08 April 2010

St. Vincent's Hospital: What Will They Do Now?

Last night I was really, really tired.  I am now, too.  But at least I don't have an early morning class tomorrow, as I did today.

So what did I do yesterday?  I rode to work, then to Chelsea (right across the street from the Fashion Institute of Technology, to be exact) for a meeting with SAGE and representatives from a few other organizations that provide services to transgendered people.  Those reps numbered about a dozen; I was meeting five of them for the first time.  The others included a couple of people I hadn't seen in some time and who didn't know I'd had my surgery.

Dwayne, the very first person to whom I came out, was also there.  So was James, who participated in the workshop I did last month but whom I hadn't seen for at least three or four years before that.  In fact, the last time I saw him before the workshop, he was a she--a "butch," to be precise--who was assigned the name "Jane" along with the "F" on his birth certificate.  Some--including James himself--might argue that he hasn't changed that much.  From what I saw, I'd agree, and mean it as a compliment.  He's still smart and sensitive--and tough yet vulnerable.  He even looks more or less as he did before:  as one of those men in late middle age or early in his "golden years" who's handsome, not in a pretty-boy sort of way, but in the way of someone whose face and eyes are entirely his own and as unique as the way he sees through those eyes.

I wonder how he sees me through those eyes.  In some ways. we're opposites.   First, and most obvious, is that he's FTM while I'm MTF.  Also, while he was living as a "butch," I was living, for all intents and purposes, as a straight man, even though I was, as some might say, a "switch hitter."  

We had supper in a Mexican restaurant in the  Village.  Afterward, I walked with him back to his apartment on the far western part of Chelsea.  Along the way, we passed St. Vincent's Hospital, which is in the process of closing.  Tomorrow ambulances will no longer bring any but psychiatric patients to the emergency room; all of the inpatient services will end in the middle of the month.  

Three ambulances were waiting in front of the hospital.  Their drivers looked shell-shocked.  They didn't look like they were new to the job:  I'm sure they've seen some terrible things.  The same is probably true for the two nurses we saw propped on the edge of the building.  They were on a break of some sort, but they--understandably--didn't look relaxed.  I leaned toward the more petite of the two and said, "I'm really sorry for what's happening to you guys."

"Thank you."  A tear dripped down her gaunt cheek.

"It's nice to know people like you care," said the other.

"Yes," James replied.  "You've been there for us."

The more petite nurse, who looked to be about my age, recognized James.  "You were here not too long ago."  James nodded.

"Where are you going to go after this?" the other, who had darker hair, wondered.

"Where are a lot of people going to go?" James sighed.

I would bet that at least half of the people in that meeting James and I attended had used, at some time or another, St.Vincent's.  Dwayne said it was the "go to" hospital when he was coming out as a teenager during the early '60's.  "You went out, you knew you were going to get beat up," he told me once.  "And you knew you were going to end up in St. Vincent's."

Most other hospitals wouldn't have treated Dwayne, James or any number of other people.  They were too poor or queer or something else for some of the other hospitals, and they didn't have insurance for any number of reasons.  In Dwayne's and James's cases, it had to do with the fact that they were too busy surviving to get a job that offered insurance, or one doing anything that would make them enough money to buy a policy.  They both left their home as teenagers to escape from the sexual and other kinds of abuse they experienced.  That is also the case of Clarence, another trans man I know.  All of them lived on the streets for long periods of time.  James and Clarence came to New York with no money, no friends and no credentials, educational or otherwise.  In fact, Clarence told me once, he couldn't read when he got off the bus in the Port Authority Terminal.

We talked about that, among other things, at the meeting in which James and I participated.  Among LGBT people--the T's in particular--it seems that there are extremes in education.  We have disproportionate numbers of people with advanced degrees, but we also have many people who didn't finish high school and even some, like Terrence when he first came to New York, are illiterate.  And we also have quite a few people who have learning disabilities of one sort or another.

It's hard not to think that some of those learning disabilities and educational deficiencies have at least something to do with the violence too many of us experience.  I know too many other LGBT people who stopped attending school because they were getting beat up or even were experiencing sexual violence.  

A good number of those people have used St. Vincent's.  Where will they go now?  What will James, Clarence and Dwayne do?

What would I do?