My teeth are chattering even though I’m sweating. I’m jet-lagged and time is meaningless save for the competing calls to prayer flying over the medina. My host mom comes in intermittently carrying trays of oranges and pitchers of water, cooing over me as we communicate in our system of pained faces and charades. My second trip to the continent my ancestors were ripped from, I’ve come back to feel the relief of seeing faces like my own, and the rare ecstasy of blending in. My body is betraying me, I think I caught a bug on the plane or maybe I’m just still hungover from New Years. This is my first detox.
The hips I hate lead the way as I cut a looping path on a country road. The rhythmic churning of fat wheels on gravely road soothe the savage beast as corn stalks loom tall, my longboard carrying me safely away from the thoughts that churn my belly and kill time until I can fill it with beer again. Pickup trucks creep by, each passing vehicle raises my blood pressure. The occasional wave, the typical confederate bumper sticker, the odd honk. Black boi on a board, running away and staying in place, tracing my familiar paths on the perfectly square back roads of Indiana. My skin doesn’t fit quite right and I’m scared to say where. Numbing tends to help – anything to separate this mind from this spirit from this body.
My suicidal ideation blossoms as breasts bud in, my body finally betraying me. I turn to prayer to make these corporeal incongruences fade, knowing that my panic is not in line with my future as a wife and mother, that before I am even a woman I am failing. In smelly church basements I clasp hands with my fellow pubescent prayer warriors, and while they openly pray for a Cubs win or freedom from the grips of pornography, I silently beg to make whatever these feelings are to be wiped clean.
I didn’t see the irony in my church attendance being spotless due to my crush on the cute goalkeeper roaring into our driveway in her vintage Thunderbird to whisk me away to worship. Our voices melding in to one while my soaring soprano took the high harmonies to local Christian rock star Jeremy Camp while I tried to find a way to both make my feelings for her disappear and sneak a kiss. She was perfect. She’s headed for Midwestern glory with a D1 scholarship and a promise ring glittering on her finger. I am a tornado of confusion and evils I couldn’t shake. The devil is making me drag her down with me. The only way for me to escape hell, both the Biblical and my reality, is to avoid love at all costs. If my desires are my sin, than avoiding love is my salvation.
I’m hiding under the bottom bunk in my room. My breathing can’t slow down no matter what I do. I try to count the springs that support the mattress, try singing “This Little Light of Mine” in my head, try to force myself back into this body that’s quickly leaving my control. I am bad, and bad girls don’t go to heaven. I’m working my way through books on the End Times, and every second that passes without the pitterpatter of familial footsteps I am positive that I have been left behind.
I’m on testosterone, I’m out to everyone, and in the process of finding a top surgeon. I’m on the meds I’ve needed since I was eleven. I have friends who are both queer and people of color, a Venn diagram intersection that I thought I stood alone in. A pile of my partner’s clothes sit on my living room floor. My heart drops to my belly. It’s been over a decade and I still fear that I’ve been left behind.
I wake up in a stable staring at a horse named Monet. I was on the phone with my ex-girlfriend either apologizing or refusing to receive one. I stumble back into the party, no one’s noticed I was gone. No one knows I’m queer. No one knows, including me, that my overindulgence and competitive drinking is an attempt to assert the only masculinity I know. Toxic.
I’m at a table with elementary teachers from Canada and American ethnomusicologists. It’s my second day in Ghana, and I’m still reeling that I’ve made it. In a frenzy of shrooms and booze I’ve received a scholarship to design my own program, and I’ve decided to figure out what it means to be a daughter of the diaspora, what it means to be a Black woman in America and Africa. I’m the first person in my family to walk the shores of West Africa since we were loaded on the ships and set sail for slavery. I fail spectacularly at my project. I buy my first legal beer, crack it open, and dump it directly into the glass. The table howls with laughter as I’m left with a pint of foam. All white and unsatisfying.
I’m on stage with my band, playing a benefit for the trans women held in nearby Cibola immigration detention center. I haven’t had a drink in five days, a record for me save for the glorious sober Moroccan month. I tell myself I’m starting over, that I don’t need to drink. That I can control this. Someone offers me a beer. I say I’ll have one. I have four. I wake up in my bed unsure of how I made it. It’s my last hangover and my second detox.
I spend the week shaking, I think it’s my blood sugar because I can’t seem to hold any food in my belly. It’s tremens.
I return to the subterranean suburban world of church basements. I clasp hands with strangers. I say, “I’m Laz and I’m an alcoholic”
The first weeks are brutal. As the old timers tell me when you quit drinking you begin to feel better. Not necessarily the joyous euphoria referred to as the “pink cloud”, but the actual act of experiencing emotions for the first time in adulthood. I begin to see the patterns in my drinking, the connection between my queer and trans identifiers and the liquid walls I needed in place to maintain a safe distance from myself and what I still considered “bad”. A radical queer poly punk that still feared being left behind in the rapture because of who and how I loved.
I need to get out of town. I need to take a break from my thesis. I need to escape the small queer world that seems to be folding in and around drama constantly. I used to be the person giggling at celebrities fleeing to rehab, and now I’m 2007 Britney with shears to my head begging for release and rebirth.
No one knows what to do with the trans addict. Where will I sleep? Why are your programs gendered? Why do you advertise as “LGBT” when you think the “T” is silent? I’m skating along rock bottom trying to explain and prove the validity of my existence to people who are less in the business of healing and more into practicing the art of making a buck. I white knuckle through my early days of sobriety, trying my best not to isolate and fold into myself, into the pain of being present for the first time.
Being Black, being queer, being trans – all of my communities wrestle with higher rates of addiction. The statistics on trans addiction are pretty much non-existent because surveys on addiction and alcoholism don’t see the difference between sex and gender, and don’t allow us to disclose our identifiers. How can we recover when no one wants us to?
I crawl into my friend’s minivan and we abandon our historically Norwegian university (an HNU if you will) and head for the Twin Cities. I spend ages getting ready, casting off dresses, jewelry and booty shorts and finally settling on something I think is dykeish enough. We go to Lush, and my heart drops in my belly. The room is filled with beautiful, tall, thin, white women. The L Word has come to life and I am left behind. We go to to the Saloon next, kind older queens slide us drinks. I stare in amazement at all these queers out in public, out in the wild, out. Rainbows are everywhere. I’ve found home.
The sparkly cocktails and old white queens petting my head have me fuzzy and feeling like I belong. I can’t count the drinks I have and am not sure how we make it back to our dorms.
I wake up hungover and happy, and ready to go home again.
Now I know a rainbow flag doesn’t make a place a home.
It’s winter and I wake up without boobs. The doctor that’s repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted me surveys the damage and pats himself on the back for a job well done. It takes me years to finally file a complaint and speak my truth. He sees no harm in what he does to trans bodies and souls, sees himself as a god shaping our bodies.
But I did this. I made my body a home.
I ask for a whiskey when I wake up from my nap.
There’s no such thing as a bad reason for a drink.
I’m 232 days sober. I can count on one hand the brick and mortar establishments designated for LGBTQ+ folks that is not a bar. I’ve found community outside of alcohol, but it’s been hard. I celebrated my first Pride sober, and it’s a lovely event to remember. I’m working on building queer and trans sober spaces, because even in recovery we have to deal with the bullshit of the white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy that breeds the violence that breaks us.
I feared that getting sober meant abandoning being a social person, true death for an extroverted Taurus. But real friends hang around, and I can be a much better friend when I’m not three beers deep and stroking my ego. I am not left behind. I’m healing, slowly. I’m learning that I am not bad, that my disease is not bad, that my identifiers and communities are not bad. They just are. I’m moving away from making everything a value based lump sum game, and towards a life of presence and wholeness. My misconceptions of my evilness, of my inability to love and be loved, I’m starting to leave behind.
Thank you so much for writing and sharing this.
Damn, this piece moves with so much diasporic breathlessness. I felt a visceral sense of stumbling as the scenes moved through different places of danger and strength. There’s so much here—hope you’ll keep writing and finding home!
Laz, I feel you and understand in ways that folks who aren’t trans just don’t get.
So much. Too much.
Just so much angst, confusion and pain standing outside of a world which we want to belong and don’t.
Thank you for laying it all out for others to feel. You are as strong as your writing.
Thank you for this. I’m not black and have never struggled with alcohol, but this line — “a radical queer poly punk that still feared being left behind in the rapture because of who and how I loved” — hit me hard. That weird dissonance of living fully in your truth while simultaneously not being able to escape the fear of being punished for it.
Also, Lush was my first queer bar and is, in many senses, my queer home, and I loved seeing it referenced here. I’m sorry your experience with it was alienating rather than comforting.
Again, thanks for sharing your self with us.
Breathtaking. Thank you.
I’m glad you’re working on creating places that are not bars. It’s possible it might take time for people to move away from the bar scene but college groups exist precisely because aside from the general difficulty in finding people who won’t give you a hard time over that part of yourself, it’s almost impossible to find a place to hang out at that doesn’t involve alcohol. Hilariously, many acknowledge bars and clubs are not an adequate place in which to look for meaningful relationships, neither platonic nor romantic.
I am livid that someone you’re trusting with something you don’t want anyone else seeing would take advantage of people who are depending on him to make them feel more comfortable with themselves. That is appalling and I hope people going in for surgery are aware of this disgusting behavior and find someone decent to do it instead.
This was a great read. Yeah trying t find statistics on trans people, especially those who are non-binary. It’s great to see more spaces open up that are not alcohol-focused. One of my favorite events and places is the local LGBTQ coffee shops monthly donut event. People are so friendly and want to do things that make the community better.
Thank you for writing this! It was amazing to read.
Thank you for this little piece of yourself ?and congratulations on over 200 days!
I love the way you structured this, it’s just exquisitely written.
still reading but this right here, whew: “The only way for me to escape hell, both the Biblical and my reality, is to avoid love at all costs. If my desires are my sin, than avoiding love is my salvation.”
“How can we recover when no one wants us to?”
Okay, I’ve finished and holy shit thank you so much. I’m coming back to this at least once a week because there is so much I need in here. Thank you.
This was such a moving read ~
“I’m moving away from making everything a value based lump sum game, and towards a life of presence and wholeness.”
And…when the value of your existence is denied, realizing that your entire life has meaning, has worth, is an incredible thing. That your being is enough, and by claiming it, being free to choose yourself, again and again, in the way that is best and truest for you.
Thank you for sharing, and enjoy the fullness of your own self, Lazarus.
So well put and so powerful. BRB, gotta go cry for a bit ?
This is a beautiful piece of writing and I know I’ll return to it often. Thank you, and good luck with the important work you’re doing!
Wow, what a beautifully written soul piece. Thank you. Theres a lot to take out of this. I just want to say how much Iappreciate you bringing up the issue of how interwoven intoxication culture is in queer community. This is something I struggle a lot with. Intoxication culture is seen, by some, as what queer culture is, in and of itself. We desperately need something different and we are capable of building it together.
I resonated with a lot of what you wrote and I know its touching others as well. ?
Sending you love and solidarity from a fellow trans queerdo
Thank you for sharing <3
Thank you for sharing. You’re a beautiful writer and I love the structure of your piece. I hope you’re enjoying sobriety. In my experience, it’s the greatest, most compassionate I’ve ever given myself ?
This was amazing and so needed. Thank you, for writing this and for all you are doing.
I was wandering some damn straight indiana roads circa 2006-2009. I focused on the sky a lot, all that movement and color there.
This story took my breath away several times, particularly “No one knows, including me, that my overindulgence and competitive drinking is an attempt to assert the only masculinity I know. Toxic”