Transgender Lives: Increasing Access to Life-Saving Treatment
Instances and Implications of LGBTQ Discrimination
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Pride. Such a beautiful word, but
I am scared to death of it.
My life is glorious: filled with love, passion, friendship, camaraderie, fun and health, but
I am afraid of saying something. I'm afraid of drawing attention to myself. I'm afraid of meeting the same end as so many of my brothers/sisters. Why am I filled with such trepidation?
Because I am a transgendered American,
and I am scared of dying because of it.
I’m afraid of the past revisiting; afraid that I would feel the crippling, helpless emotions I felt as a child: in third grade, the stigma of AIDS was in full swing, so I was cast as one of *those* people. On my 12th birthday I walked into the locker room to find the words “Katrina is a ho (sic) and a hore (sic) scrawled across my locker. I was a snotty, weeping mess until I crawled into bed that night. I was bullied mercilessly: for being a geek/Aspie at an all black elementary school; for being black at my other all-white elementary school; for growing up neighborhood of black kids, but not the *right* kind of black; for being the smallest, skinniest kid in middle school; for my best friend being white; etc. Eventually you get used to dealing with being bullied. Eventually... until, 20-some years later, you realize that you were lucky. Your existence has never before been threatened. But just by writing to you about who I am, my dearest loves, my life is placed at risk.
I am the toddler who wished for a cool sounding name, like Kevin or Jake.
I am the kindergärtner who didn’t understand why I could run in the cool evening shade with no shirt on.
I am the child who’s only dress was the one I wore to my grandma’s funeral.
I am the pre-teen who wished the girl parts would just disappear.
I am the teenage who felt so disconnected that I tried to end my life.
I am the receptionist who experienced the glorious agony enjoyed by many drag queens by wearing high heels.
I am the youth minister who spent hours vacillating between tears of forgiveness and tears of ecstasy after my first... ahem...
I am the 2-time divorcée who didn’t know her place.
I am the 4-time divorcée who didn’t know me.
I eventually found me:
I am that little boy who was born in a little girl’s body.
A hell of a thing to deal with, this transgendered business: WHAT THE FUCK WAS WRONG WITH ME?! I screamed to my God nightly.
Sometimes that question never escapes your lips. Sometimes you die before it can.
Too many of our children and loved ones live in fear of being erased from existence, just because of who they are.
I have come to a decision.
I will not stand silent while my fellow humans are terrified and perishing.
I will not be erased before raising my voice:
I am the “T” in LGBT.
That statement gives a name to a part of me, but is still eclipsed by the core of me:
My downtrodden kindred darlings, please never give up.
You are loved beyond belief, and always will be.
Please just hold on to one shred of hope; the one thread I held on when I was trying to learn about myself:
It gets better.
I’m over it, these hands are over it, this soft, hairy, unassuming mound that gives in so easily to my fingertips.
And it may look strange if you watched those fingertips traverse upward, creeping slowly, tenderly over my flat, hairy chest, tracing two crescent moon scars
Reaching steadily from sternum to armpit
Sometimes, I regret traversing this body at all, full to the brim with my own internalized transphobia and body shame.
You are a fake person! You are incomplete! You can never feel real…
But I am real; a real man with a real vagina.
This journey to pride may be the most vicious thing I’ve encountered yet, a treacherous road to self-love.
Tragically, I can become erased in longing.
Tragically, I can chose to tear myself down.
Tragically, I’ve been acculturated to embrace values that don’t embrace me.
But for this moment!
I’m over it, my hands are over, this soft, hairy mound that gives in so easily to my fingertips, and it’s beautiful.
Please let me hold on to me, please let me not forget, please let me be strong
He tells me, “this is no way to live.”
He says, “I am amazed you function.”
I told him
I am amazed I function too, because it all seems so precarious, so dependent on utter discipline and dissociation.
I told him
I am amazed by the boundless pain of this body, by my eternal processing of these cold hard facts.
I don’t like to talk about it, because I’m sure it all sounds quite dramatic
There is no way to overstate the emotional agony
As I analyze my failure to find balance, I see that
I am sustained by accomplishment, by the experience of doing
I cannot relate to this experience of being
Me, this body
When I want to die
I throw myself into busyness, doing, task
Nothing can help in these moments
The pain is impossible, inescapable, unfair, cruel
Threatening to make my life meaningless
I am invested in my responsibilities
The only way to live available to me
While I’m not really living
While I’m just killing time
At least I have my talents, intellect and ambition
This is dysphoria
Trans Solider - Hiding Her Truth
How would you say your transgender identity has impacted your relationship with the military?
Well I guess you could say it hasn't, simply because no one knows. I won't tell anyone in the military, as much as I would love to be who I am. There is so much ridicule and hate that I believe would come from [being out]. Don't get me wrong, there are many many open minded people in the military, but as a general population most are actually very inconsiderate. Being in the military you [are expected] to be strong, and for some reason being strong means you can't feel anything for anyone, or you will be harassed about it. [While] the military has come far in years past, especially when it comes to the LGBTQIA community, it still has a long way to go.
Do you ever regret enlisting?
Do I regret enlisting? That is a question I ask myself almost every day, and yes (for the most part) would be my answer. But it's funny, I enlisted because I was trying to force myself to be someone I'm not. I was trying to be the strong macho-man that the world thinks men should be, and that's not who I am. Its funny, because in the military, I have actually started to love myself more because of [this gender expectation]. It helped to show me who I actually am.
"Because no mater how hard you beat yourself, or push yourself, or try and hide the truth - you will always come out."
I do regret reenlisting. I am wasting the best years of my life for no reason. While the first enlistment was esteem building, and an experience to say the least, I am going to hate myself during this reenlistment, because as long as I'm in the military I can never be my true self.
What advice would you give to someone in the military who is about to come out as transgender?
I would say do it! Love yourself! Don't let anyone decide who you should be! Be true to yourself and live your best life!
I am a 62 year old transgender woman who just recently decided to transition.
I guess my story starts when I was born. One of my testicles didn't drop, so I had to have an operation at a very young age. I'm not really sure if that's the reason I'm the way I am or not, but I suppose it could be. I started cross dressing at a pretty early age, when I was 6 or 7. I’d steal my sisters underwear and wear them. I got away with it for several years until I was about 11. My Mom caught me one afternoon dressed in her old underwear, and she told my Dad. That led to them sitting me down at the kitchen table and having "the discussion". The upshot of it, was that they asked me if I wanted to have the operation. Of course, I said no. You have to remember that this was 1965 and gender reassignment was not nearly as main stream as it is now. Anyway, I turned it down. I did, however, continue to cross dress (on the sly) until I turned 18, at which time I got married (poor girl, she didn't have a clue).
I was stealing her bras and panties and wearing them whenever I could, and the marriage only lasted 2 years, mostly because we really couldn't stand each other. Throughout the years I've been married 3 times, and I’ve been to prison 3 times. There were times in my life that I didn't feel female, and so I did things to prove to myself that I was a man - none of it worked. Each time, as soon as life permitted, I went back to wearing women's clothes. Now, I'm out - almost. I'm still not out at work, because I haven't figured out how to break it to them - I will though. Since coming out, I'm happy for the first time in my life, and my biggest regret is not getting surgery when I had the chance. If I ever get the opportunity to do it again, I will.
First, I'm female
And second, because life is way too short not to live it like you want."
Cosmic Artist -
Less than a year ago (in January of 2016), I came out to my ex-wife of 8 years as a transwoman. I started transitioning medically in May of 2016. Ive been on hormone replacement therapy for 8 months now. In the last year, I have learned so much about myself, and I’m continuing to to discover who I am as a woman.
I’ve hidden behind a masculine veil for 27 years. Breaking down those barriers is not easy.
Selling my work through my online gallery, I’ve thrived as an artist since finding my passion. My media is poster board and spray paint. My style is cosmos with added scenery.
"I identify with space in a powerful way; I connect to its vastness and endless possibilities, its beauty and energy, as well as its devastating, destructive power. I feel this cosmic battle of beauty and pain is played out in my mind everyday, dependent on my passing or not-passing, my dysphoria is a battle, and my paintings show how I’m feeling."
I have a cartoony style I work in when I just don't feel real. When I do feel valid, cosmic scenes express my moment at rest and in peace. Honestly, I wing it every time when I set up shop, as you never know what’s going to happen - life throws curve balls at you.
I actively air my complete transition on my Facebook page, so peers can see the life and transition of a trans person. I want to educate others, as well as help others come to terms with their own identities. I know I’ve helped 3 so far since coming out. I will continue being me and following my dreams!
Interviewee: Kevin Jesse Holmes
1) When did you first know you were trans? Did it come to you in a moment, perhaps slowly over time, maybe in pieces?
The earliest memory I have of being trans was being about seven or eight years old. I grew up running around the neighborhood as a tomboy with my faithful dog, catching crawdads and frogs, climbing trees, and playing with matches in the woods. My friends and I, we called ourselves the Wildcats. I remember sitting in my room one day after school, writing in my diary. “I was supposed to have been a boy! Why wasn’t I born a boy?!” I wrote, crocodile tears dotting the pages. I then made a decision, the first of many to come in self-identification, to begin signing my journal with the name I later legally changed to: Kevin.
(At one point I even looked up in the library about how to change one’s name, and, downcast, figured that it was something that was never to be: I would be stuck with my birth-given name. Can you imagine my elation when I stood before a judge in 2012 and legally claimed the name I had chosen for myself as a child?)
I eventually forgot the diary and tried to be feminine, but it came across as forced and contrived. I never quite outgrew the tomboy phase. I never wore dresses, my high school wardrobe consisted of ripped jeans and flannel shirts straight out of Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana Unplugged video, and I could never figure out a thing to do with my hair! However, every Halloween, I would dress up in a nice shirt, slacks, a ball-cap, a necktie, and a penciled-in moustache, and every Halloween I felt a little bit… free. My eagerness bubbled over as my neighbor taught me how to tie that first necktie: that right-of-passage taken by every young man.
Later I went on to do the stereotypical “womanly duties,” such as marrying (albeit four times), and bearing children. I even did the stay-at-home mom thing for a while. Always in the back of my mind I knew something was off. So I divorced, and went to work in the tech field. At that point, in May of 2012, did the light bulb begin to come on.
I was to attend a mandatory formal dinner party with the tech giant I was working for, and for the life of me could not put of the dress I had picked out. It’s not like this would be the first dress I had worn: I, throughout my adult life, had managed to soften my image into a nice feminine persona, but this time was different. It was almost like the dress burned to the touch. I fretted until finally I borrowed a suit and tie from my then-boyfriend. After the party I spent all night researching my feelings, because everything I felt as a child had come bubbling back up: “I should have been born a boy.” What I discovered that night was my gender identity: transgender.
2) How did this realization impact you and your relationship with yourself?
The proverbial scales fell from my eyes, and I was reborn. I felt like the puzzle pieces finally interlocked, and I had found my place in the world. It was at once like meeting myself for the first time while looking into the eyes of one I had known forever. I would whisper to myself in pure, unadulterated amazement, “I am transgender.”
3) What guided you to the field of social work?
To be honest, I didn’t know what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” As my thirties rolled in, however, my attention was drawn to the demeaning and unequal treatment of the LGBTQ community. I had always felt somewhat linked to that group of people, even while identifying as hetero and cis. Something told me, however, if we got people talking about what was happening to that community, we might somehow be able to make things better for those people. That began my interest in what would eventually be named to me as sociology. However, it was the dark years of my detransition that lead me to my true calling of social work. I jest (somewhat): the time of my detransition was not all doom and gloom. In fact, it was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I learned to live with myself and developed healthy coping mechanisms that I carry forward with me as my life continues.
4) What lead up to your detransition?
The devastating end of my engagement, an addicting affair with meth, and a previously undiagnosed mental disorder all lead to my detransition. As wont of an emotionally-distressed individual, I found myself making poor choices and landed myself in jail, three towns away from when I had lived. I was placed in solitary confinement for three days, until it was finally made known to me that they had no idea where to house me. (“For the love of God, with the women!” I cried.) After a three-week stay at the county’s expense, I was released… to the streets of a town that I knew nothing about. After a week of sleeping on the riverbank and narrowly escaping rape twice, I found my way to a shelter and crisis center for women and explained my situation. They let me stay, but wouldn’t list my legal name, insisting on my birth-given one for their records. I felt a little violated. Resigned, I shaved my prized facial hair and plucked my eyebrows. I accepted the women’s clothing and makeup and heels that were given to me to make me presentable for a job interview, and, feeling like a stranger within myself once again, I slowly gained back sobriety, employment, and stable housing. I also during that time realized how few resources actually exist in my state for trans individuals, and promised to myself that I would do all in my power to rectify that, by becoming a social worker.
5) When did you return to living as a male? What made that possible?
Midnight, November 8th 2016, the morning before the fateful election, I decided that I had reached a point of stability to come out as a man once more. Although I had points of almost feeling comfortable presenting as female, and life was certainly easier,
"I could never shake the true me. I felt like I was betraying myself, my community, and everything I stood for. So that night I decided to face the election as a soldier among the LGBTQ community, rather than a coward."
Top Surgery: The Universe Meets you Halfway
Once I was finally ready to admt to myself that I was transgender, it was a slow process of coming out to acquaintances, then friends and finally family. As soon as I began to seek out social and medical transition fori myself, it was utterly amazing how things just miraculously fell into place.
"My mother had always told us that in life, all the universe asked was that we try, that it would always meet us at least halfway, maybe even more. I’ve always carried this notion in my heart, like a charm from a witch, or a genie’s lamp, I believe I have the power to will my way through life."
I was in the car with my friend when she suggested that I try and see if my insurance would cover a breast reduction. A week later, it was only the second time I’d interacted with my provider, when at my doctor’s appointment, I awkwardly described that I was a transsexual and wanted a breast reduction; I also cited that I had back pain. And it hurt. Real, real bad. She read between the lines with support and silent camaraderie. Insurance quickly approved my referral for a surgery consult and I was finally meeting with the surgeon who would be performing the reduction. I explained to him that I hated bras and, plus, my husband liked really small breasts (trying to get that man club buy-in) and could he please reduce my double D chest to a small A cup?
He explained that I wouldn’t be happy with those results; and, wouldn’t I love a nice, full, perky C? My husband sure would like that, of this he was fairly certain. I was afraid to argue, I was afraid they would know, I was afraid insurance wouldn’t cover it anymore, so I resigned myself the thought that at least binding them would be easier.
The weeks leading up to the surgery seemed to take forever and I kept imagining what my chest would be like without breasts, even though I knew they would just be made smaller. Every night before bed I scoured the web for stories about other transmen who had undergone top surgery and tried to feel empowered and excited. I wasn’t nervous or afraid, but I was numb. I just couldn’t be excited about having smaller breasts, it felt like a defeat.
The next morning was a chilly one and I shivered as I waved goodbye to my mother (who had driven me) while walking across the parking lot towards the front doors of the building. The nurses who checked me in were all very nice. After I put on the surgical gown, the woman who put in my IV was so skilled I barely felt it. Not long after, the surgeon arrived to mark me up. As the marker pulled against my skin I felt overcome with a powerful swelling of urgent, raw emotion and I said, “I need you to know that I hate them. In two weeks I’m starting hormones. I’ve never wanted them and they make me depressed.”
Next I felt a flooring wave of micro emotions hitting my core, one right after the other, as I searched his face for expression and entertained all the possible consequences of my impulsive confession.
His eyes softened and he just nodded at me.
I barely remember him completing his mark up, or being put under - anxiety will do that to you.
When I woke up, my chest was nearly flat and he had even resized my nipples. I felt overcome with the purest joy, a wave of utter bliss, and I was so connected in that moment to everything and everyone in the universe. I felt answered, elevated, held in the arms of the cosmos. Life is pain and life is beauty, or something like that.
An Interview with Author and Artist: Callen Lebo
Describe your relationship with your writing:
"I use my writing to understand myself. By asking myself questions and writing responses as someone else, I better understand who I am, and thereby deal with the anxiety of not knowing or understanding myself."
I’ve had the idea for this last project for a few years, but couldn't move forward with it until I met and understood myself for who I should've been. Being trans, it should've been obvious from the get go what I was looking for, but I was so focused on being a woman, that I stopped paying attention to the process of becoming a woman, and that's the important part. That's where the truth of me lies, in creating the better, needed version of myself. I forgot that, and I got anxiety. This project is me confronting that anxiety.
My book is being published, but is also posted online for free. Rather than paying for it directly, you can donate to any charity that you support, and consider it paid for. The choice is yours.
Is this at all similar to your art and other artistic processes?
Yes, the difference is this time, instead of creating a metaphor to make the observer ask me questions that I want them to be asked, I’m just asking myself, and putting it completely on me. In the only way I understand how, I’m forcing myself beyond the metaphor of who I am as a woman, and I’m now dealing with the reality of being a woman. I got what I wanted, now what do I do with that, and how do I do that best?
How does your identity integrate into your expression?
I made them one in the same. In a lot of ways, I feel like I wrote the moment that I actually transitioned, the moment there was a clear understanding of who I was vs who I am.
How do you define your purpose? Where do you hope it will take you?
My purpose is to learn and reflect and hope that carries me forward in the right direction - to apply logic and give things that seem supernatural a valid voice, with something real to say, if only to understand the things I perceive those things in. Essentially, I'm just telling a similar story, but I’m doing it from how I best understand what that is to me.
What advice would you give the trans* community?
You are loved, you are accepted. Know what you're looking for and why. Really know yourself before, because it is hard. The other side leaves you accountable for some things you said and did when you didn't like yourself very much. Be careful with that.
You don't have to lose friends, you can bring people with you in the transition process, but that's also work. For me, it's been nothing but worth it, though. Do everything you're doing with authority, and don't let people make you question it. Either Jesus died for you or he didn't. It's that simple.
I say that, because for me, the process was about accepting and finding unconditional love in myself and other people. The people who love me now love me for the right reasons, and that means something to me, and I let them know that by doing the same for them.
What advice would I give a cis ally?
Thank you, keep pushing yourself to be as honest with your acceptance as possible. Thank you for engaging us in the conversation.
We need you, we need more of you.
People have accepted that being gay isn't a choice, but they forgot to bring us with them. Maybe it's different? Maybe gender and identity aren't mutually exclusive, but not by choice as well, I don't know. I'm still asking myself that for myself.
An Interview with Singer and Songwriter:
Where do you draw your musical inspiration from?
I’m very inspired by Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky. He is from Russia. He lived and worked in the sixties and seventies in the USSR, and he died in 1980 at age 42. He left behind over 700 songs and poems, it’s amazing, it seems like the guy did nothing but write poetry. He did not write much music, and his music is very unsophisticated, it is something that an untrained musician like myself can play. He liked writing in C minor and then A minor, so his music is very simple but his poetry is simply outstanding.
What do you think is the most powerful thing you’ve been told?
Well, just in the course of my life?
Oh, wow. I know it will sound cheesy, but that I deserve to be loved. It came at me from many sides and from many people in different contexts and in different words, but that was the message - and I think that we all, all of us, deserve to be loved. It’s amazing how many of us need to hear it.
What do you think is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
Maybe you don’t like compliments? Some people don’t.
I suppose that I am a good person, a far better person than I would think of me. I’m very critical of myself; it’s a double sided coin. You know I’ve always had a reasonably healthy ego; my self-esteem has never been in the dumps, and I used to have a very selfish ego. That said, I know that it was stemming from the need to survive. I came to this country when I was 25 years old, with a very different path than many, I was a priest. Now I think, ah, that’s why I liked to wear the cassock so much, now it all makes sense. But, you know, I literally had to reinvent myself from the very beginning, it’s not for the faint-hearted, it’s not for the people who doubt themselves. And I was really fortunate that I had that, and was able to tap into that can-do attitude of the healthy ego.
I think it became my fear that I would become conceited. The way I grew up, I didn’t want to come across as weak, I didn’t want to come across as a person who can be taken advantage of and whatnot. And that kind of really forced me into that, you know, façade of being in this armor all the time.
"You know armor is like a lobster shell, if you spend your time fighting in armor, you’ll spend half your time fighting the armor, you know? So, yeah, and I learned to shed that armor and that is when that I learned that I am a good person and I didn’t need it. That was probably the most important moment for me."
Check our website soon for more about Romana! We will be featuring some of her music and musings!