CW: opioid use, overdose
Overdose Awareness Day was yesterday, but that doesn’t mean thinking about overdose and how we can work to better drug laws, allow for safer use, and make Narcan readily available is over. I’m grateful this is something that is getting more and more national attention, and I want to take a moment to talk about an experience I had earlier this week reviving someone with Narcan (naloxone).
The first time I heard about Narcan was soon after I started living in Maine. Governor Paul LePage (famed for his disdain for immigrants, poor people, heroin users, and folks of color) had just condemned the use of Narcan (the brand name for naloxone, a life saving opioid overdose antidote) for fear that it would promote new heroin use, or deincentivize heroin users from becoming sober. Or something. Most of his anti-Narcan platform seems to boil down to a form of passive extermination, whereby opioid addicts kill themselves via overdose and he gets to congratulate himself for “fixing” the epidemic by effectively doing nothing. What a hero. (He did eventually relent, stating that it would be helpful for family members of heroin users to possess and administer, but then later vetoed a bill to grant more widespread access.)
I became acutely aware of the need for Narcan after I worked with communities plagued by opioid addiction — usually cheap, dangerous forms of heroin cut with fentanyl and other tranqulizers. Maine has a notoriously bad heroin problem. Even longtime users who know their typical dose are unable to properly judge with the batches circulating around Maine, and elsewhere in the country as well. Cincinnati, my hometown, reported 174 overdoses in the last week due to a strain of heroin going around cut with elephant tranquilizer. It’s scary shit. When I worked at a Maine homeless shelter, I would get emails at least a few times a week saying a client of ours had overdosed and died. I always worried, as I monitored the showers and bathroom stalls, that I would discover the next client who had overdosed. I worried I would freeze or do something wrong and the person would die on my watch.
It never happened, but I went to work each day prepared for the worst. I began working with youth who had their struggles with heroin use, but our clients were smaller in number and therefore easier to keep tabs on. We never had an overdose at the youth facility while I worked there, at least not on any of my shifts. I was very lucky, but still spoke candidly with the clients about their use and how to be safer, and how to get help when they needed it. One youth I knew and became close with had overdosed many times, and I always worried, like with my adult clients, I would be the one to find them, and that I would freeze.
On Monday, I had my first direct encounter with someone who had overdosed from heroin, and I had to revive them with Narcan. While the situation was very scary and very stressful, I am happy to report that I didn’t freeze. I had help from bystanders and a colleague, and the whole thing went much, much better than I worried it might. I’m here to tell you right now that Narcan is easy to administer, works quickly, and saves lives.
I’m writing this post in case you think you might ever come across someone who has overdosed, so that you will feel comfortable knowing how to help them.
- The first thing to do is to try to wake the person. If you shake them, gently slap their arm or shoulder, or yell their name and they still won’t respond, you need to call 911 right away. If someone is nearby, have them call 911 for you so you can attend to the person who has overdosed.
- Be careful of stray needles if they were using injection opioids so that you or others don’t get stuck by them.
- Check to see if they are breathing. They might be gurgling or sound like they are snoring loudly. Their lips might be blue or pale and their skin will look blue or maybe green (the person I encountered Monday looked seasick). They might be cold or clammy feeling and have little to no muscle control. If they aren’t breathing, perform rescue breaths. Opioids can stop the heart and lungs from functioning, so you may have to breath for them. Many Narcan kits come with a protective sheet to put over the person’s mouth. If they do not come to after a few breaths, you need to give Narcan/naloxone right away.
- Know beforehand whether your kit has the injection or nasal inhalation spray version of the medicine. Mine was nasal spray, and it was really easy to use. I quickly read the instructions and put the kit together; generally there will be vial of the Narcan/naloxone and a tube or small plastic piece that goes into the person’s nose. It will look a little like a syringe, with a plunger you push to dispense the medicine. Once you put the pieces together, (mine screwed into place,) put the tip into the person’s nostril and push the plunger until all the medicine goes in. It is very helpful to have more than one vial of Narcan on hand as the person may need more than a single dose. I’ve been told as many as 6-8 doses of Narcan are needed to fully revive someone. On Monday, I gave the person two doses. After giving one dose, switch to the other nostril and repeat the process of administering all the medicine in the vial. You won’t hurt them by giving them too much.
- After administering, lay the person on their side in the “rescue” position with one arm crossed over their chest and one arm tucked under their head. The person I found was on a park bench which was on an incline, so I put a small purse under their head to keep their head elevated enough to keep breathing.
- It took about 3-5 minutes for the person I gave Narcan to “come to.” Once they did, they sat up and were able to talk and function normally again. I told them they had overdosed and were given Narcan. I told them an ambulance was on the way to take them to the hospital. Just because someone has been given Narcan and is awake, it doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods – they still need to go to the emergency room. Sometimes when people are revived with Narcan they are angry or confused – they may even try to hit you. Stay with them until the ambulance arrives and tell the emergency responders that the person has been given Narcan.
The bottom line is that this person would have died if my colleague and I hadn’t showed up when we did. Narcan saved this person’s life. To any of the naysayers out there who think people who use heroin deserve to die or shouldn’t have access to help, I want to remind you that addiction doesn’t care who you are – anyone of any race, class background, or gender can fall prey to addiction. Someone you love dearly could have their life saved by Narcan someday. Hell, it might even be you.
Here is some information on administering Narcan:
If you are struggling with opioid addiction and aren’t sure where to turn (even if you’re not ready to be/not interested in being sober) please check out this link to find some help:
Since my last post, more and more disturbing violence has indeed erupted — in ways both predictable and still, somehow, shocking.
I’ve been struggling pretty openly with how to best fit myself into the work of anti-racism, feeling both alienated from the work of white allies and as though I am an interloper in black spaces. What I have yearned for is a space that feels appropriate, i.e. a space in which I am able to do more of the heavy lifting to alleviate the struggles of the black community as they fight back against the daily injustices and dehumanization of genocide. And don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s anything but — our police force has our black citizenship held hostage, fearful to leave their homes, drive down their streets, to let their children outside to play.
We need to remember their names. We need to remember their lives. They are survived by families who loved them deeply and communities who will never be the same without them.
My time for inaction is over. My time to wonder where my place is as a non-black person of color is over. And though I still struggle with it, my place is certainly never to downplay what is happening to black people in my community, or to claim that my own struggles are more important. To do so only reinforces white supremacy and anti-blackness. My place is definitely to call out anti-blackness when I see it not just white folks, but my fellow POC who are not black, and who will use their places of relative privilege to suppress the dignity and vitality of black lives.
Case in point number one:
What has been happening in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bangladesh is unquestionably horrible. The Arab world and East Asia have undoubtedly been experiencing more than their fair share of bloodshed, and it is worth recognizing. Muslim people the world over do fear for their lives and safety, perhaps in much the same way as non-Muslim black folks, but here are two key points to ponder:
- Many Muslim people are black, and are impacted just as deeply when either of their communities face tragedy.
- Honoring the lives of one group of people does not mean you ignore the plight of others. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter do not insist we only care about black lives, but asks that we highlight and acknowledge the very real problem of anti-black prejudice and violence. It does not diminish one group’s struggle to discuss the other’s.
Additionally, it’s not okay to flatten the struggles of “people of color” into a singularity without recognizing that each of us is impacted differently as we move through the world. I am often mistaken for Latinx and have faced anti-Latinx hostility as a result. However, I am not Latinx, and I did not grow up with those traditions. What I have experienced insofar as racial prejudice is not the same as what black folks have experienced, nor is it the same as, say, what a Korean person has experienced, or First Nation/Indian folks have experienced. Class can’t be ignored here, either, or any of the other dimensions of identity, but no matter your culture or country of origin, the darker your skin, the worse you are likely to fare in your society.
So, sorry, Love Live of an Asian Guy, “people of color” is hardly a discrete or exhaustive category. There are nuances within and between these groups that are important to highlight. There are times when, for tactical reasons, it’s absolutely important for us to unite — but it’s in poor taste to do so during a time when black people are being disproportionately murdered by police. We share common history in many ways that is quite fruitful to understand, but our current sociopolitical systems of crime, punishment, and achievement do not unilaterally treat all people of color the same way.
This also completely lets us non-black POC off the hook on examining our own prejudices. Both my Southeast Asian and white family members taught me anti-black racism and shadeism. My mom bought me skin lightening creams as a teenager, and my white family members encouraged me to lock the van doors as we drove through black neighborhoods in Washington, DC on family vacation. The people who loved me the most also taught me to hate my skin, and to hate the very notion of blackness, and that is an inescapable fact. (If you are a member of my family and are reading this and you wish to take me to task, have at it, but I know what my truth is and how hard I’ve worked to overcome the racism I grew up with in my home and my school. I continue to dismantle and challenge it within myself to this day.)
Instead of playing Oppression Olympics, we need to acknowledge that sometimes our boat simply isn’t leaking as much as someone else’s. As this letter penned by Asian Americans in support of #BlackLivesMatter delineates, “It’s true that we face discrimination for being Asian in this country. Sometimes people are rude to us about our accents, or withhold promotions because they don’t think of us as ‘leadership material.’ Some of us are told we’re terrorists. But for the most part, nobody thinks ‘dangerous criminal’ when we are walking down the street. The police do not gun down our children and parents for simply existing.” The letter goes on to say that we as non-black POC benefit from much of the work that has been done by black activists; we need to acknowledge black contributions to all of our lives.
It’s also quite possible to validate the hurt we experience without stepping on the toes of those who are hurting more. As this article points out, four Latinx people have been killed by police in the last week, including Pedro Villanueva, who was shot by plain clothes cops as they chased him in an unmarked car. The article states, “While statistics clearly show that Black people are disproportionately killed by police, few numbers exist for Latinos, who can occupy several demographic categories… To explain the discrepancy between Latino and Black victims, some point to the more explicit history of law enforcement and Black slaves or to the high representation of Latinos in police departments.” In other words, we understand that both groups face discrimination, yet we also respect that our black siblings are disproportionately targeted. It does not erase the memories of Melissa Ventura, Anthony Nuñez, Raul Saavedra-Vargas, or Villanueva — and yes, we should say their names, too.
If you are a non-black POC like me and you want to know how to support your black neighbors, there are a ton of great resources going around on social media. Here are a couple of them I’ve liked especially:
Some other things black friends and activists have said:
- Show up in the streets. Use your physical presence and don’t just hang out on the internet.
- When you do attend that rally or march, move to the periphery and act as a buffer between the cops and black protesters. (This definitely is primarily for light skinned and white cisgender folks; if you do not feel safe around police because you are trans, Latinx, or part of another group likely to be targeted by police, then do keep yourself safe.)
- Don’t make it about you. Center black people and their experiences. If the media asks you for a quote, defer to black movement leaders.
And my personal addenda, for all non-black POC who enter into these spaces:
- When you do show up, it’s not your job to hold white people’s hands or to put up with their racism. Keep yourself safe and leave if you absolutely need to
- Get together with other non-black people of color and work on your internalized anti-black/shadeist views together without white people around. Find orgs and people in your communities doing this work together.
And please be sure to take care of yourself. This work is hard and you will likely feel like many parts of yourself are fighting with themselves at once. I hope to see you in the streets alongside me. We have nothing to lose but our chains.
photo credit: ABC News
In the past two weeks alone, over a hundred queer and trans black and brown people were shot in Orlando’s Pulse night club, a man with a small arsenal was apprehended on his way to LA’s Pride event, British Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally assassinated outside a library, a teacher’s strike in Oaxaca turned deadly as police murdered and injured dozens, the UK voted to leave the European Union, spurred on largely by anti-immigrant sentiment, and nearly 90 documented racist hate crimes have taken place in Brexit’s wake. It seems every day the news gets worse and worse, a kind of intersectional trauma weaving through each incident, with folks of color, queers, and religious minorities being hit the hardest. It feels as though whatever has made us human, whatever evolutionary advantages we have grown through cooperation and shared experience is unraveling at its very seams. We are becoming something else, or we are merely showing the world what has been there all along, simmering barely below the surface. It’s difficult not to think in hyperbolic terms in hyper-violent times.
It’s hard to know how to feel. I spent the weekend of the Pulse shooting at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, and that Monday night I attended a vigil whereupon I exchanged heartbroken words with a few familiar black, trans folk — the same I had accompanied to the con all weekend.
It could have been them, I thought. It could have been us.
I’m not black or Latinx. I’m not trans feminine. I’m not Muslim. I do not directly share identity with those who are so often the targets of hate in the Western world. While it’s possible that someone could have decided to take out their disgust of transgender people on the attendees of the PTHC, they didn’t. It’s not entirely genuine to say, “it could have been me,” yet it does feel fair to say that it very well could have been people I know and love. I once spent a few months living near Orlando, and I was relieved when an ex of mine checked in as safe on facebook. It wasn’t close, per se, but it was just too close for comfort.
At the vigil, folks wrote affirming messages in Spanish to the victims, their kin. My heart aches for those I won’t ever know, for those so unlike myself in many ways, and so much alike in others. But does it matter?
Do we need to BE Orlando to grieve for them? Isn’t it okay to just be sad, to just be angry, without having to be one of them? Is it the inability to accept difference that leads to this kind of thing in the first place? I know the sentiment comes from a good place. We want to be family, and we want to come together. We want to hold them all in our hearts, to be one queer family, one human family, even though we may never hold their hands or take them to our beds. This mourning feels disingenuous especially amid the backdrop of racism that has forced black and brown activists from Pride events, and has instead pushed police to the forefront. I firmly believe this is a time for white and light skinned queer and trans people like myself to take this Pride month, as it draws to a close, to reflect on the ways in which we benefit from anti-black, anti-Latinx, and anti-Muslim sentiment, and to show up for those who aren’t just like us.
None of this is to say that I feel particularly safe, even shielded by my own relative privilege. When I walk the streets alone, in my tan skin, tipping off only the status of “other,” and never my “true” ethnic background, in this body read as female just as often as male, I don’t ever take my own safety for granted. I refuse to distrust my neighbors, and I smile as I pass them, whether or not they have a smile for me in return. It becomes tricky, navigating this world which feels increasingly hostile, even as I know it is harder still for some of my friends.
These past few weeks have been trying times, to say the least. We’re all figuring out how to care for ourselves and show up for one another the best week can. While it’s important to be critical, and I know I have been even in this post, perhaps it’s just as important to be gentle with each other. If you’re feeling anything like I am right now, I know you’re on the constant lookout for “what next?” with every cautious refresh of your social media feeds and each addition to your inbox. I want us all to make it. Even when the victims don’t look like me, I mourn their loss, and feel a tug in my heartstrings for their surviving families. With every video I see of white people doing heinous things to POC and immigrants, I feel the need to disown and condemn the whiteness within myself. I am disgusted by my white kin while simultaneously knowing I am not safe from them; I am both potential victim and victimizer, and each headline puts me at war with myself.
These are complex pieces to put together, and none of us have all the answers. It feels like the world had turned inside out, and unfortunately it’s all far from over.
Let’s all try to be there for one another. If not us, then who?
Photo credit: the author
CW: Sexual assault, maternal abandonment
So as it turns out, I’ve had an awful lot going on and haven’t updated in the last two months. My apologies. I’ll likely write a catch-up piece when I have the spoons and the time, but for now, on the eve of Mother’s Day, I wish to share a story with all of those out there who, like me, have a strained or completely absent relationship with their mom. Take care of yourself while you read this, and know that if your heart is feeling empty, mine is there with yours. ❤
Several years ago, I was in a very confusing relationship. Hell, it was a confusing time in my life, and the relationship was a major, but not singular feature contributing to the overall miasma. I met someone I fell for almost immediately. I met this person (name and pronouns are unknown at this time) online, and after a few dates, things picked up pretty quickly. We spent a lot of our time together, then almost every day. We started spending the night with each other more and more. After a few months, we decided to move in together.
At first, I was over the moon. This person was male assigned at birth, very sweet, very much in touch with their femininity, and in every conceivable way subverted stereotypes of toxic masculinity as I knew them. They had long, silky hair and had a penchant for floral prints and prairie dresses. They were soft spoken and gentle. I thought this was the kind of person I’d been looking for my entire life, whose qualities I’d always wanted but had never been able to fully articulate. The sex was amazing. We had so much in common. Their family was great. It all seemed like such a good decision.
The night before we were supposed to move in together, I caught them in a pretty big lie. A close friend of theirs told me she and my partner used to have a sexual relationship. This wouldn’t normally have bothered me, except that I had asked them about it before and they flat out lied to me. When they came to my apartment that evening, we argued and I asked what else they had lied to me about.
This is the part where everything I thought I knew about this person completely came unraveled.
They told me that in their not-so-distant past, they had raped not one, but two of their female friends. My ears were ringing as if a bomb had gone off in my living room. Given what I had known about this person before, if they had told me they liked to put puppies in a blender for fun, I could not have been more shocked and sickened. Writing this now, it’s hard to put into words how horrified and perplexed this news made me at the time. I still haven’t fully made sense of it. We talked about it for hours. I sobbed and yelled. They told me the particulars of what happened, which, for the anonymity of their victims, I won’t repeat, though I still remember it word for word. It still haunts me as much now as it did then.
They told me that in the years since, they had gone through extensive therapy. One of their victims had forgiven them and they’d made amends. One said she never would, and they accepted this reality as part of her healing and their reformation.
Now, dear readers… I can tell you this is one of those things for which there is no “right” way to react. The guide book of life has a blank chapter where this situation ought to be. I sent them out of my apartment that night. I needed time to think. Mind you, we were supposed to move in together the very next day. Our boxes were packed, our lease was signed, our truck rented. I had to make a snap decision about whether to dump this person, or forgive them; whether to invest in this relationship or reject this person I had grown to love. It put everything I know and knew about myself to the test. What kind of feminist would I be if I were to continue loving this person who had so grievously wronged two young women? Then again, in terms of accountability, this person had made attempts to better themself and move on. Is every person who commits sexual assault disposable? At what point do you have to stop outing yourself as a sex offender?
These are questions I can’t say I could answer differently today. I don’t believe in disposability of human beings. Many women and trans people in communities of color have long-held traditions of holding their friends, family, and loved ones accountable for their actions, rather than relying on ostracism or the prison industrial complex. I want to believe in people. I want to believe in the power of transformation. No person is the sum total of their most heinous act. We can be much more than that. Even in my pain and anger, I wanted to show compassion.
I made the choice to commit to them, to remain in their life and become a part of their family. I believed them that they had made attempts to change themself, but I hated that they had lied to me. I told them I wanted them to enter into therapy with me. We saw a couple’s counselor for many months. We made plans to move to the west coast together, and were even handfasted, with the understanding that if we were to marry someday, it would be well after we had worked through some of the shared trauma of both of our histories. Being a survivor of sexual assault, this news about this human being I thought I knew so well was not exactly something I took in stride.
During this time, I felt very alone. I have never known someone for whom this has happened, before or since. I sought counsel in the one person I believed I could trust, who would really “show up” for me — my mother. I told her what my partner had told me, that they had raped two women, and that I wasn’t sure what I should do. My mother is also a survivor and a feminist (although we subscribe to vastly different philosophies). I had shared with her so much about myself over the years. She was the first person I came out to as a teenager. We told each other everything. We had experienced so much collective trauma that I believed she would be the only person who could possibly understand. I don’t remember much of our conversation; only that we drove around at night, and I was drenched in tears the entire time.
Despite the fact that my mother had been abusive to me my entire life, made me frightened and made me feel small, she was also frequently my only confidant. I knew she would be there for me in a crisis, even though it became increasingly difficult to rely on her as an adult. I likewise became increasingly aware of her shortcomings and the undiagnosed and unacknowledged mental illness that caused her to lash out violently, angrily demean complete strangers in public, and disown almost every person in her life who failed to meet her standards. After recovering from decades of alcoholism, the other diseases that had been muted by liquor came to a head, and she was left with little to no coping skills to deal with them. I always felt that I was exempt from being cut off as she had done with other family members and friends, having come from her own body, being half of her just as I am half my father’s child. I felt that sharing with her this immense burden would be safe, and that I would be supported.
A year or so went by. My couple’s therapy sessions with my partner were going nowhere. Our relationship was poly and I had been dating people who were a much better fit, and I felt that it was finally time for me to move on. I could never fully accept or process what they had done, and other red flags were present that I couldn’t ignore. It was a lot messier and more complicated than all this, as it so often is. A few months after ending things with my partner, I met someone new. I met someone I would go on to be with for years, someone who was very important to me.
My mother, however, was far from supportive. You see, it was also around this time that I began coming to terms with my gender dysphoria and my desire to transition. I didn’t have the language for it, but I began telling friends and lovers that I didn’t identify fully as female. I started crossdressing and using masculine names, searching for a better fit. I visited trans support groups to gain insight into my identity. I met and dated others from these support groups, and the person I wound up with after my painful breakup was someone AMAB and identifying as genderqueer/NB. (Name and pronouns here again withheld for reasons.) I knew my mother as a TERF before the term was coined. She always expressed her disdain for trans women and crossdressing men, and I wasn’t sure how she would take my transition. Still, I refused to keep myself or my relationships a secret.
It was important for the people in my life to get to know this new person, and I wanted my mother to get to know them. I warned my partner, and they agreed to meet her. Around this time, however, my mother’s symptoms were getting worse. She became steadily angrier. She sometimes had good days and sometimes had bad days, and it was hard to tell what mood she would be in at any given time. She often dredged up and blamed me for things I had apologized for years earlier. She remembered an email exchange we had some years before that had ended in my telling her off; she remembered a time when I didn’t hug her the right way; she kept score for every Christmas and birthday where I didn’t give her the right kind of present and made me bitterly aware of how much it hurt her. She had a way of making me feel inadequate and inconsiderate in my every breath and fiber of my being. To this day I struggle with gift giving and the general feeling that I am somehow a disappointment. Even after I apologized repeatedly for all of these things, she never forgave me and would find new times to bring them up. Whenever we fought, it was always my job to take the blame and to be the one to apologize, no matter who had done what to whom.
She had started dropping subtle hints that she didn’t approve of my past relationship. I’d imagine any mother would have their concerns about their child dating a known and admitted rapist. I’m sure I’d be afraid for my child’s safety and would express my qualms as well. My mother, however, blamed me for staying in the relationship, as if by participating in the relationship, I condoned their past actions — as if I was colluding with a rapist, as if I were to blame for something they did before I knew them. She seemed to take it as a personal offense. I was already out of that relationship and had started a new one, but my mother wouldn’t let it go.
I made plans to move out of my hometown with my new partner, back to their home state. On my partner’s birthday, I asked my mother if she would give us a ride to my employer to pick up my final check. I had sold my car in preparation for the move and didn’t have a way to get there. During the ride, the tension in the car was palpable. I hated to ask her for a favor because she always found a way to make me feel like shit for asking. She would remind me of a time when I couldn’t do a favor for her, or if I had done something for her, I hadn’t done it the right way. This isn’t the stuff of cutesy sitcoms of a nagging mother, but feeling like being trapped in a car with a live snake. I hoped having my partner in the car would help act as a buffer. I was wrong.
My mom was texting at a red light, and it turned green. We sat there for a few seconds when my partner mentioned the light had turned green. My mother snapped at my partner for this, what she saw as an unjustified correction to her behavior. Even though I always found it hard to stand up for myself, I wasn’t going to let her extend her abuse of me to my partner. We began to argue. It lasted until we were out on the highway. Finally, she dropped the bomb she’d been saving for just such an occasion — the words no amount of time will ever help me forget: “You’ve been dead to me since you married that rapist.”
I don’t know how many of you are still reading this admittedly quite lengthy story. But if you’ve ever been told by your mother that you are dead to her, you know it is something you can never forget. I still hate her for saying it. I hate her because after she said it, she dropped me and my partner off at the next exit, without money or a way home. I hate her because it was my partner’s birthday and we had to walk to the nearest bar, call a friend for a ride, and in my embarrassment and grief, accept a ride home from her husband, whom I didn’t know terribly well.
I hate her most of all because after she said it, after she pulled over to the side of the road to drop us off, I leaned into the car. I looked into her eyes, totally dry to my tear stained and pleading, and said, “Your mother died when you were young and you haven’t had her around because of it. You’re opting out of my life now.” She nodded with a “fuck you” look on her face and drove away. The last time I heard from her, she emailed me to ask if I wanted my baby pictures back or if she should destroy them. In her email, she told me how much she missed me and how hurt she was by what had happened, and wondered how I could be so cruel.
This time, I refused to apologize. I didn’t even respond and haven’t spoken to her since. It was over five years ago.
I’d like to say my life has been instantly better as a result of her departure from my life, but that would be untrue. The hate I feel today is something that sometimes makes me feel ashamed, and sometimes wanes to a sad, detached compassion. I wish I could purge it from my heart, but I’m not there yet. I still have strange dreams where she and I fight, or we hash it out, or we abandon each other all over again. I still miss her, or at least things about her. I miss having a mom, even if it’s not necessarily the same as missing her specifically. I miss having someone there to witness my milestones. My mom has missed my name change, my life in a new gender, my entire undergrad career and graduation, my moving out of state twice, my marriage, my divorce, my business ownership — all of it.
The last five years of my life have been an amazing time of self discovery. I’ve grown and flourished as a person. I’ve pushed myself to become the best person I can be. I’ve become a gifted public speaker and educator. I’ve shared knowledge about self, sexuality, race, gender, and a plethora of things which are of immense importance to me; many of which she is responsible for inspiring. I’ve become a more committed feminist and activist, moving from volunteering part time at Planned Parenthood, to working as a team lead on marriage equality campaigns, to traveling out of state to act as a medic at anti-KKK protests. I’ve become a stronger and braver person in so many ways. In short, she’s missed out on a lot, and I’ve missed out, too. I wish I had a mother to hug me and tell me she’s proud of me and who I’ve become. I’m very proud of myself and I wish I could tell my mom, “It’s because I had a mother like you.” In some ways, perhaps it is. I have grown up both because of and in spite of what she has taught me.
If you are without a mom this Mother’s Day, or your mom isn’t able to be the kind of mom you deserve, know that I am here with a big, wide open heart for you. Our kind of loss is seldom talked about, but know you aren’t alone. If you find yourself in a toxic relationship with a parent, sibling, or any family member, let me state this for you in a way that perhaps no one in your life has told you: You don’t owe your misery to anyone. Remember, love isn’t abuse, eternal resentment, disavowal of who you are, or constant anger. If you need to break away, and can do so, feel free to. I give you permission. It might not be easy, and it might hurt quite a lot, but your sanity is worth it. You are worth it.
For a nice exercise in surviving this upcoming holiday, check out this awesome post by Barbara Carrellas.
Take care of yourself, and do what is best for you.
Image credit: http://www.photographywest.com/
(I’d meet a good boy / but I’d make a terrible girl)
CW: Gender dysphoria, depression, suicidality
I remember once upon a time, long before I knew being trans or genderqueer was a possibility… I couldn’t conceive of what exactly, only that something was amiss. I never knew its name. It was always there under the surface, a quiet and improbable voice whispering an indecipherable code. I loved femininity. I was thrilled when my mom took me to the Estée Lauder counter to get a makeover and my first real “grown up” makeup kit. I loved my high femme existence, replete with heels, skirts, corsets, and lace. But it always felt… false. Something in me doubted the “naturalness” of this identity.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, or that I don’t enjoy these things now, but it always felt like a put-on. Smoke and mirrors. A form of drag…
As a very young child I wanted to be one of the boys. I wanted to skateboard and pretended not to be squeamish when my step brother and his friends would play with tadpole guts. But I didn’t want to be a boy, so much as be seen as one of the boys.
The inability to ever articulate these feelings fully was at turns confusing and maddening. I realized I was shuffled into the “girl” category, but I had no idea how to do girl. Other girls my age seemed to get it, to understand some crucial piece of the puzzle I simply failed to grasp. They liked boys the right way… They wanted to sit in boys’ laps, and not have them sit in their laps. They wanted to be rescued by the boys, not be their body guards. They liked the boys who bullied the sissies, and I developed crush after crush on gay boy after gay boy. (This, by the way, has never changed. To this day the most appealing AMAB folks are those who read as femme of center – my sweetie supports this by gifting me with books about Brian Molko and signed 8″x10″s of Kevin Barnes.) It wasn’t until I started sharing my fantasies that I realized something was very different about the way I felt desire; but it didn’t stop there.
Somewhere between being bigger and heavier than my peers and feeling uncertain in a body being increasingly read as female made me excruciatingly self conscious. I vividly remember hating gym class for a whole host of reasons… In my school district in the early 2000’s, there was no room to be queer and bad at sports. You had to pick one or the other, and I failed on both counts.
And you certainly couldn’t be queer in the locker room. I would sequester myself to an unseen corner of the girls’ room and change, both for my own good and that of my classmates. I didn’t want them to worry I was checking them out, and I absolutely didn’t want them to catch even a scant glimpse of any inch of my bare skin.
This didn’t ever dissuade me from embracing my sexuality, however. Even if my straight counterparts hated me, I found refuge in the bodies of the fellow queers with whom I shared some of the most tender and immensely fucked up explorations. I hurt others and found myself hurt, but along the way I put a few pieces together.
I stopped calling myself bisexual at some point and adopted “pansexual.” After a sweet (and patient) fuckbuddy of mine explained why she reclaimed the word “queer” for political reasons, I realized sex was more than just for pleasure, but was a form of activism in and of itself. Being branded deviant now meant I had community and a sense of belonging, and something to fight for, whereas before it had made me miserable.
So I had some things figured out… I liked women, men, and after joining various dating sites and meeting trans and intersex people, I realized I could very easily be attracted to and love anyone, irrespective of their gender or genital configuration. In a perhaps ironic twist of fate, it was my friendships and romantic interactions with trans women that led me to realize that there was something other than mere attracting stirring within me, but a sense of self-recognition.
A decade after having heard the word “genderqueer” for the first time, I realized I could apply the label to myself. I had felt for so long that I wasn’t allowed somehow, because I enjoyed being femme. Just by knowing other people with an experience similar enough, I was given the permission I believed I needed to become a more authentic version of myself. Yet it would still be a number of years before I would meet anyone trans or non-binary who was AFAB – and certainly very few who had retained a positive relationship with their femininity… Given a shitty blueprint, I attempted to “butch up,” but that form of drag felt just as false as all the others. A fun costume to adopt sometimes, perhaps, but ultimately not the right fit.
As I think back on the times when only a dim bulb of my gender otherness began to be visible, I wonder if the dysphoria would have killed me, or if I could have persevered as a closeted “cis” person. For many trans people, the pain is unbearable, and they feel the only remedy is to end their lives. While I’ve experienced depression and hurt, and I’ve even had suicidal thoughts that have plagued me for months, in the back of my mind there’s a far louder “yeah, right” that chimes in, and reminds me that checking out now would mean missing out on the cool shit coming around the bend. (There it is – the secret to my unflappable optimism. I’m forever stuck in FOMO limbo.) While it wouldn’t be a comfortable or healthy existence, I doubt I would actually die.
Personally, I’m wary of the narrative that transition is the only option for trans people, and that to deny transition-related care means to deny a life-saving medical intervention. While this is true for many, many people, it is not true for all of us. For some of us, chemical or surgical intervention isn’t desirable at all. For other still, we are not on the brink of death and this may not be saving our lives, but our lives are worth more than simple survival. We deserve to survive, and we also deserve to flourish. We deserve to make the most of the time we have on the planet. We deserve to be as comfortable, beautiful, and whole as we can be. In my opinion, we all deserve to be believed and treated as we need – and it is only up to us to decide what that looks like.
I definitely know I can’t “go back.” The toothpaste is officially out of the tube, and I’ve long since outed myself politically, personally, professionally. I am fully open to the idea that my gender will continue to be fluid throughout my life, and I embrace the possibilities and iterations of self to come. I know this is at least one step on my right path, and I cannot wait to see where it all goes.
photo credit: the author
CW: sexual assault, fake male feminists
I’m thinking a lot lately about age and consent. Social media threads are alight with stories about Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, and now, 48 hours after the news of his of his death, David Bowie. Until a friend brought it to my attention, I had no idea Bowie had slept with underage Lori Maddox or had been accused of rape by another woman (although technically cleared he could have been guilty – certainly false rape report stats are on her side). I was initially shocked, but soon afterward accepted that this hard and ugly truth was part of the history of someone I admired. Certainly it’s not the first time a male rock star noted for their role in furthering gender equality is found to be someone who abuses their partners (those are the fake male feminists I mentioned). Kurt Cobain and John Lennon come to mind – two more of my favorites, and two other cases of immense feelings of betrayal and disappointment on my part. I’ve suffered abuse from former partners. I’ve experienced sexual assault and have stood by friends and loved ones who’ve been assaulted. I’m connected with many sexual assault response groups professionally. The sting of learning that people who’ve been so instrumental to the very formation of who I am is beyond troubling. It makes me feel like a bad feminist or rape apologist to continue listening to them. But the truth for me is that In Utero is forever part of whatever kind of “soul” I might have. The importance John Lennon’s music has played in my life because of my dad is never going to change. And, like many genderqueer and trans people the world over, David Bowie presented my young heart with possibilities, and gave me permission to be weird, scary, and provocative.
I don’t condone Bowie’s choices. I don’t absolve him of any wrongdoing. In the case of Lori Maddox, however, I do object to thrusting the title of rape victim onto her if that is not how she would describe her experience herself. To be clear; those whose internalized shame or trauma prevents them from realizing they have been raped are not who I’m talking about. Refusing to acknowledge you’ve been raped because it’s too big or too terrifying is not what I’m talking about – that is a normal part of the recovery and healing process. I mean those who did consent and were not raped. I’m talking specifically about our culturally relative concepts of the age of consent, and what bodily autonomy means for young people.
In the U.S. in the 1950’s the median age for marriage for women was 20, and in 2010 it was 26. Teen pregnancy occurred at higher rates than they do today. In many parts of the world, marriage occurs much younger than it does in the United States and is normalized as a practice. While this doesn’t excuse abuse or sexual assault (as in the case of the woman who took Bowie to trial for rape, or Woody Allen’s very young and non-consenting daughter) I can’t help but wonder how Lori and her groupie friends are taking the news of Bowie’s death. Would she have counted the interactions between the two of them as non-consensual? Her other interactions with older men aren’t evidence that clears Bowie by any stretch, and if anything points to a very obvious power imbalance endemic to the 1970’s rock scene. Countless male celebrities have exploited their fame in order to sleep with much younger girls. It’s also no secret that Western culture is obsessed with youth and excels at sexualizing young girls, marking all that is “feminine” largely juvenile and vice versa. In this excellent article that has made the rounds lately, Alicen Grey points out that:
In pedophile culture, the top Pornhub category is “Teen.” “Barely legal” “girls” in schoolgirl outfits play out everything from “virgin manipulations,” daddy-daughter incest fantasies, teacher-student make believe… you name it, there’s porn for it, and it’s been whacked-off to millions and millions and millions of times. It’s fair to wonder whether the only thing keeping some of these viewers from watching straight-up child porn is age of consent laws.
In my regular perusal of porn sites, there’s definitely no scarcity of the above themes available for view. It’s clearly worthwhile to interrogate these social facts and to acknowledge their very real consequences for women in our society.
Yet I have to put the woman in question here in the forefront of her own story. Though she was much younger, is our rush to condemn their pairing preventing us from asking if Lori did, in fact exercise agency? To see her many years later discussing her experiences with such fond regard gives me pause. To bar her from the possibility of consent robs her of the possibility of having a certain kind of autonomy. It was her body, and from what she has said, it was her choice. I’m reminded a bit of those who condemn sex workers and sex work in general as inherently and incontrovertibly unethical without consulting sex workers themselves.
I write all of this while fully admitting that the notion of their sexual relationship is more than a little uncomfortable to me. The idea of a 13 year old and a 26 year old having sex feels viscerally wrong and outrageous – especially now that I’m 30. Nevertheless, I’ve spoken with many a feminist colleague about age of consent and sexuality, and many of them have challenged my parameters on the subject. Gayle Rubin wrote decades ago about our tendency to dismiss and punish certain forms of sexuality because they violate cultural norms. Statutory rape, for instance, is lumped in with prostitution, homosexuality, BDSM, and other acts that were considered egregious at one point in time. I’ve long believed we’re terrified to teach sex education to teenagers because we’re terrified by the idea of young people being sexually active. But what if they genuinely want to be? Is it truly up to us to tell young people what to do (or not do) with their bodies? The flip side to this, of course, is that there are predators only too willing to take advantage of young people in all kinds of insidious ways. Yet again, I have friends who have always pursued much older partners, even when they were in their teens. I know still others who advocate for the rights of younger people to be able to legally participate in sex work so that they can make their own choices about the kind of work they can do. These viewpoints don’t sit well with me all of the time, and I wonder how much of that is my own cultural bias getting in the way.
In the interest of complete honesty, I have to say I’ve been interested in older partners for much of my dating and sexual life as well – even back to when I was 14 years old. (Again, being older now makes thinking of 14 year old pursuing me as nothing short of horrific. I’m sure younger me would think I’ve gotten square.) Those of us who are into age play in consensual BDSM scenarios as adults know the fun that can be had when two people act out a scene which is seen as largely taboo in our culture; though some even object to the acts themselves being played out in completely imaginary scenarios such as in adult webcam broadcasts. In light of all of this, I still find myself disappointed in Bowie. Maybe it’s because I wanted there to be one person, one cultural icon that I could appreciate without having to learn of a dark and disgraceful past. Maybe that person is a complete fantasy.
Yet I don’t feel the need to burn anyone at the stake, either. Aida Manduley points out that simply admitting that our faves are problematic isn’t enough. To paraphrase, we need to hold ourselves and others accountable for misdeeds – whether or not we like them. At the same time, she also cautions against blind vengeance:
A carceral, punishment-based justice system where we value an eye for an eye will not save us. It may feel good in the moment and scratch that “revenge” itch, but it will not save us. Booting “bad people” off the island will leave us with an empty island. What will save us is compassion, understanding, accountability, transformation, and restoration of justice.
So what can we take away from all of these seemingly incongruous pieces? I have more questions than answers. Is there no such thing as a truly positive role model? How can we support young people from being abused and exploited while also not stifling them and shaming their sexuality? What can we do to support those who acknowledge that they were assaulted and are simply being dismissed and forgotten by time. I’m still learning to sit with the disappointment of this bad news, another in a slew of similar stories, while recognizing the merit of that which has value in my life. I also feel very deeply for those who have been victimized and knowing that no matter what else, their stories deserve to be heard.
photo credit: iwasdreamingofthepast