Incorporating a traumatic event into a narrative, pt. 2

Every year around this time, since starting this blog eight years ago, I revisit the events surrounding a hospitalization that happened when I was 17. That was 22 years ago now, and I’m getting closer toward a goal of sharing my writing about it with a wider audience. Two years ago, I wrote, “Maybe one day I’ll share it with a wider audience.” Last year, I wrote that I was actively working on a memoir, in which the hospitalization plays a large part, but I was avoiding revising that portion. I had a lot of other work to do at that point, so it was easy to not get to it.

This year, I can say that I have a fairly cohesive draft of the entire memoir complete, and I am now forcing myself to get in there with the hospitalization “interlude.” I’m calling it an “interlude” because it’s written in a much different style than the rest of the piece. We’ll see if I keep that phrasing. Almost all of it, I wrote twenty years ago, for a class in college. It’s super disjointed, out of sequence, and jarring. Which, in a lot of ways, works, I think. I was going through a psychotic break. But I definitely needed to get in there to help readers orient themselves. I started to straighten out the timeline a bit. I added a lot of information about when I first got there, and my relationship with my mom, who brought me, at the time. It feels doable. I am glad I can finally start to face it down.

Other than that though, I’m stuck. I feel like it’s been so long ago that I no longer have any firsthand memories. It’s hard to conjure a feeling. (Which is amazing because I used to feel like it was always looming over my head.) I have all this writing, which I think is very accurate because I recorded it so closely in time to the events. I’m trying to figure out how to improve on it.

At this time, the event feels like a mosquito crystalized in amber. Or any other thing that’s trapped in a protective casing. And I’m trying to extract its essence without tampering with it too much. I’m trying to bring it back to life.


Electric Plush

This essay and accompanying collage were first published for Femme Salée’s zine issue Perverse Bodies, Winter 2021. More about this awesome collective of artists, writers, and curators can be found at Femme Salée.

On Halloween afternoon, 2009, I was running around doing last minute things like my head was cut off. Our inaugural variety show was kicking off that night, at the local community space that had just opened up. One of the many things I realized I’d overlooked was figuring out how to hook up a boombox to the PA system. I burst into a Radio Shack without the slightest idea of where to look, but also with a strong aversion to talking to anyone working there. I called my mom. My brother was around too – mom put the call on speakerphone.
“I need a jack or an adapter or something, to get my boombox plugged in to a PA.” My mom had always helped me rig up my stereo equipment amidst many moves, and my brother had played bass in a bunch of bands; I hoped the two of them together could figure this out for me.
“OK,” he cut in, “you’d need a 1/8 inch jack on the boombox end, and then a 1/4 inch to plug into the PA.”
“OK so, I’m seeing those. There are a bunch of kinds though.”
“Get one that’s male on both ends.”
“What do you mean?”
“Male. Like, it’s protruding out, right? Instead of female, which would get plugged into.”
“I don’t get that.”
“Uhhh, so, the male is what’s getting put in…”
“No, I get that! It’s just, I don’t get why it’s called ‘male’ and ‘female.’ Is that for real?!”
“Yes! Of course I’m not just making this up!” It was the first I’d heard of it.
“I just don’t get it!”
“Yea, that figures.”

As I poured over which product to get, a memory flashed into mind. My brother and I had been vintage Saturday Night Live fiends. We were sitting together, watching Dan Aykroyd as a sleezy late night public access TV host, and Laraine Newman as his guest / date / escort. They’re watching a video of some worms getting it on, making lewd comments.
“These little buggers have both male and female organs. They like to go both ways, AC/DC you know what I mean, heh heh,” Dan Aykroyd’s character jeered. I didn’t have the slightest clue what he meant. But it seemed obvious from all this imagery: Sex is electric. And from that, I deduced that I was doing it wrong.

I had had some electrifying moments, but they were few and far between, and around that time I had been feeling I’d been short circuited all together; from there I just shut down the whole operation. When things had continued to not work like I kept hearing they were supposed to, when nothing ever felt right, I stopped pretending they did and clammed up. Sex was touchy, both the act itself and the topic in general. If a group of friends were laughing about sensational sex stuff, I would get so uncomfortable that I’d just get up and leave, no explanation. I’d just be gone. I didn’t seek out anything that might be arousing because it didn’t seem worth the effort. I was not asexual. I was purposefully squelching my sexuality because things didn’t line up. And since none of it made sense, I didn’t know how to start trying to open back up, even if I had wanted to. Which, eventually, I did. Sometimes I would have wet dreams, and I was glad that at least I had that going on, that thing that is generally a male thing. It was my favorite part about my sexuality. Waking up because I was orgasming felt like the best gift in the world. It felt like a freebee. Because to climax in waking life was a lot of hard work.

Around the time I started to transition medically, a few years after that Radio Shack moment, with hormones and top surgery and other stuff, I felt an urgent need to finally and fully figure out my sexuality. Really force it—reading books, going to workshops, making my spouse come to workshops with me even though they didn’t want to, talking about it exhaustively in therapy (or rather, writing exhaustively and emailing that writing to my therapist), bringing it up a lot with my spouse even though it felt, well, forced. All these efforts helped a little but not much. What did get me there was patience, time, experimentation, thinking creatively, and just feeling out how to be present in my body in other ways.

Transitioning did help. What I can see and feel makes a lot more sense now. My chest contours in a way I can accept, although it’s not perfect. My voice is present and fully-formed, after seeming far off and lost for so long. Broader shoulders and more muscle definition have allowed me to carry myself differently. Getting confirmation that I’m seen as male, mostly, by others, has bolstered everything else (although I identify as non-binary and am not actually a man). It’s my junk though; although it has changed for the better, it’s not enough and I still get hung up on the junk.

And I do mean “junk,” a word with various meanings, one of which is “male genitalia.” I don’t technically have a dick, but in all ways other than the physical realm, I do, and in that discrepancy lies the crux of my transness. Or more specifically, my in-betweenness. Because although there is a strong correlation between genital-dissatisfaction and transness, the two do not always go together. Some cis people don’t like what they were born with either. And some trans people are fine with what they got going on. Others are not at all, and lower surgery is first and foremost; the ultimate transformation. I’m somewhere in between.

A few years ago, I was tasked with designing and creating my own “groinment” for a theatrical production of a tripped-out version of a play called, If Boys Wore the Skirts. In this genderfuck of a fever dream, my three “classmates” and I wore white button-down shirts, black ties, black socks, black shoes, and black skirts upon which we had designed fancy-free versions of our internal landscapes. I was thrilled by the opportunity and took it very literally; here was a chance to come up with something that reflected the way I feel about my junk. If you were to ask me, I don’t have a vagina, clitoris, and labia. Nor do I have a penis, scrotum, and prostate (unfortunately). What I got is junk, and it’s janky AF. But by reimagining it, I’ve started to learn to live with, maybe even love, what I got. In this version I dreamed up for the play, there’s a highly delicate water balloon configuration at the top of a water slide. Pointy party hats are there to protect it. And in my right hand I held a needle: I’m the only one who gets to “pop” it, which I did, during a fashion show scene in the play. The water did indeed gush down the slide and splatter fantastically on the upswing. My ultimate wet dream, cum true.

Plush Armor, collage, 2021


Back on testosterone, yet again

I like to make note of when I’m on and off testosterone, and this time, I’m way behind on mentioning it – I’ve been back on since July 20th. I hit it hard initially with a pretty high dose (100mg per week) and then lowered it to 60mg per week. So far, my menstrual cycle halted immediately (fingers crossed this continues to be the case – it’s been over 2 months so I’m thinking I might be in the clear!)

I haven’t gone to any medical professionals yet, but I do plan to make an appointment with Planned Parenthood very soon. This time around, I’m aiming to also ask for Finasteride for the first time (a drug that helps with hair loss / is a partial testosterone blocker). My hope is that I’ll still get the benefits of testosterone I’m seeking while not continuing to have a receding hairline. Really not sure – just going to try it and find out. If it does seem to be a good balance, I envision myself staying on T for much longer than ever before. We’ll see!

I feel like I’ve finally reached a point where being transgender feels normal. I’ve both hoped for this state of being and feared it, in equal parts. I don’t mean that I feel normal – I definitely don’t and probably never will! I just mean that doing yet another shot of testosterone is no longer an event. It’s rote; it’s routine. I don’t care whether I do it subcutaneously or intramuscular. I don’t have a preference for needle gauge. I’ll do whatever. All that matters is getting it into my body. There’s very little mental fanfare, no ritual surrounding it.

In addition, although I enjoy connecting with other trans-people and hearing others’ stories and journeys, I no longer need it. I don’t specifically seek it out. My journey is probably not even near complete, but I feel like I’ve done everything that I felt an urgency around, and the other aspects will either happen or not happen, at some point down the road. I’m not stressing or planning or strategizing anymore.

A part of me wondered if I’d ever get to this point I’m describing, since I’m nonbinary and still have not quite “settled” into my gender. There is no settling into the gender I feel I am. It’s always a balancing act. Being “settled” and being “satisfied” are two different states, I am realizing. I hope to remain satisfied, but to never settle. I”m sure I’ll be back on and off testosterone for many years to come.

A couple of things I want to note from my most recent time off testosterone (Dec. 2020 – July 2021):
– I regained even more sensation in my chest. This happened in a past timeframe off of testosterone, and I was thrilled it continued. I now feel like my chest has just about fully regained sensation, something I had given up on at one point in time.
– I felt more things, emotionally. Like being able to cry a little bit, stuff like that. Always important to me, to be able to revisit.
– I was less hot, sweaty, oily skin type stuff. It’s not a big deal, but it is preferable.
– I had my period. Blah.
– My sex drive was non-existent. Also blah.
– I did not experience fat redistribution reversal like I have in the past. Maybe that has to do with getting older, metabolism slowing down? Not sure.
– I stopped losing hair / some fine hairs did grow back in along my hairline.

That’s about it for now. I like making predictions about timelines when I make these on T / off T posts. My guess is that if things go well with adding in Finasteride, I’ll be on T for over a year and a half.


Working 9-5

Last Wednesday, I asked my supervisor if I could work from 9am – 5:30pm for the rest of the summer, and he agreed. And then it struck me all over again that I’ve never worked this standard shift before in my life – I’ve worked almost everything except, spanning from super early to super late (excluding overnights). I’ve been with this school district for 19 years so far, first as a painter, but mostly as a janitor. It’s a full-time job, Monday-Friday, but my times have varied greatly.

I’ve joked with people before that my job is the antithesis of the 9-5 office job, and I like that about it. Generally, I work a B-shift, which I am a big fan of. But when kids are on break from school, including over the summer, I have to come in super early, and it is extremely hard for me to adjust, every time. My current supervisor is aware and he’s been accommodating for the most part. He set it up so I can come in at 8am instead of 6am like everyone else.

But this summer has been extra stressful in a lot of ways. We have lots of contractors in the building doing renovations. And my supervisor is leaving for a month, soon. And I have trouble working with my co-workers, since I’m used to the solitude of the job when school is in session. Oh also, lots of questions about how we will be adjusting to the pandemic coming up this fall. Lots of unknowns.

Due to all this stuff, I had a hypomanic episode earlier this summer, including being on the brink of a break from reality. I caught myself in time and course corrected, but recovery has been slow. I was out of work for a week and a half, and coming back has continued to be a struggle.

In talking to my therapist, she suggested I ask for a change in hours. Coming in later has always helped me feel like more of a person, but I didn’t want to ask for something too late – it wouldn’t make sense right now. She said, why don’t I ask for a 9am or a 9:30am start time. I laughed and told her we don’t do that. We don’t work 9-5. No one has. We do everything but. But then I let it sink in… Why not though?!

So, in talking with my supervisor, I was more upfront with him than ever before, citing that I need to take time off for therapy appointments, and that I am on medication that makes it difficult to get up early. Prior to this, I was always evasive as to WHY, exactly, I needed time off and why I hated mornings, only saying, “I have an appointment,” and repeating over and over again, like a mantra, “I don’t like mornings.” He was accommodating enough, and because of long absences due to hospitalizations, he probably had more than a clue about it. I just never said it out loud. It felt good. It felt like I was advocating for myself, and I was being accepted for this aspect of myself.

So in two days, I get to wake up at like 7:30am, which isn’t my favorite but seems actually do-able, short-term. Gonna join the masses, gear up for rush-hour traffic, enjoy a happy hour or two. Until school starts, that is, and I get to return to my favorite shift of all time, 1-9:30pm. That shift fits me like a part of my identity.

Edit: I only got to work 9-5:30 for one day! Blah! My supervisor wanted to negotiate further, and we agreed on 8:30-5pm. The 9-5:30pm shift remains elusive.


Tried testosterone for the first time 8 years ago, today

Eight years is a long time! Trying T, even though I wasn’t at all sure I was going to like it, but positive I needed to at least see what it was like, was one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself.

For the first few years, it was a very fine line between feeling very connected to what it was doing for my inner world, versus not wanting any physical changes. I was microdosing, but even still, was on-and-off of it a few times. Later on, I did want some changes, but only up to a certain point, which led me right back to that pattern of being on-and-off. This is still the case – I’m currently off, with plans to go back on at some point (maybe summer?)

I continue to find myself right where I want to be, more so as the years go by. Here’s a description of an interaction I had yesterday that highlights how I’ve hit that sweet spot of in-betweenness:

I was trying to print out some photos at a store. One person started to help me, and then another person also came to help. The two co-workers were talking amongst themselves, referring to me, and one person was using, “he/him/his” and the other person was using, “she/her/hers.” Finally, the “she/her/hers” person got confused and just said, “Who?!” And the other person gestured toward me and said, “Him!” and simultaneously, I just said, “Me!” And no one did any back-pedaling, questioning, or apologizing, which was pretty much perfect.

Ideally, I’d like for everyone who has known me from before I started my transition, to get on board with my nonbinary identity. I realize this is a tall order, so for those people who can’t grasp the nuances, I’d prefer they defaulted to male, “he/him/his.” This isn’t the case across the board, but one can dream right? And then for those who are just getting to know me, I hope they’ll all get that I’m nonbinary, as much as there is space to have those conversations. And then as far as strangers go, I really revel in the mixture / confusion. That’s the best state for me to exist in.

To many more years!


Back off testosterone again

The last time I injected testosterone, for the time being, was December 8th. I like to keep tabs of when I go on and off it – I’m back around to off again. The first thing I noticed that was new / different happened today: my co-worker made microwave popcorn downstairs while I was upstairs, and even though she does this on occasion, I actually could smell it today. And as I sit here typing, I can smell my smelly feet, which is so weird! I forgot I’d been missing out an a whole other aspect to our world – things smell strongly, strangely, pleasantly, pungently, amazingly, and everything else amongst those adjectives. It’s pretty bizarre how much hormones affect our sense of smell!

Things I am not looking forward to, based on what has happened before:
– getting my period again
– feeling cold
– losing my happy trail
– diminished sex drive

Things I am looking forward to, also based on what’s happened before:
– less oily skin
– hair growing back
– some minor fat redistribution reversal
– I guess the sense of smell thing? Honestly, I’d forgotten all about that until I was hit with it today!

My prediction / guess is I’ll be back on it by July. Last time I was off it and then back on, I lasted from April 2019 till November 2019. So I’ve been back on for a whole year (my prediction had been 6 months). I went through most of my old, expired stockpile, until I realized why am I doing this when it could be less effective than getting new stuff, which I could easily do now through Planned Parenthood? So I called this past July and got an appointment within weeks (this was all through telemedicine, as many things are these days). I got my prescription the same day. I was on 60mL / week. I was injecting intramuscularly. My period didn’t fully go away until October – note to self: don’t mess around with expired stuff. There is not a scarcity / difficulty in getting more, as I have always feared!

Despite what I just said, I still do plan to do my next appointment with Planned Parenthood in about a month and get my prescription filled so that I have it on hand for the very moment when I want to go back on it. Once I’ve decided, I want to be able to inject that very moment, and not wait around to get more (even though, like I said, it is a quick turnaround.) I guess you could say I don’t want any middle people between me and T, once I’ve made up my mind… Just enough to get started, and then I’ll connect with Planned Parenthood again to get more…


Incorporating a traumatic event into a narrative

On this day, 21 years ago, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for 19 days. I was 17. I’ve observed this time of year, every year since starting this blog 7 years ago, by revisiting the events surrounding it, in one form or another. This year, it feels like not a big deal at all. This hasn’t always been the case, but it’s felt less and less traumatic as the years have gone by. Processing it in therapy has helped tons too.

One way I do know it still has some sort of grip over me is, I’ve been working a lot on long-form autobiographical writing this past year and a half. At first, I wasn’t sure what my “story” was. I assumed part of it would include this hospitalization, but then I rejected that and focused on other times in my life. After floundering around with what to focus on, I finally told my therapist, “Even though I don’t exactly want it to be true, ‘this’ is the story.” (‘This’ refers to my senior year of high school, including the hospitalization, and my first year, more or less, of college. Maybe other stuff too; I’m not sure yet) She smiled at that. It felt momentous, as if I’d been on a journey and then found my way back home and declared, “here I am.” Something to that effect.

But I’m still avoiding this part in particular…

As a Freshman in college, I was taking a class called Personal Essay. I ended up writing roughly 8,000 words about my hospital experience as my class project. It was disjointed / not chronological. That’s the way I had to approach it, in order to get as much down as I could remember. My professor, who ended up telling me he had been in hospitals / treatment centers for addiction issues, was super supportive of me pursuing this. That felt good. I was really proud of the final product, and I ended up sharing it with a bunch of friends and family members, at the time. Since then, I’ve glanced at it here and there, but it’s been rough. When writing about my life around that time, I’ve skipped over that completely, rationalizing, “Well, I already have that part down.” And I do. But, I’ve gone back and revised and changed and tweaked everything else. That remains untouched.

I don’t really want to touch it. Maybe it’s good enough as is? I doubt it though. At some point, I will have to get past this, and face it down, if I want to include it in a larger piece. As for now, I’m doing everything but. Which is working out for the time being, but not for forever…


What cleaning looks like at school during COVID-19

Today was the kids’ first day back, and boy did things go differently! I’ve been a school cleaner for 16 years, and, interestingly, I’ve never before had less to do than I do right now. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s actually a testament as to how well-planned out things are to account for what’s going on. No amount of planning is going to stop the spread completely, but… well, we’ll see how it goes.

In the district I work for, the elementary level kids are divided into AM and PM groups. That means no more than 12 kids are in a room at a time. Desks are spaced out accordingly. All area rugs, pillows, fabrics are in storage. I suddenly have barely any vacuuming to do. Also, when kids are only there for 2 hours, they make way less mess. They’re there to learn, and not a whole lot else. No recess, no art, no music, no wandering down the hall to get a drink because they are bored / antsy. They generated roughly half as much trash. They went to the bathroom way less. The bathrooms looked like they’d been barely touched.

Also, there are less rooms being used because some teachers are working exclusively remotely.

All this “less” frees me up to focus on disinfecting, which we’re taking very seriously. But it’s not just me and my co-workers. We now have an army of disinfect-ers: teacher aides plus any teachers who want to clean. Anyone who wants to clean things is highly encouraged and we suddenly have a ton of supplies to make that happen.

We have stations set up for any adults to grab stuff to clean. There’s hand sanitizer everywhere you look and signage for kids so they remember how they now have to be, while they are here.

Things are always in really good shape after the first day of school. Kids are on their best behavior and don’t mess up much stuff. But this year, it was to an extreme. We’ll see what the next few days / weeks / months bring…


Getting asked about surgeries

In general, I’ve felt relieved about how few times I, as a trans person, have been asked things I don’t want to answer. Variations on this scenario have come up twice in the past 2 months though. Blech!

#1: I’m taking part in an experimental study trial for a COVID-19 vaccine. At the end of May, I had a phone interview where they screened me to see if I was healthy enough to participate. Nothing came up about medications I’m on (other than specifics they were asking for), surgeries I’ve had, or anything else gender related. They assumed I’m male based on name and voice and didn’t ask about reproductive health. I did not disclose that I’m trans, and it didn’t come up. I really enjoyed that; it felt refreshing.

The in-person screening a few weeks later, was a totally different story. I was pretty prepared for that though, for having to explain that even though I have a uterus and ovaries and all that, I won’t be getting pregnant despite not using any birth control methods (that has more to do with who I have sex with, and less about being trans – I could be trans and still get pregnant…) I was prepared to do a urine test to screen for pregnancy, despite appearing male. I was prepared to talk about my hormone replacement therapy. I was not, however, prepared when the nurse followed these questions up with, “Have you had any surgeries?” because she asked it in a way that was totally different than how she would ask about any other category of surgery. It was in a sideways, sly, under-the-table kind of way that put me completely off. I replied, deadpan, “Is that information needed for the screening?” She replied, that, yes, they did need to note any major surgeries, to which I replied that I’ve had top surgery. She asked, “What is that?” and I replied, “A double mastectomy.” She wrote it down.

#2: My co-worker, after working together for 2 years, decided to pop the surgery question. She asked it completely out-of-the-blue, apropos of nothing. I guess, at least, she prefaced it with the ominous, “Can I ask you a personal question?” I replied that she could definitely ask, and I’ll decide if I wanna answer. Then I added that I probably would answer, because although I’m extremely private with stuff, at work, I am willing to open up if people are putting in the effort. When it was THAT question, however, I told her I wasn’t going to be answering it. I am glad she asked though, and told her as much, because it led to a long conversation in which I talked to her about a bunch of other things that have been long overdue for her to know about. Such as, I don’t actually identify as a man. She did not know this. She wanted to assert that she did know my identity and that it is a boy. I told her I don’t feel like I am either a man or a woman. Pretty sure that sank in for her. I also told her that my spouse is my “spouse” and not my “wife,” as she assumed, and that they use gender neutral pronouns. And that they also now look male, but don’t identify as such either.

We talked about what people assume based on appearance and a bunch of other stuff. She compared me to a temporary co-worker we had last summer, also trans, and how he was so open and friendly and he answered all her questions including her surgery questions. I bristled at this, but didn’t let it get to me. He and I have since become friends (although I didn’t say as much). He’s gonna be how he is, and I’m gonna be how I am. Although it was uncomfortable and difficult to steer her in the directions I wanted to go in, overall I feel like we got to a new place in our dynamic. I got to tell her that surgeries are actually not that important (or at least not important for others to know about) and other things are much more welcomed, in terms of questioning. Such as, how do you feel about ___________, and whatnot. She semi-argued about what was and was not important, and she also relayed information about her friend who is now named Susan. While talking in graphic detail about Susan’s body and how it is so much more stunningly vivacious than her body, she kept using male pronouns. I did not like where she was going with this at all. I just cut in to ask, “Wouldn’t Susan want you to be using “she” and “her” for her?” She replied that since she’s known Susan for forever, Susan doesn’t care. I’m really hoping it sank in, even just a little bit though.

I feel like I held my ground in both cases and stayed true to myself. Feels good to know these things can come up and not throw me way off, anymore.


The Out Alliance Saved My Life

Around this time, 20 years ago, I was experiencing suicidal ideation and debilitating depression, after being hospitalized for mania and psychosis.  The #1 stressor in my life was my sexual orientation (I hadn’t yet gotten to the gender identity part).  Two things saved me:  therapy, and regularly attending the youth group at the Out Alliance (called the GAGV – Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley, at the time).

Learning, yesterday, that the Out Alliance was folding and laying off all its employees hit me hard, both in a community-forward kind of way, and on a personal level.  We need the Out Alliance and the services it provides.  The board stated,  “We hope that this cessation in our services will be temporary and that, after reassessing and restructuring the organization, we will resume our vital mission, stronger than ever.”  Let’s hope this happens sooner than later.

I went to the youth group for the first time on March 15, 2000.  I was a painfully shy, sheltered, awkward, naive 18 year-old.  I wrote about it immediately afterward, in my diary:

“I was really nervous about going, but felt like it was something I had to do.  I got mom to drive me.  While I was there, I badly wanted to leave, but in retrospect, it doesn’t seem so bad.  We talked about dangers on the internet and stalkers.  I had nothing to contribute.  Dr. [Therapist] says that’s OK.  It was my first time.  Next Sunday might be better anyway.  There’s going to be pizza and a guest speaker on relationships.  Also, I noticed many bookshelves filled with books.  Maybe next time all the kids are outside smoking, I’ll go check them out.”

And it did get better.  I remained painfully shy and awkward.  I never did connect with the other kids or make any friends, but I went every single week from then until I left for college at the end of August.  At the time, the age limit was 19, but I asked if it could be extended to 22 because I still wanted to keep going.  The age got changed in the “rules of the group,” and I was so thrilled I had been heard.  I went sporadically when I could throughout my college years.

Gay Pride Parade, 2003

To back up, I started writing in a diary a year before attending the group, and my first entry starts out with a fantasy scenario in which I come out to a support group, 12-step style.

” ‘Hello.  My name is Katie.  And… I am a lesbian.’  ‘Hi Katie.’*  I’ve gone through this scenario hundreds of times.  I wish it were that easy.  I’d just walk into a gay / lesbian support group and come out.  I just can’t do it though; I haven’t told anyone.”

So actually attending and being around other LGBTQ+ people was HUGE for me, even if it was hard.  Probably largely because it was so hard.  Schools did not yet have Gay Straight Alliances.  The internet was, well, you know, it was the internet of 2000.  Which is to say I didn’t / couldn’t use it to find like-minded friends or look up information about sensitive subjects.  I was too ashamed to take out any books about LGBTQ+ topics from the library for fear of the library clerk looking at them and deducing that I was gay.  The information I would have found in those outdated books might have been more detrimental to my sense of self anyway.  I was most certainly internally homophobic.

To know that there was an organization that was out and loud and proud was a revelation.  I attended the Gay Pride Picnic that July, and was blown away by the number of people.  Who knew?!

It took a while, but the sense of belonging and the normalization of the gay experience grew on me.  I learned so much about safe sex and sex-positivity, LGBTQ+ portrayals in media, history, just a ton of feel-good stuff.  We watched movies, we went on outings as a group, and yes we even got to eat pizza.

Marching with youth group, 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huge shout-out to the facilitator at that time, Patty Hayes.  She changed my life.  I was so psyched to find that this 44 minute interview with her is out there on the internet!  (Interview conducted for the documentary, Shoulders to Stand On.  She has about 3 minutes of screen-time in the final product; here is the full interview):

Interview with Patty Hayes, former Youth Program Coordinator

The Out Alliance was there when I needed it, and I can honestly say it saved me from my own self-hatred, homophobia, and loneliness.  Now that there are so many more options and ways to learn and connect, so what?  It’s still very much needed.  Every city needs something like this.  It was a place to connect face-to-face and find role models and local resources.  A place of hope for kids in surrounding rural areas who could drive in and find out they’re not alone.  City and suburban kids too, of course.  Older people just coming out.  People who have been out for forever.  SOFFAs and allies.  It does, however, need to change with the times.  There were times where I railed against it, for being too normative, too playing-it-safe, not diverse enough.  

Hopefully their return will be swift, and well-thought out.  The former staff have laid out some demands:

  • Diversification of the board’s executive committee. They point out that the board is diverse but the executive committee members are all white and cisgender.
  • Selecting a person of color to serve as the next executive director, “to reflect the necessary changes the agency still needs to take.”
  • Making all board meetings open to the public and the minutes from those meetings accessible to the public.
  • Including dollar figures, not just percentages, in all future annual reports. The annual report for 2018 showed a dollar figure for contributions, but nothing else.
  • Changing agency bylaws to give the board greater oversight over the executive director and “veto power” over major spending and investment decisions.
  • Creating a mechanism for agency members and community members to weigh in on who sits on the board.

Sources:  CITY News article by Jeremy Moule
               Shoulders to Stand On, documentary film

*At the time, I thought my name was Katie and that I was a lesbian.  Now I know it’s actually Kameron, and that I’m a queer person.