This past week has been a very trans-focused week. I had the wonderful opportunity with the support of my employer to attend the 2018 Out and Equal Workplace Summit. I attended seminars from Tuesday to Thursday focused on transgender issues in the workplace. Topics ranged from the good and bad of medical care globally, transition planning, advocacy, and what different companies are doing to catch up on an issue that is quickly (and finally!) becoming one of the most important human rights topics in our country. It was overwhelming, to say the least, to learn all the ways my employer needs to do better and also hear first-hand from transgender people in the workplace the struggles they face, even post-transition. There are things I’m still very ignorant about and not educated on. I’ve spent the last year focused more on my emotional day-to-day and how to get Katie through to the next step of her trans-checklist, that things like prostate exams and whether or not our insurance will cover them when the time comes haven’t really crossed my mind. I’m privileged to not previously have needed to think of this and so many other issues transgender humans face at work. Discrimination I was aware of, but how engrained in our workplaces and medical processes the privilege and discrimination is really incredible.
Wednesday night, I attended support group. It was nice to be back in the fold, even if the group really segued into more of an education for the allies in our room. Thursday night, Katie and I attended OTR II, and I got to see the glory that is Beyoncé and Jay-Z for the first time. Say what you want about their flaws, fame, relationship, and everything else, Beyoncé can perform! Katie and I had so much fun! Would I see them again, together? Not sure. Still 10 out of 10 would recommend. That said, due to the week at the conference, I kept telling Katie over and over again, “I can’t believe this week. I’m overwhelmed.” I did have the wherewithal to take Friday when I bought the tickets, which is a blessing. I slept all day and was incredibly lazy. It was wonderful.
Saturday and Sunday, I attended training required to be a volunteer at Lambert House, an LGBT+ Youth Center in Capitol Hill. The organization is really incredible and I’m excited to start cooking a meal once a month for the youth that attend. After training, Katie picked me and my friend/peer, Patrick, up to give us both rides home. Immediately, I could tell something was off with Katie. She didn’t ask how the day was. She snapped at me twice in the car, which isn’t like her. As soon as Patrick got out of the car, I told Katie I didn’t appreciate the response. I made a concerted effort to stay calm because I could feel how angry I was and I didn’t want to fight, just an apology. Katie barely responded, stoking my anger more. She totally shut down, no words spoken the entire drive home.
As she parked the car and turned the engine off, I asked her what was going on. Katie couldn’t tell me. She said she was really down all day, stayed in bed until 3:30pm, didn’t do any of the errands we needed done. In addition to the training this weekend, two of my favorite people were celebrating their recent wedding on Sunday evening. We needed to get a gift for them. I also really, really wanted a homemade meal. I hadn’t had one in the past week and I had asked Katie to help coordinate that while I was gone all day. These are small things, but for Katie to be incapable of executing them due to her mood was worrying for me. At this point in the conversation, I was feeling a lot of things: residual anger for being snapped at in front of someone else, frustration at not having a meal, irritation at needing to now run errands after a long day of training, and concern about my wife and what was going on with her. I asked Katie if she was feeling dysphoric as she was exhibiting some of her key tells. Katie turns inward when she is having a dysphoric day, when she doesn’t see herself in the mirror. She retreats into the prison of her body, feeding into the vicious terror of her thoughts. It’s so painful to watch and experience. That said, the fact that she wasn’t feeling dysphoric was alarming to me. I then asked her a question I’ve asked before, one that isn’t easy to ask, but has so much potential danger if I don’t ask it:”Do I need to be worried about you hurting yourself?” To my relief, she vehemently told me that this wasn’t an option for her.
I’m not entirely proud of how I handled what came next. I needed to get our errands done in order to sit and relax at home. I also, selfishly needed a break from Katie. I very easily absorb how other people are experiencing their emotions, and the weight of Katie’s in that moment were more than I could handle. Also, in making a list of how to balance all of our priorities, I couldn’t help Katie fix what was going on with her right then, so I asked her to give me the keys so I could run our errands. I did ask Katie if she had eaten, and she hadn’t all day. She also didn’t eat dinner the night before. I’m not a doctor, but when I don’t eat for that long, I eventually shut down. I imagine my body protecting itself from exerting energy doing things like have a conversation be making them more difficult to do. I asked Katie if she felt like this could be the reason she was so shut down and depressed. She didn’t think so, but who knows? I ordered a pizza while I was running errands and I do think her mood and energy was improved after she ate.
Sunday, the training at Lambert House had two sessions I was able to attend before the wedding, one focused on supporting transgender youth and the other on suicide prevention. Good timing, right? I had a really difficult time sitting there being asked if we’ve ever had to deal with suicide and holding back my tears. It was validating to know that I handled it correctly, even without training. On a risk scale, Katie is currently low risk for suicide, but this can change at any moment. She’s admitted to being suicidal in the past, to considering walking into traffic. Her discomfort and disconnect from her body and emotions were strong enough to consider life not bearable. This is the plight of so many transgender people.
Katie and I have been bickering a lot more lately about house chores. I feel like there is in imbalance in our structure now that her connection to her emotions is more developed. We are having to renegotiate the space we live in as Katie evolves. The planning role I have filled previously feels heavier now with this new space in our lives being filled by Katie’s transition. At the wedding, I told Katie about the training and about how much she scared me the night before. I told her about how devastated I would be if she ended her life, about how valuable she is to me and so many others. I had said these things the night before also, but I wanted to make sure she heard me when she wasn’t in such a disconnected mindset. I also told her that days like Saturday are why I’m asking her to carry more of our shared responsibilities around the house. I know this seems selfish, but Katie will likely never need to ask me if I’m suicidal. That responsibility is heavy and I take it seriously. We never know when Katie’s mind will betray her functionality in our lives together, creating a day where she can’t get out of bed. I would be more comfortable with a plan for when it happens, with a more evenly distributed set of responsibilities so I’m picking up a little less on the days where I need to carry both of us. She understood it. She heard me, I think for the first time, in a way that made sense to her.
I’m not really sure how to end this post. A PSA about suicide seems so clichéd, but at the same time, I cannot stress enough how important it is to check-in with those you love, to ask the awkward question. At the conference this past week, we participated in an activity where everyone wrote down something they hide at work, crumpled up the paper, and threw it across the room. 6,000 pieces of paper flew back and forth, causing the room to uproar in laughter and interest. We then read what was on the paper we caught in a group and discussed it’s meaning. After the next speaker, the host of the lunch walked onto the stage and announced that one of the papers read “I’m feel suicidal”. The entire room fell silent as the host validated this person and let them know the entire room was there for them, whoever they were. The entire audience clapped and stood up. I cried. I think a lot of people did. Sometimes people need to hear their existence is valid. I’ll never know who wrote on that paper, but I hope they got the help they needed. I hope they got the message I’m trying to give Katie every day: You are valid, you are loved, and I would miss you greatly.