Firearm Safety

I tend to avoid topics such as this one. It’s not that I have an issue with controversy, I just try not to polarize people. Politics today do enough of just that. I’m not even sure I have written about the president. But recently, my views on some things have taken a surprised turn. And it’s the change and how it came about that I would like to share with you now.

I grew up around guns. My father was an avid hunter in his youth and a proud gun owner. He took my oldest brother hunting when my brother was a young child. As the story goes, my brother shot a rabbit and wept with regret. My father stopped taking his children after the rabbit incident and soon ended his hunting career. As a result, I grew up around guns but never exposed to them. I saw them behind glass, but they were never fired in front of me. When my father passed, I sold off his gun collection. I saw no importance or use in his old hunting rifles and shotguns. I had two young daughters and thought of their safety. When the school shootings began to gain more and more traction in the press, it became apparent to me that America had a gun problem. Our oldest was involved in a walk-out at her school to raise awareness for the shootings and the need for gun control. When I was told, I was proud of her activism. Then something extraordinary happened. Hurricane Florence came, and the family was forced to evacuate. We stayed with my wife’s brother, on his farm up in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

It was as if a great tornado had lifted us from Oz and sat us down in Kansas. Without a doubt, my brother-in-law is the proudest, Christianest, gun-totin’est redneck I have ever met. He greeted us at the door with his camouflage “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. From previous experience, I know he is particular about his baseball caps. His holstered .45 caliber sat at his waistband, a silent protector waiting to smite whosoever may dare to trespass against him. And yet, I could not deny the love in his heart. My wife’s family was on vacation when the storm hit and had to end their vacation. But then, they refused to allow us to stay. They knew Florence was going to be bad. They made sure we would travel with them, in case we needed help with the unexpected trip. We were offered lodging and food. My own family expresses “concern,” but never like this. It’s not often I have witnessed such compassion in people.  But before we walked in, we and the girls were told there were guns throughout the house. Don’t touch. We walked in, and a rifle was leaning against a wall, next to the door. I would find that there were, in deed, guns everywhere. A gun-fearing family of liberals was staying in a small armory. It was like going back to my childhood and removing the glass.

We were showed to the room we would be staying in. My wife and I noticed a pictures of Jesus on the wall and looked at each other. My brother-in-law is true to his beliefs. We talked of many things during our stay, and guns came up. He didn’t want to simply change my mind; he wanted to teach us gun safety. He had been shooting since the age of four and knew that experience was the key. We finally assented, and my daughters and I were taught the basics. First, never point a firearm at anything you do not intend to kill or destroy. Second, never put your finger in the trigger guard until you are ready to fire. He took my daughters and I out to the range and gave us each a turn with the .22 rifle.I was shown the various parts of the rifle: safety, stock, barrel, magazine, magazine release, chamber, bolt, bolt lock, etc. I was shown how to hold it, aim, and was allowed to fire a few shots at a target. For some reason, I was expecting much more recoil, but it had just enough. Most of all, I was completely unprepared for how much fun it was.

After the .22, my oldest and I were allowed to fire a .45 handgun. After the first shot, my daughter handed it over. It nearly knocked her over. I emptied a magazine and declared my favorite. Afterwards, I fired an AR-15, and then moved on to a shotgun. I learned that there are semi-automatic rifles that are simple, quite safe, and very enjoyable to fire. I also learned shotguns really are just small cannons. It was an amazing experience and far more pleasure than I anticipated. We spoke afterwards on how Hollywood romanticizes guns, the media demonizes guns, but both fail to capture the reality.  My brother-in-law told me he feels terrible for the victims of the shootings across the nation but wanted me to understand it has nothing to do with the guns, themselves. I agreed with him and began to wonder if this whole gun issue was much more complicated than it seemed.

After returning home, I spoke to a liberal friend about my experience. She agreed that shooting is fun, but she gets worried about safety and the types of guns that are legally out there. I mentioned that we had two kids in a house full of guns during our trip. And yet, there were no incidents. We agreed that perhaps one of the issues is education. Perhaps if people witnessed what a gun felt like and did, there would be less desire to see it in video games and movies, where they are detached from consequences. I don’t know. But I’m a little less liberal after that trip. In fact, I’m no longer calling myself by one name or the other but allying myself with both. If we don’t start looking past labels and examining actual issues and getting to know people beyond their politics, we are never going to heal this country’s wounds. I’m grateful for my liberal family and friends, and I’m proud of my conservative family and friends. All of them have something worth teaching and offering the world. My liberal friends tell me “there are hidden dangers in firearms.” My conservative family members tell me, “yeah, they’re expensive and addicting as hell!”

Regardless of your politics, I love you all,
~River Sunfeather

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Changing the World

Recently, I had the privilege of witnessing an amazing event in the world. I was able to see the beginning of an organization’s transition. Like all good stories, it begins with a seemingly unrelated event. I was in the backyard, pulling a knife out of the ground. The knife had landed between my second and third toes. As usual, I had been in the yard barefoot. Observing that there was a small cut in my middle toe, I continued. It appeared to be no more than the outermost layer of skin. After a couple of minutes, I observed blood. For the sake of the squeamish, I’ll skip ahead to Laura rushing home in order to get me to the hospital. We grabbed our two daughters and arrived approximately over an hour later. And yes, we live that far out in the middle of nowhere.

The nurses were fantastic, and the doctor was amazing. I never felt a stitch, and even the lidocaine needle was nearly painless. Laura, my wife, came back with me for much of it. Eventually, she moved to the waiting room to check in on our daughters. When things in the ER were all tied up, I checked up and rejoined everyone in the lobby. When I approached Laura, she appeared incredibly upset. She informed me that the receptionist staff began making comments about being unsure how to address “that thing.” They made jokes of my being transgender and laughed at me in front of them. My wife and eldest overheard the conversation. When I had walked in, the pair of receptionists began giggling from behind their desk. Laura now informed me why. I told her we just need to go. She then told that one of our daughters was still in the restroom. I knew if Laura stayed, there would be a scene, so I asked her to take the other daughter to the car. In full view of the receptionists, I waited by the bathrooms. “Uncomfortable” hardly begins to sum up the moment. When she exited, I quickly and quietly escorted my other daughter out of the building.

That night, I put up a post on Facebook, describing the incident and tagging the hospital. For those who can’t see it, I emphasize being open to discussion and questions. The responses were nearly overwhelming and completely supportive. One of the comments was left by the hospital with a phone number. I called, left a voicemail, and received a call back. A very apologetic woman took my information and apologized on behalf of the hospital and explained it is hospital policy to treat all patients with respect. I was also informed that the guilty parties would be reminded of the policy and disciplined if need be. Later that day, I received another phone call from a senior administrator who also apologized and made me aware of what was happening within the hospital to remedy the situation. She seemed grateful for me bringing their attention to it.

In my opinion, the conversation with the administrator went well. Then again, I was pretty disoriented. (The pain really had me dazed the first day.) I asked if they had a policy on transgender patients. She informed me that the hospital had yet to write one, but assured me she would introduce it at the next meeting. I was asked for resources, and my foggy head drew a blank. Eventually, I remembered the WPATH site. WPATH is the World Professional Association Transgender Health. They are a 501(c)(3) and are the leading organization in setting standards when it comes to treatment and care of transgender patients and clients. The administrator immediately pulled the site up on her computer and said that this was perfect and exactly what she would need. She assured me that if my wife or myself had any questions, we could reach out to her. She, once again, extended an apology to my eldest daughter.

To me, life is not about perfection. Things can and will go wrong. People will be unpleasant. The question becomes how do we deal with life’s unpleasantries. I feel quite satisfied in how the hospital is reacting and believe they are moving in the right direction. I believe the hospital now realizes that part of it doesn’t quite fit in the traditional gender mold. At least for now, they have a new awareness. And we can see where they go and how they transition with that new awareness. I would like to think that someday the local hospital, the only hospital for miles, will have a policy on transgender healthcare that everyone can be proud of. Maybe someday an endocrinologist will take up residence, and I won’t have to travel to Raleigh. A girl can dream, can’t she? (In actuality, I love my endo and still might travel the four hours)

Love and blessings,
~River Sunfeather

PS For those of you still wondering, my pronouns and proper titles of address are “Mrs. Ms. or even Miss.” But I will also accept the title of “angry cunt” and proudly so.

The Remorseful brat

“The Remorseful brat”

Perhaps my tongue is a bit too sharp,
And I should have watched my words.
Though She warned me and She did harp,
My ego and pride would shout “Onwards!”

So I assume the position against the wall,
Lifting my bum to comply with Her request,
Where’s my wit now, I think, where’s my gall?
The leather cracks, and I become possessed.

I feel the little lacerations form into my skin,
And I let out an inescapable moan of pain,
I think of tomorrow’s bruises and grin,
I feel it cumming on, and I cannot feign.

My lesson done, I look at what’s acquired,
I relish surveying the redness and early bruising.
A true brat, I smile and ask if Her arm is tired.
Now I stand here in this corner, silently musing.

The Psych Ward

TRIGGER WARNING: passages about suicide, cutting, depression, and psych wards/mental hospital

“Fealtman,” calls the nurse. She is older, her brown hair tied back in a bun. With her white uniform and “take no shit” attitude, she is perfect for this job. She holds a tray with one hand and gestures to a stack of papers and pencils with the other. She calls a bit louder, “Fealtman!” She is a bit more resolute. I approach her to be handed a small plastic cup of pills. It’s just like the movies. You take them, and they ensure you swallowed. I take one of the papers off the stack and a pencil.

The paper reads like a pop quiz of “mental health.” It asks if I want to kill myself, if I hear voices, or if I feel like I’m being punished. Each question is answered on a scale of 1 to 5. I fill it out, with answers similar to yesterday’s but slightly less negative. I know that if I was truthful with this questionnaire, I wouldn’t be getting out of here for a long time, so I decide to slowly increase the mental health of my lie. If done slowly enough, I figure it would seem as if I was taking to therapy and meds. I hand the paper and pencil back in and go to the rec room. I stare out the barred window. I’m crushed, disillusioned, heartbroken, and utterly destroyed. And as much as I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to go home. I just want to be somewhere familiar. I came looking for help, and I would leave with the understanding that help doesn’t exist.

Let me back up. I was 15 with fresh cuts along both arms. I didn’t try to hard to conceal it. I was cutting in the morning, in class, and at night. When I was finally confronted by my parents and the school guidance counselor, I had been cutting in the very class they pulled me out of. When they asked me to roll up my sleeves, it tugged out the clots. I was immediately sent to a psychologist. During his preliminary questions, he asked if I thought I was a danger to myself or others. I rolled up my sleeves and held my arms in the air. The black-red stripes across my arms were my character witnesses. I asked with all the attitude of a 15 year old, “What do you think?” I was in the psych ward of the “old” Carlisle Hospital that night.

I wanted help. I always did. When I was 36 and slipping back into depression, feeling the pull to get a knife, wanting to feel it drag across my skin one more time, I reached out for help. As I began contemplating suicide, I asked my family doctor for antidepressants. My arms ached for the burn of cold steel again, a therapy for my pain. My thoughts gravitated for cuts much deeper and at an angle that would grant finality. I knew my depression was worsening. I knew it was affecting my wife and my daughters. There was a way out, release their burden, free them of their pain, and end my suffering all at once. Every time I took a bath, it was a struggle to leave the knife behind. “Next time,” I would always tell myself, “not today.” Like an echoed whisper from well so deep as to be immeasurable, my heart’s purest voice kept saying, “I have a family, a home, a community. I don’t want to die.

I finally received and took the antidepressants with surprising results. My thoughts raced so quickly, I split from reality. Walking to the beach to calm myself, I found myself in a fit. I could only rock back and forth and ramble to the ocean words that made no sense even to myself as I said them. When I came down, I thought of an old friend with schizophrenia. Fears regarding my brain seized my soul. The doctor then told me this reaction is typical of bipolar. Thinking on my past and realizing the cycles, I contacted my neurologist. We increased the dosage of two of my epilepsy meds. One is used as an anti-psychotic and mood-stabilizer. The other is used for depression and anxiety. Two birds, I thought. Within days, I was clearheaded again. A week later, I was normal person crazy instead of psych ward crazy.

I always found it easier to be crazy than to ask for help. I suppose that goes without saying, but insanity comes with company whereas reality is often very lonely. Released from the hospital at 15, I was on meds that did virtually nothing and was off of them within a year. But I was punished for seeking help. I was labeled “crazy” and “psycho” by my peers and ostracized. In my next manic episode, I would lash out and sear a path of self destruction. With it came instant popularity as people loved the show. This pattern was paralleled as an adult. When I told my priest I was going to take antidepressants, I was told with a huff, “you do what you believe you have to.” When informed I was bipolar and back on meds, I was told that it was fine for now until I got evened out, implying he wanted me off of them at some point. Many new age organizations have a “better without meds” philosophy. Even if it is only implied, “nature, herbs, and meditation” is the prescribed cure for everything now. It’s one of two reasons I left the church and new age scene. As it turns out, some of us actually need pills. It’s not just a ploy by “big pharma” and greedy doctors.

Having alarms on my phone to remind me to take my meds, Nurse Siri is always here to call my name and ensure I don’t go off the deep end again. Some days, I feel like I’ve never left. But I don’t have to lie any more. Strangely, many of my friends consider me boring. I enjoy being able to pay bills and repair things at home. Keeping up with responsibilities means I am able to keep up with them. I’m ok with being boring. My friends haven’t seen a psych ward, been on the verge of suicide, and tried to self destruct via alcohol, drugs, fights, and sex all at once. If the rest of my life is quietly housewifing and vacationing with my family, I’m good. I’ve got plenty of stories to tell.

Stay crazy. Ask for help. And never judge another’s mental illness.

Love and blessings,
River Sunfeather

If you’re considering suicide, please stick around a bit longer. You never know when something interesting might happen.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-8255

Stop Asking About The Surgery

The surgery. Nearly everyone with a trans friend or family member has broached the subject. It is usually done whilst discussing one’s transition, their personal journey crossing emotional, legal, physical, social lines to move from one perceived gender to another. “Are you having the surgery?” “Have you had the surgery?” Sometimes though, it is touched upon during heated arguments, especially when coming out to an unenthusiastic family member or friend. “What about risks and/or costs of having the surgery?” “You realize the surgery is mutilating your body and what nature/God gave you?” So often trans people are reduced to one question. Transition can take 2-4 years for basic aspects, such as passing but 6-10 years for a person to really feel comfortable. And as many of us find, we are forever works-in-progress. We learn so many lessons about life, culture, and ourselves, but our lessons go for naught. Our 6-10 years worth of therapy, fighting state and federal government red tape, hormones, new emotions, unresolved conflicts coming to light, more therapy, tears, doctor’s visits, potentially other surgeries, changing relationships with the world and loved ones, failing to meet our own expectations, letting go of those expectations, heartache, surrender, and even more therapy are boiled down to one question. And that one question applies to only a fraction of us and is in regards to body parts the asker will never see.

SRS(sex reassignment surgery) aka GRS(genital reconstructive surgery) aka “bottom surgery” is supposed to be a personal milestone. It is something akin to coming out, passing for the first time, getting a corrected birth certificate, or beginning HRT(hormone-replacement therapy). And just like any personal milestone –be it getting married, having kids, finding a career, or traveling across seas– for some, it is in the mix and for others, it simply isn’t. Corrected birth certificates, hormones, and “passing” happens for some trans folk but not for others. So not every trans person has the surgery. It doesn’t mean they are incomplete or unfinished. It may mean that they are pleased with the equipment they have or are unhappy with the risks and costs of major surgery. There are so many unforeseen factors. Bottom surgery is not a measurement of one’s transition or trans-ness.

This last statement is important, and deserves repeating for emphasis. Sex reassignment surgery is not a measurement of one’s transition or trans-ness. More and more state and federal government agencies are putting policies in place regarding trans people. But they are, knowingly or not, trying to measure the “gender” of someone. They are putting expectations of one’s transition in place. (After all, we have to be a country with some semblance of rules, right? What kind of world would this be if people walked around with their free-thinking minds to govern them instead of arbitrary* rules. In a place where robots do what they’re told without question, it would be anarchy for sure.) Even with newer awareness, these expectations are still based upon the old antiquated ones. When no one asks and “your physician determines what is clinically appropriate,” the language thinly veils what is implied. Either you are “just beginning” and are on hormones, or you have the tenacity to be a serious transgender by having the surgery.

Living in North Carolina, I have been asked about surgery and my genitalia no less than six times in four visits to the DMV. When it comes to government mandated surgery, it is nothing less than genital normalization surgery and nothing more. If cis(non trans) men walked into the DMV to renew their driver’s licenses and were asked if they had surgery to ensure their penis is of certain size range and they have two testicles, state employees would be getting hazard pay. If in the process of correcting typos on birth certificates and social security cards, cis women were asked about the size of the labia, lawsuits and sexual harassment complaints would be taking up the majority of the government’s time. And government employees would be getting hazard pay. But sexual harassment of trans people isn’t just legal, it’s policy. I had a state official call me from Raleigh to ask me about surgery and lecture me on the importance of genitals. He then followed it up with an email. This is all legal in the name of ensuring one is actually trans. The bizarre part is that until my last visit, I never spoke of what was in my pants. I merely asked why they were using such criteria to discriminate against trans people and the legality. (Sidenote: Don’t threaten the authority of a white cis male, especially in the South. And especially if you’re a “tranny.”)

It is my sincere hope that trans people get to reclaim bottom surgery as theirs again as government agencies at all levels release language that would even imply surgery or a completeness to a lifelong process. And as we move forward, people gather a greater awareness and cease asking their trans friends and family members about it, focusing on support and just being there. Please, hear our stories, listen to our struggles, and rejoice in our victories. I would apologize for this post being so angry, especially since this topic is something so sacred, but life is about having mixed emotions. The tears must come with the clenched fists, and even those must be followed by laughter.

Love and blessings,
~River

PS For those interested in changing your NC documents, your physician’s letter MUST read “has had appropriate clinical treatment” or “has had all appropriate clinical treatment.” If you are interested in fighting for the rights of trans people in NC, don’t give money to Lambda Legal or the ACLU of NC. They do nothing for us here.

Bereft

The tears form their rivers,
A procession for my sorrows.
I am cold but lack the shivers,
As I bury my dreamy tomorrows.

Drops fall when my heart breaks,
Taken aback by hospitality.
Do you know the sound rain makes?
Would you see my new mentality?

Regrets fall, one by one.
You were here, but now you’ve left.
My light is gone, yet I’m not done.
I simply am, and I am bereft.

 

© 2018 River Sunfeather

Facing Divinity Within

One of my teachers said that inside each of us is magnificent divine creature, worthy of love and compassion. According to her, our “higher selves” look like angels and are powerful enough to conquer any fear. They do this by giving unconditional compassion to all. She taught her students that though we must put boundaries down in our lives, ensuring we get enough sleep, food, and time to recharge, we must tap into that compassionate divine self. My mentor of many years taught a similar but slightly different spiritual truth. Inside each of us a “spiritual warrior,” capable of manifesting our desires and healing ourselves from trauma. Through this manifesting and healing, we are able to learn what is necessary to move forward and then, teach others those lessons.

After years of daily meditation, epiphany after ah-ha moment, change after shed layer, always searching deeper within, I finally came to that place of “Higher Self” or “Deity Within.” I expected, from my teachings, that I would find some Goddess or Deity that had helped me manifest all I had been grateful for and would help me achieve that which I still sought. I had hoped to find something capable of giving and receiving divine grace and love.I did not find something powerful or beautiful. What I found was a Goddess far more broken than I could ever have imagined. I came face to face with a Goddess of Pain, of Tragedy, of Sorrow, and Death. She was a Goddess of Mourning. She grew up in an abusive household, where appearances mattered more than content. Live a lie long enough, and you begin to forget who you really are. By the age of 30, she had lost all four grandparents, her father, her son, and half of her friends. She had watched as many of her friends were lost to suicide, murder, drug addiction, illness, and car accidents. It was a mighty bitter pill to swallow. How the f*ck was this the answer to feeling powerful, worthy, and healing my wounds??

I believe that the Universe is a giant clockwork. Imagine a giant Steampunk Clockwork with cogs, levers, springs, pistons, and a few steam engines working in sync. That is the how I believe the Universe works, each of us representing one tiny part of this intricate mechanical complexity. One person might a spring that is always under pressure, while another is a fast-moving cog. It would explain why each of us has a different perspective and a different truth to tell, but no one seems to be able to figure out the whole picture. It would also serve to explain why some work better under pressure, and others need the pressure taken off. It deals with our purpose in the Universe. I also believe that sometimes you need to try being a spring, a lever, a steam engine, and a piston, before figuring out through process of elimination to understand and accept what part you play. That’s what happened to me. You need to experiment, make mistakes, and eventually go back to your roots with a new understanding of why you do what you do so well.

It was tough to accept that my part in the Universe was sorrow and mourning. Though once I had, I found a kind of peace. There was less struggle in my life. I stopped caring about what others thought. Things stopped being about proving myself. I found more meaning in all that I did, from being a housewife to making art, from helping to clean up a local cemetery to putting on my black lipstick. Once you know your place in the world, everything makes sense and all you do has purpose. Happiness, as defined by fairy tale endings, is overrated and usually fictional. Those kinds of things are short-lived. But peace can last indefinitely. It is something that lasts through the ups and downs. To summarize things then, just because you haven’t found your place yet doesn’t mean you won’t. And even more importantly, don’t be afraid of what you find. One doesn’t have to be saving the world or “all-powerful” in order to be content or at peace with who they are. Some of us are meant to teach the world strength and light, while others are meant to teach it vulnerability and Shadow.

Love and blessings,
River Sunfeather