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
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:
- Let their guard down, thinking that there’s no way to even justify stupidity and lies, so why bother?
- 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?
It worked for Gandhi.
Each morning my workout is to “power hike” (no other word for this – it’s not quite running, and way faster than hiking) in the hills that are the northern border of the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy. Locals here call it “dirt Mulholland.” It’s the stretch of the infamous Mulholland Drive between Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Havenhurst – a fire road that’s the mother artery for hundreds of smaller trails that feed off of this idyllic length of paradise between ocean and valley.
It’s a favorite for a morning cult of dog walkers (I’m one), mountain bikers (one of those too), trail runners, casual strollers and… well, it’s as a diverse a group of humans as the wildlife that call it home.
Why am I telling you this?
To put you in the same morning-sunshined, ocean-caressed, crisp-aired, rosy-cheek-kissed bliss that could only be made better by Return to Forever’s, “Romantic Warrior” pouring from my earbuds and marinating my soul…
You there? Ahhh, yes, there you go… now, breathe in and…
Cue the hawk. Her shadow kisses your face first and you look up – she waves with a curt tip of her wing as she soars out over the valley. And… something else passes by … and before you can even ask yourself what…?
She backs up and re-enters your field of vision, blocking out your hawk’s majesty… and as Stanley Clark’s bass line seduces your attention like warm maple syrup, a bright-faced, blond, brilliant light of a woman is talking… to you… she doesn’t seem to notice the earbuds…
So, you pull them out, and you hear her say, “… and would it be okay, I know this is terribly forward, but my daughter is a film student at USC, you see. And she’s making a film about a transgender police officer…”
Now, I am, and have always been, really good at inference. Sometimes to my downfall. All I need is a seed of a thought to deliver you a forest of a story. But as I struggled to hang on to this woman’s breathless story about her daughter, and the efforts she’s making, and the support she’s getting from the LAPD, and the officer himself who served in the Marines as a woman but transitioned after a distinguished tour of duty and is now quite happy as a male police officer, and the rest of the officers have been great with accepting him…
… my own thoughts were starting to drown out her voice. I realized I was desperately trying to figure out why is the woman, whom I have never met, who seems very nice and earnest, and proud of her daughter…
… why is she telling me this?
And when I still hadn’t heard a question in this waterfall of information and detail, nor even a request, a cold shiver went through me that I could not stop. I heard myself asking her,
“How did you know I was trans?”
Instead of a direct answer, I heard instead that she actually has other friends who transitioned years back and struggled, and are very brave, and after two in-depth stories about these friends, she confesses that she has seen me many times up here.
Now, for those of you who have never seen me. I am working very hard to reclaim a body that spent 50 years being Raised by Wolves. I’m happy to report, it’s working. And so is the estrogen. I have hips, and I am starting to get an hourglass figure. A woman is emerging In place of all the sweets and carbs I have given up. On this day, in fact, I am looking quite cute (ask Mylove) in athletic tights and red trainers (way better word than sneakers, I think) and, my hair is pulled up into a cute top spray. I’m wearing my Audrey Hepburn oversized sunnies… I tell you this so you too will have the same vision that she had. That way, you too should see my crest falling…
Which makes her talk even faster, and I hear her say:
“But really honey, you are so close, you are at least 80 percent. Yes, 80 percent for sure.”
Now. I don’t want you to misunderstand me. First, yes I was thunderstruck. And we’ll talk about that in few paragraphs, but I need you to know that I was so blown away by her blunt honesty and matter-of-fact brightness, that I kept talking to her and actually walked the rest of my morning hike with her (albeit more the stroll mode).
We parted ways at my home trail. I agreed to talk to her daughter and help her in any way that I could and when the subject of my career path came up (30 years in television, I know a thing or two about documentary filmmaking), she was overjoyed and proclaimed this meeting “meant-to-be.” I can’t lie, I felt that way too… I found out all kinds of interesting and wonderful things about her and, yes, we could be friends.
When I got home and told Mylove about the whole encounter, just as I was about to say her name, Mylove said it with me in stereo, “Oh, you met Lenka. She’s amazing, isn’t she? A brilliant light.” Hmmm, where have I heard that before? I guess it was meant to be, just as she said. And so I followed-up, and I’ll let you know how it goes. It feels weird after all that to confess that, as wonderful as it was, I was still… “unsettled.”
Okay, I promised, so here goes…
Eighty percent? Eighty? Eight-o percent-o. A solid “B.” A nice, “thank-you for playing” rating?
Eighty percent of what? Of womanhood? Of physical femininity? Of you’re almost there, but not quite? I’ve heard of measuring up… but really?
Why did this number rock my world? Well. It couldn’t have come at a more intense time or as they say, happen to a nicer girl. In the week leading up to this, I’ve had to endure whispers behind my back that the timing of my “choice” to be a woman was ill-timed. (This was from someone who should know how wrong at all levels that thought is.) I had direct in-my-face accusations that I haven’t “paid my dues – by working at sh*t jobs, like most women.” With these, I have no idea where to even start to correct these misconceptions. They are deep judgments that all my good deeds and my past efforts can’t seem to cleanse.
I was accused of conflating make-up, hair, and clothes with being a woman.
It doesn’t matter how many disclaimers I put out, this is the gum on my shoe that I can’t shake for love nor money. And, if I’m honest with myself, I have to confess that the number of references I make to the above, with all their requisite rationales and justifications, don’t quite add up to making the case for acquittal.
But, this was flung at me like the bag of trash that sprayed the feet of the teary Iron Eyes Cody, and… it hurt.
Do I celebrate my femininity every day with the way I now freely present myself to the world? Oh, heck yes! Do I still have a sense of urgency to make up for lost time? Without a doubt. Does it matter how I look? Well, yes honey, it does. Just as much as it does for the next girl: okay, maybe a little more enthusiastically than the average middle-aged woman, and just shy of obsessed, but not for the psychotic reasons that would land me in therapy. I care because I can now fully, freely, care about how I look. I can look into a mirror and see me. Caring and taking the time to do something about it does not define or confirm my womanhood, it glorifies it. My womanhood. Not yours or hers or Mylove’s. Mine. It also doesn’t say a thing about your womanhood. It doesn’t comment on what you should do or not do, just as yours doesn’t, mine.
Especially since it’s apparently only at 80%, anyway.
This was the frame of mind that was my “plus one” as I went to my friend Tarrah Von Lintel’s Art Gallery for the opening of Mark Seliger’s “On Christopher Street” Photography Show. My iPhone crapped-out on the way there, killing my GPS and sense of direction so much that I got horrifying lost. (I actually had to resort to orienteering survival skills, thanks, John Hudson.) Finally, I arrived 15 minutes before it closed (I missed about 80 percent of the show?) and, together with close to 300 people, I was taken by the portraits of transgender people who live in the Christopher Street neighborhood of New York. These portraits were stark black and white, with the soft-focused background urban textures, like armor worn proudly by these people. There were singles and duets; a quartet my favorite. They were from all walks of life, and all pure New Yorkers. The camera caught their steely, worldly, been-there stares. They are Loud. Proud. Out. 100 percent there.
The crowd appeared to my 80 percent perspective to be 50-50 percent “cis” to trans split. There was a spectrum of the trans community present. So many faces I had never seen before. I glommed on to my new BFF Ashlee (whom I met thru Tarrah), and she was a friendly life raft in a sea of anonymity. Ashlee,who was live on Facebook as I hugged her hello, spent the rest of my fifteen minutes introducing me to everyone who came with ten feet (she’s like that). And I met some amazing people, doing amazing work for our community. It was a vibrant, happy, hopeful vibe, and I was sorry when the lights began to go off, effectively “brooming us out “of the gallery as the show closed. As I drove home, I had to admit to myself that I haven’t really been involved in the LA community maybe as much I should be. I’m an author and speaker, darn it, helping the world understand our experience – and the world out there is so… big.
A few days later, I had lunch with Tarrah and we talked about this. Now, she is a solid pillar of grace and calm wisdom. She admitted she had never had such a happy, hopeful vibe at any of her openings before. As the conversation got deeper regarding my experience of the portraits, I confessed that as amazing as they were “technically,” some of them were actually a bit “on the nose” (LA speak for “expected,” i.e. clichéd) with regard to the transgender “narrative.” (Also LA speak, but also used by many to describe the commonly held belief that we think we invented it. But really, it’s a collective story we tell ourselves to document and ascribe meaning to our various groupings.) And by this I mean that there are several “tropes” (this one is ours – LA speak, I mean) such as “trans street walkers,” “trans overcompensators,” and “trans body alteration.”
To be transparent (I couldn’t – but maybe shudda – resist), the niggle in my tummy was that too often these tropes become truths – that is, they become “prejudices” or, at the least, “preconceived notions” about any sector of society. In this case, our trans community that can impede equality. That’s the fear anyway, and, I admit, it was sorta mine. It’s why GLAAD exists. It’s why we try to bust stereotypes of all kinds. It’s the first steps toward (my fingers are gagging on the word as they type), normalization. We’ll talk later about why, if I take a breath, I try to never buy into this fear or oversimplification, but for this post, Tarrah is the hero…
So without further ado…
Tarrah defended her choices (after all, she is the curator for the show, and those were her choices) saying that that was precisely why she chose the more provocative shots (a few were the professional sex workers in the neighborhood). These photos asked us all (especially trans people) to confront internalized transphobia. We are not the choices many of us have had to make to live – and we certainly better not be judging those choices as the measure of character. In our community, the hard options between life and obliteration are never easy, never cut-and-dried, never the easiest path. Our choices are never between being what we are and hiding. but rather, how we will live as who we are with the world often not only in our way but actually conspiring against us.
And, all of that, our history, our journey, our legacy, in the glare of the streetlamps was on display in all it’s glory in the denizens of Christopher Street. As Tarrah says, “These people completely owned their authenticity, 100 percent.”
Really. 100 percent.
Well then, and tell me you saw this coming if I’m 80 percent…?
Was that what Lenka was talking about? Did I just presume (shut-up, Tarrah) that she meant I was 80 percent woman when she meant I was 80 percent … trans?
80 percent authentic? 80 percent both? (Um, ain’t that 160 percent?)
Nah… I’m sure she meant… well, she must’ve meant… Come on, as a cis-woman, she had to mean… (Gosh darn you Tarrah! How dare you make me… think!)
Shoot, okay, so now, I’m confused. And why am I allowing myself to fling myself down this rabbit hole? Well, actually there’s a very good reason. Because that’s also who and what I am. When I realized that my real survival mechanisms weren’t the ones that had me believe that I could finish out this precious gift of life from God as “half of a man,” but were the ones that finally, blessedly kicked in when annihilation seemed truly imminent to live life as a whole woman.
But if Lenka’s right. Let’s say I am 80 percent. That means I still have work to do. What 20 percent should I start on? The woman part? The trans part? Both? (And never mind that I am already devoting all of me to working on both. As my writing partner always reminds me, the biggest room on the planet is the room for improvement.) So… it’s a poser, yes it is a real stickler.
Maybe Tarrah is right. Maybe I should get to work right away on that part that cares too much about what other’s think.
And in that case, maybe Lenka is right… I’m almost there.
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.
- 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?
- 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.
It’s summer. Gorgeous afternoon sunshine, heat wave comin’ but not here yet, Chicago Live from Carnegie Hall tellin’ me that it’s “Only Love Beginning,” and I’m …
Carried away by it all.
It dawns on me, I have always been a California Sunshine Girl (as my father would say with a wistful and proud tenor … usually to my sister Kimm or about any of the various women he met as a car salesman in the infamous Inland Empire). It’s just that you, he and the rest of the world never knew it.
But the image of me as a naturally athletic and active woman whose beauty stemmed more from her smile than her wardrobe, who lit up every space she graced, and celebrated the outdoor lifestyle that is our birthright in SoooooCal, is actually my default state of being.
Until, that is, I remember that I’m trans.
I’ve written about my dance with this moniker, this label, in my book, and I will confess that it is even now, a work in progress.
But my personal dance doesn’t matter anymore. Because being trans in 2016 is a … well, it’s something that none of us is. Being trans in 2016 is to be something we have all fought against for our entire lives, and now, must continue to fight, everyday. Because being trans in 2016 is to be part of … a thing.
Being trans in 2016 … well, hang in there with me on this one, but it has nothing to do with our gender identity and, it turns out, has everything to do with our gender identity. Being trans is “an issue,” it has become one of the nation’s “dialogues,” one of the nation’s “narratives” (among many), and the definition or usage of “trans” could all depend on who’s saying it.
Being trans in 2016 is “a call to arms,” “a badge of honor” and “the next civil rights front.” While for some people, being trans is “a four-letter-word,” “igniting a national firestorm,” or “the height of absurdity” (this last is a quote from former “Brain surgeon” Ben Carson).
Yeah, everyone thinks they know what being trans is.
After all, we are that woman on TV, that man on Facebook, that guy in the Nike Ad, that guy on that show, that woman who was on that show and is now on that woman’s show; that dude you used to work with, that woman that just started working next to you, that girl in your child’s school, that boy in the news, those girls in that music video, that woman on the Daily Show …
In other words, we are the latest thing. We are a thing thing.
But here’s the thing … we’re not an … any-thing.
We are a somebody. And, we are somebody else’s somebody.
We are your daughter, your big sister, your big brother, your new little sister, your cousin, your neighbor, your wife’s best friend, your best friend from high school …
When we are a thing and, more recently, a “that” thing, we become the abstract that can be legislated against. When we are that thing that everybody’s been talking about, we vanish from the reality of life, and we become instead spectres, punchlines, cyphers.
We sometimes falter ourselves and surrender to the belief that this is “our lot in life,” “the cards we’ve been dealt,” or for some, “the beds we will lie in.” We sometimes allow ourselves to take on the mantel that society seems to want to continue to shoulder us with – the “othering” that exasperatedly seems so easy for some of our fellow Americans to do without even a second thought.
Now, I just admitted right there, that this is a two-way street—what society says about me and what I accept about me. But folks, the reason why we’re still talking about this is … my side of that two way street isn’t trying to kill me. And while we’re on the subject, to my friends and family: yes, your right to vote is yours and you need to vote your conscience. BUT! If your vote puts a supporter of anti-LGBTQ laws in office, then you just put a nail in my coffin, plain and simple. And it’s on you. You don’t get to wash your hands of it all, and pretend that you didn’t know. You knew, and you still voted against me and my rights, and the rights of everyone in the LGBTQ community. I will not be able to look you in the eye. So, yes, voting what you refer to as your conscience may allow you to feel good that your team won, but my life, and the lives of all my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, are literally on the line.
What I am realizing, as the summer breeze brings me back into my body, is that I need to take a breath and step back from the front lines for moment and focus on my side of the street.
And that’s when I realize that sometimes even I have bought into thinking of myself as other … feeling like a trans woman, instead of a justa woman; recognizing that I am different, that I wasn’t born “like all the other girls.” And I realize there are people who actually hate me without knowing me. They call me an abomination. They think I don’t deserve to live.
And so, I have to take refuge where there is safety in numbers—in my trans community.
Which is what I’m doing. Everyday. And that means my is-ness stays grounded in the transwoman aspect of my identity. It is a survival mode in this four-letter-word HR2 bull-pucky world. The prevailing wisdom is for us to get out there, be visible, be more than a somebody’s someone, be a loud and present and unapologetic, and wonderful, confrontational, inspirational, technological, educational, someone.
Because the time is now for us to change the hearts and minds that have gone cold (or are somehow feeling that it is suddenly okay to admit that they always were) against us. These discriminatory efforts are well-funded, strategic efforts that are there to deny us our rights, to push us outside of the family of human. It will take all of us to give our all to change those hearts and minds.
I have to admit, as a California Sunshine Girl, it’s hard for me to believe that the rhetoric, rancor, and revulsion directed at our community is … well, real. What’s even more amazing is how easily people who are supposed to know better, gleefully and with complete knowledge, swan dive onto the cesspool, and allow themselves to actually, and fully, hate in the name of God, in the name of religion, and our constitution.
Remembering I’m trans is to remember that a whole church (the church of my childhood) has been turned against me and my family. Pope Francis said, “Ideologies that profess children can ‘choose their gender’ constitute the very annihilation of man as image of God.” Wait … did he actually say “choose?” Isn’t this guy supposed to be a man of science? He reads, right? (And don’t get me started on his namesake asking to be the “instrument of God’s peace.”) Does he only feel this way about trans children? Does he feel the same way about children born with no limbs? Cleft palate? Down Syndrome? Are they also not born in the image of God? How could any religious leader denigrate a whole population of the human race? Not only does he devalue us but he effectively placed a target on our backs. I’m aghast that he could say this because, as I was taught in my catechism classes, God doesn’t make mistakes. So Mr. Pontiff-sir, you need to get on the right side of science and history and God’s love.
So, remembering I’m trans is to remember that some are trying to gain back the ground they lost in the first civil rights fight, and that’s their right (they believe) to hate. And they are all jumping on the HR2-like war wagon, turning their fight to hate on me and my community. Remembering I’m trans is remembering that my own sister has chosen to listen to everyone else about me, over asking me about me.
It’s remembering that the only way to change all of this is to remember that, as a trans woman, I am beautiful, that I have more to contribute than the average person, that I make the world a better place by being in it, and that I can never allow myself to fight the world, but that I may have to fight for my place in it. Again. And Again. And Again.
But also, that I must fight with light, laughter & love. Always. Forever.
Given all that, maybe you now can understand that every so often, I still would like to just feel that breeze across my California Sunshine Girl’s cheek…
… so I sigh. And allow myself to lose myself in that breeze … for a few precious moments.
Okay… Fair disclosure? I have what many women take for granted—some do not want it nor do they seek out; others pretend they don’t have it or need it. But what any girl raised by wolves craves, at least on some level, and maybe, probably and tragically will never have is …
the company of women. Sisterhood.
Now, as much as we try to paint it with a rosy brush, it’s not all love and light, even with the communities strung together by letters (oh and shared um… discriminations…). It doesn’t seem like it should be a miracle, but then it also doesn’t seem like anyone should have to worry where they go potty either … ah, reality—good old slap your forehead in disbelief, you gotta be kidding me, somebody please wake me up, reality. But yes, it’s true. So, that’s why having sisterhood is such a rare and precious thing. It’s not a given, it’s not a done deal. Not even a slam dunk. It’s … a miracle.
Yes. it is a miracle, this sisterhood thingy..
And it’s not lost on me that I am the new girl, the baby sister, embraced by some as a wonderful, joyous chick with fluffy stubby little feathers where my wings will be, and the gawky, awkward gait that needs the shoulders of my older sisters to keep me from tripping over myself as I start to spread my wings and fly.
At 54 years of age, this is admittedly a little weird for me to accept, but not in ways that may be obvious – having been raised and regarded and expected to succeed, to have my “feces cohesive,” to know where the four-letter-word I’m going and how to get there. As a professional leader, I was expected to make sure everyone else was safe including every new baby whatevers. I made it my business to know where the threats were, how to deal with them, and how to make it all work to our advantage (or at least, not take advantage of us).
It’s a skill that fed me and Mylove (literally) for close to 30 years.
So, to be the new girl, the one who doesn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t know; the one who’s “heart is blessed” (in the southern “bless her heart” dismissiveway); the one who, in many ways, is “back at square one.” Whenever I get help from my big sisters, it’s a lesson in humility.
The reason being back at square one is humbling is this:
as a 54 year-old woman, I have to admit … I am immature. In many ways, I don’t know how to be, as my big Sis Kathy would say, “in polite company.” I am humbled by knowing there’s a lot I don’t know. All I can offer in my defense (which I tried to explain in my book) is that I protected myself from the crash that would come whenever I allowed myself to be myself by ignoring this thing called life to go by me untouched. And so I never did learn which fork is for the salad or why you don’t wear white to a wedding.
Now, this isn’t that important in the long run, right? On what planet???? Of course this is important. Women have to master “being” as a survival skill. Fortunately, it’s in our DNA. We do know how to be; it’s how we live … together. But we still have to learn where the fine line is between being gauche and standing out.
At this point in my life, knowing this and knowing how to do it, are a platform and a train. And you can guess where my feet are.
If you can’t imagine what it’s like to have to redefine your life at fifty, consider this: you have slowly (imperceptibly at times and dramatically at others) been “making” this person known as you. However, those of us raised by wolves have had to try to make a “persona” to show you, while keeping a parallel track of consciousness that is our self-self, slowly maturing as we age. The persona track gets to try and fail, to step out and stub its toe, bump its nose, trip over its own folly, and learn from its foibles, as well as its successes.
But the self-self, oh the dear and sweet self-self, lives like Rapunzel in her cold stone tower, or worse, like Sleeping Beauty, waiting fora prince’s kiss to free her from her sleepy curse. The self-self’s so-called life gets lived in theory only, with a silent, longing whisper documenting “couldas, shoudas, and wouldas” that fall further and further out of sync with a growing intellect and ever-changing sensibilities. These sensibilities are ethereal, with no practicality to test their validity.
For me growing up, my feminine self-self’s constant whisper put everything it said into ideals, “I would never do that as a woman.” “I would never let anyone talk to me like that.” “I would never let a man define my life.” “I would never wear pants.” “I would celebrate my femininity every day.” Etc. Etc. Etc.
But those were the declarations of a girl who never dreamed that she’d ever get to descend the cold stone tower’s hewn steps one day, never thought she would ever cross the courtyard, never believed that she would feel the sun’s warmth on her feminine cheeks.
In other words, the woman I would’ve been eventually became only the product of my mind. And I’ve had to be brutally honest with myself to accept that this is usually called a fantasy. This fantasy woman would, of course, look amazing in anything, never get sore legs or feet from heels that were too high, never get cold from hemlines too short or necklines too long, never attract derision from revealing too much cleavage, never engender disrespect, would be loved and admired by all.
But, when the day did come in this lifetime that I filed the bars of my prison and broke free, I was to encounter, in the warm light of day, the real me, the real woman, who would be living in the physical reality of 2016 … a woman who was larger than many but not than most. she was not super comfortable with how some clothes showed too much of a good thing, and didn’t really look good with too much eyeliner.She was smart enough to know how the games are played, was more confident speaking up and speaking her mind than many would dare, even if her voice is deeper than she’d like. Was a bit more (I dunno the best way to say this)cavalier than most? The boy word would be… cocky. (Ew, it’s creepy to even type…) But, she is. Cavalier that is.
But, and this was the big surprise, she was a bit awkward. Okay, no, a lot more awkward than most about the simplest things. Like… like, how to be. How to exist. How to relax and live.
I wrote last time about how I have been in an on-going discussion about “how a woman bes,” with my screenwriting partner and mentor, Valerie. As a woman of color who has deftly and gracefully navigated Hollywood, she has a four-letter-word ton of things she can and does teach me. But this discussion keeps coming back to behavior. What are female traits/things, etc., and which are male. She has taught me that being a woman is having the right to be free from ANY rules for rules’ sake. She loves Jaden Smith and his declarations that he’s not wearing a girl’s skirt, he’s wearing his skirt. She reminds me constantly that, up until the1930’s, pink was considered too strong a color for girl babies; blue was softer and more feminine.
In these discussions, I am guilty of constantly trying to draw distinctions between female & male behavior, quirks and tics. But Valerie checks me into the boards every time. (How very hockey night of me.) Having been raised by wolves, I figure, I do have a perspective that she might not have. but that doesn’t matter to her. She disagrees with the premise that there are definable male behaviors and female behaviors..
In fact, she challenges me every time without fail … I can hear her now … “not every time.” See what I mean?
But she is right. She naturally sees the world the way I hope to see it. Being a woman means YOU define the you that you are. And nobody, not society, not other women, certainly not men, not history, not yesterday, nor even tomorrow, defines you.
Well, except that it does.
You wanna test this? Watch Fox News (an oxymoron if ever there was one). It’s in their DNA. They have changed the way that women are filmed. Fox News treats women differently from their men, and it’s so not good—from the way women are regarded by their male counterparts on camera to the disparagement they endure at the hands of their management on down. Can you say, “Meghan Kelly?” But the women who do notice this have to ignore it, because this boy’s club has given so many women prominent jobs. The women who don’t notice … well, I’m not sure they’re reading this.
I mentioned all of this to my hair stylist, Tammy. This amazing woman is actually “number three” (the third person I “came out” to). She put her scissors down and spun another chair around to sit and give me a talk that I, having not had my mother’s knee or even the cliché teenage slumber parties to learn the ways of women, ever got. She was as serious as a heart attack as she rolled the words over in her head as if deciding if I was ready to hear the truth about the Easter Bunny …
“Our life as women, like it or not, IS governed by our appearance. It doesn’t mean that’s who you are… but it sorta is…. who you are.”
And this is how I knew estrogen is working on me. I knew what she meant by that conundrum. I can hear Valerie rolling her eyes from here. We may not want to have society judge us on either our ability to match shoes with our dress, or our indifference to that significance, but judging will be happening—even by our best and closest friends, family, and lovers. What the judger and judgee do with that judgment is up to both separately, and the stuff that makes this whole magilla the magilla that it is. We surrender to it, fight it, embrace it, buck it, ignore it or dismiss it, dance with it (to it or around it), tweak it, bend it, break it and break from it. Every day.
Sigh. This gets me to my point of this mining operation. This girl had to realize that, having been raised by wolves for most of my life, I have been cultivating two sets of criteria for this mad play. One was based on male values and the other on my values. The male set has been easily dropped, mostly (tho’ wraiths of their former selves creep up from the darnedest places and at the darnedest times). But the female set was based on theory only, with little practical application to confirm, refine, and expand. Double sigh. What’s a girl to do?
They say the universe hears even the slightest whisper of a prayer.
And three weeks ago, I found myself in charm school. I’m not kidding. My auntie Linda really and truly embraced the opportunity (and the obvious need) to use the two weeks of Marcy’s and mystay with her, as her chance to make a lady of me. She is a dear friend who invited us to come to Seattle to promote my book. And here’s where I got the above picture of a chick being kept warm and fed as it grew to eventually be pushed from the nest to fly on its own. Auntie Linda made it her business to get up in my business to sand off as many rough spots as she could in two weeks–the collateral damage from my time with the wolves.
Her motto was this: If I was ever invited to the White House, I should know how to conduct myself as a lady.
Now, let me make something crystal clear. I loved, loved, LOVED every moment of her loving and gentle tutelage. Every admonishment was a baby step forward. From chewing gum in public (apparently this is frowned upon in polite company), to cursing (when I got fresh blackberry juice on my white tennis skirt and tried to verbally shout it out, I heard from two rooms away a gentle, yet firm reminder, “Lady’s don’t curse”), to being practically levitated into the air by her stern look of shock alone when I bent down on one knee in a dress to pet a dog and was, well, giving it away for free, as they say.
But the harshest lesson was the day I sat back after a lunch I had made for us ladies and had, thank-you-very-much, totally nailed it. I pulled out my trusty flossing toothpick, as was my custom, and proceeded to clean my teeth. Auntie put her fork down and said with a very quiet and sweet voice, “Honey. Among family, it might be okay, but… well, you don’t… You won’t pick your teeth in public, ever, right? Ever! In fact … it’s really not okay among family, either.”
Now. I felt like I had been hit in the face with a bucket of cold sh… shame. As I sat there, face burning, mind racing in roaring silence, Mylove was doing a victory dance in her seat.
It burned me all night long. And then I realized why. Because I felt entitled to pick my teeth at the table that I had, all my life been schooled was rightly, and divinely… mine.I was the oldest of four children, and my father’s only heir-apparent. My sisters will probably say that my mom fawned on me, but I certainly was being raised as that chip off the old block, the apple that wouldn’t fall too far from my dad’s tree, the very image that my sisters would use to measure the men who would come to be their husbands. And I was treated to an intrinsic princely privilege.
But here we were, post estrogen, and the table was my Auntie’s. It was her house. It was her food. I had merely prepared it. Where in the four-letter-word, did I four-letter-wording, get off with this … entitlement?
I realized that the reason there were third-degree scorches on my heart was the double shame of discovering yet another forgotten trip wire of male privilege, and the cold guilt from knowing that I had ever embraced any of them in the first place.
Look… before you either feel righteous yourself or try to help me off my hook, know that any privilege was a very small and bitter consolation prize for selling out one’s soul. And whatever perks I got have been taken back in spades. When the threat of getting raped and dragged behind a car because some psycho decides either that they get to decide what potty you get to use, or worse, that you are their new plaything, then you can call me on my supposed privilege. Until then, sit down, and put your mommy on the phone; this is a conversation for adults only.
Back in charm school, the cooling salve for me in the burn ward was my Auntie’s acceptance and love and genuine desire to help me make up for lost time. And I will be forever grateful for her and those two weeks.
Oddly, the universe must know I’ve got to work fast (maybe that evite to the Whitehouse is pending?), cuz the very next week, I got a crash course in being a woman in business from my wife’s dear friend and lifelong chum, Bunny. The Bun, is one of the most brilliant women I know. And it seemed like it only took her half a breath to embrace me as her baby sister. She seemed to instantly “get” that I had no idea how to go from one of the most respected showrunners in adventure TV to a woman in a man’s world. And once again, we had to act fast as I had an interview with a great production company in just a few days.
She grilled me as we sat in our bathrobes and slippies, sipping “fawkey” one morning, (coffee for those just joining this blog) and apparently she was x-raying me for signs that I could at least reach up to touch that glass ceiling. I’d like to think she saw potential because she quickly left the room to return moments later with a pretty silk pouch. She poured the contents into my hand.
I opened my cupped hands to see a beautiful, and now my favorite, pair of pearl and quartz earrings. The Bun looked at me and got very serious as we both sat and she imparted these instructions:
No necklace. It just draws attention to your chest.
You want them to keep their eyes on your face. If they stray the earrings will make them return to your eyes.
You want them to take you seriously as a woman with a brain.
And then her voice went down to powerful yet hyper calm tenor:
“You must really listen to the “suits.” They are stupid and afraid of making a mistake with their boss, so listen for their weaknesses and then you figure out a way to make them stronger. And you let them take the credit for everything, and then you’ll own them. You don’t ever let them own you. You give up your desire to do your own things with them. Forget about that right now. You care only about one thing. Making money. You do what they want, cash their check, get your fulfillment elsewhere.”
Now, if I hadn’t been sitting in the gorgeous seaside Carmel villa that she had had remodeled to architectural digest level of exquisiteness, with a now comfortably retired powerhouse who had started as a nurse and became a leading consultant in the ADA compliant business, I might’ve dismissed her instruction as being merely… I dunno, maybe battle-scarred surrender. But she is the exact opposite, sitting tall and stately the victorious conqueror. Yes, here was one of the strongest women I know, giving me a valuable tip in the language only strong women can understand–that strong women know they are strong. They aren’t strong because others declare it. They know that nobody can ever take away their power because they know to their core that they are limitless. Because only women are capable of creation without believing that they are the source of that creation—that their power can never be lost, taken away or even given away… it just is.
Powerful stuff over morning fawkey and a lesson still banging around inside my head weeks later.
And again, humbling, and heady, and pinch-me-i-must-be-dreaming-what-in-the-world-did-I-do-to-deserve-this-what-took-me-so-long…joy. As I try to process this all without exploding into a supernova of relief, I realize that… holy geezus, I am going to be… better than ok.
But this is how it is in the company of women. Shared knowledge and careful, mindful nurturing of the next in line, to be the best person I am capable of being. How beautiful is that?
And it’s lucky for me, cuz as it’s been pointed out I’ve got a lot to learn, and fast. But I am a good student. Maybe that’s why I have been accepted so readily into the company of great women,into Sisterhood?
Then again. Maybe it’s just love.
Okay… I promised my womanifesto last time and… well, as they say,
I had good intentions. But… please allow me to explain.
You see, as I said in the last pages of my book, “Getting Back To Me” from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years, I can’t wait to see the woman I will become.
Now, for those of you who have read the book, you had the context to know that what I meant was… well, like, in the future.
Like any sane person, I knew I was always going to mature, grow, get wiser, smarter… you know… like a fine wine, etc. etc. And now that dysphoria’s cloud had dissipated with the rising sun of acceptance’s brilliant light and heat, I could actually… er, um, grow up.
But then, as I started to poke my nose back into this thingy called life, and realize that a few things had somehow either slipped my gaze before, or been shot down by my Aegis Defense system (sorry that too is in the book. It’d be easier if you read it and then all these witty metaphors would make sense), but I realized that I was starting to… gosh, there’s just no better word for it, than… become.
And so, silly me, I thought I would write it all down and declare the woman I am and it eventually would go to the world in a well crafted, word-smithed Woman-ifesto. (Can you tell this feminism thingy is rubbing off on me all already?)
I got this idea because my friend, Valerie and I often discuss these things as we write. I, as trans woman, and she, as a cis-hetero, woman of color, often have very vibrant discussions about just what is male and female behavior. And let me tell you, I’m the stodgy traditionalist, while she’s the enlightened open-minded one.
So, to prepare myself for what would inevitably be a world-class, epic, on-going debate (’scuse me, discussion), I dug deep to bring up the woman I am (and had been planning to be for lifetimes) from her future, years before her debut as a very mature, worldly wise gosh-darned wonder woman with a capital Woah.
I happened to mention this as the casual answer to the standard, “what have you been up to?” asked by my dear friend and cherished older sister, Eleanor… as Mylove and I were driving her and her spouse, Lucy, to the airport. NOTE: This was a great thing for Lucy & Eleanor. They were moving to live a dream they’d had for a long time. And four-letter-wording tragic for us. We have had these great women in our lives for 14 years, spent most every holiday with them and… well, we don’t know what we’re going to do with them on the other coast. Wait… sorry… I can do this…
Yes. Back to the 405 freeway, late one summer Friday night (are you with me? I know I didn’t signal before I switched lanes, but this is LA, yes? Good.), I mentioned that I was working on this blog and the womanifesto and bla,bla,bla. Eleanor asked the obvious, “Well, what kind of woman will you be?” And she was excited about her question, she genuinely got the idea that I had a chance at 54 years of age to start with a clean slate and, given that golden opportunity, what would I do (as Jen Larkin wrote in my review) “with my left life?”
Now, as the swarms of red taillights lit our way to LAX, I knew that this question was a great distraction from the heavy hearts we all had as we were preparing ourselves to say goodbye. But, I demurely declined to offer up a speedy answer, and we laughed about yes, Scottie was changing. She never let that kinda thing stop her in the past. Of course, we all agreed how difficult that would be to do in the now, less than fifteen minutes before… well, you know, they leave. (Can you tell how I feel by now?)
The next morning, I was … a little peeved. What kind of a woman WILL I be? What did she mean by that? WILL? How about now? What am I chopped liver? (wait a minute that’s Mylove’s line). I went from zero to hissy in nuthin’ flat — forgetting, of course, that the question was my idea. But that’s beside the point! I knew what I meant, I wanna know what she meant!
But all that Sturm und Drang doesn’t answer the question sweetheart, and the truth is… finally, the fog of stupidity lifted and I saw that Eleanor was just doing what Eleanor does. And it’s one of the reasons I will miss her so terribly—she has the superpower to hear my heart before I do. And, she takes this precious knowledge and uses it to gently help me grow.
So, the best thing I could do was take her enthusiasm as a “yes,” that I was on the right course, and oh yeah, I realized I still had much work to do. And I thought that if I promised you, dear reader, that answering this question – and putting it out as a great womanifesto as my next blog, I would magically have the Goddess of creativity grant me the space to get real.
Um… and have I said out loud that I am feeling the pressure to live up to the great women in my family who came before me? My mother is the best example, and my aunts—all of them. I knew even before I came out that getting it right, standing tall and proud with dignity as they had was way more important than knowing which shoes went with which dress.
MyLove is the best example of the ultimate woman (I hand picked her! Okay that’s not exactly accurate, my heart recognized her even before she was technically available) and Lucy & Eleanor, and Valerie, and my little sisters, and my Auntie Linda, and my new big sister Alexandra … everywhere I turn, great women are showing me the way.
I have, all around me, the greatest examples of the kind of woman I am.
And, I can tell you one thing–I’m not sure any one of these great women has ever thought it necessary to have their own womanifesto. It’s, well, not how they think. Trust me, Valerie has beaten that point into my head time and again.
But for a girl who was raised by wolves, this “how I would live (as a woman)” had been, for oh, so many years the only cooling salve for a heart in endless turmoil. (For those of you new to my story, let’s just say, that I’m a late bloomer) I would tell myself as I sat in my dank dungeon (of my own creation, in my heart) “I would wear dresses everyday.” “I would make every day a celebration of femininity, by looking my best, to light up a room with color, and beauty.” But it wasn’t always superficial, “I would never let anyone talk to me that way.” I would know that I would be as I, had always been: strong, creative, smart and caring. But I wouldn’t have to cloak those qualities in boy-ness to maintain my cover.
In essence, I have been writing this womanifesto all my life. It was scratched into the stone walls of the dungeon I had imprisoned myself in. And now that this cell is empty, and light has cleared away the moss and fungus, the walls are crumbling … and my writing is fading.
Either that, or estrogen has cleared my head and I now see that a set of rules about how to be is exactly what a woman ain’t. Sure, there’s great commonality among my role models. They are all fantastic, amazing, bright, shining lights of humanity that truly make the world a better place by their existence. But they are as individual as the facets of a diamond. For every amazing mother, there’s a woman who never wanted children. For every poet, there’s a scientist, for every artist, there’s an accountant, for every extrovert there’s a scholar, for every comedienne, there’s a healer.
They have fears.
They rise above their fears.
They can laugh at themselves.
They laugh with each other.
They rarely laugh at others.
I’m not like a lot of girls that were raised by wolves, in that I never thought I would ever be here as the woman I am. Free. Me. But now that I am here, I can drop the façade of trying to appear that I have to have the answers before I even look at the question. I can let it show that I am not sure, without making myself weak, I can allow myself to continue to blossom and know that that is the woman I am now and, as Eleanor was probably watching me discover “the woman I will be,” is a work in progress, an unwritten book, an endless possibility, and a glorious question.
Which (I can hear you laughing) is the divine answer to my prayer to the Goddess of Creativity. Oh, yes, She heard me. I asked for the space to get real… and in that space I can really see:
There’s a reason why we call them manifestos, there’s no such thing as a womanifesto…
We don’t need them.
Next time: The Company of Women.
… or how do you bring 45 years on the boy’s side of the fence into alignment with being a feminist woman in 2016?
Cuz it turns out … that I am. A feminist that is. That I am and always was a woman isn’t news to anyone by now. But being a feminist is maybe even the harder part of my life for some to swallow.
The challenge was for me to decide was I first, second, third wave or … (psst… do we even have a fourth wave yet, I mean official-like and all?)
The truth is, I had to go back and look ’em up, because, astute as I am (believe me, when you’re dying of thirst in the desert of identity, a few raindrops of ANY girl talk about anything feminine was enough to get me to the next oasis), I soakedup everything I could along the way. Even I lost track of the shades of gray.
And really, these shades turned out to be black and white (literally in the case of a fourth wave and its splinter group, “White Feminism.” Trust me, you don’t want this shade of pale). And these labels are all absolutely perfect for “othering” (America’s favorite pastime). But they do have differences that has each wave shaking its head at the other.
I could define these you for you, but others have done a much better job … (oh all right, here you go.The following is from Martha Rampton’s, ”Four Waves of Feminism:”
http://www.pacificu.edu/about-us/news-events/four-waves-feminism. I paraphrase or add where necessary).
1st wave: The Suffragettes and the first “unladylike” activists challenge the “cult of domesticity”
2nd wave: St. Gloria and the Gang take on sexuality and reproductive rights, beginning at the Miss America Pageant in 1968 and on into the 90’s fighting for the right to define and govern our own bodies. Patriarchy and normative sexuality are broadly challenged.And, more importantly for this girl, sex and gender are differentiated. But maybe even more important to today, these amazing elders were the first to show that race, class, and gender are all interrelated. But this is also the wave that gave rise to, ahem,‘scuse me, but, wymin? Not that the majority of second wavers even gave these wymin a second thought, but they struck a chord trying to define the gender as having been born with a vagina (we’ll get into this later on…maybe).
3rd wave: These daughters of the Nineties took all of the above to a stiletto high extreme – embracing the very symbols of male oppression that infuriated their “mothers,” taking back the sexualized images of female sexuality as empowering examples of Grrl power. These are the femmes fatales that truly took having choice as their divine right – and nobody, not even another woman, can take that right away. This is also the gang that defies the binary en toto – embracing gender non-conformity from the top down (pun intended again, you’re beginning to catch on), and eschewing women-only “spaces” as anachronistic, and impertinent. The most telling fact about these gender-bending boundary-busters (I resisted using bustiers, okay maybe not) is that they refuse the label “feminist,” never agreeing to uniform philosophy or collectivism or goals.
As for the 4th wave, it’s still in the incubation stages, rising up from the soils tilled by its mothers. A moving out from academia, as Martha Rampton postulated to Elle Magazine, to the real world; a realigning of ideals from the lofty optimism of the third wavers to the world where the same threats that women have endured through the centuries haven’t changed – but they are the stuff now of public discourse from rape and sexual abuse to homo- and transphobia, Title IX, and maternity leave.
Thanks Martha! Now, where was I? Oh yeah… where do I stand?
“It’s never before this time been a better time to be a woman,” say the papers and pundits.
We have Hil to thank for that, they say.
Wha????? This is where my estrogen begins to boil. Call it the “outrage” enzyme that is the free radical circulating in my veins. “Time to be a woman?” This is where I can see what my elder “second wavers” were trying to put into the nation’s consciousness – the unconscious patriarchy that makes it seem as tho’ no toxic superfund will ever really scrub from our society. Our “time” thank you very much, was, is, and will always be.
But tell that to the white male sector of our society, cuz honey, they ain’t going down without a fight. As many memes on the internet have said, the e-word, equality, to a man means that they will have to give up a portion of what they now enjoy. It’s so deep that most have confused treating us like a lady as already going one giant leap beyond equality – and keeping us on the pedestals that each constructs “for us” takes so much of their conscious and (unconscious) time that (maybe if you squint) you can almost see why. Wait did I just go third wave on you? Or rather me?
Do boys “just be boys” and we just shake our heads, love them and smile? Do we not wear low cuts so as to not provoke, distract, or “send the wrong message” them? Get me going second wave again! Isn’t this fun?
No. it’s… well, the worst I can say, it’s disheartening.
Which, in my world, is the mostest, absolute worstest evil of them all. Something that forcibly removes the heart from its rightful place in all things, is the detail in the devil.
Disheartening in the same way that black parents have to have“the talk” with their children, particularly their sons, about how to conduct themselves when they get stopped by the police (they will) so they don’t die. How four-letter word is that? More to point, how disheartening is that?
Yes, we as women have been given an abridged version of the talk (call it the talk-light, a third less murder than our regular beer) since time immoral (SIC). Don’t walk alone at night. Carry a rape whistle and mace – the boogie-MEN are out there and just because we’re taught to be paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get us. This is brought to us by the letter R for reality. And nobody thinks this is weird? Am I right? We are raised in fear. To fear. By Fear.
And could we blame us?
Because, given that not all anyone is anything, boys (notice the use of words here) are all we hope they are not. Men, the mature version of said group in question, are everything we hope they are. And here’s why we separate the men from the boys…
The trouble comes when they choose to be the one and never the other. This happens when Judges decide that “he’s punished himself enough already, so six months for rape is more than enough” and Ol’ Judgie-pie actually thought he would get away with it. That Ol’ Judgie-pie thought he was above moral, ethical or even societal outrage is exactly the problem. This dude didn’t even think it was a problem, and when public outcry jacks up like a set wave, he ducks from the ire.His defense becomes the issue rather than his f**king stupidity. And he will be allowed to slink away … and her rape will be a festering scar … on her. On us. A scar that we will all have that will make that limb a little less limber, a little less open for a hug, a little more disheartened for the next woman.
So, hopefully by now, you can see my problem. I do know how a Lacrosse team could not only gang up on a woman but try to hide it and then get help hiding it, from their fathers and uncles.
I have been in the room where all the young dudes got to laugh and joke about “her” or “them” with a dialect that has its own punchlines that need no set-up, a learned language of privilege and manifest destiny that defies logic. And I have watched as some of the women around me smiled thru gritted teeth for the few unfortunate times they found themselves in those rooms. And yes, I have also been mystified by the rare instances when there were sisters who seemed to embrace the misogyny and sexism, either as a survival mechanism or as … I dunno what.
I confess that I must work to harbor no judgment for my sisters in any of those categories – after all, I myself know only too well what we’re all trying to protect ourselves from. My armor was success; yours could be whatever you choose.
The fact that we have to protect ourselves is the issue.
But, I do know what we’re dealing with. I do know that the mere fact that we have an ism to call our own is the disheartening part. Yes, I have an issue that we have to have feminism at all. But honey, it ain’t feminism’s fault. In fact, as I’ve demonstrated above, the only fault this girl can see is when feminism divides women.
But the question I started with, which wave does this girl ascribe to, is, as of this paragraph, still unanswered … and maybe it’s because I can see the thread that got us to here.
It could also be that, at this stage of my life, I am smart enough to know what I don’t know and hopeful enough not to care? A bit recklass maybe… Guilty as charged.
But it’s where my years of being raised with privilege and to have privilege, makes me a little sharper at where society’s boundaries are … and therefore where the weak spots are.
Which makes me a most inconvenient woman. (You knew I’d get the firsties back in the game, right?)
Next time, My Womanifesto…
All my love –
Scottie Jeanette Christine Madden