The dream (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it)

September 11, 2021

(C) 2021 By Fran Fried

You ever have dreams you can’t shake?

I rarely recall any of my dreams. Is that some sort of character flaw? Am I too wound-up to experience them, let alone remember them? Who knows? Sometimes I wish I knew how control when and how to go to dreamland, sometimes I’m glad I don’t.

There was this one particular morning when I did remember my dream. Vividly. Followed by a wallop of reality. And sure as hell wish I could forget. But I can’t. And neither can you, if you’re old enough to remember.


Hilton Valentine (1943-2021): just your friendly local rock’n’roll giant

January 30, 2021

(C) 2021, By Fran Fried

(This originally appeared, with slight alterations, on my Facebook page Jan. 30, 2021.)

A portrait of the artist as a young man.

Hilton Valentine. Just your friendly, mild-mannered local rock’n’roll giant.

Most of you knew him as the guitarist for The Animals, and even if you didn’t know his name or face, you certainly damn well knew him from the arpeggio that took the music world by storm when it introduced America to the band and “House of the Rising Sun.” (Even Mom, nearly 85 and not a rock’n’roll fan, recognized the song when I played it for her a short while ago.) He also added a signature snot-nosed, defiant sound to complement Eric Burdon on my favorite Animals song, “It’s My Life.” But many of us music fiends here in Connecticut also knew him as Hilton, and were saddened by his passing yesterday (Jan. 29, 2021) not just as a music legend, but as a friend.

December 8th, 1980: Tonight in Jungleland

December 8, 2020

(c) 2020, By Fran Fried

Why “Jungleland”? Why not “Imagine”?

Monday night, Dec. 8, 1980. I was hanging at the college radio station (WCWP, at C.W. Post on Long Island). I was close to getting cleared for air, it was a quiet night, and I was also feeling the aftereffects of a falling-out with a good friend.

It was a little after 10, and the “Shades of Jazz” show had just come on, Andy Cavuoto behind the mic. About 20 after 10, I think, Andy got a call. It was Bill Mozer, the station manager, who was also an engineer at WABC. Andy told us that he said to watch the wire for a story; they’d heard that John Lennon had been shot. About two minutes later, the AP teletype (actually by then a small white inkjet printer on a stand) rang five bells. In the days of teletype machines, then on the wane, the machine would ring if it were an urgent story. Normally it was a couple of bells. Ten bells would be an assassination. This was five bells. I darted over to the machine to wait for it to spit out the news. It was an URGENT, that Lennon was shot in front of the Dakota and taken by police car to Roosevelt Hospital. I brought the copy in to Andy to read to the listeners.

After that, there were about 20 minutes of silence. I thought no news is good news. Maybe he’ll be alright.

Five bells again. I was expecting an update.

And it came.

What is … what Alex Trebek really meant to me?

November 10, 2020
My Me-and-Alex shot, Aug. 3, 2017.

It was as if the Universe gave us a day off – one precious day to celebrate the election of Joe Biden, or at least the impending eviction of T—- from the White House – but then said, “Okay, you’ve had your fun; now back to 2020.”

The first friend to message me checked in around noon with a screenshot of the sad tweet from the Jeopardy! account. I went and checked it out and, yeah, it’s 2020 again, alright. Alex Trebek’s body gave up its lengthy fight with pancreatic cancer Sunday morning (Nov. 8). And within minutes, my feed on the Book of Faces was as wallpapered with images and news links of Trebek as is was with Biden the day before.

And that included hundreds of us J! alums, most of us posting our photos with Trebek – the ones you never saw unless you have friends with social media accounts and who were on the show, as the crew took the photos during the first commercial break. Anyway, I knew what I was in for the rest of the day: friends clicking on both my screenshot of the official tweet and my Me-and-Alex shot (only converted to black-and-white).

From personal recollections to ABC’s 20/20 special on his life Sunday night (the absolutely only reason I would forsake turning the TV to the Saints playing in prime time and thoroughly embarrassing Tom Brady; besides, I got to glance at the game on my phone), the day was wall-to-wall Trebek. And with damn good reason. He impacted a lot of people.

So, why is that so – why was his passing such a huge thing, and what did this man mean to me? What was his impact on me? On us? Well, read on … and don’t ask me to answer in the form of a question.

The Rubicon, 10 years on

April 27, 2020
Estradiol Valerate. It’s an adventure.

(C) 2020, By Fran Fried

April 27, 2010, a cloudy late Tuesday afternoon, just before 5. A clinic in Selma, California, a small, dusty, raisin-farming community in the San Joaquin Valley, 20 minutes south of Fresno. The clinic, affiliated with the hospital next door, had a clientele that mostly consisted of working-class and lower-income Mexican families … and, occasionally, women in varying stages of gender transitioning, there to see the post-op transwoman doctor; since so many of her patients were financially struggling and/or out of work and without insurance, she charged them on an affordable sliding circle.

In my case, on this day, I was seeing Dr. B to change my life.

I’d been leading up to this Rubicon crossing in steps – well, I guess from childhood, but concertedly for two years, since the January night when I unexpectedly confronted myself, had my epiphany, simply asked myself “Can you do this?,” and realized, after four decades, I just couldn’t suppress this part of whom I was anymore. The night I finally surrendered and said, “Okay, this is where I’m going – how the hell am I gonna do this?”

Aw, hail, Caesar – if you can cross the river, then so can I.

And after a series of many tentative baby steps and occasionally huge strides – and after unexpected moments of joy, and moments of pain both expected and unexpected – here I was.

But not until after going through a series of mental speed bumps. Every so often, in the two years leading to this moment, I would occasionally ask myself, “Is this really where you’re going?” That question was compounded by 13 months (of an eventual 2 1/2 years) of unemployment, as I had been discarded in March 2009 by The Fresno Bee – the assistant features editor job for which I packed up my life and moved cross-country from New Haven five years before – in McClatchy’s first round of newsroom layoffs. I had to consider whether I’d interview for my next job as Fran or as Fran. The search for work prodded me along in the process.

I actually welcomed these occasional self-intrusions, because the effects of the hormone replacement therapy would be irreversible. And each time, I responded with “Can you really see yourself living as a man?” And each time, I would knowingly smile a tiny smile. I knew; it was just that the permanence scared me a little. But not living as my actual self, or much closer to it, scared me a lot more.

In a chain of happy accidents, I found the only gender therapist in Fresno at the time, and I started seeing her that September. In November, two months later, after a 500-plus-question test administered by a professional from SoCal, she cleared me psychologically for HRT. (This was just before WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, eased its

Fresno, July 2009, months before hormones. Busting out in more ways than one.

Standards of Care protocol for patients seeking hormones, going from requiring clearance by a therapist to strongly suggesting it.) And after that, she told me of the two doctors in the million-person Fresno County at the time who prescribed estrogen. One was a man in Fresno who prescribed it in pill form; the other was the transwoman in Selma who used injections, which were more effective. I mean, for me, this was a no-brainer. And what’s a short ride down the 99 freeway, anyway? Besides, it got me out of town for at least a little while.

This would be no free pass, though. On my first visit, in March, Dr. B actually declined to start me on the hormones; she was concerned about my weight, a huge problem since my late 20s (I was 48), as well as my cholesterol levels (high numbers for the bad stuff, low numbers for the good stuff), because the side effects included weight gain around my midsection and the increased chance of a stroke. She was not a warm and fuzzy person; she could be brusque, a hardass, but ultimately I came to realize that she did empathize, having been through the drill, and she had my back. But she also emphasized, by her manner, that this transition would be a tough road ahead. (I knew that already, actually; at that point, I had been out full-time about a year, and was halfway through a 14-month bout of weirdness with my family back in Connecticut since coming out, and out of a job for 13 months and living off unemployment.)

Anyway, she put me on a cholesterol med just to make sure it wouldn’t damage my liver, set me up with a clinic dietitian, and had me return for this visit, and part of me expected this wouldn’t be the day I’d start, either. I was brought into the office by one of the staffers, made to step on the large scale I imagined one would use for certain livestock, then waited semi-anxiously for the doctor for about 20 minutes under the bleak fluorescent lights of the room. In she walked – curly blonde hair, a shade taller than me, yellow dress with red print pattern. She said she was pleased with my results, and she gave me the okay. She would see me again in two weeks; wait for the assistant to come in and administer the shot. I would now have to take the shots every two weeks for the rest of my life, she told me.

Tools of the trade.

And a few minutes later, the assistant came in and prepared the shot of estradiol valerate, the synthetic estrogen that would be used. I pulled down my leggings far enough; she soaked a cotton ball with alcohol, rubbed a spot in the Bermuda Triangle between my right hip and cheek, and drew from the tiny glass vial. And in went the needle before I had the chance to think about it. It was a pinch, but a sharp, painful one, and I was bleeding like the clichéd stuck pig.

“Wow – you’ve really got a big butt,” she said as she applied a Band-Aid. I told her it was from a combination of doing a lot of bike riding these days, and just naturally having a girl’s booty from childhood; I explained that in my skinny teen years, I was an ass on a stick.

But that’s it, is it? Is that all there is, my friend? Yep – a big pain in the ass, but not as big as getting there. And I was now in the club. No going back.

And now, suddenly, it’s 10 years on. And here’s what’s come of it …

My Jeopardy! Adventure, Part 3: Wha’ hoppen?

October 16, 2019

(c) 2019, By Fran Fried

Note: This is the third and final part of my tale of my wild Jeopardy! trip, coming on the second anniversary of my appearance’s air date (Oct. 20, 2017). If I wrote a screenplay about this, it would’ve been turned down because no one would believe it. I still don’t, either, and I lived it. But with the exception of 10 minutes of exquisite torture, it was a good experience. And it’s a good way to finish my book, whenever that will be. For Part 1, go here. For Part 2, click here.

Thursday morning, August 3rd, 2017

Yeah, things turned kinda upside down (snap) like that.

A text from Paola, my bestie, back in Connecticut, on my phone as I awoke. I had talked to her the night before and I told her about my musical earworms that morning. So she wanted to send me some inspirational music to absorb. It was Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s wonderful ukulele version of “Over the Rainbow.” That was a Big Sweetie thing for her to do. Then again, she’s always been a Big Sweetie. I was ready. Mentally, at least, I was ready. And the knee that caused me great pain the morning before wasn’t bothering me as I walked to the shower. And I wore the fancy top she bought me at Macy’s, so she was coming along for the ride.

Adan, the waiter in the hotel lobby restaurant, was ready for the nervous visitor from the East Coast with coffee, and this time I didn’t miss the coffeepot. I was a little more relaxed than the day before as I ate my omelet, though still a little anxious. Not in a nervous way, but in a stored-up-energy way. Anyway, the day started inauspiciously for one young woman in a wheelchair, who couldn’t make it aboard the bus; she had broken her foot badly days before and was in a walking cast, but couldn’t put any pressure on it, and after a couple of futile attempts to climb the three steps into the van, she and her husband hailed a cab to follow us.

The second day, this was old hat. Manny Abell, Emily Wilson and I sat on the couch, small-talking and waiting our turns for makeup, as all the newbies sat at the table and went through the paperwork and the spiels from the contestant crew and all the jitters we experienced the day before. It was like one of those war movies where the grizzled, weary veterans arrive in camp and watch an eager new batch of recruits fall in. Minus the actual battle and blood and guts, of course. But yeah, I did relax a bit more. For the moment.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Jeopardy! Adventure, Part 2: Finally here, and two forces of nature

October 14, 2019

(c) 2019, By Fran Fried

NOTE: Coming up on the second anniversary of the airing of my wild Jeopardy! trip (Oct. 17), it’s time to let this loose – the second of a three-part tale about the adventure of a lifetime. At some point, some of this will be incorporated into my albatross of a book. For Part 1, go here.

From the Jeopardy! home page the week my show aired. All dressed up on Day 1 but not called.

July 31st, 2017.

A bit of luck wouldn’t hurt. Being deliberately vague, I put up a post on the Book of Faces on this day before takeoff for Los Angeles and my Jeopardy! trip:

Hi kids. Pardon the cryptic nature of this. (This will all be revealed in time! Honest!) But I think I could use a little insurance mojo right now.

I’m gonna be laying low the rest of the week. Heading off to one of those adventure-of-a lifetime things. At the very least, it’ll be something fun to tell someone else’s grandkids one day. At the most, it’ll be a life-changer.

Paola [my bestie] and other friends keep saying “You’ve got this.” And I remember all those times over the years that Miss Cheryl [a very cool and beautiful friend from New York who has shown me much kindness at my low points] wrote me, at my lowest, “You’ve got this.” But more importantly, I’ve been telling myself “You’ve got this.” I’ve been relearning all the things I learned about myself through the transition.

Anyway, thanks for all your kindnesses. You’re all coming with me. I’ll hopefully be able to tell you about it this fall. I’ve got this.

And the good mojo poured in from all corners: over 300 likes and nearly as many comments of encouragement. It never hurts. Some figured it out and asked me on the down-low if it was Jeopardy! Even if I felt a little extra pressure to do better – to win at least a couple of games. As I said, I brought my friends and family and transpeople in general along for the ride, not to mention, I guess, my hometown. I also brought along my father in spirit; I wish he could’ve seen this. Maybe he did, except he was probably on the light years-long waiting list at the moment to get time on the course with Arnie Palmer, and in the meantime, playing a nice, leisurely round of 18,000 with my Uncle Gene and their golfing buddies …

Read the rest of this entry »

My Jeopardy! Adventure, Part 1: Well, how did I get here?

October 12, 2019
Shot August 3rd, 2017; aired Oct. 17th.

(c) 2019,

By Fran Fried

Note: I thought I’d have written this a long time ago. But a lot of things – not the least of which was a long-lost mojo – conspired to keep me from this. However, as the second anniversary of my airdate is upon me, it’s time. Maybe some of this will be part of the book I’m slowly writing. Actually, it will.

August 3rd, 2017

Am I really standing here in this spot, in this place? It certainly feels like an out-of-body experience.

I’m standing on a hydraulic-powered riser in Studio 10 of the Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. It’s every bit as vast in real life as it appears on the small screen. A ceiling out of the line of my sight; you could probably fit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree inside. A game board across the studio floor that, if it’s not 20 feet high, it’s awfully close. The lighting is warmer in tone, dimmer than I would’ve imagined; LED has done away with excess heat and glare.

I’m standing in position 3, at the podium on the far right. Next to me: Carlos Nobleza Posas, an actor from Salt Lake City. On the opposite end, our returning champion, Manny Abell, a Navy lieutenant living in Lacey, Washington, blindingly resplendent in his dress whites. This is the second show that they’ll shoot this Thursday; the show is shot every other Wednesday and Thursday, five episodes daily – a week’s worth of games. The stage manager has finished with our run-throughs – getting the lighting right, doing sound checks on each of the contestants – and we’ve been offered water, in mini duckpin-like plastic bottles, numbers marked on masking tape to correspond to our stage positions.

I take a deep breath and feel this strange mixture of anticipation, adrenaline, anxiety … and calm. It’s the calm-before-the-storm variety – the instant between reaching the top of the rollercoaster and plummeting down the track; the pin-drop silence right before teams leave the locker rooms and run out to the roar of the crowd.

The heavy lifting has been done. The osmosis of a lifetime of learning; years of studying and taking tests; the 13 years of going to auditions; the nearly 10 years since I came to a humongous epiphany one January night while sitting on a bed in Fresno; the eight years of unemployment and underemployment, of layoffs and diminished paychecks and hundreds of résumés sent out without the decency and courtesy of even a “You suck” in return … and I’m finally here in spite of it all, or maybe because of it all.

My friends in California and Connecticut, the ones who had my back and welcomed my 2.0 self during and after my transition with open arms when I took the bold leap to come out in 2008-2009 … my family – especially Mom, back home in the house where I grew up and where I wound up after my second layoff out West, my father watching from wherever they watch it in the afterlife … every transgender person who had longed to appear on the platinum standard of game shows, or who had longed to even just publicly express who they really are … I was representing a lot of people up on that stage … And I was gonna bring them all with me when I won.

The stage manager broke up the tranquility: “Okay, places, everyone! 10 … 9 … 8 … ”      

Well, strap in …

The familiar theme music swells up, much louder and bolder than on a living-room TV. The fancy new 3D graphics of images, white like classic statues, swirling around the screen amidst a background of orange, pink and purple … and the bold, clear voice of the nonagenarian announcer, Johnny Gilbert …

“THIS! isssssssss … Jeopardy!

Read the rest of this entry »

No need to come out on this day …

October 11, 2019

A quick peek out of the rabbit hole for what I understand is National Coming Out Day:

No need for me to come out. I’ve been out full-time 11 years. I’m 58, spiritually 32, look early 40s, my left knee says 70. I’m a trans female who had my epiphany in the dark, sitting on the edge of my bed in Fresno, my former home-in-exile, one winter night in 2008. I’ve always liked girls, which I guess makes me in theory a lipstick lesbian. (Which means I’d need a significant other with bi tendencies, not to mention high intelligence and sweetness and a great sense of style.) The job world has considered me too old to deserve to make a decent living since I was first laid off at 47. I’ve been a DJ on an online radio station for 6 1/2 years, and hosted a show at a well-liked nonprofit FM station for 13 years. I’ve forgotten more music than most people have known. My favorite band since the mid-’80s has been The Fleshtones, though Brian Wilson, The Beatles, NRBQ and the Ramones have been in a pantheon unto themselves. I’m a recovering ex-journalist who had been, at one point or another, a sportswriter, a music writer, an entertainment editor, a features editor, a sports editor and a copy editor. I’ve met and/or interviewed so many famous people you’d swear I was a starfucker if I told you. I’m a total shoe whore and I know how to accessorize. I’m a collector who has several huge accidental collections (much of it in storage): records/CDs, album promo posters, Hot Wheels, and I guess shoes. I read a lot of online stories and wish I had more time to plow into books the way I once did. I lost on “Jeopardy!” in one of the weirdest ways possible, reinforcing my belief that the more I know, the less I know.

I’m kind to people unless they show their colors otherwise. Then I’m on them like flies on sherbet. By the standards of pre-Reagan, pre-adulthood, my politics are moderate to liberal; by today’s (lack of) standards, I’m extremely liberal. I’m compassionate to everyone except myself. I’m anxious and have often dealt with it by decades of overeating, which has made me fat and undesirable and loathe myself all the more. I spend way too much time alone. I have generally found much more support and love and much less judgmentalism from non-transpeople than transpeople, which befuddles and upsets the fuck out of me. That said, I once helped guide a school district that was revising its student handbook to be trans-inclusive, and I’ve spoken to groups, mostly college classes, about the gender thang, though no one seems to want to buy what I’m selling these days. I’m grateful for a lot of people and things. One of these days I’ll finish my book, and of late have recovered some of my years of lost mojo and have been working on it slowly. Maybe too slowly.

Anyway, back to my rabbit hole.

One more revolution

June 4, 2018

My father used to say “It’s just another day.” Then again, he said that about most occasions: birthdays, Father’s Days, Christmases …

This year, my birthday is probably gonna feel like another day, mainly because it’s on a Monday – today – and it’s supposed to be a dreary one here in Connecticut.

Also, in the past year or two, I’ve become a little self-conscious about my age (57, like Heinz, only without the high fructose corn syrup shit) because, well, it just sounds old. Even though I’m spiritually around 30. (Maybe it’s the residual of nine years of the unemployment/underemployment grind, where my age was definitely a factor with a lot of the hundreds of résumés I sent in vain. Age discrimination – the one form of prejudice you’d have a hell of a time proving in court.)

Over the past year, I realized that, one way or another, I don’t have that many revolutions around the sun left. To that effect, I have but one simple goal in the coming 365: to make it to 58.

Read the rest of this entry »