My Glee experience started at the Hollywood Forever Memorial Park, a cemetery adjacent to Paramount Studios. When I was invited to participate in this episode of Glee, I was told only that I was going to be part of a transgender choir. Most choirs that I have seen are generally made up of 20 to 30 people. After I got there, I found out that the reason I was directed to the cemetery was because there was not enough parking on the Paramount lot for all the people that were coming.
From this cemetery, they took us in buses over to an area on the Paramount lot adjacent to stage 14. At that point, I'm sure there must have been at least 100 people already there. I was, for lack of a better word, gobsmacked. I have to give it to Paramount though, they were certainly ready for us. There was an army of staff ready to help any one who needed wardrobe, makeup and help with filling out that many forms that were required to be part of this choir.
After I arrived, several buses carrying more people arrived. Once I had filled out the appropriate paperwork and it was determined that my wardrobe and makeup were acceptable, I finally had time to really look around at the people that surrounded me. There were transgender people of every gender, size, shape, age, culture and socioeconomic group. What I was looking at, was truly a microcosm of our country. I wanted to talk to everybody. I wanted to know everyone's story. Unfortunately, there was not time for this to happen. The Paramount professionals there acted like a well oiled machine. After wardrobe, hair, makeup and paperwork were sorted out, we were then taken inside stage 14 where they had tables set up for us.
I had heard in the past, how great craft services was on television and movie sets. I was not disappointed. The breakfast they had ready for us, is what I would imagine celebrities would expect on the set. They gave us a little time to eat, and we were then introduced to, I believe, producers that for the rest of the day we referred to as mom and dad. "Mom" thoroughly explained to us what the day was going to consist of. We were told, thankfully on my part, that there would be no live singing, although we had coaches to help us learn the words that we would be lip synching. Anyone who knows me, knows that I sing about as well as I perform heart surgery. There were many sighs of relief around the tables when we learned we would not be singing live.
Being surrounded by all these interesting people was very difficult for me. While I was able to chat with a few during breakfast, being a bit nosey and curious and a rather talkative person, I was determined to be professional. Being part of a television show or a movie had always been an unrealized dream of mine and I really wanted to do my best. This would not be a day for networking.
After a couple of hours of rehearsal, we were then taken to the soundstage where the William McKinley High auditorium was. We were then wrangled to our spots on the risers. I am still amazed at how well all of the Paramount people did their jobs. They spent awhile moving people around until they got just the right look that they wanted. There were 198 transgendered people in the choir (a few less than the 300 Mr. Shuster told Coach Beiste were there) and they acted like dealing with a group of people this size was something they did every day.
Another thing that really amazed me, was the way all of the other extras behaved during a very long and arduous day. After talking to a few people, I realized this group consisted of a lot of really big personalities. Sometimes big personalities can be difficult to deal with, but the day went on with only the occasional grumble. I think though, like me, it was dawning on every transgender person there, that we were about to be a part of something special, even epic. Outside of pride festivals, as far as I know, there has never been a group of transgender people this size and diverse ever brought together in one place before.
Throughout the day, we went through the song more times than I could count. Every time we went through the song, so did Alex Newell, playing the character of Unique, who was singing the song. Dot Marie Jones, playing Coach Beiste, who I had the privilege of chatting with, also had as long of a day as we did. The rest of the cast members were there for most of the shoot, with the exception of Jane Lynch. I got to meet several of them. They were very friendly and approachable. After this experience, I truly have a real understanding of just how hard actors, producers, crew all the way down to the production assistants work.
We were shot from every possible angle with more different kinds of cameras than I can remember. Physically, I was having some difficulties standing for so long. The director was pretty generous with breaks, but I'm sure we spent a good 8 to 10 hours on those risers. I was so privileged to be a part of this group that I just sucked up the pain and carried on.
Before the episode aired, I had asked every one that I knew to record the episode. I then asked them to freeze frame on every part of the choir. I wanted them to see what I saw, a group of people that were truly a cross section of our country. There were people in designer clothes and there were people that were obviously struggling economically. There were people like me, who had learned how to blend and others who are obviously at the beginning of their transition journey and everything in between.
My personal observation has been that the majority of trans people fall into a few distinct categories. One category blends into society and does not share their trans status with any but the people who are closest to them.
The second category are people who limit themselves to their own small groups of friends because they have trouble blending into society and people can be very cruel to them. These are the people who are the most vulnerable. They have the most problems finding, housing, employment and medical care.
Then you have the people who have waited till late in life to make the transition and have more financial resources to draw from.
For 25 years, I was in that first group. Only my family knew about me. I am happy to say that now I'm in the last category. People who are out, proud and trying to do whatever little bit they can to try and make a difference.
I focus that little bit of what I can do trying to bring trans and intersex awareness and understanding to the gay and lesbian community. For so long, out of necessity, they had to be like so many trans people are today, secretive. It truly warms my heart after everything I've experienced in my 61 years, that in most places in this country, gays and lesbians can just live their lives being who they are. It was a long time coming and a hard fight to get there even though there is still work to be done.
Trans people need allies. I firmly believe that awareness and understanding gave gays and lesbians the allies they needed to finally be able to live their lives open and proud. I do my best to make myself available to everyone that I meet to answer any questions they might have about my own personal journey. As I have said in the past, after I came out of stealth mode and started to meet a lot of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, I was truly surprised at how little awareness and understanding they had of trans people.
Almost every person I have never talked to about this issue of awareness and understanding wants to be supportive. I am hoping that events like this episode of Glee will be a big step in the right direction. In my opinion, the biggest obstacle that the queer community faces in being supportive of every one, is the lack of a trans inclusive ENDA.
It is almost impossible for people who are afraid of losing their job or afraid of losing their housing or afraid of being shunned, to be open and proud. Every human being deserves to be happy. Every human being deserves to be themselves. Those of us who have comfortable lives are obligated, I believe, to do something to help those that are struggling. A young lady who was part of the choir told me that she was nervous about participating. She was a teacher at an elementary school, she said, and no one at the school knew her trans status. She is a very brave young lady and we all could learn a lesson from her. In order for growth, we need to occasionally step out of our comfort zones and show some of the same courage as did this young woman.
I want to personally thank Ryan Murphy and every one at Paramount involved with the show along with every courageous and beautiful transgender person who participated in this epic the event. It was truly an honor and privilege to be part of this project.