Palliative Care Isn’t Enough: Antidepressants, Dependency, and Revolution

When I came to Europe, I wasn’t sure how long I would stay. I brought enough medication to last three months (the most I could). By the time it ran out, I was already making plans to return to Turtle Island and figured I could get free refills if I waited. I have been waiting a long time now. Emergencies keep coming up that prevent me from having enough money to leave.

I was able to borrow other prescriptions, but the one thing I couldn’t find was my SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors — a common genre of antidepressants), specifically citalopram (celexa). I had previously considered discontinuing them anyway, but I knew it was dangerous, especially when my situation and my (mental) health are already so precarious. There was always some life-threatening crisis, constant brushes with death, and crushing poverty, so it never seemed like the right time to add another potential hazard. Plus, I had more pressing chemical dependencies to deal with first.

So when I started to run out of them, I figured it was as good a time as any to go off them. I knew the risks when I started taking my SSRIs years ago. So before I quit, I read as much as I could. I tapered my doses downward over a period of months. It has now been several weeks since I stopped taking them entirely and I feel like shit.

I didn’t immediately recognize the creeping, inexplicable (and therefore terrifying) symptoms as SSRI withdrawal. When I first realized it was connected, I was a bit relieved because it seemed to show it was a transitory chemical readjustment. But it kept getting worse and worse and I started to fear something was very wrong, that it must be something else. But the more I looked into it, I found that the scary truth seems to be that this kind of suffering is a relatively normal thing during SSRI withdrawal.

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Proof Emma Goldman Would Support Trans Liberation

History nerd that I am, I came across a letter Emma Goldman wrote to Magnus Hirschfeld in 1923. I’m not sure how I managed to miss this before, but its a gem.

For context: Emma (n.1869 – 1940) is possibly the most famous north american anarchist. She was also a Jewish immigrant, feminist, birth control advocate, anti-war activist, prison abolitionist, supporter of free love (polyamory), labor organizer, midwife, atheist, and a damn good speaker/writer. She helped extend critiques of capitalism and the state to include all forms of hierarchy and oppression, including in interpersonal relationships. She has been an inspiration to me and one of my favorite political thinkers since I was 13.

Hirschfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the first-ever known organization to advocate for the legal rights of homosexuals and transvestites. He is credited with inventing the terms transsexual and transvestite. (He didn’t, actually. But he did contribute greatly to their modern meaning.) His clinic, the Institute for Sexology, employed many self-identified transsexuals and transvestites before it was burned down by the Nazis. There, they pioneered modern hormone replacement therapy and performed the first ever modern vaginoplasty for a transsexual woman.[1]

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Toward Participatory Gender: Trans Self-Determination and Movements for Social Justice

A friend asked to see my thesis, so I found a copy. I spent over a year and a half writing this in 2008-2010. Some of the writing was taken from pieces even older than that. This is the first time I’ve looked at it in a year or two, and I’m surprisingly still pretty fond of it! It’s especially kind of fascinating in light of my involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and linking that back to my work with the DC Trans Coalition and trans-centric organizing more broadly.

I decided to share some of it, since only a couple people have read it so far (and I’ve promised to share it with a lot of folks but never followed up). Given that it’s a thesis, it’s slightly more academic than my usual writing, but I tried to write as accessibly as I could. Here’s the Abstract, and the Introduction and Overview (the first 20ish pages of the entire thesis, which contains a summary of most of the rest) are below the cut. The whole thing is around 250 pages. Perhaps I will eventually get around to sharing the rest someday! As I do, I will post links on the Table of Contents below. :)

Toward Participatory Gender: Trans Self-Determination and Movements for Social Justice

Goddard College
June 2010

Abstract

This paper explores notions of identity, gender, and social justice by delving into the histories and politics of trans communities in north america. The author explores how trans people have actively built communities around shared experiences, and how these communities both contribute to and benefit from engaging in struggles for social and economic justice. She urges broader progressive, radical, and feminist movements not to ignore how forces such as cis supremacy and transphobia situate oppression, and thus how we organize resistance to it. She passionately develops her own vision for a movement that is both capable of realizing a participatory gender system and grounded in a shared ethics of total liberation.

The author argues that academic studies of trans people have largely neglected trans people’s own agency in shaping our identities and communities. She claims that medical, psychiatric, feminist, and queer accounts of trans issues have all so far failed to critically examine the material conditions of trans people’s lives or recognize the diverse strategies we have created to transform those conditions. She reexamines these histories, with a focus on the participation of poor trans women of color and other marginalized voices, in order to give context to her own experiences of embodiment and political action.

The project also discusses how trans liberation activists will fail if they focus only on fighting “transphobia” without analyzing the ways in which other institutions and systems – such as the state and white supremacy – also shape trans experiences. The author argues that trans praxis must be grounded in our everyday lived experiences, and thus must also account for the ways in which differing privileges and oppressions intersect in our selves. She does this with detailed accounts of trans people’s interactions with policing and incarceration, the politics of hate crime legislation, her own engagement with doctors and government bureaucracies, the stigma of mental illness and sex work, and much more. Throughout the work, she blends personal narrative, theory, and research to explore the ethics of gender self-determination, her own identity as a genderqueer transsexual woman, and her involvement in organizing for collective empowerment in trans communities.

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OWS Must Resist Cis-Supremacy and Trans-Misogyny – A Statement to the NYC General Assembly

originally posted to OccupyWallSt.org and distributed around Liberty Square. Written in colloboration with other trans women from the Queering OWS Working Group, Women Occupying Wall Street, and the POC Caucus

As feminists, we enthusiastically support women’s groups and womendesignated safer spaces, but as trans women and allies, we oppose (and will categorically block) any group or space that excludes trans women1 , as well as any standard that functionally asserts authority over our self-determined gender identities2 . On multiple occasions, we have witnessed the exclusion of trans people from spaces and groups affiliated with Occupations, both here in New York and elsewhere. We have also encountered transphobic hate speech propagated by certain “radical lesbian separatist” individuals within the movement. This must not be allowed to continue.

By denying the existence of cisgender privilege and furthering the disempowerment of trans people, transphobic groups, spaces and individuals violate both the letter and spirit of our Principles of Solidarity3 . The elimination of systemic oppression against marginalized people is a core goal of the Occupy movement, but self-identified “womyn-born-womyn”4 and other types of cisgender people do not constitute a marginalized group relative to trans women. Throughout the world, trans people – especially trans women, trans people of color, trans youth, trans sex workers, trans people with disabilities, and gender non-binary/non-conforming people – are among the people most marginalized by systemic oppression. In the U.S., trans women face extreme violence (a 1-in- 12 chance of dying from a violent crime), poverty (fifty percent unemployment rate) and criminalization (trans women, especially trans women of color, are routinely subject to police profiling).5

To fight this systemic oppression – including transphobia, cis-centrism, cis-supremacy, and trans-misogyny – it is essential we support the self-determination of all people oppressed by coercive, non-consensual gender assignments. Allowing any group or space to define gender by essentialist, cis-centric standards is intrinsically at odds with gender liberation and trans people’s right to autonomous self-determination. It is a fundamental affront to solidarity.

For decades – from the Stonewall Rebellion to Occupy Wall Street – trans women have stood at the forefront of social justice movements, often at great personal risk. But even within these movements, trans women have been excluded, silenced, shamed, and abandoned as political liabilities. Since mid-July, trans women have played a critical role in OWS, including the creation and 1 operation of OccupyWallSt.org, the de facto voice of the global Occupy movement. Nonetheless, we are prepared to leave the New York General Assembly and its empowered Spokes Council en masse if trans-excluding groups, spaces, and individuals continue to be tolerated by this body. Over 50 OWS-affiliated groups have already signed on to a trans-inclusive safer spaces policy (and any group which has not is encouraged to join!), but for Occupy Wall Street to hold true to its Principles of Solidarity, we must take the additional step of ensuring that trans peoples’ identities are respected, and that trans women are safe and welcome in all women’s spaces.

Trans People Say: End Economic Inequality, Solidarity with the 99%!

originally posted to the DC Trans Coalition blog

The DC Trans Coalition has decided to formally endorse and offer our support to the Occupy K Street-DC movement. We also encourage all of our members to attend today’s protest gathering at 4pm at Freedom Plaza and marching to the International Monetary Fund.

The Occupy Together movement started in New York City as Occupy Wall Street, which began on September 17th. The protests have grown progressively larger as increasing numbers take to the streets in nonviolent opposition to a society in which 1% of the population controls a quarter of all income. Inspired by this model, similar occupations are occurring in dozens of cities across the country, some being attended by tens of thousands. The demonstrators have highlighted that the current economic crisis is caused by corporate greed, and demand jobs and resources for oppressed people. In DC, Occupy K Street protesters have been in McPherson Square for several weeks.

As a whole, socially-marginalized communities (such as low-income trans people and trans people of color) suffer the most directly from poverty and are the most likely to be impacted by inequalities that arise from economic injustice. The DC Trans Coalition’s major priorities — as decided upon by our grassroots base through community forums and consultations — are creating inclusive, accessible jobs and services for all marginalized people in the District. We thus stand in solidarity with the grassroots Occupy Together movements.

Additionally, we especially encourage everyone who is able to attend the march that will take place today shortly after 4:00pm, leaving from Freedom Plaza, through McPherson Square, and ending at the International Monetary Fund. Today’s march was started by a group of women, queer people, and people of color in order to highlight the connection between multiple forms of oppression, both at home and globally. For this reason, DCTC especially wishes to express our full support for this action. It is critical that we recognize the links between our oppression and the oppression of others, and that we all work together to end inequality.

See you in the streets! For more information on OccupyDC and today’s march, see below.

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Defending Addiction and Madness: On Psychiatric Disabilities and Choice

Before I posted my newest story (What’s Left When Coping is Killing Me?), I spent days editing it. I had to vividly relive the experiences I was writing about. Also, it was extremely hard to share those parts of my life — especially my recent drug use. Until that post, that was one of the few remaining things I wasn’t “out” about. On top of stress about housing, finances, and the continued spike in violence against trans women in D.C., my anxiety was off-the-charts.

I give off confident vibes, and I share most aspects of my identity/history freely. However, being so visible and exposed is extremely draining and occasionally terrifying. People recognize me on the metro. I’ve received death threats on my cell phone. I don’t live in a protected, academic bubble — I’m a crazy, low-income tranny punk and a sex worker. Being out has serious consequences.

Recently, when I admitted to my therapist that I had lost the desire to live, I was nearly hospitalized. It was a brutal wake-up call — both to how bad off I was, and how I am not immune to the constant threat of medical surveillance and even incarceration. After sharing my story about this, I mostly received praise and support. But a few folks recommended various ways to “get rid of my anxiety” or “cure my depression/addictions/etc.” I think it’s worth unpacking their assumptions.

Most neurotypical people assume I want to or should change those aspects of myself. This ends up reinforcing much of the ableist ideologies that contributed to my being in that situation to begin with. A lot of this also had to do with judgement (outright or subtle) around the use of ‘hard’ drugs. I want to clarify/reinforce some of the things I was trying to say, and why I said them. So I decided to write about what publishing that story felt like. It evolved into a meditation about how I experience my mental illness — personally and politically — as a disability, and growing into my identity as a proudly mad, disabled person. I’m not necessarily glad to be so crazy; it makes my life very hard and has led to untold suffering. But there is a different between being glad and being proud.

I look at how ableism divides the world into “normal” and “disabled” people by making much of life inaccessible for people with physical and/or psychiatric impairments. I also explore the problem of countering false narrative of personal responsibility (“drug addiction is a choice”) with the need to value autonomous decision-making. Finally, I look at ways that being crazy can be a gift and a weapon that, when re-directed away from our selves, can destroy the social conditions which keep us from healing.
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After Another Death, What’s Left When Coping is Killing Me?

This is an account of the days leading up to and following the murder of a young trans woman of color in my community. It is also about falling in love, and how my anxiety and panic are intertwined with an internalized acceptance of my own social marginalization, especially relating to drug use and sex work. Finally, it is about my conflicted (sometimes irrational, self-destructive) strategies for surviving those things.

I wrote it awhile ago during a very dark time. I had to wait for the wounds to heal a bit before I let people read it. They are still raw, and it’s still hard for me to say these things. It’s especially hard to admit my recent addictions. There’s a lot of judgment around being poor, trans, crazy, and a sex worker — but for whatever reason, that derision is easier for me to shake than the bullshit drug users have to put up with. But I think sharing it will help. I hope it means as much to someone else as it does to me.

It is a hard read. It has already made people cry. When I wrote it, I was very lost. I was facing so many tragedies that I couldn’t see the blessings. If you’re looking for something to give you hope, this is not it. This is a story about how sometimes, even when I have completely lost all hope, I just keep going — simply because I just don’t know what else to do.

It ends somewhat ambiguously, because that is honestly how I felt at the time. I still don’t have an answer to the question that is both the title and subject of this essay: How can I rationalize continuing to live when the pain always seems to outweigh the good, and when my coping mechanisms for dealing with that pain are often causing more harm?

Trigger Warnings: Contains vivid descriptions of drug abuse, addiction, mental illness, panic attacks, sex work, violence against trans women of color, and references to sexual assault.
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