“What can I do to support a trans friend who has shitty parents and no real support system?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Mahdia Says:

The answer to this one is very simple, but not very easy: When your friends are struggling and support systems are failing them, you have to come together and be that support system.

This is painful, heavy stuff. The things that society tells us are meant to be unbreakable can be shattered by ignorance, repression, and fear. Last month, Grace wrote a great piece (and made an excellent mixtape) about coping with shitty family, so I want to focus on this other side of the coin: the love, beauty, and magic found in the chosen family we make for ourselves.

One of the greatest blessings that we are given as queer and trans people is the opportunity to redefine the institutions that just don’t work for us. When our given family leaves one of us in the dirt, we build our own with the people who are really there for us. Chosen family is one of the most important things you can find in this life, and it starts right in the here and now.

This is an imposition: The world can be cruel to people like us. Sometimes we are cruel to each other. It is our duty to be there for one another when it feels like the world is falling to pieces and other safety nets have failed. We find those people who need community and we build that community together.

You know that saying “Blood is thicker than water,” right? Do you know the other version of that statement? Well, this is the truth: the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. In other words, the bonds that we build—those people that we choose for ourselves—are the strongest relationships in the world.

As queer and trans people we are given the opportunity to radically redefine relationships from the ground up. We get to decide what family means. I’m not saying that we all have to hold hands and get along with anyone who happens to be LGBTQIA. But growing up takes time, care, and compassion. No one can go it alone. Everyone needs space to learn, to fuck up, and to get better without fear of losing everything. Time, care, and compassion.

For the trans person out there growing up at a loss for love and support, I want to tell you a bit about myself: When I was younger, I thought things were all my fault. The fragmented relationship with my given family, the relationships that burned away when I came out as trans, the daily struggle of connecting to others while navigating disability and neurodiversity—it was just so, so much for one person to go through. I didn’t have anyone to look to where I saw someone like me. I carried that weight around with me for a long time.

Life was really hard for a while. In those days I could never imagine much of a future for myself—but looking back today I am so, so grateful to have made it through. At a point in my life where I could barely imagine making it to next week, it was time that saved me. In time I found other people like me, and where we felt all the hurt where society let us down, we built something better together.

I was nineteen the first time I met my sister, at Camp Trans. It blew my mind to see so many trans people in one space, but she and I bonded immediately—two genderweird trans women bonding over bad folk-punk and happening to live near one another. She was the first person in the world in whom I actually saw myself. In time, the circle of people in my life who understood each other grew. We built something new together. We became a family of our own making.

I am overflowing with love and pride for the family we made for ourselves. In the last decade we’ve been through it all. Grief and joy, weddings and breakups, hospital beds and baby strollers. I am who I am—I am alive at all—because of my chosen family. This is what I want for you and your friend. It starts today.

Make a commitment today to be there for the people who need you. In time, friends become chosen family. It’s a relationship forged over years, and it’s one of the strongest bonds in the world. The people in your life now can be the people you grow with; the people you hurt with; the people you heal with. Be there for one another. Make something new.

I made this mixtape for you in celebration of chosen family (with a lil side of fuck you for the bigots). If you’re having a rough go of it or struggling today, I strongly recommend blasting “Battle Cry” on repeat and remembering that “the time we spend in darkness when the rain comes is where we often find the light soon as the pain’s done.”
GivenAndChosen


Mahdia Lynn is the founder and Executive Director of Masjid al-Rabia—a women centered, LGBTQ affirming, pluralist mosque in Chicago—where she has spearheaded unprecedented programming in support of marginalized Muslims. Mahdia’s prolific career as a community organizer has centered transgender liberation, disability justice, prison abolition, and youth suicide prevention. Her Black and Pink Crescent program provides services for hundreds of incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims across the globe. Mahdia lives in Chicago where she is a senior caregiver and works as a freelance writer, speaker and educator. You can learn more about Mahdia and her work at mahdialynn.com or on Twitter @MahdiaLynn

Cover Art designed by the incredible Isabella Rotman!

 

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“I came home to find my mom sitting at the kitchen table with a 'mom' look on her face, when i asked how her day was i was terrified and taken back when she said "you're not a lesbian" because my worst fear had finally come true and i had no clue how she knew. I sat there tears rolling down my face as she told me that god didn't make me this way and it was just a phase, i ran up to my room and to find not one but all my journals on my desk just open. I don't know what to do or how to bring it up.”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Grace Says:

Hey there, friend.

I am so, so sorry this happened to you. As a lifelong journaler myself, I get a pit in my stomach thinking about your privacy being violated in this way. Journals can be such important spaces for us to explore our feelings, to document our thoughts, and to find clarity about who we are and who we want to be. I am angry at your mom on your behalf for not only disregarding your privacy in such a personal way, but then using that information to hurt you even further.

It’s ok for you to be angry, too.

I really encourage you to not bury your feelings about this horrible situation, but rather to do whatever you have to do to bring them into the light of day. Do you need to sit on your floor and scream and cry so the whole neighborhood hears? Girl, I’ve been there. Do you need to put on your heaviest shoes and stomp around the block? Onlookers may wonder what cool new sport you’re training for, but feeling your feet hit the hard earth may help ground you in the present rather than reliving that “mom” look over and over again in your head. Take your time working through these emotions, and allow each one to come and go as they do. Doing any of these things will help these feelings work their way through your system until, eventually, you feel strong enough to tackle the next phase of this horrible mess your mom created.

Here’s the truth: your mom doesn’t know shit about who you are. It’s true. Parents like to think they know everything there is to know about the humans they created, but what they forget is that they created autonomous humans who lead their own lives and have their own thoughts and are allowed to have a secret or two. Your mom cannot tell you who you are. You know who you are, at any given moment, better than anyone else ever will. And who you are, at any given moment, is exactly who you should be.

There were quite a few years in my life when my greatest hope was to passively coexist with my queerness. I thought if I could get to a place where I wasn’t beating myself up for it everyday, that that would be good enough for me. Now, I say with 100% certainty that I love my queerness, without a single apology or condition. Being queer has taught me so much and brought so much joy, knowledge, reflection, understanding, and fierceness into my life that I would never want to be anything else. My greatest hope for you is that you get to this place as well. Know that you have a worldwide LGBTQ community here to lift you up and be your family every step of your journey.

Now, what should you say to your mom? I think you have some options and should do whatever you feel most comfortable and safe doing while taking care of your own wellbeing first and foremost. Humans have an enormous capacity for change if they’re willing to open themselves up to new truths, and I happen to know many parents who did just that and are now incredible advocates for the LGBTQ community. This may be the case for your mom, too. But even if it isn’t, and whether that process unfolds over a week or a decade, it doesn’t mean your mom is right, or, more importantly, that you’re wrong. It means that she is a human who is flawed and has her own histories that she’s wrestling with, and isn’t able to be the mother that you deserve right now. Nothing more.

If you’re comfortable, you can encourage your mom to visit My Kid Is Gay, our site that gives advice and support to parents like her who are struggling to understand their kid’s LGBTQIA identity. We even have a whole section dedicated to discussing religion, which seems to be a major sticking point for your mom. Here are some pieces that might be a good starting point:

Additionally, you can sign your mom up for Coming Out with Care, our e-care package for parents whose kids have recently come out, and set a copy of This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids (with a whole chapter about religion!) on her nightstand. Both are incredible resources for parents in her exact position.

Confronting a parent—or any adult, for that matter—about how they have hurt us can be an incredibly daunting task. It may feel enticing to never mention the journal reading or the resulting encounter ever again. However, I really encourage you to think about what it would be like to confront your mom about how she hurt you. Writing her a letter detailing how you feel is no less valid than having a conversation face-to-face. Addressing what happened and making your voice heard can be incredibly healing, which is exactly what you deserve. Healing.

However you decide to approach your mom about this, I hope you do so standing firmly in the truth that you know you, and no one gets to tell you that who you are is not who you should be. I also hope that you listen to this mixtape, which I made to encourage you to put your middle fingers to the sky and say to the world, “Fuck you, I know who I am.”

YouKnowYou


Grace lives in Portland, Oregon and drinks a lot of coffee as a result. She works as the Senior Managing Editor of My Kid Is Gay, a site that provides advice and support to parents of LGBTQIA young people. She enjoys Vitamin D (in the form of sunshine, please), podcasts, intersectional feminism, and talking to people about their life goals. Follow her on Twitter @gracemanger

Cover Art designed by the incredible Isabella Rotman!

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“So, I am a nonbinary person and I really hate having boobs. My dysphoria usually isn’t so bad, but for a while it’s really been getting me down and this human person would like to know is there are any little things that help hold dysphoria at bay.”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Alaina Says:

Hey bud, first and foremost, I want you to know that I feel these feelings that you’re feeling. Not being happy with the body that you are stuck with is probably one of the worst feelings that a person can feel in my opinion, because like what can you do? I’ve had days/weeks/months when all I’ve been able to think about is top surgery and how good I’d look if I just didn’t have these boobs—that I never asked for thank you very much. And while dreaming is nice, getting into that cycle of happiness=top surgery often makes me more sad than happy because top surgery is expensive, and inaccessible, and permanent, and just a big decision! So what’s a person to do right now, when they’ve tried on 17 shirts in one morning and every single one of them makes them look wrong?

Here’s my suggestion: feel those feelings. When I’m feeling dysphoric, I let myself feel it. That’s the most important step. Once you give yourself permission to feel things, you’re more likely to realize where those feelings are coming from and figure out a way to deal with them (or, at least my therapist says so). Once you’ve let yourself have a feelings party, choose an outfit that you objectively know that you look good in and wear it (call it your “fake it till you make it” outfit).  Then, text your very best friend a selfie of you in said outfit and ask, “is this a good outfit, yes or yes?” and if your friends are like mine, they will respond with all the emojis plus all of the love and confidence you’ll need to be able to leave the house. Lean on your friends. If you’ve got other nonbinary friends, now’s the time to chat with them about what you’re feeling—knowing that you aren’t alone will make dealing with these weird body feelings you have so much easier.

I also want to ask you (and myself) to work really hard to distinguish if what you’re feeling really is because of you and how you see yourself, or if it has to do with how the world at large sees you. Because here’s the dumb truth: we can’t control how others perceive us, and as nonbinary babes, it’s often even harder since most of society has been taught to use our body’s characteristics to see us as men or women. You’re never going to be able to get everyone to see you as the perfect non binary person that you are, so instead of trying to, really think about what makes you feel good and do that. You’re the only person whose opinion about your body matters.

Lastly, get physical. Dance, go for a run, have sex, do a cartwheel. Use your body. When I feel dysphoric, it’s also super easy to only be able to think about the things that are wrong with my body. But when I’m active, I’m reminded of all of the amazing things I can do with my body, like shake my hips or experience pleasure. My body is not perfect, and right now, it’s not exactly the body I wish it was, but it’s working so hard for me, and it can do so many amazing things. It houses my heart, lungs, and brain, which keep me alive. My skin stretches when I gain weight and retracts when I lose it. Every minute of the day my body is doing so much work to keep me alive and healthy and that is a gosh darned miracle. You friend, being alive on this earth for all of these days, it’s a miracle.

So when you feel the dysphoria creeping up, address it head on. “Listen Jan, I know you’re trying to come in here and ruin my life, but my body is trying it’s hardest! And I’m proud of it for doing that and since I don’t demand perfection from myself, I won’t demand perfection from my body either, so get out!!!” And then, dance!! (I even made you a great playlist!)

MyWeirdCoolBodCover Art designed by the incredible Isabella Rotman!


Alaina is a 20-something working on a PhD in Performance as Public Practice. They are a mom to three cats, they listen to a lot of NPR and musicals, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest lusting over studio apartments. They are actively trying to build A Brand on twitter @alainamonts. One day, they will be First Lady of the United States.

“An Honest Mixtape” is a new advice series here at Everyone Is Gay! Every month we will feature a new guest writer who will tackle one of your advice questions with words *and* music! 

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“I’m in high school, and I went through a really messy, miserable breakup last school year. For the rest of the year, I would get anxious every time I saw my ex and tried to avoid her at all costs. Now I haven’t seen her in two months because of summer and I’ve been doing a lot better, but I’m afraid of how I’ll react when I see her again/if she tries to talk to me or if we end up in a class together. Help?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Brittany Ashley Says:

We’ve all gone through it. Trying to avoid seeing an ex-girlfriend is like the world’s worst video game that we’re all stuck playing for the rest of our lives. To take extra precautions, we’ll deny ourselves going to that party (5 points!) or cut off seeing certain friends (Bonus level!), just in hopes of avoiding one particular human being who seems to have the cheat codes to our anxiety.

Let’s start by saying this: throughout the summer, there’s no doubt that you’ve made progress. You started to feel like yourself again and finally like she’s not the only radio station playing in your head. Seeing her again doesn’t get to erase any of the work you’ve done. She doesn’t get to have that—that was work that you did! It’s yours! You own the rights to it!

I get that you think seeing her again might throw a wrench in your betterment. The best (but also worst) thing about being a fleshy mortal in this situation is that you simply can’t control the outcome of every awkward interaction or every student’s class schedule. Well, wait. Actually, if you learned how to hack into your school’s database, you could probably engineer the perfect schedule to where you two wouldn’t be likely to cross paths. Obviously you’d have to come up with an algorithm that also prevents hallway run-ins–maybe setting up roadblocks that block the flow of students. But even so—learning hacking as a trade feels like an enormous amount of effort just for this.

So focus on what you can control, like how much time you spend dwelling on the what if’s or how much space you let those negative feelings take up in your mind in places where good stuff could go instead. Remember good stuff? Good stuff is nice.

Once you relinquish the idea of control, the next thing you can do is build up your foundation. By that I mean: think of your self-esteem like a house. How banal, I know! But you don’t have to take an architecture class to understand how spot on my metaphor is. It’s easy to feel better momentarily when you paint the walls a bright new color or hang up a cool new Buffy poster. Who wouldn’t? Aesthetic improvements feel nice but they’re momentary. Why? Because if your foundation is cracked, the way the house looks doesn’t really matter because you have to rebuild that goddamn thing. The good news is that whether or not your house feels like an abandoned roadside shack or an immaculate mansion a la MTV Cribs (too old a reference?), remember that you can always build up your foundation.

So how can you build up this foundation, you ask? Well, emotional health should be tended to at all times, not just when you’re in dire need of it. If you continuously appreciate yourself and the people around you, you’ll build a strong ass foundation that won’t crack easily.

Think about what makes you feel warm and good. Maybe that’s simply being outside. Listen, you don’t have to go base jumping or extreme whitewater rafting, but sometimes it means just taking a book in your backyard or sitting on a swing.

Too much like an indie movie? Fine. Then go do something nice for your friends like writing them a handwritten card or making them a mixtape (Am I out of touch?). Strengthening your friendships and telling people how much you care about them is by far the coolest thing on the planet. Trust me. They won’t forget it.

Walk through the halls confidently with your headphones in while you listen to music. I like to daydream and picture myself as the lead singer, but that’s just me. Maybe you can even jam out to this playlist I crafted for you:

 

BuildThatFoundation_2

cover art by Isabella Rotman

 

But most importantly: Give yourself a break. It’s okay to not fully be over the messy feelings that ensued, that just means you’re human. If we could think our way out of heartache, we’d all be robots.

Eventually, you’ll be so distracted simply basking in your own incredible atmosphere, that you’ll forget that you ever cared what you’d think if you ran into her. I know it sounds kind of silly: Distract yourself with yourself. t’s the best advice I can give and has gotten me through many versions and variations of “fear of running into my ex at school.”


Hello! We are starting a new advice series here at Everyone Is Gay called “An Honest Mixtape”! Each month (starting right now!) we will feature a new guest writer who will tackle one of your advice questions with words *and* music! 

Huge thanks to writer, comedian, and actor Brittany Ashley for kicking things off for us!

Listen to Brittany’s Mixtape, “Build That Foundation,” right here!

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Paper Maps: An Essay About Finding Your Way

by Kristin Russo


I moved to New York City when I was nineteen. I’m not sure that there’s ever been a place that sparkled and shone quite as much as NYC did for me that year, teeming with tangles of dirty streets, angry, honking cabs, and an endless array of scuttling rodents. I’d dreamed of this for years. Finally, it was all mine.

When I first arrived, I rented a tiny room in a hostel on the Upper West Side. My room had everything I needed: a twin bed, a desk, a mini-fridge, a heating pipe (which would burst a few weeks after I moved in, soaking all of my belongings and my brand-new forty-pound laptop), a sink, and a closet with three hangers. I shared a bathroom and a kitchen with five strangers who lived in my hallway.

At the time, I was finishing up my undergraduate degree in theater at Marymount Manhattan College. Marymount was on East Seventy-First Street, and my hostel was on West Ninety-Fourth Street. I studied the subway map (a paper map! I actually had a paper subway map!) to determine the best route between my new home and my new school. If I took the 2 train south to Times Square, I could transfer to the S train that would shuttle me across to Grand Central Station. Once there, I could transfer to the 4 train, one stop up to Fifty-Ninth Street and then transfer one more time to the 6 train to Sixty-Eighth. Boom. Four trains, no problem. This was city life. Yes!

I took those four trains twice a day. Not to brag, but I also learned how to get down to the NYU dorms at the South Street Seaport, where my then-girlfriend lived. (She was my very first girlfriend, and she was a great girlfriend. She let me smoke her cigarettes, wear her clothes, and borrow her wonderful CD mixes for my Discman-accompanied commutes.) One fateful day, I left her dorm and headed to catch the 4 train (another added bonus of staying at her place was that it only required two trains). I was wearing my favorite pair of overalls, which incidentally belonged to her and had legs that were wide enough to fit around my whole body. As I pushed through the subway trestle, I saw my train pull into the station. It had apparently only taken me three months of city living to begin to have the mind of a New Yorker, because my first instinct was to run as fast as I could to catch that train. And so, I ran.

And then, I fell.

Well… I almost fell. Truthfully, it would have been much better had I just fallen. Instead, my right foot caught in the wide swath of denim that surrounded it, and as I descended, I caught myself on the side of my left foot… and broke it.

Three months into moving to NYC, in the freezing November cold, I broke my goddamn foot.

I didn’t immediately know I’d broken it, but I did know that I was in a massive amount of pain. Not too much pain, however, to continue my now one-legged sprint to catch that train. And I did! I caught the train! No one cheered for me, but now that I understand the spirit of NYC a bit better, I’m certain they were all cheering on the inside. Once on the train and in the wake of this very real, very extreme pain, I lost awareness of what was and wasn’t acceptable train behavior. I dropped my bags in the middle of the train floor, I took off my giant winter coat, dropped it next to my bags, and I stared at my foot. That’s all I did. I just stared at my foot, sweating with pain, brow furrowed, with my belongings all around me on the subway floor. I stared at it all the way to Forty-Second Street, scooped up my things, and hobbled across the platform to transfer to the 6 train, dropped them once more on the subway floor, stared at my foot until we got to Sixty-Eighth Street, and then somehow walked, on my freshly broken foot, to my acting class. It took me almost thirty minutes to walk three street blocks and one avenue. For reference, that’s less than half a mile.

As you might expect, upon my arrival to class, my professor immediately told me to go to the walk-in clinic down the street. After x-rays, I was given a blue canvas boot and a pair of crutches, and I hobbled my way to an indulgent taxi ride back to my hostel.

In case you are unfamiliar with NYC winters, I will let you know that they are cold, they are icy, they are dirty, and they are entirely unforgiving— and all that with two working feet. I want to also remind you that my commute, up until this point, included about eight trains per day, and each of those came with ample walking and many stairs. I couldn’t get up and down stairs much at all, and certainly not when they were covered in icy slush. Suddenly, canvas boot and all, I couldn’t get anywhere.

Until, that is, I revisited my subway map and learned that NYC, in addition to its sprawling subway system, also has buses. Who. Knew. I learned (via my paper map) that just a few steps from my door was a crosstown bus that, on the regular, traveled right through Central Park to the east side. I’d been taking four trains this whole time when I could have taken just one bus? This was the first moment where the NYC I thought I knew laughed directly in my face before playfully tousling my hair. You see, NYC isn’t shy about breaking a person, bones and all, in a gesture of the warmest welcome.

I’ve now been in this city for fifteen years. I know almost every subway line and bus route that exists in nearly every borough. I traverse it with the same ease that I brush my teeth or climb into my bed. That moment, fifteen years ago in lower Manhattan, was the first of many moments (they really never stop) where I was forced to readjust, recalibrate, and further question the city, and world, around me. I had many other pivotal moments in those first few years— some with only a handful of subway passengers as my witness, and others where the whole world watched my city in confusion and wonder.

We all, inevitably, break our metaphoric (or in my case, literal) feet. Am I glad that I broke my foot? Not really. Am I glad that it made me recalibrate, readjust, and continue to question? You’d better believe I am. I needed to learn, just as we all do, that there is always more than one route on that paper map.

Oh, hey! This is a piece I wrote for the essay collection called Freshman Year of Life : Essays That Tell the Truth About Work, Home, and Love After College. I am in some pretty wonderful company, alongside writers such as Ashley Ford, Shannon Keating, and Mara Wilson. You should check it out!

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