Real Boy and Beyond

Real Boy and Beyond

 

I haven’t written a blog post in almost a year.. The easy answer is that I was perpetually drunk and high up until Feb of this year. To my credit I suppose I have managed to accomplish a fair amount in that shape, but it has not been easy and I have to look back through my calendar to remember much of it. What comes to mind are a constant stream of failed attempts to dry up, frustration, stoking the tiny fire of hope in the figurative rain, punctuated with shows, screenings for Real Boy, workshops for the Albert Cashier musical, family dinners, and hazy AA meetings – all in no particular order. Oh and not to forget the empty bank account and endless nights being wasted alone in my van, chain smoking and yammering on in my journal about how I wish I was sober. I haven’t had a night like that in almost five months now, and I can’t say I miss it. That’s a welcomed change.

This week Real Boy hit the greater public via broadcast on PBS, it’s amazing to remember back four years ago when this started with Shaleece and her camera, filming things I didn’t think were very interesting at the time. Since the film was released last year I have been hopping around the country and the world speaking and playing music at screenings and film festivals, fully enveloped in a world of Real Boy. I have seen it dozens of times now, I get the songs and bits of dialogue in my head as I’m trying to sleep. I am currently in Norway, getting ready to play at an event for Oslo’s Queer Youth Pride event, put on by Skeiv Ungdom, Oslo og Akershus, the organizer found me from seeing Real Boy at the Oslo Queer Film Festival.  This is my last Real Boy event until the fall; I’ll then go into full Albert-mode, gearing up for the premier of The Civility of Albert Cashier, a musical I have been working on for the last almost two years that premiers in Chicago in September.

It has been a whirlwind of travel, early sobriety, a new ladyfriend, and many things to do that I have never done before, but I am mostly content, if a little scattered. When I get home I’ll have a few days of jet lag and dental work, then I get to drive my favorite route through the Great Basin and the Rockies with my new travel buddy en route to Chicago. I am working hard to get my wits about me again – I have fallen out of touch with many a dear friend over the boozy years, my online presence is terribly sporadic and out of date, and my reputation for being a big flake precedes me in a painful way.. For any of you who have had the frustrating experience of corresponding with me, I am so, so sorry – agonizing over my poor communication keeps me up at night. I have been “sorry” for so long now, the only thing that can make those apologies mean anything is to actually change my behavior. I was hoping that just the act of quitting drinking and drugs alone would clear it all up, but alas, it will actually take some work. I’m on it.

I hope to be more present online, in my communications, in my family and my communities. For now I will go out into rainy downtown Oslo and find some food before a presentation tonight on the state of LGBTQ rights in America, should be interesting.

xoj

 

TDoR 2015

TDoR 2015

On Trans Day of Remembrance this year of 2015, in the midst of picking up the pieces from yet another defeat in my struggle for sobriety (sanity, life itself), I am wondering how many folks who’s names will be read aloud tonight struggled with drugs and alcohol. I’m wondering how many trans/gender non-conforming folks lost their lives this year to an overdose, liver disease, car accidents, diseases transmitted through drug use, or took their own lives under the influence or with the compounding stress of being trans and suffering from addiction. I have had the honor to know a few of them, before they left us too soon.

I recognize that, except for a few variables in my life, I could very well be a part of that statistic. I have been to rehab three times. I have had access to counseling and psychiatric medication, on which I heavily rely. I have a supportive family that has never given up on me. I was introduced to 12 step early on and have always felt safe there. I was able to transition at 22. I am white. I am seen in the world as a relatively normative male. I can hardly wrap my head around what my life would have been like if any of these variables were different. It’s hard to say if I would be alive today. In these troubled times in my life, I am often amazed that I am still alive, good variables and all.

So this year, my heart and my thoughts go out to all the trans/etc folks who have lost the battle with addiction and mental health. My heart and thoughts go out to those who are alive and still struggling, to those who are still alive but feel hopeless, and to all those who love them. May all the good vibes sent out today give us all the strength and courage to get through one more day.

j

Queer Camp Reflections

This weekend I went to Queer Camp. I was so in the groove of spending all damn day on the computer, an endless stream of booking emails coming and going, flicking back and forth between map and calendar, Facebook and email, Songs of the People and album material… And then along comes Queer Camp, a 3.5 day camping trip in Castro Valley with no phones or computers, to build community and share art and social justice work with queers I may or may not know in a beautiful temperate place. I have to say, it’s not the easiest thing for me to mentally switch gears, especially when I am super nervous about something (like, say, booking a giant US tour and putting out my first solo project), so as fun as it sounded, I wasn’t entirely up for it. But I was teaching a songwriting workshop, so I had to go.

My first evening I had what I can only describe as work/internet withdrawal. My mind was elsewhere and I really wanted to be with it, and instead I was awkwardly meeting new people and swatting mosquitoes. But I figured, since I’ve got my recording schedule all blocked out and I start June 2nd, I should use this time to break out of my compulsive social media checking and energy intensive but only partially productive computer absorption. It turned out to be a good call.

I am always surprised, even though I shouldn’t be by now, at just how small a queer world it is. No one is too many degrees of separation a part, even when folks meet in entirely different ends of the country for seemingly unrelated reasons. Yet, here you are again, you know so-and-so, they know so-and-so who knows so-and-so, oh we met way back in random place with so-and-so. No way! Even so, there can be folks that you may share an entire circle of friends with, been at the same events, but have strangely never met. I was able to connect and reconnect with so many lovely, interesting, and inspiring people, and I fell in love with my community all over again.

The weekend brought us all together, the programming got us all out of our comfort zones and interacting with everyone, and we all became very close. It’s strange to remember first looking around the circle at the semi-unfamiliar faces, and at the end, looking around at the same faces that were now familiar, that showed their depth and insight, and to feel real love between us. When the queer community is so often found in the bars, it was a wonderful thing (especially for this sober guy) to be in a beautiful place out doors, away from the party atmosphere to commune with my fellows.

The songwriting workshop was awesome. Each one is different and they really keep me on my toes, and I hadn’t done one in a while. We got some really interesting pieces out of this one! Someone gave me one of the best and most unique complements I have ever received – they said that I was the song mid-wife! Amazing, and truly an honor. The magic for me is finding that little nugget of concentrated truth, a shining piece of golden art in the ore of words someone just mined, pulling it out and setting it into a form, and building a structure around it. And thus – a song. The magic is also when someone sees their own words, their own story and experience, come alive is a piece of music. It is really, indescribably cool.

So now I am back at the computer, attempting to switch gears yet again back into work mode. The weekend gave me some time to ground out, and settle into my intention for this project. Yes, I am trying to make a living. I can’t do anything if I don’t make a living. But most importantly, I am trying to offer something useful to the world – doing the thing that somehow I seem built for and called to do, and trusting that it is not only an important contribution, but the best one that I can personally make. That’s a pretty tall order, and it reaches beyond this one album – it really is the way I want to live my life. I feel like a toddler in this sober life of mine, my functions barely back on line, the world seeming to be this wide, overwhelming place that I am bumbling through. If I stay the course, I may find myself able to handle far more than I can now, and that would truly be somethin’ else.

So here I go, this coming Monday.. I am locking myself in my studio and I’m not coming out (except to play church gigs, a wedding, and mow lawns) until it’s done. And it must all be ready for submission by July 11th. No big deal.

Wish me luck! Better yet – how bout some patience and perseverance 🙂

j

 

 

TDoR and Evolution

I’m sitting at an outside table at a corner coffee shop in Tucson with Bennett and his dog Honey. We passed Trans Day of Remembrance driving Hwy 62, 72, 10, 86, 8, and 10 again from the Mojave to the Sonoran desert. We got the van stuck in a sandy wash, and on our third attempt to dig it out with a plate and a frying pan, two guys in a minivan stopped to help pull us out with a rope. Honey thought it was the funnest game there ever was.

We talked about our journeys through transition. We talked about our experiences in the context of trans* experience through history. We talked about how, even in the light of our relative privilege, we still feel like we barely made it through the fire. Both of us could have easily made it onto that long list of names that were read and acknowledged by communities all around the world. I thought about my pen pals from Iran and Venezuela who persevere in environments totally unimaginable to me. I think about my new friend who courageously steps out of her home each day, finally as herself. When the list of names is read and I can count the names of male-identified folks on one hand, my bravery seems to pale in comparison.

Gender is something so fundamental to human culture and biology. As our environmental pressures change and our survival tactics must adapt, we find that oftentimes culture lags behind. At least it feels that way to those of us who bear witness to such unnecessary violence and loss. The faster our environment changes, the faster we must change, and the more friction there is at the edges. The history of physical and social sex transition is a good example of the quickening nature of change, and the greater whole of us’s struggle to keep up. But it happens, glacially as it may seem. When I read articles about gay men fleeing from Syria to Lebanon and the torture and extortion they experience; workers paid pennies a day to make western clothes dying in crumbling buildings, and there’s no clear consensus on whether buying the clothes does more harm than not buying them; my beloved western spaces fracked beyond repair in my life time, because lighting faucet water on fire still isn’t proof enough that it’s dangerous; hundreds of thousands of people killed in a war while the governments of the world stand by and weigh their financial interests; poor countries taking the brunt of climate change caused by the excesses of wealthy countries – I am overwhelmed at the enormity of suffering that exists on this planet. Hope seems elusive when lost in that emotional storm. What tethers me pack to the hopeful present is just the plain impersonal nature of impermanence. Change. Evolution. It happens in its time, its force a confluence of so many energies so complex, all I can do is accept it and trust its nature. And do what I can to add my breath to the great wind of growth, awareness, and love.

My heros this time around are Ben and Rachael Hudson of the Gender Heath Center. Together, with very little means, they set out and created the services they wanted to see provided in the world, and now serve and inspire a community that stretches over all social lines. They provide services for youth that they did not have access to. They provide services to families that their families did not have access to. Services that my family and my young self did not have access to in the same town we lived in. Seeing that change has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. From all of us who’s lives you have changed, many thanks.

Tucson is mellow and overcast, many friends I knew here have moved on, and I am such a different person than I have been at many times through this town. The trains still holler through the city, and it is still one of the loveliest places to be in the winter. Bennett and I will play for Transgender Week of Awareness here and do our part, I get to play with my super homie Courtney Robbins a few times, and take another long beautiful drive through the desert with my buddy. All the names on the list stay with me, as well as those who remain unknown. Also, all people who lose their lives due to our inability to evolve fast enough. They are all ours.

Love,

j

Desert to Dashboard

My partner took these last nine days off work over a year ago to go to Hawaii, and failing to find the funds, we decided I would take her to some of my favorite national parks. Then the government shut down, so we decided to go for a back country romp in the southwest. We packed up my tried and true minivan, and with her gas card and my food stamps, off we went. As we rolled along through NV, UT, and AZ, hot spring hopping, BLM camping, and exploring ghost towns, a few of the parks started to open. We went through southern Utah all the way to Monument Valley, through the Navajo Rez, dipped down to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, played on some pink sand dunes, walked under some natural rock bridges, cooked by flashlight, peed outside, and communed with the big spaces for a week and a half. It was a much needed head clearing.

Somewhere in the Eastern Sierras with my first bit of cell service in days, I was asked to join a conversation about trans representation in the media for a segment on HuffPost Live. I was able to get a comment recorded and sent over from a Mc Donald’s parking lot (yay free wifi) in Bishop CA, and am truly blown away by how far things have come in such a short time, and truly honored to be a part of the movement that is bringing a much deeper understanding of what it means to be human – not just queer and trans. It’s an honor to count many of the folks in the conversation as contemporaries and friends. At a time when I am struggling to redefine myself post-addiction, where the hell I am going, and what is meaningful to me, the little boosts go a long way.

Then, when I got home and rejoined the world online, I found out that my fundraising goal has already broken the half way point!! As I scrolled through the names of supporters, some folks I have known for years, others a few degrees of separation away, some I haven’t met yet, I could only conclude that my music must be important enough to other people, no matter what my inner critic says. And I felt that a momentum exists that might be stronger than the forces that drag me down into drinking, depression, and darkness. And that in fact, I have the ability to further empower it, if I so choose. I felt a deep sense of gratitude to everyone who is chipping in, monetarily or energetically. And then my computer overheated and the rainbow pinwheel spun on a static page until I had to force a shut down. Not a moment too soon 🙂

A big huge THANK YOU for the kindness of all the folks who have donated already!! The music is happening and I can’t wait to start getting it down on.. hard drive. If you’d still like to throw in a donation, you are more than welcome to do so here.

Love to you all! More thoughts and pictures from the road coming soon.

j

“Real Boy vol. 1”

Hi Friends!

Here is an update on a project I am working on, if you haven’t heard about it already. I met Bennett earlier this year and a sober youth conference in LA, and being very happy to find another transguy in the mix, we became friends. Not only is he also trans, but he is also a singer/songwriter! When we met he was 19 and trying to get his transition up and running, and struggling with his family and trying to find a way forward in life. He came up to Sacramento and lived in my attic for a few months over the summer and we made an album! The album “Real Boy vol. 1” conveniently gets his first album produced and also helps him fund his top surgery. Some folks also became interested in our story – the music, the mentorship, the journey to find one’s voice and place in the world – and have been filming a documentary about us, which should surface sometime in 2014. The funny thing about documentaries is that you don’t know how it’s going to end.. I guess we’ll find out!

Hanging with Ben has brought some amazing gifts to my life that I recognize now as irreplaceable. That my experience of transition could be of use to anyone else, especially in my particular case being a vocalist and looking at an irreversible voice change, has proved incredibly rewarding. We have worked together arranging his songs, I have been able to help him rework his songs into new keys, find the new “sweet spots” in his changing voice, produce and album and play supporting instruments.. It has been challenging and productive. At a time when I have been very caught up in my own head about my songwriting, it has been the perfect thing to refocus my attention on someone else’s music. Ben is also now enrolled in Community College in Santa Cruz, living in his first apartment with his buddy Dylan, and I can’t explain to you how it feels to see him get happy and healthy, enroll in college as a guy, and be able to take it on without all the distractions of unresolved dysphoria and self medication. I don’t do regrets, but I do wish I could have had all my wits about me while I was in college. I missed many opportunities because I just didn’t have it in me then. Being there for him is like being there for my younger self when there were few resources and very few transguys further along to look to. The friendship has been awesome, mutually so. The documentary will be interesting to watch retrospectively.

Here is the link to our Kickstarter, please chip in if you are able. We have 15 more days to raise the rest of the money!! Ben and I have done a benefit show in San Francisco, and we are doing on this Saturday in San Pedro! We are very excited for this show, his family and friends will all get to see him perform for the first time.

Please check out our work!! Hope all is well 🙂

j

If it is to be

Tonight I drove from Truckee to Sacto, over the Donner Summit. I drove along the dark lake circled by tall trees, the highway climbed further up the forbidding mountains of rock and snow with a heavy blackening sky overhead. 166 years ago the wagon-less, starving, forlorn pioneers of the Donner-Reed Party were building cabins at the far end of the frozen lake, hopelessly cut off from the other side of the summit by twenty foot snow drifts, searing cold, and sheer exhaustion. They were still trapped and in the worst shape possible in April; no one could get over the pass to help them, even if they hadn’t been busy fighting the Mexicans for control of California. It took me two hours to make the trip in my minivan, and the rain fell on small patchy piles of dirty snow.

~

I am thinking about songwriting these days, as if it were my dog, my best friend, who rightly wandered off to go get his needs met elsewhere while I was lost in myself. I sort of assumed he would always be around, though through my most selfish of days I was secretly grateful for the times he would wander off. He needs a break, I would say to myself. We’re just going through some changes. I’ll spend some good time with him when I come out of this spin, he understands. Next time. I missed our happy best buddy days, endless hours of play and communion, but deep down I was relieved when he wasn’t around – freed from the yoke of responsibility, away from the pangs of guilt that came when our eyes met, when he returned to find me right where I had been when he left. It had been so long since I felt like myself around him. Since I felt like myself at all. I’m not quite sure when the last time I saw him was, but it’s been a while, and I miss him. I’m sorry now, and I wish he would come home.

It is sometimes easier to live in your mind in a world of embellished memories and best case scenarios of future projections. If you are sufficiently detached from reality, the lines between memory and fantasy, goal and desire, blur. Keep the ether coming, and you can stay in that world for a long time – things are amazing, more great things are around the corner, all that is wrong will right itself just because it will. I’ll get everything worked out and my dog will come on back home, tail wagging and eyes sparkling, and we’ll go on to live our glorious future days together. It’ll be like no time had past at all.

Only, now that the fog has lifted, his leash still hangs by the door and it is still quiet in the house. Days and days go by, and I come to my senses. Do I really expect him to just trot up the drive like nothing happened and pick up right where we left off? It has been so long since I have lost all sense of time playing with him, I don’t even really remember how. Would it be the same? If he walked up to me now with a ball in his mouth I’m not sure I would know what to do.. It would be awkward. I would probably flood with messy inconvenient feelings. Would he stay? Would he want to give me another try? Who am I now? How did I not realize how long he had been gone?

I wish I could erase this emptiness, fill it with something, but I can’t. I don’t blame him at all for leaving, I was really the one that left. The only way to truly honor the gift he has been in my life would be to really feel the loss of his presence, become willing to meet him wherever he is at, and make it right, one moment at a time. It took time for our ties to wither, it will take time for them to rejoin. If it is to be. Maybe one day he will return to my house for good, lay on the rug by my chair, and sleep. As we sit by the fire, I’ll know he will be there in the morning, and we will enjoy a new day together. Whatever happens, I will work to accept my life as it is.

~

It could be worse, I could be stuck and starving in the snow up on the Donner Pass. If I had been born as I am in that time period, I wouldn’t even have lived long enough to be a miserable transgendered alcoholic with a mood disorder, I would have died of the ear infections I had as a child. Nothing like a little history to put your life into context and lighten things up 🙂 I went up the mountain hoping my songwriting would magically reappear, and I came back down with the insight that it is a craft I must re-cultivate. I suppose one’s work cant always be easy and sublime, and a greater degree of fulfillment may lie in its use to the world beyond the worker. It’s time to roll up my sleeves.

j