Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Birthday thoughts

On July 5, I will turn 34.  But this year, there is a birthday that feels more important.  In a few hours, it will be June 17, or the day that my uncle would be turning 62 years old.  His birthday is a lot more important than mine, because it's more important to remember him than to just turn 34.  I'll be in my thirties for a while. It's not that big of a deal.

Robert is a big deal.  He's a big deal  to our family, and he's a big deal to me.  I really only barely knew him as a person, because he wasn't around a lot.  It was a different time, and there were a lot of things that weren't talked about.  What I figured out about Robert, I mainly did through piecing things together on my own.  But there are a few things I do know.

When I was born, in 1981, Robert tried to give blood for me in case there was an emergency, and he wasn't allowed.  Gay men were banned from giving blood and they still are banned today. (ETA: Actually, any man who sleeps with men is banned from giving blood so that includes bisexual/pansexual men as well.)

Later in my life, my mother and father decided that with the wrong, gay, influences, I was going to "decide to turn," so I wasn't allowed to be around my uncle (or my father's gay sister) very much.

I can pretty much count the number of times I was arouund Robert at a family thing on my hands, and that's it.  I only remember a few times I was with him, but the times I remember, I've probably played a thousand times each in my head.

Most of the times I was with Robert, he was organizing.  Handing out leaflets in a park, making voting reminder calls.  Pretty much any time I saw him he had some political goal he was working toward, and we never talked directly about those things, but I never, ever forgot them.

I'm not the organizer that he was.  I'm not the politician that he was either.  I'm not very good at long range planning (I don't think life allows me to long-range plan either).  But I think the most important part of any of it is just remembering.

Remembering so that I can ask myself what he would do pretty much every day.  Remembering so that I can imagine the pep talk he would give me right before I explain, AGAIN, what human dignity is supposed to look like, and that as a disabled, queer, trans person, I am still allowed it.  Remembering that anything that he did, I am allowed to continue-and expand on.  Remembering so I can imagine that if I explained what being trans, what being non-binary, what being a disabled adult is like, I can walk myself through what he might say (the good and bad).  Even remembering so I can confront my family history, also the good and bad.

I don't have to tell you a lot of detail about him.  Some of those things are for my family, some are in a museum in Queens, some are embedded into the history of ACT UP NY, the St. Patrick's Day Parade For All (also in Queens), where he was an honoree this year, and some things I'll just never know.  Sometimes that last part is really horrible, and sometimes it's just how things are.  Some things I was there for and don't remember, and I hate those things the most.

Sometimes I'm known as the really argumentative one. (Okay, that's all the time.)  Sometimes I know that I'm probably way more argumentative than he ever was.  To be an organizer, you have to deal with way more people than I am good at dealing with.  So, you know, I'll never be him, but that's okay.  I carry him in the back of my head and he gives the best pep talks in the world--way better than anything I could come up with by myself.

Happy birthday, Robert.  I love you.

Monday, June 1, 2015


When I was younger, I was not allowed many boundaries with my family--and in some ways I am still not allowed boundaries with them.  I grew up and realized that other people were raised with an idea that they were allowed privacy, that their autonomy would be respected, and other things which were not so much an element of the life I had growing up.  Boundaries were something which I had to learn to utilize as an adult.  As the saying goes, there was no going back.  I began with a simple exercise given to me in the classroom in an unrelated class.  As goofy as the source is, the exercise presented in this article is very important.  Try it.

Many disabled people are raised without boundaries. They may be told what to like, what to do, who to have as friends, who their peers are supposed to be or aren't supposed to be--the list goes on and on.  Basically, if you grow up disabled, you may not have been given the option of personal boundaries.  And even if you are able-bodied, you still may not have been given these or know how to enact them. That's where the exercise comes in.

You are allowed boundaries--but it may take a little while for that to sink in, and that's okay. Once it does, they become a very heady and positive force in life.  YOU ARE ALLOWED THEM.  Whether it's boundaries around not being stopped and asked questions about your disability or other marginalized identity, or just being allowed personal space, being allowed personal care staff who respect you, or doctors who respect you, or anything in between: you are allowed these things.

When other people don't respect that you are allowed privacy, respect, personal space, and a healthy-for-you environment, THEY are violating your boundaries.  This is not your fault.  People should always ask if it's all right before asking personal questions, violating personal space, making assumptions about you, giving you unsolicited medical or other advice, or a bunch of other things.  People should ask if it's okay, or at least not assume that it is okay, because any of those things are boundary violations.  And distancing yourself from people who violate your boundaries is okay.  It really is.  Maybe you explain to them--or maybe that doesn't feel safe.  But if your boundaries are violated, you have every right to uphold the boundaries you've decided on.  It takes practice, but it's worth doing.  After a while it becomes second nature, and upholding the boundaries is easier and easier.

New scenarios will present themselves, but at the end of the day your boundaries are there to protect you and honoring them is the same as honoring yourself. And it can be done. I promise.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Confronting another attempted murder of disabled man

I write unsent letters, and I write unfinished stories.  Today, I did both.

Letters are simple--bursts of emotion dashed off to myself or to people who will know what the meanings are.  Writing a story might take more time.  In the days when I wrote every day, I might spend twenty to forty minutes and have 300 to 500 imperfect words to show for it.  Something, at least.  But the stories that mean the most have been with me since I was young, before I was writing them down.

I fold pieces of them into other stories, other characters, other circumstances, and they are not literally mine anymore, they're safely somewhere else.  But only I could tell them.

I began writing the stories I couldn't write down when I was four or five, and instead of written words they came out in tears.  Tears of emotional release as I settled into my private world where I could process the terror of my childhood.

Poems came later, at age ten, when I woke long before I had to for school and sat down to write as my form of meditation.

I brought the old poems out of a forgotten cranny in my room today and put them on my office shelf.
Then I went off to be with friends.  Friends of a friend, and some of them knew me and some of them didn't, but it was good.

Sometimes maybe you shouldn't log back in to the Internet after a thing like that.  Or maybe you should.  I don't know the answer.

A "mother" left her son, her disabled son, with CP, in a park, alone, to die there.

As a child of five, of ten, of fifteen, this was my single greatest fear.

The parallels are there--not exact, but close enough. Close enough that I wrote stories so close to this mark from age nineteen until I don't know when--I'm still writing them.

In the stories, always, my character is saved.  Not saved by love of a mother, because I have never been able to write that story, but saved by the love of caring, obstinate people who believed in him, chosen family, of a partner, of a life.

When I was younger, imagining the details of the life was an easier task, and I don't know if what I have now would seem like much of anything to most people around me, but here I am, alive, having cried my tears, having had my heart palpitations, and having gone to find my characters.  I listened to them process the news, reassure each other that they were safe and so was I, and then I put words to paper--the letter unsent, the story unwritten, but known, inside of me, and I breathed. Because I must.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thoughts on surviving familial abuse over Samhain week

It's been a tough week for me, and for many people in the disability rights community.  When a terrible thing happens, it brings out all the things that make us sad.  But I can only speak, right now, about my own personal experiences, because it's what there is energy to do.  These personal experiences reflect something many people go through...so we'll get to common ground eventually in this post.

Last Friday was Halloween, or, for me, Samhain. I guess when a person dies early in your life, someone who taught you what you knew about activism, someone who put the fire for it in your blood, you might get obsessed with holidays for honoring the dead at an early age, and that's pretty much me.  My uncle's been on my mind, and I felt that I did a good job honoring him last Friday.

The last time that I felt I was honoring him properly, I came out to his family (more) about abuse I dealt with in my home.

My family is Irish Catholic, and we don't talk about much.  That's the way it is. But abuse still happens, and I don't get anywhere by bottling it all in.  I felt that I would have been supported by my uncle when I went into more detail than I ever had before about things that happened in my immediate family's home, partly while I was estranged from him and the rest of my maternal relatives.

My mother is an extreme, unrepentant abuser.  Her situation is complicated.  But this post is not about her. It's not really even directly about my family, either...  It's about the reaction to when you can't contain it anymore and you come out to your family about abuse.

A lot of people are disowned by their families of origin. And for coming out about the abuse I dealt with, I lost contact with an aunt.  No, I was not in a good place. No, I was not considering her feelings.  I was exploding inside.  I was going out of my mind.  I was not going to be quiet about it any more.

There are many layers of abuse in my past, and for a lot of complicated reasons I confronted my family on St. Patrick's Day.  I'm Irish, but it's not a good day for me because of associations with abuse, and other cultural reasons it's too complicated to get into here.  And I was trying to reclaim it.

And I did do that.

If I lost contact with this aunt, part of it was my refusal to see things her way, that I had "been inappropriate" in disclosing.

I did it for myself, yes, but I also did it for the many disabled people who suffer endless abuse from family and caregivers. I am older than many of my other disabled friends, and I was showing them...it wasn't just them, it was me too, it is all of us.  And it is okay to confront your family.

It is okay to confront your family--if you will be safe physically from retribution. It is okay to protect yourself and it is okay to call out able-bodied people for the ableist, abusive things that they do.

It is okay, and it also hurts.

It hurts to lose family, which you might.  It is terrible, really, to feel unsupported... but if your brain is going to cook from the stress of holding it in... you are under no obligation to protect people like that. You are under no obligation to protect people who abuse you and you are under no obligation to protect the people who protect your abusers. Even if they are your "family."

My family is small. Some relatives, a few who are dead, and a few who are alive. A few friends.  Not all of my family are blood relatives and not all of my friends are family.  It's a lonely road, but holding in stories of abuse has always been worse.  Holding things in is not a thing I do well.  Call it not being raised with boundaries, call it having no filter, call it being a loudmouth.

Whatever it is, I know I'd have my uncle's support.  Every year, I'll reclaim the day I confronted my family a little bit more in his name.  It's all I can do.

If any of this resonates with you, find your chosen family.  Talk to them. If you can't confront family members, at least let it out to safe people. There is nothing wrong with any of this. There is something wrong with abuse, with protecting abusers, with condoning abuse, with blaming the victim.  But not with calling abuse of people, especially disabled or otherwise marginalized people, what it is.

Happy Samhain, all. May it be a better new year.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams Was My Bipolar Comrade In Arms

Robin Williams was a bipolar man.  This is a fact which is being erased.  The situation is being treated as if he had unipolar depression, or as if suicide just came out of nowhere and he did not know how to get help.  Robin was very open about his depression.  But anyone with bipolar could also recognize his mania.  The idea that he might just not know how to get help is ludicrous and insulting to Robin. When you have bipolar disorder, you struggle with it every single day.  You struggle when depressed, and you struggle when manic too.  There are two poles.  And it seems obvious to me from the way that his bipolar disorder is being erased that this and my other life experiences are teaching me mania scares people more than depression does.

A lot of people have depression. And they want to speak up about it, and that's great.  But Robin's mood swings were larger than from depressed to normal and back. They were from mania to maybe normal and then depression. Extreme highs and lows that are torturous to endure.  The differences are so vast that life can seem unliveable, unmanageable.  Depression itself is like a black dog in the corner who you are always aware of. Bipolar can be an out of control roller coaster.  It is exhausting. It is torturous.  And when we lose a bipolar role model, it's impossible not to think it could be us, that a swing will just be too much.

I wrote the following two posts since Monday when I found out, and I feel that both sentiments have value. I am going to save those sentiments:


Oh my God. Robin Williams died. This year is a really bad year for deaths, not just celebrity deaths... just wow.

And they think it was a suicide. Oh, my bipolar buddy. D: It's a tough fight, my friend.


When we collectively mourn Robin Williams we are mourning for someone who gave us many formative, thought-provoking moments in our lives. Yes, Robin was a comedian, but his movies also tackled very dark subjects. (You don't get much darker than What Dreams May Come, a movie that makes me sob from beginning to end.) But also, those of us with experience of depression or bipolar have lost a comrade in arms today. This must have been why Robin was drawn to the darker movies that he did. So many which addressed suicide, either as an entire plot device or in passing. He was incredible to be able to bring us those topics and make it through. Incredible strength. I don't say that because of his entertainment ability, I say that as a fellow bipolar person. I could never have addressed half of the things Robin did regularly in his career. I would not have the strength of will.

I have already almost succumbed to suicide more than once and the only reason I am here is the trauma hospital. It really scares me that I may have to battle this again. I can't/won't judge Robin for losing the fight, but the strength that he had was amazing, and to see him succumb is pretty terrible. Can I make it another 33 years with this brain? Will it all be way too much by then? I don't know. I'm just relieved that right now I get to have a clear head...but every med change is roulette (even moreso for me than most, as I already sustained additional brain damage from med fail), so I don't think too far into the future.

This isn't a hypothetical for me. It may be an eventuality. Just ugh.


I am immortalizing these posts here. Because Robin didn't secretly become un-bipolar.  He was bipolar.  He had incredible swings, intolerable swings, and when you reach the point of that unending low you do not see a way out other than the one he took.  There is only one solution to you then.  Yes, he was depressed, but imagine that he didn't just have to contrast that with normal, but with the amazing highs during which he got his work done.  It's that much more torturous. The fight is that much tougher, broader, and deeper. And I won't see it erased.

You fought hard, Robin, and I honor you--all of you.  Not just the funny parts.  And not just the parts that other people like.  All of it, the messy, rough truth.  Thank you for all that you've done.  No one else could have done it.

Your comrade,

Other blog posts on this topic:



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Internet Cat Calls Are a Thing. Let Me Show You Them.

Recently, I received a cat call from someone I had known for a few days.  It was in electronic form.  It was right here on the Internet.  I barely knew the person. At the time, he did not have access to pictures of what I looked like.  Oh, and by the way, it was on my birthday.  "Happy birthday, sexy," he said.

This is not appropriate language from an uninvited stranger.  This is a cat call.  It feels the same as being hounded by a man on the street.  And furthermore, it's happening over a medium that I, and many other people, access from home.  So this is similar to getting a phone call from a complete stranger consisting only of, "Hey, gorgeous/sexy/cutie/sweetie."  Or someone coming up to your door, ringing the bell, and doing the same.  This is language that is uninvited, and I do not want this attention from strangers--I only accept such terms from lovers, and so do most people I know.  Hearing them from a stranger is a violation.

This is gross. This is about entitlement.  It can happen without anyone seeing your picture (yes, even on Facebook).  It is not about what you look like or actual attraction, it is about power. It is about an assumption that you are required to be flattered. It is about ego. It is disgusting.

If this happens to you, own that this is a cat call and this is not okay.  Strangers--people--should not behave this way whether it is offline or on. It is a violation of boundaries.  Anyone who encounters this, regardless of gender or gender identity, has the right to call this out as creepy. This is not about unflattered people being difficult. This is about people trying to claim pieces of people's autonomy. Forcing a reaction. Expecting a reaction. And if that reaction is not given, complaining about it. I've seen those conversations, those gifs and memes.  They are gross too.

People do not owe anyone being flattered by creepy behavior. This is a boundary breach and a form of stalking.  We are not required to be flattered.  We are allowed to edge people who act like this out of our lives.  The same way wew would walk away from a stranger on the street who does this, we can, should, and will walk away from people on the Internet who act like this. We are not being difficult people. We are honoring our own safety. We have a right and duty to walk away from this and shore up our boundaries.  This is not okay, and it never will be.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ooh, look, gender police, take two!

Some time ago I wrote a post on being gender policed by a younger male.  I did not give specifics of this. I also generalized quite a few of the events. This blog post is not that exact blog post.  I was quite upset while writing it, and did not save a backup copy. Later, this man started screaming at me that I was a liar, further triggering me, so I took the post down. One of my closest friends, Emily Titon, fielded quite a lot of this situation, so knows more or less the entire story.  

I do not enjoy having to elucidate this here. It is difficult to write about, and I risk becoming re-triggered by the situation.  I have a number of difficulties relating in the disability community due to previous instances of bulllying, gaslighting, and the internalized ableism of others coming out in conversation with me.  This is why I deleted the original entry to avoid conflict, but that wasn’t being true to myself.

This man accused me of LYING (several times, sometimes but not always in caps) because I could not provide direct quotes. He also conveniently did not remember many events--because they did not trigger him.  So this post, written several weeks later instead of the morning after the events (on zero sleep because I could not become untriggered or calm down after a final offense), will not have direct quotes. Part of this is because as a result of this interaction I have left a private group and unfriended two people.  I could possibly stilll find our chat logs, but I would rather not do so as the experience of going back through them would be triggering all over again.

This, therefore, is my personal interpretation of events. In some ways, it will be more specific than the last version of this post.  In other ways, because of time passing, it will be more general. THERE WILL BE NO DIRECT QUOTES as I do not have them.  I will give general summaries of sentiments expressed, sometimes in comically exaggerated dialogue. THIS DOES NOT MEAN I AM LYING. If anything, I am creating a parody of bigotry.  This post is liable to be on the long side.

My first indication that this young man (12 years my junior--and those were a big 12 years for me) had a problem understanding gender and gender policing is when the following happened:

We were discussing approaches to activism. I am a third generation New Yorker and third generation activist, and these two things are related. I learned activism with compassion.  I wrote about it on Martin Luther King day on my Facebook, and I then backdated the entry, so if you need a refresher on my family’s activism, it’s told through the story of my grandfather, an Italian- and English-American Queens native with family as far away as Africa (a fact which probably informed his politics).  

I told this man that I had learned not to go on other people’s walls and correct them or police them.  He said, “That’s probably a female-gendered response.”

Oh, really?  I’m transgender, but okay, kiddo.

I didn’t say anything. Sometimes if triggered, you lose words.  Sometimes if you have disability stuff in common with Autistics/are neurodiverse, you lose words too.  In his words, I was supposed to articulate to him I was triggered. I’ve been mulling over that one.  The thing is, telling him would have only been paying him a courtesy.  Especially as I was struggling with words then.  I just got through it, because being triggered is similar to a panic attack that can ruin and change  your entire day.  Later he told me I had acted wrongly by not informing him.  This is victim blaming, plain and simple.  He is a 21-year-old man with a personal mythology that it upsets him too much to upset someone so he doesn’t upset people.  Would that it was so easy.  But if he really is so concerned with the impact of upsetting people, then basically he should not victim blame or gaslight.  But that did come later, so let’s continue.

There may or may not have been another similar instance after the first triggery experience. It’s now blurry.  I did notice him doing ableist things around me, like talking around me in threads as if I was some kind of intruder among his friends or something.  I was in a private group with him (I have left it) so I spent some time psych-braining about how he interacted with people. I could have unfriended or blocked him after the first incident and was considering leaving the group (I don’t do groups well, especially not anymore), but I was biding my time a bit. I reasoned that he was young and certainly younger people still have room to learn, and with that I left it alone.

Then I came out as trans in a thread in the private group. This person came in to tell me that he had a theory of being able to categorize people’s gender by speech patterns, and that I have a “femme” way of relating events in text. I told him perhaps my female name had leant to this interpretation as well.  For me, I have no cognitive dissonance whatsoever with being pangender but maintaining a female name, because I picked it myself long before I came out. Keeping this name is honoring my younger self.  I have been Elena to my friends for 20 years now, and that won’t change any time soon, although since coming out as transgender I do vastly prefer being known simply as E. The truth is that part of my reclamation of Elena has to do with the fact that some sites refuse to allow me to be known as E.

I discussed my situation at length with the aim of informing not him but the people in the thread who might actually learn something.  It’s possible that I may be too good at switching into anthropologist or psychology brain, because instead of telling him he was wrong, I asked him why he felt I was “femme.”  He then listed several reasons related to my speech patterns and how I communicated things in text.

I am many things. I am a writer, a socially isolated disabled person, and an internet addict. Any of those things can and do effect my interactions online because most are textual.  When I first started to feel transgender-ish, at age 3, I informed my mother that I was going to grow up to be a boy.  (This was not her favorite thing, and the resulting conversations I had with her were not my favorite thing.)  I assimilated into cis female space, but never easily. I was on the outside a tomboy who was queer (notably attracted to women, but not a lesbian).  I didn’t ever fit in with women--many geek girls don’t, though, so that’s not an indicator.  I did note their behaviors, though.  There is absolutely nothing in my experience that backs up this man’s assertion that my being courteous about people’s walls, for instance, is a “female-gendered response.  It’s called basic courtesy and respect of people’s autonomy and willingness to let them have an opinion unless it’s dangerous or something.  Have you ever heard of cat fights? There is an expression because they are real.  If being courteous about information on people’s walls is “female-gendered” or “femme,” then my female parent must be trans, and in fact all gaslighty women must really not be women!  But, see, I’m fairly certain this guy is cis.  He neither grew up skirting transgender issues nor relating to women as a presumably cis woman.  Women (or anyone who has lived as a woman while figuring out trans issues, i.e. me) know(s) women better than men know women.  That’s where tons of self help comes from, so you know I’m right.  This is why quite a lot of women refuse to have that many female friends.  Don’t believe me?  Most women I’ve talked to report that they didn’t have many female friends until at least college age. I’m the same way.

I could tell you a million stories that illustrate how I am not actually femme, just a writer, but I’ll give the salient points: I don’t know what even happens in a salon.  I collected rocks and dreamed of climbing trees as a kid. Spiders, lizards and snakes are my favorite animals. This blog is named after a cornsnake, for fuck’s sake.  (I also enjoy bears. Is that too femme?)  I don’t own a dress. I own one pair of shoes.  I don’t dress for anything other than comfort (although I have a lot of sensory requirements, I will admit).  I refuse to be fashion-policed.  I don’t shop for clothes, or anything else, for fun. (Partly that’s a reality of being poor, but I’m an in-and-out-of-there shopper. I don’t window-shop or do any of that for fun and never have.)

See, now I’m starting to sound possibly sexist, or something,  but all I am trying to do is point out: I am in a female body until I die.  I don’t want surgery. (He said “I was not like other trans people” because of some of this. Well, sure.  Only a subset of trans people get media attention. They may fit a stereotype. That belongs in another post.)  Additionally, my binary did break later in life, partly due to trauma. (Speaking for myself only--I can’t speak for how/why/when other people’s binaries break or don’t function.) Nonbinary experiences of being trans ARE different from that of trans people who have an intact binary.   None of this has any bearing on whether I am “femme” or have “female-gendered” behaviors or not.

I have a few. Not too many though.  But of course I have some--I float around in a nebulous gender soup.  It doesn’t matter, though. By him labeling me, he’s gender-policing me.  He asserted all kinds of things about how he KNOWS female behavior and femme behavior.

You know who knows those things? People who have lived or identify as women.  But even with that being said, any time he’s asserting how I come across, making a point over and over again, that’s gender policing.

So no. Actually, no. He doesn’t know.  The only person responsible for understanding (for the purpose of self-accceptance) their own gender is the person in that particular body. We can try to make people understand, but we’ll fail at times (especially if we are “not like other trans people”), like I did here, especially when I talked to him after the first time I wrote this damn post.  

Because I did talk to him after this second policing session.  I PMed him to tell him that this line of reasoning he was going after was not going to help him, that it was nonproductive to get into this too far as he never knew when he was around trans*, or even just nonbinary folks like me.  He asserted that he understood that I wanted to be known as nonbinary.  He apologized.  But then he blocked me.  He has a reasoning of being overloaded, which is perfectly reasonable, but I had been reasonable with him, letting him know I only confronted him out of respect--which is how I roll. I don’t confront people I don’t think will learn something.

So he blocked me on Facebook and I blogged this the first time. He then unblocked me, talked around me in threads a bit, and then started gaslighting me in PM.  He called me a liar in several places.  (Once in PM and once on a reposting of the original blog post.)  Sometimes it was in caps.  I was re-triggered and I wanted to not be called a liar so I took the post down.  I kept talking to him and he kept saying that we weren’t really compatible with being friends because of communication differences.  Whatever. That’s happened to me before.  He told me that I should have informed him I was triggered.  He related the situation to some kind of error in computer science or other.  

No.  This was policing. It also became gaslighting.  You can ask people who know that I was upset enough (partly due to the fact that gaslighting from other crips feels worse) to take the original post down.  I can only remember ever deleting one other thing in the past 12 months or more--I don’t delete often. In fact, I deleted something else due to a friend of this same person. So now, neither of those people are in my life.  It’s not that I am so conflict avoidant--it’s that I have disability-community-specific trauma.

But the truth is, this still happened, and now it’s blogged again.  Sorry but I won’t be asking his permission to exist, to be transgender, or to figure out what my gender is.  This post stays up. It’s for me, but also for any trans* person who has been gaslit and policed about their gender.  So here it is.