Because I have a tattoo dotting each bicep, and because I frequently flavor my dialogue with an epithet that starts with an “f” and ends in “k,” folks have labeled me a rebel (or another, more profane word). And as a 4’9″, 80 1/2-year old woman with hair and face in their original wrappers, these same people believe I’m an adorable doozy.
While I’m appreciative of this applause, I’m countering that it is neither my body art, my salty language, my diminutive size, nor my avoidance of hair dye or cosmetic surgery that make me a rebel. Instead, I have 10 rules I’ve adopted over the years and am continually enhancing.
Graciela sits atop my right bicep. She is a tattoo of a seahorse the size of my palm. She has an eye trimmed with a thick lash, a rose-colored tail that twists to the left and a crown of swirly arrows. Three times a day, I carefully lather my fresh tattoo with antibacterial soap and pat her dry. I grin as I perform this procedure, as if I were a postpartum mom tending to my newborn child.
My tattoo is a gift I recently gave myself as I approach my 80th birthday, which falls on Aug. 10. It is also a reward I bestowed on myself after finally learning to swim just one year ago.
When my ex-husband first began to dress as a woman, my second husband, Tommy, and I invited her to our home. "You look great," I said as I kissed her cheek. "But you need earrings." I placed my mother's clip-ons on her ears. "They're only costume," I added as I handed her a mirror. "Faux pearls."
I would've never envisioned this scene when my first marriage fell apart in 1990. It was only in 2011, when I was already married to Tommy, that my ex-spouse told me that she was transgender. Through Transparent, the show my daughter Jill created inspired by our family life, I've met many trans women who told me of the pain of keeping the giant secret, some who felt as if they were trapped in a false marriage.
Elaine Soloway is not Shelly Pfefferman. Amazon's new TV series "Transparent," praised by some critics as the best new show of the fall season, is not the story of her family.Soloway can't say that strongly enough. It's fiction.And yet the other day, when she was alone on her couch, in bare feet, with a meal tray in her lap, watching episode nine — the part where the character named Ed says to the character named Shelly, "I'm just here to make you happy" — she cried.
Next time you move cross-country to Los Angeles, do it the Elaine Soloway way. (The SoloWay?) Pack whatever you can into flat-rate Priority Mail boxes from the post office and mail them over a period of six months. Get a place on airbnb.com in a hip L.A. neighborhood, close to shops, restaurants and the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv comedy theater that reminds one of their connections to Chicago’s Annoyance Theater.