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Monthly Archives: November 2014

One of the hardest things about moving to rural Alaska is the distance between me and my family and friends back home. On a typical day, it’s not so bad; the wonders of modern technology allow for phone calls and e-mail to reach me on a routine basis, and the occasional Facetime or Skype call even lets me see people. There are times, though, when I can feel the distance, and all the technology in the world doesn’t replace the fact that I desperately wish I was there instead of here.

Right now is one of those times.

It was just over two years ago that I sat down for an internship interview with the Initiative for Transgender Leadership, a local trans-rights group. The interview committee consisted of two of the group’s founders, Artie and Hatter. I didn’t know it at the time, but both would become dear friends and integral parts of my support network.

On more than one occasion, Hatter was kind enough to host get-togethers and meetings for ITL at her place, making everyone feel welcome. From the outset, she made it clear that any of us could come to her for help with anything, project related or not. She gave helpful feedback on my final presentation, and made a point of telling my family what a great job I’d done. Once the peer mentorship program was up and running, she once again opened her door to everyone for the first weekend of meetings. She and the other founders put a lot of faith in the program participants, making a point of letting us run the show. At least two of them were at every meeting, offering moral support and resources on request. When I had a personal crisis midway through the course and felt like I needed to leave, Hatter generously gave her time to talk with me about what I was going through. In the course of the conversation, she helped me see how much I meant to the group and vice versa, something that I sorely needed. Several months later, after I gave my speech at the final presentation, Hatter enveloped me in a hug that said more than words ever could.

Aside from my work with ITL, Hatter continued to be a cheerleader for me in my continuing search for a teaching job. When I told her about the job here in Alaska, she congratulated me with another hug, and reminded me that no matter where I go, I always have her friendship. She has been an avid follower of both Facebook photos and this blog since I arrived and began routine posts.

Earlier this week, I got an e-mail whose subject line read, “A Message from Hatter”. It contained a link to a video, which showed Hatter in a hospital bed. In a calm, measured voice, she explained that she has terminal cancer, and I felt the world drop out from under me. I watched the video the whole way through, tears streaming down my face, trying to process what was being said. I remember being vaguely upset that she didn’t mention anything to me before I left, since she’d first been diagnosed in June. That upset went away rather quickly; not only had things not been this bad when she was first diagnosed, but it’s also her choice what to share and with whom. More vexing was and is the fact that there is no timeline. I don’t know that I’ll ever get the chance to see her in person again. I’m also put off by the fact that I’m so far away. Even if I was home, I don’t know how much help I could be. Hatter and her family seem to have things pretty well in hand as far as care goes. But I would have the option of being able to see her as much as she would allow. I would also have access to my own support network as I process this information. I did call my parents and had a long conversation with them after I finished the video, but talking on the phone is not the same as talking face-to-face, especially when you could really use a hug. Also, while I have some people here that I can talk to, it’s hard to explain just how much Hatter means to me and why. She’s one of the people in my life who have always accepted me, never judged, never been afraid to tell me what I need to hear, and stood by me no matter what.

I’ve been in touch with Hatter since I got the news, and we’re supposed to talk on the phone later this weekend. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can see one another in person when I go home for the holidays. No matter what happens, I hope to get a chance to tell her just how much she will always be a part of me.

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I was only a little surprised this past Sunday when Cole, my roommate, said, “Hey, can I ask you a question?” Somehow, I instantly knew what the question would be. “I’ve noticed a couple of things, like the empty hormone bottles in the garbage can, and your scars, and then there’s some of the comments you made when we talk about stuff, and I’m starting to feel like there’s this elephant in the room, and I don’t want you to be uncomfortable–”

I could have let him ramble on, but I didn’t. Instead, I confirmed the truth he figured out on his own: The fact that I am transgender. What followed was a very open, honest conversation. Even with his open-minded attitude and honest curiosity, I still felt my hands shaking throughout the course of the discussion; even when the other party is supportive, coming out is never easy.

Some people may wonder why I bothered confirm Cole’s suspicions, or why I answered all of his questions about my experiences. After all, aren’t trans-identified individuals entitled to the same privacy as the cisgender population? Why do we have to live our lives under the microscope to satiate society’s curiosity?

To paraphrase, I have a dream that one day, the children of this world will be judged not by the color of their skin, not by who they love, not by their sex or gender, but by the content of their character. To get to that day, though, will take a lot of work. It will take individuals willing to tell their stories, to share their experiences, to make these tales commonplace enough that the general public no longer views us as something unusual. Maybe I’m expressing it badly, but you get the point. I’ve always viewed myself as an educator, and if educating people today means that in the future kids like me can grow up without being constantly subjected to that scrutiny, then it’s worth it.

So I had that talk with Cole. My motives weren’t entirely altruistic; after all, I’d known about the elephant in the room before he did, and I slept better that night than I have since I moved here. Slowly but surely, I’m building a support network here. Cole is now the fourth person up here that knows all about me. None of them have stopped talking to me, none of them have run away. Maybe, just maybe, that world I dream about is just a little bit closer.