Cis ‘Allies,’ You Probably Think This Work is About You

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by cis “allies” that if I don’t directly appeal to them in the most generous terms possible, I can’t expect their support. And as far as I can tell, this is a pretty explicit way of saying, “I will not affirm the humanity of transgender people unless their movement caters to me.”

I mean, at least you’re being honest so I know upfront that I can’t count on you.

A lot of fake allies came out in full force when I wrote an article in late March, really unpacking different trans-antagonistic microaggressions (in plain terms, acts that hurt trans people in subtle but important ways). I put an incredible amount of labor into that work, trying to hold space for cis folks’ emotional realities while also being firm about what is and isn’t acceptable when interacting with folks from my community.

“Oftentimes, as we try to support the people we love, we can make mistakes – and that’s a normal and expected part of the process,” I explained. “The best way to make it right is to learn a little more, do some self-reflection, and not just apologize, but commit to changing our behaviors.”

Wow, I’m so mean… (sigh)

I offered a piece that I believed could bridge gaps in understanding for cis folks, particularly loved ones, who were struggling with their own emotions around transition. I put an incredible amount of intention behind every word that I wrote. And I wrote from the place of someone who has firsthand experience trying to hold space for my family, my friends, and my own pain all at once.

I’ve often said that when I write these rare pieces that are designed to reach folks of privilege, I’m (in some ways) giving them my heart. And a few months out now, and thousands of responses later, I find myself questioning why I did that in the first place.

Cis folks, I’ve been told over and over again that I’m not patient enough, nice enough, generous enough. That if I’d just be a little more understanding and a little less hostile, you’d come through.

(And this is a familiar refrain for folks who are marginalized. This isn’t new. “Allies” love to hold their support hostage, making it as conditional as possible so that they feel justified in doing nothing. I see white queer folks in my own community doing this right now. White folks who are looking at Black folks protesting at Pride for the right to exist, telling them they’re too angry, too disruptive. As if the comfort and feelings of white people somehow matters more than Black lives.)

Allies, most having never shown up for these communities beyond a filter on their profile pictures, love to tell folks that their tactics are wrong. As if marginalized folks haven’t lived in these bodies and persisted through these struggles their entire lives. As if allies are somehow better positioned to determine how communities should advocate and care for one another.

“Allies” like these think that they know better and that they’re owed the emotional labor and warmth of marginalized people at all times… otherwise we’re not worth the time of day.

Cis people, you’re breaking my heart. But that’s what I get for putting it on loan, right?

In fact, some of you find it more offensive that I’m calling you “cisgender” than you are with the rampant amount of violence waged against trans women of color. You’re outraged by a label, a category that does nothing to endanger or disempower you — one that names the safety that you possess in this world because of your identity, and asks for you to acknowledge it.

A simple acknowledgment. And you accuse us of asking for too much, of being too much.

But this was never about me. I’ve held your hand. I’ve held this space for you on more than one occasion, applauding your good intentions and giving you the benefit of the doubt. This was never about what I did and didn’t say, how I did or didn’t say it — I know this because I’ve coated it in honey for you and you still said it was bitter.

When it comes to privilege, it’s almost always about comfort. Your comfort. And until you’re willing to sit with that discomfort, my approach and my labor are irrelevant at best. I could hand it to you made-to-order, to every specification, and it still wouldn’t be enough. If you’re not ready to be made uncomfortable, not just once but many times over, you were never going to be my “ally” in the first place.

And to be clear, I’m not here to make you feel comfortable.

My work, first and foremost, has been giving folks in my community resources to help them survive — whether it’s a tool to start a conversation, or the affirmation they need to feel a little more whole in a world determined to irreparably fracture them. Even when I’m taking the time to teach cis folks, I’m doing it because I want trans people to live in a world where we don’t need to have these conversations anymore.

You emailed, and you tweeted, and you commented, determined to make it about you and what I apparently owed you. You told me that I was unkind, and that I’d never get allies if I didn’t cater to you.

That article had sugar on top and ice cream in the middle, and you said it had a bad aftertaste.

Instead of sitting with those feelings, wondering how you could process in a way that would translate to meaningful action, you rejected everything out of hand. You unloaded your feelings and fragility onto me, demanding that I take it all back. You lashed out, as if to say, “If I have to feel uncomfortable for even a minute, I’m not interested in the pain and fear that you experience every minute of every day.”

I’m not going to claim that I’ve never been defensive, uncomfortable, fragile. I’ve encountered my own learning curve around my privileges, particularly around race, class, and education. But I’ve learned (and oh-so-generously spelled out for you in this article about call-outs) that navigating this graciously is part and parcel of being a decent human being.

Cis folks, I’ve never asked you to be perfect. I know better than anyone that when we’re trying to unlearn all this toxic shit, it takes time and intention. Marginalized folks have been saying ad freaking nauseam that showing up for us and doing the work is a process, not a destination or a title that you earn after you collect enough cookies.

(The concept of “ally” itself is dubious at best. Bless Indigenous Action Media for this article about the “ally industrial complex” and being accomplices rather than allies, some further reading if this conversation has miraculously sparked your interest/you haven’t angrily tweeted me already).

But when I hand you my labor and my heart on a silver platter, and your instinct is to withhold your Very Precious Allyship™ (as if trans folks can’t get on without you — talk about self-important), the problem isn’t with me. It’s with you. 

The amount of labor (emotional, intellectual) that goes into directly engaging with attitudes and people that dehumanize us is, in itself, far deeper and more difficult than any momentary discomfort you experience when a trans person asks you to do better.

And your inability to honor that labor tells me that my approach here isn’t the problem. It was never the problem. Your unwillingness to engage in conversations that don’t flatter or comfort you is. And if that’s your idea of allyship, you can keep it. I won’t miss it.

Let’s Talk About Space, Privilege, and Priorities

The last few years have been a total whirlwind for me. As Let’s Queer Things Up just celebrated its third birthday (yay!), I’ve been reflecting a lot about the work that I do, the spaces I do that work in, and the intentionality behind what I’m doing. I want to shed a little light on the big picture here, as well as my vision for this platform (and the work I do outside of it) moving forward.

LQTU started as a personal blog. I wanted to carve out a small space for myself to share my experiences as a transgender, non-binary, gay, and mentally ill person. Having grown up in the age of FreeWebs and LiveJournal, my idea for this space was finding validation as a person whose lived experiences were seldom seen or acknowledged, and to find community in that process.

I didn’t expect that the blog would go viral. And I definitely didn’t expect that, to date, we would have a Facebook community of over 22,000 people. I didn’t know I would have the amazing opportunities that I do now, writing for many social justice platforms, being published in books and anthologies, and being able to share my journey with some amazing folks out there.

I didn’t recognize my own power. And most of all, what I didn’t know going into this was the kind of responsibility that would fall on my shoulders when I became so visible in the community and beyond it.

Lately, folks have reached out to challenge me and ask how I’m making use of that responsibility. Particularly, as a person with privileges around race, class, and education (to name a few), folks in the community have rightfully pushed back to ask me what kind of intention I’m putting into what I do. So I want to share some of that intention — especially because when you encounter a piece of mine on the internet, the context around it is not apparent.

It’s also my hope that this inspires my other privileged queer content creators to join me in putting some serious thought into how they take up space. Because if we’re not doing this work mindfully, we have no business doing it.

First off, I want to define my spaces. Let’s Queer Things Up (the website you’re currently perusing!) is still a personal blog. For a short time, we sought out guest contributors to bring in more diverse perspectives — but I quickly decided that I couldn’t justify not paying marginalized contributors for their labor. Social capital rarely translates to financial capital; this left me in a difficult position of not wanting to center my privileges, but also not wanting to speak on behalf of marginalized folks.

This is the predicament, I think, for many marginalized writers. Many of us have privilege in some form or another, and we want to share our experiences, but also don’t want to center our experiences. This is not an easy thing to navigate. Staying in your lane is central to social justice work — and it requires constant self-reflection and unlearning. This is a process that has no finite ending point; it is constant work, and work that I’m still doing.

Which is a big reason why the Facebook community was originally built. It actually has a much farther reach and significantly more engagement than the blog itself (in other words, more folks participate there than on this site), which meant I could boost the signal on important work that other folks in the community are doing. I opened up the Facebook community as a way to challenge my readers to consider perspectives other than my own.

I maintained this blog separately, then, as a space to get to know me and to process my experiences. Truthfully, I’m still trying to figure out how to do this responsibly — and I’ve been in dialogue with numerous marginalized bloggers, in conversation about the ethics of blogging in social justice spaces, navigating power, privilege, and space.

Our personal experiences do not exist outside of current systems. So how can we speak for ourselves without reinforcing those existing power dynamics? Is that even possible to do effectively? And how, exactly?

There aren’t easy answers to this. Anyone could look at anything someone writes and ask why they haven’t covered every possible perspective or marginalization. The question then becomes, “How can I write this, for myself and for my community, but still ensure that I’m not erasing other folks and also not speaking over or for them?”

This has been a question I’ve been grappling with throughout my career, especially as I become more and more visible in this work.

Until I feel confident in my answer (who knows when that will be), I’ve pulled back from blogging quite a bit. I personally decided to step back and publish less here, and focus my work on other platforms like Everyday Feminism, The Establishment, and Rewire, where my work was edited by folks who are firmly committed to being as intersectional as possible — and called me on my shit when it didn’t measure up. That has been a learning process far more valuable than what I’ve gained by blogging solo.

If you’re familiar with my work, you’ll notice a big shift in what I’ve written recently as I continue to tangle with these questions.

This piece at The Establishment, for example, exemplifies the direction my writing has ultimately taken — divulging personal experience while also endeavoring to acknowledge how that perspective is situated in larger systems of oppression. I’ve also tried to shift more into a memoir/prose-poetry style at times, like this piece at Unapologetic Feminism, which I believe helps create more defined boundaries about what I can and can’t speak to.

Many of you know this, but I also began working as an editor. My belief was that I could use my expertise to help uplift other marginalized writers, and advocate for opportunities and access. Even in that work, there’s always the question of space. There will always be the question of space.

So in the last year, I have strictly worked with platforms that were founded and run by a QTPoC-majority (Everyday Feminism and RESIST specifically), doing this because I believe that no platform that is centering marginalized folks should have a privileged majority. These platforms had a firm commitment to not diminishing the voices of oppressed folks — and that’s why I specifically sought out work with these folks.

Writers like myself who have visibility are in the unique and difficult position of publicly evolving. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that when I started writing, I didn’t do so with a lot of intention or consideration of the big picture. I think if you find writing online to be easy, you’re probably not putting enough thought behind how you’re doing it.

In the last few months especially, people have asked me about my “big picture” — what it looks like, who I show up for, and how I show up in the world.

And I love these questions. I love them because they challenge me to align my actions with my values. I love them because I know it comes from a place of folks believing in my capacity to do shit and do it right. I love these questions because we should be asking everyone with social capital to be thoughtful about how they’re leveraging it, especially if they’re privileged in some way.

More than anything, folks have asked me how I, as a white trans person, am showing up for queer and trans folks of color. I’ve answered these questions privately, sometimes posting on Facebook to address it publicly, but I haven’t written about it here until now — in part because I wanted to have a more cohesive plan moving forward instead of just publishing a list of empty promises, and in part because I was unsure of how to have this conversation in a way that didn’t position me as a Super Duper Great Anti-Racist Ally™.

Someone recently and rightfully pointed out to me that by quietly sharing articles by QTPoC, occasionally posting on the Facebook community about race, calling folks out here and there, and not making my stance crystal clear here on the blog for folks to access, I’ve ended up creating a lot of silence and complacency around this. Folks only see glimpses of what I stand for, rather than knowing without a doubt what I stand for and what actions I’m taking.

Like many white queers, at times I wind up showing up when it’s convenient, rather than really thinking through what I’m doing and making sure it’s an integral and consistent part of the work, instead of something I duck in and out of.

And that’s why I’m opening up this conversation — I want to engage with my readership and my community, and think through the ways in which I can be more intentional about supporting marginalized folks, and especially QTPoC who have done so much to support this work that I do.

Let’s talk about the concrete stuff first.

Right now, I’ve got my sights set on the Facebook community, because it’s by far the most visible. Specifically, I’m putting together a small team to take on a larger role in managing the community.

There’s so much potential to utilize this space to bring greater visibility to shit that really matters, and so I’m inviting folks to shape the community into a more radical reflection that extends beyond my limited perspective. I’m tapping into the funds from my Patreon to start making this happen, to ensure that these folks will receive some kind of compensation, as well as using my own funds to do this.

To be clear, I’m not asking these folks to do the emotional labor of moderating; I’m asking them to curate and share resources that they think are important, as well as finding ways to create better systems of accountability to ensure that I’m prioritizing those most marginalized in my community. I’m creating shared access to an audience that, previously, I was the only one managing. In this way, the space can begin to decenter my perspective and start to broaden the issues that we cover and the voices we amplify.

Additionally, I’m working on putting my support behind specific platforms. This is in the form of donations (in particular, I’ve recently shifted some of my Patreon donations to RaceBaitR and Rest for Resistance, which I highly encourage folks to donate directly to). While I don’t have a lot of financial capital right now, once I secure full-time work, all of my Patreon funds will shift towards supporting other platforms doing this work, particular folks at the intersections of anti-Blackness and queerness.

I’ve also reached out to different organizations and Facebook communities to learn how I can best support them. Right now, my focus is directly promoting their content and converting traffic to them, boosting the signal on this vital work — especially for pages and activists who have a much smaller following than I do.

(If you have suggestions about activists, communities, or online platforms I should be supporting, please tweet me @SamDylanFinch!)

I’ll also keep up with the personal ethics I’ve set for myself. I won’t be speaking on panels that do not have a POC-majority, just as I won’t work for organizations or write for platforms that do not have an explicit (and proven) commitment to those most marginalized. I will explicitly challenge and name organizations and platforms that continue to keep those most marginalized at the bottom rungs of the ladder rather than represented at all levels and in all roles.

I will continue to pass along speaking engagements, writing gigs, and other opportunities that I have to folks who traditionally don’t have access to these things. I will share my professional relationships and expertise to help more and more marginalized writers access better opportunities. And I will only write on topics which I have lived experience of, continuing to be as thoughtful as possible about how I frame those pieces.

And I’ll be listening — with an open inbox and an open mind — to the feedback that I get, recognizing that I will mess up, and that I’m responsible for doing the labor to make it right.

I know a lot of writers who tell me that they didn’t ask to be visible, and therefore they aren’t responsible for how they use that visibility. I disagree with that completely. I realize that navigating this can be messy and difficult, and involves a lot of growing pains, but I think anyone who has access to social capital has an ethical obligation to think critically about how they’re using it.

And in the end, that’s why I’m opening up a dialogue with my readers about this — particularly because from the beginning, I’ve noticed a lot of privileged white queers in my community that put my work on a pedestal, while making no effort to seek out other voices — like queer and trans folks of color, working class queers, undocumented queers, fat queers — because they conflate queerness with whiteness, with economic privilege, with thinness, with a particular privileged and disconnected experience of queerness as if our queerness makes us all the same (intersectionality, anyone?).

I know what that looks like in action, too, because as I’ve navigated these public spaces, I’ve seen myself reinforce that same idea when I’m not being purposeful about how I do the work — that the “queer community” I write to is somehow a reflection of myself, rather than making a sincere effort to expand and diversify perspectives rather than centering my own. I am constantly undoing this assumption as it comes to the surface in my own work.

I know that I have to follow up and do the work now. I’m hoping that this will act as an impetus for other folks, especially white queer content creators like myself, to also step up and be publicly and explicitly accountable for how they inhabit spaces online and who they’re showing up for (and most importantly, who they aren’t).

I know this work is messy, and I know it requires that we not just sit in our discomfort, but fully inhabit it and peel it back layer-by-layer. I know it can reveal some really uncomfortable truths about ourselves — believe me, in my last few years of doing this, I’ve seen some really ugly truths about myself. The unlearning never stops. The work never ends.

But that’s because oppression and injustice doesn’t take a break, either — and you can choose to let it be background noise and tune it out, as so many folks often do, or you can tune in and fully acquaint yourself with it, choosing to do what’s right rather than what’s comfortable. You always have a choice, which is the most empowering and simultaneously horrifying thing about privilege; you have a choice that other marginalized folks never do.

That in mind, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my choices. I want to invite other privileged folks in social justice spaces, especially those with visibility or access to resources, to consider their choices, too. Name your values. Examine your actions. Parse out the discrepancies.

And I want to invite my readership, particularly those furthest at the margins who have the energy and desire to engage, into a larger conversation about the community we’re building together. How can I show up for you? How can I make you feel seen?

Lastly, and most important of all, I want to thank the folks who continue to challenge me to think critically about how I move through the world. That labor is a gift — one that I wasn’t owed — and your belief in me and my capacity to do good and important work is something that I don’t take for granted.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to take this thing that I’ve built these past few years and use it in just, equitable, and liberating ways. And I’m appreciative of the folks who stand behind me and cheer me on as I do it — but to do this work ethically, I know that my place in this work is not at the forefront.

There’s a place for everyone in this movement. But we have to carefully consider where, exactly, that place is, knowing when to step up and went to step aside. I’m grateful to finally be seen. But not if it obscures everyone else.

6 Signs That You Might Not Really Respect Your Transgender Loved One

Originally published on Everyday Feminism.

When I first came out as transgender, I was surprised to find that many people in my life wanted to support me. I received a lot of encouraging words, often from the folks I least expected.

It meant the world to me to be surrounded by people who just wanted me to be myself and be happy! In a society that can often be so hostile towards transgender people, having loved ones in our corner can make all the difference.

But I quickly realized that there’s a distinction between stating your support and actually respecting my identity. A lot of people talked the talk – but that didn’t always translate when it came to actions.

I wanted to be patient with my loved one because I knew it was a learning process for everyone. But as time went on, some problematic behaviors never seemed to go away.

These behaviors – some of which were so subtle I’m not even sure they realized it – told me they may know that I’m transgender, but they didn’t really validate, believe, or respect me.

Maybe they didn’t know how. Maybe they were still caught up in their own feelings about it. Or maybe they really believed that they weren’t being hurtful.

But as I so often write, someone’s intentions aren’t as important as the impact that they ultimately have. You may not have meant to step on someone’s toes – but that doesn’t make it hurt any less!

Oftentimes, as we try to support the people we love, we can make mistakes – and that’s a normal and expected part of the process. And the best way to make it right is to learn a little more, do some self-reflection, and not just apologize, but commit to changing our behaviors.

Because supporting the people we love isn’t just about saying that we support them – it’s about doing the work to be supportive!

If you aren’t sure how, that’s what I’m here for.

Let’s talk about six signs that you might be disrespecting a transgender person in your life – and some ideas for how to do better next time.

1. You Still Misgender Them Behind Their Back

Maybe this scene is familiar to you: You’re talking to someone about your loved one, and when it’s time to use a pronoun, you stumble for a moment. He? She? They? How do I gender them?

In a panic, you resort to the wrong pronouns, with just the slightest pang of guilt in the pit of your stomach.

Why We Do It: You might be thinking that you aren’t really ready to educate this person about your loved one, and about what it means to be transgender. It would be easier, you decide, if I just misgender them – so I don’t have to get “into it,” or answer any uncomfortable questions.

But misgendering someone after they’ve asked that their pronouns be respected – unless they say otherwise – is never okay (I’ve written a whole article on why, which is worth the read).

It’s like saying: “I’d rather harm my loved one – and teach someone else to harm them – than deal with the temporary discomfort of navigating this situation.”

Instead: There are so many great resources (you can start with this guide) that can help you better understand and educate others. Nothing says “I love you” quite like taking the time to be informed and help inform others, so that your loved one doesn’t have to shoulder that burden alone.

And if nothing else, remember you don’t have to answer questions – just affirm your loved one by saying, “These are the pronouns [Insert person’s name] uses now. I hope you’ll respect that.”

Your discomfort in that moment doesn’t compare to the real harm that misgendering can do!

2. You Don’t Respect the Boundaries They Set

I knew a transgender person who asked her parents to take down a photo from her childhood because it was painful to look at photos of herself prior to her transition and because every guest in their home would gawk at the picture of her “looking like a boy.”

Time and time again, they argued about it.

Her parents loved that photo so much they didn’t want to take it off the wall – it reminded them of happy times together, and they couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t be happy when she looked at it, too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about the families of transgender people not really respecting the needs of trans people.

Why We Do It: There can be a lot of reasons for this. Most often, I see this in loved ones who are having a difficult time letting go of the past. This is a normal part of coming to terms with someone’s transition – which is understandable, but still not acceptable.

Here’s the thing: When a transgender person says that something is triggering, we should respect those boundaries. If something is hurtful, the “why” isn’t what’s most important – what matters is we’re harming someone, whether it was purposeful or not, and now we have the chance to make it right.

In the case of my friend, she started to feel like her parents thought their happiness was the only thing that mattered – and that her pain wasn’t important or real.

Transgender people set boundaries because they’re trying to navigate very painful situations. They may ask to not talk about certain topics, not be called by certain names, or try not to revisit certain parts of the past.

This isn’t to offend you.

It’s because we’re trying to heal after struggling to accept who we are, and we need the space to be ourselves without being constantly reminded of that struggle.

Instead: When your loved one sets a boundary, respect it. It’s really as simple as that.

And a helpful hint: If you’re struggling with your feelings around their transition, that’s totally okay! But it’s important to process that on your own time – maybe with a therapist, in your journal, or in conversation with someone you trust – without burdening your trans loved one in the process.

3. You Try to ‘Bargain’ with Them

I see this all the time with loved ones who are having a tough time dealing with their transgender loved one’s transition. I’ve personally experienced it, too:

  • “You can start hormones, but please don’t get surgery.”
  • “I’ll call you by that name, but only at home.”
  • “You can wear a dress, but you can’t wear it to school.”

Why We Do It: Sometimes, this comes from a place of wanting to protect someone. Other times, it’s because you feel emotionally unprepared for the steps ahead. These are very understandable emotions – but that doesn’t mean acting on those feelings is okay.

Asking your loved one to accommodate you, rather than encouraging them to be the most authentic and happiest version of themselves, is harmful.

It’s a gesture that can be easily misunderstood – as if to say “My comfort matters more than yours” or “I’m not actually okay with this after all.”

And it’s a big red flag.

It tells me that rather than working on that discomfort and processing your fears, you’re asking your loved one to change for you and ultimately endure more suffering on your behalf.

It unfairly places the burden on them, instead of challenging you to work through your feelings about their transition.

Instead: When you feel the urge to bargain, ask yourself: “Is this about what my loved one needs to be well, or is this about what I need to feel comfortable or safe?”

At the end of the day, their transition isn’t about you.

Transitioning isn’t a negotiation between the two of you – it’s the sole decision of a transgender person and their right to their own body and autonomy.

4. You Make Excuses Instead of Apologizing

 If you have a transgender loved one, “sorry” will become a very familiar part of your vocabulary.

I say this because the learning curve can be very steep and because every trans person is uniquely different in what they need and expect.

Even as trans myself, I’ve stumbled many times over what to say or do for the other transgender people in my life, especially when they first came out to me.

Why We Do It: It can be really difficult to admit when you’ve messed up. It can make you feel like a bad person – and feeling guilty about this can be uncomfortable to sit with. This is why many people with transgender loved ones can wind up very defensive.

But being defensive about your mistakes serves no one.

It doesn’t push you to learn or do better, and it can lead your loved one to believe you don’t feel remorse or regret – which is often quite the opposite of what you’re actually feeling! This is what defensiveness can sound like:

  • “I can’t help that – I’m still learning! You should be more patient!”
  • “You expect way too much of me. You need to lower your expectations.”
  • “If you’d just teach me instead of getting angry, we wouldn’t have these problems.”

Have you ever said something like this before?

Notice how your mistake is suddenly the fault of your loved one – and how deflecting responsibility means you never actually take ownership of the harm you’ve caused.

Instead: Realize that making a mistake doesn’t make you a bad person. The real issue is when you’re unwilling to make it right. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the issue, and commit to doing better. It’s simple!

It helps to learn how to give a proper apology, and to know when a situation just calls for a quick correction (like misgendering in conversation), or when a situation requires deeper reflection (like the examples in this article!).

5. You Center Your Feelings and Disregard Theirs

This is far and away one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen loved ones make. If this sounds like you, trust me – you aren’t alone!

  • “This isn’t easy for me, either!”
  • “Hard on you? I feel like I’ve lost my daughter/son.”
  • “You aren’t the only one feeling hurt.”

Why We Do It: I think it’s a very human thing to want our pain to be acknowledged, and a gender transition can definitely come with a lot of grief and confusion for loved ones. The difference here is whether or not it’s an appropriate time to ask for our pain to be seen.

A lot of the time, we’re trying so hard to keep that pain to ourselves that it comes out at the wrong time. We wind up blurting it out at the most inopportune moment, most often when our loved one is trying to have their suffering acknowledged.

This also stems from a place of resentment – that if only they had stayed the same, we wouldn’t have to deal with all of the emotions coming up in this transition.

But remember: This isn’t about you. They aren’t transitioning to upset you – they’re transitioning because this is what they need to be a happy, whole person.

Instead: Get a therapist. Write in a journal. Find a friend or loved one to process with. Join a support group. Whatever you do, don’t blame your loved one for your struggle to come to terms with their transition.

When you decenter their needs and prioritize yours, you’re putting a wedge between you that’ll only hurt you both.

6. You Say That You Don’t ‘Get It’ – But You Also Don’t Try To

I hear so many loved ones talking about how they don’t “understand” the whole “transgender thing” – but when I’ve asked if they’ve done any reading or watched any videos, they tell me they haven’t.

On the surface, this seems like a funny little contradiction. They say they don’t understand, but they’re also not trying to.

Why We Do It: Most often, when loved ones don’t take the time to educate themselves, it’s because they’re avoiding reality. They don’t know how to deal with the feelings that come up when they think about their loved one’s transition – so they pretend, as often as possible, that this transition isn’t happening.

But that doesn’t help anyone. It means that loved ones remain in the dark, and transgender folks remain misunderstood.

That’s a divide that ultimately strains the relationship – and makes trans people feel unloved, uncared for, and unimportant.

Instead: Here’s the good news: You’re already doing the “instead” part (go you!).

You’re reading this article. That means you’ve decided it’s time to start processing your feelings, and you’re making an effort to connect with your loved one as they are – and not how you wish they could be.

Remaining grounded in the here and now – accepting and affirming them for who they really are – is how you can build a more respectful and healthy relationship based in unconditional love and trust.

The fact that you’re taking the time to reflect on the ways in which you might be doing harm tells me that you care – and is the first of many steps I know you’ll take to do right by your loved one.

And that, my friend, is not something to feel bad about. That’s something to celebrate.

***

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3 Transition Obstacles I Never Expected as Mentally Ill and Transgender

Originally published at Everyday Feminism.

“I think we need to hold off on this,” the therapist tells me, “until you’re doing a little better.”

My heart dropped. I was stunned, sitting in total silence.

This was the third time I’d been given a red light and told not to proceed with top surgery – a surgery I desperately needed, but struggled to access because of my mental illness.

This was a struggle I knew all too well as both mentally ill and trans – a struggle many of my other transgender friends had never even heard of.

Intersectional feminism tells us that the various aspects of our identity will impact our lived experiences – especially as it relates to power and privilege.

This is true for me as a transgender person who is also white, and thus does not experience racism and benefits from white privilege. I think it’s really important to be mindful of the ways that this impacts how I move through the world – and how I can be a better ally to trans people of color.

I wanted to write this article because, as a trans person with mental illness, I encounter obstacles that trans people without mental illness seldom, if ever, need to worry about.

Issues of access and competence because of my illnesses are a daily struggle – and these are issues that many neurotypical trans people take for granted.

If we’re going to uplift all transgender people, and not just a select few, we need to be mindful of the complex lives we lead – which necessitates an intersectional approach.

And for mentally ill trans people, you’d be surprised by the complexity of our struggles.

Here are three obstacles I never expected, and the real consequences that I’ve had to deal with as a result.

1. My Clinicians Have Interfered with My Access to Hormones

The first time I was hospitalized for mental illness, the psychiatrist said to me, “Have you ever considered stopping the testosterone?”

I was in total shock.

My hormones were suddenly being considered optional, rather than a necessary part of my care as a transgender person. No one seemed to believe me when I said testosterone was not optional, and that not having it would make things worse – not better.

Later that day, when I went to the nurse’s station to receive my medications, my testosterone was nowhere to be found.

“Do you need that?” the nurse asked me. “I don’t think we have that.”

Furious, I had to advocate for myself – demanding that I receive my testosterone and even threatening legal action. My partner then contacted the prescribing physician, who said, defeated, “If they won’t give Sam his hormones, I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do.”

Eventually, I did get my testosterone the following day, despite being discouraged by doctors and nurses alike from taking it. The prospect of being hospitalized under an involuntary hold, with my hormones being left to the whims of a trans-incompetent staff, terrified me.

I’ve never felt so powerless in my entire life.

I wondered how many other mentally ill trans people had this exact experience, and when I started writing publicly about it, I quickly learned that I wasn’t the only one.

A psychiatric hospitalization is meant to stabilize you with competent and compassionate care. But as a transgender person, my experiences taught me that even a so-called “safe space” can re-traumatize us in ways we didn’t think were possible.

While access to hormones can be a struggle for many transgender people, mentally ill trans people are especially vulnerable because we’re assumed to be untrustworthy and unable to determine our own needs.

This is unacceptable. Yet, it happens to mentally ill trans people far too often.

2. I Keep Being Denied Surgery

It’s not a secret that medical transition can be necessary for some transgender people – trans people like me – and that our mental health outcomes are often better when we access the care that we need.

And even though this tends to be the prevailing attitude amongst the majority of clinicians, I still struggle to access surgery because of my psychiatric health.

It becomes a catch-22 for mentally ill trans people: Clinicians want us to be reasonably stable before we access surgery. Yet, many of us can’t be stable until we access those same surgeries.

The fear is that if our mental health is too poor, we will be unable to care for ourselves after surgery, or the stress of a major surgery will trigger a worse episode and fling us into crisis.

While these can be valid concerns, overly cautious clinicians have used these concerns to deny mentally ill trans people their agency and bodily autonomy, resulting in an unbearable limbo in which we spend months, and even years, unable to access surgeries that are necessary for us to be mentally well.

A friend of mine who struggles with schizophrenia and gender dysphoria told me that they fear they may never be able to access surgery, after continually being denied because their clinicians don’t trust them to know what they need and what they can handle.

Accessing surgery can be a tremendous challenge for any transgender person – but mentally ill trans people are at a significant disadvantage, because we’re not believed to be “objective” enough to assess our own needs and priorities.

And the worst part?

This leads trans people to lie to our clinicians about our mental health, or not seek out mental health treatment at all because we fear it will interfere with our transitions.

For example, recently, a blog reader reached out to me to say they desperately need anti-depressants but are fearful of taking them because they’re scared they won’t be able to access surgery if they do.

This is outright dangerous. We’re taking huge gambles with our mental health – and it’s antithetical to why we transition in the first place.

3. My Clinicians Don’t Have the Research They Need to Help Me – Because It Doesn’t Exist

When testosterone led me to start losing my hair at a significant rate, I was prescribed Finasteride (also known as Proscar/Propecia) to help me.

Not much later, I experienced a deep depression that led to suicidal thoughts – and my first psychiatric hospitalization.

I stopped taking Finasteride while in the hospital because the nurses didn’t give it to me. Interestingly, I completely recovered from my depression not long after stopping.

I figured the new psychiatric medications must’ve worked.

Fast forward many months later, when the hair loss started to accelerate. I gave Finasteride another try.

Shortly after, just exactly like before, I experienced a deep depression that led to suicidal thoughts – and was hospitalized for a second time. I was given Finasteride in the hospital this time, and when I was released, I was still hopelessly depressed.

That’s when I started to wonder: With Finasteride messing with my hormonal balance, was it possible that this was the culprit? So I stopped taking it on my own. And to the surprise of my clinicians, the depression and suicidality almost completely subsided within a few days.

My psychiatrists were shocked by how rapidly I recovered when I stopped taking it.

And my prescribing physician admitted that because this is usually prescribed to cisgender men, we don’t have enough research to know for certain what Finasteride might bring up for trans folks – and especially for those with a history of mental illness.

While this side effect was one she hadn’t heard of, she conceded that it was totally possible that Finasteride and I weren’t a good match. “I believe you,” she said.

And she had good reason to. I later found out that we actually have research that links suicidality and depression to Finasteride users, and we have users and loved ones alike who are demanding answers, including a lawsuit alleging that the drug company failed to disclose this as a potential side effect.

But – no surprise – that research still focuses on cisgender men.

We really have no concept of how risky Finasteride could be for trans people, especially mentally ill trans people who could very well be more susceptible.

My clinicians never once considered that the way that Finasteride affected my hormones may, in fact, be affecting my mental health. And because there’s no research or precedent on how to treat patients like me, I have hospital bills and trauma from two hospitalizations that may have been totally preventable.

My clinicians have unanimously urged me to never take Finasteride again.

This is all well and good, but what about the countless other transgender people who are still being prescribed this – especially those with a history of mental illness?

Without proper research, we will never be able to definitively say what the risks are – and trans people, especially those most at risk for mental health struggles, will continue to take drugs like Finasteride without properly knowing what those risks might be.

Hormones and psychiatric medications are so complex, and we have little to no research that tells us how to treat mentally ill trans people.

As such, we receive disjointed care – care that doesn’t take into account the complex interactions between hormones and mental illness.

I’m no doctor, but it terrifies me to know that without setting a precedent for how to holistically care for mentally ill trans people, we may very well be receiving subpar treatment – treatment that could endanger our lives.

***

Every day, I receive e-mails and blog comments from all over the world, with mentally ill trans people asking me what they’ll be up against if they begin their medical transitions.

I can’t say for certain.

For one, we’re all so vastly different, responding to hormones and medications in unique ways. Access and clinical competence also varies widely by geographic location. And, frankly, what little research exists doesn’t help us much.

Here’s what I know for sure: We do face potential challenges and risks that are understudied, and we’re a community that is astonishingly underserved.

I can only speak from personal experience when I say that the terrifying and unjust reality is that our clinicians often don’t know what we’re up against. We’re left to be our own advocates, a position that is both difficult and scary.

And as a feminist, I know, unequivocally, that we deserve better than that.

If we want to be supportive of the transgender community, it’s high time that we take an intersectional approach and start advocating for those most vulnerable among us – mentally ill trans people included.

***

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As a Suicide Attempt Survivor, I’m Still Waiting For Stories of Resilience On TV

Approximately 92-95% of suicide attempts end in survival.

I didn’t know this, though, when I tried to end my life almost eight years ago. I’d only ever heard of stories that ended in death or in hospital beds. I’d only ever seen them as a plot twist on a television program or tragedy porn in the news. To me, people who attempted suicide overwhelmingly ended up in the ground, or on occasion in psych wards, but there was never any life to be lived afterward.

There was never a single story that said to me, “You can survive. And then you can truly live.”

Imagine my surprise, then, when I woke up alone, head pounding, room spinning. There was no point of reference. What do you do when you survive? Where do you go? Later that night, I googled “suicide survivor,” but back then everything I found was for people who’d lost someone – never for someone who’d nearly lost themselves.

I went to bed. I got up the next morning, went to class. When I saw my therapist a few days later, I mentioned it in passing, ashamed of my failure, trying to remain casual and unaffected and distant. She asked me how I felt now and I said I felt nothing. 92-95% failure rate – I know that years later – but in that moment I thought I must be the only one who could fuck up something that should be so straightforward.

Stop your own heart. There must be a thousand different ways to do it. I’ve seen this on television a million times, I told my therapist, teenagers like me who dramatically and precisely erase themselves. She asked me how I did it, and I told her just like a teenager I saw on Dateline. It was supposed to be quick. It was supposed to be simple.

“I don’t know how I messed this up.” My hands curled into two perfect fists.

She asked me if I was going to try again and I told her, “What’s the use?” I was embarrassed. And you can’t 5150 someone who’s too embarrassed to try, who’s treating the whole ordeal like nothing more than a terrible faux pas, something to be forgotten. Someone who isn’t dangerous anymore, just humiliated.

Television, with its drama and sensationalism, didn’t prepare me to live. It didn’t prepare me for the next morning, when my life was still the same as I’d left it.

Television only prepared me for trying. It allowed me to imagine the vindication and justice of succeeding – portraying suicide as triumph, suicide as revenge, suicide as release, suicide as justified, suicide as beautiful tragedy, suicide as an art form, even, as the answer – but it never prepared me to survive, for everything after.

No one told me how to rebuild my life. No one told me how to take the fragmented pieces of myself and thread them back together. I was only taught how to die, and never how to live.

Find me a story of a survivor who’s glad to be one. Give me a survivor who gets their own damn show, where suicide isn’t just a plot twist for shock value but the genuine truth of their struggle.

Give me the 13 Reasons Why of the 92-95% of people who wake up and have to face a world they weren’t expecting to see again, see a reflection they’d already parted ways with.

Give me the stories of teenagers like me whose lives aren’t sensational because of how they died, but instead tremendous because of how they survived, how they lived. Give me more than trauma porn. Give me more than triggers that exploit their traumas – more than the blood in the bathtub, the wailing of the ambulance, the walls of the psych ward.

Give me their full humanity. Give me recovery, give me relapse, give me resilience.

Give me back my humanity. 

There are youth like me who wake up to a spinning room, posed with the question of how they will rebuild. They’re looking for stories like theirs to help them engage with trauma and reimagine their lives – and they’re only finding this in the form of tragedy, revenge, descent.

If the overwhelming majority of us will survive, why do our only representations confine us to madness or death?

Every single day, people like me survive. People like me live, and along the way, discover something worth living for. We grow up, we get older. We find ways to become whole. We’re so much more than our proximity to death and the pain that we’ve held in our bones. And our singular trauma doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of entertaining you, nor is it designed for your consumption.

We’re more than this. We’re larger than this.

When will I get to see a story like mine on the screen? Show me someone who lives. Show me someone who survives and goes on to truly live.

We’re still here. We’re still waiting.

Help me keep Let’s Queer Things Up! radical, accessible, and free. Please consider donating as little as $1 per month to our Patreon Campaign.

We need you. You need you. If you ever need support, please consider the following crisis resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQIA+ youth: 1-866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

Or check out my favorite mental health apps at this resource list.

Who is Sam Dylan Finch?

(GUEST POST) This piece is brought to you by the lovely guest author and writing/publishing/feminist extraordinaire, Alaina Leary, who interviewed me for this piece. If you’ve ever wondered who the heck I am or where I came from, these (super thoughtful!) questions are a great introduction. I cried a lot while answering. Which will surprise absolutely no one.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 9.06.01 PMAs a disabled and transgender writer, Sam Dylan Finch is passionate about amplifying the voices of marginalized people, as well as drawing from his lived experience to educate and empower.

Currently, Sam is an editor at RESIST and Social Justice U, and the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, a blog exploring the intersections of queerness, feminism, and mental illness. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, The Establishment, Rewire, and many more.

I’ve been following Sam’s work since around 2015, and have watched him talk about mental illness, trauma, recovery, transitioning, gender identity, and feminism on multiple public platforms. I’ve been fortunate to work with Sam in a few professional capacities and have had the pleasure of getting to him know on a personal level, which is an absolute joy, because he radiates the same love and light in his everyday life that he does in his work.

I had a chance to ask Sam some questions about writing, activism, and being radically vulnerable in his work.

AL: How did you get your start in writing and activist work?

SDF: I’ve always been writing, but I actually have been blogging since I was 13 years old! Back in the day, we had Freewebs and shitty graphics and used the font “terminal” a little too much.

I’ve loved blogging for all these years. As a mentally ill and queer youth, being “seen” was extremely powerful, and was critical in my survival. It was the ultimate way to take up space in a society that didn’t otherwise offer me that visibility or validation.

As for my activism, it really began when I was participating in a walk to raise awareness about mental health with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). I think I was 18 years old at that point?

I was so excited to be visible as a mentally ill person for the first time. But I quickly noticed that the stigma persisted, even there. People signed into the walk with fake names. When cameras flashed, they ducked out of the way or hid behind posters. When the news crews came, many people scattered or ran away.

It was my first real political action of any kind. These were my people, my community. And even in that space, people were afraid. Terrified. Afraid of losing their jobs, afraid of being recognized by family and friends and colleagues, afraid of being seen. And I thought, “This isn’t right. This isn’t the kind of world that I want for mentally ill people.”

Not everyone can be visible. But whatever the personal cost, I promised myself that day that I would be. I haven’t looked back.

AL: A lot of your work has followed your journey—transitioning, being diagnosed with mental illnesses, dealing with your recovery. What has it been like to share yourself so vulnerably and honestly in your writing?

SDF: Recently someone messaged me and told me that, because I’d written so openly about my psychiatric hospitalizations, they had found the courage to admit themselves and get help.

So whenever the trolls try to tell me that no one cares about what I have to say, I remember how it felt to get that message – to know that this person was safe that night and that I played a part in that. Even if this one person was the only one that cared about my words, their survival is worth it to me. Their life is worth that much.

Being so honest in your writing can be scary. It opens you up to criticism and hostility that can wound the most tender parts of you. But it’s also an incredible process, because I get to remind folks that they aren’t alone in their struggles, and in return they remind me that I’m not alone, either. We build community. We build connection. We build strength. We build safety.

Society wants marginalized people to believe that sharing their stories is playing a card, playing the victim, or telling lies. But I believe that being visible as mentally ill and transgender has helped illuminate some important truths. And I hope that it’s made folks in my community feel held and affirmed along the way. I honestly can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.

AL: What has your journey with intersectional feminism been like? Tell me a little about how you came to find feminism and embrace it.

imageSDF: I found feminism in college. Cue all the groaning about those damn “liberal arts” schools. I double-majored in Anthropology and Women’s & Gender Studies, and that radicalized me. When I realized that my personal struggles were deeply political ones, I started to connect the dots. A lot of folks resent “identity politics” (boohoo for them), but understanding that our lived experiences are shaped by a larger system was mind-blowing and important to me.

My studies taught me the ways in which identity, power, and privilege affect us personally, systematically, culturally. I never looked at anything the same way after that – I never looked at myself the same way again.

In particular – and it’s really important for me to mention her – I wouldn’t be the writer or activist that I am today without Dr. Suzanne Bergeron, who taught my first gender studies course in undergrad and was there every step of the way as I navigated university. As mentally ill and queer, academia was not always a safe place for me, and having a fierce mentor like her is why I was able to succeed despite so many obstacles.

Institutions like universities are not always built with marginalized folks in mind. In fact, when I was a student, we didn’t even have an LGBTQIA+ center on our campus. That’s why mentors are so critically important for the survival of marginalized folks in spaces like universities. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to drop out, or how many times I showed up for Dr. B’s office hours and had to be talked down. She was so patient.

And that’s what feminism has come to mean for me. It’s not just a philosophical worldview that remains abstract, but a daily practice and a commitment we make to one another. It’s a commitment that we make so that we can resist these systems together and allow marginalized folks to come into their own and truly thrive, especially when these systems aren’t by and for us.

I learned that from her. And I’ve tried to be that person now, like, showing up for folks in my life but also through the public work that I do. I’m trying to carve out space where people like me can show up as themselves, like my mentors did for me.

AL: Has anyone ever reached out to you to tell you how your work has impacted them? What does that feel like?

SDF: Every day. I cry about it. It’s especially intense when it comes from a queer and/or mentally ill youth, because that’s such a difficult and powerless place to be. You know, I was there.

And back in my day… I know, I sound old when I say that, but the world has changed a lot in the last decade. I was never able to find people like me with stories like mine. I genuinely believed that I would never see 18, because I’d never seen an adult like me surviving.

When I started writing publicly in these spaces, the most important thing to me was making sure that young folks who weren’t sure if they could make it would see what might be possible for them. That they could reclaim their power. That they could get older. That there was a future with them in it, maybe even a bright future at that. That you could grow up – like me, severely mentally ill and transgender and traumatized – but still be soft, be brilliant, be alive.

I want that for everyone. That when you reach the end of your rope, you can see other possibilities. You can see them, because you’ve seen someone living them. Someone like you, someone who knows how you feel. I didn’t see those possibilities once upon a time, because I couldn’t find them, and I almost ended my life because of that. So I’m trying to create a world where those possibilities are known, never out of reach, never hard to find.

So when someone tells me that I’ve done that, there’s no way to describe how it feels. There just aren’t words… I’ll never have words to explain what that means to me.

AL: How do you come up with topics for your blog posts and writing you pitch? Where do you draw that inspiration, especially for deeply personal writing?

SDF: My writing just comes from my very messy life! When I started my blog, I wasn’t sure if I’d have a lot to say or how long I could keep it up. But that was a few years ago now, and I haven’t run out of ideas yet.

Being mentally ill, gay, non-binary, and transgender – considering where we are situated historically and culturally, you know, the “transgender tipping point” and the new administration and all that – means that there’s an important place for marginalized communities in the narrative we’re writing about this moment.

And with online media at the center of it all, marginalized folks like me have more power than ever to write that story instead of allowing others to write it for them. That’s the inspiration: making history through our words, to ensure that our lives and our struggles aren’t erased.

AL: What’s the hardest piece you’ve ever written?

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 9.51.16 PMSDF: Anything that I’ve written about suicide, to be honest, is the most difficult for me. It’s the most difficult because I know suicidal folks are going to find it, read it, and weigh their options. That feels like an enormous and important responsibility, and I take it very seriously.

Suicide as a topic makes me deeply emotional. I mean, I look at everything I’ve been able to do – and I imagine the other scenario where I never lived to see 18, and everything that might be different otherwise. “Sam Dylan Finch” as a person would’ve never existed. That’s not even a name I had claimed until, I don’t know, four years ago.

My whole body of work, and all the good that it did… you know, there’s an alternative timeline where none of that happened. I can’t even wrap my mind around what that timeline looks like, how many people are affected.

Honestly, I didn’t know I had any potential. Most of my life, I haven’t even had very great self-esteem, because depression can rob you of that. And how many people out there are like me, not even aware of what they’re capable of? So I imagine the collective potential of ALL survivors – everything we could do together, the ways we could shape the world – and the weight of that feels so heavy.

I’ll be honest: I don’t want to lose anyone else to suicide. I understand better than anyone why people end their own lives, but that doesn’t make it any easier to let folks go. Because that’s not just an individual loss, but a collective loss for us all. We’ll never know what you had to offer. We’ll never know what you could’ve done, the life you could’ve led. And whether it was just for you or for all of us, you deserve to know what you were capable of in this life. That matters to me. Survivors matter to me.

When I write about suicide, it’s the hardest thing of all, because I just want to reach through the screen and say, “We need you. You need you.” It’s gut-wrenching. It’s life and death, for real. It will never get easier to write those words, but I also know they’re the most important words that I write.

AL: What do you like about being on the editorial side of the writer/editor relationship, in your past work at Everyday Feminism and your current role at Resist? Is it more satisfying to you to be an editor or a writer?

SDF: I’m always asking myself, “What needs to be said?” And of course, “Do I need to be the one to say it?” If not (as is often the case, because I have my own privileges), I’m doing everything I can to support the folks who are saying it.

That’s why I pursued editing in addition to being a writer – my voice isn’t the only voice that matters, and I want to do everything I can to get diverse voices out into the world. I learn so much through the process. I don’t think I could ever just write or just edit. I see both as critically important work to be doing.

AL: What are some of the things you’d like to accomplish in the next ten years? How do you want to make your mark?

SDF: This interview is making me super emotional. So many feelings.

Because I’m imagining that like, I’ll be 35 in ten years. That sounds young to a lot of people, but when you aren’t used to imagining yourself getting older, it feels immense. I never thought about getting there. And more queer, trans, and mentally ill kiddos are coming up in the world, and they’re going to need folks to show them that they can make it, too. Now more than ever.

This might sound a little dramatic, but in those moments when I can’t live for myself, I live for them. Every time my heart beats, it’s like a signal – it’s like morse code or something – just making sure they know they aren’t the only ones out there.

That’s how I want to make my mark. I want to survive, for all of us. In ten years, twenty years, fifty years. With every beat, telling them: “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.”

If you want to let Sam know how his work has made a positive impact on you, he’s just relaunched his Patreon campaign, which allows readers to personally connect with him while supporting the very important work that he does!

We need you. You need you. If you ever need support, please consider the following crisis resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQIA+ youth: 1-866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

Or check out Sam’s favorite mental health apps at this resource list.

Alaina Leary is an intersectional feminist activist, editor, and publishing professional based in Boston, MA. She is currently a social media assistant for We Need Diverse Books, and is completing her MA in Publishing at Emerson College. Her career focus is on how to increase inclusive, authentic, intersectional representation in the publishing industry. She also edits for several online magazines, including Her Campus, Luna Luna Magazine, Germ Magazine, and Doll Hospital Journal. When she isn’t busy reading, you can find her at the beach or curled up with her girlfriend and their two adopted literary cats. Read her articles here.

Wellbutrin Is My True Love, Top Surgery Is On The Horizon, & Other Life Updates

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 5.50.00 PMIt’s been a while since I posted a more “old school” blog post about how things are going! My life has changed so drastically in the last month that it finally feels necessary to share.

So let’s chat!

The photo on the left is a photo of me, one year and three months on testosterone. I was on such a low dose in the beginning that I haven’t made as much progress as I’d like. But so far, I’ve really enjoyed the changes – minus the ridiculous acne and hair loss, which are a little annoying to say the least.

Once upon a time, I wrote about being denied top surgery due to my mental health status. I finally feel safe enough to announce that I’m breezing through the clinical interviews and don’t anticipate being denied again. It’s hard to say when the actual surgery would happen, but I feel hopeful that it’s going to be sooner rather than later.

Speaking of mental health status, things could not be more different than they were before. If my last blog was any indication, you can probably guess that I’m doing really well. But I want to flesh out exactly what’s changed – and what this means for my writing moving forward.

Two months ago, I was hospitalized again.

I was struggling with a depressive episode that I genuinely believed I wouldn’t recover from. I can’t tell you how despondent I was, especially since my previous hospitalization was under a year ago. It was difficult to accept that after everything I went through the first time, I still had not recovered.

This hospitalization was a wakeup call – what I was doing wasn’t working. I had to step away from my editorial role at Everyday Feminism, which was a painful decision for me (and still is). I put my writing on hold, cancelled my speaking gigs, passed up a book deal, and made the decision to commit to my recovery full-time, even if it meant sacrificing my dream job and a lot of the opportunities I worked so hard for.

After the hospitalization, I entered an intensive recovery program, and am now in the process of transitioning into a DBT program. I built a clinical team of therapists and a totally bomb psychiatrist that helped me reassess my diagnoses and treatments.

All of my original diagnoses – bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and OCPD – were completely scrapped and replaced with new labels and new treatments. 

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (which explains the misdiagnosis of bipolar, and it’s something I hope to write about soon), a mood disorder of some sort (I’m going to hazard a guess and say it’s just depression), ADHD (which, when finally treated, completely changed my life), and obsessive traits of some kind (potentially OCD, the jury is still out on that one).

We’re also exploring C-PTSD and my therapy has shifted to become more trauma-informed – a trauma history I’ve actually written very little about, because it’s been hard for me to come to terms with it. Incorporating a trauma lens has helped to create a clearer picture of what I’m up against.

It’s a lot, I know. But it also feels a lot more true than what I started with.

I’ve tried to distance myself from being overly-invested in these labels, and refer to the ones that are most useful when I need them. As is often the case with psychiatry, the labels we acquire at the beginning of our journey are not always the ones that stick around – and clinicians can disagree amongst themselves, which has happened to me quite a bit.

But the language actually matters very much from a treatment perspective – the medications I’m being prescribed are radically different from the ones I used to be on for bipolar disorder.

When they stopped treating me for what I don’t have, and started treating me for what I do have, the transformation was like night and day.

We’re no longer sedating the hell out of me. For the first time, I’m being given meds that are also activating – which means my issues with things like depression and ADHD are finally being addressed with amazing results.

For the first time in my life, being cheerful and calm is my default. I’m relentlessly optimistic. I can focus on my work and get things done without the constant hyperactivity and distraction. Obsessions don’t consume 95% of my thoughts.

Agoraphobia no longer confines me to my apartment (I leave every day, sometimes multiple times a day – whereas before I might leave once every two weeks if I was lucky). I’m not suicidal or despairing. I bounce back from stressful situations with ease.

People in my life have remarked on how I seem exactly like myself, and yet totally different in every way.

I even keep a gratitude journal now and I meditate every day – it feels a little gross, to be honest.

I don’t think I realized, when mental illness had a complete hold over my life, how hard I was working to just survive. I didn’t realize how low my quality of life really was. I wasn’t fully conscious of how weighed down I was.

The biggest shock to my system came when we added Wellbutrin to my medication regimen. Suddenly, I could get out of bed. I could go outside. I could get my work done. And I could actually feel excitement, joy, and enthusiasm.

Wellbutrin made me feel fully and totally alive for the first time. I didn’t move through the world with a death wish, passively hoping some freak accident would end it all. I now carried with me a boundless hope and a deep appreciation for myself and my life.

Death used to cross my mind every day. Now, if it ever appears, it’s always an oddity and a visitor, not a permanent fixture.

Before the new diagnoses and medications, I considered myself a shadowy figure trying to nurture a tiny flame. I felt that the gloom and doom was who I was, and that little light within me was my survival instinct, always on the brink of being extinguished.

And then suddenly, I woke up and my world was inverted, flipped inside-out. I was a bright and impossible light. And carefully nestled within me, I was protecting what little darkness was left – holding it carefully, like a small keepsake, to remind me that the darkness will always be a part of me.

Never in my entire life have I felt this way before. I didn’t even know it was possible.

And knowing now that it is, I’m more determined than ever to do this work. I’m committed to mental health advocacy and writing, sharing my story with more urgency than ever, with the hope that my light might make the path a little clearer and the possibilities a little brighter.

And maybe together, we can build a world for mentally ill people that is so bright, we can always find our way back from the darkness.

So now, I rebuild my life into something better, something more sustainable. Hopefully a new job will present itself, the timing being right this time (need to hire a writer or editor? I know a kid, wink wink).

In the meantime, I’ve been writing some of my best work and publishing in new places (I’ll post on Facebook and Twitter as these articles go live!).

I’m making new connections, taking risks, going on adventures, writing my heart out, and most importantly, holding myself in compassion as I discover what it means to be truly living.

I don’t know what’s next. But for the first time, I’m so excited to find out – and whatever it is, good or bad, I know I can handle it. I always knew that I was strong, but this time around, I can actually feel it.