Sunday, September 11, 2016

It still hurts.


Two days ago, I received a tweet from a fan named Scott Cleere who told me that he missed me on AGT and that he could sure use a laugh on Sunday (today) because it wouldn’t be a good day for him. At the time I didn’t piece the dates together and I simply thanked him. Yesterday, he clarified his first tweet by telling me that his Dad, James, had been lost in the towers and that no remains had ever been recovered.

Until yesterday, I had only known one other person lost on that horrible day. But like all of us who remember it, all of those families and victims came out of the rubble and found an indelibly etched place in our hearts and psyche. We shared their pain and offered our prayers and love to them in the hope that somehow, however futile, we could ease their broken hearts.

I don’t know Scott, but I do. I can’t feel what he feels, but I try. After fifteen years, I still can’t watch the memorial without crying and wondering how anyone could hate that much.

Scott, I wish I could say something to make you laugh away your pain, but there is nothing in my heart today to enable me to do so. In the days which will follow, that will change of course, but for now, no, there is no laughter.

When I think back to those horrible days, the one bright spot in it all, was the sense of unity we shared. Our collective family had been attacked and for perhaps the first time since Pearl Harbor, we stood as one people, one nation-indivisible. I wish I could say that is the case today, but I can’t. But that is for another discussion on another day. For now, my heart and thoughts are with the Cleere family and all the others who lost a loved one.

The rubble is gone. The dust has settled. The memorials are built. History has been written. If we extract one thing from it all, let it be that the love and kinship we felt for one another in the aftermath prevails once again. That’s what I wish for Scott Cleere, his family, and the world.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

It ain't always sunshine and bon-bons!

I’ve been very blessed in my life, with hard times and now, it seems, some very good ones as well.  But I want to share this story with you, especially those of you who want to give up your life’s dream and cave in to despair.

Around 1983, when I was a very young and new comedian, my friend (and fellow fledgling comic) Nick Carmen Cosentino were roommates. I had a small, failing, graphics business at the time and my ‘office’ was located in a converted house in northern New Jersey.  My marriage had just ended and I was sleeping in a photographic darkroom in the back while Nick spent his nights sleeping on the floor in the outer office.

During the day, we would write and try to book ourselves into some of the “Jersey’ gigs which had just begun to spring up outside of New York City.  At night, we would pile into my smoke belching, oil leaking, 15 year old Volvo and head into the city to get some stage time at the many little clubs around town. We didn’t care that we had no money (and sometimes no food). We were comics with dreams and that sustained us.

Money, as most newbie comedians know, is non-existent, so we made some sheckles here and there, Nick by traveling to NYC by bus (tools and all) doing odd jobs and me, still taking graphics art work when it was available. Any money I made went to child support and so we fell behind in the rent; WAYYYYY behind.

One night, when Nick and I had returned from the showcase clubs, we arrived home to find a big, fat, red padlock on the door with a very official eviction noticed tacked plastered on the door as well. We were officially homeless, with all of our worldly belongings locked inside.

 We knew our days of living there were over, but we went around the side of the house and snuck inside through a window which had always conveniently been left unlocked. We grabbed what we could, shoved it in the Volvo, and got the hell out of there before the police came.

Times were hard then, but we survived with the help of friends. Eventually, comedy got better for us and before long we were making a living in the business we loved. It was a boom time and life was good.

Since then, we’ve both had other hard times, but that experience in the house made both of us realize that we could survive anything; thus the blessings part. In the years to come I’ve had to go back to that memory many times in order to make me realize that I didn’t ever have to give in just because life was pushing back and pushing down.

Now, with things breaking the way they are, I am feeling blessed once again in ways I never thought possible. And so I just wanted to share some thoughts with you if you are feeling down.

 Every event, good or bad, is a story unto itself. It has a beginning, middle and end. Look at your current story. Where are you in it? You will survive no matter how bad things seem and you will be stronger for having endured it.

Listen to the still, calm voice inside you. It won’t lie to you. Believe in yourself.

Pay forward any goodness you’ve received. Help others up the ladder when you can.

Understand that life, if lived properly, is scary, dangerous and frightening, but it can also propel you to soar to the heavens if you just look it in the eye and say, “I’m getting up again and again and again until I get to where I want to be.”   

Surround yourself only with positive things and people. Walk away from those who tell you that you can’t do something.

Dream like you did as a child. Dreams don’t die, spirits do. All things are as possible today as they were when you were little.

Lose your expectations of how things should be and stay in the moment. There is no past or future, only now.

Finally, love everyone. You don’t have to be around someone you don’t like, but don’t hate. It’s toxic and it hurts your insides. Love is the only absolute thing in the universe.

I have no idea what compelled me to write this. You have no reason to read it. If it bores you, then move on. But if you are suffering or feeling down, maybe this will help ease the pain a little.  Just don’t do anything stupid, okay?  



Saturday, June 27, 2015

This Little Light of Ours

What an extraordinary week for this country. Ten days ago the tragedy of Charleston once again ripped open and exposed the gaping racial wound we’ve been trying to hide for so long. And instead of dividing us, this act of terror and hate had just the opposite effect. The willingness to confront what we have attempted to avoid for so long has uncovered the heart of the real America, the real Moral Majority which is as it always has been, full of the desire to live in peace, as one people. That is not to say that there are not some who still hate. There always will be those who choose to do so. But their numbers are fading.

In my own community, the Supreme Court has changed history for us with its decision on marriage. To underestimate the depth of this moment in time would be sad, because it ranks right up there with many of the civil rights victories of the past. An entire segment of tax paying, law abiding citizens, whose only crime was to love someone, has been given the basic human right to build a family, build a life, and build a future together.

With regard to President Obama. It is said that the times will produce the leaders its people need, and I believe that this man and this nation were meant to be. I’ve seen nine Presidents come and go in my lifetime. I cannot remember when I felt more connected to one than President Obama. For all the contentiousness and flak thrown his way, he has demonstrated the meaning of grace under pressure. 
When the country was on the verge of collapse, he found a way to bring it back. And while the ACA may still be a work in progress, there is no denying that 6 million people now have health insurance who didn’t have it before. He has saved the auto industry, championed alternative energy, and fought for the LGBT community, maybe not from Day One, but not long after. And after seeing his eulogy today in Charleston, I am convinced that he will go down in history as one of the truly great Presidents.   

For the people who despise him, go right ahead. That is your right. But long after history has dismissed the politics of hate, his legacy will be felt by generations to come. He is the Franklin Roosevelt of our time.

This week has a feel about it that is very reminiscent of the social changes made in the 1960s. I told a friend that in a conversation today that I think and feel that what we have seen in this country over the past ten days marks the beginning of a post baby boomer movement. The time for my generation and the remnants of my parents’ generation is over. A new day is dawning. I wish them Godspeed.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Flak Slights Me - Rachel Dolezal vs. Caitlyn Jenner

Wow. The world has done gone crazy-er. Just when all the clamor, brouhaha, ruckus and to-do about Catilyn Jenner has started to die down a little bit, along comes Rachel Dolezal, the former head of the NAACP branch in Spokane, Washington, who has been recently outed as being white after she claimed that she was in fact, black.

It didn’t long for some to compare Ms. Dolezal’s lie to Caitlyn Jenner’s transition.

On the black side, accusations were made that Dolezal’s claim was one more appropriation of their culture by whites, while the feminists and Fox News derided Jenner as fraudulent for not having had a lifetime of female experiences. And though I hate to say it, there is truth in both. But the differences far outweigh the similarities.

The media has elevated people like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner to celebrity Trans status. They breathe rarified air and live in the relative safety of their station. And while I applaud them for their success, they are not us, the thousands who are unknown, and who often live in stealth, fear and danger. Theirs is a different world than ours. But the one thing we share with Ms. Cox and Ms. Jenner is that our world is not as simple as checking “black” on an application as Rachel Dolezal did. Our lives are far more complicated than that and to compare the two is not only absurd, it is insulting.

I have lived and built a life as Julia now for nearly 15 years. I have a history. But my experiences are not ‘authentically’ female in the conventional sense. While it is true that I have never been pregnant or given birth, there are thousands of infertile cis-women who have lived the same way. Does that make them any less genuine a female?

What the Trans community shares with the black community is our visibility. At any stage of our transition, it is usually difficult to hide what or who we are. We become a target for every hate-monger out there. We have been killed, beaten, refused the use of bathrooms, living quarters, jobs, and churches. Until recently, we have been stereotyped in the roles we are offered. In comedy clubs we were relegated (and still are to some extent) to a particular type of venue. Even within our so-called LGBT community, we are often neglected, overlooked and viewed with some disdain.

We know what it feels like to be looked at with contempt and treated like an “other”. Our suicide attempt rate is an obscenely high 41%.  Yes, we know.

As far as appropriating ‘femaleness’, our lives are anything but a bed of roses. In addition to experiencing the day to day injustices that cis-women face, such as lower pay, violence against us, body image, etc., we have to come out to everyone in our lives (often losing those we love), undergo electrolysis, psychotherapy, get approved for hormones, get two psychologists’ approval for surgery, and somehow find enormous amounts of money to get those services performed because they aren’t covered by health insurance. On top of that we are expected to keep our jobs and our sanity while our entire world crashes down around us. Yet no one bats an eye when a cis-woman augments her breasts up or down, gets a tummy tuck, ass tuck, nose job, botox, or any one of the dozens of other surgical procedures designed to make them more beautiful and feminine. Are they less than other women for doing those things?

Feminists are correct. We don’t know their life experiences and they sure as hell don't know ours. Let them spend a week in a Trans woman’s often oversized shoes, and I seriously doubt that they will ever complain again that we are appropriating them. They couldn’t handle our life.

I will appropriate this one sentiment from them, however; this is MY body and no one is going to tell me how or what I can do with it.

And don’t even get me started on relationships!

Look, I get it. By current definition, I’m not 100% female. I never was. I never will be. But you know what? I’m damned glad I’m transgendered. It hasn’t been easy, but I and every other Trans person have a perspective on life cis-folk never will. We have been with both tribes. We have lived two lives. We are two spirits and we would be happy to share that knowledge with anyone who cares to know.   

I don’t know what Rachel Dolezal’s issues are, but I wish her luck in sorting them out. I DO know that comparing her lie to Caitlyn Jenner’s truth is a cheap, lame attempt to minimize and marginalize who and what we are as people of transgendered experience. Those with a political agenda to ply find it easy to use the Trans community as their scapegoat. Not this time though. Not ever again. More and more, science is proving what Trans folks have known forever; that ours is a medical and not a psychological issue. We’ve been around since antiquity and we will continue to be around until the end of the planet.

So, you can either deal with us or not. Just leave us out of the stupid arguments you use to justify your so-called superiority. Find another group to pick on. We’re not taking it anymore.