“Does this skirt make my butt look trans?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are medical realities with cures.

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

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

No.

We have never been confused.

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

No.

We are not confused.

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

Or they don’t — and become a statistic.

A tragedy.

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

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

Which is something Dysphoria is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the “yous” of the world still try.

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

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

Period.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But will I look trans?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Guilt by Association…

I sat down to write this week’s posting, and realized…

I had already said  everything (this week) in an interview for another woman’s blog.

So I decided to throw light (the opposite of shade) on a fellow blogger for the great work she does, which is this: She interviews the Heroines in her Life, and as of this week’s count, I am honored to be number 362.And in the three days since my post dropped, she added three more…

Yes, it’s some amazing company. You’ll find the “usual suspects,” great women whom you have heard of, who have lead our community (either metaphorically or by real world sweat and tears) but it’s also women you need to know. Women who have made a difference doing nothing more than the greatest act of courage – truly, being themselves.

Which, we’re learning, is even more mystifying than previously thought.

I received an invitation a week ago from Monika Kowalska – and this started our journey together. Monika paid me one the greatest compliments I had ever received:”Scottie, I was reading and reading (your answers) and I started to feel that…

I am no longer cursed but I am gifted to be a transwoman! Thank you so much!!!!”

Well. What can you say after that other than – Thank you God that I have something to give.

So. This week, I direct you to Monika’s great blog dear readers and see for yourself what all the hoopla is really all about…

Please read my responses to her insightful questions at:

http://theheroines.blogspot.com/2017/02/interview-with-scottie-madden.html

And see you next week –

scottie jeanette christine madden

Transcontinental Divide?

 

Last week, Marcy and I were treated to, and I won’t hesitate to say, a tour de force (for once it’s actually used correctly) named Alexandra Billings in her performance, “I’m still here.”

It was… life affirming, life changing and… just plain ole life. But, an extraordinary one… as there’s nothing, not even her propensity for McDonald’s, is ever plain.

Now fair disclosure, Alexandra and I are getting to be better friends every day (when she picks up the phone), and I’ve written about her many times. Yes, I do think she walks on water and, no, you will never catch me saying that out loud—especially to her.

Nonetheless, her show consisted of more than an hour and half of songs belted to the rafters, enrobed in comedic bon mots that were both planned and spontaneous. Perfect example was when spilling her water glass on the piano became a Groucho Marx routine complete with enlisting help from the hapless, off-stage manager, and an innocent 80 year old bystander’s shawl to mop it up. And there was planned patter & jokes that even tho’ I (in my few months of friendship) had heard a variation on, still got the big laugh out of me anyway.

An amazing, yes amazing performance.

In my continuing efforts at this fair disclosure thingy (I think I’ve already told you), Alexandra has signed on to the drama series based on my book. Yay! And I, in turn, have signed on to develop her stage show into a television event (stay tuned for updates on this all). None of this skews my admiration of her as a woman. As an artist. As a role model. As an activist. As a great spokesperson for our community…

that being said…

Her performance shook me all night long, and then some.

After her 90 minute set, Alexandra came out in street clothes (one of the first of many areas where we do disagree—jeans and a “t”? Please girl!) to answer questions from at least half the house that stayed for this rare chance. The audience, made of students and supporters of USC’s arts community, were also, it turned out, fans of both her work on “Transparent,” and fans of the Director who runs this performance series program.

There were, you can image, the requisite questions about being a professional actor that one would expect from this crowd, not unlike the atmosphere created on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” (but without James Lipton being all James Liptony—which I rather like).

And, I saw a chance to open up a door to do another thing that Alexandra does best… represent.

Now, her show had already been a musical journey of her life from young boy to showgirl to mature professor and artist, through the broken glass-filled trenches of AIDS, drug addiction, and heartbreak (oh, so it’s a family show) that’s as much the story of one amazing person’s life as it is a chronicle of the LGBT movement, experience, and legacy of the last 50 years.

But… for those of you who maybe follow her through social media (and if you don’t, you should), you might know that Alexandra gets to deeper, more relevant issues in her own daily life, calling on us all to be divine, while acting humanely—with all, for all, not just the trans community. It’s one of the reasons why I value not only her friendship, but her voice in the trans community.

So, Yes, I tossed her a softball (news-speak for “an easy one”). But in this case, my intention was to give her a pivot to talk about subjects that hadn’t been covered in her performance (so, sue me). And I wasn’t even disappointed when she cast aside the notion in my question, reframing my premise about there even being a trans narrative into the bigger “human narrative” (that’s my girl), before answering. (As I said this was her show.) But the magic worked, and the next phase of questions opened up to the broader issues about being oneself, and true to the art, and connecting with the audience… for real.

But I don’t think either of us expected it to take the turn that it did, and I didn’t expect to still be “shook” days later. It started innocently enough…

One young playwright earnestly asked in this open and very public forum if Alexandra would be willing to be interviewed for her senior thesis project (a bold move that even Alexandra must’ve appreciated for its sheer chutzpah). Her play, she continued breathlessly, was about women, and Alexandra had on this night demonstrated, a perspective on being a woman that this playwright hadn’t considered before (and there it is) nor, the playwright continued, even knew existed. Okay we can get into just how “sheltered” this young woman confessed to being, later. I hear my inner critic screaming from the porch, “Scottie Jeanette, you come down off that soapbox, this instant!”

The point is, she meant well! And like us all, she was captivated by Alexandra’s story & performance.

But it was Alexandra’s answer that shook me, oh yeah, and probably the playwright too.

“Well, as you know, I’ve been married for over twenty years to a woman I’ve loved for over forty, and I can honestly say, having lived beside her, that I don’t share the same experiences as she and her cis-sisters. I consider myself a trans woman. I’m proud of that. So, no, maybe I’m not right for your project.”

Which sounded to everyone as a perfectly reasonable, gracious, maybe thanks but no, thanks dodge. But smiles and nods and the love in the air seemed to egg Alexandra on, so she continued to say, “… and if you’re okay with that; and you still want me? Talk to my manager.”

I was… floored. I… was… did I hear her right? Was I just… sold out?

But, again, this was Alexandra’s show.

Which is what I had to keep telling myself to get myself to take my finger off the launch buttons.

For those of you who’ve been following me, forgive me for repeating myself. I am a woman. I use the trans prefix only as a shorthand in pertinent conversations and context.

I struggle with this paradox (see previous posts), like last week when we pushed back on little old me, Ms smarty pants, with the unanswerable question, “Oh yeah? If you’re a woman, then how do you explain your body?”

But before you offer me up the usual get-out-of-jail-free cards,” like chromosomes and DNA and other cultures’ historical embraces (India’s Hijera, First Nation’s Two-Spirits, etc.), I will confess that, tho’ some find solace in these, I don’t. What happens for others is rarely easy for me to adopt as an explanation for my inner experience of reality.

It’s nice to know, but nothing has actually worked, except my own mental elbow grease.

I write often about how I cherish sisterhood and seek it out and, yes, get disappointed when I’m cut off from it, either by self-inflicted wounds or good ole fashioned misunderstanding.

So, when the divine Ms. Alex makes self-acceptance of the trans kind seem so easy and so… de rigueur, so… required, what’s a girl to do?

I do still, obviously, duh, struggle with this.

You can see it as I’m trying to get the world (or at least my world) to not only see me as a woman, but capital “B,” Be with me as a woman. When we are capital “B,” Be-ing, we are surfing that powerful wave of connection that we are suddenly sharing (for whatever reason), ignoring the mental obstacles that judge, misjudge, fire and misfire like so much flotsam and jetsam… the ocean of truth between two people pounds the rocks of fantasy and imagination (of each other) into the fine beach sand of each of our inner shores. And we… just… connect.

I’m using the word connection as a metaphysical, spiritual, sacred embrace.

And that’s why I shy away (shy being the operative word here) from the word “acceptance.” I’m not asking anyone to accept my womanhood that’s a mental surrender to a previously held prejudice. No, I’m an “all or nothing” girl. Wait… in this case, even that isn’t accurate…

I’m an all or all, girl. There’s no room for nothing.

I know, and have learned from deep meaningful relationships with amazing people, that deeper spiritual connection is there for us with each of our very next breaths.

All it takes is for us to stay in that beautiful bubble that our hearts created when first they met.

So, I figure that it’s even better when we are able to now, breath freely in our bubbles with a deeper understanding of my true femininity, because now we can, when we both are just Be-ing together, achieve… well, an even richer state of love. Of connection. Of meaningfulness as two humans, you and I.

Now, put in these terms, I know Alexandra (maybe with far more inspirational prose) would say the very same things. And no, gender is not even a part of the above equation, except for my case alone. I ask that those close to me regard me as a woman and treat me in the same way they treat the other women in our life. In our bubble. According to the social rules that we have created together.

But when those close to me step outside the bubble we created and look instead to the outside society for clues and cues as to how to live with me, then, yes, I get… well, uncomfortable. It happens more often than I care to believe, and has happened to a greater degree (and heartbreak) ever since I came out.

So, when Alex so boldly declared how she wants to be regarded… yes. I braced for impact.

And I had good cause. Because it happened to me on the way home.

And it happened from the one person who loves me most, and proofs this blog and should know better than anyone else, why I feel the way I do… and I would hope be able to answer this question (were it to come up) in my absence.

And… even I, intelligent woman that I am, can see why even Mylove could agree with Alexandra, despite all of the above.

Because Alexandra declared her views from the context of being the star of the night, and Alexandra had a microphone that amplified her perspective for her life (somehow hearing things in a concert hall seems, I dunno, more important or have more value?). And maybe I’m nervous that someone else may hear Alexandra’s declaration and, knowing that I respect her, naturally and innocently apply her views to me. (I can and did correct Mylove’s misunderstanding. But I was able to talk it through with her. What about those who will just assume? What about people I don’t even know?  Breathe Girl! Calm down! Ah, the wonders of being trans. We can be so consumed with making preemptive strikes to safeguard our future kerfuffles, that we walk around like porcupines!)

Truly speaking, I don’t have an answer for the criteria that Alexandra presented.

I saw how my family lovingly raised my sisters to believe they could be anything they wanted, while actually kicking my butt (also lovingly) to make sure that I made it actually happen. It’s subtle, but the girls weren’t hammered and hammered and hammered to make sure they would follow through to success like I was, they were given the room to be or not be, and they would be loved no matter how they turned out.  And now, as mature women, none of us are really sure which way was best.  But…

I wasn’t raised on the inside of things that are a woman’s natural life—like what a period is, childbirth and childbearing, etc., though I was, as the oldest, and as my father’s “second in command,” the steward of the women in our house. I was keenly aware and directly involved in making sure that “our four women,” whose cycles invariably aligned, were taken care of, and this time had very high significance and attention in my family. And no, I never really disliked this. And yes, as a smart person, I knew that this made me unique—the boy who knew as much about periods as the blushing mothers of my friends. And well, let’s face it, it became a great part of my stand-up routine. (Doesn’t everyone have a stand-up routine? You know, the answer that you give your friends’ parents when they ask, “So… how’ve you been?”)

But it also, when I’m brutally honest with myself, paradoxically spotlights that I was still separate from my sisters. I was their steward, their guardian, I understood that they were going through something. As time went on, and the female intuition of my creative mind empathized even further, I understood even deeper…

… what I was missing, and where we differed…

This alone is what made me shudder when Alexandra declared her “not-ness.” On this, she was right. And I had no rebuttal.

This question even comes up in feminist circles as being “what defines a woman?” But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Like it or not, know it or not, women have a shared experience that I have only had from the outside looking in. Though we both may have had the same reactions and emotions to a situation, I’d be naive to think that my cis sisters, feeling both the warmth of being cherished and the bite of sexism (and being the object of both) is the same as my witnessing it “once removed.”

This is what “other” feels like on my side of the fence.

So, is she right? Is Alexandra’s declaration supposed to be how I should feel? Is acceptance of my trans-ness the goal?

Do I need to get that I am not a woman but rather a woman with the trans prefix?

I fully admit that this has got to seem strange coming from a woman who wrote a book and records a regular video vlog and writes a weekly blog about being raised by wolves. Yes, I had to accept that this gender dysphoria wasn’t going away. Yes, I had to deal with the fact that I had… something to deal with. Yes, I had to involve doctors and counselors, and I had to find a way to describe to my family and friends why I would be looking and living so differently from the way they had comfortably learned to live with and look at me for over 45 years. Yes. Yes.

But I never called what I was “trans;” never thought of myself as other than me. I used the words “woman” for what I was and “man” for what the world thought me to be. Trans only came into favor within the last five years (I guess we had to wait long enough for the stigma of being “Not a Camaro” to wear off?).  And before that, saying I was a transsexual was too… optimistic.

And why, Ms. Scottie, yes, why dig this deep into semantics in the first place?

Why was I shook all night long and then some to make me take to the keyboard to figure it out?

Because…

… each term, each word, each label, each title, comes with a short hand that, good or bad, will be the way the world regards us all. Each has a set of social rules. (We’re talking big picture now, outside the sacred bubble described above.) Admittedly those rules are broken and being re-written all the time, but are nonetheless there to make the blind spots less blind, the unpaved roads less bumpy; to give us a way to see around corners, and more importantly, protect us from the unknown. And tho’ we’ve talked to death about the notion that “labels can limit,” but “labels should not limit,” labels are here. We’re learning that being “color blind” with race is… actually just blind—blind and, actually, a dismissing of someone’s humanity.

So, back to the word “woman,” we all have a pretty common starting point for how you can relate to me. With trans, I’m stating that, unless you’re trans, you will never understand me.

But… and here’s the big “but” coming… you ready?  I am, as a member of the trans community, able to make room for both my view and Alexandra’s. As she does for me. Without either of us canceling out the other. (I know, what was I worried about? Geeze…)

We can do this because something that is possible to generalize about as being true across the board with trans people is that we make room for the various variations of gender identity that appear daily under our side of the LGBTQIA tent—gender non-conforming, gender neutral, gender queer… and that’s just this week. We hold ourselves to the same standards we ask of the world—accept that what and who we say we are, is who we are. (Yes, I still feel the same way about the “A-word” but it’s different when we’re talking the whole community.) Please don’t discriminate against us. Allow us the same opportunities as everyone else. Please treat us as equals.

That’s it.

So. I can make room for Alexandra’s declarations just as she has generously made room for mine. She sees me as a woman. I see her as a trans woman. We see each other as sisters.

And so, I can still hate her for the way she rocks the Marilyn “seven-year-itch” dress and sparkly platform pumps.

And she will defend me when our feminist sisters judge me for making this (yet again) about shoes and hair.

And she probably still won’t answer my texts, emails or voice messages for weeks… but she will come running whenever I need her.

We’re sisters, after all.