I must apologize for the lack of posts over the past few weeks, but I have been extremely busy recently. There is a story which I had wanted to share a few weeks ago, right after my birthday, but time has not permitted me to complete it as yet. I still fully intend on sharing it, just when I have a little more time on my hands to make reading it a worthwhile experience. Apart from my preoccupations, there is another, more personal reason which I have not completed said post. It is termed “melancholy”. For you see, the events which transpired in the days succeeding another milestone in my life, triggered my dysphoria even more than usual.
My daily life exists in a sort of bubble. I follow, more or less, the same routine every day. A 4:30 AM alarm goes off and is ignored till 5, after which I grab a quick workout (if I’m not being a lazy ass), shower, dress and arrive at my office for 7:30 AM the latest. During my commute, a few choice terms might be directed towards me by the public, but the all powerful melodies of deep house music tend to muffle their sonorousness on most occasions. On an early day, I depart the office at 5 PM to return to my place of abode; where I shower and settle into my activity for the night, whether it be reading, gaming, writing or working on my latest web development project.
The Saturday following my birthday, I attended a netball match in an effort to support the ladies who work in the same building in which my office is located. It was the second in a series of three finals matches and since I hadn’t been to observe their athletic skills prior to this, I figured that attending this one in particular and cheering them on with a rather loud voice, would be the least I could do. I had not intended to stay for the duration of the match however, as a friend and I were also supposed to hang out elsewhere that evening.
I arrived at the National Indoor Stadium at 7:09 for a 7 PM match. Of course, I keep forgetting that “Jamaican” time is different from my own, so when I got there, the match, as expected, had not started yet. I noticed that there was a $400 entry fee of which I had not been previously informed, so I inquired of the gatekeepers as to why it was that there existed a cover charge, when it was a simple business league event and not one involving our Sunshine Girls. I started walking away while contemplating whether or not I should still watch the match, and whilst I was still within earshot I heard:
“Just look pon di ol’ man royal”
“Is a man ar a woman dat?”
“Yuh nuh see seh a one woman! She tie down ar breas’ dem”
“Is ar woman she a come watch play”
“Mi nuh want none a dem [man royal] money”
Now I must admit, I was feeling particularly sensitive that day, so the verbal assault was akin to submerging me in sub zero temperature water with nothing more than my birthday suit for protection. Usually, I am pretty good with ignoring the commentary, but on this particular evening, with a resolve that had already been weakening, I was rather vulnerable. Given that my work environment is rather comfortable, with the occasional sporadic comment being made about the LGBT community in general and not so much me in particular, I had not received such a reaction in a while. You can tell I rarely go out right? Yeah.
But more than the content and nature of the comments, twas the need to voice them and the absolute callousness of the commenters that really affected me. I suppose it is because I am a much more empathetic person why I would never attempt to disgrace someone in such a manner. I highly doubt that they are aware of how exclusionary their behaviour is and the degree to which it could impact their targets. Having previously felt, in conjunction with receiving verbal corroboration, that I don’t belong, their comments returned these once forgotten emotions to the forefront of my mind.
Growing up, I never quite fit in with my peers, the girls nor the boys; I was too masculine for one and had the wrong contingent of body parts for the other. In combination with the fact that I was raised as an only child, I led quite an isolated childhood; with only the characters who lived in the books I ravished every week for company. Ask any adult who had been ostracized during their childhood and teenage years and they will tell you that those days never really end. They never end because the feelings evoked during some of those most trying times are once again triggered by random events. Case in point.
The weekend passed and it saw me feeling rather lousy. Over and over I repeated the questions I had asked myself and the Universe innumerable times. Why was I handed this particular hand of cards from the deck of life? Why did I have to possess the anatomy characteristic of a female? Why couldn’t I have been a natal male? Why was this, the life experience of being transgender, of being assigned an anatomy you neither want nor identify with, afforded to me? Why couldn’t I live a life with regular problems? Why was I destined to face these rather exceptional ones?
I mused on these things all weekend, so my resulting lousiness was the direct result of my own brooding. It was all still weighing on my mind when I walked into the office on Monday morning. As I relayed my experience to the netballers I am closest to, they responded with the classic responses of “Just ignore them”, “You should be used to it by now”, “You know that’s how Jamaicans are”. I know they meant well, but they only saddened me further, for it is a situation which depicts our culture of “blaming the victim” instead of addressing the fundamental issue of respecting one another. But this post is not about the reformation of our values and attitudes which need to occur. No. Instead this is about how I soldier through each day, especially the not so pleasant of the lot.
They eventually realized the magnitude of hurt that was displayed in my eyes (quite the informers those are) and changed their rhetoric. Instead, the generic comments were replaced with an outpour of love and acceptance which weakened my fortitude and in the subsequent moments, tears welled up in my eyes that I was unable to stop from marking their watery path down my cheeks. I had had no intention of doing this really – deepening my bond with these people as I allowed them to observe me in a moment of vulnerability – but alas, here I was, providing them with insight to the enormity of the weight of my very personal struggle.
“Come now Kleos, we love you just the way you are.”
“I’ve always thought you were impervious to these things. I know you’re strong man.”
“I’ve always admired your courage and your strength to unapologetically be who you are.”
“You were always honest with us, right from the start. You never came in here dressed in skirts to your ankles. You’ve always shown us the real you and we love you more for it.”
One staff member greeted me with a hug the following morning. She said “Kleos, whatever you are, I love you. Don’t let anyone break your spirit. I love you and I will always love you.”
Fam, I wasn’t ready for any of it. At all.
It’s not easy navigating a society which serves you constant reminders of the fact that they don’t believe you have any right to exist, much less a right to respect. Being targeted on the basis of your gender expression or perceived sexual orientation certainly takes it toll after a while; say, over the course of almost two decades. The ostracization I experienced, coupled with the rhetoric that belonging to the LGBT community marks you as a sexual deviant, mentally ill or demon possessed resulted in me holding the view that I was not worthy of love and would never receive it. So upon listening to their heartfelt sentiments, I broke.
In fact, during my commute to work that morning, while I was walking on the road checking my Twitter and minding my own business, some motorist spotted me and took it upon himself to shout “Sodomite” in the loudest voice he could muster. I looked up and watched as everybody’s attention was redirected towards the source of the outburst and then the subsequent shift of their gazes as they attempted to find the individual the slur was meant for. In that moment, I desperately wished I had the power to make myself disappear.
A few minutes later, I entered my office building and took comfort in it’s familiar surroundings. I proceeded to the restroom to wash my face as is customary and as I stood there viewing my reflection in the mirror, I had an epiphany. I was tired. Undeniably, unequivocally exhausted.
Tired of donning a seemingly impenetrable suit of armour just to walk down the street in my own country. Tired of the vulgar commentary incited by my presence. Tired of second-class treatment, as if to negate the fact that I was an upstanding, educated and productive member of society. Tired of the willful and unwarranted attempts to strip me of my humanity and render me a depraved being; no better than an animal.
I had finally had enough. I had always harboured the hope that my homeland would be, at the very least, a tolerable place of abode for me to exist peacefully in my adult years, but my love and debatable patriotism for my country should not take precedence over my mental health; and this, this reality that I endure every day, is unquestionably unhealthy.
Last week I lunched with a pair of wonderful women; one of which has, unbeknownst to her, impacted me profoundly. Like many others she had accessed my blog through the link provided in my Twitter biography (yes, some people actually read those things). In speaking with me, she also provided kind words of encouragement beyond measure, but the sentence she uttered that stuck with me the most was
“Sweetie, those people [who discriminate and attempt to relieve me of my humanity] haven’t found their truth yet.”
The truth was, I had embarked on a rather long journey of self discovery; a journey which saw me uncovering more about myself with each passing day. I had further grown to understand who I was and having done so, decided to live in accordance with that which I had unearthed. The fact that I was living authentically (well as much as I could anyway), was both a privilege and something to be proud of. It wasn’t something for them to make me feel horrid about.
But still, I am not made of stone, nor am I impervious. I still possess feelings and quite a lot of them to be accurate. So as much as I endeavour to steel myself in the wake of waves of impolite discourse on my gender expression and perceived sexual orientation, there are days when the chinks in my armour give way and their words, like spears, cut through my defenses as if they were mere butter. On days such as those, when my defenses have been compromised, it’s hard to go about business as usual. Which brings me to the focal point of this post: the source of my seemingly endless resolve.
Spoiler alert: I am NOT the strongest person you know.
There are numerous individuals, some I know personally, others virtually, who have expressed their support as they observe me endure this currently arduous existence. It is their kind and sincere words of encouragement that aid in mending my armour and rebuilding my fortitude. The listening ears of my friends, the ice cream dates over which the most complex to the most trivial things are discussed, the random messages which affirm my awesomeness; these are the things which boost my spirits and I need only reflect on them to feel better.
So to all of you, who have supported me in one way or another, thank you. Thank you for being there for me; for there were many times when your lingering sentiments cheered my disposition. Thank you for helping me to find the strength to live veraciously. Thank you for making me feel like less of a spectacle and more of a human and for reminding me that not because I am different, means that I am an abominable product of nature. Thank you, for it is you who continuously give me the courage to remain authentic to myself when the world seeks to destroy me for it.