Little Things: Prairie Dawn and My Trans Identity

Published: June 6, 2022
Categories: Commentary, Feature

While trans people have existed for as long as humanity, it feels like our stories are only beginning to be told. Most people only know about one type of trans narrative. It goes a little something like this: there’s a child who was always told she was a boy, but always knew something was wrong. She never felt comfortable, she never felt happy. She hated puberty, hated her body, and longed to break free and become who she always knew she was.

This is the most common narrative in part because it’s true for many trans folks, a term that refers to people who are a gender that is different from the one doctors “assigned” them at birth. But it isn’t really true for me. I was fine with being called male for years, until eventually I just… wasn’t. That’s a valid narrative too, albeit one that doesn’t get told as often. And in my narrative, once I started questioning whether I was trans, I suddenly remembered a bunch of little things from my childhood that immediately felt a lot more illuminating than they did at the time. These things didn’t necessarily mean that I was trans, but were still revealing to me in new ways.

So let’s talk about little things. Things like always wondering why girls were allowed to wear pants, but men would get in trouble if they wore skirts. Things like wanting my hair to be long, but constantly being told it needed to be short. And, most importantly to this article, identifying more with female characters than male characters.

One of these characters has always been Prairie Dawn. I’ve written about my love for her before, back when I wrote articles under a different name, but the emotions were already there. Prairie Dawn is the ultimate “Order Muppet,” always working to maintain control while her friends are ruining everything with their antics. She just wants to direct her pageants, teach about the letter of the day, or eat a kumquat, and no one ever lets her. Her sketches are always hilarious in the classic comedian-and-straight-man (pun intended) dynamic; like comedy’s greatest straight men, Prairie is as funny as her foils, always simmering ten seconds away from a rage she rarely actually gets to release. For a long time, I thought this was the sole key to my love of Prairie Dawn. After all, I’ve always been serious about my work and frustrated when my friends wanted to be sillier than I did. Even further along, as an adult, I became a teacher, and basically every day for me is an extended Letter of the Day segment where I’m calmly explaining APA Citation Style while my students are causing chaos behind me.

But there’s more to my connection with Prairie Dawn than that, and I’ve been realizing this more and more while coming to terms with my gender. After all, while I love Kermit, I never enjoyed his conflicts with Cookie Monster quite as much as Prairie’s. I’ve never been able to understand why most people don’t think of Prairie Dawn and Cookie Monster as a dynamic duo on the same level as Bert and Ernie or Kermit and Fozzie. Recently, I’ve realized another little thing about this. The fact that Prairie is a feminine girl who experiences these frustrations was probably always part of what drew me to her. And Prairie is fairly unique in the Sesame universe. Not only was she basically the first recurring female Muppet, but she also is uniquely feminine compared to many of the other characters. She’s a girly-girl, with a bow and a frilly dress. She likes arts and music and being generally creative. Obviously, there’s more to being a girl than that, but I’ve realized just how much I like expressing my gender in the way she does.

So now I’m trans, or I suppose I always was. And one thing I’ve realized is that being a trans woman is almost exactly like being Prairie Dawn. Specifically, I’ve been thinking a lot about the short-lived “Adventures of Prairie Dawn” sketches from the 90s. In these, Prairie tries to do something simple, like watch TV. However, she’s constantly being interrupted by a loud voice explaining what an adventure her life is. And I’ve been thinking a lot about other sketches from the same era, where Monty would be completely wrong about something and Prairie would desperately, repeatedly, try to correct him to no avail. That’s life for trans people. We’re just trying to live our lives, be our best selves, watch a little TV, and the world is constantly interrupting us and misidentifying what we’re doing. Sometimes I wish I could get through the day without rude interruptions from people who don’t know what they’re talking about, but that’s not Prairie’s life or my life either.

I’m not trying to argue that Prairie Dawn is supposed to be trans (although there’s absolutely no reason why a six-year-old girl couldn’t know that about herself already). But I do appreciate her as a character who’s like me in many other ways, a character who is just unapologetically girly and bossy and dedicated to her craft and her goals.

When I first started to question my gender, I took a lot of comfort in specific songs. One of the ones I connected to was “Little Things,” the old Joe Raposo song that Prairie Dawn sang on the Sing album. I think I initially liked it because there were two versions, one sung by Raposo’s distinctly masculine voice and one sung by Fran Brill’s distinctly feminine one, and I felt like that meant something to me. And I liked thinking back to the time I saw Stephanie D’Abruzzo perform it at Feinstein’s/54 Below, a performance that just felt so confident and emotional, something I didn’t realize I wanted to be but probably I always did. But I also like it because being trans is all about the little things. In a way, I haven’t changed at all since I came out. I’m still high-strung and creative, I still love the Muppets and making bad jokes, and I still love my friends and family. But little things have changed. I notice different things about myself. I understand myself better. I smile at my reflection more.

Whether you’re trans or not, it’s always about the little things. And we’ve all got to choose the ones that make us happiest.

Click here to believe in little things on the ToughPigs forum!

by Becca Petunia

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