I have long hated the saying, “It is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind”. In fact, I have pretty much hated any phrase or action that would suggest how mysterious women can be, and how much they should enjoy using that right for their own gain.
Of course, my feelings were not based in misogyny, but rather jealousy. You see, I have long been highly influenced by the power I have allowed females to hold over me and, I felt lesser for being born a male, when I should have been born a female. Such was my brain processing, during childhood, puberty and young adulthood.
It was as if I wasn’t allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain or I was not smart enough to understand the complexities of female communication and decision making. I always wanted to be a part of that club.
I remember once, helping my Mom get ready to host a baby shower only to be kicked out at the beginning of the party because I was not female. It confused the Hell out of me, and I was well into my twenties at that point.
I know, I know. I get the irony. Here I am complaining about female privilege, when I have taken advantage of male privilege so frequently. Men do have it pretty damn good. I do not deny it. But, I would have gladly traded it in to be a part of the club that would not have me.
Once, I spent two years barking up the wrong tree, freely giving my love to someone who I have always considered to be a very strong woman, and this love went unreciprocated. I have had many friends who knew me during this time who’ve insisted I only ever lusted after her. Some of those friends will read this post. Sometimes your friends are entirely wrong for the right reasons.
I also have friends who have listened to me talk on and on about this time of my life to the point where I imagine they want to gouge their eyes out with their ears. They may have never understood why I needed to keep going back to this place, and yet they patiently let me get these thoughts and feelings out of my system. My poor, poor wife has at times felt like she has had to compete with the ghost of this woman, and how on Earth can she beat a ghost?
Most of my friends really have no clue I ever went through such a time, or they think everybody falls in love and gets rejected so my story is no different or important than theirs. To these friends, I say, “My story may not be more important than yours, but I am willing to bet it is different.”
So yeah, I fell in love with the wrong person and I fell in love with her in the wrong place. We were in the same acting class and spent 40 hours a week together. I also, confessed my love to her in one of the most humiliating of ways. We were in class, and my teacher would make people work on the same scene with the same partner through the year. Our scene was, Clifford Odets’, “Golden Boy”… it was the scene where cockeyed yet gifted boxer Joe, finally confesses his love to Mob Moll, Lorna. If I have not made it clear, my scene partner was, and always was, the woman and classmate I loved.
All that first year of school, if I had to work a scene in class, I had to work, “Golden Boy” with her. Trust me. There came a point in the year where I did not want to work on the scene ever again, it was however, a requirement of the class.
I do not intend to completely come off as, “Poor me.” in this post, only a little. I do and did feel for her. We were both stuck in this situation. I had already confessed my love to her in private, and she had already rejected me. I repeated this process several times, as if I were trying to define insanity for myself, and she helped with the definition because the results never changed.
One more piece of the puzzle needs to be put into place before I can continue with this story, otherwise it may not entirely make sense. At this school, we studied Lee Strasberg’s Method. There are two types of actors in this world, those who have studied The Method, and those who have not and yet think they know everything about it and why it is good/bad.
The Method, at its core is a way for actors to quickly, reliably and easily connect emotionally to a text, and communicate that connection to the other actors and the audience. Voice training is another tool trained actors can use to connect in such a way, but it takes quite a bit more practice, muscle control and quite often just does not share the same raw immediacy that Method Acting can bring. In a nutshell, and most Western theatre people know this, or at least think they do, Method Acting is using your own real life experiences and putting those feelings and memories to voice while filtered through an author’s text and their character’s quirks and foibles. Usually, people are encouraged to use memories at least 5-7 years old, as the emotions tend to even out by then and remain the same for the rest of an actor’s life. If you can use a memory that is 7 years old or older, and get the desired emotional connection, then you can pretty much bank on that connection being available to you as an acting tool, for the rest of of your days.
On the other hand, sometimes life just hands you creative gifts in real time. You are experiencing in the here and now, something remarkably similar to your character’s experiences. In these cases, emotional recall is not required, you can just take what you are feeling right now, and use THAT. It may not be reliably there for you for the rest of your life, but if it is there in real time, why look for something else? This is also, Method Acting.
So, back to the story, and I promise, this post really is about transition, it is just taking the scenic route. Try and keep up.
So, we had to do our scene once in class. It went well.
But this teacher was known for throwing curveballs, so eventually, I had to do a solo project in front of the class, I had to create a space from my past and live in it… and as the exercise came to its conclusion, the teacher asked my scene partner to join me in the space and for us to start our scene. Our teacher had never before done this with anyone else in our class. It was one of her curveballs, and it caught me off guard. We started the scene, got three lines in and I froze, then I skipped far ahead. The teacher stopped us. My teacher expressed a disappointment in my work that she had never shared before. It was as if she believed I should know better than to do such shitty work. These notes were only directed at me and not my scene partner. Then, my teacher did her best to find out why our scene was flat. We both sat in front of the teacher and our classmates, as the teacher continued to ask prying questions to better help us Method this scene out the wazoo… or whatever. Finally, the teacher turned to me and asked if I knew why my work had been so bad. The teacher then said she suspected I did. I could only think of one honest answer, and I was cornered. I burst into tears, and said, “I have a problem when my personal life interferes with my professional life.”
Unsatisfied, the teacher asked again. I had no other options, I was cornered again and it was just where my teacher wanted me to be. I blurted, “Because I have loved her since the moment we met and it doesn’t matter because she does not love me! Every time we do this scene I have to live that feeling again!”
For a moment, time stopped. Then, it began to move again at a snail’s pace. What had I done? What had I just done to the woman I loved? I felt the blood pour out of my face. The teacher looked at me with compassion and something else, pride. I had just said to the class what she was trying to teach us all year long. There is no difference between acting and real life. She said something to me in the most maternal tone I ever heard her muster, unfortunately I do not remember exactly what she said at that point. It was wise and reassuring, it involved a suggestion that I seek therapy, and I was left with a feeling of hollow and skeptical optimism.
She asked me another question, as to why I thought my scene partner didn’t feel the same way about me as I did toward her. I replied, “Because I am terrible at wooing women.”
Then the teacher looked at my scene partner and said, “You are very lucky. To be wooed… nobody woos anyone in this day and age.” My scene partner dropped her head, and began to cry quietly herself. I will never know what she was really thinking at that time, but I took it to mean I was being rejected, yet again. To add insult to injury, this time, the rejection was completely interwoven with my love for acting, and it was suddenly an exemplary lesson to the rest of the class as to how Method Acting works at its core.
I went home, and wrote a short blurb in my journal about what had happened in class, and then stopped keeping a regular journal for many years. In fact, I still don’t. Not like I once did.
It was around this time in my life, that I began feeling my gender dysphoria more intensely than I ever had before. I was depressed, I was rejected, everybody knew, my training required me to be honest with myself and others in order to be honest onstage, and I was in the wrong body. It became overwhelming. I started coming out to a handful of people as trans. If only, so I wouldn’t have to keep it bottled up. I was seriously considering transition at this point, because, what did I have to lose? I even asked one friend if she thought I should transition, and she said, “No.” Years later, I reminded her of that conversation, and insinuated that it was a key reason for my delay in transition. I regret that now. It was not. Only I got in the way of my own transition. Only I caused the delay. I was the one who felt shame and kept it hidden.
Anyhoo… back to acting class.
We continued classes, and did a number of different exercises. Much to my relief, we did not return to the scene. Everybody was progressing, and using The Method in exciting and unique ways.
The last weeks of the school year finally came, and our teacher explained to the class that we had finished all the work she had scheduled for the year. We could use the rest of the classes to review any exercise we wished to review.
My scene partner stood up and went to the front of the room. My heart dropped. She said she wanted to do the scene again, and I got mad. Really mad.
The teacher asked me up on stage and we began the scene. I filled that scene with every ounce of anger, passion and love I was feeling at the time. I tried to punch my partner with my words.
When we finished, we sat in front of the teacher and class. The teacher asked the class for feedback. The feedback was resoundingly positive. “It was so real.” “Way better than it was before.”… and so on… and so on. I felt like a whore in a window. On display for everyone to gawk at. I could not contain the tears.
The teacher, probably and correctly assuming I still had feelings for my partner, turned to her and asked her again, if she had feelings for me, and just like the last time, my partner teared up and looked down, but this time she clearly stated, “No”.
My 80 year old teacher snapped upright in her seat and chided, “Then what in the Hell were you thinking, getting up here, and requesting THAT exercise?”
My partner had no answer, and so to this day, neither do I. I have no clue what she was thinking.
The next year, my scene parter and I were separated into different classes. I have no doubt this was intentional. It was also, a wise decision.
I kept learning The Method, and acting my heart out… and I kept longing for that unreciprocated love. My work was better than it had ever been. I was an actor, and I had no doubts in my mind to the contrary.
I also came out as trans to my former scene partner, before once again confessing my love. I also, told her I was a virgin. This was the capper, I told her, “I love everything about you and I want to be you, body, mind and soul.”
Now in hindsight, I can see why that kind of pickup line does not tend to work. Please understand, in the mind of a Trans person, feelings of love and attraction are filtered differently and to say what I said was the truest form of honest, bare, and vulnerable love I could share while using words as my only means of communication. It is true. I was terrible at wooing women. When I was rejected yet again, I did not give up. Why would I? I still was working on that definition of insanity.
One night, I stumbled upon a comic strip cell. One from Gary Larson’s, “The Far Side” it was too perfect to pass up. In seven words it encapsulated the relationship I have spent so many words explaining in this post. So, I kept the cartoon and made it into a card. A Valentine’s Day card. I think I wrote the words, “Be Mine” and signed my name.
On Valentine’s Day, 2000, a day that will live in infamy, I put the card in her locker and waited.
During one of my many regular smoke breaks, she emerged, holding the card. She handed the card back to me and said, she was sorry but she really couldn’t do what I had asked of her. She could not be mine.
I wanted to say to her, “You don’t get to do that. That is not how it works. That card was for you and you alone. It can’t be returned. You do not have to be mine but you do have to keep the card.”
Instead, I made the mistake of asking her why, and she said, point blank, “I do not find you sexually attractive.” It was the second most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever processed, I took her words to mean, she did not find me attractive because I was a transgendered virgin freak. I told her that I didn’t believe her, and yet at that point, the solid ground I had been standing on had been removed. How could I not believe her? Who would lie about something so intimate and hard to express to another person?
Remember when I just said that was the second most heartbreaking thing I had processed? Well the most heartbreaking immediately followed. After I said I didn’t believe her she just said, “Isn’t it a woman’s prerogative to change her mind?” and walked back inside.
Valentine card in hand, I called after her, “What the fuck is that supposed to even mean?” Did it mean that she actually had feelings for me at one point in time, and I was too daft to notice? Because if that was what it meant, that ship had now sailed. I no longer had any doubt. I missed my chance and I never even knew when I had the chance, in order to take it.
I found a private smoking spot and I bawled my eyes out… and I had the most surreal and silent cigarette with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who was rehearsing a play due to open in the same Broadway theatre, that also contained my school. He was a person, whom I suspect understood the toll Method Acting can take in order to achieve its desired and required creative results. I further suspect that toll was ultimately too much for him to pay, so he paid with his life instead. Ironic, considering his recent overdose and what I decided to do when I got home… and now, I finally knew the definition of insanity.
After school, I rode the train home, hit an ATM, took out what I figured would be enough cash, talked to the local druggie homeless guy, and asked how much would it cost me for him to set me up with his cocaine dealer. He said, his dealer sold in quantities of $20 and up, but you really needed to spend $50 before you started getting a bulk discount. If I bought him a $50 bag he would introduce us, and he suggested I get a $50 bag for myself.
The next two months and $10,000 were a blur.
By this point, I had missed a couple important rehearsals because I’d crashed so hard after days of being awake and strung out. My classmates hated me, and made no attempts to hide their feelings. More than one teacher pulled me aside and shared their concern. One teacher in particular read right through me and asked, “When did you start? Now, when will you stop?”
Soon after, I told my roommate and parents about my addiction. Then I quit cold turkey.
The last time I spoke to, or saw my former scene partner, I knew she was planning on moving away from the city and back to her former home very soon. She, another dear friend and I were walking down the street in Midtown, and I was trying to think of ways to say, “Goodbye” because I kinda’ really knew this would be the last time I would see her. Before I could say anything, she just walked away from us, across the street, and vanished into the revolving door of some random Midtown building. I looked at my friend, who simply gave me a shrug and said, “That’s just how she is.”
So, what is the point of this story? Well, it is mainly to convey the mysterious power that I have for so long allowed women to hold over me. I was a virgin until well into my twenties. Why? Because like many MTF trans folk, I was confused about how to be the masculine presence, the bastion of humor and confidence, the experienced, gentle yet firm hand, the good cook, the great dancer, the perfect man. And I was always willing to let women have power over me wheather they wanted it or not.
This whole situation was a public and humiliating experience which took my passion for acting, my capacity for love, my confusion about being trans and what to do about it, my desire to succeed, my fear of rejection, and my propensity for self destruction… rolled them all up and burned them to the ground. I have spent many years rebuilding upon these ashes. I finally feel like I am improving upon the original.
Also, if I want to use The Method, which relies on real life, peak emotional experiences, what time in my life do you think I can most readily draw from? It is reliable, but it hurts every time. Theatre does not tend to focus on happy people living the happy life. So, like it or not, when I use my Method training, I risk flying too close to the sun every single time. There is so much about that time to draw from. Nothing else in my life comes close.
There are other techniques I can use in order to act effectively, and I use them frequently. I do want to use things that work, though. Sometimes, I have an option, use The Method, or come up short. The Method works, you better believe it works, but it does take its toll. Every single time.
So… a couple more quick things to finish my story, and to end it on a less melancholy note:
The following year and a half, I was a hollow shell of a person. The tragedy of 9/11 was as traumatic as one would imagine. I lived less than a mile away and could actually see the jumpers from my window.
And yet, 9/11 brought with it the surprising gift of catharsis. Finally, I had experienced something in life that made my problems pale in comparison.
On September 22, 2001, I met the real love of my life. The one who dared tell me she loved me first, even though she didn’t know at the time that the only reason I didn’t beat her to the punch was I had been conditioned into believing that telling someone I loved them was a guaranteed way to be rejected. The one who said, “Yes” when I proposed to her. The one who stayed with me when I told her I am trans. The one who said those vows, and accepted mine. The one who has dealt with my baggage as a friend and partner. The one who has been by my side through thick and thin, for richer and poorer, for better and worse, and with any luck, only death will part us. The one who has never taken advantage of the feminine power she could’ve so easily held over me. You think this post was long? Wait until I blog about us. Oh, it has not been a fairy tale, simply because it has been so undeniably real.
Now, I am going to tell y’all why I wrote this post and told these stories. Because so many friends and blog readers have asked what they should call me. Should they call me by my male name or my female name? Would I prefer Tori or Victoria? Which pronouns would I prefer to be used?
Then I had another dear friend mention to me that she had caught up with my blog, and was both riveted and confused. As if she knew me as a male, and now she is getting to know me as a female and the two people, while similar, are not quite the same person either. She even pointed out that I have been contradictory in my own posts, for example, she caught me at one point saying I have always been the same person and at others saying I don’t even know myself anymore. I find this observation very astute. I have even been contradictory within the same post.
I pondered these questions, and began to construct my next blog post in my mind.
Right now, on the phone, or in person, call me by my male or female name, either works. Pronouns? Same thing. I am not yet self-assured enough to present as my female self in public or even in private for that matter. A life full of gender dysphoria and extreme body issues will do that to a gal.
For now, we will just call it, “The Bathroom Rule”. If you ever see me in public, which bathroom do you think I would be safest using? Answer that question for yourself, then use the according name and pronouns for the duration of our encounter.
I do intend to move to full time female eventually, but there is no set timeline, and it only has everything to do with my own insecurities. I expect it will happen in the months, and not years to come.
Online, I am always female. Use those pronouns, use that name. Confused? Good. So am I.
Finally, for the time being, do your best to let me out myself. I know the cat is out of the bag in some ways, and yet, it is important to me and often the people I tell, that I am the one who tells them. I know that is asking a lot, but in some ways, this request also may determine the future personal and private safety of my wife and I.
Now, to answer my friend, who wonders which, “Me” I am at any given moment… well, that is a far more interesting question Than the one about pronouns. The fact is though, I often have no clue myself. I am making my life, my transition, even this blog up as I go along.
So, I was composing this answer in my mind, when the simplest of answers hit me like a ton of bricks. I get it now. I do. I finally do. So, I had to write this epic post, to explain in true yet parable-like form, what I finally understand.
It is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.
p.s. Do NOT call me Vicki.