The basic human need to be watched was once satisfied by God.
In 1990 Madonna released her single “Vogue”. A window into a microcosm was opened for mainstream society peering at a staple and genius solely invented by the LBGTQ community. 1991’s Jennie Livingston’s documentary film “Paris is Burning” was the first time I witnessed a representation of people I found myself in and as a questioning teen it was the first time I found the language for what I was. I don’t know if I would have found the bravery to pursue my authenticity and my true being had I not stumbled upon this work of art in the seventh grade. I find it utterly inspiring and miraculous these impoverished women of color and the trans experience were able to create decadence and their own tribal system in the shadow of the age of Ronald Reagan and the dawn of Donald Trump. Embracing their femininity and awakening their empowerment through movement and dance.
The Trans Experience That Showed Me Who I Am
A universal safe space of celebration and unity was established in the Ball house scene. For people who were forced to live anonymously and in the shadows the Ball scene provided a place of sanctuary and encouragement to be who you are and using your talents and aesthetics that were otherwise rejected and ridiculed to compete and transcend the pains of everyday living experienced by trans and queer people. The goal being to accentuate one’s own femininity or masculinity, based on being able to blend and adapt within outside hetero-normative culture or in over the top lavish displays of sensuality, sexuality, and sassiness. One of the aspects of humanity I find most fascinating is the undying need and wish to be witnessed. It’s the essence of all the arts and a driving force into finding our purpose here on Earth.
It saddens me that outside of the LBGTQ community this part of history isn’t valued, and these complex multi faceted creative ingenuities have been crunched up spit out and lumped into only being perceived as drag queens. For the first time in the history of media however, Ryan Murphy has produced a television Series titled “Pose” which centers around five trans women played by trans women navigating 1980’s NYC and the ball scene. It’s my hope that this is the first step in reflecting the lives of trans woman to the general public in a way that let’s us be seen as human rather than something to be tokenized and gawked at.
One might ask how exactly housing accommodations are regulated in an LBGTQIA-specific treatment facility for an LGBTQIA addict or alcoholic. I was lucky enough to have been a resident of Inspire Living for a little over a year and I can say with conviction it was overall the best living quarters I have experienced while attending rehab.
As a trans woman, previous institutions found the solution to my nature in putting me in a solitary room. While this did provide some comfort I believe it was counterproductive because rehab probably should not be comfortable. Being given an opportunity to isolate and not interact with others isn’t exactly a positive health choice in early recovery.
While at Inspire I had several roommates whom also identified as women and many of whom were trans. I’m grateful to have had the comradery and community of not only other women in recovery but women who were also within the trans-experience. I’m still in regular contact with one of my past roommates from Inspire Living, who I consider to be my best friend. I believe the staff geared matching people upon reading a vibe rather than what was between their legs. I truly benefited from this self-affirming Kinsey Scale approach, having been subjected to isolation and living with men in treatment in the past.
Living in treatment or a halfway house can be an emotional roller coaster. People come and go, your personal baggage is dumped out, you laugh, you cry, argue over dishes. In hindsight, I certainly took some of my time for granted. It is really something else when you have a surrogate family of individuals who can relate to not only being desperate and addicted but also oppressed and persecuted. I would say that living in a house with all the contrasting shades of human expression and individuality was certainly never boring and very refreshing.
If you are suffering from drugs and alcohol and part of the LGBTQIA community, I strongly suggest you give Inspire Recovery a call at 561-899-6088.
My war with addiction began when I was 12 years old. After moving to Florida and hitting puberty I was faced with an onslaught of feelings and ailments I didn’t know had a name, let alone how to cope with them in daily life. I now know I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and what is known as Gender Dysphoria. I started taking Xanax to medicate myself and coast through life and didn’t look back for 8 years.
My first experience in an institution, I was 15 years old. I was not living as my authentic self at that time and drifted in and out of the mental health care system and substance abuse programs for years. I felt like a ghost in a shell and wasn’t able to properly heal myself, not knowing who I was. When I was 21 I entered a treatment facility for the first time identifying as female. After an exasperated quarrel with both the facility and my insurance company they agreed to put me in a private room in the senior facility. The treatment center felt as though staying with my peers would be too high risk for me. I find that notion completely ridiculous. As if staying with a bunch of detoxing baby boomers in an isolated chamber would be a productive safety net? This unfortunately was the only half-assed measure taken to accommodate me as a transgender client. My time in treatment was not actually spent tackling my issues with addiction. I spent so much time explaining myself and who I was in the context of being Trans that I had no energy left and certainly didn’t have the trust needed to divulge any part of my wounded self in therapy. A facilitator even made a sidebar comment on how I could make more of an effort and put on makeup if I wanted to be addressed properly. I was in the midst of detoxing from opiates, benzodiazepines, amphetamines and alcohol. My insides and outsides were falling out and off. Make up wasn’t exactly a priority.
I developed an almost impenetrable set of defense mechanisms to tolerate constantly being pigeon holed and dehumanized. It came as no surprise that I relapsed shortly after being discharged and continued to downward spiral. Luckily I made it back and discovered Inspire Recovery, where I cultivated my longest period of sobriety. An LBGTQI focused environment allowed me to get the breathing space I desperately needed to get my shit together. The sense of community and acceptance was essential in healing. I could actually carry out conversations with people without a raised eyebrow or calling my entire being into question. It was truly a breath of fresh air and a blessing. I came to truly appreciate my experience there a year later after a brief relapse and stint in another facility.
And now, here’s what it was like at another facility. The residency there was enforced by a religious zealot who would lock me out of the bathroom and find other creative ways to degrade and silence me. I became unhinged and reactive. I smashed a dresser in my room. I subsequently was removed and committed to a lock-down psych unit where i was administered haldol without my consent and was taken off my hormone regiment. Thankfully due to the dedication of my family and sober supports I was rescued and sent to another LBGTQI oriented treatment center that could actually help me. This dark period really taught me not to take things for granted, especially my time at Inspire. The importance of education in gender studies and an all inclusive environment is completely vital to treating a case like me and I hope for a future where the marginalized of the marginalized can be less, well marginalized.
There is an old saying which goes “you aren’t counted in until someone counts you.”
It begs the question, who exactly is the one pointing the finger and counting? In 2018 the spotlight on the power structures in America has never been brighter. Our very own president is an outspoken, brash tyrannical criminal who has unapologetically declared a war on all marginalized individuals. And he sports a bad spray tan. So how do these mechanisms and power structures play out in the smaller scope?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. White men have seated the throne in our world for centuries. They are born with a brass ring before their feet even touch the ground. Anything feminine in our society is deemed weak, bleak, sexy or dispicable, and totally exploitable, It would only make sense that an individual relinquishing the title of a man and walking into the role of a woman would be mercilessly persecuted. Why? Because it fucks with the status quo. It’s a glitch in the system. A wrench in the engine. It can’t be marketed, or capitalized on in the current state of our world.
In my experience as a Trans woman I have been the target of many assaults, verbally and physically.
My very existence is put up for a line of questioning I never signed up for, let alone cared for. I’m not a hot topic. I’m simply a 23 year old woman surviving. I personally don’t feel as though I am a member of the LBGT community. And I know many other T girls don’t either. The microaggressions we face by the victors of the equality battle are countless. I’m talking about gay men. It only makes sense. And it’s no one’s fault in particular, it’s all of ours. We’re all forced to participate in this patriarchal design in one way or another. Guilt is apart of the human condition. Fortunately so is justice.
I personally don’t have time for pettiness. I don’t want to be used as a prop to deepen the pockets of any corporate CEO in a suit. It’s irrelevant to me who they choose to sleep with. Unfortunately I believe this is the scenario at many LBGT community events, centers, fundraisers. It’s a tired way of being. Trans women are remarkably underpaid (if paid at all) and mistreated. There’s a barbed wire fence we have to climb over to receive any shred of dignity or respect. I don’t care if I’m pretty enough, if I am passing, I don’t care about what surgeon to go to, and I don’t care who thinks I’m a slut. I’m more interested in just being and pushing even a small fraction of change.
As I said earlier justice is also apart of the human condition.
I think that is going to take a lot of uncomfortable conversations. Men, gay or straight have an aversion to being uncomfortable. We have spoiled them. And they have neglected us, conditioned us as women to stay in this uncomfortable hopeless place. To accept it as ourselves and repeatedly nurture our own wounds. They essentially unconsciously or not love having us as the perfect victims. when someone else has less on their plate it means someone has more. The more Trans people are able and encouraged to speak candidly on their experiences, without the pressure of kissing ass, the more we embrace uncomfortability as a sign of growing, that is the only way we can push forward to a resolution in equality. That has to start with on our own community. Or else its bound to fall apart.