Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Chip Off The Old Chromosome

The other night at a show, I happened to be working with an old comedian acquaintance who knew me when I traveled with the other tribe. I’d booked him on a weekly cabaret show that I produce and I thought it would be a positive step toward re-introducing myself to the comedy community as Julia, and not Rick Scotti, as well as rekindling an old professional friendship.

He was cordial enough, though he occasionally messed up his pronouns, using “he” instead of “she” when referring to me to the other performers. I let it slip by without much comment, as I’ve grown somewhat used to this phenomenon over the years. I understand that it does take people time to adjust and though I corrected him, I did not chastise him for it. Funny... it still bothers me though.

As the night wore on, he came over to me at one point, when we were alone, and point-blank asked me if he could still call me Rick.

I don’t know if his statement was a lame attempt at being funny or not, but in the half of a heartbeat that it took for his comment to register, I adamantly, emphatically, and angrily replied that it wasn’t. With as much dignity as I could muster in that particular moment, I walked away and headed for the ladies room, where I sequestered myself in the first stall I could find and cried as silently as I could.

As much as I hate to admit it, the transgendered experience is as much about outside validation as it is inside. And though I hear over and over from those who support me that what others think is irrelevant, and although the intellectual part of me understands that, I am still both enraged and devastated whenever I hear callous, idiotic statements like the one uttered by that comedian.

I decided to write about this today not just because of the statement made by an intolerant fool, but because it supports two stories that been in the news lately. Oddly, the first story contradicts a second one entirely.

Jenna Talackova, a 23-year old beauty contestant was recently booted from the Miss Universe Canada competition for being transgendered, although there is no rule that forbids transgendered people from competing. The organizers of the pageant, which Donald Trump owns, claim that she lied on her application when she checked ‘female’ as her gender. Seriously, have you seen Jenna? She’s absolutely beautiful.

Regardless of how you feel about beauty pageants (I find them boring as hell), there are those for whom participation in them is an important part of their lives. My guess is that Trump, who even in the best light is nothing more than a big blowhard and bully, feared that Ms. Talackova might actually win the title of Miss Canada, and worse, win the entire pageant! Imagine that... a transgendered Miss Universe! Why, the entire world would have exploded!

Think of the ramifications. What of all the straight, upright, macho males in the world, who might have had just the slightest attraction to her? What would become of them? Why, all over the world, no, the Universe, millions of men with stunned looks on their faces would be booking appointments with ex-gay therapists like Marcus Bachmann to immediately rid themselves of such thoughts.

And what of all the lesbians who felt the same way? Why, their entire political agenda would have been hurled back into the Stone Age because some anti-gay activists would have claimed that their attraction was proof positive that lesbians were secretly and perhaps unconsciously heterosexual.

In an alternate universe, of course, the outcome would have been much different. There, Trump would have emerged as a hero of sorts, trumpeting civil rights so to speak, and legitimizing an ever more visible segment of a population who up until recently, has been forced to remain in the closet. The lesbian community would finally embrace us as women and perhaps even allow us entry into the good old girls club that is the Michigan Women’s Music Festival, which right now has a “women born women only” policy. 

I mentioned earlier that there was a second story which contradicts Jenna Talackova’s and there is. I recently read an article that a study done last November by the Public Religion Research Institute indicates that the majority of the American public now seems to support strong rights and legal protections for transgendered people.

The article, which was written by Greg Voakes and appears in the Huffington Post states that people like Chaz Bono have shown America that we (transgendered folk) are not much different than everyone else and that “increased awareness of the presence and struggles of the trans community has no doubt led to wider support for these individuals in America on the whole”.

The article also praises many of the Evangelical Protestants’ and American Catholics’ support of our legal rights and protections, and puts forth the idea that perhaps these groups are following the teachings of Jesus to “love others as yourself”. Mr. Voakes points out that much of this acceptance has come in light of some of the tragic events and hate crimes perpetrated on us and the subsequent publicity they generated.

While I applaud the results of this study, acknowledgement that we are entitled to rights and legal protections guaranteed to us by our Constitution, it still doesn’t change the attitudes of people like my comedian acquaintance and the Miss Universe people.

Maybe I’m being oversensitive as some would suggest. Maybe it’s just the estrogen talking- I honestly don’t know. Whatever the cause, the feelings are genuine; that much I do know. And even as I approach my tenth year in this life, I realize that I am still very fragile and insecure in it.
As I sat in that bathroom stall last week, the question that has haunted me over the last ten years came barreling back to the forefront of my mind; what am I? Am I the person I’ve known all my life, who felt oddly different and who now looks in the mirror and feels right about myself? Or am I Rick, who claims to be Julia, but will always be Rick in the eyes of those who knew me before? Am I male? Female? Am I a chromosomal cross-breed whose ‘Y’ took a left when it should have taken a right? It’s all so confusing sometimes.

It’s moments like this when I am reminded of what my room mate Charlotte said to me in the hospital on the night before our Gender Reassignment surgeries. She was, as we all were, teary and happy and frightened beyond belief, but she had this insight into our futures that echoes over and over to me even now. She said, very softly that, “we are women... and yet we are not women”.

I knew what she meant of course; though it was not the sentiment I needed to hear at that moment in time. Charlotte understood that no matter how different we looked or made ourselves up, or acted, we would never, in the eyes of the world, be one hundred percent female. And while this was not the reality I wanted to face on the night before the most dramatic event of my life, it is the one which I live day in and day out.

In the title of this blog I refer to the journey I am on through comedy and life. Though my story may be a little more complex than the average human, it doesn’t make my journey any more or less better or worse than yours. I realize that for each adjustment I’ve had to make in my life to accommodate and tolerate those who don’t understand what I’ve done, I have had an effect on their lives and psyches as well. And while it may not be an equal effect, my existence in their life, to whatever small or large degree, has had some impact on them and thus affects their own journey.

I seriously doubt if I will ever have a satisfactory sense of who I am. My guess is that a societal definition and total acceptance will come several generations down the road. But it comforts me to know that in years to come, other Trans folk won’t have to deal with these issues because their place in society will be much more defined. The stigma of being woman and yet not woman, or vice-versa will be gone, and they will have the lives that everyone is entitled to; one filled with love, family, and fulfillment of purpose.

Don’t get me wrong; it is getting better. It’s better now than in 1952 (coincidentally, the year I was born), when Christine Jorgensen stunned the world by announcing her gender change. It’s better now than when Dr. Rene Richards was refused entry as a woman into the 1976 US Open. It’s even better now than in 2002 when Charlotte and I shared that hospital room. And it will be better still when Jenna Talackova is allowed to compete in the Miss Universe Canada pageant. All that’s needed is time.  

Gender identity recognition and acceptance is one of the last and least understood, and in my opinion, one of the most feared of our social prejudices. But like all great civil rights movements, this one will eventually take on a silliness years from now when future generations look back and read about it. Until then we have to just chip away at ignorance, one ‘Y’ at a time.

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!

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