A story about a night in the late 80s

Everyone has a story. I have many. One of them is about the night I tried to kill myself.

It was the late 80s; I was 15. Back then I was a girl who liked girls. I had liked girls since I first asked Kelly to dance in preschool. Since I wrote the love letter to Tonya in first grade. Throughout the series of unrequited loves that left me feeling exhausted and helpless. That made me hate myself. Back then I felt alone, unloved and terrified of facing my future. I was tired of being sad. I was tired of being hurt. I was tired of being alone. And I was tired of being scared of the rest of my life. I began to cry like I had done on so many other nights in the dark. But this was harder. These were tears from outside of my body that I had invited in and let flow through me. I was done and I had to stop living.

I walked into the kitchen and pulled a dull knife out of the wooden block. The biggest one would do. I took it with me into the living room and sat down in the dark. The street lights shone through the windows and off the muted blade. Car horns sounded, music played from adjacent apartment buildings and alarms went off. It was a San Fernando Valley soundtrack.

Was there a ceremony for this, I wondered as I gripped the knife in my right hand. It shook. Was I supposed to say something? If so, I didn’t know what. Goodbye? Fuck you? I wanted someone to know, to come and get me, but I knew no one would. The safety that knowledge offered prompted that first cut.

Well. That goddamn-piece-of-shit knife. I clenched my fist and stared at my left wrist. Nothing happened. It barely hurt. My mom and I had had the set for years, and she would keep it for years after. To say the knife was dull wasn’t doing it justice, barely able as it was to cut through a lukewarm slab of a Hungry Man salisbury steak. Back and forth, harder and harder. And finally. Finally it started to hurt — sting, really. There was a little blood. Then more and more. But it still was not enough. And then that was it.

Fuck. I was still breathing. I thought it would have been done already, but all I could do was grip the knife harder and cry. I couldn’t go through with it no matter how much I didn’t want to face the next day. My attempt was over. I was still alive. I was still alone. And I was still gay, silenced in a literal and figurative darkness. I had to wake up in the morning and go to school; I had a basketball game.


Perhaps it was a semblance of hope, my friends and playing organized sports for school that saved me. But there are LGBTQ youth right now who don’t have that hope or support or lifeline, no matter how thin. And they don’t stay alive because the despair is too great to handle while breathing.

This is why, almost 30 years later as a transgender man, I sit on the board of directors of the GSA Network, an organization dedicated to providing safe spaces on school campuses where youth can thrive in their own skin. Where they can have a community. It trains LGBTQ students and their straight allies to become leaders who effect change at the policy level. It trains them to start GSA clubs designed to create safer schools, educate their peers and train teachers to stop bullying. Like the teacher I had in third grade who told me I looked like a little monkey. Yeah. Teachers can be assholes.

I didn’t have a GSA Network when I was growing up. The organization, which formed in 1998, operates solely on the support of amazing people like you who want to ensure that LGBTQ youth have every opportunity to live without fear. In our uncertain political climate, the safety of LGBTQ youth is under attack, and you can join in the fight with a donation to the GSA Network.

A place in the dark is scary for adults. It’s worse for youth. Money helps. Every little bit.

Featured image by Pascal from Flickr under a CC0 1.0 license

Dear Mom, I am no longer your “daughter”

Dear Mom, before I sat down to write this, 42 years went by. Together, we braved a world confused by a white, single parent and a mixed-race kid in the 1970s. I existed in a cloud of gap-toothed uncertainty. Got in fights with boys. Played baseball in the street. Asked you about the rules of football. Wanted to be called Roger.

You shoved yellow bonnets on my head, beamed at my pink dresses, rejoiced in my unsuitably feminine name and forced black saddle shoes on my feet to complement my “Sunday Best.” They were rules you followed. Except I was missing. I didn’t want to disappoint you. I didn’t want to disappoint the world that had already begun to other me. So I followed the rules, too. Until I didn’t. Until you didn’t. Until you realized that I had been crumbling under the weight of “It’s a girl!”

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Dear Mom, before I sat down to write this, you tried to lead me through a world that fears difference. We contended with your addiction to alcohol and your interminable health issues. You tried your best to help me navigate our reality of food stamps, orange fiberglass welfare-office chairs and walking down the street through a sea of onlookers confused by the helmet you wore in case you had a seizure. You did this even though you probably couldn’t even fathom it all yourself. You tried to answer the questions I hurled at you about where I came from. About what I was. You cheered me on even when you couldn’t. When you were passed out. When we weren’t talking. When we couldn’t talk.

You observed, though. That one night on the phone you asked me a question that seemed to have been on your mind for years: “Are you transgender?” It sounded so simple. “If you are,” you added, “I would support you no matter what.” It was an amazing thing to say that I did not take for granted. Even though I replied with an emphatic “no.” Even when I proclaimed loudly that “this is female!” Even when I told you — told everyone else, told myself — that I was attempting to somehow redefine femaleness!

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Dear Mom, before I sat down to write this, you died. And I am no longer your daughter. Instead, happily, gratefully, peacefully, I am your transgender son. Somehow, perhaps, you are out there, the energy that remains of you, watching over my transition and honoring who I’ve always wanted to be.

You would have been my fiercest advocate and strongest ally. I know this. You would have held the space for my continued progression — the stages I have moved through since you left; the rules I tried to follow for so long. I will live with the strength of knowing you supported me in everything, on good days and bad, even when I couldn’t know myself. Not fully. Not yet. Until we meet again in some far-off place, I will be here, living my life, finally, as someone I love.

I love and miss you. Your trans son,

Henry

When gender and sex identity is up for discussion at Walgreens

I took a trip to my friendly neighborhood Walgreens tonight for a few necessities: antibacterial soap for my new tattoo, deodorant and a variety pack of tampons. I took my goods to the cashier and entered my phone number in the hopes of saving some pennies on my purchase. Naturally, my name popped up on the screen, and was seen by the guy behind the register.

“You’re not Catherine.”

“Yeah I am. You wanna see my ID?”

“No. But you’re [mumble] [mumble] Catherine [mumble]  not….[something] [something].”

And then he mumbled some more stuff, which I promptly ignored as I swiped my card. I was unfazed. I am used to people being unwilling to accept that I am female.

This was merely a blip in a long line of stories I’ve got that challenge what people think is “female.” And it wasn’t the only time it happened at a Walgreens.

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Upon seeing celery root for the first time

Throughout my juice fast, I’ve encountered a few things that I’ve never seen before. Beets, for one. Parsnips are another example. Had you set me loose in a grocery store, I’d have had to examine every single sign posted in order to locate a parsnip. Who knew they were basically oversized white carrots.

Then there was the celery root. I first read it in one of the juice recipes and quickly surveyed my little knowledge about vegetables to see if I had every seen one. Nope. Heard of it, maybe, in some random Vegetables R Us cookbook or something? Uh-uh. It turns out that when celery grows out of the ground, its roots develop some kind of frightening bulbous thing that is the foundation for, what I can only assume is, an entire bunch of celery.

What in the holy hell was this thing that I had to cut into?

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This doesn’t even do it justice.

So I took to YouTube to find out how to approach this thing, because I was pretty sure that none of my knives would make it through the carefully woven mass of tube thingies, dirt and whatever else was matted up in this. (Surprise! My knives suck.) And that’s how I found out that you can make fries out of them. And mashed potatoes. And I bet you can make a fake baked potato, though I’m not sure why you’d want to do that? Mashed potatoes, too, for that matter. Because, well, mashed potatoes. But fries? I’m trying it as soon as I can eat again.

Perhaps somewhat anticlimactically, this is what one looks like on the inside.

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And it smells like celery.

 

Upon seeing the inside of a beet for the first time

So here I am at the end of Day 17 of my 30-day juice fast. Seventeen days with no alcohol or caffeine. And save for the first five days, no chewing. Just juice five times a day. Let me repeat that. No Alcohol For Seventeen Days.

But now I want to talk about beets. Last week I had my first one. I had heard heard so very much about them: They’re dirty. They’ll stain everything they touch. They taste like dirt. And they’re oh so good. Yeah, okay.

Unlike leeks, I have actually seen beets before, but not in their original, just-out-of-the-ground form: the green stuff that comes out of the top; the tale thing that, presumably, came from deep beneath the surface of the Earth. I’ve seen them mostly in salad. I have even ordered a dish with beets as one of the main ingredients. But I pushed them to the side of my plate. Because beets. Maybe it’s a texture thing. Or a red thing?

What I hadn’t seen, though, was the inside of a beet, which happens to also be the best part about them.

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I’ve juiced them with oranges, apples, ginger, carrots, celery, and kale. Good, right? Yeah. I still don’t like beets. They smell and taste like dirt. But I won’t give up.

Five days and all the green

photo (2)Five days in and not one headache to speak of or fit of unrelenting angst. But the plan is built with this in mind, isn’t it? It is.

Take day 1 for instance. It started off with a “berry apple cinnamon bake” for breakfast. The recipe requires raisins. I don’t like raisins but I put them in there anyway. When it was all said and done and the apples were simmering from the heat – and the strawberries appeared wilted – I took a bite. Oh. So it’s like apple pie. I don’t like apple pie. But I sure ate the apples.

The rest of the day included a juice, a salad, sweet potato fries (which I made a terrible mess of), another juice, and salad and leftover “fries.” As the days wore on, there were more soups and juices and smoothies and salads. Some quite tasty and others I won’t be trying again. (more…)

I said I was never going to juice

Two weeks ago, I sat down to watch the film “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” It’s a documentary by an Aussie who had severe health problems and decided to overcome them by enduring a 60-day juice fast. “There is no way in hell I’m ever gonna do a juice fast,” I said at the beginning of the film. By the end, I was researching juicers, second-screen-style.

I’ve never done anything like this. I never even considered doing anything like this. In fact, I made fun of people who juiced. I even looked askance at those who forked over $6 (six dollars!) at various farmers’ markets for liquid beets. I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, I think it’s safe to say. I lost a pretty amazing amount on Weight Watchers a couple of years ago. But when I was only 13 pounds away from my goal, my ability to maintain dissipated somewhat under the inexcusable pressures of life. I have the Weight Watchers knowledge with me. But changing my address took me away from the routine I was so comfortable in and in which I found so much success. So I slacked. (more…)