It was never my intention to interject myself into any public conversation about being transgender or gender issues. I don’t seek limelight. It’s much more rewarding for me to see someone’s eyes when I’m talking to them. Maybe I’m touchy-feely and enjoy the feedback from what I’m saying, or it’s insecurity and I’d rather risk being ridiculous to one person instead of a bunch. So it’s no surprise that when my boss’s boss, Melanie, suggested I write about my life and pitch it to CNN’s web team, I balked at the idea. My response was, “Like my whole life ‘life story’? That would take a blog series, not just one article!” After some conversation, and more thinking on my part, we compromised at focusing on coming out and my transition. I could see the value in that.
It was something that friend Ian Harvie, a very successful comedian and Amazon’s Transparent actor, has told me a couple times, “Storytelling is lifesaving.” It’s true. Hearing his story, both on stage and personally, had made a real difference in my life at a particularly vulnerable time. Ian is a down-to-earth, loving, successful, intelligent, funny, talented and well-adjusted person, who also happens to be transgender. Being able to see that one CAN transition without losing everything, allowed me to begin to see that possibility for myself.
Before getting to know Ian, I could never visualize a path to transition for myself. The stories we tell ourselves are like movies that play in our minds on a loop. They may as well be our reality, unless and until something happens to knock the film off track. My conversations with Ian allowed me to see that transition was realistic. So when I considered Melanie’s suggestion to write for a potentially large audience, I realized I had a unique opportunity in front of me — I even had a responsibility to take it up. I thought if I could help even one other person, the way Ian had helped me, it would be more than worth the effort and discomfort of writing about myself.
In the time leading up to my decision to transition, the stories I had told myself for years were incredibly intense. The more I considered transition, the louder the stories seemed. It was an intense battle. It took a toll on me, and also on the lives of everyone with whom I came into contact. I was so stressed, so riddled with anxiety, that I snapped at people. I tell people now, that I was living miserably. I wasn’t just miserable, I had a miserable effect on others around me. As my thinking on writing about this difficult period began to evolve, I saw it as a sort of letter to old myself — my opportunity to help someone else who might be dealing with the same thing.
I wrote tentatively, at first. The more I wrote and refined, the more I found myself willing to disclose. When my editor read what I had written so far, she became really invested. She saw the possibilities, even when I didn’t. She suggested some things which, at first, I didn’t want to write about or even think I could. She has a graceful way of drawing out the best in a story, for which I’ll be forever grateful.
We got to the point in editing, where both my editor and I thought the story was nearly ready to publish, and she suggested video. “No,” I thought! I’ve spent so much time writing and refining, I want to get my baby out! Yes, I was a nine-months pregnant mother impatiently ready to deliver a enormous infant. But I listened, and agreed to meet with CNN’s Original Video team.
Over the couple days before our scheduled meeting, I remembered something else Ian says, “When we see ourselves reflected in media, we are validated.” I really started to feel the gravity of the new opportunity in front of me. Remember my original reason for even writing the story? I have the advantage of being a trained journalist and can communicate effectively. Not every trans person who is reflected in media has that.
In a conversation, you see facial expressions and hear the other person’s voice. You connect in a different way than when reading words. I agreed to the video portion so that another person struggling with gender can see an alternative to the transgender people we typically see reflected in media — so they can see there is hope and possibility for themselves.
Then I took a trip to Australia. The country and her people forever changed me. I felt accepted for who I am, by everyone I met there. I spoke with Australians about, and pondered myself, the current culture in America. I realized more than ever, that the general population needs an education about who we are. The LGBT group GLAAD says only 16% of Americans know or work with a transgender individual. How can they possibly understand or empathize with how we navigate life?
I’ve found that when I’m talking to people one-on-one or in small groups, they begin to realize that what they previously thought and knew about transgender individuals, changes over the course of our conversation. With this video, I have the opportunity to help a portion of the nearly 85% of Americans who don’t know that being transgender is just another aspect of our lives, like being a journalist or a parent. Both are admittedly big parts of my life, but they don’t define me.
Saturday, we began shooting this video. My friend Artemis and I got manicures and pedicures while we talked about the transgender part of my life. My other friend Mary and I reflected on the changes she’s seen in the five years we’ve known each other. The two producers on the piece, Madeleine and Janelle, gave me a sense of security. After talking with them about the project, there’s no doubt I’m in good hands. They are as invested in making the most out of this video as I am. Having two incredibly close friends to talk to, helped me share some very uncomfortable things. I’ll be honest, there were a couple times I got very emotional, and nearly stopped the conversation. I’m glad I didn’t.
So now this pregnant mother has been turned away from the emergency room and to go home to wait. We have several more things to shoot, like a few other of my friends and coworkers talking about what it’s like to be around and work with someone who’s transitioning. Shooting will take another couple weeks, and the really hard part begins! The two producers will really dive in and decide what to include in the final product and how it can best go together for an effective story. How intimidating! I can sit here and type all day long and use a few writing tricks I’ve gathered over the years to tell a story. But to take hours of video and different pieces of information, and somehow make it fit neatly within a couple minutes to tell the whole story? That’s talent!
I guess I’m now waiting to birth twins!