The D Word

I’m definitely not an expert on that big D word, dysphoria, only having in the past few months recognizing that it was a phenomena I experienced.  That being said, I’m realizing over time how much of my past and present body image issues and mini-freakouts-which in the past I had attributed to discomfort with my weight, or which seemed random to me- are actually a result of dypshoria.

For those who don’t know, gender dysphoria is something which transgender folks like me often experience.  It can take many forms, but at its essence it is intense mental distress related to an incongruence between one’s self-concept-our gender identity- and one’s physicality- our body.  Dysphoria can also come about as a result of the incongruence between one’s gender identity and one’s expected role in society (a trans man being called a woman and expected to act in certain feminine ways, for instance.)  For some trans* folks, dysphoria isn’t present at all, or is only marginally present.  For others, they may be so distressed that they engage in self-harming behavior or become suicidal.  My experience with dysphoria, I would say, is somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

Some days, I feel fairly attractive, comfortable, and right in my body.  Usually these are days in which I wear clothing which emphasizes feminine characteristics, days when I have shaved my face, arms, and other parts of my body, days when I have my naturally bushy eyebrows cleaned up and I’m wearing some makeup which obscures the shadow of facial hair on my chin.

Some days I wake up, eschew putting on makeup, and simply throw on a chunky sweater, skinny jeans, and cute boots to help me feel fine about the world and my place in it.

Some days, I feel good until I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a store window, and am jarred and saddened to notice how strong my jaw is, how broad my shoulders are, or the narrowness of my hips.

Some days I wake up, and the thought of going anywhere or seeing anyone is too much for me to bear.  My body and face seem irredeemably ugly, and I want to stay in bed all day in order to avoid looking at myself, or anyone else looking at me.  Many of these days, I give in to the urge to stay in bed.  On these days, it seems like no well-cut dress, no amount of makeup or shaving can ever make my body right.  It is on these days that I feel panicky, depressed, and short-tempered.  It is on these days, in an attempt to channel the pain and confusion in a healthy direction, I write poetry about wanting to bang my head against walls, or about wishing I could make my flesh melt off of my bones, or about wanting my body to disappear.  It is on these days I understand why some trans* women have attempted to remove their genitalia, or why so many trans* people have attempted suicide.  It is on these days, when my very body seems like an enemy wildly out of my control, that life does not feel worth living.

Luckily, those days are not every day.  Blessedly, as I continue to explore and express my gender identity more, I feel like I am finding out who I am and learning to educate others about myself in a way that quiets the pain and despair of those days.

In my opinion, dysphoria is not as simple as being “born in the wrong body.”  This is my body.  It is the only body I have, or can ever have.  But that doesn’t mean that it will stay the same, that I will not seek to change it, or that it may not be necessary for me to take certain steps in order to feel right and comfortable in it.  To this point, I have not taken any physical steps associated with transition-but its on my mind, and its on the table, and I will decide in the future what is right for me personally.

Being transgender is a very personal journey, and doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all conclusion.  To my trans* siblings, hang in there.  I know how completely heartbreaking this all can feel.  Still, every day that we walk out our door and live our lives is another victory.

-Daye in D.C.

 

 

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What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.”

-Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”

Daye is not the name which was given to me by my parents.  It isn’t the name on my birth certificate or on my current ID.  Make no mistake, though; I am Daye.  It is a name I had to discover for myself, a rite of passage which it seems few but transgender people go through.

Names are tricky things.  Everyone and everything needs one; we can scarcely at all communicate or make sense of our world without names.  We use them to address someone, to introduce ourselves, to talk about a specific person, place, or concept.  We give names even to the nameless, from the anonymous Jane and John Does of television crime dramas to the announcement of “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince” when Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol.  Where there is the void of the nameless, we will fill it with a placeholder or a nickname.  To be nameless is to cease to exist.  To have your name spoken is to be called into being.

So when someone refuses to use your preferred name as a trans* person, it feels a bit like a denial of your very existence.

I realize, like Shakespeare’s Juliet did, that a name doesn’t inherently change the thing it describes.  I by any other name would still be me.  But just like Romeo and Juliet’s last names sowed the seeds of their downfall, my old name sowed certain meanings into my life, specifically the idea that I was a man.  The less comfortable I became with that assumption, the more difficult it became to introduce myself to others with that name.

The truth is, I don’t hate my old name.  I think it is a good name, and I have a lot of memories and connections to it.  After all, I actively used it for 21 years of my life.  But rather than feeling like it was mine, it started to feel like a toy from childhood I’d long outgrown but didn’t have the heart to throw out.

I can’t predict the future, or the winding places this journey of self-discovery will take me.  I may go back to using my old name; it’s more likely at this point that I never will.  There’s a certain level of mourning in that acknowledgment.  The way I look at it, when you get to a certain point in your life, you have to tell the world who you are.  Right now I’m introducing myself as Daye, and it doesn’t feel comfortable, but it does feel right.

What’s in a name?  Maybe its as simple as letting the world know you exist.

 

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D.C. Dish Number Two

Welcome to the D.C. Dish, where I dish on all the kinds of quirky D.C. happenings that you only hear about if you’re working on Capitol Hill.

D.C. Dish #2: Background Bollocks

Most of the television interviews with legislators and other public figures supposedly take place in the Capitol building, but word on the Hill has it that the distinguished-looking backgrounds for such interviews are actually routinely housed in rooms within the Senate office buildings.  Breaking news from the Capitol?  More like Capitol-adjacent.

 

-Daye in D.C.

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Janet Mock, Egyptian Queens, and Lesbian Zombie Killers: 3 Videos That Are EVERYTHING

Jmock

An intern’s work is never done, and coupled with a stint of sickness at the beginning of this week, I’ve only had a few spare moments to write.  I have been exposed to some incredibly fun short videos, however, which I think warrant sharing.  Got 15 minutes?  Good, take a break from whatever you’re doing and smile a little.

#1: Janet Mock on Stephen Colbert

The first video is by far the most important of the three, and has been making the rounds since it aired on Comedy Central a couple of days ago. It has Stephen Colbert Interviewing Janet Mock (a prominent trans* activist) about “all this gender stuff.”  It’s the perfect comedic antithesis to the problematic and confrontational style of Piers Morgan, whose own interviews with Ms. Mock were soundly derided by the trans* community.

Colbert knows how to do a funny yet tasteful interview with a trans* woman which highlights, rather than diminishes, her humanity, and its some of the best 6 minutes of television I’ve seen in a long time (other than the new season of House of Cards, of course.)  Let me know what you think of their interaction in the comments.

Here’s the link again:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/433117/february-18-2014/transgender-awareness—janet-mock

 

#2: Katy Perry Becomes Katy Patra

KP

Don’t we all dream of being Cleopatra-esque Egyptian queens with men falling at our feet, courting us with expensive treasures?  Anyone? No one?  Maybe its just me.

Still, I can’t think of anything more stylish and fun than Katy Perry’s new music video for number-one hit Dark Horse.  As if all of KP’s outfit changes weren’t enough, there’s a full-on endorsement of comfort foods like Twinkies and Hot Cheetohs, so I’m OBVIOUSLY on board.

The jury is out on whether or not its cultural appropriation to use costumes inspired by the garb of an ancient people, but with the many years of this similar imagery abounding (ala the immortal Elizabeth Taylor) I’ll take my chances on just enjoying this video in the light-hearted manner in which it’s intended.

Watch:  Katy Perry Ft. Juicy J- Dark Horse

 

#3 – Bonnie Mckee Vs. Zombies

This video features queer women using hockey sticks to fight zombies with thumping dance beats in the background.  I trust that the video needs no further introduction.

BMckee

Watch:  Bonnie Mckee-Sleepwalker

 

I’m about to go do some real-life, exciting things in D.C. and stop watching videos now.  Take a break from your busy lives to watch the vids, share your thoughts in the comments, and have a fabulous weekend!

-Daye in D.C.

 

 

 

 

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D.C. Dish Number One

Welcome to the D.C. Dish, where I dish on all the kinds of quirky D.C. happenings that you only hear about if you’re working on Capitol Hill.

D.C. Dish #1: Ruff Times on the Hill

Word on the Hill has it that, when the House of Representatives isn’t in session, things get pretty casual around the Congressional offices; sometimes casual enough that “man’s best friend” comes to hang out  with the staff.  Is this the start of a new trend of “take your pet to work” days?  I don’t know, but I just hope they’re House-broken.

 

-Daye in D.C.

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Snow Daye!

D.C. is shut down due to a “massive snowstorm” that to this Iowa native looks like “an average Thursday in winter.”  Nevertheless, I couldn’t be happier.  Snow days are just as exciting for a 22 year old intern on Capitol Hill as they were for a high school student in small-town Iowa, even if this time around I’ll be using my day to catch up on laundry instead of bad daytime television.

(Okay, you got me; I might watch some bad daytime television while I do my laundry.)

 

-Daye in D.C.

 

 

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Intern Survival Tip #1 <<>>

Being an unpaid intern can be tough-especially around lunch time on Capitol Hill.  The cafeterias offer plenty of options, but most of them are rather expensive.

So how do you make the most of your lunch hour while spending the least?  After a little exploration, I’ve discovered 

<<<<<<<<THE

MAGIC

OF

SIDES>>>>>>>

Okay, it’s really not as exciting as I’m making it out to be.  Suffice to say that although the main dishes are typically in the realm of 6 dollars for a tiny sandwich, the sides that are offered are fairly big and often in the 1-2 dollar range. With a little mix and match -some macaroni and cheese here, some mashed potatoes there- you can get a lot more food and spend about 5-6 dollars for the full meal, including a drink.

It’s helpful if you’re ravished by lunchtime like me!

P.S.  The food service staff in the Cafeterias aren’t paid a whole lot more than us interns, and they can definitely tell if you’re of the unpaid variety versus if you are a staffer.  Treat them kindly (eye contact, smile, greetings) and they will return the favor with larger portions of the aforementioned sides.

-Daye in D.C.

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Why Do We Do It?

As an unpaid intern surrounded by hundreds of other unpaid interns, the question sometimes crosses my mind:

Why do we do it?

In the absence of the most obvious employment factor-the money without which it is impossible to survive- what could motivate this many outstanding young people to work full time hours in a high-stress position? What could cause us to travel to a strange city, uproot our old lives, and commute through the cold D.C. streets to work in offices from which we will never receive a paycheck?

This morning, hit with a case of the Mondays, I was definitely asking myself this question as I painstakingly put off getting out of bed until I knew I couldn’t any longer.

The question was on my mind as I walked the 20 minutes through 30 degree weather to reach my office on Capitol Hill.

Then, some potential answers started to present themselves.

Today I had the honor of seeing a couple of Senators speak on the Senate floor.  It was incredible to witness but 20 feet away one of our nation’s top leaders talking about their proposed legislation.  I’ve been informed that my name will appear in the Congressional record for today, so I’ve been recorded in history in some small way.  I realized in that moment that one reason we interns might choose to do this is the proximity to power-the chance to be close to the big events of our nation, rather than observers from hundreds of miles away.

For much of the rest of the day, I was given a research project which entailed going back over the funding that my legislator had secured for their state.   As I went through the impressive list of appropriations, I was awed by how many fire departments, schools and universities, shelters, veterans, the homeless, abuse survivors, hospitals, and natural disaster-hit communities had been helped by my legislator- often to the tune of millions of dollars.  It occurred to me that we interns might work long hours for no pay because we believe in the type of positive effect that our legislators can have on our communities, and because we hope to add something to that process.

And how could I forget the obvious reason we might indenture ourselves to Congressional offices for a period of months, the answer to the questions recruiters ask about our long-term career goals: we interns may hope that this unpaid position is merely a stepping-stone to something better, a foot in the door towards a fabulous political position.  We might be willing to put in our time now, trusting that it will pay off in the end when our offices ask us to stay on permanently or our resumes glitter with a Hill recommendation.

Truthfully, all of these make up a little bit of why I’m here, answer a little piece of the question “Why do we do it?”

At 6 p.m. on the dot today I walked out into the crisp evening air, clutching my coat around me against the lights and noise and chill of the D.C. streets.  Surrounded by other weary commuters heading back out into their freedom, I turned for one last look behind me and caught a glimpse of the very tip of the Capitol Building with its dome all lit up against the murky sky.  I smiled to myself and I finally knew the answer to the question which had been bugging me all day.  Because me?

I do it for the story.

-Daye in D.C.

 

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Snowy Sunday

It’s snowing, which I normally wouldn’t be very pleased about.  Today, though, looking out the window at the gray skies and the flurry makes me think of home.

I’m starting to miss Iowa.  I miss the quiet, and the restfulness.  I miss days like this.  It’s good to know that I can find them here in D.C. too…

even though my musing is interrupted as I write this by the sound of sirens.

 

-Daye in D.C.

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1st Week Recap Megapost!

Today is Saturday, which means that AZ, NY, TX and I have all survived our first week interning on Capitol Hill.  I think it is safe to say we were all thrown a bit out of our comfort zone by the experience, but that’s the best way to learn and grow.  As I look back over the week, I realize how interesting it is that time and time again I am convinced that I can’t do something or won’t be able to handle a situation up until I am actually faced with it.  I suppose that’s the case for all of us; after all, how could we be sure of what we are actually capable of except by pushing the boundaries of what we thought was possible?

 

I tend to throw myself into situations like this where I know I’ll be uncomfortable and out of place.  I remember one summer while I was still in high school, I chose to take a job detasseling corn fields (I am from Iowa, remember?)  Detasseling basically consists of walking through corn fields for several hours in the summer sun and removing a part of the corn plant so that it will be pollinated the way the farmer intends.  The pay wasn’t very good, we were on our feet for long periods of time, the hours were terrible, and I was subjected to the cold dew of the very early morning and the blazing heat of the noon sun.  I distinctly recall thinking, as I signed up for the job, “Let’s see if I can handle this.”  I did it more for the challenge than the pay.

Despite a bad run-in with dehydration, it all worked out.  I stuck it out for the summer.

My adventure in Washington, D.C. is just the latest in a long stream of instances where I’ve said to myself “Let’s see if I can handle this.”

This first week was no disappointment in this regard.

 

Monday, Our First Day:

Our first day it rained profusely, and being the 20 somethings that we all are, not a single one of us out of AZ, NY, TX, or myself had packed an umbrella.  Despite this, NY decided to walk (he’s the one with the seemingly infinite supply of energy), AZ took the metro to her office, and TX decided to spring for a cab for us (he’s nice like that).  As we all parted ways to go to our particular offices, wishing each other well on our first days, it became clear that we were all on our own from 9-6.

(I should note briefly that I wear gender-conforming “men’s” suits to work here, a fact about which I am somewhat ambivalent.  I feel slightly awkward being read consistently as a man despite that not being my self-concept, but at the same time I am glad for not sticking out like a sore thumb in the middle of the nation’s capitol.  It’s strange, and I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic.)

The first day at a new job is not unlike the first day of a new school semester-there is a lot of orientation, reading of general briefings about the tasks you’ll be doing, and the like.  I familiarized myself with Microsoft Outlook, learned how to sort through the mail in the mailroom (a perennial task for legislators, who can receive hundreds of pieces of mail per day) and met other interns in my office.

The coolest part by far was receiving my Capitol ID badge, which allows me to access the office buildings and the Capitol as a staffer.  This serves the practical purpose of my being able to get past Capitol police to go to work, but it also allows me special access to certain areas of the Capitol such as the underground subway system, parts of the Library of Congress, etc. which feels very prestigious and which aren’t accessible to most people.

I’ve never worked full-time hours before,  but 9-6 went by surprisingly fast.  I found out that AZ, NY, and TX all had similarly orientation-heavy days, and after a brief stop by our shared apartment, AZ, TX and I went off to celebrate our first day at a delicious local Vietnamese place.

 

Tuesday, Recovering

My second day in the office was a continuation of Monday’s orientation, and also consisted of researching facts about the Capitol, as I’ll be giving Capitol tours after a few weeks.  This seems like an exciting task, and I hope that by the end of my time here I’ll have absorbed a wealth of knowledge about the Capitol building and its art, history, and peculiar stories to share with folks back home.

I also spotted a couple of senators while at the office, which reminded me that, if you’re working on Capitol Hill, even if you are just sorting mail, you share a proximity with many of the big-name movers and shakers of U.S. politics.

In the evening, we all took it easy.  After a weekend which included brief trips to see the White House, the Washington Monument, the Library of Congress, and various shopping and restaurant excursions, I was somewhat exhausted by the never-dull city life.

 

Wednesday, The First Free Reception

Wednesday I had the privilege of going on a tour of the Capitol and get trained in using CRS.  CRS stands for Congressional Research Services, and they are an organization out of the Library of Congress which solely serve Congress’s research needs.  They have a wealth of information about every topic you could think of, and probably the best condensed information available about our nation’s proposed bills and resolutions as well as passed laws.  I was also given a shared research project, which shows that they waste no time in making interns useful on Capitol Hill.

The main event of our day was the fact that AZ, NY, TX and I all attended our first free reception.  Receptions are a way of life in D.C.  Because so much political power is packed into one place, various advocacy organizations flock to D.C. in order to influence the decision-makers.  The cabinet members and legislators themselves, of course, can’t attend every single function, nor are many of the groups prestigious enough to attract their personal attention, so most of the receptions invite Congressional staff, which includes us interns.  The result is a kind of win-win for everyone involved: the advocacy groups reach people with proximity to power, and the underpaid or unpaid staff and interns get to attend a reception with free food, networking opportunities, and often an open bar.

The reception we went to was right after work, and took place in the beautiful United States Botanic Garden, complete with various trees, ferns, and flowers.  Between mini plates of hors d’oeuvres, a glass of wine for those of us who are 21+, and the chance to walk around in the beautiful, lit-up glass dome of the Botanic Gardens, attending the reception was definitely a perk that AZ, NY, TX and I all enjoyed.

We need to improve our networking skills and meet new people, but in the meantime we observed our fellow guests and played a game I suggested called “bedside table”, where you point out someone and guess a few items they might have on their bedside table.  It’s an interesting people-watching game for moments when you may feel a little out of place. I suggest you try it.

 

I’m trying my best to soak up all the sights, sounds, and feelings of moments like the reception.  It seems like one of those experiences that are fairly unique to places like D.C.

 

Thursday, Memos and Lesbioke

Your job as an intern on the Hill is to make life easier for the legislator’s staff.  You obviously want to learn, grow, make connections, and even find employment opportunities, but your primary objective is to be of assistance to the office you work in.  If you understand this going into the internship-that it really isn’t about you-I think you can, interestingly enough, fulfill both objectives more easily.

Memos up until this point in my life seemed like merely plot points on office sitcoms, but on Thursday I wrote my first memo.   Memos in a Hill office are often short research projects or note-taking duties at various Congressional Hearings.  I personally had a research project to complete in only a few hours.  Although I made a small error, I was able to complete it on-time and to the standards of the office, which boosted my confidence.  It was definitely a good way to end the portion of my week spent at the office.

Thursday evening after work, I quickly changed out of my suit into floral “women’s” skinny jeans- a strangely apt metaphor for the state of my gender right now- and headed to a queer women’s establishment with AZ and NY that was hosting a karaoke night while TX decided to catch up on sleep.  Lesbioke was a decidedly freeing process after a week of buttoned-up professionalism.  We listened to an older lesbian couple sing sad country songs from the 90′s and ourselves got up the courage to yell Iconopop’s “I Love It” at the top of our lungs.  It was a moment of unbridled youth and beauty, the kind of moment that belongs in an indie film about young people coming of age.

 

For AZ, NY, TX and I, work weeks are Monday-Thursday because we have leadership training on Fridays.  The weekends are ours to explore D.C., which I should probably get up and start doing now.  I’m sure after the weekend there will be plenty more adventures to report.

 

-Daye in D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

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