In essence Thoughts on Life in This American Society


At Home

Mournful harmonies and piano arpeggios grace my speakers on this grey-muted day, the clouds heavy with the threat of rain. I sit in the chair provided by my job for at-home work, and it’s stiff back and ergonomic shape adjusted for my unconventional sitting posture — curled up with feet on the seat and legs against my chest as I write. My work laptop looms black in front of me, currently asleep, but just a touch of a mouse and it’ll wake up to douse me in the mandatory overtime hours my job demands. I must meet a minimum of at least three overtime hours, and today the plan is to strive for four.

Will my health make it possible? I laid in bed most of the morning, where exhaustion pinned me in that half-aware state from nightmares and disturbing flashbacks of past trauma. Hours fade in and out of meaning, and I struggle to stand, take my medicine, and wash my face and brush teeth – bare minimum necessity for hygiene.

The emotional flashback of pain and fear surge as I walk, so I drown it out in books and mint green tea, the soothing aroma a balm for PTSD symptoms. The lethargy leads me to make a smoothie of frozen berries, dairy/gluten-free protein powder, honey, chia and flax seeds, and almond milk. It tastes berry delicious — a low energy way to at least maintain bare minimum of nutrients. I am not yet ready to brave the work laptop, my concentration still frizzled from after images of nightmares, so I sit and write to smooth out the symptoms, to distract, to try to find that equilibrium where focus is possible and work can be completed.

Life wasn’t always this complex struggle of limited energy usage, but traumas compounded over the years, many left untreated by lack of trauma-informed care, few mental health services that are funded and LGBTQIA-focused. Trauma leaves an imprint on the brain, the body in survival mode, until safety is reached and the brain tries to make sense of the trauma, tries to file it away, but the survival mode left memory filing in disarray — complexity of flashbacks and triggers and nightmares that burst up and halt progress of any activity.

Navigating PTSD is like an intricate dance, where I don’t know most of the steps, and when I falter, I teeter on the edge of a drop, the threat of falling into the smokey darkness a choke on my breath, until I regain my equilibrium and am centered once more. If I fail to regain equilibrium, I fall into the darkness of panic, my vision a blur, my body shuddering, and my right side numb and tingling, the world a roar and my desperate bid for safety a confused mass of words that thunder into silence, curled up into a ball until the physiological symptoms cease.

In Society

I have written about injustices in other posts: Reshaping the Story of Society and So You Want to Talk about Race.  Some may see this as pure political, but I see it as holistic to fight injustice. How injustice harms people depends on several factors, and my friends of color have compounded intersectional injustices. It’s why I write about it because society tries to stifle the voices of these people. And to lift up their voices is necessary for change, so that we don’t have to live in survival mode. So that we can create a more just, loving, equal, and equitable society for ALL people. This requires us to discuss the impact of societal norms, systems, and institutions.

Injustice impacts my day-to-day life, and the lives of my friends. Food deserts, where lack of grocery stores, can force families to travel several miles to obtain food despite living in a city, and if they have no car, this means hours of bus travel, and hours of hauling sacks of food. Then there is all the paperwork necessary for poorer folks in order to obtain enough funds to even purchase the food, especially if their multiple jobs does not earn them enough to pay rent, food, transportation, and basic survival necessities.

Being poor is expensive and the system is rigged to increase the energy and time necessary to navigate for survival. Time is a commodity that is impossible to ever have enough of when poor. I wrote about this in my post about Martin Luther King Jr. Day a few years back, and it is still true today.

Our society is built on productivity, strict individualism, and wealth as worth, and for someone like me, whose production is a struggle to maintain, where health is a constant obstacle, the productivity approach leaves a lingering taste of worthlessness. The stories often boosted are those that produced wealth by overcoming it “alone,” but this is always based in myth as no one person becomes a millionaire alone — it requires the use of systems built by taxes and communities, networking, and cooperation to create a booming business that then exploits workers to give higher and higher wages to CEOs.  But that part of the story is washed away, and the stories of those struggling to survive in a wealth-crazed society are neglected or written off as lazy or worthless or invalid.

It is never questioned whether those who hold great wealth are biased in their decisions due to their wealth and ignorance of the plight of other human beings, but it is always questioned whether someone like me is biased for speaking up about the circumstances and systematic injustices that riddle our society.

Yet often the wealthiest often hold over half of the power and government offices that determine the laws and regulations of America, which contributes to inequality due to bias inherent within the superrich’s perceptions of what life is actually like for more impoverished Americans. Focus on disrupting social programs to assist the poor is seen as “fiscally important” but these same people never question the billions spent on military, or the fact that taxing the super-rich can easily pay for various education, science, and social programs. Austerity measures do not help recessions, often increase likelihood of further recessions, and causes tremendous harm to middle class and lower-income Americans.

To compound all this, our society is riddled with those who commit atrocities and yet are rarely held accountable. Issues of police brutality, home-grown white supremacy, rape culture, and other horrors that impact the lives of marginalized communities on a daily basis, and rarely is justice realized after the harmful act. Rarely is policies changed either.

Speaking of these facts is often ridiculed as creating a divide, or their stories are minimized or ignored. Or people demand to wait out the “facts,” thus erasing survivor stories further. These responses are often rooted in an anger at the person bringing up the issues, and this ignoring of issues divides and harms our society.

Discussing the harmful structural and societal issues and seeking solutions is absolutely imperative for justice, love, equity, and equality to be realized.

Effects

Financially, I’m in a delicate equilibrium, where my job pays a living wage, and I have just enough in savings to cover two months rent if the worst should happen. It’s not much, and I don’t dare touch this savings, because without that buffer, I could end up right back where I spent most of my adult life — part of the hidden homeless, who drift from sofa to sofa and not having a stable home of their own.

I have trans friends who are hidden homeless, often sleeping in shelters or their cars, or finding sofas to crash for the night. They may not be on the streets, but they have no stability in shelter. Trans people are even more likely to be in poverty, especially trans folks of color, and our lives are a constant battle of whether we seek our resources or not — because the question always becomes, “will we be safe?”

My trans friends have been harassed due to their gender identity and presentation, where they may not “pass enough” for society’s standards.

I’ve been harassed on occasions, or had death threats leveled at me. For example, the time at the university in 2011, where I tried to report it and got nowhere. Nothing was done by the administration, and that failure to hold anyone accountable for the lack of safety was like a death-blow. Student Loan debt soon went into default as I ended up homeless right out of college, because I couldn’t afford to keep going for a B.S. instead of a B.A. I had no money for the costs of filing applications and taking GRE tests for grad school. The job sector was at a low due to a recent recession, and a friend took me in, letting me and my cat sleep on their couch that year.

For the next few years, I waded in and out of temp jobs and in and out of couch-surfing or living in cheap apartments. I didn’t have a savings then. My PTSD symptoms often impacted whether I was kept on at a job, and I struggled to try to balance my health and the need for financial stability, because without an income, I had no stable place to live nor would I have enough to eat. My cat stayed with me this entire time, and we kept each other both alive as emotional supports — any spare money I had went to him first.

When it came to healthcare, I didn’t have health insurance for most of my adult life, and relied on free clinics, where in most areas didn’t exist. Doctors and nurses alike were allowed to decide if they would treat trans people, as there wasn’t anti-discrimination on the books for trans people until President Obama wrote an executive order to have us included under sex discrimination. This same order was then rescinded by the current Administration in the White House.

My story is all too common. Our society is built for the extremely exorbitant wealthy, and those that barely eke out a living, navigate a maze of barriers.

Where one grows up, especially if one was in poverty or in a low-income area, often determines if that person stays in poverty. Moving toward middle class isn’t really a reality for America anymore, and low-income areas are one of the least funded in the nation in regards to schools, transportation, and basic necessities like shelter, food, clean water, and access to electricity and Internet.

With a society focused on wealth gains and measuring economic success by stock market gains, the true reality of life in America is obscured and lost in these out-of-reach details that much of Americans never see. Instead of a society that focuses on humanity and taking care of each other in a cooperative non-zero sum game, we’re trapped in a hellish nightmare of profit-driven economies where competition is bought out in mega-mergers that limit options to monopolies.

Although regulations can help the above, policy changes also need to be done, but as we do so, we need to really think about the impact.

  • Is more regulation needed to balance out the impact of the business world? But if so, who should be writing those regulations?
  • Will such regulations include environment-friendly rules to avoid the horror of lead-stricken water like in Flint, Michigan and parts of the Navajo Reservations in Arizona?
  • How will regulations and policies be enforced? Is there a way to do so in a just and equitable and equal manner?
  • How will policies deal with discrimination against marginalized communities? How will reparations for the harm done be realized?
  • How will for-profit prisons be eliminated and reparations be sought? How will the justice system be reformed to avoid racial bias?
  • How will they impact the day-to-day lives of Americans such as myself? Will the regulations focus more on super-rich persons and businesses in order to solve the wealth inequality? Will the regulations help stop stagnant wage growth and worker exploitation? Will it stop the union-busting corporations do to avoid being held accountable?
  • How will they impact smaller, family owned businesses who don’t have the resources or wealth of a big corporation to maneuver through the rules? Will subsidies for these smaller businesses be made available?
  • Will sustainable energy models be subsidized and retained, and unsustainable energy such as oil and coal be more highly regulated to avoid contributing to climate change further?
  • Will more funding for research to combat climate change and other societal issues that cause harm to people be made available? Will there be investments in fixing these issues?
  • How will ecological and environmental regulations be enforced, especially for large wealthy corporations that are the heaviest polluters and have the largest carbon imprint?

Questions upon questions, and I didn’t even write down all the ones my friends and I have concerning policies, laws, and regulations.

I don’t think Capitalism is a sustainable system because of its narrow focus on productivity, wealth, and endless growth. I think a mixed system that takes good aspects of several different approaches to economic, environmental, and political systems is better, but trying to build that world feels so out of reach at times. I do think that regulations can be a tool used to balance out the out-of-control business sector, but how to write them in a way that benefits human beings in a holistic, equitable, and just way is difficult.

This is compounded by the radicalization of the right-wing people, who strive to scapegoat marginalized communities as the problem rather than the actual problem:  unsustainable giant corporations, unjust laws and for-profit prison systems, decades of discrimination baked into societal norms that have yet to be remedied thus trapping people into school-to-prison pipelines and/or poverty, and the growing threat of climate change. [See also Green Gone Wrong by Heather Rogers published by Verso in 2010; White Rage by Carol Anderson published by Bloomberg in 2016; Resource Rebels by Al Gedicks published by South End Press in 1993.]

The systems that we created for this society don’t work, but those in power don’t want them dismantled or reconstructed because the broken systems push wealth their way, push power their way, and strips us marginalized folks of a voice. This is threat we face, and it is exhausting. Dehumanizing behaviors endured on a daily basis causes trauma and harm to people, and day after day that wears at a person’s health — mental and physical, and decades of discrimination can lead to intergenerational trauma. Much of these systems socialize us from a young age to view specific groups of people with harmful stereotypes, and it can take a lifetime of self-awareness and work to undo that socialization as it harms ourselves just as much as it harms others. [See also So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Olou.]

Life within this Society

Leaving my apartment is an exercise in exhaustion. My gender presentation is mostly androgynous, especially as I look “feminine” by American beauty standards even when I wear T-shirts and jeans. The way I am treated in stores and other public places differs considerably by other people, and I can watch a cashier talk with the person in front of me, only to greet me with silence and stares.

These micro-aggressions add up over time, and just chip away at one’s confidence and safety, and what my friends of color face can often be far worse. Having folks question whether they are even allowed to exist at all is something I’ve seen debated in regards to trans people, immigrants, black communities, Latino communities, and other non-white and/or not-cisgender/straight communities.

Receiving death threats, misgendering, harassment about my body or how I present gender — all of that is trauma that compounds on the PTSD from the abuse and sexual assaults I suffered, and the current climate has turned from more accepting under President Obama to threatening under the current Administration. This sudden hostility has an effect on how Americans perceive folks like me, where the acceptance of our existence is now slipping back into discrimination and harassment, and this impacts health dramatically. It decreases a sense of safety.

Calling out the discrimination by holding people accountable to their words and actions can be a tough decision, as much as we need to hold people accountable, the question always becomes: “Is it safe to do so? Will I be put in harm’s way?”

This is why allies who have less to risk can be such an asset, but often folks don’t want to speak up. Instead they ignore as if this will make the harm go away. But the impacts linger, and those that discriminate and engage in harmful rhetoric continue unabated. This is why reshaping the story of society is so needed. This is why we need to change the societal and structural systems — justice cannot be realized and equality and equity obtained if we do not face the problems and seek solutions.

As a trans person, I have little energy to spare. I can barely get up and do what is necessary for basic survival. I have to live with the impacts of societal systems and the trauma that incurs. Walking away and ignoring the pain doesn’t make the pain go away. Trying to stay positive doesn’t erase the trauma and the physiological symptoms of PTSD.

This is something as a community we can change together if we worked in cooperation instead of in isolation. And that’s the hardest part, working in cooperation because of how society drives home this idea of individualism and wealth and productivity being the top-most importance, as it isolates us and creates fractured communities.

Life within this society is a struggle, and as much as I try to survive, isolation, lack of trans-friendly resources, growing national hostility, discriminatory programs, and micro-aggressions increase the trauma effects. It compounds health issues I and other marginalized communities face. We need to cooperate and work together to change these hostile societal systems and norms, and it can be done.

But first we have to understand the problems and help each other build up enough resiliency to have the energy and strength to take the fight forward.

Voting is important, but not enough, although voting out the corrupt politicians in mid-terms and primary elections will help push us toward a solution. This is where we need our allies to work and cooperate with us. To let our voices be heard and uplift our struggles, and to work together to create a more just, equitable, loving, and equal world. We all have human rights; we are all valid; and we all can share those rights easily.

Categories: Author, Books, Feminism, Philosophy, Race, transgenderTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 comments

  1. You describe the effects of PTSD very succinctly. Your dad has gone through those too. Sometimes I wonder if there is a genetic predisposition to anxiety. Our society of today certainly exacerbates anxiety and such a predisposition, if indeed such exists, would be activated. Keep doing the little relaxing helps that calm and soothe you. Have you tried .meditation, perhaps while listening to beautiful music you like? Your dad finds help in walks in nature, but we live in the country. Walks in a quiet safe place may be more difficult to find in Des Moines. Prayer and reading the Psalms are a great help to me when I awake anxious after a conflict filled nightmare. Prayer and the Psalms help redirect my mind. Writing in my journal after reading psalms helps calm me too. Probably that is why you write in your blog I agree that often that is all an anxiety ridden person can do. Our prayers and thoughts of healing are with you.

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