If you’ve been following this project, you may have noticed I’ve been absent in my weekly posting the past few months. My last post came this past November, which seems to bring in the heart of my seasonal depression. More so, it’s a month where I stack the events and responsibilities to keep my mind busy.
November 2022, however, echoed a trigger to locked trauma I could not seem to overcome. I have spent time trying to put my feelings and thoughts to paper; all the while trying to stay afloat.
As the leader of an LGBTQ+ organization, you often must go into response mode. What can I do right now to help support and bring comfort to those who are scared, worried, and spiraling? Strategy, understanding, comfort, and answers to predicted questions are your focus. You do this while holding yourself as best as possible. Your own anxieties and worry are mirrored in the faces of those around you. You can’t let them see it too much, your fear and stress— or so I assume is the best option.
I spent a solid week trying to listen to everything I could join in on. I listened to others’ concerns so that I could be better prepared to answer and manage the response in my circle. It is the part of the job I don’t like, but feel strong enough to take on— except when you know people who are direct victims. This tragedy, along with countless others that have come before and have followed, is no less heartbreaking. They are all moments that end up being used for political power over people.
It’s difficult to hear of violence against people trying to be, well… themselves. We could categorize each incident through the identification of peoples’ lives. Violence is violence. People die daily from the hands of someone else. It doesn’t feel like justice is served to them.
The LGBTQ+ community across the country continues to be attacked. The political talking points used to earn votes now seemingly provide excuses, threats, and violence. The community, who has always been an aim for the fascists, is now in crisis.
Our youth, and the care they need, are at the forefront of the conversation. They are being silenced through immutable opinions. Authority figures are not open to understanding real facts. They are not reading viable, proven scientific data. Their hearts are not open in empathy. They are not listening to the countless stories told through the voices of our children.
Dignity lost, because people feel they have the right to govern others’ autonomy.
That is the very reason in which I started sharing the moments that make me, me. I have a purpose in my journey to authenticity. As an advocate and educator, I seek to help others learn to be better people to those who are different. When you listen to others’ experiences with an open mind, you can begin to connect through the common threads you hold. In turn, you can come to learn and know of empathy.
I’m writing to gain my dignity, or secure it somehow. I’ve also forgotten so many important moments in my life. As I try to regain parts of me shut off due to trauma I’ve experienced, I too am finding common threads in others.
I’m no expert in unlocking these moments. Sometimes, they flash like a bolt of lightning, burning to be freed. Other times, I can’t imagine they would have been a reality in which somehow I’ve survived. I question my mind, dance in my thoughts, and wrestle with what was real or imagined. No matter; I experienced them somehow, in some way. How much do I share, without recognizing the boundaries of what society expects? All at once, why should I excuse my lived moments for the sake of someone else’s comfort?
I had to give myself permission to finally attempt to convey these moments I’ve had: the good and the bad. I suffered. I lived. I loved. I lost. I was found, within my own mind. I didn’t recognize ME for far too long. I didn’t KNOW me for far longer. Even so, after what has felt like a journey, it’s as though I am learning about me every single shared moment even more.
As a transgender man, I have felt like I’ve carried a great deal of burden for others. The wanting for myself to just be me. I often wonder what it would be like to find a quiet place, where I wasn’t known by many and could be, well… a dude. A place to wear my skin-suit camouflage; this passing privilege I have. What would a stealth life be like? Then I feel selfish for not wanting to carry this torch, even if either of the two are fleeting moments.
I never wanted to be a hero. I only wanted to not have an “F” on my birth certificate and driver’s license. These thoughts take me to the day my wife met with a lawyer to talk about me adopting our oldest. Family law in Utah is tricky; trickier yet when you mix in the LGBTQ+ shuffle.
The recommendation: I needed to petition for a name and gender marker change. That recommendation set into motion the long trajectory of not only my life, but the lives of thousands of others.
I need to tell this story, these memories I have. It’s going to take some time.
We should start with the fact that all I wanted to do in my life was make a difference, be it a difference for me or others. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. So how or where do you begin? What can one seemingly small, sometimes insignificant person do to make real change?
I ponder this, oblivious to the full extent of what my work in charity has done. The outcomes are not always identifiable or even quantifiable. Then again, should they need to be? How does ones’ personal, unmeasurable results define you or make you? Do people actually take stock in the outcomes drawn from our innate aspirations to do better?
Circling back on the permission we give ourselves that has been a topic as of late: the permission that what I say is mine, damn the critique in me for being my worst enemy. I pushed him back to start this project. I fight to continue to push him back now. I must meet a personal deadline, one that is self-inflicted, but crucial to the process of my healing.
I have five memories I’ve been working on, sitting in my Substack dashboard. Now that I have written these dancing thoughts, I can begin to prepare and publish it to the world: full permission to send the universe the energy to handle for a little while. The next step: move forward in my journaling. Then I may have something measurable in hand.
After all, aren’t we each a work in progress— one could hope— finding a way to make a difference?
Sean Childers-Gray is a designer, writer, trans advocate, educator, and President of Ogden Pride.
Since October 2014, Ogden Pride has served the LGBTQ+ community of Northern Utah in creating safe spaces, providing resources, and support through several programs including: Youth OUTreach for LGBTQ+ youth 18 and under, STARS in Action; a program for the transgender and non-binary community, a BIPOC program, and our Coffee with Queers; Adult Programming.
Ogden Pride hosts the Ogden Pride Festival, annually, the first weekend in August. This year’s theme, The Future is Inclusive, will once again host great entertainment, diverse vendors, family-friendly activities and more with an estimated 8k+ in attendance.
The festival and all of its fundraising efforts/events, benefit Ogden Pride’s mission and goal to open a pride center to support further connection and resources for Northern Utah’s LGBTQ+ community.
You can help directly impact Ogden Pride’s mission and programs with a tax deductible donation, at ogdenpride.org.
This essay was originally published on Sean’s Substack, The Shape of Our Dignity.