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Becoming Milan

By Milan Calendine 

My childhood was filled with stories: movies, TV, and the storybooks my mom read to me. But my most beloved childhood pastime was listening to story records. I had a 1970’s white and gold Crosley portable record player. Beauty and The Beast, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians: at 7 years old, I memorized every word, sang every song, and portrayed the characters I loved. My favorite characters were always the women. Often written as demure, they were also clever, strong-willed, intelligent, and kind. My favorite, Miss Bianca in The Rescuers, was played by Eva Gabor. I adored her delicate Hungarian voice and how she said “dahling,” with such beautiful femininity, seeming to hold power over the men around her. Gabor also played Lisa Douglas in the TV show Green Acres, and it was easy to tell that Miss Bianca and Lisa Douglas were the same person. 

I was on a mission to become some combination of Miss Bianca and Lisa Douglas: to create a personal identity morphed from the magic of make-believe. 

My mother had three jobs, one of which was as an Avon representative, so there was an abundance of makeup in the house. There were samples of everything you could imagine an Avon lady would have: eyeshadows and blushes of every shade and color, mascara, and, of course, tiny little samples of lipstick that could be used two or three times before they were gone. I sometimes played sick to stay home from school and have the house myself so that I could try to become Eva. A white nightgown, a purple scarf, black kitten heels, coral-colored cheeks, pink eyelids, red lipstick. Luckily, I had light blond wispy hair – easily matching mouse or farm girl, whichever was the state of play for the day. I would be Miss Bianca or Lisa Douglas for hours; my parents’ home was either The Rescue Aid Society, The Devil’s Bayou, or a farm in Hooterville. 

The thing about memories is that they grow, stretch, and evolve over time as we learn about our world and develop pathways through it. However, there are also small kernels of our memories that are unchanging and can never be disconnected from who we are. They are steadfast in their isolation and relevance, standing the test of time like a granite monument left over from a people long gone. Those kernels, for me, were time and lies. While in my wondrous world, time was what pressed and caged me, and lies kept me safe. 

My imagination had a time limit, which was about an hour before my parents and brother arrived home. I carefully put all the clothes and makeup back precisely where they came from, ensuring nothing looked out of place. Then I showered to erase from my face and body all the makeup and perfume that might give Miss Bianca away, might give Lisa Douglas away, might give me away. 

At the tender age of 7, I knew I needed the lies to keep my secret world safe. To keep myself safe. The little lie I told is the little lie the world wanted to hear. I knew what I was doing and what I was would be unacceptable to my family, friends, and the world. But the lies that kept me safe also punished me every day in myriad subtle and insidious ways. 

My parents planned to have two children, a boy and a girl, but two boys were what nature gave them. The real me was locked away in my imaginary world, and the fake me was the little boy everyone wanted to see. The little boy who said he wanted to be Luke Skywalker but secretly knew Princess Leia was the real hero. 

At 7, I knew I was the family monster, the thing that did not belong. 

I was terrible at sports and wanted to sing, act, and do ballet, but that is not what little boys did. I wanted to play with the girls, but that is not what boys did. I wanted to play in my mother’s clothes and makeup, but that is not what little boys did. I fantasized about being somewhere, anywhere else to be… Me. Not what the world wanted me to be. 

For most people, memories are malleable. They morph to fill a conflated space of then and now. But for some of us, there are memories that fuse and harden into an unrelenting cancer that stays with us until a bloody end or self-forgiveness. Memories that cut and constrain. Memories that can’t be washed away with the makeup and the perfume. 

In retrospect, my acting as Boy and later as Man was Oscar-worthy. Imogen Binnie said it best in her book Nevada: “It’s f***ing wild if you think about it, how well being totally checked-out emotionally can look like normal American masculinity.” It’s a strange place to live a life in a bad dream. 

My life is better now, owning my own bulls**t and being this strange thing—a trans person. It’s not comfortable. It’s a challenge every second of every day. But it is a step forward at being honest, not only for myself but also for other trans children, men, and women. 

I’m showing up to let them know: It’s ok. We do exist. And we are not monsters. 

Milan Calendine 

Advocacy/Community Impact Chair & Board Member 

Tucson LGBT Chamber of Commerce 

Shawn (“Milan”) Calendine | LinkedIn


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