How Trans Folk Help All of Us to Be Ourselves
Late November 1992, I was in the theater with my very-pregnant wife, Pam, our son, Paul (4-½), and daughter, Cesara (2-½), to see Disney's latest animated blockbuster, Aladdin. Both our kids and Killian-in-the-womb had countless times watched on video Beauty and the Beast and endlessly, at the behest of Paul and Cesara, acted out Beast's transformation triggered by Belle's falling in love with him.
Sitting in the theatre for Aladdin, I felt only a beastliness about myself that left me feeling hopelessly cursed.
Something powerful moved me and our kids in that transformation scene, but I didn't know why. Sitting in the theatre for Aladdin, I felt only a beastliness about myself that left me feeling hopelessly cursed.
And why? I had a loving wife, two (about to be three) amazing kids, a good job, our first house. The dream was in full stride. Yet, I was angry, brooding, depressed, and lost. I savored moments of joy but thought them fleeting. A gnawing ambition filled me that I couldn't satisfy, my moodiness ever-present in our otherwise happy home.
The dream was in full stride. Yet, I was angry, brooding, depressed, and lost. I savored moments of joy but thought them fleeting.
All the Answers
At the lofty age of 29, I thought I had won all the answers to life. So why did none of those seem real? Armed with this faux superiority, I took life, culture, relationships, and the world at arms' length, treating everything as a thorn to burst my bubble.
So, despite being entertained, I viewed Aladdin with condescension. It's a kid's movie, I told myself and felt irritated at its pop-psych platitudes like "Do you trust me?" and "Beeeee yourself." Fine for children, but I constantly battled in myself a beast uglier than Belle's beau and more shifting and cunning than Jafar.
Those two lines from Aladdin engraved themselves in my soul, and I faulted myself for succumbing to Disney's sentimentality. Those are fairy tales! Hardly compasses for the real world, I smugly—and fearfully—assured myself.
Who was my true self, holding out a hand for a magic carpet ride? I had no inkling.
What I feared, though, wasn't the ravages of the world but that those lines were true of myself. I wasn't being myself. I most emphatically didn't trust myself. But who was my true self, holding out a hand for a magic carpet ride? I had no inkling.
Fast forward 25 years, and I came face-to-face with "Be yourself" and "Do I trust me?"
The kids were now adults, carving out their own beautiful lives. Pam and I had empty-nested and looked towards the remaining decades we hoped to share. In the intervening quarter-century I had, like Aladdin, done everything but trust myself. The lyrics to the movie's hit song, "One Jump," aptly described my existence:
One jump ahead of the hoofbeats
One hop ahead of the hump
One trick ahead of disaster
They're quick, but I'm much faster
Here goes, better throw my hand in
Wish me happy landin'
All I gotta do is jump!
Poised to jump, I was afraid of heights even at the bottom of the Cave of Wonders I'd dug myself. I wondered why I was still fearfully one jump ahead of the hoofbeats, one trick ahead of disaster, all the time calling myself "Vandal! Street Rat! Scoundrel!" Imposter!
All I had to do was jump … to what?
The possibility that I could love me as I really am burst in like a Genie from the Lamp.
Then, a Belle and Jasmine vision of myself arrived (which miracle I've recounted elsewhere). The possibility that I could love me as I really am burst in like a Genie from the Lamp.
My life has always been much more than the account I've reduced it to above. Yet, I couldn't previously hold out a hand in self-trust any more than Aladdin could believe the Genie's admonition to "Be yourself." The twist in Disney's fairy tale is that, in the midst of parading himself as Prince Ali, Aladdin wins Jasmine's heart when he asks, "Do you trust me?" The question isn't just to her—it's to himself.
I've since taken that kid's-movie leap of faith. My life is no magic carpet ride, but now I embrace it as a trans woman named Bethany. The transformation has been as miraculous as a beast becoming something really human, really loveable.
Trans experience is a fairy tale writ large—not just for trans persons but for all of us.
Fairy Tale Writ Large
That's why I say, in one variation or another in these blog posts and two memoirs, that trans experience is a fairy tale writ large—not just for trans persons but for all of us. In the grip of powers and principalities beyond our ken, we all grapple with who we really are. Trans experience encapsulates our current struggle with authoritarianism, fundamentalist religions, and culture wars, as well as the dismal climate we've crafted.
The answer to these challenges is not to build ourselves into a fortress against the world's terrors, but to trust who we already are. And have always been.
That's no kid's movie but real life. Available to any of us.
Do you trust me? Then be yourself and take the jump.
You'll nail the landing.