Trans and Tired

I haven’t posted anything for a bit. I have been depressed. And I will not apologize for it. I will not make excuses for it. I have not been sick with the flu. It’s not a cold or a stomach bug. I have simply found it harder and harder to crawl out of bed in the morning. And it has become so much easier to crawl back in during the day. If you don’t know me, it’s easy to judge me as just being lazy. Those that are close to me and know me well know me as a high energy person who is often too much to take in large doses. I am usually the one who antagonizes, instigates, and provokes. I have to constantly entertain myself and my energy, and I usually fight boredom, anxiety, authority, or any combination of the three. But lately, I have been too tired to fight.

I am tired and depressed. I am so tired from fighting the world. I am so tired of subversive discrimination and people who are afraid to express their fears and discomforts. I am tired from people trying to put gender into a box. I am tired of people thinking that everyone with mental illness is “crazy” and not to be trusted. Like all things in life, gender and mental health are messy and not simply black and white. And I’m just so gothdamn tired of arguing this point. I am tired of doctors not listening to their patients. I’m tired of arguing with my family. I’m tired of telling my own mother that even the state recognizes me as her daughter, my name is River, and no one who sees me would even think to address me her “son.” I’m tired of my so-called liberal brother defending her and telling me that I’m forcing my perspective on her. I’m tired of listening to politicians, who think they know trans people better than trans people do. I’m tired of government agencies who don’t understand that the documents they’re asking for are the very documents they’re trying to prevent me from obtaining. And I am absolutely sick of reality stars who think they are politicians. If his run for presidency was jumping the shark, then his whole time in office could be summed up with “add more sharks.” I’m tired of people blaming me for my existence making them uncomfortable.

Whenever I am down, I think oft of my memories of abuse. As things grow difficult during my transition, and the doubt fills my head, I wonder if all those voices from my past were right. I am weighed down by them. My anxiety builds, and I begin hearing them everywhere and from everyone I see. They have followed me from a lifetime in hell. Upon my transition, I found release from the darkest place, the place that births fear. It is a place where my dreams are impossible, my body and my soul are wrong, and all that is divine hates me. And even after my escape, I found that I still carried a number of scars and was followed by a few devils. These are my personal demons. And my heart goes out to all those who struggle with their own.

Again, the familiar voices of doubt and fear showed up. In the midst of this spell, I have tried to get up and work towards things. I have continued to make jewelry. I have continued to write. I have continued to try to push myself. But it’s like driving through a fog. You take it slowly, carefully, and you doublethink every move. I have had nightmares of persecution. I have fought with my own wife and told her she doesn’t understand. But that’s the thing about depression. It’s a great liar. It’s The Greatest Liar. It tells you that you’re alone. And then it pushes everyone away to prove it. It tells you that you can’t do anything. And then it takes your passions away so that you do nothing. Though I have managed my depression better than last time around, it still lingers and I worry about ramifications even after the apologies. Or is that just seeds of more doubt? I cannot think on it too long.

For as someone recently reminded me, we have to keep swimming toward the light(or darkness, if you prefer). We have to focus on those things that are positive and encouraging in our lives. The fight against discrimination is an important one, but trans people cannot bury ourselves too deeply in it. We have to rise above it and immerse ourselves in those who support us. Yes, we have to find commonality in those who would not, so that we might find an ally in waiting. But we must also surround ourselves with people who allow us to forget we are trans for a while. We must persevere, continuing to tell our story, and continuing to do the things we love. This is how we change the world, one person at a time and by pursuing our passions. It is also how we stay sane. But by focusing on those who love us, reminding ourselves that there are things worth getting up for and just going through the motions, it eventually clicks. And all of a sudden, you have an evening or go for a walk and forget yourself and your doubts and realize, this is doable. Maybe it was all just a bad dream. And the next thing you know, you don’t feel quite as tired. You feel like you could keep going just a bit longer.

Blessings,
­River Sunfeather

Advertisements

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.

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.

Discrimination and Motor Vehicles

On Friday, December 15, I went to update my driver’s license. I had my legal name change. I had a physician’s letter, stating I was in transition. Unfortunately, North Carolina only accepts letters stating surgery has taken place, but I had a trump card: a corrected and valid birth certificate. Because of a lot of transphobic policy-making and legislation, the law of the land in North Carolina has become “one’s gender is what is on their birth certificate.” According to HB2, we were to use the bathroom and locker facilities associated with our birth certificate. Now, I got to use it to my advantage. I had also updated my name and gender with social security, which means the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services would soon be listing me as female if not already. With the new SS card in hand, I had all the necessary documents and walked in for a new license.

There was only one teller at the driver’s licensing office that day. He immediately made it clear he was not going to change the gender on my license. As soon as I sat down and informed him why I was there, the reply was “I can change your name without a problem, but…” He said this before even looking over the details of the documents. He combed over the legal name change as if he were a lawyer. I was then informed I would need a court order that stated surgery had taken place. He phoned his boss and mentioned the name change and letter. He omitted social security and the birth certificate. He then repeated what he had told me before. We had a lengthy conversation, but it was if I was speaking to a brick wall. He was probably used to being debated by student driver’s and learned to tone people out.

I am not sure if this an actual policy or because we are in the middle of nowhere. I am not sure if it is just Pennsylvania birth certificates or just Pennsylvania birth certificates of trans folk. I have no idea why I am female with the part of the state that deals with human bodies but listed as male with the part of the state that deals with cars. There seems to be a rather large discrepancy. I have no idea where this will end up. It could end this week when I call customer service. It could end in several years with litigation and national press coverage. By the gods, I hope not. I’m not looking for a fight. I’m tired. The discrimination, the fighting, being treated like a second-class citizen wears on you. I’m tired from jumping through hurdles and everything being a struggle. The last thing I want is a fight. But NCDOT, what the actual eff??

Love and blessing,
River

I am a Survivor

As I do every morning now, I tie a black cloth to my wrist. I repeat my daily mantra,
BlackWristtaking deep breaths between each sentence, “I am a Survivor. It’s over now. My abusers can no longer hurt me.” I close my eyes and try to let it sink in before starting my day. I am coping with PTSD from childhood abuse and bullying, and this routine helps to keep my demons at bay. Throughout the day, as things get too heavy or I realize that I am taking life too seriously, I try to consciously look at my wrist. I walk away and repeat my mantra. I’ve left many conversations open-ended, projects unfinished, and chores incomplete.

I will not go into the details of the abuse in this post, but would rather prefer to share with you some of my experiences with PTSD. Maybe you are suffering or know someone who is. If nothing else, I hope to help remove the stigma around mental illness.

My day begins at around 1 am. I wake up once, sometimes twice a night with feelings of extreme Guilt, as if I have done something horrible. I have been moved to write apology emails, text messages, and many letters at this time of night. I have apologized for not greeting someone at a restaurant. I wake up with intense Fear, believing I would be evicted, the utilities would be turned off, we would run out of food, or that I would be run out of my neighborhood or killed. I also wake up with inexplicable Sadness and Pain. Waking up in tears or screaming and having no idea why, I have been moved to believe that everyone hated me and was going to leave me. For much of my life, this was normalized to such a degree, I had no idea why it was happening. Now when I wake up with these feelings, I journal about them and return to bed. It is still almost every night.

I tie a piece of black fabric to my wrist and remind myself that the bad times are over, that I’m a survivor. I continue on with my day. I am a perfectionist and have dealt with high anxiety. I believed the excuses and blamed myself rather then accept the fact that those who sought to break me were doing just that. As a result, I served impossible standards. It was my fault for being weak, being emotional, being frail, being different, etc. Years later, I’m still chasing the same demons. I’m still hunting myself down for being too weak, not good enough, not going the extra mile. Even when I deliver a perfect product and a customer is thrilled, it is a hollow victory. All I worry about is how could I have done better.

Like Pavlov’s bitch, I still react long after the stimulus has been removed. I flinch when telling people I’m trans or in crowded rooms. My social anxiety is off the charts. I repeatedly ask how I look before leaving the house, because I believe I am unable to dress appropriately. In certain circumstances, I seek approval. In other circumstances, I lash out knowing that if it is not good enough, we will all be found unworthy, be beaten, and/or deserted. I believe that at any moment, my family will walk out the door and leave me. I believe that if we become friends, you will abandon me. I believe I am completely unworthy of the people that surround me. I know how it all sounds.

I meditate. I have meditated for years. I make art, write, listen to music, do yoga, and drink tea. I have days where life is fine, and I go about things as normal as anyone else, I imagine. Then I have a day where I sit on the couch, cry, and journal all day long. The memories come flooding back, so I write them. I am overwhelmed by emotions. I cry, I laugh, I cry some more, and I write. Sometimes, a conversation brings back a memory, a television show, a commercial. I hear song lyrics and am reminded of something a bully once said or father’s words. The emotions are a tidal wave in my brain, and I am there, running for my life, alone, waiting for it to be over.

I now face an uncertain future as I cope with PTSD as a trans woman. I now take everything one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. I am receiving help in the form of a therapist, family, and friends. My transition has helped immensely. It has allowed me to deal with things, to move forward, and to finally begin the process of discarding my abusers’ truths so I could live as my own authentic self. My truth is that this bitch is a wolf, and that I’m a survivor. And that means learning to accept that it’s over, and it’s time to let go.

WolfbyTeo
Wolf by Teo

Love to you all,
River Sunfeather

If you know someone with depression, PTSD, or mental illness and is having a hard time, talk to them without judgment. Listen to their feelings. Ask them why they feel this way, and hear their story. If it is serious, get them help. Don’t ignore it. People with mental illness don’t need prayers and memes. They need the support of those around them without judgement. As a good friend put it, “Judge others less, love them more.”

Trans Lifeline – 877-565-8860
Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-8255
Further Reading: Book on Shadow Relationships

Throwing Out Expectations

It’s now been over a month and a half on HRT(hormone-replacement therapy). Many mundane, yet miraculous things have changed. My face has feminized so much, I am called “ma’am” at stores. My body shape has changed so much, I no longer fit into men’s clothing. My mood swings are mood roller-coasters. My breast development now requires the wearing of a bra. But something far deeper and more important happened. I let go of my expectations.

I had all of these grand ideas about how transition would go, what kind of woman I would be, and what I would look like. Not watching reality television, I was not lured by glamor or beauty. Instead, I had done a lot of research into feminism, women’s rights, and gender constructs. I would not be the stereotypical woman, overly emotional and concerned with fashion. I would not give into the pressure to “look good.” I would be conscientious to prove I was hardworking and concerned with the things that matter most: the environment, helping others, and of course, women’s rights. I would refuse to be oversexualized, put people with male privilege in their place, and would never settle for anything less than equality.

Right…. LOL!!!

While I believe we do get to choose our Path, I also believe our Path also chooses us. I have two daughters, who are probably more emotionally stable that I am right now. I am moved to tears by the word “kittens” and or even thinking “happy thoughts.” I’m also the most fashion-minded one in the house. I have heard the women in my life make terrible comments about their bodies. Body acceptance isn’t easy, but I feel it is crucial. Feeling comfortable and taking a little care in how you look is such a huge confidence booster. I’m still interested in things like the environment. Whether it’s making a purse out of an old jacket, a skirt from tattered bandannas, or a standing garden table out of an old box spring, I love to reuse things. It cuts down on waste.

I still do what I can do help others, but I’ve become so involved with transition that I honestly have become somewhat self-absorbed at times. I have found that it is typically better to wait until someone asks for help, and so that is what I do. I’m too busy trying to fix me. And though I still consider myself a feminist, it is for very different reasons than going in. I just want equality and realize I am now on the outside looking in, asking for/demanding it. I can now see male privilege in certain people. And when I try to point it out, I see male guilt. The situation is way more complex that I ever could have realized, and I am only just learning.

Things are so far different, I think I have become my own Shadow. The only emotion that has stuck with me, through it all is gratitude. I am grateful to be here. I am grateful for my supportive wife and her guidance. I am grateful for my bewilderment, for my disappointment, and for my letting go of who I was. I am grateful for the fact that I am still changing, and I have no idea who I will end up next. It’s time to throw out expectations like an old pair of ill-fitting jeans and embrace the new individual in the mirror.

Love and blessings,
River

MensWomensJeansSizeConversion

HRT Begins…

I have known for a while that hormone-replacement therapy(HRT) is something that I wanted as part of my transition. The wait time to get see this particular endocrinologist was many months. After research, emotional and psychological work, I got myself into position to see her. She is one of the few endocrinologists who specializes in transgender hormone-replacement therapy in North Carolina. Finally on Monday, the 10th of April, I went to my first endo appointment.

My family and I drove several hours to her office. It was an emotional journey for everyone. I had a thorough discussion with the doctor about what the therapy entailed and the risks and benefits of the medications. I would be placed on a testosterone blocker as well as estrogen. Labs would be taken frequently and dosages would be adjusted until I was in the normal range for a typical female. I would also be tested for other things to ensure my safety.

What surprised was a comment about my life expectancy. She cited a few studies about introducing estrogen to post-menopausal women, but noted that there were no studies yet on trans women, as no one has really been doing this long enough or with enough numbers to know how it will impact life expectancy. Having a similar mentality to mine, she mentioned I “could be hit by a bus tomorrow. We just don’t know.” The quantity of life is completely irrelevant if the quality is crap. If you are depressed all the time and hate a major part of your life, good health is not something to be grateful for.

The hormones would slowly change certain aspects of my body. We went over what some of these changes would be. We also spent a good bit of time on what would not be changing. There are certain traits that I could eliminate through other options if I needed to pass or if those traits caused dysphoria. The entire appointment gave me a lot to think about and was quite a learning experience. It really gave me something to think over.

During the course of the conversation, she mention I would begin to see more colors as the shape of my eye changed. I decided to do some research into this and found the shape of the eye is different between men and women, allowing for a completely different perception of the world. If not only has my body been male, but an essential part of my nervous system, then perhaps being transgender is actually a miracle. All of the input I have been receiving about my body and even the world around me has been coming in through male filters, yet something deep within has still said, “No, I’m not listening. This is not who I am.” I feel like being trans is kind of like having evidence of the soul. And as I continue on my journey, I gain more confirmation…and acceptance of who I truly am.

Love and blessings to you all,
River

ButterflyBelieve