I realized after the Transgender Day of Remembrance Service that I helped organize and lead at Love in Action UCC, I began to dissociate. It was a beautiful and yet heavy morning. Try as I might my brain just couldn’t stay present with the pain. PTSD triggered, I tried to feel the tragedy of so many innocent lives lost, yet my soul said: “It’s too much. Feel what you can now, then feel more later, and remember Dear One, you do not need to sit with the pain alone.” I did my best to not shame myself for needing a space between the pain and consciousness. I went home, collapsed into bed, and within minutes I was weeping, and then, like a baby being held in her mother’s arms, I slipped away into a holy nothingness. Later in the evening I had the honor of holding a baby in arms as she slowly drifted into sleep. I sang to her as softly as the wind, I matched the rhythm of her breathing, I swayed gently, like a tree holding the moon, and I knew at that moment—allowing myself to experience pain and grief in however I need to—even if that requires a sleep of nothingness, I will not judge myself as weak. I will acknowledge my soul’s wisdom for taking my wounded heart into her arms and singing to me as softly as the wind, for matching the rhythm of my breathing, and for swaying gently, holding me, as a tree holds the moon. ❤️
Two years ago today, I stood at the threshold of the doorway to my basement apartment with a box cutter held to my wrist. I paced. I shook. I wept. I was filled with fear. It was cold. A light snow was falling. I felt utterly alone. It was the first fall I wasn’t teaching after twenty years. Other loses as a result of coming out as trans weighed heavily on my chest. The last school year I taught was devastating—aside from the most amazing and accepting students ever. The rest of it was traumatic. Now, I couldn’t find a job, and I missed teaching with all my heart and knew I would likely never teach elementary school again.
I stepped out into the snow. It drifted down gently on my shoulders. I was in my pajamas. No coat. No shoes. My socks were wet. My feet freezing. I pressed the blade against my wrist daring myself to end my life. Visions of collapsing right there in front of my door seeped into my mind—a mind broken—cracked—frantic. I stood there wondering who would find me. I feared for their hearts. I hoped the Divine would have mercy on my soul. Ending my life wasn’t a conscious choice. I was compelled by searing pain, depression, and the terror of a dark, uncertain future.
And then it happened. I closed the blade back into the box cutter. I went in and got my keys. I was drenched with snow, shivering. I put the box cutter down on my unmade bed. I looked around at the piles of dishes in the sink, the clothes strewn upon the floor, the plants unwatered, and, weeping even harder, reaching down for the box cutter again, only to drop it back on the bed. I forced my wet feet into my slippers, and went back outside.
The wind was wishing me onward. The snow slanting at an angle gesturing to my car. And I followed. Angry and frightened, disappointed in myself for ruining my life, for allowing myself to get this sick, wiping the snow from the windshield with my bare hands, unable to see what a courageous step I was taking. Unable to see the unseen forces of strength that were being obeyed by some part of my spirit that wasn’t sick—that deeply wanted to live—caught in a blizzard of mental illness. And I drove myself to the hospital.
When I got there, I gave my keys to a valet parking attendant—they stared at me. I must have looked wild—a scared animal—unshaven, sopping wet, snow-soaked. I walked into the emergency room and up to the counter.
“How can I help you Hun?” the nurse asked.
And I found myself, still weeping, snot falling, saying: “I’m going to kill myself.”
“Step around here,” she said, and they immediately brought me into a private room. Nurses gathered around me. They called a doctor. They gave me a gown and a warm blanket. They stationed someone outside my room to watch over me. The nurses were like angels—quiet, soothing, present, efficient.
I would spend the next ten days in the psych ward, missing Thanksgiving with my family. But I was alive. Somehow, I had survived a wave of mental illness.
The storm wouldn’t end there. I had more hospital stays and worse bouts of suicidality a month after leaving. For that moment though, I was safe from the sickness. I was surrounded by care.
The last thing I remember thinking as they injected tranquilizers into my IV, was: “Help me.”
Today, two years later—much more stable, and yet still struggling daily with passive suicidal thoughts and other forms of mental illness, those memories are falling like the snow, blanketing my heart. I watch the snow covering the trees with meticulous attention. I remember standing out in the snow holding the box cutter. I remember the depth of pain, fear, and depression—the echoing hopelessness. I remember feeling completely alone. I remember turning back, putting the box cutter down, picking up my keys, and walking, unsure, terrified at how sick I had become, out to my car.
My Ongoing Journey of Discovering My Sexual Orientation
Jennifer Angelina Petro
CW: Description of Dysphoria; mention of sexual abuse; open references to genitalia; mention of gender-affirmation surgery; a couple sexually explicit words; allusions to sexual acts
As of the writing of this post—November 5th, 2018, I am struggling with a nasty bout of dysphoria. Haven’t had one this bad in a while. In this moment—sitting on a big, round, fluffy, pink pillow on the floor of the living room, writing this, it’s six-eleven P.M. It’s dark, rainy, chilly. The autumn leaves are shining with their true brilliance. And I am sitting here alone, weeping quietly. I want a vulva so badly—my heart hurts. My guts are churning. My whole body feels wrong. I know—I have an interestingly-penis-shaped vulva. I know—it’s not the parts that make the person. I am a woman no matter what my genitals look like. I am a woman because I am—not because I take estrogen—not because of how I dress or act or speak. I am a woman. Enough said.
And yet—here I am, sitting on the floor—experiencing this strange sensation in my genitals—it’s a sort of longing to be something else—it’s visceral. The feeling extends up my sides, branching to my arms and shoulders, and my shoulder blades ache as if wanting to sprout wings. The rain-stained darkened window reflects my face—it looks as if I’m melting. My heart contracts and pulls my sense of self inwards a little further—a little more away from the world, and the tears withdraw inside, and my eyelids feel heavy, and my spirit wilts like a rain-soaked weeping willow. My genitals seem to remember another time—perhaps another lifetime even—I don’t know—but another time, when they were right with who my spirit is—when they radiated warmth, the darkness of a pond, the beauty of a flower, and the power of the moon.
And so, I sit, type, share what many think is way too much information. I know I wax poetic—fuck you—I’m a poet. Thing is, the very next moment after the blessed revelation that I’m a woman over three years ago—the very next moment—I wanted gender affirmation surgery. It didn’t faze me as to why I had such a desire. It simply needed to happen. Having no frame of reference in any way to such a surgery—the palpable desire to adjust this body more to what would ease this intense longing—that would help me feel more me—wasn’t even surprising. It’s as if it was always there—hidden inside, and that’s because it was. And it is all a holy mystery.
I think this wave of dysphoria has to do with where I am on my journey to awakening to my sexual orientation. The more I think I’m straight—that I really like guys—the lonelier I feel—the more impossible life feels. I want to be made love to with every fiber of my being by a man. I want to feel a cock inside me. It’s just the truth, and it will never happen. Nor will I ever have a child or nurse a baby. These are painful truths I live with every day. Some days hurt more than others. Today is one of the days it hurts like hell.
2. Questions About My Sexual Orientation
After I came out, the second most frequently asked question (after: “Have you had the SURGERY?”) from people was (and often still is): “Are you lesbian? I mean, you were married to a woman for twenty-three years. So, um, like…you’ve got to be a lesbian, right?”
When I first had the blissful christening of being transgender, I assumed I was, in fact, a lesbian, for exactly the reasons people mentioned. It made sense.
Then, about a year in, I was ordering some fries from Five Guys and the cashier was an incredibly handsome young man, and I found myself swooning in a way I’d never done before. I could barely speak. My knees were shaking. My hands fumbled as I gave him my crinkly cash and took the receipt hoping we would make some electric, albeit brief finger to finger contact. I knew if we did, I might faint.
Alas, it didn’t happen. I stepped aside to wait for my fries while compulsively munching on the free peanuts they give out. I admit I kept stealing looks at him. I hoped to god he couldn’t see my eyelashes batting like hungry butterflies.
I was stunned. It was the first time in my life I consciously had an attraction to a man. I left the restaurant and pondered in my heart what this encounter meant.
I’m a lesbian, right? Or am I bi?
I went home and conjured up some sexual-fantasies to see what felt better, so to speak, when imagining myself being sexually intimate with someone. And while I could feel twinges during reveries with the traditional images of men and women, the one that made me the horniest was thinking of making love with a man, and of doing various things to a man I suddenly always wanted to do. Once again, I was stunned.
And luckily, I wasn’t worried one way or the other.
Growing down (as opposed to “growing up”) I was forcibly “masculinized,” by my parents and other adults in my life. They saw something “effeminate,” in me and wanted it gone. After years of a steady diet of porn supplied by my parents it had seemingly “worked.” I thought for sure I was a straight guy even though I would have to confess to myself that when the porn I looked at/watched involved a man and a woman, I was often most fascinated by the guy and their “money shots.” I didn’t know why and I certainly didn’t encourage it by seeking out relationships with guys. I was steeped in an environment of homophobia and I had my own. I can see looking back that I also had an internalized misogyny, and, if I would have had a word for it in my unconscious awareness of being trans, I would have experienced an internalized transphobia as well. Not to mention dysphoria. Add to all that sexual abuse of all kinds, Catholic guilt over masturbating, as well as my own warped inner attitudes and desires around sex, and I wasn’t only confused, but ashamed—steeped in self-hatred.
Over time, after coming out, I started feeling the urge to date. Hadn’t dated in over twenty-five years. Time to get back in the game. Time’s a-ticking. I joined a couple dating sites. I proudly announced I’m trans and proceeded to write what amounted to an entire autobiography as my profile. It’s no wonder I never had any takers. No one had time to read such a tome.
I marked that I was lesbian. I marked to only have women see my profile. Nothing.
After a while, it seemed right that I was actually attracted to everyone in the gender galaxy (to hell with the spectrum idea—gender is an infinite multiverse). So, I switched my profile to “pan,” and happily proclaimed on FB that I was pan—bought the pan flag, and some pan-buttons, and well, yeah, being pan felt right. It seemed to encompass the whole kit and kaboodle.
And yet the people I found myself most attracted to were female-identified and/or presenting individuals. Maybe I was lesbian after all. Or maybe I’m pan with a little leaning towards women. Here again, I am happy to report that these confusions didn’t disturb my sense of self. It was an adventure. It was exciting. And yet, I believed it ultimately didn’t matter anyway because no one would ever want to date me let alone be sexual with me. That being said, it was all still fun to discover, if at least on my own, who and what made me horny. I longed to be sexual with someone the way I am now—fully cognizant of being a woman. I simply wanted to know the truth of who I am and share that truth with someone else.
I get it, labels mean little. I like them sometimes though. Like when I finally was diagnosed with being bi-polar. I found that strangely comforting. Same with being trans. Moving along a journey of discovering (uncovering?) my sexual orientation, I liked when I found names—labels. They were like sign-posts pointing to buried treasure. They don’t define me, they just help me understand myself.
Fast forwarding a bit, I’m not sure if it was the orchiectomy or my abusive past, or because I was resigning to never being sexual with anyone ever again—or because I simply was that way because I was—there needn’t be a reason—but I began to wonder if I was asexual. After much research, it seemed to fit. I no longer felt attracted to anyone sexually. And that was OK too.
That label didn’t last long however. I don’t know why. It just fell away, and a more, deep-seated, realization began to emerge.
I started having more frequent sexual fantasies involving male-identified and presenting people. I realized I wanted to identify as hetero but felt afraid to do so—or insecure—something. My internalized homophobia came in—as if I, a woman, could be gay—gay for guys, that is. I am a woman, so I can’t be gay for guys. I can be attracted to them, and that makes me straight. And yet, the deep fears were there.
Dysphoria began to creep back in more and more, I think because I felt insecure about having a penis—my penis shaped vagina. No guy would ever want me—unless they were fetishizers. Yet I couldn’t, and can’t, escape the truth. I am a woman with a penis. Enough said.
And so, today, Monday, November 5, 2018, I am settling in nicely with the dawning of being straight. I like guys, and that is fine with me. Maybe someday I’ll actually have the opportunity to be with one. For now, however, I rest (uneasily) in the work to be done today. And if this sense of being straight changes? So be it. As Allan Watts once said—we don’t dance together to end up at a particular spot on the dance floor. We dance to have fun. We dance to feel alive.
III. Current Final Thoughts
This journey of discovering my sexual orientation isn’t unique to me. And not just because I’m a transgender woman. It’s because I’m human. There are many factors contributing to this extended journey and the fact is that there is likely no finish line to this exploring. Many people, if they’re deeply honest and self-aware sometimes question their sexual orientation. Sometimes not and they can be just as honest and self-aware. It’s all good.
Main thing I suggest to anyone out there experiencing questions about their sexual orientation—have fun. It’s OK to be who you are. It’s OK not to know. It’s OK to know and not tell the world. It’s OK to treasure up your findings to yourself and/or to a few, select people. It’s OK to shout it off the rooftops. And it’s OK to wake up tomorrow and think you’re actually something else. Have fun, be safe, have a trusted support network and even a therapist if you feel overwhelmed. You’re not alone. And again, there may not be a finish line. Main thing is: Have fun, and enjoy adventuring. Go slow, go far, and rejoice—you are giving yourself the gift, and honor, of exploring who you are.
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
― Elie Wiesel
Violence against transgender people and other queer people, especially queer people of color, is up ever since the terroristic Trump regime took office, and will only increase if the latest political assault on trans people goes through.
Trump wants to legally define gender based solely on body parts. This would effectively erase transgender, intersex, and other nonbinary people out of existence.
Of course, we’ll still be here—we’ve always been here, and always will be.
What will happen though is that any and all legal protections will be removed (not that we’ve had many of them to begin with). It will be “legal,” to deny transgender people healthcare, insurance, employment rights, and housing rights.
It will also give the haters even more license to commit hate crimes on people like me. Why shouldn’t they if we don’t exist—if we don’t matter in the eyes of the federal government? We shouldn’t they if we’re not going to be counted on the U.S. Census?
This amounts to genocide. Yes, it’s a strong word. Genocide means: “the deliberate killing of a large group of people.” Its synonyms include: “mass murder, mass homicide.”
Will there actually be a mass killing of transgender people? I hope not, of course. However, if one factors in an increase in the undocumented and documented murders of trans people, the documented and undocumented lives of young trans people lost to suicide as a result of constant—federally condoned violence and bullying, if one factors in the transgender people who will die as a result of lack of health care, or who will die on the streets due to homelessness, then the numbers of dead transgender people could become staggering (and yes—one is too many). These atrocities will all worsen if the federal government decrees that we don’t exist.
What frightens me the most are the terrible consequences that young trans people will suffer. The kids. The ones growing up into a future where they will have no federal government protections. Their futures are in jeopardy even more than they are now.
It’s time allies.
It’s time to rise up and stand with transgender people and all other LGBTQIA people.
You might be thinking: There are a lot of other kinds of people to stand up for—lots of causes to fight for, and you’re right. Consider this though:
The next step after erasing trans people will be to erase people based on their sexual orientation, religion, race, political party, health issue, people on birth control, people who’ve had abortions, people who are differently abled, people who are different than the white and the rich, the educated and male. What will it do to the #MeToo Movement? A movement already scoffed at by many. Should sexual assault victims have human rights? Should children?
There was a time I would have thought these things would never, ever be possible.
They are though. They are. It has already begun.
Stand with me. Stand with us. This affects everyone.
What does it look like to stand with trans people?
-Write to your senators and local politicians.
-March with us.
-Educate your family and friends about us—risk being hated for what you believe.
-Add pro-trans FB profile frames on your profile pictures and/or your FB banners.
-Spread the word across all social media that trans rights are human rights.
-Stand for us in your places of worship and schools.
-Buy “Trans Rights Are Human Rights” shirts and wear them proudly.
-Go to the homeless and bring them food, water, blankets, medicine.
-Go to public restrooms with us.
-Invite LGBTQIA people to holiday dinners.
-And much more.
It is one thing to tell a trans person you love and accept and stand with them. It is another thing to take public action steps to demonstrate that love and acceptance.
And yeah, I get it. Some of you are afraid of what others will say. Some of you might be afraid for your safety if you openly fight for trans rights. You might fear for your jobs, for your membership in places of worship, for what your friends and relatives might say. I get it. On a daily basis, believe me, I get it.
Anyone who voted for Trump is complicit in the violence and deaths that will increase as a result of transgender people being erased in the eyes of the federal government. So are those who remain silent in the face of such abuse of power. If you are too afraid to stand up to any of your friends and relatives who support Trump for my sake and/or the sake of an entire group of people, then where does that put you in relationship with those friends and relatives? Where does it put you in relationship with me? With yourself? With your faith?
If the nation only hears the voices of the haters, then that’s all Trump and his regime will hear–that’s all the haters will hear–it’s all the people who choose to do nothing will hear–and so the hate and violence towards people like me goes on. If the nation only sees the public actions of the haters and not the public actions of people in support of trans-rights, then that’s all Trump and his regime will see–that’s all the haters will see. It’s all the people who choose to do nothing will see, and thus the hate and violence towards people like me goes on.
No. This isn’t about guilt–at least not about unhealthy guilt–like the shame that erases oneself. A certain kind of guilt can be healthy. If you feel guilty about something you did or didn’t do and knew you shouldn’t have done that thing or should have done that thing–then feeling guilty can be healthy. Shows you have a conscience. So, no. I am not trying to shame you–just help motivate you to rise up and show your support in public ways.
This is a plea.
This is a begging for something that should never have to be begged for.
Tired of the fear I feel on a daily basis. Will the place I’m going to be safe? Will I be assaulted? Will I be safe in a public restroom? Will I live to see my grandchildren or be cut down because of who I am, and not what I choose to be?
I’m tired. And I will keep fighting.
No. This isn’t about guilt if you can’t fight, or need a break from fighting.
It’s a charge. Fight if you can. Not just on social media, but with your lives.
Stand with transgender people, intersex people, nonbinary people—all LGBTQIA people.
Stand with us openly, actively.
Lives are at stake.
Freedom is at stake.
The fate of the future for countless young people is at stake.
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.
Playing in the River of the Reality of Binary-Relativism
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Try and take hold of the night. What ends up filling your hands is darkness tinged with light, whether that be moonlight or starlight, there will be traces of the coming morning or the retreating sunset.
Likewise, try and take hold of the day. What ends up filling your hands is light tinged with darkness, whether it be the shimmering shadows of the willow, or your own shadow, or that small, rushing anxiousness that evening is approaching much faster than your plans would like.
Night and day are ideas—in the truest sense they do not exist as opposites—they are ever and always touching, held together by a river that flows both ways. I know, the “held together,” and “flowing both ways,” seem to contradict the idea that night and day are one. Words are limited in scope and range. And it is easier (safer) to write in ideas like black and white and the binaries of male and female. You can try and wrap words (ideas) around other ideas and, at best, you come up with a poem, and, at worst, fear-based violence.
Why is it safer (easier) to write in terms of binary ideas? Describing day and night as light and dark is strangely comforting to those people who fear stepping into the river. Describing greys, tones, gradations, the multitude of colors that inform sunsets and sunrises–this type of thinking requires more effort, more consciousness, and an openness to the idea of the infinite creativity of the God they believe in. It is easier (and safer) to let one’s thinking be governed by ideas that appear to fit their notions of “the opposites.”
It’s the same with thinking of the idea of the so-called gender-binary. Defining gender by body parts, chromosomes, and reproductive functions is the same basal reasoning as saying day and night can be defined by clocks and the amount of light we see or don’t see. Reducing genders to body parts invalidates the manifestations of the inner and outer gender identities that so many experience in the reality of their lives.
Life flows in a circular current between the ideas of binaries. The reality is spectrum, shadows, fading in and out colors, touches, whispers, hints, nuances—nothing exclusive unto themselves—travel West far enough and you slip into the East. Rise North as far as you can go. You will only descend into the South, like a waterfall.
This blending and interwoveness isn’t to be feared—not within the notions of day or night, male and female, mania and depression, faith and disbelief. Everything touches. Everything mixes. What is created along that circular movement is peace, life, the aforementioned wonder, and yes, the infinite ways these ideas manifest in the river of the world.
But what of science? Doesn’t it prove the idea of opposites? Some people use science in the same way they use bibles—selectively. While deriding the idea of the gender spectrum they propagate the ideas that climate change doesn’t exist, that the earth was created in six days, that all the animals of the world fit into an ark, and for some, that the earth is flat.
Science is crucial to the future of humanity. So is letting go of fear of change and the perceived threats to the family. Erasing the idea of gender binaries doesn’t unleash havoc on the family. Instead it opens up the definitions and manifestations of family. It doesn’t mean the end of procreation. It doesn’t mean the end of heterosexual, cisgender marriages. All it does is threaten the shadow-desires some people feel but are trained to be experienced as deviance and to be felt as shame and fear.
The idea that binaries are ideas sometimes threatens people in other ways—particularly that the world will dissolve into relativism. What is so threatening about that–whether that relativism be cultural or societal? If the idea that there are no absolute truths threatens one’s spiritual security then where is their faith? In reality, one cannot escape cultural relativism. It’s the same with the ideas of black and white and the gender binaries. For example, take a look at the word, “relativism.” It’s clearly “related” to “relating,” ‘relations,” and “relationship.” And these, in turn, can be traced back to the word, “refer,” which, means, in Latin, “to relate, and to carry back.” Let’s carry the idea that gender is based on body parts back to the reality that some “men,” are born with vulvas, and some “women,” are born with penises or combinations of both. Those aren’t ideas—those are realities. They are not mutations or abnormalities—they are as natural as being born with a certain hair color. What is the threat if someone knows they are a gender that may not correspond to the body parts that some people associate with a particular gender? In reality, there is no threat. The threat is fake news.
In the same way, relativism does not erase decades of fighting for women’s rights and feminism. However, if modern feminism and the fight for respect, dignity, safety, jobs, pay rates, does not include transwomen and other people on the spectrum that identify as female, then it isn’t truly feminism. It is as guilty as the extremist Christians that hold the old idea that in order to be female you need a vulva as defined by the confines of reproductive function.
All things are related, in relationship, and we can even have “relations.” These are realities. The idea of night being related to the idea of day and the reality of these relationships can be experienced in our everyday lives, and no one is threatened.
Knowing binaries are ideas does not blur or muddy the waters of reality’s river. They liberate us into realizing the infinite facets of the divine radiating prisms of color that touch the world with joy and wonder—in other words—variety—infinite variety.
Heaven hell, good and evil. These are ideas inherently couched in relativism—cultural and spiritual. Killing is wrong unless you’re defending your flag or religion, or the world from abortion; stealing is wrong unless you are trying to save your children; war is wrong unless it is for oil or to get rid of “evil doers,” who believe something different than you. My religion is right because yours is wrong, my book says so, your book is wrong. It’s silliness—dangerous, childish, fear-based silliness—and most of it propagated by men insecure of their own sexual/gender identities and possibilities. Everyone knows how dangerous, cunning, manipulative, and cruel a man can be when scared. History is full of men scared of losing something or scared of something being revealed and to prevent this they resort to violence. And it is undeniable that many men who rail against homosexuality are found to possess porn, and or engage in sex with other men. Why is that? Because gender is a spectrum and something to be ashamed of.
Ask yourself reading this right now if it inspires you with vehement hatred, anger, and, if you’re extreme—violence? If it does, I suggest you have little-to-no faith in your god—your beliefs, which are nothing more than ideas woven with communal feelings—are weak. Indeed, they are relative. You’re proving it by being upset. If you’re living in the prison of the idea of binaries and you’re reading this, and you have some twinge somewhere within you—whether that be between your legs, in your heart, or in your mind—that moves you to the suppressed knowledge that you are actually happily gender-non-conforming—that you are perhaps a gender other than what your genitals say. Most certainly it points to your shadow hiding conscious or unconscious secrets. What if you’re feeling a secret, joyous sense of freedom as you read this? I suggest that indicates you are a true believer—in the sense that you believe in a god of infinite possibilities and varieties that in no way threatens anyone or anything—only your limited ideas.
Go play in the river. You can’t drown in a river made of joy—unless you become afraid and slip back into the suffocating ideas that kept you from going near the river in the first place. Look, there are others already there—splashing, swimming, and forming bridges called Fun and Freedom and Faith. There is room for all. Go be baptized in the infinite variety of your god.
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.