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As my experience at Public Allies comes to an end, I can envision myself…? That’s the million dollar question. These 10 months have really come and gone. Now that I’m beginning to see the light at the end of this tunnel, I am beginning to think about my growth as an individual and professional from a social justice lens.  And you know what? I still don’t know sh*t. But because of critical (and sometimes painful) self-reflection, the support of my cohorts, and the loving patience from the PA coaches, I have a base I can build on.

A starting point I can refer too in case I get lost, and trust me, that sh*t happens a lot. GPS won’t be able to tell me where to go, hell I don’t even drive. What I will say  the PA space  has given me is an engine I can put back in my car as I’m riding through life’s ills. I’ll expand on that later. Over these 10 months I’ve experienced pot holes, road blocks, slippery road conditions,  and whatever other metaphor I can come up with that refers to me trying to work through challenges.

Back to that engine though. To me, that engine signifies value and leadership. What’s a car without an engine? In other words, what am I but a hollow shell without values? Value for myself, value for the things I say, and more importantly, value for the things I do. For a long time I was having a hard time recognizing the value in…life, period. I mean, just the way I grew up and the mindset I got stuck in (and at times  still catch myself in) was just not very conducive to being a responsible human being, and better yet, not very conducive to being a leader.

Only very recently have I come to recognize that in social justice (and in life period), not recognizing the value in things aka “not giving a f*ck”  can’t cut it. It just can’t. I can only speak for myself, but what I will say is that “whatever, I don’t give a sh*t about anything”  attitude is not only unsustainable, but  hurtful to myself  and people around me as well.  So I had to switch gears. There’s a lot of unlearning I have to do and the road might get tough, but I have to keep chugging along.

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Who am I?

I am learning a lot about where my limits are as a young trans man and as a Public Ally.  I used to think I wasn’t capable of going beyond the walls of my house or even to the market to get groceries, but here I am 7 months into my Public Allies experience, and I’m still alive, and functioning.  Now though, I feel like I’m dealing a lot with self doubt, and the confidence I have in myself.

I guess to give a little background to why it amazes me that I’m able to make it through PA is because I was diagnosed as Agoraphobic with a Panic Disorder.  I spent about a year of my life barely able to leave the house.  If i did go out it was at off times when i knew that there would barely be anybody there.  Sometimes I would have to leave a place because I would start to have a panic attack, which meant I have abandoned many grocery carts at the market because I couldnt stand to be there and make it through a line and then go…i had to leave NOW!

This also made school really hard for me.  I barely graduated from High School.  I finished in an Independent Study Program and received my diploma, but I missed out on a lot of the social activities that High School offers.  I didn’t go to prom, or graduation or grad-night.  I couldn’t even fathom going at that time.  So when it came time to go to college I really struggled.  I struggled because it was a new place, with new people, and I didn’t really know anybody.  That added to my anxiety.  I was also simultaneously struggling with my Transition and my own identity.  It was a hectic time to say the least.

Now I’m a Public Ally.  And I have the privilege to be surrounded by amazing people who are all very forward thinking and about social justice.  Like I mentioned above I have been battling myself recently on the fact that i tend to doubt myself and what I have to say.  I am one of the few folks that does not have my Bachelors Degree yet.  I’m working on it, but I have always struggled with school, and between my anxiety, and learning disability I just have taken a lot of breaks.  In the PA space I have noticed myself having conversations in my head about how what i have to say is, “not good enough, smart enough, worded right, intelligent enough…” so on and so forth.  In my heart I know that what I ahve to say is important too, and maybe it isn’t worded the most elloquently but it still has a point, and it still has meaning.  Even with that I look around the room at all these people who are all fighting for change in their community, and I’m doing the same thing…the only difference is they have their degree.  And it has been engrained in my head since High School, the value of a degree, which means…i am of less value? or I am not as smart or intelligent?

I struggle in the space sometimes trying to figure out who i am? What do i represent? Do I represent the Transgender Man, who struggles with school…and doesn’t have a degree? or am I a Transgender man who has powerful experiences and has a lot to offer despite the fact that he does not have a degree?  I guess I am both, depending on which way you look at it.

The thing I’m learning though is that I’m the one who is having issues with this.  Nobody in the PA space has ever said anything to me that has been geared towards my education.  And when i hold what I want to say back, and I don’t share my experiences I maybe holding back information that the group could benefit from. 

The quote that i think of when i think about the human experience, and what it means to bring MY experience to the table is from the movie THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE

                   ” I look at those memories. I look at those moments. Everyone lives differently.  When you go somewhere out of your own comfort zone, out of your own realm, and you enter someone else’s, that’s learning. “

If in theory you think you’re either an optimistic or a pessimistic, I’m going to have to challenge you on that. Correction: I’m going to have to challenge myself on that one. You know that saying about how depending on whether you see the glass half empty or the glass half full you are either an optimist or a pessimist? I have to thank the ever so witty and funny Demitri Martin for challenging that notion and saying the following:

 You know how they say people that say the glass is half full are optimists, and people that say the glass is half empty are pessimists? They don’t really specify what the glass is full of. What if its a half a glass of sh’t? As an optimist I would like to see it has half empty. Baby blood is even more confusing, cause is this blood going  to a baby, or coming  from  a baby? Cause if it’s coming from a baby, I’m gonna say “All right, come down, it’s a half-empty glass of baby blood, no big deal. Don’t ask me how I got it, just listen to what I’m saying…”” Demetri Martin

 What does this have to do with my Ally experience? Content,context,and patience. It has been very easy to me in my personal life to always focus on the negative. My “short fuse” makes me jump to conclusions and be impatient about the things that aren’t going as I planned.  I joke and say I’m an optimistic pessimist but I have realized the following: 1) at some point I’m going to be neither, or just one of those. And 2) why am I so focused on binary thinking again?

 So here I am juggling these big words like “binary, deficit perspective” (and my favorite one, although not so much “a big word”) “Its all in your head” (Credits: PA Coach). If this is all in my head and I’m freaking out for no reason- I just lost sight of content, context, and the need to be patient. Insert the identification of the fact that I have a deficit perspective and that more than likely it’s my default. So the ideal answer is to be vocal about what is not so negative and about my needs in the context of serving my purpose. When we loose sight of an end goal or objective (for Public Allies that would be serving our community) it’s very easy to begin focusing on “every little reason why my life sucks”, and that’s just shitty in general.

It’s been a painful process (aren’t they all at this point?)  a challenging one (that’s why I’m in the program, right?) but also an enriching one ( Pessimism:2 Optimism:1…almost!). The best part is that I’m developing a support group that has caught my deficit perspective. Sometimes something as simple as “Let’s look at the bright side” shatters my tunneling deficit vision. I guess I could give this a try.  I’m working on it.

Shout out to Ryan for the John Stockton assist on this blog.  What really inspired me to start writing was a training me and my cohorts had yesterday on immigration and the spiteful responses that elicits from Americans who advocate for tougher enforcement (Republicans, Tea-party folks). Without going into a political diatribe that strictly demonizes one side, I would like to say that watching/hearing experiences from young people who struggle with being undocumented  made me empathize with their struggle. Most people have no idea how incredibly tough being in that situation is, just like I cannot imagine what it is like having a mental or physical disability.  I had to leave the space and cry in the fucken bathroom in the middle of the presentation.

As I was leaving yesterday’s training, I was thinking if I should have done more to speak on my own experiences. The reasoning behind why I didn’t was because I thought it was important for me to take a step back and let the other allies get a feel for some of the challenges I have had to overcome.  . On the flip side of things, I wish I could’ve spoken on my own experiences, but sometimes, I think the best advocate is silence. Strange as that sounds.

There’s a lot more layers I can’t wait to peel away in regards to my experiences in Public Allies, and as a man of color living in the city of Lost Angels.

Peace/ Love/ Hope/ Faith

Throughout my PALA experience so far, the one thing that has become more evident to me and those around me have been my feelings surrounding vulnerability and nervousness. It has almost become a running joke, I even entitled my Mini Presentation of Learning as “The five reasons PALA makes Ben Nervous.” But in all seriousness, I have been able to reflect and understand why I have these feelings around vulnerability.

My coach, Vanessa, sent me this video that in addition to our talks over lunch have really helped me understand why I feel nervous all the time.

It’s a long video but definitely worth watching.

Recently, I have been going through a lot of personal trials and have lost sight of what Brene Brown would call, “The Power of Vulnerability.” These personal trials have definitely brought me into a spiral of negative feelings and have brought me to question the things in my life. But then I remembered this video and decided to watch it again, in hopes that it would get me out of this slump.

“Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives”

With my personal struggle these past few days, I have been forced to end a relationship that has contributed to the purpose and meaning to my life for the past two years. What I have recently realized was that although this relationship has been an important part of my life, many of the other people who I have a connection with, such as my PALA cohort, didn’t know about it (but thats a whole different post in itself).

These two parts of my life were separate because of the vulnerability I felt with bringing them together. It was this fear of disconnection and fear of the unknown. I was eventually able to embrace the vulnerability and “invest in a relationship that may or may not work out” in all aspects. I was set free. A weight was lifted off my shoulders and I was able to breathe again. Temporarily.

“Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear, the struggle for worthiness…but also the birth place of joy, creativity, of belonging and love”

What stuck out most after re-watching the video was Brown’s point of not being able to numb vulnerability without numbing everything else such as joy, gratitude and happiness. Although I thought I was finding the power in vulnerability with my relationship, I was simply numbing the truth and lost sight of the joy and happiness of the connection. I began to resort to blame – “a way to discharge pain and comfort” and the blame pushed me to a place I hope I never reach again.

I stayed home this whole weekend, and I am proud of myself for that. I resisted the temptation to numb my new vulnerable situation with going to the mall for retail therapy or grabbing a stiff drink because I don’t want to also numb the feelings of joy, happiness and gratitude.

As I continue to sort through my deep abyss of emotions, I am letting myself be seen and sharing this to be more transparent. My normal way of dealing with something like this would be to keep it inside, and deal with it on my own, to not burden anyone else with what I’m going through…aka hiding from vulnerability.

I’m letting myself be seen.

Everything is very “up in the air” right now and nothing is certain. But I’m hoping that in sharing this with you all, it’s a step in the right direction for me and that someone else has found the strength in vulnerability from my discombobulated thoughts, meshed together in this post that may not make sense.

Before You Raise Your Voice

Bean Man

As my coach was looking for parking in my hipster neighborhood yesterday I saw THIS:

I’ve been in love with The Bean Man series by the artist Gaia Bracco for a while now.

“Party”

“Spotlight”

“Hope”

Gaia describes The Bean Man to be inspired by these ideas:

“You were born alone and you will die alone. Whether you like it or not, loneliness escorts man during his entire life. We realize it during brief illuminating moments and ironically this loneliness makes us feel less alone,this emptiness is common to everyone. An intimate and deep space, completely white (or black) to be filled only with our thoughts, our secret hopes, our dreams. A starting point to look at ourselves, the perfect viewers.”

These ideas about understanding isolation as  a connective force coupled with Man in The Mirror which just so happened to be playing in the background as Vanessa was coaching me made me start seeing that I need to begin with myself to create any sort of change. I used to think this sort of transformative justice meant finding ways in which I can be critical of my identity, and it stopped at that. Through coaching I realized that this isn’t necessarily the working on myself that needs to be done. I have to take care of myself and stop mitigating my feelings and needs for others. I must liberate myself from internalized oppressions.  I have to make my needs and my capacities clear. I have to love myself and own that.

“So, I’m going to make a change, for once in my life, it’s gonna’ feel real good, gonna’ make a difference, gonna’ make it right”…for myself first.

Gives a whole new meaning to the Man In the Mirror and The Bean Man.

And on that note, Gaia has a Bean Man dedicated to Michael:

“Michael Jackson”

(Don’t know how I feel about this one)