Trigger warning: contains descriptions of potentially disturbing events, violent language and frank discussion of suicidal ideation and a suicide attempt
So yesterday, while my family and I were at a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner, a stranger had a very bizarre outburst that seemed to be aimed at me. She was addressing an old man at her side while passing us and she was becoming harder and harder to ignore. At first it wasn’t altogether clear who she was referring to. She kept saying “it’s her” and “there she is, next to that wall”. I glanced around, incredulous. There was only one female person who is standing anywhere near a wall in the immediate area, and guess who it was. There was some sentence fragment about someone on her porch. A case of mistaken identity? Lately, in the community I live in, there has been a rash of break-ins that usually start at sliding glass doors on a porch or a deck, and these people had recently began targeting victims sleeping inside of cars.
Meanwhile, my mom and uncle are talking and I’m saying hi to a cousin and I’m dealing with two strange demands on my attention: one is that this increasingly loud stranger is talking about me, second that it has something to do with the recent break-ins. I hear the word “porch” a few more times. Later, as this woman is inside of a rickety elevator with a clear plastic door (evidently designed to resemble glass) I catch the phrase “that’s a man, that’s a fucking man”. The elevator is closing and it’s harder to make her words out, as loud as she is. I catch a mention of a place I used to work, and she says something that contains the words “gonna get shanked”.
So this, at least, is where the flood of raw, spontaneous crazy ends. But now there’s the crazy of the apparent implications and what sense, if any, can be made of it. For one thing, there was another transsexual working at the place she mentioned mid-rant. This person preceded me by some years and before I came out I would hear people referring to this location as the place where “so and so” works. People would bring it up to me as a punch line before anyone in my hometown had any reason to think I was transgendered. So there’s that layer of the local gossip fixtures.
One part of me feels like Graham Chapman in this skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The Graham Chapman character is standing around at a restaurant waiting to be seated while a waiter played by Terry Jones stops to make small talk. Near the end of the conversation the waiter says “now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go commit suicide.” Graham Chapman: “Oh no, I’m sorry!” Terry Jones: “Oh don’t worry, it’s not because of anything serious.” The Terry Jones waiter walks off and Chapman has a look on his face that is both disturbed and very confused. Another part of me has been put in touch with another set of memories.
One of them involves a walk I went on a few years ago. I stopped for about an hour to read in a park and it was near the end of the summer. My mother passes by and we stop and chat for a while, then I go back to my book (I think it was The Basketball Diaries, the Jim Carrol memoir). When I finally start for my apartment, my walk takes me by a community center building where my mom’s ceremonial native dance group used to practice when I was a kid (and yes, as a kid I was involved). There was a large woman standing in the driveway who seemed to be looking vaguely in my direction.
“You fucking cunt!”
At this time in my life, I live in a part of town where people are frequently intoxicated and loud and colorful outbursts are known to happen, but normally only among involved parties. At first, I have no reason to think this has anything to do with me.
“I’ll kick your ass!”
This time it’s louder and there is something of a meaningful beat before the ‘fucking cunt’ yell. I glance at her and sure enough this bloated, sow-eyed oxygen-thief is dead-eyeing me.
“I’ll kick your ass, you fucking bitch! That’s what you wanna be, right!? I’ll kill you, you fucking cunt! I’ll kick your ass!”
I break eye contact and keep walking. She gets louder but doesn’t say anything new, just more combinations of ‘cunt’, ‘bitch’, ‘kick your ass’ and ‘kill you’. It shook me up a little and I avoided that part of town for a long time afterward.
Next summer, I’m walking from my apartment to a convenience store. A large bald man and a short elderly woman are arguing. The old woman seems like she’s spacing out and making absolutely no secret of the fact that she’s not listening to the pissed off bald guy. By the time I’m walking by, mister bald dude is nice and livid and his head swivels at me. He’s a little more inventive then the cunt-shouter from last year, but not much.
“Fuck you, you fucking skag! Fucking no one wants your ass, bitch!”
I’ve managed to put some distance between myself and him and two tourists emerge from a store between us and start walking in his direction. I hear him say “I’m sorry you had to hear that, ladies, I’m not like that normally.” So I take my sweet time shopping and walk a longer, separate route home. At this time I’m not driving so I start wondering about the feasibility of maybe finding a convenient way to get across town where there are other places to get groceries.
A few other similar events happen over the years. Once I get asked “Do you suck dick?” by a random man while I’m walking home. I ask why and he says he doesn’t know and eventually walks away. Another time at a strange man says “Nice new tits” to me while I’m shopping and I just keep walking.
If it seems like I’m going down a rabbit hole of itemizing different, unrelated things, there are two reasons for that. One is that, as a transwoman who began transition in her late twenties, many of things experiences were new to me. Some ciswomen might say that all this is simply par for the course, at least as far as the encounters with men go.
Another reason is that I have a hard time channeling my fear and anger. For a handful of reasons, I grew up thinking that anger or loudness is an invitation for even worse bullshit then whatever made you afraid to begin with. When I feel those feelings stirring in me I have this sublimely squirmy impulse, like you just want something off of you and away as quickly as possible. As a child and a teenager, standing up to bullying and harassment never made anything better for me and then, as the dysphoria began to reach suicidal proportions, my spirit was essentially broken. For most of my late teens and early twenties, I cared about very little except alcohol, marijuana and dying somehow once I get the nerve up. At a certain point I finally got the nerve and I tried my best. My slow, tentative steps toward coming out have done wonders for dragging me back from mental and emotional living death, but I still have a world of work to do with dealing with threats like this.
Two months ago, while being trained for my current job, this came to a head as well. I’ve gone on for awhile and I’ll try to keep it short. Basically, there was an instructor who would misgender me every damn day and every damn day try to chalk it up to an accident. If I had to interact with her for any prolonged length of time she would eventually drop the apologies and just start with consistent male pronouns. At that point I was seething with anger. I need and want this job and I don’t want to do anything to screw it up, but I simply cannot make eye contact with her. During one particularly awful day where she just wouldn’t cut the shit I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom because I was having a panic attack for the first time since I was twenty. Like I said, that was about two months ago.
Then our jolly Thanksgiving happens.
I feel like I’m at a time in my life where I have to draw a harder line with my mental health. When I was twenty-two and just coming out of my engagement with the first person I ever tried to come out to, I made a promise to myself that I would not die by suicide, that I would live as long as I could and as best as I could. Talk is cheap, though. A few years later when I was twenty-six I tried to kill myself with a couple bottles of cold medicine and a fifth of whiskey.
Talk is so fucking cheap. You can say whatever you want as loudly and passionately as it can, but the universe will never cease to say “Fucking prove it” as soon as you stop. You can promise all you want, you can talk yourself up in the privacy of your own soul and that is where many important first steps are taken. But things still must go past the first step. And on top of everything else that drove me to the edge when I was twenty-six, the fact that I broke my promise made me feel like the blackest failure. Even then, though, you have to keep trying. I tried to kill myself once, so now I have to learn to say “once was enough, never again.” I felt guilty and remorseful after I came out to my ex-fiancee and she cried over it, and after that I had to learn to say “once was enough”.
A broken boundary is not defeat. It is a screaming call to arms. Is there any reason to believe that? How about because you need to, because if you don’t behave as if you believe it then the worst truly will happen.
My therapist told me recently to give myself more credit for being as strong as I am. That is a new experience for me but I like to think I’m taking to it. I’m learning to remind myself that my life is filled with genuine triumph and I’ve come a long way. But the areas that you’ve paid less attention to because it’s too painful, those times and places where you feel like your only choice is to shut up and take it, are not going to get any better unless you walk yourself, step by step, to fixing what you thought was unfixable.
Some of the blind spots in my mental health exist due to my fearful neglect, but I also have a truly non-violent personality and moral attitude. Values are worth holding on to and worth living out, but you must also recognize adversity for what it truly is without letting your values lapse into escapism about how you wish things were. This is everyone’s problem and it never stops. The good news is that we are equal to it. We can do this, it’s possible and we have everything to gain.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I know this is a departure from the relatively light-hearted lit-crit and video game reviews that I usually do more of than anything else. And I’ll soon get back to that. A review of Alan Moore’s Promethea will be coming soon. I just have to get this out of my system, and if you’ve accompanied me this far you have my sincere gratitude.
Thank you, and best wishes