There were no lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender students at Bayside High (but I think we can all agree that Slater was a little gay for Zack). Saved by the Bell, the first-ever Saturday-morning sitcom for kids, was not progressive or challenging in any way; there's no mention of "gay" or "lesbian," not even in Saved by the Bell: The College Years. I should know: As the co-writer of Bayside! The Musical!, a musical parody of Saved by the Bell, I've seen every episode more times than I'd like to admit.
The closest Saved by the Bell came to "handling social issues" was Jessie Spano's crippling addiction to caffeine pills so she could study more. Could you imagine a "very special episode" where the new kid was a transgender youth? Their heads would probably explode.
Saved by the Bell taught me absolutely nothing about gender transition, but co-creating and producing Bayside! has taught me to take big leaps of faith, learn from my mistakes, and believe in myself -- all the tools I needed to come out as transgender several months ago.
I'm embarrassed to admit this, but there was a time in my life, about seven years ago, when the subject of transgender people would come up I would get on my righteous (mostly drunken) soapbox and say, "You're born with a body and gender, and it's up to you to accept and learn to live in that body and gender," which sounds like a "lesson" one would learn at the end of an episode of Saved by the Bell. It's obvious that the only person I was trying to convince of this ridiculous theory was me. It's not surprising that I was unhappy, abusive with my alcohol and drugs, and ended up trying to kill myself.
Luckily, I sucked at suicide.
It took me several years to come to terms with my gender dysphoria and start talking about it. I was scared that I was too late in the game. I was 34 years old; how could I make this big of a change now? What would my family think of me? My corporate job? My cats?
Creating art (yes, I'm calling a parody musical about Saved by the Bell "art" right now) and transitioning have a lot in common. They are both processes that require trust and patience. I had to take huge leaps of faith, like investing my life savings into the musical and letting the HR department at my workplace send out a letter to the entire company detailing my gender transition. I had to let go of the results and let people have their own process around it. I have no control over the reaction of the critics and audiences who come to Bayside! every night, just as I had no control over my mom's reaction when I called to tell her I was transitioning. She handled it with love and acceptance -- A-plus parenting. She actually said, "You go, girl!" and then, "I guess I can't say that anymore?"
The most surprising thing about transitioning? Liking my body -- for the first time ever. At night I take off my clothes and look at myself in the mirror. I used to hate my body. I would push and press at it, wanting for something else. I would run millions of miles and starve it down. But I like what I see now.
Zack and Kelly and the students of Bayside will never change. I think we like them that way. There's a certain comfort in that. But I will continue to change -- inside and out. It's messy. It's beautiful. It's imperfect in the most perfect way.
As far as the future is concerned, in the words of Jessie Spano in the grips of her caffeine-pill addiction, "I'm so excited! I'm so excited!" I'm so not scared of what's next.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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