“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” - Maya Angelou The years of my youth, long ago dissolved into history. Only a vague awareness of their relentless passage remains Undefined longing, born of the story I lived each day, but never knew Left ghosts of uncertainty woven into the fabric of my existence. Ever present and seemingly unchanged across the years, These longings linger like the smell of wood smoke from last night’s fire Clinging to my skin, wrapping themselves about each stand of hair, I could feel them, gripping my heart, whispering in my dreams. I see their shadowy form in my reflection, even though others could not. Part of my soul, they are my story, one never spoken aloud. A lifetime of grappling with their shadows has brought understanding, the why of their existence, a final acceptance of their truth. That I was to live my life as a transgender woman was no longer deniable Yet I remained cloaked in invisibility, unable to summon the courage to face the inevitable consequences certain be unleashed Yet my words, as an animal in a cage, long to break free of confinement, run free in the world Fear calls upon every argument, no matter how thinly disguised To strangle my voice, to preserve the status quo of silence. Hope rises in resistance, growing stronger bit by bit. Until the resistance finally crumbles and the words pour forth. In defiance of fear, swaddled in the words of my story A lifetimes labor comes to fruition, truth in physical form. With this realization came courage, came visibility. And the woman that is Rachel was born into this world.
Sorry, you just missed it, or my favorite, Damn, you should have been here yesterday. That doesn’t make me feel any better, try again If timing in fact is everything in life, as the cliché pundits would have me believe, Then I certainly can make a claim As a spokesperson for lousy timing. In retrospect, it seems as if life has seen fit to bestow on me an overabundance of lemons So as is the suggested solution, I made lemonade, It soon became apparent though, there was one minor oversight. The Universe has neglected to supply any sugar, Was this an additional lesson? Ever had lemonade without sugar? I have, gallons and gallons in fact. Left with lips in an almost perpetual pucker, eyes pressed tightly into squinty slits I’m shouting this is a joke right, but the answer is obvious. Some, it seems, are always in the right place at the right time, me not so much. Such is life…. My decision to deal with my transness and Begin transition was steeped in positive timing. Society had grown more accepting; marriage equality was moving swiftly forward. Trans people were more and more visible every day. On magazine covers, on TV, they proclaim their truth. Ultimately this wasn’t the reason I began to transition, Because truth is, nothing short of death would have stopped me. Although it was slightly reassuring that “shoot on sight” was no longer society’s top priority. Lulled into the false assumption that social change Moves in only one direction I stepped out of the darkness. No sooner had I abandoned my invisibility It became profoundly clear that promising social progress isn’t linear, Reality strikes like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky The spin of the Earth has suddenly reversed, black is white, up is down Persecution is official policy, hate is a viral contagion, and religion is the enemy. Rapid advancement has been replaced by equally rapid retreat Yet there is no going back for me, there is no longer any back to go to. Invisibility, which I had always clung to desperately No longer exists as an available refuge, my truth proclaimed for all to see. The intervening years have strengthened my Rising in defense of those like me, for only together will we survive. If martyrdom is the cost of visibility, so be it. I have made my stand, I will not apologize nor take a step backward. I raise a glass of sour lemonade, to all trans people everywhere.
“So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” – The Eagles
Thinking of what I want to write about this morning when I arrive at my favorite coffee shop. This song came on the radio, and these words struck me right in the heart. It is such a metaphor for my life, I don’t think I could ever come up with a better way to express the time I’ve wasted.
With so much more behind than ahead it seems instinctive That memories have more substance then the dreams that seem elusive Yet dreams don’t carry the stain of already certain disappointment At this point in my life I find that I have very few dreams left, I’m unsure when looking back, what dreams I have ever really had Other than the constant prayer that I arise one day with the sun To discover that my life as a man had simply been a long dark nightmare. Yet wishing could never make it so, having lived a life without courage It calls for a titanic leap of faith, to imagine another life To accept the truth that eluded me for decades It fills my heart with satisfaction that I finally found the key That I always processed the courage, to make the dream reality. I have passed into the realm of my personal truth Existence as the person I’ve always been But I’ll never forget nor could I ever forget Where I came from, That life in the shadows.
The unfamiliar space holds the promise
Of immortality in black and white
A photographic print
To match the mirror’s reflection
As a transwoman of confident stature
I still seek affirmation.
Will this frozen image capture
and portray the woman I see myself to be?
All around gathered as if in answer to a call
Stand the beautiful people
Perfect in their presentation
As blooms in a queen’s rose garden
Smooth skin and perfect smiles,
Shining with the brightness of summer sunshine.
Their portraits lining the walls reflecting, radiating
The coveted feminine ideal.
My practiced smile, a disguise,
The fragility of self-confidence revealed
In growing discomfort
And faltering self-assuredness.
My armor has proven to be an illusion.
Does theirs afford more protection?
Does their beauty immunize
My mind continues to present challenges in my everyday life or perhaps they could be better described as minor detours. The first emotion that arises when the detour sign appears is one of frustration, I have things to do I don’t have time for this, yet I’ve learned that with a little patience something wonderful may revel itself. Yesterday was just such a day, I had spent the morning sitting on my porch marveling at the beauty of a fine June morning. It was warm and peaceful, the sound of birds filling the air, I was feeling centered and at peace. I suddenly found myself captivated by how the air smelled and how the light itself had a certain feel; I knew I had a memory residing somewhere with this exact scent and visual trigger and set about to locate it deep in my childhood memories.
I finally found it deep in the file marked “Adirondack Mountains.” I’m instantly carried back to summer vacations, which when growing up always meant camping in the Adirondacks, a place so different from my home in a suburban neighborhood of Long Island. It was an escape from blacktop and concrete, a completely alien environment compared to the other fifty weeks each year of my life.
It amounted to my father’s annual pilgrimage to the cold trout waters of Northern New York, a duty he took very seriously. I, on the other hand, was not quite so enamored with spending hours in a twelve-foot aluminum boat or standing on the bank of a tiny stream engulfed in clouds of mosquitoes, the purpose of which was to catch a stinger full of eight-inch brook trout that I didn’t eat anyway. I look back wanting to feel the warm nostalgia of that childhood but at this point I’m not feeling it. I’m sure that were very enjoyable times deep in those woods; but now when I look back it feels lonely.
The thought that a particular memory could feel lonely triggered another detour into the nature of how we remember. Is everything now colored by my current reality, by my identity of today? Have my memories slowly evolved over the course of my lifetime? Do the feelings I recall actually exist as a part of the memory or are they added as seasoning when recalled.
I’m left to try and decide if I’m recalling those memories accurately, was that reality or am I rewriting history by recalling feeling that were not there, remembering them in a way that makes me feel better about myself.
I don’t know how to find the answer for that question and more importantly whether it makes any difference at all at this point. I have managed to spend several pleasurable hours contemplating this and I must say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected scenery on this detour.
I am a transgender woman and although I know that I am privileged in a great many ways; I still know what this feels like. Certainly not the same way I would have if I was sixteen years old, but the fear and anxiety are universal, the feeling of being the “other” is understood by all who embark on this journey.
The difference is that I transitioned in the adult world, on days when I felt particularly vulnerable I was able to withdraw from view until my confidence returned. I wasn’t
constantly surrounded by a mob of adolescents that acquire social standing at the expense of others or by an administrative bureaucracy pushing their religious convictions or without the fortitude to withstand the ignorance running rampant in the community at large.
It is with as the backdrop that I have watched as Gavin Grimm made the case for his humanity, to the school board, those in his community, and to the public at large. He is a thoughtful, well spoken advocate for all trans people in this country whose desire is simply be allowed to live their lives. His strength in the face of lies and ignorance shouted at him by adults with hatred filling their eyes is awe inspiring.
As the case has slowly wound it’s way through the judicial system, the transgender community has ridden the roller coaster of emotions, through district courts appellate courts and the court of public opinion. We have lent our support through commentary, blog posts and social media. We have marched, we have stood and spoken our truth, we have made the decision that we must be visible if anything is ever to change.
As Gavin’s case moved inexorably toward its ultimate hearing at the Supreme Court, the ACLU said they would file a friend of the court brief to this case and include the actual life stories of transgender people.Through a friend, I was blessed to have been given the opportunity to be one of those people. To think that my name, and something of my story would appear on an official document presented to the Supreme Court is incredibly humbling.
In the end, the current political climate and change in administration may delay this case, but it can not stop the inevitable march toward the recognition of transgender rights
So it is with tremendous pride that I point to the second page of signatories, and there at the top of the right hand column is my name for all the world to see – Rachel Lee Campbell
Have I ever told you how much I love my name?
From a time when my feelings existed without explanation
Before coalescing into my truth, it existed as a tiny sound
Whispered for a lifetime in the depth of my dreams.
Have I ever told you how much I love my name?
Now fully grown it stands resolute in the face of resistance,
No longer willing to be kept silent by fears real or imagined.
It rises slowly at first, finally escaping as the full-throated declaration of my being.
I must have told you how much I love my name.
It’s a joyful sound to my ears, as it breaks free and bursts forth into the world
It rolls from my tongue without an instant of hesitation
A sweet sensation sweeping across lips fixed in a satisfied smile.
Have I ever told you how much I love my name?
As my hand hovers momentarily suspended above the page,
My imagination traces the letters in the air
Fingers absentmindedly caress the pen as I stare at the line on the bottom,
In language direct and simple it states, sign here;
But silently it also asks profoundly, who are you?
I reply, I am Rachel, and while I was not always Rachel to the world,
I have always been Rachel where it mattered, in my heart and soul.
This worldly reality given form at the insistence of my dreams,
It is given its final substance by these six simple letters.
I smile broadly as the final loop finishes with an unwavering flourish.
And so it is, the past corrected, today affirmed, Rachel’s legacy is assured.
A new room, a new roommate, and a new life stretching out in front of me. It feels real, it certainly hurts like its real. I still can’t tell what lies beneath all the gauze and ice packs, it will be the better part of a week before the final debut. Until then, when asked, I respond that it is like living with a basketball between my legs.
Have I told you how much I hate sleeping on my back? I mean I really hate sleeping on my back. I don’t think I’ve slept more than an hour or two in a stretch since the day of the surgery, it is definitely starting to wear on me. Lots of changes to look forward to, but they will all have to wait a little bit longer.
In the mean time, dressed in the uniform of the day of pajamas and slippers, there isn’t much to do but rest, and get to know my roommate, a very enjoyable part of my stay in Montreal. Christine and I share much in common and later in the week as we practice dilating while having a philosophical discussion will prove to be a unique bonding experience. I hope to count her as friend for the rest of my life.
Then three times a day I navigate the stairs down to the dining room for meals, my fear that stairs would be so painful did not turn out to be true, but sitting was another story entirely, I had to learn how to sit on a rubber doughnut, I have also learned that sitting on a dining room chair without arms to ease yourself down, could lead to an absolutely excruciating crash landing, the result of which will throb for at least an hour. Aside from unintentional self inflicted pain I am absolutely shocked at how good I feel. I haven’t had anything stronger than Tylenol for the first two days after surgery and took actual pain killers only two or three times in the whole ten days that I was there.
Right now I’m looking forward to the end of the week. Starting on Friday, each day is scheduled to unveil a little more of the finished product. First they will remove the outer dressing, revealing my brand new anatomy in all it’s swollen glory for the very first time. That is to be followed in succession by the removal of the stent on Saturday and then finally the catheter on Sunday which also happens to be my birthday. That’s right, the final act is to take place on my birthday, which also happens to be the first day of spring. What a perfect symbol, the time of renewal which for me will mark forever the moment of my rebirth.
I walked along the river one day, then sat watching the sea birds on the solid ice sheet along the bank. Winter still holds sway here for a bit longer, but watching the broken ice flow by in the current of the Prairies River, its obvious that it’s only a matter of days before the anticipated change of seasons comes to this place. Of course as if to prove to me how little I actually know, the following day I woke to a thin blanket of snow sparkling in the morning sun, it was beautiful and prompted me to think about how each of these moments is a first. My mind is rewiring itself to my new reality and as strange as it seems, even those things I have done hundreds of time before, seem different now.
All that remains is to learn the aftercare for shiny new vagina, which will be no small task for the next two or three months and then a bit each week for the rest of my life.The trade off for the pain, the money and the ongoing commitment to care is a profound sense of completeness, an absence of the unease that I have felt my entire life when standing in front of a mirror.
The rest of my life is going to be much different,
I do believe I am ready to fly.
Four weeks from today, as I close my eyes
As the light of this world slowly fades
Soft blackness envelopes me, bringing focus
My journey, a lifetime in the making is at it’s end
My existence hangs in the balance
I trust I will awaken, but there is no certainty
If this is my moment to move among the stars
Know that I am at peace with my choices
I have chosen my path, I have rewritten my future
My last thoughts will not be ones of regret
But of pride to have done what so many could not.
If I die within sight of my goal, to some an utter failure
Will still fill my heart with satisfaction
To have been moving forward to the very end.
28 days from now I will open my eyes for the very first time
As a woman newly born, I will take my first breath,
The pain and discomfort I feel, the price of Rachel’s birth
I have delivered her into this new world, into this her new body
She begins her new life, complete and whole.
Twenty eight days from now the tears will flow.
They will taste different from the tears of loss
Unlike the cold tears of heartbreak
Different from the bitter tears of disappointment
They will be warm sweet tears of joy..
In Memory of Brynn Kelly
I cry because I never met her
I cry because I knew her so well
She is the sister I never had
Her death, leaves me an only child
I could not have imagined her pain
Though I live some of it every day.
Her loss is felt by us all
Yet how anonymous her passing
I cannot understand why she could not go on
Although at times I feel exactly the same
The reasons are always the same
Even though we each claim them as our own.
She was a writer, accomplished at her craft
Yet unable to rewrite her own story.
What happens to all of her words?
Composed yet uncommitted to paper
Did they cease at her passing
Have they been lost to the world?
Or do they exist somewhere in the ether
Waiting to be discovered
Was there a time that day when just the right word
Spoken at just the right moment, in just the right tone
Could have rewritten the ending of her tragedy
Turning it into just another bad day
So much we will never know