Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Lives in Transit" #1-An Interview with Davis Nicholas; Formerly of Two Stars Burning Sun and Brothers, Currently of her Bad-Ass Self

I met Davis probably like 15 years ago now (damn we are old, haha) when I was living in Grand Rapids and she was playing in an amazing screamo/metal/whatever hybrid called Two Stars Burning Sun. Two Stars used to play out a ton so I must have seen them a dozen or more times over a three or four year period. What most impressed me was first of all, just how doggone nice they all were, and secondly, the honesty of their music and performance.

Since those early years, I haven’t seen Davis much since I moved back over to the east side of the state, but I saw her a couple times when she was drumming for Brothers, and we’ve kept up a bit over social media since then.

Anyway, about a year or so ago, she began to publicly identify as a trans female. I teach high school Sociology and while we very briefly mention transgender people in our discussion of sexual orientation/presentation, Davis is the first person I’ve known who has gone through that transition. I’ve been rather curious to hear more about her experiences, and this little series “Lives in Transit” seemed like a good opportunity to do so. I reached out, and she was more than willing to share.

This is no doubt one of the most personal interviews I’ve ever done, so it goes without saying that props go to Davis for her willingness to divulge a lot of intense and intimate details from her life.  

I'm always curious to hear about people's background, family, adolescence, etc. How would you describe your formative years, especially as it pertains to music, art, expression, etc.? Did your folks encourage that stuff, were music and art fixture in your household?

I grew up in Birch Run, Michigan, which at the time was a pretty rural area.  Lots of hunting, camo hats, trucks, good ol' boy type stuff.  I knew at a young age that I really liked music a lot, and I had a brother who was 7 years older than me who was into some pretty cool music at the time.  I mean, I'm dating myself here, but I remember listening un-ironically to things like Loverboy, Devo, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Styx, and in my mom's car I was forever listening to Roberta Flack's greatest hits album.  “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is still one of my all-time favorite songs.  But yeah, at a young age I knew that there was something really moving about music for me.  And as I got older and reached high school, that's what the whole grunge "revolution" was starting to happen.  I was hanging with an artsy/druggy crowd of kids, so we were into skate boarding and finding new music.  So stuff like Nine Inch Nails and Mr. Bungle, Infectious Grooves, Jane’s Addiction, Faith No More were very cool for me because I think I was starting to develop a bit of an anti-mainstream mentality already.  That may sound weird because those are all mainstream bands now, but at the time where I was living they seemed/felt revolutionary.  Then Nirvana dropped, and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog... I was in love.  THEN I began discovering things like Rollins Band, Helmet, Pantera, heavier music that was stemming off from some of the classic metal we'd already been listening to (I was a huge Anthrax fan, all my friends were into Metallica and Megadeth but I was into Anthrax for some reason lol).  Then Korn and The Deftones started getting known, and I was being pulled towards heavy music. 

I moved to Kalamazoo in 1997 for college and discovered what I will forever consider "real music", which is pretentious as hell but it's how I felt.  I began getting into hardcore and never looked back.  At that time the early emo stuff was happening, so locals like Constantine Sinkhati were big, Bev Clone was from my home town area, emo/grind stuff like Reversal of Man was happening, and of course in Michigan at that time there were these awesome national-level fests being put on in Detroit. 

My earliest Michigan Fest memories feature greats like Hot Water Music, Isis, Thoughts of Ionesco, Coalesce, Cave In, Grade, and when some Michigan bands started getting big (Small Brown Bike, Ionesco, Lovesick, etc.) it was so exciting.  But for me personally, I always wanted to be involved in music from an early age, but I didn't have an outlet, no role models in my family or proximity, so it felt like one of those things that was never going to happen.  Eventually a friend bought a guitar, we sucked but always tried to figure that thing out, and eventually began meeting other people who knew how to play instruments so we fell into a local hall show scene in Saginaw and Flint.  Groups of 100-300 kids would fill up these sweaty little town hall buildings, Eagle's Lodges, Masonic Temples, you name it, and someone would scrounge up the money for a PA rental and bam, you've got yourself a show. 

I began playing in a band at 17, Socket!  I played bass and sang, and I use both those terms very loosely.  I then moved onto a semi-established band called Otis Blindfold with some friends, did that for a few years and actually began driving to other cities for shows which felt so fucking rad at 18-19 years old.  Big time, you know!?  I actually put down music for a number of years when I moved away from Saginaw and landed in Kalamazoo, but then I met some lifelong friends Tim and Neill who were in a band called Porphyria at the time.  They asked me to try out for bass a few months after meeting them, we immediately fired the singer (sorry Chris!) and became a 3-piece that became known as Two Stars Burning Sun.  We played for about 3-4 years, did quite a bit of touring, and became regionally known in some small way.  It was one of the greatest periods of my life. 

Not being seen as a crucial band dude, but being known and appreciated for creating something that spoke to others.  Being able to share this level of creativity and passion with others, that is something I will never forget and will never get tired of doing.  In my early bands I began to realize how much of a release it could be to pour my emotions into the songs, into the lyrical content, and singing those songs felt so cathartic because it wasn't just posing - it was like splaying myself open and putting it all out there for public consumption.  That's why it was so gratifying being accepted and appreciated for it - it wasn't just music, it was me. 

And so to this day I can't just write a catchy little ditty, I have to write something deep and dirty and meaningful to me.  It feels like a waste of everybody's time any other way.  And all of this was happening when I was only MARGINALLY aware of my transgender status.  I knew I was different, felt very different and alone and misunderstood 90% of the time, and some of that bled through into lyrics and music, but I mainly ascribed those feelings to coming from a really, really unhealthy childhood home environment.  Alcoholism and severe emotional abuse were pretty common, so I was very mixed up for a very long time.  Still am.

I’ve always been curious about the end of Two Stars. Like you said, you had a great run and I was very lucky to be there for a lot of it, but in 02’ moved back to Detroit. How much of your final release "The Depression Diet" dealt with the abuse you alluded to, and how did everything unravel at the end of the band?

Well, the first thing you need to understand is that Two Stars didn't just slowly dissolve due to a final record or anything trivial like that.  We were very much a product of the time, which was that great golden window of late 90's/early 2000's screamo/metal/hardcore hybrid music being born.  There wasn't much of a blueprint at the time, so we were literally just making it up as we went along.  The three of us, myself, Tim Gormley, and Neill Malmgren, all shared an interest in diverse heavy music, a deep interest in literature and poetry, art (visual and performance), and we ALL had our ghosts. 

That was sort of our bond - we'd all been through a lot of dysfunction in our private lives with family, relationships, etc. and so we were sort of fertile soil for that kind of music, those lyrics, that intensity, etc.  It wasn't produced for the stage, I can assure you.  We were inches away from true insanity at any given moment, and we used the band and the performances to sort of channel all that negative energy, that rage, that feeling of being misunderstood, unwanted, dissatisfied with what the world was giving us... and when you factor in the idea that I was simultaneously in my early-mid twenties and starting to take a real look at my gender dysphoria and presentation for the first time ever, it was a lot to contend with emotionally. 

A lot of people don't realize just how much exploration went into the songs and the band itself.  I mean, there is a song on our 3-way Friction Records split with Today I Wait and the Nain Rouge called "Falls City", and it was written directly about being transgender and the movie "Boys Don't Cry". Directly.  Some of the lyrics were thinly coded, but it was all right there if you know the inner workings of where we/I was at the time.  I say I, because I wrote about 80% of the lyrics while we collaborated pretty evenly on the music.  But one of our bigger songs, “Monument to Wonderboy” (on our release “Learning to Sleep Past the Cloud Covered Days”), was written all about my pursuit of spiritual/physical transcendence, absolutely.  "Learn to accept all of my responsibility, to swallow this blame I'll have to close my eyes and go to a place where I only love my dreams..."

I blamed myself for my anger, my unhappiness, my failed relationships with women, for hurting others in my pursuit of my truth, and I did a lot of thinking and hoping for some version of the type of transcendence that I was forever reading about in all of Hermann Hesse's books at the time.  We poured over Siddhartha, Demian, Gertrude, always trying to fill our brains with that magical thinking that seemed to come from somewhere in the East, somewhere between Buddhism and Hinduism and meditating in the middle of a desert on a rock somewhere lol...

Tim and Neill knew that I was working through a lot of personal issues that whole time, we were very open with one another.  Tim had his issues with his family and his girlfriend at the time, same for Neill.  We had different specifics but the same universal struggles, and I tried to keep them up to date on where I was and where I was heading with my decisions regarding my presentation and how I was going to ultimately end up living my life.  But I was in such a deep rut of denial at the same time.  Very, very confusing.  Like, I was open to them and a lot of friends about my heavy cross-dressing and role reversal in my sexual life (TMI alert)... but I wasn't allowing myself to put the pieces together that would ultimately lead to my fairly recent decision to fully transition into female life 100%. 

By the time we got together to write the tunes for “The Depression Diet” things just didn't feel quite the same as it had been for the last few years.  I'd become seriously involved with who would become my first wife, and I sort of lost that focus and strive to work on myself since I was feeling codependent and reliant on her.  Neill had sort of entered a fairly dark period where he was having a lot of problems with the mother of his young daughter and you could tell it was taking a toll on him emotionally.  We just weren't nearly as invested as we'd been, and we held our music to a high standard and took that very seriously so we really needed to be ON for us to be satisfied with our production.  We pieced that record together, and we all agree that it shows.  I ended up writing a ton of music on that album, something that Tim wasn't crazy about at the time because it did pull us in a different, more "poppy" direction if that term applies to our music lol... I was very happy with some of the lyrical content, specifically the stuff in "Connection/Separation" and the opening bits to "Waternoose"... similar to old Two Stars' introspective material but more concise, less metaphorical and more specific to real elements of my life and past. 

Those guys were tremendously supportive and were always willing to let me lead with the lyrical content, and this time was just different for us.  Looking back, what it felt like was actually some form of closure, like a level of understanding or comfort had been reached (per my relationship status, I think now) and the lyrics didn't have the same intensity or drive.  More like the processing of having worked through things and then reporting on the process, if that makes any sense.  And when I realized that the feeling wasn't there, that the thing we'd always tried to accomplish with the band with that cathartic, blistering raw emotion just wasn't going to happen, it made me take a step back and take a real look at the band.  Specifically, my purpose for continuing in the band. 

I remember meeting with them at dinner at some Chinese restaurant in Kalamazoo and letting them know that I thought my feelings had been worked through, that I wasn't feeling the need to continue with the band, and that it felt like an actual disservice to them, to the band, to our listeners to come at it with anything less than 100% investment, so I quit.  Tim took it ok, Neill was pretty unhappy, and actually Neill and I didn’t speak much for many, many years after the fact.  Tim and I began playing in Lorelai and then Brothers within a few years, which was another whole trip that I don't want to get into right now, but Neill and I finally got back in touch a few years ago now and have been very friendly ever since. 

Ultimately I think the band was a "time and place" experience that maybe wasn't meant to exist forever because of its intense and volatile nature.

But I mean, come on Scobie!  You were at the very first Halloween party that became a staple for many years after.  It was Two Stars, Today I Wait, Gavin Black, Nain Rouge, my friends' band from Saginaw whose name is escaping me (remember the naked singer?)... and remember my costume?  I was in a skin tight black mini-dress with high heels, full makeup, looking as legit as I could possibly pull off at the time, and I TRULY believed that I was convincing others that it was just a Halloween costume.  Come on!  But it was rad because people loved it, we were all a tight crew of friends just loving the experience and the music, and I remember you and Aaron Whitfield showing up and me worrying that maybe our oddball party was going to be too much for you churchy kids!  LOL!

Oh shit, now that you mention that I vaaaaaaaaaguely remember it, but at that time I was going to shows with every spare moment I had, so a lot of that stuff runs together in my mind these days, haha.

Speaking of Brothers, after last seeing you in probably 2002-2003, the next time I think I saw you was like 2009-2010 at Static Age after you had started playing drums for them. I remember being completely flabbergasted at the sight of you; the Davis I had always known was tall, skinny, with long scraggly hair. Now you were bald-headed, completely tatted, and looked like you had been in the gym every waking moment from the last time I saw you, haha. How did you get into tattoos, lifting, and how did that stuff relate to your ongoing journey to (re) define yourself in terms of gender identity?

Everything you saw in 2010 was a complete reflection of what I was going through in terms of my gender.  I actually reached a point just after Two Stars where I literally had a heart-to-heart with myself and said that it was time to commit to something.  I had spent all these years sort of dabbling in gender nonconformity and as a result (I thought) my romantic life had been a disaster and I was totally uneasy in public. 

Yes, you are right - I was tall, skinny, scraggly, bad hair, etc. lol... I was also secretly shaving my arms and legs on the regular, walked around with various versions of half-gone eyebrows from tweezing... I was trying so hard to find a level of appearance and behavior and presentation that would bring me some feeling of peace, and it always seemed that the further I pushed it the more I wanted.  It was wreaking havoc on other parts of my life, so I decided that it was time to commit to being a man.  No joke. 

I decided to get more and more tattoos, and I do remember specifically thinking that if I were completely covered in tats that I wouldn't be capable of putting together a feminine presentation.  Seriously.  I was trying to sabotage my own efforts, like if the feelings wouldn't go away at least I could ruin the canvas.  I also shaved my head, hit the gym hard for a long time and got all beefy.  I went from maybe 170lbs in Two Stars to a max of about 240lbs by 2013-2014.  I used steroids.  I ate tons of protein, 6-8 meals a day, hung out with body builders at the gym, tried so hard to put together this perfect male presentation that would maybe fool someone else, maybe even fool me? 

It didn't.  It sucked.  I hated it.  So all those jokes you hear about people overcompensating for their insecurities with big trucks, guns, hot young girlfriends, etc.?  I did that with my body and with my second marriage to a 22-year-old college girl who is a great person that never deserved the level of psychosis I exposed her to through my journey and struggle. 

When I finally decided to give up that whole struggle and move towards the "new" me it was absolutely the most relieving feeling of my entire life.  It continues to be.  Every day is a breath of fresh air. 

Even playing in Brothers, I mean that was some macho music!  I was always fighting with those guys who had been friends of mine forever but we were not and are not cut from the same cloth.  I wanted to add some art, probably some femininity into the music, and Brothers was about rocking.  Period.  It became more and more macho in my opinion, moving into more of a moshy direction, and I was never about doing music for that reason so I was incredibly dissatisfied.  Good band, good music, but I should have never been involved.  Not fair to me, not fair to them.

Also at that time I remember you told me that you were working with individuals with autism. At that time my wife and I had very recently come to grips with the fact that our oldest is autistic, I had almost zero knowledge of the disorder and knew very few people who were knowledgeable about it. Talk a little bit about how you fell in (and out) of that line of work.

Oh yeah, I just accidentally fell into working with the ASD population in a special ed setting.  I had my behavioral psychology degree from Western Michigan University, and through that process I’d been placed in a local school that just happened to be pretty cutting-edge in terms of using applied behaviorism and using the training student body as behavior-bots in the classrooms lol... I was very good at that, had the right disposition and was very good with behavioral psych, so when I graduated from college I just continued moving up through that system.  I eventually became the behavioral specialist in the building for many years.  In Michigan a center-based school can house students of ages between 3-26, and center-based means they are not functioning at a cognitive level that allows for mainstream educational placement in a local school.  I was almost solely responsible for the behavior problems of a student body consisting of over 150 kids between 3-26, ranging from low functioning autism to bipolar severely cognitively impaired 25-year-old kids at 300 pounds.  It's a good thing I got into the weights for a while there, because I needed to be a human shield.  I had amazing experiences, life changing experiences, met amazing kids and staff and lifelong friends working there, but ultimately it was not what I was cut out for. 

It was too much.  The physicality brought back too much negativity from my childhood, and it was honestly an affront to my more soft, feminine side that I truly wanted to be presenting.  Don't read that as "women are softer than men" - please read that as "I was sick of having to pretend to be this hard-as-nails tough guy and I wanted to just soften up and do something truer to my nature".  So I did.  I got my master's degree from WMU in counseling and I've been working in mental health as a therapist for the past 5 years now.

So in terms of your ex-wife, is there still any semblance of a relationship there in terms of at least being on speaking terms or was the whole thing just too much?

Ironically, the better relationship has turned out to be the worst break up. My first wife and I were together for 8 years, married for 5, and she knew a lot about my gender situation before we even began dating.  I was fairly open at that time; this would have been in the 1999 range.  I met her through Two Stars connections, actually, and we wound up sharing many friends.  So we began dating and she found it cute or interesting or something that I liked to dress in women's clothing, we incorporated that heavily into our sex life (I needed to), and the further we went into the relationship the more she began to rebel against it. 

I don't blame her necessarily, it didn't seem to be her particular flavor, but we ended up in this never ending tug of war between her wanting to return to some level of hetero-normativity and me not being interested or even capable.  It fizzled out eventually, but not before we'd both said and done a lot of not so nice things to one another through the process.  She had a very, very hard time trying to make sense of things with me. 

I have no idea what she told her family after the fact, but I can only assume the worst and I assume that they probably responded poorly to the news.  I think there is this big looming cloud of disapproval that needs a name, and since nobody is comfortable calling themselves transphobic or homophobic (though that doesn't apply), it's likely easier to just call me a liar and dishonest for being secretive about my situation.  But um, hello?  People are not, by and large, capable of handling this issue with much in the way of grace or respect. 

I have people who I used to consider friends, co-workers in the psychiatric and psychological fields, who literally can't even bring themselves to LOOK at me.  To look me in the eye, to just have a normal human interaction.  Why is that?  What is so incredibly odd about my situation that evokes such discomfort?  It really seems to pluck at the central theme of peoples' insecurities, possibly about themselves?  I really don't know. 

My second wife was very disapproving of any level of my nonconformity, made that known. I went underground and tried to hide things but it was impossible, and we broke up very quickly.  In a short amount of time we were able to speak, I told her my truth and she seemed/seems very happy for me and we are trying to navigate some sort of friendship.  I think highly of her.

So obviously you've been grappling with your identity pretty much your whole what point did you know it was time to publicly come out as trans? We're there people you consulted, others who had gone through the experience or were you basically winging it?

I finally found the gumption to live on my own, no relationships, no more life distractions.  I had this absolutely amazing learning experience with someone I had been dating who suddenly left me without warning.  It was like my worst nightmare, it was the culmination of all my failed relationships all wrapped into one because we were so close and so compatible, so in love.  She didn't speak to me for over a year, like 15 months. 

When she did she immediately apologized, told me that she left because she realized she was a lesbian, and assured me that I'd done nothing wrong.  Nothing.  She said she loved me more than she'd ever loved someone, but she began to realize that something was missing that would never be present for her in this relationship.  She credited me with opening her eyes to her truth, and thanked me for teaching her how to love. 

That just absolutely blew me away.  It was the first time in my life that I felt I’d done it right with love.  I wasn't wrong.  I wasn't a fuck up. And my mind just sort of went BOOM - you are not wrong.  You are right.  Being you is right, it's the right thing.  And so I allowed myself to finally begin looking at the elements of my life that were right at the surface this whole time and it just made so much sense too quickly. 

I was wasting my life.  I was miserable.  I was doing what I was doing to satisfy others, to avoid their disappointment, but why was I valuing their happiness over my own?  My life was half over at 38 years old, and I decided that it was time to live for me.  I very quickly began the process, and it came easily and with much support from those in my life.  Within just a few months I was living socially 100% female, slowly replaced my entire wardrobe, got my new job as Davis... and life began.  Boom, just like that.

In terms of changing your appearance, like you mentioned earlier you had put on quite a bit of body mass, what does reversing that process look like, or "de-bulking" if that’s what you might call it?

De-bulking is almost more frustrating than the process of lifting weights and eating and putting all that muscle on.  It is passive, it is restrictive.  I eat less than I want, I don't eat all that I'd like to, and I avoid strenuous exercise.  That's pretty much it.  In about 16-17 months I've lost around 60 pounds or so, I've definitely shrunk a ton, but I still see my big arms, I still see my wide shoulders, and people tell me that they no longer look masculine but my mind is twisted up.  I might see those shadows forever, you know? 

It feels like a version of body dysmorphia - not anorexia, not bulimia, but certainly a persistent dissatisfaction with my body and appearance.  I reckon that is why so many trans* people pursue surgery.  I started out by saying that I didn't need to do that, that I wasn't going to pay a bunch of money to validate myself.  But it's been a year and now I understand. 

I still see "him" in the mirror in the morning.  I still have to see "him" when I'm naked and taking a shower.  My body is a constant reminder of the hardest struggle of my life, like being roommates with your attacker.  I can't get away.  So I do what I can to make changes, and I plan for the future where I find a surgeon to make some drastic changes that will set me free from at least having to see "him" every time I see a reflection.

This is a massive topic with many levels to consider, and I'm sort of skimming the surface with a lot of this.  Please understand that physical presentation has VERY LITTLE if anything to do with gender.  What I haven't said is that I cry when I think about never having a baby, not having a body that allows for full experience of my INTERNAL experience, my mental and emotional relation to a much broader CIS female demographic than male... What you noticed about me is the exterior, which makes sense.  But for me personally, that is merely the visual I want to present and for people to have in mind when they think of me.  Me though, Davison, is much more complex and complicated as a woman than is translated by my wardrobe choices.  Though they are pretty great lol...

In the last year or so you've been quite vocal both about the changes you have undertaken and the larger issues facing the LGBT community and quite frankly our broader society as people come to terms with these issues. Your personal experiences seem to run the gamut from people being hostile to bewildered to really embracing you. What have been both the hardest and most rewarding things you've experienced since openly identifying as trans for the last year?

Yes, I've actually been surprised by how emotionally invested I’ve become, and how involved I've become in advocating for much needed social change.  It's been weird for me because prior to transitioning I never paid any mind to what was happening politically with the trans population. 

So not only have I had to figure out how to make my life work in terms of family, friends, work, but it's also been a real crash course in politics and policy.  For example, you may not know it but as of right now (and for the foreseeable future) there is nothing in written, legal language in Michigan that protects the civil rights of trans people for specific issues related to gender expression.  What that means is if a private business owner wants to fire a trans individual because they might feel uncomfortable with their wardrobe or their religion is somehow "threatened" by their trans status, there is nothing legal preventing the business owner from firing them.  Not for job performance, not for insubordination, but because of personal discomfort. 

That cuts right to the core of discrimination.  There was a fairly well-known piece of legislation that was a hot topic in the fall of 2014 called the Elliott Larson Civil Rights Act, and it was being pushed to include trans-protective language so people like myself cannot be legally discriminated against in regards to housing, financial opportunities, public resources, and accommodations.  A small percentage of politicians have attempted to include trans protections in this legislation for DECADES Eric, and politicians simply will not accept it.  It's died many, many times now. 

And why?  You've no doubt read some of these ridiculous, insulting articles from the far right condemning trans people's right to use the bathroom that matches their gender, their true gender, based on the "threat" of perversion, peeping, rape, child molestation, etc.  These articles are based on fear and prejudice, period.  There are absolutely zero social statistics indicating that these "threats" actually exist or have existed at anywhere near the rates of the hetero mainstream population. 

Much like this anti-gay adoption bullshit.  People want to naturally assume that children raised by a gay or lesbian couple are just fertile ground for abuse, and obviously of a sexual nature.  But look at the statistics for foster care agencies and individual placements over the past few decades.  I work in mental health and social services, I know what a fucking nightmare it can be for kids in the foster care system, and those placements are 99% supervised and run by mainstream hetero-normative couples or individuals. 

So what are these stereotypes based on?  Childish fear and misunderstanding, and on my worst days I'll use coarser language and say something more like hate, bigotry, stupidity, and fucking evil.  Eric, I've spent a combined 9 years in college for both an undergrad degree in behavioral psychology and a master's degree in community counseling and substance abuse counseling.  I worked in schools for 10 years, I've worked in a counseling capacity for over 5 years across settings including juvenile homes, jails, inpatient and outpatient substance abuse programs, and now home-based therapy with young juvenile offenders for charges ranging from drugs to sexual offense.  I am trusted by multiple accrediting bodies to responsibly handle the emotional well-being and lives of these clients, and yet I'm still enmeshed in an ongoing argument to get a staff bathroom key at one of my offices. 

I was told that the decision makers had concerns that some of the other employees might be uncomfortable with me using the ladies room with them.  So what, now we're making legal decisions based on the discomfort of the prejudicial and bigoted among us?  The people in question don't even seem to see this as discriminatory.  I mean, why weren't black kids allowed to use the drinking fountain with the white kids in the 50's?  Was there science or a set of statistics informing those decisions?  No, it was based on widespread ignorance and too many people choosing to further bullshit social policy rather than exercising a bit of empathy and realizing how barbaric they were behaving and believing. 

Any time I travel for my job and I use a ladies bathroom at an airport, I am technically committing what could be considered as one of any number of crimes (indecent exposure, impersonation, sexual assault depending on who says what, etc.)... I could be arrested, strip searched for suspicion of terrorism, detained for god knows how long.  It happens. 

And if detained, then what?  I'm quite certain I'm not going to jail with other women, so now I get to worry about being raped and assaulted and possibly murdered by male inmates because someone somewhere decided that I don't constitute treatment as a female because of my biology that is not representative of my mind, heart, life, or internal experience. 

So yes, this crash course in learning how the world at large TRULY feels about trans people has been eye opening and beyond frustrating on many fronts.  So I use the tools I've been blessed with to try and make a positive change.  I have worked fairly extensively with the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, with the Battle Creek PRIDE committee; I have helped organize two separate Transgender Day of Remembrance events, performed at numerous LGBTQIA events to raise awareness. I recently performed in a 3-night production of The Vagina Monologues in a trans-specific piece.  I began working at a small private practice in Kalamazoo called Moore Counseling Center, which focuses almost exclusively on LGBTQIA clientele and trans support and advocacy.  Last winter I began a group called UNIFIED, which is focused on presenting performance opportunities for spoken word, poetry, music, dance, and other performance artists from within the LGBTQIA community.  We held a show at the Kalamazoo Valley Community College museum last January that actually sold out their auditorium.  There were people sitting in the aisles and standing behind the last row of seats!  We featured two trans singer/songwriters, a folk group called The Accidentals from Traverse City, and five spoken word artists from various backgrounds, races, sexualities, gender status. 

You could see people writhing in their seats out of discomfort during some of the performances, as UNIFIED is really dedicated to bringing the raw truth of our experiences to the stage in an attempt to educate those with open minds and curiosity but whose lives have been very, very different from ours.  Nobody left, which I considered a success! 

We are in the process of completing planning for our second UNIFIED show on April 25th in Grand Rapids, featuring a few of the Kalamazoo artists but bringing a number of GR performers into the fold to keep things locally representative and supported.  I'm currently active with two separate trans-specific support groups through both the KGLRC and the Battle Creek PRIDE group. 

There is so much to be done, and sadly there just aren't enough people with the background, ability, and confidence to speak out and be effective in trying to change the minds of an often uncaring populace, so those of us who are willing and able find ourselves very, very busy.  And I love it.  I love finally being in a stage of my life where I care enough about myself to care deeply about something larger than myself. 

My old complacency is nowhere to be found.  It is dead.  I was never truly complacent, I see that now - I had just developed such an impenetrable wall of defense and emotional shut-down that it prevented me from caring for anyone or anything else, either.  This intense desire, this need to be active in bringing about some change, is a new and integral part of my new life and I'm excited to see where it continues to lead me. 

And not to be corny, but I really do believe that my years and years of organizing and pushing within the DIY Michigan music scene has been a chief component of my pro-social approach to things now.  I'm accustomed to feeling misunderstood by the mainstream, yet knowing inherently that I/we KNOW BETTER than the average person at the super market.  Like I said before, I never got involved in music to be cool or to be fucking crucial or to mosh... I got involved for community, stayed involved for community, took a lot of pride in being a positive representative for the punk and hardcore communities.  I remember delivering speeches at shows that ran very, very contrary to the average nihilistic punk rock rhetoric of yesteryear.  I would challenge punks to do BETTER than the mainstream, to work themselves into positions of influence so that we could change the system from the inside out.  I implored people to use their feelings of being misunderstood and underestimated as fuel for their desire to succeed.  I do the same now. 

Can you imagine the bravery and toughness it takes in this society and social climate for someone to radically alter their appearance, wardrobe, risk losing all family support, possible financial support, ability to secure housing or employment, face possible physical and/or sexual violence... Trans women of color continue to be the number one target of violence and murder statistically in this country, hands down and by miles.  This shit needs to stop.  Trans kids have been committing suicide in epidemic proportions since the turn of the year.  Our psychological health is under constant attack by bullying, being disowned by family, emotional abandonment, systemic ignoring and often worse persecution... if you are willing to identify as a trans person today, you are a fucking revolutionary and I truly believe that there is NOTHING you can't accomplish.  You are the strongest and brightest among us for following your truth.  I just hope that more people begin to recognize that fact and that support continues to mount for those in need. 

If you are reading this and you have a desire to help in some capacity, just get online and find out which resource centers serving the LGBTQIA community are in your areas, give them a call and get involved.  We need all the help we can get.

Davis on Youtube:
Kalamazoo Gay & Lesbian Resource Center:
Battle Creek LGBTQ Organization:
Unified Grand Rapids:
Affirmations Resource Center in Ferndale:

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