Usta-was…

Fair disclosure – I am the daughter of an Irish bartender-car-salesman-force-of-nature who fed my mom, me and my three younger sisters with his wit and gift of gab, or what the Irish call “Blarney” as much as he did with an honest day’s work…

… in other words, anything that can be said with words is much better with many many more words…

We’re storytellers. My pop and I. We come from a long line of storytellers and the proud tradition of Irish bards and poets… and our favorite subjects are usually, supposed to be ourselves. We’re not puffed-up egotists, mind you, c’mon, I said we’re Irish, and we’re good storytellers, which means we’ll usually be the plucky antihero at the center of a very dramatic tale worth listening to… probably even the butt of our own joke.

I willingly took the baton from my father, learning how to capture the attention of the entire room (no matter how large – we’re also very loud) and it’s something that was a great connection with my pop and the world at large. And as I became a veteran of international adventure filmmaking, I developed a huge inventory of material to draw from…

But lately, I find that all of this material, these stories, my precious archives, my history is… bittersweet?  (Not quite the word I’m reaching for, but let’s go with it until something more refined comes.)

Because in these stories, the protagonist is…. well, what I usta-was.

This is a phenomenon that the trans community wrestles with all the time.

Writer, Author, TV Host, and Activist, Janet Mock knows this better than anyone. In her response to an incident where some radio “personalities” not only threatened her and all trans women with murder, but justified murder and violence against our community as “normal.” Janet had no problem putting those guys in their place, calling out the Black community and our entire society to wake-up and elevating the entire incident into a teachable moment.

But she went on to make us all re-examine one of the core strategies that we in the rainbow community depend on to improve our lives – namely education when she said,

  “I’ve turned down thousands from colleges and corporations because I refuse to engage in Trans 101. Trans folk, especially of color, should not be obligated to help cis folk play catch-up on our experiences. The effort can detract from our work to protect and liberate ourselves.”

Ouch. So that’s why it hurts.

Trans 101 is shorthand for “Everything you need to know, are dying to know, think it’s your right to know, and should know about how and why someone is and could go from the outdated heteronormative belief that there is a gender binary, wherein a person assigned their gender by a doctor staring at the genitals at birth, transitions, either by the medical use of hormones and/or surgery and/or outward appearance to society into or to or was already there, or isn’t convinced is even the way to describe or subscribe to the seemingly “opposite” gender, which as we discussed isn’t accurate either, but since the majority of humans have a problem relating to even one word of this subject, we’ll have to agree to a modicum of clunky language in order to get them to stop killing us or wondering why we would choose this in the first place, since we keep saying it’s not a choice, but geezus can we stop now? Seriously we’ll never be able to tackle this all in one workshop, because you will still want to know if I am a girl how could I like girls instead of boys or vice reverse so what are we talking about, but yes thank you I am prettier as a girl, but it’s not about our looks, so please stop calling me sir, and I’m sorry that’s all the time we have, please remember to treat everyone with respect and no I don’t know her.”

Or… trans 101 for short.

The shorter version doesn’t flinch on addressing all of the above. Corporations, Academic intuitions, and organizations use a trans 101 to educate their workforces, student bodies, faculties and members about the elusive unicorns that they’ve heard so much about through mainstream media’s seemingly sudden discovery of this phenomenon, that apparently Janet’s breakfast club idiots slept through.

But… as a trans couple, Me the transgender lesbian one, and Mylove, the cis-hetero one, who are living all of the above, and are articulate, happy, intelligent women who don’t have four heads, neither of which exploded during the process of transition, we are called upon to bring our experience to the cis world, and do so happily.

Because we have committed our house’s resources to advocating, educating and inspiring for change. Mylove and I write, produce, speak and appear and lend our voices and our experiences to the “dialogue” to improve everyone’s life, but specifically the LGBTQIA community. We know from first-hand experience that the more the cis-hetero world knows of and about us, the faster things change. This has been the LGBTQIA recipe for change since The Black Cat & Stonewall.

And yet, as a married couple neck deep in the waves that buffet the shores of our community, we always ask each other as we prepare each workshop, “do we really need to go into Trans 101 again?” and “Surely we’re past all that by now…”

We feel that everyone everywhere must be getting the same news we are, watching the same drama unfold before us and live in the same country as we do… and invariably, after we’re done with a presentation, and it’s time for Q&A (our favorite part) we get the same questions:

How did Marcy deal with her husband admitting she was a woman? (read her book, she loves me in whatever wrapper my soul is wearing, but she says I’m waaaay cuter now.)

When did Scottie first know she was a transgender(ed)? (Yes, the use past tense of a verb that is supposed to be an adjective is still used even by our close friends… sigh) I’ve never not known I wasn’t a woman. I just didn’t have anyone else’s word (transgender) until counseling.

How did Marcy deal with Scottie’s deceit and betrayal? (By realizing there was never neither)

Did Scottie ever want to kill herself? («kill myself,» no. «Wasn’t sure how I could live another day? Always. Until transition.)

Have you had the surgery? (I’m usually coy about this – except in previous blogs).

And we realize. Yes. We still need trans 101 in 2017 and 2018 isn’t looking any better.

Left on their own, the cis world really usually doesn’t give us trans folk a second thought. It takes an “inciting incident” as the saying goes, to get on their radar, (which means it’s usually negative).  They weren’t thinking about us or it, until the President’s ban on transgender members of our military, so they never really did. They never thought about us until a cabal of Christians tried to influence the state legislatures of North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana and even Washington State to close bathrooms to us. (No one is really sure why they picked these states to do this.) They hadn’t given us a second thought until ol’ Betsy started to dismantle Title IX protections. The cis world never thought about us at all until an Olympic God, the seeming pinnacle of American Masculinity turned out to be one of us. But they sure concentrated on her car accident and the fact that she, despite all logic and reason voted for the white supremacist in chief for president, and was caught on film wearing a MAGA hat days after transgender sailors, soldiers, airmen, and coast guardsmen & women were barred from serving their country.

But when the hoopla fades once again … they stop thinking of us.

They may contemplate for an instant what they would do if their spouse came out to them, but it’s mental bubble gum, not a meal and any chewing won’t really satisfy the real hunger or provide any nutritional value. But they’ll go for a chew if they have nuttin’ else to do.

But then again… there are, of course, those who can’t stop thinking about us – and how abhorrent, abominable or disposable we are. They seem to be staying awake nights concocting ways to erase us.

However, the good news is that usually when Mylove and I speak to our audiences, it’s planned, scheduled and we have been invited, so the audience has come to listen and the exercise does go deeper and there is ample food for thought. So most partake.

But Janet’s assertion that we shouldn’t be obligated to help cis-folk play catch-up is a poignant one. Obligated. She’s describing the feeling many of us have when we have to bite our tongues as someone demands of us that we allow them the space to remain stuck in willful ignorance or worse. It’s truly bizarre. They don’t hear how their words are covered in barbs when they say, “give me a minute to catch up” or “we have to agree to disagree…” (this is my personal favorite… of what we’re agreeing to disagree about is that I am real, that I’m legal, that I am allowed to be.)

Think of it. We, as humans are all one. We are all family. We are blood. So when someone says “give me a minute to catch up” or “we have to agree to disagree…” they instantly dehumanize us. It happens in a heartbeat. The cord between our hearts is intentionally severed.

And what was one is now cut into two pieces, “one” and “other.”

It feels innocent enough when someone says, “Scottie, just let me catch my breath, you’re not the you I was expecting.”  Which, if we shared history, and the last time we saw each other, I usta-was, then I get it. But take your breath and let’s get back to that connection.

But when you say, “I’m sorry, call me ‘old-fashioned’, but…” Or “I’ve read the research, and what you really are, is deluded…” Or anything else that smacks of you trying to tell me what my experience of me is, you are not only at the height of arrogance, which is “bless your heart” asinine, but you are also so out of step with the current maturity of humanity, that your opinion and thoughts are completely irrelevant. You have played your hand as woefully inadequate. Your sense of entitlement makes you impotent. You have just effectively removed yourself from the conversation.

Can you put your mommy on the phone?

Yes, Janet’s words make sense (still) on so many levels. Especially the ones that make me wonder how long we will have to continue to drag the rear flank of humanity into the present.

But… it’s that we are still having this conversation (and twitter fencing and Facebook arguments) that is the real point of what she’s saying. It shouldn’t be this way in the first place. Seriously, in which situation is it ever okay, by any measure, to dismiss, dehumanize or discriminate against anyone?

Apparently, this one.

Some people believe they have a God-given, Bible-mandated duty to hate. And others who know that those people are insane, choose to look the other way, allowing hatred to spread unabated.

But, (thankfully?) there are still those in the middle. And these are our audiences. These are wonderful humans who, despite the fact that they think they are the ones who that just discovered the unicorn, or discovered a unicorn has been in their family or saw the flash of a golden horn out of the corner of their eye for the very first time… allow their hearts to be heard. It’s still a little weird that they regard unicorns as “other,” but what are we going to do?unicorn battalion crest.001

They want to know how to care and feed a unicorn because they truly are good people. And though they never knew a unicorn before, or had only read about one in books or saw one on TV, their heart can or has already been moved.

I guess that’s why we do what we do, it is because we feel obligated not just to the straight, cis world, but on behalf of my sisters and brothers, and those just now growing up (I’m sorry Janet) but I don’t do it without having to take a breath. As I’ve said above, the fact that I have to be okay while someone “catches that breath,” is still a hard pill to swallow.

And Janet’s is ultimately right. It’s not easy to be the unicorn in the room. No one is fooling anyone – we all know why we’re all here for a Trans 101 workshop. It’s a safe place to help cis-folk “catch-up” on our experiences, but to do that..,

… we have to play usta-was.

Usta-was has become an ingrained part of the trans narrative. I am an obvious version of this phenom, in that I usta appear as tho’ I was a man.  But there are many variations of this phenom. All are equally valid and valued.

The point connection with our audiences is usta-was. And for most, we could end up staying here for the rest of time. Some are so blown away by the physical act of transformation and the process and the courage as well as the hardship and effort required that they don’t have the attention span for any other part of the discussion. They don’t have an appetite for the happiness, the relief, the thriving and contribution we make. It’s not as dramatic, it’s not as exciting, or easy to see with your eyes, certainly not as captivating… and Invariably, questions return to the blunt force trauma of usta-was, where Scottie was Scott, the woman, a guy.

Let’s be real, it’s the only reason the breakfast bozos had Janet on their show in the first place.  She says in her article that she has no illusions that these idiots had any desire to be human, even though they have many times decried (rightly so) the devaluing of black lives that our country still can’t seem to fix. They “looked the other way” when hatred sat right before them. And they fed hatred with smiles, laughs and tacit and overt agreement. And still, others made excuses for them –

All while Tee Tee Dangerfield became the 16th trans woman murdered in 2017. She was shot to death in Atlanta, that very weekend (we have since lost two more).  She was murdered because she usta-was. Janet was disrespected because she usta-was. The cis world is obsessed, repulsed, enraged by and yet, still fascinated that we usta-was.

I have no counter to Janet’s point that the conundrum for us is this: even the act of engaging in usta-was to correct it, perpetuates its existence.  It’s the amber that imprisons us forever in our pasts that were never correct or accurate but are still captivating and beautiful.

Our fear is that you will always see us as only usta-was. You will never see me in my womanhood – you will see me as I usta-was.

And yet, an invisible part of being Raised By Wolves is the internal wrestling match with usta-was. Some in our tribe choose to patently ignore it. Erase all traces. Others wear theirs out loud, sometimes literally tattooing the past for all to see. As we contemplate our pasts we see both good times and bad (like everyone) except ours have all kinds of heartbreak in both. When we share with you our “good,” you would never know how the lead shielding of my armor stopped joy from penetrating my heart completely, and with the “bad” you would never know depths to which I sunk.

But I do. I remember how it usta-was.

And as I settle into my own acceptance of myself, I am sometimes surprised that the pain, confusion, and sense of imprisonment of a lot of my usta-was is starting to fade. I have to “call it up” from a distant island where I had marooned it during the coup d’etat my feminine self-staged a few years back. I call it up to support others in their understanding of what this world is like. What’s weird is that while the details are clear, gone is the overhanging feeling of dread. But what is left are the sometimes embarrassingly silly ways I tried to deal with a Nazgul who is no longer there. Yes, I remember being hijacked every month, and fearing both the departure and return. Yes, I remember having feelings of powerlessness, the feelings of entrapment, the feeling of injustice. But I can’t recall the actual feeling viscerally.

Thank you, God.

When I do recount the times when I stood on the top of a tower of ice and fire in Iceland, or swam in the crystal waters of a cenote in the Yucatan, lead my crew out of the Guyanan jungle, or stood on the legendary beach of Uluwatu, it seems like an adventure novel…

And that’s what everyone wants to hear – it’s the hook that not even I can deny. Yes, I wrote the backcover notes on my book. trading on the tropes that I was trying to overcome by writing in the first place – in order to get the reader to pick it up.

Because everyone, including ourselves (at first) is fascinated by usta-was.

But, usta-was is only supposed to be the jumping off point for those who are just waking up in 2017 and realizing that there are herds of unicorns… gosh – everywhere!

As the woman who “didn’t have a hell to leave,” I hope my story helps people understand that nature has a course that no amount of nurture can change.  No mob of pitchfork-angry Republicans can “scare” it away. No mean-girls can shame it away, no father can “man-up it” away. No facebook troll can “opinion” it away. No religious zealot can “fire and brimstone” it away. Not even the very real fear of never being loved or lovable can threaten it away.

The only path is acceptance. If it comes with love, all the better.

Maybe we can be women our society is inspired by, “Scottie followed her heart despite what the world, success, society’s expectations, even her own body, tried to deny.” And “Marcy faced down her greatest fear to choose love.”

We thrive when we embrace one another.

We thrive when we choose love over fear.

We thrive when we stand for love, body & soul.

We thrive when we stand up to ignorance, inequality, and discrimination of every kind.

And to make this point, we have to tell you “the before,” the usta-was, so you can grasp the full brilliance of “the after. “

Again. And again.

So, if that’s the price to pay to open one human heart…

We’re all in.

But it’s important – when I recall for you what I usta-was, and regale you with the dizzying romancing of a beautiful woman who would take my hand in marriage…

Or when I relate the ways I cared for, protected and earned the respect and love of those I led, was in charge of, or served… or when I confess to you the dreams yet to be realized…

… please know this-

It’s all the part of usta-was that I still am.

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“It’s weird because it’s not weird… am I right, ladies?”

One of the surprising side effects of estrogen is the melting of a chain that I tried to keep ignoring for my whole adult life. This chain was short by design and the links felt lighter than the other restraints I had used to chain my heart into its dungeon keep. They were lighter, so I would almost forget I was wearing it… but it was made of some seriously strong stuff.

I tried to convince myself that I had several tools that helped make up for the lack of mobility because of this chain, that I had ways to get the work done despite this chain.

I used to talk about this chain metaphorically, because that made it easier to dismiss that I was the blacksmith that forged it, that I probably had the strength to break it, and that I did know where it leads, what it was restraining, and that I even knew why it had been forged in the first place, and therefore…

that I was the only one who could break it.

This chain? Let’s call it Miss-direction.  And it restrains the raptor of self-inquiry that hunts the smaller rodents of denial that gnaw on normal, everyday reality.

No, I am not on Molly, hang with me, I can stick this landing, I swear.

You would think that a woman who has been able to claw her way out of the dungeon, past the fire-breathing dragon of dysphoria should be able to deal with the little critters of everyday reality without so much as breaking a sweat. And you would be right.

You would say that a yogini who had dedicated her entire adult life to the practice, study, and pursuit of self-realization, after removing the large boulders of identity and fear with Grace, should have weeded out these pesky weeds in the garden of self-awareness in the process. Again, you would be right.

But the iron chain of Miss-direction was a rusted relic that I discovered as I was redecorating the deeper chambers of the temple of myself. As I said, I was surprised to discover it – it was carefully camouflaged by a thin veneer of “been there done that.”chains.001

I wish I had found it through an intentionally targeted search because that would mean I’m on my game. But the truth is, I only saw the rust marks on the floor when I pulled up the carpets that I had used for years to sweep things under.

Along with the skeletal frames of bravado and crass, it had been dissolved when estrogen began to scour the inner walls of my heart.

I guess what I’m just now realizing is that the chain had been unnecessary for a very long time – the raptor it had held captive had given up long ago – the muscle memory from her initial tests of the restraint was still there, she had thought that she was forever chained. But when I threw open the drapes and let light flood in, she could see that she was no longer clapped in iron.

And her tummy was rumbling… she was hungry.

She is stretching her wings in the sunlight, and it couldn’t be a moment too soon.

“Transition” (a noun in our community spelled with a capital T) can be so… what’s the word here, full?  Sure that works. So full of both physical and emotional experiences and tasks, that it can be a full-time job just keeping your footing as your entire world shifts on its axis. This “fullness” can be all you could possibly do in a 24 hour day, between trying to shed these “Post-Surgical Pounds” and fending off the impulse to engage with that idiot who thinks their opinion on whether having transgender military personnel will affect unit cohesion is somehow more accurate or pertinent than what the Joint Chiefs already took years to know.

Yes. Good ol’ life can seem like a full time job.

Oh and then there’s getting a job. Keeping the projects that are in progress progressing. Nurturing the new ideas. And none of this takes into account the time that life is really here for, loving and caring and living with the most amazing person in the history of persondom.

That leaves about 7 minutes per day for self-inquiry. That usually comes in the shower.

But one has to take it when one can get it, right?

But as I said, I realized that the biggest restraint is gone and lo and behold, in its place is a strength and refreshed sense of… is that wonder? Why, so it is… okay, a wonder at…

how am I doing?

Well. Yes. How. Am. I. Doing?

To understand the gravity of this question, I think I need a breath here. I have not only dreamed of being “where I am now” – on the other side of GCS, but I fantasized about it (two very different things) like forever, even though I never believed I would ever really get to here. This fantasy was as painful as much as it was temporarily liberating…

until finally it just got depressing.

Too painful.  I knew it was just vapor. A future that would never be. A pall on my present. And, if I’m going to try to be brutally realistic, a waste of my time to “even go there.” Which was the shillelagh I used to pound myself with when my commitment wavered.

So, I finally got myself to just stop dreaming.

I built wall after wall after wall to seal off the dungeon so the light would never get in, because even just one deflected ray could pierce my heart so deeply that it would take weeks to recover.

But… back when I did dream…

Despite knowing that it would end back in drab reality, I would sometimes be able to soar… and it was giddy, euphoric, blissful (have I made it clear, yet?), ecstatic.  A wonderland of gold and pink light, of sparkling newness, and glistening, scintillating… normalcy.

My life as I hoped to live it would be as normal as yours. A life with no questions that started with “how come” and ended with “why me?” In this vast and glorious queendom, I would no longer deal with the body of some guy; I would no longer have the life of that dude. I could drop pretense and fear. I could let fall the shield of appearance. I would reallocate mental energy from navigation and defense to creation and nurture. My fantasies were not of riches and creature comfort but of my family seeing me and accepting me. MyLove loving me as a woman.

I wasn’t some super heroine, but a normal, average ordinary girl.

Yeah, I know. It was just a fantasy.

So, the other day when Mylove asked, “ So… how are you really?” Which for those of you who read GBTM might remember, was a question I would dread hearing, usually about once a month from Mylove after I came out to her.

It’s a question that I also used to ask of myself, not really wanting to know the answer.

And now, as one who has made it to this side of the river trans, I confess to knowing that if I were to ask this of myself, and if that answer were to ever be negative, there would be nothing I could do about it.

So it might be better not to ask?

Yes, I know, I know, to not ask this question of one’s self is (normally) to have doubt that one may not have made the right decision in the first place. I tried to threaten the raptor with a new chain by saying to myself that I would not have this question if there was nothing to question.

But srsly girl?

And that’s why it’s important that I realized the raptor could fly the day before Mylove asked. Because I did it under my own power and direction. I didn’t relegate it to the “so what department.” I actually walked right toward this question and stared it in the face and that’s when I first discovered that the tell-tale tug on my ankle that would have stopped me from going any further “down this road”…

never came.

I wasn’t afraid to ask this question and hang around for the answer.

And it was, I’m admitting right here, a bit disorienting because as I went searching for “how” I was. I realized I had been trained to look for only two things – the pink and gold blissful sunshine of my fantasy future life, or the dank and choking fog of regret.  I wasn’t prepared for what I found, and that’s why it confused me… I wasn’t sure what it was, at first.

Because it was so… um… well, this is a bit embarrassing, to admit, but… it was so… real. Realer than real. It was as if this was, and had only ever been my experience.

Because it was, you silly.

I was almost disappointed. Where were the flocks of rainbow doves? Where was the golden sparkle of reality, the crystal ring of each moment? Where was the ecstasy of “finally?” Where was the euphoria of “inevitable?” Where was the radiance of angels’ singing welcome?

I had had amazing peak experiences during the days right after (gender confirming) surgery, so now that I was healed, and starting to return to my workout and feeling physically good for the first time in like forever, why wasn’t I still floating in bliss?  Why were my days just like any other days… uh! Oh…

… does that mean…?

Yes, girlfriend, it means your dream came true. Your life, your living, your reality is…

normal.

It happened so gently and gracefully that I almost missed it. Now, my everyday life looks anything but normal. I didn’t sign-up to have a sitting President try to institutionalize discrimination by not only dismantling long and hard-won rights and protections such as Title IX, the Civil Rights Act, and trying to ban transgender people currently serving in our military, or  from ever serving.  So there’s that.

But that’s not the normal I’m talking about. I don’t feel like a stranger in my own body. I don’t feel like a charade trying to be “okay” so you can be okay that I’m okay. I don’t think about how to get through another day, despite feeling like any moment I will be swallowed by “the hijacker” (my pet name for the dragon that came as bouts of dysphoria that stalked me for fifty years).

So when Mylove asked me how I was doing, I knew neither she nor I had the time to say all of the above, and I immediately remembered my sister Kimm’s words from a text she sent me after seeing her big sister (me) for the very first time:

“I finally figured it out. It’s weird cuz it’s not weird. Am I right ladies?”

Maybe it runs in the family. Maybe our genes view reality through a “Seat-o-the-pants” filter, an instinctual jedi–scan that looks for disturbances in the Force, that pings under the crust of appearances to scrutinize the heart of the matter to heal what needs it. Whatever you call it, it was the only thing that accurately described… how I was doing.

It’s not weird. It’s not euphoric. It is not “not normal.”

Which is weird.

I just had major surgery. I’m still trying to get the hang of lipstick. I can’t remember the last time I even watched a war movie. I walk through my daily world, where I had previously walked as a relatively high profile “dude” (albeit a flamboyantly independent Hollywood freak) gracefully, unapologetically, and even, dare I say, tastefully feminine. Not a trace of “guy” anywhere. It’s not so much how I look that I’m reveling in, but more the acceptance that greets me. Most of my people do know that I was raised by wolves, and they either don’t care, like this version much better, or are too polite to make a fuss. “It’s” not weird, am I right, ladies?”

Yes. I notice that I am different. I think twice when I feel a string of expletives revving their engines while the catapult prepares to hurl them from the deck of the carrier into an aerial dogfight. But, I flinch at the use of explosive violent adjectives to describe a benign human interaction. (example, I don’t SLAM anyone, I’m COUNTERING their opinion). I used to cringe at the assumptions of patriarchal misogyny in all human endeavors, and resort to “workarounds.” Now I (either it’s estrogen or age) weed them out.  Even my sense of humor has gotten different – the jokes I now tell I either modify on the spot or let die a lonely death, unsaid. I don’t need to be the “jokester,” I can graciously just smile at the ones I’ve heard a million times (daughter of a car salesman-bartender – I grew up on the classics) knowing that every comedian needs an audience.

And… yes, I still practically dare the a**hole in the Camaro staring me down at the red light to give me an excuse to… to… to what? My adrenaline still spikes from the same stimuli, but the second part of that is when my brain kicks back in and reminds me that I was never a fighter at any time, in my life and I for damn sure won’t turn into one now. So I can stop “frontin’” here and now. When this does happen now, I spend the next hour probing my psyche for the accelerant that still wants to turn a spark into a backdraft. Before I just wrote that a**hole off without a second thought.

I’m not sure if other girls think this much about thinking.

I’ve come too far to not go all the way. But navigating the way forward by measuring the distance traveled is a cumbersome way to sail. And truly speaking, now that I’m in the seas of normal, it’s getting harder and harder to recall the weird past. The pain suffered is only a vague concept now. I made land driven by winds that came from the original desire to relieve the cause of that suffering almost… um… gee… I guess that would be… well, a few months ago. With that cause now gone, so too are those winds that filled my sails.

ship-001.jpeg

Which means that other winds can now take me in new directions.

I guess I will still be of service to others in the sharing of the charts from my journey. And I guess, if I’m really transparent, that’s what these writings are. The reality is that watching this raptor of self-inquiry hunt her prey is not the moment by moment experience that ignoring her had once been. She’s free to hunt. But I am free…

I’m not worried what she will find.

I am strong. I am in my body. Nothing is weird or strange. I have a lot of new in my life. I have a lot of unfamiliar. I have a lot of “really? Me? You mean I can, I am, I will, I don’t have to…” And yes, some of that recalls the vague memories in my muscles of the ways and whys of my time running with wolves, when the opposites were true, “I can’t, I am not, I won’t ever…”

I am doing all right. But that’s now, finally, wonderfully an assessment that comes by measuring the way forward rather than looking back. I’m no longer defined in the negative. Wow.

Am I right, ladies?

Yes. I’m right. I’m all right.

Actually, I’m just…

Right.

 

 

“Does this skirt make my butt look trans?”

I’ve been putting this one off for a long time. And yes, those of you who’ve read my book will want to remind me that I’ve said this before –

it’s not about our looks and it is about our looks but not in the way that most mean when they say that to us, or about us. Please allow me to explain.

You hear a lot of confusing things when people talk about the T in LGBTQ. The most mystifying of these is Dysphoria. As in “Gender Dysphoria,” which is the medical diagnosis that has been the gateway to all of the things that made my life livable. (Despite an amazing marriage to the most incredible woman in human history, a loving family, and “normal” childhood upbringing, college education, etc.) More recently, you’ll see the term “Body Dysphoria” used as well. I never thought about it before, but when used accurately, Body Dysphoria may be a more relatable term for a huge segment of our Pink & Baby Blue community, I’m speaking of those for whom even the word “gender” can sometimes send the conversation skidding sideways. And before we go any further, we’re okay with this ambiguity in our community, so you can be okay too.

I first heard the term “body dysphoria” when a dear new BFF was sharing with me that though she was cis-woman, she could relate to my experience. She too knew what it was like to be trapped in conflict with her own body. She had suffered from Anorexia. Her own body dysphoria had ruled her life from puberty through her early twenties. And the subsequent work that it took to alleviate the trauma and the health effects that are collateral damage, had become her daily experience.

Yes. She could understand me and my experience. She could relate to the utter exhaustion and trauma of living under the tyranny of the mirror.

Those who have never had this (and God bless you) will never “get it.”

I still hear even well meaning people wondering aloud how come no amount of will power, affirmations or good intentions can ever remove the elephant’s foot from one’s head, neck, and chest. Neither of these dysphorias (gender nor body) are our imaginations. Neither are “psychological” in the lay-man pop-psych euphemism. Neither dysphorias are a curse or punishment for past wrongs or missing Sunday mass. Neither dysphorias are God’s… anythings.

They are medical realities with cures.

I will leave my friend’s reality here because I can only relate to her experience as she did mine. But the lesson learned is that “body dysphoria,” is not our community’s cross to bear alone. Other communities know this, other communities deal with this, other communities beat this. We’re in good company.

It’s important for me to try to lay to rest once and for all, that we’re not talking about “confusion” about our bodies like it’s a mental exercise that can be cleared up by restating the issue in a different way or diagraming its formula or elements.

No.

We have never been confused.

Bewildered. Blindsided. Betrayed. Maybe. Confused as to why this happens, sometimes. But, confused that this is true, or so, or real reality?

No.

We are not confused.

We each (all humans) learn to develop coping mechanisms to deal with things that are  “not right,” when we are children. No matter what the “not right” thing is. Everyone eventually cobbles together a defensive strategy pretty quickly.

Or they don’t — and become a statistic.

A tragedy.

You know these numbers – 41% of our community have attempted or contemplated suicide.

Dysphoria (at least in my case) came from the psychological trauma of trying to suppress messages from my body that were contrary to my heart and mind. That sentence seems benign enough, right? And maybe that’s why the confusion in the cis-community exists. In an effort to articulate our experience in a succinct way, we end up sanitizing words — which makes them seem so… I dunno, almost benign, certainly surmountable.

Which is something Dysphoria is not.

For me, it was like lying on a live grenade for every moment of of my life. And knowing that someday. It will explode.

Now, try imagining that for even one minute. Go ahead… I’ll time you.

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Not easy is it?  A minute, under those circumstances is a very long time. Now pile on top of that the tension of feeling that you have to do it every minute of every day of every year of your life.

Now add on to that the feeling that it will never end.

Your nerves are permanently frayed. You are mentally spent trying to keep this tidal wave of grief and despair at arm’s length.  You are physically spent because this requires every nerve, every muscle, every breath. You are spiritually exhausted from trying to believe that God and life and nature are worth having faith in.

That’s the tricky one, spiritually. Try staying afloat in the beauty that is a human birth despite bathroom laws and an asshole in the White House who just threw 15,000 valiant members of our military to the wolves of right-wing Christian hate. (Make no mistake, our brothers and sisters in the U.S. Military are taking the assault on behalf of us all… this will only embolden the idiots on the state level who have already been trying everything they can, to institutionalize their hate.) It drains the soul of a community that has had to keep the faith despite being hunted for sport, despite our own families “turning their backs” on us and disowning us and disavowing us.

Try to remain engaged with God, despite a constant feeling of bile that arises because you’ve been biting your tongue when those who claim to “have no grudge with you” look the other way because our fight is not their fight. Try to stay happy despite being told that everything you’ve been taught to accept as moral and just and good, is not for you. It’s for everyone. It is your divine birthright. It is for all… except you.

If you can imagine all of that, like my friend who survived anorexia, then you can begin to understand dysphoria.

It’s a medical reality with cures. I use the plural because, for some like myself, the cure was hormones and GCS. But there are many in our community that need nothing more than love and acceptance to lift the toxic smog of Dysphoria.

And here’s the part that seems to mystify the cis-community. No one needs to know “which is which” and “who is who.”  You really don’t need to know why I had to have surgery and some of my sisters and brothers do not – just like I (and my sisters & brothers) don’t need to know why you (insert what you have or have not done to your own body). It’s no one’s business but your lover’s and your doctor’s.

But the “yous” of the world still try.

They announce their misunderstanding and ignorance publicly, saying really stupid things like, “I just don’t understand…” (which, if it was an invitation for someone to come forward to clarify, wouldn’t be so bad, but sadly it’s the sound a wall makes when it goes up to end the discussion.) “Where I come from, there’s just men and women” “Or we just agree to disagree.” “We just have different beliefs, that’s all,” Or, my favorite is, “You’ve chosen to live this way…”

I, and my sisters and brothers, are not your opinion, belief or agenda. We are people, citizens, your neighbors, your bosses, your employees and your sisters and your brothers. Your nieces. Your nephews. Your children.

Period.

Our stunted President has already dismantled Title IX protections, excluding trans youth from services that every person is supposed to be entitled to, citing that transgender people were not entitled to protections under the civil rights act. In Texas, they used a special session to pass a bathroom law to keep trans people out of going to the bathroom with less than 10 hours of debate citing “daughters over dollars.” How hate-filled and messed up is this — how can you tell a transgender person, “give me your tax dollars, but YOU can’t use the facilities that they pay for?” How can you say your daughter is more important than the Trans child? And this is not just about where we pee. When the child is ostracized by the Federal and state governments, the child is subject to vilification and bullying ONTOP of discrimination.  THIS IS AMERICA PEOPLE!

We’re still fighting down these down all of these like whack-a-mole.

It’s the height of ego. Because the yous of the world can not, will not even try to regard us an individual people. It’s safer for them to regard as a faceless mass. Easier to built a wall around us. Easier to legislate us into oblivion, Easier to erase us. Forget us. Forget trying to get them to walk in our shoes. They think their view of the world is shared by all. That everyone thinks the way they do. That there is an inherent logic to their argument. It’s like talking to a child who keeps repeating the same question over and over despite being told the facts. They aren’t really asking for an answer, they’re looking for validation that they are okay.

But, and here’s the weirdest thing of all, they have made us a cause – the transgender community must be erased. Our existence tramples on their freedom to discriminate and exclude. Our right to live somehow infringes on their right to hate.

With these conditions waiting for you as you step into the world, you might be able to see why we step cautiously. We have been taught that the world thinks we should feel shame and confusion about something that we are born with. Many of us follow the world’s lead and deal, succumb or hopefully cast off this shame and confusion (not of who we are, but how we are to live with it and you) to simply live our lives. This hatred is the backdrop of our lives. Look, we know we are a minority of every minority. The color of our skin intersects with our identities and our sexuality to push us from our families and tribes. A huge segment of the cis world believes it is their divine right to hate us, be confused by us, and works to forget us because of our race, gender and sexuality and all of the above.

And another segment of the cis–world allows this to happen by their silence and indifference.

Is it any wonder then, that this potential disconnect between not only what I see, when I look at me, but also what you see when you look at me, makes me work so hard? I have to get it right. I have to thread the needle between dignity and experimentation. Between self-expression and self-preservation. If you don’t see me as a woman, then I have you constantly reminding me (with both subtle and overt messages) that something about me is “not right.” It’s one thing for someone to say, “You look pretty today,” and quite another for someone to say, “You look like, oh bless your heart.”

So, the more visual clues I give that tell you I regard myself as a woman, the better chance we both have that you’ll get the message and at least not make it more awkward than it might be.  In some places this isn’t just a potentially awkward thing – it could be the difference between life and death.

Hopefully, you can see that for us beauty isn’t merely skin deep.

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For girls of my age, “the ability to pass” was a holy grail. It’s an impossibly high standard for a community that has been sculpted by testosterone. I’m not sure if I do, (Mylove tries to reassure me all the time) but (knock wood) since my transition, I have not been misgendered or even looked at with so much as a raised brow, so something is working in my favor. Even so, there are those people who knew me before, who spend the better part of a conversation trying to peek under my mascara. I guess I should take even that as a compliment.

But… when I see myself in the mirror, I still go right to the “tells”…

Yes, I see a woman. Thank God. But I can’t ignore the “too strong” jawline, the back that has trouble staying in any slinky dress, the wide ankles, and feet that spill over my size elevens and don’t get me started on my arms… thankfully, electrolysis has finally taken most of the hair from my face, and estrogen has softened the easy parts. With a curling iron, eyeliner and a touch of lip gloss, I look like…

…  the me that is looking out from my own eyes.

Yes. She needs more sit-ups, fewer carbs, and better fitting shoes. But her confidence glows brighter every day. Which helps her lighten up on herself a little more every day.

And here’s the thing… something almost all of my close cis-sisters say to me is that this self “critiquing” with its wild swing from dismay to acceptance is one of the not-so-good parts of “being a woman.” This constantly comparing one’s own body and physical self to some sort of “ideal” differs slightly for each of us but is there nonetheless.

And I know this – I don’t have to be told. What none of my cis-sisters knows is what it’s like to cry when another girl simply pulled her hair casually back into a pony tail without a second thought. And you can’t.

Or the conflicting war between grief and pride when your next door neighbor wore a “big girl’s dress” to high school for the very first time. And you never will.

Oh, trust me, I’ve been comparing my life to other girls since I was little. But the distance was measured in light years. So yes. I know.

But what I don’t know is what do you see when you see me? Do you see a woman who is desirable? Do you see a woman who is strong? Who is intelligent? Whois creative? Who is loved? What does Scottie Jeanette Christine Madden look like?

I ask this because, the other day, I was talking to someone who said, “Funny, you don’t look trans.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with that. Look trans? I had a train wreck of images in my head from the classic Catwoman-like-too much-plastic surgery taughtface to Jeffrey Tambor’s “Oh Bless her heart” Maura. Then I thought of all the trans women that I respect – Alexandra Billings, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Jen Richards, Ashlee Preston, Trace Lysette, Zachary Drucker, Rain Valdez…

Were they saying I wasn’t… drop-dead gorgeous?????

If trans looks like anyone of these amazing women, I’ll have what they’re having.  Because sadly according to this person, I’m not or don’t.

Or are they merely trans stars?  So, of course, they would be beautiful?  Now, I know Alexandra is roaring with laughter now and calling me playful yet derogatory names for including her in this group of super models, we’ve had this conversation a few times, and she has the appropriate amount of humbleness about her looks, usually deflecting any sort of praise or adoration. But let’s face it – she is beautiful, inside and out as are we all — some just more than others.

I don’t look trans?  I. Don’t. Look. Trans?

Of course,  my self-conscious self went to cynicism, taking “don’t look trans” to be cis-speak for “Now that you mention it, I can see that you were raised by wolves, despite that cute sun dress and pink acrylic nails.”

In other words, my daily fear that no amount of lip gloss will ever cover testosterone’s legacy.

Yes, I am maturing, getting stronger as I said, and on the days when I am self-confident, I like what I see. I like the me that is emerging. And I realize that I have… a different look. When I was growing up, despite not seeing my face as mine, the face that was there was never really handsome. It wasn’t not nice for others to look at, but it wasn’t particularly a man’s face per se… just a face. Now that I am seeing out my eyes and seeing my face, I’m starting to like her, even with her too strong jawline. She is unique. She is different. Is she beautiful?  Well…

I hesitate because…, I am a child and a product of the televised concepts of beauty.

I formed my views of femininity and beauty during my childhood and puberty just like you. I had a vision of myself as a woman that still had Farrah Fawcett surfer bangs and wore leather mini skirts and disco inspired slinky dresses. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and my inspirations were the sunkissed FF Jaclyn Smith and Michelle Pfeiffer (I actually placed a lavalier mic on the divine Ms. Pfeiffer, and was so nervous she had to steady my hand with hers… I nearly fainted).

Remember, I was never going to actually get to be my mature womanly self, so I could set the bar impossibly high.

And now that I am a mature woman in her fifties, the bar is still high. Too high. But not quite high enough for me to judge myself with it.

I don’t want the world to view me through cis-colored lenses. But I also don’t want to be seen as a woman with an asterisk.

I’m hoping that with my continuing maturity, I’ll lighten up on myself even more and see my beauty and accept it as the most beautiful me that it… is. That’s a little hard for me to do at this point. Maybe because I still have hope in my youth. I still have a chance. Everything I see in the mirror at this point is because of hard work. Getting up early to work out, almost 50 hours of electrolysis, and dieting. I’m at least willing to work as hard as I can to see where I will end up.

Just like the fact that you will have to be okay with the future versions of you staring back at you from your mirror, I will, because I’m no longer dysphoria’s captive be okay with the me staring back at me.

But will I look trans?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abuse of Power

I’ve been trying to come up with an elegant way of starting this week’s post… but it’s hard to type as outrage and incredible sadness arm wrestle for access to the launch tubes…

And… like a horrifying number of women in this country who’ve had to deal with having their scars suddenly and unceremoniously ripped open during these past two weeks (two weeks?????), I have to speak up. We have, without coordination, nor cohesion, all come to the same conclusion, and realized that despite the pain, and shame, and, for god’s sake, please get this! fear, it’s time to step forward.

I too, am a victim of sexual abuse.

As a trans woman, I kept this buried so very deep, because I already have to battle the gnats and mosquitos of the misinformed, the ignorant, and the downright idiots who believe that their beliefs somehow overrule my existence. They think they can deny me and my identity. They can ignore science (look, we all get why there are climate deniers out there. You make your money from fossil fuels – we knew that. So we’ve never ever given credibility to your denial. But unlike your sick cousins, the trans-deniers, your denial is “just business”).  But you both can stop now; you can stop ignoring the U.S. Government, the world’s health and medical minds – you can stop trying to somehow use your beliefs to make fiction into fact. You can stop thinking that your opinion is right and valid when applied to me and my existence.  Just stop.

Knowing that I am already helping push Sisyphus’s rock up that hill, I am loath to let any armchair psychologist weigh-in on or re-write my origin story. I was trans before any abuse. The abuse was not, and could not be, responsible for anything other than the pain of being abused.

I am also compelled to help explain to the non-humans out there that the reasons why victims don’t come forward when it happens is…

Their own fucking reasons!

In my case, I was reading Janet Mocks’ book, “Redefining Realness,” and it opened that door that I closed so long ago.  Tied-up in a knot of identity and sexuality and childhood confusion, I had been successful at convincing myself that there hadn’t been sufficient evidence to accuse him; that it was probably a “one time only” thing for my abuser. I had to face the fact that, tho’ my gender dysphoria was able to blow down the walls of its prison (once a month it turns out), I had been successful at burying my sexual abuse so far under that prison, that I almost forgot it was there…

Except that it was there. A crack in the foundation that makes every strut bend a little out of plumb. Casts a little bit of a shadow over things. A thorn in my heart where love is supposed to be.

But I must have gotten stronger through my transition, because I was able to say it out loud. I was able to tell Mylove. My lover. The one with whom I share my body and soul. I am…

This… happened to me.

It was a trusted man. My family trusted him, allowed him to take me and my friends places, sleep over at his house. Now, this man was in his twenties. He was a role model, or so my parents thought. He studied hard and became a paramedic. I went to his family’s house many times, and all of my friends would come too. We went to the movies and camping and all the things that are “great things” for boys.

I knew him for about 5 years when, one night, my best friend T and I spent the night. And he suggested that, rather than camping out in his living room (like usual), why don’t we all share the bed?  T came from a family with brothers and didn’t seem to think it was weird. So why should I?

I woke out a sound sleep to feel someone moving my hand. When I realized what was happening, it was too late. I jerked my hand back and  felt a reassuring hand stroking my forehead saying I had just had a bad dream… just go back to sleep.  It happened again, and the same reassuring hand caressed my forehead, the same whisper, once again telling me I was the one who had a bad dream… and all this without a word from me, as I lay there shivering…

The other part I buried, and I still can’t believe I did this, was that my best friend was also a victim. The next morning, T was curled up on the couch in the living room. I asked, “when did you  leave?”  But his reason was mumbled as our host made breakfast. It wasn’t until the following day that T could tell me that he had woke up with his hand where it shouldn’t be. And he immediately sought refuge in the living room.

Needless to say, things were never the same after that.

I realized after talking to Mylove about it, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Mylove said all the right things I guess I was craving to hear – It wasn’t my fault, etc.

But the truth was, I never gave myself permission to be the victim, because I didn’t think I had a right to say I was “Abused,” since I’m not sure how far my bad dream went. And in retrospect, I’m not sure how much I actually buried… was it a single night?  Did I let this happen more than once? Why had T been strong when I had not? He took control, I pretended to sleep. He never saw our friend again… I… can’t be sure when I stopped seeing our friend. Geezus, how much have I buried? And why am I still trying to downplay it?

I have to hold on to the handrail of rationale – the ways we all react to each situation are our own – there is no way anyone can ever say, “you should’ve done it this way,” particularly in the realm of abuse.

The criteria for credibility was not created by us – it was imposed onto us by those WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN ABUSED – WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU TO JUDGE??????

There is no statute of limitation on pain, on suffering, on the degree of pain or suffering. There is not a GOD DAMNED THING THAT WILL EVER EXCUSE OR FORGIVE THIS ABUSE OF POWER.

Nothing.

And before you start handing out ironic “thank yous” to some candidate/abuser for bringing the public’s awareness to this hideous problem, just stop that too. This has been going on for centuries, but it can stop here. We should all join hands with the brave women (and some men) who’ve stepped forward. And while we’re at it, stop playing partisan games. This is not a political issue. This is a fundamental human issue. We have to teach our children that this abuse of power is never okay. We cannot allow the abuse of anyone to continue, not even one more second. And we cannot allow the abuse to be swept into the other political issues that will be the first things we’re happy to ignore once this presidential race is over.

So what will we do? How will we heal this?

In a world where Brock Peters only gets 6 months for the brutal campus rape of Elizabeth Smart because he’s “suffered enough” losing his Stanford swimming scholarship and being labeled a sex offender for the rest of his life. In the wake of that, a Montana man, Martin Blake, gets SIXTY DAYS (????) for repeatedly raping his daughter, because he, too, had already “suffered enough” with 17 days in jail and losing his job.

Suffered enough.

I wonder what that really is?

As many women across our country, I am dealing with the torn flesh of an old wound.

I can find comfort in Mylove’s arms. Mylove, who has dealt with those times when men crossed the line with her. A child of the sixties, Mylove grew-up with every other woman (and man) believing that “boys will boys” and women just have to be okay with that.  But she’s also the woman who had her nose bloodied by an ex-boyfriend and turned into a wolverine, wiping her blood on his shirt as she proceeded to shred his chest with her nails.

She has had to deal with a lot of revelations from me and about me. And this one about my abuse, I’m sure, was maybe as heart-stopping as discovering that she had married a woman. As I laid bare my wounds, as I came forward to speak up about how I had been sexually abused, she looked deep into my eyes and soothed my hurt and confusion, shame and guilt, with a simple salve.

Compassion.

She listened and held my hand as I looked at the fear in my shadows. She stood beside me as I gathered my courage to look all the way at it.

She asked what could she do? She hugged me while I cried.

No judgment. No should’ves, could’ves, or would’ves.

And then she asked if I thought maybe I needed to check in with T and let him know I had been abused that night too… as the tears began once again to well up.  Once again, she knows me better than I know myself. She knows that this would tear me up. She let me cry it all out.

It’s a weird wrestling match between anger and sadness. And the tears come in waves. And when it looked like I was running out of steam… MyLove started throwing pecans down my cleavage to lighten me up!  I can always count on her to bring me out of the tailspin…

She’s right. The pecans are a gentle way to bring my attention back to the present. A way to ask, “what now?” Really, what now? How will we all heal? How do we make sure this can’t happen again?

Well, we can start by saying we don’t support this, don’t condone this, never, ever will we excuse this…

… at the ballot box on November 8th.