Tonight at 10PM (9PM central time), PBS is screening a documentary called Real Boy. If you’re hanging at home tonight, check it out!!
I had the opportunity to see this film twice now:
Last fall, my neighbors and I went, as part of the annual LGBT film festival where we live. I’d have to say that I was a little bit jaded at that time – here is yet another story about young, white, binary, trans-masculine people. Seen that / heard that!!!
The parts about his (Ben’s) mom, and family dynamics were what held it together for me. My neighbor was really touched by it in a different way – there was a lot about singing/songwriting/creativity, and also about recovering from substance abuse and other destructive behaviors.
Then, two weeks ago, I went with my spouse and her parents. It was a free showing, and the two main “characters” were there in person to answer questions and play some of their music as well. I felt really happy that we all saw it together – we then went out to eat and talked about how we related or didn’t, with the movie. Awesome conversations.
I would say that, for me, the second time’s the charm, haha. For one thing, closed captioning was on, so we could all listen and read the dialogue simultaneously, which was kinda necessary because some people mumble more than others. I got a lot more out of it – the way that Ben’s navigating his new life / roles / perceptions as a very young person (I can’t imagine transitioning at that age!!! Hormones are already on full alert and then to mix it up so drastically, must be stressful – both positive and negative stress.) And the male bonding that was going on between the characters felt a lot more touching to me this time for some reason. He has a mentor / protegee dynamic going on with an older musician, and then a housemate / brotherhood with a trans-guy he met through mutual friend.
In terms of content notes, I would give this warning: Topics that are potentially sensitive to those in recovery are brought up: mostly grappling with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as self-injury and family issues / rejection. Also, we follow along as Ben and his housemate move forward with getting top surgery with Dr. Garramone in Florida.
I’d say catch this movie if you can! Although it didn’t really speak to me the first time, I came around to really like it!
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a singer/songwriter from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, named Evan Westfal. He said, “Thanks for sharing your blog with the world,” and he directed me to his website where you can stream his music. He recently put out a new EP, called “Gay Pirates.” He says, “I was hearing a lot of love songs, but none of those love songs had any queer representation. I wanted a narrative that spoke to my identity as a gay man. So that is how gay pirates came to be. I describe the EP as a series of lamentations and exaltation of a very gay love.”
You can check it out here: Evan Westfal
The music is fun and catchy; the lyrics are full of stuff like coy promises and sweet deceits, treasure chests and booty, tight shirts, resiliency, and a “raging sea of hormones.” My favorite is probably the title track.
I asked him a couple of questions, because he’s got a lot going on behind the scenes, and because I was really curious what it’s like to live in Edmonton. He said,
If I had to explain Alberta to an American, I would say that, culturally, it’s the Texas of Canada. Politically Alberta is fairly conservative, and it’s also a Province that is rich in oil. A lot of our citizens are tradespeople that work on oil rigs. As for my city, Edmonton itself is a really cool city. A river valley runs through the centre of the city, it’s rich in wildlife and flora. The city has a fantastic pride centre, and lots of other queer organizations. To answer your questions regarding weather and topography, Edmonton is really cold in the winters, and really hot in the summers. You are correct, the surrounding areas are prairies.
The pride festival is really cool. Edmonton had it’s first parade in the 1990’s, and it was very small, and most of the participants wore bags over their heads to hide their identities. Flash forward to the millennium, and things have changed quite a bit. In the last few years our city hall has raised a pride flag, the Edmonton public school board was a marshall for the parade, and the Canadian Forces Base in Edmonton raised the pride flag. Each year over 30’000 people attend the parade. This year the pride festival’s theme is “one pride many voices.” The festival says they’re taking strides to become more inclusive. I think this is a great approach, as pride could definitely stand to be more intersectional and welcoming.
I asked what his musical background was, and also what instruments he plays / does he collaborate? He said,
My background with music begins with my schooling. I am a graduate of the Canadian College of Performing Arts, it’s a musical theatre program in Victoria, British Columbia. I think you’ll notice some heavy influences of musical theatre in my songwriting. I then decided to focus on commercial contemporary music, I achieved that through matriculating at MacEwan University. As a musician I’ve had the opportunity to sing backing vocals for Josh Groban, to play for the opening ceremony for the Edmonton Pride Festival, I’ve performed with Opera Nuova (an Edmonton based opera company), and I’ve produced and performed in many cabarets. Right now I’m working on a music video for my song “Gay Pirates,” it should be out in a month or two. As for instrumentation, I play the piano and sing. On my track Gay Pirates, I wrote all the song, but I had some great musician’s record with me. I have to send a thank you to my drummer Julissa Bayer, guitar player Andrew Brostrom, and Bassist David Pollock.
He also mentioned that he volunteers with an outreach program called fYerfly, so I asked him to elaborate on that too:
fYrefly is a great program. The name is an initialism that stands for: fostering Youth resilience energy leadership fun leadership yeah! You might notice the Y is capitalized, that’s because youth are the most important part. fYrefly originated as a summer leadership camp for LGBTTQ2SIA+ youth between the ages of 14-24. I attended the program as a teen, and it changed my life. For the first time in my life I got to be surrounded by people like me, I got to share a sense of camaraderie, and I got to feel pure acceptance. I loved the experience so much that I spent over a decade volunteering for fYrefly. Every year it’s a treat to see the difference the camp makes for youth.
I’m just going to repeat that acronym: “fostering Youth resilience energy leadership fun leadership yeah!” Haha, I love that! Evan will be performing for the opening ceremony of the Edmonton Pride Festival, coming up on June 10th. If you’re able to get up there – I just looked it up, and for me, it’s 34 hours away, by car! It’s up there!
Also, related, here’s one of the first posts I ever wrote – an experience I had at a wedding:
Effeminate Pirate Orders Fruity Drink on Party Boat
My co-worker’s last day was yesterday. He is moving on to work security at one of the middle schools. Some people have a lot of co-workers; I really only have just one. I have a supervisor, a co-worker, and then a 3rd person who works per-diem 4 hours per day (so, a co-worker, but it doesn’t feel the same.) We didn’t actually work “together,” but we worked at the same time, and for the majority of each day, it was just us in the building (along with after-school activity groups.)
He started roughly 3 years ago, and we got off to a rocky start. I can’t really explain it, but it wasn’t just rocky – it was jarring, and jagged. It was, in effect, a disastrous mix. Things slowly repaired themselves, with time and effort, and I learned a ton about human connection and priorities, during this process. Maybe someday I’ll really write about that, but it won’t be here.
In some ways, we are opposites he grew up in a rough part of the city and now lives in the suburb I grew up in, and he generally stays put out there. He seems to know everyone there. I moved to the city as soon as I was able to, and I never spend time in that suburb, unless I stop at the grocery store after work, or get gas, etc. I feel a comfortable level of anonymity within the city…
We had a complete turn around within the time we worked together – he was the person I confided in the most. He actively participated in being my ally in a bunch of different ways. I wrote about this a little, over a year ago, here:
I came out to my co-worker
As soon as I told him about my preferred name, he started using it when no one else was around. He called me “Kam-Ron” at first, and then just shortened it to “Kam.” This later became, “Killa Kam” and “Cuz.” He lightly pressured me to come out at work when he could feel it was imminent. I appreciate it more than he’ll know. Well, he does kinda know – I explicitly told him yesterday that I wanted to thank him for being my ally, most specifically.
Super early on, he organized a district-wide work happy hour at his dive bar. I was the only one who showed up. Later, he narrowed down the guest list, and our co-workers / kitchen staff hung out one time outside of work. That was a first! He later bonded with me through my enthusiasm with a local community radio station I volunteer with. He came on the air with me on two occasions, taking pics and putting them on facebook and just hyping it all up in general. One time, we met for lunch before work. That was a first.
Last night, I picked us up some tacos from that place we had lunch the one time, and we just chit-chatted one last time. He had gotten a bunch of cards from students, like whole classes-worth, and a couple of gifts from teachers. He was exuberant, like he often is, gesticulating a lot, not sitting down, etc. I was low-key, like usual, trying to offset that a bit. While still being interested / engaged.
I’ve never met anyone like this person. I observed the ways he navigates through situations with my eyes and ears perked. Out of everything I learned from him, I think the most all encompassing thing was what he summed up as “teamwork makes the dream work.” (He would say this a lot.) But not teamwork in the way I knew of teamwork – this is a different brand of teamwork. I thought of “teamwork” as doing the same thing at the same time with another person or group of people, until the job was done. But whenever I tried to enact that with him, we would usually clash. His teamwork involves a network of small favors with as many people as possible, like, “I do this, which motivates you to do that,” kind of thing. Which may or may not work depending on the other person, but he is an extremely motivational person. In addition to just going way above and beyond, in that rare situation which arises from time to time, just to help you out.
He made a personal connection with probably almost every single person, whether principal or teacher or part-time staff, in the entire school. And now he’s moving on to go do that in a school that’s twice or maybe three times as big.
I’ll miss him.
I also wrote about the co-worker I had before this co-worker, here:
Saying goodbye to my mentor / co-worker
That was when he retired, two and a half years ago.
Last month, I wrote about coming out at work, and I left a few loose ends that I want to circle back to.
Real quick first though, I wanna acknowledge this blogging milestone! It’s been 3 years and 6 months now. Which is 42 months, meaning I’ve averaged close to 5 posts per month. And that’s been fairly consistent: I haven’t had times of being prolific followed by times of not writing anything and back-and-forth. Same with word-count – posts have been no more than 1,000 words, no less than 600 words.
Although it’s been moderate and steady, the way I feel about the writing and the blog changes fairly drastically and frequently. Sometimes I feel like I’m an objective observer, recording down what has transpired. Other times, I have put so much of myself into what I write, that the process, and the feedback I get has helped boost me up through some really difficult times. So, thank you, for all that feedback! Sometimes I’ve felt like there isn’t much point to continuing; I have nothing to say. Other times, I feel super good about this ongoing personal account of experiences that are valuable for others, and myself, to look into / look back on.
I’d say, currently, it’s mostly the first thing: I’m an objective observer, writing down what is happening and feeling kind of distanced from it. And that’s OK – it’s not going to always feel this way, I have learned.
So, in that vein, here’s that account I said I would write, of my first month being out, at work: A quick recap – I had talked to my supervisor, co-workers, 4 teachers, the principal, and the assistant principal. I had also gotten things moving in the HR department, and we were just going into Xmas recess. During that week when kids and teachers were out, I though it’d be a great time for my co-workers to start, while it was just us. I wrote, ” I have a feeling my co-worker / ally will step up and lead it, followed by me correcting everyone every single time.” The first day, my supervisor called me through the walkie talkie, “[old name], can you get a 20″ red pad?” Me, “It’s going to be Kameron now.” Long pause. Her, “Kameron, can you get the 20″ red pad?” Then when she saw me, she said, “You’re going to make me practice now?” “Yeah!” And we were off! With, as I hoped, my co-worker leading. But the thing was, I didn’t actually have to correct anyone.
When break was over and everyone was back, I told 8 more people in person, and also had a 2nd, much more productive, conversation with the principal. More details are in the post, How I became “Mixter”. We talked about how to come out and the timeline, how my name would appear on my name plate on the custodial office door, and bathrooms. She told me I could think about these things and get back to her tomorrow. That all sounded fine, but as I went about my cleaning routine that night, I thought about how tough it is to just catch her, and what if it’s a while before I am able to get back to her. Plus the monthly faculty meeting was the following morning!!! (And even though I don’t attend these, that’s a great place for school announcements.)
So, I left a note on her table that night, so that action could start rolling ASAP. The note read:
Here’s what I”m thinking:
Fac Meeting – a heads up about a forthcoming email
Email – That I’m changing my name and that I’m now using male pronouns (he/him/his)
Sign on Custodial Door – Mx. [last name] (pronounced Mixter). I’m comfortable answering any questions about this.
also a recommendation if you one day have a transgender student:
A podcast called “How to be a Girl,” told from the point-of-view of a parent – with lots of input from her 8-year-old daughter (male to female). They talk about school, friends, privacy, etc. The parent is a great advocate.
There was some slight confusion in which the principal included all this information in the school-wide email, where, for example, I had only intended the podcast recommendation to be for her. But, I realized, the fact everyone received all of the above was actually way better! It gave people more context, which, I really really really think helped the information lodge into their brains better. Like, I have not had to correct anyone, once! Which is just completely blowing my mind. People seem more into addressing me by my name than before. Some people have decided to call me “Kam,” instead, of their own volition, which I’m OK with – it’s just plain fascinating. (My one co-worker / ally has been calling me, “Killa Kam” for a while now. Haha.)
A barrier between me and other people has definitely started to lift, just within this past month. I have had more conversations with more people about a wider variety of things than ever before. This is what being a person within a work environment is mostly about. The connections are what make it something more than just a random assortment of people that you (seemingly) have nothing in common with.
I wanna just keep running with this!
PS: This post has 882 words. Haha.
PPS: Posts coming soon about this amazing podcast, “How to be a Girl.”
For the sake of clarity, I’m going to give myself a pseudonym dead-name, for this article. Assume that before changing my name, my name was “KD Shorts.” And my new, legal name is “Kameron.”
A little over two years ago, I was at a workshop at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, and one of the presenters was mentioning that they go by the honorific, Mx. (Mixter) in their professional settings. I had heard of this before, but I thought it was just a theoretical pipe dream. Here was someone who was actually using it, in their actual life! I felt soooo jealous. I thought to myself (with a good dose of biting envy), “Oooh, look at the progressive academic who gets to waltz around in an enlightened and indulgent bubble all day long.” I never thought I would get there. Furthermore, even though I’m in my thirties, it was tough to envision a world where I was grown-up enough to have an honorific of my own.
I’d done an excellent job at avoiding it. No Mr. or Ms. for me! I am a janitor at an elementary school: a place where there’s a lot of “Mr. / Mrs. / Miss / Ms. [last name]” around the kids, and then first names amongst ourselves. Except for the custodial staff. It’s first names all around for us, generally. Everywhere except for our name plates on the custodial office door. There, we are “Mr. [last name]” and “Mrs. [last name]” I had somehow gotten away with requesting that I be simply “KD Shorts.” It was awesome.
There was another sticking point though: every year, at school pictures time. We get our pics taken, and then we get some freebies, as well as a sheet of all the staff pics – just like a student would get a sheet of their class. And so, we had to give our names, to be recorded on the sheet. It would vary from year to year, depending on how vocal/empowered I was feeling. I usually told the portrait employee, “no Ms. or Mr. Just KD Shorts.” There were a few years though, where I was “Ms. Shorts” as the default.
These past few weeks, I’ve been riding the wave of legally changing my name, which has been especially gratifying at work, where I was still known as KD Shorts, (she/her/hers). Everywhere else in my life, I had been going by “Kameron” for about two years, and (he/him/his) for many many years prior to that. So, essentially, I utilized this time of change as a chance to come out at work.
I talked to the principal and assistant principal on Friday, December 23rd. I stated that I was changing my name and my pronouns, and that I identify as neither a man nor a woman. The impromptu meeting was less than stellar – they fixated on bathrooms and the fact that the change was going to be hard for people to remember. They did mention that they wanted me to feel comfortable, but didn’t offer any concrete ways that that could happen. I did not panic though – I was thinking, “do not catastrophize this.” I remained neutral and open, but I didn’t use it as a teaching moment. I shouldn’t have to! I thought that things would work out fine, ultimately, and if not, I could always call in the big guns: my local gay alliance’s speaker’s bureau, to do the educating on my behalf.
We all took a time out for winter recess. I then came in on Tuesday, January 3rd, and the principal asked me if I’d come speak to her. Of her own volition, she had consulted the head of HR, and she had basically done a 180. We had a much more fruitful discussion. She still was strong in her opinions, but she made it clear that every choice was up to me, and I could take some time to think it over. We ended up talking about:
– How to come out, and the timeline
– How my name would appear on my name plate on the custodial office door
Coming out: I said that I have already pretty much told the people I would naturally tell in person, the ones I see regularly or semi-regularly. And I wasn’t going to be able to get to everyone, so if she could either make an announcement at the next staff meeting and/or send an email, that’d be great. We agreed she would do both. I told her I’d get back to her with the content I’d like her to say.
Name plate: The biggie! I said I had two ideas, but I didn’t say exactly what they were. (I’ll say it here though! Either 1. just “Kameron” and nothing else. 2. Mx. [last name].) She said that her thought was that my co-workers have Mr. _____ and Mrs. _____, so it’d be great if I conformed to that and picked one or the other. I said, “OK! Great, there is another option that I will go with. It’s Mx. That’s pronounced ‘Mixter.'” She wrote it down in her notes. It was a done deal!
Bathrooms: I could write an additional article about this (heck, probably more like a dissertation!), but to keep it short and sweet: We agreed that I get to pick where I go, and I am making no big deal of it, and it does not need to be a part of any announcement.
All’s how it should be! Just one more small way I am joining the world of adults. That’s Mixter, to you.
This has been my biggest transition goal. For a long time. I always knew I would / could, at some point in the (distant) future, but usually it felt like there’d be no way. I’ve been riding the waves of my legal name change though, and getting in on that as an opportunity to say that there’s more to it than just that I am going to go by a new name now.
Monday – My supervisor had been out of work for 3 weeks, and Monday was her first day back. During her absence, I had received the signed court order from a judge in the mail, and was starting in on some of the bureaucratic processes: going to the DMV, going to my bank, etc. So it was good timing for when she came back – I told her (again) that I was changing my name, and I deferred to her in terms of what she thought I should do. I did not tell her anything beyond the name change, and she expressed concern that she wasn’t going to remember. I also came out to my 2nd co-worker (my one co-worker has been in my corner this whole time.) She was emotional in her responses, but I’m sure she’ll be fine / nothing will change.
Tuesday – Before work, I went to the “third floor” to speak to the benefits lady. I filled out paperwork. She asked me if I had my new Social Security card, and I was like, “uhhhh…” I made a mental note to get on that. She said we could get things started anyway, without it, and I just send over a copy when I get it. While at work, I came out to my favorite teacher. It went well. The reason I like her is because she just seems real. We don’t talk a whole lot, but when we do, she’s always reserved yet super thoughtful in her insights. She shared with me a couple of impressions her 4-year old daughter has had of me (she’s met me a handful of times.) That was nice. I told her the name and the pronoun thing, but I didn’t get as far as “neither male nor female” in this interaction. It was good enough for me right then; she said, “I’m happy for you,” a couple of times.
Wednesday – I gave it a day or two. My supervisor basically seemed to think now I just wait for things to trickle down from the “third floor.” I wasn’t feeling that – I was feeling more proactive than that, but I gave it a day. I In the meantime, I emailed our union president (the benefits lady prompted me to do this) to give him a heads up. We just had an election in November, and my favorite buildings and grounds guy was elected. It’s always a buildings and grounds guy, and if it has to be one, I’m so glad it’s him because I think he can absorb the news and take the lead on it within all those guys – electricians, plumbers, HVAC, maintenance, conservatives, white men, Trump supporters, etc. etc. Hopefully.
Thursday (today) – I talked to my supervisor about when can I change my badge, stuff like that, and she reiterated that I just wait and it’ll all happen. What I was really most concerned about was talking to the principal (again), so that she hears it from me, and so that she hears all of the information. I knew that once I talked to her, she’d take it from there (I’m not sure how she’ll do it, but the whole school will know through her.) My supervisor said she mentioned it to the principal, and I took that as a green light. I came out to three more teachers (one of them told me about a relative, and I was able to get to the part about “not male or female” with her, which felt great!) I was feeling pressure to talk to the principal either today or tomorrow because we’re going into Xmas Recess, and having everyone know when they come back from break would be ideal. So I made it happen. After school but before the admin. assistants leave for the day, I went to the office to see if the principal was available. The assistant principal happened to be with her in her office right then, which worked out perfectly. Kill two birds with one stone! Plus, the dynamic with both of them was so much better. A lot of times, they are like foils to each other. I said the stuff (the name, the pronouns, the “neither male nor female,”) the principal brought up bathrooms (which I have mixed feelings about), the assistant principal brought the energy and excitement, but also brought up how he was not going to be able to remember, and that’s not anything about me. I said yeah yeah I know it’ll be an adjustment period. (In my head, I’m thinking, how long is this adjustment period, exactly???)
Friday (tomorrow) – I have about 5 other people I’d like to tell in person, if I get the chance. If not, no big deal. Everyone’s gonna be focused on Xmas parties and getting ready for domestic family things and cookies and blah blah blah. We’ll see. The best part is there’s really no more pressure!
And so, that’s it! Now I just wait for things to happen around me. Next week, during Xmas Recess, the only people who will be at the school will be me, my two co-workers, my supervisor, and maybe the principal and assistant principal. So, that’s a whole week for the people who say my name the most, to practice. I have a feeling my co-worker / ally will step up and lead it, followed by me correcting everyone every single time.
Then teachers and kids come back. And teachers will have a heads up from the principal one way or another, and then I just start correcting, correcting, correcting. For how long? Not sure.
(I gotta say, I definitely feel good and accomplished, but I don’t feel that “wheeeeeeeee” feeling that often comes with big comings-out. I’m attributing that to my medication, for better and worse. It makes so many things so much easier, but those roller coaster feelings – yeah, I miss the good ones…)
On Saturday, I got my signed court order in the mail, along with all my supporting documents (including an exemption to having to announce my name change in a publication) and instructions to go back to the County Clerk’s office and file again. It only took 26 days – didn’t expect such a quick turn-around. I got this piece of mail immediately after coming home from a birthday lunch with my spouse and parents, at which I told them about my legal name change (tough conversation to bring up, but I did it!) Monday was my birthday, and my spouse and I went on a day trip. I had also taken Tuesday off, which was perfect because I had plenty of time to go back downtown and keep this momentum going.
I got there at about 11am and, after filing, I purchased two certified copies of the court order for $10. I then thought, wow, I could go down to the DMV too at this rate! I did some stuff at home (including coming up with and practicing a new signature!!), and then I headed down there at about 3pm. Filled out the form, wrote my new signature in a box, got my picture taken, and then was told that their system was down. The lady re-booted the computer two times, I took another picture, wrote the signature again, and, …no go. She gave me my number anyway, but when I finally got to go up, they just told me I needed these things scanned first, and since the computer was down, it just wasn’t going to happen. Blah!
So, I came back the following morning (this morning). Wrote my signature two more times, got my picture taken two more times, with technical issues in between. It finally went through though. And now I have a temporary license, and I’ll get my new one in two weeks!
I had always thought I was going to stick with “F,” legally. As I went through the day yesterday though, I came back to that – it suddenly had a lot of weight attached to it. NOW was my chance to change to “M,” if I wanted. I would have just waited on the DMV until I’d gotten a note from my doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist. (That’s all it takes where I live! No proof of HRT. No proof of surgery. Just a letter from someone saying that you identify as you say you identify!) Ultimately, I decided, no, I’m not changing it. If I could change it to something else (“X,” “N,” or whatever, I’d have done that in a heartbeat. It was a fairly easy call – I was no more attached to “F” than “M” – they equally do not define me, so as a default, I’m sticking with F. At least for now. I know it might be harder to change it in the future, (Trump) but, that’s a risk I’ll have to take, because now is not the time…
I actually had an idea while thinking through all this, and I wonder if others do this: I think I will put a teeny tiny black sticker over the “F” on my new license. It’ll just be a blank square. And if for some reason I have to show a cop or something, I can peel it off real quick first. But for purposes of showing bartenders, etc., hey, they don’t need to know!!! I think it’ll feel super validating to black out “F.”
So, right now, all systems are open! There’s nothing in my way from changing my name anywhere and everywhere. It now is timely for me to come out at work. I can finally have an actual name on Facebook.
Etc. Now, where to start???
I never before realized that these days are consecutive! Oh hey, these are the two most frequent topics of this blog!
In the past, I haven’t observed either through writing here, but I currently have a lot to say about both; this’ll probably end up being one of my more personal posts, at least as of lately.
First just real quick – a little bit of background / information about both:
World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10th) was first celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries. This year’s theme is “psychological first aid.” My first thought was that it refers to how to handle someone who is in a mental health crisis, but it actually refers to being a support to someone who just witnessed or experienced a terrible tragedy. There is a world of difference between the two, even though there’s also overlap; of course, learning about both types of situations is going to be important.
Nat’l Coming Out Day (Oct. 11th) was founded in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. Oct. 11th was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the 1987 Nat’l March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. It is observed in the spirit of the personal being political and the idea that homophobia cannot thrive once people know someone personally who is LGBT+.
(Information is coming from the World Health Organization website and wikipedia.)
Last night, I saw an amazing documentary called Strike A Pose, which just came out last year. It’s about the seven young male dancers from the NYC underground (the origins of voguing) who were personally selected by Madonna for her tour. They also ended up starring in a behind-the-scenes documentary at the time, called Truth or Dare. Madonna was very outspoken about AIDS, gay rights, safe sex, and of course, Expressing Yourself! [Spoiler Alert:] What was most interesting though, was that at the same time these young men were embodying those messages on her behalf, they were not all on board or comfortable with it. Three of the men had been diagnosed with HIV prior to the start of the tour, and they all were silent about it to the extreme, not even telling friends or loved ones. Also, one of the men sued Madonna after the tour, for forced outing, partially spurred by a coerced kiss with one of the other dancers in the Truth or Dare doc. He was not ready or willing to be that person, to be making that statement.
So, I guess what I’m saying with all that is that Nat’l Coming Out Day is great and celebratory and everything, but in order to actually be empowering, it has to be on each individuals’ own terms. Once I outed a friend (about something totally unrelated to being LGBT) as part of a joke, and then I felt really crummy about it. I just let time wash over that one, but it’s still a prominent memory.
So where am I at? I still have a fair share of coming out to do. I’m not doing any of it today. It does feel imminent though – I’d say within the next 6 months. 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! As of now, I have 5 different names going on in different places, and none of them are the full name I actually want to go by!
Here’s something I wrote that really captures this feeling (I wrote it almost exactly 2 years ago. Dang, that is a long time!): Fractured identity and fragmented feelings
Moving on to mental health:
My mental health has improved by leaps and bounds within the past 9 months, and I have not written about it. Actually, the most recent thing I did write was 9 months ago, here: A full year later / Making major changes. I was hopeful but tentative. I had had 23 good days in a row (an anomaly), due to starting yet another drug. I am still on that drug, and I am still having good day after good day after good day (other than not so great days due to a cold, a handful of really bad days during the stress of surgery).
Overall, I am more stable and happy than I ever have been before, BY FAR. And I feel certain that I can attribute that to a drug, something I never would have thought possible before (I’ve been on lots of drugs over a span of many years, and did not have a good experience with any of them. I had gone off medications completely for 10 years because I thought it was hopeless. I always downplayed the usefulness of psychotropic drugs. When I was younger, I thought I was the only one who had this reaction; now I know it’s fairly common to have to go through a trial and error period, searching for something that will actually be a good match.
During those 10 years I was not taking medications, I focused on other things to improve my well-being. Most of that was social in nature – focusing on not isolating, focusing on positive connections with people, focusing on emotional intimacy. It worked. To an extent. I started to think that getting back into therapy would probably help. That worked too. It felt miraculous for a while at first, actually. But as the years went by, kinda only to an extent. I found myself in a situation where I HAD to get back on medications, and I was not happy about that at all. In fact, I recall thinking a lot about when I’d be able to get off of them (maybe 6 months? I was thinking…)
In the end, it has worked out better than I ever could have imagined. I am neither pro-med nor anti-med. It’s way too personal, and different for each individual, to have a general feeling about it. But I can say that I used to be anti-med, and now I feel that, for some people, it can be that one game changer that makes all the difference.
Two states down, 48 to go!
I am starting to work toward getting in on this!
In June, I posted about Jamie Shupe, the first person in the US to successfully petition for the gender status of “non-binary.” Now as of September 26th, Sara Kelley Keenan is also legally non-binary. Here is a full article about it: Californian Becomes Second US Citizen Granted ‘Non-Binary’ Gender Status.
I want to be the third! (Or the fourth, or the fifth, or the sixth, etc. The number doesn’t matter to me at all; just that I get to do it, eventually.)
I’ve been stalling about changing my name legally, for a long time now. It’s been a year and a half since I socially changed it, everywhere except for work. Part of the reason for waiting is because I don’t know what I’m doing with my last name. And if there’s a chance I’m going to change it, I don’t want to go through this process twice!
And yeah, work is the other reason. I mean, I can legally change my name without coming out at work, but it would be great if the two goals aligned.
And now I’m wondering if I can change my name and also request the status of “non-binary” all at once. I’m in the process of finding this out. There is a social justice group called Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) that partners with lawyers and law firms for pro bono work on issues including the Name Change Project. Luckily, I fall within their geographical range, so I filled out their form, and should hear back within two weeks!
I also am fairly close to feeling good about moving forward with a new last name. I had one idea a long time ago but was unsure. Over time, I stopped thinking about it entirely, until just last week. I went to a therapy appointment for the first time in a few months, and that jump-started some thought processes that had been calcifying in the corners of my brain. Things got shaken up, and I’ve been feeling consistently euphoric ever since.
A little more about Sara Kelley Keenan: She is a 55 year-old retired paralegal who was born intersex. According to the article,
Her court petition was a quiet, unannounced test case for a group of California people who also seek to change their legal genders to non-binary rather than female or male. About five people—all working with the Intersex and Genderqueer Recognition Project—plan to petition courts in the counties of San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara and Sacramento over the next few weeks.
How awesome is that?! I’m picturing a floodgate opening and people just pouring through. First five more people. Next fifty!
… “I’m 55 years old, this doesn’t really change my life very much. But I want to leave the world a better place for younger intersex people. This represents a huge opportunity for acceptance and awareness for young non-binary and intersex and trans people—and for their parents.”
There are still more barriers, though, of course. The DMV. Getting a passport. Other documents. Things are changing though, slowly but surely. Just last week, Shupe’s attorney got an email from the Oregon DMV, stating,
“[the Oregon] DMV received the okay to move forth with forming an advisory committee and drafting administrative rules regarding the capturing of sex on the driver license. The rules will allow DMV to capture and print an identifier for sex other than M for male and F for female on the driver license, permit, and ID card.”
Hassles! But, things are moving…
So, I’ve been listening to this one podcast religiously since its beginning in December of 2014… it’s kind of a guilty pleasure; it’s a straight up advice column! It’s called Dear Sugar; the “Sugars” are Cheryl Strayed, of Wild fame – the book, the movie (starring Reese Witherspoon), the attitude, and Steve Almond, who wrote Against Football, among many other books and essays. They also always bring in an “expert,” or someone who can speak from personal experience about the person’s question.
They have fielded numerous letters about relationships, family dynamics, friend betrayals, weddings, lies and secrets, infidelity, personality clashes, (surprisingly, nothing that I can remember about work drama or school issues…) A couple of them have been about lesbian and gay -centric problems: parents who are unsupportive, partners who are still in the closet, etc…
I have been waiting for something that relates to trans-people. Finally, after a year and 9 months, they tackle it!
And… it’s totally underwhelming.
Have a listen, here: I’m a Transgender Man, Seeking Acceptance (For reference, it’s 39 minutes long.)
I mean, I think it’s great for the general population. So, it’s a good start. They read two different trans-men’s letters, and they seem to be at different points in their transitions, so that’s cool.
The first guy is in college, and he’s feeling great about his path and the people around him and everything – everything except for his parents, who just will not get on board. This, I feel, is super common.
The second guy seems to be a little more established, in a career, and he’s navigating the world of dating. He is concerned that since he is short (5’2″), does not have a lucrative career (social worker), and does not have a penis, he may be unlovable. This, too, seems like a pretty common concern.
The “Sugars,” in general, use radical empathy as a basis for starting a dialogue. And, in this case, since they don’t know how it feels to be transgender, they take the angle that,
“The best way to begin to understand an experience very different from your own is to listen to the stories of others. This week, we read the letters of two transgender men who are struggling to find love and acceptance. The Sugars discuss with Cooper Lee Bombardier, a visual artist, writer and transgender man.”
According to his bio, Cooper “has been a construction worker, a cook, a carpenter, a union stagehand, a welder, a shop steward, a dishwasher, a truckdriver, a bouncer, and a housepainter, among other things, for a paycheck.” He’s currently super successful with the writing and the art. He sounds super cool!
Steve Almond starts off talking about the first time he met a trans-woman. It was slightly cringe-inducing, but also definitely a worthwhile story. Then they get into the letters, and introduce Cooper. He, as a guest, is eloquent and upbeat, but he does keep it pretty basic, and seems somewhat detached from his own personal stories. There is a really great moment though where Cooper says he’s been “transitioning” for about 15 years, and when the Sugars ask him how old he was when he started, he says, “in my early 30s.” They sputter about how young he looks and how could this be? And he replies, “I moisturize.” And then later, “It’s the trans-fountain of youth, you know…” and there’s lots of laughing, and Cheryl says, “Sign me up!”
One thing that Cooper says really well in discussing the first letter is,
“We wrestle with these feelings for so long, that by the time we articulate it to somebody, it’s like a bottle bursting open. …And we tell our parents and we expect them to get it, like, tomorrow. Even though we’ve been struggling with it for years and years, right? And so I think that… it’s really hard to be patient when we’ve waited so long to kind of actualize and realize that this is what’s going on for us. But for those relationships that we do want to bring along with us, we do need to offer some patience, even though it’s hard.”
When discussing the second letter, they telescope it out, to bring it to the wider theme of anyone who feels like they are unloveable, and how to change that internal notion. Cheryl says, “This is a universal conundrum. …Am I too fat to be loved? No. Am I too poor to be loved? No. Am I too fill-in-the-blank to be loved? No.” They touch on how his height and his career might factor into this, and no one makes one further mention about the fact that he does not have a penis. Is it because they think it’s not important to talk about? No, I kind of doubt it – I think they are finding it too awkward to address. And/or, in being respectful, they feel that it’s not up to them to talk about a trans-person’s genitalia (or sex life, or surgeries, or…) which is definitely important that we’ve gotten that far, but in this case, it was right there, in the letter, and it just got straight up ignored.
I do really hope they expand the dialogue about what it feels like to be a transgender person. I have been thinking of writing in, for a while now, and I only feel more motivated after listening to this. I’m planning on it; I’ll let you know.