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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“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.

timebomb.001

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3 of 3: That. Happened.

Dear Reader,
Yes, its true. I’m back at it, after time off to heal. I have posted the events of March 21st – March 30th in three parts. This part is part 3, and the last installmentof this feature. And tho I was coy with my disclaimers in the previous posts, this time i really mean it. This time I get personal, really personal and write some graphic descriptions that those with modest mores might find a bit over the line. As always I tried to keep it in good tastse. But your boundaries are your boundaries – no judgement here. You be you and I’ll keep it as real as my fingers can type. Without further ado.. Wait! Where were we? Oh yes, I left us at a cliffhanger? Good for me. Dr. Wylie would be proud. And that cliffhanger was… oh, yes, that I had just had the bandages removed from the surgical area and was handed a mirror to see for myself what had been under all that white guaze. Ready? It’s Raised by Wolves 21’s conclusion? Well, anyway, it’s part 3 of 3…
Scottie Jeanette Madden , June 2017


Continue reading Part 3 of 3: That. Happened.

Transcen-dance

I’m trying to hang onto the bulwarks of my inner superstructure, lest my entire being flies apart from the inside out…

Which is a very convoluted way of saying… I’m… excited. Anxious. Antsie. (Or is Auntsie?)

In other words… I’m t-minus four days from the third biggest threshold in my life… namely GCS. Gender Confirming Surgery.

For those of you who’ve followed this saga of a woman raised by wolves, you know I’m given to striking metaphors and colorful imagery to describe my inner state, but even this is… well, defying my best efforts to capture in words.

But I’m trying. So please forgive me if I jump around in my attempts.

The waiting line for GCS is, maybe, by design, a long waiting time – an ad hoc process to weed out anyone who is maybe (and would hugely mistakenly, misguidedly) trying this on a whim.

But here’s where maybe won’t cut it, sister.

Still, those who are trying to wrap their heads around my life have said to me, with the best intentions, “Well, you better be sure, because there’s no going back.”

There never was any going back. But thank you all the same. I’ve never been surer of anything in my life, except, that I had to be with Marcy forever.

But that doesn’t mean my world isn’t getting bashed by wind shear and g-forces – much the same way a rocket gets buffeted as it reaches escape velocity to break free from the gravity’s downward shackles. I am vibrating, shuddering and veering as I press on with a stronger power than I ever thought capable of having… and it’s exhilarating, scary and…

… and I don’t know what.

No. I seriously don’t know what. I have nothing but a blank slate ahead, and absolutely no data other than the edges of the charts which read “here there be dragons.” My entire life, I’ve resisted even looking past my ships’ prow, much less steering for the stars. But now is the time. I’ve put both feet firmly on the accelerator…

It’s not like I haven’t fantasized what could be in that void of my cosmos. And for those of you new to this blog, in these parts the word “fantasy” refers to the wishful imaginings of what real life should be and not the fanciful play without stakes or repercussions that many use as a break from real life. In these fantasies, my life instantly returns to normal, and I’m off and running in my new normal life, where my body is no longer my concern: it’s as it always shudda been – as if it usta was – and I don’t have to spend so much of my waking time in, what my friend Dr. Alie calls, “a salvage operation.”

I say fantasy because the road to here so far was already rife with its measure of physical and emotional hardship. So, being the maturing woman that the world now knows I am, we have done our research and know that life only gets more fun from here. As the surgical contract that I signed clearly states, I agree to a lifetime of “maintenance” (EDITOR’S NOTE: Ms. Madden’s original noun has been edited/modified so as to not scare the living daylights out of the un-initiated. Thank you and sorry for the interruption).

So needless to say, I know what is waiting for me in theory, but…

I have no real idea who I will be when I get there.

I know that I’ve transformed (see what I did there) throughout all phases of my journey, and the girl that is going through one threshold is never the same girl who comes out on the other side. It’s fascinating, yes (from an anthropological point of view), it’s disorienting yes (from a psychological point of view), and it’s… okay, yes, beautiful (from a self-aware/spiritual point of view). But truly, I won’t know what it will be really be for me… until I step across.

And that will happen on the first day of spring. In just four days.

I’m letting that settle in not so much for you, dear reader, but for me.

To prepare for this, I’ve gone through over 2 years of medical scrutiny (not to mention 50 years of denial, introspection, prayer and tears), family/societal rejection, fear, and oh, yeah… 60 hours of electrolysis.  Pain, it seems and it’s endurance thereof, is the dirty little secret of our daily lives.

I give you exhibit A: For those who have never had electrolysis, it’s like, if you took two red scorpions, dipped them in gasoline, lit them on fire and willingly, intentionally allowed them to fight on your face. Of course we girls don’t just have to contend with hair there. The money shot is to repeat the above process (TMI ALERT) and then drop them down your pants.

Yes. It’s like that, and no exaggeration. For hours.

Most of my sessions are three – four hours. Numbing creams and painkillers only make it manageable. After the second hour, I usually just hide-out in mediation like a storm shelter, awaiting the electro-hot tornado to do its worst and hopefully pass without bruising or worse.

But last week, the stakes were higher – it was truly our (Layla’s and my) last shot to get it right. Layla, B-T-Dubs, for over 20 years is not only the best in the biz, but as a cis-hetero woman, she has been the guardian angel of mercy for us transitioning girls. Layla knows ALL of the LA girls. And I do mean all of all of us. She knows us from the inside out, knows us better than we know ourselves, and loves us unconditionally.

But, as I said, we had one last shot to get it right. Let’s put it in perspective: the last thing you want is a hair growing up in there. Nuff said? Good. I don’t even want to think about it which is why I told her to go “all in” and let fly the songbirds of pain.

And sing they did. And in the throes of blinding, searing, white hot…  clarity, I asked Layla, “Layla, do you believe in God?”

“Of course I do Honey.”

“Then, what was She thinking when she made us? Why were Trans people put on this earth?”

“Well honey, you know God doesn’t make mistakes, so why do you think She made you?”

Maybe this was the endorphins kicking in, but I heard myself say, “I can only speak for me, but maybe it’s to have ultimate faith in myself. I have always had to hold onto my heart’s experience despite what my parents told me, in spite of what the world told me, and no matter what even my own body tried to tell me, I am… the me I always was. A beautiful woman.

Layla didn’t skip a beat (and it wouldn’t’ve upset me if she did), and she said,

“Honey, listen. Trans women are the strongest people on the planet. Way stronger than cis women or cis men. You are superheroes. No one has more faith in themself than you do. Nobody is as willing as you are to examine your life and know exactly who you are. You inspire me every day. And when you come out on the other side, nobody lives their life with more joy than you girls do. So, yes, I agree, you are here to teach us all Faith and Joy.”

Well, when you put it that way…

So… those are the handrails I’m clinging to as the clock ticks, sometimes in slow motion, and other times like the clocks in a bad time travel movie. I say clinging because I’m aware that this week is the absolute last one of it’s kind. I will never be here again. The precious time before a momentous change. We rarely get this much advance notice when our life is about to change. I’m not clinging to the past, but I’m also trying (and it’s hard) to not be in too much of a hurry to leave it.

As winter here in LA seems to be a thing of the past already, with 80-degree sunshine making the hillsides explode in green and wildflowers, I’m trying to slow things down so I can enjoy this scorchingly beautiful day without wanting to hit the fast-forward or skip button.  But it’s a losing battle, like trying not to anticipate Christmas morning on Christmas Eve.

The only cloud that darkens the fields of daisies is the fear that something could cancel or postpone this.  Faith. Faith. Faith. Now is the time for this, sweetheart. Don’t let the irrational or the imagined (both are but wraiths of the ego). Still… things happen…

Like a mere month ago, when I was taking a super-hot bath (it was still wintering way back then), and I thought Marcy had fallen, I jumped up too fast… and passed out on the way to my feet and fractured a rib on the side of the tub. Blinding pain, unable to breathe and desperate to rescue Marcy from whatever had befallen her, what do you think was my first thought even before I was able to suck in a half breath?

This better not mess up my surgery. 

Luckily it won’t. I’m better now, but it took a doctor’s note to clear me. Marcy’s fine, too. (Thanks for asking.)

Faith. Yes. I have it. Nothing between me and the threshold now but time.

And Joy. Joy that I’m aware of the significance. Joy that I can feel the Grace that supports me on this journey. Joy that Marcy is with me, side by side as we cross this threshold together. Joy that I know joy. Joy that I stand in faith.

So,yes, I make no apologies that this one is a “to be continued…” because the song of transcen-dance has a backbeat of faith and a melody of joy… and the chorus that leads up to the bridge is building to a crescendo.

I’ll see you on the other side…

Shock & Awe

I am bruised… by self-inflicted wounds. I just got out of a two-day Facebook war with a friend of my, as he put it, adolescence. (That shudda been my first clue as to just how far we had grown apart… adolescence? Who says that about themselves?)

But I digress.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit… no, I am embarrassed to admit that I took the bait with every posting until I finally pulled out of the tailspin.  But I fell to what many smarter people than I have already discovered, i.e. the classic, the liberal fatal flaw of believing that:

if I could say the exact right thing using “facts” (I know, call me Pollyanna), that not only would I win the argument, but also I would change the mind of my opponent for good and for… well, good.

I said I was embarrassed because this is not the first time I’ve made this naïve, tactical error. Chalk it up to the “fool me twice” dunce-cap-kinda-thingy.

But I will also confess that merely knowing this probably won’t stop me from doing it again.

The thing is, I know this strategy will never stand up to what they got on the other side. Facts, as we have seen, are no match for the campaign that seems to be the BFF of those who are on the wrong side of history but the alt-right side of philosophy. This campaign is the Kraken that’s been unleashed onto our society, but it has another name that maybe you’ve heard before.

I call it “shock and awe” or, as it’s probably more commonly known, the scientific name for a statement of such astounding arrogance and audacity, namely “complete and total horsesh*t.”

You’ve experienced shock & awe before. Shock & awe is usually very easy to spot because it is a cover-up for something that is so ridiculously false that it can’t be believed on it surface merit. Sober people usually walk away from anything enmeshed in shock & awe instantly. Few are foolish enough to attempt to use it because it is usually stamped out faster than roaches at a wedding banquet with derision, laughter, and a complete lack of support.

There have been some historic attempts at using shock & awe – and one could understand the lure of its potential to cover-up hopeless compromising positions, and or your garden variety nefarious deeds such as “having a wide spread,” being told “she was 18,” and “that’s just locker room talk.”

But something happened on the way to the democracy of 2017, and somewhere, somehow, President Steve Bannon discovered… the real truth was unimportant to a vocal minority of the American people, but “winning is all there is.”  (Thank you, Paul Newman – not Vince Lombardi.)

And President Bannon discovered something else—blatant disregard for the truth made the liberal left (and everyone with a brain) completely stark raving crazy. So crazy that they lost their minds, and more importantly, their way in every argument.

What’s funny to this girl is that this shock & awe strategy truly puts the cart before the horsesh*t, in that normal, intelligent people are so “awed” by the sheer audacity of these incredulous arguments, they:

  1. Let their guard down, thinking that there’s no way to even justify stupidity and lies, so why bother?
  2. Dismiss the information as so irrelevant that it is something that no one could possibly ever agree with. (So again, it’s not taken seriously.)

However, this sets the stage for the shock portion of our show…

Intelligent people are shocked that the above works. Progressives scramble to come down to Bannon’s level, which shelves all of the intelligence and thoughtfulness and more importantly good intentions of their position.

This shock knocks the progressives off their game so much that they find themselves playing defensive “Catch-up” on “solutions looking for a problem,” “False equivalencies,” “fake news,” and “alternative facts.”

This even has the Progressives questioning their own intentions. Maybe we were wrong to think that people are basically good. Maybe we did underestimate the middle of the country’s ability to ignore racism, sexism, and homophobia for the false promises of jobs. Maybe we should’ve played to their fears and lack of tolerance?

And here’s the deal, President Bannon is smart. He saw how some clever people learned from the big tobacco failures (in court with massive payouts) that you don’t need to enter into a debate.  All you need to to is sell the world on the idea that there is a debate, where one hadn’t existed before.

You don’t even have to waste time creating counter arguments (that’s too much work, and requires research and footnotes). No all you have to do is conjure a myth that “others smarter than us all are not convinced.” Wasn’t that fun?  See how that works? You don’t even have to invent a lie that can be struck down with facts.

And it works. We now have an entrenched view on the so-called right that there is a climate debate, which is all the daylight they need to drive a wedge into.

Why am I only now fired up about this?  Because not only is shock and awe being used to try and wrest our country from us, but people are trying to use it in everyday life.

Which brings me back to my past FB skirmish with my so-called conservative-leaning former friend. This experience showed me the very personal face of astounding arrogance and audacity and I responded exactly the way I those of on the left classically do.

It started when I shared a posting on FB describing Evangeline’s protest to President Bannon’s “beard” (whom some are referring to as simply “45”) about his recent executive order to rescind the guidance by President Obama’s protections for trans kids using the bathroom in public schools. Evangeline has a trans sister and she felt (maybe naively) that her singing the national Anthem at the inauguration bought her a piece of 45’s ear. That she feels betrayed and appropriated is not getting her any sympathy from those who suffered at the hands of men, especially this man, but hey, she tried. Good for her.

And I pointed out to all of those who said give 45 a chance, that these were his true colors, he is a coward who will sell out everyone, breaking promises to the most vulnerable, in order to play to his base.

And then the comments started to flood in. One man (who I went to high school with) asked a genuine question about the legitimacy of this issue and was answered by several of my Facebook friends. In this case, they were all real friends of mine who were also FB friends, because they jumped to make it clear to this guy “what was what.”

But then “the friend from my adolescence” who I nicknamed “Stever,” decided he was the new authority on all things trans. And he let his opinion that this issue (transgender) was a mental illness, a “disorder” that didn’t require a society to accommodate, and therefore didn’t require the protections promised by Title IX.

Before I could answer, he was buried by my FB posse. But… he doubled down.  Each attempt at argument revealing more of his arrogance, misunderstanding, prejudices and biases.

It was… mind-blowing. And I was shocked at his arrogance and awed by his audacity.

I struck back. I called out his misunderstanding and irresponsibility in perpetuating these lies that not even Fox News agrees with.

But he continued.

And I was immediately taken back to countless hours spent defending him to our other friends in high school who never could understand him. But I did. And I stood beside him, fought for him. And never abandoned him.

And… I admit. He hadn’t changed a bit. Even in high school he was an expert in everything we talked about. Back then I though of his arrogance as confidence, his audacity, charming. Inspiring, even. But here, now, I also hadn’t changed, and my old Pollyanna self was blindsided that he was could be so “in bed with the enemy.”

So I tried three separate times to get him to see how just “out of line” he was.

If I could show him how silly it was for him to negate my lived experience with something he read on the internet, we would both have a good laugh. He would thank me for opening his eyes. And we would listen to Rush (the Canadian Power trio, not the Pill Popper). And then his mom would call us to dinner and I’d have to call my mom and ask if I could stay.

But something has changed in all these years. Not just between friends, but our desire to be friends has eroded with the acid rain of social media. What’s happened to us?  Maybe it’s because it’s anonymous. It’s not like a real conversation. We can’t see our words reflected in the actual face of the listener.

Marcy even tried to knock some sense into Stever, posting in very plain language that there was no way he could ever know more than I on this subject.

Would he see that?  Could he ever recognize his folly and hubris if he couldn’t see my face?

But… I still had faith that the years spent dreaming together of being in a rock band (he plays guitar, I was supposed to be the keyboardist, even tho’ I would’ve preferred to be the drummer), sword fighting together in the forest (with homemade katanas we made in his father’s woodshop), and writing screenplays for the fantasy epics (that I would direct and he would star in), would amount to something. I just knew that he had to have an ember of the “me” in his heart that I could blow on and get my friend back. I didn’t dare hope at this point that he would know what living in my life was, but I did have hope that he would see how silly he was to think he could possibly know more than me and that his opinion could really hurt me physically and emotionally, and, if nothing else, I had hoped that he would at least…

… stop working against me.

But… no. He tripled down, if that’s possible, choosing instead to make it my job to convince him that I and my community are valid and worthy. Rather than do his own inquiry to find out where he got it so wrong, was at odds with the world’s medical community, the US military and decent humans everywhere, was so, let’s face it, out of sync, Stever was holding out… holding on. Digging his heels in…

So I… opted out.

I lost a friend (probably one that I never really had?) and I learned that nothing is ever going to change his and his brethren’s minds.

What’s maybe the most troubling is that Stever’s shock & awe campaign had no discernible goal, and maybe that’s the worst of all. What could he have possibly hoped to gain? What was the point of demonstrating to the world (at least the FB world on my feed) how misinformed, arrogant and audacious he is?  With others who use this tactic, they are bulldozing toward financial gain, as with President Bannon. But Stever would only, could only lose once he chose to stay in the fight.

And he did. He lost me. And I’m not sure that even matters to him. But he didn’t gain anything.

So what to do?

This isn’t an area where we can “agree to disagree.” My identity is not “up for debate” nor is “the jury still out” as to whether Gender Dysphoria is real. However, Stever, with all his outdated and misguided opinions, can still vote. He can still support any number of the attempts to institutionalize discrimination. So… I have to care what he thinks.

I guess this is why we have to enact laws to protect us from the obvious. My father used to say that locks only keep an honest man honest. If the general goodness of humanity would always prevail, we wouldn’t need locks, we wouldn’t have laws and we wouldn’t have wars.

But we do have laws, and the one that rules our land is a set of principles that make us the United States of America. Our constitution. You would think, the mere spirit and philosophy of it would be enough. But because there are always those who will try to bend the rules away from the shared collective good to a zero-sum gain of individual power and wealth, we have to enact amendments. Even these should be enough. But when they haven’t been (as in the civil rights act of 1964, which cited not only article one, but also the 14th & 15th amendments), we had to create laws that spell out what everyone should’ve known, but elected instead to bend.

So, even our laws aren’t enough? Apparently not. Our morals and American values are under fire again by those who want “freedom and justice for those who think and look like me,” instead of the true American values of united we stand, and liberty and justice for all.

How do we get back to that?

And where did this movement to dismantle our principles come from?  More importantly, where are the patriots who would protect these sacred values?

Um, that would be US.

Where are the patriots?  Well, we’re easy to spot. We’re out in the streets. We wear pink knit hats. We show up at the airports. We are flooding the town halls, and we’re the ones who will vote your devisive, discriminating, hate-filled hearts out of office in 2017 and 2018.

But until then, how will we deal with shock & awe, both on the national level and in our very own homes, or even with those whom we ourselves have stood up for and with in the past; our so-called friends?

Keep knitting.

It worked for Gandhi.

 

 

 

Beauty & the Breast

Well, well, well… 2017. Here. We. Are. And, B-T-Dubs, welcome!  To my regular readers, thank you for the little Christmas break. If you missed the ending, it’s in the archives. Thank you for indulging me, letting me wax a little nostalgic and, most importantly recharging. Now, back to this blog, eh?

I will confess, that this experience can be a little like having an “online diary” that the world is welcome to peruse to their own peril. I am surprised at the things I will say with my fingers to seeming stranger, but you’re no strangers, you’ve decided to follow me. So I need to “bring it,” as they say, and make this worth your time. Opening a window into our marriage and the transformation its going through is hopefully worth everyone’s time. So, we have fearlessly put on our crash helmets and pulled down the roll cage, as Bette Davis is often misquoted as saying, ”it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” So with that, let 2017’s wild rumpus start!

Beauty & the Breast –

One thing I need to make sure every reader understands of my experience is that it is (proudly) the perspective of a woman married for coming up on 28 years.

Marriage is everything everyone says it is.

And if you’re like me, you’ve gone through some very interesting stages and changes (okay, I hear you snickering – I’m talking about the “expected changes” – oxymoron if never there was one – that everyone faces over the course of a human life, silly). These stages or changes have certainly changed the lens through which I view life. I had an arrogance about our accomplishment at ten years of marriage that was way gone by year 20. The longer I’ve been married, the more talking about it or thinking about makes even less sense… and, yet, paradoxically, it makes oh-so-much more (sense).

I can’t imagine not being married.

Really… and I have been making a living imagining the impossible into existence, dreams into reality and (with reality) foretelling the future. Seriously.  (But then, foretelling the future with today’s reality show “talent” is like shooting fish in a barrel, and is not even on par with a good card trick.) So reality, I just cannot imagine not being married.

And that’s only because of Marcy. Mylove.

I can’t imagine not being with her for even a day, and with all the powers of my imagination, I certainly just can’t conjure a world where she and I are not in it, together.

Through fighting her cancer, and lovingly transforming our marriage that started as a seemingly cis-hetero “traditional” marriage into a love affair between two women wedded in more bliss (if that was even possible) than ever before, everything we’ve done, was done together. Including the creation and nurturing of the greatest relationship in human history.

But as two middle-aged women, this isn’t as easy as anyone wants to make it. Nor is it something either of us is proud to admit. And surprisingly (at least to this girl), the big things have always been easy – the choices are clear and the action (or inaction) relatively defined. Sorry, newlyweds, but it’s the small things that trip you up. Maybe It’s that, as you get older, you get less willing to put up with less, more willing to expect more, and you both know how to get it, from each other – both good and bad.  The danger is that we are also quicker to slip into the kindergarten mentality that less for you means more for someone else, and vice reverse. Marriage is the knowledge that that “zero sum” bullshit is just that, and has no place in marriage. Less for you is never more for her. And yet more for you can mean less for her – and why oh why would anyone in love want that?

Okay, so, now you can add the layer of our transition (see what I mean? We do everything together). As I continue to grow into the woman I am, blossoming and developing and yes, changing right before her very eyes, we’ve stubbed our toes on some surprising bumps in the road.

And since the cat is literally out of the bag (at least here) that I am going to have GCS, this example takes on a certain poignancy that has us both nodding and scratching our heads.

First of all, some context for those of you just joining this show. Yes, I am physically changing and nobody has watched this with as much fascination and, let’s be real, trepidation, as Mylove. Her knight in shining armor has already been riding sidesaddle. The arms that have held her, the chest that has pressed against hers, the face that she studied, the hair that she has run her hands through for all these years – the man she thought she had married has curves and softer skin, hips, a waist… and yes.  Breasts.

Soon, there won’t be anything male left.

And as dramatic as all this is to Marcy,When I stare into the mirror the woman who stares back at me is … well, let’s say, yes, she’s working very hard, and God has blessed her with certain, “charms,” but

Let’s take a moment here to look at that “but.”

Because it’s a “bone of contention” between trans women and cis women, that frankly seems very odd to me. And this is important because in the abstract, every cis-woman seems to agree with us trans gals – we all have physical “flaws” we either wish we could fix, or, have stopped looking at (or, yes, even really figured out a way to just not care about). Our physical appearance is a bizzillion dollar industry fed by media, society (and yes, biology). That this is true is the subject of countless books, films, talks, and mother-daughter chats, and is usually not in dispute. In 2017, this is something that we as all women have started to make some in-roads into getting men to understand. The ugly truth is we as women are just not raised not to care about how we look. And despite everything Gloria taught us, and we are trying to make true about our worth, we are still objectified, judged, sexualized and scrutinized for it.

Trans women have all that AND we are coming from behind the power curve. Our bodies have been saturated in testosterone – our bones and muscles, skin and everything else has been bombarded into an image that for many is a massive mountain to scale toward feminine form. Not only is that a hair on our chin, but it’s a chin chiseled by testosterone! To top that off, we haven’t been raised or taught any sort of acceptance of ourselves, only complete and total surrender. And lastly (unless we go the showgirl route), we aren’t taught the tools to “make-do” with what we got.

Try accepting that.

It’s not possible (for this girl anyway), and it’s why the walls eventually fell.

A confession here – some cis-women try to make it “okay,” with any efforts we make toward feminizing our appearance, making exceptions to beauty’s rules for us because, well, for all the reasons above. Yes, thank you, and we love you for trying – but… no.

So, that’s the backstory when I or my sisters say… I really need to change this about me…

And as I work to retake my body from the ravages of testosterone through hormones, exercise, diet, and eyeliner, and yes, surgery, I guess all I’ve ever been asking is please understand what that really is – or rather what it’s not – vanity. It’s not a misunderstanding. I’m not misguided.

No. A surgeon won’t make me a woman. God already did that. An endocrinologist can’t make me a woman. God already did that. Cosmetics and wardrobe don’t make me a woman.

God did that.

So, with all that in mind, we now return you to our regularly scheduled marriage. A marriage that was love at first sight for both us. But, she was married at the time. So, instead we got to know each other as friends, and when fate thought it was finally time to intervene, it struck us like a thunderbolt. Throughout our marriage, just like the very first time I laid eyes on her, Marcy’s beauty would always bring tears to my eyes, and over time my regard for her physical beauty and sexuality and sensuality has been burnished deeper by passion, love, respect and is and always has been – as brilliant as a thousand suns.

As I transform, I’m learning that she was enraptured by the little things about me – the strength in my hand as it effortlessly balanced and (simultaneously operated) a broadcast video camera on my shoulder. The ways my eyes focused on any obstacle, the way light played across my “cute Lil Polska nose” (don’t ask – I’m Polish and Finnish on my mother’s side… and well it’s a long story). But, and here’s the punchline – she admits that I’m way cuter as a woman.

That said, she has never been attracted to women, whereas I have only been attracted to women. So my transformation right before her very eyes, tho’ interesting, is not what she ever wanted in a partner. And tho’ she wasn’t blown away by masculine form, she was attracted to the overall package.

And here’s where it gets surprising and… a little dicey. Because as I start to mature into the woman I am, and get more confident with what I want and how I want to be, I’m developing my own sense of style and self.

Previously (and by that I mean, over close to three decades of romance and daily life), Marcy had been the arbiter of all things woman. She had set the bar for what was and was not desirable and acceptable in the world of femininity. And, this, I can say, is how it should be. Yes, there are too many times when a woman will give up what she wants to make her mate (man or woman – we’re not discriminating here) happy. We’re talking about maintaining the laws of attraction, right?  It’s a two-way street. But someone is driving the car if you catch my drift. In a perfect relationship, both are driving together in the same direction… what someone is or has or wears or accentuates or whatever is attractive to their lover.

I will confess that this did take me a few years to figure out. Early in our marriage, I bought what I would want to see Marcy in (and soon to be out of) which was not always how she would want me to see her (and certainly not what she wanted to wear or take off. Period). Over time, she helped me see how she views her body and her beauty, which like many women is both the product of trial and error, personal taste, and a dash of history. And, like many women, is defined as much by what she wants to wear as by what she would never be caught dead in.

Because I am a woman, tho’ she didn’t know it at the time, I understood… perfectly, eventually. Remember, a lot of a woman’s upbringing isn’t done out in the open, certainly not in our day. Propriety and modesty are hallmarks of the feminine world. “A lady has her secrets.” “Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” “This is just between us girls.”  Mystery cloaks the things that boys frankly think are too icky to want to know.

Marcy was and should be in charge of her. And that was the standard of beauty in our home. She took great pride in her natural beauty – very little make-up, comfortable clothes, health, sunshine and yoga lifestyle. Now, let’s be real here. She looks freakin’ amazing even if, as my father would say, she wore a burlap sack. Nobody can ever guess her age. But her beauty comes from meticulous care of herself for over fifty years – and great genes. She has eschewed the beauty trends throughout five decades because she never wanted her beauty to be depended on any technique or product. No hair coloring, no nail polish nothing toxic in anyway. She never needs much to light up a room. And this is not just my opinion… tho’ it is my experience. She is beauty incarnate.

But now, there’s two sets of hands on that steering wheel… in that car careening down Beauty Blvd.

And the other set is an enthusiastic newbie who never, ever thought she would live this dream come true and is going to make darn sure, she gets the most out of every moment she still has left.

I never thought I could rock a set of acrylic nails.

I never dreamed I could color my hair to a color I actually wanted.

Tho’ I am an artist, I never believed that I could draw a black winged swoosh on my eyelids, or that it would actually look… darn… adorable? Nah… it’s, dare I say… actually… sexy?

Yes, I could wear pants. Women do wear pants. Yes, Katherine Hepburn looks killer in pants. Marcy rocks pants like nobody’s business, all my women friends wear pants!  But I’ve worn them every day for fifty years – four-letter-word, pants, and dayam if I… holy moly, I got my mother’s gams! Gimme the miniskirt!

And yes, heels. Hell yes heels! I hear all the essays about how they are a symbol of this and that but, FOR ME – they represent freedom. So, yes, I can wear them, thank God.

And… yes, I’ve been blessed with being Monday’s child and will not have to resort to FFS. But, and here’s another confession, I did draw the line after permanent lip liner, well I didn’t draw it – Layla my aesthetician did – and my lips are fuller now (I also got my mom’s lips, can’t have everything, I suppose).

But… here comes the surprise. Marcy actually liked the lip liner. That’s not the surprise. She does roll her eyes at some of my skirt lengths – but she will admit, if pressed, that I do actually have the legs to pull most of them off.

No, the surprise came when I announced that I was going to see if I could also get breast augmentation when they did my GCS. (This a common practice for a lot of trans women – same recovery time, but one less trip under anesthesia, and it gets done all at once.)

Now, this, for every woman is a very personal decision. Hormones have done a very good job at giving me “the girls,” but, they are still on a skeleton that was constructed with testosterone for many years. And proportionally, they could use some… well, augmentation.

Marcy was silent for a very long time.

I know, this is never a good sign.

But also, I’ve (THANK GOD) learned something very important during this transition. My words aren’t ever going to change her feelings. And I’m an idiot if I think that’s even desirable – really. You win the fight but lose the support – now, how bad did you really want what you were fighting for?

Finally, she confessed that I can do what I want, but she’s saying this out loud – she’s not sure she can deal with touching ‘fake boobs.”

So… I swallowed all of the stuff that was wrestling to be the first to shoot out of my mouth… she is okay, even supportive, and really understands how critically important it truly is that I will undergo GCS. A major, life-changing, world altering irreversible surgery. But… and, there’s that but again, she is not okay with “cosmetic” surgery.

I decided to try to understand what she was saying.

  1. She really means it. She never thought she would ever touch breasts, let alone artificial ones. Her imagination ruled her feelings. Arguing this was ridiculous. I didn’t even try – I truly had no idea what it would feel like to have them, how could I argue how they would feel to her?
  2. She was also subtly displaying transition fatigue (I just made that up – if it isn’t a thing, it should be). I know I’ve pushed her waaaaaaay past her series of “nevers,” the seemingly endless series of my finish lines that seem to be pulled right out in front of her as she is desperately trying to just break the goddamned tape. Yes, it has to suck.

And while both of those are true – what’s also becoming clear is that I’m becoming (or at least heading in the direction of) the woman Marcy adamantly swore she would never be… and, in fact, for many years this was something we both agreed on. Now, She’s not judging women that do any of the above. They do that in their lives, and we “used to never” do that in ours. But, here we are, her love, her own “honey” is swan-diving into all things never…

I get it.

Woman to woman, I appreciate that this could be taken as a slight of the woman Marcy is. As if she’s somehow not good enough. Like she’s not the kind of woman I admire enough to want to be. She could say that she has “brought me up right” – teaching me the things that only women know about their bodies and beauty and self-image. So, why wouldn’t I honor that by being that same kind of woman. Her kind of woman.

Instead, it would seem, I’m the other woman.

But we’re in love. And in her defense, this is unlike other relationships – she didn’t “pick” me (in my current form) as people pick each other in the so-called “normal” way. Normally, two people meet each other, see something they like on some level, fall in love and decide to be in a relationship. Marcy met Scott, fell in love, decided to get married 27 years ago, and um… well, Scottie, well, let’s just say that she became “not the man” Marcy married. But she is, and always will be the person Marcy fell in love with.

So, yes, I’m the other woman. The key here will be balancing my drive to be the woman I always swore I’d be, while remaining attractive to my lover. Yes, she will (already has) accepted me fully and totally. But that’s not attraction. Attraction is that x-factor that gives love a place to sing and dance. How do you change what you are attracted to?  Women have had to do this throughout our existence. In traditional marriages, we’ve had to be okay that our men got fat and bald (while maintaining our figures for him), so it’s a skill we’ve developed. But that puts it on Marcy, and that’s not how we do things around here.

All I can say at this point is… this isn’t settled by a long shot. Work in Progress as they say on the set.

Work in Progress, indeed.

 

Hard right turn

 

I’m on a plane flying out of Burbank airport. It’s Wednesday, September 21st. We shot down the runway heading west and as we lifted into the sky we took a graceful sweeping, high banking turn to the right and headed east…

I’m heading to Arizona. I’m a blender of emotions. Joy. Excitement. Tears. Fears.

I’m not turning back; I’m heading in the right direction.

I’m hours away from talking to a surgeon. My surgeon. For my surgery. Yes, surgery. The surgery. That surgery. Gender Confirmation Surgery.

I am writing this in real time. This is a day… well, it’s a day I never thought would come. I’m not using those words lightly. This isn’t a day long looked for, a day, like Christmas, graduation, or even my wedding day. No. This is a day that I never believed could ever come.

As the cabin pressure clutches my head, I feel a need to sleep (the natural Madden safety “override” when things are beyond intense), but I’m also driven to document my state–heck yes, this is big decision. Mylove and I just gave a lecture that took extra time to make this politically/emotionally/intellectually-charged subject as plain (as could be) to a class of 100 bright-eyed, budding psychologists at Cal State Channel Islands only yesterday…

… I guess it’s on my mind.

Who am I kidding? Certainly not you, dear reader. You know better. You know me better. You, faithful reader, to whom I’ve spelled-out in my book, a word, the word, that has glimmered and winked out on the horizon of farthest reaches of the inner universe of my life. And this word is…

inevitable.

My relationship with this word is… well, it’s the chimera of my life. It’s lion’s head and dragon’s body, has shape-shifted almost as many times as the infamous “it” (dysphoria) that I also described in “Getting Back To Me.” It’s a word that started out as a known but distant throb. Then, for a while, became a siren’s call, threatening to dash my life on the rocks of doom. Then faintly as a distant beacon in the darkness, before finally shredding the clouds into vast ribbons, as courage and Grace blazed into my life.

But it does demand some attention as the giddiness of sunlight warms my skin. I have, as a student of yoga, been more than casually aware of karma, destiny, fate and kismet. None of these are the same, it turns out, for me or anyone. And with almost thirty years of study, I can’t confuse these. Karma, in the true yogic sense of the word, actually has three flavors. One you brought with you into this lifetime. One you created in this lifetime and are experiencing with every perceived new moment, and continue to create in this lifetime with every thing that you do with that moment. The last is the “bolt of lightning” that seemingly comes from out of nowhere, but that is still a reaction to your past actions. (I know, me, too. I have yet to understand the differences between number three and the other two, but then again, I’m “justa” student, I don’t pretend to be an expert). In simpler terms, karma is action and reaction, creating action… and reaction… demanding more action than reaction, if one’s on one’s game.

To me, the above mental pretzel is important because it’s how I’ve tried to understand this lifetime. The first flavor of karma was what I thought my life which had been, was going to be.

A sentence, if you will, a prison-term I could do nothing about. A destiny, if you will, that was going to be “as best as could be expected.” The spiritual equivalent of “bless your heart.” A mediocre life that would be marked by good deeds and noble acts, by the love I made, rather than received… that would earn me a better go next time. A better life could be mine next time in exchange for the effort I put forth this time.

But God did give me a mind. And a heart. And this life. The next life was a gamble. How could I sell this life and Mylove short?  No. I couldn’t give up. I wouldn’t give up. And as many of you who have heard me write (hang with me), the she that is me staged an explosive escape. She didn’t just pick the lock on her dungeon doors, she blew up the castle.

But, as dramatic as that sounds, it didn’t solve all of my life.

Which brings me to the other two flavors of karma. And that’s where it’s gets murky.

Am I charging toward inevitable because of karma I created or karma I’m creating?

Was I always going to heed inevitable’s whisper or am I’m creating its call?

Was this path I’m now running down as fast as I can, making up for years lost, trying to live the years left by taking a hard right turn, always going to be my path?

Or did I just suddenly wake up and am now seeing the road clearly for the first time, and choosing this path consciously.

Well, Geezus when you put it that way, what idiot would confess to the former?

So there. I guess I just answered my own question. And I guess it’s so, cuz I have both duck bumps and tears.

Maybe it’s why I can’t help but be open, very open, almost too open about what I’m doing. I’m passionate about living this thing called life to the fullest. Now that I know what compromising oneself (I used to say checking my swing for you baseball fans) actually feels like–how insidious it really is as the water gently warms around you and you have no idea that you’re being lulled by this bath that is actually soup. And you are the main ingredient. Your life got past you. And you didn’t even know it as the ball went between your legs…

No. I won’t have it. At least I wouldn’t have it, which why the walls fell as the dragon who once guarded the hostage blew down the battlements, and this damsel jumped aboard the scaly back, took the reins and soared…

But here’s the thing. This is just me.

As I’ve gotten further out into the world as … well, as me, the girl who was raised by wolves (if you gimme a sec I think I can cram a few more metaphors into this before we get to the end), I find myself speaking about and to the issues of our community. In the readings and lectures Mylove and I have been devoting our lives to, I feel responsible when I’m at the megaphone.

So here goes:

We in the trans community are not our bodies. Yes, we love all that goes with glorifying and celebrating our physicality; from Buck Angel’s tats and pecs to Laverne Cox’s curves and hair, to Jenny Boylan’s specs and class, to Liz Bornstein’s bohemian flair…

… but none of those great people are their bodies. What they have done is what everyone who lives, does. They live. They have bodies. They care for them, clothe them, adorn them.

And for the outside world we know it looks confusing. We have been at odds with our own bodies for too long in most every case, so when we turn that around, it looks like we ourselves are consumed/obsessed by them. You have no idea how traumatic looking at (or not looking as was my case) my image in the mirror, because its reflection merely showed the walls of my prison. So now that I actually like how I look, I love that woman who stares back at me. It’s relief beyond compare.

So, we all fiercely guard our right to govern our bodies and our privacy. Let’s be clear. GCS is not a requirement. It is not an achievement or measuring stick. No one is “more trans” than anyone else—not because of hormones or medical procedures, suffering, trials or any other outside criteria.

And we can’t care if the cis world understands. It isn’t for them to decide anyway.

But here’s why we all politely demure to privacy or out-and-out call you out when you cite your curiosity as the excuse for being rude: when you ask that question you are suddenly making us inhuman. You are asking a question whose answer is reserved for lovers and doctors, and you are neither if you are asking. Because you would know the answer if you were one of those. You would have earned our trust to know that answer, and we would’ve told you.

We are not our bodies, but your question shows you don’t get this. You are making my genitals the subject of your curiosity. Cis people seem to be offended that we would keep this secret from them. Hmm.

So there it is… but my flight’s about to touch down at Sky harbor. More later!

As we wait to taxi to the gate (bizzy day at Sky harbor) I am also parked emotionally. I am on the verge of tears, but there’s an exhilaration in the water. I’m worried that I spent so much time writing the above disclaimer that I’m selling my own experience of now short. I am feeling like an astronaut about to leave the pod bay doors and step into the void. And on the other side is… is… is what? What do I expect will be my next… what? Step? Threshold? Milestone?

I don’t even know what to call it. I am getting surgery to take care of something that has… been what all my life? A problem? An issue? None of these seems accurate. That’s because, this has been a black hole in my consciousness. A place I don’t go. An area of my body I don’t look at. A part of me that I try not to think about… I have always felt… okay, dissociated in this meat suit.

Am I really wearing a boy’s body? and why?

Time out for an über-ride to Scottsdale…

And we’re back.

Inevitably, I got here. This here, right here. T-minus 2.5 hours to my first consultation with the surgeon and counting… I’m going to eat some lunch and pick up where I left off over chips and salsa and a taco salad.

But how did I get here is still numbing my mind. How did I ever get to here, despite my own body contradicting every thought and experience about who I really am for 54 years? This could be why I am so mentally strong. I can hold to the truth of reality despite all and I mean all odds. It’s why fantasy, as much as I, who had permanent creases in my jeans’ back pocket from the constant companion of Lord of the Rings, I who was the first DM (ask a geek) in my circle of D&D’ers. Yes, that I who would going to make a career in fantasy…

… just couldn’t take fantasy anymore in my own life.

I couldn’t take that being who I am would be a dream, a concept, a figment of my imagination.

So what was it other than inevitable?

And if so, then why is it… unbelievable that I could actually, really, finally be here?

Because the chasm between perceived reality (this body is… well, it has boy parts!) and inevitable, seemed farther than the nearest star.

And yet… across time and space, the seals on my pod have just been breached, oxygen has entered my body and I’m emerging from my suspended animation to step forth on planet Venus.

For reals? For reals. For reals!

I think, as I set foot on the Venusian soil, that it’s unbelievable because I never dared believe I would ever be here. I dreamed it, oh how I dreamed it, but never, ever ever dared to actually believe it.

Remember, I make make-believe for a living. I know how the sausage is made (too soon?). I know where the smoke ends and the mirrors begin… so why would I believe that my own dream could actually come true?

Because, honey… it’s inevitable. It was inevitable from the start.

This day has been coming to you since before you could dream.

And before I know it, I’m in the office and meeting with Dr. Ley. As a trans woman I feel understandably comfortable in her presence. She’s drop dead gorgeous. (I need to talk to her about her internet photos. Honey, they seriously don’t do you any justice) and basically, I’ll have what she’s having!

And she is all business, explaining in great and perfect detail, in ordinary terms, what will be my new reality. Depth of cavity. Aftercare procedures. Surgical reality and managed expectations.

And Mylove is here by speaker phone. Dr Ley laughs that she hasn’t looked at me the whole time, focusing her whole spiel at the phone. But it’s better than okay. This has to be a mutual decision. And if this is the compensation for her not being on the plane with me today, then so be it. And Mylove has questions: What is the recovery time? Will [my] age be a negative factor? How does this compare to other major surgeries? Like her hysterectomy or her colostomy?

That’s Mylove. She’s got my back even as I’m about to tharn. I am so overwhelmed I’m ready to just let it all happen. But Mylove would never let me do something that… stoopid. She would never let me go into this half-cocked (still too soon?), wouldn’t let me sleepwalk through the second biggest decision of our lives. This isn’t in the least “elective” surgery, unless by elective you mean lifesaving.

Cuz that’s the thing–as fucking mind-blowing, gobsmacking, knock you to you knees, crazy as this could be… as completely overwhelming brain-freezing full tharning as it should be (and is!), the alternative is still a spectre that looms out on the fringes of my consciousness… the utter despair of a life unlived, the splinter in my heart that would never let me rest.

So, maybe that’s my beautiful identity showing up for its day, finally. Finally, ready to step out and step up to… inevitable.

Cuz, after the doc pulls and tugs and examines what will be her raw materials to fashion me a new vijay-jay, she makes sure I’m really okay. And it’s here that I feel the most comfortable. She knows what I’m really going through–from the inside out. The tsunami of emotions and the sheer giddiness that will all be in our rearview mirrors very soon. She outlines the gory details and usually, this is where my nervous system shuts down, no exaggeration. Even the thought of cold surgical instruments and my warm flesh in the same area code will usually have me pulling the rip cord…  but, I’m all in, so in, I stay. And I take in all the details that will soon be my daily (wait, daily?!) regimen. At least a year’s worth of intense, okay let’s say “making intimate friends” with my new… me.

And it feels important to stop and ponder that. I never referred to the organ down there as mine. it was it, that, and the, but never “my,” as if I knew on some level to become attached to it. But it will be my new me, and mine. It doesn’t go away. Just like me, it will be transformed into something beautiful and feminine and… right.

And then I get my second gobsmack – from Miki the business manager, wearing her hat as scheduler… And I have to hold on to chair… am I dreaming? Cuz she just proposed a date that’s a full six months sooner than everyone had led me to expect.

I am in the right place after all.

In fact, were it not for the natural cycles of my hair growth (downstairs), I could go sooner. Dr. Ley’s addition to the practice has relieved almost a year’s waiting list.

And then, I’m back in an Über, listening to my Phoenix driver extol the virtues of a city that I’ll soon be seeing a lot of.

But most important is the phone call I need to make now…

Mylove and I talk about the “other call” (it already has a name in our family) and we acknowledge, it’s actually a call from which we will measure time.

I listen as Mylove tries to keep her own emotions in check as she makes sure that I’m okay. I am. Torn between lying on the floor and crying and screaming and dancing for joy, I’m a hot mess. And she is… almost the same.

Yes, we still have a lot to do. Yes, with nothing on the horizon but uncertainty and promise, why not schedule it for then? And then there’s the second phase which requires three months of healing before it can be considered. So we opt for phase two for just after my birthday. A new me, but I’ll still be a Cancer!

So, together, we turn right into the winds of change and hold on.