Winter Solstice 2017

The first time I missed winter solstice in 7 years was December 21st 2016. Here I am sitting cross legged on a crushed Domino’s pizza box on a cement-floored, covered porch pressed in the corner against two cold brick walls of a house. Becca, my platonic partner, is standing feet from me taking puffs from her cigarette and occasionally turning to blow them outside of the covered porch area we are in. She’s waiting for me to be present again, to talk to her. I’m absorbed in my phone frantically typing into the search bar of my web browser, “winter solstice 2016 time and date.” I press enter and the page promptly loads displaying a page that clearly says at the top of it, “Winter Solstice is on Wednesday, December 21, 2016 At 5:44 am EST.” It is currently Wednesday, December 21st at 12:18 pm EST.

I should be sleeping right now after staying up all night. I should have covered my windows with blinds, curtains and sheets to keep out the sun. The sun that came up because I stayed up all night with only candles to light my surrounding. My hands should be finally warm after a long brisk journey adventuring outside to see the sun rise from the top of a tree covered hill in the cemetery near my house.

But here I am sitting on a pizza box cursing, “fuck, fuck, fuck!” I didn’t stay up all night. I didn’t wish my friends “happy winter solstice.” I didn’t even know the date or time of Winter Solstice. Why, why, why, why, why!?

Because I am a mom now. Because I suddenly and abruptly have 3 small children. Because I have a house that needs cleaned, clothes that needs washed, dishes that need done, food that needs cooked, mouths that need fed, voices that need to be listened to. I may sometimes call myself their theraputic support staff, other times Becca’s platonic femme dyke partner, but what I really am is a mom.

I am a mom to 3 kids, I am a partner to Becca. They drove across this country and the country north of here to be in this city, my city, her city, our city, a place where she hopes to finally feel safe, a place where they are all finally free of his abuse. A first stopping spot where she will raise her kids in a safe environment where they can be who they are and not be mentally or physically abused any more.

And here they are starting to feel safe, starting to explore themselves more, starting to tell us that some of them are girls. Starting to get enough attention and not having to worry about words and fists being thrown. Instead we all are growing into the magical beings we are. And I am here as an essential part of this, part of them all processing what has happened to them. Giving them all the attention and support they need to overcome and finally cure generations of abuse that has happened to these 3 native kids and their amazing mother who has been through more than I can grasp.

Two of the three kids I care for

Two of the three kids I care for

So here I am on winter solstice thinking about how this is a time for reflecting, for staring into the darkness and seeing the sun rise out after 14 hours of darkness. I didn’t reflect on winter solstice, I didn’t even realize it was winter solstice. But here I am watching a family emerge from the darkness, watching myself emerge from the darkness. I may have watched the sun fall or rise, but over the past 3 months and more I have been watching 5 magical beings including myself emerge from darkness. We all been emerging whether it be from an abusive home, a male identity that isn’t ours, a controlling an abusive relationship, a shitty job, shitty friendships, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks and self harm.

We are all emerging from darkness to become powerful beings. And as I stand back and take time to reflect I can feel my chest filling up with strength, puffing out and taking up space in a way I never have before. I can feel my power bubbling up. I can feel my emotions and see others feelings with a new clarity, I can even grasp emotions that I don’t yet have words for. As I lift my arm I feel energy shoot out of it across sidewalk moving the leaves on the ground and shaking the trees. Energy flows from my head to my feet and into the earth as I ground myself on command. I am not just a person anymore, I am a being filled with magic, compassion, anger and love. And on this winter solstice I can’t say I saw the sunrise, or that I stayed up all night by candlelight, I can’t even say I knew when the solstice was. But I can say I am growing, I am reflecting. I am becoming Jenny, I’m not a flighty spaced out tranny who is insecure and unsure of herself. I am a magical being who has powers that few can grasp, call me awakened, call me an indigo child, or call me crazy. But I am Jenny and I move worlds, hear me roar.

MarShawn and the Activist that Burnout

On the night of Monday, February 8th Black Lives Matter activist MarShawn McCarrel blew his brains out on the Ohio State House steps. He organized actions around Michael Brown’s killing in 2014 in Ohio, founded a youth mentorship program Pursuing Our Dreams for Ohio’s homeless and was honored for his commitment to activism by the NAACP and Radio One’s “Hometown Champions Award”. But I’m not writing an obituary for this great activist I’m writing to lamenting the trend for activist to burnout and suffer from mental health problems they are not addressing. I’m writing this to lament activist who waste so much time not loving themselves.

"We waste so much time not loving eachother." a quote form MarShawn written hundreds of time in black. In red, where the bullet sits in the gun the quote is altered, "We wast so much time not loving OURSELVES"

“We waste so much time not loving eachother.” a quote form MarShawn written hundreds of time in black.
In red, where the bullet sits in the gun the quote is altered, “We wast so much time not loving OURSELVES”

The suicide of MarShawn touches close to home, too close. Activism was my life for 4 years in college. I worked tirelessly as a student activist and readied myself for the world of “professional” activism when I graduated. I haven’t really gotten there, instead I burned out. I considered killing myself, suffered depression, and took over 3 years almost completely off from activism. It wasn’t until spring of 2015 that I reentered the world of activism and have been hesitant about my commitment to it in fear of burning out again. I want to do more than data entry for a union, but I’m not sure if I’m ready. I look around and am worried for myself as I see non-profits burn through and burn out activist by overworking them and underpaying them. That’s because activist don’t work a job for the pay or the hours, they work it because of there passion to better the world and non-profits exploit that.

Non-profits intentions aren’t necessarily malicious but the results are the same, burnout. Some organizations are especially bad like Clean Water Action and Grass Roots Campaigns, which both find well intentioned young people who want to change the world and with little training have them knocking doors fundraising, a truly exhausting job with long hours and with quotas for them to meet. This minimal direction and high expectations leads many youth to believe they aren’t cut out for activism. Some organizations act like the fact that people are driven to their work because of passion they should be exempt from paying their worker a minimum wage. Non-profit advocacy group, U.S. PIRG recently came out against a law that will have salaried employees paid overtime for the work they do over 40 hour a week, READ: workers will get paid for all the hours they work even if they are salaried. When arguing against it they even to the extent of arguing they should be exempt because they are “mission-driven” work.

The problem is activists by their very nature are often selfless people driven by the work and are willing to overextend themselves for the work (passion). They are committed to their cause (work) and tend to forget about themselves. Organizations only encourage such habits and encourage working long hours, meaning no one is concerned about activists’ mental health.

It truly hurts me to see activist being so selfless and having so much of themselves taken by their work. We are such devoted people but we aren’t devoted to what matters: sustainability.

I have had conversations and arguments with friends about sustainability in the paid-activist world, it has led us to be hesitant to getting involved. You can’t have a life and work for most organizations committed to change. It seems like you have two choices: make real change and being apart of something that matters or try to live a life that’s sustainable and healthy.

Of my friends that work in activism most have or do struggle with depression, and for some this wasn’t something they had before being a paid-activist. One coworker confided in me that she used to cut herself, another talked about her time at a Intensive Out-Patient facility, and another eluded that her isolation and overwork has caused her and countless fellow coworkers to become depressed. I know for a fact that a majority of my coworkers have suffered from depression (the rest I haven’t heard either-way from them)

These are the people who are working to change the world for the better! How? How can you expect people to change the world they are in when they can’t even be happy and healthy themselves? As an activist and an anarchist I believe that you have to live the revolution everyday. What sort of revolution is it when you don’t have time to enjoy yourself? to love yourself? to take care of your own mental health? That’s no revolution I want to be a part of, to paraphrase Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”

Mayes for District 7

Sorry y’all. I’ve been working on La’Tasha Mayes campaign for District 7 the past 16 days and have had little time for much else. To catch you up to speed, I finished my union organizing gig on May 1st, two days later I was the field director for La’Tasha Mayes campaign for city council. And 16 days later was election day. Now it is a few days after election day and I’m finally taking it easy.

The union organizing of home care workers went terrific. I was promoted to a lead fairly quickly which was a cool privilege and fun to do. Being lead entailed briefing and training folks in the morning, checking in with folks and debriefing folks at the end of the night. The job ended up turning from a 9:30am to 8:30pm gig to a 8:30am to 9:30pm gig. We were in blitz mode and can’t say I breathed much. I did even have time to think about my demons and feel uncomfortable with myself and now I’m a much happier person for that.

We ended up winning the union, with 89% of home care workers voting in favor of having a union. The whole thing was a pleasure to be apart of, taught me so much and re-entered me into the world of activism and propelled me into my next job, field director.

And after my glorious 2 days off that included sun bathing in my back yard and a going to a parade I began my next job, field director of La’Tasha Mayes campaign for city council (who if elected would’ve been the first openly black queer woman who is a city council member and the first time 3 out of 9 city council positions were filled with people of color). This job entailed being the main person that deals with volunteers in every respect. I reached out to them, I trained them, I wrote the phone banking and door knocking scripts they wrote, I was their everything.

This job was hard to figure out at first as I reworked phone banking scripts, tried to hire paid door knockers and figured out my candidates positions on different issues and how to best explain them to volunteers. After a week I fell into the job and embraced the role. I talked to a few different organizers, who were volunteering, about my work and was happy to get their approval of my work and happy to talk organizer with them. I’ve organized for 5 years of my life and I didn’t realize I learned a whole other language. The way you communicate with people and run things is much different. It’s a world where small differences are huge where saying “please” makes you sound pitiful and saying “thank you” makes people you say it to feel they are helping you instead of feeling ownership over the movement.

In the end I kicked butt. I and must say I owe it all to the volunteers and door knockers, I contacted only a few voters, they did all the work. This is how I know I did my job right. My job is to inspire, educate and open the floor so other can do the real work. The job is essential for making the campaign work, but without so many passionate volunteers inspired by La’Tasha there wouldn’t be anything.

At the end of the campaign I knew I had done just about my best, I was proud for turning that campaign up! The vote came in election night and it was what I expected, but actually, no, it was much better. She got 35% of the vote, 1,400 votes. I have 537 confirmed “yes” votes for of our contacted folks, our goal was 2,000. She started late, hired me super late and still got a good grab of votes.

At the celebration party she was happy and so where all of the volunteers. Probably happier than the “winner’s” party. She was cheered in as though she was victorious and gave her victory speech. Thanking everyone and what I didn’t realize until this point, was how important I was. She got to me and just kept going on about how essential I was and how she had wished she had hired me earlier. Then the bar started chanting my name. I had rocked that campaign, in a really good way. And everyone wanted to know what was next for me.

One of the organizers I respected and confided with to told me she couldn’t wait to see what campaign I worked on next and wanted to work with me in the future. I realized that this, this is what I am good at, this is my passion and this is my career track. I love campaigns and I cannot wait to see what I’ll do next but it will probably be a policy campaign, world I’m not going away. I have just found my passion. And when La’Tasha Mayes runs again, because she certainly will, I will probably find her by my side organizing volunteers and working my tail off to get her in office. Can’t wait to see where the world is going to take me but it’s going to be awesome.

Long Time Coming

About 2 weeks ago I started what I thought was a temporary job that would last a few weeks at most and give me some extra money before I figured out what I wanted to do. 12 days later I’ve worked 10 days in a row and am about to have an interview for a upcoming campaign they are working on. The labor movement is finally calling me back and I can no longer resist it.

The story starts about 4 years ago. I had just finished college and had graduated with a degree in anthro… United Students Against Sweatshops. I spent my 4 years organized around sweatshop issues and considered that my real degree, since I put more time into organizing than I did my studies. I saw 3 of my friends find jobs in the labor movement and struggle with long hours and being displaced from their partners. Two of the people were in long term relationships when starting their jobs, both of which had ended before I graduated.

I was in a relationship at the time and I was burnt out. Both of these decisions led me to want to do something close to home. Eventually I settled on community organizing before fully burning out and going back to my summer job of working on bikes. Fast forward 3.5 years and I am doing EMDR treatments with my therapist and finally feel the past shedding off of me. I finally feel like me, and suddenly the opportunity I’ve been looking for pops up.

My friend Red Beard (who hasn’t had a beard for years) tells me about a temporary job door knocking for the union he works for. They have to beat out the right wingers and organize home care workers before they send out their nasty propaganda. I happily agree, especially since it’s temporary and my friend Curls, the loud mouthed artist, is doing it too.

I ended up working 10 days in a row, signing up home care workers for the union election that’s coming up. At first I want to quit but decide to see it through. I went from working 10 hours a week to over 10 hours a day and am having a hard time living. But then I find my place and realize how good at this job I am. Myself and Curls rock as this and are asked to submit our resumes.

I feel them pulling me in. Three of my friends currently work for this union and I feel myself being pulled in. But then I realize it’s not by them I’m pulling myself in. I’ve been wanting to do this for years but have told myself why I can’t do it. Now that I’m doing it I am loving every moment of it but reminding myself of the hours and fear of being sent away from home for months to live in a hotel. Every other weekend off isn’t enough, I think. But then again working a job I enjoy, where I am allowed to be autonomous and one that I’m good at is hard to resist.

My interview is this afternoon I can’t wait to see how it turns out. I won’t say no to a job offer, I would love this opportunity. I’m afraid of what my happen after I say yes, but I remind myself that this isn’t the rest of my life it’s just right now and it’s just what I was looking for.

Employ-ability

After 7 months of unemployment (vacation) I have decided to return to the job world. Excited to be truly ready to be who I am and work a job that I find much more satisfying. I also am assure enough of who I am and am prepared to deal with misgendering and transphobic people. I started applying in the social services field specifically mental challenged adults. I’m still waiting to hear back from a few but hope to be employed soon.

Applying as a transperson confused me at first. I wasn’t sure how or who to apply as. At first I applied as my legal name, then I had second thoughts. I talked to a translady who suggested doing the same thing that I was thinking of: apply with your legal name and once you get hired tell them your taken name. Something about that left a bad taste in my mouth. I decided to be upfront and apply as me, the person I am all the time, a person transitioning to be the woman she is.

While it’s impossible for me to say how this has affected my employ-ability, I would say it hasn’t much. I’ve been upfront and brought up my transition to every employer applying with my legal and taken name in quotes. To my surprise I had responses that were so nice and truly respectful. One person even said it was nice to meet me a second time this time saying my taken name instead of my legal name. The best part for me has been feeling very comfortable and alright with myself.

I am amazed at how okay people are with me. Too much reading made me feel like I was a freak I’m happy to say actually going out in the world makes me feel like myself. I also can’t help but be reminded what my roommate always says, people are a reflection of yourself. I am frank with myself and other about who I am and am shameless of that fact. I’m a woman but my body is still catching up (as is my mind too!). Once can expect as much after 25 years of living as a man. I understand confusion by people, I understand slip ups and misgendering. I wouldn’t say I’m entirely a man or a woman right now. Simply put, I’m transitioning.

To my amazement and despite dress wearing, bra wearing and extra femme bangs, I have hardly had any bad encounters. I don’t use beard cover, have yet to put much effort into changing my voice pitch and am clearly not a “woman” under a not-so-close inspection. Yet I have only been harassed, unsuccessfully, once. Which was by a creepy old guy trying to hit on me. After being frank with him about transitioning and correcting him that my parents were in fact proud of me for being who I am, he became frustrated. He seemed to be questioning his sexuality because of me and unsuccessfully put this awkwardness on me as he walked away muttering, “you’ll always be a man.” To which I responded plainly, “I tried that, didn’t work out.”

The power of positive thinking is amazing. It makes you feel great and that feeling is quite contagious. I am waiting back on hearing back from a few jobs this coming week. If not I’ve got myself another round of applications to put in. Hopefully employment will start soon and health insurance after that. I’m ready job world, so employment world get ready for this little lady!

Come in on Your Day Off

I’ve been trying to get a raise and trying to work longer shifts at work for a while now. I’ve even asked my manager a few times. But it wasn’t until I did just that, come in on my day off that he finally listened. That he took me seriously because I was taking myself seriously. Because I wasn’t apologizing or forgiving him for anything.

I don’t get paid what I should, who does. I even get paid less than others do. I asked my manager last summer, in passing if I could get a raise. I asked him again this spring more seriously. It wasn’t until I came in just after the store opened on a day I was off that anyone really listened to me.

I think I knew this, I’m sure you know this, but it is true. You really need to take yourself seriously to get anywhere with other people. I always try and apologize for others mistakes, and try to end their awkwardness. I didn’t on that day. I let it hang in the air, the awkwardness of how little I still make despite my great work and asking for a raise numerous times. The awkwardness of the hours I work and the inflexibility my manager has been for no good reason. It hung and I didn’t apologize I took the whole situation very seriously and put the whole problem on him. It was his problem to fix, or I’d fix it on my own (by looking for another job).

That’s the same day my hours changed, I began working 8 hour shifts because I said I needed to. I haven’t gotten the raise yet but I’ve made it really serious that I want a raise and very soon. And my manager has updated me that he is just waiting to hear back from the owner about the raise.

I guess I’m writing this to say, push for it because no one else will. I know this is true, I’ve known it is true. Speak up for yourself son, and never mind what anybody else does.

Then maybe people will listen. Be it your manager, friend, partner. Remember that if someone makes you awkward maybe you should return the favor and let them know what’s on your mind. Don’t let people feel comfortable, especially if they make you feel uncomfortable. This is what I’m telling myself, I hope it works.

I’m just getting tired of respecting other people more than I respect myself.

South Beach

This past week I enjoyed one of my final family vacations. My parents and I travelled to see my brother, who moved to South Beach, Florida. He has been there since August. He’s the AM manager for a fancy restaurant in a resort hotel, The James Royal Palm. My parents booked a room in his hotel and booked flights for them and myself.

View from 16th floor elevator area at sunset.

View from 16th floor elevator area at sunset.

The room was much much fancier than any room either myself of my parents have ever stayed in. They were given a discount by my brother but the room was still quite expensive. They also had their room bumped up to a very nice one on the 16th floor. My brother had a nice food plater for all of us and very fancy whisky he bought for my dad waiting there. Our favorite thing about the room was the view from the window, which was also the first thing you saw when you walked in.

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View of their actual room. The bright white color is the beach shinning through.

View of their actual room. The bright white color is the beach(seen above) shinning through.

My parents and I enjoyed ourselves while my brother worked the first few days we were there. We biked around and hung out at the beach, seeing him at dinner and for a couple hours before he fell asleep. His job has him scheduled 10 hours a day 5 days a week, but he works far more than that. I think he works around 70 hours most weeks.

From talking with him it was apparent that his job is his life right now. This was something that concerned both myself but more so my parents. He seemed to be enjoy life overall but it was difficult to get him out of work mode and have him talk about other things. It makes sense considering when we were there he went into work one of the two days he had off that week.

But we did get him away and enjoyed kayaking in a marshland in the keys and enjoyed more dinners with him. It’s always nice to be with your family and enjoy time with them. They are the people who have shaped you into who you are. It’s funny realizing habits I’ve develop because of habits they have. Overall my trip was great. I enjoyed the calm relaxation that south beach has to offer. I ignored most of the crazy people who live and vacation there. And I enjoyed time with my family.

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And maybe we’ll get the joy of one more family vacation, my brother is hoping to move into a new hotel his company is building in LA. We’ll get to have the experience of a lifetime – going to two cities we never wished to go to.