A student at teacher training asked me this weekend how I felt about always teaching “a group like this”, as she waved her arms in space desperately, showing me the room. She was Latin. I asked her “do you mean a “white” group? or a group of mostly women???” She said “Yeah, that and that. It’s just that it’s not like that in the real world. Or at least not in my world. Do you care or want to make change? And how do you make change if you are only teaching here?” I had mentioned I was Latin earlier, which I guess gave her the courage to make this somewhat awkward and brash pronouncement which hung in the stale air for a moment while my brain cranked into gear.

A couple of weeks earlier, I had gone down the netflix rabbit hole and seen represented, on two different shows, a fully transitioned man and a fully transitioned woman. Better yet, the storylines involved them being trans, but for the most part, weren’t really about that, they were trans people leading normal lives with normal life drama. I can’t really even describe the feeling. Seeing that. On perfectly great shows. That other people are watching. With actual trans actors cast. Honestly, it made me want to sit there and wail. Like epic latin mourner wailing over a casket wail… for hours. No, days!!! Waaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiil.

Partly because it was so beautiful and such a relief to see myself represented- for once– in a way that was normal (not a freak show) and made sense. But really I also would’ve settle for just represented. Period. It very seldom happens. (You know you are alone in this world when the only reference that ever comes your way from others is Caitlyn Jenner.) And partly, in mourning for a bunch of years I feel I may have lost. Or maybe it isn’t exactly that, maybe it’s mourning for the little kid I was- the little eight or four year old that would pray every night I would wake up a boy- the purity of that kid and what time has done to him. I can only pray we haven’t lost him entirely as it always seemed he had something important to offer. I also know the years weren’t really lost, it’s not like I’ve been miserable for forty years. I’m not a glass half empty kind of person after all. It’s just that 14 years ago I moved to New York City, fresh out of one of the top three acting schools in the country with my MFA, a dance belt and a tube of chapstick, as Corky from Waiting for Guffman would say.

My last year of school, I was told, wait… we were all told (all the women)  by one of our teachers that we had to wear an outfit that made us look “fuckable”. Yes. Those were her exact words. I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean James Dean fuckable. I had trained as an actor in conservatory for 8 years. I really wanted to tell stories. I was good at what I did. The awareness that I might be trans hadn’t quite hit the frontal lobe yet. I was queer, which already was a heavy burden and made me feel, for the most part, unrepresented  or misrepresented, as it was. But I had put too much time and excellence into my training, I was a fine tuned Stradivarius, if you will, and I wasn’t about to screw this whole thing up. So I grabbed two of my besties and dragged them to a department store. Well, more accurate to say I mentioned I needed help and my besties dragged me (knowing full well that I am the worst shopper on the planet) to the nearest department store where I preceded to try on fitted skirts that showed off my “amazing” legs (as I was told any time anyone could see them, it’s all the horeseback riding), and  lace tops that showed off my tatas and -wait for it- (the crowning achievement to complete the outfit) “fuck me” pumps!!! How lucky was the new, all improved, “fuckable” me?!?!? My pumps had red soles, because men find that titillating.  

Back then, I had no role models. I was not represented in the great majority of literature or art, or life. Only finding glimpses of my possible self in underground, buried scraps. It makes me a little sad that now, 14 years later, I would probably kill it if I was to decide to act again. Who would’ve known that trans would be the new orange to the new black? Not I.

Alas, the love for acting, however, was beaten out of me one straight, white role at a time. And because they usually weren’t quite sure where to place me, casting-wise, there developed a kind of fetish for seeing me out of my comfort zone. Sooooo, believe it or not, I played a lot of femme fatale roles. Always being asked to push the roles to the extreme edges of hyper-femininity and sexiness. People could not get enough of me in them! I imagine it was like watching a caged animal about to go to slaughter. Part of what made it fascinating and raw. And this might shock you, but honey, I can werk a pair of pumps like a stipper! I can put a fucking runway model to shame. Take that, “fuck me” pumps. I was good. I had spent my whole life in drag. And people LOVED it. It’s kind of making my limbs numb to tell this story. It was traumatic.

Needless to say that one of the best days of my life was the day I finally called my agent and manager and told them to stop sending me out. I was done. You can only bend so far before you break. I went out to Goodwill and donated my grotesque prison of a “fuckable” outfit and as I walked away, through streaming tears a victorious smile populated my face that probably looked scary to people walking by. I didn’t care. I was free.

All this to come back to this word- representation.

Last night C and I went to see Wonder Woman. I felt her about to burst into tears several times and honestly I felt like I might do the same. We walked out of there feeling invincible. Why were we both so moved by this picture about glamazons fighting back? Then one of my students sent along an article by Jessica Bennett in the New York Times called, “If Wonder Woman can do it, she can too”, which highlights how poorly represented women are in film and television. The article makes a case for “‘you can’t be what you can’t see’- or perhaps more accurately, that you can be what you can see”, She says “It’s meant to make the point that women and people of color and gay people and trans people and disabled people and gender nonconforming people need to see people who look like them…”.

So to go back to where this whole diatribe started and to speak to my dear students’ concerns: I feel great about teaching a group like this. I feel great about teaching any group at all. We (everyone) need these teachings and deserve access to them. We need healers in the world more than ever. And yes, class was predominantly white and women, but in my short time with the group, I already started to see that there were Jewish people, and Latins, Asians, an Argentinian, a queer possibly gender nonconforming person… we are more alike in our differences than we think. If we are brave enough to look a little bit closer, people’s stories begin to take shape. And yes, the real world, whatever that is, is a hard place of uneven privilege and greed. And YES, we should do the work with underprivileged communities. But we must also infiltrate and do the work within privileded communities who are often the communities where change must happen in order to trickle down as well. I want to affect positive change and CARE. DEEPLY. And this is the part that I didn’t articulate that well that day- but the most important way in which I can affect change in that world, in all the worlds, every day, is by being the best, sweetest and most luminous self who is other, who is -trans, queer, latin, yogi, lover sweetheart, musician, healer, two-spirited dad to my dogs, harmonium-hugger. Letting myself be seen. Maybe someone who is dying inside will see me and will be inspired. Maybe others who may not need it can see that I am good and work hard and that I spend my time thinking how to make their days brighter. Either way it makes change. I may not be a gorgeous Amazon in wedges like Wonder Woman. But I am the change, I am changing people one breath and one encounter at a time. It may not seem like much, but I believe, over time, it chips away at the very fabric of our culture and creates the world we want.

Which leads me to feel so grateful for all the pioneers and brave folks who have come before and left prints and testimonials in nooks and crannies in which I see sides of myself represented so that I can continue to grow and thrive and become the best, highest version of myself. I am learning a lot as I untangle my own knot. It is scary. But a person has to do what a person has to do.  So buckle your seat belts for a wild ride.

 Happenings: