Category: My So Called Life

Suicide, Leelah Alcorn, and Living Openly Trans*

I’ve kept quiet much for the last few months because I’ve been mourning a loss, the equal I can only compare losing my father at age 11. I’m not going to share the particulars of this loss because it doesn’t really matter in the context of this post, and secondly because it’s extremely personal. But emotionally I’ve been hampered a bit in just getting by day to day. I’m just trying to work out a plan for my future and try to do all the things people do when they’re mourning a huge loss. Trying to move on when you don’t really want to.

The holidays haven’t made it any easier. My circle of friends in Madison, Wisconsin is small. This is the first Christmas without my partner. I’ve just been putting my head down, going to work, and trying to make it through.

And then I read the suicide note of a trans teen, Leelah Acorn. Her parents tried Jesusing the the trans out of her to the point she killed herself. Some cis-gender (not trans*) people (especially those people that can’t bring themselves to call trans women, women but feel the need to call them “penised individuals“) have suggested that it’s irresponsible to post Leelah’s suicide note.

This is thorny territory for me personally. When I read it, it did trigger me. I’ve been pretty much staying away from social media the last few days because of her suicide. In her suicide note she said:

“I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That part of her note pierced through me like a knife. I understand her pain, because I feel like I am the embodiment of the comments of her future. I’m a visibly trans woman that struggles every day. As I said to a friend after this story broke:

“I’m not clinically depressed or having suicidal ideation. I’m currently mourning a loss and been having dysphoria related issues lately. Basically I’m the person she said she didn’t want to live to be. That was a huge punch to the gut.”

and

“I’m not saying it for hugs or attention (but thanks for the love), but that it’s just hard. Especially what she said about it not getting better. If you don’t have cis-privilege, life is fucking hard being openly trans.”

But I don’t think it’s irresponsible to publish her note. I think it’s wise and compassionate to warn people with “trigger warnings”. But for someone that routinely fights for the right to exclude trans women from “female only” spaces without one shred of evidence that trans women are a threat (regardless of their genital status), I find Ditum’s words to be both disingenuous and oppressive.

Irresponsible? That would be the Philadelphia Gay News publishing a story about an underage child’s genitals. Irresponsible would be the Statesman asking a TERF who openly mocks trans women to write a piece on a trans child’s suicide.

The answer to transphobia that leads to suicide isn’t more transphobia. The answer to transphobia isn’t silence. Not talking about it isn’t going to make it go away. Trans reparative therapy isn’t going to suddenly go away on its own. It needs to be talked about and people need to know how awful and destructive it is.

She says:

“Trans lives matter. We know that transgender people are at particular risk of suicidal thoughts. So why are people endorsing and sharing material that, if it has any effect at all, is likely to be the catalyst for a trans youth to attempt suicide?”

Ditum’s pity feels a lot like the pity trans people get from Focus on the Family. She knows that trans people are at particularly at risk for suicidal thoughts, but never seems to ask why. I’m suffering every day as a visibly trans person, and it’s not because I’m mentally ill or because I’m diagnosed with any sort of depression. It’s because being visibly trans in this world IS A HARD LIFE. It’s because there are people that other us, disrespect us, and objectify us on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.

The answer isn’t silence, it’s education. The answer isn’t fear mongering, mis-gendering, or “gender nerd snark“, it’s treating trans people with respect and human dignity. It boils down to just letting trans people live their lives authentically without being attacked for who they are. Ditum and folks like her aren’t part of the answer, they’re part of the problem.

Thoughts on Suicide, Living, and Dying

My mind has been in a million different places today. I read this thoughtful post by a doctor about a patient that committed suicide. I saw this today on dying with dignity:

I come at this from the perspective of a medical professional that has seen death and dying up close and personal for almost thirty years. I come at this from the place of a person with a history of persona trauma and loss. I come at this from the perspective of an atheist. I come at this from the perspective of someone that researches the deaths of trans people across the world for the Remembering our Dead/Transgender Day of Remembrance project. I come at this from having partners who struggle with mental illness. From each one of these perspectives, I see life and death up close. I often see conflicting messages when seeing the suffering, the pain, and the joy of living.

When I saw Brittney’s story, and I read the doctor’s words about the suicide of a 50 year old man with a history of depression, I saw a similar story. I saw a story of two people dealing with a life threatening illness. I saw a story of two people taking control of their life, their destiny, and their pain.

I think about every person I’ve ever treated as a medical professional, that was at their life’s end. So many times what I end up seeing is suffering. Needless suffering. Terminally ill patients with families that just can’t let go of their loved ones. I’ve had to perform scans on those patients. Patient’s who cried during through the procedures, crying out that they just wanted to die. They are the patients who have feeding tubes. The patients who have lived years, sometimes a quarter of century, living in a bed. I’ve went home and just put my face in my hands and cried because of those patients. From that perspective, I’m like close to 80% of doctors that would avoid chemotherapy for aggressive forms of cancer that have little hope of a cure. I understand the rational choice to not suffer needlessly and have control over your life up until the end of it. I’m an atheist, but the needless suffering I’ve seen has made me see it as a kind of “hell on earth.” I don’t want that for myself.

From my own personal trauma, I can understand losing hope. 12 years ago I lost the ability to see my daughter and be a part of her life, because of who I am. For almost 6 years I suffered with situational depression because of this. Most recently, I’m about 6 months out from ending a relationship. I mourn the loss of my best friend and my partner.

Being visibly trans isn’t the easiest path in life either. At times it weighs on my life like a heavy anchor. It limits my job choices, limits my income, and limits many other aspects of my life. Parts of my trans life history have been so damaging, so brutal, and honestly… so unnecessary. When news broke of Kate von Roeder’s very public suicide, I commented at the time that I think anyone that’s visibly trans can understand why she took her own life. I looked at her letter and can honestly say that I understand why she did it. Some may say that makes me unstable or depressed, but I think of the words of comedian Marc Maron:

“If somebody comes up to you and says ‘you might be clinically depressed’, you should probably say ‘thank you! That means I’m awake.’ Is there any indication I shouldn’t be depressed? Are you living on the same planet as I am? Do you ever think that depression might be the reasonable human response to the crap we’re going through as a species?”

I’m not saying I want to kill myself. I’ve thought about it,  and every time I do it comes back to the same question:

“Do I want to relieve myself of pain, more than I want to live?”

The answer to that question has been a consistent no. As difficult as life is right now and as unsure I am of my future, I still find joy and wonder in life. I still want more. I still want to be here and see how this all plays out. Doing the TDoR list, I see (sometimes graphically so), trans women losing their life because they are trans. The pain I feel from my own life experience is tempered with the knowledge that my privilege (class, race, geography) allows me not to have to feel as much pain as many other people do.

As an atheist, I’m as sure of the existence of God, as I am the existence of the Easter Bunny or Santa. Let’s just say, I’m sorry kids, but I know the sad truth.  I know that what comes after death, is what came before birth. Non-existence. Silence. Light switched off. One of the truly lovely delusions of religion is that suffering has a bigger purpose, that there’s a reason why bad things happen. Why loves end. Why people die. Why kids are removed from your life. Someone I respect a lot said that we need to find value in life for ourselves. When I get overwhelmed with it all, I watch this:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p86BPM1GV8M?feature=player_detailpage&w=640&h=360]

I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad I’m alive right now. I acknowledge that though my pain may last, it will lessen over time. That there will be a day sometime in the future where I’ll yearn for today, for more time, for one more chance at living, but tomorrow won’t come. I’m hopeful that I’ll have a choice of deciding when and if enough is enough. When the answer to the question above is that the pain is too much. Personal autonomy/agency is a gift that many people don’t receive.

What’s New is Old Again

I took this blog offline for a while and I’ve deleted a lot of the posts that don’t make sense being here, but I still feel the need to write. I look back over my writing and my life and see and feel where I was at the time.

In this life I’ve experienced a lot of pain, heartache, and disappointment. But I’ve also loved, and been loved in return. That’s probably the one thing in life that I value most. Being loved, and loving others, is really the only thing that I find has any lasting value. Even if friendships fade, the memories are something I treasure. Someone recently said to me:

I loved reading your story. You have had a lot more passionate romance in your life than I have.”

I never really considered it before, but it’s true. I’ve had some really painful times of late but as much as I’ve been hurting, I don’t regret the love and the passion. I can honestly say if I died tomorrow, I’d be happy with the life I’ve lived. I’ve been in very low places, but the question always comes back to

 “do I want to walk into oblivion, to rid myself of this pain?”

The answer has been a consistent no. So I march forward. I know where I’ve been, but I’m not sure where the future will take me. But I’m grateful for today, for now, for this.

Looking In the Rear View, Giving Thanks

Tonight is an anniversary for me as well as Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving 2003 was one of the lowest points in my life. I had recently moved to Washington DC and had a one bedroom apartment that was baren. It had a bed (from the previous owner), a small kitchen table, and that was all for furniture. The previous year had seen me lose visitation to both my son and my daughter because I was trans. I was in a new city with very few friends. I had no one that I considered close enough to spend Thanksgiving day with. So I filled my day with laundry and prepped for my daily trans talk show. Somewhere in the middle of that I had a breakdown. I was crying, depressed, and really didn’t want to live anymore. Life without my children was something I could barely tolerate. The only thing that kept me alive was the memory of how I felt about my dad killing himself (he drank himself to death when I was 11). I thought my kids would rather have a transsexual father that they didn’t see than a dead one. In the pain of that moment I tried to find something to be thankful for. That day I wrote one of my first blog posts on Blogger.com. I said:

Thankful

Kids, today is Thanksgiving, and by all rights, I have very little to be thankful for. I dont see you anymore, and I speak to you rarely. One thing I am thankful for is your existance. I hope someday that you can understand how hurt I am, and how much I do love you. I am a piece of trash that some want to throw away and act as if I don’t exist. I am, and will always be, your Dad.

I made it through that day and continued to struggle with depression and daily existence. But life did slowly get better (2004, 2008).  Like a coronary artery bypass, the scars from my past won’t ever disappear. But I have healed.

Many things were  the same  today as they were on that day in 2003.  I was alone, I didn’t have my kids with me,  and I spent the  day trying  to avoid “Thanksgiving”. But it’s no 2003. I have so much to be grateful for. I have a wonderful life here in Madison. I have people here I consider family,  an amazing  job with fantastic coworkers, and an  amazing son back  in  Indianapolis  that is following his dream.

I am thankful every day for the people  in  my life. And I’m grateful that you are here to read this. I am blessed.

Friendships, Loves, and China Sets

I’ve always viewed friendships as somewhat like fine china. Some patterns come and go with the seasons. Some are solid, never go out of style, and serve you many years. Good china will provide you a beautiful space to nourish yourself. But you must always keep in mind that no matter how durable it is, it’s still china and it will break if not handled with care.

I’ve never really had the ability to stop loving people after I’ve started loving them. A scene from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” explains how love works in my life.

(HEDWIG:) “Seriously, Tom, yes. I believe love is immortal.”

(guitar chords)

(TOMMY sings:) “Look what you done … (bad chord) goddammit! How is it immortal?”

(HEDWIG:) “Well, perhaps because love creates something that was not there before.”

(TOMMY:) “What, like procreation?”

(HEDWIG:) “Yes, but not only.”

(TOMMY:) “What, like recreation?”

(HEDWIG:) “Sometimes just creation.” Read more »

A Beautiful Day in Wisconsin: Devil’s Lake

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEn2l7_hJYQ&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

Such a beautiful place you are, Devil’s Lake.

http://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

My Klansman Poppy Taught Me How To Love Republicans

Growing up in a super dysfunctional household, I had very little in the way of nurturing. Between working full time and regularly engaging in marital battles, my mom had little quality time with us kids. I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother and grandfather (who we affectionately called “Granny” and “Poppy”). Pop was a very mean man. I can remember times he would come home for supper, and if Granny didn’t have the food on the table, he’d call her every expletive in the book (with “bitch” in 1st place). Granny often took to vent with me, telling me stories of how he’d been mean to her (especially the story of her catching him cheating).

He was also one of the most racist men I’ve ever known. I can remember him yelling at the TV and turning it off when Emmanuel Lewis came on television, grumbling about how “the n****rs were taking over the world.” From what my mom has told me, he also was probably in the Klu Klux Klan. There were so many dark sides to my Poppy; it would be easy to hate him.

But I don’t. While I saw all the ugliness, I saw a side of him that made me love him. More than any person in my young life, he nurtured me. He would often spend time with me one on one, offering me a father figure rarely present at home. I can remember many trips he and I took to White Castle just to hang out and talk. When I would complain about how my parents treated me (a difference in how my parents treated me and my brother, Granny and Poppy both acknowledged), Poppy would tell me not to mind that. He would enthusiastically comfort me, saying, “you are smart, and you are going to do amazing things with your life”. That may not sound very profound, but those words coming from Poppy were.  Those words have echoed in the back of my mind for the past 35 or so years, giving me strength.

Pop taught me that people aren’t one dimensional. While he was incredibly hateful to Granny, he was a loving and nurturing man to me. The duality of his life has made me look at people differently. Being a liberal Democrat on a Facebook account full of Indiana Republicans (mostly my Alumni from Southport High School), this skill has come in handy. I’ve been able to become good friends with people that are my ideological opposite. Poppy taught me to see the humanity in all people, and life taught me what Bernard Meltzer knew:

“If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along — whether it be business, family relations, or life itself.”

*edit*

I wrote this post in 2010. Eleven years has given me a lot of time to reflect on this. It’s still true, mostly. But most of those people from high school I’m no longer friends with.

I learned most of this navigating (and finally ending) my relationship with my mother. I don’t have to agree with someone 100% to understand them, but I have some non-negotiable boundaries. I won’t allow space in my life for people who:

  • don’t supporI basic human rights
  • try to continue to gaslight me or want to debate my existence as a trans person:
  • won’t own up to their mistakes/dishonesty

I understand the bigotry and narcissism that might drive someone to make this kind of statement on social media, but I don’t have to accept that kind of toxicity in my life. That will get you a block on social media and in life.

I can love the part of the person that wasn’t toxic, that nurtured me and allowed me to grow into the person I am, without having to accept that person into my life now.

Understanding the nature of human beings is pretty key in understanding and dealing with people in your life. People aren’t all bad or all good. I can understand what drove Poppy to be the person he was without agreeing with or accepting his toxicity.

When Poppy was six years old, his mother, Bessie, died of tuberculosis. A year later, his father married Pearl. His stepmother (Pearl) told him never to mention his mother (Bessie) ever again, that “she was his mother now”. My step-dad (Russell) died when I was 11 (I thought he was my biological father until I found my bio dad a few years ago). And that messed me up for decades. That kind of trauma impacts your development as a person. Trauma is passed down like a virus, and it mutates. Poppy passed down his trauma to his kids through who he was. They impacted their kids too. It’s not shocking that between his three kids, there are 8 marriages and a lot of mental illness.

I considered changing the title of this post to “My Klansman Poppy Taught Me How To Love Understand Republicans”, but you can’t strikethrough a title. Also, I love the part of the man that nurtured me while despising the toxicity that dominated his life.

-Marti Abernathey August 2021

Home Is Where Your Heart Is

A friend of mine moved to Indianapolis, Indiana from New York because in his words, “Indianapolis feels like home.” As someone that’s always hated living in Indianapolis, I couldn’t understand how someone would WANT to move there. There are people I miss in Indianapolis, but I don’t miss the place itself. A year ago I moved to Wisconsin to be near my best friend. I now know what Danni was talking about. I’ve never felt this at home.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9PzUeHASQo&w=425&h=344]

Home is where a light is left on until you get home.
Home is morning tea with your best friend.
Home is not locational, it is emotional.
Home is the place where you are loved.

For now, Middleton, Wisconsin is my home and I’m grateful.

Happy New Year to you all.

All That I’ve Let In, I’m Blessed Beyond Belief

I’ve always found great joy in music, but there are few songs that impact me to such an extent that I cry the first time I hear them. Tonight I heard the following song did:
All That We Let In – Indigo Girls

“Dust in our eyes our own boots kicked up
Heartsick we nursed along the way we picked up
You may not see it when it’s sticking to your skin
But we’re better off for all that we let in

Lost friends and loved ones much too young
So much promises and work left undone
When all that guards us is a single center line
And the brutal crossing over when it’s time

Oooooooo
(I don’t know where it all begins)
Oooooooo
(And I don’t know where it all will end)
Oooooooo
(We’re better off for all that we let in)

One day those toughies will be withered up and bent
The father son the holy warriors and the president
With glory days of put up dukes for all the world to see
Beaten into submission in the name of the free Read more »

The Pressure to Date is Off

For many years I thought I needed someone else to make me whole. Someone to “complete me.” I’ve tried many ways to find that completeness, but sometimes the cliché is the truth. The easy truth is sometimes the hardest to actualize/realize/deal with.

Ultimately I realized that I never needed anything outside my own acceptance, my own love, and my own respect. Do I want those things from other people? Yes. Do I need them to be complete? Hardly.

But saying that doesn’t mean I want to be alone. It means I can be, and that’s ok. I had a recent bout of loneliness that came over me quickly and pressed down on me like an imploding house. But even in that, the above realization was always with me. I’m at a point in my life where my needs and wants are clearly defined. It helps to know the difference, especially when I get lonely. Filling that void in my life is a want, not a need. That is such a relief/weight lifted, I can’t even explain it enough for one to understand the gravity it implies.

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