On My Third Birthday of Coming Out as Transgender
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Last year I wrote about the fears I had of the upcoming winter. Fall and winter are often the worst times of year for me mentally. Two years ago, I went to the hospital twice in the span of two months for suicidality. Last year, with medicine, a wonderful therapist, Kellie Brunton of Ambler, PA, friends, a loving community at Love in Action UCC in Hatboro, PA, my poetry, and spiritual life, I had the best winter I have yet to have as far as mental stability is concerned. I am so grateful.
This fall is more foreboding. I know I need an adjustment in my meds. I feel myself sliding backwards (deeper?) into my mental illness. Fleeting thoughts of suicide and self-harm travel through my mind on a daily basis. And while they are passive thoughts—they are there more than they’ve been in a long time.
I begin this annual update on my trans-journey because it is, for me, part and parcel of my experience. By that I do not mean to suggest that I am mentally ill as a result of being trans. No. Being transgender IS NOT a mental illness, and while coming out three years ago blew up my life and that certainly didn’t help my mental illnesses, bring trans is a gift—-it is not, in any way, a mental illness.
My mental illnesses are part and parcel of my trans experience because they exist side-by-side, or, better put, are interwoven. So, to read this update on my Coming-Out-Birthday is to read also about my mental health, or lack thereof.
All that said, it’s been an exciting year with regards to trans-activism. I’m fortunate to have been featured on an episode on the Internationally famous, Liz Plank’s, Divided States of Women. The episode also featured my faith community, Love in Action UCC (LIA). I was also featured in a front-page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that also celebrated the wonderful work being done by LIA. Most importantly, LIA and myself helped Hatboro, PA, pass a human rights ordinance to help protect people of the LGBTQIA community. It was an honor to be able to speak before the major (the incredibly badass, Nancy Guenst) and the City Council. I have also led LGBTQIA support groups at LIA, local libraries, marched in marches, written to political figures, given workshops on what it is to be trans, and will be performing in October for the important revue of This is My Brave—a national organization for helping end the stigma of mental illness. I was also honored to be the first ever representative of the LGBTQIA community at Glenside Elementary School’s Diversity Festival.
These many opportunities for activism in both trans-causes and helping to end the stigma of mental illness, have been rewarding and hopeful. And I need to be careful.
The more I do, the more I run the risk of careening into mania and then depression. It is still an evolving process of learning to navigate feeling joy and being manic. At least I am aware that this is a danger. That said, I am missing more of the signs of mental health relapse, which is why I know I need an adjustment in meds. In addition to transient thoughts of self-harm, mania has been slowly encroaching on my life and I am struggling with some of the symptoms of my mania—compulsive spending, eating, grandiose thoughts, plans, and ideas, racing thoughts, sleepless nights, the struggle to try and slow down both mentally and physically—the drive to plough through life is intense, as well as a myriad of other manifestations. All of this impacts my trans-experience by making dysphoria worse, by making the anxiety to leave my apartment even to just go shopping worse—alongside, paradoxically, the increased amount of publicity I am both seeking and being sought after for trans activism.
I don’t know where it’s all leading. I am still unemployed. I came close to getting a couple teaching jobs, but they both fell through. I continue to joyously volunteer at LIA helping direct an LGBTQIA Center at LIA, and that goes a long way towards helping keep my mental illness in check.
My finances, thanks to being bipolar and being unemployed, are worse than ever. I have to appear in debtors court in a couple weeks. I am close to filing for bankruptcy, and I have no savings of any kind.
I’ve had to move yet again, and although I am now living in the most adorable apartment, it was a huge stress to move for the third time in two years. I am hopeful this new space will be long-term. I love it here.
I continue to have the love and support of my ex, and the kids. We went on a family vacation for the first time in probably six years this summer. We went to the Redwoods and Sequoias, and was the funnest time, for me, our family has ever had together.
Poetry is still my beloved friend. Music too.
I continue to do healing where my sexual abuse traumas are concerned, and while that work is gut-wrenching, it is, of course, crucial, and ultimately transforming and liberating.
My father passed away last spring and that brought many challenges with family and the coming to terms with his not speaking with me the last nine months of his life. I sent him pictures of myself and after that, all communication ceased. I wasn’t permitted to go to his funeral because I’m trans, which was incredibly painful. My brother, however, arranged a private viewing for me, and for that I am deeply grateful. In addition, when he wrote the obituary, he referred to me as Jennifer. I wept when I saw that. He calls me Jennifer all the time now, and that means the world to me.
All-in-all, it’s been a challenging, rewarding, and busy year, and I am so glad I’m alive. Being transgender—being a woman—is an evolution of transformation, wonder, and gratitude. My transition has shifted a bit in my gender expression—I am comfortable now with some days not shaving, and I am presenting a little more non-binary, which is fine with me. My definition of what it means to be “feminine,” is broadening, and that too, is fine with me—and important as well. I have given up on dating–and by that I mean the complete lack thereof. I am gradually accepting that a long-term relationship is simply not in the cards for me. Lastly, with regards to my physical transitioning, I am grateful to have had an orchiectomy, and that has gone a long way in being comfortable my own body. Full gender affirmation surgery is probably not going to happen due to finances, and I am gradually surrendering to that.
Thank you for your continued support, encouragement, love, and care. I am so blessed with so many wonderful friends. I humbly request your prayers for where my mental health is concerned, and I ask you to continue writing to politicians, schools, places of worship advocating for the rights of LGBTQIA people, to coming with us to marches and protests, to keep sharing with your families, friends, and communities that LGBTQIA people are as deserving of human rights as anyone else.
Peace, my friends, I love you all.