Saturday, December 03, 2005

SPAM OF THE DAY (well, yesterday)

"You are a businessman and have no time for a long sexual stimulation."

Friday, December 02, 2005


Wednesday night my friend Wendi and I went to a screening of Transamerica given by GenderPAC. The invitation said it would begin at 6:00p.m. PROMPT, so we wanted to make sure we were there in time to pick up our tickets. I hurried my make-up and skipped the nail polish. We found a cab pretty quickly, and zipped down the West Side Highway (or whatever it's officially called), down to the Tribeca Screening Room in Robert De Niro's Tribeca Film Center--where the guard told us we were way too early, and we'd have to wait outside. So much for rushing. Either that, he said, or we could go into the Tribeca Grill, conveniently accessible through a door behind his desk. A real tough decision--wait out in the cold, or have a drink inside.

We went through the conveniently located door into the conveniently located restaurant, went up to the conveniently located bar, and saw GenderPAC's executive director, Riki Wilchens, along with some other GenderPAC people, conveniently sitting there. Actually, they saw us first. Gina Reiss, their managing director, said hello, and asked if we were coming to the screening. We said yes, and they said they'd be getting things going in a little while. We settled onto a couple of barstools that were separated from them by a pillar, and ordered drinks. My apple martini was very good. Only $11. Plus tip. Better than standing out in the cold. I think.

We talked for a bit, paid our bill, and returned through the conveniently located door to the guard, who told us we would still have to wait outside. So we put on our coats, and joined 25 or 30 people lined up under a conveniently located construction walkway in front of the building next door. Reiss came down the line and checked the names off her list. It was clear there were a lot of people from IBM there--someone was jokingly admonished for talking about IBM business after hours. We stood around for a while, as the line lengthened behind us. Fortunately we were properly dressed for the weather. Wendi had worn her fake fur coat (she had worried she'd be too warm in it--ha!) and I was OK in pants, a leather jacket, and a nice thick scarf.

Eventually we filed in and went upstairs to the screening room. It had 72 very comfortable seats, and maybe two-thirds were used. Wilchens and Reiss made a few remarks, citing IBM for their support of the event, and the screening began.

Transamerica is the story of Bree, a transsexual woman, just about to have her final surgery, who finds out she has a 17 year-old son. She bails him out of jail and sets off on a road trip from New York back to California with him, pretending to be a Christian do-gooder, hoping she can dump him at his stepfather's on the way. He wants to go to California in part to find his father--who is sitting right next to him. On the way they visit both of their home towns, where they encounter their broken families.

The hype about this film is that the TS is played by Felicity Huffman, one of the stars of the hit television series, Desperate Housewives. In fact, last year she won the Emmy for best actress in a comedy for her role in it. Now she is being mentioned as a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination, ever since Transamerica started hitting the festivals last spring. She already won the best actress award at the Tribeca Film Festival. I'll get to the choice of her for the part later, but I will say now that she deserves all of the hype, and the awards she has and, I hope, will win for it. She makes the film.

The movie industry has not done well by transgender people. There are few films not based on a true story that really portray us (I consider myself one) very realistically. Boys Don't Cry is fact-based. Perhaps Priscilla, Queen of the Desert qualifies. Maybe Ma Vie en Rose, which I haven't seen. Usually we are shown just as clowns or crime victims, when we're not serial killers. I haven't seen any totally fictional film where a TG person is realistically depicted in any great depth. Transamerica is a great departure from all that.

Huffman's character is quite believable as a transsexual. There are a few things here and there that don't ring true (a person in her position would not have to be told what "GG" means). Perhaps she is a bit more femme that the average TS, but on the whole Bree is quite realistic, based on what I've learned from the TS's I've known. The only thing about her I couldn't quite pin down were her religious beliefs. The movie's publicity describes her as a conservative person, which could account for her taste in clothes (she wears skirts the entire trip) and her easy adoption of the Christian do-gooder persona. But as the film went on I saw less and less of that, outside of the wardrobe.

Part of the film's hype, of course, is that Bree, a not-so-beautiful, genetic male, is played by a beautiful, genetic female. What struck me was that Bree details a whole list of facial surgery that she has had--yet she still is not particularly attractive. I don't think she got her money's worth--the people I've seen who have had such surgery look far better. I guess the contrast makes for better publicity. (Still more about the choice of Huffman for the role later.)

But it's the plot of the film that's its weakest point. Bree's motivation for going to New York and dealing with her son, a week before her surgery, is rather questionable. The device of having characters thrown together on a cross-country road trip has been done to death. The ending is thoroughly predictable. It's the characters that make this movie worth seeing. Outside of Bree's therapist, they are real. Toby, the son, is played with proper teenage rebelliousness by Kevin Zegers, grown up from his Air Bud days. Fionnula Flanagan almost steals the show as Bree's mother.

Along the way, Bree and Toby stay with Mary Ellen, a TS Bree knew somehow--I assume from the internet. I was shocked to see in the credits that Mary Ellen was played by Bianca Leigh. I did not recognize her at all--perhaps I was thrown off by the thick Texas accent. I only knew Bianca as a singer, and lately as the Monday bartender at Lips. In fact Bianca was serving me drinks just two days before the screening! I had seen her performing in Jesse Volt's show at the Monster Bar several times since I started going there in 1999, and I knew she sang at various other clubs. (I remember how she had to interrupt one show to stop an increasingly loud argument about her at the front of the audience--she settled the dispute by saying that she was "a woman of transsexual experience.") I had had a few conversations with her, but had no idea she was an actress also.

Mary Ellen happens to be having a little party when Bree and Toby arrive--a room full of TS's (and the aforementioned "GG"). I knew beforehand that the fiddler was played by Calpernia Addams. But who I did recognize as one of the partiers, to my great surprise, was Melissa Sklarz. Melissa is the president of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats here in Manhattan, and I've worked with her on a couple of things. We are both on the Steering Committee of the NYS GENDA Coalition, and a couple of weeks ago I went up to White Plains with her for a Coalition meeting. I had also seen her on Monday, before seeing Bianca. I attended a panel discussion on increasing the term limits for NYC councilmembers at the LGBT Center, organized by the Stonewall Democrats. After it was over, before I walked the couple of blocks to Lips, I had a little chat with Melissa, who was there also. I had no idea I would be seeing her in Transamerica.

After the screening Wendi and I went to the reception at the Bubble Lounge, a couple of blocks away. We walked with Michelle Miles, who had been a keyholder at CDI when I joined back in 1998. Today she is the treasurer of GenderPAC. On the way she pointed out the building where she had lived back in the '80s, when Tribeca was the frontier as a residential area.

At the reception there were maybe a couple dozen people. Nice hors d'oeuvres were served, with free beers courtesy of Coors, another sponsor. I tried a Zima, which I had never had before. It was good enough to merit a second--which was enough to require an unusual trip to the ladies' room later on. Usually I can get through an evening without having to go--but I usually don't drink beer. We mingled for a bit. A couple of the actors showed up. One was Bianca, the other was the sole transman from the party scene, David Harris. Also there was one of the producers, Rene Bastian, I think. Duncan Tucker, the writer/director, was supposed to be there, but he was "delayed."

After a bit we were called to order and the three were formally introduced. A short Q&A followed. The producer spoke about the selection of Huffman. He agreed it would have been great if a TS actress could have played the part, but they really needed someone at least somewhat known to make the film marketable. Originally they approached actresses they thought had some masculinity, but they all declined. None wanted a role that would emphasize something they preferred to hide, I suppose. Finally they just looked for actresses who were "transformable"--ones that could meld themselves into a variety of appearances. Eventually they found Huffman, who was very enthusiastic. She did a lot of research into TS's. (Her husband, William H. Macy, the film's executive producer, has quoted her as saying she "felt the responsibility to get it right." Bianca commented that she was still asking a lot of questions the day they shot the party scene, which was well into the filming.)

I think the producers made the right choice. An unknown TS actress would probably have ensured the film would be seen by few--assuming the money could be found to make it all. With Huffman it got made, it got hype, and it got a big name distributor: The Weinstein Company picked the film up as its very first acquisition. (This is the new multimedia venture of Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the founders of Miramax, which is now part of the Walt Disney Co.) With their backing, and Huffman's popularity, Transamerica has a chance to be seen by more than a few people on each coast. If Huffman actually wins the Oscar, it could be a lot of people. And that's good in my book, because I think Transamerica shows a quite realistic picture of a transsexual who is not a clown, a victim, or a criminal.

They auctioned off a Transamerica poster autographed by Huffman et al. (getting $1000 for GenderPAC--maybe a little more). But nobody bid on a meeting over coffee at Starbucks with writer-director Tucker--perhaps people were apprehensive he wouldn't show up there, either. Or maybe they just started the bidding too high.

Wendi was getting hungry, so we ducked out at the end of the presentation. We cabbed it up to the Bistro at the Stonewall, only to find it closed for renovations. So we went across the street to the Riviera Cafe. There we noticed that the Bistro had changed its name to Gianni's. Hmmm.

After dinner we walked over to the Monster Bar for Jesse Volt's show. On the way in we ran into was Howie V., our friend the Cher impersonator, who was on his way out. He visits us at CDI occasionally. A couple of the people from the CDI open house joined us, and then I ran into Ivan Dominguez, the chair of my LGBT Committee at the New York County Lawyers Association. He bought us drinks (thanks again, Ivan), and we chatted a bit. He had to go home (couldn't bear to miss Nightline). So we went downstairs to wait for the show. Eventually it started--and I fell asleep for its second half.


Transamerica has opened up, at least here in NYC. It's playing at the IFC Center, the old Waverly Theater in the Village, on two of its three screens. The writer/director Duncan Tucker is supposed to be there in person at the 7:20, 8:20, and 9:25pm shows on Saturday. And if you go to the last show you could stick around and make it a transgender double feature--the midnight show there is Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


My friend Helen Boyd, author of My Husband Betty: Love, Sex, and Life with a Crossdresser, has a wonderful blog, (en)gender, focusing on gender and trans issues (when she's not posting pictures of her beloved cats). In it she has a feature, "Five Questions With...," which are short interviews with various people in the trans community. She has started a series of these with people who run local trans groups, and I'm her first victim, er, subject. She asks me about my work with LGBT groups, and with Crossdressers International in particular, the compromises I've made with my wife concerning my crossdressing, and my fondness for drag queens. Read it here.


"You have heard that pouring your sperm into her tea is the best way to attract her."

Um, no, actually I haven't heard that.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Saturday evening I got an e-mail from, saying my order had been shipped, and the estimated delivery date was December 9. This was rather amazing, since the package had already been delivered before I returned to New York on Friday afternoon.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


We exchanged our tickets for La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera, so we could see Arlo Guthrie at Carnegie Hall last night. It's his Alice's Restaurant Massacree 40th Anniversary Tour. 40 years!

Apparently he has been doing Thanksgiving weekend concerts at Carnegie Hall for many years. I've never been all that much into folk music, so I was unaware. My wife saw an ad, and decided she wanted to try something different from our usual classical music. So a couple of weeks ago when we were at Carnegie Hall for something else we stopped and got tickets. All that was left were balcony seats. I'm not sure the little plane we flew on the day before got as far off the ground as these seats--but with binoculars it was fine. The sound system was quite good, even up there.

The concert was really a family affair. It started with one of Arlo's daughters, Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband, Johnny Irion. They were OK. They were joined for one song by The Mammals, who later did their own set. I'm not sure their combination blue grass/rock and roll sound really works. The drums really seemed out of place, even with the shortish drumsticks that were used.

After the intermission Arlo came out, backed by his son Abe on keyboard, and Gordon Titcomb on a variety of instruments, but mostly on pedal steel guitar. Arlo is just as much a storyteller as a singer, and his introductions were every bit as entertaining as his songs. He described how Bob Dylan showed up on the Guthrie doorstep when Arlo was 13, before doing an excellent rendition of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." "House of the Rising Sun" and "Coming Into Los Angeles" followed. Titcomb did a song from his new album.

Eventually he got to "Alice's Restaurant," his 15 minute song/story of his getting arrested for illegally dumping garbage he had cleaned up from Alice's home, and his subsequent draft physical (yes, they are connected). Curiously, last summer I was in that home, a former church that Arlo later bought and which is now the Guthrie Center. I heard an Oscar Brand concert there, sitting right in the room where the garbage had been stored. Anyhow, Arlo sang/spoke it, with only slight updating from the recorded version, and it eventually turned into a sing-along. Most of the audience knew every word already.

All the other musicians joined him for the last few numbers, including "This Land is Your Land"--where they brought out all of the musicians' children to join in. Arlo's remaining big hit, "City of New Orleans," was done with him playing the piano.

Arlo Guthrie's music is not particularly challenging--the contrast with the Dylan song was jarring. He certainly can sing heavier songs (his rendition of "Mr. Tambourine Man" was the best I've ever heard, including Dylan's own), but he can't write them--at least judging from the ones he sang in this concert. It was a nice concert, all in all, but I'm not sure we'll be making this an annual event.