My, my, my, what a semester…
My brain has been all over the place. I don’t even know where to start. I guess I’ll start by saying, I’m really not doing very well right now. I am barely keeping it together at all. There is so much going on in my personal life and so much that I’m processing (or trying to process).
I’m in about $94,000 in debt currently, $2,000 of that being from cat surgery expenses. I’ve just accepted being in debt as a thing at this point. I receive a $16,000/year stipend for my graduate assistantship, which also covers my tuition. I am planning to apply for an NSF grant at the end of the month. If I don’t get this grant, I’m aiming to graduate in a total of four years, so that would be another 2 and a half years from now. If I do get the grant, I will aim to graduate in a total of five years. This would be a tremendous relief financially and mentally, so I’m crossing my fingers that I can get this application together and that the NSF will see the value in my work.
Thanks to folks who have chipped in and from personal savings, I have $2,600 saved toward top surgery (which costs about $8,500 out-of-pocket). If you don’t remember (or didn’t know me then), I have done two different top surgery fundraisers. I sold shirts through The Change Project a couple years back and did two rounds of GoFundMe donations. For this last one I sold beer cap magnets. I ended up using a lot of those funds to afford testosterone, and I let the folks that donated know that. I have added all that back to the savings account I have for top surgery, now, and I’m really happy for that. I am always grateful for my dear friend Julie in Knoxville for paying for my name change outright when we worked at JoAnn’s together. For a while I was doing Lyft and putting all of this money toward top surgery. Right now I can barely get myself to class, much less drive for Lyft. I applied for the Jim Collins scholarship, which basically matches you dollar for dollar to go toward top surgery and is largely based on financial need. I’ll hear back on November 1st, so we’ll see. I am so grateful for the support that I’ve received over the years, but I’m also sad that my insurance doesn’t cover this stuff. A trans friend of mine in Atlanta offered to help me with a fundraising party of sorts. On top of actually living this unequal access to trans healthcare, I am studying it and critiquing the systems that allow this to happen, all the while checking myself on my privilege as a white non-binary masculine-presenting academic functioning within this capitalist neoliberal system of exploitation. As much as I resent it and resent my privilege in this system, to be honest, I do still have severe gender dysphoria that is often quite debilitating for my mental health. This gender dysphoria would be highly alleviated by having financial access to top surgery. And I trust that I’ll get there, but that doesn’t really make me feel better. Top surgery won’t fix everything, or even most of the things, but it will ease my gender dysphoria and allow me to live a bit more liveable of a life.
September 30th marked 9 months of sobriety from alcohol. Having finally stopped using alcohol to cope with my gender dysphoria, with my dysfunctional childhood, with my PTSD, has been a blessing and something that I did not think was possible. I had my first urge to drink in a long time at a bowling event with my department the other night. It really fucked with my head for a second. A colleague yelled across the room to me (forgetting that I don’t drink) something like, “What are we going to do with all this beer? Chug it??” I quickly waved no and went to the bathroom, but the thought of chugging the beer with my friend did cross my mind. In a flash of a second, my thoughts were consumed by previously intoxication. I was in Sassy’s, making out drunkenly with some cutie (mostly because I wanted to be wanted). I was at the sorority party in undergrad, playing beer pong with friends (though secretly hating myself for being into girls). I was at Boy Scout Camp mixing grape juice with beer to make it more bearable (it wasn’t). I was throwing up on the way to my Communications class at 8 AM, still drunk from the drag show after-party. I was 13 again and being raped by my sister’s boyfriend. The no was easy. For that, I am glad.
On September 16th, two weeks before my 9-month sobriety date, a student named Scout Schultz was shot and killed by Georgia Tech police. That day I was at a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies conference in Kentucky. Patricia Hill Collins gave a keynote about the need for feminist scholars to put intersectionality into practice, and actually do something, instead of continuing to talk about the same old things over and over, without any solutions.
Scout was a non-binary white student organizer, with a history of mental illness, much like myself. After this news got out, I, like many others, tried to scramble to come up with some sort of public response that would make a change. On the Monday after the killing of Scout, I asked the members of the sociology graduate student organization that I am the president of if we wanted to do a media response, or something, some sort of public declaration of disappointment/frustration/anger addressing police brutality and solidarity with the students of Georgia Tech during this tragedy. The group decided that, given the current context that we live, a media response would be likely be interpreted as us caring more about white lives than Black lives. A Black colleague of mine pushed me (with much hesitancy) to answer why we would make a media response for Scout when we hadn’t made a media response to the many other killings of Black and brown people in Atlanta. And she was right. I responded that I agreed that if we were to do a response to Scout’s killing, we should also do a response to all other killings by police in the Atlanta area. My response to why now was just to say that I wasn’t president of this organization until now. These things are all true, but these facts do not justify my willingness to act now and not when a 24-year-old Black man named Deaundre Phillips was shot and killed by Atlanta police in February of this year. Scout’s shooting hit much closer to home for me, because I am trans, because I am white, because I live with mental illness, and because I was also the president of my undergraduate LGBT organization. I understand, now, that my attempts to respond to Scout’s killing with a media response were in vain. I want things to change, and I want to do something to help us get there, sure. I am well-intentioned, sure. But I also am privileged enough to distance myself (both physically and mentally) from police brutality, except when it directly affects me, and people like me.
I expected this response from the group, honestly, because I felt the same way about my own suggestion. I didn’t think a media response would do anything, other than express that we, too, want to do something. I left the meeting feeling worse than I did before. I imagine others felt similarly. Many of us went to our Theory II class right after, in which we were cramming three weeks worth of material into one day due to Labor Day and the storms from Hurricane Irma – Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed; Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks; and Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. It was a lot, to say the least. To me, the room of students felt of unarticulated pain, and hurt, and a desire for real and sustainable change but of not knowing how to get there, or if it is even possible.
I have Wednesday’s off from class. Today I just have one phone meeting at 3:30 PM, which I am glad for. I have 7 readings to do for my Health & Illness class for tomorrow, and I haven’t started any of them. My body is not happy with me. My heart has been in literal pain for weeks. I’m convinced I’m having heart palpitations, especially when I start tearing up about my cat Sirius’ long recovery from surgery. I have had chronic pain since I was 14, but it’s gotten worse recently. I went off my antidepressant and antianxiety medications about 5 months ago and am smoking weed to self-medicate. I’m glad that Atlanta City Council voted to reclassify possession of marijuana of an ounce or less as a non-jailable offense. I am so thankful for and proud of the work that the Solutions Not Punishments Coalition has been doing. I have attended two of their facilitator trainings this semester. When I’m in those spaces facilitated by such brilliant people, my body hurts less, and my mind is less anxious. I don’t know exactly what I need to be doing right now, but I do know that I need more of that feeling if I’m going to make it.
I see the pain of everyone around me, and I am in solidarity with you. I don’t know entirely what you’re going through, and often I’m so in my own head that I am unable to show up in the way I really want to. I am sorry for the ways in which I have failed you. I thank you, especially my friends and partners of color, for holding me accountable, as I hope that you are also open to being accountable to me when you say things that unintentionally harm me. I love you, and I see you. Even if I complain about you asking too much of me, I love you, and I see you. I am listening, I am learning, and I am available to help move us closer to solutions in whatever way I am best suited. Without the love of my trans and queer friends, I would not be here. I remember the night I decided to live. I was in my dorm room, and one of my roommates asked me to hide my rope from her, because she was scared she might use it to kill herself. I promised, in that moment, to stay alive so that I could be there for her. We spoke out against our rapists at our school’s Breaking the Silence event; many years later, I critique this very platform.
A student in one of the classes I TA for, who was an ex of Scout Schultz, committed suicide this week. My best friend, a cisgender mixed-race woman who lives in Kingsport, Tennessee with two small children, just told me that someone called her to tell her to shut her windows and stay inside because of an explosion at Eastman. Her dad died when we were 14 and her mom passed away unexpectedly in April. Donald Trump is the president of the United States. Queer and trans people who voted for Hillary Clinton are upset with third-party voters and vice versa. Graduate students in my department are reporting racial microaggressions in the classroom to our department chair. An ex-roommate of mine, a Black queer woman, travels around abusing everyone she can find that will take it, and has labelled me “the white devil.” A Black trans woman is targeted for calling out this person on social media as a sexual abuser. This same Black trans woman is annoyed by people who identify as trans but who do not experience dysphoria. My white cis professor shushed me when I try to talk about this in class. A white transfeminine colleague of mine is constantly being misgendered as male and struggles with an eating disorder. A cisgender Black woman named Keisha Lance Bottoms is running for mayor of Atlanta and is unduly getting credit for the marijuana bill going through. A white trans friend of mine in Knoxville has chronic depression, binds every day, and usually doesn’t want to be alive. There have been at least 21 trans people violently killed this year, most of whom were trans women of color.
In the spirit of Audre Lorde, Black feminist, lesbian, warrior, mother, poet, we must each continue to transform our silence into language and action “even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” Our silence is not protecting us; it is only making us weaker.
Thanks for reading.