Notes From A Red State

At age eighteen I graduated high school. Three months later I was homeless. By homeless I mean crashing on my friend’s floor. I was drunk all the time. I was losing my mind honestly. Reality and dreams were blurring into a nightmare. We were inundated with LSD. I took it and I went to see the left-leaning, ultra-political, post-hardcore band Fugazi. I wasn’t there long when I saw a group of Neo-Nazi skinheads pointing at me. I felt my heart in my throat. A friend confided in me that they were going to “kill me” in the pit. The pit is where punk rockers would slam dance. I wished I could wake up, but this was cold, stark reality. I decided not to go into the show, so I asked for a ride to a friend’s apartment. I started downing all the beer I could to try to sober up from the LSD. At the apartment there was a skinhead I’ve never seen before. He told me that he was the ex-leader of the Confederate Hammer Skins in Tulsa. He didn’t tell me why he quit, I think he was just tired of being a target. As we argued for hour I was certain he hadn’t changed his dogmatic view on race or creed. I have no idea why but this was the night I stopped feeling scared. I argued with him point blank about how his hate was disgusting. How childish they all were. He agreed reluctantly. I went on and on and on. He listened to me. We started talking about fantasy, and sci-fi writer, Piers Anthony. He confided that he actually believed Anthony’s Incarnation Of Immortality books were real. He believed we could become gods. I think he wanted to be Mars, the God of War. Next thing I know he was playfully wrestling me to the ground. Like my nemesis, before him, I wondered if there wasn’t a psychosexual element to their fascination with me. I was the polar opposite of them. I was an active pacifist, always breaking up fights. I was so scared that someone would kill somebody at any given moment, so I made it my job to be the peacemaker. An effeminate, make-up smeared boi, with resolve of steel. I wasn’t a centrist by any measure. I believed with full conviction that racism is inherently wrong. I’d been battling my mom about race since I was a breakdancing tween. My mother, who was raised in central Kansas during the fifties could not relate to my obsession whatsoever. That troubled her sure, but she was downright miserable with my post-graduation Dionysian spree. In my defense, she had pushed me away with her transphobic shame. I was cut loose. I was terrified, but as a seeker of the storied life, I wasn’t really complaining. That is until the skins started threatening to blow up the house I grew up in with her in it. I was hearing these rumors when I snapped. I had a nervous break.

I fled from Oklahoma. I left for Dallas, TX. I met very nice, politically active, smart and very anti-racist punks. There was little doubt about which side of the fence they sat on. This made me happy for the first time in a long time. The trauma was lifting, but I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The skinheads were close, I could feel it. Only to my surprise, they never came for me. I always fear they might even to this day. It scares me just to pen this piece. While living in Dallas I found out Joe had died. He walked into his girlfriend’s nail salon where he promptly shot her and himself in the head. That was it, my nemesis was gone. We had a lot of punk rock friends from the sticks. They came from rural Oklahoma, and they held racist beliefs. My friends would argue with them endlessly, because we believed they could be turned, we turned quite a few. One of these “friends” had been in mortician school as long as we knew him. The first week after graduating, and being placed in a job, he cremated Joe’s body. We were told there was nothing left except the steel toes of his Doctor Marten boots.
I had too much trauma to stay in Texas, the entire state was just too full of ghosts. The ghosts of the confederacy shadowed it with a cold pall of conservatism that extended to every corner. I knew I’d never transition there. I was sitting on a porch talking to some friendly people I met two days before. They asked if I wanted to go to Lawrence, Kansas. I’d heard of the place, bands were always playing The Outhouse the night before they made it to OKC. They talked about how special it was, a club that hosted all the important hardcore band of the eighties, right there in the middle of a cornfield. I wanted to see it for myself. I got in a car and left for “The Land Of Ahs”. This was not uncommon, I floated anywhere the river of my life was going. Like William S. Burroughs before me, I found a peaceful town. A place where someone who had lived too much could rest. It was a cold spring I could dip my feet in. Larryville didn’t stick at first though. I travelled for several more years, spending time in Seattle and Minneapolis, but nothing appealed to me like the community I had discovered in that idyllic small city. Returning there was like putting on a comfy old shoe every time. It wasn’t long after the last time I returned that I met a girl, we lived together for five years when in 2003 I began transitioning to a woman. I found vitamin supplements, I was never good at hiding my trans-feminine nature, and at age thirty one, after an emergency splenectomy, I decided I had to make the jump. It wasn’t easy finding a psychiatrist educated on the subject but I endured. I finally found one, and I patiently walked her through the process. I was prescribed hormones, and suddenly it was like when I was butting heads with Neo-Nazis, but this time it was all of society. My soon to be wife didn’t understand at first honestly but she loved me. Like nobody I had ever known, she stuck with me. Pardon the obviousness of the reference, but I walked under the rainbow, and I became another gender. It felt like magic, but it was probably just endurance. I was in heaven.

This was until November 8th, 2016. The day Donald Trump was elected president. On this evening I felt all of the fear I thought I had dispersed return. The trauma came flowing back. I couldn’t breathe. I was lashing out at my friends who would try to get me out of the house. I was so viscerally scared. I bought a knife. I felt cornered. This man had run on an openly racist platform and won. He was praised by the like of the KKK’s David Duke. Neo-Nazi Skinheads were becoming a phenomenon again, and they were being spotted in my town. What are so-called “proud boys” doing in Historic Lawrence, Kansas, A town rich with its very important, yet tragic history of being the spark that started The War of Southern Aggression? That fated night in 1863 when Quantrill and his raiders came and burned down the city, murdering every man in town, these “alt-right” thugs should never feel welcome on our streets. That cool morning of August, 21st 1863, the act of violence that reverberates to this day, is similar to the trauma I have myself. I find comfort living here. I find kinship in the entire city. I share my life happily with the many ghosts that resides here. I literally love this liberal arts college town. with a basketball mascot that screams anti-racism, the fictional, and maligned Jayhawk that originated as an epithet for guerrilla fighters during “The Civil War”. Lawrence, Kansas is a shining beacon of blue in a sea of red. We were the stronghold against slavery and and even our neighboring cities fought us. I say us, because the city is me. I feel part of it.

After Trump was elected, we thought about moving. That is until reports from all around the country started pouring in about violence towards POC, and trans women. Location didn’t seem to be a very important factor. I see stories from every state in the union. It’s disturbing, but thanks to a year of therapy, I can leave the house. I’m so ready to live again. Trump will not be the end of us. We have dealt with so much worse than that game show host turned wanna-be dictator. I’ve been out for a long time. I’m not afraid anymore. Well, I’m a little scared, but I’m ready to live, and “The Donald” won’t be stopping me with any of his dog whistles or implied threats. If I’ve learned anything, the cameraphone is the difference between now, and the dark ages of the Neo-Nazi insurgence of the nineties. Only a handful saw what we endured in the nineties. Now the whole world is watching, and these malcontents can’t hide the way they once did. They are shunned by their families when seen marching in Charlottesville. Their jobs are at risk. They now know that anonymity is impossible. It’s a very important change, it dulls their fangs for the most part. They still take our lives, it hurts me to think about it. I hang my head low as I mourn the murder of my sisters. I will rage at their flower being violently cut from our lives. We all should mourn, but we also must get back up quickly, and fight for their life. I truly believe that good will one day overcome. As Theodore Parker once penned, and Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently repeated, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I believe that, I really do. I live to watch it bend, a proud and happy trans woman living in a red state, on an island of the most azure and optimistic blue.

This story was first published August 27, 2017

Photo credit: Chris Ortiz

© 2020 PFSIM

One thought on “Notes From A Red State

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s