Homelessness, Need, and Transgender
It was the week of Thanksgiving 2007. I had been what is often called “full time” only since that October, barely over a month, and there was no laser treatments for me, and I was incompetent in many areas of self care but eager to learn, though lacking in resources to turn to because I was too embarrassed to ask, too afraid of the scorn and ridicule to which I was hyper attuned at the time and expected out of hand.
I had been told at the start of the month, as I stood there with cash in hand, by the managers of the apartments in which I was living, that my money wasn't any good there. They didn't say much more, other than a muttered freak, and tranny, and a couple other things said “out of earshot” in the manner of people who don't think they talk too damn loud.
They were, however, otherwise good people, and since I generally think the best of people until they establish otherwise, I figured they'd hit me up for something sometime.
There were no notices ahead of time, no warnings. And as I walked in as the sun was setting one night, my mind spinning over the various trade and generic names of various drugs that I was committing to memory for an anticipated test the following day, the husband half of the manager team looked up and smiled at me and asked if I was going to be out before 8 that night as the constable was coming.
I was being evicted for being trans.
It's a subtle thing, the way it happened. There's no record of me walking in there with cash in hand. Since I didn't get any notice (a minor oversight, you see) I wasn't able to make yet another attempt to pay it (even with late fees that I would have been forced into paying), and I was never able to go to the court to stand up and say that I had the money, here it was, in cash, right there, that instant.
It is the sort of thing where you cannot do much, since there is no law to stop that, and while there is a directive now, it's really not got any effective teeth in such a situation.
And besides, nice people wouldn't do that, of course.
It was a night filled with tears and personal recrimination, a night of beating myself up, a night of not knowing what to do with the few personal belongings I had. I turned to the internet, and the local community came to my rescue. The following day — following the empty threat of the night before, where I was basically paralyzed with fear that a knock was going to come and I'm not sure I want to try and revisit the thoughts in my head that night too much, as they were dark and dangerous and the sort of thing that sucks you back under and wrecks your week — people appeared. Most of them I had never seen before in my life that I could recall.
Part of the reason for that is Maria De Nicola, a local electrologist here made famous in Donna Rose's autobiography “Wrapped In Blue”.
I didn't know what to do. I'd saved a few dollars up in anticipation of getting electrolysis or laser, started a surgery fund that was bare bones, and of course had my rent money for November that had been declined.
They came and they scooped up my unpacked studio and the next thing I knew I was being dropped off at a Super 8 Motel
There was a hitch. My ID said I was a guy, had an old picture, and was apparently expired. Stupid stuff like that. I didn't meet the minimum requirements of the Clerk behind the desk to be able to rent a room for the wonderful price of 40 bucks a night off a major freeway when the place next door was a motel 6 that had the same rates.
So then we rushed over to the DMV here, and I managed to get through that whole thing and get an ID that worked (we get them same day here). SO I was now in a super 8 motel room that was more or less picked because it was the closest hotel to the school where that damn test was.
It was not a happy time. I was there until December 12th. In that few weeks, I was an emotional wreck just from the slowly dawning realization of what had happened (the worst thing similar to it in years was the day the Peoria School district interviewer told me I lied on the application because I was only allowed to select African American and thus denied a job), but to that was added the ignominy of having to fill out paperwork that was, at that time for me, torturous as it asked the questions so many of us hate as we fight just to be ourselves. The school had been awesome so far, and had fudged a bit of paperwork here and there to let me have peace and dignity and had even fought for me.
They offered housing to those in need. I definitely qualified. They did this through a contracted agency — outsourced, to a firm in the midwest somewhere. First I was asked if I would mind rooming with four gay guys. I said, not super keen, but sure, that's fine. THen it was would I mind rooming with two gals. I said sure, not a problem. Then it was suddenly quiet. I pushed a bit, and what I got in response was finally a direct number to them, where they informed they couldn't place me, but here's a printout of a craigslist ad for a lesbian in a difficult to get to part of town that needed a roommate and that they hadn't contacted at all.
THe gal that was the liaison with the school offered to put me up at her mom's house. I declined. If this was going to be the result, time and time again, fuck it became my attitude.
Yes, I, one of those people who tends to never surrender, gave up. I felt defeated, maligned, abused, filthy.
I resolved to just go homeless. I'd done it before. It meant walking away from what little I had built, but there wasn't much reason for me to keep it in my frame of mind back then. I'd just build myself back up from there as I'd done before.
THere was a gal, though. Her name was Diana. I'd met her a couple of times, briefly, and she was someone who used the same therapist I did, who was a little aheadof me in some areas, had a lot of challenges, and who worked a LOT. She was also insistent.
She wanted to help.
She wanted to help me, and I didn't want help. That' long been a problem of mine, I should point out — not wanting help.
She was insistent, however. I should note that at the time, I had no contact with anyone in my family. I was estranged from my wife and children, estranged from my brother,and out of contact and lacking a means of finding my other relatives.
I did have an out, but pride and not wanting to move to a place that was cold when I knew already how painful cold could be to me stopped me from taking that out. Nashville may be nice, but it is not my home, and I would lack a grounding that I desperately needed emotionally and spiritually.
It was a bad time for me.
I splurged one day, knowing that Diana had set up a meeting for me. I had a steak meal, drank a beer, enjoyed myself and felt good because I was treated decently, although I was still an obvious trans person. It made that day a little brighter.
And then I went to this place. There was a wild and hoary black lady who was larger than life and who put on a very friendly face. She and I talked for a while. She seemed pretty solid — she had the basic knowledge and she wasn't like what I expected at all. She had a place, and there were rules to follow, and there were other trans people there.
She made vague promises, but I didn't trust it. Sometimes things seem to good to be true. When that happens, be wary. She had the hallmarks of a con artist in someways, and so I was triggered. I said I'd think about it. That was December 9th.
Three days later I moved out of the hotel. It was December 12th.
In that time, my life had been shitty in the extreme. What was left of my sense of self, my belief in my ability to do things – anything — was shattered. The ego I am often knocked for having was gone, I had little in the way of real anything left. No arrogance, no assertiveness. I was a shadow, and faint one at that.
It's three years later. Now, I sit behind the desk that that fascinating woman once sat behind. I count her as a friend, even though of late it feels like I've had to be less of a friend to her, in order to save what she spent 15 years of her life building, four of them keepng the place open at all costs.
I was house manager for longer than anyone else at that place, and during those months, I accomplished things that I had forgotten I once knew how to do. I helped to balance books and get records filled out and start building the core competencies that create the proper background for grants and such. Then I left.
And then I came back, and I became the Chair of the Board. And then I left again later — because of a conflict with that same woman.
And now I'm the Executive Director. And I'm doing things my way, and there's some costs associated with that. I am not an easy person to always get along with — I have a strong personality and I am not willing to back down from the hard core principles that I hold — but I never hold it against someone for doing the same. I will disagree, mind you, and vociferously, but the principles I let stand.
I don't always conduct myself in a manner that is “approved”. I am raw. I've never liked the circles of privilege, because I've felt the sting of it my entire life, and when I earned my own cred, I didn't stop to fit in, which is likely why I hated academic politics so much.
I also did them really poorly. I understood them, mind you, I just did them poorly.
But I am good at what I do. And I don't readily give up, and while I can fall, I also know how to get back up.
That's an important story I like to remember. It's a tale that is similar in many ways to the one that the woman inwho's seat I now sit lived through, the one that made her spend 15 years of her life getting this place open.
I'm not sure anyone else could have done it. It is not something that fits a business model that's sound. It is not something that earns one a paycheck. It sucks your life away — each day you have to deal with ten somethings. And they don't happen on a decent schedule.
I love my job, though. Well, mostly.
My job these days is a lot of things. I have to keep up on bookkeeping and record keeping for a nonprofit enterprise. I have to stay abreast of filing dates and paperwork changes at multiple agencies. I have to do fundraising so that I can paythe rent and paythe electricity bill and the gas bill and the water bill. I have to get cable hooked up so that job hunting and schooling can happen.
I have to run 12 step programs. I have to rebuild relationships with schools and social service agencies. I have to talk to trans people who are in fragile states and who have no money and often can't even buy clothing or make up or those little things that we take for granted just so they can go out and be themselves.
I have to talk to doctors and nurses tomake sure they are on hormones and then I have to follow up and be sure they take them and don't abuse them.
I have to wear a lot of hats, and it can be exhausting work.
Especially the part that is hardest. Fund raising is harder than anything else I've ever done in my life.
All this, and This Is H.O.W. is the only organization of its kind in the US. We are a tax deductible charity, and we have bills of 2500 a month to meet, only about 600 of which comes from clients because the only reasons we turn someone away is a lack of willingness to follow the simple rules or we lack the space. As of now, we can house 7 people. 9 if I push it.
We focus on adults, becaue oddly enough, there are many programs for kids. Up to 24, really — including housing and all the rest.
But for adults, there's pretty much nothing out there.
I have shifted TIH away from *just* doing substance abuse and homelessness. We still do those things, and they are still important, but we are not merely a 'halfway house” — we are a community center and and a crisis intervention center. We have, historically, served a predominantly ethnic minority population, but we house anyone. The mix of minorites currently in the house would startle people, and I am not the sort that forces following a particular religious belief.
Ages from 18 to 50 right now. Native American, Samoan, European right now. I don't judge them by their ability to pass or not. I don't care if they want to have surgery or not. Some of the gals currently there have been living as themselves since they were preteens, others since their teens, some are just starting in their 20's or their 40's. They have to live full time is the only requirement, and I didn't set that — it's built into the original mission and I don't play with that.
I just try to fulfill it in all the ways that is possible.
TIH has been the catalyst for me to meet so many different types of trans people that I see the diversity that is our community. I see the community, itself, not merely locally but nationally and beyond. All this “theory” crap I talk about is not merely theory for me or to me. It is stuff I see on a daily basis. It is stuff I am deeply and consistently aware of, in a practical day to day manner.
I get sent clippings from blogs by some people who claim to be “real transsexuals” or “calssic transsexuals” that talk about all manner of excuses for how they know what it is that really makes a transsexual, and yet I can absolutely guarantee they havent' the breadth of experience I have, even if they started this process 30 years ago.
This isn't theory for me. I see genderqueer people who have read their stuff and who hate themselves now and push themselves to do something terrible — to start living as something they are not. Again. I've seen the damage that hatred of cross dressers and drag queens does to real transsexuals.
I do not have the privilege of classism or racism or lookism or anti trans sentiment because I live this. I've seen the number of us that do sex work. Just to pay the bills. I've worked with people who have suffered beatings and dealt with the prison system, often because they were trans.
My expereince, as painful for me as it was, is nothing compared to some of the things the gals I'm currently trying to help have gone through, and if you want to get into oppression olympics, well, I've helped gals who get hit with so much stuff that no one can out do them.
So if you want to know why I am often slow to be quick with my wit, or why I don't always say the things we are all supposed to say, or why I don't play the game that can lead one into the sort of place that gets one paid to be an activist or such, it is because I'm too damned busy trying to make something more real for people other than myself.
People who really have it hard. People who don't have a home other than the one I struggle mightily every single month to keep open and going. People who need food and clothing. Here. In America.
And there are times when I get angry at the community. TImes when I want to literally beat the living snot out of some activist who's just announced with great fanfare the latest survey results or gone on youtube to talk about some court battle because they are not wanting to talk about the reality of what those numbers means, in terms of personal experience and day to day stories.
Because the reality of it is far harder than anything else.
But there is a really cool thing that happens as a result of the work I do. When trans people live together, they develop bonds. THey learn from each other, THey help each other. WHen it is you against the world, and you have sisters and brothers standing beside you, you can do anything.
You lose fear and uncertainty. You gain confidence and skills.
This is what I do. And I do it because I know what it feels like. I know because I've been there.
“There but for the grace of God I go” a lot of people will say.
Well, here's people who didn't have that grace. And we should all be helping them.
One day, there will be another Residence and more programs. I will grow this organization. I'll help more gals. I can't do it alone — I know I need help.
I need the help of other trans people. Even the one's that only want to help “real transsexuals”. I need the help of cis/het folks and cisGLB folks. I need the support of local, state, and national governments. I need a lot.
BEcause they need a lot.
And all of this not because I'm some bleeding heart liberal. Hell, anyone with actual knowledge who seriously reads my writing is going to know I'm a libertarian leaning centrist with Republican and capitalist outlook.
Its the right thing to do.
Which, for me, is really why I do it.
Three years later.