I got some hate mail yesterday, and decided to respond.
Why the fuck are you doingvthis [sic] to yourself and causing other people to follow you. [sic]
The main reason I’m doing “this” to myself is because I value the quality of my life. I’m just going to have to venture a guess about what “this” is, based on the contents of this blog: taking testosterone, getting top surgery, changing my name and pronouns, being a janitor, being a writer, being out and open about being nonbinary… hmm, what else is this blog about? Going to therapy. Taking psychotropic medications. Being open about mental health struggles. Umm… wearing t-shirts. Talking about portrayals of trans people and characters in the media. Sometimes I’ve mentioned going on vacation or important things going on in my community.
If I were to narrow it down to the most controversial topics, it’d probably be taking testosterone, getting top surgery, and being open about those things. I do these things to myself because when I was not doing those things, my life was fairly hellish. And so I tried, very tentatively at first, a little bit of this. And things started to vastly improve, all around me, relatively quickly. So I was able to determine it was most likely a cause and effect relationship. So I tried a little bit more. And then more and more. But since I’m not a binary person, I also had to try less, and also stop and start and feel it out. But as far as being open and documenting the journey, I did not have to back off or stop – it was all forward momentum and connecting with others and learning from others and sharing with others, and the more I came out, in all areas of my life, the better the entire world got. And I’m not just talking about things like a promotion or going on a cruise or accruing more material possessions. I’m talking about a deep connection with who I actually am which radiates outward and fulfills so many of the ways I always thought I was falling short, missing out, and avoiding what could be. So, yea, I’d say that doing “this” to myself has been extremely worthwhile.
And to address the second part of your question, I’m not actually causing other people to follow me. Fortunately, I don’t hold that much power over others. Other people get to do whatever they will with their lives, and if that includes looking online for information or connection or to relate to others’ experiences, then that’s pretty cool. I’d have to categorize that as more of a symbiotic correlation as opposed to a causation.
And I also just want to note that when I say, “follow,” I just mean literally clicking “follow” on this blog so that they can stay up to date about when I next post. I don’t mean, “follow” in any cultish, fervent, collecting “followers” to do my bidding and do whatever I am doing or say they should be doing type of way. That would feel highly uncomfortable.
If you are interested in “following” other people who are out as nonbinary on the internet and who also like to address people who send them hate mail, my spouse recommends the following:
On Wednesday, a friend posted on social media that he had an extra ticket to go see singer/songwriter/trans icon/punk rocker Laura Jane Grace in the next town over, and did anyone want to take him up on it? My first reaction was, “Oh wow! I would love to see her!” Followed by, “Damn, I have to work, like always.” (I work till 9:30pm – not conducive to having much of an evening social life.) The more I thought about it though, the more I was like, “Well wait! I have all kinds of time I could use. Why don’t I just be freaking spontaneous for once and do this thing?”
I’m so glad I did! The show was the following night, and it was beyond incredible, on many levels.
One of the levels: Today, serendipitously, marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Against Me!’s debut album, Reinventing Axl Rose. From reading Laura Jane Grace’s, memoir (Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout), this was not Against Me!’s first release, but I’m not sure how you would find the earlier stuff, mostly dubbed cassette tapes and a poorly recorded 12″ EP. There are two more well known early EPs: they contain some of the earlier versions of songs that found their way onto this first LP… So back to Reinventing Axl Rose: This album had a huge impact on me. The brother of the person I was seeing at the time (2003), handed me a CD copy he had burned, along with a handwritten note of the tracklisting. In general, his taste in music was super obscure, but not quite what I was into, so I was a little dubious. But damn, listen to this record! – It’s one of the most solid, versatile punk albums of all time. It has everything: anarcho-inspired lyrics, syncopated dance beats, both electric and acoustic guitars mixed with rough around the edges production, anthemic sing-alongs, growling and grimy vocals, and it even ends with a lullaby (“8 Full Hours of Sleep”). All eleven songs are so incredibly solid. And it was recorded over 2 days, for $800, which makes it all the more impressive. This album reminds me of being 21, mostly alone, trying to muster the energy to do anything. It reminds me of the guy who gave me the CD, and all the times he picked me up in his lilac colored Chevy Prizm to go grocery shopping together, and then maybe even also make dinner together and watch a movie, barely having much to say to each other, but just enjoying the music.
Laura Jane Grace came out as trans in 2012, and she continued on in Against Me! but also struck out on her own, playing acoustic shows. Since the pandemic, I’ve wandered into a handful of local shows, but this was the first big intentional show I’ve been to in the roughly 2 years. What a joyous return! There were so many queer and trans kids there, right up front and center, singing along to every lyric, even to the songs that are now 20 years old, possibly older than they were (I know from the X’s on their hands, when they threw their hands above their head, clapping along, or throwing a fist up into the air, that they were underage. My heart soared.) Older queer and trans people were there too, and punks, of course. She played 4 songs from that first album:
“Pints of Guinness Make You Strong”
“Those Anarcho Punks are Mysterious…”
“Reinventing Axl Rose”
“Baby, I’m an Anarchist!”
On stage, she was magical: riffing in between songs, flashing her intensely crazy grin, sharing anecdotes from her life. She covered “Androgynous,” by The Replacements, a song I don’t actually like (I might get some hate comments for this, but I think Paul Westerberg is way overrated), but I liked when she did it; from her, it’s coming straight from her heart.
She had three new songs, one which involved a quick costume adjustment: she asked someone up front to hold her guitar, went offstage for a second, and came back with a shapeless black Adidas hoodie. She declared it her “dysphoria hoodie,” saying she’s had it for so long; she used to use it to hide her body. Said you don’t have to be trans to have a dysphoria hoodie; having body issues isn’t exclusively a trans thing, of course, but most trans people can probably relate so hard. She put it on, with the hood up, took the guitar back, and launched into this story-within-a-song. I’m not generally a lyrics oriented person, but with her, I want to know it all!
Last week, I got my hair cut by a professional for the first time in over 20 years. Why haven’t I done this sooner?! I was aware that I had acquired some stubborn habits around my hair, and I was planning to go to someone to intervene, but it still took me a long time to follow through and book an appointment.
Hair salons / barber shops are one of the most gendered spaces someone can enter. That is the biggest reason I’ve avoided them for so long. I have never been to a barber. Starting at age 8, I decided I needed my hair cut short, like a boy. My mom took me to Hairzoo, a unisex salon with 8 locations in Western, NY (and, strangely, one location in Santa Monica, CA). I just wanted a fucking bowl cut, but the stylists, every time, talked about a “feathered look,” tapered down to the neck, etc. I kind of hated going there as a kid, but I tolerated it because it was the best avenue toward the ultimate goal of keeping my hair short. As I got older, my mom met a friend who did hair, so we’d go to her kitchen and I’d get my hair kept short.
At age 18, a friend buzzed my head for the first time, and I immediately knew I needed to procure my own set of clippers.
I got my hair cut professionally one final time, at age 19, at a salon in my college town. It wasn’t a bad experience. Actually, it was probably one of the best hair styles I’ve ever had – I had bleached hair at the time which was growing out. Long natural brown roots. I asked the stylist to keep the tips of the blonde, and she actually followed my instructions, and I had a cool frosted effect (am aware this fashion trend is very much dated. But in 2001, it looked awesome!) The person I had a crush on, who didn’t talk to me much, complimented me on my hair shortly after this cut. It doesn’t get much better than that!
A few factors contributed to me never going back in there though: I hated the “culture” I had walked into when I went to that salon. Too many ladies and women talking too much and too emotively, basically. Plus there was the price factor. I didn’t have the spending money, as a college student, to keep doing that. So I pulled out my clippers and any pair of scissors I had laying around and hacked away at my hair every so often until I actually got pretty good at it. (Getting kinda good took a while. I definitely had some hair disasters. I usually went for either a mohawk or bowlish cut / undercut. One time, I shaved everything off completely, down to using a razor.)
The mohawk eventually morphed into a mullet-hawk and then just a full on mullet. I have been rocking a mullet for a solid 15 years. I stopped bleaching it about 15 years ago as well. It was ravaging my scalp. But I did pick up another bad habit around this time: a friend emphatically stated that he stopped using hair products. Only baking soda as shampoo and apple cider vinegar as conditioner. I followed suit because I didn’t know whether hair products were working for me and there are just way too many and I liked the idea of being stripped bare. And also getting rid of fragrances. I started the regimen but quickly discarded the vinegar – too smelly – in favor of a fragrance-free conditioner. But the baking soda stayed. It was a point of pride.
In retrospect, it was probably drying out my hair and scalp like nothing else! For so long!
I started testosterone in 2013, and it’s brought on two major changes to my hair: It suddenly made my hair very, very curly (it had always been wavy, but now we’re talking sausage curls inverting inward toward infinity) and a receding hairline. The receding hairline has been such a concern that it’s been the major reason I’ve gone on and off T, over the years. (I finally started taking Finasteride a month ago – it has yet to be determined whether it’ll help, long-term.)
Anyway, jump back in time to just a week ago. For months, I had been toying with the idea of at least consulting with a professional, if not actually letting them cut my hair. And I had someone in mind – someone who is an acquaintance, so at least I already know them, and they’re an expert on curly hair, and they curate their space to be non-gender specific, and they work alone. Pretty much, the perfect person. I booked the appointment. I kept the appointment.
And, I’m so super happy I followed through. We talked about habits I’d been doing for years, if not decades, that haven’t been working for me. She verified baking soda is no good regularly, but could be good as a cleanser, maybe monthly or so. She suggested some products that are known as “no-poo,” basically shampoos that don’t foam up, act more as conditioners, and maybe that’s all I’d need. And I told her about how I’ve barely cut my hair in a very long time, maybe just 1/8 of an inch to take care of split ends, but I’m aware that’s not nearly enough but I can’t get myself to cut more because I just want more of my hair in light of the receding hairline and I pull hairs from the back and sides forward in an effort for more coverage and it’s really not working for me, not to mention my split ends and knots. (Wow, OK, that was a run-on sentence!) She acknowledged that it made sense I was trying to do the things I was doing. Then she proceeded to start cutting (after I consented to that) and it was like AN INCH OFF! and I was a little freaking out. Until I realized it made almost no difference in actual hair coverage. It just looks smarter and cleaner. And, no one in my regular daily life has yet noticed I’ve gotten my hair cut at all, which to me, means it’s a resounding success. Because I didn’t want my hair to look much different. I just wanted to clean it up and learn some ways to take care of curly hair. I want healthy hair, now, and I think I can achieve that. Maybe I can actually coax it to grow longer, over time. That’s the dream! I tipped her 40%. I’m pretty happy overall.
This essay and accompanying collage were first published for Femme Salée’s zine issue Perverse Bodies, Winter 2021. More about this awesome collective of artists, writers, and curators can be found at Femme Salée.
On Halloween afternoon, 2009, I was running around doing last minute things like my head was cut off. Our inaugural variety show was kicking off that night, at the local community space that had just opened up. One of the many things I realized I’d overlooked was figuring out how to hook up a boombox to the PA system. I burst into a Radio Shack without the slightest idea of where to look, but also with a strong aversion to talking to anyone working there. I called my mom. My brother was around too – mom put the call on speakerphone.
“I need a jack or an adapter or something, to get my boombox plugged in to a PA.” My mom had always helped me rig up my stereo equipment amidst many moves, and my brother had played bass in a bunch of bands; I hoped the two of them together could figure this out for me.
“OK,” he cut in, “you’d need a 1/8 inch jack on the boombox end, and then a 1/4 inch to plug into the PA.”
“OK so, I’m seeing those. There are a bunch of kinds though.”
“Get one that’s male on both ends.”
“What do you mean?”
“Male. Like, it’s protruding out, right? Instead of female, which would get plugged into.”
“I don’t get that.”
“Uhhh, so, the male is what’s getting put in…”
“No, I get that! It’s just, I don’t get why it’s called ‘male’ and ‘female.’ Is that for real?!”
“Yes! Of course I’m not just making this up!” It was the first I’d heard of it.
“I just don’t get it!”
“Yea, that figures.”
As I poured over which product to get, a memory flashed into mind. My brother and I had been vintage Saturday Night Live fiends. We were sitting together, watching Dan Aykroyd as a sleezy late night public access TV host, and Laraine Newman as his guest / date / escort. They’re watching a video of some worms getting it on, making lewd comments.
“These little buggers have both male and female organs. They like to go both ways, AC/DC you know what I mean, heh heh,” Dan Aykroyd’s character jeered. I didn’t have the slightest clue what he meant. But it seemed obvious from all this imagery: Sex is electric. And from that, I deduced that I was doing it wrong.
I had had some electrifying moments, but they were few and far between, and around that time I had been feeling I’d been short circuited all together; from there I just shut down the whole operation. When things had continued to not work like I kept hearing they were supposed to, when nothing ever felt right, I stopped pretending they did and clammed up. Sex was touchy, both the act itself and the topic in general. If a group of friends were laughing about sensational sex stuff, I would get so uncomfortable that I’d just get up and leave, no explanation. I’d just be gone. I didn’t seek out anything that might be arousing because it didn’t seem worth the effort. I was not asexual. I was purposefully squelching my sexuality because things didn’t line up. And since none of it made sense, I didn’t know how to start trying to open back up, even if I had wanted to. Which, eventually, I did. Sometimes I would have wet dreams, and I was glad that at least I had that going on, that thing that is generally a male thing. It was my favorite part about my sexuality. Waking up because I was orgasming felt like the best gift in the world. It felt like a freebee. Because to climax in waking life was a lot of hard work.
Around the time I started to transition medically, a few years after that Radio Shack moment, with hormones and top surgery and other stuff, I felt an urgent need to finally and fully figure out my sexuality. Really force it—reading books, going to workshops, making my spouse come to workshops with me even though they didn’t want to, talking about it exhaustively in therapy (or rather, writing exhaustively and emailing that writing to my therapist), bringing it up a lot with my spouse even though it felt, well, forced. All these efforts helped a little but not much. What did get me there was patience, time, experimentation, thinking creatively, and just feeling out how to be present in my body in other ways.
Transitioning did help. What I can see and feel makes a lot more sense now. My chest contours in a way I can accept, although it’s not perfect. My voice is present and fully-formed, after seeming far off and lost for so long. Broader shoulders and more muscle definition have allowed me to carry myself differently. Getting confirmation that I’m seen as male, mostly, by others, has bolstered everything else (although I identify as non-binary and am not actually a man). It’s my junk though; although it has changed for the better, it’s not enough and I still get hung up on the junk.
And I do mean “junk,” a word with various meanings, one of which is “male genitalia.” I don’t technically have a dick, but in all ways other than the physical realm, I do, and in that discrepancy lies the crux of my transness. Or more specifically, my in-betweenness. Because although there is a strong correlation between genital-dissatisfaction and transness, the two do not always go together. Some cis people don’t like what they were born with either. And some trans people are fine with what they got going on. Others are not at all, and lower surgery is first and foremost; the ultimate transformation. I’m somewhere in between.
A few years ago, I was tasked with designing and creating my own “groinment” for a theatrical production of a tripped-out version of a play called, If Boys Wore the Skirts. In this genderfuck of a fever dream, my three “classmates” and I wore white button-down shirts, black ties, black socks, black shoes, and black skirts upon which we had designed fancy-free versions of our internal landscapes. I was thrilled by the opportunity and took it very literally; here was a chance to come up with something that reflected the way I feel about my junk. If you were to ask me, I don’t have a vagina, clitoris, and labia. Nor do I have a penis, scrotum, and prostate (unfortunately). What I got is junk, and it’s janky AF. But by reimagining it, I’ve started to learn to live with, maybe even love, what I got. In this version I dreamed up for the play, there’s a highly delicate water balloon configuration at the top of a water slide. Pointy party hats are there to protect it. And in my right hand I held a needle: I’m the only one who gets to “pop” it, which I did, during a fashion show scene in the play. The water did indeed gush down the slide and splatter fantastically on the upswing. My ultimate wet dream, cum true.
I like to make note of when I’m on and off testosterone, and this time, I’m way behind on mentioning it – I’ve been back on since July 20th. I hit it hard initially with a pretty high dose (100mg per week) and then lowered it to 60mg per week. So far, my menstrual cycle halted immediately (fingers crossed this continues to be the case – it’s been over 2 months so I’m thinking I might be in the clear!)
I haven’t gone to any medical professionals yet, but I do plan to make an appointment with Planned Parenthood very soon. This time around, I’m aiming to also ask for Finasteride for the first time (a drug that helps with hair loss / is a partial testosterone blocker). My hope is that I’ll still get the benefits of testosterone I’m seeking while not continuing to have a receding hairline. Really not sure – just going to try it and find out. If it does seem to be a good balance, I envision myself staying on T for much longer than ever before. We’ll see!
I feel like I’ve finally reached a point where being transgender feels normal. I’ve both hoped for this state of being and feared it, in equal parts. I don’t mean that I feel normal – I definitely don’t and probably never will! I just mean that doing yet another shot of testosterone is no longer an event. It’s rote; it’s routine. I don’t care whether I do it subcutaneously or intramuscular. I don’t have a preference for needle gauge. I’ll do whatever. All that matters is getting it into my body. There’s very little mental fanfare, no ritual surrounding it.
In addition, although I enjoy connecting with other trans-people and hearing others’ stories and journeys, I no longer need it. I don’t specifically seek it out. My journey is probably not even near complete, but I feel like I’ve done everything that I felt an urgency around, and the other aspects will either happen or not happen, at some point down the road. I’m not stressing or planning or strategizing anymore.
A part of me wondered if I’d ever get to this point I’m describing, since I’m nonbinary and still have not quite “settled” into my gender. There is no settling into the gender I feel I am. It’s always a balancing act. Being “settled” and being “satisfied” are two different states, I am realizing. I hope to remain satisfied, but to never settle. I”m sure I’ll be back on and off testosterone for many years to come.
A couple of things I want to note from my most recent time off testosterone (Dec. 2020 – July 2021):
– I regained even more sensation in my chest. This happened in a past timeframe off of testosterone, and I was thrilled it continued. I now feel like my chest has just about fully regained sensation, something I had given up on at one point in time.
– I felt more things, emotionally. Like being able to cry a little bit, stuff like that. Always important to me, to be able to revisit.
– I was less hot, sweaty, oily skin type stuff. It’s not a big deal, but it is preferable.
– I had my period. Blah.
– My sex drive was non-existent. Also blah.
– I did not experience fat redistribution reversal like I have in the past. Maybe that has to do with getting older, metabolism slowing down? Not sure.
– I stopped losing hair / some fine hairs did grow back in along my hairline.
That’s about it for now. I like making predictions about timelines when I make these on T / off T posts. My guess is that if things go well with adding in Finasteride, I’ll be on T for over a year and a half.
Eight years is a long time! Trying T, even though I wasn’t at all sure I was going to like it, but positive I needed to at least see what it was like, was one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself.
For the first few years, it was a very fine line between feeling very connected to what it was doing for my inner world, versus not wanting any physical changes. I was microdosing, but even still, was on-and-off of it a few times. Later on, I did want some changes, but only up to a certain point, which led me right back to that pattern of being on-and-off. This is still the case – I’m currently off, with plans to go back on at some point (maybe summer?)
I continue to find myself right where I want to be, more so as the years go by. Here’s a description of an interaction I had yesterday that highlights how I’ve hit that sweet spot of in-betweenness:
I was trying to print out some photos at a store. One person started to help me, and then another person also came to help. The two co-workers were talking amongst themselves, referring to me, and one person was using, “he/him/his” and the other person was using, “she/her/hers.” Finally, the “she/her/hers” person got confused and just said, “Who?!” And the other person gestured toward me and said, “Him!” and simultaneously, I just said, “Me!” And no one did any back-pedaling, questioning, or apologizing, which was pretty much perfect.
Ideally, I’d like for everyone who has known me from before I started my transition, to get on board with my nonbinary identity. I realize this is a tall order, so for those people who can’t grasp the nuances, I’d prefer they defaulted to male, “he/him/his.” This isn’t the case across the board, but one can dream right? And then for those who are just getting to know me, I hope they’ll all get that I’m nonbinary, as much as there is space to have those conversations. And then as far as strangers go, I really revel in the mixture / confusion. That’s the best state for me to exist in.
To many more years!
The last time I injected testosterone, for the time being, was December 8th. I like to keep tabs of when I go on and off it – I’m back around to off again. The first thing I noticed that was new / different happened today: my co-worker made microwave popcorn downstairs while I was upstairs, and even though she does this on occasion, I actually could smell it today. And as I sit here typing, I can smell my smelly feet, which is so weird! I forgot I’d been missing out an a whole other aspect to our world – things smell strongly, strangely, pleasantly, pungently, amazingly, and everything else amongst those adjectives. It’s pretty bizarre how much hormones affect our sense of smell!
Things I am not looking forward to, based on what has happened before:
– getting my period again
– feeling cold
– losing my happy trail
– diminished sex drive
Things I am looking forward to, also based on what’s happened before:
– less oily skin
– hair growing back
– some minor fat redistribution reversal
– I guess the sense of smell thing? Honestly, I’d forgotten all about that until I was hit with it today!
My prediction / guess is I’ll be back on it by July. Last time I was off it and then back on, I lasted from April 2019 till November 2019. So I’ve been back on for a whole year (my prediction had been 6 months). I went through most of my old, expired stockpile, until I realized why am I doing this when it could be less effective than getting new stuff, which I could easily do now through Planned Parenthood? So I called this past July and got an appointment within weeks (this was all through telemedicine, as many things are these days). I got my prescription the same day. I was on 60mL / week. I was injecting intramuscularly. My period didn’t fully go away until October – note to self: don’t mess around with expired stuff. There is not a scarcity / difficulty in getting more, as I have always feared!
Despite what I just said, I still do plan to do my next appointment with Planned Parenthood in about a month and get my prescription filled so that I have it on hand for the very moment when I want to go back on it. Once I’ve decided, I want to be able to inject that very moment, and not wait around to get more (even though, like I said, it is a quick turnaround.) I guess you could say I don’t want any middle people between me and T, once I’ve made up my mind… Just enough to get started, and then I’ll connect with Planned Parenthood again to get more…
In general, I’ve felt relieved about how few times I, as a trans person, have been asked things I don’t want to answer. Variations on this scenario have come up twice in the past 2 months though. Blech!
#1: I’m taking part in an experimental study trial for a COVID-19 vaccine. At the end of May, I had a phone interview where they screened me to see if I was healthy enough to participate. Nothing came up about medications I’m on (other than specifics they were asking for), surgeries I’ve had, or anything else gender related. They assumed I’m male based on name and voice and didn’t ask about reproductive health. I did not disclose that I’m trans, and it didn’t come up. I really enjoyed that; it felt refreshing.
The in-person screening a few weeks later, was a totally different story. I was pretty prepared for that though, for having to explain that even though I have a uterus and ovaries and all that, I won’t be getting pregnant despite not using any birth control methods (that has more to do with who I have sex with, and less about being trans – I could be trans and still get pregnant…) I was prepared to do a urine test to screen for pregnancy, despite appearing male. I was prepared to talk about my hormone replacement therapy. I was not, however, prepared when the nurse followed these questions up with, “Have you had any surgeries?” because she asked it in a way that was totally different than how she would ask about any other category of surgery. It was in a sideways, sly, under-the-table kind of way that put me completely off. I replied, deadpan, “Is that information needed for the screening?” She replied, that, yes, they did need to note any major surgeries, to which I replied that I’ve had top surgery. She asked, “What is that?” and I replied, “A double mastectomy.” She wrote it down.
#2: My co-worker, after working together for 2 years, decided to pop the surgery question. She asked it completely out-of-the-blue, apropos of nothing. I guess, at least, she prefaced it with the ominous, “Can I ask you a personal question?” I replied that she could definitely ask, and I’ll decide if I wanna answer. Then I added that I probably would answer, because although I’m extremely private with stuff, at work, I am willing to open up if people are putting in the effort. When it was THAT question, however, I told her I wasn’t going to be answering it. I am glad she asked though, and told her as much, because it led to a long conversation in which I talked to her about a bunch of other things that have been long overdue for her to know about. Such as, I don’t actually identify as a man. She did not know this. She wanted to assert that she did know my identity and that it is a boy. I told her I don’t feel like I am either a man or a woman. Pretty sure that sank in for her. I also told her that my spouse is my “spouse” and not my “wife,” as she assumed, and that they use gender neutral pronouns. And that they also now look male, but don’t identify as such either.
We talked about what people assume based on appearance and a bunch of other stuff. She compared me to a temporary co-worker we had last summer, also trans, and how he was so open and friendly and he answered all her questions including her surgery questions. I bristled at this, but didn’t let it get to me. He and I have since become friends (although I didn’t say as much). He’s gonna be how he is, and I’m gonna be how I am. Although it was uncomfortable and difficult to steer her in the directions I wanted to go in, overall I feel like we got to a new place in our dynamic. I got to tell her that surgeries are actually not that important (or at least not important for others to know about) and other things are much more welcomed, in terms of questioning. Such as, how do you feel about ___________, and whatnot. She semi-argued about what was and was not important, and she also relayed information about her friend who is now named Susan. While talking in graphic detail about Susan’s body and how it is so much more stunningly vivacious than her body, she kept using male pronouns. I did not like where she was going with this at all. I just cut in to ask, “Wouldn’t Susan want you to be using “she” and “her” for her?” She replied that since she’s known Susan for forever, Susan doesn’t care. I’m really hoping it sank in, even just a little bit though.
I feel like I held my ground in both cases and stayed true to myself. Feels good to know these things can come up and not throw me way off, anymore.
Around this time, 20 years ago, I was experiencing suicidal ideation and debilitating depression, after being hospitalized for mania and psychosis. The #1 stressor in my life was my sexual orientation (I hadn’t yet gotten to the gender identity part). Two things saved me: therapy, and regularly attending the youth group at the Out Alliance (called the GAGV – Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley, at the time).
Learning, yesterday, that the Out Alliance was folding and laying off all its employees hit me hard, both in a community-forward kind of way, and on a personal level. We need the Out Alliance and the services it provides. The board stated, “We hope that this cessation in our services will be temporary and that, after reassessing and restructuring the organization, we will resume our vital mission, stronger than ever.” Let’s hope this happens sooner than later.
I went to the youth group for the first time on March 15, 2000. I was a painfully shy, sheltered, awkward, naive 18 year-old. I wrote about it immediately afterward, in my diary:
“I was really nervous about going, but felt like it was something I had to do. I got mom to drive me. While I was there, I badly wanted to leave, but in retrospect, it doesn’t seem so bad. We talked about dangers on the internet and stalkers. I had nothing to contribute. Dr. [Therapist] says that’s OK. It was my first time. Next Sunday might be better anyway. There’s going to be pizza and a guest speaker on relationships. Also, I noticed many bookshelves filled with books. Maybe next time all the kids are outside smoking, I’ll go check them out.”
And it did get better. I remained painfully shy and awkward. I never did connect with the other kids or make any friends, but I went every single week from then until I left for college at the end of August. At the time, the age limit was 19, but I asked if it could be extended to 22 because I still wanted to keep going. The age got changed in the “rules of the group,” and I was so thrilled I had been heard. I went sporadically when I could throughout my college years.
To back up, I started writing in a diary a year before attending the group, and my first entry starts out with a fantasy scenario in which I come out to a support group, 12-step style.
” ‘Hello. My name is Katie. And… I am a lesbian.’ ‘Hi Katie.’* I’ve gone through this scenario hundreds of times. I wish it were that easy. I’d just walk into a gay / lesbian support group and come out. I just can’t do it though; I haven’t told anyone.”
So actually attending and being around other LGBTQ+ people was HUGE for me, even if it was hard. Probably largely because it was so hard. Schools did not yet have Gay Straight Alliances. The internet was, well, you know, it was the internet of 2000. Which is to say I didn’t / couldn’t use it to find like-minded friends or look up information about sensitive subjects. I was too ashamed to take out any books about LGBTQ+ topics from the library for fear of the library clerk looking at them and deducing that I was gay. The information I would have found in those outdated books might have been more detrimental to my sense of self anyway. I was most certainly internally homophobic.
To know that there was an organization that was out and loud and proud was a revelation. I attended the Gay Pride Picnic that July, and was blown away by the number of people. Who knew?!
It took a while, but the sense of belonging and the normalization of the gay experience grew on me. I learned so much about safe sex and sex-positivity, LGBTQ+ portrayals in media, history, just a ton of feel-good stuff. We watched movies, we went on outings as a group, and yes we even got to eat pizza.
Huge shout-out to the facilitator at that time, Patty Hayes. She changed my life. I was so psyched to find that this 44 minute interview with her is out there on the internet! (Interview conducted for the documentary, Shoulders to Stand On. She has about 3 minutes of screen-time in the final product; here is the full interview):
The Out Alliance was there when I needed it, and I can honestly say it saved me from my own self-hatred, homophobia, and loneliness. Now that there are so many more options and ways to learn and connect, so what? It’s still very much needed. Every city needs something like this. It was a place to connect face-to-face and find role models and local resources. A place of hope for kids in surrounding rural areas who could drive in and find out they’re not alone. City and suburban kids too, of course. Older people just coming out. People who have been out for forever. SOFFAs and allies. It does, however, need to change with the times. There were times where I railed against it, for being too normative, too playing-it-safe, not diverse enough.
Hopefully their return will be swift, and well-thought out. The former staff have laid out some demands:
- Diversification of the board’s executive committee. They point out that the board is diverse but the executive committee members are all white and cisgender.
- Selecting a person of color to serve as the next executive director, “to reflect the necessary changes the agency still needs to take.”
- Making all board meetings open to the public and the minutes from those meetings accessible to the public.
- Including dollar figures, not just percentages, in all future annual reports. The annual report for 2018 showed a dollar figure for contributions, but nothing else.
- Changing agency bylaws to give the board greater oversight over the executive director and “veto power” over major spending and investment decisions.
- Creating a mechanism for agency members and community members to weigh in on who sits on the board.
Sources: CITY News article by Jeremy Moule
Shoulders to Stand On, documentary film
*At the time, I thought my name was Katie and that I was a lesbian. Now I know it’s actually Kameron, and that I’m a queer person.
I found out a few weeks ago that the anthology I contributed to, Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, is a finalist in the “LGBTQ Anthology” category! Although there won’t be a “Lammy Awards Ceremony” because of COVID-19, the winners will still be announced in early June, for 24 categories, through a format TBD. The finalists were selected by a panel of over 60 literary professionals from roughly 1,000 book submissions from over 300 publishers. I didn’t even know this anthology had been submitted / it didn’t occur to me, so finding that out through social media from one of the editors was a fun surprise.
I’ve read a few of the other books from other categories this year; here are some mini book reviews:
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (LGBTQ Nonfiction) – The author captures a year (more or less) of her life in which she was consumed by an emotionally abusive relationship. She also weaves in myths, legends, and historic examples of lesbian abuse through the ages. It ended up being much harder to get through than I anticipated, but it was highly rewarding. I was particularly impressed by the way she kept her ex-girlfriend at an extreme distance from the readers and simultaneously submerged us in the chaos.
A Year Without a Name by Cyrus Grace Dunham (LGBTQ Nonfiction) – This also was the story of one year, but presented in a much different way. They do a particularly good job of examining the mental health struggles that can result from the uncertainty of gender dysphoria and what to either do or not do about it. From what I can gather, they come from affluence, and they don’t mention how this plays into their experience at all (it is HUGE), which bothered me, but that might not be quite a fair assessment.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (Gay Memoir / Biography) – One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. In his blurb on the book jacket, his background is in poetry, and that makes perfect sense (although his language is not overly poetic). I was absorbed fully in his experiences, specifically the ways sexuality and sexual acts became dangerously subverted for him, over time. And why the culture at large contributed to that. He also handles family dynamics deftly, painting portraits of each family member fully, so we can see and understand why they are doing the things they do and being the way they be.
Death Threat by Vivek Shraya, illustrated by Ness Lee (LGBTQ Comics) – I gotta admit I can’t remember much from reading this, and that was only 3 months ago. So I just now went to go find more about it, and here’s a quick synopsis from goodreads.com: “In the fall of 2017, the acclaimed writer and musician Vivek Shraya began receiving vivid and disturbing transphobic hate mail from a stranger. Using satire and surrealism, Death Threat is an unflinching portrayal of violent harassment from the perspective of both the perpetrator and the target, illustrating the dangers of online accessibility, and the ease with which vitriolic hatred can be spread digitally.” From what I remember, the story was disjointed and difficult to follow, but the alarming nature of the situation definitely did shine through.
Looking forward to June to find out the winners!