By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
One of the most frequent questions I, or any trans person, gets asked is, “When did you know you were a ______?” My own answer is that I’ve always known. For as far back as I have memory, I have known I was a girl.
That’s not really the most interesting question to me, or even the most relevant. I might as well turn that question around on the askers. No, the more interesting question(s) to me is, “When did you know you had to do something about your gender? When did you know not just that you should transition, or wanted to transition, but that it was time to begin your transition?”
I think many trans people who have begun their gender transition share a similar moment, a moment of definite choice. Not the choice be a different gender, because there is no choice there. I have always been a woman. Rather, the choice is to stop pretending to be a gender we are not. [pullquote]I think many trans people who have begun their gender transition share a similar moment, a moment of definite choice. Not the choice be a different gender, because there is no choice there. I have always been a woman. Rather, the choice is to stop pretending to be a gender we are not.[/pullquote]
Here’s my moment.
I had been in Chicago for some years, where I had been studying improv at the famous Second City. I had moved through all the levels of the Second City Training Center and successfully auditioned for the more advanced Conservatory Program.
In the midst of this, I had a crisis brought on by the painful end of an intense romantic relationship following hard on the heels of a failed marriage. Though not wholly to blame, my gender issues had contributed to the demise of both. While in this pain, I had the opportunity to move to Los Angeles dropped into my lap, and took the opportunity.
I also decided that if I was going to make this change, I should fully commit to “being a man!” For the first and only time in my life, I did the “big purge,” getting rid of all my girl clothes and paraphernalia. I arrived in Los Angeles with the mission of being a man, really making a go at being successful in this gender I had never felt really comfortable in.
As soon as I was able, I also resumed my studies at The Second City. I restarted with a fresh ensemble in the Conservatory Program at The Second City Los Angeles. To be frank, I did have some modicum of success, but I could never quite make my career work. I could never quite make my choices completely successful or really get anywhere that I wanted to be as an actor.
It was during this time that I first encountered the person I still consider to be one of my mentors, David Razowsky. He was the Artistic Director of Second City LA at the time, as well as a teacher and director there. I was lucky enough to have him as my Level One teacher in The Conservatory, where he made a big impression on me, and later as a coach and director immediately after I graduated The Conservatory program and began performing regularly with the long form group “ForPlay.”
Now, I like to play big characters with funny voices, but for a very long time while Dave was my coach, whenever I was on stage and I started to do a big character or a funny voice, he would stop me and tell me to “play yourself.” No matter what the character in the scene was, he wanted me to play it as me. He would stop scenes in the middle to correct me. In my memory this went on for a very long time. I have often told people a year, though it was likely much less. The significance, however, looms so large in my memory that it expands time to fit the enormity of it, because as I was trying to do this, I realized I could not be myself in these characters. The “myself” I was being in my life, in the world, was a character in itself, this big, outrageous character called “Mac.”
How could I have any success in the characters I was playing onstage or the endeavors I was pursuing offstage if I could not even commit to the most basic fact about my life, which was that I was a woman. [pullquote]How could I have any success in the characters I was playing onstage or the endeavors I was pursuing offstage if I could not even commit to the most basic fact about my life, which was that I was a woman. The realization took my breath away, because as any actor knows, success in a role depends upon commitment to that role, and I could never quite fully commit to the most basic role I was playing: a man.[/pullquote]
The realization took my breath away, because as any actor knows, success in a role depends upon commitment to that role, and I could never quite fully commit to the most basic role I was playing: a man.
I knew that if was to have any success in the world, if I ever wanted my characters to work onstage, if I wanted to be any good at all at the thing I loved most (which was acting), I was going to have to transition to be the woman I was, out in the world as myself.
I could feel the man I had been dying, crumbling and falling apart. I was terrified to transition, sure it would destroy my career, but I had to do it anyway. I had to take the guidance of my director (Thanks Dave!) and “play myself.” I needed to listen and make a strong choice, and that choice was the best thing I ever did: the choice to be myself.
That was my moment. That was when I knew.
I would be delighted to hear yours.
*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at email@example.com.