A Safe Life

One of the comments I’ve received from friends, since coming out as a transwoman, is that they are concerned for my safety.

That’s a valid concern – trans people face more risk of attack than almost anyone else in our society. A autistic trans person is even more vulnerable, as are trans people of color, poor trans people, and people who are otherwise marginalized in our society, like sex workers.

But let me talk about safety. While presenting as a teenage boy or man, I’ve been kicked, punched, and burned. I’ve been urinated upon. I’ve been raped. I’ve had someone point a gun at me. I’ve had a disgruntled coworker that frightened me enough that I did what I tell everyone not to do – slept with a gun next to my bed. I’ve worried about people coming after me because I turned down their advances.

And most of these people probably thought I was a man. Yes, probably a gender non-conforming man, maybe a gay man, but most probably didn’t see me as a transwoman.

I grew up in a rough town – I didn’t realize how rough it was until I got to college, and the reaction of people I met there was along the lines of, “Well, you can take care of yourself then.” That wasn’t exactly true then – I was an autistic kid just old enough to leave home, without a lot of coping skills for the world. Heck, I went a week without eating because I couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone where the cafeteria was. Take care of myself?

I do know this, though: I survived.

Add to that a physical build and problems that basically mean I can’t make quick movements effectively – I have a ton of willpower and endurance, but that doesn’t help me kick, punch, or block. It doesn’t even help me run away. It would be hard to find someone that couldn’t beat me up, even today.

But I survived. I’m still here.

I grew up in a town where drinking and drugs were the norm, where a man wouldn’t do a “girly” job, where the real men were running oil drills and blasting the side off of hills to get the coal out. Meth was king. We had two suicides by gun at my school, and many others outside of school. My town, for far too many, chewed you up and spit you out. And it’s not like that type of thing stopped when I moved from that town – I’ve lived in slums and trailer courts, trying to figure out if I’ll be able to eat dinner tonight.

I am still here.

I didn’t fit the world – between being autistic and not fitting into the masculine world, there wasn’t a lot I understood or took joy in – but I found some things to somehow keep me alive, and the joys I did experience were precious. I spent decades trying to find ways to find my masculine center, to be in the world as a man, to learn to “be a man” as so many people told me to be growing up.

Well, I am still here. But I am no man.

Yes, I know the risks trans people face, particularly when they are part of other marginalized communities, such as being a disabled trans person. I know how many of us are murdered, attacked, and otherwise harmed by people who can’t deal with someone being their authentic self. And I don’t discount that. While I don’t present as a woman publicly yet (but will be doing so soon), I’ll take some precautions as I do.

But the biggest thing I can do for my safety is to be myself. Even when I present as a man, I face danger because of who I am. But worse than that danger is the larger killer among the transgender community: suicide and, when not suicide, the slower forms of self-hate. When you hate who you have to be, it’s hard to find reasons to carry on. Somehow, I did, and I pray that anyone else in my situation can find whatever small, seemingly dumb reason they can to stay alive, because just by being alive, you help me and I help you. Even if I didn’t kill myself, living a life where you can never be yourself is…well, even if your still breathing, it lacks the vibrancy life should have. It can turn into simply a slower way of killing yourself, when you lack the concern about your health and life. Maybe you don’t grab a gun or a knife or a bottle of pills, but maybe instead you simply ignore your health problems, take risks you shouldn’t, and put yourself in places where the end may come a bit sooner. None of that is safe, yet too often when we talk about safety for trans people we forget that being a closeted trans person isn’t really any safer – indeed may be a hell of a lot less safe – than the risk of being in the world.

Interestingly, I’m finding strength I never knew I had. I care about this body now, I care about my life, I care about being around. Not just for others, but for myself – because I have hope. For myself. I have dreams. I see the light of the possible. And that means, unlike so much of my life, I will fight for this life. That alone makes it more likely I’ll make it to tomorrow.

For me, I’ll take the risk of my very existence and expression provoking the bigots and assholes to harm. Because if I don’t do that, the bigots and assholes certainly harm me even more, keeping me from living, keeping me away from the vibrancy of life.

I get to be me now and I’ve got to be me. I have years of building scripts and trying to predict others, as an autistic, so I know that many people will think I’m out of my mind and see me with a mix of disgust and sadness. Some others will think it is awesome I’m living my life (you all are precious people!). And some will hate my guts, while a fraction of those will try to harm me – through bullying or through violence. But those same people have kept me from being me for my whole life – they’ve taken decades away from me, where I could have been who I am. That harm is done, it’s not a theoretical risk, it’s a certainty. But, finally, I’m at the point where I’m done living with that harm – and am choosing the path of light, the path where there is hope.

To my friends: Thanks for being concerned about me. I am too, for the first time in my life. I promise I’ll fight to be around – if I am harmed, it won’t be because I didn’t care if I was harmed, unlike so much of my life. I’ve found strength and confidence in who I am, and it’s going to be hard for people to take that away.

Staying in the closet…well, that’s what is really not safe for me. It’s taken so much from me to pretend to be a man. And it’s time that I stopped.

I am no man. I am alive.

A New Author for this Blog!

I want to introduce a new blogger who will be writing on this blog!  I’m going to let her introduce herself now:

(a shy girl peeks out from behind the living room couch, sees potential friends, and then jumps up, yells “Hi”, waves, and ducks back behind the couch)

(Joel says, “You can come out, these people aren’t that mean. No, really, they’re pretty decent folk)

Hi!

I’m looking forward to writing here – I’ve been involved in the autism advocacy community for nearly two decades, and frequently posted (under other names!) for years in mailing lists, newsgroups, and forums about my experience. I’ve somehow navigated work well enough to end up in a respectable technical job (yes, I’m that stereotypical autistic software development type). I’ve been lucky enough to find the love of my life, who I married – she’s also autistic, which is why our marriage works.

Oh, you sound like you have a similar background to Joel.

Uh, yes, I  know. Because I am Joel, or, rather, I used to be Joel.  I’ve begun my transition from male to female, which means a bunch of things are changing – like my name (Joelle now), my pronouns (she/her/hers), and how I dress, at least in certain circumstances (I’m not yet “full time” in my gender presentation).  I’ll also probably be writing about this experience of transition sometimes. But I’ll write about a lot of the things I wrote as Joel, too – after all, I’m the same person.

So I probably don’t need to introduce myself after all! Instead, Joelle will continue to write about the stuff she’s always written about – just with a more authentic byline and a more honest perspective.

 

Too Scared to do What I Want

Today, I something pretty huge happened. You see, I’m traveling in Europe and attending a conference.  At the conference, another attendee offered to take a group of people on a walking tour of this city (they know the city well) the day after the conference – just “come up to me after the session and we can exchange contact information” if you want to go.

I started shaking. I really wanted to go – it sounds like a really fun way of seeing the city, and doing it with someone who actually knows the city is even more exciting. It’ll give me a chance to see things and talk to some of the attendees at the conference who, no doubt, are interested in many of the same things I am interested in. And it’s hard to meet up with people.

But I was shaking.

Would I recognize this person in 10 minutes? Almost certainly, no.

Would I be able to go up to them and tell them I’m interested? Again, no way.

But I really wanted to.

Yet I was terrified.

When you’re an autistic kid, particularly if you don’t fit into the clique of other boys at all, life is pretty horrifying – and that leaves scars. It leaves a scar that makes it hard to go up to people and say, “Yes, I WANT SOMETHING!”  You learn that your interests are wrong, that you aren’t cool enough to hang around with other people, and, if by some miracle they let you come along, that’s only because they plan on doing something awful to you away from the prying eyes of an adult. Maybe they’ll steal your money. Or hit you with something. Or violate your body. Or hide, waiting for you to show up and find nobody there, while they laugh at the dumb boy. Or leave you somewhere. Or tell you that they are doing something illegal – and convince you to join in it, only to find out it’s a setup for which you take the blame because the “good kids” turn you in.  But whatever happens isn’t going to be that something you want.

But I’m nearly 40. These things won’t happen. The people making this offer want people like me to come, or they wouldn’t have offered. I know all of this.

But I’m shaking. I’m terrified.

And I’m not going to recognize this person after the session anyhow.  I can’t just go around to 300 attendees and say “Hey, are you the person that talked about X?” And I certainly can’t ask anyone to point them out to me – then I have to overcome this twice.

It makes you want to cry. Why can’t I have the smallest amount of confidence?

Because I’m terrified. It’s not logical, it’s deep in the heart.

This time, the person making the offer was distinctive enough looking that somehow I was able to find them – they look (to me) just like their partner (same gender, same age, same basic body type, same hair color), so I have a 50/50 shot. And I risked it.

I was shaking.

What kept coming to me was a quote, from a different context, about activism: “Speak your mind–even when your voice shakes.”

I can do that when someone else needs me to. Mess with my family and you’ll find that out – there is nobody I can’t go up to and set straight when they’ve wronged someone I love. Or when someone I love just would be happy if I did.

But asking for something about me–that’s different. That’s hard. And it’s not something I need, I’m not advocating for rights. I am just saying, “Yes, Joel wants something.” But isn’t this, too, advocacy? Aren’t I a person worthy of happiness and joy, and needing someone to speak?

I was terrified.

Somehow, when I found that person.  And I gently tried–and failed to get their attention.  I wasn’t positive of their name, so I didn’t want to use the name, but I couldn’t get their attention either.

I was shaking.

I just about gave up.

Someone else saw me and said to the person I was trying to talk to, “Hey, someone’s trying to get your attention!”

More shaking. More terror.

But I did it. I spoke, with my shaking voice. “Are you the person organizing the walking tour?”

Terror.

Shaking.

“Yes, are you wanting to go?”

Terror.

Shaking.

But I somehow found the voice to say yes.

Tomorrow, when I meet up for the tour, will be another bit of stress and terror. I have to find someone tomorrow, in a building I’ve never been to before (another thing that terrifies me).  I’m terrified.

But I’m also excited. And proud. And happy. Filled with anticipation of doing something I want to doBecause I want to do it. Not for someone else. Not pretending I am not interested, lest I be humiliated by finding out I wasn’t really allowed to do this. No, it’s wonderful!

So, tomorrow, that’s what I’m doing.

And I’m terrified.

And shaking.

But the shaking is just as much excitement as it is terror. And probably the cold temperature in this room.

I Will Remember

Today is a day of mourning for disabled victims of murder.

I will remember.

I will remember those who lost the battle for existence…
…those who were killed by parents, caregivers, or others
…those who were killed by bullies that pretend to be friends
…those who were killed by taking their own life after years of abuse, harassment, and prejudice.

I will remember.

I will remember those who are still with us…
…who bear the wounds of abuse and prejudice
…who receive little, if any, support
…who were told they are “less-than.”

I will remember.

I will remember for myself…
…that my interests are precious
…that my way of participating is valid
…that my uniqueness is important in the world.

I will remember.

I will not just remember but will be someone…
…who spreads hope
…who takes care of themself
…who loves and be loved.

I will remember.

I will remember not just for…
…those who we have lost
…but for a different world
…and for those we won’t lose.

I will remember.

10 Second AAC on a Mac

Speech can be a difficult way of expressing yourself if you’re an autistic, even if you can sometimes use typical speech.  AAC (Augmentative and assistive communication) is basically any technology or system (including low-tech such as grunting or writing) to communicate without using typical speech. While I’m a huge advocate of low-tech solutions for lots of reasons, sometimes it is nice to have a text-to-speech device. If you have a Mac computer, you already have a basic AAC text-to-speech device – and you can access it with about 10 seconds worth of work.

This is not a substitute for a decent AAC solution that fits the user, but it’s a quick and dirty method that may help you out sometime.

  1. Open a terminal window by using pressing both the command and space buttons at the same time.  In the search box, type “terminal” and press enter.
  2. In the new window, type say -i and press enter.  The -i is actually optional – it tells the “say” program to highlight the words as they are spoken.
  3. Type something and hit enter. It will speak whatever you typed.
  4. Repeat step 3 as needed
  5. When done, you can just close the window

There are a ton of options for the say program, such as -v Victoria or -v Alex for different US English voices (these aren’t the only options). There are voices for other major languages besides English, and also voices for other English speaking locations than the US.  For instance, -v Daniel is a British man’s voice.  Unfortunately I don’t know if there is an equivalent for a woman’s voice (there is not on my computer).  There are some voices that might be more fun too, like -v Zarvox (a robotic voice).

You can use these other voices by, at step 2, typing something like:

say -i -v Zarvox

And maybe you now have another option for communication!