leaving and returning

Being black did effect in to how I managed my transition. In my pre-transition days, when I would go out dressed, I was getting clocked in my neighborhood. Outside of my neighborhood it rarely happened but near home was a different story. In particular it was black men who were clocking me. And they were not kind when they did it. The most painful experiences I had in those days came at the hands of black men. The loud-talking, the derisive laughter, the taunts and the threats I experienced still haunt me to this day. The lesson I learned from that was simple and clear: as a budding black transgender woman stay clear of other black folk.

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I didn’t want to leave my community. There is a lot of comfort in being among those who share a significant part of your daily experience. However transition was not going to work for me in my black neighborhood. So I determined that the best thing for me to do when I was ready to transition was to move. So at the end of 1997 I left Seattle’s Central District where I was living and moved to Silverdale, WA. There were not many black people there and there I worked on my presentation. I did the hard work that a trans woman in the early stages of transition has to do.

About a year later I came back to Seattle but it was to the Ballard neighborhood. Ballard was mostly white and had not yet become the hipster capital that it is today. There I continued to blossom as Carla and my confidence grew. I was living in Ballard that fateful year when my male life finally collapsed in ruins and I was birthed into my full-time life as Carla.

Ten years later I was sent to serve a congregation in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle. Rainier Beach has a large black population. On top of that I moved to Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood, which also has a large black population. My life in both neighborhoods was full and rich. I found acceptance as exactly what I was: a middle aged black woman. I even got to the point where interacting with my black brothers became a joy. The only time when things got a bit tense is when I had to tell them, “Sorry. I’m spoken for.”

I sometimes reflect on this irony of my transition. In order to find myself as a black trans woman, I had to leave my black neighborhood. Only when I had found me apart from my community was I able to return and find a place in my community. I don’t pretend that this is a universal experience. In fact, I would guess that this not the way it usually happens for black trans folk. But that’s how it was for me.

My life in both the Rainier Beach and Columbia City neighborhoods came to an end in January of 2013. I miss both neighborhoods. Now I live and work in yet two others parts of the region. Still I’ve called this region home now for well over 20 years. If Cleveland is Nice Guy’s city, then Seattle is Carla’s city and her home town. For all that has happened to me here, it is now home, sweet home.

recalling a brush with danger

wa49It was in the early 90s and I had just moved to Seattle. I was living in the Central Area and at that time it was a mostly black neighborhood, though gentrification was happening.

I had discovered that a gender support group was meeting in a building not far from where I was living. One summer evening I got dressed and walked to meeting. What was I thinking? At the time I was presenting as male and was not even close to starting my transition. But there I was walking down the street of my neighborhood dressed a woman. It was too bold of a move but I didn’t realize it at the moment.

Part of what walking to the meeting meant was that I would also have to walk back home. As I walked back home it started to dawn an me that it would look quite odd to the neighbors to see some random woman walking up to my house and entering it as if she lived there. I considered an elaborate ruse in case any neighbors should be looking. However there was no need for that because it was night.

I had relaxed and was strolling down the sidewalk enjoying the still warm night air. Two guys approached from in front of me and I’ll admit I did get a little nervous. My nervousness increased when they stopped talking to each other and looked at me.

One of them said, before I could pass them. “Hey baby, where you going?”

I didn’t answer. I kept walking toward them pretending I didn’t hear. As we came face to face, the same guy spoke again. “What’s the matter, honey? Don’t you talk?”

At that point my nervousness rose to almost panic. I wanted to stop the situation and to make them stop pursuing me. Stupidly I blurted out in my most male sounding voice, “I ain’t your honey.”

It was the wrong move but I took advantage of the moment to push by them. I didn’t look back but I heard one of them yell after me, “If you wanna be a girl, I got something here that will make you a girl.”

There shouted obscenities at me and started to follow me. I walked faster and then broke into a full on run (high heels and all). To my surprise I didn’t fall and they didn’t pursue me much further.

When I got back to my house I threw open the door and got inside ASAP. I slammed the door behind me and threw the dead bolt. Then I ran upstairs and picked up the phone. I was saying over and over, “Call 911.”

I was about to dial when I thought, “How am I going to explain this to 911?” The last thing I wanted was the police to see me in this condition. So I didn’t call. Instead I actually hid in the house for almost an hour before I changed back into guy mode. I never did anything that bold and stupid again.

I would like to say that was the only time I’ve feared for my safety as a trans person but that would be a lie. I had been in a similar spot twice in LA, when I had been clocked by guys who wanted to punish me for “fooling” them. I lucked out of both situations and lived to find myself in a third. You see, being trans is dangerous. The danger can come on so quickly. One moment you’re fine. The next moment you’re running for your life. No one should have to live like that.

OK, I take Prozac

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There I said it. I’ve said it and I’m perfectly fine with it. Well, maybe not perfectly fine. More like I’m perfectly fine most of the time.

This is my third trip on Prozac Airlines and I had hoped not to flying it again. Each time I have returned to Prozac it’s been a reminder that I really do have depression. For much of my adult life I was diagnosed with borderline depression. My depressive episodes were very infrequent and not very severe. They didn’t last long enough to be considered worthy of being treated my medication. And that was fine by me.

In those days I thought of depression as living on a river bank. Occasionally there would be an especially powerful storm. The river would rise and my home would have water in it. Still it didn’t happen enough to take any major steps to deal with it. I’d just get a bucket and bail water until all was dry again. I was safe in the knowledge that such events were rare and that I was basically safe. Now it seems that I’ve realized that my home is actually on a flood plain and I can’t move. There are more events and they are happening more regularly than in the past.

Perhaps the series of losses and the boatload of other bad news that hit my life two years ago pushed me right over the edge. I began to experience clear and classic symptoms of depression over a considerable about of time. My doctor (actually my endocrinologist, a woman deeply familiar with trans medical/mental health issues) broached the topic of anti-depressants. At first I resisted but after I while I just got tired of not being able to “snap out of it” as was my past pattern.

I started talking Prozac and the results were surprising. In a couple of weeks the symptoms had resolved and I was my old self again. After a while I stopped taking the med, figuring that I was “back to normal.”

Not long after going off the med the symptoms returned. I went back to my doctor and told her all about it. She suggested a return to the med. So I did.

It has been almost a month now and once again the drug has proved effective. It looks like this may be a long term situation and part of me does not like that. There is a part of me that just doesn’t want to admit that I need the help which that little pill affords. However since resuming Prozac I’m more clear-headed. I’m sleeping much better. I’m more energetic. I’m back to my old self. I need all of that in order to deal with the changes that are happening in my life right now.

To Young Black Trans Folk

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I see you. You are in the blogosphere. You are on the streets standing up for your rights. I see you in the day and in the night. I see you together and alone.

I see you and I admire you. I admire your relentless drive to be heard, to be yourselves, to see justice done, to remember the fallen and to stop the carnage.

I see you and I feel for you. I see your hurt with a system that talks about queer pride but then turns around and slaps you in the face. I see your pain as you grapple with fear around safety, lack of opportunities, family drama, homelessness and poverty.

I see you and I walk in places where I have influence to help bring about justice and to help tear down a system that works against you while building one that works for all of us.

I see you and you have every right to see me. You have every right to call me out on my stuff. You have every right to see me as slow in the struggle and too quite for the fight.

However, know that I do see you and hold you in high regard. I may not understand some of the things you do and say. I am slow in coming to terms with new terms and tags. But I’m trying. I’m trying to listen more and speak less. I’m trying not to act like an entitled Baby-boomer. Not that you need to commend me for that or forgive me for that or even care about that. That’s my stuff, not yours.

Please know that….

…I see you

old trans vs young trans

As a 57-year-old trans woman I am deep into middle age. As a 57-year-old BLACK trans woman I am seriously old. The life expectancy for black trans women is ridiculously low due to a variety of factors. But that’s a topic for another day.

As someone who is considered old in the trans community, I’m frequently asked to compare life as a trans person now to life as a trans person when I was young. Often that question comes out something like this: “Is it easier for young trans folk today than it was for you when you were young?”

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I’ve never liked the question. It calls for an unfair comparison. Nowadays when I’m asked it I reply, “Yes. Just as it is easier to climb Mt Everest alone in November than it is in January.”

It’s an unfair question. I think young trans folk today are better off than I was “back in the day.” However it is still flippin’ hard to be trans and to live one’s life with integrity and dignity. Despite what I see as positive steps forward there are still far too many of my trans sisters and brothers being marginalized and murdered. To this day too few of trans sisters and brothers get to be my age. That has got to change.

life…

At some point at work today I was on my hand and knees, crawling through the space between the bottom shelf and the middle shelf of a computer station. I poked my head through a spider web and scrapped my rack against a rack of DVDs. I was finally close enough to my quarry. I reached forward with my right arm and wacked it on the edge of the shelf but I grabbed the item, a fallen print center work order.

I pulled it and me back through the space under the computer desk. I was dusty all over. My hair was in my face and I had lost an earring. I just sat on the dirty floor for a moment and thought, “When I was in seminary I never thought that I would see this moment in my life.”

I sighed, cried just a little, rubbed my injured arm, stood up and went back to work. A few minutes later I broke into a hardy laugh that lasted so long my side actually started to hurt from the effort.

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my anniversary

Today is the day. Three years ago I pledged my faithfulness to Howard F Heller and he pledged the same to me. “Until death parts us,” we said. We had no idea that death would part us so soon. I’m thinking about him today, even as I think about him every day. How can I not? When that kind of love comes to you for the first time late in life’s day, it’s nothing short of miraculous.

I was thinking on these things as I stood downtown waiting for the bus to go to Magnolia. A woman stepped off one of the many buses that come and go at that stop. She looked at me, smiled and said, “I want to thank you for the service you gave.”

At first I couldn’t quite figure out what she was talking about. Then I remembered that I saw her at a worship service I lead the Saturday before last. I told her it was my pleasure to have been there. She gave me a hug and then went on to whatever task she had before her.

I stood there, feeling warmer than I was minutes earlier, and thought, “O Carla, never forget that you are called to inspire. Always remember that, even in your hurt, you are called to heal.”

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