Friday, December 26, 2008
“I got up one Christmas morning and we didn't have nothing to eat. We didn't have an apple, we didn't have an orange, we didn't have a cake, we didn't have nothing.” — blues musician, Muddy Waters
“After a while I started getting aware too much of what was going down. It started to bring me down a little bit.” — rock musician, Jimi Hendrix
It started off innocently enough with me mindlessly turning on the TV, and channel switching until I found a channel without something with Christmas music in it (I don’t have cable). Finally, I settled on Ellen DeGeneres Show and listened while she discussed how hard the times are, and how folks needed a pick me up. So she calls out and (I’m presuming) shows photos to the audience to adoring “ahhs” …. “A deer kissing a cat’s nose” … “a dog nursing three tiger cubs” ….
Then, “or a vodka on the rocks with three olives!” And the crowd let out a big cheer.
There went the tears! I quickly walked in and punched the off button on the TV. It infuriated me I’d been stupid enough to leave the TV on like that – my family’s had an inordinate amount of alcoholism up and down the tree. I just can’t get into the blithe, joyous celebrations that happen this time of year. There’s mitigating reasons for it to be taken with a lot more gravity.
My grandmother’s favorite addiction was cheap vodka, straight out of the bottle. Ditto with my middle sister, and my mom had her own taste for it. As the saying goes, “injuns and fire water are a bad mix” – stereotype and true. Even my niece has had her exposure to it already.
My grandmother mentioned above was the only one who unconditionally loved me, and the only one I could’ve turned to in trouble. I was in the early days of my transition when she died, and she was in a nursing home after a series of strokes so I don’t know that it registered to her that I was female looking. She never failed to recognize me (even though she didn’t recognize my siblings) and it never fazed her. When I was twenty, I lived with her for a few months out in California, and I quickly grew to hate vodka, even the smell which oozed from the pores of the skin when someone had enough of it in their system.
It may have been Christmas, but the day followed the patterns of the previous weeks.
“I been in the blues all my life. I'm still delivering 'cause I got a long memory.” — blues musician, Muddy Waters
“Manic depression is capturing my soul
I know what I want but I just don’t know … how to go about getting it.” — Manic Depression, Jimi Hendrix
Holidays are really tough times for a lot of people. It’s something I can relate to well, and this year was a banner one – almost a perfect storm. Some of the folks reading my blogs and posts on places like Facebook have picked up on it. It’s been here since adolescence and before – there’s too many personal things to bother getting into those.
But it’s not something that really has drawn good memories. Mostly it was about alcohol, strife (probably borne of its own latent depression), occasional violence, sleeping out or maybe (if the job called for it) working. The last ones I remember having fond memories of was when I was 12 and 13 – and even those had alcohol-fueled undercurrents of stress to which I was mostly oblivious. Later Christmases had memories, but not the kind that one looks forward to.
Two different Christmas Eves, I got kicked out. Two others, I stayed out because my dad was getting a bit aggressive or violent with his favorite target (me!) – and one of those, me and my brother almost got intently run over by a drunk getting his jollies by scaring us in the biker bar parking lot around the corner. On another Christmas Eve, while walking home from work about time the bars closed, I got jumped by a couple guys, and all three of us got arrested and hauled all the way back to jail (near where I worked) for fighting and spent the night there. They let us all loose and I walked home (no money to call) all over again the next morning.
While living in California, I got to miss the one where my mom had to bail my drunken step-father out of jail for DWI and assaulting a police officer.
A few of them were peaceful, with solitary walks downtown in Corpus Christi and San Diego. A sad undercurrent though: strangely, even though nothing else is open in downtowns on Christmas, there is one thing open: porn shops! I have no idea why, but there are actually a rare individual or two stumbling out of those. In Corpus, I actually went in one (the sign said “25-cent arcade” and being a pinball fanatic, I thought it was something other than what the “arcade” really was, in the dark hallway lined with doors in the back!) The smell turned my stomach.
In San Diego when I was 21, I actually ate at the Salvation Army for Christmas lunch. While I lived in a really bad barrio, I felt bad because I wasn’t homeless – felt like I’d scammed a meal.
But ten years later, after I’d moved to Houston, I began volunteering there on the holidays instead. It turns out it wasn’t really “scamming a meal” anyway – all the volunteers, even Judge Mike Peters, would eat once we were off duty. After that, it became a bit of a tradition for me. I felt a lot better going there and getting my holiday fix than doing the family thing, even though they are relatively more sedate these days.
Another that helps me, at least, is blocking out the holiday music, putting on the headphones and blasting “mood music.” For me, this is a far cry from what other folks might consider more seasonal music: think Guns N’ Roses’ “Locomotive” (not to be confused with the Little Eva song!) Korn, Marilyn Manson, Cop Shoot Cop, Transplants, Husker Du’s New Day Rising LP … that gets my mind out of the pit and back into the now. Kinda like that John Lennon song says, “whatever gets you through the night….”
“Music sweet music … I wish I could caress, caress, caress ….” — Manic Depression, Jimi Hendrix
"Sanity is a cozy lie." — author, Susan Sontag
This time of year, we have many in the transgender community who are on that figurative ledge, staring down. Sometimes in the mind’s eye, the swirling dark below becomes hypnotic and to some ominously alluring. The peripheral contrast to the happiness around them only increases the distinct distance between the seasonal reverie and the vast empty maw from those where hope disappeared.
Just reading on one of the lists I belong to, I noted a few of the posts dealing with the holiday darkness. There was a note about an FTM named Ryan Mikkalson who, after years of battling depression, jumped off the high bridge in St. Paul MN. Then a response from another ten-year post-op transwoman who noted her own lack of employment (living with an elderly couple on a farm to survive) and complete absence of relationship, who wrote “I pray that God takes me each night I go to sleep,” as she’s inured to her “fate” and hadn’t “tried suicide since 2004.” Even the one reaching out to these writers to support is herself still in treatment recovering from manic depression, just beginning to pull out of it.
Another friend, who gamely puts up the brave face, still alludes to me of her own financial disaster, foreclosure, and nearing the end of her own rope, while another in economically hard-hit Michigan notes her own emotional malaise at her recent layoff, and having to rely on her spouse’s income to attempt to survive. Both of these are ever-ripe for Grapes of Wrath styled futures, something which I can relate to as well. Homelessness for trans people means no shelter, so the typical tragic situation is compounded further, as I noted in a previous blog where Austin’s perennial mayoral candidate, Jennifer Gale (a former Marine) died in the near-freezing cold sleeping on her regular bench in front of a Lutheran Church.
The impending hard cold, the dark of winter, this Reaganomics cum Bush/Rovian economic disaster we’re facing down like a fawn in headlights faces down a semi makes this a most tough holiday season. Paraphrasing Frederich Nietzsche, that which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.
Our task ahead then is surviving.
“Depression is melancholy minus its charms….” — author, Susan Sontag
“Well, I think I’ll go turn myself off,
And go on down … all the way down.
Really ain’t no use in me hanging around!” — Manic Depression, Jimi Hendrix