For the First Time

For the first time, I could see something in those dark brown eyes that stared back at me in the mirror. It was a curious glare asking me what exactly I wanted from life and charging me with having done nothing to try to achieve it.

It was also the first time that I looked back in the mirror and found myself focusing entirely on growth over the years. I noticed my bushy eyebrows, Tampa tan, testosterone induced acne, stache still hiding in the shadows, ever-growing stray chin hairs and ever-present worry lines.

For the first time, there was no longing, wanting, wondering, pulling or prodding, but just a graze of admiration over who I’ve become.

My Dream Me

Author’s Note: I am so excited to have written my first poem. I’ve been wanting to have this for years, and the day has finally arrived. So, here it is.

When I look at you, I see a future.
I see a happy marriage consummated with two beautiful children.
But, this man, I’m not exactly sure I know him.
He’s got my hair, he’s just quite a bit taller.
He has my hands, although his shoulders are much broader.
I know that lucky mole on his chest, but there’s no sign of him ever having breasts.
There’s no mistaking how much of me I see in how he walks, though I definitely don’t have the confidence that he does when he talks.
That’s my sincerity and conviction in his heart when he says “I love you”, except I couldn’t help bring those beautiful children into the world by making love with you.
I’m clueless and confused, and suddenly, I get it. I remember that I’m transgender.
This is the man who can give you all the things I know I could never.
He is the man you deserve, my dream girl,
Him, He, my dream me.

When Survival Becomes Suffocation

We get so much practice at surviving countless crises that the next must be unequivocally and exponentially worse to even qualify, and the lens still clouded by the lingering emotional distress left in the wake of the last crisis is the one through which we now navigate our broken lives.

Crises not only shatter lives once calm, stable and secure, but also distort the fundamentally intricate perception through which we define reality. Consequently, we blur lines in forbidden territories and find ourselves in unforeseeable misfortune and suffocating in the resulting misery.

I Must

Years ago, I stopped believing in happiness for myself. Months ago, I stopped trying to achieve it. Days ago, I began thinking about what it would mean if I was killed for walking through life as my authentic self.

If I died today, my story would end at its saddest, darkest and most depressing point. Yesterday, when I asked myself what could change the narrative, I instantly knew the answer. I knew that I needed to have top surgery. I understood that dying without ever getting to experience a life free from chest dysphoria would be my greatest misfortune.

I owe it to my younger self, the person who kept getting back up after every single challenge knocked him down. I owe it to the person who learned to live with celiac disease, depression, anxiety, wanting to die, minority stress, gender dysphoria, etc. I can no longer idly sit behind the two brick walls twice as high as the ones I climbed over before labelled, Cholinergic Urticaria and Grief. I’ve decided to take the trip west and hope that I’ll eventually find path that goes north of the wall, or maybe on my path west, I will find enough strength to push through those walls.

I’m determined, but so very scarred and scared. My failed last attempt severely damaged my faith. I tell myself that I need this, but there’s a part of me that says I don’t deserve it. Many voices are echoing doubt inside my heart.

Did you forget what happened last time? Are you sure you are ready to put your heart on the line again? What if this is the ultimate downfall of your health? How can you be sure you won’t break if you fail? Must you keep doing these things to yourself? Should you? Could you? Will you?

But I must. I want. I need. I must. I keep holding on to a positive image of who 24 Caleb could become. To affect the world in a positive way, I must free him from chest dysphoria. After that, his potential would exponentially increase. I must. I must. I must.

I’m going to save 20 Caleb. As much as he would hate to admit it, he can be saved. In fact, he was wrong. Tragedy doesn’t break us. It wakes us up. Tragedy pushes us to find a way to fix this world so no one else has to suffer. That resolve can only make us great. This is going to be the part of the story where 20 Caleb realizes how wrong he was, and it’ll be the best thing that ever happened to him.

I must, and I will.

If I Had a Choice

I am always amazed by how confident adults are when they tell me that I should be grateful for being brought into this world, but I don’t always bother to tell them just how wrong they are. The truth is that if I had been able to say no to life, I would have.

I can’t forgive this world for turning me into the heartless, ruthless and self-hating person that I am today. The version of me today does not honor the kind, caring and selfless child that I once was.  As a child, traumatic experiences didn’t diminish my appreciation of life, but it was understanding true pain, hurt, and loss as a teenager and the exponentially increasing pain that I continue to feel by walking my destined path of life. For example, I am certain that there will come a day when I lose someone dear to me, and that loss will make me someone that I could never recognize as myself. That kind of grief will make a monster, and I don’t want that for myself.

I was never cut out for this world, and I don’t want to ever be.  In this world, I cannot be kind without being taken advantage of. Experiencing sympathy and empathy leads to it being exploited. Loving means living constantly fearing that my heart will be ripped out of me. I can’t be a go-getter because I can’t stop thinking about the opportunity that I might have stopped someone else from getting. I can’t live the “American dream” without experiencing guilt knowing that there are so many people who are starving or homeless. In this world, I will never be able to live up to my core ideals. I will never reach true selflessness, empathy or peak consciousness. I would rather 24 Caleb wither away than become a monstrosity that brings new cycles of negativity into this world. Of course, I know my dreams are nothing more than ammunition to be used against me because hope, love, ideals are weaknesses in this world.

Ultimately, as unfortunate as it is, I am alive. Consequently, I have responsibilities and duties to the communities to which I belong. Therefore, I continue to live awaiting the bittersweet ending to my story.

Learning my Dream Skill as an Adult

As a child, I couldn’t understand why adults would act like it was impossible for them to try to learn their dream skill.

I understand why now. My limited childhood consciousness gave me the ignorance necessary to be unburdened by stressors that could potentially hinder my learning.

I feel them now. I’m weighed down by the jealousy, shame and paranoia that I feel when I try to learn.

As I try to focus on the task at hand, insecurities stemming from an understanding that there are so many people, even children, who are better than me begin to overwhelm me. I can’t stop wishing that I was better, and I ache to be someone else. I want that person’s skill, and that powerful of an emotion rooted in selfishness, a emotion counter to my ideological selflessness, is deeply troubling and unsettling.

Then quickly, my jealously morphs into the shame that I force myself to never feel, and it beings to overtake me. The tides of shame violently gush through the widening cracks in my soul. In that moment, all I can think about is how I need to stop and rebuild those walls in an effort to prevent the cracks from dramatically increasing in size, but I push through.

I thought it was only shame behind those walls, but I start to feel the droplets of paranoia that ultimately accumulate and develop into a panic attack. I worry about who can see me in my shame. I think about all the times in the past that people have witnesses my shame, even if unknowingly for them. I imagine people laughing at my pathetic attempts behind my back, and it kills the last of my resolve.

I have to stop. I shouldn’t go on. I can’t work through it. I am unable learn my dream skill.

Suicide Awareness Month

I didn’t know it was ‪#‎SuicideAwareness‬ month, but I really think I want to participate in breaking the silence surrounding that sort of thing.

I’ve noticed that people are often genuinely surprised by my willingness to casually talk about suicide and the times that I have been suicidal. In fact, around the beginning of the semester, I was having a casual conversation with one of my close professors in his office, and we were talking about how I was doing emotionally as opposed to how I was doing when I was very suicidal in March. At some point in our conversation, the professor who was in the nearest cubicle actually interrupts us to let us know that she thinks that our conversation wasn’t one that we should be having in the office. I finished up the conversation with my professor who I could tell was seething on the inside at the audacity of the other professor, and I walked back to my dorm.

That situation caused me to spend some time reflecting on why people actively work to ensure that the silence surrounding mental health and mental illness remains unbroken. I’ve always had a hard time putting myself in the shoes of someone who is so quick to defend the systematic oppression of groups of people. I guess if I try really hard, then I am able to empathize to some degree since I do understand what it is like to believe in the silence. Especially when, that’s what I understood to be true as a child.

However, the reality is that we can’t help others in silence. I would be dead today if everyone remained silent, and if I had remained silent in my plight.

Back in March, I was teetering on the edge of making the decision to take my own life. Everything was adding up, and life had become a burden for me that was only getting heavier on my back. I can’t even remember why I decided to post to Facebook about wanting to die, and if I think about it I guess it must have been some kind of survival mechanism. I think that deep inside I still felt like I had so much more to offer the world and I truly wasn’t ready to die.

What if I didn’t make that post? What if I didn’t reach out? The answer to those two questions is a blunt statement; I would be dead.

Within a couple of minutes of my post, Darian Aaron and Samantha Master reached out to me. Even though I was resistant to their help, they didn’t stop trying to save me.

I guess the best analogy that I have to describe all this (I love analogies; they make me happy) is that I was drowning in the ocean, and I still fired a flare gun even though I had accepted that I was going to drown, and even reached a place where I wanted to drown. Within minutes, Darian and Samantha showed up with their boats, and instead of accepting their help I fought them off. My resistance didn’t deter them; it only made them work even harder to try to save me. Once they pulled me onto their boat, both of them were completely willing to detach one of their lifeboats and help me build my own boat.

Darian and Samantha weren’t silent, and that saved my life. I can’t ever thank them enough for what they did for me. Today, I am alive with my own boat, and I have had the opportunity to see myself become the person that I thought I could never be back in March. I have been able to realize some of my dreams, even ones that I once believed to be unattainable.

It’s so very important for us all to collectively break the silence surrounding mental illness. It’s real and if affects so many lives. There’s far too much stigma surrounding it than there ought to be. Sometimes, all someone needs is another person who is willing to give them a hand and let them know that they don’t have to be alone. I know that’s what I needed.

Thanks again Darian and Samantha. I love you and everything you’ve done for me.

~Caleb Gumbs