It Happened in a Room Full of People

A few days ago, a trans woman was brutally beaten in a Baltimore McDonald’s. The video at this link isn’t so much graphic as it is viscerally disturbing. There’s no blood, but the victim does start to have a seizure at towards the end. The victim has been identified as a trans woman named Chrissy Lee Polis. I haven’t been able to find out more about her condition, other than no death announcement has been made, so she presumably is still alive.

When I first saw the video, it horrified me in a way I didn’t expect. I’ve never been triggered before. I wonder if that’s what it feels like. After I finished crying, I felt numb and empty. While watching the video I kept thinking Why doesn’t she fight back? Please fight back. Please get up. But she can’t, because she’s scared, and hurt, outnumbered, and for most of the ordeal, alone.

And that’s what really gets me. She shouldn’t have been alone. This happened in a room full of people. Two women viciously beat another to within an inch of her life, and in a room full of spectators, the only help that Chrissy got was a brief, half-hearted intervention by what appears to be the store manager (who may have retreated to call in the police), and a brave yet ineffectual stand made by an old woman. In a room full of people, the only two who decided to help were the man with a profit motive, and a woman who was so old she couldn’t do more than say “stop” in a firm tone of voice.

This is why I haven’t cross-dressed in public yet. The furthest I’ve gone was a walk around the block in my ladyboots at 3 AM, to be sure that nobody would see me. I should feel safe in San Francisco, and I’ve seen plenty of trans people out and about.  But last week, a trans woman got severely beaten at the 16th street BART stop, a stop that I pass through regularly. So when I see this video of what happened in Baltimore, and I read about what happened right here in San Francisco, I get scared. If I was on the ground, getting kicked, would it be any different for me?

I told my cis friend about this video when she came home. She’s usually pretty good. But this time it felt like she immediately tried to minimize it, saying that the cameraman taking pictures and putting it online could help find the perpetrators, that the bystanders didn’t want to get hurt and we can’t blame them for that, and so on. She says I shouldn’t demonize them until I have more info.

But I’m not angry yet. I’m in shock. I’m freaked out. I haven’t gotten to anger because I’m still coming to grips with the fact that this happened in a room full of people.

People who, individually, may have had their reasons. People who, individually, might be able to make a good excuse. People who, if they tried hard enough, could explain why an old lady had more guts and compassion than they did.

It happened in a room full of people.

UPDATE: Chrissy speaks to the Baltimore Sun about the attack. She appears to be in good health and recovering well. It appears that the seizures were a problem she had experience with before and was anticipating after she got hit a few times. This is not meant to excuse the girls for beating her into a seizure, or in any way minimize the severity of the attack. She mentions coughing up blood on the McDonald’s glass door. She says she is afraid of going outside now. (h/t to my lovely commenter Alexa who posts the link below)

UPDATE 2: The cis friend I mentioned saw the video for the first time. She wasn’t able to finish it. I think it may be unfair of me to act like she was blowing the whole thing off now. When I first told her about it, my description of the video was a bit hazy and vague; I was still reeling from the shock. Now that she’s seen it, she is just as horrified as I am, which, in a sick kind of way, is reassuring.

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The Hunt

I’m unemployed. This is a stated I’ve “enjoyed” for coming up on three years now, ever since I was fired a week before the stock crash of 2008. I’ve never been good at job hunting, and the constant rejection and frustration of the hunt combined to devastate my self confidence the last time I seriously looked for a job. Now that graduate school is on indefinite hiatus and I’m going after transition full speed, I need a job, so I can’t put off starting the hunt again any longer.

The problem, of course, is that on top of the problems that my horrible resume saddle me with, being trans is a huge hurdle to clear. It’s illegal in California, and double super extra illegal in San Francisco, to discriminate against someone because they’re transgendered. But with a resume like mine, how the hell do I prove discrimination? The real reason I get turned down from Job X might be that I’m a dirty, filthy tranny who makes the HR manager uncomfortable, but the reason he’ll provide if asked is that I haven’t had steady work in years, that the last job I held fired me after only 5 months, and that I did a poor job in the interview as well.

To combat this problem, I’ve hooked up with this group called the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative to assist me in finding a place to work. They’re a local resource, city funded, that hooks up trans employees with trans friendly employers. It’s not a job placement agency; I still have to get the job myself, but they’re helping me with resume writing, job searching, interview tips, etc. I’m so happy I found them. I think I’d be seriously freaking out if I didn’t have someone in my corner for this.

Tomorrow I will, hopefully, go on the dole, which should extend my destitution horizon for a few more months. In a super duper ideal world, the city would pay me enough to be able to afford subsidized housing somewhere and move out of Thrillhouse. Aside from the obvious material benefits, I’d like to get my own place so I didn’t have to worry about wearing out my welcome and getting kicked out. First thing I’m going to do after I get on cash assistance is signing up for every affordable housing list in the city. Hope, hope, hope. That’s all I can do these days, it seems. If I could get a semi-stable situation, with an income sufficient to live in stable poverty until I found a job, that would be ideal.

Whatever happens will happen. The Hunt goes on.

Transgender, Transhuman

You wake up in a body you don’t recognize; that swingers party got out of hand.

Or,

While waiting for the paramedics to arrive, your trauma suite automatically releases clotting agents, carefully locks your neck in place, and activates the morphine drip in the chem dispenser at the base of your spine.

Or,

Rolling blackouts kill the lights while you’re still in the basement, so you find your way in the dark with the milimeter wave radar that is projected from the radome behind your forehead.

Or,

She tells you she’s not into penetration, so you retract your cock up into you and amp up your nipple sensitivity.

Or,

You’re standing in front of a mirror, trying on different hair colors to see if they match your shirt.

Or…

This is the world I spent about a year in, maybe a bit more. Transhumanism is a potent drug for those of us who feel so alienated from our own flesh. The dream of a world where changing your gender was the least significant deviance from the norm, where not only could you be a girl, but you could be a hot girl with laser eyes bullet proof skin, that is the stuff that keeps a young transnerdgirl up at night, longing for what could be, what would be, if only until she opened her eyes.

I got really heavily into transhumanism because I was afraid to transition. Because I was afraid of the results. Because I thought, maybe if I just waited for 30 years, I’d luck out and they’d have Ghost in the Shell bodies I could buy. Maybe they wouldn’t be too pricey. Maybe they would be fully functional. Maybe I wouldn’t have to face this big, scary, ugly reality that was gnawing away at me.

I realized, of course, that waiting was a sucker’s game. Maybe there will be a Motoko-model chassis I can buy someday (gotta get those ridiculous gag boobs cut down to size, though) and upload myself to. But more likely, maybe there won’t be. Or there will be, but I’ll be dead. Staking a lifetime of lost opportunities on a nigh-hopeless dream seems like a good bargain, for a while. But then you realize that the bargain was actually about hiding from reality until you were willing to face it.

When I decided to transition, my interest in transhumanism dropped instantly. I still support in it, in a distant kind of way. I hope those technologies come to pass. But until they do, I’ll be here, living in the real world, making do and being alive.

Head in the Sand

It occurs to me that in all of my efforts to acquire hormone therapy, I haven’t given much thought to how I’d pay for it. I’ve only got the strength to deal with one headache at a time right now, and I’ve got two to deal with already. The AMA’s guidelines for treatment of the transgendered are to transition, hopefully in a stable, supportive environment. My insurance’s written policy on prescriptions is that it covers “all medically necessary” prescriptions.

Surely that means they’d cover me, right?

Right?

The Tight Little Ball of Hate

I’ve always been an angry person. I mean really angry. It’s what people used to notice about me, maybe not the first thing, but it’s what they’d remember. I got in a lot of fights in grade school, and was most notable for having a short fuse. I wasn’t a very good fighter, but I was vicious. I once almost peeled this kid’s ears off. Eventually, I got my temper under control. Or rather, I subsumed it into a general background level of rage. It was with me so long I forgot it was there. In middle school, I drew pictures of mecha that I wish I had; I wanted them because there were lots of classmates I wanted to kill. When Colombine happened, I was thrilled. I thought it was the best thing ever, and for years afterwards, whenever I thought of a school shooting, I imagined what it would be like to be there. I was the kid with the gun.

In my darkest moments, I considered torturing animals.

As I grew older and more articulate, the blood fantasies mostly stopped and were replaced with indictments of the world around me, as scathing as I could make them. Once, in college, I mentioned to a friend of mine that I thought I held too much back, and that I should be more open with my thoughts. She was horrified.

My college program was a pioneering undergrad creative writing curriculum at UCSC. After I graduated, I found out that I had been one of the more popular people to get a critique from, because I was willing to look the other writer in the eye and tell them which parts of their baby sucked. Most of us didn’t want to hurt the other writers’ feelings, but it never even occurred to me to be concerned with such things. But before I got to that point, where I could call bullshit constructively, I had to learn how not to be cruel, and that took some doing. In fact, cruelty was my natural instinct. You made bad fiction: suffer!

It wasn’t all rageboy all the time. I think that’s why people noticed it. If I’d worn KoЯn shirts to class and stared out at them sullenly from under greasy bangs, they’d have forgotten me as soon as I left the room. I was, at first glance, this somewhat meek shy boy who probably wouldn’t talk to you much until the third or fourth time you met him, if at all. But once we got into a real conversation or class discussion, the napalm came out. I think it caught a lot of people by surprise. I remember calling Valarie Solanas a coward because she advocated genocide only by implication, and didn’t have the spine to come right out and say “fire up the ovens!” I remember saying this in such a way that several of my classmates gasped.

My worldview was defined by the negative. I want to be clear that I think that the negative has a place. If you’ve got any art training, you know about negative space, the part of the art that isn’t there, and is just as important, if not more important, than the part that is. Well I saw negative virtue; I always looked for what was lacking, and tried to imagine what could be, if only that deficiency could be solved. There is a place for this kind of thinking, but it dominated me, blotted everything out.

As my life in Portland limped towards its inevitable doom, I noticed that my rage was growing stronger. I began to become concerned about it. I could see which way the trendlines were running, and I was afraid it would consume me. I had no idea about what I could do to deal with it. When I saw this Onion article, it was like sticking a wet finger in an electrical socket.

Part of my fear of dealing with it was that I was afraid that if I got rid of my rage, I would be destroying the one thing I was really good at. If I didn’t have that fire, that drive to point at something and say “That! That right there sucks!” then what did I have? Would I still be any good at figuring out how to make writing better? And if I lost that ability, which I had no problem turning against my own work to improve it, then would I ever be more than a mediocre writer?

So I did the bold and decisive thing: I ignored the problem and hoped it would resolve itself.

In August of 2010 I decided to transition. The germ of the decision was planted when I happened to see a video of a trans woman on YouTube, talking about her voice. I was stunned. This woman did not look or sound like the tranny I was terrified of becoming, and at that moment a terrifying bead of hope bored into me and attached itself firmly to my spine. In the course of three exhilarating days I furiously tore through the basic research about transitioning and decided that it was something I had to do. There’s a kind of euphoria when you realize that you don’t have to stay trapped. I’m not sure I can explain it to someone who hasn’t been there.

It took me only a week to notice that the tight little ball of hate in my chest was unwinding. It frayed apart faster than I could have imagined, fell to pieces and evaporated. It took me by surprise, and I was not afraid. The hate had fueled my urge to go out and explain, in detail, exactly what is wrong with the world went away. Really, I think I’d been trying to figure out how to explain what was wrong with me. By committing myself to transition, I’d taken the biggest step towards righting myself, and finding some measure of inner peace.

That’s not the happy ending. I still haven’t gotten to that part, and might never arrive. For the rest of the year and into spring of 2011, I still hated myself intensely. But almost from the moment I decided to transition, I stopped hating the world. That is a gift I can never repay.

Resilience

[note: parts of this post were written yesterday, in case you care about that sort of thing]

I have left Pasadena again. Every time I leave that town, I swear I will never be back. Walking around the area is torturous nostalgia. In a way, I came of age there. I hate it there. So many memories, fond and rotten, tied to places that won’t stay the same.

I left because I hate it there. I left because living with Mom was not working. I left because I had no realistic prospects of self-sufficiency in the LA area without a car. I left so that I wouldn’t kill myself.

I’m much safer now. I’m also much less comfortable. I’m living at a place called Thrillhouse, a punk record shop in San Francisco. My friend lives in a bedroom upstairs, and she’s convinced the roommates to allow me to crash on their couch until I can get on my feet. The kitchen is the stuff of horrors, the fridge smells like something died in it (no joke), and a dozen or more people I don’t know come and go through the house according to a pattern that, if I comprehended it, would surely shatter my mind in an appropriately Lovecraftian manner.  I also feel better than I have in months. Making the decision to get out there and try another shot at life has given me a new sense of confidence. I have no guarantee of success,  but now I feel like I have a shot.

If I’m honest with myself, I was too comfortable in Pasadena. It was too easy to simply lay and wallow. Maybe I needed that for a bit, but I’m glad to be past that now. Thrillhouse is terrible place to live if you care about things like sanitation, so being here has really lit a fire under my ass to get out there and start seeking solutions. Today I registered for food stamps and learned about a job seeker’s group that meets every Wednesday at the LBGT center. Tomorrow I’m going to find a shrink and endocrinologist, and in 10 days time I’ll be able to apply for cash assistance from San Fransisco county. In the meantime I’ve got a job fair prep session to go to on Thursday, and will apply to 5 more employment agencies over the next few days. I’ve got a daily goal of at least two craigslist replies a day, too.  I also need to update my Monster page and find similar places to put my resume online.

All of this seems to be linked to a new kind of confidence I have found in myself. When my life in Portland melted down and I ended up living with my mother again, I wasn’t just sad, I was disgusted with myself. I felt like even though I’d had such an easy life, I still managed to fuck it up. I heard stories about people who were in tougher spots than me, and whose achievements surpassed my own, and felt worthless. For instance, I’ve got a friend from high school who got his girlfriend pregnant and married her while they were either still in, or just out of high school. At one point he was crushing boxes behind a supermarket to try and make ends meet, but he just couldn’t get enough cash. So what did he do? He joined the Army and went to fucking war. I felt like I could never measure up to that kind of toughness. I’d had a soft life, softer than his, and still I couldn’t even keep my shit together.

Recently, I’ve reevaluated that opinion. Perhaps my life hasn’t been so easy. Perhaps I’ve done better than I give myself credit for. When I was 9, my mother lost her job. We had to sell the house, and a year later, we left Ashland and moved down to Glendale to live with my grandmother. I lost every friend I’d ever known in one weekend, and the dog, too. We spent the next six months living at my grandmother’s house, where I had to live by strange rules I wasn’t accustomed to, and went to a public school for the first time. Prior to fleeing Ashland, I’d gone to a Waldorf school, so the culture shock was significant. Just as I finally made friends, Mom got a job and we were able to move to South Pasadena, where I had to start over again.

After that, I had two years of hell that I don’t want to talk about.

Then high school, which was actually pretty fun once I got the hang of it, and later college. There was a period at UCSC where I was really depressed, but for the most part it was a good experience. I graduated and moved to Portland.

Then two more years of hell. I got fired during the crash of 2008, and couldn’t find a job for the next year. It was during this time that I became suicidal for the first time, due to romantic troubles. The rest of the year consisted of mnths upon months of watching my savings, so carefully tended over the course of my life, melt away. I was forced to beg for money from my grandparents. I ate my stock portfolio that had been gifted to me by my great grandmother. All the while, feeling more and more useless, losing more and more confidence. I managed to enter graduate school and almost immediately had a panic attack over the workload; I ended up stabbing myself with a carrot peeler.

And on, and on. My life has lurched from one crisis situation to another for almost three years now. I’ve been almost killed by one roommate, and have been scared of two others. I’ve been seriously suicidal twice. I have completely run out of money, and my credit card is all but maxed out. I’m essentially homeless and on food stamps.

This is an abridged list. I haven’t included details of the family troubles, or the messy breakup at the end of my first relationship, nor the two separate shrinks who so thoroughly failed me that I gave up on therapy for more than a year, despite my history of mental illness.

So yeah, things have been rough. The last three years have been truly special in that regard. There have been good times, too, even during the darkest years. There always are. I used to only focus on those, pretend that my life was only the easy parts, and then hate myself for the damage I incurred during the rough parts. Didn’t I know that there are HIV positive child soldiers starving in Africa?! Compared to that, how dare I consider any part of my life to be less than perfect!

I’m not going to do that anymore.

I can also give myself credit for what hasn’t happened. I haven’t killed myself. That’s the big one. I haven’t fallen to drugs. I haven’t become a criminal. I’m not malicious, and in fact I have gained a new appreciation of empathy. And while I’m technically homeless, and thus at my lowest point materially, I now feel stronger and more optimistic about my future than I have in years. Life hasn’t been too good to me, and I’m still here. I may not be in the place in life that I wish I was, but I’ve managed to survive a hostile set of circumstances. In acknowledging that, I feel stronger. I feel like I can continue to survive.

I’m going to need that strength because it’s probably going to get tougher as I go. Right now, I still pass as cis. A cis man, sure, but cis. Once I transition, and get into that space where I’m visibly trans before (hopefully) making it through to the other side, things might get tough. Even in San Francisco, there might be people who will give me shit or discriminate against me.

Whatever happens, I’ll get through it. I always do.