A Valentine for My Community

chronic illness, community, crazy, disability, genderfluid, genderqueer, mental illness, non-binary, resilience, self-care, sick, trans, transgender, transphobia, Valentine's Day

Source: https://img0.etsystatic.com/000/1/5289670/il_340x270.196259270.jpg

TW: transphobia, ableism, abuse, trauma, denial of self

Valentine’s Day has never been my favorite holiday. OK, I’ve absolutely hated it. But I wanted to use today to send out a valentine to my fam, to my community. I want to thank you for being alive and being you, every day. I want to thank you for having the courage to find yourself and be yourself, despite all odds. Even when it doesn’t seem like you have a choice, thank you for going down that path anyway. Thank you for holding and nurturing your selves, your real selves, even when it feels so hard to do it.

Thank you for holding each other up, for reaching out to others again and again. Thank you for writing and building community, as you can, if you can. Choosing to be ourselves in this world is choosing to stand up to a lifetime, a society’s worth of abuse and trauma and no no nos.

But again and again, we claim ourselves. We take ourselves from the clutches of a world that likes to determine who we are for us, and we wrap our selves in blankets, hold our selves close, watch our selves grow.

Whether or not you are involved with someone else this year, and however that relationship is, take the time to celebrate the love for yourself that has gotten you this far, and the love for yourself that will get you through. Because that is the strength and beauty and toughness of our community: self-love, even when mixed with shame, even when it’s hard to find, even when we don’t have it—finding our selves, being our selves, is self-love, despite it all.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Thank you for being here. Thank you for holding on enough to be here.

We will thrive someday. We can thrive.

Always remember yourself, OK?

You are beautiful just as you are.

agender, beauty, communities of care, disability, genderqueer, non-binary, resilience, transgender

TRIGGER WARNING: struggling to be who you are

You are beautiful just as you are.

You, yes, you, shine in the sun and glisten in the dark. You light up the world with your full true self, with your you-ness, with your real, hard-earned concentrate of you.

Not everyone has had to work so hard just to be able to fill themselves up, to burst with their beauty the way that you do. Not everyone has had to struggle just to perch on the ledge of a mountain of possible faces, possible selves.

You have, and that has made the carving of yourself more defined, sharper, almost painfully detailed, intricate. Even when all the lines haven’t been filled in yet, we can hold who you are.

Yes, you are beautiful just as you are. You are beautiful when you are broken and sad and it looks like the road will never end, like it will always be muddy and rough. You are beautiful when you are singing a song deep from your gut. You are beautiful when you reach out, yet again, to someone else.

Never forget your fullness of self.

I am so glad that you are you, bursting with you, brimming, sparkling, bubbling over with a whole stew of you, simmering for years till perfection. Thank you for sharing it. Thank you for lifting off from a small perch of yourself and flying into the sky.

We shouldn’t have to struggle, but we are more stunning for it.

I am glad you are here with me.

Letter to Former Therapist #1

ableism, activism, agender, ally, cissexism, coming out, dehumanization, disability, dysphoria, gatekeeper model, gender fluid, genderqueer, mental health system, mental illness, misgendering, non-binary, privilege, saneism, suicidal ideation, therapy, trans narrative, transgender, transition, transphobia

TRIGGER WARNING: Cissexism/transphobia in therapy, saneism, suicidal ideation

This letter is pretty self-explanatory, but I want to give a brief introduction. I had been seeing this therapist on and off for six years, and it was only after we stopped seeing each other, mostly for reasons unrelated to the content of this letter, that I realized the full extent of what had happened in that office in terms of my gender. This is something that is still very painful for me to process, but I am sharing this (slightly edited) letter with you all because I hope that sharing my story will help other people in similar situations, or other people who are considering therapy. If any providers are reading this post, take this post to heart and consider if any of it applies to you. If it does, make changes to your practice now.

Written: 5/1/14

Sent: 5/17/14

Dear [Former Therapist #1],

I have realized in the past few weeks that there is something more I need to say to you. Feeling both anger and loss, caring about and valuing much of our therapeutic time together while realizing how you hurt and utterly failed me in this way–it isn’t an easy combination of feelings. When someone has both given so much and also deprived me of something so important, the emotions are not easy to navigate. I know that you have always had good intentions for me, but good intentions and positive effects are, as you must know, not the same, often. I am going to give you some feedback here that I hope you will take to heart, so that you can have a positive impact and a practice where all clients are treated equally. Although I am angry about this, and I wanted to show you that impact in this letter, I also wish you the best in implementing these changes. Please get in touch with me if you need further input, or if you otherwise want to respond.

I talked with you in one of our sessions a few months ago about my doubts and worries about us working together again. I told you that you had shot me down years ago when I had first brought up questioning my gender to you. What I didn’t do then is remind you what you had said to me.

I don’t remember every detail of those conversations we had when I was 18, but I do remember the traumatizing parts. I remember that, back in what must have been our first or second session, you asked if I wanted a penis. Uncomfortable, and confused as to whether this was the only measure of trans* ness, I said that I didn’t think so. Shortly afterwards, I think you must have concluded that I wasn’t trans*, or I must have concluded that I didn’t want to repeat that uncomfortable conversation, because we stopped talking about it for a while.

Later, maybe months or a year later, I worked up my courage and brought it up to you again. You said that you thought I had penis envy or wanted a grab at male privilege. (At the time, I was too clueless about feminism to know what you meant, so I mentally shrugged.) You said that I wasn’t trans*. “But you’re so feminine!” you said. (This was especially hurtful, given my current gender identity. I don’t identify with the word “feminine,” but me having some characteristics that get categorized that way doesn’t mean that I am a woman.)

I didn’t talk with you about it again until five years later, this current year, when my internalized transphobia and gender dysphoria (among other things) was making me suicidal. (Partly, I had buried it for some time, but I found a journal entry that showed that even in the midst of that fog, I was aware of my dysphoria. Besides, a lot of why I’d buried it was because I hadn’t been met with affirmation from you at all.) When I brought up my gender identity as one of my concerns about working with you again, you showed that you had evolved in some ways. You told me that you had been naive then, and that you were sorry. (But I don’t think you remember what you said! At least, I hope you didn’t, with that response.) You said that one of a therapist’s most important jobs is to eliminate their prejudices, and now you have no personal investment in your clients’ genders. You said that you understand that for people who don’t fit into the binary, trying to fit them into the opposite-gender box can be just as damaging. (Here, given that I hadn’t talked about my gender with you in five years, I felt you were subtly gendering me again.) Then you said, “Given all the evidence, I think it’s time for a reevaluation.”

This final sentence shows how much further you need to go. You do not get to evaluate my gender. You do not get to tell me who I am. Not any more than you get to tell your cis clients who they are and what genders they should be. Not only had you led me away from my true self for an extra six years, invalidated my gender identity, and used pathetic tropes to degrade who I am (trans men don’t just transition for a grab at male privilege! And the words “penis envy” should never be uttered with any kind of seriousness in a gender therapist’s office)–not to mention that you seemed to think inquiring about my thoughts on my genitalia was a good way to both break the ice and determine my gender–you now were judging yourself professionally fit to make those calls again! Instead of realizing the significant damage you had wrought on me (and probably many other trans* clients), instead of working tirelessly to correct that damage, you simply said that I might be able to convince you, the ultimate authority on my gender, that I am trans*–this time around.

As a first-year in college, I specifically sought out gender specialists so I could start exploring my gender identity. I naively thought that it was a safe space to do so, and foolishly bought into the idea that I could trust my therapist over myself. While I know that your statements don’t hold complete power over me, and, of course, they don’t determine my gender, your authority played a large role in squelching my shy early feelings of my true self, feelings I’d been conscious of as trans* since high school, but had been waiting for a place to show. It is true, also, that especially in the early stages of gender formation, we tend to listen to others over ourselves. You have a huge responsibility!

Had I received nurturing and competent care when I was 18, I might be in a very different place today. Many of my mental health issues would at least be different, if not lessened or resolved. I might have been exposed to less or different trauma. I might even be a few inches taller, if I’d decided that testosterone was the way to go! I’d already be myself. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone to the point of considering suicide to get here.

I think that you still don’t understand the gravity of what you did five years ago. You still don’t understand the danger of labeling yourself an expert on others’ genders, or the absolute destructiveness of the gatekeeper model of trans* care. In many ways, you taught me how to advocate for myself in therapy, and how to break down the barriers of authority between therapist and client. Yet you still cling to authority in this way. I shouldn’t have to convince you of who I am. I am certain that you don’t ask your cisgender clients to do so. I should be able to simply be, in therapy of all places. I should be supported in all ways to become more myself!

Your discouragement took away six years of my life as myself. It likely took away many others’. Please look deeply into yourself and your practice to see what amends you might be able to make with other people you have harmed through your prejudice. You have a responsibility to your current and former clients to do so. If you fail to do this, you continue to fail the trans* community. Reach out to former clients and apologize, and ask if there is anything you could possibly do to connect them to resources or help now. Check in with current clients to be sure they feel affirmed. Never “evaluate” anyone’s gender again. Ask for accountability and feedback from the trans* community and other gender specialists (maybe them, but having met many of them, a lot of them seem as or more messed up). Please look deeply into yourself and your practice, in these ways and/or others (it is ultimately your responsibility to figure this part out) to make changes now for affirming, egalitarian care. You know the stats–lives are on the line

One more thing. I am telling you all these things, taking this time and energy, because I have seen you walk the walk of eliminating prejudice before. I hope that my trust that I have placed in you is not ill-spent. I have faith that you will take this feedback seriously and do your best to right these wrongs.

Your former client,

Still fucking known as,

[Birth name]*

*Since this letter was written, I have started trying [current name] and using they/them pronouns.

Dreaming While Sick, Crazy, and Trans

ableism, agender, chronic illness, dehumanization, disability, dysphoria, gender fluid, genderqueer, mental illness, misgendering, non-binary, pronouns, PTSD, saneism, suicidal ideation, transgender

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of suicidal ideation & statistics, also discussion of general oppression of sick, crazy, and trans people

 

We all have hopes, goals, dreams. We all want that shit to happen real bad. I think part of why it’s so hard to look forward in life as a sick, crazy, trans person, even for me, who has a fuckton of advantages, is that it seems like this shit is going to stop us in our tracks. We aren’t supposed to be “useful” or have goals or be able to interact with “society,” whatever that is. We aren’t supposed to be able to make an impact on those around us, at least not a positive one. We aren’t supposed to have futures.

And, too often, many of us don’t have futures. Many of us don’t see a future for ourselves. We fear that others will cut short our lives and our dreams or just our daily getting by. Many of us worry that no one will see us as worthwhile, for any of the above reasons. And it’s killing us. I know that, if you add up the attempted suicide rates for all the different diagnoses I have, plus my trans identity, it’s pretty fucking high. PTSD: 27%. Depression: 20%. Secondary care for IBS: 16%. Non-binary trans: 43%.

That’s a pretty fucking scary list. I have never taken statistics, and those are some scary statistics. I think sometimes about how suicidal ideation probably wouldn’t even be as present for me, though, if there wasn’t the shame compounding this stuff. Yes, I still might be a little crazy. Yes, I’d still be in pain sometimes from IBS. Yes, I’d still be trans and I’d experience physical dysphoria (not that all trans people do–but in this utopia, social dysphoria would be mitigated almost instantly). But in some utopian world where people accept you where you are, where people envision futures for all people coming from everywhere, where people don’t assume genders and affirm everyone, in this utopian world, I would feel like my dreams are more possible. I would feel like my life is more possible.

We don’t live in that world, though, and I know that you, like me, probably need some encouragement to get where you need to go. You need the encouragement to keep on getting out of bed (if you can) every day, maybe, to eat some food, maybe, to talk to people around you, even, or not, if you need to. You need encouragement to live your daily life, sometimes. I know I do, when I’m sick, crazy, and trans. Which is all the time. Sometimes just the sheer logistics of negotiating your life are too much. I want to say that that struggle is enough. It is good. It is important and noble. Thank you for doing it. Thank you for continuing to exist and live and love and care, and, yes–

dream. Thank you for holding onto those dreams even when everything seems to be falling about your ears.

They are possible. They are beautiful. They can happen. Existing is enough, and, yes, there is a future, and it is not only about a daily struggle, the daily struggle to actually do the dishes or floss your teeth or to get through the pain or for people to use your right pronouns or to be seen as a fucking whole human being. This is all life is, and it is not all life is. You can and do have a future as a trans person, as a sick person, as a crazy person, as someone with a disability. Remember that you deserve this shit just as much as anybody else. You have a right to be here. You have a right to be valued, to be heard. You have a right to be your own fabulous gendered self. You have a right to your mind and your feelings and for holding them, or not, however you need. You have a right to be sick in bed all day. And you have a right to take the space and place in the world that you have longed for.

Many people will say that you do not have a right to these things. But I see you, here, still living each day. I see you holding onto your dreams. I can’t say all your dreams are going to come true, or that shit is easy, because it’s not. But why not have dreams? They are wings on our heart. We all can use some wings sometimes.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

–Langston Hughes

Also, some resources:

If you’re feeling suicidal, please ask yourself these questions. Is there anyone you can call to be with you right now, even if they aren’t someone who’s 100% affirming? What things can calm you down or make you feel better? Consider making a madness map: http://www.theicarusproject.net/article/mad-maps-building-trails-to-where-we-want-to-be-input-needed. What kinds of things do you want to do to yourself? Are you thinking of hurting yourself or someone else? If so, PLEASE call any or all of these numbers (I unfortunately don’t have numbers that are outside the US:

The Fenway GLBT Helpline: 1-888-340-4520

GLBT National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

Q Hotline: 866-539-2727

If you’re 24 or under, Trevor Helpline: 866-488-7386

Check out this website (TRIGGER WARNING for discussion of suicidal ideation).

Also, check out this awesome link and recording of it, if you’re needing a little hope.

Hold on there!

My Brain is Broken

ableism, accessibility, disability, privilege, Uncategorized

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of people being tools about access needs

 

Or rather, it’s doing a lot of hard work right now to heal. And that’s pretty amazing, but it means a lot of sleeping and not a lot of time for thinking.

My concussion has me beat. I want to post more. I’ve had a lot of thoughts come through my brain, when it can think. But it’s not going to happen at the moment… my energy is focused on coming out to my immediate and extended family and my job, and just getting life done at the moment.

My PSA for the day, though, is about accessibility and access intimacy.

  • Lights and noise are hard for me. They give me headaches. I sometimes have to leave the room. If you know this, TURN OFF THE LIGHTS. Thank you. And don’t stare or laugh about my sunglasses. Seriously.
  • Also, for those of us with PTSD, some things are triggering. I know that for me and many (but not all, for sure) others with a trauma history, movie/media choices can be really hard. Your fun and silly action movie will give me nightmares. Your creepy TV show will make me shrink inside of myself. Be open about what content is in these things. Don’t assume I’m a bore or a drag because G rated movies are sometimes the safest bet… and even then not so much. (Not to mention that media representation/lack of representation can itself be super unenjoyable. But that’s, often, another topic.)
  • In general, if you know that somebody has any condition that could make an environment that’s designed for able-bodied and sane people difficult to navigate, leave space for their needs. Ask for what accommodations they might need. Be clear that it’s totally OK. Make it safe for them to need those things. Don’t roll your eyes, sigh, or imply that you or others are doing them a favor.

Accessibility is not a majority vote. Some access needs conflict, but thinking about these things and creating space to hold and voice them IS caring for our community. It’s also basic politeness and respect. OK. Over and out. I’m gonna go lie down for some more hours.

We are not useless. We are fabulous!

ableism, accessibility, accessible movements, activism, dehumanization, disability, privilege, saneism

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of ableism, classism, trauma in movement spaces

Just today I was talking with the person I am dating, who said, “I just wish I could do more of those things, be able to go to protests and organize and work on the things I care about.”

I know I have often felt this. I know many others feel this, this uselessness. If we do not have the energy to spend on what is often seen as activism, then we are not committed to the cause. Then we are not, actually, useful.

Supposedly.

I say, though, that the idea of people with disabilities as useless is an idea that stems straight from capitalism. Not all aspects of oppression stem simply from capitalism, but capitalism is all wrapped up in many forms of oppression. It finds different ways to control each group, to make each group expendable. In particular, we are expendable because we are useless.

But we are human beings, not dollar signs. We are human beings, not the products we put out. We have lungs and stomachs and hearts and brains, and they are churning and working and thinking, breathing and beating, making us live each day. They may not work the way we find most comfortable or efficient all the time, but they work all the same. Efficiency be damned! We are miracles!

We are most certainly not flat pieces of paper with writing on them that get passed from hand to hand in a frenzy of abstract value.

The very meaning of justice work needs to be changed. The idea of what constitutes activism or organizing needs to be changed. How many organizers have I known who organize at the cost of everything else in their lives—their own care, the care of their families, and, in a perverse way, even the care of their communities. While at a meeting, they didn’t give their friend a ride to the doctor. While at a conference, they missed helping their kid with homework. I know that for some organizers, this is their livelihood and they have to go to these events. For many people who do not have organizing jobs, they need to choose between work and caring for others as well. What I am saying is that ideas of what organizing is need to be expanded, both for paid and unpaid organizers. The movement not only needs an accessibility check–it needs a priority check. We bring more people in when they are cared for, when they are in community. Caring and creating community IS organizing work.

The agitating that organizers do is important and it can have results that make a difference in daily life. But I say that truly good results cannot happen without everyone there, and these results start with people living in a community where they care for themselves, their families, and the people around them. They care deeply. They show up. They cook food for each other. So much of this work is about improving conditions at an institutional level, and that is direly needed work. But it is not the only kind of improvement that is needed.

These movements do not include me when I cannot show up, and I may have “skipped out on the movement.” These movements do not include us when they are not accessible. What happens when we don’t make space for everyone? What happens when we are asked to show up at the courthouse to try to free someone from prison, and we do not support people with experience being incarcerated in the wholeness of their trauma? They should be heading this work, and we need to make space for that support. We also may need to wait to take to the streets while processing trauma, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t organize! What happens when the spaces we book aren’t accessible for people with mobility devices, or children, or a bus pass, or interpretation needs, or mental illness? Many people who are dealing with intense forms of oppression are just trying to survive, just putting food on their table with multiple jobs—or have no money because they can’t work. If the people most directly affected by an issue can’t show up, we know what kind of bad shit can go down. These are not the movements I want to be part of. We cannot leave anyone behind.

Let’s organize for communities of care. Organizing can look like making food for a friend when you can. I say organizing is hanging out and talking about these issues, or shooting the breeze about nothing in particular. I say organizing is slipping in these topics whenever you can. Organizing is watching mindless TV with a friend. Organizing is watching someone else’s kids—or your own. Sometimes, organizing is simply existing. Sometimes, simply existing is really hard; it’s a huge success in itself. Sometimes, organizing looks like lying in bed all day, and sometimes it looks like getting out of bed.

Some may say we are useless, but they need to expand their vocabulary. We are fucking fabulous, and we are existing every day, caring for each other every day. We cannot let anyone out of our net. Let’s hold each other in all our fabulousness and need, however we can, whenever we can. This is building communities of care. This is making the change we need. This is caring for anyone who’s left behind by a capitalistic model of organizing, or just plain oppression. Let’s hold each other fiercely.