Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 20th Is Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20th Is Transgender Day of Remembrance

Introducing Fresh Voices of the Trans Community Through a Candid Interview with a Young and Charismatic Artist, Zeke Spooner

LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. While many may be familiar with the first three letters—the L, G and the B—they may still have questions about the T, because, of all the letters in the LGBT, T is the most difficult to grasp.

Transgender Remembrance Day Event 2007 hosted by the LGBT Center, NYC. Remembrance Tree. Photo Copyright 2007 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Transgender Remembrance Day Event 2007 hosted by the LGBT Center, NYC. Remembrance Tree. Photo Copyright 2007 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

So let’s try to grasp it today, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and every other day. The history of TDofR begins on November 28th, 1998, in Allston, Massachusetts, with the brutal murder of an African American transgender woman by the name of Rita Hester. One year later, on November 20th, a vigil took place in San Francisco, in her memory, and, with it, the first Transgender Day of Remembrance, founded by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender graphic designer and activist.

Transgender Remembrance Day 2007. Leaf with Sylvia Rivera on It. Photo Copyright 2007 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Transgender Remembrance Day Event 2007 hosted by the LGBT Center, NYC. Leaf with Sylvia Rivera on It. Photo Copyright 2007 by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

While I’ve covered Transgender Day of Remembrance related events in the past and interviewed out trans actors and esteemed, well-known members of the community, like Ron B., only recently I had the chance to be able to see life through a trans person's eyes, while talking with a young, charismatic, creative and inspiring new member of the community, Zeke Spooner, who took the time to talk candidly about things we may want to know about being trans, but are hesitant to ask. I've learned a lot from Zeke's story and I'd like to share it with you, in Zeke's own words.

When did you first realize you were different? How?

Nobody really teaches you about sexual identity. I went through it thinking I was gay, maybe bisexual, and every time I thought it was close, but didn’t quite fit. And then I thought maybe I’d feel better if I just saw myself as a guy. So I started envisioning myself as male, and as soon as I had that image in my head I really couldn’t see myself as anything else.

I realized something was odd when I hit puberty. I figured it out on my own but didn’t really pursue it for a long time. I mentioned it to my mom [but] she wasn’t ready to come to terms of losing a daughter and gaining a son. So I kinda went along with it for a while, to be nice to my mom... I mean, I had that “Aha!” moment, figured it all out, but let it sit on the back burner. Eventually, as time went on, I found it harder and harder to let it sit on the back burner. So, in school, I started having my friends call me Zeke, which was a name that came to me because I didn’t know anyone else with that name.

How did you choose your name, Zeke?

I really liked the sound of it. It kinda fit me for one reason or another. It comes from a part of the Bible related to mysticism. Not that I’ve been studying the Bible, but I just thought the concept was interesting. There was also a band at the time called Zeke. So I thought the stars aligned to give me a suiting name. And because my female name was an ode to my grandfather, I decided to use the  male name version of it, Morris, as my middle name, as a tribute to grandpa.

Zeke Spooner: B&W Portrait. Photo Courtesy of Zeke Spooner, edited by Alina Oswald. Copyright 2012.
Zeke Spooner: B&W Portrait. Photo Courtesy of Zeke Spooner, edited by Alina Oswald. Copyright 2012.

Can you describe a typical day in your life, in the life of a young trans-man?

I basically do the same things as everybody else. When I was first coming to terms with my trans life, I kept thinking “Why is life so unfair?” But I really worked through it. My first surgery, the chest surgery, made it much easier. It made me more like an average Joe. You know, I can now take my shirt off—not all the time, because there are statues of limitation—but I have the option.

At this point, the trans [part of my life] almost doesn’t factor at all. With the exception of my weekly injections and every so often meeting up with my therapist or endocrinologist, getting blood work to make sure everything is ok or scheduling surgeries, it’s really nothing that makes me all that different.

Can you talk more about the injections?

I take testosterone intramuscularly once a week. I generally end up doing it wrong and hurting myself, I think because I’m too skinny and there’s not enough room for me to inject the stuff. Have to talk to my doctor about that…

Aren’t you afraid of needles and/or giving yourself the shots?

Luckily I’m not afraid of needles. Last year after the October snowstorm it was the worst time. I was even worse at it than I am now. We didn't have power for a week and my testosterone went down to a lower temperature [than normal]. And I had to inject solidified matter into my leg. But other than that, it really doesn’t hurt too badly. It’s kind of a pinch. You put a big needle into your leg. It’s a decent size needle, thicker than your standard [one], because testosterone as a solution is kinda thick, like syrup almost. So it would get stuck if you use a smaller needle. The main issue with testosterone for a lot of trans guys is really the psychological aspect of injecting yourself, which I’ve never had a problem with.

Can you talk more about the psychological aspect?

I’ve never had a problem. When I went to the endocrinologist for the first time to get my testosterone prescription, I was excited. The doctor showed me how to do it and then I was on my own. I was really, really nervous about it, but figured it out.

You mentioned earlier your first surgery. How do you feel after it and do you plan on having other surgeries?

For a long time I wasn’t feeling as brave as I [feel] now. I didn’t want to have surgeries or do the testosterone because I was afraid of how it would change me. But then eventually I became more confident in myself and met more people like me.

[About the surgery] I wasn’t particular scared of [it]. I scheduled it in the middle of finals. So I was so busy that I didn’t have time to be afraid [or] think about it. Stress was extraordinarily high [at the time], but I couldn’t attribute it to surgery.

There is also therapy involved, correct?

Therapy is necessary to make sure that this transformation is what you want. I believe [for testosterone] is three to six months of counseling; for chest surgery it’s one-year of therapy. Any sort of surgery involving below the belt requires at least one year of therapy, generally more. Reason for therapy is to prove that you won’t sue the doctors for doing these kinds of surgery.

You have a girlfriend. How does she feel about your transition?

She’s [been] one of my biggest supporters from the get go. She’s been helping me figure out what I want to do and take the steps I needed to take. She’s been a great support.

When you're transgender and you’re in a relationship, you want to be seen as the person you are [inside]. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen all the time. Relationships with trans people can be very difficult. I was really lucky to find someone so supportive.

Going through this transition is a complex process. There's a lot to process. Where should someone in your shoes start looking for information?

It’s kind of a standard process. Whenever you are learning something new or discovering something new, you have to look into it. So I did a little research. If you look online, there’s a wealth of information, forums, chat rooms, [etc.], good for talking it out, but also for sharing resources, names of therapists who are familiar with and friendly to the T [community]. I started going to a trans youth support group in New Haven. These kinds of support groups are definitely helpful for people who have questions about their gender identity.

How would you advise young new trans individuals to deal with their parents?

First, it really depends on the individual’s parents. Be patient. Give your parents time to adjust. Even parents who are supportive [like my mom] need time to come to terms [with it], because “trans” is not something you hear about all the time.

People have issues coming to terms with their child being gay, and that’s something more relevant in the media [nowadays]. Think about how much more difficult it is gonna be [for parents] to digest the fact that their kid is trans, something that we [still] hear almost nothing about.

Unfortunately, members of the LGBT community are still being bullied, especially young individuals. The topic has been on the news quite recently. Aren’t you concerned of being bullied? Discriminated against?

Back when I was in high school the NAMES program came to our school, and I ended up writing a speech about being a trans man because so few people knew about it. I’ve actually never had to worry about that. Even when I was going through the gamut of sexualities and I came out, I really didn’t face discrimination or bullying... but talked to people who had.

What would you tell individuals who have been bullied?

There’s a local foundation called Jim Collins Foundation started by Tony Feraiollo [and Dru Levasseur], which tries to help people in the trans community with financial needs. They give free chest-binders to people who cannot afford them. Tony told me about this guy we wanted to send a binder to, and who was having a really rough time. So, when I sent the binder, I also sent a letter along, saying that it takes a lot of courage to be true to your identity; that the fact that you’re willing to stand up for who you are means that you’re already manly enough, so don’t let anybody tell you that you are a girl because you may look female; because being a man it’s not only what’s on the outside, but also what’s on the inside. People need to unlock their confidence, because it takes a lot of confidence to know for sure that you are someone people say you are not, and stand by it.

What other advice do you for trans individuals or people who may think they are transgender?

When it comes to surgery or hormones, it’s important to know that nothing is set in stone. Every person creates its own path. For me it’s not necessarily that I need to, but I want to go the whole nine yards. But some people are content never going on testosterone or only going on testosterone, having chest surgery, etc. It’s an individual thing. Do not feel like stuck in a box. People [need to follow their own paths] and do what’s best for them.

Also, when it comes to hormone therapy, do it safely. Try to go about it in the most legitimate fashion, to minimize the risks involved.

What do you think about celebrities, like Chaz Bono, who come out?

In my case it had no effect, but I’m sure it can have a positive effect. The more well-known people come out, the more attention—hopefully positive attention—they bring to the topic. Knowledge is power.

You also have an artistic side…

I paint traffic cones. One day I was coming back from the movies with one of my best friends. And he saw this traffic cone on the road and said, “Hey, dude, you should totally take that cone and paint a smiley face on it.” And I stuck it in my garage and forgot about it for a few months. Then I started painting it, and showed it to my friend, [and then] to other people… and started getting requests of other things to paint.

What do you paint on the cone? How?

I do all sorts of random things—faces, ice cream cones. The first thing I do is spray paint [the cone], apply a nice basecoat so that the paint would stick on it. It takes awhile because I don’t use the paint I’m supposed to use. I get whatever I find. So I spray paint them, dry them, and then I paint the design and go over and varnish them. It seems to work very well.

Do you plan on having a show, displaying your artwork for others to see?

There’s actually a craft show happening at the teen center in town, in November. But for the most part I don’t do much with them, unless someone makes a request.

Any other future plans you’d like to share?

I’m hoping to go into massage therapy. It’s one of the most selfless professions out there, because you’re helping people relax, which is good and it doesn’t happen often enough. I also realized while talking with a massage therapist that it would be extraordinarily beneficial for me, when I have surgeries, because I’d be learning all about the body—how it all connects, how to make it heal, how to minimize scars and all that. So I realized that, if surgery is my priority—which at the moment it is—doing something like massage [therapy], which will help the body heal and go very well with surgery, is a good path to take.

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