My Godson’s name is Sam. He’s 24 years old. I have watched in awe as this precocious child grew to be an amazing man. Not so special, you say? Well this man was dragged through a knothole backwards called “Autism.” As I wrote in my book, through his parents tirelessly, selflessly (well, there’s just no adverb that adequately describes how they, and Sam) wrested his life from the cul-du-sac of society’s narrow-minded ways. Maybe it’s because they worked for Sam to live, instead, a rich and wonderful life. And lo’ and behold, when all was said and done (and yes, that word done is elastic too), Sam and fam live what some might actually accuse them of living,… a normal life (tho’ that’s a four-letter word in our world).
But, I won’t lie, we all had to learn how to live this life with Sam. There wasn’t a map and they were making it up as they went. But, it wasn’t hard to zip left or slide right as things changed. I myself have asked the world to change how they live with me. So, Sam and I, well, we’re alike that way.
Sally Joy, Sam’s sainted mother, has patiently guided me in my interactions with Sam until, I as a big girl, was able to do my part and develop my own relationship with Sam.
Now, I, or at least my work, have always had a special place in Sam’s world. My syndicated children’s TV show, “Pug And Zero’s Field Trip” was, for a long time, Sam’s “stim.” “Stimming” (some say it’s short for Self-Stimulation) is a term which refers to the default behavior that some on the autism spectrum use when social situations become confusing or uncomfortable. The person tries to calm themselves by making repetitive sounds or hand and body movements. In Sam’s case, he would recite an entire episode of P&Z from start to finish, including the commercials. Flattering, huh? It was until I realized that, if I tried to interact with him during these episodes, he wasn’t looking at me, but rather through me. If I interrupted him, he would start over from the very beginning.
But, as I said, Sally & Ed (Sam’s father) turned their entire life into learning how to be in Sam’s world, rather than allow his round peg to be slammed into the world’s square holes. And it started to work. Luckily, Pug and Zero would eventually become just another one of Sam’s favorite TV shows and it turned out to be a bit of inspiration (what every artist hopes for).
Sam became a filmmaker just like me, and earned the basic techniques of stop-motion animation and creating cartoons. He wanted to follow in my footsteps. As a teenager, Sam took on a gargantuan task of producing a “making of” featurette for the home video version of my indie-horror feature film, “the kiss.”
As one of his Godparents, of course I would make use of any opportunity to show my Godson how our business is run. Sam stood up for himself creatively, and threw tantrums where appropriate (that’s my boy!), and showed both potential and a maturing as an artist. The end result was a pretty good half-hour of television – with no excuse for his age or experience. The best part of this was being involved with Sam on a regular basis. And our relationship also started to mature.
The fog swept in, and Mylove and I had to deal with our own lives. Gender Dysphoria. Cancer. Turmoil… a tiny bit of chaos. Marcy and I had to circle our own wagons and cling to each other for dear life as the stagecoach careened passed the “bridge-out ahead” sign. We were heading for the… (sorry, I’ve run out plum out of western movie metaphors to paint the hardest years of our marriage with a sardonic wash). What I’m trying to say is that, as we braced for impact, we didn’t have a hand left to reach out to family and friends.
I was sad when Sally Joy confessed that they were hurt (tho’ they understood) by our silence. I realized, almost too late, that they were one of the inner circles that I forgot to have “the chat” with. (The chat is the formal, “hey, I’m a woman” phone call or, when lucky, face-to-face discussion, where we start the process of changing the pronouns for me in the hearts, minds, and mouths of those closest to me.)
I’ll just blurt it out right here: Sally Joy had a rough time processing my transition. So much so, that she had to paint me in order to understand me. (Her portrait of my FB profile pic, which announced my transition to the world, is on the cover of the first edition of my book, “Getting Back To Me”.)
But Sam didn’t have a rough time. It took him about 15 seconds to transition me in his heart. It blew me away how fast the speed of love is, and how much it bends the trees when it passes…
Fast forward to 2015.
Sam posted on his FB page – “Congrats to Bradley Whitford for his supporting actor Emmy as Marcy in Transparent.”
Now, you need to know that Sam has quite the connection to Bradley – dating back to his “The West Wing” days. Sam will say that it’s Bradley and his support of Sam back then, that made Sam want to get into acting (which he also does professionally, B-T-Dubs). Sam went on in his post to say that “here’s also a painting my Mom did of one of my Godmothers, Aunt Scottie, who is a trans woman.”
Insert crack of thunder here…
Why did I just feel the world shift on it’s axis?
Why did it strike me so hard?
I told both of us (you and me) how well Sam took the news about me and immediately recoded me in his wetware. I had already celebrated his acceptance.
So, why did this benign posting hit me like the proverbial “ton of bricks?”
Part of it was my survival software kicking in… “Captain! Radar shows extreme risk of negativity from a direct Facebook outing.” Battle stations? What? Permission to engage? Are you kidding? Do I still need to worry about the world knowing about me? Am I not over this? Should I be over this? Why does it matter?
Sam’s posting forced me to look at the dichotomy of my feelings. As I said in GBTM, I am a woman (no trans qualifier/prefix). I want the world to know me, regard me as a woman. When new people meet me, I don’t shake their hand and say, “Hi, I’m trans.” I want them, after meeting me to say to themselves, what an amazing woman. Or, hey that chick is pretty cool. Or, that lady is freakin’ smart. Or who’s that girl? Heck, I’ll take anything that celebrates and recognizes me for the woman I am.
AND, at the very same time, I always stand with my sisters and brothers in the trans community. I respect everyone’s right to identify as they see fit, just as I want that same respect from others.
Granted, to stay coherent in the dialogue, I do use the term trans as a short cut to describe my experiences when appropriate. It’s why I usually just say, speaking as a woman who was “Raised by Wolves,” I yada yada yada.
So I called Sam to have a chat about “it’s okay for me to say I’m trans, but it’s better if someone grants me the courtesy of asking me when they want to refer to me as trans, especially in print. Trust me, my words were already falling apart before I even said them. His posting was not only innocent, it was respectful and, freakin’ celebratory. My Godson was proud of me.
Sam, of course, was wonderful, and he got my dilemma right away – it clicked for him even as I fumbled and stumbled to make sense. He said that he faces a similar quandary when he gets described as an “autistic man,” rather than “justa” man.
We both agreed that we are proud of our pasts, but that we are not our pasts anymore. I admit that I do feel a little weird looking back or if I get reminded about my past. In the end, it was a fruitful. and heady, terribly intellectual conversation with my Godson, now a man, and we connected in a mature way – each bringing our experiences to the table as equals. It was truly magical and I was proud of my Sam.
But nothing prepared for the floor dropping out as I decided to steer the conversation into more personal waters.
I asked Sam about his girlfriend. She and Sam have been dating for almost two years. And I will confess, I, like most people, didn’t take young “relationships” in the family, seriously. I mean, they last for a semester at best, right? But when Sam & she passed the two-year mark, it got my attention… and Sam is smitten with her.
Sam has that amazingly, wonderful and dizzying relationship with “first love” as much as he does this particular young woman. As a young man who hasn’t had the traditional childhood and teen years of most people his age, Sam hasn’t ever had a serious relationship until she came along. And that means he hasn’t been tainted by heartache or by cynicism or by gender politics, and I hope he never is…
… but I was absolutely mesmerized by the timbre of his voice as he described how she makes him feel. I felt a buoyancy in my body that went straight to sweet and exhilarating vertigo, late summer sun sneaking through the clouds of an unseasonal rain, a fresh breeze blowing Zuzu’s chimes and Sam’s first love sparkling in the air like stardust, kinda dizzying.
I didn’t want what he had, I was just happy that he had it!
I wasn’t wishing I had that first love – I knew I had never lost it.
No, this was an “elder auntie” joy at reveling in her Godson’s joy.
And this was a new feeling –an incredibly subtle, yet amazingly powerful feeling that ripped through my entire body like lightning, and ocean waves, and morning breezes, and maple syrup.
And this is something that feels weird to admit out loud. We in the trans community try to explain our existence to a world that already doesn’t, for even a moment, get how or why we are. Explaining something with “born-again fervor,” like it’s the first time that emotion has ever been felt in the history of humankind, seems as if we have been in a sleeping beauty slumber, until estrogen’s kiss wakes us. Which seems at odds with the “I’ve felt this way my whole life.”
Well, if we did, then, why does it feel so new?
And why am I worried to say that out loud?
Because we are judged up one side and down the other more than many other groups. We already are confusing and don’t fit into anyone’s box. So, when our stories don’t add up, we are vulnerable to being dismissed, discounted and just plain dissed… each one a spokesperson to the circle we’re addressing of the entire trans experience. Talk about pressure. Talk about the exposure. Talk about inaccurate.
Yes. We are snowflakes. No one speaks for us all… but that doesn’t stop our being put in that position. By your mom. By your boss. By your neighbor who knows everything.
Your family & friends are trying their absolute best (mostly) to understand something that they have been told by life and society is un-graspable. So, when you hit on something that shines a light on an aspect that becomes clear for them, it’s understandable that they would try to apply that across the board.
That might work in almost every static case of circumstances, but never works in practical one-on-one human relations. Even those in the fields of psychology realize that the only thing they can predict about another human is that they will be unpredictable. Still, the human mind wants to hold them accountable for knowing.
We have watched our every word for our entire lives – weighing, worrying, dissecting. Will our words stand up to scrutiny? Will I pass muster? Will my words “out me?” Will I put everything I hold dear at risk; will I put my life at risk?
So… yes, it’s a tough habit to break. But it gets easier everyday.
Because I now live everyday in the pure light of sunshine’s embrace. And I grow a little more everyday. Watered and tended by the love of Mylove. Of my Sam. And those around me.
So, yes, Sam, I am:
One of your Godmothers.
Your Aunt Marcy’s love.
Your Aunt Scottie.
Sam, I am, Yours.
Scottie Jeanette Madden
Screenwriter, Author, Cook and Lover. Author of "Getting Back To Me, from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years"