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The Night I Was Caught

Growing up as an unaware trans, the single greatest worry I think we all share is getting caught. Dressing that is. I think that makes it a fine topic for a little reminiscing, don’t you? I’d like to say that never happened to me, but of course, it did. Seriously, what a boring post that would be. This one time, in my parents’ house, I was almost caught, but wasn’t! Isn’t that a scream?

In my younger days I spent the equivalent of the Niagara Falls hydroelectric plant in mental energy devoted specifically to not getting caught. After coming out to my mom last summer, she once asked why I never exhibited signs of this. I was a little taken aback. When it’s your life’s mission to work out every single possible angle of how not to literally get caught with your pants down, you become quite talented at it. I had drive times well calculated, with margins of error, for every place they went and I didn’t. I knew precisely what activities downstairs would allow for bathroom breaks too brief to bother knocking on my door, like a Bills game. I knew what clothes I could smuggle in by putting them on in an alley under my male clothes. I had a clearly defined escape route or plan for every eventuality when I dressed memorized in every detail. I ended up needing more than one as well, but it’s OK, a close call is as good as a total miss. Oh yeah, I was one crafty little chick.

Then it happened. When my roommate had to work at night, I liked to call and bug him, mainly to ensure precisely what time he would be coming home that evening. After I was sure his estimates were eerily accurate, I would use the time to dress and watch TV or whatnot. A good safe half hour before he was due to arrive, I’d go to bed, my clothes safely hidden away in my closet. Seemed pretty foolproof and if he came home early, I had plenty of time to dart to my room before he could unlock the door. Simple and safe, right?

One such evening I put on a comfy sweater dress and plopped down on the couch to drink wine and watch ‘Mystic Pizza’; a very enjoyable ending to a long day. One moment I was watching Julia Roberts suffer through an awkward family dinner with her rich boyfriend, and the next I was opening my eyes to a blank TV screen. My roommates door, always open in his absence, was closed. Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap!!! There are worse ways of waking up, like being peed on by a cranked out Hell’s Angel or something, but not many. All my years of meticulous painstaking planning and subterfuge undone by the simple fact that wine makes me kind of sleepy. I had absolutely no idea what to do. To buy time I scrawled a note that said, “I’ll explain later, in the mean time TELL NO ONE!!!”. Yeah, that’ll keep him from talking. I slept fitfully and when I awoke, he was gone again, as was the note.

The day was a dreadful mess. I worked all morning at Berts – one of the dining facilities at UB – where my friend Dan also worked, and spent my break trying to figure out what he knew without being obvious about it. I wanted to tell him something in order to get the first word in, but came up with bupkis. By the time I came home though, I finally thought of something. Jenn with the tongue. Jenn was a friend, and the first one of our set with one of those 90’s tongue studs, hence the name. I don’t think she cared for it, and she wasn’t coming around much anymore. I could use that. She was alternative enough that any crazy story involving her would probably stick. If she ever was going to come over again, I would have to come clean, but in the mean time it seemed perfect.

When my roommate came home later I greeted him in such a jovial mood. In reality I was dying a thousand deaths, but had to play my part. “Oh, what you must have thought last night! Ho ho!” Yes, I said ‘ho ho’, I said I was acting jovial, didn’t I? He appeared shockingly disinterested, but I launched into my bullshit story with a great ruffle of flourishes. Jenn, the clever minx, conned me into dressing en femme to screw with a straight-laced pal she had visiting from Arizona and boy, was it a hoot! Oh, you should have seen the look on her face! My roommate simply stared at me and said, “Yeah, I figured it was something like that. Another stupid  story.” Apparently, “stupid  stories” were a known thing in my group, because no one at all questioned the tale. “Yep, sounds like something stupid only  would do.” Assholes.

So, that was my great and wonderful tale of being caught and somehow conniving my way out of it. The tragic part about this was that I learned absolutely nothing because the same thing happened a few months later. Once again I dusted off the old Jenn with the tongue story and once again, everyone bought it. Second time was a charm, and afterwards had a strict policy against drinking and dressing. It saves lives.

“Work It?” Ignore It.

From the moment ABC announced the inclusion of “Work It” as a dreary mid-season replacement show, I have found myself inundated with calls to arms from various trans and quasi trans friendly organizations to condemn this abomination with either a stern signature on an online form, or Ugh. Seriously?worse, to make the onerous effort of writing my own pissy letter. This got me thinking. To be fair, any call to action often gets me thinking of ways to avoid having to do anything. In this rare instance, however, I think my reasoning may actually be sound, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

I already have the notion that this may not be the most popular stance, so I want to establish right away that I’m not writing this from the outside. I am a trans woman who isn’t exactly Miss Passable, and very aware of the challenges we face on a daily basis and the wealth of misinformation that exists. If I honestly and truly thought that a chintzy “Bosom Buddies” knockoff had even a modicum of perception changing firepower, I’d  already clicking the button to tell ABC’s president to go jump in a lake over this. I, however, do not and will now present the top ten reasons why. [Note: Not a guarantee of a full ten reasons, but a placeholder until the author runs out of things to say, after which she will likely fire this off without proper editing. Sorry.]

One. It’s whiney. I’m well aware we have the right and duty to protest inequality and defamation, but this should really be used in just the right setting. Getting riled up over a lackluster sit com premise is just going to come across as whiney. Whether we have the right to whine or not is irrelevant in this case. What we can expect from it, however, is the de rigueur trend of responding to all whining with snarky satire. I simply don’t think it enhances the trans community to come across as prickly wet sops, especially when we know for certain it means everyone who perceives themselves as clever is going to pile on and really try and give us something to cry about. Look at the Scientologists. If not for all the bitching most of us would still think they were simply scientists with a spelling problem. Now they have to deal with things like Xenu toilet paper. We can do better.

Two. We are guaranteeing more people are going to watch the show. By raising our ire, we are taking a long played out show concept that was likely to die on the table unnoticed and unclaimed and making it “controversial”. People would watch a prune juice commercial if they heard it was controversial, even if they have Tivo. On its own merit it would likely be abandoned by viewers for a show about people who use coupons or a resurgence of puppets making crank phone calls. Let people know a segment of the population is upset by it and an audience is grown overnight. If we really cause a stink, this half-assed time slot filler can become a cult sensation. I’m not saying this is right, but we all know it is true.

Three. ABC can give a hoot about our sensitivities. Right now it is the in thing for giant corporations to radiate socially conscious warm fuzzies. The reality, however, is that if an idea will bring in revenue, they will do it. If not, they won’t. Corporations assign a real dollar value to “Goodwill”. If the show brings in more advertising revenue than they lose in goodwill from the trans community, they are simply going to do it. No matter what the goodwill management representatives tell you, they would rush a show about boiling pandas to the air if they knew it was going to be profitable. See item two and understand there are a group of executives who could not be more delighted.

Four. So what? Yes, it theoretically can cause misperceptions about the trans community. Maybe. It’s a wacky sitcom, not a documentary. I don’t think there are a lot of people who will watch a Chaz Bono interview, then turn to this and get confused about which is the real deal. Those who do are probably beyond our reach to educate anyway. As ignorant as individuals can seem to be, I still think the vast majority of people wouldn’t expect to meet the equivalent of the “Big Bang Theory” cast  in a university physics department, and the same holds true here. Hard as it is to do sometimes, we have to give people some credit.

Five. It isn’t all about us. While we may not enjoy what we perceive to be a misrepresentation, people who identify as cross-dressers just may consider this to be a good thing. Many of us know cross-dressers and many of us even went through a period where that is what we thought we were. Putting myself in their shoes, I just might be delighted by a show that normalizes the concept of a heterosexual man wearing women’s clothes. I think the greatest fear amongst closeted cross-dressers is fear of exposure as a perverted freak. Putting the notion into the public consciousness that a man in women’s attire isn’t a game changing phenomenon probably couldn’t hurt.

Well, that isn’t quite ten, but I forgot the rest I thought up during my ride into work, but I think you get the point. Changing hearts and minds is the path forward to gaining acceptance, understanding, and most importantly rights in our society. I don’t think raising the flag of offense against the remake of a short lived sitcom from the early 80’s is going to do much in that regard, and more likely to do more harm than good. If we accept that the media is going to portray us incorrectly just as every other group is from time to time, we take away some of its power to hurt us.

I am interested in anyone who has a differing opinion by the way. After all, what good is an uncontested opinion?

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