Sunday, October 8, 2023

Mama, I'm Pretty


Last night, we revisited one of my favorite childhood movies, GYPSY. I hadn't seen it in years, but the excerpt below shows that the Natalie Wood/Rosalind Russell vehicle was one that had a powerful and lasting effect on me as both an artist and as a queer man.

This is from THE IMPOSSIBLE CHILDHOOD OF MY DESIRES ( In this scene, my trans woman character Cara is at last dressing up for the very first time to go out in public as a woman. She's very late in coming to this moment, but she recalls her childhood and her late--and beloved mother.

She was scared to death of what might peer back at her. Would the effect be comic? Ridiculous? Milton Berle in a dress?

She had to face the woman in the mirror. No one else could judge her and, more importantly, no one else could love her as much as she knew she needed to love herself.

There was a silver-framed square mirror hanging above their blue velvet couch. It’d always been ornamental and Cara had passed it without really looking into it hundreds of times.

Now it was a litmus test.

Mirrors don’t lie.

She set down her drink and wandered over to stand before it. She didn’t even realize that she’d closed her eyes the moment she was before the silvered glass.

She drew in a deep breath and allowed herself to open her eyes.

She immediately went to the old movie she’d adored as a little boy growing up, Gypsy. And her thought was of the scene when Natalie Wood as Gypsy Rose Lee encounters her adult self in a mirror, in a blue satin gown. Gypsy realizes, finally, she’s come into her own as a woman.

She’d said three profound words, “Mama, I’m pretty.”

Even as a small child in Ohio, Cara recalled how she understood that the character was, for the first time ever, discovering her own beauty. There was such power and grace in that moment.
Cara thought she was no Natalie Wood as she gazed into the mirror. She probably had at least twenty years on the tragic actress when she’d made the movie, for one thing. For another… Well, she didn’t want to admit how many more pounds she weighed, how her figure was, er, less than Greek.

Yet she spoke to her reflection with tears glistening in her eyes.

“Mama, I’m pretty,” she said.

She didn’t laugh. She didn’t think she was being vain. She regarded herself, also in a dress made from blue satin. Coincidence?

She shook her head, taking a spin in front of the mirror. The dress was vintage with a scoop neckline, and belted at the waist with a rhinestone belt. Blue satin pumps on her feet. Her wig was perfect, looking to Cara like her own natural hair. Her makeup was subtle, with a good foundation, a little blush, some eyeliner and mascara and just the faintest hint of blue on her eyelids.
I don’t look like a woman.

I am a woman.

Just before turning away from the mirror, she gasped. Her mother stood behind her, one hand on her shoulder. Her nails were blood red. She squeezed and mouthed, “You are pretty.”

And then she was gone.

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