the pegs damn near broke off. And I knew it needed to be tightened on both ends. I am tightening my side, and Patience is the wrench. And time. Oh, and laughter.
Yesterday, Bigsley was driving back thru town. He had been further north with his son at a college Fraternity’s Father/Son weekend, so he asked Puff and me to dinner. CF was working and would be missed.
Now, something that is changing is their manners. Right from the start, they are genuinely treating me like a lady. Opening doors, letting me sit first, etc. We hadn’t even gotten thru the pleasantries and ordering when Bigsley asked,
“So Ms. Scottie, what are you up to? What are you doing?”
The standard answer with these guys is to rattle off the various shows and projects and “gigs” that each of us has in play. Puffy produces movies for Lifetime network, Bigsley followed in Dr. Wylie’s footsteps (he’d be so proud) teaching TV production as well as producing documentaries. I have always been the freelancer, running other people’s shows, and pitching my own, but this time I answered by waiting demurely for the waiter to leave to get our order and saying…
“Well, I’m getting ready for surgery, which will be next month.”
Neither of my brothers flinched. They are seasoned poker players. But the earth did skip a beat as my words continued to hang in the air. They knew without any further detail or embellishment exactly which surgery I’m talking about. Yes, that surgery, The surgery. This is the milestone that not one of us (me included) ever knew was even on the table. And now, in this moment here it is… Puff breaks the silence first with,
“Can I fill this uncomfortable silence with a totally inappropriate joke now?”
I must’ve said yes. Because we began, with hearts now wide open (and their minds completely blown) to discuss the mechanics of surgery. Educational as it was, it’s still a fertile field to fill even more uncomfortable space with more inappropriate material. As you now have surmised, this is their very boy way of dealing with intense… with, well let's face it, life. And… well, I’m admitting right here, that I used this opportunity, knowing that Puff was struggling, to lean in… and ask point blank if he is cool. If he's okay. With this. With me. With this big step.
He put his dilemma into words:
“Look, man, you’re in my heart. And I love you as you, as you are now… a woman. But I’m trying to get over the fact that my bro Scott… will never come walking thru that door… ever again. You’re going to have to get used to the fact that people loved Scott. I love Scottie. But I really loved Scott. And Scott was my brother. And I… am never going to see him again. Ever.”
Now, my mind is blown. A white sheet of rain washed all my thoughts away – all I knew was that I was so very sad for my dear, dear, brother’s loss. I was, oddly, detached from being the object of his grief. I did not feel compelled to correct his view of the truth of my experience. I felt no hurt or frustration for my part in this. And, tho’ this was seemingly directed at me, I felt no blame from him, that I was the agent of his brother’s destruction, I only felt that he looked to me in that moment as one who would hopefully understand his loss. And the one who would hold him as we had held each other thru times of challenge and loss. My heart was breaking for him.
Bigsley broke what felt like a lifetime of heartache by man-splaining Puffy’s point, “Scottie, guys are black and white. We used to relate to you as a dude, and now we have to relate to you as a woman. By the way, you are rocking the woman thing. But that doesn't make it easier. “Sorry we're just... dudes"
In essence, since I speak “dude,” Bigsley was saying that Scott had to die, so Scottie could live.
In Puffy’s world, Scott was already gone. And Puffy was trying to mourn “on the fly” as he welcomed Scottie with open arms.
Now this is something that the trans community faces all the time. Many women (and I’m assuming the guys do too, they just don’t write about it in their memoirs) in the older generation would stage funerals for their male lives. I confess that this is not the first time my own coming out and the transition has been referred to as a death in the family. My sister Kiera still hasn’t gotten over losing her cherished big brother. And my dear friend, Merrie-Lynn, actually encouraged me to conduct some sort of acknowledgment/ritual of the ending of my male past. With surgery right around the corner, I’d be silly to ignore these signs from the Universe to realize that this part of my journey is demanding more of my attention.
Maybe it was because I was raised by wolves that I learned never say “die.” I think I met these previous signs (Kiera’s and Merrie-Lynn’s) with a total dismissal. A death in the family? C'mon Kiera! A ritual Merrie-Lynn? That's a little too woo-woo for this girl. But really in both cases it was my desire to cling to the notion that even considering this as a death was a negation of... the truth.
I always had been, am and always will be the same me. I had always been a woman. How could I acknowledge, my past with the wolves as my “boyhood” and “manhood,” when I had never been either one myself?
There was never someone other than me to let go of. There was only me and I had no intention of leaving.
But seeing the loss in Puffy’s eyes made me realize another essential thing I have learned in this life… funerals are for the living. They help the living let go of their hold on the past. They allow their loved ones to move on.
So, now, I’m torn. I feel compelled to help cis people understand that trans (in my experience) is not that you "were one gender" and are now another. Sorry to start sounding like a broken record, but with 45’s recent order to dismantle protections for trans youth in public schools, this firestorm of misunderstanding has been stoked anew. Those who support this cruel and legal discrimination cite their belief and conviction that transgender is a lifestyle choice or even a mental illness. Denying the facts. Denying those who have experienced it. No one would ever in their right mind choose derision, discrimination, pain, trauma, violence and misunderstanding. Can we please put that one to bed?
Dysphoria comes of being in a body that will never, not ever, no matter how hard you try to deny it, match your truest, deepest “sense” and awareness of your very own self. I say this without the words “believe yourself to be” or “think that you are” that others have used to describe this phenomenon because they both imply an intellectual attempt at interpreting the experience that humans have of being human, that only each human can ever experience of one’s own self.
I have never not known that I wasn’t me, a girl, a woman. I had this sense before I had words. I had this sense despite the organs that this body had. I had this sense despite what my parents and then my teachers and then my society told me. I had this sense despite what I tried to reason and then discipline myself to disprove.
Even as I grew up, took my place in my family, made friends and started a marriage and a career, constantly creating a life for myself and a chance to love and be loved it was through an outer armor that looked like a dude named “Scott.” But the wearer of that armor was me.
And tho’ this body, despite being, well let’s just go with incongruent with the rest of me, has always been my trusty armor, a worthy vehicle, a true friend that has gotten me through thick and thin, and certainly deserves the utmost care and respect, I’m not sure a funeral for my armor would seem right… for me.
But for Puffy? Hmmm. Maybe? I would do anything for him.
I’ll have to get back to you on that.
But… I do feel a need to do something to recognize the crossing of this mystical, physical and very very real, threshold of my life. I do recognize it’s huge. I do feel a need to keep it as one of the most sacred moments of my life. Yes, it’s huge, but in a way that only I can ever know fully. I’m not alone as I do this, but I am the only one who will be doing this with this life called Scottie.
One thing that I am doing is allowing any and all emotions to come up – I’m trying not to stop any of them. Emotions are already a new and amazing experience for me, but in these last few weeks, as I get closer to the threshold, it's been like a roller coaster in the dark. I have no idea when the turns are coming. And some of these have no names or essences that I’ve ever felt before, or that even make sense. But instinctively I know they have a special value whether they are connected to my stepping across or not.
And then there’s Mylove… My lover. The person who's heart and body and bed I've shared for close to thirty years. Yes. This is her journey too. Equally intense - but specifically unique in that she didn’t get a say in going on this journey and more than I did. But I had 45 years to contemplate its significance and test its validity. No one can ever prepare for this, but I had close to a four decade head start on her. She had to get up to speed instantly, flying completely on faith in me and our love. And she does it every single day. She never saw this coming; didn’t want it wen it did, but… she wants me and our love. As do I. So we are figuring this out. If anyone had the right to mourn for the loss of her husband and her lover, her white knight, her king, it’s she. But those were all “flavors” of her honey, me. She’s the one who chose the name Scottie for me. I wasn’t changing who I was in her heart, I was evolving as a person.
What you need to know is that ALL of the above flashed through my heart and soul between chicken fried rice and the stale fortune cookies. Bigsley brought this night to a close by summing up his “men are black and white” theory by saying, “Look, men are stupid. Women are crazy. You were always … really crazy. Suddenly everything makes perfect sense. We should’ve seen this, you, coming.”
And there it is. My chivalrous knight Bigsley actually does get me. Despite even his own protestations. I’ve gone from black to white (again) over Chinese food. And maybe this is another bread crumb (cookie crumb?) I can leave for my sisters and brothers as they follow this path: just as you are constantly relearning things about yourself, and reexamining your every move, so too are your family and friends. They aren’t taking a step backward, they are refreshing their grip. And that’s a good thing.
Then, we’re outside and it’s time for hugs and kisses goodbye. We have always been “huggers” in this boy’s club, but this time, as 6 foot two Puffy bends down to hug me, we… kiss. It’s natural and sweet, the kiss you get from your daddy, your uncle or your big brother. It’s reassuring, and… reaffirming. And it catches me off-guard. Because…
I got lipstick on Puffy’s cheek.
Every lady knows “you don’t share colors!” and I whispered my apology in his ear as we hugged. But while I was worrying about his cheek, he was whispering in my ear:
“I do love you,. Scottie.”
And his hug went straight to my heart. As we let go, I did what my aunts and other great ladies had taught me by example and I wiped the pink smear demurely off like an Audrey Hepburn movie. I think I also lifted one foot behind as I did it… no idea where that came from…
After blessings for our various safe journeys home, I drove away in tears.
Tears of gratitude.
It was said by more than one reader of my book (which spans a year in the life of my extended family that stretches across to Europe and Australia numbering well above 200 people), that my life and journey and the people in it are some of the most amazingly generous, loving and supportive people ever gathered. I strongly agree. My journey is our journey. And tho’ they didn’t ask for it, it has given all of these people the chance to show to me, and themselves, that we are the noble, loving and best humans we hope and aspire to be. Even if and when we don’t know what we’re doing. We love first, ask questions later. And yes it’s messy. But so is life.
I have never actually been grateful that I was born trans, but I can see that my trans journey is a profound and precious gift. A humbling and amazing immersion in love that fills me to overflowing every day.
Who knew that a little bit of lipstick could change the world?
Scottie Jeanette Madden
Screenwriter, Author, Cook and Lover. Author of "Getting Back To Me, from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years"