The Out Alliance Saved My Life

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.

Gay Pride Parade, 2003

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.

Marching with youth group, 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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):

Interview with Patty Hayes, former Youth Program Coordinator

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.


20th anniversary of a specific trauma

For 20 years, I’ve been churning and mulling over, obsessing and ruminating about, writing and re-writing the events surrounding my first hospitalization which happened around this time of year in 1999, when I was 17.  Up until the age of 30, it had a hold on me in that way that trauma can stay with a person:  it was my biggest source of shame and fear, I felt like it defined my past and if only I had avoided it, maybe my mental health wouldn’t have gotten so derailed for so long.  It was a super sore spot that for some reason I just kept picking at, revisiting, but wasn’t getting anywhere with.

I’m 37 now, and I’ve been seeing it much differently, with the help of my therapist.  It was extreme and drastic, for sure, but it led to me getting real help that I desperately needed – without that help, my mental state could have festered and bubbled badly for much longer, in a much darker place; who knows what might have happened.  Not that I didn’t suffer for way too long regardless.  I did!  But some systems were in place that helped me feel not so alone, even through those times where I despised those systems.

I’m writing kinda vaguely here…    I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit because I thought I was bipolar and I stopped being able to sleep, and things were getting wonky.  I was indeed diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as well as having gone through a psychotic break.  I was there for 3 weeks, even though I kept thinking I could leave at any minute, if I could just figure my way out.  I was put on medications, and later on, different ones and different ones and different ones.  So many different ones.  I got disillusioned with drugs and eventually weened myself off of everything because they ultimately didn’t make any sense.  They did do me some good at some points in time, but not much.

The thing that helped more than anything else, ever in my life, was getting assigned a therapist.  I was required to attend 20 sessions after my hospitalization; I ended up going so many more times than that; if not specifically with her because she moved away, then to the therapist she referred me to.  In fact, I’m still seeing this therapist (with a break of a bunch of years in between, during that time where I wrote off meds and all other psychological interventions).

I was talking recently with a friend about therapy, (It seems like all of my friends are currently in therapy…) and I referred to the fact that my parents facilitated me being in therapy from such a young age (and by young, I mean 18) as “early intervention.”  I know that term usually refers to 3-5 year-old’s who might be on the spectrum or might have a learning disability or a speech delay.  But, sadly, when it comes to emotions and figuring out how to communicate them, age 18 is still pretty much “early intervention,” in my opinion.  Things are definitely getting better, but not fast enough!  And when I said that out loud to my friend, it hit me how lucky I was.  I always went to therapy willingly – at some times, it felt like the only thing I had to look forward to.  Usually it felt like the progress was not quantifiable.  Was it doing anything?  What good was it?  Was it worth it?  I still pretty much always loved going, even if logically I wasn’t so sure.

My therapist has told me that among her clients who have gone through psychosis, I’m the only one who has ever wanted to revisit it (for me, there are 3 instances).  Everyone else just wants to put it behind them.  I don’t understand that; and I’ve ended up doing a lot more than just revisiting it.  I think there’s a lot of worth there.  It feels like a gold mine in an alternate universe.  The more I write, the more I can mine it later, for future purposes.  I’m not sure what those purposes are, exactly, yet, but I want the raw material to be intact as much as possible.

In the spirit of that, here’s one short snippet, that I first wrote in 2001:

“I’m going to be leaving tomorrow,” I announced at our afternoon community meeting.  I figured that since I wanted to come here, I was allowed to tell them when I wanted to leave.  I was getting sick of this charade.  The day before, I had told the nurse that I wanted to go home, expecting to find my parents there when I woke up.  When nothing came of that, I panicked, but then I realized the key was for me to get myself out.  I was going to have to stand up to everyone and announce my intentions.  I had to take control.  Everyone, including the staff workers, stared at me without saying a word.  That made me uneasy, especially when my statement went untouched, and the meeting continued with staff member Bob saying, “If no one has anything else to say, it’s time to go to the gym.”  It’s alright, it’s alright.  They’re just testing me.”

There’s a lot more where that came from.  Maybe one day I’ll share it with a wider audience.


Two year anniversary of my most recent hospitalization

I’ve been hospitalized a total of 3 times for mania and psychosis; for some reason, the anniversary of this one, this time around, is hitting me pretty hard.  Every year in November, I make a post to remember and acknowledge my first hospitalization, because it was so traumatic, and it’s stayed with me even now, 20 years after the fact.  These two other, more recent ones were much easier to get past / work through.  In fact, I’d even say that this most recent one was even cathartic, in a positive sense (not so much for my loved ones, I know!)  But personally, it helped me heal from the other two times.  And the fact that I didn’t boomerang into a deep, dark depression afterward… that I was able to take as much time off as I needed and kind of come back around gradually, organically, meant the world to me.

It’s been a very rainy May so far.  It reminds me of looking out the windows of the hospital; it was rainy a lot of the time then too.  It was my brother’s birthday, and then Mother’s Day, and right after that, I was admitted to the hospital.  The Lilac Festival was going on; there are lilacs in bloom right now.  We have a lilac bush; I can see the flowers from our dining room window.

Last year during this week, I was preoccupied with a trip to Massachusetts to visit our friends.  I didn’t think about the fact that we’d be away during this week.  It occurred to me while we were on the trip, I think.  I remember being hyper-aware of everything blooming at that time, exactly.  We smelled lots of flowers while we walked around different parts of Boston and Salem.  Things weren’t in bloom when we left, but suddenly, bam!, they were, when we got back.

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I’ve been super stable, mental health-wise, for a long time now.  I’d say I re-stabilized by September of 2017, and I’ve been good since then.  Great, even.  Super productive with creative projects.  Anxiety has been at an all time low.  I have energy.  My mood is very very very even-keeled.  Iike, maybe a little too much.  Meaning, there’s so little variety in how I feel, from day to day.  But… I’ll take it.  I haven’t felt any compulsions.  I haven’t been having obsessive thoughts.  The only down-side to my mental landscape, in an ongoing way, is that I sleep a LOT.  And I have trouble waking up in the mornings.  I usually sleep 10-11 hours a day, on average.  Which is most likely a side effect of the medication I’m on.  (Seroquel.)  But, also, as the years have gone on, I’m also realizing it just might be how much sleep is actually optimal for me.  I generally slept that much, if I was able to, long before starting this medication.  And I used to beat myself up about it, like I was being lazy and unproductive.  And whenever I’ve had to get on an earlier schedule, such as during summers, for work, my mood, energy levels, and motivation have always suffered.  Probably because I wasn’t sleeping as much as I seem to need to.

So I’ve decided to give myself a break.  It works out much better if I let myself sleep as much as I tend to need to (as opposed to how much I think I should want to, I guess?), life goes much more smoothly.

Huh, I went on an unexpected tangent about sleep!  I meant to write about my most recent hospitalization.  Actually, I’ve already written, in a word document, as much as I could remember from my week-long stay.  It was jam packed with activities; it was action packed.  So maybe I’ll just cut and paste a slice of life from that time.  …I just pulled it up to find an excerpt I could put here, but it’s total nonsense!  No one paragraph makes any sense within itself.  Also I burst out laughing a bunch of times.  I think it’s not quite ready for consumption yet.  But it might be, one day, as part of a larger project…


I decided to stop taking testosterone, for now

Two days ago, I abruptly hit a wall in my transition journey.  But it’s more like that wall had a secret corridor that I’m now turning down, without really slowing down – just taking a moment to look back, and all around me, and then moving on in this other direction.  The decision to stop T for the time being doesn’t actually mean that I’m losing forward momentum.  I was expecting it all along.  At some point.  At the same time, it wasn’t premeditated or planned  I just realized, now is the time, all of a sudden, and then I mentioned it to my spouse, and that was that.

The number one reason to stop, for now, is ongoing concerns of losing my head hair.  And the number two reason is that uncomfortable sensation of feeling overheated, which is much less welcomed as warm weather approaches.

I’ve been here before.  That was, specifically, January of 2016.  I feel so grateful to my past self for so diligently recording where I was at, every step of the way, so that I can get super specific about where I was vs. where I am!  It feels like a coherent narrative, of sorts.  In the fall of 2015, I had been on Androgel for roughly a year and a half, and I had lost sight of why I was doing it and what, exactly, was it doing for me.  I switched doses, I went off-and-on, and then in January of 2016, I just went off all together.  I ended up being off T for one full year.  And then I tried out injections, which I’ve been on now for over 2 years.

And now, again, I’ve lost sight.  I’ve been worried, daily, lately, about my receding hairline, and I can’t make sense of all the numerous products on the market to help that.  Rogaine, Finasteride, DHT suppressants, etc.  Instead of figuring out what might help, it just makes more sense for me to go off T, until I feel differently, which I know I will, again, at some point, in the not-so-distant future.

I do not look forward to getting my period again.  That is going to be horrible.

Other than that though, I don’t foresee any major issues.  Mental health-wise, I feel super stable and good.  I don’t expect that to change much.  Oh, also, I’ll be pretty happy about not seeing more and more facial hairs popping up.  Not a fan of my own facial hair!  I’ll be glad if that stabilizes for a while and I don’t have to think much about it.

I predict (and my predictions have been pretty far off, historically!) that I’l be back on T by November or December.  We’ll see!  Oh, also I guess I’ll have to tell my endocrinologist.  Do I have to go to my upcoming appointment if I’m not taking hormones?!  (Answer:  No.)


Finances and the LGBTQ community

It’s been long-known and proven over and over that, in general, people who identify as LGBTQ are worse off, financially.  Discrimination at work and within housing, along with being kicked out, disowned, or cut off from family ties, are big factors as to why this might be.  Mental health also plays a huge role.  There have been times when I was so deep into depression that I was not able to function at my job (or, in the past, at school).  Fortunately for me, I was able to take multiple medical leaves, when I needed them, with full pay and full job security.  That’s not always the story, though…

I was contacted a couple of months ago by Linda Manatt, who works for OverdraftApps.com, a company “created to increase awareness of the annual $35 billion overdraft problem in the U.S., which primarily affects the most vulnerable populations of our society. By creating content and developing tools to inform the public, [they] hope to make a positive change and shape tomorrow’s consumer finance policies for the better.”

In July of 2018, they commissioned a research organization to conduct a survey about financial attitudes and realities.  1,009 people from 46 states, aged 18- 71 participated, and 11% of them identified as LGBTQ.  A couple of other factors were isolated, including renters vs. owners and income levels, but not age, race, education level, or any other demographic.

Some of the big take-aways, as it applies to the LGBTQ community were:

  1. While only 14% of people surveyed make less than $25,000 per year, 25% of LGBTQ people fall in this bracket.
  2. 51% of the general respondents reported feeling “that the system is trying to take advantage of them when it comes to financial products.”  When isolating for LGBTQ people, that percentage jumped to 61%.
  3. LGBTQ people are 50% more likely to overdraft between three and nine times in the past year compared to the general population (18% compared to 12% of the general population.)

It is surprising how many people overall have over-drafted at least once within the past year (46%), how few people were even aware that they can opt out of over-drafting all together (39%), and how frequently over-drafting happens without their knowledge (42%).  No wonder people feel taken advantage of, purposefully!  As I was reading through the data, the overarching human emotion running throughout is the avoidance of embarrassment.  And sure enough, there’s a quote within the article to suggest this:

Paul Golden, from Nefe [National Endowment for Financial Education], provides an … interpretation on the reasons people don’t opt out more often of overdraft protection. In his opinion, “bankers [don’t] say that overdraft protection is mandatory” but they do sell it as an insurance to one’s reputation.  In his experience, this is how they are sold to consumers: “You go out to dinner with your friends or work colleagues and the bill comes up. You don’t have enough to cover it – can you imagine the embarrassment you would suffer if your card was declined?” People react: “Oh yeah, I should have overdraft protection.”

It’s like, pay $35 later for the convenience now of not having to put groceries back, in front of other people, when there is not enough in the checking account.  I’d even take this a step further and go so far as to say that people who are more likely to be singled out, to be devalued, humiliated, harassed, abused, and assaulted, are exponentially more compelled to do certain things to get out of embarrassing situations, including (but not limited to, by a long shot!) financial embarrassment.

I’d be curious what types of trends would emerge if the data had been isolated even further, to account for transgender and gender-nonconforming identities, within the LGBTQ community.  I can tell you right now that the picture would become much more bleak, very quickly.  I’d love to hear your own stories if you’d like to share, in the comments section!

If you’d like to see the full study, it is here:
Overdrafting in the United States:  Distrust and Confusion in the American Financial System

And thanks to Linda Manatt for prompting me to get out of my comfort zone and attempt to cover such a big issue, in my own, semi-personalized, way…


Two years on testosterone

This past Saturday was my two year mark on T-injections, 40ml / week (this was just recently lowered, from 60 – my initial dose was 50).  I still very much look forward to every injection (not the act itself, but the being-on-T part), and I still regularly think about the ways hormones have improved my life; I don’t tend to take it for granted.

My original plan was for this to be a short-term thing.  But I kind of love it.  I think my dose will vary over time, but I don’t anticipate stopping really, probably ever.  (Of course that’s subject to change!)  Not having a menstrual cycle is huge.  Being seen as male 100% of the time is… well, there’s some ambivalence there, but it’s definitely an improvement.   Now instead of getting confused for female, I am regularly getting confused for being very young.  Which can be awkward but mostly is fine.

I’m able to engage socially in ways I really never could have dreamed of.  I look people in the eyes way more.  My anxiety is almost zero, where previously, I was operating regularly with an underlying sense of fear and dread.  Some of these mental health changes can be attributed to finding a medication that actually works well for me, but a lot of it is the disappearance of gender dysphoria.

I’m still legally female, which is on purpose, and I still almost always go into women’s bathrooms and dressing rooms.  I’ve never been stopped or questioned.

I don’t love all of it.  I still daily pluck hairs out of my face because I don’t like them and I don’t want to shave.  I’m pretty concerned about my receding hairline.  And if I were really being honest, I liked the way my face looked before being on injections, more-so than now.  It just so happens that the way it is now reads as “male,” and that works out way better for me.  Oh well…

So here are the face comparisons:

two years

One year

Before injections


The PTWC (Philadelphia Trans-Wellness Conference), 2018

I’m waaaay behind on this post (the conference was Aug. 2-4), but I had a lot of notes and always meant to type them up.  I was clearing off our dining room table and unearthed them, so here we go!

It’s been a couple of years since my spouse and I attended, and this time around, we made it a part of a bigger vacation, which I definitely am going to want to do again in the future – this time, we stopped in the tiny town of Narrowsburgh, NY, for 2 nights and went on a lazy river tube ride down a 5 mile stretch of the Delaware river.  Then we continued on to Philly, where we reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen in a while.  Fortuitously, they happened to be dog-sitting / house-sitting at a really swanky and spacious condo that was only a 20 minute walk from the conference center.  Way more convenient than all those times we walked in the heat and humidity from South Philly, in the past.

The first workshop I attended was called Trans Community in Crisis:  Mental Health and Peer Support.  It was led by IV Staklo, who is the Hotline Program Director at Trans Lifeline.  This was totally worthwhile because before attending this workshop, I never seriously considered volunteering for a hotline.  And in the process of learning about it, I could completely wrap my head around that possibility – I actually do have what it takes.  (All it takes for Trans Lifeline is:  you yourself have to identify as trans, you need access to a phone and internet, you need to have follow-through and accountability and be active in the online group.)  I’ve been going through the online training to become a volunteer operator.  It’s about 32 hours of self-guided slides and webinars; it’s going way slower than I anticipated, but I’ll get there eventually.  The workshop itself was a lot of distressing statistics – things like 60% of trans-clients have had to educate their therapists.  53% of trans-people have avoided going to the hospital when it was necessary because of past trauma and harassment.  88% of trans-people have had suicidal ideations throughout their lives…  (All of these statistics are coming from the 2017 National LGBTQ Task Force Survey – I’m only isolating a few of the more alarming ones…)

Next, I went to Token:  The Role of Trans POC Within the LGBTQ Community.  The presenter was Giovonni Santiago, a transman living in northeastern Ohio.  His style was more of a motivational speaker, full of energy and personal stories to accent his points.  I especially liked the Q and A, where people asked him about burnout and how best to say, “No,” when to know that you need to say, “No,” etc.

Friday, I started out by going to Top Surgery Show and Tell.  It was my third time at this particular workshop – it’s always crowded and full of anticipatory energy.  I didn’t participate (but stay tuned for my summary of another conference, in which I did participate!)  These types of workshops are sooo important because the info that’s out there online is fairly sparse, and this is one of the few chances to take a close look in person, at real people’s bodies.

Then I went to Let’s Talk About Our Junk, led by Dalziel Leone, a transman from Kenya.  He started out by talking about his own path and then opened it up so that it was more of a group discussion.  An older person who just recently started his transition talked about choosing celibacy out of necessity, and how incredibly, he was starting to reassess all of that.  Someone else talked about transitioning within a long-term relationship, and really got into the nuts and bolts of how that played out in his case.  A younger person shared about how their parents are immigrants from Liberia, and they can’t even accept their kid being gay, let alone trans.  They said their parents’ reactions have been that Africans aren’t gay, and maybe you need to get in touch with your African roots, go back to Africa to find yourself, etc.  I found the immediate assumption of intimacy in this audience to be pretty extraordinary – oftentimes people need a long time to gear up to tough and frank conversations like this.

After that, I then went to FTM Bottom Surgery Show and Tell.  I’ve considered going many times in the past, but I always felt too intimidated.  This time I just went for it.  It was just like Top Surgery Show and Tell, but with far less people actually standing up there.  I think there were 5 guys, whereas with Top Surgery, it’s more like 40 or so.  This led to just more time to hear more from them afterwards, as audience members kind of clustered around, asking questions and getting a closer look.  At this time, it did not lead me to feel more motivated to pursue bottom surgery, but the experience was still invaluable.

I ended the day by going to Trans On Set, a panel discussion among trans media makers.  We watched 15 minutes of footage first, film reels and portfolios of sorts, from the panel members.  Then we heard about how they’ve navigated disclosing their status or not, dealing with transphobia in the workplace, stuff like that.  For me, this felt like a more passive workshop, a good way to end.

Then we didn’t go on Saturday at all!  We enjoyed time with our friends more and just had a much less anxiety-inducing time of it, overall!  Another thing that was new – my spouse attended a bunch of workshops in the “professional track” cluster and learned a lot of pertinent stuff for their future career!


Thinking about trauma

Every year around mid-November, I tend to think back and reflect on a defining period of time in my adolescence.  And for as long as I’ve had this blog, I’ve written something about it, annually.  When I was 17, I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit.  I envisioned I’d be there for a day or two; in the end I was there for 3 weeks, with everything quickly no longer becoming my choice.  It was both good and bad that I went voluntarily – On one hand, I didn’t resent anyone else for making that decision, and I may have made some things easier for calling that shot so early-on in my downward spiral.  Specifically, I could have been walking around in a mild/moderate psychosis for a long time without giving off any glaring red flags, which could have been much more damaging in the long run, led to me slipping back into that state easier and more frequently as the years went by.  On the other hand, I couldn’t forgive myself for the longest time, and I blamed that traumatic experience on being just the start of all problems and struggles that came after it.  If I hadn’t gone to the hospital, everything would have been different, I thought.  If I hadn’t gone to the hospital, I wouldn’t have lost my mind, I thought.  Now though, 19 years later, I don’t think those things anymore.  Instead, I think that I was an incredibly self-aware teenager, and I acted out of self-preservation.

When i was in the hospital, it was expected that I keep up with my schoolwork, or at the very least, try.  In Humanities class, we were just starting to read The Handmaid’s Tale.  Instead of my school-issued book arriving for me to read, a copy was sent from the Central Public Library, which made me immediately suspicious.  I was paranoid that we were being force-fed, brainwashed, and doped, and every little detail just added fire to that flame-in-my-brain.  I started reading it anyway, but I didn’t get far.  On pages 3 and 4, phrases such as,

“A window, two white curtains.  …When the windown is partly open – it only opens partly…”  “I know why there is no glass, in front of the watercolor picture of blue irises, and why the window only opens partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof.”

really freaked me out!!  All I could think about were the parallels.  The decor in my own hospital room, the panic and the dystopian surrealism of it all.  This part especially has always stayed with me:

“It isn’t running away they’re afraid of.  We wouldn’t get far.  It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.”

I’m pretty sure I did eventually finish the book.  But I dropped the class.  I dropped a bunch of classes when I got back to school, out of necessity.  In order to graduate and have as little stress as possible while doing so.  In order to try to put some of my mental health issues behind me and to look forward to college…

My spouse and I just finished watching The Handmaid’s Tale, up through season 2.  So depressing and distressing.  Just a really jarring portrait of where we could end up, some of it hitting way too close to home – not so much on a personal level, but in a collective consciousness kind of way.  Hauntingly horrifying.

I got the book out of the library again – my local branch this time, not the Central Public Library…  Gonna attempt to re-read it.

Here’s what I wrote in the past, on the topic of being hospitalized:
2013:  Continuing to work through a specific trauma
2014:  That specific trauma is still there
2015:  That specific trauma is no longer a big deal
2016:  Anniversaries, traumas, deaths, and name-change
2017:  As that specific trauma dissipates further…


Friends and family need to stop framing our transition as a death (open letter style)

Dear friends and family of trans-people,

It can be super challenging, on multiple levels, when a loved one comes out to you, especially if it never occurred to you that they might be transgender.  You might not know where to turn, or what resources to access to help you navigate the changes they (and you) will be going through.  There ARE resources though, plenty of them, and support groups (if not locally in your area, then definitely on the internet).  It is not up to the transgender person to be your sounding board, your therapist, your coach, or your educator.  In addition, as you work through it in your own way, please put a damper on the “transition as death” narrative.  It is trite, outdated, and toxic.

If you feel like you are mourning a death, that’s fine – all feelings are valid (etc.)  But why would this be something you need to work out publicly?  We are very much alive.  Almost always, transition is actually close to the opposite of death – it’s a time to finally feel out who we actually are.  We may have felt like a “half-person” or a “shell of a person” or, to put it in those same grim terms, like a “walking dead person.”  I know I did prior to transition, quite a bit.  Coming out was a celebration of life.  I feel like I have so much more to live for now.

When you claim that the person you knew has died, you are implying that the person we are becoming is not worth getting to know, or that we have slighted you, tricked you, we are to blame for your feelings of loss.  And, actually, we aren’t even “becoming” a different person.  We are the same person, just finally in technicolor, finally kaleidoscopic, however you want to look at it.  If you took the time to see how much we settle into ourselves, how often our worst mental-health issues start to soften around the edges, how we can be more present in the moment, more peaceful, more calm, then you might understand that it is so far from a death that the analogy is utterly ridiculous and laughable.

Please reflect on the ramifications of claiming we have died.
Sincerely, Kameron

And now for some hard evidence!  Two sources that have been recently on my radar have had me in hyper cringe mode as they talked about the “death” of their transgender loved one.

First, an episode of the podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People:  I generally love this podcast, and in fact, I’ve written about it before, because there have been 2 prevous episodes highlighting transgender narratives.  If you wanna check that blog post out, it is:  Beautiful / Anonymous:  Trans-related episodes.

Episode #116, sensationalistically entitled She Killed My Father is a much harder pill to swallow.  The gist is that the caller is an only child, the adult child of a transwoman who came out later in life (in her fifties), much to the surprise of those around her.

Caller:  “Sometimes it feels like this person killed my father.  And in a way, that’s right.  You know, I, well, think about it this way:  When you lose… my father, as a male, does not exist anymore.  This person is gone.  And normally when that happens, you have this grieving period, you have this ritual, this ceremony, you can go to this funeral or this memorial service and people bring you food and people give you cards and people just give you your space and they really support you and they let you process that.  But for me, um… especially with my dad… I don’t have a dad anymore, and this person came in and said, ‘Your dad’s gone.  Now it’s me….'”

Chris:  “Wow.  This is, this is, by far, out of all the calls we’ve ever done, one that is so much to wrap one’s brain around.”

Blaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!  To be fair, I am just isolating this one thing, and of course it’s way more complex as we hear more of her story:  Her father is also bipolar, and has issues with boundaries, always wanting to be more of a “buddy” than a parent, stuff like that.  But really, nothing excuses this framework the caller has set up so starkly.  Can’t get past it!

The second instance I’ve recently come across is in a book called, At The Broken Places:  A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces.  This book is co-authored by both mother and son, and it is in many ways a difficult but worthwhile read.  It’s rich in its depth and complexity.  Both authors are not afraid to show their wounds and flaws, and, to be sure, some of that is cringe-worthy.

She (the mother, Mary Collins) delicately sidesteps the specific “my daughter has died” scenario, but she has an entire chapter entitled “Mapping Modern Grief,” and there’s plenty of comparisons to the death of her father at a young age, as well as, “I am grieving the loss of my daughter,” “I understood my daughter would never return,” and this mindboggling way of looking at it:  “My emotional journey with Donald seems to more closely mirror more nebulous losses, such as moving away from someone I will never see again.”

Not as in-your-face with the death imagery, but just as chafing, on an emotional level.


Contacting my first therapist – backstory

In November of my senior year of high school, I had an appointment to see a counselor – my mom had set it up for me.  I’m not sure who she contacted or what route she took to find this person – I should ask her.  I never ended up going to them though because, a week before the appointment, I went to a psychiatric hospital.   I talked to people there.  And when I got out, I started seeing a therapist who was affiliated with that hospital.  I went to her for the rest of that school year, plus my freshman year of college.  I remember talking to her on the phone from my dorm room, and seeing her whenever I came home on breaks.

She quickly and easily became my favorite adult.  I always looked forward to seeing her.  I didn’t talk much.  I had no template for how to converse, basically.  She chipped away at that naturally, gradually, over time.  Sometimes we would role-play.  I often came home from our sessions and wrote out, word-by-word, our conversations.  It’s really neat to read back through those!

She was the first person to ask me about gender, and specifically, if I was comfortable with my female body.  I had just seen Boys Don’t Cry (my mom was reluctant to let me see it, but I was persistent, and she took me), and I told my therapist all about it.  She asked me about different aspects of my body, and I admitted that I don’t like this or that about it, I don’t shave my legs, etc.  But I essentially told her I couldn’t see myself as a man.

I started to go to a youth group through the local gay alliance that spring, and it was super helpful to be able to talk about those experiences from the group, with her.  Plus I had a crush on someone at school – in my memories, it feels like 90% of our sessions were taken up talking about that, specifically.  She always made me feel like there was potential and hope there.  In the end, she was right.  Kinda.  In some ways.  But that’s a different story!

Last week, I uncovered a cassette tape that has her name on it, in my handwriting.  I knew exactly what it was – I always knew this tape existed.  I had just misplaced it for a long time.  I’d been passively searching for it for years, actually.

I put it in my tape deck, which is right behind me where I’m sitting now, and pushed “play.”  I thought I would have some visceral or nostalgic reaction to her voice, but for whatever reason, I didn’t.  It was just her, reading from a script, going through a guided relaxation full of visualizations.  It was kinda cheesy.  Nothing that actually felt like a connection.

As I was planning my radio show this week, I incorporated about 2 minutes of this tape, layered with an instrumental track.

When I went to therapy on Wednesday, I brought all this up – finding the tape, planning on including it on my show, thinking about her again.  My current therapist knew her – they were collegues.  I told her I was thinking about trying to contact her, but I was at a loss because she got married (changed her name) when she moved to North Carolina.

I’ve half-heartedly tried to “google” her once or twice, a long time ago.  For whatever reason, it felt super weird and I didn’t pursue it any further.  But actually talking it out, at therapy (and I’m talking about the here-and-now, current therapist) made it not seem strange at all.  People do these things.  They reach out, try to find important others from their pasts, all the time.

I’m gonna do it!  I’m pretty sure I tracked down her phone number online.  Now I just gotta figure out what I’d say in a message.  My voice sounds male now – I’m gonna have to explain that.  I have a different name.  Yet another coming out.  What am I gonna say?!

Stay tuned for the conclusion, where I actually talk to her, if it all works out…