We had just moved to the Boston area. I was about 13. My room was in the basement, the only one down there. I had an old tube radio, perched on a big wooden box my grandfather had built when he visited Toronto from the farm.
I found the rock’n’roll station, WMEX, 1510. At 10 PM, though, the music stopped and one of those 1960s late night radio talk shows came on. Steve Fredricks, a cool guy with a cigarette voice who took social issues into the darkness.
That’s when I first heard Virginia Prince, the white prince of crossdressers. She was in town for an early Trinity Club event.
I knew I wasn’t alone.
After that, I would buy paperbacks from the used bookstores by the Common. Books like “A Year Among The Girls” and “The Transsexual Phenomenon.” I’d read them on the subway and leave them in the passage that crossed the tracks at Wonderland station. Didn’t feel safe bringing them into the car.
But it wasn’t the first time I saw a media representation of someone like me.
The first time was when I was watching the Jack Parr show. I was about four or five. I loved political satire, staying up to 9:30 PM in order to watch That Was The Week That Was when I was in third or forth grade.
Jack had on a guest who just amazed me. He could take a stick and become five or six different characters, all funny, all sharp, all crisp.
I knew I wasn’t alone in the world when I saw Jonathan Winters. I spoke in tongues too, heard the voices in my head, had them channel through me. One boss said I was always doing “radio plays.”
Jonathan Winters gave me hope and a voice. Well, hundreds of voices, actually.
I never met Mr. Winters. But I did meet The Prince, in a Syracuse hotel where there was a trans event.
I was in my boy clothes. The Prince tried to read me out, but just missed. No, I hadn’t purged.
“Well,” they said, “you obviously haven’t accepted your femme self.” Ah, yes, the Second Self, the Prince Model. “Now I’m Biff and tough! Now I’m Suzy and pretty!” I’d rejected that since i first came out and refused to take a “femme name,” identifying as a guy in a dress. I wanted to be whole and integrated, not two parts.
“My femme self?” I asked. The voices started to come now. “What about my British self? Or my redneck self? Or my Valley Girl self? Or my Bostonian self? What about all those other selves inside of me? ” I asked.
The Prince turned away in disgust. They didn’t enjoy it when they got challenges they couldn’t answer with stock boilerplate.
But I knew that the representation that most powerfully resonated with me wasn’t the crossdresser. It was the man with all the characters inside of him, the guy who had his share of challenges in a long life. Jonathan Winters.
Since then, TBB and I have hosted the Virginia Prince Lifetime Achievement Awards three times, in Portland Oregon, Atlanta and Toronto. I got into a fight with The Prince beforehand every time.
But those characters inside of me never stopped coming. They still flow, one reason that I will never just be a proper, mild and appropriate lady.
Thank you, Virginia Prince for telling me I wasn’t alone as a trans person.
And thank you more, Jonathan Winters, for showing me that I wasn’t alone in the world even though I was a little touched.