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.
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…
I’ve been binge-listening to Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, a podcast hosted by comedian Chris Gethard. The premise is so super basic: He “tweets” out the phone number when he is in the studio, and whoever ends up getting through talks with Chris, anonymously, for exactly one hour. Sometimes it’s just chit chat, sometimes the caller has an agenda and they want to make the most of this platform. Sometimes it’s funny, but more often, it’s sad, intense, and heartfelt. I’ve heard the experiences of someone in an abusive relationship, someone who escaped from a cult, someone who was a heroin addict, someone who was in an inappropriate relationship with their teacher, and so much more – including two episodes in which the caller is a trans-person.
What Not To Ask A Trans Person (Episode #54) In this episode, Chris deviated from the formula a bit – every so often, instead of taking a random call, he’ll ask people to leave a “pitch” as a phone message, and he will reach out to one of those people. In this case, the caller is a 28 year-old transman who is engaged to a transwoman… and, unfortunately, that’s about all we get to know about him as a person. The majority of the call is Trans-101 stuff – we are STILL only at this basic level with the general population. Chris puts his foot in his mouth a couple of times (he makes it clear this will be inevitable.) At one point he uses the word “transgender” as a verb, when he meant to say “transition.” Also, this exchange was super cringe-worthy:
Caller: “Even people who are not in any way transphobic, most people don’t know a lot about the experience being trans or the trans community, so they tend to be very curious. And this is fine, except that often it ends up that often trans people end up being … put in a position of having to answer all their questions, sometimes very invasive questions … like, what your genitals look like.”
Chris: [Talks super eloquently about mental health in the trans community, transphobia, and other vulnerabilities. Then says] “I do like that the first one you did mention was people asking you about your genitals. That’s gotta get real old real fast. That being said, on behalf of everybody who is wondering, I wonder what your, what your eh, your your…” and then he trailed off. DUDE. The caller handled it really well, making it super clear that that’s not a question that you ask people.
Chris: “Are there any stories… Is there any real life shit you can put out there and just make it eye opening of like, ‘yeah, this shit is real.’ You know?”
Caller: “You know, like, I think … the biggest thing is like, maybe stop murdering trans people.” He said this so casually that I laughed out loud.
One other thing that the caller pointed out that I’d never really thought about before was when talking about the high percentage of trans people who have attempted suicide – I always saw that as some concrete indicator of how outcasted the population is, how brutal society has been toward trans people. But for someone who is apt to brush that off and think that trans people are just mentally ill to begin with, that person will just cement it in their mind further that of course trans people want to kill themselves. They’re crazy. That’s demoralizing to think about.
Coming Out, With Katie Couric (Episode #77) This one also deviated from the normal format in that it was the second episode ever where Chris had a co-host. (The first one was episode #37 with Hannibal Buress.) Apparently Katie Couric reached out to him, really wanting to come on his show! The only thing I’d heard about her, any time lately, was that she botched an interview with transgender model Carmen Carrera in January 2014, asking things such as, “Your private parts are different now, aren’t they?” And then later, Laverne Cox stepped up, came on her show, and told it like it is, namely, (and yep, I’m reiterating this from just a few paragraphs ago) That’s not a question that you ask people!
Since then, I’d basically villified Katie Couric in my head, just assuming she’s too mainstream and out of touch. But, as she tells it, she had the opportunity to just edit all that garbage out, and she decided it was important to leave it in as a teachable moment, and admit her mistakes. And then! She went on to produce, along with National Geographic, a whole documentary called Gender Revolution, which came out in February of 2017. I had no idea.
So when the random caller for this particular episode happened to be a trans-woman (and she had no idea Katie Couric was there with Chris when she called), it feels serendipitous. And it’s a lot more interesting and personal than the other episode I’m highlighting, largely because it feels more meandering and off-the-cuff. Chris, again, is a little off (he isn’t usually, haha!) and Katie Couric is super thoughtful and poised. I kinda like her after this, even. The caller is at the very beginning of her journey, as a 20 year-old junior in college, studying math and economics. She has only told 6 people so far, and she’s just dabbled in painting her nails, little things like that. She’s been on estrogen for two weeks. She’s not yet comfortable seeking out support from other trans people, experimenting with clothing in private, anything along those lines.
It’s super interesting to hear from someone who is just starting to feel out her gender identity, as opposed to many of the voices from the trans community who seemingly have a lot of it figured out / are much further along in their journey.
Highly recommend these episodes!
Back in November, I lamented about not being able to find much writing out there that really portrays what can go on in someone’s head while they are in the middle of a psychotic episode. In the past few weeks, two such books sorta fell into my lap, so I want to mention them!
My spouse picked up a book called Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind from the library last weekend. They pointed it out to me, like, eh? You’ll want to read this! This weekend, I was super sick, and I binge read it in 2 days, while trying to stay warm on the couch. It was compelling for so many different reasons, one major one being that I could relate to so much of it. The author, Jaime Lowe, was also hospitalized for a good chunk of her senior year of high school, and she also just took the pills without much reflection for years and years. Like, it’s something that is a thing now. (Although, for me, it was Depakote, and not Lithium.) She had another manic / psychotic episode when she tried to get off Lithium at age 25. I successfully(?) did get off all my pills in my early 20s, and that was my new normal for a long time, until I had 2 subsequent manic / psychotic episodes in my 30s. She had to switch off of Lithium because it was killing her kidneys, and she had a really hard time stomaching Depakoke, but she finally did get through it.
Having to switch sent her on a spiritual journey to learn about Lithium as not just a psychotropic drug but as an element, super common in nature. Which made the book encompass much more than just her mental health trajectory. The best thing about it though, was how thoroughly and deeply she gets back into that headspace of being so completely out of her mind. The slightest suggestion toward a minuscule thing could send her on an all-day (or longer) journey to do and/or be that thing. She devastated every aspect of her life that second time around. I was surprised by the fact that everyone around her wanted to keep her out of the hospital for a second time because she was no longer an adolescent and the adult ward was apparently to be avoided at all costs. As a result, she was in that state much longer – days, weeks… I was brought to the hospital like, BAM! So fast my head didn’t get a chance to spin out too far too fast with too many repercussions.
The second book I’m reading with a portrayal of a breakdown is called The Petting Zoo, by Jim Carroll (of The Basketball Diaries fame). He wrote this book in 2010, and according to the forward by Patti Smith, he died at his desk while writing. He had finished it at the time of his death, but it was still in the editing process. A few people had their hands in trying to edit as close to Jim’s style as possible. It’s fiction. It’s hard for me to get through (probably largely because it’s fiction – I almost always gravitate toward non-fiction and memoir). The book opens with the main character, Billy, in the midst of a manic frenzy. I didn’t know the book would be about that at all – nothing about that on the back cover summary – I bought it on a whim from a record store that was going out of business. So it was interesting to get thrown into that unexpectedly, but I gotta say it felt lacking in… something.
Billy has some kind of crisis over an art opening at the MET and how what he saw of this one artist affects how he’s approaching his art for his own upcoming show. He careens off down the steps, on his own, into the Central Park Zoo, more specifically a side spectacle, an outdated petting zoo. From there, he flees down the street, in his tuxedo and fancy shoes, to a building that reminds him of an Aztec temple. He then hits his head and his eye on branches or something and starts shouting something about a knife. He has a momentary black-out and the cops pick him up. At which point he comes back to reality, and that’s it. Although the aftermath ends up taking longer, red tape and everything. He has to stay overnight in a mental ward, which is just kind of looked at as a novelty, a curiosity, a stop-over.
In conclusion, real life is zanier (or at least more compelling to me) than fiction.
Every year around this time, I revisit the first time I was hospitalized, which was Veteran’s Day weekend in 1999. It used to feel like the worst thing that ever happened to me. And, in terms of fallout, I still think that it was – it just no longer feels that way.
Two years after this hospitalization, I wrote an essay for a class, including every little thing I could remember about the experience. A few months ago, I gave that document to my therapist to read over. I didn’t necessarily want to delve into it or have her probe me about it. I just wanted for her to have read it. And she really only said one thing: “There were always questions about whether you had been in a psychotic state or not. This definitely shows that you were.” And, strangely, I was satisfied with that. As if I could lay to rest whether I needed to be there or not. For the most part…
I’m currently giving my most recent hospitalization (from 6 months ago) the same treatment, as best as I can remember. I’m up to 2,500 words so far, and only about 15% done. I don’t have any plans for it other than just something that I want to do for myself. We’ll see. I feel like there’s not much writing out there that really portrays what can go on in someone’s head while they are in the middle of psychosis. (If anyone has any recommendations, let me know!) That does not mean I have lofty goals for where I could take this writing; it’s just a motivating factor, something that pushes me to try to capture it as best as I can.
Here are the other posts I have made, yearly:
Continuing to work through a specific trauma – Four years ago, I wrote about how I finally gained access to the medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist.
That specific trauma is still there – Three years ago, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it. I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time.
That specific trauma is no longer a big deal – Two years ago, I wrote about how much time has changed things, and it no longer felt like a big deal. The fact that I had been hospitalized again, that year, surprisingly helped me find ways to heal, rather than adding more baggage onto the feeling of it.
Anniversaries, traumas, deaths, and name change – Then last year, I wrote about how other things were going on, and I really didn’t have the space or time to reflect. Which was perfectly fine. Between the election results, working on getting my name legally changed, and other emotional markers, it just didn’t come up.
This year, I am thinking about it, but it is more in terms of “one of the times I was hospitalized,” rather than, “a traumatic event – the worst thing that ever happened to me,” etc.
I’ve been thinking of all the little occurrences that go into the bigger story. Like, for example, in that state, my mind was so malleable and adaptable that it seemed like, theoretically, anything could be true and just as easily, not true all at once. Which is one of the reasons I avoided watching any TV. (There were two TVs on the unit – one played music and had legalese constantly scrolling, in both Spanish and English – like a “know your rights” kind of thing. The other TV had a remote and listing of channels, and we could watch whatever we wanted, 24/7.) At one point I did sit down, and there was a documentary on about pineapples. (Er, rather I’m sure the documentary was on something more broad, but I saw the pineapple part. I started yelling about the unlikelihood about these pineapples growing. Don’t pineapples grow on trees like sensible fruits? What were these miniature pineapples growing up from fronds in the dirt?! A patient who knew-all immediately matched the intensity I was spewing, and argued for the realness of these pineapples.
A few months later, my spouse’s aunt was visiting from Hawaii, and sure enough, she grows pineapples on her property and sure enough, she had pics to prove it. I can now accept it fully.
These days occur consecutively every year – October 10th and 11th. It’s a good chance to kind of look back and take stock. And to see where I was at; here’s what I wrote last year:
World mental health day / Nat’l coming out day 2016
Before talking about this year, I just want to note that last year I said, “I’d say within the next 6 months I’ll be out at work and everywhere else. I look forward to the day that my driver’s license, signature, little plastic rectangle on the custodial office, Facebook page, the words out of teachers’ and co-workers’ mouths, and everything else, all say the same thing!” I’ve reached that point!!! Well, everything except that little plastic rectangle, but that is in-process (see below)!
This past year in my mental health landscape: I thought I was stable in a way that couldn’t be rocked, but actually I ended up back in the hospital again with another manic / psychotic episode. I know my loved ones went through a lot of stress and strife, but, in comparison to past episodes, this felt like a breeze, and it even felt healing in many ways. I do want to try to write about this, but I’m not quite there yet. Hopefully soon. I spent two months out of work, I got raised to triple my prior dose of Seroquel (a drug I continue to like a lot – a first for me), and now I’m down to double my prior dose. I’m off of any antidepressants right now. I’m worried I will lapse into another depression, but so far, so good. I’m starting to finally address the issues I’m having with oversleeping. But, to be honest, if oversleeping is the worst thing to come out of being in a really good place mentally otherwise, then so be it, I guess… For now at least.
In terms of National Coming Out Day, coming out is happening all the time, and I’m glad to be in a place where I’m neither invisible nor fearful of having to come out again and again and again. I love every opportunity. Take yesterday for example: I didn’t realize it was National Coming Out Day until that night when I went on facebook after work. And during that day, I had two instances of coming out. While I was working in the cafeteria during lunch, a kid asked me, “Are you a boy?” I replied, “I’m neither. I’m a little bit of both.” He replied, “Really?!” And I said, “Yeah!” I had a big smile on my face. Then later in the afternoon, I realized that my new boss(?) got his plastic rectangle with his name “engraved” and it was now on the custodial door, and I’ve been waiting for mine since January, when I changed my name. So instead of getting worked up about that, I just wrote down on a piece of paper what I wanted (so there’d be no confusion) and explained to the administrative assistant that Mr. [last name] has his on the door and I’ve been waiting for mine. She apologized for forgetting to include mine in the order, and said she would go ahead and order mine. I gave her the paper: It said, “Mx. [last name].” She verbalized that back to me to make sure it was right, and I said, “Yep.” I should have that up hopefully within a couple of weeks, finally. This feels like such a victory!
There’s one other thing I want to mention regarding mental health: I started listening exclusively to a new-to-me podcast. By this, I mean, I listen to podcasts every day while at work. And previously, that would be somewhere between 5-8 different ones at any given time. Right now, for whatever reason, I’m just listening to one, all day every day. I’m sure I’ll get tired of it and get back to some of my other ones, but for now, it’s pretty mesmerizing. If you’re interested in checking it out, it’s called the Mental Illness Happy Hour. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. The host jokes that he does not give advanced notice for triggers because he would have to stop every couple of minutes to announce another Trigger Warning. And it is absolutely true. There is a lot of stuff about abuse of all kinds, dark secrets and shame, both sexual in nature and just like, the kinds of stuff that randomly pops in your head and you hate yourself for thinking it. The host lightens things up by being in turns uplifting and darkly humorous. Each show is somewhere between 2-3 hours (!?!), and he’d read people’s surveys they’ve sent in anonymously, and he will also interview one person per show. He’s doing all this seemingly on his own, and he’s making a living off of it. I’m kinda obsessed right now.
This actually happened a few months ago – she was fired from a nearby college on May 24th. It’s only now hitting larger news outlets because there are now three state-level civil rights complaints, trying to get her re-instated. I read about it in the newspaper while at work, yesterday.
She was treating transgender students who came to her with a previous diagnosis. She was definitely qualified to do so, having gone through many hours of training in trans-health care, attending a conference sponsored by WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health), etc. She was doing this at the college’s expense, which just makes it seem like it was condoned by the college, right?!!
WPATH’s stance is, “With appropriate training, …hormone therapy can be managed by a variety of providers, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and primary care physicians.” Apparently, this was outside the scope of what the Student Health Center did, but this was never communicated to her. The termination came from out of the blue.
Hormones are prescribed for other reasons at the health center, with no problem. Birth control, ovarian disease, and low testosterone are all treated regularly.
Interestingly, the information on the Student Health Center’s website changed two months after her firing: While it had said, “comprehensive primary care,” and “continuity of care,” it now says, “basic primary care” and has no mention of continuous care. At least they’re being accurate about the downgrade???
This just angers me to no end because this doctor took it upon herself to step it up and become well versed in an area that, for whatever reason, makes so many medical professionals so squeamish and stand-offish. And if this was something she did of her own volition, and it was well within the standards of care, then back it up! What was the university afraid of? There are standards in this field, despite the fact that the medical professions are grotesquely behind the curve with this, in general. A bunch of transgender students were left in the lurch.
The college’s associate vice president of student wellness was quoted as saying, “We are fortunate to be situated in [city], where there is a strong medical community rich with resources.” As if to say that students can just go elsewhere. I’ve tried “elsewhere” around here, as an adult, and it was a super-frustrating process. If I think back to who I was at age 18 or 19, disrupted care at the on-campus center in this regard would have definitely sent me into a tailspin and/or mental health crisis. I would have felt like I didn’t have the means or psychic energy to find out another path. I would have felt deeply cut, in a personal way, by my institution’s sudden change in policy.
It just seemed like this college was at the forefront – it could have laid the groundwork for other area places of higher education to follow. And then it just took a huge leap back into the wrong direction. One step forward, two steps back sometimes I guess, right?
I had a bunch of problems with getting continuous care. I was first getting hormones from a sketchy-ass doctor. I finally felt so disgusted with his practice that I sought out another path. I went to one specifically because she was listed as being LGBT friendly and knowledgeable. That ended up being wrong basically – she told me she didn’t know how she had gotten on that resource list. I had to have a pretty heated conversation with her – her stance first was that I could come to her for primary care, but I should continue to get my hormone prescriptions through that other doctor. I told her I wasn’t going to do that. She told me this was beyond her scope and if she had a male patient with low-testosterone, she would not even monitor him for that reason.
We finally landed on a compromise. She would continue to prescribe what I was already at, and she would monitor that. If I wanted to make any changes though, I would have to do that through other means.
When I did want to make other changes, I first got on a long waiting list for an LGBT-specific clinic. I kept hearing negative stories about the quality of care there, so I decided to also try another approach: an endocrinologist. I had to get on a long waiting list for that, as well. I’ve been going there since January, and so far, I’m happy because I don’t have to deal with the PCP anymore. Getting an endo was not like adding yet another medical professional and another series of appointments. It was more like, instead. Unless I get like, a rash or something, then I’d go back to my PCP.
All of this was hard enough, and I am an adult who has worked really hard at advocating for myself. Thinking back to who I was as a student I would have withered under this kind of stress. Students need to be able to access trans-specific care on their campuses. Period.
A note about the lack of specifics in this post: I left out the doctor’s name and the name of the college, city, etc. because that’s been the way I’ve always operated with this blog, in order to keep some anonymity. I’m not sure anymore whether it’s all necessary, but I’m not about to try to figure that out here-and-now. If you’d like specifics and the names of the sources I got a lot of this information from, just leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you!
I can’t believe there’s still so many intense conversations to be had! Why does it take forever?!
In general in our neighborhood, my spouse and I don’t have a rapport with people. Like, at best, I watched our next-door neighbor’s cat one time, and we went to a backyard fire at her place twice, like two summers ago.
We also have a neighbor a few houses down who borrows our lawn mower a lot. This is the guy I’m talking about today – I ran into him yesterday, off our street.
I was walking on a major road nearby, to a coffee shop to write some letters to friends. (I am still out of work on medical leave right now.) He saw me first, from across the street. We probably have only seen each other once or twice since last summer. He’s always super friendly, so he was shouting, “Hey, hey, how are you?” and crossing the street at the same time. I steeled myself (slightly), and returned the greeting, meeting him partway to shake his hand and ask how he’s been, what he was up to.
He was walking home after buying his lotto tickets, etc. but that’s neither here nor there. We talked about past neighbors that he’s kept up with, and about his plans for retirement. I told him my spouse was going back to school in the fall for a master’s program. (Oh, hey, PS: blog-friends, my spouse is doing this big thing coming up. Grad school!!!)
Then I told him that I legally changed my name to Kameron. And that I got my passport and driver’s ID and everything changed over. He asked me if this was a good thing, and I said, yeah, yeah it is. Then I realized he just has no idea, so I spelled it out – I said, “I’m transgender, I’m actually more in the middle, not like I am going to become a man. But like, at work and my friends and family, I use male pronouns, ‘he/him/his.'”
He started to get it then, and as soon as he did, he started apologizing. For being invasive, or something, I guess? I just kept repeating, “No, you’re fine. It’s not personal. This is a part of who I am. So, like my parents are all good with it, everyone’s all good. It just took me a long time. There’s a lot of discrimination. Like, say, fifteen years ago, it wasn’t even OK just to be gay. Things are changing though.”
He definitely got that. It immediately sunk in. He said, “Oh yeah, like you might have been depressed and now things are better for you? I bet people deal with suicides and stuff, right?” I said “Yes, and even bullying and hate crimes and everything. It’s bad. I mean, I don’t like to be negative, but yeah, it can be bad.”
He then proceeded to ask about operations and surgeries, and I just said, “Well, that part of it is personal. So, I mean, I’ll figure that out as it comes. But for now everything is all good.” He does not need to know about my top-surgery status or anything else of that nature, for sure!
He started apologizing again, haha.
I shook his hand again and said he was free to borrow our lawn mower if he needs it. We exchanged more pleasantries and parted ways. I felt really good about it. He kept referring to my spouse as my girlfriend, but hey, I can’t correct the man on every little detail. He got the gist of the most important stuff for now, and that’s more than fine by me! It felt like another tiny weight lifted off. Dang, how much extra “weight” am I actually carrying?! That’s still a mystery that is becoming just a little bit clearer…