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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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(1) Everyone Deserves Safe Work Places. (2) Self-Defense is a Human Right.

Two things.

The DC Trans Coalition released summary findings from the first phase of our ongoing Needs Assessment Project. Click the link to read the full four-page document, and see the press release below the cut or at our website. Please read it. We’ve put a lot of work into this project, and the information is extremely important.

I’d like to highlight one point. Over half of all 108 trans people surveyed marked the trans sex work stroll as a place that is central to their identity as a trans person in the District. The percentage is even higher for the trans women of color who participated. When asked about it, almost all described the (now heavily gentrified) stroll as a place where they hang out with friends, distribute resources, and make sure everyone there is safe from harm.

What does it tell us if one of the primary, tangible spaces where trans people (especially women of color) create communities and build networks of mutual support is also one of the most heavily policed and criminalized places in the world? And what if that place is also the primary work environment for many people within those communities?

Next.

In Minneapolis, a trans woman of color was attacked with racist and transphobic slurs by a stranger. A brawl ensued when the stranger, a white cis man, attacked her and her friends. The attacker was killed somehow, and now that woman is in jail facing criminal charges. This is the same criminal “justice” system that institutionally disadvantages youth, people of color, low income people, trans people, and feminine presenting people.

The woman’s name is CeCe McDonald. The Trans Youth Support Network has organized a campaign to rally around her. If you’re in the Twin Cities, join them. They are also raising money to make sure she can afford a lawyer that will help get her a fairer trial. Visit their site at Support CeCe McDonald! and show solidarity with working class trans communities who are targeted by the prison industrial complex!
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Silences Such as These (A Coming Out Story)

This is an old one! I wrote it years ago at my beloved hippie college. I was challenged by my advisory to write a personal narrative, so I wrote about starting hormones. I reflect on my life up until that point and attempt to answer the unanswerable question, which was demanded as a condition for being allowed to medically transition, “when did you first know you were meant to be a woman?” I’m still really proud of the result.

If you’re familiar with trans narratives, some of this might sound familiar. However, sadly, most trans autobiographies fail to contextualize the story within broader social histories. I wanted to talk about my identity as it both reflects and challenges a world where gender assignments are binary, naturalized, compulsory, and violently enforced. I also think about how my body interacts with the medical establishment that has been erected to maintain that very gender system.

I’m sharing my story because I haven’t posted much creative nonfiction here, and for all of the young trans folks who, like I once was, are pouring over the internet for empowering alternative ways to make sense of their desires outside of the prescribed Harry Benjamin-esque narratives of the medical-psychiatric institution.

Trigger warnings for mentions of violence and mental illness.
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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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