Trans Year of Gratitude
Despair mitigation in the face of unceasing tragedy
One year ago on Trans Day of Remembrance, I was scheduled to speak at my friend’s church about the nonprofit I work for. I was going to talk about queer joy and trans youth and all the work the church has supported us in doing. Then, I was going to pick up my partner and we were going to drive to Phoenix to visit my chosen family there, with a stop in Santa Fe.
I woke up that morning to a deluge of text messages and notifications, asking me if I was okay. I couldn’t tell you which headline first crossed my vision that finally pieced it all together. Just the flash of words. Club Q. Shooting. Injured. Dead.
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In the months before this, I’d been in a state of trans revelry. I was back on testosterone. I was experimenting with self-expression and letting myself be the alt boy I never got to be in high school. My friends and I were going out dancing each week. I’d just entered a T4T relationship and was head over heels in love. I’d just restarted the queer open mics in October after a covid hiatus and was excited for them to be a regular event again.
I still went to church that Sunday morning, for possibly the first time in years. I struggled to be present — I kept scouring social media for news, reading my friends statuses and comments. “Has anyone heard from…” “Can someone confirm if they’re safe…”
I still went up to speak. Through tears, I wondered at our holidays. Trans Day of Visibility. Trans Day of Remembrance. I felt so much rage, the kind of rage that is love at its fiercest. We deserve better holidays than this. We deserve trans days of joy, and love, and everything beyond survival.
When I sat back down in the pew, I opened my phone. I saw that Daniel, who had been to my house multiple times for hair cuts and parties and who I admired as an out and proud trans man in our community, was gone.
I broke down in the pews. As the congregation sung “We Are the Ones” by Sweet Honey in the Rock, I started to write a wishlist of everything I wanted for trans people instead of what we were given. I wished us everything from bleeding bigots to coffee in bed with those we love. That’s how trans day of i love you was written.
On the way to Phoenix, my partner Brin and I cried, wondered at the future that was feeling ever more uncertain, and we sang at the top of our lungs with Say Anything - Alive! Alive! Alive with love!
That night, when we made love in a Santa Fe hostel, I felt a certain urgency. Life felt so precious, so fleeting. I wanted to devour her. I wanted to be swallowed up by beauty.
She woke up the next morning with a cough and chills. One positive covid test and a six hour drive later, and we were back in Colorado Springs.
Like last year, I am in my house today, quarantining because of covid. This time, it’s been near impossible to find a PCR test to confirm it. My rapid test was negative, as it often has been when I’ve had covid. Still, in trying to keep my community safe, I can’t go to any memorials. I’m writing this instead.
In the months following, I was often asked, in interviews, by allies, in loaded how are yous, about how things are for queer people in Colorado Springs in the aftermath of Club Q. Whether things were better now that Colorado Springs has double the rainbow flags on display than it once had.
I think people want to hear that things are better. Increased support for the queer community in the aftermath would help our human desire for life to have a narrative in which tragedy serves a greater purpose. But it doesn’t. People are dead who should not be dead. They should be here, living their lives, with countless moments of joy before them. People are alive and still suffering their wounds, both physical and mental, with insufficient support. The needs of survivors have been buried beneath greed. Queer- and transphobia continues to be alive and well.
I don’t go dancing without knowing the emergency exits. Hiring security is now an essential part of hosting queer open mic, and this precaution is also salt in the wound.
What I can also say is that this community is so strong. The queer people of Colorado Springs continue to organize, fight, and live with a vibrancy that inspires me every day. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Still, following Club Q, the world feels more uncertain than ever. It’s an uncertainty that’s been growing — long before Q, long before covid, long before Trump.
It’s hard to look at the shooting in a vacuum. After all, every piece of anti-trans legislation that was introduced this year feels like salt in the wound that Club Q tore open. How can anyone heal when every day there is a new headline about a new group of people who want to legislate against you and people like you.
These years have begged so many questions, questions that many people in this country have been asking for decades: What does America hold in store for us? This country that cares so little for all its people that it would feed them to the maw of capitalism, a hungry god that can never be satiated? A country that let us down to the tune of one million covid deaths and counting? A country that shows time and time again how little it cares for the most vulnerable, with every mass shooting, every piece of anti-trans legislation, every new covid case, every instance of police brutality against people of color, every gallon of petroleum that will push us over nature’s tipping point, every dollar funding the genocide of Palestinians?
Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook asking how anyone can feel any peace and joy in the world these days.
I’ve spent the majority of this year trying to figure that out after years of burnout that, despite the fact that I have so much to be thankful for, had embedded a deep exhaustion in me that left me often anhedonic and withdrawn from, not only the world, but myself as well. I worried that this exhaustion would mean the end of my life-long career in activism and organizing at best, and the ultimate succumbing to despair at worst.
I am a person prone to despair, and have been since I was a kid. Not just sadness, but despair — a helpless emotion, a sadness without hope. I’ve always taken the world very personally. The first time I met depression and suicidality were in middle school when I watched An Inconvenient Truth. This started a year-long spiral, during which I was convinced that human beings were parasites destroying this earth, and as a human being, there was no way I could logically justify my existence. Despair has accompanied me since, even when I eventually realized that people are capable of immense love and beauty, and that the real drain on this earth is capitalistic greed and fascism.
I want to share here what has helped me as the case for despair has only continued to grow, in the hopes that it may offer a way forward for those who, like me, struggle at times to get out of bed, and who feel like they are often at the precipice of being consumed by said despair. And, as with everything I write, this is also a series of reminders to myself, as knowledge doesn’t always equal practice. I have been in a very despair-forward place lately, so I am hoping I might course correct myself in writing this all out.
I believe the three prophylactics against paralyzing despair are gratitude, hope, and action. I believe them to be three sisters unified in a dance, their chalices held to the air in service of joy. When I speak of joy, I don’t speak of the mythology of capital-H-Happy. I don’t think there is such a destination. I think of joy as a tool of resistance. I think of it as that which fuels us forward, in even the darkest of times.
If I am to continue to be an engaged and active resistor against that which seeks to annihilate all of us - corporate greed, bigotry, fascism, I can't be overcome by despair, despite being very prone to despair, as I've been for as long as I can remember. In that way, joy serves a vital purpose in the revolution.
Gratitude is a muscle I am trying to work out every day. I think we owe it to this world, this world that continues to be so full of beauty, despite all of the terrible things that happen within it, to try and be grateful for what is here and good right now. These moments — my boyfriend bringing me coffee in bed, the bird stopping by my bird feeder, sitting on the dock of the lake by my house, every time I go out dancing at the gay bar and nothing bad happens — these moments feel more precious than ever. I try to savor them, despite the knowledge that 1. terrible things are happening or can happen at all times, and 2. these good moments are likely to become more and more scarce for all of us if fascism and climate change progress at the rate they are. If I become overcome by despair with this knowledge, the reserves of my hope go unfilled and I can’t be of service to this world. So, I have to be grateful. I have to savor what’s good.
Gratitude also provides the foundation of hope. Hope is an intentional choice, and not one made easily.
“People speak of hope as if it is this delicate, ephemeral thing made of whispers and spider webs. It’s not. Hope has dirt on her face, blood on her knuckles, the grit of cobblestones in her hair, and just spat out a tooth as she rises for another go.” — Tweet by Crowsfault
Without hope, there is nothing to fight for. There is nothing to build toward. We have to have a vision of what can be. So many forces seek to take imagination from us, but we have to be able to imagine the future we want to build, not just the systems we want to dismantle. Admittedly, my imagination isn’t what it used to be — chronic stress has weakened it, but the gratitude that I am present with helps rebuild my imagination of what could be.
I am grateful when I see my trans friends happy and safe. What if all trans people got to be happy and safe. What if we could live their lives without an ounce of fear. What if we got to dance with abandon, without thinking of the emergency exits.
I am grateful when I see my trans friends have access to gender affirming health care. What if all trans people had access to gender affirming health care. What if it was free, and easy to access. What if that was the case for all health care for everyone.
I am grateful when I get to be in nature and feel how I am part of it, how I am, in the words of Alan Watts, “the universe experiencing itself.” What if we all felt that way. What if we all realized we create ourselves in the forge of how we love the world around us.
I am grateful for the organizers, the activists, the changemakers, the artists. What if the world was guided by people like them, people who lead with such a fierce love?
When I feel overcome by dread, it is their words that buoy me. One poem I return to often is Ross Gay’s “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.” If I go outside and listen to it and watch the birds, and the clouds, and the people pass by, I can mainline enough hope into me that I can at least do what must be done. Work. Love the people I love. Create. Organize and advocate. If I’m lucky, there will be enough beautiful things that happen that day that I can find more gratitude and hope to keep me going.
"Soon it will be over, which is precisely what the child in my dream said, holding my hand, pointing at the roiling sea and the sky hurtling our way like so many buffalo, who said it’s much worse than we think, and sooner; to whom I said no duh child in my dreams, what do you think this singing and shuddering is, what this screaming and reaching and dancing and crying is, other than loving what every second goes away?" — Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
Hope and gratitude would be empty platitudes without action, the truest triumph over despair. I think that we all have roles to play in this world inundated with pain. I think we as a community are in the process of learning the power of our voices. The ways that we can amplify gratitude, and hope, and action in all we do, all we share, all we write, all we create.
I have started to see it as a cycle. Act. Act until you must rest and remind yourself of a future you can hope toward to motivate you. If you can’t envision a future you can hope for, be intentional in being grateful for what is so that you can see what can be. If you need to be reminded of what is, seek and create moments in your life that kindle the flames of your gratitude.
I say all this, and still, there are some weeks I can barely leave my bed. I always try my best, but my best isn’t what it used to be. But I have to try and try and keep trying. And gratitude, hope, and action, however foolish and futile they might feel at times, are the best ways I’ve found to try right now, so that we might be able to continue to fight like hell for the people we love, both dead and alive.
P.S. A note for you, reader. I am grateful you’re here. What if the world had more people like you? What would be possible then?
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