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Transsexual Ghosts

No, I'm not talking about the paranormal. I'm referring to spectres from the past that haunt you even though they were dead and buried thirty years ago.

This weekend I received an unexpected call from my old film partner (we went to USC cinema together as we studied film, and later made a feature film and then developed the Dramatica theory of story).

He related that he had received a call from someone who wants to revive that old feature film (a monster picture) and do a new release on DVD, including new commentary by him and our other partner in the venture.

Well, I was the director and initiator of the whole film some thirty year ago, fresh out of college, about ten years before I started transition. So, the idea of resurrecting that old project opened up a lot of issues I thought had been laid to rest.

Now a couple years ago, this same project had also come up. Apparently, an author in England was doing a coffee table book on this history of horror films in the 1980's and wanted to include our production.

At that time, I declined to be interviewed, preferring that I, the director, should remain a mysterious presence who had vanished in the manner of "Eddie and the Cruisers", never to surface again.

My two partners (and film school buddies) handled the interview quite judiciously, talking about what I had done on the film using my old name, and explaining that I wished now to remain uninvolved, without providing a reason why.

I was quite content with this, and the book, a handsome addition, ended up featuring our production in a chapter all its own.

That, I thought, was that, and was happy to not have been involved. But now, a new DVD release of the movie itself. After all these years?

Well, I feel a little different about this than a book. After all, the voices and perhaps on-camera images of the film's creators will be inexorably linked to the project.

Keep in mind, now, that this movie was made for a budget of $25,000 - basically my entire inheritance from a close aunt. And I never saw a dime of that back. The other guys worked like demons on the project and contributed in many different ways from co-writing the script to acting in it to editing and even 2nd unit directing.

It was a tough job to be sure and we all put out extraordinary effort for over a year, lusting after the stars in our eyes.

So now I was given pause. Did I want to be involved and have to draw a connection between my current self and that old persona of pre-transition days? Or did I want to just let them handle it and hide in the shadows once more?

A little background... On the first film I ever made to show to a large audience, I started a film project in high school with my best friend. The school had no film department at that time, but I convinced the head of the photography department to let me make a movie instead of one of my photo projects. (He started a film department at the school a couple years later, based on his experiences with me).

Well, my friend and I made a movie called "Weapons" - a kind of comedic look at the history of weapons like the ones you started to see decades later on the History Channel. I ran the camera because I'd earlier made a bunch of super-8 movies on my own, even winning an award through Kodak.

He was in front of the camera as the host, just at the very beginning. And when it was graded, I got a B and he got an A, even though I did all the editing, wrote the score, filmed the whole thing and so on. Why? Because he was on camera and the teacher could attach a face to the project.

So now, with a new DVD version of our movie and my two friends being the only ones on camera - well that is different than a book, its the actual movie itself. And since this is the only DVD version, it will be the one that is remembered (as if anybody cared about our low-budget monster flick).

Therefore, I've decided to do the commentary with them. But the decision wasn't an easy one. At first I thought it would be cool that when the commentators (us) identified ourselves on the audio track, I'd say something like, "and I'm the director the film, the artist formally known as David".

But the more I thought, the more I realized this would make me feel like I still had some connection to being David. But I can tell you, I've changed and grown so much of the last thirty years (twenty of them as Melanie), that I don't think like Dave, don't have the same priorities, can't even relate.

So how can I possible get into the mind set of Dave, ten years before transition, a third of a century ago? Yikes! And what damage might that do to me if I tried.

You know, of late, I've taken comfort in just being me in my own head. Even twenty years after transition you still play games. Well, not you, perhaps, but every other long-timer I've ever met, me included.

You feel you can't go into certain mental areas, lest you lose your sense of femininity, your sense of identity. The problem is you already had to give up your old male identity to get to this point. And now, to risk it all by venturing back into areas you'd left behind? Unthinkable!

Still, almost three years after radical facial feminization surgery, the face in the mirror is so different than anything that resembles Dave that for the first time in my post-transition life, I almost feel as if I'd had a brain transplant to a woman's body, rather than just having surgery to look like one. Feels like that, anyway.

And over the last few months that feeling has led me to more freedom in expression and more freedom in my own mind. After all, if I really had a brain transplant, well then there wouldn't be anything I could think, do or say that would make people see me, physically as anything other than I appear to be.

So, on the positive (pro-doing-the-commentary) side, with that freedom, what do I care how much others know about my past. Why, going stealth ceases to have meaning or importance. Aside from a handful of bigots (sound like a Clint Eastwood movie), I am so damn normal physically, that I can go off the deep end mentally and people STILL won't be able to change their emotional impression of me, based on what they see before them.

The way I've thought about it of late, if I suddenly boomed out in my old male voice, people would stop on the street and say, "How come that woman can sound like a man?" THAT's what I'm talkin' about!

Based in this kind of personal security, it led me to speak with the fellow behind the project and to join the commentary group. But then, I started to have second thoughts. After a night of grappling with it, trying to figure out why I was starting to get adverse feelings, I came up with three reasons I didn't want to do it that balanced out the ones that urged me on.

1. Its about the movie, not about me. The movie should stand on its own merit, not becoming a circus. And stupid little "C" movie that it is, I don't want to make it another "Ed Wood" story, nor do I want to be remembered as Ed Wood. (The parallels are just to damned close to begin with!)

2. We three were equal partners in the production. I don't want to go in an upstage them, just because of what I've done personally since the filming.

3. These guys want to show the movie to friends and family and I don't want to embarrass them or undermine their joy in sharing the picture by stapling my transition into their emotional energy.

With these points in my mind, I decided to NOT do it, call the guy up again and bow out.

But then I realized that I was assuming how they would feel about my participation. Maybe they wouldn't mind. Maybe they would actually desire it. Perhaps it would enhance their experience.

So I started thinking about how I could do it without ending up mired in points one and two. What if, instead of the clever introduction I opted for something like, "Hi, I'm the director. As you can tell from my voice, there have been some changes in my personal life, but that isn't what we're here about, so lets turn our attention to the movie...."

But I realized even that was drawing attention away from the picture. Perhaps I should not provide any explanation. I could just identify myself as the director without using a name. If my two partners (in talking about their recollections of the production) use my old name, nothing would be said about it.

And if they did use the old name and then would say "oops, I mean Melanie" or some such, none of us would respond to that and just continue. (We have no editorial control over this, so it is being done in one take straight through).

Teresa suggested to me that the old David name might have been a pseudonym - people don't know, have no way of knowing - so if we don't address the discrepancy, that might be the assumption. And anyone who cares enough could just look it up on the Internet and get the whole story.

Keep in mind that they fellow expects to sell only one or two thousand copies, so its not like everyone on the planet is going to see this.

So, ultimately, I've decided to ask my two old partners how they feel about my participation. And if they don't object, I'm going to do it. I'll just rely on my internal freedom brought on by being almost three years post facial surgery to get me though.

And in the end, I'm not sure either of the other two guys is anything like the folks they used to be thirty years ago either -who is? Perhaps we're really all in the same boat together after all.

Closing thought - point being, no matter how far you put transition behind you, no matter how you seek to keep it off your mind, the past has a way of catching up with you. Once you go into transition, you may get beyond it, but it will never get beyond you.

 

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