This post is in tandem with a post from back in February, Being transgender while hospitalized.
For the past two weeks, I was attending a partial hospitalization program every day from 9:30 – 3:15. Our day was broken up into 5 workshops / activities, and we pretty much stayed with the same group and the same social worker / teacher. Every day we had new people arrive and people finish their 10 days and leaving.
The first session was always “process group,” where we talked about our previous evening and if we used any of the skills we were learning about. Right off the bat, while introducing myself, I let everyone know my name is Kameron and I’m transgender and use male pronouns. The social worker replied, saying “thank you for letting us know – sometimes we have people who don’t say anything about it. I really appreciate it.”
They had to use my legal name for paperwork and official stuff, but it seemed like they could use my chosen name for the daily roster, and I asked the social worker about that. She said, “yes let’s change it – I’ll make a note and you can mention it to the administrative assistant.” During break, I went up to talk to her, and surprisingly she said, “No, it has to be your legal name.” The next day, my legal name was on the roster, and next to it, “Kameron.” Like that, with quotation marks. It felt weird but I guess it was a compromise. Other than that though, everyone always called me Kameron.
During a break one day, someone shared their People magazine with me – a recent one with an article about Bruce Jenner. It felt good she wanted to point that out to me, like she was connecting with me. I read the article, which was actually well done. They referred to Bruce with male pronouns, but made it a point to explain that at this time, Bruce and his family are using male pronouns, so People magazine is too. Seemed logical.
When new people joined our group, I continued to say I’m trans and I use male pronouns. On one occasion, I got into it a lot more, saying that I feel somewhere in the middle and don’t plan to live my life as a man. That strangers almost always see me as female, and it’s difficult to navigate in the world. Later on, I got the best feedback ever. A new person came up to me and said that if I’m going for in between genders, I’ve got it down. They could not tell which gender I am, and when I spoke and gave my name, they still couldn’t tell. They had no idea, but if they absolutely had to guess, they would have said “male.” They gave me a thumbs up. That really brightened my day (for a short time because I’m depressed and am having a hard time absorbing the good things.)
One person told me that they worked with a lot of transgender people in the past. They asked me, “Have you had any surgeries.” I quickly and calmly steered them away from this, saying, “I’d rather not talk about that; that’s personal. What I am interested in talking about though is the social stigma and daily struggles.” That then turned into a discussion about stigmas surrounding mental illness, and everything was fine.
Other than that, everyone was respectful and consistent. This was the first time I was trying out the name “Kameron,” and it felt good. No one knew I’m not using that name in my life yet, and it didn’t matter. I’ve since been telling more friends about my name, and when my partner leaves notes for me, she writes, “Kameron.” This is really starting to have some forward momentum. It feels scary right now, but also it feels affirming, so I’m going to keep going.
I was in the hospital for 4 nights (5 days) a little over a month ago, for psychiatric reasons. Although this was a very trying time and I was in an extremely vulnerable head-space, I was mostly treated with respect and dignity (as much as seemed possible, given the conditions). In terms of my trans-status, I was treated with respect and dignity across the board.
While in the Emergency / Admittance Area, my family and friends present must have spoken behind-the-scenes, on my behalf about the fact that I am transgender, because I didn’t mention it at all at that point. My friend later told me the intake leader (don’t know his exact title) told her that he has a transgender son.
Also my partner later told me there was signage throughout the hospital about their non-discrimination policies. I found this to be accurate in the way they run things. Everything was by schedule and protocol, no special treatment and in general no immediate response to a want (like, “can I get a pencil?” “Can I get a snack” elicited a quicker response.) At times, I found the ways they were doing things to be confusing, and I wasn’t explicitly told how things are run (when mealtimes are, when med times are, what is allowed and not allowed, etc.) I just picked up that information as I went along, as best I could. Not sure why that kind of stuff was never conveyed to me, but it all did make sense in terms of treating everyone fairly.
I got the sense that not every staff member got the memo about male pronouns, but the more “important” positions definitely did, and they took the lead on that when conversing with other staff members. For example, one of the team leaders asked an overnight staff person to “open the shower area for him,” and that staff member said, “What?” and looked confused. The team leader just repeated herself and no problem arose.
I was in an extremely fuzzy, drug induced state the first 24 hours of my stay. As I started to pull out of that and notice my surroundings, I picked up on certain things. If you woke up early enough to make it to the morning meeting at 8am, you could get non-decaffeinated coffee and also information about the day! I was surprised how few people came to the meeting (it felt like one of the highlights of each day.)
On the first day I was capable of making it to the meeting, I was still very much in my head and not at all with it. An out-of-character-for-me event happened. I interrupted the team leader 1 minute into the meeting. I stood up and went to the front of the room. I said I’m new here and introduced myself. I said I’m transgender and could everyone use male pronouns? (If only all comings-out could be this easy!!!!! I feel really proud of myself for this one.) Another patient asked excitedly, “What’s transgender? That means you were born a girl, right?” He seemed ready to continue conversing at length, but another staff member made attempts to derail him and get the meeting back on track, which worked immediately. I wasn’t done with my spiel yet though. I concluded with, “And there are no knives allowed – I heard that early on!” before sitting back down.
I also chatted with another patient about my transgender identity at one point.
The first day I was there, I did not have access to Androgel, but that seemed part of protocol – it takes time to clear personal belongings including prescriptions, maybe? I did not yet have my street clothes or reading material or slippers either. The second day, the nurse brought my Androgel and seemingly played dumb with how to apply it and how much. I told her I apply 1-2 pumps daily (I apply 1 pump, but my prescription states 1-2 pumps). I told her it’s supposed to be applied to your upper arms, but I do my thighs. I told her I have to go into my bathroom (in private) to apply the gel, and she waited for me. The other times she came with it, she referred to it as a spray and also as a patch. She was vague about my dosing. She let me do my thing and then hand it back to her. Although this all felt confusing, I think it was an attempt to convey, “this is your thing and we trust that you will take care of it. We don’t care what you are doing in this regard.” It felt validating.
Although the hospital was far from a pleasant experience, and I would say there were a couple of instances while I was in the emergency department in which I was treated as less than a person with dignity, in terms of my trans-status, they got it right, every step of the way.
This week has thrown me for a loop, big time. Between Saturday AM and Wednesday AM, I was in the hospital for mental health reasons, on a psychiatric unit. I don’t believe I ever thought I’d be back there; in fact, it was my biggest fear. Scarier than heights, the tallest roller-coasters, the dark, spiders, sharks, germs, etc. etc. (I’m actually not afraid of any of those things.)
Just to summarize my history briefly, when I was a senior in high school, I suffered a psychotic break and subsequent major depressive episode (lasting 4 months, and then on and off throughout college). I was on a mixture of different drugs for about 6 years, and I weened myself off all of them after a certain point. I’d been med-free for roughly 10 years, and pretty proud of that fact.
I’ve written about mental health before…
Here: Depression and taking testosterone
Here: That specific trauma is still there
And here: Continuing to work through a specific trauma
…and also scattered throughout many blog entries.
Although this blog is mainly about taking a low dose of T and working as a janitor, it is undeniably also about mental health and self-care. I slipped up pretty big in the self-care department, slowly and gradually at first, and then fast and unstoppably. I went through a full blown manic episode / psychotic break. A lot of it was so fun it’s kinda indescribable. In fact, I can definitely tell I still haven’t come down completely yet – I’m registering a heightened sensitivity to bodily sensations, both pleasant and annoying, I feel keyed up / antsy, I need to be in control of the stimulation levels or else I feel overwhelmed within seconds, smells and tastes are waaaaay off (not constantly, but sporadically), colors and patterns are popping out, my thinking is still relatively disorganized…
But I’m sleeping well and eating well and engaging in a lot of different things and spending 24/7 with my partner for a few days, and that’s what’s important right now. I was prescribed ziprasidone, which is an atypical antipsychotic approved by the FDA in 2001. Am I happy about it? No. Do I think I’ll be on it indefinitely? A strong NO! But I can accept it for right now.
I’m sure I’ll return to some of what I went through, in an attempt to process things and just share where I’m at (it does feel like it’ll be an arduous rehabilitation process, and I’ll be out of work for roughly 2 weeks). For now though, I want to just write about a strange parallel. It might not mean anything if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, but I’ll give it a whirl anyway (and there are no real spoilers in what is to follow):
Leading up to what I went through, my partner and I were watching a lot of Breaking Bad. Not really binge watching it, but watching an episode almost every night. Now we are not. Haha. We only have 4 or 5 episodes left, but we’re putting the show on pause. I suggested we start watching Malcolm in the Middle instead, largely because Bryan Cranston plays the dad in both shows (and I used to watch it as a teenager and thought it would be fun. It is fun). But – we just watched the 5th episode, and the family is getting their house tented and fumigated. They are in a camper trailer on their front lawn in the meantime. And the parents, at the tail end of the episode, put on gas masks in order to enter the house and get some alone time. I was flipping out. (I mean, my partner was too, but I was shouting and swearing and pacing and called it a night, basically). Haha. I’ll probably be in bed by 9pm.