Jumper cables

I get in the car, turn the key, and nothing happens. I’d only gone into the grocery store for maybe thirty minutes after a 75-mile drive without a stop. I’ve never had trouble with my car starting before, so I try it a few more times after shifting the gears out of and then back into park, thinking maybe the starter interlock switch didn’t engage property. No luck.

I review my options and a jump-start seems like the best place to start. If that doesn’t work, then it’s time to call a tow truck and have the starter examined. I keep jumper cables in the car and fish them out of the spare tire area along with my leather gloves. I drop the cables on the ground next to the car and open up the hood and start looking around for someone who might be willing to help.

A woman approaches the car next to me and I ask her if she’d give me a jump. She looks hesitant and reluctantly agrees to help, qualifying it with, ‘I’ve never done it before.’

Having driven pieces of shit in my twenties that constantly needed attention, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve used jumper cables. ‘It’s okay, we’ll figure it out.’

She begins to load her groceries into her car and while I’m untangling the cables, a man in a big, red truck with his family drives by and offers me a jump. Since he’s with his family, he seems safe enough so I agree, thank the woman for her willingness, and she drives off while the man manuevers his truck into place.

As I’m untangling the cables, another man in a truck on the other side of my car offers to help and I politely decline as the red truck pulls up close. The man whose help I didn’t need goes back to rearranging the groceries in the back of his truck.

Red truck man pops his hood and I’m ready, handing him the cables while he looks around for where to attach them. I point to a battery I can see and he says that’s his secondary battery as he seats the cables on the primary. While he finishes doing that, I pick up the other ends and as I’m turning towards the engine compartment, he pops over with hands open to take the cables from me. I seat the red cable on my battery terminal and the black to the mounting bracket by the alternator.

He appears surprised. ‘Oh, you’re done this before.’

‘A few times,’ I mumble. He seems impressed.

I hop in my car and it starts right up. I wonder if I need a new battery or if I developed a short somewhere. We unhook the cables, I thank him, and he drives off while I put the cables away.

Back in my car, I realize it’s the first time I didn’t have to hunt for someone to help. It begins to sink in that woman in a parking lot with her hood up and jumper cables on the ground will draw men like moths to a bright light.

I drive off, satisfied that if I need another jump it won’t be hard to find a volunteer.

©Heather Coldstream

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2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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The aperture of happiness

There was no light for parts of my gender journey. Darkness closed in around me as I struggled to figure out what to do. I felt my way along in the dark, bruising my shins and falling down hard a few times. Happiness and hope would have been light, but none shone. My aperture of happiness was closed.

It wasn’t until I decided I had to transition that the faintest glimmer began to peek through. As I moved forward with my plans, things in the past that had closed it began to open it.

The fear of being left by my wife shifted to anticipation for living by myself again and not having to worry about an intoxicated spouse who hated who I was. Now, I relish not having someone I loved spread the irritant of their resentment on me.

The fear of being a single parent changed to me enjoying my kids in a more focused way. The first few months felt like I had been tossed in the deep end of a pond with mud sucking at my feet to keep me underwater. Now, parenting my kids solo brings me a joy I didn’t know I could have.

The fear of social ostracism for transitioning turned out to be my brain jumping at shadows. I’m sure luck and privilege have much to do with the very low frequency of hassles I get for being trans. Now, I am just another woman who’s accepted or rejected for the type of person I am instead of what I am.

The fear of being single and alone for the rest of my life was simple negativity and a relationship I had last year put that and took me to bed last year. Now, I get to find someone who wants me for me and we get to discover each other.

I wouldn’t say the aperture of my happiness is fully open yet, but it’s close. The best part is with it open, the possibilities for happiness increase because the vista is larger.

When it was just starting to open, I could only see one happiness at a time through the pinhole. With it open much wider, I’m having to remind myself to look around at all the possible happiness I could have because it’s just laying there, waiting for me to find it.

I’m happier than I was before transition by a country mile. I have moments of joy and contentment. Happy comes and goes, but at least I can see it now because I’m open to it.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing my work with others or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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On intimate loneliness


Intimate loneliness gnaws at my bones like a starving dog worrying for marrow. The frisson of desire and the pleasures of rubbing flesh are easy enough to sate–there are many people who find trans women desirable, but they are the sugary and saturated fats of snack-food relationships. I’m craving the protein in the banquet of intimate companionship to truly quiet my hunger.

I have friends who call, text, and tweet, and others who I meet in person for a movie, dinner, drinks, and talk, and they fill my life with camaraderie and joy. They’ve been there for me through the disintegration of marriages and the gender I used to live as. They’ve supported me by seeing me as me, and advocate for me and trans people in general. Now that much of the Sturm und Drang of my transition is behind me, we just hang out. They’re awesome.

But there’s no one in my life now to spoon me at night when existential dread settles and sprouts on me like mold spores. There’s no one I can roll my eyes to when a checker at a store is failing very hard to pretend I’m not trans. There’s no one to argue with about what to watch on Netflix. There’s no one to cook dinner for or pamper with a massage. No one to find that special gift for.

For many trans people like me, those who lost a long-term committed relationship due to transition, this is a normal phase and part of the arc of transition. After seeing dozens of trans women go through this phase and seeing that some have yet to exit it, even after years, I bide my time.

I fill my life with my kids, my writing, my music, and my current job of closing my mom’s estate. I run, I hike, I read, I binge-watch Star Trek. I visit with friends and talk politics and life. I plan my garden, spend time in my workshop, and pull weeds. I think about getting involved doing more things with other people I don’t know.

I send stars and hearts and write messages, doing my best to flirt online. I have dates here and there while navigating the new-to-me world of dating as a woman. I wonder when the magic moment will come, offering to end my loneliness, and hope I don’t miss it.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing my work with others or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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The ivy is choking you – week 180

English ivy is a noxious weed where I live and I hate it. It’s also a perfect fucking metaphor for gender dysphoria.

Left alone to grow, its leaf cover and epiphytic roots will choke trees and understory plants and take years or decades off their lifespans by making them more susceptible to pests and toppling in windstorms.

Besides creating shoots to creep along the ground, it sends vines up trees to reproduce. At first, it’s just a few shoots here and there. It’s easy to peel off the strands when they’re thin, but the roots will leave little marks on the bark. If you let it go a season or more, the vines grow thicker and require real effort to remove, often with small sections of bark.

If ignored for years or decades the vines turn into woody cables thicker than your wrist, requiring a saw to cut through and a crowbar to remove. The mat of roots to support these cables will pull everything along with them if you’re not careful, leaving gaping wounds on the trunk. At this point, there’s also a thick carpet of it on the ground and few, if any, other species are able to grow with it, and ripping it out often leaves bare dirt where a whole ecology used to thrive.

Left to their own devices, the vines spread to the tops of trees, flower, and berry out. Birds eat the berries and scatter the seeds in their droppings to repeat the cycle on the next vertical surface the shoots can find.

I let mine go for decades, and the sawing and prying I went through to un-strangle myself left me exhilarated and exhausted when finished. There are a few shoots here and there I missed and pull out from time to time, but that’s nothing compared to the previous work.

The removal left me with a barren patch of ground around me and scars on my side. Sometimes when the sun shines, I see my shadow and I swear I’m still covered in ivy and I wonder why I went through all that work when it seems I’ll never be rid of it.

But then I look closer and I see ferns, moss, and salal starting to grow about my feet and realize the ivy leaves I see are all dead. They drop from me one by one to the ground as I sway in the wind.

It will take years for them all to blow away and the vines that snake like scars up to my crown may not fall off before I fall over. It’s a small price to pay for being able to be free of the leaves that hid me. Now I spread my branches, soak in the sun, bud out, and grow again.

Before, the thirst of entire limbs went un-slaked in the struggle for a sip of the rain before the parasite covering me could soak it all up. I shed them as the dried, dead appendages they slowly become. Now my roots soak the water in by the gallon and my heart pumps it to every twig.

And the best thing? It’s that everyone can see the type of tree I’ve been all along.

When you grow up with dysphoria, it grows up with you, obscuring you. Other people see the ivy wrapped around you, hiding what you are. You might not even realize you’re covered until fully grown and the berries are raining down amongst your mature feet.

That ‘ah-ha’ moment always comes though, and it can threaten to topple you. The weight and life-sucking taproots of the ivy you didn’t know were there before feel like immense burdens and worms burrowing into you.

Some of us immediately start ripping vines off to reveal ourselves as fast as possible. Others may not have the energy to begin or fear damaging themselves too much in the process, and put it off and put it off until we are either felled by time or the ivy, or realize we can’t go on wrapped in something sucking our vitality out and finally start removal.

Sometimes we start and stop removal, many times over. Sometimes we remove it all and then let it all grow back when we realize we’re the ivy, not the tree. Sometimes we realize we’re not either and are our own species.

It used to bug me when I saw people post-transition encouraging people to transition. How dare they cheerlead when they had no idea the soil or climate I was rooted in? I now understand the subtle, unspoken directions left out of, ‘You have an ivy infestation and should remove it as soon as you can.’

‘As soon as you can,’ really means: ‘As soon as you can and check the gardening book for the best time and method to remove it and proper species identification. I’m also not going to pretend to tell you when and how you can make time to garden in your already busy life unless you ask’.

Get rid of that weed, people. You have an ivy infestation and should remove it as soon as you can.

It’s choking out the flowers you could be planting about you.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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Meditations on transmisogyny – Week 179

As a trans woman, having my humanity denied, debated, or outright denigrated can be hard to tease apart from baseline cultural misogyny. It might even be a unique offshoot of it. Around the world women struggle to be heard, to be seen, to live.

We often to defer to men for safety, for advancement, for peace, even as we seethe inside. We see the ridiculousness of sometimes playing weak in order to be strong. We have to be hyper-competent to even be considered for promotion and are judged incompetent for slight mistakes. We walk away when we want to fight, choosing our battles in what seems like a hopeless war.

We are seen as sexual objects for men to use as they see fit and blend into the background when judged unattractive. We are viewed as safe receptacles for men to dump their feelings into like trash cans on the corner. We are the objects acted upon, not the verbing subjects.

But when we are strong, when we fight, when we disagree, when we exercise our own agency, we are treated as animals to be subjugated or put down. We are treated as children. We are told we can’t, we shouldn’t, that we ask for too much.

And trans women we are told we are less human than cis women, though we already struggle for our humanity on that front and trans women are women. We are treated as aberrations and more disposable than cis women because we are seen as failed men. And nothing draws the ire of men more than failed men because they fear them like they fear a contagion.

Failed men are fallen, defective humans in cultural milieus around the world. Women scorn them because they can no longer be their protectors from other men seeking to utilize them as objects. Other men use them as punching bags to bolster their masculinity. Sitting next to one, being seen with one, or sleeping with one bends back around to being seen as that singular inhuman object of ‘a pussy’.

Most trans women don’t even have that to fall back upon as one of the oldest appeasement methods of deflecting male aggression, which often further enrages them. Objects that don’t work as expected or sap cultural power are discarded, often violently.

So I re-affirm my humanity to myself over and over and over, just to live. It’s agitating for myself when being obviously ignored. It’s having to explain and justify myself over and over. It’s dealing with the emotions of exclusion, rejection, and loneliness. It’s struggling to value myself when so many others devalue me.

I do this by living my life when so many others want me dead at worst or invisible at best. I struggle with this and I know others do, too. When you’re bombarded by the world telling you that you don’t matter or that your relative uniqueness isn’t worth protecting, it can be hard to get motivated to get out of bed some days.

Pre-transition I read about trans women who rarely left the house. Most of these women were portrayed as vain beauties who had completed surgeries, including facial feminization, and felt they weren’t pretty enough to pass in public. It’s an easy narrative to believe because it fits nicely into the misogynistic trope of women being vain and the transmisogynistic trope of trans women putting passing above all else.

Now that I’m past the big hump of social transition, I wonder if the truth is closer to many (most?) of us simply feeling reluctant to leave the house out of an exhaustion of having to continually defend our humanity. I know I feel the seductive call of hiding away on many days and by dint of race and class, I have the privilege of doing so. Many others don’t.

It is much easier to be trans in public now than it was even ten years ago, but we still pay a psychic cost when visibly trans and experiencing subtle or overt discrimination or having things go sideways when we pass until we don’t.

There are no easy solutions here and many solutions are out of our hands. We can demand equality and respect, but until all women are equal and respected, we will be on the short end of the stick. We can tell the world what we need to feel valued, but until cis allies lobby and change the minds of other cis people, we will be denied our place with the rest of Homo sapiens sapiens.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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Week 178 – Another emergency room visit

In my continuing life saga of ‘What will the universe throw at me next?’, my eldest kid fell out of a tree at a friend’s house onto their back the day after school let out for summer. (Happy spoiler: they were not seriously hurt.) This necessitated a trip to urgent care and then an ambulance ride to a hospital emergency room (ER) for further evaluation.

Being trans and getting emergency or non-emergency medical care is fraught when you’re trans. From examples like Tyra Hunter’s unnecessary death in 1995 due to non-treatment by emergency personnel at the scene of the accident and in the ER to #TransHealthFail on Twitter, we know to be wary when engaging with medical practitioners. Even as the medical establishment inches towards an informed consent model for trans medical care, being along for the ride instead of being the patient still has its land mines.

This was my third trip to the ER just this year as a patient advocate and each has had its moment of uncomfortableness. The first was taking my youngest in after they were poked in the eye by a pipe and having to spend a few minutes untangling my dead name from my insurance record. The second was caring for my mom in her final days and being outed over and over at random by my family.

This most recent trip started with my youngest appearing breathlessly in the front yard after running from the neighbor’s house to tell me what had happened. My phone doesn’t always ring or get texts right away where I live, (I’m looking at you AT&T,) so the frantic texts and call from the friend’s parent came while I was scrambling to find my car keys and a femme sweatshirt to throw over the old, baggy, men’s tee-shirt I was wearing without a bra to mow the lawn. Because I was mowing the lawn, I was sweaty, smelled a bit ripe, hadn’t put on any makeup because I knew I’d take a shower after I was done mowing, and my unkempt hair was pulled back from my face in a pony tail.

For my cis readers who are wondering what’s notable about all that because it sounds like any mom mowing the lawn, in addition to the fear my kid had broken their back, this was an anxiety-provoking, almost-nightmare scenario for me.

I’ve been misgendered wearing a dress with a push-up bra and full makeup. To go somewhere without makeup, with a hairstyle of either ‘look at my big forehead’ or ‘hair metal band member after a bad night’, and wearing gender neutral to masculine clothing chosen for comfort instead of emphasizing curves and minimizing a bulge required a huge, deep breath on my part to not take five minutes to change clothes, slap on some mascara and lipstick, and brush my hair.

That my kid needed to go to urgent care and I had to consciously made a choice between rushing them to care right away and femme-ing up my appearance out of fear of my kid not getting timely or proper medical care because I might distract medical personel is supremely fucked up. Just about every trans person can tell a story of when medical care was derailed because some care provider was meeting a trans person for the first time and wanted to ask questions about being trans instead of about being injured or sick. That doesn’t even include fears and experiences of receiving sub-standard care due to hidden trans misogyny or bigotry.

The good news is me being trans didn’t seem to impact care for my kid. The not so good news is that there was still friction.

There was friction at check-in when the lady behind the counter seemed confused my kid had two moms and asked who I was twice, even after confirming I was the Heather on the insurance card. This could have been due to either less than stellar lesbian/gay family awareness or me not looking like a Heather, or both.

There was friction after we were told an ambulance ride to the hospital ER was necessary for a CT scan to check for a potential fractured vertebrae and our youngest couldn’t come along. I called their birth mom and she offered to come pick him up and follow us to the hospital. The ambulance arrived before she did and we asked again if the young one could ride along and the driver said that would be okay. I told them to hang on a minute while I called their other mom to inform her and got a funny look.

There was friction as I sat across from the ambulance medical technician for the 40 minute drive when he stared at me a few times across my kid strapped to a gurney before reaching some sort of internal, satisfactory conclusion about me and then talking much less.

There was friction in the ER, when the triage doctor looked at my ex and asked, ‘Are you the mom?’ and then looking surprised when my kids called me ‘mum’.

There was friction in the ER financial office after they pulled my ex in first and she told them I was responsible for the medical bills and I popped my head in the door to have the financial counselor hesitatingly ask me, ‘You’re Heather?’

In the grand scheme of things, these were trifles and everything worked out in the end. My kid only had some scrapes and the wind knocked out of them.

Yet these small events are illustrative of the additional emotional labor all trans people are required to process at some point. For some, this happens multiple times a day, every day in stores & schools and offices & out in public. During an emergency, the grain of sand of being accidentally misgendered can feel like a boulder dropped on your head and intentional hostility can trigger the fight or flight response, short-circuiting rational decision-making.

I still fear ending up in the ER unconscious and being unable to advocate for myself. I can only hope that as more and more people in the medical field meet trans people and become more familiar with our particular issues and needs in care settings, everyone will be able to focus fully on the medical issues at hand instead of being distracted because someone in the room is trans.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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Week 177 – ¡Viva la revolución! ✊🏼

I went to Seattle Trans Pride at Cal Anderson Park Friday, June 23, and I’m very glad I went. I met some great people from Twitter who I hadn’t met in person before, saw some friends, marched, got a mild sunburn, and then left early for some personal downtime due to crowd overload before meeting both a new and old friend at a pub for great conversation.

My first experience meeting other trans people was in a basement room about twenty years ago with a handful of other people. Seeing so many trans people and what looked like a thousand or more people marching on Friday was nothing short of amazing and inspiring.

As we marched, there were people on sidewalks clapping and cheering. There were clever signs and all genders and non-binaries were represented. In the clearest sign that being trans is now mainstreamed, there were corporate marketing booths sprinkled in amongst the activist and health-related booths. The booth area felt crowded and people were dressed from pride trans rainbow festive to fanciful to street clothes to formal clothes. There were roller skates and fairy wings and glitter and lace and leather. Trans men proudly walked with shirts off and scars visible. People came with acquaintances, friends, family, kids, and lovers.

It was Transapalooza, Transquatch, Transaroo, Burning Trans, Trans by Trans West, and Transella put in a blender with a political rally and a collective, defiant, ‘Some people are trans, get the fuck over it!’ shout to cis oppressors.

And those people were just the trans people who came. While more and more trans people are out than even before, how many didn’t come because they aren’t or can’t be out yet? How many trans kids hide in their own homes from disapproving adults?

I imagined all of us from the Seattle metro area being there and it made my brain melt trying to imagine 11,000 (at a 0.003% incidence rate) to 37,000 (a 0.01% incidence rate) trans people all gathered together to celebrate being alive. I’ve been to Seattle Mariners games with less attendance.

I used to visualize meeting new and running into/hanging out in public with other trans people I already knew as an almost cloak-and-dagger operation. Before I went to my first support meeting in a basement in the 90s I read books and communicated with trans people on the Internet. Everything pointed towards a world where trans people were generally not seen public, though we’ve been hiding in plain sight since forever. We were woodworked, deep stealth, secret trans agents operating under cover in hostile cis territory.

We often had no family because either our families had disowned us or we left it behind with our old names. We kept bags packed, ready to flee and disappear and start a new life again in another city at almost a moment’s notice if we were outed at the grocery store or work. We traveled great distances for surgery, if we could afford it, and encountered high complication rates. We met with other trans women in clubs, basements, private halls, hotel rooms, and tolerant restaurants after the family dinner rush.

And now, holy fuck, we fill two or more city blocks for a parade. We get congratulated at work for transitioning. Cis people know what cis means and call themselves cis. We’re on magazine covers and TV. We win awards. We write books and make movies and create music that hundreds of millions of people embrace. We had a Presidential Administration move forward some badly needed trans human rights protections and policy guidelines. We have more cis allies than ever before.

There is still much that needs to change. Murders of trans women of color and trans suicide rates are epidemic. Trans people of color too often have lower lifespans and incomes than white trans people. We are poorer and more underemployed that cis people. Homelessness, drugs, and alcohol can be hard to escape. Not enough have insurance. We have a crying need for more medical and mental health professionals. Some states are trying to legislate us out of public and whip up ignorance, intolerance, and hate. The current Presidential Administration is either rolling back or not defending trans-supportive public policy. And on and on and on.

But a whole bunch of trans people out in public having a parade in the middle of a Friday is nothing short of revolutionary compared to how it used to be.

We’re out, and we ain’t never going back in.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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