Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Real Granny Tranny

Granny Tranny is real! I thought I had made her up but she does exist! I met her a couple of weeks ago.

One of my close friends is a church choir director. He and is wife enlist me sometimes for the choir's special events and performances, to provide choreography or simple movements for the singers. They gave me the heads up about one of their new choir members, a senior citizen who cross-dresses by stuffing rolled up shirts underneath a regular tee shirt.

They knew that I would be neither shocked nor surprised. They had both been at my graduation ceremony when I had completed my undergraduate degree in Gender Studies. I don't think I had ever told them, though, about a character I had included in one of my final papers. I had written in Granny Tranny as a special guest on the fictional television show, "The Gender Kids Club." It was a show where kids could learn about the varying degrees of femininity and masculinity, and a place where they could fit in any place they wanted to along that spectrum, where they could just be their natural boyish and/or girly selves.

I described Granny Tranny as an elderly African-American wearing a salt-and-pepper wig underneath her church-going hat. She favored gloves and purple polyester suits as her signature look. She addressed the kids as "duckling" and "lambkin" rather than trying to learn all of their names.

The Real Granny Tranny was dressed more casually when I met her. She had rolled up her jeans for the 50's theme night. Her tee shirt did indeed look overstuffed despite the fact that my friend, the choir director, convinced her to reduce the double 'D' size she had originally sported. Her bosom still resembled a lumpy, uneven pillow.

I had met her on a good night, apparently. I was informed that the usual stench of body odor was absent that evening. I said a simple "Hi" to her during the microphone sound check, same as I would greet any other choir member.

My friend's mother-in-law was in town visiting, so she was able to attend the performance. She liked the fact that someone such as Granny Tranny was quietly accepted in the choir and church, that there was no open hostility expressed toward her appearance or private protests expressed to the pastor and church staff. I agreed.

I later told Domestic Partner about the Real Granny Tranny. When I described her appearance, he told me that he had seen her on the Metro Link trains and buses in downtown Los Angeles. She is a homeless person, which explains her usual body odor I suppose. It made me happier that the church was willing to let her in their doors on a regular basis.

Granny Tranny looked pretty cleaned up on the night that I met her. I admired the fact that, rather than wear a wig, she had grown out her own natural, silver-streaked hair. It was combed neatly from the top, curling softly on the ends, like a chorus girl from the 1930's. She had about a day's worth of stubble, white and prickly on her chin and jawline.

I later learned that the Real Granny Tranny still goes by her birth name: Joseph.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Princess Who Looks Like Me

I went to Disneyland last week with my Aunt Pat and her granddaughter, four-year-old Marlow, who calls me Uncle Peter. Never mind that she is my cousin's daughter. She's like a niece to me, in the fun and playful closeness that we already share.

I was happy to experience the Disney parks through a fresh pair of eyes. We started our day at the newer theme park, Disney's California Adventure. Marlow immediately wanted to go on the bumper cars in A Bug's Land. She loved Heimlich's Chew Chew train in which the overweight caterpillar-shaped vehicle eats his way through giant-sized vegetables, fruits, and desserts (um, does Eric Carle know that Disney basically ripped of his book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar?).

I quickly learned that tunnels were not an option. Marlow did not want to go any ride that took passengers into a dark and scary tunnel, including the new Little Mermaid ride. She waited outside with her grandma while I rode Ariel's Undersea Adventure by myself and took pictures (I was surprised not to hear a recorded announcement forbidding flash photography or use of recording devices). When I showed Marlow the photos, she was particularly interested in Ursula, the scary sea witch, and she kept asking me to page back to that picture.

Taking turns watching a four-year-old while she napped turned out to be an advantage. Aunt Pat let me go first in the single riders line of the new Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land. It only took me ten minutes versus the 45-minute-wait in the regular line. I loved the new ride, and I knew Aunt Pat would love it too, when she took her turn. Marlow had a long nap, so we also took turns going on Soarin' Over California, the hang glider flight simulator.

Marlow loved the Pixar Play Parade in California Adventure. But the best part of the day was when we went into Disneyland park to watch the Soundsational parade. Marlow was bouncing and dancing to the music playing on the speakers before the first float arrived. At one point, when she saw the princess float coming down the parade route, she dug furiously through the items in her stroller, as if she were looking for a camera. When the float passed by, she waved to Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Belle.

What had Marlow been looking for? And where were Mulan and Pocahontas? Where were the princesses of color? Oh, well. Each year, as the cast of characters continues to grow, I know it's not possible to include every Disney favorite in one parade. We continued enjoying the parade.

Once again, Marlow dug wildly through her stroller after seeing the next float coming down the street. She tossed items over shoulder, unknowingly hitting the people sitting next to us. Finally she found what she was looking for: her tiara from The Princess and the Frog.

Marlow had recognized Princess Tiana on The Princess and the Frog float several yards away, before it reached the spot where we were sitting. She was so excited! She wanted to show Princess Tiana that she had the same crown that she did. They were the same! Luckily, when the float passed by, Princess Tiana took a moment to acknowledge Marlow and wave at her.

Marlow is four. Her adoptive parents are both white. I think she understands at her age, already, the joy of identifying with someone in the media, someone you admire and want to emulate. The little Japanese boy that I used to be/still am silently rejoiced with Marlow. I spent part of my childhood in Japan, enjoying animé in the 1970's, so I don't think it bothered me as much when we returned to the states and I didn't see any television characters who looked like me (Does "Arnold" from Happy Days count?). Still, it felt like retribution when the Jackie Chan Adventures cartoon series first started airing.

When The Princess and the Frog first started playing in the theaters, my coworker took her half-Jamaican daughter to see it. Her daughter was about Marlow's age at the time. My coworker told me that her daughter stood up on her seat and announced to the audience, "Look, everyone! There's a Disney princess and she looks like me!"

That made me tear up a bit, as well as smile.

As Marlow grows up, I hope she continues to find positive role models in the media to identify with and look up to. It's her turn.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I Am the Girl in the Car

I have been a Madonna-fan from the very beginning. I identified with her music video for "Borderline," thirty years ago, especially when she was riding in the photographer's car. I was seventeen-years-old and I did not have my driver's license yet. I was dependent on my parents and friends for rides to school, church bible studies, theater rehearsals, etc.

The young adult novel that I am struggling to finish features a teenager who yearns for a Vespa scooter. Friends in my writers' group observed that the protagonist is always being driven places, given rides by others, instead of driving himself. I don't think that I was fully aware of that recurring theme until it was pointed out to me. But it's consistent with the character's desire for independence and freedom, and how the sought-after scooter represents both to him.

A used Vespa scooter became my "first car" in the 80's, once I had moved out of my parents' house. I couldn't afford a car. But the sleek, white Italian scooter was all I needed to get around town. I loved my little putt-putt. And it helped to give me the funky, avant-garde image I wanted for myself (at least I hoped it did).

I have had three more scooters since then (and three different cars). I gradually achieved some semblance of increased independence as I got older.

But not completely.

It bothers me a little that I never achieved full independence, at least financially. I have always rented rooms, always had roommates. Delaying college graduation and a "real job" until my forties probably had something to do with it. The best I managed to take care of myself was when I went away on contract in Japan, or when I worked on cruise ships. Housing was provided for both of those jobs - no rent to pay! So, I guess that I still wasn't completely independent with either job.

Even with my "first real job," though (which ended a few months ago), I didn't see how people could afford to live on their own in Los Angeles. I would probably have had to take a second job at night if I were single. I don't know where I would be without Domestic Partner . . . probably still on a cruise ship or in Japan (if they were still willing to hire me, that is).

I am grateful that Domestic Partner and I still together. I'm grateful for my own car, my own transportation, grateful that I am in the driver's seat sometimes. But every weekend, when we go out, I sit in the passenger seat of Domestic Partner's BMW convertible.

Some days I am still that girl in the car.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Back to My Future

This is my Back to the Future year. I turned 47-years-old last week. Not that that specific age makes this year any different than usual. I normally think about my teenage self on a regular basis, wishing I could start over.

I don't like admitting that, common as it may be for one to wish that they could have another chance to do things better. It's completely useless, wanting to be young again so that you can do things differently. It's never going to happen.

So, why can't I stop thinking about it? It's probably just typical of being middle-aged.

But just for kicks what would I have done differently? I would have found a way to be more courageous, in general, more confident. I would have pursued dance and performing more aggressively, instead of feeling so pressured to go to college.

Or maybe I would have mustered up the determination to finish college by my early twenties, all while attending dance classes regularly. I would have started drinking coffee much earlier in life.

And I would have stood up for myself more when it came to how I wanted to shape my future. I would have developed a backbone, despite my fears, especially when it came to dealing with my father and his good intentions.

I'm sure many fans of the Marty McFly trilogy felt the way I did after seeing the first installment: I wished that I, too, could go back in time to visit my parents when they were in high school and change our family's collective fates for the better.

I wanted to improve the foundation of my parents' young adult lives in the hopes of improving our family dynamics in the present, and my own life as a teenager.

Now I am like the middle-aged Marty in the second installment, strumming his guitar and nursing his regrets over dreams unrealized, the could've-beens and the should've-beens.

How pathetic!

How can I use my own regrets constructively? The only useful answer I can come up with is to literally rewrite my own story. I am more than halfway through the first draft of my young adult novel, what I've written so far. And I know how it ends. I know how I want to set it up the last chapter to lead to a sequel, a second novel. But it's been slow writing. I'm having trouble bridging the middle part of the story to the ending.

I owe it to my 17-year-old self though. I owe it to my inner teenager from 1983 to finish the book, even if it never gets close to being edited and published. If I can't do it for myself, my present self, I can do it as a labor of love for him.

This is my Back to the Future year. This is the year I will commit to completing the first draft, one page at a time.