For Ryan

 

Ryan_memorial_1Ryan Powell died last week. I know Ryan from the transmasculine support group at the LGBT Community Center. Ryan was sweet. He listened intently, and without judgement. In a group you can tell whether someone is really listening or just waiting to speak. He didn’t interrupt, he didn’t cut anyone off, he didn’t roll his eyes, or keep turning the conversation back to himself. He wasn’t trying to be cool. He said he was in recovery and struggling. He died of a heroin overdose. He was 34.

I know random things about Ryan, but not his whole story. It is hard to get anyone’s whole story. He told me that he transitioned in his teens, then realized that he was not binary, and went off testosterone. I know he didn’t like having facial hair. I know he liked to play with make-up and nail polish. I know he was an artist. There is so much I don’t know about him.

I talked with Ryan about my ambivalence to go on testosterone. His advice was to wait, not to force a decision, to let it come to me. I wanted him to be a part of my world. I missed my chance.

Prayers at the memorial.

Prayers at the memorial.

Ryan had demons. He also had a fierce group of friends in his recovery groups who wanted to shelter and protect him. They came to his memorial service, devastated by his death. By the senselessness of it. Every queer person I know has demons. Every trans person I know has demons. Every time I lose a friend I lose a little hope of ever quieting mine.

I am angry because there are not enough resources, not enough recovery programs, and not enough follow through. It is so much easier to get heroin.

My demons tell me that there is something wrong with me. That I am unlovable. Grotesque. An embarrassment. My demons are the legacy of a narcissistic mother and grandmother. Of schoolyard bullying. Of being a misfit. My demons are my connection to my childhood. When I was a child I tried to be stoic, to numb it out, to withdraw, to do anything to not feel that pain. The demons know where the pain is hidden, and how to let it out.

The question is always what to do with the pain. I can talk about it in therapy. I can work it out at the gym. I can go for a walk with Gracie. I can ask Donna for a hug. I try not to stuff it down with food or drink. I never learned how to sit through the pain. Sometimes I run from it. I am still trying to find ways to live with it.

My demons tell me I’m preposterous. A self-parody. Artificial. Deluded. All of this is true. And false. My gender may be preposterous, and full of contradictions, but it is mine. It is no more ridiculous than anyone else’s. I have a right to live in it.

Ryan_memorial_3There were hundreds of photographs of Ryan at the memorial. In this one, taken at the 2009 Trans Justice March, Ryan is wearing a home-made bib that said “MY GENDER IS *MINE*, NO ONE CAN TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME.”

I look at those photographs and I see a Ryan who is happy, vulnerable, silly, thoughtful, and free of his demons.

Note: I will be at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference on Thursday afternoon and Friday. Look for me and say hi.

27 thoughts on “For Ryan

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m sorry too. It is important for me to talk about Ryan and what it takes to stay alive in these times. I was torn about using his name and pictures because I don’t want to breach confidentiality, but I also think the pictures speak his truth.

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  1. tcausten

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I have lost several friends because of heroin. Whilst I’m blessed that I have never relapsed (touch wood) many friends have and have passed away. The most recent only a couple of months ago.
    I’m so sorry 😦

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  2. kernowsmith

    Very sorry for your loss,that dark pit do despair when you lose a special human with the special essence of humanity that Ryan has.
    Sometimes words are all we have,but ,in my case I know what it is to lose,and I know that you are a good human yourself with artistry and sensitivity,so give yourself time to grieve if at all possible,give yourself time.

    In sincerity,

    Adrian Smith,Kernowsmith.

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  3. Cairtheand

    I´m so sorry for your loss and the loss of many others. Ryan looks like a friendly guy, a great spirit to be around.

    I don´t know about the pain of losing Ryan, although your writing about him touched me, but I know about the pain of the past, the pain of being raised by unstable parents, and the pain of being tormented.

    My demons have told me similar things, particularly, that I don´t have a right to exist. It´s up to us to challenge them, because we can win, I´m sure, we can defeat them and enjoy life in honor of those who didn´t make it.

    I hope you´ll find courage and freedom in your heart.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The challenge is to not lose faith even though I have to live with what happened to me (for the rest of my life) and know that nothing (drugs, alcohol, cutting) is going to make it go away. It makes me angry that so many of us have to live with this on top of all the other issues of being trans/butch/gender non-conforming.

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      1. Cairtheand

        I did notice that many people who´ve crossed gender boundaries also have been through traumatic experiences – I´m one of them myself, even though I don´t talk about it a lot. I just hope the best for all of us.

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  4. Lesboi

    I’m very sorry for your loss and the community’s loss of this young soul. It sounds like they were well loved and will be sorely missed.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. We lose way too many, but it is important not to think about statistics (41%) but to think about individuals and what can be done (what resources do we need to provide) to prevent it.

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  5. asthesunrises

    I’m so sorry for your loss. He looks like a kind person and someone who must have been incredible to get to know. Recovery from heroin can be hard–I had a co-worker who struggled with it, and it seems like those demons can be hard to escape. Hope that you’ll find peace and that the people who knew him will have strength to carry through this.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think the expectation (whether for recovery or transition) is that it will get easier and better – but when it doesn’t – or it starts to grind you down again – the temptation to escape back into old pain-killing habits is hard to resist.
      I’m not in recovery, but I really understand the desire to blunt all the pain of being queer, trans and/or non-conforming.

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      1. asthesunrises

        That makes a lot of sense. I kind of fall into that habit sometimes–like oh, if only I was transitioned, maybe I’d be happier, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s still the same life you had before. Probably very similar with recovery. It’s just difficult things to manage, and I’m sorry that he had to deal with so much pain from that.

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  6. purplesagefem

    What a heartbreaking loss. This must be a very hard time for you. Please remember that there is nothing wrong with you. You are not “grotesque” or “unlovable,” and neither was Ryan. The people who have something wrong with them are the people who mistreat others because they don’t like their gender expression. We all have the right to be who we are and have the right to respect. I wish you strength during this time of grief. ♥

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. You are right, and I agree with you. I can tell other people the exact same thing; I have trouble accepting it within myself. The problem with abuse is that is so difficult to fight those old ideas/feelings – they run very deep. I’m glad I have this space to give them some air instead of suppressing them.

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  7. Fredrication

    I’m sorry for your loss! We all have our demons, it just seems like some are affecting us more than others. Mine are telling me I’m a failure without worth for not being perfect all the time.
    It’s funny how similar our demons vocabulary are to our dysfunctional parent’s…

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