In order to succeed as the trans community, we must find a space where all of us fit in.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” ― C.G. Jung
It was early February of 2017 when I attended a training in Dallas called the Transgender Leadership Institute, or TLI. Those in attendance made the training quite unique. It was an even mix of transgender and gender non-binary adults, with almost even numbers of parents of transgender kids. My partner and I had just attended the 2017 Creating Change Conference and I was excited to keep the flow going with this new training. It was a fast-paced and intense workshop. There were about eight hours of education and tasks spanning over almost two days. In the end, I didn’t get anything from the workshop itself that I didn’t already know, yet I experienced more in those eight hours than I was prepared for. There were things in my life that I had not yet begun to process, which I was going to have to confront all weekend. I’m going to give you a rundown so that you can have a clearer picture of what I was struggling with while this training was taking place.
The first thing that I had not yet sorted out in my mind was that I was a finalist for a top surgery scholarship granted to trans people by an organization called Point of Pride. At this point in my life, I had been in my physical transition for 5 years. I was very familiar with mourning the idea of my inability to have top surgery, but this was a rejuvenating possibility. I felt hopeful; and with help, I did some research about the previous year in trans excellence (people winning awards, attending the DNC, and other wonder advancements), made my submission video, and waited with bated breath. In the end, although I was a finalist, I did not win. I was devastated, it tore my heart into a million pieces.
Not now Dylan, there’s work to do, I told myself.
As if that wasn’t enough to nearly break me, I had gone to a job interview the week before the training workshop began. It was for a non-profit community outreach role for an organization that had recently begun this campaign of going into middle schools and reigniting students’ dreams in an effort to reduce teen pregnancy, expulsions, and other problematic behaviors. During the interview, I was asked if I would be able to relate to non-transgender kids, or kids whose skin was darker than mine. My response to them was, “All kids are assumed cisgender and straight, as was I.” My theory of education is rooted in diversity inclusion; they didn’t have to worry about singling out or excluding children. Goals that are focused on values of self acceptance, self awareness, and the tools to communicate with each other also give youths the tools to communicate with themselves. In reference to my race, growing up a biracial Texan who looks white in the winter and Mexican in the summer, I am painfully aware of my skin tone. I grew up in the neighborhoods and schools this campaign was visiting. My earliest memories were of living in an apartment complex on Spice Ln. and going through the hole in the old wood fence with my dad to pick up food for our family. These, along with many other similar experiences from my childhood are the ones that connect to youth, not just the color of your skin.
And yet, I didn’t get the job.
My mind was covered by a wet blanket, but, I told myself, Not now Dylan, there’s work to do.
Then of course, there was the fact that the 2017 Texas Legislative Session was in full force. SB4 and SB6 were causing a lot of concern from intersected communities. ICE was doing raids all over the USA and Texas. Trans people were harassed at climbing rates, all while debates with my family over new laws being considered were common, and civil discussions were not. No one had finished processing the 2016 election. Most of us were still having withdrawals from the elation and success of the Women’s March. It felt like HERO (the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) all over again. With HERO, I volunteered for an advertisement in support of the bill that aired every morning for two months. There was also a billboard and ads in local newspapers. So much was at stake and it was the first video of its kind, a trans person education campaign during a city wide election. I was out to the world, no turning back. I received some push-back from our community, and I understood. I looked white—passing privilege. I looked male—passing privilege. Even though I can’t get jobs, I passed. Even though my family doesn’t accept me, I passed. Even though I couldn’t afford to progress my transition, I passed. Why don’t I feel that passing is enough?
Again, my mind spun in circles.
Not now Dylan, there’s work to do.
During one meal break in the middle of our training, we were asked to sit with people we didn’t know to extend our circle. I chose the furthest table away, because it felt right. It was mostly transgender and non-binary adults, with one mother of a trans woman. We were all talking about our experiences, and she was speaking about her daughters’ experiences, as if she’d lived them herself, like many proud mothers tend to do. The topic shifted to something I don’t think either of us was prepared for. While dealing with the impending death of a family member, this woman had asked her daughter to not visit before they passed away. The family member was elderly, and it might upset them to see the daughter and her transition. She listened, as an obedient daughter would. A fire ignited in my chest due to the parallels in my own life. In 2013, my grandmother was in a hospice. I was over one year on hormones and eight months post-name change. My car was repossessed exactly 10 months prior, after I lost my job in the Union for discrimination, and my parents were refusing to give me a ride. Despite this, I took two buses and a light rail to get to the hospice. One of my aunts greeted me at the door and let me see my grandmother, Ernestina Solis Camarillo. The strong, beautiful woman I knew had become frail from her treatments, but she was still there. It was a short visit. I told her I loved her, and she lovingly replied, “Yo también te amo, mi hijo”.
Hijo. Male. I am Dylan.
This was the last interaction I had with my Grandma Tina. She passed away not long after. I explained my experience to this mother, and that I could not imagine listening to my parents. Staying home. Not venturing out to visit my grandmother. Unlike me, her daughter never had the chance to obtain that kind of closure. But who knows if she would have received it at all? I didn’t; but at the moment I didn’t care. The floodgates of my emotion had engulfed my mind. I was shut down.
Not now, Dylan, there’s work to do.
During the day, many of us that were keeping tabs on SB4 were seeing live streams of ICE raids all over Texas. The ones that hit home were around the Southwest Alief area where I grew up. I was guilty with my privilege of being able to attend this training while so many were living in fear of losing their freedom, actively being harassed by police officers, or spending endless nights in detention centers. This was two weeks after I attended the Creating Change Conference, and the first time I sat through a racial justice institute as a biracial person, in the People of Color Workshop. While at CC, I heard testimonies of people with lives just like mine. trans men, half-white and half-Mexican, and I wanted to learn more about the struggles of equity through my genes. It’s very easy to know how to relate to being trans as myself, but I didn’t know how to relate to being a trans person of color. Meeting these people gave me a new perspective.
I spent the night in my room with my weekend roommate and another activist, both Latinx community members. Back in my hotel room, I hung my Texas Rainbow flag over the painting above my bed and we talked about organizing all night. We began deconstructing fear by discussing the fact that injustice towards trans people anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, because we are everywhere. Our trans siblings are in those camps, in those raids, being harrassed. So, why are we here and not talking about that? We made a space to have the discussion, but I slept uneasy because while I was in a hotel bed, there were people—my people, our people—sleeping on concrete floors and in what can only be described as dog kennels. I felt powerless.
Not now, Dylan, there’s work to do.
The next morning, the final day, I was a different person. Everything that had gone unchecked was taking over. I was resentful. This place was filled with something I was familiar with, and it hurt. I was cold, short-tempered, and fed up. I swear I knew these people and they did not want to change. Over the course of the last workshop, I was working out my problems in real time, in a room full of dozens of people—strangers. When it became apparent that I was visibly upset, one of the mothers of a transgender child came up to give me a hug from behind. The gesture was meant out of love, but I was not in the place for any physical contact. I asked to not be touched and took the “call in” (a private way to discuss issues without hurting feelings) outside. I explained that touch is consensual even when coming from a nurturing place, and we had a beautiful, respectful conversation. That ended with a big hug and lots of tears. I was experiencing healing. When the workshop was over, I asked the woman who had spoken of her daughter over dinner if she had a moment. We unpacked our conversation, and I thanked her for being present. I apologized for my outburst and we found another healing moment together.
It was obvious that I had come to so many realizations with no time to log them. I have had time to process since, and would like to share this with you.
First, I am grateful for exclusive trans, GNC/non-binary, and queer spaces. We fight our whole lives for the right to exist, and there is something powerful, surreal, and earth-shaking about being in a room full of those who have had a similar struggle. I appreciate it as the revolutionary act it is. We need to continue to challenge ourselves to grow not only in these spaces, but out of them, as well. If we are to be truly successful we need to structure a balance. It is sure to fail, so goes life, but we will succeed if we are patient, if we listen, and if we try.
Second, learning how much I can take and what a burnout feels like makes it easier to feel one coming, but doesn’t accomplish anything at the time it’s happening. It’s not easy, and it’s not talked about enough within our activist communities. There are no resources or places to go that offer support because we all need it in different ways, and when you’re experiencing a burnout it tends to come with a burn out of funds, as well. After all, most counseling opportunities cost a shining coin. I needed a place to cry and not perform my life or be “on”. I think self-love/care is the brand that has given us a place to begin the conversation, but we need to acknowledge it is also dismissing of the larger issue. Self-care is something you give yourself. So, I can just say, “Remember self care!” and that fulfills my requirement as a friend. We need more involvement; and we need less judgement. Seeking help, time, space, love, or even blowing up in an activist space is a healthy display of emotion but we need to learn what happens next.
We’re a family and we all need to learn more. Do more.
Third, it is not easy or comfortable to talk about issues that we have no control over. One of the largest parts of organizing is isolating issues before we can acknowledge and accept to begin finding solutions. I personally have been working very hard to have these difficult conversations, but reached a roadblock I didn’t expect. Four days after the conference I was arrested on “day without an immigrant”, for a warrant I had from two years prior for not having insurance on my vehicle. That’s a story for another day, but it changed my entire year. I no longer had the ability to advance myself, these concerns, this conversation, or accomplish anything other than keeping myself afloat, which friends and family kept reminding me I needed to do. I am sorry now that I didn’t take their advice. I feel that in 2017, I let my community down and I stayed lost. After preparing for a year to attend the open session, my own fear and paranoia of being arrested while traveling kept me home. I never felt someone reach out to me, but I think it had to do with being buried by my fear. As surely as I felt lost for months I found laser sight at the Unity Banquet http://www.unitybanquet.com/ . Clarity in the words of Judge Phyllis Frye, “Why aren’t you running?” and Former Mayor Annise Parker, “Allies are great, but we have to make sure we use our own voices, too.”
Lastly, to reiterate the Jung quote from before, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”. I was turned off by everything because I saw what my mind had been experiencing over the past five years. A lack of acceptance, stubbornness, selfishness, all wrapped up in unsupportive parents. I could not see past it, but just as clearly as I saw these things, I was able to let them go and destroy that projection of dysfunction onto strangers. I am so grateful for the experience of such a unique type of workshop. I was unprepared, though; life had a different plan. I came in at the bottom of my life at that moment, and I left at the bottom, too. I left with a new experience of uncharted territory, and it was going to take months to process.
So, here we are today.
Every single parent who accepts their child is a radical revolutionary. When I think about problems that come up in my life, sometimes I imagine one of those mothers as my own. Calling me her son. Telling me she’s proud of me—Dylan. I am so happy for the children that have parents willing to challenge themselves and grow. It can’t be easy. I only see the pushback they choose to share, but I know it must be scary for them. The Transgender Day of Remembrance https://www.glaad.org/tdor , lawmakers attacking their children, schools not creating a safe space for all students, and the common concerns of a growing child. One of the largest rewards for me is seeing these amazing kids organizing in their schools. Sharing their lives on social media because they are loved for who they are.
I love our community and the challenges we face in making new seats at the table. Although, sometimes it feels like standing room only. Maybe it’s time we got a bigger house.
Are you registered to vote?
Dylan Wilde Forbis is a native Texan who grew up in Houston’s diverse South West side, commonly known as Alief. He has been active in the Houston LGBTQI community for 12 years. In 2012 he began his physical transition from female to male, and today is active in the fight for Transgender equality. After publicly coming out in 2015 during a commercial for the city wide HERO campaign, Dylan began a more open position in the movement. In January of 2017 he moved to Pearland, TX with his partner and is currently running a campaign for candidacy as Texas State House District 29.