andy karol

[Actor Elizabeth Frances on the set of Her Story. Photo Credit: Tamea A.]

No one asked, but I like talking about it, so…

The character of Bad Penny in Her Story is based on a real person, my dear friend, and yes, at one time my girlfriend. Her name is Penny, because I’m just that creative when it comes to naming characters. It’s the only serious relationship I’ve had since transition, and I loved her very much. I still do.

We met in 2012 at the very first meeting of “No Boys Allowed”, a trans feminine group in Chicago (which, by the way, included writers Ellie Navidson and Parker Molloy, performer Rebecca Kling, and Carly Lehwald of “Becoming Us”). Penny had been writing to me on OkCupid, but I wasn’t interested. Until I met her.

After the meeting we were all chatting outside in a group and I suddenly said to her, “By the way, you’re coming home with me”, and walked away. I’ve never been so bold, before or since, but it worked, and she did.

We were both early in our transitions (”first years” as she would say) and of course struggling with family, friends, work, and self-acceptance. To date another trans woman with such similar experiences was to have some small respite from everything else, a bit of space to feel seen, understood, cared for, protected, wanted, loved. To love someone who was all the things I hated about myself was an act of healing, and I consider myself blessed for it.

She left me, fool that she is, but we went on to share whole new worlds together, and she remains one of my closest friends.

Unlike the character, Penny is not a rock star, but like her, the real Penny is an incredible singer and outsized personality whose brazenness complemented my timidity in matters of the heart and flesh.

To this day, Penny doesn’t listen to my interviews, read my essays, or watch anything I’m in or make. And I kind of love that, because to her I’m just this messy broken girl whose brain causes her more trouble than good, but she cares for me anyways.

Here’s to you Penny.

[me with the real life Penny, 2012, photo by Andy Karol]