Theme: “Back in the Day” Things change. We make new friends. People move. Social Media comes to change the way we contact each other. Apple decides to take the headphone jack off the new iPhone. Cars start driving themselves. But our memories of the past stay golden. They give us a reference point to think about the future. Maybe when you look back, even to a short time ago, the changes we’ve seen give us a lot to think about. This month, we’re telling stories where we reflect on how things have changed, for good or for ill. Five minutes, no notes, no props, true from you.
Sitting outside in my sister’s car while she ran errands, a big stable pony, the window was open a crack and the radio was on NPR, a gesture towards caring from her.
The news crackled. Bruce Jenner, they of the Diane Sawyer interview, had just come out on the front cover of Vanity Fair as Caitlyn. Drama photos, they said, lots of change, they said, it would all be different now they said.
In that moment, I cracked. Decades of my work and denial and struggle and now, and now, and now who I am, my identity had been Kardashianized. Another newbie had leapt out and grabbed the spotlight, only this time, Hollyweird was fully involved and the full machine of publicity inside the thirty mile zone had been activated.
It’s not like we hadn’t been in tabloids in the past. Christine Jorgensen was headline news, down to the LP where she was interviewed by Nipsey Russell.
But Jenner, well Jenner wasn’t just covered by the tabs, Jenner was the tabs, part of the house of dazzle and manufactured drama that turned the vortex of celebrity into a media crushing behemoth. Sick of being Jon in the TV story, she had now recast herself as Cait, playing for the starring role which only a diva could achieve.
In that moment in the car, the air was sucked out of my lungs. In the following months in the world, the air was sucked out of the media, where whenever someone tried to talk about the experience of being trans, the knowledge I lived with since I was five, it always, always, always, always had to be about Caitlyn, always had to be in context of Caitlyn, always had to hook onto Caitlyn, always needed Kardashian-izing.
“Isn’t this great,” people would ask, “the amount of attention your cause is getting, the vast wave of tabloidization which keeps your subject fought about around every water cooler? Aren’t you thrilled that people who never knew anyone like you now have Caitlyn as a brilliant, shining model of how you can try to be a surgically altered diva at any age?”
I went to a big local memorial for Leelah Alcorn, a young transwoman who tried to come out and was quashed by her parents. She made the choice to throw herself onto an interstate highway at night, taking her own life. Her family took down the Facebook post she left, her message to the world, her angst.
The subject was death, but only the children were allowed to speak, moderated by the paid activist staff, the facilitators of their politically correct expressions. It was so sweet, so mild, so shallow, these expressions of teenage angst, all as torpid as a Judy Blume novel.
The rage, the rage, the bold and queer rage that is the stuff of my experience got wrapped in cotton candy. Pink and feathery, pure sugar for a media trained crowd that loves the syrupy, the artificial, the cloying. Bitter be damned, just show us pretty and let us be thrilled when we get to judge the images, posting about who is a winner and who a loser.
The air went out of that car, sucked into the black media hole where opinions are like assholes; everybody has one. Textured reality be dammed, this was as simple as choosing a cute top at Forever 21; “Stylish or shitty, I get to decide!” Trends are trends, and in that moment trans now was a trend, ready to be exploited, consumed and then dismissed.
So much life, so much pain, so much struggle, so many scars and poof, my life was reduced to a point of scatter inside the latest trend, defined not by me or people like me but instead by producers who knew how to create click-bait.
In the year since, the morass of bathroom bills have flooded the country, a solution to something which has never been a problem, but driven forward by those who would use a trend to create fear and amass power through indignation. “They are the enemy, they are the germs, they are the ones who will pollute our pure and perfect angelic children with their smarmy and perverted lies! Come and join for decency, for decency!”
Trendy is trendy, part of the “hay, fast and loose, make a buck and move on” American culture.
Trans is trans, though, something that runs through the feminine heart or masculine soul of those trapped by the web of expectations and assumptions laced around nothing but the circumstance of their body. “Look to our choices!” we cry, but when those choices are corrupted by fashion, enslaved by trends, they become as meaningless as any other fast fad.
The radio crackled and I knew that my essential truth was now in the hands of those who would judge a newly out crossdresser whose dreams of diva sweetness had grown twisted & shallow over decades in an airless closet. The death and rebirth, the shedding of the old and tender emergence would have to take place in a tabloid media fury, so what could happen other than polished exteriors and confused, resistant choices which show runners would reduce to easily consumed plot lines.
“As long as they spell your name right, any news is good news,” the Hollywood flacks would tell me, experts in selling products to a gullible world.
They got the name right, but the idea so slickly and sickly wrong, candied and primped, that I realized I had a new fight, another fight, a creepy fight against someone who would sell her nature to tabloids for a chance at a divadom she had long coveted.
Maybe, maybe, maybe, in the long run, it’s all good. This had to come out, it was an important step.
But with so many bonds to break, the last thing I needed was to be smothered in cheap, sticky pink cotton candy.