As Let’s Queer Things Up! Turns 3, I’ve Got Big, Gay Plans

Back in the summer of 2014, I was packing up my entire life to move across the country to the sunny and oh-so-gay San Francisco Bay Area.

Back then, I was practically a baby queer, feeling both terrified and excited for the next chapter of my life. Having just recently come out of the closet as transgender, and having struggled for many years with anxiety and depression, the idea of just being able to hit the “reset” button on my life was appealing.

So as I left (almost) everything I knew back in Michigan, I did three things: I changed my name. I said goodbye to my therapist (she wouldn’t go to California with me ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). And I started a blog.

Since then, I’ve grappled with trauma, sobriety, mental illness, gender dysphoria, suicidality, transition, and two psychiatric hospitalizations. I’ve also found my own path in recovery and resistance. This blog has been a living diary of the person I’ve become through those experiences — and a place where queer people with similar struggles can see themselves reflected back.

Three years later, it has grown to be a thriving online community and an important resource for queer/trans and disabled people. It’s a space for complicated and honest storytelling, with the hopes that folks like me — queer, non-binary, crazy, tender — can feel connected to someone like them, no matter what part of the world they’re in.

As I’ve talked about before, being a super anxious, queer teenager meant that my first experiences of real community came in the form of blogs and online forums. The resources and support that I found in these spaces became my lifeline, carrying me through as I held on for dear life.

But I’m not a kid anymore. I’m a crazy, queer adult that survived. And that’s what I think makes this blog so special — stories of resilience from people like me are seldom given a platform, especially one that doesn’t attempt to pigeonhole them or diminish their voice. It’s incredible, too, to watch other folks in the community connect to that voice, and feel empowered to reclaim their own.

Readers, I want to do more of this.

When I created this blog, my only plan was to write. But as it’s grown, I’ve started to wonder how I could commit more time and more energy to do this thing that I love. I didn’t want blogging to be my back-burner hobby. I wanted to create more resources for folks in my community and share my experiences in a meaningful way.

At first, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that I was allowed to ask for compensation for my labor. So many marginalized folks throw ourselves into content creation because we love the hell out of this work, and then burn out quickly because we didn’t think to ask for support.

But then… capitalism/life.

I squirmed at the idea of monetizing any aspect of my blog, thinking it would be selfish of me, or feeling weirdly like I didn’t deserve that.

And then I almost lost my apartment multiple times. I accumulated medical debt like it was going out of style after I was hospitalized twice from severe depressive episodes. I hung on by a thread, bouncing from contract job to contract job, trying to keep my head above water.

And I realized that if I kept undervaluing my work, I was going to undervalue myself into a complete financial crisis.

Meanwhile, a lot of people said that blogs were now obsolete money pits. That’s not something I was willing to accept, though. When I was first struggling with mental illness, as well as when I came out as queer and trans, other bloggers helped me carve out a safe space for myself.

I saw myself in their experiences. How could that ever be obsolete?

I want to believe that I can be a blogger AND not have to emotionally drain myself with unpaid labor to do it. That’s why, looking ahead for LQTU, I want to start thinking of creative ways to make this platform really work for everyone.

Let’s make something that’s good for both of us.

Here’s what isn’t changing at LQTU: My core values. Meaning, I’m still a crazy queer feminist that’s a total nerd for nuanced, complex conversations around queerness and mental health. While this is my personal blog for my feelings and thoughts, I still remain committed to creating a community that challenges all of us (yes, including me).

But resource-creating and curating takes labor. Labor, I’ve realized, that really needs to be supported. So as of today, I’ve finalized my new Patreon campaign (with new goals, new rewards), where you can regularly support this blog and get cool incentives for doing so.

Here are the rewards (aka, the fun stuff):

  • $1 per month: Access to secret, Patrons-only blog entries. You might be thinking, “Why even charge a dollar? It’s just a dollar.” Yes, it’s only a dollar — but if lots of people buy in, it makes a huge difference.
  • $3 per month: A follow on Twitter! If you want to be Twitter friends AND support my work, this is the option for you.
  • $5 per month: Access to my Patrons-only vlogs/videos. Every month, I’ll post a new video where I talk about the topics that you’re interested in. I’ve been told I’m fun to watch on camera. (…NO, not like that.)
  • $8 per month: Q&A Club, which means you get to choose the topics that I talk about in those videos. No matter how outlandish they are.
  • $15 per month: A letter! From me! I’ll write you a letter on adorable stationery.

I love these rewards because it offers me a new way to connect with the community here AND get some support to keep on creating.

There’s also some bigger prizes, if you’re into it.

I wanted to create some incentives that help support other folks in the work that they’re doing as well. So I’ve included some new reward tiers that allow me to fund this platform while also boosting yours.

Check out these cool collaborative things we can do:

  • I’ll workshop your writing: Imagine that, every month, you send along an article or blog you’re writing. In return, I send you thorough and awesome feedback (and you know it’ll be good, I’m an experienced editor). For $20 dollars per month, for as many months as you decide, I’ll workshop a piece of your writing each month.
  • I’ll plug your project, product, or page: Every week, I publish a column called Crazy Talk, a mental health advice column. And I figure, why not support your work with a mention every week? If you’ve got a rad thing I might like, $25 dollars per month gets you a dedicated space to plug your work, and gives you access to our audience of over 26,000 readers.
  • I’ll mentor you: If you’re trying to break into feminist media and/or publishing, why not let me mentor you? Every month, we’ll hop on Skype and talk personal brand, pitching, and goals. $65 dollars per month, for as long as you decide.
  • You can sponsor a post: I’m open to sponsorship, either blog posts here or posts on social media. Contact me if we might be able to work together!

These rewards are all outlined on Patreon. Check it out!

So what happens now?

More content, for one. I’m shifting into high gear, eventually working up to publishing three blogs per week, including my new column, Crazy Talk.

And with enough Patrons, we’ll be launching a YouTube channel together and, hopefully (!!) I’ll host a monthly livestream/show where we discuss queer mental health together.

That’s the dream, anyway.

I’m passionate about the tender power of an honest, queer blog. And if I can get some additional support, I’ll be in a better position to fund all the projects I’m interested in doing.

But it takes a whole team to make it happen.

That’s why this cute, nifty link will now be at the bottom of every article:

PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING AS LITTLE AS $1 PER MONTH TO MY PATREON CAMPAIGN TO HELP FUND MORE FREE RESOURCES LIKE THESE, AND ACCESS EXCLUSIVE CONTENT WHEN YOU DO!

My awesome partner, Ray, will now be helping me manage the increase in content, new projects, and social media management that makes this blog run smoothly. My cat, Pancake, will be providing additional emotional support.

And with your donations, I’m bringing on a curator for our Facebook community to diversify the content on our feed, and hopefully a moderator to keep the space free of trolls.

It’s important to me to be a good neighbor, too.

This is why I’m in the process of creating partnerships with different pages, activists, blogs, and platforms to boost the signal on work that I think is important, regardless of their follower count or what they’re able to offer “in return.” This is why you might have noticed over on Facebook some of the same pages and names popping up.

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, be sure to reach out and let me know!

I’m also committed to donating a portion of my Patreon funds to other content creators in the community, as I’ve done from the very beginning. For every $100 dollars earned from this campaign, at least 10% is reinvested into platforms led by queer & trans people of color.

If my work has been valuable to you, please consider supporting me!

My ultimate goal is to be able to make this work more sustainable for me, while also building more community and connection in the process. I think Patreon is opening the door for a more thoughtful way to crowdfund, one that can support me while also offering something to you in return.

This blog will continue to have great content that anyone can access. The difference is that it’ll be backed by some rad folks in the community, backing me as I create those resources.

And I’m excited to see what’s next! Whether you’ve got a dollar a month or just a comment to cheer me on, please know that having you in my corner means a lot. Thanks for sticking with me.

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Capture Bonding: How I Both Need and Grieve My Gender Transition

If we were to believe the dominant narratives around gender transition, we could only conclude that it’s a magical, affirming, and life-giving process. With these stories—and the glorious “before and after” photos that accompany them—we’re told that the uncomplicated truth of transition is that when the transformation is complete, we emerge on the other side whole and shimmering.

I am not whole, nor am I shimmering.

I often wonder: Can it be true that I can’t inhabit this body anymore—with its curves and parts that alienate me—but am still bonded to it? Top surgery is on the horizon for me. While I can’t fathom living the rest of my life with this chest, a part of me is grieving this loss. These curves were always guests (never residents), but their absence still means something to me.

I understand it only in metaphor. Imagine the kidnapped person who bonds to their captor. Imagine that the trauma forces them to forge a bond that will sustain them and wound them all at once. Imagine the attachment that is both real and illusory, born out of a need to survive.

For many transgender people, we find ways to form attachments to the assigned bodies and identities that harm us so that we can bear the burden for another day. And so the euphoria, disgust, and the fear come all at once. Behind the joy, my transition has been grief. My transition has been letting go. My transition has been hard.

I am losing the face that I knew. I delight in my beard, yet I long for the softness that was once underneath. I am angular in all the right ways, yet I still have affection for the youth I once held in my cheeks. And I wonder if it’s possible that the face I rejected (the dysphoria and the distress still real) wasn’t mine to keep but still meant something to me.

I know the feeling of being misgendered, like a knife perpetually wedged between your ribs. And I know the feeling of entrapment in a body that isn’t “right,” a fleshy coffin that conceals and suffocates you. And someday, I hope I’ll know the relief of having broken free of those things—to recognize myself fully when I look in the mirror.

But I live in the real world, too, where the pretending had to be so emphatic, it flirted with the truth. I had to be something I wasn’t long enough to reasonably convince myself, and the feelings there are residual, even now. My breasts disgust me, but they are familiar to me, too—sometimes I cringe, sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh, sometimes I even smile, and sometimes I feel nothing at all.

When your body is the captor, and your urge is to survive, how do you go on? For some of us, we dissociate, we separate, we detach. But I believe that some of us form attachments, too—to our dead names that our protectors used to coo as they cradled us in their arms, to our bodies that lovers used to gently trace with a finger or lusted after from across the room. And while we know in our hearts that we must change, the intimacy and meaning of what we were was never lost on us.

And it’s this attachment that too many trans people are deeply ashamed of. How can I be seen as valid if I am not willing to abandon the entirety of what I was, of what that felt like? Am I truly transgender if I am unsure, afraid—or grief-stricken, even? If this is everything I need, but it hurts just the same? How can I hold this contradiction if it threatens my existence?

My brother, on occasion, slips and calls me his “sister.” Like a good trans person, I correct him. But some part of me cannot admit that when he says it, I am sometimes comforted—not because I am a woman or was ever a girl, but because I remember the warmth and protection his voice carried when he said it to me, when I was small and still new to this world.

When he says “sister,” it evokes a memory—a very particular one—of blood. When I cut my head open when I was 13, and despite his undeniable phobia of blood, he held his breath and a towel firmly against the wound while I cried. He was brave and he was sensitive and he spoke so softly to me. Then, and many times over, I was so proud to be his “sister.”

I admit that I am still learning to be proud of being his “brother,” too.

Like many trans people, I am learning to reattach to new words and new parts. I imagine what my body will be with immense joy and fear, worried and wondering what of “me” I’ve gained and what of “me” I’ve lost. Every year that passes, I fall more deeply in love with my name—Sam Dylan Finch, which rolls off the tongue like a tender incantation—while still wondering if the name I buried lives on someplace else. The unfamiliar becomes sweetly familiar, while the once familiar nips at my heels like a neglected dog.

It all had to mean something—and in a parallel universe, I think it still does, living on just as it was—because for this life to be bearable, I had to make meaning of these things. Because while the trauma of my assigned gender was at times like a clenched jaw around my body, it was, at first, the only thing I knew. And I created safety with what little kindling I had; I built a fire. Though it may have burned me and even, for a moment, engulfed me, it also kept me warm.

The truth of transition, they will tell you, is that it is pure and unadulterated joy and discovery. It makes for a touching story, to be sure. But quietly, I hold the space for something more—the messy reality that mingling with that joy is also raw and relentless grief, a letting go that too many of us struggle to make sense of.

To live these lives—to survive the trauma of being transgender in a world that denies us, invalidates us, destroys us—we’ve struck a delicate balance of detachment and attachment, forming bonds with our captors that we are unlearning as we become who we’re meant to be.

They tell us that those bonds make us confused or invalid. But I write these words to speak the truth: those bonds are a testament to our resilience. And whether you choose to break them or protect them, what matters most is that you’re still here.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Unapologetic Feminism.

BREAKING: Local Resident Comes Out as Non-Binary, World Doesn’t End

Originally published at Wear Your Voice Magazine and republished here with permission.

OAKLAND, CA – Residents are profoundly underwhelmed today after an Oakland resident, Tyler May, announced their non-binary gender identity. What was expected to be the literal end of times, residents say that they were shocked to find that the event has had little to no impact on their daily lives.

“I said over and over again that acknowledging more than two genders would signal the apocalypse,” a local cisgender man explained. “But then nothing happened. Literally. Nothing.”

“I had designed a bomb shelter and stocked it up with canned goods for the next five years,” another resident said. “Come to find out, all Tyler wants is for us to switch pronouns.”

Many locals had believed that by in any way challenging the gender binary, it would spontaneously combust, resulting in widespread fires and a complete breakdown of the social order.

But to the surprise of residents, some are beginning to speculate that someone else’s gender may actually be none of their business, and that when identities are mutually respected, the lives of residents may actually improve.

“This might sound wild,” one resident said, struggling to grasp the words coming out of his mouth. “It’s almost like… if we treat others the way we want to be treated, things are… better?”

Still, some residents are disappointed, seeming to prefer conflict.

“I’m a real transgender person, a transgender man,” one resident exclaimed proudly. “I don’t believe in this non-binary thing. I think it’s just a ploy for attention. I’ve talked about this at length on my blog, YouTube channel, Snapchat, Twitter, and Tumblr!”

Pulling the microphone closer to him and smiling, he added, “Is this being broadcast? Is this going to be online?”

Other transgender residents felt similarly. “I find it insulting that they can just identify with a gender they weren’t assigned,” a transgender woman explained. “Like, who do you think you are?”

“It’s almost like someone’s gender has no bearing on my life,” another cis resident complained.

Cisgender and transgender residents alike agreed that they had hoped for more chaos or at least something to live tweet about.

“Tyler tweeted that they were non-binary,” a cisgender resident recalled with horror. “And then everything stayed the same. No pyrotechnics, no street fighting, nothing.”

With tears streaming down his face, a cis man quietly explained, “They said who they were, and nothing happened to me.”

“Naturally, I started to wonder about their genitals, how they have sex, what bathroom they go in,” a cis woman explained. “But then my friends told me I was being inappropriate.”

Pulling a pocket mirror out of her purse and gazing into it, she whispered, “Am I… a creep?”

Perhaps the most devastating part of this experience was the introspection that transpired after Tyler May explained their identity. Many residents were visibly distressed after reconsidering the idea that two genders could really encompass the complexity of the human experience.

“It’s too much, it’s just too much,” one cisgender man explained, tearing at the hair on his head. “What’s next, telling me that I’m my own individual, not defined by the presence of a penis?”

Asked what they thought of their neighbors’ reactions, Tyler May looked bewildered. “Why do they care how I identify?” Shaking their head, they added, “People are so weird.”

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Am I the Only Transgender Person Sick of Transitioning?

This is not your “before and after” video that shows me ten thousand times hotter than I previously was, confirming your suspicion that transition takes you from an awkward caterpillar into a glamorous butterfly.

This is not your “I found myself” testimony, where I explain how transition fixed all of my problems and how I’m now living my best life in my best body, the life and body I was meant to have.

Nope. This is your “this sucks, why does this suck, why didn’t anyone tell me that this would suck?” blog entry, by a trans person who is just as confused as before, only this time with more acne.

As a genderqueer person whose desired body leans masc, desired expression leans femme, and overall identity seems to be “alien boy” but I’ll call it “well fuck, your guess is as good as mine,” trying to transition has been a puzzle at best, and a cluster fuck at worst.

About eight months ago, I threw testosterone into the mix hoping it would ease some of the social and physical dysphoria, and maybe answer some of my lingering questions (questions like, do I want to live my life being perceived as a man? how much body hair is too much body hair? can I grow a better beard than my brother? will this make my butt more compact? you know, the important shit).

Spoiler alert, on testosterone I’m totally emotionally unstable, I’m greasy and covered in acne, I have the ability to braid my leg hair, I’m building muscles in places I didn’t know I could develop muscle, and I’m growing (admittedly very cute) whiskers on my face.

So in other words, I’m a moody cat on steroids that desperately needs Proactiv. These were not my #TransitionGoals.

Everyone tells me that, having only been on testosterone for less than a year, I should be patient. But the thing that no one told me is that medical transition – and really, transition generally – can suck SO HARD.

No one tells you that not every aspect of transition will feel right or feel good. That the side effects of medical transition may make you more uncertain than ever of your choices. That sometimes it’s trial by fucking fire, learning what you want and what you don’t as you go.

That it can take a long time before you look in the mirror and say, “Aha!”

That some of us – and this is critical – don’t know what will work for us. We only know what isn’t working, and that’s valid, too.

For non-binary folks, this delicate balance is even more challenging to achieve. Some of us end up back pedaling with our dose or coming off of hormones altogether, trying not to swing too hard in one direction of the binary or the other. Some of us have to settle for something imperfect, others of us are too afraid to begin.

Pass the Tylenol, please – navigating hormones in a binary world is enough to give anyone the migraine of the century.

Truthfully, I spend most days worried about how testosterone hasn’t been this magical, life-affirming journey that has made me more certain of myself – feeling like I’ve done something wrong, or made the wrong choice if I’m not perpetually ecstatic about it. 

I’d like to think that there’s room for trans people to feel something other than endless joy – that actually, it’s an unrealistic expectation that every transgender person on hormones will have the time of their life.

I’m not unhappy, I’m just waiting for it to come together. I look at myself in the mirror nowadays and like anybody else whose body is rapidly changing, I’m just really weirded out. I haven’t had that big moment (is there even a big moment for everyone?).

I’m just sitting around like, “Whoa, bodies are totally STRANGE” and “Did my face get uglier or is it just the acne eating me alive?”

If anything, medical transition has raised more questions than it’s answered. Questions about my relationship to masculinity, what gender identity truly is, about the layers of my dysphoria, about the fluidity of my own gender (and if it’s so fluid, how do I choose a static representation?), and most importantly, what it means to transition as a trans person who is genderqueer.

I did not sign up for some philosophical obstacle course, but here we are.

Mainstream narratives convince us that transition is reserved for people who are brimming with certainty and clarity, neither of which I have. Mainstream narratives convince us that transition will be revelatory and complete us, but I have yet to feel enlightened or whole.

Is it just me?

I’d like to think that it’s okay – and that we can make room for these experiences, too. Transition is not amazing all the time. For some folks, it isn’t amazing at all, but necessary still. And if we don’t acknowledge this, we’re just being really fucking dishonest about what transition is actually like.

So y’all, I’ll just say it: I’m tired. All these bodily changes, all these lingering questions, and the work that goes into deciphering your non-binary gender in a binary world – it’s exhausting, and it sucks.

Word on the street is that it’s worth it, though. And I may not know exactly what’s in store, but there’s no way in hell I’m going back.

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When You’re Too Mentally Ill To Transition

Nearly seven months ago, I made the decision to start testosterone as a part of my gender transition.

I remember feeling so overjoyed that this part of my journey was beginning. The torment of being in a body that caused me so much distress, and being misgendered left and right adding salt to my wounds, made HRT not just a desire of mine but a real necessity.

If you’d asked me where I’d be by now, my self of seven months ago would talk about how high my dose would be, all the changes that would be happening, my desired date for top surgery (would it be September? December?), and how I’d be so much closer to the body I needed to have – closer than I’d ever been.

But none of that is true. In fact, I’m almost exactly where I started.

I’m still here because my testosterone dosage is only half of a typical starting dose – extraordinarily low and nearly ineffective, because there’s not a single doctor willing to increase it.

I’m still here because I was denied the recommendation needed to move forward with top surgery.

I’m transgender and I’m trying to transition. But the door keeps getting slammed in my face again, and again, and again.

There’s not a lot of conversation happening around the specific challenges that transgender people with mental illness are facing. I first wrote about this when I discussed my experiences in a psychiatric hospital, where I was almost denied my hormones altogether.

As someone with bipolar and a whole assortment of other diagnoses, I continually come up against obstacles in my transition that I would not otherwise face if I were neurotypical. 

I’ve been told before to stop taking hormones. I still remain on a dosage that barely alters my body – because there are concerns about how the hormonal changes will affect my sanity, despite having no evidence that it will and knowing we could lower the dosage if it did.

Most recently, I was told that I couldn’t move forward with top surgery because I was in a mild depressive episode, and that we would have to wait a few months to revisit the possibility of surgery. Seeing as the waiting period for surgery can be anywhere from six months to 2 years, it’s unclear to me why we couldn’t address my depression while I was on the waiting list for surgery.

Transition can already feel like it takes centuries just to get an inch closer to where we need to be.

So imagine, then, that you are a transgender person with mental illness, who not only has to deal with the typical challenges of gender transition, but you must also navigate the exhausting barriers that therapists, psychiatrists, and doctors place in front of you.

Imagine having no idea when you’ll be permitted to access the care that you desperately need – that you’ll remain imprisoned in a dysphoria-induced hell until you pull it together and become acceptably sane for your doctors.

It’s true that transgender people with mental illness have needs that are unique and important, due to the biochemical nature of both medical transition and mental illness. And it’s true that making life-altering changes during times of turmoil can sometimes do more harm than good.

But it’s also true that countless mentally ill transgender people have been denied hormones or surgery to their own detriment, causing real and even lasting damage.

It’s true that the woeful lack of research around mentally ill transgender people means that many medical professionals simply don’t know how to support this vulnerable population.

And it’s absolutely true that being unable to transition can worsen a transgender person’s mental health – and clinicians who do not take this into account, treating medical transition as optional rather than urgent and necessary, are contributing to the very mental health crisis they wish to avoid.

As I sit here with the inability to go further in my medical transition – stuck in a desperate situation that continues to eat me alive every day – it is obvious to me that mentally ill transgender people are being failed at every level.

If our only “solution” is to not transition, we need new and better solutions.

Assuming my bipolar stabilizes further, there will most likely be a time – I don’t know, hopefully this year? – when I can move forward, after more than half a year of being held back.

And while I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to resume my transition, I remain paranoid and fearful that it can be taken away from me at any time.

If this is what it looks like to be a mentally ill transgender person in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m terrified to know what it looks like elsewhere in the country, where care is even less accessible and trans-competent clinicians are few and far between.

We deserve better than this. If a medical intervention is what a person needs to be well, why would we ever treat it like it’s optional? How are our gender transitions any different?

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To Be Transgender, Mentally Ill, And Still Alive

Content Note: Mentions of suicide, trans/homophobia, saneism

Nearly every day for the past five months, give or take, I’ve had a moment when I glance out the window onto my street and think to myself, “I was never supposed to be here.”

This feeling isn’t new to me – I’ve dealt with “survivor’s guilt” in some form for years now – but the feeling intensified when I moved to my new apartment.

You know, the apartment that I feel like I don’t deserve for some reason or another.

Here’s the honest truth: People like me? Mentally ill queer kids, the ones that get their homophobia or transphobia with a side of psychosis? The ones whose trauma isn’t just a meal but comes with an appetizer and a fucking dessert?

This world isn’t made for us.

How would I know that? I’ve lived it.

And I don’t think I would have been so persistent about ending my life all those years ago if this were a world that saw me, validated me, affirmed me. If this were a world that had a place for me. If this were a world that held space for me.

I know this because it took me years to sit beside the window instead of dangling out of it, held in place only by someone’s hand clinging desperately to my shirt collar, because to be queer was one thing but to be queer and crazy was another thing entirely.

There has never been a moment when I’ve forgotten that I am both. I’m not allowed to forget.

I remember it when the psychiatrist advises that I not pursue hormones because I could just be manic and not trans; I remember it when another trans person says to me, “I’m glad that gender identity disorder is no longer in the DSM. It’s not like trans people are crazy.”

But I am.

I remember it when I recall the mere inch that came between myself and my own death.

The names of those I knew and could’ve known that ended their lives still swirl around my brain, and all I can think about is how I’m here and they aren’t, and how senseless all of this feels.

Yes, I’m here. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

Sometimes the guilt is so painful that I’m convinced that some part of me is fractured – that if you peered inside, it’s almost certain that something in me is irreparably broken. That being a survivor that has watched people like me die, over and over, has left me in a permanent state of grief.

I am in a permanent state of grief.

When I have flashbacks to the moment I woke up, realizing I was still here, I find myself trembling and shaken, wondering why the world steals the light of so many queers but somehow left mine intact.

Why, after making self-annihilation my hobby for a time, should I be rendered whole in a world that despises our wholeness?

Why did I survive?

And it’s not that I believe that my life wasn’t worth sparing. It’s just that, when you watch your comrades, your community, your friends dying all around you, you can’t help but wonder why it was them and not you.

Well-meaning friends tell me, “Remember to be grateful, too.”

But what they don’t understand is that there will always be another mentally ill trans kid like me, ready to follow through on what I failed to finish.

And I can’t just feel grateful when I know, in the back of my mind, that that kid is still out there.

Maybe I feel guilty for being alive because I’m conditioned to believe that people like me aren’t meant to exist in the first place.

Every day since my attempt there’s a scene that plays out in my head, where I’m banging on the closet door, trying to stop that kid from repeating my mistakes, begging them to let me in, begging them to stay, knowing that I can’t promise them that it will get better but I can do everything in my power to create a space for us.

Just one space.

Well-meaning friends say, “Yes, it’s horrifying, but you can’t dwell on that.”

Why can’t I dwell on that?

Do you know the overwhelming trauma of existing in a world that teaches you, from day one, to resist everything that you are?

And why should they act horrified when we destroy ourselves – why should they act surprised – as if that’s not what the world was asking of us all along?

They ask me not to dwell on this as if trauma is a garment you wear, as if we can forget who we are. Please listen when I say this: I can’t forget.

Well-meaning friends ask me, “Why do you write?”

But the better question is why I stayed.

And I stayed for the same reason that I write: Because so long as this world isn’t made for us, I have to keep fighting for a better world.

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Trauma and Transness: Why I Didn’t ‘Always Know’ I Was Transgender

There are a number of transgender people who have known, from a very young age, that they were a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. Their stories are encouraging , interesting, and important. Their stories are also not mine.

I knew as a child that I was different – but not because of my gender. I knew this because I had early onset bipolar disorder. My life, in so many ways, was consumed as I struggled to keep my head above water. While other children my age contemplated their place in the world, I contemplated hurting myself for reasons I couldn’t explain.

This disorder derailed my life – impacting my relationships, my self-esteem, and of course, my stability – until I finally started getting treatment for it when I was eighteen years old.

It’s not a coincidence that when I started receiving treatment for bipolar disorder (and anxiety, a later diagnosis), questions about my gender began bubbling to the surface. The only person who didn’t seem surprised was my therapist at the time.

“You might have had to suppress or avoid questions about your gender to focus on your survival,” she told me. “Bipolar disorder might have required all of your attention. Now it doesn’t.”

Bingo.

While every trans person with mental illness has a different story, I think that I was put in a sort of auto-pilot because of my trauma. There was no room to contemplate gender identity. I assumed the role and took the validation that came with it. I put my mental and emotional resources into surviving bipolar disorder and weathering the damage it did on a daily basis.

It’s hardly surprising that when my mental health began to rebound, I started to consider the possibility that I might be trans. As therapy and medication helped me to cope more effectively, I began to interrogate my assigned gender in ways I never had the space to before.

In this way, it’s impossible to talk about my trans identity without talking about my struggles with mental illness.

I believe that, in the face of trauma, I was unable to contemplate or comprehend my own truth (and not just about gender – mental illness made me feel less like a person and more like a body moving through physical space, aching).

There was no room to consider gender for a long time. It was deemed “non-essential” by the part of my brain that determined what I could and could not handle.

And honestly? I’m grateful for that.

Sometimes I do wish I’d started testosterone sooner, or understood my gender a little earlier on, or embarked on this journey at a younger age. But then I ask myself: Was that really possible?

I think about how much pain I suffered through earlier on in my life. I try to imagine if I could have handled a transition at the same time – the upheaval in my family, navigating social pressures and even societal violence, trying to advocate for myself and find resources in my small Midwestern suburb… all during a time when trans people were scarcely visible.

Could I have done this when I was in the throes of a mood disorder, being pulled into suicidal lows and manic highs?

I say that I’m “grateful” because I started to come into my own as a trans person at a time when my life was beginning to stabilize. It was a time when I had social support, a time when I could find other queer people, a time when I had more agency than I did as a kid. I was ready.

Not all trans people realize they are trans at a time that they’re ready to – they simply are, and they have to navigate that whether they are prepared to or not. And while I’m not suggesting that trauma is a privilege, I will say that my journey as trans could have been more difficult than it has been.

In some ways, I feel lucky that I came to know myself as transgender at a time when it was safer for me to come out. My transition could have put my mental health in further jeopardy had I begun at a time when I wasn’t mentally healthy or supported. Instead, it happened when I had full autonomy over myself and had a community rallying behind me.

When people ask me how I “knew” I was trans, the answer is much more complicated than they realize. Because while I could sift through my past and find moments that seemed to indicate the kind of discomfort or confusion they might expect, the truth is that it was the furthest thing from my conscious mind for most of my life.

Keeping myself alive in the face of mental illness was the only thing I knew for the first eighteen years. It was the only context for my pain. I had no concept of who I was or any future ahead of me – I only knew the turmoil of bipolar disorder and the trauma that I had lived through.

I’ve often said that I didn’t feel like my life truly began until I was 20 years old. Which, not-so-coincidentally, is both when my medications began to work and my transition began in earnest.

Trans people with mental illness are not a monolith, either, and I imagine many of us have different stories and trajectories. We’re all affected by our illnesses differently.

But for me, I was only able to see myself clearly when my recovery began. And I don’t think being a “late bloomer” in some respects makes me any less trans.

To say that gender is an objective, static truth that we all intrinsically understand from the moment we are born – as if it is untouched or unaffected by our trauma – erases the journeys that many trans people have been on.

It’s impossible to say who or where we would be without our trauma. But what I do know is that who I am now – both as a trans person and as bipolar – is at this intersection of everything I have endured.

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