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.