A friend of mine living in Albuquerque posted about an art project s/he recently completed, and I messaged hir to find out more about it. What follows is an interview with the artist, Harley Kirschner, in which we touch on toxic masculinity, safety, artistic processes, and a whole lot more!
Kam: How did you get involved in it? Did you propose the idea?
Harley: I work at Winnings coffee shop again, after a few years in plumbing and pipefitting , unemployment, self employment and other jobs. We have artists do murals in our bathrooms and it was time for a new one.The need was expressed and I jumped on the opportunity. I got free reign over what I wanted to do and as a trans artist who is getting into what I like to think of as oversized zines, naturally I created a zine installation about using public restrooms as trans in a public restroom.
Kam: Is it related to your plumbing career, your art career, or both? Can you elaborate on that?
Harley: My plumbing career collapsed which I now see as a blessing. However, in that collapse, after living stealth 24/7 I really collapsed emotionally. Everything about my art and my loud trans non-binary self is because I failed at fitting the mold of what a plumber or pipefitter or man is supposed to be. Trying to be someone that I’m not almost killed me as I was terrified and disassociated all the time. I do share my experience with how bathrooms were such a huge part of that in this installation. However, although I would usually put my name on my story, due to the location being my place of employment and coming to embrace myself as non-binary and using mixed pronouns when I feel safe, I felt too vulnerable. I thought about censoring my story but felt the content was important so I chose to leave off my name.
I found empowerment in taking a bathroom and making it my own and a safe place for trans people after my experience in the plumbing industry which has rules (which are laws under the guise of safety… Most are.), about gendered bathrooms. That was one issue that I always had issues with myself. My experience in the plumbing and pipe fitting industries was heavy industrial for the most part so I did very little in bathrooms and actually very little with water. Mostly, I piped refrigerant and coal. I still use some of my skills in doing irrigation.
When my plumbing career fell apart and I started talking about it in zines and about how toxic masculinity makes me want to kill myself, I started getting recognized for my art and it was very clear to me that where my art had been lacking in the work that I had been showing wasn’t in the technical sense but rather in the voice. I knew that if I wanted to achieve what I wanted with my art, to make trans people feel beautiful, I had to use my own voice and make it loud. I had been very scared to do that. Partly because it was incredibly unsafe in my plumbing career and partly because I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself. When I had nothing to lose career wise and my sanity and breath depended on taking up queer and trans space I knew that taking the steps to enhance my literary voice would give my fine art real value.
Kam: What are your goals with the project? What would you like people to get out of it?
Harley: To make Winning Coffee Company the most queer and trans friendly coffee shop in Albuquerque. To take back bathrooms after they made me feel so unsafe. To embrace the diversity within my community by feeling the love and support of not only trans people but of all the people who love my work. I feel that it is very new to me to feel the amount of love and support around being trans from cis people that I do and I would like to offer that same safe feeling in a public place in Albuquerque for all trans people. I am very lucky to have such great supportive coworkers that helped make this happen, including making the bathrooms gender neutral (a few years ago) and helped me paint the walls.
Kam: Do you see ways to expand on this? Other places or other ideas?
Harley: I would like it to be an ongoing conversation. As the installation deteriorates and get tagged (unfortunately a given with the Winning’s bathroom-nothing offensive just disrespectful in general) I would like to replace the paper with different stories. People are encouraged to contribute any stories they have about using the bathroom as a trans person. I have thought about doing this bathroom in other spaces but am too busy artistically to take on another project right now.
Kam: What did your artistic process look like for this?
Harley: I used matte black paint on all the walls but chose to keep the ceiling white and paint the door white so it didn’t create a feeling of being trapped. There was a metal frame that used to have an advertisement poster in it. The advertising company closed but the frame was still there. It reminds me a lot of the welding that I was working with at the job that I reference in my story so I chose to keep it and decoupage the plexiglass that it holds. It works very well with the symbolist element of my work. I wallpapered large photocopies of stories and photocopied collages of images related to being trans and using bathrooms. I incorporated images from my time in the union, including an image of my shadow where I look like I’m holding a gun and I’m going to shoot, an image of a sign that says “ouch”, and images from one of my textbooks. My favorite part is the dictionary words “restricted” followed by “restroom”, nothing could have been more appropriate. In my photocopied collages I incorporate transfers to overlay images. There is a grainy quality in oversized prints that I find particularly appealing.
Kam: Anything else you wanted to add that I didn’t ask about?
Harley: Thank you very much for asking me to talk about my work on your blog. Your writing has always inspired me and I hope that my voice will be as touching to others as yours has been to me.
The bathrooms (all except for two) at the school I work at are getting a complete makeover this summer! (This is only a part of the remodeling / demolition that’s been going on – it’s been a fairly chaotic and atypical few months. Most of the time it feels like, how is all of this going to be completed by September 4th?!)
Here’s a quick rundown of the bathroom count:
3 boys gang bathrooms
3 girls gang bathrooms
1 mens staff bathroom
1 womens staff bathroom
2 gender-neutral staff bathrooms
1 girls gym teacher bathroom
1 boys gym teacher bathroom
1 nurse’s office gender-neutral bathroom
7 classroom gender-neutral bathrooms
2 girls single-use bathrooms
1 boys single-use bathroom
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that my workplace has more bathroom options than pretty much anywhere else, ever. As a genderqueer person, I have never stressed out about where I was going to go pee. Never, until this summer. All bathrooms are out of commission except for one girls gang bathroom and one boys gang bathroom. “Gang,” in this case, means that more than one person can enter and use the bathroom at a time. I am missing my gender-neutral option!
Before I came out at work, I was using both womens and gender-neutral bathrooms. After I came out at work, I gradually transitioned to only using gender-neutral bathrooms. One good thing about all this upheaval is that when they’re done, there will be 4 more gender-neutral bathrooms than there had been previously. !!! !!!
Until then though, I’ve had to make some tough decisions. As the bathroom options started to shrink (due to demolition), I was getting creative, for a while. For example, I realized there was still a toilet not yet destroyed in on of the classrooms, and I was using that for a while. My co-worker, who knew I’d been only using gender-neutral options, asked me, “So which bathroom are you going to use?” Being semi-facetious, I replied, “I’ll use the womens for #1 and the mens for #2.” And I actually was doing that for a while.
But then I started running into other people who were also using the bathroom as the pickings got slim. And I started getting nervous. I’d rather people saw me as male and used he/him/his pronouns for me than not. Some people get that I’m neither, and that’s great, but I don’t need the whole school understanding this nuance. Things have been so much better for me since coming out; I just want to keep up that momentum.
So I made a stark, black and white decision, that I was going to use the boys gang bathroom, no matter who was around or who wasn’t around. It was tough to wrap my head around because, since top surgery, coming out, and being on a regular dose of T (in that order), I’ve been in all sorts of bathrooms depending on the context, how I’m feeling, and what the options are. But I STILL prefer and gravitate towards womens rooms. And I STILL have not been stopped or questioned once.
But, in this case, I’ve been feeling like I gotta do this because I’m trying to assert and simplify my identity so everyone gets the picture / is on the same page. It’s been working. Almost everyone (except my former supervisor who keeps leeching onto the building) uses he/him/his pronouns for me. Essentially, I haven’t been wanting to confuse people or have them question where I’m at. Even the contractors – all of them have been calling me “buddy,” and that actually feels really good!
It defintely has been nervewracking though. A few times, I almost ran into the girls room when I heard that someone was in the boys. I’ve never been in a mens/boys room with other males. (Er, actually, maybe a handful of times when I was traveling in Turkey, but that’s it.) But I stuck it out and passed them at the urinal in order to use the stall. Or was in the stall and heard them using the urinal. Or at the sink, etc. I went into the boys room while B&G (buildings and grounds – for the district) workers were around, while my co-workers were around, while (female) teachers were around.
And in the end, it’s all been OK. (It was a little less nerve-wracking, overall, because contractors were made to use a port-a-potty outside. Sucks to be them!) All I mean by that was that there were way less males using the school’s boys bathroom.
As soon as I can though, I will be right back in those gender-neutral, single stall bathrooms, which will be all over the place!!!
Wanna see other posts I’ve made in this series? Here they are:
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective (pt. 2)
Oh, and, as always, I’ve been all over both the girls and the boys bathroom, in order to clean them, daily.
WordPress sent me a notification today letting me know that it’s my 5th anniversary of blogging here. So I’m scrambling to do a celebratory post!
When I started this blog, I was trying soooo hard to navigate my gender identity and to find a community. I’d say the first year or two was spent feeling like my blog was not enough, just continually putting myself out there and obsessing about how to connect with others through this method. I spent hours, daily, reading as many other blogs as I could find, about gender. After about 2 years, I think I started to feel secure in my writing voice, if not quite my gender yet. I really settled into writing regularly, and I got so much enjoyment out of it – this more than any other creative endeavor, for a long time. I’d say that within the past year, that’s shifted again, and I’ve felt pretty disenfranchised. I get way more “views” than ever before, mostly thanks to this singular post: 28 risks of chest binding. People love a good scare. They love to google things that could go wrong. I’m definitely proud of that post – I put a lot of work into that one. And I do love the fact that once they find my blog through that route, it seems like the majority of people poke around a little more and go deeper. (This is based on what I can tell from “stats.”) But the sense of community I felt so strongly has dwindled over time. People have stopped posting / I have stopped finding new blogs to read. There are a few mainstays that I haven’t quite kept up with; I’d like to remedy that…
The way I decided to celebrate this milestone is to pick 5 blog posts that I think got overlooked (one per year). Either I put a lot of emotional energy into them and didn’t get much feedback, or maybe I just think they’re worth checking out – they withstand the test of time, something like that…
2013: From whimsical musings to invasive rumintations on transitioning – This was my 10th post ever, and I really think I zeroed in on the psychological push-pull of not feeling like either gender for the first time here. I even used some of what I wrote here much later, in an essay that is forthcoming as part of an anthology published by Columbia University Press. For real! The date keeps being pushed back, but it will be within a year – I’m sure I’ll have updates as that approaches.
2014: The Soft Sell (upping the ante) – This was my 30th post. It was mostly about: despite the fact I may have been solidifying my gender identity more and more, I was waaaay behind in telling a lot of the people in my life about it. The blog was a great outlet to be semi-private but also just feel it out as I went. The term “the soft sell” came from my therapist – that was her reaction to me telling her the half-assed way I had come out to my parents. When she said that, all I could picture was the members from Soft Cell, one of my fave bands. That has always stayed with me. Hah.
2015: I came out to the principal of my school (workplace) – This post was definitely not overlooked, but I still think it’s worth highlighting. I came out to her waaaaay before I actually actively came out at work, and I strongly feel like the fact that I did that, that I put those roots down, gave me hope toward my final destination. It also breaks down the divide I feel between the “janitor” and the “queer” parts of my identity – this blog has continually felt out where that line is, where it crosses, where they are distinct, etc. I just really like this post because it addresses a lot of that stuff head-on.
2016: Drag king stories #5 – This is definitely my favorite entry within this ongoing series I’ve been doing. I wrote it in honor of Prince’s death (the actual show took place in June of 2012) – the fact that I got to emulate Prince at a really well attended event meant the world to me, and the fact that I performed one of the songs with my drag partner/buddy’mentor made it all the more special. We were both regular drag performers at a gay bar in 2006 and 2007. Before I could articulate where I wanted to go with my gender, I got to act it out in all kinds of fun and creative ways, harnessing music and dance and costuming and make-up. Being a drag performer was a big step in my journey – this post really showcases that, I think.
2017: Jeepster (working title: I got an oil change and got my mind blown) – this is a real oddball post. I’ve always said that the three things this blog is about are: gender, being a janitor, and mental health, and this one here really crystalizes a mental state that was temporary (thankfully!) I had just recently gotten through the thick of a manic episode, and the residual disorganization / megaorganization is still very much apparent in the writing here. I think I want to highlight it because I’m currently working on a 16+ page piece where I just try to remember as much as I can about my most recent hospitalization. This is a companion piece.
And I’m gonna cop out and not do 2018 because the year’s not done yet! Plus, it’s my 5th anniversary, so I’m highlighting 5 posts. Makes sense. Here’s to 5 more years!
I haven’t written one of these since 2014! That’s way too long! My spouse and I just watched Another Earth for the second time, and I had forgotten that the protagonist, Rhoda, is a high school janitor. Heads up – this post might contain spoilers! And also, although I’m being critical and having fun with it (the portrayal of a janitor), I actually really do love this movie (hence, the wanting to watch it for a 2nd time!)
She doesn’t start out as a janitor. She’s a promising student that just got accepted to MIT, but her path takes a sharp turn when she kills a wife and child in a drunk driving accident. She spends the next four years in prison, instead of college, and when she gets out, she struggles with even wanting to be alive. When talking to a social worker about a job placement, she says,
“I don’t wanna really be around too many people or do too much talking.”
And that is, in a nut-shell, what being a janitor is all about! She gets placed at West Haven High School. We see her in a bunch of scenes at work. I’ll try to break it down a bit:
Uniform: She’s wearing workboots in the style of Timberlands. She has a hoodie and a full-body jumpsuit on over that. Plus a beanie. It is winter, but this is what she’s wearing while working in the building, and she is WAY overdressed! I’d be sweating bullets in this get-up, plus the footwear is too heavy-duty. Even running sneakers would be better – you do a ton of walking as a janitor. I wear a t-shirt, pants, and sneakers, and I still get hot – school buildings are usually kept super warm.
The Work: We see her pushing her cart through the building, mopping halls, and scrubbing at bathroom grafitti. This is fairly realistic, although where I work, we have an auto-scrubber for halls, and I’d never use that much elbow-grease on anything the way she’s going at that grafitti – I’d blow out my ligaments! I already struggle with “tennis elbow” from regular repetitive motions. Not worth it!
Storyline: There’s a sub-plot where her co-worker, Purdeep, is noticeably blind, and you’re left wondering how he gets his job done without seeing. Then, one day, Purdeep isn’t there, and Rhoda asks about him. The reply? He’s not coming back because he poured bleach in his own ears. This was the 2nd incident – he had previously blinded his own self by pouring bleach in his eyes.
“He said he was tired of seeing himself everywhere.”
Later on, there’s a scene where Rhoda visits him in the hospital, and she writes letters on the palm of his hand in order to communicate with him. It’s a tender connection, but other than that, I’m not sure what’s being coveyed through this other than here was a janitor who incrimentally lost his mind and self-destructed. ???
There’s one other scene, early on, that I think is really relevant. She runs into an old classmate at a corner store, and from his demeanor, it’s apparent he’s super surprised to see her, and he knows all about what happened to her, going to prison and everything. Their dialogue reads, starting with him asking,
“So, are you working?”
“West Haven High.”
“Yeah? What do you teach?”
“I clean the school.”
“Oh, that’s cool. …That’s probably very … therapeutic.”
It might not be apparent from the words, but his tone is sooo condescending, his classism is really shining through. I often tell people that I’m a janitor, and I feel fortunate I don’t come up against this kind of bias, generally. But there was a long period of time where I did feel shame about my job, especially because I work for the same school district I went to school at, and I too was a “promising” student, and I actually did go to college (and not prison), and I would brace myself for those moments where I might run into someone I knew from school.
Here it is, finally! Photographic proof that my name plate finally arrived the way I want it, after many delays and a mix-up. If you want to read about the backstory, here are two past posts:
From December: The “Mx.” got way delayed
From last January: I came out at work, cont’d
The short version is that I asked for the Mx. a year and 3 months ago, following my legal name change. A full year passed before anything happened, and it came through as Kameron [last name], which was not what I wanted. So I talked to the principal again, and luckily, she was pliable. A month ago, I saw a name plate in the admin. assistant’s trash (only because I empty her trash), that said, Ms. [last name]. Meaning, that Staples messed it up even though it got submitted the way I wanted it. Another week passed (during which time I was wondering if I’d have to check back in with the admin. assistant or not. Glad I just waited.) and, finally, there it was, on the custodial door.
Within a week of me coming out at work, a new protocol had been put in place for how we should go about cleaning bathrooms. And for the first time, it applied to all cleaners in all bathrooms, not just guy cleaners going in women’s /girl’s bathrooms, or gals going in the men’s / boy’s. The timing of it was not lost on me.
1. First, call out to see if anyone is in there. If they are, wait.
2. Next, take a sign that is now velcro-ed to the back of all bathroom doors, and velcro-adhere it to the front. This sign reads, “Do Not Enter. Cleaning in Progress.”
3. Close the door, and then do whatever you’re doing, whether it’s just loading more paper towels or full-on cleaning the bathroom.
Before this, we only had to be conscious if we were in bathrooms that were opposite to the ones of our gender/sex.
When I came out to the principal and assistant principal, one of the first and only questions they asked was about bathrooms. Which bathrooms did I plan on using? If she (the principal) could make a suggestion, it would be best if I only used the gender neutral bathrooms. I was polite in response, even though I had not thought this through, and at the time, I used both the women’s bathrooms and the gender neutral bathrooms. All I said was, “A lot of people are worried about bathrooms when it comes to trans-people.”
As it is, a year later, I really only do use the gender-neutral bathrooms because different people within the school have different perceptions about where I’m at, and I want to protect myself and also foster the idea that I am neither male nor female. I didn’t plan on this. I thought I’d be continuing to use both women’s and gender-neutral ones. But I’m not.
I clean one set of bathrooms in the “centrum,” an open plan area where the first graders are taught – there are 3 regular classrooms, 2 resource classrooms, a big open area, and two bathrooms. These bathrooms don’t have doors on them, and also therefore, there are no, “Do Not Enter, Cleaning in Progress” signs accompanying them. Since I do get a head start while the first graders are getting ready to go home, I always yell, “Anyone in here?” even before just dumping the trash / cleaning the sinks. (Due to placement, there’s no way I’d encounter someone using the restroom from the sink area.)
A few days ago, I was doing my routine and called out like always. No one answered. I was putting in a new roll of paper towel. Then I heard a toilet flush. Also a bunch of kids were to the immediate right of this bathroom, putting on their winter coats and boots. I finished loading the paper towel, deciding that it would have been a bigger deal if I had just left it half loaded in my paranoia to escape the bathroom. The girl washed her hands and then I ripped off a piece for her to dry her hands.
Kids who were right there had a very lively conversation!
“There are no boys allowed in the girl’s room.”
“And also no girls allowed in the boy’s room.”
“But why is he in there in the bathroom then?”
“He has to be in there because that’s his job.”
“He’s putting more paper towels in there.”
“But still are you sure he can be in there?”
I just cleared out without further fanfare, but I felt kinda flustered. Personally, I still feel like I half belong in the girl’s / women’s bathrooms. Indeed, those are the ones I use the vast majority of the time when I am out in public.
I was intrigued that these first graders gathered that I was male. I honestly have no clue whether kids at the school I work at think I’m male or female. Whenever I’m asked (this happens so rarely), I do make a point to say, “I’m neither. I’m a little bit of both.” But short of that, I don’t have a clue what conclusions they come to!
One other thing that is tangentially related, I feel, because it concerns personal space: Since I’ve come out, had top surgery, and been on testosterone for long enough that my physique and how I carry myself has changed, I get touched a lot more at work. Some teachers pat or gently tap my shoulders and back. A few days ago, I was thrown way off when a kid patted my midsection for no apparent reason! It’s definitely different, and I don’t respond likewise with anyone, but I gotta say that I do think it’s a positive change – I think people can tell that I am more comfortable in my skin, and some of them act accordingly.
I’ll take it!
If you’d like to see what I originally wrote about this topic, back in January of 2014, here it is:
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective
I decided to write a Part 2 because this one felt outdated. And I still haven’t covered everything, not by a lot shot! (probably part 3 will appear in the future…)
I have not come up against very much resistance or ugliness as I’ve come out, in stages, in different ways, over the span of like 18 years. I’ve been called rude things out car windows. I’ve had uncomfortable and disconcerting medical appointments. I’ve faced silence-as-acceptance(?) from certain family members. I’m still dealing with people not grasping the right pronoun, or referring to my spouse as my “friend.” But these things have been few and far between, and although they do add up, they don’t feel terribly crushing. Most of the hardest feelings have come from within, and not outside forces.
Two weeks ago though, something came up that was deliberate, that would affect me long term, and that I can’t just let go. It’s my name plate at work.
I’ve worked at this school for over 10 years, and I’ve struggled to find my place within the rest of the staff. As a default, I’ve been distant and out-of-the-loop for the most part. It took me 6 years to get a name on the custodial door at all, and that only happened when a new person started and he got his name on the door. Then it was suddenly, hey, wait a minute! I had been fine without one, or so I told myself, because I’d rather not have one at all than be a “Miss” or a “Ms.” or later a “Mrs.” or even a “Mr.” All of those feel cringe-worthy and totally wrong for me. So when I was actually asked, and I said, “KT [last name]” and that was accepted, I was thrilled. That was the name I went by. It felt right. At the time.
And then it didn’t. I came out at work last December. Holy what, that was a year ago! Part of this included talking to the principal about my name and pronoun change. I also made it clear that I was not transitioning to male, exactly, and I’d like it to be known I identify as in the middle or as a little bit of both genders. She replied that that distinction was not necessary, and that was more of a private thing. PS- It isn’t. It’s my identity. Instead of deciding I needed to clarify in that moment though, I attempted to grasp onto other compromises and specifics. So that, when she asked me about my name on the custodial door, it was immediately a no-brainer. “Mx. [last name].” It’s another option, I said. It is in use. It’s a thing, I tried to assure her. I said, “If this is representing my name, then I don’t feel compelled to spell out [in a coming out email she was going to be sending on my behalf] how I am neither gender. The title will speak for itself, and people can ask me if they want.” The principal nodded. It felt very much like we had agreed on this. She had told me that it could say whatever I wanted although she would like there to be some uniformity with everyone else’s. Mx. seemed perfect. I assumed there was follow-through on this.
As the months went by and I still didn’t have a name on the door (my supervisor had ripped off my old one), I wondered what was a reasonable amount of time to wait before asking what’s going on? But then I was out of work in May for mental health reasons. And then it was summer, and stuff like that doesn’t get done over the summer. I again had a new co-worker. I decided I would just ride in on his coat-tails. It would be easier, and that was the route I preferred to take at that time. And sure enough, within the first couple of weeks of school starting back up in September, he got his name on the custodial door. And I still didn’t. It was Mr. [last name]. I went to the administrative assistant that day and asked about my name. She apologized for not adding mine to the order, and she said she’d order it right then and there. I gave her a piece of paper where I had written it out, so there’d be no confusion: Mx. [last name].
It took 2 months, but it finally came in 2 weeks ago, but it was all wrong. I checked the custodial mail slot like I do most days, and I was appalled to see two new name plates: one for me and one for my co-worker – both of them were our first and last names. No titles at all. My ears turned red, my pulse quickened. I paced around a little, trying to move forward with my work while processing this. The principal was still in her office, adjacent to the hall where these mail slots are. I started to gear up to approach her, but then I hesitated, thinking I should wait until I’m more levelheaded. I didn’t get a chance to decide because right in that moment, she left.
My first, more general thought was that this is disrespectful in a classist sense. Why should ours be the only names that don’t have a title with them. Other thoughts spiraled out from there, most prominently, “I don’t want to have to deal with this!”
When the name got put on the door, I told my co-worker that’s not what I wanted. (He failed to change out his name plate, so mine was the only one with a first name). I then told the administrative assistant, and she said this was the principal’s decision. Which I already figured; I just didn’t want to talk to her! For 5 days in a row, I gathered myself to go talk to her, only to be met with her on her way out the door right in that moment. So finally when passing her in the hall on the 6th day, I asked, “Can I talk to you before you leave today?”
That worked! I talked to her and it was no big deal on her end. I wrote out what I wanted, for a third time, and she said it’d be ordered the following day. Which was yesterday. We’ll see how long it takes this time around; at this point it’s been over a year!
These days occur consecutively every year – October 10th and 11th. It’s a good chance to kind of look back and take stock. And to see where I was at; here’s what I wrote last year:
World mental health day / Nat’l coming out day 2016
Before talking about this year, I just want to note that last year I said, “I’d say within the next 6 months I’ll be out at work and everywhere else. I look forward to the day that my driver’s license, signature, little plastic rectangle on the custodial office, Facebook page, the words out of teachers’ and co-workers’ mouths, and everything else, all say the same thing!” I’ve reached that point!!! Well, everything except that little plastic rectangle, but that is in-process (see below)!
This past year in my mental health landscape: I thought I was stable in a way that couldn’t be rocked, but actually I ended up back in the hospital again with another manic / psychotic episode. I know my loved ones went through a lot of stress and strife, but, in comparison to past episodes, this felt like a breeze, and it even felt healing in many ways. I do want to try to write about this, but I’m not quite there yet. Hopefully soon. I spent two months out of work, I got raised to triple my prior dose of Seroquel (a drug I continue to like a lot – a first for me), and now I’m down to double my prior dose. I’m off of any antidepressants right now. I’m worried I will lapse into another depression, but so far, so good. I’m starting to finally address the issues I’m having with oversleeping. But, to be honest, if oversleeping is the worst thing to come out of being in a really good place mentally otherwise, then so be it, I guess… For now at least.
In terms of National Coming Out Day, coming out is happening all the time, and I’m glad to be in a place where I’m neither invisible nor fearful of having to come out again and again and again. I love every opportunity. Take yesterday for example: I didn’t realize it was National Coming Out Day until that night when I went on facebook after work. And during that day, I had two instances of coming out. While I was working in the cafeteria during lunch, a kid asked me, “Are you a boy?” I replied, “I’m neither. I’m a little bit of both.” He replied, “Really?!” And I said, “Yeah!” I had a big smile on my face. Then later in the afternoon, I realized that my new boss(?) got his plastic rectangle with his name “engraved” and it was now on the custodial door, and I’ve been waiting for mine since January, when I changed my name. So instead of getting worked up about that, I just wrote down on a piece of paper what I wanted (so there’d be no confusion) and explained to the administrative assistant that Mr. [last name] has his on the door and I’ve been waiting for mine. She apologized for forgetting to include mine in the order, and said she would go ahead and order mine. I gave her the paper: It said, “Mx. [last name].” She verbalized that back to me to make sure it was right, and I said, “Yep.” I should have that up hopefully within a couple of weeks, finally. This feels like such a victory!
There’s one other thing I want to mention regarding mental health: I started listening exclusively to a new-to-me podcast. By this, I mean, I listen to podcasts every day while at work. And previously, that would be somewhere between 5-8 different ones at any given time. Right now, for whatever reason, I’m just listening to one, all day every day. I’m sure I’ll get tired of it and get back to some of my other ones, but for now, it’s pretty mesmerizing. If you’re interested in checking it out, it’s called the Mental Illness Happy Hour. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. The host jokes that he does not give advanced notice for triggers because he would have to stop every couple of minutes to announce another Trigger Warning. And it is absolutely true. There is a lot of stuff about abuse of all kinds, dark secrets and shame, both sexual in nature and just like, the kinds of stuff that randomly pops in your head and you hate yourself for thinking it. The host lightens things up by being in turns uplifting and darkly humorous. Each show is somewhere between 2-3 hours (!?!), and he’d read people’s surveys they’ve sent in anonymously, and he will also interview one person per show. He’s doing all this seemingly on his own, and he’s making a living off of it. I’m kinda obsessed right now.
As top surgery results and testosterone have been working their magic, I have felt less hung up on how I am perceived. This is great news! I feel less drained when I go out in public, generally. I’ve taken things into my own hands when I feel like I’ve needed to, and this had not been psychically difficult, by any means! Here are some ways I have been true to my non-binary identity:
1. I Tampered With My Driver’s License.
Since I don’t live in Oregon or California, I still have to legally be either “Male” or “Female.” Although I legally changed my name to something more masculine, I opted to remain “female,” legally. This has led to feelings of dysphoria, but being “male” would have anyway, as well. So, as of a few months ago, I decided to put a bright neon sticker over my “Sex” on my driver’s license. At first it was neon orange. Currently it’s neon green. The color doesn’t make too much of a difference – just the fact that no one can see whether it’s “M” or “F” is huge for me. I’ve shown it at the pharmacy, bought beer with it, gotten “carded” at restaurants, shown it to bouncers at bars and nightclubs. No one has commented or had an issue with it – they just need to know how old I am, and that I am who I say I am! That’s it. (As an aside, when I traveled abroad, I did take the sticker off, because I didn’t think TSA agents would be too thrilled about that…)
2. School Pictures
I am an elementary school janitor – every year, I go through the same routines: first day of school, winter concerts, spring concerts, curriculum nights, open house, book fair, the 5th grade breakfast, last day of school, etc. No one can forget school pictures! They happen within the first weeks of school – this year, it was a week ago, today. As a staff member, I have to participate, and then I get some free photos, and I get a sheet of all the faculty and staff, every year. In the past, I have gone by the initials that I used to go by, which was “KT” and then [last name]. Unless I wasn’t feeling like speaking up (which was the case on a couple of occasions) I made sure the picture company had me down as “KT” instead of “Mrs.,” “Ms.,” or “Mr.” This year, surprisingly, I “passed” as male, as I saw the picture lady write down, “Mr.” and then ask me what my last name is. Without hesitating, I gave her my last name (new, legally changed), and then said, “Can you change that ‘Mr.’ to ‘Mx.’? It’s neither ‘Mr.’ nor ‘Ms.’ ” She replied, “I guess I can,” and I watched her cross out what she had and re-write “Mx.” It was awesome! I kinda can’t wait to get my sheet of faculty and staff photos this year.
3. Playing It By Ear, As I Go
This last one is a bit of a contradiction -I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I cannot assert my non-binary identity in every and all cases, so, if people are given a heads-up that I’ve changed my name and pronouns, in some situations, that is good enough. Especially at work. Teachers have been great about switching over. And I honestly don’t know how many of them get the nuances I’ve tried to convey. A couple of them for sure, because they asked me questions, and I had some really satisfying conversations. But in addition to this, there’s a larger group of people who are slowly hearing about it (or not) by word of mouth – mainly buildings and grounds workers. Electricians, plumbers, HVAC specialists, people I see now and then, but certainly not every day. If they get that I am a trans-person, and they are respectful, then, that is good enough. There’s this one guy who is over at our school a lot. A few weeks ago, he took me aside, and, obviously nervous about the exchange, he said, “So, I just want to know, because we are friends… It’s Kameron now?” He was just verifying something he wanted to make sure he was getting right, and, in my eyes, I was really psyched about this because he’s a guy that I think other workers look up to. So, the more positivity around it, the better. The less nasty gossip behind my back, the better. And, to that end, I just went to a union meeting two days ago, and the secretary addressed me by my old moniker, “KT.” I almost didn’t correct her, because… I don’t know… the picking your battles thing, I guess. BUT! Someone else corrected her, someone that I didn’t know knew yet! And so, I riffed off of that, asserting, “Yep, it’s Kameron now. I changed my name.” She shrunk into herself at hearing that, but, whatever. Another buildings and grounds guy took it from there, telling me loudly that his “niece” just transitioned recently into his “nephew.” We sat down and continued to converse so that anyone and everyone could hear, if they tuned in. He was just overjoyed to be accepting “Shane,” his middle-school-aged family member. At no point did I try to assert that I was neither male nor female. If he got the gist that I am trans, and he spreads the word with a positive attitude, then that is better than good enough. Acceptance, even if limited in understanding, is still worth it!
At the school I work at, there are two main sections to be cleaned – upstairs and downstairs. For the vast majority of my time there, I’ve always cleaned the downstairs. The water fountain was better. It was cooler in hot weather. There were more people to interact with. The rooms were cleaner (for the most part). I was closer to things that I needed to access: receiving room with supplies, dumpsters, the custodial office.
About 2 years ago, I cleaned the upstairs for roughly 6 months. It was not my choice – things were rough in a lot of different ways, and this was just one more thing. One more really big thing though, in my head. I was in and out of work a few times, due to a serious depression. When I was up there, it felt as if I could barely do the tasks, and the fact that they were recurring forever and ever was intolerable. I was rushing myself, always feeling like I didn’t have enough time to do everything. I was at a loss as to what to do about all the recycling, which for me is a “must do.” I just felt like I did not belong up there. I was trying to pop in and out of areas before kids were out of school, and then backtracking, which felt totally inefficient but seemed to be the only way to keep busy. Just being felt painful. And the fact that the being was on the second floor made the pain feel compounded so tightly within itself that I was struggling beyond belief.
By about mid-October of 2015, I was told I was switching back to the first floor. Apparently my co-worker wasn’t doing a great job, there were complaints, it was more important to be clean on the first floor than the second floor. ?? Anyway, at that time, I was sooooooo relieved. It was a visceral feeling. All the negativity was left up on the second floor, and although I was still struggling, I fit right back into the first floor. A few months later, I got on a medication that really started working for me, and the next two years went really well for the most part.
Sometimes a little too well: As I’ve mentioned before, I went through a manic episode in May, and I was out for two months, recovering from that. In a good way though – so far so good on the avoidance of a rebound depression. However, I lost my status at work. When I got back, it was clear that the new guy was now the new second-in-command.
In the past, this would have felt devastating, and I would have clung onto whatever control I did have, to the detriment of myself, only, really. I know because I’d already put myself through all that, big time. This time around, I decided to take it all in stride, as best I could. Instead of arguing about how I couldn’t do the second floor or anything like that, I spent time “staking it out,” I guess you could say? Just, spending time up there visualizing this or that and getting accustomed to the idea, before kids came back.
Now that school is back in session, I am IN IT. And it’s not actually bad. So far it has felt preferable, in fact. I’ve made some changes to my routine that really feel like they’re making a difference. Instead of bringing my cart plus mop bucket plus garbage barrel to each and every classroom, I am “sweeping through,” first with the garbage and rags to wipe everything down, then with the vacuum for all the area rugs, and then with the dust mop. I am taking WAY more steps going through multiple times instead of going room-by-room, but it’s feeling good. Feeling faster, even.
And the weather has not been too hot. And there’s a new drinking fountain up there as of a couple months ago – the kind where you can easily fill up a water bottle from, and it says how many plastic bottles you are saving by doing so. I love it! And I like the fact that the teachers clear out early up there, for the most part. And the rooms have been clean thus-far.
Best of all, I have my own “room” to store stuff, up there. That’s new. So while things are kinda turbulent with co-worker dynamics, I am so glad to have all my stuff and activities separate from theirs, more-so than ever before.
All the negative associations I’ve held about the second floor have pretty much melted away. A lot of that has to do with mental health and coming out at work. I don’t feel like I’m trying so hard to get in and out of places. I actually feel like I belong. When I talk with people, I like my voice. When I walk and do all this physical work, more muscle mass is making it feel much more effortless.
The only thing I’m dreading now is “gym use.” Coming soon will be screaming children using the gym for their cheer-leading practice, from 6-8:30pm. And once that’s over, it’ll be basketball all winter-long. We’ll see how well I can adjust…