Monday, December 22, 2008

Having A Blue Christmas

“My friends are so depressed
I feel the question of your loneliness.” — My Friends, the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Winter’s never been a real fave for me, especially with my life being spent in places like Southern California and South Texas. Winter is for folks up north, in more storybook settings where it looks more like the postcards, and there’s more of those stereotyped things like snow on the ground with snowmen and horses pulling folks around in sleds out in the country.

For folks in my region, winter in its cold incarnation is just gray, ugly and cold. Maybe it would be that big a thing if I used heat, but that stuff’s a bit cost-prohibitive these days (it was always a bit pricey down here). So when you’re on a budget, and the house becomes an insulated cooler where your fingers are always near numb and feet are icy, you tend to not to find any enchantment with it.

Maybe I’m just not used to it as much since I moved up north to Houston. Back in the day, we’d have Christmas Eves that were downright warm, sometimes 89 degrees and humid. We’d go out to the island as if it were a Spring Break day, the media from places like Chicago and Pittsburgh would come down and photograph us and remark how odd it was that we were out there on such a day. To us, it was hot! Why stay in town?

But every so often we get the cold winters and holidays there as well. Those didn’t ever seem to be the holidays with the best memories, either. Quite the opposite. We were forced to stay closer to home a bit more, which meant family. And heavy drinking. And fights. It’s no wonder that a couple of those Christmas Eves, I slept out as that was safer. One I stayed with a friend, and returned the favor when he had to get out and stay with us on Christmas.

T’was the season.

For my tastes, if this stuff just hurried by and was over in a week or so, it wouldn’t be bad. But when the whole thing drags out as long at it seems to be this year, it really blasts gaping holes in the spirit. Hopefully we’ll move into spring weather shortly after New Years, but that’s a near impossible dream.

“Ogres don’t celebrate Christmas. Ogres don’t celebrate anything.” — Shrek from the Shrek Christmas Special

In a way I do kinda feel like a bit of an ogre on this holiday stuff. It’s not something I do to be an obtrusive killjoy. As a result, I also like to stay at home in order not to spread this, or at the least not to have to force the happy face façade. And I’m not alone as apparently a lot of folks get this same way this time of year.

Christmas songs are depressing reminders of what’s coming up, and compounded when the weather adds a biting backdrop to it. I never was big on Christmas songs, only knew words to three or four of them (one in Spanish), but I will say I liked Cheech & Chong’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping – rock songs, no surprise. Maybe it’s those familiar jingles that trigger it. I get the same thing whenever I hear soap opera theme songs – they remind me of being unemployed and stressed. I’ll never be a soap opera fan nor a Christmas singer!

But hearing those jingles, and especially the barrage of advertisements really wears on you. This year with this ever-so-special Wall Street Christmas, it’s even worse than past years. Commercials for furs, commercials for jewelry and diamonds, commercials for leasing Lexuses (Lexi?) … they’re not only depressing but outrageous.

When only 2% of the country has been doing well these past eight years, why are they advertising this on network TV to all of us? In a sense, I fear these companies are brain-dead, spending scads of money on ad agencies creating spots that cost quite a bit … and I’ll doubt there’s going to be an even return on their money! There’s not enough money to be spent on those things! Most of us are making draconian cutbacks or altogether not participating in Christmas this year.

Christmas displays are another reminder. I admit I love the Christmas lights, but at times when the dark days come home to roost, none of those things work. You drive by them, look, realize they’re there and that you should feel better – and don’t. Then you start getting the “failure” thing gnawing on you (letting people down, etc.)

It’s easier when you live alone, having folks around and having to play the façade thing 24-7 wears you down. If it does show through, then it doubles the black mood, yet another reminder. It’s like the infuriating Cymbalta commercials you see that make you want to grab a hammer and punch out the TV tube. Having the black mood and then having idiots sell you some of their damn drugs by reminding “you’re letting your loved ones down” is just rubbing your nose in the shit. Maybe I should be stronger at it (Lord knows Dad tried to beat it into my head to be) but I don’t need that crap!

Staying home with the TV turned down is better.

“I love all of you
Hurt by the cold.
So hard and lonely too,
When you don’t know yourself.” — My Friends, the Red Hot Chili Peppers

With the holidays coming on, the difficulties of both the season, the economy and even just our own specific conditions tend to magnify with the cold dark days. I have a good friend of mine from a city up north, who’s fallen on hard times herself. Like me, she’s been an activist for quite some time. Yet (like many in America) she’s lost her home. She’s strong, and has been miraculously upbeat and relatively nonchalant about the extreme hardships she’s had to endure. But even in the strongest, the stress fractures show.

Her typically brave Email ended with rather harrowing peek into the emotional reality.

“I can't seem to get a chance to prove myself at even the most menial of jobs (I keep hearing the word ‘overqualified’?), which is extremely discouraging, and this fact just intensifies my typical holiday malaise to unprecedented levels of depression. I've sought out professional help from a couple of community agencies, but due to federal budget cuts, "no dice."

The way our local economy is right now, things aren't lookin' too good for ‘the home team.’ I'm so broke, I can't even ‘pay to play.’

That well-known ‘game over button’ is looking more attractive every day. So many choices, so little hope….”
She’s looking at the fading pin-prick on the horizon that many of us have been looking at. That hope. Sometimes it seems we may be that pinhole of light only in our mind’s eye, but then again, it’s keeping us around.

We had a case of a local Austin transgender activist and perennial political candidate, 48-year-old Jennifer Gale. Gale, a former marine, was well-known to be homeless and had been for years. Austin, like most cities in the U.S., has no shelter with capability to take in a transgender resident. Gale was found Wednesday morning on a day when temperatures dipped to the 30s outside a Lutheran church where she had been known to sleep.

Ben Wear at The Austin American-Statesman's City Beat blog reports that the Austin City Council will officially honor Jennifer Gale, the homeless, gender-bending perennial candidate who lost every office for which she ran, but clearly won the hearts of the hundreds who met her.

Her Myspace page (I was surprised she had one!) had her self-description as such: “I love running for public office. I have sixteen years experience of running for public office. I have yet to win any position I have run for but I still remain optimistic.” Unlike Leslie (another perennial mayoral candidate from Austin) a rather controversial genderfuck (replete with beard, thong-back outfits, etc.), Jennifer was more the traditional trans pre-op and actually tended to have a bit of a grasp of the issues beyond just “Keep Austin Weird.”

Even with this, though, Gale was still considered odd by some of even “weird” Austin’s locals’ blog replies:

[W]ell get over your support of jennifer gale. She's a 15 (17?) time loser. You just look silly when you stand up and speak out for her. … Progressives don't oppose her because she is a transgendered woman - I could care less. We [ALGPC] oppose her because she is not a serious candidate - she's a joke. (5/3/05)

At least she won't be singing on my damn bus anymore. ….
Boy, Dallas city council members are in for a treat when this wacko belts out one of his/her bizarre songs during a meeting. (4/10/07)
Regardless of the superficial perceptions and her unfortunate situation, she was also someone who was not only well known in Austin political circles, but well respected. Ben Wear added a postscript after this week’s Austin City Council meeting.

All seven members of the Austin City Council gave personal tributes to Jennifer Gale today in what was a touching and sometimes funny goodbye to the transgendered homeless woman who was a regular speaker — and singer — at council meetings. She also ran and lost numerous races for the council and other elective offices.

Gale had made her last three-minute appearance at a council subcommittee meeting Tuesday evening, spooling out her typically crowded list of concerns — health care, Iraq, abortion — and singing an on-tune and lilting version of “Silent Night.” A tape of her performance was played at council chambers today, with most of the audience and several council members joining in the singing.

“She’s always been an incredibly sweet person,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken, who recalled sitting with Gale for about 30 minutes not that long ago and asking about her life story. She told him about living in the Carolinas, about serving in the Marines, about working at a Stuckey’s.

The outpouring for such an unusual person, McCracken said, ” is a reminder of the better angels of all of us as Austinites. But the idea that she died alone on a park bench on a cold night is a reminder that we have not lived up to our better angels as a community.”

Council Member Mike Martinez pointed out that Gale had a particular problem finding proper shelter. She couldn’t go to a male shelter because she lived her life as a woman, but couldn’t go to a woman’s shelter because she was “anatomically” a man, Martinez said. He pointed out that the homeless residential facility that the council briefly considered months ago might have provided a place for someone like Gale.

Council Member Laura Morrison recalled that Gale was among the six who ran for the seat Morrison won. Gale came in fourth, Morrison said. Her favorite memory, Morrison said, was a Real Estate Council of Austin election forum when Gale “led about 500 suits and their guests at the Four Season’s ballroom in a rendition of “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.”

Mayor Will Wynn said he had the “distinct honor of running twice for mayor with Jennifer. You didn’t run against Jennifer, you ran with her.”

“Jennifer will be sorely missed,” Wynn said. “Semper fi.”

And before we believe this is purely an American creation, this holiday malaise, it’s even occurring across the globe from us. A psychotherapist friend of mine from Kiev, Ukraine recalled a recent note from a 60-ish Russian trans women pondering her transition and the worries about it (as she’s both former military and well known in her small town) as well as how it will affect her family. The translation from Russian to English is rough, but you can generally determine what’s being said:

"Hi, Zhanna!
I sit here sit and I think that the person should be reasonable.…
People who took me as a girl for work, very well know me. The wife about me knows all for a long time already. Very difficultly, and it is impossible to hide it from close people.
The wife says that will be with me (if transition) does not happen. We are together already more than 40 years. We very much understand and we love each other. …
I do not know how to be? …. It is possible to leave in other city. But I think, it will not solve a problem. I asked girls at a forum, they say, that the Theme (suicide) leaves after operation absolutely. It is the truth? ….
You do not think I the person the military man … will manage to make all adequately.
So, though I am native and popular nobody will torment. I understand all and I know, that the Theme all the same will catch up with me sooner or later.
It already 3 times has caught up with me. I now sit also to crying. The god will allow to survive, then all I will make. And is not present, the Destiny means not. Forgive, that has taken away from you time.”
Zhanna posts a rather frantic retelling of her response to her friend:

From the received letter it is clear, that the person is finished to a despair and wishes to die. I have tried to stop this person from a rash act:

You, as well as I grown wise life experience, the person which knows that desperate situations DO NOT HAPPEN! Always it is possible to find the decision.
The destiny tests us for durability and looks, whether we will stand these tests, or not….
Do not think of public opinion? Believe, much all it is indifferent. And others will gossip and will cease. In my area, in a city where I live, at first and was. All quietly discussed me and laughed.
The former friends who live with me in one house, even advised to me to leave there,
Where nobody knows me. On what I have answered them: "And why I should leave?!
Not you spared yourself this life, and not to you to solve, when there should come its ending!
Look back around. After all there are people whom to live much more difficultly and much more hard, than to us. But these people live, struggle, and WIN!
These are not the best of times for any of us. Hard cold, weather is slamming the entire world it seems. The bleakness of that’s only matched by the even bleaker economy and jobs situation. Politically we’re looking forward to the change – a mandate for something completely different from our past eight years. Yet, even with this, the storm clouds of brewing plots of partisan manipulation and obstruction are already rearing their ugly heads. The gay and lesbian community is becoming disillusioned with the lack of attention paid by the Obama Administration, and already gearing up to flex their political muscle.

For trans people, it’s so remote to see anything positive happening that even just the focus on the marriage issue, obliterating anything even commenting on employment for perennially unemployed is maddening. I don’t even have to speak with people to see it. With all the above (including the power outages due to their ice storm), I can see it in the pictures that even Ethan St. Pierre been taking and posting on his Facebook lately. Smiles are becoming rare commodities. Hope is becoming one of those dreamlike memories of quaint years gone by.

I wish I knew the exact answer to solve this, but I don’t. Many folks say to get with others, friends, family, whomever. To me, though, being around people I know and worrying this shows through makes that counterintuitive. Then again, Ethan does the opposite via phone and the radio holiday shows on TransFM ( That’s been a lifeline and a link to sanity for many around the globe. Though I haven’t asked him privately, it appears to work for him.

Actually I can do the public thing as long as it’s Salvation Army or the City Hall Super Feast type thing. Hopefully there will be another trip scheduled to work in Galveston for Christmas with serving. Short of that, pets help too. And music for me (though I don’t listen while I’m working on my blogs … maybe I need to take a clue.) None of those fill the gap that seems more prevalent during the cold, dark days. But they will tide you over ….

My friends are so distressed.
They’re standing on the brink of emptiness.
No words I know of to express
This emptiness.” — My Friends, the Red Hot Chili Peppers

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