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I started this diary about 15 years ago. I'd read an essay, "Swimming in AIDS" that'd been penned a couple decades ago in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. It was a moving commentary on those days before we had drugs that were effective against AIDS. Back then in the gay community so many gay brothers were sick and dying of AIDS that you were caught up in the tragedy, literally swimming in AIDS, even if you were HIV negative.

So back in the Clinton administration I started this diary on my ancient laptop. I told of my experience in the trans community, of all the hallmark symptoms of PTSD I'd seen in trans people back when I was an activist and counselor. Then I forgot about it- the nineties were a time between wars when we at least didn't have veterans wounded by PTSD  discharged onto our streets and into our consciousness, so it seemed like a poor time to write about PTSD. Sadly, PTSD is back, but for the trans community PTSD never went away.

I'll start with the stories of a couple trans veterans. In fact, there were a lot of trans veterans- I was doing research on the pre- Stonewall female impersonator show the Jewel Box Revue and was amazed that most of the drag performers were vets. And who can forget veteran Christine Jorgenson?

Sis and Brenda both served during the Vietnam era. Neither ever made it to Vietnam, but both got hit with as bad a PTSD as you can get in 'nam, thanks to the bigotry of their fellow americans. Sis was kicked out of the service when she was caught with women's clothing in the trunk of her car. She lost all her veteran's benefits and was disowned by her family. None the less she maintained her dignity, transitioned, and studied martial arts. Then she was brutally beaten by the dogo mates she had trusted. I was so mad that I went off on an FTM that was recovering from surgery- my apologies to Al if you read this. The next day while we were moving Sis to a different apartment for her safety her landlord had the nerve to show up and hand us papers evicting her for getting beat up. Sis is a survivor, finished vocational school, and is an upstanding member of the community. But pretty much unable to work and denied even the most basic of veteran's benefits she's lived most of her life in poverty.

I haven't seen Brenda in person for a decade, but she calls me almost every day. Her PTSD has intensified to the point where she'll only leave home with her spouse, and I suspect she won't meet me in person because I'm too confrontational for her comfort. Brenda lives in a prison of fear that the VA locked her in.  Brenda could never pass for a man, but she managed to stay in the military barely long enough to get kicked out with veterans benefits. That got her a job in a VA hospital, where she was harassed until she was driven insane and then further punished by being locked up in said VA hospital's psych ward. Fortunately she got a good lawyer and as a result she's still getting worker's comp from the VA even though she hasn't been able to work there since the 70s. But a steady government paycheck is little solace when your panic attacks are so bad you can't drive and won't even allow your spouse to drive on four lane divided highways. Brenda can't drink anything stronger than milk and eats pretty bland food. She buys vans with dark tinted windows so she can use the porta potti she always carries with in privacy when the stress overwhelms her spincter muscles.

John is a small guy, and he was beaten in the 60s by the teenage girls that towered over him because he wouldn't wear makeup. He was a great friend of trans women, but their heavy makeup sometimes brought back his PTSD. He's found his calling, but last I spoke with him he's still having a tough time of it.

Maggie is another one who never really could pass as a guy. Then throw in a family that couldn't decide whether to give her a girlish or boyish name and you have the makings for psychological disaster. Then on her first day on the job as a county park worker just out of high school she was beaten by her "coworkers". Then her family disowned her when she transistioned 3 decades ago. Is it any wonder the TG community accuses her of "horizontal hostility"? Note to the TG community- cut the PTSD victims some slack and give them some space to heal. I've seen her go into flashbacks because her trans friends big hands reminded her of the "coworkers" who beat her. When you get on your high horse, get all macho, and lecture her you're just setting off her PTSD with predictable response.

Cassandra was repeated victimized as a drug addict and sex worker. She can't handle the stress of cities and lives a hermitic life in a small town thanks to a benevolent trans sister that shares her home with Cassandra. Even in that small town, she's still a prisoner of PTSD, afraid to leave the house for anything but medical appointments and grocery runs. She can't sleep regular hours and can only keep bland food down. As a result she's put on a lot of weight and chain smokes... her doctor tells her she won't live to see 40. She hasn't smoked in two weeks so there is hope though.

We had a murderer in Minneapolis a few years back who murdered 4 women he thought were prostitutes. One of those women was trans. There was a survivor, another trans woman that the perp left for dead. Thanks to a hard working female Minneapolis Police detective her identity was never revealed to the ravenous press. But while her physical wounds have healed, her PTSD remains. She's an addict and alcoholic and has lost a couple good jobs. Anything sets her off- I've walked away from a fight she picked with me even though I could have kicked her butt.

And then there's my experience. I've been a fellow traveler of the trans community, having been born intersex, raised as a boy, and lived my entire adult life as a woman by choice. I had a family that maybe didn't understand me, but they didn't bash me. I taught myself self defense and developed quite a rep on the wrestling mat, so if anyone started a fight with me I finished it. But it was some bigoted managers at the Postal Service when I was in my 50s that gave me personal experience with PTSD. After I was outed they forgot about their duties and made it their full time job to harass me. I was so terrorized that I ended up in the emergency room due to dehydration from Irritable Bowel Syndrome caused by their harassment. Fortunately retirement removed me from their victimization.

That experience and the frank writings by some of our Kossack veterans about their experience with PTSD motivated me to finish this decade and a half old diary tonight. PTSD is the elephant in the trans community's living room, and we're not going to move forward until we deal with this demon. The first step in solving a problem is admitting it- let the discussion begin!    

Originally posted to SlyDi on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 08:19 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you so much for sharing this. (9+ / 0-)

    You have been a worthy voice for some of our brothers and sisters.

    "When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race." ~H.G. Wells

    by ridemybike on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 08:26:27 PM PST

  •  Hi SlyDi -- (13+ / 0-)

    Thanks for writing the diary and for raising the issue.  My partner is a trans guy so I know a little bit about what you're talking about.

    Fortunately he does not have PTSD and he is doing really well since his transition.  He teaches at the same university where he went to school -- with some of the same faculty who taught him before he transitioned.  He's out and is warmly accepted by the faculty and by his students.

    Sadly though, we do know of some trans folks who have had a much harder time. One young pre-op trans guy in our town killed himself after his buddies at the tow truck company he worked for found out he was trans.

    We contacted his parents and invited them to a memorial celebration of his life.  They had already had his funeral, but we wanted them to know how much he was loved by all of us.  They came to our house and I think it blew their minds to see all of the wonderful and diverse souls who showed up to honor their son.

    Thanks again for the diary, SlyDi.  

    Nice to meet you.


    "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." -- Leonard Cohen

    by Amaryliss on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 08:51:45 PM PST

    •  um... if your partner's family (0+ / 0-)

      held a funeral for him then.... I'd say he's experiencing significant stress. Sometimes transmen over do the tough guy stereotype thing. Might want to just be aware.

      They never tell you truth is subjective, they only tell you not to lie. They never tell you there's strength in vulnerability, they only tell you not to cry.

      by MnplsLiberal on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 01:26:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The family of the young trans man who died (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        snakelass, Audri, C Barr, hikerbiker

        held the funeral for their son.  My partner and I held the memorial service and invited the mother and father of the trans man who died.

        Yes, it is true that my partner has experienced significant stress in his life, but he has not experienced PTSD.  

        (I don't know how you could question your gender, consider gender reassignment surgery, go through the surgery and then resocialize in the world without experiencing significant stress.)

        Fortunately he's had excellent medical, mental health and spiritual care right from the beginning.  

        We live in Canada and so we have the great good fortune that it's all been paid for.

        My partner's psychiatrist has been with him right from the beginning and continues to see him (and me) whenever we like - both on our own and as a couple.  She even saw his family members who needed help understanding what was going on during the transition.

        His primary doc didn't know alot about trans health but was willing to be educated, and happily his endocrinologist is the best.  

        He also had/has spiritual support through a minister who is also a psychologist. She saw him at the very beginning of the process and provided incredible love and understanding. She would see either of us or any of his family members at the drop of a hat if we were to call.  And it wouldn't cost us a dime -- thanks to the medical system here.  

        When we lived in a larger city, we had a huge community of trans folks to rely on.  One of those people is the head of a well know transgender health program.  He was a close friend and invited us to our first transgender gathering and accompanied us to our first Gender Odyssey conference in Seattle. He continues to be a good friend a source of invaluable information.  

        We're in a smaller town now and the one issue we're dealing with is isolation.  There are very few transmen around, and those who are here, are not well.  So we are planning on moving to a place with a larger trans population. We will have made the move by this summer.  

        My partner IS well.  For those who have not had adequate health care, or who do not have a supportive family or partner or community; and suffer with the impact this has on their well being, it can be very difficult to believe that good health is possible for trans folks.  

        Good health is possible -- but it takes good health care!  

        That's why I stand in solidarity with all Americans who are fighting for decent, affordable healthcare for everyone in their country.  

        All the best to you, MnplsLiberal.  

        "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." -- Leonard Cohen

        by Amaryliss on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 11:31:15 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Wow (12+ / 0-)

    You described it.  It's real.  You  are commended for writing and posting this.

  •  I made a minor edit to your tags so they (10+ / 0-)

    could be searched. Without the commas that may have been problematic. And I think it is important that anyone who wants to research dKos diaries on Trans subjects be able to find yours, SlyDi.

    Thank you for writing it. Best wishes to you!

    "The opposite of war isn't peace, it's CREATION." _ Jonathan Larson, RENT

    by BeninSC on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 09:22:45 PM PST

  •  I have often said it a different way... (13+ / 0-)

    (although I am in no way disagreeing with your characterization of PTSD).

    As a middle-aged gay man, I have often said that growing up gay in my generation (or worse, even earlier) does not produce healthy people. Our trans brothers and sisters have it 100x worse.

    Many years ago I dated a trans man, then later worked with an FTM who was a major trans activist. (I participated in some workshops he did and even did show and tell for the new tranny boys). I learned a lot from those experiences and have been committed to trans inclusion and equality ever since.

    I think you are absolutely right, and many people still don't understand what it means to be transgendered. Navigating that minefield and exiting with any part of your sanity is no small miracle.

    Please, everyone, keep learning more about the lives and experiences of Trans people. They have the lowest awareness in our society and the fewest protections. They deserve so much better than what too many of them still have to endure.

    If you don't understand, or are uncomfortable, or even don't care--please reconsider, please examine what you know, and please learn more.

    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." --Mohandas Gandhi

    by homogenius on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 09:41:18 PM PST

    •  Beautifully said, homogenius ... (9+ / 0-)

      There is a yearly conference in Seattle called Gender Odyssey. My partner and I used to go back when it was more of an FTM focused conference.    We haven't been in a while but hope to get there in 2010.

      From the website:

      "Gender Odyssey is open to all. We embrace the presence and participation of traditionally gendered and gender variant people: transmen, transwomen, genderqueers, intersex people, our families, partners, and allies. It is a place for us and those we love to gather together, share our lives, and learn from one another."

      "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." -- Leonard Cohen

      by Amaryliss on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 09:59:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sometimes we're are own worst enemy! (7+ / 0-)

    One of the reasons I drifted away from the trans community was some of the dysfunctional behavior... some of it probably caused by PTSD. The bickering, snideness, PC run amok, gross acting out, etc. wears one down after a while. No wonder it's hard to keep coalitions together to pass ENDA, etc..

    •  Oh, yeah, I've seen that ... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril, KentuckyKat, hikerbiker, Amaryliss

      PTSD's often involved.

      Many trans folks face abuse from parents. Many trans folks face abuse from schools; I know I did. It can wear you down. It can reach the point that one's day-to-day sense of normal is anyone else's day-to-day sense of intolerable. And that's before transition. Things get much riskier during transition.

      Remember Duanna Johnson. Tortured by the Memphis PD for being black and trans. Killed by the Memphis PD for speaking up.

      by Marja E on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 10:59:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You may not agree with this... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        But Duanna Johnson was not a great role model for trans folks. Duanna didn't need to die on the streets- you can get financial aid to get an education. Get enough education and with a decent economy and you'll get a job. We need trans role models that have succeeded despite the discrimination they faced.

        •  One Master's Degree, No Paying Job n/t (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          snakelass, Amaryliss

          Remember Duanna Johnson. Tortured by the Memphis PD for being black and trans. Killed by the Memphis PD for speaking up.

          by Marja E on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 12:43:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Not unusual, even for cisgendered folks. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            snakelass, Amaryliss

            I've got a bachelors and a bunch of graduate credits, but every job I've held didn't even require a high school diploma. Back in the late 70s I saw the handwriting on the wall- there were way more college grads than the market could absorb. So I took a 6 month vocational school course and got hired as soon as I graduated. I worked in the same trade for 30 years and retired at 57 with a pension and health insurance.

  •  Thank you (8+ / 0-)

    for this diary.  It opened my eyes to a whole new world of suffering I was oblivious to. And that's a good thing....

  •  I'd say most folks in the GLBT community (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CayceP, Marja E, hikerbiker

    Have some form of PTSD. Ok, not everyone, but a significant number. With the trans community there is very significant co-morbidity. I mean, come on, the psychological shocks are huge. For any ordinary persona divorce is considered equal to a death in the family. But for a typical MtF it very likely they'll experience Divorce, loss of job, loss of family, loss of friends, relocation, poverty, and so on. And that's without even figuring the shock of transitioning.

    Many gay men and lesbians used to experience the above regularly. Today it's less so but if you are from a rural area the shock of coming out can still be severe.

    So, yeah, it sucks.

    They never tell you truth is subjective, they only tell you not to lie. They never tell you there's strength in vulnerability, they only tell you not to cry.

    by MnplsLiberal on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 01:23:26 AM PST

  •  thank you for sharing this (6+ / 0-)

    When I read stories about the needless and stupid suffering that my fellow trans men and women have undergone in their lives simply for the crime of being themselves, it saddens and angers me.

    I kept my own internal counsel about my true self until I was nearly forty, when I could not handle the pain any longer, and the stress of coming out was no less than the stress of holding it all inside for so long.  I lost many, many friends, but I was fortunate in most ways, unlike so many, unlike those you mention here.

    When is this world going to start looking past the differences between people and just see the people?  I always find it ironic that those who hate us the most are often so-called "Christians" whose faith tells them to love one another.

    Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

    by sunspark says on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 01:39:19 PM PST

  •  Thanks, Rescue Rangers! (6+ / 0-)

    Wow, first time I made the rescued list!

  •  SlyDi, Artificial sphincters... (0+ / 0-)

    have been available for about a decade.

    This was a poignant diary.  Brenda's story is thought provoking as well.  The alleviation of human suffering is a noble goal. And your work in that direction is to be commended.  You said you were born intersex.  That's different than a hermaphrodite.  There's one group of people in S. America who seemed only to birth females.  However, it was found that what was happening was that with puberty some of the so-called females suddenly had testes descend and their clitoris became a penis!

    I've only encountered the use of the artificial sphincter in the gay community.  I was at Northwestern U. and the Howard Brown Clinic (a GLBTQ clinic) and my patient's incompetent rectum caused his bowels to come tumbling out of his anus.  It looked like a giant moist rose was in his anus.  He was unable to sit or stand and came to us on all fours, doggie-style.  He was crying.  It was an experimental procedure at the time, but this wiki says it's now being used for a variety of pathologies that render the anal-sphincters incompetent.  There are two anal-sphincters, one at either end of the rectum.  The interal sphincter is one muscular ring.  The external sphincter is two distict muscular rings.

    Artificial sphincter:

    Internal sphincter wiki:

    External sphincter wiki:  

    Good fortune to you SlyDi.

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