Friday, October 31, 2014

How Scary is AIDS?

As I struggled to color in the lines of the ovals I‘d carefully traced, I wondered what the President of the United States would want with 27 original interpretations of “Jar of Jelly Beans”- in crayon on paper. I knew he got them every year in a big yellow envelope sent to the White House from our first grade teacher.

At seven I didn’t know the president was maxed out at an eight year run. My teacher was like 100 years old and Ronald Reagan was like 100 years old, so I naturally assumed for the last hundred years he got a yellow envelope from my teacher full of jellybeans he couldn’t eat. I was sure mine were the lumpiest-least jellybean shaped-jellybeans ever to be sent to him. I didn’t want the President to think I didn’t love the USA so I decided to only write my first name in the bottom corner of picture – maybe he’d confused me with another Julie somewhere in the world.


I didn’t say much in school. I spoke once in kindergarten. The teacher asked us to pick up an orange crayon to color the Tiger on our coloring page. As I struggled to stay the lines she said “Good. No one here is colorblind. You all see your colors right.”
I asked, without first raising my hand, how she knew no one was colorblind.
“Everyone picked up their orange crayon. No one picked up red or blue or green, so everyone sees the orange crayon is for the orange tiger.”
I mulled this over while trying to keep the head of my crayon confined to the solid black outline of the Tiger.
“What if,” I forgot to raise my hand again “it looks like red to my eyes but I say it’s orange because I think orange is the word for what I really see as red.”
“Stop talking nonsense and focus on staying in the lines. You don’t want to get held back, do you?”


I didn’t say much else that year. When I did I made sure it was something I’d heard my classmates say before. Kindergarten logic wasn’t ready to explore the nature of perception.


I tried again in first grade. NASA and space were the most popular things to talk about. I sat on the reading rug next to a boy was talking about flying a spaceship all over the universe. I asked him which one. He said there was only one universe.  I told him I didn’t believe him and he tattled on me.

The teacher asked me to explain myself. I told her that I was here because of everything that already happened to me but if things have been different I wouldn’t be here on the reading rug. But I’d still be me – just in a different universe. I was excited to finally talk about this with a smart grown-up teacher!

Ever since I’d gotten to first grade I daydreamed about climbing into the phone booth in the classroom (yes – it was there) and visiting myself and other universes. I wanted to see how different I was when all the bad stuff didn’t happen. The teacher told me to stop being foolish to stop teasing the boy.

I held back tears and vowed never to speak again in class. My mom bribed me with stickers to get me to raise my hand and answer questions. I only answered what was asked-the curiosity that rattled between my ears never made it past my lips.



I learned about Ryan White through playground gossip. He was a very nice little boy who was sick and got AIDS and it wasn’t even his fault. No of us knew what AIDS was, but it was way worse than cooties. Only really bad people got AIDS, mostly gay people. No one could figure out what gay people were or why the bad ones got AIDS. We all just tried not to get sick like Ryan White-we knew we didn’t want AIDS.
               
One kid told the teacher his big brother said we could get AIDS from the drinking fountain or if someone spit on us. 27 first graders consumed with fear of catching AIDS, which we each imagined as the worst possible sickness our active little minds could produce, prompted our teacher to address the issue.
               
We were taught the right and wrong way to drink from the water fountain. (Your mouth doesn’t need to touch the fountain at any point.) Spitting, which had previously been unallowed, was strictly forbidden-even on the playground. The boys would still spit, the girls would tattle and someone was always reduced to hysterics.
               
I knew that in some other universes I might get AIDS but I was determined not to get it in this one. I would see spit on the sidewalk and cross the street to avoid it. No matter how hard I played at recess or P.E. I never took a drink from the fountain.

               

I had a loose tooth. My brother kept offering to pull it out-he wanted to try this scientific way involving a string tied to my tooth and a slamming door. I told him to wait until one of his own was loose, I didn’t want him near my tooth.
               
It came out during recess-pulled from the root by a piece of Banana Laffy Taffy. I freed the tooth and popped the candy back in my mouth. I had a folded up five dollar bill I took from my Dad’s wallet in the Kangaroo pocket of my right sneaker. Luckily the left shoe pocket was empty. I had a dollar in it yesterday but spent it at the candy store. It was really a drug store but it wasn’t til years later I even noticed they sold non-candy items.
               
With the tooth zipped safely away in my tiny shoe pocket I detected the metallic blood taste invading my banana candy. I wanted to spit out the bloody mass of taffy but hesitated. If someone saw and tattled I’ve have to talk to the teacher. She would punish me for spitting and make me rinse my mouth at the water fountain. I would get AIDS for sure. On the way to recess I witnessed a 2nd grader put his entire mouth over the fountain!
               
               

I knew I couldn’t panic. I just had to make it for 30 min after recess until we got our milk break. It was a long time to go without water or spitting but the chocolate milk would wash it all away.  Plus I had five whole dollars in my shoe. I could buy an extra carton to make sure no blood taste was left.

I made it through the 30 minutes by daydreaming telephone booth trips to visit myself in other universes. In some verses the Julie still had the tooth. One she spit out the blood. One she rinsed her mouth in the fountain.  One she let my brother tie the string to the doorknob.

Every time too much spit built up in my mouth I swallowed it until finally the milk cart arrived. I swished the chocolate milk between my teeth and sucked it down. I had enough credits to get two more cartons-white, not chocolate-without dipping into my shoe money. The blood and spit were gone and I spent the rest of the afternoon poking at the new space with my tongue. It all turned out pretty good.


Bouncing around on the way home I stopped dead in my tracks. I had been so careful to avoid everyone else’s spit, but what about my own? I couldn’t even add up how much spit I swallowed after my tooth fell out I was gonna get AIDS for sure. In my instant panic I puked three cartons of milk and banana Laffy Taffy right there in the middle of the sidewalk.

I sprinted home cutting through back yards and gardens, tears streaming down my cheeks, fear taking over. I hid in my walk-in closet snuggled inside my Care Bear sleeping bag. I knew I would get punished for getting sick with gay AIDS. I didn’t want anyone to find out.

My brother found me hours later-he woke me up to give me his best 3rd grade magician’s sales pitch for tooth removal. I plucked the tooth out of my shoe to show him it was already out and he ran off to warn my parents the tooth fairy would be breaking into our house tonight.

The gay AIDS could wait, besides I was really good at keeping secrets.


I wondered how long it would take before everyone found out about my AIDS. It sounded like times were tough for Ryan White, I didn’t want that too. I didn’t want kids on other playgrounds all over the USA gossiping about how dumb I was to swallow my own spit and get AIDS.

I daydreamed about which universes I had AIDS and which I didn’t.  This kept the fear from taking over.


When 2nd grade started I asked my teacher if you could get AIDS from swallowing your own spit. She said I was dumber than a box of rocks and laughed at me. I wouldn’t be speaking in 2nd grade either but I’d already said too much and the teacher bullied me all year.


After winter break we crowed around the AV cart to watch the Space shuttle Challenger explode.


We didn’t have to worry about AIDS anymore. Spitting and water fountain etiquette were back to their old ways.  Boys were downgraded to simpler cooties.  Our little minds couldn’t manage so much fear so we picked the one we understood. We still didn’t exactly know what gay and AIDS was-our minds could replay the Challenger explosion over and over. The choice of what to fear was easy.

AIDS had come and gone in our little world. We had more scars from chicken pox. Gay would grow in popularity as a taunting name call but AIDS rarely came up. It wasn’t even as scary as cooties anymore.

               



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Juggling Act

When the moon reaches full I pause my busy-ness. I hold fire ceremony and make offerings, remembering gratitude and letting go of what I don’t need to hold onto.

Last moon I asked for guidance. My plate is so full, it’s a buffet line. I have a wedding to plan, a soulmate to marry, an educational venture, and self-employment moving out of the extra bedroom into a real office. I have travel plans, zoo visits, meditation retreats, volunteering, mentoring, a garden and all the duties I love as a househusband. I don’t know where I’m going to fit the dance lessons, hiking trips, and pickup games at the gym. This is the best problem I’ve ever had.

A modern day juggling act is my kind of performance. I meet my mentees at the zoo and work on my Lindy hop while watering the tomatoes. But my fancy footwork isn’t enough. I’ve been making time for everyone and everything – except my writing. When I turn my attention to the writing projects filling the pages of my brain, everything I’ve got in the air comes crashing down. Those flaming chainsaws hurt when they nick you.

Last moon I asked for help. I asked what I needed to do to get my pencil on the page. I asked how to keep it there without losing the quality of my juggling routine. In return for an answer I offered to follow instructions as handed down. I promise not to question “why,” to just “do” as guided.

I chanted and danced and tossed the offering into the fire. After a deep sleep I woke feeling different. At first I thought I was just well rested, but as the hours ticked by I realized something changed.


In my promise to follow instructions I thought maybe I’d write at night before all the laundry was folded, perhaps leaving the towels in the dryer – not jumping up at the sound of the buzzer. Or maybe listening would mean less time texting and playing on Facebook. I was pretty wrong.

Listening was my rite of passage. My writing mind crossed into a grown-up land. I’ve always just set the pencil to the page and let the words write out – like an artist doodling in a sketchbook. The stories are good but they only scratch the surface.

Looking back at this blog – this is my sketchbook, these are my doodles. They came out of my pencil. I applied a little polish on the way to my screen. And that’s that.

I started this blog about coming out as transgender. I was surprised by the support.
I got raw with my doodles (go back and look.) My inbox flooded with “me too.”

I flipped a coin to decide if I should write about MPD, a diagnosis I spent decades trying to evade. Heads it was. I kept the stories light and humorous, but it was a big reveal. My usual supporters were silent and I feared I went too far. Then I got a steady stream of “me too,” and “I’m so glad I’m not the only one.” And “no one else writes about MPD,” and “please write more, please.”

It’s time to make my art.

Here I am, as a grown-up, writing the story that almost kept me from reaching adulthood. I set a deadline to have the skeleton of my memoir together in a formal book proposal. I’m laying out the table of contents and refining the storyboard. I’m balancing the planning with the actual writing. I’m filling in the flesh and guts and muscle of my existence and searching for the tendons and ligaments to weave it all together. Each story is being worked and reworked to piece together the anatomy of my survival.

Thank you for reading my doodles. I will be looking for readers of both the proposal (sooner) and the first draft (later). As always, I welcome introductions to agents/editors/publishers.
If all goes well I’ll see you on the book tour.

It’s one thing to have a dream and another to go out and get it.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Facebook "real names," #WhyIStayed, #WhyILeft

Dear Facebook,

You slapped me in the face, and this is why I stayed. We had a good thing going and it’s not like you gave me a black eye or anything.

I didn’t take you seriously when we first met. I had my .edu email address and my baby sister created my profile. She chose ‘pukeface’ as my password. I didn’t change that for eight years. At nearly 30, I was the old man on campus an elder on Facebook. I made friends with the school’s hip kids – now full-bearded hipsters – and set up a cat book for my feline. I periodically logged in from my laptop – smart phones were blackberries carried by executives – and poked my friends, hoping next week I’d get poked back. Do you remember the good old days?

It was time to grow up. You graduated and got a real job. You let anyone join and you took their money with a smile. That was the point of the.edu, right?

I shared in your success. I wasn’t limited to my college friends. I reached back to high school, junior high, elementary school and even the neighborhood kids I knew from the days of skinned knees and easy bake ovens. I friended my family. I no longer had to rely on weddings and funerals to catch up on all the gossip. I learned which cousins had kids and who everyone belonged to.  I loved when someone posted an old picture of my grandmother and her sisters. Across the miles the family shared a moment in the comments.

Our greatest accomplishment wasn’t remembering the old stories-it was creating new ones. Together we built a safe space for community to grow. I live under the Trans umbrella. I am blessed to be part of the most diverse community on earth. We belong to every demographic grouping the world can dream up, except one. You know this, you gave us 56 options because we are so much more than M and F. The Trans community doesn’t fit into the binary gender boxes- yet we are present in every other categorization of humans on this planet.

Facebook, honey, you revolutionized living as Trans. We came out on your walls. We supported each other in your groups. We leaned on each other through legal transition, social transition, and medical transition. We asked for help. We stopped reinventing the wheel. We shared tips and tricks. We celebrated the victories. We didn’t let the murdered ones among us be swept away and forgotten.

When one of us cried out for help, we found the closest person to check on their safety. We never had to be alone in this mighty struggle with ourselves and our identities. Even if we were kicked out of families, fired from jobs, assaulted or beaten, you gave us safe space to step away from hate so we could become our authentic selves. We had a platform to educate and grow our allies. We had the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Facebook, you’ve changed my world and I have so many reasons to stay. I get invited to events, group chat with friends, and can message anyone anytime. My fiancĂ©e and I shared our engagement pictures. I remember my friends lost to suicide by reaching out to their loved ones. Many of my readers navigate to my blog from my wall. I’m watching my friends’ kids grow and never have a shortage of cat pictures in my news feed. I share grief and joy. I have Trans friends all over the world. I laugh at the funnies. I bear witness to the sad and horrible. We even stood up and broke silence about a child molester to keep his grandkids safe. We have been quite a team.

As an added bonus, every year about 100 friends tell me “happy birthday” and a handful leave a personalized birthday greeting. A boy could get used to all that attention.

But Facebook, you slapped me and I’m not going to turn the other cheek. This is why I'm leaving. I’m not going to let you destroy my community for not using our “real names.” You have let us build a lifeline and now you want to pull the plug. Not everyone is able to move safely through this world with a name that matches their ID, especially in the Trans world. I’m privileged to have a legal name that matches my identity. You can’t shut me down for not using my “real name”, but I can walk away. If my friends can’t be safe on Facebook, I’m leaving. I won’t stand for this abuse.

Love,
Me  (not my real name)

Displaying photo.JPG



My friends with Facebook names that do not match ID are:

Mental health professionals with unsafe clients
Human service employees (foster care, food stamps)
Government employees in customer service positions
Social workers in group homes for adolescents
LGBT friends not out at work
LGBT friends not out to family
Friends who want to separate personal life from professional life
K-12 educators
Friends with known criminals in their family (same last name, same geographic location)
Authors writing under pen names
Artists/musicians/DJs/drag performers
Friends in recovery building a clean life
Friends with abusive/dangerous ex
Friends with abusive/dangerous families
Doctors/nurses/psychotherapists/healthcare providers
Friends who have been raped, assaulted, threatened and/or stalked
Friends who live in place where it is illegal to be LGBT
Trans community members
            (Some Trans friends cannot transition and can only be themselves online)
(Not every Trans friend can or is ready to change their name)
(Each US state and non-US country varies in costs and requirement to change name)

None of my friends on this list are lacking integrity. I don’t lack integrity either.

#WhyILeft


Thursday, August 7, 2014

No More Secrets

Fear rises with the setting sun
3 and a half decades of sleepless nights
dozing only when the sky
BREAKS
        with first light

The only sleep I ever got was under the influence
               of powerful prescription pills
guaranteed to relax so much I’ll stop breathing
                10 times an hour
washed down with a six pack
and a machine to keep my numbed up airway open

More than a decade of talk therapy
 paying to say all the right things
  pretending my wounds were healing nicely
   ignoring the pus oozing from the
        ravaging infection

They put my Monster Uncle Tom McClain behind bars
million dollar bank fraud
Dad always said he was a
        shitty accountant
it would catch up with him someday

I hated Monster Uncle Tom
                so much
I became an accountant and
    I’m not shitty at all

Once I knew he was
safe behind bars
The fear cleared just enough
to let me face the
                horror
of what he did to little me.

Clawing through all the
things that heal old
   deep infected wounds
I could feel joy
  and smile like
life might somehow be okay

He sent me letters from his cell
  reminding me
what he did to the little
girl I used to be
“No more secrets”
      I replied
Still, I didn’t tell
Who would believe a guy
     “like me”

I began to sleep
and wake refreshed
    at peace
not ravaged by the
   panic no longer hand in
   hand with sleep

All the small steps
   and look how far
      I’ve come

The silence is screaming

I dream Uncle tells the world what
    he did to me
 and the others
They would believe him
  and he promises he has NO REMORSE
     and they respect his honesty

I’d rather not sleep
  than dream he’s still
     their hero.

Facebook shows him
         free
 out of bounds
 with a little girl
     on his lap
 just like I used
       to be.

Fear creeps back
into my dreams
like his giant hand
creeping between
my tiny legs

I told them once
“children should be seen
    not heard”

I told them twice
“I’m sorry.  I didn’t know,
  You need to grow up.”

I told them three times
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know”
(I guess they forgot)
“Pray for a miracle.”

The miracle is
  I survived

The world sleeps as
I wonder how many more
will tell stories of
    surviving
 sitting on his lap

How many tiny bodies
 were destroyed by
his giant hands.

I was punished for
  speaking out

How many were
         RAPED
    by your hero
        because
no one listened?

No more secrets.

No more secrets.





Friday, June 6, 2014

Matt Kailey Was A Giant

Matt Kailey was a giant. He was actually more David than Goliath, a little on the short side-small hands, small feet-narrow shoulders on a slight frame. Matt didn’t have bulging biceps or a chest covered with fur. He didn’t have a demanding physical presence or a take up a lot of space. Matt wasn’t that kind of giant.

As people learned of Matt’s death, they felt a giant loss. The comments flooded in. This man who wrote some books, taught some classes, answered questions on his blog, spoke to classrooms, gave trainings, presented at conferences,…was now gone. Messages from all over the world proved that small, humble Matt was in fact, a giant.

Messages like:

“I never met him, but he changed/saved/had a profound impact on my life/transition/well-being.”

“I’m a better man/transman/woman/parent/sibling/friend/co-worker/person because of Matt Kailey”

“I wasn’t very close to Matt but I’ll never forget meeting him”

“I haven’t seen him in years. I couldn’t have transitioned without his support.”

“Matt was always there.” 

“The community and the world lost an amazing person.”

What struck me was the enormous number of lives Matt touched. He didn’t have to spend days or even hours with someone to have an impact. Over the years he and I talked a handful of times, exchanged a few emails, crossed paths at conferences and events and sat in a few support groups together. I don’t know if he remembered my name or face. I’d always introduce myself “Hi Matt, I’m Jules (pause) the tax guy.” His face would light up with recognition. He’d once interviewed me in Out Front about my LGBT tax practice.  I was coming out of the stealth closet and back into the community; his support was crucial. We’d often talk about writing; taxes are boring to most people. He understood the power of written words.  We talked about how powerful writing is for the writer-if the (eventual) reader also benefits from the words, that’s even better. Matt wrote a lot for other people -writers love an audience- but he always supported and encouraged me to write for myself. I once asked him what it was like to try to make a living as a writer; his reply was the writing was living.

He didn’t have to take time to listen or answer my emails or share his wisdom, but he did. What a gift.

Witnessing the impact of his passing, I realized that Matt always took the time to listen, answer emails and share words of wisdom. When someone was suffering and reached out, Matt met them where they were and did what he could to ease their pain.


I wondered, “how did one man do so much good, locally and globally?” My next thought was “who is going to step up and fill his shoes?” Matt wasn’t just a voice for trans people; he was a voice for all people.

Who is going to continue his work? Who is going to pick up where he left off?

No one can take Matt’s place.

We can continue his work. We can follow his example. We can moderate a support group. We can sit on a panel. We can present at a conference We can talk to a college class. We can be out. We can be honest. We can be real. We can share our stories. When we hear the voice of someone who is suffering, we can met them where they are  and let them know they are not alone.

If each and every one of us who was made better by knowing Matt gives a little bit of our goodness to make life better for someone else, we might get close to the vastness of his kindness.

I don’t know how his small frame held his giant heart.


Matt, thank you for your life.

Matt's blog Tranifesto 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

NaNoWriMo- The Results Are In

The goal was to write a novel in a month. Julie and I prepared for a cage match competition to be the first to pen 50,000 words and take the NamaRupa NaNoWriMo trophy. Story boards were planned, pencils sharpened, and dueling desk spaces established. 

The day before the competition was to begin, a kidney infection let out a roar.  It had already defied a round of antibiotics and was raging. Wave after wave of fever burned up the body, and delirium became the norm.

Eleven days into the competition The Crew had each lived through a series of fantasy novels in a dream-like state. Sadly when I looked to see what had been captured, not a word had been penned.

The infection was eradicated by the second round of antibiotics, and we were ready to write. Julie and I took turns and in three days wrote  10,000 words between the two of us.  The competition was at the half way point. We knew we could get our stories written - 90,000 words in 15 days didn’t seem like much at all.

We even gave MJ the pencil for a few hours. He had stories to tell, and we wanted to make sure he had the opportunity to be part of the fun.

Life without infection and constant fevers was different. We realized the bacteria had been hanging out for months, if not all year. We had had days where they had been quiet and weeks where they raged. We also learned about fever delirium. Sometimes when a person has a fever, they lose a little touch with reality. Maybe they see things that others don’t see. Maybe their logic - so solid in their own mind - makes not a bit of sense to other rational beings. Maybe the slightest increase in body temperature opens the portal to the land of make-believe; but it’s a SECRET portal, and only the traveler knows he’s gone through to the other side.

Looking back at psych hospitalizations revealed an interesting pattern. I’d end up in the ER for psych evaluation.  The urinalysis would reveal an infection, and antibiotics would be taken at the little glass window. Three days later when the psych hold was up, hallucinations and other psych symptoms would be long gone. I’d be laughing, smiling, feeling better- all without taking any psych meds. I’d be back in the common shared reality with no fevers.  The docs would say maybe I just needed a few days to catch my breath. I’m pretty kinda sure I just needed a few days for antibiotics to start knocking out the infection.

The days and nights of fever dreaming provided excellent material for the novels. Creativity is not hindered by reality when delirium is driving the story line. The words couldn’t hit the page fast enough.

Until the body came to a grinding halt.

Kidney stones had formed as a result of the ongoing infections, and someone decided it was a great time for them to exit. The rest of November was filled with episodes of face-down screaming, fevers, tears, texts and conversations that made sense to NO ONE outside of the body - and lots and lots of trips to the land of make-believe.  

We would write and write; and when the fever and stone passed, we would look to see what stories were captured. One day after a particularly intense writing session, I turned on the screen to see that I’d written
“ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjlllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll…”



My cat accused me of plagiarism.


MJ woke up one day so excited about the “40 pages he wrote in his notebook.” The sadness on his face when he opened the journal and thumbed through all the blank pages was enough to break even the hardest heart.

The 100,000 words were not written, not even with MJ’s bonus stories. The final breakdown looked like this:

Jt             12,854
Julie         4,897
MJ            1,523

I got one decent story out of my words: “Passing Stones with David Sedaris.”

I was intending to post it on the blog, but the word count is high and I didn’t know if anyone would read the entire story. Message me if you’d like to read it.


Tax season starts next week. I will pause my story writing until after April 15th.  Watch out NaNoWriMo. Next year I’m taking the NamaRupa trophy. Not even kidney stones will stop me this time….