Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Interview with Scottie Madden

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Scottie Madden, an American writer, showrunner of adventure reality TV, director, and producer of many documentaries, and the author of “Getting Back to Me: From Girl to Boy to Woman in Just Fifty Years” (2015). And she writes a weekly blog called "Raised By Wolves" and Zuzubean Press. Hello Scottie!
Scottie: Hello, Monika! And I'm honored to be speaking with you - you've kept some amazing company through your blog here - talk about collective wisdom and experience! 
Monika: You can boast a splendid career in film-making. Do you regard yourself more as a producer, director or writer?
Scottie: I have always used the term "storyteller" - I grew up in the fine arts with an incredible master artisan as my mentor, and I apply the same aesthetic to my filmmaking - Gerhard inspired and implored me to push both whatever medium I was/am using at the time, be it clay, gold, television screenplay or adventure reality series and the entire story unfolding before me to create something that is the fullest experience possible for the audience.
That richness has a different sense of legacy and expression whether it's a ring on Mylove's finger, or a vampire love story unfolding in a darkened movie theater, but they have the same complete immersion and commitment of the storyteller (me) in them. 

Monika: Your 2008 feature film titled “The Kiss” was a romantic horror comedy, which was a departure from documentaries that you used to be associated with …
Scottie: Well, yes and no... an indie film is an engrossing, heartbreaking and heartwarming experience, but it requires the above discipline since most of everyday you are looking for a solution that money can't necessarily buy - it's a lot like adventure documentary - there are few places in remote nature that accept credit cards or that play by film-making's rules, so your solution to each obstacle tests the outer bounds of your creativity. "the kiss" (all lower case - I was being ironic, lol) could never make excuses for not having money - that is one of an Indy film's cardinal rules - but also, as a vampire flick (which has its own legacy) it was the opportunity to create a world as rich as Lord of the Rings (which never left my hip pocket through high school) and it's a world that is alive today, and will be available (this time with a bigger budget) to audiences and fans of "the kiss" soon.
Monika: It has been 8 years since the premiere of that movie. You did not feel tempted to direct any movies from that genre afterwards?
Scottie: I like this question - tempted. That's how all stories are to me, tempting. They tease me with flashes and possibilities. I developed the Vampire world that I created for the kiss for an additional two years - writing the entire histories of all eight vampire clans. So yes, I've been tempted - and not just by the story, many suitors have come to tempt me with making a sequel or a series - with a few near-misses, which is also life here in hollywierd - we're always selling our next projects (which is a diversified slate if you're smart). I happy to report that the current suitor is proving to be the most promising. Stay tuned for that.
The book available via Amazon.
Also, this question allows me to clear up a misconception about hollywierd - nothing is linear in anyone's career trajectory - in fact, our career decisions and path only make sense in retrospect - it's really just a process of saying yes to every opportunity and following the path lit by those choices.
Monika: In your repertoire, are there any film productions related to transpeople? I couldn't find any … was it intentional to stay away?
Scottie: I only came out officially to the outside world with the publishing of my book (I know it looks so... planned). So, and it's not lost on me that you have shown interest in The Kiss. I was trying to deal with the concepts of transformation, resurrection and being completely committed to love and life. Completely committed to love and life. Completely - which was something that, rich as my life had been, lacking almost nothing... was, just wasn't.
I had resigned myself to "running out the clock" (sorry, I was also raised as an athlete) on my life - be the best dude I could and earn my true womanhood next lifetime. So yes, I intentionally stayed away from ever getting close enough to my "sun" of anything directly transgender, because the warming rays only magnified the pain of my life unlived as... well as me.
Monika: How are transwomen perceived by Hollywood? Is transgender art becoming more prominent these days?
Scottie: Time will tell. As a community, we're all getting closer to getting one "up on the boards." Angelica Ross and Jen Richards got an Emmy nomination for the short series "Herstorys" and I've got a dramatic series based on my book that I've been blessed to have Alexandra Billings agree to play me. So... prominent? Not by a long shot - until trans producers are able to produce trans themed product, will we start seeing art.
We are still deemed "supporting characters" even our patron saint and sacred cow, Jeffrey Tambor's Maura is not the lead character nor are trans themes, The dysfunctionally wonderful Pfeffermans is the main character and family is the theme - by design and great intention by Jill Solloway. And this is important for both cis and trans professionals to note.
The cis world thinks "aren't we doing enough of the trans thing over on Amazon? I mean look at the Emmys!" And the trans world says, "yeah, yeah, yeah, the whole family is interesting and aren't we normal after all, now, get back to Maura." And all Jill is supposed to do is tell HER story as both creator and the one who lived it (it was based on her Moppa, right?). And no amount of Jeffrey's apologies (and his very tangible - behind the scenes support) can or will change the facts that a cis-male is playing a trans female. Which is why I'm so exited that Alexandra agreed to play me in "The Other Woman."

And while we're on Trasparent - it serves as the reason why we have to keep up the fight both to honor Jill's groundbreaking work (she's leading a movement, like it or not but also it's what happens when we are "okay with the crumbs from the table." We don't dare criticize "Tranparent", it's ours and it's also why we gave "I am Cait" a chance, we are so starved for anything that we treat it as sacred.
But Transparent isn't anything like "me" any more Maura is like me or you or anyone but maybe Jill's Moppa... and, here it comes girls, any more than the Goldbergs. I am not Jewish. I have friends who are, I was married by a Rabbi, (long story) and...
... I don't expect it to be.
I won't hold it to those standards; If it was about an Irish, Scottish, Finnish, Polish family with four girls (and one of them looks like a boy) then it might be closer. So we need to give Transparent a break when it's not trans. It's called television. And drama.
I hear this as I pitch my own show -"oh, we're not sure there's room on our slate for two trans shows" and my counter that they have five medical shows and four cop procedurals gets the metaphysical pat on the head for my precociousness... isn't she adorable, they're so cute when they're young and naive. Which is the point. We aren't understood because we aren't heard or seen. So we continue to push and climb and believe and strive. Time will tell. 
Zuma Beach, California.
Photo by Lara Weatherly.
Monika: Why did you decide to write “Getting Back To Me" - from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years? Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen? 
Scottie: Well like all the other mediums in my life - writing a book was always on the plan - and the subject started as my own LOTR and along the way became any subject that took my soul, but that wasn't appropriate for any of the other mediums that are at my fingertips... that list (entitled "books I will write" in the file drawer in my head) became the thing that I will do when I get... "the time" that mythic beast that seems to be more elusive with every passing year...
... until my body and soul revolted. As I said, I had a life strategy - I had developed very elaborate and robust coping mechanisms to keep my gender dysphoria from derailing my life. Some were the constant behavioral monitoring systems that kept my true self under lock and key, others were the monthly "lockdown" that I had to institute to brace for the hijacker - a severe bout that would seize my body (oh yes it was visceral) and mind (like being on meth and LSD simultaneously), for days.
And one day I had a system-wide failure. My entire body literally threw up the truth of what and who I was to my wife of then 20 years. And for five years after that, we pretended that though this was true about me, just knowing the truth would be good enough. Until it wasn't. So I knew the very visceral consequence of continuing to deny reality. And...
I started to come all the way out. And I kept coming...

And this will sound trite and cliche' but the book wrote itself. Seriously in three months of 14 hour days, and an additional two months of editing and proofing. I journaled about the year of my official transition - which required me to be very clear to the reader why each milestone along the way had the significance or irony or humor that it had for me. A memoir has an organic freedom that allows for a natural format to disclose my history. As a writer, I use the format to fit the story. And this seat-of-the-pants, real-time account flew out of me with the same force that the truth of me tore through our bedroom on the morning I came out to Mylove.
The real decision was whether to publish. There is no turning back in a "no turning back" story...
As for useful for my fellow sisters? Yes. I read several memoirs during my time in my mental dungeon, and these gave me the sense that I wasn't crazy, couldn't be making it up. And seeing that someone else didn't have it figured out, was afraid of all the right and wrong things and finally, thank God, didn't sacrifice her precious life to fulfill the world's expectations. I also "field test" the systems of transition from name and gender marker change (a huge day for us all!) and simple health care, and there's some advice and some "Geezus, I hope you never do it this way" kinda stuff as I navigate the narrow parts of the river. But, and this is something that reviews, both cis and trans readers have been the most enthusiastic about, my book is an inspiration to live in love with love for love, and to laugh. Always.
The first edition of the book.
Monika: The first edition of the book had an inspiring cover. You were looking at a big painting showing you as a female in a lovely hat ...
Scottie: Ah yes, that hat, that picture. A dear friend painted that picture from my FB profile pic, which stealing a page from Kristin Beck’s playbook, I used to quietly announce by a simple “Scottie has changed HER profile picture,” to the world that… my world anyway was starting as of now. And I thank you for calling it inspirational, in one of my previous lives, I was a graphic artist. So I thought, “piece of cake” when I was in the self-publishing mode, designing my cover on my first book was a great opportunity (and no pressure for this chronic achiever!)
But, no one in my family liked the way I looked. The women in my family actually were able to use their defense of my physical form as a way to declare their acceptance of me - “That picture just doesn’t do you justice - I mean you are beautiful and that woman is just… not you.”
Well, who could argue that? So when I got the chance to do the cover for real with current pros at the top of their game and get a visual message that was even more on target with what I was trying to say (more “matter-of-fact” and less aspirational) I leapt at it... and that gave me the chance to ask Alexandra to do a forward and endorsement. So, in the end…it worked out for everyone, my aunts and sisters especially! LOL
Monika: You and your wife were invited to lecture about your book by many universities and other institutions. When asked different questions about various aspects of your transition, did you feel that the audience understands what you had to go through?
Scottie: The simple answer is no. The more accurate answer is Oh hell no. BUT - the real point is that in both institutions there is an honest desire to try. And that’s okay. It's a starting point. With today's millisecond attention spans feverishly looking for the next “pulse” of pertinence, I find there’s a “well when I need to know that I can google it, until then, it doesn’t require my energy.” Now, when you take us “round pegs” and you put them together with their square holes, you’ve got a perfect... opportunity to talk. And grow. When both sides come to the party.
My wife and I play a game we call the binary game, where we start with the messages we got as children, “If you’re gonna cry Mary Jane , go put on a dress” (Shit! It’s that easy? I'll be right back) and other messed up messages we all get. Then we ask the audience to shout out theirs… We worried that we, Marcy & I were too old fuddy-duddys and we get blank stares or judgment or worse, pity… These are mostly millennials, who are growing up a trans kid in the elementary schools (of so CNN makes it seem) but we are blown away how entrenched the binary is, and how it has hurt many people… so our work is relevant. There’s a lot to do… Not everyone is a Caitlin or a Laverne or a Maura… and the voting world especially needs to know that hell yes, we are snowflakes… made of diamonds - we don’t melt. We’ve valuable. And we are flawless.
27 years married, April ‘16.
Photo by Shivani Ray.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Scottie: We all have to have this answer don't we - but to my sisters and brothers in our community, I feel I can use language that won't require "qualifiers," so here goes:
I didn't ever know I was not a woman. At the age of 4, I have the earliest traumatic memory of someone trying to scream me into never revealing this to the world - that telling anyone or showing anyone that I was "not a boy" would lose my parents' love and destroy my world. (This person was my weekly babysitter and a family friend)
I loved my parents and they loved me. They had no idea that anything had happened. And I would take that to my grave. So, I learned instead how to bury myself and focused instead on being what I would later learn (with everyone's reinforcement) was the best boy ever. The best are successful. The successful are in charge. when you're in charge, you call the shots. I made sure I would call the shots so I would never do anything that would make me as a girl and eventually as a woman, regret or hurt my own heart, all while looking to the outside world like the boy, son, nephew, man, husband and uncle, it needed me to be. Each's very own knight in shining armor.
So, no. The transition process was the easiest thing to do, since my armor was superficial, taking it off was very simple - untie the ties and let the heavy shit drop off. What's hard is that "Male privilege" and even more so the "white" version of that is real. And not there for me now. But I m a strong woman.
I will say that transition is a moment by moment continuum - just as we never stop growing and evolving, we never really stop transitioning - and I am continually surprised by very simple things. it's the redefining our marriage and my role in it that has required the most amount of work - because the pressure my transition has put on my career and livelihood has coincided with one of most horrendous moments in U.S. history. And these pressures are relentless - they're at the store, the bank, the highway, and the home. You can see how a dirty frying pan when it's your turn to do dishes can be a nuclear detonator... that's the difficult part - staying in "like" with the one you love.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Scottie: I hadn't actually followed one role model. There were a lot, (especially as I first dipped a toe into our ocean) I'm embarrassed and a little sad to say, who I watched as "not to follow" - and of course as you decide to start taking action it's important to have friends who you can trust to know in our language if something is on or off for you and your body.
Remember we're talking about life-altering and irreversible (which is a dumb word - nobody could ever go back) But it does mean you will change. Your body will change with hormones. Your relationships will change when you come out. Your thoughts will change once you start living life with different criteria- so, you need someone who speaks your language, so you don't get lost and when things get different, you'll have a handrail through the unfamiliar parts.

Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Scottie: It's is a golden age for the wisdom of amazing people to bless our lives, isn't it? The writings and postings of Janet Mock helped me see that the brilliant intelligence of "our people" and more importantly our voice speaks not to our marginalization but to our contribution to humanity. I use and listen to the usual suspects, Jenny Boylan, Lavern Cox, Ian Harvie and Buck Angel, whenever they speak.
You said "ladies" in your question - but we are silly if we don't listen to our brothers - we share a unique vision and perspective with our trans brothers -(think about it) and we share the same trials and tribulations in mirrored ways. Ian especially is uniquely articulate in the shadings of relationships and Buck holds himself to the ideals of being human like no other.
But my biggest role model is and I'm honored to call her friend and sister, Alexandra Billings. She really has been there. She really has done that. All of it. And then some. And though she should be a war-weary veteran licking her wounds from unjust horrors and living the fight for the rights we have gained (which by the way will slip if we don't stay in the game!), she is instead the loudest, proudest, most generous supernova of love and possibility and dignity that ever there was. 
But there are, now, many role models that quietly inspire me to be me all of me. These aren't names you know, but they are people you should know. And they are our sisters and brothers in the community who live fully every day. Proudly.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Scottie: Impatience. In fact, I don't even have patience with this question - maybe it's because I was raised by wolves (which is my way of describing why Ms. Scottie is sometimes a little, you know, unladylike - which will set my girlfriends screaming now!) 
Impatience with how fast my body is changing. Impatience with how fast my body is healing. Impatience with how fast my family is dealing with pronouns. Impatience that is justified by being late to my own party, and now is running as fast as she can to make up for lost time. Don't try this at home!
Scottie with "Mylove". Photo by Shivani Rey.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Scottie: Whoa there... we are in a divisive time in America. And it's particularly heartbreaking because we have made such great strides in our society with understanding (I'm not talking about laws and regulations- I'm talking about the real emotional growth) with concepts like intersectionality and white feminism and Black Lives Matter doesn't mean all lives don't matter. There has been a sea change with the ways we truly regard each other and our various tribes be they race, identity, or what have you. And now all that is underfire with the new president and his promise to restore rich white Christian values (only).
So. Am I a T under the rainbow tent? Yes. And I'm an L. and yes they don't always get along- and both should get a timeout for wasting even one moment on that stupidity. Our history shows that every time we tried to "shush" the whole movement, so as to not slow down the progression of a smaller sect, and that smaller sect promises that once they get into the castle, they'll open the door for the rest of us.
... we fail. Divided we fall.
So no. I won't let that happen. And no I won't do it with divisiveness.
We are different from our LGB sisters and brothers only when you have to pick between your identity and your sexuality - but since the cis hetero community doesn't, why should we? As trans people, we either are at one point or another one of the other letters, have been though those letters on our way to our T, or have shared table and meeting space since Stonewall. And yes this situation exists or you wouldn't have asked me this question- and yes it is silly. A waste of time pretending to be different and I wish it would go away.
Monika: You mentioned Stonewall. Are we before our own Stonewall or we are weak as a community to achieve a breakthrough in the promotion of transgender cause?
Scottie: Ouch! Weak? Not now. Not ever. And not to act your crazy aunt, but Stonewall was our Stonewall. We were there. despite some recent misguided films - we are the movement. We are the movers and we forged our pinks and blues of the rainbow flag with blood with tears. And Alexandra says it better. Because we are born of Stone, we can and will take down the next barrier and the next barrier and the next, until full equality for all is our natural state of living. We know what we’re fighting for and we know how to fight. 
And as Alexandra reminds us, we fight with compassion, caring, and clarity. The beauty of now is that we don't’ fight alone. We wear pink knit hats, we march at airports and we dismantle hatred and incompetent in the federal courts. So the lesson for us in the trans community is to not allow ourselves to “feel” or act marginalized, not with denial’s malaise but with Pride’s bright flame. Together.
Because we are not any one thing. I am a woman. I am trans. I am an American seeing my country under siege by hatred and greed. These three intersections show me that I intersect with all. And fight for all. And that is how we break down any walls are they stone, or ignorance.

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Scottie: I can't lie. I am losing more sleep than they deserve wondering how we make the hatred stop. I could deal with it if it was the usual ignorance of people that I'm told I need to send light to, but when it equals the very real rise of the threats to our community and the emboldening of discrimination and physical harm, then... well, I confess, I am struggling to remain hopeful. And it's not easy.
But as I wrote in my book the only way around is through (thank you, Live) and the only way to deal with these fears is to do something about it. My work aside from television and film is education, and with my wife, we speak to universities and corporations and strive for understanding our world as a means to erode the desire and support for any kind of discrimination. And that helps me sleep better. But for all the gains we make with roles on TV and in the movies, we still read a list of too many names (ONE IS TOO MANY) each November on Remembrance day. This Must Change!
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Scottie: Oh yes, we can. We have got to be citizen activists (and if you are busy then get with the big kids GLAAD, HRC etc.) We just heard about the Texas Mayor The Honorable Jess Herbst of Newhope, TX announced she was trans, so we're already making a difference. We have always been here.
As for the bigger question of my time and career choice, politics is always out there like a beacon, tempting me. But for now, I will pitch in when and where I can - I believe we'll all be involved in some campaign or another - I got my pink knit hat at the ready.  
Light, Laughter & Love. Photo by Shivani Ray.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Scottie: It is all there is. I couldn't do my life without love. I wouldn't live without love. I would've been dead long ago... Love for me is "Mylove," that's her name, my wife Marcy of 28 years this April. 
Without her love I would've never had to courage to live my life. It was her love that showed me that my fear of losing that love was a crutch, an excuse. She still identifies as a cis hetero woman who is married to and totally in love with a woman. Totally in love with me. She makes it possible to be me.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Scottie: As I said above - a drama series based on my book. A cookbook and I write a weekly blog called "Raised By Wolves."
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. What is your own view?
Scottie: Well... our dreams started well before we thought we needed an operating table, stayed with us while we summoned the courage to even ask about an operating table and will need to get us to and from that table. But I get her point. As Lavern Cox says genitalia is not a destiny. And there are those in our community who will never follow our lead and that's okay too.
I think Gina's advice is good for those who could let the table be an excuse for not living in any way, shape, or form. And in that regard, I agree with the wise Ms. Grahame. Our potential is, individually, singularly, ours. We can never nor should we ever try to live someone else's life. We're not all supposed to write books or speak publicly, or... wait. Ha! Okay, well don't do as I do, do as ... you know what? Do whatever your heart says. sin
Monika: Scottie, thank you for the interview!
Scottie: Thank you, Monika! This has been a great honor. March on!

All the photos: courtesy of Scottie Madden.
The main photo credit: Lara Weatherly
Done on 8 February 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

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