It’s that time of year again! Yep, I know I’m way behind schedule with the pride festivities: I mention this every year, but yea, this really is when my mid-sized city celebrates pride, far behind the rest!
I ended up having a blast. Generally, during the days and weeks leading up to pride, I tend to think, dang, not again! What am I gonna wear? What am I gonna do? Maybe it’d be better all around if we were on vacation, and absent all together. So, yea, there’s some angst there. But as soon as I get into it, I’m IN IT!!
As far as the parade, we did something new and different – we marched with a group called “Positive Force,” which is a queer gym Caitlin (my spouse) has been training at. We didn’t know who would be there or what the group would be doing exactly, so we planned our outfits independently, on our own. I decided to go shirtless!
OK, so this is kinda a big deal. At the time I got top surgery, 3 years ago, I was known to say, “I’d never go shirtless in public though.” I’m sure if I looked through my archives, I could find multiple times where I wrote, specifically, that. BUT! Since then, I’ve changed my mind and gone shirtless a handful of times. Not right away. It took over a year; the first couple of times were when I was abroad,, visiting my brother in Turkey. I did it first in the Black Sea while my brother was preoccupied with getting a locksmith to help us with the waterlogged electronic key to the rental car, deciding that I was so far from home and the people I know so well and it’s exciting, and here I go! I did it again, on that trip, when my brother brought us to a Turkish bath, segregated by genders. I was nervous, but it all turned out fine.
I did it again a year later, at a state park all by myself with no one in sight. But also at another state park filled with people, and it was pretty thrilling. And then again this summer, at a hotel pool in Massachusetts.
Which is all to say that deciding to go without a shirt (although I did have suspenders on, to somewhat cover my nipples, because I’m not quite comfortable with them and still plan to get revisions eventually), seemed like a challenge I wanted to try. When we got down there, I was pleased to see 3 trans-masculine acquaintances already ready to go without shirts on. And a bunch of other acquaintances too; it seems like we picked the right group! It was us plus a yoga studio, and we handed out flyers and candy and chanted, on-and-off, “All bodies, hott bodies.”
Saw a bunch of people that we knew, including my mom and her best childhood friend. Another friend was camped out at the protesters’ corner, holding a sign that said, “My boyfriend is cute when he’s grumpy,” with an arrow pointing right at a protester. We got a good laugh out of that.
Then we just relaxed for the rest of the day. Watched Tales of the City (the new one, and now we’re making our way through the old one.)
The next day, Caitlin and I co-hosted an LGBTQIA+ themed electronic music show. That was a lot of fun. And then I stayed for another hour for the next radio show, in which the host and I read the piece I have published in an anthology, plus just goofed around.
Hey, I have an essay in this anthology, Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, which is finally being released by Columbia University Press, officially on April 9th, but you can go ahead and order your copies now! This has been roughly 5 years in the making, and through that time, I went through lots of different edits and re-writes with Micah Rajunov (genderqueer.me), one of the two editors. Both he and Scott Duane did tons of behind-the-scenes work to make this happen. I just sat around, for the most part, and waited to see what was going to become of it!
The time-frame was so long that I pretty much forgot what I wrote. And I was a little apprehensive to revisit it. When I first heard news of the release date, I had a mixture of emotions: excitement and pride, to be sure. But also a little bit of hesitation, like, would I still identify with whatever the hell I had written?! Would I be cool with everyone, friends and family, reading it? I decided not to overthink it; when I got my copy in the mail, I posted this pic to my social media, and just let what was gonna happen, happen. However, I still hadn’t read it! I was stalling. My spouse went ahead for me, and reported back, which helped me get used to the idea. When I first tried, I couldn’t read it linearly – I just skipped around and tried to get the gist, get a sense before finding out all the details. Then I went back and started with the anthology from the first contributor, and when I got to mine, I finally did read it all the way through. Phew. I’m almost done with the whole book now. Lots of really amazing, diverse stories.
People started ordering their own copies. My grandpa and my aunt have already read it and connected with me about it! I ordered a dozen to give to friends, my therapist, my local Out Alliance’s library, etc. It’s starting to feel real, and the excitement is growing, now that I can kinda wrap my head around it.
In addition to the PTWC and Gender Odyssey, The TIC is a well established, long-time running, trans- and gender specific conference that happens every year at the University of Vermont in Burlington. I went once prior, in 2005, but I can’t remember a whole lot – really just attending a workshop led by DRED, drag king, actress, etc. about gender expression and clothing as play.
This year, my spouse and I decided to check it out and make a trip of it. In addition to the conference (which is packed into one day, this year, November 3rd), we, walked around Burlington a lot, and we also took a ferry across Lake Champlain into Plattsburgh, where we met with some friends.
Here’s a rundown of what I got out of the conference!
We eased into the day by going to Fluid Identities Within the Classroom and the Workplace: A Dialogue Toward Trans Liberation in Binary Spaces. It was an interactive structure where we spend time talking with the people around us and then reporting back to the whole group, and also writing our own thoughts on post-it notes that were then displayed out in the hall for the rest of the day. It was pretty basic, information-wise; what felt worthwhile was hearing about others’ experiences.
I then went to Q&A: Queens and Activism. This was a presentation led by two local, politically active drag queens, in character, which was pretty entertaining. It was framed as, “Here’s us and what we’re doing and all about us,” which could have been limiting, but they’ve been involved in so much that although it was Vermont specific, it was a great way to show both the people behind the queens, and the range of avenues to help LGBTQ people and causes, making it fun along the way. Such as Drag Queen Story Hour.
Next up was lunch, which was provided at a subsidized cost, within the same building as all the workshops. That was totally awesome!
Next I went to Take Your Top Off: A Top Surgery Information Session and Show and Tell. This was just like the show and tells I’ve been to at the PTWC, but on a much smaller scale, and with more general information provided up front. I decided pretty much on the spot that I was going to participate, which is a huge deal for me because I’ve only been topless in front of other people (excluding my spouse!) on 2 other occasions. I mostly decided I felt comfortable because is was such a smaller and more intimate group of people and because I thought I might likely be the only one up there who could show an example of the periareolar procedure. And I was right on both counts – there were about 12 people up there taking their shirts off, as opposed to upwards of 40-50, at the PTWC. And I was the only one who hadn’t had DI (double incision). Each person took a turn on the microphone, talking about their surgeon, their experience, nerve sensation, cost, and overall satisfaction. Then people could come up to talk to us individually. One person came up to me to say, “I have a consultation with Dr. Rumer [my surgeon] next week. I already paid and everything. Should I just scrap that and cut my losses?” This was based on me not having all that much positive to say about Dr. Rumer. I think I did a pretty good job talking it through with this person, trying to open them up to as many possibilities as I could, something I never really was able to do for myself. I feel like I have a lot more to say about this, but it could easily take up way too much space, so I’m going to stop here for now. Maybe a separate future blog post!
I went to Trans in the Workplace Panel. I always like to go to at least one panel – it’s a good way to just sit back and hear personal experiences from a good cross-section of different perspectives. This one featured an agender person who works in bars and also is self-employed as a sex educator, a trans-woman who is an EMT and also works in an urgent care facility, a trans-man who works for the state as an advocate for those who are incarcerated, and a non-binary trans-person who is a gym teacher and also makes and sells bow ties.
Finally I went to Transmasculine Caucus, a safe space set up in a circle, with a mod, to talk about whatever anyone wanted to bring up. I was one of the few people older than 22, it seemed, which made it tougher to feel motivated to speak up, but I did manage to talk on 2 occasions. Topics ranged from name change and being carded before a gender marker change, to always appearing much younger, sexual orientation shifts after hormones, and much much more.
The final event was the keynote, with CeCe McDonald, a transgender prison reform activist who had been sentenced to 41 months for manslaughter. (Laverne Cox of “Orange is the New Black has said she plays her character as an homage to CeCe, and she is producing a documentary about her story.) It was very off-the-cuff, informal, and full of energy.
Compared to the PTWC, this conference was much smaller, which came with a lot of benefits! People seemed much more friendly, just striking up conversations with those around them; it just had a more intimate vibe overall – I felt more comfortable speaking up, participating, and just people-watching / feeling a part of things. I’d definitely go again!
My spouse and I had a lot of fun going to a bunch of fims during this year’s local annual LGBTQ+ film festival! I liked all the films we picked out this time around. Here’s a little more about them (some of the links are to trailers while others’ are for the films’ websites:
Pulse – This Australian film was part of the “ImageOut There!” series, it definitely took some interesting twists and turns. What if people could surgically switch bodies, like for example go from a disabled teenaged male body to a “picture perfect” teenaged female body? This is what Olly chooses to do, with his/her reasonings unfolding slowly throughout the movie. A different and unique perspective leaning a little too heavily on the fantasy of what it means to be a woman: not much insight but plenty of pitfalls.
Man Made – This may be my all time favorite movie I’ve seen at the festival over the years. I cried a lot (and that’s saying something because lately tears are super hard to come by!) It’s a documentary that follows the journeys of 4 transgender men as they prepare for the only all-trans bodybuilding competition, in Atlanta, GA. Their stories are heartwarming, heartbreaking, and they hit on a bunch of emotional points in between.
Cola de Mono – This Chilean film was also part of the “ImageOut There!” series. It’s a feature length that focuses on one family on Christmas eve, 1986. The men in the family have been “cursed” by homosexuality, and the next iteration is now playing itself out. It’s super melodramatic, definitely campy, but not in a fun way. They undertones are full of hypersexuality, perversion, ritual, and horror. The film takes its name from a traditional drink similar to egg nog, which translates into “monkey’s tail.”
Studio 54 – I didn’t really know anything about the behind-the-scenes, so I learned a lot! The documentary featured a lot of interview time of the more “silent” partner, Ian Schrager (the more public partner, Steve Rubell, passed away from AIDS / hepatitis in 1989.) My spouse pointed out that it was a smart idea not to rely on a bunch of famous people being interviewed about it – that seemed like the easy choice, but this way the film spoke for itself a lot more.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post – My spouse was super psyched this was part of the festival, because they had heard of it and had just finished reading the novel that the film is based on. It takes place in Montana in 1993; when Cameron is caught in the backseat of a car with her girlfriend, she’s sent to a conversion therapy camp called God’s Promise. It was awesome to see this with a theater full of people because there were so many sound bites that got big laughs (although the writer and director didn’t seem to account for those interruptions, there wasn’t a beat for us to catch up, meaning we ended up missing dialogue because we were laughing so much. At one point, the audience burst out with a round of applause!) This was thoroughly entertaining and also disturbing – a more dramatic partner piece to “But I’m a Cheerleader.”
A friend of mine living in Albuquerque posted about an art project s/he recently completed, and I messaged hir to find out more about it. What follows is an interview with the artist, Harley Kirschner, in which we touch on toxic masculinity, safety, artistic processes, and a whole lot more!
Kam: How did you get involved in it? Did you propose the idea?
Harley: I work at Winnings coffee shop again, after a few years in plumbing and pipefitting , unemployment, self employment and other jobs. We have artists do murals in our bathrooms and it was time for a new one.The need was expressed and I jumped on the opportunity. I got free reign over what I wanted to do and as a trans artist who is getting into what I like to think of as oversized zines, naturally I created a zine installation about using public restrooms as trans in a public restroom.
Kam: Is it related to your plumbing career, your art career, or both? Can you elaborate on that?
Harley: My plumbing career collapsed which I now see as a blessing. However, in that collapse, after living stealth 24/7 I really collapsed emotionally. Everything about my art and my loud trans non-binary self is because I failed at fitting the mold of what a plumber or pipefitter or man is supposed to be. Trying to be someone that I’m not almost killed me as I was terrified and disassociated all the time. I do share my experience with how bathrooms were such a huge part of that in this installation. However, although I would usually put my name on my story, due to the location being my place of employment and coming to embrace myself as non-binary and using mixed pronouns when I feel safe, I felt too vulnerable. I thought about censoring my story but felt the content was important so I chose to leave off my name.
I found empowerment in taking a bathroom and making it my own and a safe place for trans people after my experience in the plumbing industry which has rules (which are laws under the guise of safety… Most are.), about gendered bathrooms. That was one issue that I always had issues with myself. My experience in the plumbing and pipe fitting industries was heavy industrial for the most part so I did very little in bathrooms and actually very little with water. Mostly, I piped refrigerant and coal. I still use some of my skills in doing irrigation.
When my plumbing career fell apart and I started talking about it in zines and about how toxic masculinity makes me want to kill myself, I started getting recognized for my art and it was very clear to me that where my art had been lacking in the work that I had been showing wasn’t in the technical sense but rather in the voice. I knew that if I wanted to achieve what I wanted with my art, to make trans people feel beautiful, I had to use my own voice and make it loud. I had been very scared to do that. Partly because it was incredibly unsafe in my plumbing career and partly because I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself. When I had nothing to lose career wise and my sanity and breath depended on taking up queer and trans space I knew that taking the steps to enhance my literary voice would give my fine art real value.
Kam: What are your goals with the project? What would you like people to get out of it?
Harley: To make Winning Coffee Company the most queer and trans friendly coffee shop in Albuquerque. To take back bathrooms after they made me feel so unsafe. To embrace the diversity within my community by feeling the love and support of not only trans people but of all the people who love my work. I feel that it is very new to me to feel the amount of love and support around being trans from cis people that I do and I would like to offer that same safe feeling in a public place in Albuquerque for all trans people. I am very lucky to have such great supportive coworkers that helped make this happen, including making the bathrooms gender neutral (a few years ago) and helped me paint the walls.
Kam: Do you see ways to expand on this? Other places or other ideas?
Harley: I would like it to be an ongoing conversation. As the installation deteriorates and get tagged (unfortunately a given with the Winning’s bathroom-nothing offensive just disrespectful in general) I would like to replace the paper with different stories. People are encouraged to contribute any stories they have about using the bathroom as a trans person. I have thought about doing this bathroom in other spaces but am too busy artistically to take on another project right now.
Kam: What did your artistic process look like for this?
Harley: I used matte black paint on all the walls but chose to keep the ceiling white and paint the door white so it didn’t create a feeling of being trapped. There was a metal frame that used to have an advertisement poster in it. The advertising company closed but the frame was still there. It reminds me a lot of the welding that I was working with at the job that I reference in my story so I chose to keep it and decoupage the plexiglass that it holds. It works very well with the symbolist element of my work. I wallpapered large photocopies of stories and photocopied collages of images related to being trans and using bathrooms. I incorporated images from my time in the union, including an image of my shadow where I look like I’m holding a gun and I’m going to shoot, an image of a sign that says “ouch”, and images from one of my textbooks. My favorite part is the dictionary words “restricted” followed by “restroom”, nothing could have been more appropriate. In my photocopied collages I incorporate transfers to overlay images. There is a grainy quality in oversized prints that I find particularly appealing.
Kam: Anything else you wanted to add that I didn’t ask about?
Harley: Thank you very much for asking me to talk about my work on your blog. Your writing has always inspired me and I hope that my voice will be as touching to others as yours has been to me.
The bathrooms (all except for two) at the school I work at are getting a complete makeover this summer! (This is only a part of the remodeling / demolition that’s been going on – it’s been a fairly chaotic and atypical few months. Most of the time it feels like, how is all of this going to be completed by September 4th?!)
Here’s a quick rundown of the bathroom count:
3 boys gang bathrooms
3 girls gang bathrooms
1 mens staff bathroom
1 womens staff bathroom
2 gender-neutral staff bathrooms
1 girls gym teacher bathroom
1 boys gym teacher bathroom
1 nurse’s office gender-neutral bathroom
7 classroom gender-neutral bathrooms
2 girls single-use bathrooms
1 boys single-use bathroom
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that my workplace has more bathroom options than pretty much anywhere else, ever. As a genderqueer person, I have never stressed out about where I was going to go pee. Never, until this summer. All bathrooms are out of commission except for one girls gang bathroom and one boys gang bathroom. “Gang,” in this case, means that more than one person can enter and use the bathroom at a time. I am missing my gender-neutral option!
Before I came out at work, I was using both womens and gender-neutral bathrooms. After I came out at work, I gradually transitioned to only using gender-neutral bathrooms. One good thing about all this upheaval is that when they’re done, there will be 4 more gender-neutral bathrooms than there had been previously. !!! !!!
Until then though, I’ve had to make some tough decisions. As the bathroom options started to shrink (due to demolition), I was getting creative, for a while. For example, I realized there was still a toilet not yet destroyed in on of the classrooms, and I was using that for a while. My co-worker, who knew I’d been only using gender-neutral options, asked me, “So which bathroom are you going to use?” Being semi-facetious, I replied, “I’ll use the womens for #1 and the mens for #2.” And I actually was doing that for a while.
But then I started running into other people who were also using the bathroom as the pickings got slim. And I started getting nervous. I’d rather people saw me as male and used he/him/his pronouns for me than not. Some people get that I’m neither, and that’s great, but I don’t need the whole school understanding this nuance. Things have been so much better for me since coming out; I just want to keep up that momentum.
So I made a stark, black and white decision, that I was going to use the boys gang bathroom, no matter who was around or who wasn’t around. It was tough to wrap my head around because, since top surgery, coming out, and being on a regular dose of T (in that order), I’ve been in all sorts of bathrooms depending on the context, how I’m feeling, and what the options are. But I STILL prefer and gravitate towards womens rooms. And I STILL have not been stopped or questioned once.
But, in this case, I’ve been feeling like I gotta do this because I’m trying to assert and simplify my identity so everyone gets the picture / is on the same page. It’s been working. Almost everyone (except my former supervisor who keeps leeching onto the building) uses he/him/his pronouns for me. Essentially, I haven’t been wanting to confuse people or have them question where I’m at. Even the contractors – all of them have been calling me “buddy,” and that actually feels really good!
It defintely has been nervewracking though. A few times, I almost ran into the girls room when I heard that someone was in the boys. I’ve never been in a mens/boys room with other males. (Er, actually, maybe a handful of times when I was traveling in Turkey, but that’s it.) But I stuck it out and passed them at the urinal in order to use the stall. Or was in the stall and heard them using the urinal. Or at the sink, etc. I went into the boys room while B&G (buildings and grounds – for the district) workers were around, while my co-workers were around, while (female) teachers were around.
And in the end, it’s all been OK. (It was a little less nerve-wracking, overall, because contractors were made to use a port-a-potty outside. Sucks to be them!) All I mean by that was that there were way less males using the school’s boys bathroom.
As soon as I can though, I will be right back in those gender-neutral, single stall bathrooms, which will be all over the place!!!
Wanna see other posts I’ve made in this series? Here they are:
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective (pt. 2)
Oh, and, as always, I’ve been all over both the girls and the boys bathroom, in order to clean them, daily.
WordPress sent me a notification today letting me know that it’s my 5th anniversary of blogging here. So I’m scrambling to do a celebratory post!
When I started this blog, I was trying soooo hard to navigate my gender identity and to find a community. I’d say the first year or two was spent feeling like my blog was not enough, just continually putting myself out there and obsessing about how to connect with others through this method. I spent hours, daily, reading as many other blogs as I could find, about gender. After about 2 years, I think I started to feel secure in my writing voice, if not quite my gender yet. I really settled into writing regularly, and I got so much enjoyment out of it – this more than any other creative endeavor, for a long time. I’d say that within the past year, that’s shifted again, and I’ve felt pretty disenfranchised. I get way more “views” than ever before, mostly thanks to this singular post: 28 risks of chest binding. People love a good scare. They love to google things that could go wrong. I’m definitely proud of that post – I put a lot of work into that one. And I do love the fact that once they find my blog through that route, it seems like the majority of people poke around a little more and go deeper. (This is based on what I can tell from “stats.”) But the sense of community I felt so strongly has dwindled over time. People have stopped posting / I have stopped finding new blogs to read. There are a few mainstays that I haven’t quite kept up with; I’d like to remedy that…
The way I decided to celebrate this milestone is to pick 5 blog posts that I think got overlooked (one per year). Either I put a lot of emotional energy into them and didn’t get much feedback, or maybe I just think they’re worth checking out – they withstand the test of time, something like that…
2013: From whimsical musings to invasive rumintations on transitioning – This was my 10th post ever, and I really think I zeroed in on the psychological push-pull of not feeling like either gender for the first time here. I even used some of what I wrote here much later, in an essay that is forthcoming as part of an anthology published by Columbia University Press. For real! The date keeps being pushed back, but it will be within a year – I’m sure I’ll have updates as that approaches.
2014: The Soft Sell (upping the ante) – This was my 30th post. It was mostly about: despite the fact I may have been solidifying my gender identity more and more, I was waaaay behind in telling a lot of the people in my life about it. The blog was a great outlet to be semi-private but also just feel it out as I went. The term “the soft sell” came from my therapist – that was her reaction to me telling her the half-assed way I had come out to my parents. When she said that, all I could picture was the members from Soft Cell, one of my fave bands. That has always stayed with me. Hah.
2015: I came out to the principal of my school (workplace) – This post was definitely not overlooked, but I still think it’s worth highlighting. I came out to her waaaaay before I actually actively came out at work, and I strongly feel like the fact that I did that, that I put those roots down, gave me hope toward my final destination. It also breaks down the divide I feel between the “janitor” and the “queer” parts of my identity – this blog has continually felt out where that line is, where it crosses, where they are distinct, etc. I just really like this post because it addresses a lot of that stuff head-on.
2016: Drag king stories #5 – This is definitely my favorite entry within this ongoing series I’ve been doing. I wrote it in honor of Prince’s death (the actual show took place in June of 2012) – the fact that I got to emulate Prince at a really well attended event meant the world to me, and the fact that I performed one of the songs with my drag partner/buddy’mentor made it all the more special. We were both regular drag performers at a gay bar in 2006 and 2007. Before I could articulate where I wanted to go with my gender, I got to act it out in all kinds of fun and creative ways, harnessing music and dance and costuming and make-up. Being a drag performer was a big step in my journey – this post really showcases that, I think.
2017: Jeepster (working title: I got an oil change and got my mind blown) – this is a real oddball post. I’ve always said that the three things this blog is about are: gender, being a janitor, and mental health, and this one here really crystalizes a mental state that was temporary (thankfully!) I had just recently gotten through the thick of a manic episode, and the residual disorganization / megaorganization is still very much apparent in the writing here. I think I want to highlight it because I’m currently working on a 16+ page piece where I just try to remember as much as I can about my most recent hospitalization. This is a companion piece.
And I’m gonna cop out and not do 2018 because the year’s not done yet! Plus, it’s my 5th anniversary, so I’m highlighting 5 posts. Makes sense. Here’s to 5 more years!
Dear friends and family of trans-people,
It can be super challenging, on multiple levels, when a loved one comes out to you, especially if it never occurred to you that they might be transgender. You might not know where to turn, or what resources to access to help you navigate the changes they (and you) will be going through. There ARE resources though, plenty of them, and support groups (if not locally in your area, then definitely on the internet). It is not up to the transgender person to be your sounding board, your therapist, your coach, or your educator. In addition, as you work through it in your own way, please put a damper on the “transition as death” narrative. It is trite, outdated, and toxic.
If you feel like you are mourning a death, that’s fine – all feelings are valid (etc.) But why would this be something you need to work out publicly? We are very much alive. Almost always, transition is actually close to the opposite of death – it’s a time to finally feel out who we actually are. We may have felt like a “half-person” or a “shell of a person” or, to put it in those same grim terms, like a “walking dead person.” I know I did prior to transition, quite a bit. Coming out was a celebration of life. I feel like I have so much more to live for now.
When you claim that the person you knew has died, you are implying that the person we are becoming is not worth getting to know, or that we have slighted you, tricked you, we are to blame for your feelings of loss. And, actually, we aren’t even “becoming” a different person. We are the same person, just finally in technicolor, finally kaleidoscopic, however you want to look at it. If you took the time to see how much we settle into ourselves, how often our worst mental-health issues start to soften around the edges, how we can be more present in the moment, more peaceful, more calm, then you might understand that it is so far from a death that the analogy is utterly ridiculous and laughable.
Please reflect on the ramifications of claiming we have died.
And now for some hard evidence! Two sources that have been recently on my radar have had me in hyper cringe mode as they talked about the “death” of their transgender loved one.
First, an episode of the podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People: I generally love this podcast, and in fact, I’ve written about it before, because there have been 2 prevous episodes highlighting transgender narratives. If you wanna check that blog post out, it is: Beautiful / Anonymous: Trans-related episodes.
Episode #116, sensationalistically entitled She Killed My Father is a much harder pill to swallow. The gist is that the caller is an only child, the adult child of a transwoman who came out later in life (in her fifties), much to the surprise of those around her.
Caller: “Sometimes it feels like this person killed my father. And in a way, that’s right. You know, I, well, think about it this way: When you lose… my father, as a male, does not exist anymore. This person is gone. And normally when that happens, you have this grieving period, you have this ritual, this ceremony, you can go to this funeral or this memorial service and people bring you food and people give you cards and people just give you your space and they really support you and they let you process that. But for me, um… especially with my dad… I don’t have a dad anymore, and this person came in and said, ‘Your dad’s gone. Now it’s me….'”
Chris: “Wow. This is, this is, by far, out of all the calls we’ve ever done, one that is so much to wrap one’s brain around.”
Blaaaaaaaaaah!!!!! To be fair, I am just isolating this one thing, and of course it’s way more complex as we hear more of her story: Her father is also bipolar, and has issues with boundaries, always wanting to be more of a “buddy” than a parent, stuff like that. But really, nothing excuses this framework the caller has set up so starkly. Can’t get past it!
The second instance I’ve recently come across is in a book called, At The Broken Places: A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces. This book is co-authored by both mother and son, and it is in many ways a difficult but worthwhile read. It’s rich in its depth and complexity. Both authors are not afraid to show their wounds and flaws, and, to be sure, some of that is cringe-worthy.
She (the mother, Mary Collins) delicately sidesteps the specific “my daughter has died” scenario, but she has an entire chapter entitled “Mapping Modern Grief,” and there’s plenty of comparisons to the death of her father at a young age, as well as, “I am grieving the loss of my daughter,” “I understood my daughter would never return,” and this mindboggling way of looking at it: “My emotional journey with Donald seems to more closely mirror more nebulous losses, such as moving away from someone I will never see again.”
Not as in-your-face with the death imagery, but just as chafing, on an emotional level.
In November of my senior year of high school, I had an appointment to see a counselor – my mom had set it up for me. I’m not sure who she contacted or what route she took to find this person – I should ask her. I never ended up going to them though because, a week before the appointment, I went to a psychiatric hospital. I talked to people there. And when I got out, I started seeing a therapist who was affiliated with that hospital. I went to her for the rest of that school year, plus my freshman year of college. I remember talking to her on the phone from my dorm room, and seeing her whenever I came home on breaks.
She quickly and easily became my favorite adult. I always looked forward to seeing her. I didn’t talk much. I had no template for how to converse, basically. She chipped away at that naturally, gradually, over time. Sometimes we would role-play. I often came home from our sessions and wrote out, word-by-word, our conversations. It’s really neat to read back through those!
She was the first person to ask me about gender, and specifically, if I was comfortable with my female body. I had just seen Boys Don’t Cry (my mom was reluctant to let me see it, but I was persistent, and she took me), and I told my therapist all about it. She asked me about different aspects of my body, and I admitted that I don’t like this or that about it, I don’t shave my legs, etc. But I essentially told her I couldn’t see myself as a man.
I started to go to a youth group through the local gay alliance that spring, and it was super helpful to be able to talk about those experiences from the group, with her. Plus I had a crush on someone at school – in my memories, it feels like 90% of our sessions were taken up talking about that, specifically. She always made me feel like there was potential and hope there. In the end, she was right. Kinda. In some ways. But that’s a different story!
Last week, I uncovered a cassette tape that has her name on it, in my handwriting. I knew exactly what it was – I always knew this tape existed. I had just misplaced it for a long time. I’d been passively searching for it for years, actually.
I put it in my tape deck, which is right behind me where I’m sitting now, and pushed “play.” I thought I would have some visceral or nostalgic reaction to her voice, but for whatever reason, I didn’t. It was just her, reading from a script, going through a guided relaxation full of visualizations. It was kinda cheesy. Nothing that actually felt like a connection.
As I was planning my radio show this week, I incorporated about 2 minutes of this tape, layered with an instrumental track.
When I went to therapy on Wednesday, I brought all this up – finding the tape, planning on including it on my show, thinking about her again. My current therapist knew her – they were collegues. I told her I was thinking about trying to contact her, but I was at a loss because she got married (changed her name) when she moved to North Carolina.
I’ve half-heartedly tried to “google” her once or twice, a long time ago. For whatever reason, it felt super weird and I didn’t pursue it any further. But actually talking it out, at therapy (and I’m talking about the here-and-now, current therapist) made it not seem strange at all. People do these things. They reach out, try to find important others from their pasts, all the time.
I’m gonna do it! I’m pretty sure I tracked down her phone number online. Now I just gotta figure out what I’d say in a message. My voice sounds male now – I’m gonna have to explain that. I have a different name. Yet another coming out. What am I gonna say?!
Stay tuned for the conclusion, where I actually talk to her, if it all works out…