This is certainly not a ‘call-to-arms’ for everyone on the fence about whether or not being an activist-no matter what your passion is-is right for you. I am here to explain my reasons for activism. I would like to start out with my entire coming out story, first.
In April 2016, I lived in South Dakota, as a male, working as a programmer for the State of South Dakota. Late in life I decided to get a B.S. in IT with the hopes and dreams of building the next mobile app that would make me a millionaire. I ended up making around $48K a year working for the state, which wasn’t all that bad. It was a solid career with solid benefits. I owned my own home, drove a 2014 Silverado, and life was good.
After a month working for the state, I started to notice how unhappy I was. It wasn’t just the work. Building Oracle forms was fun for a few minutes, but after that it was just. fucking. boring. Not only was I unhappy, but I was drunk most of the time. The truth is, I am a recovering alcoholic. I had gotten to the point where I could put away a fifth of anything a night, and function (barely) the next day. Or at least I thought I could. I probably destroyed any chance I had of really mastering programming concepts because of my long history with the bottle. It is not something I like to admit, this. But I have to if I am to lead you to the reason I came out and the reason I started speaking up against those who openly persecute members of my community.
My oldest daughter was living with me when my life started to crash down. I was behind on the payments to the house. I was calling in sick because I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle and brood. I was letting the yard go. My house was becoming a tomb.
When I say I am a recovering alcoholic, it means just that. I do not drink anymore in any way, shape, or form. I am halfway through my Masters in Community & Public Health Analytics, and in no way will I screw that up.
I started watching a series on Netflix called Sense8. All I knew is that it was made by the Wachowski siblings (they are now both transgender sisters), and that it had Daryl Hannah in it, whom I remembered from Bladerunner and Splash. Gorgeous woman. I watched the first episode. Then, as I finished the last episode, I turned off the TV and went to my computer. See, I learned something in this show that I had never known: transgender people are just people, and it was hard and okay to be one of them.
So yeah, I hopped on my computer and wrote a poem called Transgender: A Love Story. It was about two boys who played together as children and fell in love later in life when one of them transitioned to womanhood. I didn’t know why I was writing it at the time, but now I can tell you that it’s because I was atoning for the aggression I had shown transgender people (none of it overtly or physically) and the complete and utter misunderstanding I had about what being transgender was all about. I felt horrible. Then, something happened that made me feel worse.
A few days later, I had a dream. I wrote a poem about this as well, but I will describe it here.
In the dream, I was a fully transitioned woman. I was wearing a purple tank top and a lime green maxi skirt. I was recovering in a beachside clinic. I reached down between my legs (eased the seat ba–, no! focus, Abby!) and felt the bandages. This is the part that still makes me cry today. I felt absolute bliss. I’m not talking about a fleeting moment of happiness from a memory conjured in a dream. I am talking about the REASON I had the courage to come out. I am talking about the REASON I am here today, writing this, instead of laying in a coffin. It was the most alive, and real I had, until that moment, ever felt in my life. As I moved away from the clinic, I found myself at a stage. On the other side of the stage, a crowd waited for me to be introduced. Introduced as Abby, by the way. No words were spoken; I just knew my name was Abby. An old girlfriend raced up to me before I took the stage and said, “You look so beautiful. We always thought you were gay.” I replied that I wasn’t, but it wasn’t from a position of disgust. I just wasn’t. I will tell you what I mean by that later. After that, I woke up. JOLTED up, actually. I sat on the edge of my $3000 bed in my $120,000 house with my $50,000 truck in the driveway and cried. I cried because I had just figured out why I was so unhappy, and it had nothing to do with the external minutia of my life; it was because I was not me. I cried because I knew that those things were going to go away. I cried because I knew what I had to do, and eventually those tears became joyful tears. Coming out was the only sensible solution.
Am I Gay? Straight? What?
So, about not being gay, when I spoke of my dream. It doesn’t happen often with transgender folks, but my sexual orientation changed. HRT (hormone replacement therapy, estrogen) has, more than likely, awakened some latent feelings I might have had as a child. I can tell you that I don’t see other women the same way. I see them in a way that makes way more sense to me: folks I can relate to on a very deep, emotional level.
Men, on the other hand, are generally closed off, my new experience tells me. At first, the feelings I had for men were emotional as well. For example, I felt more vulnerable and WAY more emotional than ever before. I cried all the time. I started to crave the presence of a man to hold me, comfort me, talk to me, assure me things would be okay. That later evolved into physical attraction as well. I certainly didn’t ask for it, but I suspect it has been there the entire time. One of my memories from Boy Scout Camp was having a boy-crush on someone.
Having elaborated on all of this, it’s important that anyone reading this understands something about being transgender: this has nothing to do with sexual orientation. NOTHING. Being transgender is about identity, and identity alone. It’s who we are. It’s the HRT bringing out emotions and body inline with our minds. It’s removing the toxicity of testosterone from a mind clearly not meant for the stuff. There are tons of medical articles on the subject. You could also just ask one of us.
So about being gay, “no, I am not,” fictitious, dream-ex-girlfriend. I am a woman who wants to be with men. But if I wanted to be with women, that would be okay too.
The next day, I started thinking back over my life about my mannerisms, the looks I would get when I would become animated, the past year spent buying trucks, houses, guns, fishing equipment, all to be manly and measure up to some idea of what and who a man really is. I realized that I had a problem. I was trying to be a man. I’m not speaking of the figurative ‘manly man,’ I am speaking about the gender. I wasn’t. I had never been. A flood of memories came through. Is this why I was drinking myself to death?
Short answer: not really, but somewhat. I am an alcoholic because I have no power over alcohol. Period. Did it make me an asshole? No. Did it make me a BIGGER asshole? Yes. I believe asshole is in my DNA. Probably the first twenty nodes, or so. Also, being transgender didn’t happen to me. It was who I was the whole time. I was a woman in my head. When I admitted that to myself, it made my actions, reactions, and choices over my lifetime make sense. Hell, my writing has always been from a female perspective, about females. The question really is, why didn’t I see this sooner?!
The first thing I did was call my two best friends: Wade and Mike. I asked them a simple question: “Will we still be friends if I become a woman?” They both answered ‘yes’ immediately, although it would be a few months before they would actually believe me, that is, when I showed in person wearing clothes that finally made sense to me. I was a happy girl.
The next step was to inform my employer that I would be transitioning to womanhood, and also leaving the state of South Dakota, a notoriously red and well-armed state. My manager stated that, yes, Pierre, South Dakota was probably not the best place to transition. I wanted to go back to Indiana, anyway. I wanted to be near kids and friends. Indiana, an historically terrible place for me, would accept me this time because I finally knew who I was, and I could thrive in any situation with that knowledge, right?
The first few months there, I stayed in weekly rental hotel and pissed away a lot of money. I spent money on a new wardrobe, too. I needed one; I left all of my boy clothes in Indiana. On August 1, 2016, after coming out to friends and family in April, I was full-time, never to go back.
After the money started to disappear, I was taken in by another trans woman. I paid her a few months rent in advance. One morning, as I set out to go look for a job anywhere, I came across some chalk marks underneath the door to my truck. I figured the kids were out playing and goofing around, but then I looked closer. My heart nearly stopped, butterflies exploded in my stomach, and instant paranoia set in. These weren’t the markings of children, these were the writings of adults. I took a picture.
I posted the image on Facebook, expecting some OMGs and maybe some WOWs, but it spread like wildfire. The Indianapolis LGBTQ+ community raced to my defense. The BLM movement in Indianapolis asked how they could help. Kit Malone, who now works for the ACLU in Indiana, took me into her home for a few days so I could regroup.
I found out that it was the religious, alcoholic neighbors who lived above us that provided the artwork. They are young, bohemian-looking folks. The woman, who was responsible for the markings, even admitted to the apartment management that she did it.
So yeah, I called the police. I told them who did it and pointed to the window she was hanging out of, waving and laughing. Their response was swift and decisive: this isn’t a crime, sorry.
It was at that moment when I realized that I had NO protection. It was at that moment that I realized that I, up until I transitioned, had a fuck-load of privilege that came with being a cisgender, white male. It was at that moment when I realized what marginalized people went through all the time. All of that was gone. I now belonged to a small group of people to whom survival was a daily struggle.
I did a few TV interviews with WRTV6 and WISHTV8, in Indianapolis. Both interviewers were amazing, supportive, and kind. Here are the links to the original articles. I’m going to be insensitive to myself, because I can laugh at myself. In the WRTV6 interview, I look like Peter Griffin in a blond wig, as one commenter stated. It’s true, but looks are not important to me. Not in the least. It’s about something so much more important: survival. Anyhoo, here are the links.
WRTV 6 Interiew (below)
Survival. I am not talking about survival for myself, I am talking about survival for everyone like me or different from the mainstream idea of ‘normality’ that simply doesn’t exist and never has. There are different forms of activism, and I choose to use the ‘sword in my heart,’ as J.S. Strazinsky spoke of when G’kar, a character on Babylon 5, was confronted with a similar decision on how to fight oppressors. I can write. I can write well enough that people will read my words. I wrote a badly-edited novel in 2013 that garnered over 15,000 downloads within a year. I’ve since cleaned it up and put it in print, mind you.
But, I can write. It’s something I can do. With the next four years harboring uncertainty for the LGBTQ+ Community, the African American Community, hell, all communities that are not white-centric, we need to speak up. We need to be louder than ever. Some of us prefer the front lines, whether those lines are a few feet from the police, or standing in the state house, speaking up against legislation designed to put transgender people in harm’s way. Activism, as one trans woman once said (I don’t remember her name, but I will credit her when I figure it out), “Being out as transgender is activism in itself.” I think that goes for everyone on this side of the political crevice.
We are all activists in our own way. Being who you are is activism. Coming out is activism. It’s not important how we speak up; it’s just important that we do.
Where Am I Now?
I’m hesitant to say where I am geographically, except that I am in a very liberal town in Indiana. That shouldn’t be too hard to figure out, since there are only one or two. Financially, I am not so good, but I am not wasting money on external things that don’t matter in the end. I own a $1,000 car. I sleep on the floor, mostly as a reminder of how unruly I had let my life become. I’ve paid six months of rent, and six months of car insurance in advance.
I am working hard on a few books coming out this year while still selling my first novel, Rosalind (written under my dead name), in order to eat. I have a computer that will last me ten years if I treat it right. I am highly educated and running on my own power, now. I do not answer to a boss, and I suspect that I won’t ever again. My life is up to me. If I fail, I own it. If I succeed, I own it.
I’m going to succeed.
I am chugging along in grad school with a 3.7 GPA at National University. Straight A- average, actually. My last professor was Ronda Rousey’s mother, AnnMaria De Mars. She is a very inspirational person for me. My life goal is to get into a Ph.D. program for Epidemiology, the study of how disease affect populations. Fascinating stuff. Lots of reading. Lots of calculations, predictive analysis, statistical theory and application. Lots of purpose and life-saving potential that I can be a part of. If there is anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that helping people is the meaning of life. By helping people, you help yourself.
I still have my friends, and have gained even more friends where I live currently. I attend a group every week for transgender, non-binary, and like-minded people.
For now, I just am.
And I belong here.