Growing Up and Getting Old Ain’t Necessarily the Same

There are some days when I wake up and my inner 19-year-old is in charge. I feel great, full of energy, and ready to take on the world.

Today isn’t one of those days.

Today I woke up feeling the weight of every one of my 68 and a half years. It’s cold and overcast, and my arthritis is responding with a flare-up in my thumb that makes it difficult to write.

As far as “It Gets Better” goes, it’s on these days that I ask, “When?”

They’re the days I think of my hopes and dreams. Some were shattered, some abandoned, some abandoned, and many came true.

One of the best came true when I was able to fulfill a promise my 17-year-old self made. It was when I first heard Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” I promised that if I ever had a daughter, that would be her name. When I was 25, I made true on that promise. Okay, so I added an extra letter; I thought “Suzzanne” was a better name for the little girl I knew would become a remarkable woman.

Which she has indeed become. Far more remarkable than I could have imagined.

Another dream was fulfilled when our second daughter was born, giving my parents their second grandchild.
She, alas, doesn’t remember her grandmother, who died when Steffani was 4. 36 years ago today, as a matter of fact.

My Annual Day of Mourning

Dec 12 of each year is when I sit down in my chair, sip my tea, and wonder. What would my life be like today had she lived? Would she still love the son who became her daughter?

She was a remarkable woman, my mother. The wife of a minister, she more than my father showed me what it meant to be a Christian.

Sadly, she also bequeathed to my brothers and I her life-long depression. My father once told me that she told him many times “If I didn’t have those children, I would kill myself.”

That, more than anything else, tells me just how much she loved us.

And maybe mourning isn’t the right word. Rather, call it wondering.

How would she react to me? Or her great grandchildren, one of whom is starting out on the same journey I am on?

Hope For the Next Generation

Chloe-now-Cole is developing into a fine young lad. He’s sure to face problems along the way, many of which I’ve already dealt with.

And while I can’t say I have a favorite grandchild, Cole is one of the reasons I no longer consider suicide. He needs me, as I need him. And while I do tell him from time to time that it does indeed get better, I also tell him that it often doesn’t happen as soon as it’s needed.

So Yes, it Does Get Better

Maybe not all at once, or easily. But on balance, my own life has gotten better because of my mother.
And that’s why I know that were she still here today, she would love and accept her daughter just as she once loved her son.

Helen Jane Sheppard (nee Stevens)

Thanks for reading.

 

Confessions of a bold, shy, inactive activist

My life in three acts. Or maybe one. Or four.

In a world where there are three kinds of people — those who understand math and those who don’t — I’m one who doesn’t. It has always been a foreign language to me, and at the ripe old age of 68 years, I still haven’t found the Rosetta Stone that will unlock those arcane secrets for me.

None of which has anything to do with this story except, perhaps, to highlight just how much my lifelong ADHD influences my thoughts and actions.

I used to be an activist

On the very first Earth Day, I wore a gas mask to my classes at San Antonio College. I was mocked by most of the students, but still I persisted. I sand and played my guitar at sit-ins and various other demonstrations.

We were going to change the world for the better. But I guess we just got stoned and forgot.

Some of the biggest names in what we so sincerely called “The Movement” went on to have brilliant careers as CEOs, politicians, and other similar professions. Me, I sorta drifted from job to job, never really finding what most folks would call a career path. My old guitar sat in its case for years. Over time, I gradually gave away my collection of guitar picks.

A blast from the past

July 2, 1975 found me replacing the strings on my old guitar. That was the day my first daughter was born, and I was able to fulfill a promise I made the first time I heard Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne on the radio: that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Suzanne. Actually, in a bit of my old obstinance, Suzanne became Suzzanne with 2 zees. I played endless variations of Cohen’s classic song over the years. And I remembered my activism days.

What were the issues in those early days of the ’70s and ‘80s? I don’t really know: I spent those decades living in Alaska, where the biggest issue was were we going to move the capital or not? Paul Simon summed it up best:

Time it was, and what a time it was,
It was a time of innocence
A time of confidences

Jump ahead a couple of decades

I’m living in northern California. My second marriage has failed. My depression has cost me several jobs, as I just can’t bring myself to even get out of bed, much less go to work.

Eventually I get my shit together enough to sell my trailer and move to Seattle to be closer to my daughter. I was a mess.

So much so that when she took me to apply for food stamps and medical assistance, I was assigned a therapist who agreed to work with me. I was still so messed up that she scheduled me for twice a week appointments.

On the third or fourth week, I walked into her office, sat down, and burst into tears. After a good solid five minutes of crying, I managed to stop long enough to say, “All I ever wanted was to be a pretty girl.”

Epiphany

There it was, out in the open. Not so much a blinding revelation as a shameful secret. Lock me up now and throw away the key. I’m a sick bastard, unfit to be around decent society.

If you grew up gay, queer, transgender, bisexual, or any other kind of what have mistakenly and harmfully been called perversions, you know the feeling.

But rather condemn me, Nikki (my therapist) explained to me that (1) there was nothing wrong with me, (2) there was a word for what I was, and (3) we would work together to figure out where to go from here.

And so my activism began anew

The discovery that I was transgender changed my life — to say the least! As I began my journey towards becoming my true self — a journey we label “transitioning” — I discovered (among other things) that my lifelong depression, while genetic, was aggravated my my gender dysphoria. Once I started coming to terms with who I was — and accepting who I was — I was able to cut my antidepressant medications from 5 to 2.

Best of all? I stopped hating myself.

I spent as much time as I could researching what I came to call my condition, almost as if it were a pregnancy, another delicate condition. After all, wasn’t I preparing to give birth to a new life?

Do you live in Washington state?

If so, you’re lucky enough to have direct access to The Washington Gender Alliance, which is probably the nation’s oldest transgender support group. They were invaluable to me during my journey. They have an incredible amount of up-to-date information they’ll be happy to share with you.

And if you’re not in Washington, you’re still welcome to use their web site to access that information.

What’s happening now?

I’ve moved to Rochester, NY. I spent over a year volunteering at the Out Alliance, formerly the Rochester Gay Alliance. I’m living in a rented room in an older home, and I have started writing again. Not only here on Medium, but I also blog — although somewhat sporadically — at My Refined Madness.

Most of all, I’m back in the State in which I was born — New York. I have come full circle back to where I was born and am continuing my rebirth.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I’m still shy, but at least I’m brave enough to help people understand who I am.

The Whitehouse, Washington, D.C.

My friend Kim McKinstry posted the following email she received Monday:

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for writing, and for your service to our country. Throughout our history, generations of Americans have brought us closer to fulfilling the ideals at the heart of our Nation’s founding—that all of us are equal, and that all of us should be free to make of our lives what we will.

Our country has come far in its acceptance of transgender Americans, but transgender individuals still face terrible violence, abuse, and poverty here at home and around the world. I know that some people have a hard time understanding what it means to be transgender, especially if they haven’t had the opportunity to know someone who openly identifies that way. As brave individuals come out at all levels of business, government, sports, and entertainment, the power of their example is slowly but surely changing hearts and minds.

We need to ask ourselves what kind of society we want to build for the many young people struggling with their identities who deserve a childhood free from harassment or ridicule. Too many transgender people, especially youth, take their own lives because of discrimination and violence, and no one should ever feel so alone or desperate that they feel they have nowhere to turn. That’s why my Administration took a stance against the use of conversion therapy on minors, and why we have been working to address bullying. And when schools sought advice about how to ensure learning environments are respectful and inclusive for all students, the Department of Education provided guidance to educators—because all of our children deserve to know that their safety is protected and that their dignity is affirmed.

We have also taken actions to help ensure that transgender Americans have the same rights as any other Americans. I issued an Executive Order that prohibits discrimination in employment by Federal contractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and I signed legislation that includes protections against hate crimes. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there are now important protections in place against discrimination in healthcare, including discrimination based on gender identity. And this year, my Administration lifted the ban on transgender individuals serving in our Armed Forces—because no American who wishes to serve our country should face unnecessary barriers, and our military is strongest when it draws on the skills and talents of all our people.

Again, thank you for writing. Please know I will keep pushing to advance the safety and dignity of every American as long as I hold this Office and beyond.

Sincerely,
Barack Obama

Another Sleepless Night

Well, to be honest, it wasn’t a sleepless night. It was a sleepless morning. No matter how I try, I can’t seem to sleep beyond 6 a.m. And that includes even if I go to bed at 3 a.m.

depression is

And THAT, dear friends, is what it’s like. Invisible. Insidious. I’ve moved beyond the suicide stage; tried that, didn’t work. Now I’ve arrived at the point where I wish I had never been born.

— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-28)

Futility rules my moods.

My own depression is compounded by the fact that I’m transgender.

not all its cracked up to be

It’s another reason I isolate and tend to stay indoors.

That’s it for now. Talk to you later.

For Arianna, On Being A Role Model

(I wrote this in response to a question on Facebook)

Dear Sister,

For sisters we truly are. And as the “big sister,” I’m going to exercise my prerogative and sit you down for a lecture. No, not really! I am, however, going to share some insights I’ve gained over the years. You’re free, of course, to do what you like with them. You might agree with some of them, and some of them might even help you on this difficult and rocky road you’ve chosen.

Your mileage may vary; like you, I don’t claim to be a role model or a spokesman for anyone but myself.

Role models. It’s a word that people will use over and over again with you. At first, as it seems to be doing, it will piss you off. “I’m not a role model,” you will say, and rightly so. It’s not something we set out to be, and it’s definitely something we hate to have people say we are.

When I first began my transition, a little over 6 years ago, my trans “mother” told me something I’ve never forgotten, and it has helped me through some of the darkest hours. She said, “Transitioning is the hardest thing you will ever do in your life.” Yes, it’s been hard. It has cost me friends and family. But the hardest thing I will ever do? No. It hasn’t been that.

Hardest has been those times I’ve decided nothing was worth it, and looked lovingly at razor blades, pills, and so many other ways I’ve considered ending it.

Hardest has been putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to walk this path I have chosen, even when everything in my soul tells me I’m wasting my time.

Hardest has been realizing that–through simply trying to be who I am–I have become a role model for others. I never asked for it, I never wanted it, and I’m definitely not comfortable being it.

“You’re so strong!” they say. “You’re so brave!”

They don’t see the nights I’ve cried myself to sleep, realizing that I will never be the woman I want to be. The nights I’ve cried myself to sleep because I have a father and a daughter who won’t speak to me, grandchildren I’m not allowed to see because I’m a pervert, and I’m going to hell when I die.

They only see the makeup and the dresses and the forced smiles I have to show just to get through another day. They don’t see that even though I have a lot of trans friends and acquaintances, anything I write or say about my journey is only about my own journey–that I can’t speak and don’t pretend to speak for anyone else.

They don’t see the number of younger trans folk who write me asking for advice that I’m not qualified to give. And they don’t see you, Arianna, another trans woman who suddenly finds herself thrown into the unwanted roles of being both a role model and a spokesman for an entire community.

And that is so unfair to us.

So when asked, I always tell people that I’m not strong, that I’m not any kind of a spokesman for anyone but myself. Strong? No, I’m a coward. It’s cowardice, not strength, that keeps me going. Cowardice because I truly believe that if there is any kind of an afterlife, we start out there in the same condition we leave here, and I am too seriously fucked-up to want to start eternity in this condition.

And so I have no choice, really, but to keep going. To strive to be the strong, courageous woman that people think I am. Not to be that person for them, but to be her for me.

If that makes me a role model, then that’s just a price I have to pay to be myself.

My dream is to go back to school and get my Master’s degree so that I can be qualified as a counselor. I want to specialize in people–particularly young people–with gender issues. I hope to be a resource they can turn to, a resource who can honestly and without exaggeration, take someone by the hand, look into their eyes, and say, “I’ve been there. I know exactly what you’re going through. It’s painful, yes. But in the end, it is so worth it.”

So keep on hating the fact that people have forced you into the role of a role model. (Does that sentence even make sense?) Don’t try to live up to their expectations, or I guarantee you’ll fail. Just keep on doing what you are already doing: living up to your own expectations. When (not if) it gets too hard, reach out to a friend. Reach out to a sister.

Reach out to me.

Lovingly,

Robyn
(Your big sister)