Thursday, 4 June 2020

Interview with Maryanne Marttini

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Maryanne Marttini, an American comedienne, writer, producer, and designer from Arizona. She is known for her stand-up comedy performances across the country, and brief appearances in Transparent and Glee. She is also part of a writing team that has developed an animated television series and a three-act play based on that series. Since starting her transition 12 years ago she has volunteered with The Maricopa Community College System for LGBTQ awareness, fundraising for scholarships, and Human Resources for LGBT education.
Hello Maryanne! 
Maryanne: Thank you Monika it is an honor and pleasure to meet you. I am a fan of your work bringing awareness and the reality of the Transgender Community to your readers. One of my favorite expressions in life is, “the more you know…!”
Monika: I must tell you that you are not the first trans comedian portrayed on my blog. I am very happy to list you among Natasha Muse, Julia Scotti, Alison Grillo, Robin Diane Goldstein, and other talented ladies. It seems that our community can boast a surprisingly high percentage of ladies with a sense of humor.
Maryanne: There are many of us that began our transition late in life. We had to deal with decades of not knowing how to live with our gender dysphoria, or even what it was. One of our ways of hiding, who we believed we were supposed to be, was through humor. Being funny was a shield that we took down and now use standup to communicate and build the confidence we need to be our true selves.
I was sixteen when I saw the musical movie Gypsy with Natalie Wood. It was the story of Gypsy Rose Lee, a burlesque stripper that made stripping classy. I wanted to be her so bad but a song from that film changed my life. It was, “You gotta have a gimmick if you wanna get ahead.” My gimmick was, to hide myself from the world because I was the only boy on the planet that believed he was supposed to be a girl. When I came out, comedy was my gimmick to show the world I would not hide any longer.

Ms. Senior America.
Photo by a volunteer photographer.

Monika: How did you start your artistic career?
Maryanne: In my second career I was a motivational speaker and sales trainer for national furniture manufacturer’s sales teams. My audience would range from ten to two hundred. I had a gimmick, I knew I could get their attention with opening humor relative to my audience, where we were, and the products they manufactured.
After I retired and we moved to Arizona I finally made the decision that I could not go on in my life without beginning to live as my true self. With the love and support of my wife, it took 2 years for me to physically change and learn how to do what most cisgender women learned from birth, like hair and makeup.
It was then made the decision to share the unusual story of my life, growing up in the forties, fifties, and sixties, to an audience, where over 98% of them did not know a transgender man or woman, or even what the term meant, (Two years before Bruce Jenner came out) My best way was to get their attention was through humor. If I could take the trauma of my life and turn it into funny it would put a face on being a transgender woman and build my confidence. Like learning to be me, I took standup comedy classes for a year to learn stage techniques and writing to keep your audience laughing from 5 to 30 minutes. Standup is not the same as telling a joke or funny story to your friends or a sales team.
Monika: How did you create your shows?
Maryanne: In late 2011 I was always looking for situations where I could pick up ideas to develop new comedy material. I hung out at places where seniors in Sun City West, AZ would gather to listen and take notes. I developed a routine I call, “Living in the Loop,” which is an acronym for where I live, “the land of old people.” I recalled a national pageant for women over 60, Ms. Senior America, and found there was an annual Ms. Senior Arizona Pageant that is part of the national program. I thought this would be a perfect place to get new original material for my standup routine. I believed these women would be older bitchy women that never made it as young beauty queens and this was their last chance for a crown.
I sent the application form to an attorney friend to see if there were any clauses that would deny me from applying. She thought it was okay. I filled out the application without any mention of my transition or gender and submitted the application, including the requested half dozen photos, only leaving out two details, I was born male and still had a penis.
A month later I received the letter that I had been selected as one of the final 18 contestants and was invited to the first orientation introduction for the finalists and their supporters. The meeting was attended by the 2012 selected finalists, pageant director with her staff, previous winners, finalists, and their supporters. Even though I was nervous I mingled meeting the other finalists and prepared for my introductory presentation about myself.
I quickly realized I was totally wrong about all of the women there that afternoon. These women were amazing. All of them had faced life-changing events that could have destroyed their lives, like severe illness, the death of a husband or children, rape, bad divorces, business failures, and gender discrimination, yet through everything they survived through strength, determination, and faith. In my presentation, I ended with,” I am a proud transgender woman and was very happy to be a part of this event.” I was sure that 95% of the people in the room that day had never met a trans-woman or man or even heard the term transgender. Needless to say, I could not come up with one comedy idea.

Maryanne in 1963 and 2017.

Monika: And?
Maryanne: Before the next meeting, I made the decision to withdraw from the pageant. I knew that if the local Phoenix media discovered that I was in the finals, and I was the first trans-woman to do so for any other state pageant, it would make headlines. Quickly this pageant would be all about me and not the beautiful women I had met. I notified the director that I was leaving and she asked me to come to the next meeting and tell my others that I was leaving and my reason. When I finished I was asked to stay on and join the staff for the next 10 weeks to prepare for the pageant. I coached the ladies on how to use the stage and microphone during their talent competition and how to do runway turns in heels. During the pageant, I was with each contestant for the few minutes before their on stage interviews and talent competition. I made friends that will last a lifetime, gained the confidence I never dreamed I could have, and was instructed to join the staff dressed in pageant gown… more joy.
Monika: In your words, I can detect a touch of disappointment that you did not transition earlier ...
Maryanne: Of course some disappointment, but no regrets. If we would have known what we know today when I was in my teens or twenties, or before I had a family there would be no question that I would have done everything possible for GCS. But that was not in the cards I was dealt. I made the best of the life I had and I never dreamed that I would be in the place I am today. “Through all my trials and tribulations I would not trade my life or this moment for anything.” (MH)
Monika: The transition usually takes a heavy toll on our personal and professional life. Did you experience this as well?
Maryanne: The fact that I was retired, for the second time, at 62, my children were grown with families of their own, my wife had a rewarding career, my parents were deceased and I had the time and resources to make the changes I needed. I gained the courage to finally tell them the truth about me.
My oldest daughter always thought I was secretly gay and often brought up the topic at family holiday gatherings, “Dad since we are all here it’s the nineties, why don’t you come out right now and admit you are really gay.” Everyone laughed, I replied, you know that 95% of my employees are women, 90% of my clients are women and I am around them all the time.
My dad would bring out his favorite picture of me as a three-year-old, dressed in my sister’s clothes with lipstick all over my face, and say, “when David was three he thought he was a little girl.” My parents had no idea how to deal with that little boy, they ignored it thinking, I would grow out of it. When I told my daughter I was Trans and was going to start living my life as Maryanne, she was happy that she was right about there being something special about me but never dreamed it was being transgender.

After two years of preparing to join the world as me I volunteered to be a part of The Desperado LGBTQ Film Festival sponsored by the Maricopa Community College System in Arizona. After a year I was added to the film selection committee and then the planning board. For eight years I was emcee for the event, set up discussion panels for special quests, and plan promotions and fundraisers, all in my true identity. I was the first trans-woman to get involved with this film festival while building on my career as a standup comedienne and sometimes actor. Professionally I never hid that I am transgender, and am proud to be.
Monika: How did you cope with the passing or non-passing issue? Most of my interviewers mention that this is the most annoying part of the transition when we are judged by how feminine we look ...
Maryanne: My wife knew two years before we married that I had gender confusion and it didn’t matter as she loved me for who I was and that was part of me. When I wanted to start my transition she was supportive and willing to help, neither of us wanted me to be that old man in a dress that would disrupt public settings and be out just to get attention. I wanted to blend in and just be me, unless I was performing in a comedy club, I love being on stage.
As I mentioned it took me two years to learn how to present myself in public. I lost 55 pounds over the two years, learned how to do makeup from a professional, and hair that looked natural. My father passed away in 2001. He left me a small sum that I invested for a rainy day or a future special need. I used this inheritance for a minor facelift, began to present myself on stage as a transgender performer and as an average middle-aged woman in daily life.

Courtesy of Maryanne Marttini.
I am blessed with amazing genes from my Mother, I have never smoked cigarettes, and have moisturized since my teens. I am also 5’7” tall and unfortunately wear women’s size 11 shoes. Do I do hair and makeup every day? No way and I don’t know many cisgender women that do. Passing is as much confidence as it is your appearance. I would never wear a cocktail dress to Wal-Mart, at any time day or night. In my opinion, too many transgender women want to rush into their presentation without taking the time to learn and make the changes for a feminine presentation. Success comes with patience.
I admire the youngest generation of transgender boys and girls that have the information to begin the transition process with the help of physicians, councilors, and sometimes parents to help them begin and achieve a successful transition.
 Monika: Did you have any trans role models or inspirations?
Maryanne: As a first wave Baby Boomer, born in August 1946, there wasn’t anyone to be a role model for decades or even a term for us. I truly believed I was the only boy in the world who was supposed to have been born a girl. I prayed at night that Jesus or God would make the girl I was supposed to be when I woke up. When that didn’t work out I stopped believing there was even a God to pray to.
It was about 1960, I was fourteen years old when one Saturday night my parents were headed out. My dad had on a suit and tie and my mom a sexy cocktail dress, which didn’t happen very often. Mom told me they were going to a cocktail lounge show in Seattle to see a woman that used to be a man. She was a singer and her name was Christine Jorgensen. She had been in the army and went to Sweden for surgery to make her into a woman. To this day I recall that exact moment, of disbelief and inner joy, that I was not alone.
My parents never talked about that show and I spent the next five years trying to learn all I could about Christine Jorgensen. When I attended college in 1964. I had access to the university library and more information, however, all that was available was still about being a transvestite and it was classified as a mental disorder.
Monika: How typical for those times!
Maryanne: It was in the late sixties I would cruise the porn shops in Seattle to peak at the magazines, like Female Mimics, that featured female impersonators. No porn just pictures of men dressed as beautiful women on stage performing and in beauty contests.
In 1968 I went to Finocchio’s World Famous Female Impersonators Show in San Francisco. I will never forget seeing Lavern Cummings sing in her natural voice. Forty-five years later I got to host an event in Las Vegas featuring (Paul) Lavern Cummings and David d’Alba. What a treat it was to meet this amazing performer.

Maryanne with Paul (Laverne) Cummings.

I was still confused about my gender identity until I discovered Tapestry Magazine created by Merissa Sherrill Lynn, in the seventies. Suddenly I had a term for me, transgender, and someone to look up to. I even had the nerve to call her in 1983. She had an amazingly feminine voice and personality. For the first time, I spoke to someone like me. Merissa will always be fondly remembered for opening doors for all of us. Finally, the internet in the nineties introduced me to the world I had been hiding from.
Monika: You have mentioned Finnochio's and Lavern Cummings. Did all the girls sing in their natural voices? I read a lot of stories about incredible shows there ...
Maryanne: When I met Paul (Laverne) told me he was blessed with a voice that was a beautiful soprano and at the lower ranges. He explained it was hard to make a living as a singer and someone suggested, because of his slight stature, he learned the art of female impersonation.
When he started in Florida and later in San Francisco, all of the performers were hired because of their voices and ability to do an impersonation. He also commented that back then the recordings and sound systems were not good enough for lip-sync.
When I saw Laverne Cummings in 1968, at Finocchio's, I don't recall if all of the performers sang live, I only remember Laverne, I was mesmerized. I met Paul as a man while he was doing some small venue shows in Las Vegas with David d'Alba, always as Paul. He never acknowledged to me if he was gay, or transgender, it didn't matter.


All the photos: courtesy of Maryanne Marttini.
© 2020 - Monika Kowalska

Search This Blog