25 September 2009
Today I met with the Director of Community Services of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders). Seeing Tom didn't make me woozy with deja vu; rather, I was energized by seeing him--again!
Turns out, we met long ago. Seven years ago, to be exact.
It was cold and rainy during that last weekend of October. Still, the girl's summer camp on the North Shore of Long Island was beautiful, but not just in a romantic enveloped-in-the-mist sort of way. Rather, the sky, which seemed at times to be moving in currents that reflected the gray-blue waves of Long Island sound, seemed to soften the light in the small cabins in which we slept and the larger one in which we participated in workshops and other activities.
So what were we doing in a girls' summer camp on Long Island, you ask? And what were we doing out there on a raw weekend when we could've been shopping, watching Sweet Home Alabama or--at least in my case--reading students' papers?
Well, an organization that was part of the LGBT Community Center of New York was holding a retreat that weekend. SpeakOUT was populated by and dedicated to LGBT people in recovery of one sort or another.
I found out about that retreat and SpeakOUT by accident: I picked up a flyer from the floor of the Center late one evening. Registration for the retreat ended that day; I hastily called the number on the flyer and left a message. The following day, the director of the organization called me back and said, "Of course!"
Almost all of us in SpeakOUT were, at that time or some time in our pasts, involved in at least one of the twelve-step programs. And we found them to be helpful in recognizing, admitting and working through our addictions (in my case, alcohol and, to a lesser degree, other drugs) but found that we needed to learn and evolve in ways that the twelve-step programs couldn't help us. And, some of us found that maintaining our anonymnity--an integral part of the twelve-step programs--hindered us in our recoveries.
Furthermore, our anonymnity keeps us from advocating for those who need help of one kind or another. And it keeps us from discussing the particular problems LGBT people have in beginning or maintaining sobriety (e.g., that so much of gay social life, particularly for the young, centers around bars and clubs).
Now, of course, none of us recommends indiscriminately telling anyone and everyone about our past. For example, most of us wouldn't want to talk to our employers about such things. On the other hand, I can't think of any difficulty that was negotiated, much less overcome, through silence.
Furthermore, I am a writer and educator. Therefore, I feel I have a responsibility to voice what hasn't been voiced and sometimes for those who have no voice. If I am not teaching or otherwise reaching people--or, at least, making the effort to do such things--what am I?
Until I went to that retreat where I met Tom, I didn't know that there were other people who felt the way I did. For that matter, I had never even been involved with an LGBT organization before that weekend.
And there were other things I didn't know until that weekend. I always knew that I was a pretty good teacher, as much as I tried to efface that. But I never knew that part of what made me a teacher--a communicator, for that is what any effective teacher is--was a kind of spiritual power. Some might call it charisma.
I learned of that power, and the responsibility that goes with it, because, well, Tom and a bunch of other people wouldn't allow me not to learn it. You see, he and I were part of a sub-group during the workshops. And he and the other group members decided that I would be the leader and spokesperson of that group.
Mind you, neither Tom nor any other members of that group had ever met me before that day. Only one person at that retreat--Jay--had ever seen me before that weekend. And, it was the first time that I got in front of a group of people of strangers and said I am transgendered and in recovery.
At that time, I was only two months removed from my life with Tammy, with whom I had lived for several years. Just a couple of weeks before that weekend, I had just begun the medical screening that preceded my prescription for hormones.
At that time, I was still going to work as Nick. And I was still trying not to be noticed by my neighbors when I returned home from a day or night out as Justine.
Only a couple of months before that weekend, I "came out" for the very first time: to Jay, the intake counselor at Center Care. As I mentioned, she was the only person at that retreat who'd met me before that weekend.
When I said to her, "I am female. I always have been, even though I've been in this body," I felt that it was the first time I'd ever told anybody the truth about anything. A few weeks after that, I knew that there wasn't anything but the truth--or my truth, anyway--and that she and Tom and the other people--who, by the end of that weekend, were seeking me out for advice and looking to me as a leader--wouldn't allow me anything else.
Now, there have been times since that weekend when I tried to shirk that role. I have always been a somewhat reluctant educator, mainly because I was always a reluctant student. And sometimes being a leader of any sort is a little scary--and very inconvenient.
Then again, one lesson of my life has been that convenience isn't what makes life worth living.
Another lesson, if you'll indulge me one of the greatest cliches of all: It's a small world!
The funny thing, in retrospect, is that when Tom and the other people on that retreat were looking to me for leadership and guidance, I was actually submitting not only to their need and desire for those things, but also to the imperative of my spirit to be the person who could offer the sort of strength they wanted.
It looks like something like that is about to happen again.