Recently Paul O’Grady originally of Lilly Savage fame presented a documentary called Perspectives about the famous Striptease Artist Gypsy Rose Lee.
The documentary provided a potted history of Gypsy Rose Lee and her rise through the ranks of Burlesque to become a US National Treasure. The astounding thing in many ways wasn’t the fact that a stripper born February 9, 1911, in Seattle, Washington, U.S. became a national treasure, the astounding aspect for me was why she became a stripper and shone so brightly as she develop herself and her routine.
So what on earth has Gypsy Rose Lee got to do with Transgender people. The answer for me was the reasons she became a stripper, the journey her life took and the struggle she had to validate herself as a real person being. The struggle for validation is something I personally fight with more now I am free more of less of gender dysphoria. My personal take on how I struggle with feeling validated as a personal is the internal fight to loose the guilt, sadness and sense of loss of what I once believed I could have been, a good rendition of a man.
As I grew up I hoped and prayed I would be a regular man, all the while understanding something in me wasn’t quite fitting the bill fully, so I over compensated and became ultra competitive and ultra set in my ways of what I understood a man should be, it was less about the real me and more about me trying to be something I yearned to be a real ‘normal’ man.
I believed passionately I could beat my transgender self and allow the suit of maleness to envelope me to the extent that it would become me, sadly the suit never fitted properly and I lost myself in a sea of booze and too much stressful work. Nothing I did was ever good enough, I could always do more, the fight of course was with me inside, all the same it was strengthened by my up bring which is a separate issue altogether. Being adopted also ensured I had less sense of roots and little sense of being a worthy valid person deep down, being given up sticks and never leaves some people, it never left me.
Eventually I cracked and I had to admit what I was, the dysphoria became too much and I had to get help. A good few years on since I started hormone therapy internally I feel more at ease with myself, but strangely I’ve had to learn about the real me and learn what makes me tick, try to validate myself and feel validated in society. I have to confess I still feel like a 3rd leg or an unwanted appendage on the arse of society, all the same I still have enough hope that eventually I will loose that feeling and feel valued and in turn feel validated as a real person myself. Society don’t help much nor do they really hinder, for me there just seems to be an impenetrable wall of binary gender stereotypes, where if you fall too far outside the norms you maybe liked for being colourful and different but not really accepted enough to simply fit in seamlessly. To many they may find this hard to understand, but lets just say now I feel I can pass through society enough, but know as soon as someone gets up close or I open my mouth I’m most certainly thrust to the outer edges of society further away from the pack huddle of perceived ‘normal’. I do it to me never mind society doing it to me, I feel less normal than the rest, I am less normal then the rest, I don’t value me let alone feel validated within society.
So again what on earth has this got to do with Gypsy Rose Lee. Well, she was born Rose Louise Hovick (called Louise by her family) and had a younger sister June Havoc. Their mother also called Rose and it is said she was possibly the worst pushy mother in the world, forging birth certificates to avoid child labour laws she pushed her children namely June supported by her elder sister into vaudeville shows. The vaudeville shows were a heady mix of variety acts singers, dancers, jugglers, acrobats, comedians and ‘curiosities’, June started at the age of three with a show called ‘Baby June’, she learnt to dance and endure extreme pain dancing ‘on point’ for long periods, enough to make them bleed. Money started to roll in and the mother pushed harder, June was pushed harder whilst Louise was described by her mother as talentless and quite ugly child mainly played a supporting role in the act often playing the part of a boy or man.
In December 1928 at the age of 16, June eloped with Bobby Reed, a boy in the vaudeville act they both appeared in. Essentially the money making racket her mother had operated was over although she pushed Louise in to the spot light, Louise couldn’t dance or sing as well as her sister and in the end was left to her own devices. It was at this point she discovered burlesque in some of the most sleazy gangster infested striptease ‘joint’s’ around at the time. At first Louise worked the job simply for the money but inside she was developing a new sense of self, she was slowly becoming Gypsy, honing her style and bit by bit validating herself as a person, moving away from the derision of her mother and towards the adulation of an audience. As she developed so did her audience slowly evolving from men covering their ‘enjoyment’ with newspapers to eventually the entire nation took her to their hearts. Her self penned memoirs titled Gypsy were published in 1957 and became the inspiration of the the much loved musical Gypsy: A Musical Fable. It could be said that it was Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents the orchestrator’s of the musical that completed the validation of the now named Gypsy Rose Lee, but she began it all and carried on pushing to the end.
I can’t help feel though was it really her, or did she always have a sense of living in her self created costume that simply fitted well enough. All the same she seemed to achieve for herself validation as a person, she always went by the name Gypsy, her son in the Paul O’Grady documentary stated she was never was anything other than his mother Gypsy. For me she had found a niche that worked and carved out the happiest life she could.
My own personal quest to feel validated isn’t over. After understanding the story of Gypsy and reading of how many transgender people turn to the sex industry, it’s easy to understand why they do this, much like Gypsy it’s first a source of income and then provides a sense of validation and adulation, take it all at a facile level and maybe it’s enough for some. As long they keep moving and keep saying the show must go on ‘performing in life’ then they never have much chance to think about it properly. Or maybe they have learnt that it’ simply is too painful and too futile to think too deeply about it. Validation and authenticity is I believe an important factor in everyone’s lives, but strangely I realise now that everyone wears a costume and performs, not many are simply themselves and those who are stand out like a sore thumb, those who are just themselves ironically don’t fit in, because everyone else is playing a role and wearing a costume at some point in their lives. So it follows they expect you to play the role.
The truth I believe is we are all many faceted diamonds, people like Gypsy only ever really allowed a few facets of hers to shine and I suppose that’s really what we all must do in a way.
So validation for me now means quite simply making the most of what you have and be as happy with what you have as you can be, amplify the positives and turn down the negatives, because the show must go on and we all have a part to play, even if it is as an appendage on the arse hole of society, without the ‘appendages’ the world perhaps would become a more grey and boring place and few would want that.
So as they say … the show must go on and ‘the journey’ continues.