Ruby Dee – living legend – turns 90

lana wachowski

listen to this

or read the transcript:

OK. Phew. Haven’t given a speech ever. OK, OK, I get it — you’re very encouraging, I love you.

So I’m at my hairdresser’s. He’s gay, go figure. I say yeah, the HRC wants to give me an award. Award for what? I say, “I guess for kind of being myself.” He’s like playing with my hair and looking at me and he’s like, “Yeah, I guess you make a pretty good you.” And I was like, yeah, “Yeah, well there wasn’t a lot of competition.” And ‘cause he’s a catty bitch he said, “Yeah, it’s a good thing — just imagine if you had lost.”

I’ve been going to this hairdresser who’s this gorgeous lovely man for almost six years. He knows everything about my family, how close I was to my grandma, how I met and married the love of my life. He did the hair for our wedding three years ago, he’s seen the drunken pornographic pictures of our honeymoon in Mykonos. But he doesn’t know that I directed The Matrix trilogy with my brother Andy. So he knows all about who I am but he doesn’t know what I do.

Conversely, I was recently out to dinner with a mixture of friends and strangers who were all very excited to meet a “Hollywood” director, but all they want to do is ask about Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry, and throughout the dinner they repeatedly refer to me as “he” or one of the “Wachowski Brothers,” sometimes using half my name, “Laaaaaa,” as an awkward bridge between identities, unable or perhaps unwilling to see me as I am, but only for the things I do.

Every one of us, every person here, every human life presents a negotiation between public and private identity. For me that negotiation took a more literal form in a dialogue between me, Andy, Tom Tykwer — our new brother by love, who’s just gorgeous — with whom we directed our latest movie, Cloud Atlas. (Thanks for the plug; go see it.) Several months ago we were sitting in this Berlin club amid beer soaked haggardness in a space not intended to be inhabited by people and sunlight trying to decide if we should shoot this introduction to a trailer for our movie that was supposed to be posted online. Tom Hanks was supposed to do it but became unavailable.

Andy and I have not done press or made a public appearance including premieres in over 12 years. People have mistakenly assumed that this has something to do with my gender. It does not. After The Matrix was released in ‘99 we both experienced this alarming contraction of our world and thus our lives. We became acutely aware of the preciousness of anonymity — understanding it as a form of virginity, something you only lose once. Anonymity allows you access to civic space, to a form of participation in public life, to an egalitarian invisibility that neither of us wanted to give up. We told Warner Bros. that neither one of us wanted to do press anymore. They told us, “No. Absolutely not. This is non-negotiable. Directors are essential to selling and marketing a movie.” We said, “OK, we get it. So if it’s a choice between making movies or not doing press, we decided we’re not going to not make movies.” They said, “Hang on. Maybe there’s a little room for negotiation.”

So this position in that negotiation was being examined in Berlin three months ago. All of us are conscious of the fact that not only will it be Andy and my first public appearance in a long time, but it will also be the first time that I speak publicly since my transition. Parenthetically this is a word that has very complicated subject for me because of its complicity in a binary gender narrative that I am not particularly comfortable with. Yet I realize the moment I go on camera, that act will be subject to projections that are both personal and political.

I have been out to my family and friends for over a decade and for the majority of that time I have been discussing this, this particular moment with my therapist, with my family and my wife because I know eventually I will do it but I know there is going to be a price for it. I knew I was going to come out but I knew when I finally did come out I didn’t want it to be about my coming out. I am completely horrified by the “talk show,” the interrogation and confession format, the weeping, the tears of the host whose sympathy underscores the inherent tragedy of my life as a transgender person. And this moment fulfilling the cathartic arc of rejection to acceptance without ever interrogating the pathology of a society that refuses to acknowledge the spectrum of gender in the exact same blind way they have refused to see a spectrum of race or sexuality.

So the three of us talk. We like to talk. (You’re probably realizing right now, uh oh, we got a talker here. There will be an intermission after about an hour, so.) We’re alternating perspectives quite conscious of the fact that we have just made a film about this subject — about the responsibilities us humans have to one another, that our lives are not entirely our own. There is dialogue from the film merging easily with the discussion and I find myself repeating a line from a character who Iwas very attached to who speaks about her own decision to come out. She says, “If I had remained invisible, the truth would have remained hidden and I couldn’t allow that.” And she says this aware that even at the moment she’s saying it that the sacrifice she has made will cost her her life.

Suddenly I begin this very intense rush of images, thoughts and memories going through my mind — a kind of life flashing before my eyes that happens. People describe near-death experiences. As it begins I start to understand just how complex the relationship between visibility and invisibility has been throughout my life.

I remember the third grade, I remember recently moving and transferring from a public school to a Catholic school. In public school I played mostly with girls, I have long hair and everyone wears jeans and t-shirts. In Catholic school the girls wear skirts, the boys play pants. I am told I have to cut my hair. I want to play Four Square with the girls but now I’m one of them — I’m one of the boys. Early on I am told to get in line after a morning bell, girls in one line, boys in another. I walk past the girls feeling this strange, powerful gravity of association. Yet some part of me knows I have to keep walking. As soon as I look towards the other line, though, I feel a feeling of differentiation that confuses me. I don’t belong there, either.

I stop between them. The nun I realize is staring at me, she’s shouting at me. I don’t know what to do. She grabs me, she’s yelling at me. I’m not trying to disobey, I’m just trying to fit in. My silence starts to infuriate her, and she starts to hit me. Then suddenly, most improbably — if it happened in a movie you would never believe is — suddenly there’s these screeching tires and my mom just happens to be driving by, totally true, she jumps out of her car, she hurls herself at this nun. She rips me away from her, rescues me. She warns the nun never to touch me again.

And I think I’m safe, but then she takes me home and she’s trying to understand what happened, but I have no real language to describe it. I just stare at the floor and she keeps asking me over and over what happened. And I begin feeling the same mounting frustration, the same mounting fury that I felt with the nun. She tells me to look at her but I don’t want to, because when I do I am unable to understand why she cannot see me.

The last time I was asked to make a speech, like this one, I was at my eighth grade graduation. I was valedictorian of my class and Mr. Henderson my teacher informed me that I got to give a speech as a result of being valedictorian. I didn’t think this was a very big deal. I’m not sure about this little award thing, either, but. Being painfully shy I declined. I said, “Let someone else be valedictorian.” He didn’t like this answer. He said, “That’s not how this works.” He said he understood how I felt, no one likes giving speeches — why do we do it? — but sometimes I had to think not just about myself but about my class and my parents, who would be very proud of me, he said. There are some things that we have to do for ourselves, but there are other things that we have to do for other people.

So I wrote this speech back then much as I wrote this one with butterflies churning. I worked on it at night wearing the slip that I used as a nightie that I had stolen from my sister. I wrote about the way that knowledge had an actual materiality not unlike the materiality of a ladder that could be used to gain access to places and worlds that were previously unimaginable. I have no real memory of giving that speech. I remember afterwards being in the bathroom, hiding in a locked stall, feeling the slip I wore under my suit as I cried, feeling stupid and that I was a liar because I was unable myself to imagine a world where I would ever fit in.

In high school I joined the theater department partially because of my older sister, but mostly because of the storeroom high above the stage amongst the catwalks that was filmed with costumes. I fell in love with this storeroom as much for its dust-scented privacy where I would sit and read as for the racks of dresses and endless rows of shoes. I remember wearing this beautiful brocaded dress one day with a built-in corset when suddenly I heard the stage manager calling my name. Just before she opened the door I dove desperately between the shadowed folds between the racked dresses, my heart pounding like a mouse, listening to her call my name over and over, praying that somehow I might remain invisible.

As I grew older an intense anxious isolation coupled with constant insomnia began to inculcate an inescapable depression. I have never slept much but during my sophomore year in high school, while I watched many of my male friends start to develop facial hair, I kept this strange relentless vigil staring in the mirror for hours, afraid of what one day I might see. Here in the absence of words to defend myself, without examples, without models, I began to believe voices in my head — that I was a freak, that I am broken, that there is something wrong with me, that I will never be lovable.

After school I go to the nearby Burger King and write a suicide note. It ends up being over four pages. I’m a little talkative. But it was addressed to my parents and I really wanted to convince them that it wasn’t their fault, it was just that I didn’t belong. I cry a lot as I write this note, but the staff at Burger King has seen it all before, and they seem immune.

I was very used to traveling home quite late because of the theater, I know the train platform will be empty at night because it always is. I let the B train go by because I know the A train will be next and it doesn’t stop. When I see the headlight I take off my backpack and I put it on the bench. It has the note in front of it. I try not to think of anything but jumping as the train comes. Just as the platform begins to rumble suddenly I notice someone walking down the ramp. It is a skinny older old man wearing overly large, 1970s square-style glasses that remind of the ones my grandma wears. He stares at me the way animals stare at each other. I don’t know why he wouldn’t look away. All I know is that because he didn’t, I am still here.

Years later I find the courage to admit that I am transgender and this doesn’t mean that I am unlovable. I meet a woman, the first person that has made me understand that they love me not in spite of my difference but because of it. She is the first person to see me as a whole being. And every morning I get to wake up beside her I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for those two blue eyes in my life.

In Sydney, Australia, I finally came out to my family. When I told my mom what was going on, she jumped on a plane immediately. It was this big, tear-soaked baptism, and she confessed that she had been afraid to arrive and grieve the loss of her son. But when she arrived she found it wasn’t so much a death as it was a discovery. That there was this other part of me, an unseen part, and she felt it was like a gift because now she could get to know that part of me.

We went to dinner. I dressed as feminine as I could, wanting to be seen by strangers as Lana. Hoping that waiters would not call me “sir” or “he,” as if these people suddenly had the power to confirm or deny my existence. My mom is also a bit talkative. She always introduces herself to the waiter or waitress. And she’s like, “Hi, I’m Lynne. This is my daughter Lana.” And the waitress smiles and says, “Wow, she looks just like you.”

When my dad arrived he shrugged it off easier than accepting that his wife and daughter had once voted for Jane Byrne instead of Harold Washington [for Chicago mayor in 1983] — a choice that still rankles him today. He said, “Look, if my kid wants to sit down and talk to me I’m a lucky man. What matters is that you’re alive, you seem happy, and that I can put my arms around you and give you a kiss.” Having good parents is just like the lottery. You’re just like, “Oh my god, I won the lottery! What the — I didn’t do anything!”

I remember thinking about my dad’s words, his acceptance of me, when my wife and I first read about Gwen Araujo. It seemed impossible that something like that could happen so close to this city, yet here was this person like me murdered by ignorance, by prejudice, murdered by intolerance, it seemed in direct inverse proportion to the acceptance of my family. Murdered by a kind of fear that seeks to obliterate any evidence that the world is different from the way they want to see it, from the way they want to believe it to be.

Invisibility is indivisible from visibility; for the transgender this is not simply a philosophical conundrum — it can be the difference between life and death.

A few short weeks ago after my coming out, the three of us, Tom, Andy and I were being interviewed, one of the reporters ventured away from the subject of the film towards my gender. Imagine that, a reporter. My brother quickly stepped in, “Look, just so we’re clear,” he says, “if somebody asks something or says something about my sister that I don’t like, understand that I will break a bottle over their head.” Few words express love clearer than these.

I am here because Mr. Henderson taught me that there are some things we do for ourselves, but there are some things we do for others. I am here because when I was young, I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn’t find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others.

If I can be that person for someone else then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value. I know I am also here because of the strength and courage and love that I am blessed to receive from my wife, my family and my friends. And in this way I hope to offer their love in the form of my materiality to a project like this one started by the HRC, so that this world that we imagine in this room might be used to gain access to other rooms, to other worlds previously unimaginable.

Thanks very much.


saw ARGO today in toronto
a city i love
a country i adore
what an amazing movie

ben affleck is quite a film maker
the visuals – music – acting- all perfect
nothing like being swept away
in a dark room full of strangers

the ticket was 20 dollars
because the theater had a “VIP zone”
which was nothing more than a small screening room
with a waitress i never saw

no matter – i was thoroughly entertained
i love canadians
so many wearing red poppies on their coats
remembrance day – for all lost in war

its very moving
to see so many honoring the dead
a constant reminder of the sacrifice
the human cost of war

i am shooting an episode of BOMB GIRLS
a wonderful series on global tv
about canadian women who worked in bomb factories
during WW2

my friend Meg Tilly stars
with a cast of 20 somethings
it reminds me of LOTO
in so many ways

tomorrow i have a 4 40 am pick up
so i am now in bed
pretending it is time for sleep
fingers crossed

i left nyack on friday
we still have no power
but luckily do have a generator
i have never seen such damage

the storm shook us all
yet leaves still hang on the trees that stand
the hudson churned and roared
and now – is calm once more

may all those who lost loved ones
be held in comforting arms
as we pull together
and start healing

remember to vote on tuesday
remember women have the right to reproductive freedom
that 4 years is not enough to right the wrongs
we all were left with

vote with ur heart
u know what is right for u
its 2012 – not 1952
god bless america



ok so yesterday we filmed dr oz
who is perhaps the kindest man ever born
a guy who truly cares
i love him

he is as real as he seems
smart handsome and open hearted
not easy
for a superstar surgeon

we spoke about my heart attack
in an audience full of others
women who like me had survived
forever changed

oz asked me y
we of the 65% obesity rate
can’t stop
cause its hurting r hearts

this fat

and i wished i had the answer
here is y
ta dah

protection trauma comfort
all of the above
complex humans
each and every one

on we all go
one step at a time
as we mend r broken hearts
one breath at a time


spent the weekend in philly
with some amazing families
all living with desmoid tumors
informative and emotional

i listened to 5 top doctors
deliver TED type talks
about their lifes passion
desmoid tumor research

these r smart peeps
they spoke to hundreds of patients
they brought their own slides
they worked the laser pointer

they answered questions
from worried mothers
from 20 years survivors
some with missing limbs

a community built around a rare disease
3 in a million
gathered together in hope of a cure
a connection

i met a beautiful young couple
whose 2 yr old blonde boy max
has a desmoid in his jaw
i wished for a magic wand

thank u to all who donated money
lots was raised for research
so one day
they will have a way to deal with
demon desmoids

on thursday i will be on the dr oz show
talking about my heart attack
tune in
let me know what u think

peace peeps

honey house

i saw one episode 3 days ago
i am obsessed

i hope u do all u can to protect this family
there is such beauty there
self acceptance
it really is a radical show
in ways most will miss

the balance between celebrating and humiliating has to be carefully kept

can u promise me u will get a doctor to check out junes toe …
the bugs in it -
it looked pretty serious

do u have anyone helping them with money
r u paying them fairly

do something if u can
to guide them david

which i realize is not ur job
but like susan boyle
they need and deserve protection

i am fascinated with the show on so many levels

congrats its a huge hit



i met david when i worked for OWN
he is a pretty amazing man
very smart – fair
honest even
imagine that

i like him
i like his wife
his kids r cool
he knows the best pizza place in rockland
we r nearly neighbors
a town or 2 over

he runs discovery networks
tonight they air a show called the BIG JIG
i am the creator – ish
david and i were flying to LA
he asked which shows i liked
dance moms i said without missing a beat

it was brand new then
he had not yet seen it
i did my best abby impression
he laughed

well my niece was an irish step dancer
the feis
life was ruled by the feis
do a feis dance mom show

he took out his notebook
and jotted it down

2 weeks later
i got a call and a contract
they were making it
that guy goes with his gut

we e mailed after my heart attack
the week before he sent me shark week cupcakes
remembering how my son blake
is totally into it

he asked what i thought about HCHBB
i told him i had not seen it
i don’t like toddlers and tiaras
i am old school

the documentary living dolls -
by shari cookson
said it all
about pageants

i had no interest in the series
so did not know of HBB

and then – i saw one episode
it only took one
to get it
to feel pushed and pulled

so many emotions
i knew why this show was huge

so on sept 26
i wrote the above e mail to david

even though there r many
who think it absurd
that i feel as i do
to strangers
who i am happy to have been introduced to
via cable tv

i know they have turned down the offer of a new house
which came b 4 mine
it doesn’t surprise me
and makes me love them even more

peace peeps


when i moved back to new york
in 1996 – with a new born parker in tow
preparing to start a new show
i needed a publicist

i met with only one
lois smith
a legendary powerhouse
founder of PMK

i walked into her office
looked into her sky blue eyes
and had to catch my breath
she was the spitting image of my nana

we talked for hours
about life and babies and show biz
turns out she lived in the next town
we soon became fast friends

many sundays she would stop by
on her way to salon z at saks
we zip over in her suburau
and scour the sale racks

we had many sunny days on my boat
in the hudson
her husband gene telling us the history of the area
why west point is – where west point is

she loved her clients
with a fierce loyalty
and a huge open heart
that went way beyond show biz

never without her bright red coat
she could be easily spotted in any star studded crowd
she was by my side as i rode the fame roller coaster
holding my hand thru the scary parts

2 weeks ago she called
“ducks” she said – hows the ticker?
she berated me for not coming to visit on plum island
she asked about my kids

she was one of a kind
and her death feels like a dagger
although 85 is a long life
hers was not long enough

returning to the 4 seasons one night in LA
after i hosted the grammys
she opened the limo sun roof
lifted her champange glass and said

“here’s to u world”

she taught me how to live
and how to love

i am not so sure what happens
after we leave the flesh behind
but i hope she is back with marilyn
talking about old times

as nora looks on
taking notes
lois had so many stories
what a movie that would be

this death thing
is impossible to get used to
i hope my heart can withstand it
sorrow is killing me

tomorrow i go to OZ

i thought i would be breast cancer that got me
like it did my mom
heart attack ?
never worried about it


heart disease kills more women than men
233,00 a year
every 20 seconds a woman has a heart attack in america
50% of deaths happen in the first hour

all of this will be discussed
when mish and i film DR OZ
an amazing man

the tale of r last 6 months
a desmoid tumor – a heart attack
perhaps r story
will help some

off to get a mani
with viv


ONCE is blasting
on repeat
the sun is shining
i am painting on my wall

watched so many docs
on apple tv
good god i love that thing
buy it if u can

there waiting for u to ingest
24 hours a day

i remember waiting for the sound of music
to play on tv
ONCE a year
and now this – instant everything

ONCE is beautiful
cracked my heart right open
as it grew bigger still
the bulls eye

feel this
life challenges
love death faith

the woodman’s on netflix
please watch it
and let me know
if it haunted u too

i bought this Zentangle kit
very good tool
for those wanting to doodle
but fearing they cannot

there r no mistakes in art
only small repeat patterns
that grow in significance
as they multiply

went to a wedding yesterday
with my wife
we held hands in the street
i am walking on moonbeams

if u r in love -
i know tickets r expensive
but please run there

sit in a velvet seat
notice the theater ceiling
get ready to receive
full blast

off 2 paint

no school day