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.
Let’s talk about boobs–particularly my boobs. If you’re already thinking: “This is TMI”, then you might want to stop reading now. Anywho….
So, I’m growing boobs, and I like my boobs. I got a head start when I thought I was a “guy,” and had, “man-boobs.” Now I have a fun pair of boobs that I admire very much.
Up until this week I have worn a bra everywhere I go–and I loved it. I mean, I loved coming home and taking it off (especially doing the take-it-off-while-keeping-your-shirt-on-trick), but, in general, I liked bras. Mostly because they gave my boobs a nudge upwards. As much as I like my boobs I am not thrilled that I’m 50 and my boobs are forming an increasingly intimate relationship with gravity.
Yesterday I did something that I am very proud of. Doing it today too. This may not sound like a big deal to you, but for me, it is a big step in body-positivity and self-acceptance:
I chose to not wear a bra, and I went outside, shopping, etc. I just had a Pride t-shirt on and some capris……It felt SO liberating! I loved it. As I walked there was a little sensation of jiggling, and that made me feel giddy. At one point I walked by a store window and saw clearly that my nipples were proudly protruding from under my shirt. Even my bumply areolas were somewhat visible. I smiled. I liked it.
And yes, I felt weird when people went by–several men and women looked at my chest as I walked around…and there were moments I felt really ashamed in general and felt compelled to cross my arms.
That said, as I mentioned, it was a freeing experience in body acceptance and, I daresay, a celebration. I’m very pleased with myself.
Being friends with a dragon takes some getting used to. For one thing their digestive systems are always rumbling like an old car. When they burp, which is often, foul smelling smoke comes out of both ends, and little spurts of fire sometimes ignite nearby curtains or sofas. Another thing is that they sometimes eat people which is hard to explain to the authorities when they come looking for said eaten person.
However there are many benefits of being friends with a dragon. For example, they eat people—people who are bullying you or harassing you, which really cuts down on being bullied when word spreads that people who pick on you end up disappearing, leaving only a few bits of hair and sneakers behind. Another benefit is that they burp, and foul-smelling smoke comes out of both ends—which is another good deterrent for bullies—as are the little spurts of flames aimed at particularly sensitive areas on bullies.
You might be wondering why I have so many bullies flocking around me. You see, I am trans—transgender. And I’m a kid. I was born nine years ago and everyone thought I was a boy. And even though I was born with the parts that would make some people assume I was a boy, I am a girl, and I know I’m a girl. My parents know now as well—after years of me insisting on wearing dresses they finally got it. Not that dresses defines being a girl, but my folks are old-fashioned.
I am one of the lucky ones. My parents both accept me. I also have friends who do as well. It wasn’t always that way though, and when I first came out things, shall we say, got ugly. And that’s where being friends with Harbor came in handy. Yes, Harbor is my friend dragon, and he does by ‘he.’ My name is well, we’ll get to that, and this is the beginning of many beginnings and the end of many endings and the beginning of many endings and well, you get the idea.
Zimzir and the Dragon.
As I said, my parents were told I was a boy when I popped out on a cold winter morning in January. My parents named me, “Joseph.” It was an OK name, except it didn’t fit. At first, I didn’t understand why it didn’t fit. It just didn’t. Sort of like accidentally putting both legs into a pair of pants.
My parents were pretty OK though, and so I began to grow up, or, well, as I like to think of it—grow down. You see, I always felt like I was an alien or something. Like I came from up there in space somewhere. I just felt different from the earthlings around me. And so, it took me a few years to come down, so to speak into this body I didn’t want or ask for.
When I was a toddler (which is a really funny word if you think about it) I used to toddle to the laundry basket (my family did do laundry, but always left the clean laundry in a basket in my parent’s room, and I knew this, so I would, as I said, toddle to it, and then, with some effort, toddle over and into it, sort of like a misguided cat). Once in the basket I would do an artistic little dance as I sat there on the clean laundry with quite possibly a stinky diaper, which consisted of me throwing clothes around the room while I sang (the artistic little dance, that is, not my diaper). “Sang” isn’t quite the right description of the vocalizations that came out of my mouth. My singing was more like cows yodeling.
While in the laundry basket I used to fish out the “women’s” clothes and wrap them around my head. Then I would giggle and slobber into them.
And here I want to say that, of course, clothes (and toys, for that matter) (and well, anything for that matter, especially kids) (unless they want to be) should not be gendered. So, I put “women’s” clothes in those little quotation mark thingies just to let you know I think it’s absurd that people think there is such a thing as “women’s” clothing. For the rest of this story, however, I am not going to use quotation marks, mainly because they are annoying. Trust though, whenever I mention women’s clothes or boy’s clothes, I mean (with a big roll of my eyeballs) (eyeballs is also a funny word) that I mean “women’s” clothes and “boy’s” clothes.
As I grew down some more, I used to go into my parent’s room and not only fish out my mom’s clothes, but I try it on and parade around the house. This made my mother laugh and my dad yell.
“Take those off, Joseph. Those are girl’s clothes. You’re a boy,” he would say.
To which mom would say: “Oh, honey he’s just pretending.”
To which I would say to myself: “No, I’m not. These clothes might be too big for me now, but they are the kind of clothes I want to wear forever.” And then I would take them off and treat them as if they were threaded with gold, and fold them up neatly and put them back in the laundry basket.
One day, when I was around seven, I was at my cousin, Annabelle’s house, and I stole one of her dresses and wore it to school the next day. I felt so proud and happy. It felt like I was wearing cool, refreshing sunshine.
Sitting in the principal’s office after getting sent there by my teacher for causing a ruckus in class just because I was wearing a dress, was the first time I remember wishing I had never been born. “This sucks,” I thought, “I just want to be myself and everyone either gets mad or thinks I’m a joke.”
And while waiting for my mom to come bring me a change of clothes, I heard Harbor for the first time.
I say, “heard,” because the first thing I heard was a fart. I looked around the office. No one else was there but me. Upon sniffing however, I knew someone, or something—judging by the intensity of the fart-smell—was with me.
Then I heard a burp and saw a little burst of smoke and flame appear in the middle of the room near the ceiling. I jumped and let out a little scream.
“It’s alright,” said a voice that sounded like gentle thunder. It was a sound that soothed me and resonated through my lungs, “It’s just me, Harbor.”
“Hhh-Hhh,” was all I could manage to say. I sort of sounded like I was practicing dramatic exhales.
“Harbor,” the voice said again, causing a little storm to wave pleasantly through my heart.
“Harbor?” I said, “But, where are you?”
“Right here,” came the voice. And then, there—right there—in Principal-Poopy-Pant’s office (not his real name) (unfortunately), the air in front of me began to shimmer and quiver and take form and color and weight, and as it did, a dragon appeared before me—large, aqua green with purplish markings and wings folded neatly against the ceiling.
“You’re a dragon,” I sputtered, and my mouth, if it could have, would have opened down enough to hit the floor.
“Yup,” he said, “so I am.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I am here for you.”
“For me?” I gulped. “Like, here to eat me?”
“Oh no,” said the dragon. “I am here to be your companion. If you will allow me, that is.”
“Why do you want to be my companion? Do I need one?”
“Because I want to be. I know what it’s like to not be accepted for who you know you really are.”
“Yes. And ‘yes’ to your other question. We all need companions sometimes, and you have an especially challenging journey ahead, and I am offering my services.”
“Services?” I asked.
“I will be your protector; guardian angel, if you will.”
“I see,” I said, “I’m not sure what to say. I mean, here I am, in trouble again, talking to a dragon. I’m not sure how I feel about that or having a protector—let alone a dragon protector. I’ve always had to protect myself. I’m used to it, even when I do a crumby job at it.”
“I see,” said the dragon, “are you saying you would rather me go?”
I hesitated a moment, and then said, “Yes. I have always felt alone and that’s sort of how I like it—or at least, sort of like how I’m used to it.”
“That’s fair,” Harbor said, “I’ll just be going then.” And the dragon began to dissolve into the air.
“Wait,” I said, standing up for the first time since this encounter began, “can I change my mind? You know, if I decide later I want a companion, can you, I mean, will you, still be there?”
“I’m sorry,” the dragon said, pausing in mid-disappearing into thin air, “I may not be here for you. There are many like you who need protecting. However, someone will always be there for you, even it isn’t me.”
And as I stared hard into Harbor’s eyes and saw nothing but oceanic light, and kindness, and wisdom, and a sly sense of humor, I found myself saying: “Wait, please. Stay. Actually, being alone kind of sucks. Well, not all the time. Sometimes I love being alone and need to be alone and wish I could be alone forever, but in general, I have no one who accepts me as me, and you seem to. So, will you stay?”
With that Harbor fully materialized into the office again and lowered its great head down to eye level and said: “It would be an honor. And now, what shall I call you?”
I looked at the ground and shuffled my feet. “Well, my given name is ‘Joseph,’ but that’s not the name I want or call myself.”
“Well,” Little One in the Beautiful Dress, what would you like to be called?”
I looked up at Harbor and couldn’t believe I was about to tell someone the name I had always treasured secretly in my heart.
“It’s OK,” Harbor said, “you can tell me later. On your time. Always on your time.”
His voice rumbled gently through me.
“Besides,” he said, “we have work to do here. We need to get you out of this pickle the limited minds of the grown-ups around you have put you.”
“How?” I said.
“Watch,” Harbor said and winked, and then, shimmered into invisibility, but not before breathing a little puff of fire and placing it on my head where it disappeared into me like warm apple cider. And before I could say a thing, Principal Poopy Pants came out of his office.
“Your dad is here,” he said, “and he’s not happy.”
Just then, the office door opened and in stormed my father, jeans and a t-shirt in hand.
“What were you thinking, young man?” he said, lifting me from the chair by my arm. “Why do you do this? I don’t get it. It’s infuriating. Why do you want to dress like a girl?”
“Because I am a girl,” I found myself shouting, my whole body feeling as if it was filled with some kind of strange, warm power.
“You are not a girl!” my dad and the principal shouted together.
“Yes, she is,” said Harbor appearing suddenly in the room, smoke and ribbons of flame streaming from his flaring nostrils, his voice thundering.
My dad and Principal Poopy Pants leapt into each other’s arms and turned around to look at Harbor. They screamed like frightened sheep.
“Get this into your heads,” Harbor said, lowering his own to meet their terrified eyes, “If you still want to keep your heads. She is a girl. She feels better in dresses. Accept her for the truth of who she knows herself to be, or else.” And he puffed a burst of smoke around their heads. They coughed and tried to wave the smoke aside.
“But,” my dad began.
“But nothing,” Harbor growled.
“But…that’s my son, my son Joseph.”
“That’s not my name!” I shouted, and I felt like my words were smoke and fire.
Harbor puffed out a little flame that came inches from my dad’s nose. “Don’t,” said Harbor, pausing before growling the rest of his sentence, “Ever. Call. Her. That. Again.”
“But,” my dad attempted.
And then Harbor roared a roar that shook the furniture in the room. “No buts!” He bellowed.
“OK…OK,” my dad said. And then he looked at me, “This is going to take some getting used to.”
“Then get used to it,” Harbor said.
“Yeah,” I said, “Get used to it.”
I had never sassed my dad before, but instead of getting mad, he bent down and looked at me, gently putting his hands on my shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I think somehow I’ve always known, but I was afraid of what others would think, what people at church would say, what your friends or grandparents would say. But, if this is who you are, then I accept you, and will do everything I can to help you feel accepted. I never want you to feel wrong about being who you are. I’m so sorry.”
It was the first time I ever saw tears in my father’s eyes. I teared up too, and so did Harbor, who sniffled out a little fart scenting the room with, well, dragon fart smell, which was a lot like burnt toast, not altogether unpleasant, like the smell of horse poop that smells like mowed grass and straw.
“Now,” my father said, still holding my shoulders and wiping a tear from my eye, “what would you like to be called?”
I bowed my head and then lifted it up proudly and looked first at Harbor and then at my father. “My name,” I said, with all the power of a phoenix rising from the flames, “is Zimzir.”
My dad smiled and stood up and turned to Principal Poopy-Pants. “Mr. Poopy Pants,” he said (and I burst out laughing), “This is my daughter Zimzir. She likes this dress and she is going to stay in it and you and your school are going to everything in your power to help her feel accepted. Educate the students, teachers, parents. That’s your job. So, do it.”
“Yes,” added Harbor, breathing fire tinged smoke around the principal’s head, “Do it.”
Principal Poopy Pants shook his head like a bobble head in a car on a bumpy road.
And so, my father walked me back to my classroom, opened the door, looked at the teacher and then the other students seated at their desks.
“People,” he said like a warrior announcing the arrival of a princess, “this is may daughter, Zimzir. Whatever you may have thought of her before, this is who she is and if any of you have a problem with that you will have to deal with me.”
“And me,” said Harbor snaking his great, scaly head into the room.
The class and teacher screamed and Harbor winked at me and then disappeared.
The other kids shook their heads not knowing if what they just saw or heard was real.
My dad looked down at me and said: “You want to stay here…Zimzir, or would you like to go for some ice cream?”
“I want to stay,” I said, looking up at him and smiling, “let’s get ice cream after school.”
“You got it,” he said and turned to go pointing his finger at the teacher and class. “Remember what I said,” he warned.
And as I walked proudly to my desk, I looked out the window and saw Harbor. He looked like he was about to fart. The classroom windows were open. He got up real close to the window and winked at me. I plugged my nose. I knew what was coming. I sat down, smiled at him and knew I was me. Zimzir. And I, Princess Zimzir had a protector forever.
We may not all have a dragon as a friend, or parents who accept us. We can dream though, and we can do our best to be ourselves in however form that takes, and in however time that takes—even if it takes a lifetime. We need to do what is best and safest for us. And since not all of us have dragons, may we all be Harbors for one another—safe places we can go when we need understanding, support, love, laughter, and a place we can burp and fart with wild abandon. May we all be dragons and protectors for one another. May we lift each other up and take care of one another. And if you’re reading this and you’re not trans, then accept your kid, accept your friend, accept your relative. Or else. I know someone hungry just waiting for you to make the wrong move. Live your faith. Be a parent. Be a friend. Be an ally. Be a Harbor and breathe fire for the sake of people like me.
All donations for this post will be given to TransLifeLine.
I wrote this poem originally two years ago and is the title poem of my book by the same name. I have revised it rather drastically, and much more for the better. I hope it helps celebrate who we are, each other, and our future together.
A Poem for the Transgender Community
Jennifer Angelina Petro
We are all transcendent,
Shining across space and time in clouds
Of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen;
Each and every one of us transcends
Something, or someone, or somehow
Or someday—just to be able to stand here
In this very moment, catching our breath,
Learning to live–
We all transcend and become—
It is as simple as that.
Our blood streams are transoceanic,
Our bodies holy translations of spirit and soul,
Transcribed onto the pages of the world
By an Author who knows us by heart and accepts us as we are.
Yes, we are transpierced with pain—
Every day just leaving our house
And wondering if we will be safe—hurts.
Yes, we have been transplanted inside
And for some the ground grows more certain with every step,
While others cannot move out of fear for their lives.
Even as we progress in small ways and big,
Through a series of seemingly never-ending transversals only to find ourselves
Transported into more hatred, ignorance,
And shadow-driven insecurities of so-called, “religious” people—
We are still here—we will not give up.
We transilluminate boundaries
That no longer have solid meaning—they never did,
We are waking up to the truth that gender
Is not fixed—it is transmigratory—and no longer the transaxle
Of a tired binary sustained by those who have never even
Taken the time to get to know their own bodies–
Let alone love, or transform them into possibilities without shame—
Even though everything about people like us is transubstantiated
By living, breathing experience and science—for here we are, and yet we are told
We do not exist—We are told we do not deserve to exist—
Even though our lives are based on real, vital, valid, individual,
And continuous transitions of body and spirit,
We are still told we are evil, perversions,
Abominations before god.
How many more of us will be murdered by transient-thinking men
Before the world decides it is one more too many?
What makes transphobic people think they can transpose
An already faulty belief system onto us to justify or rationalize
Their unjustifiable and irrational actions and laws?
Do they really think we will not fight back against their genocidal ways?
My dear trans community, let us help transport one another
And the world, into a time where transcendencies are accepted as commonplace–
It will happen despite their barbaric ideas—
We will not be transfixed by their condemning and weakening gaze—They
Who cannot think past their own shadows—they too
Will be transformed.
We are living transmissions of realities
That shine a light on their small mindedness,
And we are here to stay.
We are not here to inspire some kind
Of transcultural revolution—
We ARE a revolution—
Every time we step out into the world
We declare that infinite possibilities exist.
Jesus of the transfiguration, came to transmute those who hate
And to set their limited beliefs on fire;
Jesus came to give them a spirit-transfusion to flush out
Both their own self-loathing and their fear of us–
Those of us, steeped in beatitudes and compassion
So deep, and forged by pain and marginalization,
As to be transcribed into living testaments
Of love’s transcendent power—we will inherit the earth.
Come, haters, shed your mantles of tissue and weariness,
Shed your tired ideological transparencies, and projections,
And transmigrate with us to a way of living where Jesus reigns
Alongside the mother tree and the transdimensional angels
Singing and dancing for the freedom of all souls.
For you will transpire—perhaps sooner than you want–
Life is transonic, yes, but it is death that comes at the speed of sound—
And when it does you shall be transposed against a backdrop of light
And seen for how you really lived.
We will continue to blossom and unfurl—transcendentalists
Of power—living rainbows moving ever forward—
We will continue to be transcendencies of glory,
And revelations of truth,
We will transcend you, transmogrify you, transverse you—
We will ever be here shining a light on your hypocrisies,
And reveling in the wonder of who we are.
And my beloved trans community,
May we transcend our own limited ideas of what it means
To really be trans, may we put an end to policing one another,
And instead accept one another for our transunique journeys.
May we all join forces to transfree ourselves and one another.
Jennifer Angelina Petro
I have four birthdays. The first being my “belly button” birthday—January 7th, 1968. The second being that April morning in 2015 when I realized in full conscious that I am transgender (I am not sure of the exact date, which is incredibly annoying—so I am going to pick, April 1rst. Not for the reasons you might automatically be thinking. Back in 2015, the International Day of Hope fell on April first—that’s why I’m picking it). My third birthday is the day I came out publicly—to the whole world—no more hiding—anything—ever: September 18, 2015. And finally, October 11, 2015—the day I started taking t-blockers and estrogen.
Two years ago today I posted a note on FB and on my blog. It’s a quaint, naive, defensive sort of note—filled with idealism, early forays into activism, my usual flare for the corny, and yeah, a big reveal. Most of you know the devastating fall out that note had on my life and the life of my family. With your help, however I carried through my last year as a teacher, loving every moment I got to be with those kids. I also saw the end of a marriage, the sale of a house, the moving into an apartment (twice in 3 months) alone, and the death threats, the relatives and friends who stopped talking to me, the people pissed I made this announcement on FB and my blog instead of telling them individually (yeah, that would have gone over well and not been the least bit emotionally exhausting), the meetings at school with angry parents, and also, the utter joy at freely walking through the world as I was always meant to. And THAT was a kind of blessing that is hard, even for me, to put into words.
Last year I posted a very depressing first coming-out birthday note. And as much as I spoke of being depressed that first year, little did I know the depression would worsen to the point of being life-threatening. Over the course of that first year—with all the difficult (to say the least) and naively unexpected life-changes, I careened shortly thereafter, into a severe and total breakdown with multiple hospital stays for suicidality. Looking back on my coming out letter, last year’s letter, and this–and you will notice depression has been with me the entire time. That’s because I am clinically depressed. I was born with depression, the same way someone is born with any other physical illness. It goes with me where ever I go. I say that to say, my suffering from depression isn’t because I’m trans. Being trans and coming out worsened my symptoms–yes, for sure–but the illness called, depression, has always been with me–since my earliest childhood days.
Which brings us to today. It has taken me a year to even truly begin to feel somewhat stable mentally and emotionally, and I am still not out of the woods as far as a recovery from this latest flare up of symptoms from my depression. And yes, fall is coming, and winter, and yeah, I usually go through those seasons chipper as a jar of glitter at a Pride parade…The difference this year though is that I am getting help from so many fronts—professionally, medically, therapeutically, spiritually, emotionally, and for all that I am, with trepidations, hopeful this year’s symptoms won’t be so extreme.
So here I am: two years old. Through all the changes, depression, dysphoria, unemployment, calls from debt-collectors, lonely days and nights in my hovel, I have also had moments—glimpses and full visions of salvation, community, love, hope, and the peace and electricity that come from living one’s truest self–my self–me. Who I am. Not who I was born to be–I was born this way–a woman–a transgender woman–but who I am meant to live openly as the way I was truly born.
Yes, I am scared about the upcoming fall and winter. Yes, I am still unemployed and, in all clarity, not mentally fit enough to be working a “real” job yet. I am also getting better. I also have a church community I never knew I’d find—friends that support and love me in ways only real friends can do. There is reason for hope, and you are one of those reasons. My ex and our children still love and accept me and that, of course, is key.
Last year I ended my first birthday note with a toast to a smoother year. We all know that smoother didn’t exactly manifest. So, I won’t toast to that this year. I won’t toast to anything. I don’t drink anyway.
What I will say is this: Thank you. Thank you for your love and support. For being there in my darkest moments and my silliest sillies, and my most wondrous of wonders.
I am here. I am myself in a way that was simply more conscious and alive that I was before I came out, and for that, despite all the challenges—I am eternally grateful.
These are not in any particular order, and yes, of course, cisfolks can have some of these traits too, but who cares. This list is not meant to separate us or further stereotype us. It is meant as affirmation, celebration, and interesting information.
We like sci-fi.
We like video games—playing them, creating them.
We like memes and GIFS—creating them, posting them, reading them.
Many of us are often on the spectrum—the autism spectrum.
We are incredibly creative—artistically, musically…
We are often gifted writers.
We are kind, generous, and fiercely loyal.
We are activists, both by birth and by choice.
We have amazingly fabulous fashion sense.
We are survivors.
We are resilient.
We have fantastic taste in music.
Many of us are highly empathic to the point of being empaths.
Many of us like animation—anime, manga. Stephen Universe, etc.
We are extremely intelligent.
We can hold and cherish and protect the truth better than almost anyone.
We are often musicians.
Many of us love animals—cats, dogs, rats, hedgehogs, reptiles, etc.
Many of us know how to experience fear and keep going anyway. And those that don’t someday will.
Some of us belong to pagan, wiccan, or some other more “earthy” type of spiritual tradition.
Many of us have youtube channels intended to help, inspire, support, and educate trans and non-trans.
Many of us are asked invasive or inappropriate questions.
Many of us are made to feel like we need to prove and/or justify that we exist.
Many of us get stared at when we are out in public.
Some of us carry mace when going out alone.
Many of us have been threatened, harassed, assaulted, demonized, and rejected, and yet we still hold true to the truth of who we are.
Many of us experience severe anxiety and fear when out in public and have to use the bathroom.
Too many of us have been murdered for who we are, and by too many, I mean one is too many.
Too many of us take our own lives because of bullying, nonacceptance, stress, and fear, and by too many I mean one is too many.
Some of us struggle with deep dysphoria; some of us do not.
Some of us exist in hiding for years, decades, or even our entire lives.
Some of us struggle with loving our bodies, our voices, certain body parts., etc; some of us do not.
Some of us hate our lives and names before coming out; some of us do not.
Some of us LOVE wearing makeup, binders, etc.; some of us do not.
Many of us have at least one ally (and often more than one) in our corner.
Many of us have different hair colors than the common brown, black, or blond.
Many of us do not have access to healthcare.
Many of us have family members who reject us.
Many of us have at least one or two family members who accept us.
Many of us are unemployed and/or find it extremely difficult finding a job.
Many of us are living in poverty.
Some of us are forced to live on the streets.
Some of us choose to be sex workers for survival and to save money for surgeries (and yes, some choose to be sex workers because we like it).
Many of us seek various forms of surgeries or procedures to help make ourselves more comfortable in our true gender. Many do not. Most cannot due to finances and/or lack of healthcare.
Some of us have passing as one of our goals; some of us do not.
Most of us are utterly hilarious and have a great sense of humor (albeit sometimes, wry, dark, or jaded).
Many of us are “TransWhoVians”—transpeople who like Dr. Who.
All of us fucking rock.
All of us are amazing.
All of us are living lights.
All of us matter.
All of us are just plain human (except those from other planets).
All of us are brave even when we’re afraid.
All of us need to stick together.
All of us need to know there is no one way, or right way, or wrong way to be trans.
Today I got word the courts approved my name change. I am officially Jennifer Angelina Petro. I am challenged to put into words just how happy this makes me feel, but you know I’m going to try.
Imagine being misgendered for 47 years. Imagine the dissonance caused by not knowing who I really was, and that not knowing boiling subterranean in my consciousness–simmering like molten metal for decades before I knew what was going on. The dissonance permeated all areas of my life and I didn’t know what it was about. The only thing I knew was that something was wrong. What that something was however, was a mystery.
When the molten metal finally spilled over into my conscious life and sent my armor melting to bits I realized the truth: I am a woman. Always have been. No matter what the doctors said, no matter what my name said, no matter what my place in life as a parent and spouse said—I am a woman. I have spoken many times about the euphoria that came with the realization—the centeredness, the completeness, the sheer joy and utter amazement. And despite my life circumstances being rather in shambles, that certainty and joy about knowing who I am remains.
And now the courts have given their blessing on my name change. And while the happiness at this news is great—beyond great—it is tinged with melancholy. Joseph has been gradually fading more and more off stage since Spring 2015. And he has done so with class and grace. I have also written before about how much I love and respect Joseph for keeping me safe all those years. He wants me center stage. He wants living this one, wild, and tender life.
And yet as I watch him go I realize in a very real sense he was never there—not in fullness and in truth. Joseph lived a ghost-life, a phantom life—dissociating everywhere he went. And he did so to distract the world from me in order to keep me safe until the time was right and ripe for my arrival into the conscious reality of who I am as Jennifer.
So, in truth I was never male, no matter what my body looked like and the things it did. I have always and ever been female. I have always and ever been Jennifer. Joseph was a cloak. Jennifer the soul and spirit—and yes, she is the cloak too. No matter what was in my pants or what I thought I was or the world thought I was—Jennifer is the one and only reality of who I am. And it is my hope your love, acceptance, friendship, and desire to be in relationship with me isn’t conditional based upon what was or is in my pants, or what was or is my name, gender marker, gender identify, or sexual preference.
Esoteric thoughts aside, I am moved to tears as I embrace fully this next stage of my journey. Jennifer Angelina Petro can now be announced to the world. Oh, sure there is much paper work to do and forms to fill out and I am sure there will be a fair share of hassles and rigmarole, but it’s OK. I know who I am. And little by little, as all the paper work gets finished, my name—my chosen name to represent ME will become more and more accepted in the wider world.
I am grateful for the legal department at the Mazzoni Center, and in particular, Barri Friedland. She was the shepherdess who helped guide this lost soul to her true name. In a very real sense I can plug in the words “I once was Joseph, but now am Jennifer,” to the tune of Amazing Grace. Yes, I know, I have always been Jennifer, but the point is I was lost as Joseph and didn’t even know it. Barri, and the legal team at the Mazzoni Center, worked pro-bono to be sure Jennifer was found and embraced by the whole world. I am so grateful.
Thank you for loving me and sticking with me all these years.