Sunday, May 19, 2013

Waiting for Tomorrow

Amid the anguish and tears for the dead and cries for reform after a recent building collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh that killed over a thousand innocent workers, emerged a faint plea for help.  Miraculously a woman’s voice was heard during the salvage of the structure, rescue had ended days earlier.  She had been buried for 17 days under the heavy concrete rubble, surviving on bits of food she found in pockets and bags on the bodies of her dead coworkers that surrounded her for weeks.  An astonished workman detected a voice calling, “save me, save me.”
Credit: Strdel/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images NYTimes.com


Beyond the tragedy of the event, I was drawn to this woman’s will to live. Prior to the horror in Boston, I had just begun to examine and try to understand my own dark past.  The bombing naturally shook me and the experience only unearthed other buried wounds. By coincidence, a chemical imbalance in my hormones gave way to irrational mode swings, nearly pushing me over the edge.

This was evident when I had a brief emotional “breakdown” on the last day of a leadership academy I was attending in North Carolina.  For five days I was immersed with other LGBT leaders from across the country at a retreat located in a rural part of a beautiful state.  I had a feeling I was in a special place when I drove up the dirt road to the retreat center and I was overcome by an intoxicating aroma that filled the moist southern air.  A blend of honeysuckle, pine pollen, and brush fires, ignited my senses.  During my short stay I shared a small cabin with four other fierce and fabulous women.  Each night we would stay up late, very, very late. It was during these special moments surrounded by other women that I felt safe. As we talked, shared stories, and teased each other, it occurred to me that I never had experienced these unique moments before as a girl, teenager, or woman.   

On the final day, we sat as a group in a circle for one last time, and I wrote in my journal reflecting on my highlights of the week. Suddendly I was overcome by intense feelings of both happiness and sadness.  Overjoyed to have had the opportunity to feel like I was part of that distinct bond women share, I was also saddened to think of what I’ve missed in my life, and that I soon would be leaving this special place, returning to a world that that didn’t understand me. My emotions were real and raw, and a torrent of tears flowed like a waterfall, it was like the day a left summer camp when I was 13. Across the room a friendly face noticed I was in need and in an instant a warm embrace engulfed me.  Her soft words greeted me like a mother soothing their child.  For what seemed like an eternity I was rocked and cajoled until I regained my composure and was ready to rejoin the group.   

After returning from North Carolina last weekend, I visited my parents for Mother’s Day. It was wonderful to wake up in the home I grew up in and share that special day with mom.  After she opened a few cards and gifts, we exchanged hugs and a few tears, then each of us returned to sipping coffee and our family’s ritual of pouring over the news of the day with a variety of papers. My dad went directly for the sports section, my mom the obituaries, and I went to the health section.  I came across a short article in the Boston Globe about the much-embraced term, “Boston Strong.” The writer discussed how the iconic phrase might be sending mixed signals and that some people might misinterpret the message.   While the rallying cry was for strength and unity in a time of great pain, I felt on a subconscious level the need to hide and ignore honest emotions of my own fragility and weakness. 

Each of us endures traumatic moments in our lives, but for some, those experiences leave indelible and sometimes hidden scars on our psyche and soul.  While I haven’t been diagnosed with PTSD, I know my life has been altered by several distressing and painful moments.  At a recent health conference, I sat in on a session that focused on trans* individuals from across the globe.  We examined the presenter’s research that investigated the trauma many individuals, children and adults alike, universally experience in their lives.  Suicide attempts, self-harm and mutilation, verbal and sexual assault, violence, abuse, isolation, humiliation, and abandonment are all too common in a trans* person’s life.  For me, even before confronting my gender identity, I survived a potentially fatal birth defect that caused persistent lung infections and repeated bouts with pneumonia before I turned 3 years old.  One of the medieval ways I was treated was to be completely submerged in a bath of ice to lower my dangerously high body temperature.  It’s only recently that I’ve come to realize those worlds collided, and on more than one occasion.   

As confused teenager, then again who wasn’t, my body was rapidly changing into something that didn’t fit and I certainly didn’t understand why.  I repeatedly sought out experiences that shocked my flesh and senses in the search for relief from the disconnect I felt between my birth sex and my gender identity. I was already making regular excursions late at night in my sleepy suburban neighborhood.  Under the apparent cloak of darkness, I ventured out of my crowded house to appease my internal desires and to express my female gender.  Quietly dressing in my sisters’ and mother’s clothes, I would exit the house up my basement steps and through the bulkhead.  Opening the doors, I breathed in the night air and immediately felt alive. My stocking feet touched the cold pavement and I quickly walked to end of my driveway before putting on my shoes or boots.  

Each new adventure recharged my soul. But the sojourns weren’t without mishaps, some funny, others confusing and even dangerous.  Like most teenagers I lacked the self-awareness and knowledge to comprehend what was going on emotionally and physically in my young and tumultuous life, and being a transgender girl only added to the flurry of adolescence. On several nights I made my way through several back yards and over fences to a neighbor’s pool.  Sometimes it was summer, but most often it was off-season and cold.  I recall sliding my warm body under the frozen tarp and submerging myself into the cold dark water, soothing my burning blue soul.  I didn’t know why I was doing this, but it seemed to help.  Unusual events like this continued for years, and it wasn’t until I began to embrace my identity and start to transition that the dissonance I felt for so long began to fade away.  


In the riveting 1982 horror film Poltergeist, written and produced by Steven Spielberg, a home is invaded my ghosts that abduct the youngest daughter and terrorize the rest of the family.  I’ve been fascinated by this movie since I first saw it when I was probably 15.  The pool scene with the mother, played by JoBeth Williams, still gives my chills.  Apparently real human skeletons were used to film this horrifying scene.  At the core of this movie is that the subdivision, Cuesta Verde, where the family’s home was built, was once a cemetery.  And while the headstones were moved during the development, the bodies were left in place.  For me, these past weeks have been like living in Cuesta Verde, with dark events visiting with greater frequency.  I hope I have the resolve to face my fears and my demons without slipping back into the dark pools of my past.  

Don’t look back!