Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Being Trans Is “Stylish” - at least so says the CBC

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) Ottawa bureua website ran a story by Alec Scott in which he described being trans as being very, “Stylish” and very “Now” . What a way to degrade and dismiss all of the years of suffering most trans people have gone through to find a home for their souls in their own bodies!

Being trans is not a style or a fad. Or a bit of campy fun. It is an identity. A true self. This true self is not chosen by the trans person like a pair of cutsey barettes to match a $100.00 haircut. It is a true self that is there whether the trans person or the people around them like it or not.

Right wing conservative Preachers, Ethicists and, “People who have found God” berate trans people by saying they should choose to “correct” themselves. But these right wing bigots stand corrected. The only choice involved in being trans is to choose to accept your true self as is, or to reject your true self.

Here is the link to the article:

I wrote the following Feedback article and sent it to the CBC. It details just how, “Stylish” it is to be a musician who people label as trans.

To Alec Scott,

I thought that since you went on record in your Feb 13th, 2006 article, “Trans Mania” as saying that, “trans is very stylish, very now” that you might be interested to know just exactly how “Stylish” being trans in Ottawa REALLY is. The best way I can think to do this is to tell you about “a day in the life”.

First let me introduce myself. I am an Ottawa based songwriter/ singer who does a one of a kind lounge act based on story telling and glam rock. I am a true tortured artist and underdog in every sense of the words.

Now for an account of my day. This account isn’t designed to be a sympathy ploy. I don’t want anyone’s charity. Just their understanding of the facts of what it’s like to be a trans musician in Canada.

Today I decided to venture out into the world in search of some social contact. I had been sequestered all weekend working on songs for my new album. Not that I had a lot of choice. A trans person often has very limited social networks. People who literally are cast to the fringe of society can literally live in almost constant social isolation. Just like a shut in senior citizen who is just waiting for the telemarketer to call or her once a week visit from her daughter from out of town. Except young, so the mind is still sharp and the loneliness felt especially poignantly. Just one of the many styling aspects of being trans.

I was extra motivated to find positive social contacts today because I had viewed a show on Global TV which was extolling right wing anti gay and anti trans views. The show even featured real life success stories who had `corrected` themselves from `deviant sexual lifestyles`. Nothing like another positive reinforcement from the media about how much self worth a person should have.

My default venue was a trip into the Dusty Owl Reading series, a monthly “I have no friends” club for a bunch of amateur poets to get up any revel in the sounds of their own voices set to the back drop of a seedy queer bar in a basement of downtown Ottawa.

On a trip into the washroom to throw out some orange peels a woman could be heard in the stall calling out,

“Just a minute. You can use this washroom. I just wiped the seat.”
I said, “I’m just here to throw out orange peels”

She emerged from the can. A stocky dyke decked out in an orange ball hat and a fleece Mountain Gear vest and looks at me and says,

“Oh well if it had been a woman well she would have appreciated me wiping the seat. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

I exit the washroom telling myself for about the 5000 th time in my life that perhaps I had misunderstood or misheard what was obviously blatant transphobia.

Later I returned to the washroom and the woman – who must have been some sort of crapper urchin – was back in there again. From the next stall over she said,

“ I didn’t catch you name. What’s you male name? ”
“I am not a male! ”
“I thought I knew you from the scene from years ago. ”
“No. ”
“I thought you were Scott. Are you Scott? ”
“I didn’t mean to offend you. I know what it’s like to be trapped. I’ve done a lot of reading on that. ”
“I am not sure why you would associate any man or any Scott with me. ”
“It’s just that when you came in the bar, everyone started saying, “Look at the transvestite.”

(She, like you in your article, was using really archaic language from the 1970’s that is a derogatory term used for men who get sexual pleasure from dressing up as women. If you wanted to appear more savvy on social issues, I’d suggest dropping that word from your lexicon. It really is what the word “nigger” is to a black person. It’s a slur. Almost too contemptible to even use as an example of a slur.)

“Why were people saying that? ”
“Well the sun glasses. ”
“Women don’t wear sun glasses on their heads?
“Well who was saying it. ”
“Never you mind. Why do you care what people are saying about you?”
“Well since you are telling me this I thought I should pursue it. ”
“Well now that I look at you, I can tell you are a beautiful woman and they were wrong.
So don’t mind that people call you names. ”

So either through my indignation or my beauty I convinced her that she was “wrong” and that I was not a “transvestite”. As a result, she was basically letting me know that she was letting me off the hook: excusing me from being associated with this category of people, this obvious insult. An insult, which only minutes before, she was saying was not an insult as she tried to label me with it. So from either side of the coin I was once again having someone map out all of their transphobia all over my body. How stylish.

Meanwhile back out at the bar, some 60 year old bald librarian look a like had slipped a business card inside my poetry book with the message, “Please call”. And he’d borrowed my own pen to write me the note!

And remember this was the social experience that I was counting on to be my social contact for the entire weekend.

I decided that, as usual this crowd of scenesters and pretend friends did not deserve me. I announced I was leaving and that my name should be removed from the reading list. Oni, the Haitian Sensation, who was the hostess for the evening, recognizing my authentic artist status from previous interactions, immediately put my name to the top of the list and I decided this gesture of support was grounds for doing my poetry reading after all. I took to the stage and immediately let the crowd know,

“I’m not going to lie to you – this night is a rough one. Some old dude gave me his business card which just says , “By appointment only. Please call” on it. What sort of business do you think he’s in? Hair?” Everyone laughed.

I went on to read the following poem,

Road Less than Less Traveled

Our living room plans were as storied as the streets of Nashville
I can almost see Neil Young and Emmy Lou Harris in a big old Lincoln.
But we’ll have to find a less cliché way to make it in music
Cuz they don’t want the lies of us at the Grand Old Opre

This poem was written to illustrate the heroic challenge a trans person faces trying to make it in the music business. When we think of the music business – it is thought of as the road less traveled. Shania Twain and Terri Clarke are considered “trail blazers” for leaving small town Canada behind and going down to Nashville. They took “the road less traveled.” But they had pretty faces, pretty voices, were conventional in gender and looked the part. Through no special effort of their own. They were just born into their underlying conventionalness.

Soon enough producers and studio players were lining up to write songs with them and even marry these gals. But imagine if a trans country singer arrived in Nashville. She might as well have stayed home and kept washing dishes at the Manx on Elgin St. She’d be laughed off the stage. Or worse. The “Remembering Our Dead” Trans Day of Remembrance vigil that is marked around the world in cities including Ottawa named trans people that were killed in such states as Tennessee and Kentucky. Just in the last year. Just for being trans. How trendy. I can almost see them accepting their Grammy in the sky…

Being a shunned woman has held me back in all sorts of ways in the music business and in life in general. For example, living in Halifax in the 1990s, when I finally decided I would reach out to other musicians to try and make a CD, I called every musician in, “Play” (the Atlantic Canadian Music Industry Index), and not one of these musicians - not one - would work with me. The book was over 150 pages thick.

That set me on a lonely road to try and learn to do everything myself. With my money exhausted from paying for 3 demos songs in a professional studio with engineers who could hardly see me below their curled lips, I fell into a trap that many people fall into. I tried to get into “home recording”. I saved up the money to buy computer recording equipment and software. Saving the money took years of toil at degrading minimal wage jobs – at one point I dissected garbage contents to figure out what percentage of it would have been recyclable. Another perk of being a trans is that employment is difficult if not impossible. Through sheer determination and smarts I was able to get a job a government job some years back. But I know if I lost this government job tomorrow and I applied to McDonalds on Bank St. or Starbucks in the Chapters on Rideau St. (Ottawa, ON), I would not be hired.

All of the computerized recording equipment turned into a huge 3 year night mare of computer crashes, technical problems and results that could only be described as computerized. It’s only been in the last year that I found an organic way to record my lounge act on a no budget basis. It only took 15 years to be acquire gear a lot of kids are given for Christmas.

Meanwhile lots of low talent and conventionally gendered people are making it big in music. Around Ottawa and around Canada. Why? Because they were not on the fringe. They were out at bars. Making friends. Making connections. Starting bands. Not being laughed at and asked their “male names” just by showing up. Not having to do it all themselves. Meanwhile I was, despite my efforts, in musical and social isolation battling computers.

And when it came to gigs for these afor mentioned main steamers? People wanted to see their bands. It was about music. But if I had managed to get myself out there and make a show. Well it would be “the tranny show”. It wouldn’t be about music. It would be seen as a gimmick. And if there was an audience? No straight bar would have it. Off to the queer bar with you. (Where as you can see from the above anecdote, “The dog did come from my own kennel”. )

Drawing from your own articles examples, the creator of the movie “Trans America” Duncan Tucker is quoted in the Ottawa Express (a free local entertainment rag) as saying of his movie, “I only hope that people won’t think, “It’s a transsexual movie. It’s strange and inaccessible.” The creator of the very film that supposedly portrays trans people with such honesty prefers to take the good of the gimmick of being trans and leave the bad of the taboo of being trans. His basic pitch can be paraphrased with, “Come to the freak show. You can see freaks. But we won’t scare you too much. And noone will think you’re a freak for going to the movie either.
I promise.”

The Ottawa Express even got it wrong. The title read, “Felicity Huffman makes like a man in Tranny Tale”. Makes like a man? Tranny Tale? She’s not a man. That’s the point! Or so the movie might have told a few people if the stupid title of the Express article hadn’t told them the reverse and confirmed the negative misconceptions people had about trans people going into the movie experience. And won’t it be tragically ironic that when Felicity Huffman wins an Oscar, it will be for playing a role based on my real life experience. Except instead of being celebrated for my experiences- people have used them to systematically keep me out of the music business.

An example from my own life now. When I was promoting my CD at the 2004 CanZine festival of DIY and Independent Arts festival in Toronto, some dude from the York University newspaper just waltzes up to my table and says he wants to include me in a supplement his paper is doing on trans people.

The guy has never met me. He doesn’t know me. Doesn’t know what I’m about. He does not know how I identify. He decides for me. In his self rightousness he thinks he is the appointed person to define me. He knows me better than I know myself. So he thinks. So he gets to label me. With labels he is comfortable with. Labels that help him maintain his view that the world or sex and gender is binary (one or the other). He tries to make me an unwilling participant in his binary world. He completely disregards that I’m promoting a musical creation – not my crotch. For him, it’s all about my crotch, my status, my freakishness. All of which were sandblasted onto me by his presumptions, without my permission or invitation.

Ofcourse, as much as I need the PR, I didn’t accept his offer. When I was little I saw myself as a girl, and I saw myself as wanting to become a woman when I grew up. I sure didn’t think about the day when I could grow up and be a TS or and transgender or even a TS woman. Just a woman. All those other labels are just jargon for uninformed people to keep people “not like them” in neat little categories and moreover, devices to keep people “not like them” down. To deny people “not like them” the validation that society is ready to agree with us that we are who we say we are. An Asterisk on Woman* or Man*, as the case may be, that says: * - Not quite. And no PR is worth that for me.

So I’ve had to learn not to compare myself to the accomplishments of others. I face more obstacles than other musicians. Both in connecting with other musicians and with getting audiences and shows. The average main stream person just “gets the goodies” from life – just by being them. By virtue of fitting in. If they start at 0 every morning, then ofcourse they can get to 7, 8 or even 9 out of 10 everyday. The trans person starts out at like – 10 every morning and is lucky if they see beyond zero on a good day. Those are the odds. Not to mention that over 60% of trans youth commit suicide before they are 30. Well, I’m not 30 yet. But I intend to make it there. But while I’m on route, I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t align my life of struggle and torture to escape rural Nova Scota to become a veritable -yet to be discovered-Canadian lounge act with being “Stylish” and vogue.