burn out

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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An Anarchist in the Capitol: Thoughts on Identity Politics, Reform, Trans Liberation, and the Nonprofit Industrial Complex

I spent the past month or so working with the National Center for Transgender Equality. I helped coordinate logistics for their annual Policy Conference and Lobby Day. It was a wonderful (if at times stressful!) opportunity to gain useful skills while doing meaningful work with an organization I respect. I also met lots of great people!

I’m back to being marginally-employed again, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nonprofit industrial complex (NPIC — keep reading for explanation) and my involvement in it.

I didn’t enter “the workforce” until I was 21. Before that, I was mostly involved in black/grey market economies of various sorts. When I have been formally employed, it has mostly been either in service industries like making coffee or within nonprofit industries — first, as a case manager on the abortion hotline, briefly as a client advocate for sex workers, and then at NCTE.

While I am definitely part of and implicated in the NPIC, I have tried to remain critical about the strengths and weaknesses of the nonprofit model, and what nonprofit work can and cannot do. In short, nonprofit work can be valuable, but ultimately it can’t bring the truly revolutionary change this planet, and all of us, nees to survive.

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Austerity Hits Home – DC cuts services for sex workers and trans people

I recently started working at HIPS. Working on a harm reduction and anti-oppression philosophy, HIPS assists thousands of sex workers with peer support groups, crisis counseling, safer sex workshops, help accessing services, a drop-in center, syringe exchange, HIV testing, a clothing closet, and more. Every weekend night until 5am, HIPS runs a van that gives out condoms, hot chocolate, referrals and other support to people working the strolls. Plus, they’ve been amazing allies to the broader (non-sex worker) trans community, too. I was honored to be working with them. I have so much respect for HIPS and the work they do. As someone who has used their services and been a volunteer there, I know they are a powerful resource in my communities.

Unfortunately, I’ve already been laid off. The local government decided to cut funding for social programs instead of raising taxes on the top 5% of earners and we lost a crucial grant.

Isn’t it interesting how, during an economic downturn, the government is quick to abruptly discontinue funding to an agency dedicated to supporting sex workers, and whose major constituents are poor Black and Latin@ trans women, but refuses to raise taxes on the ultra-rich?
I’m not surprised, of course. But this one just really hit me directly. In addition to my position, HIPS had to cut peer education classes, a program manager, and will no longer be doing the outreach van on Thursday nights. We were given no notice at all. HIPS has received this grant every year since 1995, so no one saw this coming.

As my friends know, I’ve been dealing with some serious mental health issues. This news has been especially hard on me. I put a lot of my heart and soul into the program and clients I worked with. I was just finishing getting settled and beginning to feel confident in my position there.

For the brief time I worked there, it was wonderful. I got to use and develop all of my favorite skills: designing and writing resource manuals, one-on-one counseling, talking about anal sex, advocating clients through the legal system, leading workshops, and teaching trans women about empowerment, self-love, and the importance of using lube. I was working in my own community (trans sex workers) and my own neighborhood (Northeast/Brentwood). Also, I felt very supported by the HIPS family.

So I’m pretty devastated. I do have my other job at the coffee shop. I’ll survive. But losing this job was a huge set-back to my already-slowly-recovering mental health. Having relief given, and then taken away so soon after, was also especially harsh.

I woke up this morning and felt completely unable to get up. I was overcome with feelings of panic, despair and depression. This was also the first time in a very long time that I had serious thoughts about hurting myself. I had a clear idea of how I was going to cause myself physical pain. That is something that (even during panic attacks) doesn’t usually happen.

I took the day to spend with and think about loved ones. I was able to jump back from this crisis so far. Seriously, to the people (especially at HIPS and my sisters) who stepped in to check on me and sent me supportive messages: I love you all so much!

***

HIPS will go on providing really important services, and I’m sure they’ll continue doing an amazing job with the resources they do have. But these funding cuts just gave one more trans woman a choice between poverty and sex work. This time it’s me. (Guess what I’m going to choose?)

I basically just went from being in a position where I was able to help my community get out of poverty, to being another person who will need to access those services.

When the government cuts funding to social programs, we all suffer. The whole city is negatively impacted when sex workers aren’t getting condoms or HIV testing or counseling and all the other stuff HIPS gives.

I know HIPS will be relying more on volunteers than ever, so come sign up with me! Both I and HIPS appreciate the support.

All Work Is Exploitation, Not Just Sex Work

I signed up for a workshop for sex worker activists tomorrow at HIPS presented with the Red Umbrella Project. It’s called “Personal Storytelling for Social Change” and encourages sex workers to tell our stories in the face of widespread ignorance about the realities of sex work. We are claiming space within a dialog that is overwhelmingly dominated by non-sex workers, especially white, middle class, cis christians and feminists.

So, I was thinking about what I would say about my experience in the industry. Then, my Facebook displayed an advertisement for an organization called “Porn Harms.” (Targeted advertising: fail! Usually I get ads for “socially-responsible” wedding rings and trans-male top surgery. At least those are trying to pay attention to my interests…)

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On Surviving When It Doesn’t Get Better: Poverty, Food Stamps, and Transness

Trigger warning: poverty, bureaucracy, depression, and transphobia.

I wrote a few pages about the day I applied for food stamps from the vantage point of a trans woman, sex worker, burnt-out activist, and crazy person. It is an autobiographical reflection on what it means to struggle not only against unjust social conditions and poverty, but also against complex internal forces we call “mental illness” for simplicity. (And how the two reinforce one another.)

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