Discipline, and Action
Updated: Jun 29, 2022
by Kidd Williams
What a gift, to have been able to share these June pieces, for Pride Month, about the interplay of my own poetry and LGBTQ+ acceptance. This webzine with its readers and its editor, Catherine White, are so generous.
This last piece may be the most difficult. Is this counterintuitive? Surely the pre-transition struggles, the internal fears blocking self-acceptance – the griefwater, as I described previously – surely the journey is hardest? Surely, post-transition, you can sit back and enjoy it?
We can, and should. But the lessons within the “hero’s journey” say that, at the end, the hero must bring back the knowledge or gifts acquired during the journey to share with and within the community. In other words: when we better ourselves, we must also better our communities.
I reached acceptance of being transgender in 2015, came out to close friends and family later that summer and fall, then shared the legal change of my name and gender markers with the rest of the world in spring, 2016.
So much had changed for the better, before then. Chaz Bono, then the most famous trans man in the U.S., had made a 2011 documentary called “Becoming Chaz,” and competed on “Dancing With the Stars” that fall. Time magazine had declared the “transgender tipping point” in May 2014, with Laverne Cox on the magazine’s cover. Caitlyn Jenner came out publicly in April 2015, with complicated politics and privilege, but advancing the awareness of diverse trans experiences, nevertheless. And the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, written by then-Justice Anthony Kennedy and released on June 26, 2015, codified the validity of same-sex marriages across the entire U.S. – also offering wonderful words honoring the dignity of LGBTQ+ struggles. That week, following the decision, lights lit up the White House with the colors of the rainbow. It was a marvelous, welcoming atmosphere that I thought I was entering.
Was I right, or was I wrong? Because pushback from fanatics and reactionaries was getting noticeably worse, then, too. The press savaged Jenner. Obergefell made right-wingers and zealots howl like coyotes. On June 12, 2016 a single terrorist shot 102 people in the LGBTQ+-friendly Pulse nightclub, in Orlando, killing 49 of them. And of course, there was the Republican front-runner for President that year, who won the election and still leads the party.
From 2016 to 2020, his Republican administration undid much LGBTQ+ progress, and individual states have picked this up on their own, even after his presidency ended. Every year, for several years, the number of killings of transgender people in the U.S. has broken its own record, with trans people of color disproportionally suffering as victims. Reactionary state governments threaten the parents of trans children with child abuse charges, and some states have made gender therapies of any kind illegal for teens. In some places, payment for transition services, even for adults, is threatened or removed from state Medicaid and Medicare plans, leaving trans people in poverty cut off from the treatments that save our lives.
So what can we do, once we’ve found ourselves, grabbed the gifts from the hero’s journey, and now return home to a community under threat from roughnecks, bigots, and vandals?
And what can poetry do? Poetry can seem very airy, aloof. I wrote of this, mid-2016, in a poem called “The Limits of Poems”:
No bellies fill from reading them ...
Very little poetry will stop the bleeding ...
no verse has ever stared down
the fiercely-barking dog.
One thing we can do is stay disciplined. Our feelings and energy level can vary day-to-day, even hour-to-hour, but developing discipline through habits helps regulate what we can accomplish through those ups and downs.
Poetry can be part of this discipline. Through this series, I hope I’ve shown how poetry can be predictive, diagnostic, even healing, along the difficult paths the psyche sometimes has to walk. My habits are to write a little something every day, in a small notepad I carry everywhere. What seems interesting, at the end of the week, I may turn into a poem, to keep in the notepad and make revisions to, for days or weeks, until they feel complete. Discipline.
Transitions need discipline, too. As I started to change my life, I made a spreadsheet listing all the things I thought I should try or needed to do: the steps involved in legally changing my name, in getting accounts changed, in trying out new styles or presentations. I tabbed the list for a year’s worth of weeks and months ahead, and “assigned” myself only a few tasks at a time, so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Discipline.
And we all can use discipline to ready ourselves for the other important step: action. We must act to protect others on their own journeys – especially LGBTQ+ people, and even more especially, LGBTQ+ people of color. We must know resources, must stay informed. Small things that anyone can do are to bookmark and check out resources such as local health services available to gay, trans, and queer people, including the Out for Health Clinic through the local Planned Parenthood offices. We can add to our phones the toll-free numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255; * beginning July 16 callers in the U.S. may use 9-8-8 to be routed to the Lifeline) or the Trevor Project, for LGBTQ+-specific crisis counseling (1-866-488-7386), or remember that calling 2-1-1 from anywhere in the U.S. will take you to resources that provide the names, locations, and contact info. for all kinds of human services and charity work, wherever you are.
Another action we can do is something that LGBTQ+ Pride Month teaches. Many people forget that Pride is centered in June because of the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, when New York City police crackdowns on gay and trans people grew so intolerable that clubgoers rioted. Pride honors those who've worked hard for LGBTQ+ rights, but it also allows us to bring back a wonderful gift, from all our LGBTQ+ journeys: the gift of celebration.
I’m stuck on Play, I’d said.
But she did jack s**t last time, she’d said.
The room had light but no weather, except
a thick orange frame around our talk.
That was before – things have changed
now – retirees living in cars, I’d said.
She’d sighed. I don’t think this country
is taking its collapse seriously.
She challenged the usual projections,
dressed them in salt. My own dreams –
were of sweeping, of making bouffants of
shed dog hair. I’d said, There’s no other
course but prison. The nearby planets
relaxed in the hall.
But because sometimes an idea must
grow into the words to describe it, and
because she could do more with feelings
than simply feel them, she said (and I
couldn’t help but agree), Celebration,
she said, is a form of protest.
(Included in “The Suffrage Show,” 2019, in the Peacock Gallery, hosted by The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes.)
Do I celebrate "becoming a woman?" Actually – yes and no. Yes, because I do celebrate, both myself and LGBTQ+ voyagers. No, because I still don't know just what that means. The results of my transition have meant that I stopped thinking about gender, stopped self-reviewing my gestures, stance, way of being, to see if they were "male enough." I also now finally see in the mirror someone who seems like me.
Two truths result: first: when I stop the effort of gender, the world reacts to me as a woman; second: being seen that way brings me joy. There is nothing more confirmative or sacred, connecting me back to creation – and to the poetry I write as a response to it.
Thank you, Southern Tier Life and its readers. The Pride Month of June ends shortly, but our celebration – or protest – doesn't have to.
Luck, health, and blessings to you all!
About the Author
Kidd Williams is the publishing and performing name of Joy Williams, a trans woman poet and musician in Bath, NY. Her work has appeared throughout the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier in numerous regional anthologies, and has been exhibited in juried art shows as well as displayed in outdoor parks through the City of Elmira's "Poetry Posts" projects. She has also been a featured performing artist, including as an invited poet reading on stage at Corning PRIDE 2019. She and her wife, Tara, have lived in Bath almost forever, with many companion animals that sport fur or scales.