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:
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
Enforced sexual dimorphism in an age when we’ve all but mastered our reproductive capacity is a matter of taste and not necessity. We are no longer purely at the mercy of biology. We can plan when, how, and whether we will bear offspring via the many forms of birth control, abortion, in vitro fertilization, etc., which continue to advance and improve every day. Many of these methods are relatively cheap and readily accessible, at least in nations and regions of relative wealth. Shulamith Firestone predicted that gendered class distinctions would erode as women gained complete access to the means of reproduction, and envisioned a future in which women were completely freed from hosting new life at all. In only a few decades since her Dialectic of Sex was published, we’re closer to that reality than she probably could have dreamed.
If we were still a threatened population on the verge of extinction, needing to know whether your potential mate was the “right” kind to either receive your seed or inseminate you in as certain terms as possible might make sense, but it’s intellectually dishonest to pretend that’s where we are as a species. We’re among the most prolific mammals who’ve ever lived, and you can find us in nearly climate and region of the world. We also know that unlike many of our non-human brethren, we engage in sex for pleasure without the intention of getting pregnant every time. Many of us never have sex in a way that could ever get us pregnant, whether through acts that don’t involve the genitals meeting, (oral, manual) or with non-bodily implements (sex toys, whips, rope). Many of us don’t care much about sex, if at all, and should perhaps be the least among us to be pressured to present in a way “telling” of our biological gender.
Is it really valuable to advertise our genitals via external presentation – see “cultural genitals” – particularly in this cultural moment? I’m struck by this as I also muse on what, exactly, the qualitative difference is between the so-called “female”(vagina/vulva/clitoris, etc.) and “male” (penis/testicles, etc.) reproductive organs… From my estimation, we’re talking about the difference between .5″-6″ (on average) of erectile tissue, and perhaps the presence/absence of a “vaginal” opening. An erogenous zone is an erogenous zone, and while we might have certain preferences with regard to what we like to have done to ours or whose we do what with, when it comes down to it there’s really not a whole lot of variance. When I do talks on pegging, I discuss not only the reality that almost everyone has an anus, but I take the opportunity to show a slide of the Quigley scale which shows that, like cultural gender, our supposedly fixed biological/material gender includes many non-binary modes of being.
photo credit: http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com/
An anthropologist from another time and place might find the importance we place on this minutiae puzzling.
As I read about the case of Jennifer Laude’s murderer, Joseph Scott Pemberton, (and think of the many, many trans people – mostly women – who have died in similar attacks) I’m struck by how plausible arguments like his have been regarded throughout the course of Western civilization. One who does not conform to a popular conception of “womanhood” or “femininity” is punished by the most severe means imaginable, and men of the establishment have nodded along in agreement. The presence of a penis, in their minds, negates all possibility of identification as woman. What is at stake, then, is the attacker’s sexuality. Despite the claim that Pemberton felt duped or raped, the real repulsion men like him feel is a self-repudiation: it is a betrayal of themselves evidenced by their own arousal. Like every other woman who is raped or beaten by men, these women become not only the victim but the supposed perpetrator of their own victimization. To spell it out plainly, Jennifer Laude and her many fallen siblings did not die because they were “found out” – they died because they turned their attacker on. It is internalized homophobia manifested in pure rage. Killing her is killing the part of himself that is suspect, the part that “fails” to be heterosexual. In a culture that demands 100% obedience to the gender binary, this is only realized for men in 100% heterosexuality. Doing sexuality wrong here is not an option.
I won’t claim to exist in a vacuum where I don’t realize that culture plays a huge role in how we are socialized, and who we become. Yet I value the chances when I get to be surrounded by those who openly reject the pressure to choose a gender and settle down; those who realize that our genitals are just that, and that the rest of who we are is up to us. In my day to day life, I’m often inundated with experiences where I am gendered as either male or female, and sometimes it simply makes my day easier to go with it. At work, my gender is seldom the central focus. When I am misgendered, it’s often not in a context where it makes sense for me to correct (in dealing with a crisis situation, for instance). Sometimes, I just don’t have the energy or mental wherewithal to do it. Still, I find myself resentful. I want to be seen as a whole human being, and part of that is my non-binary gender. I want to be more than seen, but accepted and appreciated. A few of my clients share with me that they do not know whether I am AFAB or AMAB, and many of them admire this about me. I like to think that for some of them, I can serve as a kind of role model, or at least evidence that it is possible to do this non-binary gender thing as an adult.
Like Firestone, I look forward to a day when gendered class divisions are completely exploded and allow for the possibilities of complete freedom from prescribed gender roles. I hope daily for gender equality, and I extend that beyond simply women and men. I think the only way we can do this is to get away from the claims of TERFs and “gender critical” feminists, whose conservative views of biological determinism only serve to set us back as human beings. We need to be open to the possibility that many of us will betray what our genetics supposedly dictate. We need to admit that we do not know why some people are trans, or non-binary, or neutrois, or Muxes, or two-spirit, or third gender, or any of the array of genders that refute the Eurocentric woman/man dyad, but that there is nothing wrong with those who do not “appropriately” advertise their genitals. We need to allow all people to determine what parts of gendered experience make the most sense to them, and for each of us to express a gender most fitting to our own personal preferences – AND to be respected while doing it.
In short, I look forward to a day when women like Jennifer Laude are allowed to live and thrive.
Photo credit: autostraddle
Content warning: mental illness, medication, substance use
Lamotrigine saved my life.
I didn’t think I’d ever say that, but let’s back up a bit and talk about what it took to get me here.
I’ve spent the last fifteen years being incredibly skeptical of the benefits of psychopharmaceuticals. I’d heard horror stories from friends; young women who’d never been able to orgasm, or mothers who’d lost all libido after being prescribed Prozac for postpartum depression. I’d hugged friends goodbye after not seeing them for a long time, and they confessed that while they knew they should have been sad to see me leave, Zoloft had flatlined them to the point of not being able to feel. I’d seen dear friends used as human beakers, pumping them full of The Newest and Latest™ experimental drug, then letting them come down when that didn’t work or they got worse, and then onto the next.
I weighed the pros and cons. I knew that whatever combination of depression and anxiety I had cooking, or whatever long-cycling highs and lows I experienced, it didn’t seem worth losing my connection to my sexuality (which was, at times, the only pleasure I derived from life) and being able to feel even very unpleasant emotions seemed like a good trade-off compared to not being able to feel at all. I promised myself that if things ever got too hard, I would seek out meds — but I saved it as a kind of “final straw” option.
My final straw came last summer. I was wading through the pain of an abusive and unsalvageable relationship, and embroiled in another sort-of-kind-of relationship with someone who really loved me, but lied about me to their partners, and generally kept me in a push-me-pull-you holding pattern for months. To make matters more complicated, this someone also has a significant trauma history, and our courtship happened to coincide with the anniversary of one of the most fucked up things that’s ever happened to them. In hindsight, there’s no way this could have been a healthy situation. I was focusing on their pain and trauma instead of dealing with my own. They were feeling neglected and unsupported by their partners and used me to grab their attention. I was at turns over the moon and completely miserable.
I spoke with a mentor of mine, and amid the stellar advice she gave me was this lifesaving gem: “Say YES to drugs!”
I’d read about Bipolar II years ago when I was trying to figure out what was up with me. I’d been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and even Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, and while I found shades of those maladaptive behaviors in myself, neither of them made complete sense. My mood had generally always been low, ever since my first major depression hit in high school. Since then, I know I can rely on one or two major depressive episodes a year, usually a few weeks in length. While I’m in the midst of them, I often feel like I’m looking down a very long tunnel, but the pinhole of light at the end feels impossibly far away. Sometimes, though, I’d have these spells of feeling on top of the world, even on top of the universe. It’s like being center stage in PJ Harvey’s “Good Fortune.” Last summer, I was simmering in one of those moods for months. I was laughing even when things weren’t funny. I couldn’t focus on anything. I was talking faster and more energetically than usual (and that’s saying something). For the first time in my life, I applied the word “manic” to this behavior.
Let me make this clear, feeling manic is fun. You can do anything. The world is yours for the taking. You’re the life of the party and any self doubt you might be feeling is gone. I’ve had people describe being on heroin like this before. Even hard things are fun… Dysfunctional relationships, for instance, become puzzles to solve, something you can fix! But eventually, it’s like being at a 6 hour rave that leaves you sore and spent the next day, only extrapolated over a period of days, weeks, maybe longer.
I eventually met with a clinician. She was skeptical at first of my Bipolar II as a diagnosis. I asked her to trust me, and to my astonishment, she did. She prescribed Lamotrigine, and I’ve been on it for over a year.
The verdict? I could never have predicted how much better my life would be after the addition of a single prescription. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch. But I’m better. The word that comes to mind is “normal.” I imagine this is what people who aren’t mentally interesting feel like most of the time. I don’t have the high of mania anymore, and I sometimes feel like a slackass for not getting as much done as I used to during those episodes. Plus I miss the high. As a friend said once, a 10 on drugs like ecstasy or heroin make a roller coaster feel like a 4. So I’m readjusting. But I also don’t feel like Atreyu’s horse getting sucked into a sludgey swamp of his own apathy.
(Sorry for re-traumatizing an entire generation with that one.)
I’ve since come to accept that this is just another awkward part of who I am. I’m crazy as a shit house rat, and that’s okay. This has meant dealing with my own internalized ableism, my loathing of the pharmaceutical industry, and my desire to have willpower win out. Because, you know, you can will away mental illness. Like how diabetics can will their diabetes away. Or alcoholics can just stop drinking. Right.
Needing help isn’t a bad thing, it’s not a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t make you lesser. If you’re like me, you’ve been holding the metaphorical glass of water for way too long — the longer you hold it and the more that gets added, the worse it gets. It’s okay to set it down, and if drugs will help you do it, take my mentor’s advice and say YES to drugs.*
If you’re struggle busing really hard, check out this guide: How to Be Seriously Mental Interesting
If you’re confused about diagnoses or meds or anything having to do with being a crazy person, check out this excellent resource: Crazy Meds
*My advice is based on my own b.s. opinions and obviously don’t replace the advice of a doctor. If you can’t afford a snazzy doctor, see someone on a sliding scale. Find a way to take care of you, cos you’re a magical glitter pony and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. ❤