A journey to San Francisco to become no less than Me. (BLOG REBOOT: Former site of Hairy Legs.)

Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

“Ignorant censorship.”

You know, I just can’t seem to stop spilling venom at the people who are treating us trans folks like shit.

I used to be nice.  I used to carefully and sympathetically educate when it was clear that the person didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.  I don’t get mad at people very much.  I’m a rational person.

But I’ve been running into a whole rash of people who are just plain inexcusably ugly to us, and I get so enraged I just can’t help but wield my pen as my sword.  I can’t hold back any more.  I don’t care.  Why should I continue letting people think we’re meek little lambs?

Recently, Veronika Fimbres, the incredible trans activist who fought MUMC to get the Trans flag on the Castro flagpole for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, wrote a beautiful article about the significance of flags (linked).  You should go read it, it’s beautiful.  I’ll be here when you get back.

And then, who should arrive in the comments section but Gilbert Baker, the man who created the Rainbow Flag in 1978!  You’d think he’d have something awesome to say about the social progress of trans folks being able to honor our dead once a year with a flag.  Instead, he had this to say.

GB:

Patrotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. This is Ignorant censorship, never bothering to mention that the rainbow flag was removed so the trans flag could squat on the pole which I put there as a work of art to specifically fly the rainbow flag.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was reading.  I thought maybe some delusional schizophrenic had gotten into someone’s facebook account and was posting word salad about some totally unrelated paranoid fantasy.  But when I clicked into his profile, sure enough, it said this.

Gilbert Baker created the Rainbow Flag, symbol of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender movement in June 1978. His work as a vexillographer (flag maker) spans 30 years and includes two world records…

My mind was blown.

I clicked blindly back to the comment section, and faster than I could tell my fingers what to do, this poured out of me like someone had pierced my jugular. I don’t know if I was too mean to be readable, too toxic to be related to, sympathized with or educating in any way, but all I could do was post it.  It was just the truth.

Me:

Your profile says that you created the flag as a “symbol of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender movement”. How easily can you forget that last word tacked on as a afterthought, that you can call it ignorant censorship when the trans community requests a single day a year to highlight the tragedy of our hundreds upon hundreds of yearly deaths due to senseless hate crimes, poverty, denial of simple health care and unbelievable suicide rates due to societal harassment and torment? Have you looked at the numbers? Have you been listening to us all, or just your favorites?

We didn’t even ask for it to fly on a day of celebration of our community (like the gay community does so freely every day of the year), but on a day of sorrow and mourning, to raise awareness, get people talking, asking questions, instead of just ignoring us or using us as the butts of their jokes the rest of the year.

You consider yourself a champion of the LGBT community, and yet you seem so uneducated on the tragedy of your estranged cousins, so why include the T at all? Have you any idea how comparable our media portrayal in recent years is to the indignity of blackface and sheer parody? Don’t you realize we are one of those last few groups that, for the majority of folks, it’s still okay and PC to say, “I may be this, but at least I’m not one of those dirty transsexuals”? I’ve heard this personally. Did you know last year, a trans woman was dragged out of a public restroom, beaten into a seizure while onlookers jeered, the whole thing was recorded, nobody did a damn thing, and worst of all, when that video made it online to major news sites, a majority of the commenters supported the criminals, posting filth like “That THING deserved it.”

Right here, in San Francisco, where we’re supposed to be the safest in the world, just a few short months ago, I was picked up by an ambulance due to a severe asthmatic episode. The paramedics were so ignorant and uneducated in their sensitivity and diversity training that they treated me with the highest disrespect and verbal harassment, just because I couldn’t talk and they couldn’t immediately tell by looking which gender I was.

My friend, THAT is where we’re at right now. White gay men have had their revolution, they can’t be touched, they have positive portrayal in media, rights, leaders, respect, and unless a person wishes to be totally estranged by their civil PC community, he’d better not voice a negative opinion on them out loud.

We’ve not had our revolution yet, we’re still stuck in the sixties, and nobody but our own cares enough to do a thing about it. So we work tirelessly to educate even those who pretend to ally with us.

And then, people like you come along and have the
unmitigated
GALL
to call flying the trans flag…
Ignorant censorship.

I have nothing more to say to this, other than you have so, so much research to do on the community you pretend to be a part of before you can shamelessly appropriate the usage of that “T” for the approval of others without feeling like an utter slimeball, and to the disgust of people like myself. If you feel like that’s too much effort, then by all means, just stop including the T, and it’ll be no skin off my back- at least you’ll be making an honest man of yourself. But I invite you to let yourself in to the circle you’ve made. Your move.

I haven’t prayed in years.  But please god, please help me to be compassionate and educate in a way that doesn’t turn people off before they get to the second paragraph.  I want to reach people, not turn them into enemies.  But how can I take the words of the truth and make them nice when the truth is so FUCKING ugly?  I can only do so much, I only have so much strength, only so much charisma.

What can we do?  What can we really do but just get blindly enraged anymore?

God give me endless tolerance.

I fight for the dignity of the countless who have died.  May their memory give me grace and love.

I fight for the dignity of the countless who have died. May their memory give my words the grace to express unconditional love.

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How do you write about these things?

I wish I had more to say.

It’s been so hard to get computer time for more than half hour slots, in places that aren’t so loud and chaotic that I can’t think to write.  I have millions of things to write about and everything is so backed up that I don’t know where to start and my mind goes blank- I don’t know what takes priority.  I wanted to be in a place in my life where I could fully document my hormone changes when I transitioned, but life hasn’t been turning out perfect- it’s been messy and beautiful and amazing and uncontrollable.  Everything’s been tumbling down in my lap faster than I can contemplate it and it’s all I can do to hold on for the ride.

This city- it looks easy on the outside.  You hear about all the public assistance, the resources, the wonderful transit system, the diversity of culture so vast that you’ll always find some group of people who understand or some even celebrating your marginalized way of life, and you think to yourself that there’s nowhere else in the world you’d rather live.  The old people say that the city is a young man’s game, that it’s too crowded, too noisy, takes too much out of you, and you scoff and retort that they’re just stuffy creaky old coots who romanticize the country and don’t know what they’re talking about.  You’ve lived in the the country all your life, you say, and it’s nothing to shout about- it’s slow, it’s boring, it’s so homogenized and closedminded that you don’t think anyone could survive there for long without withering up, selling out, fading away.  It grates on you.

But without knowing it and seeing it for yourself, there’s no way to quantify what “too noisy” does to your ears, no way to feel the way that “too crowded” makes you a little crazier for every day that you can’t get away from nutso, aggressive, abrasive, psychotic people, no way to predict how much the city is going to take out of you until it takes away everything you’ve ever loved.  And don’t doubt that it will take things away from you, because that’s what the city does, no matter how you try to hold onto things.  The city feeds on itself.  You’ll think you’ve hit bottom, that you’ve got nothing left to lose, and the city says, “Oh no, there’s this other thing that’s detachable too that you didn’t even realize you take for granted.  See?”  And then- it’s gone.

The city will exhaust your every resource, test your every limit, and make no mistake, you are surrounded by survivors and scavengers- if a person can take something from you to get ahead, they very much will- it’s just the nature of the game.  There is no pride here, there is no honor, just getting by and you can’t resent them for that.  It’s when you start to realize that if you want to survive the city, you have to start taking it back.  It’s then that you become the city.

I will always love this place, its brutality is teaching me life and I have no regrets.  But it is changing me.  It is stripping me to my core, tearing me down to my most fundamental elements, making me throw away everything about myself that was peripheral, useless, petty, outmoded or just ignorant.  Morals I thought I had, based on a life of relative luxury where moral ambiguities were just theoretical in nature, are being ripped away as I see how things work on the Outside.

But the most valuable thing is that I’m finding out who I really am.  There are things the city tries to take that just STICK.  They don’t go anywhere, I can’t give them up, they are the core of what I am- the very last inch of me.

***

Anyway, by next Tuesday I’ll be legally recognized by the State of California as Thomas Harper, male.  Also I have a job interview that day that I’m sure to land, knock on wood.  Let me just say that I started this transition on July 24th, 2009.  I first got T on March 24th, 2012.  My name change is April 24th, 2012.

24 is a good number for me.

Day 18: Home.

I’d been In for a week, and things were beginning to look considerably less grim.

I wasn’t dying, which was one positive thing.  The people at ER had confirmed that I didn’t have pneumonia, despite symptoms to the contrary, and that my lungs were clear and strong and fine, and they’d refilled the prescription for my albuterol inhaler and given me an order for three days bed rest and sent me home. 

Home, already, I was calling it.  I couldn’t decide whether this was a sad indication of a delusionary state, or a sign that I was adapting better than I’d thought I would, but I took it for what it was.  I’d been determined not to let myself settle in or get attached, not to let myself become a part of the shelter, not to be drawn into its dramas and eccentricities, but for the time being, it looked like that was precisely what was about to happen.  As alarmingly easily as it happening, I decided that it must be healthier than I’d thought it would be, so I cautiously decided to let it run its natural course.

Lark-Inn was apparently one of the less terrible shelters in the city, and after a brief period of culture shock, I was ready to accept this as truth.  The anecdotes of the loonies scrawling poignant poetry in feces across the walls of certain other city shelters didn’t precisely appeal to my sense of culture; a bit exotic, even for my progressive tastes. 

Here, the staunch, even draconian measures of cleanliness the staff took to ensure our health came off only briefly as an annoyance, and after a second of serious thought, as extremely comforting, even as they stuck my worn and feverish corpse on a stiff cot in a drafty loft during Fumigation Friday.  This was a weekly ritual in which they locked off the dorms, made us seal all our belongings in plastic bags, and cheerfully obliterated anything resembling wildlife that may have been dragged in and proliferating in the manky-smelling dorms.

There were other rules, such as never going barefoot off of our bunks, washing our laundry and having the staff feel it up while it was still warm to ensure we were actually doing what we said, and so forth, but these things I didn’t much mind.  What I did mind was the tendency of anything you weren’t directly staring at to make like Houdini and disappear.  There were people in here who would vanish your toothbrush, useless as it was to them, just to fuck with your head.

Of course, we were all provided with vast lockers in which to store our crap, but to get inside we had to track down a staff member to unlock them for us.  Being the forgetful sort, I would invariably tend to either leave shit in that I needed to get out, leave shit out that needed to be put away, or some combination of the two every single time.  Redfaced and frustrated, I’d have to track down a staff member two or three times in the space of a few minutes, and while they would constantly profusely excuse my forgetfulness, encouraging me to get them as many times as I needed, it was nonetheless inconvenient for all parties.  In my paranoia, I was sure I could see maniacally cheerful irritation playing at the corners of their eyes, like those endlessly patient Mormon missionaries after being asked to explain for the thousandth time what it was that magical underwear really had to do with anything.  You’re certain that one day, they will indeed crack, and you’re not at all sure whether you want to be around to see it when it happens, but you know it sure will be something.

Within days I’d concluded that the only way to survive this was to get my own lock.  The world breathed a bit easier now that I could access my own belongings at a whim as many times as I needed to without embarassing myself.  They’d said I could get my own lock as long as I gave staff a copy of the combination or key to keep on file.  Being the fiercely territorial sort, I took it a step further.  Not only did I get a new lock for my locker, but I got a metal lockbox from Cliff’s, as well as a bike chain to attach it to the inside of the metal drawer provided in my bunk.  After spending an afternoon memorizing all these combinations and attaching the key to the lockbox firmly to my hemp necklace, I gave a copy of the key and all the combinations, along with a written explanation, in an envelope to the staff to keep on file.  I liked the idea of having a small lockable piece of real estate right by my bed, where I could charge my phone without it being stolen for the third time this week and keep also my small bare essentials, should I choose to leave in the wee morning hours and be unable to get to my locker (in a room only unlocked at 7am, an unbearably late hour for an early riser like myself.)  It made me feel more secure just to have a tiny piece of the world completely to myself and under my own control, a piece that hadn’t been passed around between countless mad teens, even if it had cost a little more than I’d wanted.  It was a point of reference that was well worth it for me and a tiny axis around which the insanity of this place could orbit.

There were other simple things that one needed to adjust to in shelter life.  Showering was a ritual that evolved, out of necessity, entirely differently from what one would expect after a life of showering at home, especially being one of alternative anatomy expected to shower in the men’s room.  Inside the shower stall, one is provided with two hooks, a small surface on which to balance your shampoo, soap, and toothbrush, and an invariably soaking wet bench.  You are expected to enter fully clothed, with a full set of clean clothing, and your showering accoutrements, as well as a dish cloth for drying yourself, and leave reclothed, clean, and dry without having dropped any of these things in the ankle deep standing water that you must at ALL times account for being there.  It is the sort of juggling act that is indescribable without video and pornographic in nature, so I’ll leave it to your imagination to work it out.  Think about it for about a solid week and it’ll come to you, and I’ll tell you, I DO have it figured out.  Bow taken; applause accepted.

Having surmounted these inconveniences, and my back having adjusted to the stiff mattress, things have finally, as I’ve said, begun to look less grim.  I have yet to register any complaints with the three wonderful meals a day.  I always supplement my dinner with a heaping bowl of salad; as much of a carnivore as I am, I am also a firm believer that ones’ health depends strongly on the amount of vegetables one can shovel down their gullet, and will eat my salad and steamed vegetables first, running the risk at not having the space in my stomach for all of the main entree.  There’s always a healthy amount of salad left on the counter and I’m continuously surprised more of the people here haven’t caught on that they’re getting a free pass at a healthy diet and instead passing it by for hamburger helper. 

At any point that I think things are bad here, I smile and think of the Third Reich.  Auschwitz this is not.

***

There was something about this place that, for reasons I still haven’t worked out, was making me connect more strongly with my English heritage than ever before.  It helped that one of the books from the main room’s “library” (a shelf of dusty computer user manuals, disused travel guidebooks, outdated encyclopedias missing tomes and the occasional library rejected paperback) was indeed a bit of gold, a volume of Douglas Adams’ that I hadn’t previously been aware of called “Last Chance To See.”  (Douglas Adams, if you didn’t know, was a critically acclaimed British comedy and science fiction author known for his brilliantly nuanced work on such novels as his “Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” trilogy, a five book adventure that I’d guffawed my way through countless times in my teens.  His notoriously dry and singularly British humor had defined my tastes during formative years and I’d never be quite so un-strange for it.)

“Last Chance To See” was a surprisingly thin book about endangered species, a topic that, at first blush, most anyone would pass up in favor of the exciting topic of indoor plumbing, but it was written in his usual endlessly entertaining style and I was honestly a bit insulted for him that it had wound up in a place like this.  Indeed, the man probably could write about the complete history of indoor plumbing in a way that would cause anyone to forget how boring pipes, drains and shit really are.  I was lucky anyway that he’d written about a typically boring topic, because it was a book that took me a good full week to get through, and his dry humor took me straight out of my sick misory and made me feel right at home.

Here, too, there was an endless supply of tea.  A hot steamy drink paired with the gentle prodding of caffeine (a known bronchiodialator) was one of the few things that would stave off the need to use my inhaler, which I prefer to use only when I truly have no other choice.  There was something about sitting in the main room, watching ineffable conflicts unfold through the shroud of tea steam, and smirking distantly at the endless supply of human drama before me, that kept me centered and reminded me that things really weren’t as bad as they all seemed.  I felt that if I fell here and became one of the hoodrats, I’d be lost forever, but if I kept reminding myself that first and foremost, I was an Englishman at heart, I’d make it out alive.
***

Last afternoon, after the daze of my cough syrup had worn off and the sounds of the place stopped echoing through cotton, I took out the time to get more intimately acquainted with my bunk.  Up until this point I’d regarded it with a sort of sullen acceptance, like a mother-in-law who you can’t in good conscience call “evil” but who nonetheless sets you on edge with her neurotically friendly ways.  Now that I’d survived my first week with it, I was determined to embrace it as the place I’d be spending fully a third of this coming year and the first mentionworthy chapter of my life in San Francisco.  It was time to claim my territory.

The dorms echoed with bustling, vibrant drama that I continued, in my English way, to fiercely ignore.  I started to hang my tatted “Keep Calm and Carry On” napkin on the wall above my bunk to personalize the place just a little (not to mention brighten it with a tiny tasteful splash of red), but my bunkmate was quick to inform me that this was an infraction of policy.  I didn’t remember this being outlined for me in the rules, but he said things changed so quickly around here that it was the best we could do to try and keep up, so I announced that I would simply keep the sentiment forever in my heart, and the room burst into chuckles and trailed out.  Good.  I could use a moment to myself.
I lay on the bare mattress and closed my eyes.  My laundry was tumbling in the dryer and most of my belongings were still tied up in plastic bags from fumigation, so the bunk was bare and clear of confusing energies.  I stared at the ceiling at the head of my bunk- the place where the wall met the ceiling ended directly over the center of my bed, where it cut down sharply into the dorm’s dividing wall that did not meet the ceiling.  This setup effectively made the entire dormitory section of Lark-Inn a jumble of living cubicles, and I couldn’t decide whether it would be more untruthful to say that I sleep in a small room with eight men, or in a large room with forty people.

I decided that I much liked the evenly divided assymetry of architecture over my bed, that it suited me, and the creation of a nice sharp line between shadow and light for me to comtemplate was altogether my cup of tea.  These are the sorts of things you have to decide for yourself in situations such as these in order to maintain sanity.  I wasn’t at all happy with the healthy, gloppy brown smudge on the ceiling to the right, as it threw off the clean landscape and made me think all too much of the feces poetry in those other shelters, but it made me smile to think it was over the bed of someone who regularly irritated me, and should it happen to drop off the ceiling in the night, I wasn’t the one it would land on.

I could feel my energy rooting to this tiny place on this spinning pile, and it wasn’t all that bad.  I wasn’t the sort to throw down deep roots anywhere, but to develop shallow ones in many places; for instance, I had a particular fondness for a specific spot on the ground in Harvey Milk Plaza I’d had to lay on in order to get just the right shot of the gay flag on the first day I’d gotten here.  I had a favorite table and chair at the Posh Bagel on Castro Street where I’d had a rather pleasant breakfast, and a bench I was altogether attached to in my favorite Muni station where nobody ever really seemed to sit, and so on.  But this was a special attachment.  Somehow I felt that claiming my ground and taking a stand for it would be integral to my survival here.

I took it into my identity and contemplated it a bit- I was in the “B” dorm.  The obvious attachment to that was that B stood for Boys, but that was too simplistic for me.  I’d always had a fondness for the letter B in that, when you divide the curvy bits from the staff by just a bit, you get the letter 13, which not only was my birthday, but a number I always had a certain luck with.

Also, I’d been assigned bunk number 4.  It puzzled me a bit how it had arrived at that assignment; there were four bunks lining the left wall, four bunks lining the right, and bunk number four was the second one down the wall on the left.  I started doing complex mathematical equations in my head, thinking that by any means it really should have been either bunk 2, 3, 6 or 7, and concluded that the only way they could have arrived at 4 was by starting at the top and counting from right to left in a uniquely Japanese manner.  I commented on this to the only roommate in the room, who stared at me oddly for a second and asked if I studied Japanese.  I muttered that I’d picked up a thing or two here and there from anime subcultures and realized too late that bunks weren’t numbered by the dorm, but numbered throughout the entire complex, and there were two bunks in the first dorm, meaning that the first bunk in the room was number 3.  I sputtered this out a bit ungracefully and my bunkmate nodded slowly and smiled somewhat sarcastically at me (but it was his way, I’d found, to do just about everything with a measure of sarcasm, having refined it to an art form, and that was a quality about him that I simply adored, so it didn’t bother me as much as make me unfittingly happy inside.)

Having solved the mystery rather more simply than I’d been making it out to be, and feeling a bit cowed at that, my mind continued to explore the Japanese association with the number four.  The word for “four” in Japanese, though I can’t recall it at the moment, also means “death”, and I liked that quite a lot.  They have a similar relationship with the number four in Japan as we in the West have with the number 13, in that when planning a building, they will often just skip labeling the fourth floor and pretend it doesn’t exist (particularly in hospitals) out of superstition, tact, or some combination of the two. 

I realized that this was the only bunk numbered four in the entire complex, that if we were on the other side of the world, it would be probably not exist (or technically it would, but it would be labeled bunk five), and somehow I felt honored and serendipitous to have been assigned to it, and in dorm B (or to my mind, 13) no less.

I felt very, very lucky indeed.

I turned to my bunkmate and asked him a question.  “I’ve been here now for a full week.  Tell me, does it get easier, or harder?”

He eyed me thoughtfully.  “Depends on how you deal with people.”

I shrugged. “I’m the sort who, unless someone’s personality specifically appeals to me, I generally keep to myself.”

He looked pointedly at me.  “Then you’ll do fine.”

I agreed.
-Tom, Lark-Inn Resident, Dorm B, Bunk/Locker #4

 

Day Fourteen: Lark-Inn and America’s Got Talent; Slums and Fame.

I can’t believe everything that’s happened so far.  I haven’t had time really for blogging, vlogging or anything under that umbrella, because I’ve been wildly sick, suffering from a potentially slipped disc, and also staying in a place where I really have no internet access. HOWEVER, you all deserve to know that everything on the whole is well and good.

First order of business:  I am no longer couch surfing.  I got into Lark Inn!!!

It’s terrible.

Naw, just kidding. It’s actually pretty okay.  There are three hot, delicious meals every day, free laundry machines, showers, and of course, a warm (if noisy) place to sleep.  The hoodrat culture there is a little jarring after growing up in a place where the slums are mainly populated with hicks, skinheads and meth addicts; there’s a pretty intensive culture shock.  I think I’m one of about four or five white kids there, mixed in with a vast rainbow of other ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and cultural heritages.  The one thing everyone has in common- even the flaming gay kids- is that they’re all unquestionably tough as nails.  There are some truly incredible individuals surviving in there.  It’s kind of neat to exposed to such a melting pot.  I guess I’m adapting pretty okay, cause nobody’s giving me any shit.

That said, it’s a bad idea to leave any of your stuff lying around because it seems the walls are made of sticky fingers.  Being a forgetful sort of person, this has bit me in the ass a couple times already.  Between last night and this morning, my favorite yellow sunglasses went missing from my bedside, and one person stole my phone a couple days ago (though they owned up to it pretty quickly.)  Nevertheless I’m adapting.

Wait- I left my shampoo and toothbrush in the shower this morning.  DAMMIT.  (God have mercy on the person that decides it’s a good idea to use my toothbrush, I’ve got a pretty nasty fever.)

Speaking of showers and personal space, they put me in the male dorms, for which I am forever grateful, but it’s a little weird to have to shower in the men’s room.  Thank god there are stalls, but I get weirded out by the thought that someone could, at a whim, very easily pull the curtain aside and see my alternative anatomy in all its glory.  If there wasn’t the threat of being kicked out for harassing fellow clients, I’d be a little more uneasy.  Apparently there are a few transphobic clients being housed there, and it gives me the chills to think how easily and quickly something could go wrong in that bathroom.

Sleeping in the same dorm with eight other men is a new experience, too.  Apparently they stuck me in the bed right next to the biggest trouble maker.  BUT, all the dorms are merely divided by walls that don’t reach the ceiling by three feet, so all I’d have to do is make a massive ruckus and I’d have the staff on my dorm in an instant, so I’m comforted by that.

Also too, I’m not the only trans guy here.  There’s one other (possibly more who aren’t obvious) and somehow that makes me feel safer, even though he’s much younger than me.  I get the feeling that he’s got my back should things go wrong.

The roughest thing, honestly, has been the beds.  I mentioned that I might have a slipped disc, and my clinic was supposed to see me about it Monday, but then they pushed me back another week.  The foam mattresses, when compressed by weight, are paper thin, and I honestly wouldn’t have room to complain if my back weren’t so damaged that I can barely tie my shoes!  I wake up every morning feeling ragged and barely able to move, and there aren’t even any pillows to work around the lack of back support.  Luckily, my sweetie bought me a pillow, so last night wasn’t as tough.

Also waking up around 5am with my usual hacking cough and near-asthma attack has been miserable, especially coming down from this cold.  I’ve been trying not to wake up the whole planet with my explosive coughing fits but I’m not sure I’m doing too well, and I’m afraid everyone in my dorm is probably going to destroy me if the pattern keeps up.

There are a lot of strange and arbitrary rules here, but overall the staff has been great and they’ve linked me in with some decent resources.  I honestly found most of them before I moved in, but whatever.  Apparently I won’t get a social worker for a few weeks, but that gives me a little while to catch my breath and see what I can do on my own.

IN OTHER NEWS:

– My name/gender change paperwork is under way.  I’d already have my physician signature for the court order of gender change if my doctor hadn’t called in sick last Friday.  He only shows up Fridays and apparently he won’t be in this Friday either, so that blows, but I’ll be swinging by the clinic this afternoon to see if administration will work with me.  The paperwork process is already going to take long enough (6+ weeks!) without having to wait two more weeks just for a signature.

– I guess LYRIC here in the Castro might be able to work with me on getting an internship to generate income without having to have my I.D. first, so that’s a good thing.  I can’t do the paperwork to start my business (or even get the proper training for it, really!) without an I.D., and you really can’t survive here without at least a little cash, so it looks like my best option.  Besides, it’s doing volunteer work, which is really where I’m at home, I GUESS.  Food banking, here I come, again.   D:

– I’m going on testosterone THIS FRIDAY!!!  😀 I’ve decided I want to find some way to get the tattoo I’ve been wanting for eight years to commemorate the first day I broke my skin to get the right hormones in my body.  Not sure where I can go where they use clean needles and ALSO don’t charge an arm and a leg, but I’ll work something out.  If worst comes to worst, I WON’T get it- as much HIV as there is going around here, I’m valuing my health more than anything.  Clean blood is golden around here.

– OH!  This is the strangest thing of all.

The other day, one of the clients walked in to Lark-Inn, saying they just got back from the America’s Got Talent auditions.  Apparently, they were holding them at Civic Center, a good five blocks from where I was staying.  These sorts of shows really aren’t my thing, but I figured, why the hell not?  I’ve got a good voice, a hell of a story, and an interesting presentation.  Why shouldn’t they want me?  At least, it might be a way off the streets.

So, I went and auditioned.  At first I was nervous because I’d been sick for three days already so my throat was kinda rough, but I’ve got practice pushing through that to create richer tones, so I wasn’t too worried; I knew my throat would suffer for it and be rough by evening, but it would be worth it.

My little gimmick is presenting as male, and then singing classic diva tunes.  At first, I was going to do my rendition of Barbra Streisand’s “Gotta Move” from her titular feature “Color Me Barbra”, but then around noon, I heard that Whitney Houston had passed.  The news shook me so much that I instantly chose to switch to my favorite song of hers, “There Is Music In You” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

Apparently it was a good choice.  After waiting in the audition warm-up auditorium with literally hundreds of people for four hours, watching a vast array of talents (and some crazy people), I was called up with the other a capella singers in my number set to perform.  I’m lucky I scribbled those reminder notes on my palms because my mind blanked on the lyrics more than once, and by the end of the final chorus my hands were tingling like fire and my vision was blacking.  Luckily I kept my voice steady and ended on not too shoddy a final note.  I was happy with the acoustics and poured everything I had into the stretched, full notes, opening my chest into Whitney’s rich tones.  The room echoed and filled (I almost hurt my own ears!) and I didn’t know if I was just biased, but I was happy to think that I sounded better than the other auditionists in my group who’d gone before me.

I’ve been struggling with being stuck firmly in the “Super Soprano” range (as my music teacher called it) for years, stretching my voice as low as it would go, urging it into baritone ranges so that at least I could fake an alto tone, but lately I’ve finally embraced that this is what I was born with- more or less the ability to parrot the classic diva songs.  Soon, when I go on testosterone, I’ll lose that forever, and it’s been strange to find that I’ll miss it more than I realized.  But for now, I hope it will do me well.

After I wrapped up  my audition, I took off for Larkin, as I was cold, tired, and ready for dinner, but halfway back (my phone exploding during a breathless call home), the producers called, saying they needed me back!

I screamed that I’d be back in five minutes and took off running back to the center.  Arriving breathlessly on the fourth floor, I apologized for leaving so quickly.  They wanted to do a more in-depth interview with me, so I explained my background, that I was staying at the shelter, that I wanted to maybe use this opportunity to get off the streets and make a better life for myself, and to challenge the world’s perception of gender.  I also told them I’d be going on hormone therapy later this week and throughout the year, my voice would be dropping.  They seemed genuinely fascinated.

“You said you hope to maintain control over your voice as it drops.  Can you demonstrate your soprano voice for us again, with just thirty seeconds of another song?”

I was floored- I got to sing my Barbra number, too!  I’m not so sure how well I did with that complicated bit at the end of the first verse, but I hope it was impressive enough for them to call me back.  They said they weren’t making decisions today, but I’d know within two weeks whether I made the cut or not. I thanked them and left.

On the way out, I asked the escort who’d called me back up if everyone got called back to do the in-depth interview and sing a second time.  He raised his eyebrows pointedly and said I was the only one in my group who had been called back.

“Wow,” I said. “This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened, you know.  I was in this talent show once, and I thought I did terrible, so I just left as soon as I was done performing and went for tacos.  Turned out later I won the Judge’s Choice award and wasn’t there to accept it.”

He shook his head. “You shouldn’t be so quick to leave auditions like this.  Clearly you’ve got talent.  Give yourself more credit.”

I left feeling a little starstruck.  I’d always poured so much energy into things like drawing, costuming and the visual arts that I’d never considered I might have a chance at singing.  It just seemed like such a fiercely competitive field, and talent at drawing is so much more rare (and the crowd is so much nicer!), so I stuck with art.  I’ve never poured any of my resources into lessons, choir, glee club or anything like that.  But maybe I have a more natural talent singing than I thought.

Or maybe I’m just excited over nothing.  I won’t really care too much if I don’t get called back; there were people who had clearly been rehearsing their acts for months, maybe years, and hung everything on getting in- every one of those people will be heartbroken at getting cut.  I just showed up out of the blue with a shrug on a whim and gave it my best shot.  I’ve got a million other plans for getting out of this place without them.  But still…

I’ve never considered fame and fortune as an option of mine.  I thought I’d be the costume designer backstage, making the true divas shine, smiling from behind the curtain.  Wouldn’t it be strange, and new, and awesome to be in the spotlight?

And just maybe, from there, maybe like Chaz and those before me, I can change the way the world thinks.

Day Four: Why is life so amazing?M

Tis be the time of 1:00am, and I can’t sleep cause my sleeping pattern has been obliterated, but I don’t have the energy to edit videos, so I’m going to do a little blog and keep you all updated till tomorrow when I’m going to finalize and post my vlogs.

I’d like not to go into too much detail because the vlog is already so intensively detailed that I just think it’d be overkill, but I’ll hit on the high points here:

– After I went with my couch host to his school’s LGBTQ resource center, one of his awesome friends pointed me towards Trans Thrive, an absolutely incredible  organization in the city dedicated to keeping trans people healthy and off the streets, HIV prevention, depression, support groups, the works.  Everything you can imagine, they provide.  Long story short, they put me on the fast track to get testosterone- I don’t know how to describe how extraordinary it was that I had an appointment for gender consultation after being in the city for 29 hours.

– I GOT MY SCRIPT.  I am getting my first shot on February 17th at 4pm.  Bow taken.

– I went to this little transmen speed dating thing, and well, I don’t like to kiss and tell, but I will say that I have someone to celebrate Valentine’s Day with.  (OKAY I’LL TELL HE’S AN INCREDIBLE TRANS GUY FORMER AIRFORCEMAN HE’S SO FUCKING CUTE okay done having a panic attack of HOW FUCKING AWESOME IS MY LIFE?! )

– There was free HIV testing so I did that, it came up negative, no surprise there.  Tom H., disease-free since 1988. ;D

– It looks as though I’ll be getting free dental, and get this, possibly into a program for getting my top surgery done for free as well.  I’m afraid free top surgery will make me look like frankenstein, but at least my binder won’t be destroying my back any longer, so it’s whatever.

– Speaking of binders, I got a free one from Trans Thrive that ACTUALLY FITS, now isn’t that a novel concept?

– Got a haircut, that’s boring and I’m sure you’ll see it in the videos.

– I got wolf-whistled at in the Castro today.  I feel appropriately male AND fabulous.

– Tomorrow I’m going to a transguy-run super bowl party, which is great because I’ve never had any reason to watch it before.  (I honestly kinda wanted to do my first shot on Super Bowl Sunday cause that just seemed appropriate, but that’s the point at which I cross over from being needy to nitpicky.  The 17th is almost too soon for me to take in!)

 

I’m sure I’m missing things, I didn’t ask my Puppy if it was okay to write about him yet either so I won’t go into a lot of detail till later, but MAN did I luck out, he’s the sweetest most incredible level-headed generous adventurous soul with a knack for back massage and GOD, what did I ever do to deserve all this good all at once?

I’m preparing honestly for something absolutely devastating to happen.

About Monday- there’s a sad thing, that you can’t take advantage of the food pantries around here without a proof of residence in the SF zip codes, which seems counterintuitive to trying to serve the homeless, because I’d update my I.D. if I actually HAD  an address.  ANYWAY, I’m going to the Transgender Law Center monday to see if they can help me sort my expired license out so maybe i can get food stamps.  Mmm, edible things.

Also monday I’m getting my blood work done.  There was someothing else but i literally just fell asleep at the keyboard, so i’m surre i’ll remember in the morning.  I love ALL YOUR FACES, you mean the world to me, dear readers, truly. MUST SLEEP

/END TRANSMISSION
 

Day Two: The Adventure Begins.

So now I’m here, I’m settled in, and I’ve got a semi-coagulated plan for the day.  It’s tempting just to sit back, relax, finish my film project and/or wander the Castro for a day and find my feet.  But at the same time, I’m hungry, running out of money, and more or less planless, and the city isn’t going to come to me with food and options.  I’ve got to get out there and make it happen!

– First, my couch host (who is in gender studies and all other kinds of neat stuff) is going to take me to this club at his school where I’m going to meet a bunch of other trans guys.  Apparently they’re going to have a load of resources for me, so I’ve got my pen and paper ready.  Also, this is exciting for me because I always kinda felt like a unicorn in Tuolumne county.  It’ll be my first time meeting my “species”, or what have you. (I’m hesitant to lump any female-to-male gender variant individual under a single umbrella term, but that’s a rant for another time.)  The point is, I get to meet people who’ve traveled a similar path and I might be able to relate to.

– Then, I’m going over to Larkin Street Youth Services to work with a case worker.  I would immediately go to a food pantry of some sort, but it looks like all of them, everywhere, only serve people officially living within San Francisco zip codes and they require an I.D., and my current one not only expired last month but it has my Jamestown address.  I don’t know how I can update my license without an official address yet, but there you go.  I think Larkin will assign me a case worker and they can tell me how to fix my paperwork situations in the long run and where I can go for food without having to prove on paper that I exist in the short term.  (Plus, these public service places usually have something to eat.)  If they can help me figure out how to update my license and info without having an address, maybe I can get on food stamps and that’ll be one less worry in the watches of trying to start my business.

– After all that, I think there’s a free dinner at a mission somewhere on Ellis, and it didn’t say any thing about requiring I.D. on the pamphlet.  I’ll swing by there and see if I can eat.

– Finally, there’s this FTM meetup tonight that I’ve been hearing about on Facebook for weeks, and I’m SO excited to go!  I guess it’s a sort of speed dating event for gay guys who are into Trans guys, which seems ridiculously awesome to me, because I didn’t know such a thing existed.  All the gay guys I’ve ever met (I could probably count them on a hand or two) are terrified of the beast lurking in my pants.  It makes me feel disgusting.  I think, if nothing else, this night could serve as a major self-esteem repair.

Wow, I didn’t realize how freaking hungry I was.  I’m determined not to spend all my money on food, but the way the food pantry system works here in SF, until I get my paperwork straightened out I see no other option.  I just need to set aside money to change my license and keep my phone alive. Think I’m going to go down and grab some breakfast, get some cash for the transit, and buy a phone card.  Mmm, subway.  Eat flesh.

I’m going to be back very late tonight, so unless I wind up bored in a coffee shop today, there won’t be much internetting.  Maybe TOMORROW I can finish my film project and start broadcasting to Youtube, but today it’s all about taking care of business.

Be good, stay well and don’t forget to love yourself!

-Tom

Trans Mission: Freedom! (Day One)

“February 1st, 2012: All of a sudden, I looked up and I was sitting in Harvey Milk Plaza, staring up at the giant rainbow flag, and my heart swelled as I realized that, starting today, I was finally a resident of San Francisco.”

I haven’t been back here to post in a long time, but if anything warranted a reboot of my blog, this is it.

I just went back and read my first post on this transition blog, from July 24th, 2009.  It was almost 3 years ago when I finally sat down and committed, whole heartedly, to transitioning to male.  It made me burst into exhilarated laughter to realize that, in that post, I was musing wistfully about moving to San Francisco, some day, like a person who dreams of one day getting a jetpack so they can fly.

Today, I’m flying, and there’s nothing that can weigh me down.  I wrapped up my old life, trusted to Fate that I was doing the right thing, closed my eyes and jumped.  The car ride down felt unreal- I’ve broken free, today is the first day of my real life, and I’ll never spend another day living where I don’t want to live, working towards things I don’t want, or being who I don’t want to be.  There’s no guarantee that I’ll have a place to sleep from one night to the next, no guarantee that anything will work out for me, no guarantee that I’ll even live past the end of the day.  But, wait a minute- isn’t that what waking up and living your life every single day is all about?  You take that risk every time you get in your car and run down to the corner market for milk, so why get that milk if it isn’t fueling a body in motion, aimed on a trajectory towards the galaxy you want to live in?

It doesn’t matter where or how dangerously you do the things that you know you were meant to do, anything could happen, you have to pursue your dreams and LIVE your life instead of planning, hoping, and saying “maybe tomorrow” forever.  We have a limited number of minutes on this Earth, so why spend even a single one of them being or doing things you don’t want?

God’s honest truth is that I could have stayed in Tuolumne County.  I could have gotten that daily grind job, worked my butt off to pay rent and bills and nothing else, not had any resources to go through with medical transition, not lived in an area where my way of life was acceptable, not been able to go to an art school where I could actually learn anything.  I could have survived, and it makes me guilty to think that, with the economy the way it is, I threw away a potentially stable lifestyle and flung myself on the mercy of a collapsing economic structure and the kindness of strangers to get where I need to be faster.  But the truth is, I’ve been watching my life slip away from me day at a time for as long as I can remember.  Extenuating circumstances aside, whether my roomies had needed me gone by February or not, I couldn’t make myself miserable there, flipping burgers for a future I don’t have any stakes in, working towards nothing but a desperate gray existence, quietly being a martyr because “people who throw away potential job openings in a climate like this are foolish lazy bums.”  Do I deserve to be happy?  Who knows.  I think the question here is, do any of us?  I think if people spent more time focusing on working towards the things that light up their life, rather than being dragged down by guilt, expectations, moral fallacies, societal obligations, quantifiable monetary “success”, and all the trappings that lead to the white picket fence life… we’d all be a lot happier and have much less shame about who we are.  The expectations of others based on their own twisted moral compasses can do so much to destroy people’s lives, or if nothing else, grind them to a squeaky gray halt.

I know only one thing.  My life is mine, I’m the one who has to live it, and I finally have to courage, fortitude, and will to chase my dreams without stopping for breath.  Call me back when you can say that and we’ll have cake together.

***

Back on the subject of that first blog, it’s a bizarre thing that July 24th 2009 felt like the beginning of my journey, when now, today feels like it.  I thought I was living the great adventure of my life by starting to transition, and truly, I’d like to say that those three years were a massive chapter in my life.  But they’re beginning to really feel more like a prologue than anything.  If I had to make a comparison of my life to literature, then those first three epic years were the Hobbit, but today I’ve cracked the first page of the Fellowship of the Ring.  So much lies before me, I can barely wait to start the adventure!

It’s funny to think back to that summer summer morning so long ago- I was already so far with some things, but so behind in others.  For example, even at that point, I’d already learned how to use an STP, little things like that.  But I wasn’t standing up for myself in public yet- it horrifies me to realize that, according to my blog, up until that day I was still job hunting “in costume” (or dressed as what I perceived as an attractive female, so I’d match my documents and be appealing in some abstract way.)  But, oh, I’ve come so far in those years!

I’ve grown a lot of balls (pun fully and shamelessly intended) as far as expressing my gender.  A few years ago, I wouldn’t have let a person in on my male gender unless I really trusted them, and certainly not in a professional setting.

Today, I’m not afraid of walking into a job interview (that most vulnerable of places in our current climate), with my binder and suit on, introducing myself up front as Tom, requesting my potential employer not to use my legal name as I’m still in the paperwork process of getting it changed, and then letting their deductive capabilities fill in the rest.

Today, I’m not afraid of correcting people over the phone when they say “ma’am”, and saying, “Yes, I know my voice is high pitched, it’s a hormonal imbalance,” and letting them deal with the feeling of awkward if they so choose to feel that way.  I’m done with awkward.

Today, I’m not afraid of walking into the men’s restroom and using the stall if I have to, because I know the last thing on most men’s minds is the bathroom habits of the people around them.

In fact, a few months ago I used the ladies’ room for what I know will be the last time (I was dining out with old family who haven’t caught on yet and I didn’t want to create an awkward situation by running into one of them in the men’s room.)  At this point, the men in my family are going to have to deal with it, though, because a girl in the ladies’ room tried telling me I was using the wrong bathroom.   Through the awkwardness, potential danger and confusion, some little chord in the background sang out, “YES, I AM using the wrong bathroom- and people finally agree with me.  I’ll never walk in here again.”  I had to pop my voice back into a female register I haven’t used in years so she wouldn’t get freaked out, but at the same time, I suddenly realized that, for the first time, pretending my gender was female to use the ladies’ room under false pretenses made me feel inappropriate, and even though I didn’t mean anyone harm, it was suddenly unmistakably clear which bathroom I belonged to.

It was a little chilling to realize I’d passed over that line where I could get away with using either restroom if one room or the other made me feel too uncomfortable- that now there was no safe room to run to, no net to fall back on.  I was back in that area where I had an assigned restroom, and if I used the other, I’d be in trouble, only I was on the other side of that fence, and it was jarring to realize I’d finally toppled off of straddling it.  But at the same time, it’s exhilarating to realize that, even just in one area of my life, everything is finally lining up.  Plus, I feel much more comfortable in the men’s room now anyway.  I no longer get that rush of adrenaline/sweaty-palm feeling when I realize I have to use the bathroom.  I just take care of business and trust that what I’m doing just isn’t that important to other people– I’m not under a microscope, I’m just an average Joe who has to piss.

***

It’s interesting to note the things that have changed.  But I think the oddest thing was the number of thoughts and sentiments in my old work that have stayed the same.  Through my ugly teenage years, I’d write something and then go back and read it a year later, and be completely repulsed by myself.  So, I was preparing for that familiar acid reflux feeling on going back to read my 3 year old post.  BUT, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of values that remain the same.  I’ve definitely learned more, grown in myself, and become stronger in the things that I believe in, but the core values are still the same.  What does that mean?  It scares me a little to think that I might be getting comfortable with my way of thought- through those teen years I was an ever-changing entity (weren’t we all?) who believed that anyone who settled with a given moral code or mental structure was a closed-minded bigot who was unwilling to learn, change themselves or compromise with an infinite world.  I truly felt that if I didn’t see some gaping flaw in my thoughts from a month prior, then I wasn’t growing right.

But at the same time, I feel more like maybe it’s just that I’m finally figuring out who I am, and most importantly, getting comfortable with that person for once.  I’ve never known what that was like- to like me, completely, without bullshit, and realize that maybe I’ve got one or two things figured out.  I have SO much to learn, but the things to learn in this life are infinite and we are finite beings, and maybe it’s not so bad to know where oneself starts and stops, and to be okay with that.

***

Hopefully I’ll be posting daily updates with my current situation.  For those who might be curious about specifics, I had to leave my current living situation in the hills by February due to a lack of income.  I’m on the waitlist for a bed at Lark-Inn, a shelter in San Francisco that caters to impoverished LGBTQII youth by providing counseling, helping them find jobs, and get onto their feet.  They say the wait time is 3 to 4 weeks.  I asked one of my trans communities online for ideas and help to patch up the intervening gap, and one of them responded with a site called couchsurfing.org.

I went on the site and found several people in the bay area willing to open their homes to LGBT individuals, some specifically on emergency conditions.  One such, a crisis counselor at the Trevor Project among other things, agreed to take me in for a few days starting today.  Several others responded as well, and the idea of moving from couch to couch in the bay area for a few weeks just didn’t scare me enough to stop me.  It really isn’t as if I can come up with any other options.  So, I packed my stuff and here I am.  Soon, hopefully they’ll be able to get me on an insurance and refer me to a gender therapist who can approve me for T (I think ~3 years living full time with professional and family references will go far for credibility), and I’m looking at starting my own business as a dog walker (it’s a very lucrative business down here!)

Also very soon, I’ll be posting the introductory video to my vlog of my journey and gender transition.  I’m still in editing- I just shot the primary footage with a friend’s camera over the last couple days, and thank god I have a computer savvy friend who fixed my laptop for free!  So I can do decent quality videos from down here, at least in the beginning.  I don’t know if they’re going to make me sell my laptop before they take me at the shelter, but I’m prepared for that option- my phone is synched with my youtube account so I can directly upload videos from my tracfone.  (This computer, I bartered from a friend with a laptop I won in a raffle in 2007, so that’s two degrees of working with equipment I didn’t pay for.)  Who says the poor can’t be technologically advanced?

If you’re interested in following the journey, my channel is here. http://www.youtube.com/user/atTheTomFace/videos

On the topic of webthings of mine, my Twitter account is @TheTomFace.  I’ll be sending frequent updates on my situation, so if you want to stay abreast of current events, go on ahead and follow me!  I try to keep it entertaining, I promise.  😀

To the world:

Follow the day and reach for the sun!

-Tom

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